Saturday, September 11, 2010

Drawing the Line

I was pulling my hair out the other day while helping my seven year old girl with homework. She kept sighing and whining while I, kept drilling. The more we got frustrated, the more we struggled. See, I was keeping myself from giving in to her complaints that studying was hard, or that the work was too much. I thought that given her age, I should be tougher on her and teach her the merits of hard work. So I started going on and on about how I used to love studying and doing homework as a kid. I told her that I couldn't understand why she didn't see it the way I did then. She looked at me intently, as if wanting me to truly understand the importance of what she was about to say, and in a very deliberate manner, replied, "Mom, we're different. I just want to draw."

I stopped. I wasn't sure what hit me first --- the fact that we were different, or the fact that I also just wanted to draw as a kid. I knew exactly what she meant. I see it everyday. When I pick her up from school and the first thing she asks is "Mom, after homework, can I draw?" or when her eyes dance at the sight of something that catches her fancy in a book or magazine which she can't wait to copy, or the way she takes care of her colored pencils which, unlike her school pencils, she meticulously sharpens before she goes to bed. Drawing brings her to her own world. A world she can create for herself where there are no rules and the only thing that limits her is her imagination. In that world, she can have all the sweets she wants to eat in a royal feast where she wears a fancy purple gown and a tiara studded with M&M beads. The next minute, she can be a skating ballerina and twirl into the air, as her classmates and teachers clap and cheer while she bows towards the audience. On that piece of paper, for a few minutes a day, she can escape from the reality of having to memorize her spelling list and regroup tens and hundreds while subtracting. I remember how that world feels like. I've been there a million times myself growing up.

And yet, she's right to say that we are different. As a child, I loved words and writing probably as much as drawing. I liked practicing my handwriting and became pretty good at it. I enjoyed the challenge of having to think of answers to difficult questions, or having to research them. And up until the end of highschool, I found numbers quite interesting. So no one had to force me to do homework, nor help me with it. My mom didn't stay home like I do now, so I was pretty much on my own.

I struggled as I thought about what she said. Should I pull her out of traditional school and look for one that makes her happier, somewhere that fits her temperament? Should I let her be, even if I know that if she doesn't get a good grasp on the basics now, she will have a harder time later? Should I continue being tough and use this opportunity to build character? I couldn't find immediate answers but I found myself responding with, "Look, I know exactly how you feel. I used to draw and draw too!" If there is anything that fascinates her, it is stories about mom and dad's childhood. So her eyes lit up as she asked," What did Lola say?". " Well, she'd always come to my room and tell me to go to sleep because it's late," I got her now, so I took a chance and continued, "but that's because I drew after I finished my homework, so I had nothing else to worry about." It was her turn to stop. She was weighing her options I could tell. In this brief silence, I made a mental note to myself. Remember that it's her grades, not mine. That she learns at a different pace, and has a different learning style. Most of all, remember that I am her mother, not her taskmaster. Ease up a bit!

I'm not sure what else I said, but I knew I made a decision to acknowledge how different we were. I snapped out of my thoughts. She was looking at me intently, as if wanting me to truly understand the importance of what she was about to say, and in a very deliberate manner said, "Mom, I want to be an artist when I grow up. Just like you." Yes, I know exactly what she means.