My son has begun to leave traces of his drawings and coloring everywhere. He loves drawing these days because Mo Whilems taught him how to draw a pigeon trying to drive a bus. He also loves coloring because alpha blocks are zesty and full of colors. They taught him how to color within alphabet known as blocks. It’s as if he has begun an endless hunger for art. But it’s his art assignment at school that has me mesmerized this morning. Coloring or drawing didn’t come naturally or easy to him. Here is a boy for whom coloring between the lines or within spaces was a chore. There were assignments full of coloring that he never really completed, never really understood, and saw as a waste of time, if as things to assign. The colors he placed rather haphazardly disturbed nothing, moved nothing too. From then on, coloring became a chore, another thing to do, another thing, often described as boring, this thing that we bore into him.

Pigeon from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
Alpha block

Until this summer, our summer of light, our summer full of discoveries. It was this summer, one with no therapy, that my son discerned for himself, the intimate sustained surrender to art for art’s sake. In the absence of demands, through frames that are separate, yet particular, a pigeon, alphablocks, and now the Virgin Mary, this thing that was once boring, complements his minds’s many dazzling ways, deepening an enduring desire to do more, be more, involved yes, but consumed more with what he creates with his own hands. A pigeon, alpha blocks, even the Virgin Mary all pry open the pages of his intriguing mind. His art, has become now, more important, than his silence, more important than days where his mind frays or melts down. This is a keep worth reliving over and over again, one where his art is becoming life, one frame at a time.

Virgin Mary

I asked him, why he even painted Virgin Mary brown. Most depictions are of a fair lady, fairer than the white of snow. His is only 7 years and I am fascinated with how he depicts humanity. His response as clear as a sunny day: because she is supposed to be brown. I don’t take this response lightly. His mind is a puzzling masterpiece to all of us that know him intimately. To see this journey, to watch as he follows his path, through art, through colors, through people, is to see possibilities with minds on a spectrum. All of us that are typical have so much to learn from children on the spectrum, whether from their thoughts on pigeons, or alpha blocks or Virgin Mary. Don’t wait for society to tell us how they should act or speak or even react to ways that are untypical to a typical mind. Each of us are destined to use the skills we have to meet minds that dream of days were dreaming is life’s streaming, this beaming in need of more esteeming. I am learning each day that those of us with the privilege to see how the brain works differently are the lucky ones. How each coloring, each drawing becomes a thing worth keeping is my prayer for you, for me, a desire for what to come when we all keep coloring. Keep it, because it’s what you, we, are all supposed to do.

There is nothing like introducing a child to Shel Silverstine. ‘A light in the attic’ being one of my favorite of his. Of course ‘where the sidewalk ends’ is equally fantastic. Then don’t let me get started on ‘the giving tree.’ Everything he wrote and illustrated is truly worthy of praises. Not because he was gifted with his craft, but more so because of his rare combination of poems and drawings for dreamers and those who love to imagine, believers and those who like to believe differently, thinkers and those who do so differently, dream, believe and think, different. To introduce him to my son was a delight. To watch the light in his attic flicker on was joy. We spent the entire summer drawing, all sorts of pigeon particularly from Mo Willems ‘Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus.’ Discovering drawing with cartoons was one of the best thing we did we all summer with him. I never knew he loved to draw until this summer thanks to Mo Willems and his brilliantly simple tales of a pigeon.

It allowed him to focus, as in not for minutes but hours even on pigeons, drawing and illustrating books and books of it in other versions like The Pigeon gets a hotdog. He was not only drawing, but committing words to memory, reciting them all to himself in ways that make sense to his mind. Doing so, allowed him to temper his meltdowns. Some drawings will be poor, full of mistakes too. Some will make you mad, disappointed or frustrated with yourself too. But the ones that stand the test of time. The ones that defy the odd and leap through the pages to tell your story as clearly as you want are the ones full of joy, full of delight, full of all his light.

Now enter Shel Silverstine. Before there was Mo and all his pigeon tales, Silverstine shined brightly. A light in the attic is a classic of his. Short and sweet for minds quirky but full of treats. And my son’s mind is superb, with Silverstine’s work a gentle treat, so soft but full of power like the sounds of a drumbeat. Where he ends, whether with the bridge that only my son can take across his mind past moonlit woods on a magic carpet through the air or past whistling and whirling winds from skies so grey, is where my som begins. The journey is endless with Shel Silverstine and I can wait to watch as he journeys through it all. There is a light in the attic of his mind. Though we are all outside, we keep looking as flickers with his light.

