My seven year old is beautiful, amazing and talented. I found a drawing hidden in her bedroom the other day; chalk on brown paper. It’s a duckling and I love it so much I pinned it to the wall next to my desk.
She draws things and screws them up into a little ball, lobbing them across the room to end up land mines of destroyed creativity, left for the baby to chew to pieces and for her to feel lesser, somehow.
Her imagination doesn’t match up to the skill of her fingers. Not yet, not yet.
I take the abandoned papers, smooth out their crinkled lines and point out that I really love her artwork. I tell her I’m proud of her, she has a talent, and drawing is a skill that you work at. I tell her of course her drawings don’t look like the ones in books, because she is seven and illustrators are much older than that, with years of practise. I want her to keep drawing, because it makes her so happy.
Raising children is touch and go. Encouragement and discipline. A mix of you’re amazing and keep trying because you’ll get there.
I was talking with my husband today, about encouragement, and children, and art. And suddenly I remembered my art teacher in Primary school telling me I had no talent for drawing and she didn’t know why I bothered.
I remembered having a sculpture I’d made out of clay screwed up in my face, while being told that it would never work and that I was no good.
Visceral reaction to a memory I didn’t realise I still had. My art teacher didn’t like me, and for years, I believed that I wasn’t any good at art, that I couldn’t draw, couldn’t paint, couldn’t art.
This is the power adults have over children. Turns out I’m still angry, about my sculpture, about the disillusionment that she instilled in me.
Children need encouraging in the things they enjoy, and we don’t give that enough. Flippant comments cut deeper than we realise.
For years, I stopped showing my mother my writing because she used to correct my spelling and grammar before encouraging me. I refused to let her read my homework. I didn’t bring my stories home. If I needed help with school work I went to my father, or my grandmother, who were softer critics. I was a sensitive snowflake and I couldn’t handle my mother at that stage. She wielded her red pen like a sword and she was very good at it.
Years later, I get my revenge. I hack her blog posts to bits sometimes, and put them back together, better. I am a good editor, and I learned at her feet. I write things for a living. Her red pen didn’t cut me down, although it felt like it at the time.
But I get my revenge, even as she still rings me to point out a single error in my writing.
“But did you like it?” I ask.
“Of course I liked it, but you need to fix this sentence that doesn’t work.”
She wants me to be better. I want to be better. I have thicker skin nowadays. But I didn’t then, and it was hard, and I hid myself from her.
I’m trying to be a softer parent. Walking between encouragement and teaching. My red pen is not a sword for my daughter. But then, maybe hers wasn’t when I was seven either. Maybe it all came later and it’s muddled up in my brain, a great timey wimey ball of yarn.
I remember sitting at the plastic covered desk, working on a sculpture of a fish. Smoothing and scaling and reforming the arches. I remember being proud of how it looked, of how it matched the picture inside my head. I remember the art teacher appearing over my shoulder, telling me I was no good. I remember her hands, reaching over to touch my work. Don’t touch my work. I remember her picking it up, as I watched, ten years old and fragile in my new found creativity, picking it up and crushing it into a ball. Destroying the last hour’s work, telling me I was no good.
I remade that sculpture, and gave it to my father for father’s day. It wasn’t as good as the original, and I never forgave the teacher. For the record, my parents loved the fish, and it’s still hanging in my parents house, if I remember correctly.
But it’s a poor imitation of what I started to do in the beginning.
As a writer, and an editor, I truly believe that sometimes tearing things apart and putting them back together is a good thing. Strip things down to their bones, hack out all the marrow and resculpt them into something new, something better.
Is that what my teacher was trying to do, when she reached over and took over?
My memory tells me no. I remember more than one time when she took the pen off me, took the paper, stole the paintbrush. I remember more stories of destruction than of creativity. Maybe my memory is flawed.
My art teacher in Primary School was not a good teacher. She did not make me better with her criticism.
I looked her up on Facebook, earlier today. She’s not really on there, it seems. But neither is she an art teacher anymore. She’s moved on to real estate, which in my opinion, is a much safer place for her to practise her destructive tendencies.
Teaching children is a difficult thing. They’re fragile in your hands and it’s an honour to be allowed to shepherd them through to adulthood.
Don’t fuck it up, okay?