I read somewhere that children are the lens through which adults can relearn how to live. Though their tomorrow’s are uncertain, the often live their today’s free from the limits of the future. For to a child, forever is never guaranteed. Only today and all it’s limits and possibilities. There is an Igbo proverb which states that a child being carried at his mother’s back has no idea about the length of the journey. This carefree stance of a child is why I love learning from my children especially through their artwork. The world maybe cold, full of snow, and dreadful. But to a child, why not reach for the light, reach for spring or anything else full of color. Take for example, the artwork my daughter brought home from school today, with its burst of colors and endless tenderness. Even as I write this, we are surrounded by snow and an icy cold weather. Not the kind that makes you want to glide down like with snow tubbing. But the kind that make you long for your favorite cup of hot chilly soup. Today was that kind of day. Cold, full of snow and dreadful. But to my daughter, even a day like today can still be full of light, full of color, with colorful bees and beetles that do their part to make even a dreary day still seem so bright, so full of possibilities. I am relearning how to live from the lens of my children that for today all I can say is keep their lens whenever you come across it. Even adults all have something to learn from children.

Yesterday during my son’s Zoom Art class he was given an assignment to draw a bee. His art teacher started by instructing her students to draw a big circle for its face, then 2 small circles for its eyes, a small but wide letter u for its nose and a large, wide u for its mouth. My son only drew the large circle at first, then looked at me as asked, what’s the assignment again? I said, well you teacher wants you all to draw a bee? He looked at what she was drawing and seemed a little confused. Then without hesitation, he began to draw what a bee looked like to him. I tried to redirect him, but he kept drawing his version of a bee. By this time the teacher was focused on the hair of bee, telling the kids that their bees could even wear masks given our present day situation with the ongoing pandemic. My son had his own ideas and stayed focused on drawing what a bee should look like. I gave up trying to redirect him and allowed him to draw what he wanted.

Zoom art class.

As I recounted the story to my husband last night, I realized the lesson in my son’s insistence to draw what a bee looked like: It’s the need to keep being different. It’s tough to teach children how to stand out from the crowd but my six year old seemed to understand what many grownups still struggle with. No point being like the rest of the world. Just be yourself. By moving ahead to draw the assignment in a realistic way, I learnt why drawing matters. It’s is truly an age-old disciplining that allows us to learn things faster in clear, meaningful and concrete ways. I have since lost the gift of child-like drawing. But these days of homeschooling has opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities of drawing and why they matter for life.

My son’s take on the assignment also showed why being different matters. The moment we start to complete an assignment, no matter the deviations or distractions along the way, stay true to yourself and press on with clarity. Watching him perfect his assignment also showed why you should stay they course no matter the challenge. You can adjust or refine your thoughts on the original idea, but be different. You can take risks or move in an entire new direction, but do so with integrity. Being different allows you to exist, allows you to remain unique, allows you be authentic in this world full of duplicate ideas. From my son’s homeschool art class, I learnt why it’s important to keep being different.

Chiwetel’s Bee Assignment

There is something so special about drawing, especially like a child. Like the drawings on my children’s kite from yesterday’s post or the stick figures my daughter drew last week of herself and her brother. To see life celebrated through their drawings is always sterling to me. Everyone has art in themselves. Yet, drawing is an art form we adults loose on the journey to adulthood. Everyone is able to understand, use and even take part in making art. But, it’s so profound to see art from a child’s perspective, how they draw their world in ways that make sense to them, in ways that are truly wise. There is no apology at all when children draw. Drawing is a serious matter to children. No need to be perfect or subscribe to what society dictates as the norm. No need to limit yourself to any standards as it blinds you to reality. Art from the perspective of a child is often easy, not difficult. Often simple, not hard. Often colorful, not bland. Drawing will always remain serious to children.

Lotanna’s art

I wonder why I no longer draw as freely as my children. When or where did the assignments end? Why didn’t I enjoy them the way my kids do. Granted, I grew up in Nigeria and truly not surrounded with as much crayons as my children. But I was also exposed to art. Granted I wasn’t expected to practice art. But the joy to even draw isn’t in me the way I observe it in my children. Yet, I wish we could all draw like children. That I could draw and love it the way my kids do. If one looked at a child’s drawing and compared it to what we adults do, you will understand why life is meant to be easy not hard, full of hope, not impediments.

My children’s paper kites

Children are indeed blessed with a sense of creativity that should be nurtured and protected with vigilance. They instinctively feel life and supply it in any art form they engage in. They know who they are even if it’s in stick figures, why they exist, what is the meaning of life, and why we should celebrate our existence. And drawing is the medium that is most serious to them. Their art is in service of simplicity, it’s in service of joy, it’s in service of humanity. We cannot be apologetic about the way children draw. Their art makes no apology to the world. They show us what is permissible in life, the good and the bad, within the margins or out of it, the richness of life, they celebrate it all in their drawings. Which is why we should all keep drawing like children.