While visiting virtual friends recently, I was reminded of how very much I enjoy children’s artwork. William sent others here to see the turkeys and the snowmans (perhaps my favorite posts here), and he showed us the
chilling charming examples of his own artwork. The depravity imagination depicted there was inspiring. At about the same time, CK talked about viewing her son’s artwork at the preschool teacher’s conference. These friends got me to thinking about my own experience of children’s artwork, as therapist and as mother.
Part of the teacher conference in LG’s preschool was the viewing of the children’s artwork. While Jif and I waited our turn to chat with Ms. Stacey in the circle time area, we went to look at the children’s self-portraits on the bulletin board. LG had been drawing self-portraits for ages. Hers were characterized by remarkable attention to detail, for her age. Her drawings of “wittle dirls” featured not only fingers, toes and ears (advanced for her age) but perhaps even earrings, nail polish, a scarf, a purse. She was a girly girl and didn’t care who knew it.
As we stood there happily scanning the bulletin board — “Oh, look at this one! Isn’t that adorable?” — my eyes came to rest on one self-portrait that was not like the others. The subject had somewhat of a circle for a head. But no face. No limbs. The body, however, appeared a convulsion of shape and color. Hmm, this can not be good. The absence of a face. Ohdeargod. This child is probably severely neglected, completely under-stimulated, perhaps abused. There are no legs, with which to run and play — or to escape. There are no arms, no hands. A clear indication of powerlessness, helplessness. I feel almost sick. I look closer at the body. It is triangular in shape, such as children draw to indicate a woman’s dress. The colors are bright — I would even say “loud,” and the shapes swirl around one another wildly. I fear this child is psychotic. I glance toward Ms. Stacey, who is just finishing up with the parents before us. I stealthily lift up the corner of the red construction paper on which the self-portrait is mounted, so I can read this poor child’s name. There it is: LG Fairchild.
While I stand there, stunned, Ms. Stacey sidles up to us and greets us cheerfully. She sees that I have seen, and she gives me that head-slightly-cocked, lips-pursed, brow-furrowed look of concerned compassion that teachers sometimes give to parents of the not-quite-right. She says, too brightly, “You know, LG is very good at many things…” and she leads us to the circle time rug where we put big butts in little chairs and listen to the very many things that LG has mastered. All the while, I can’t focus on what Ms. Stacey is saying, because in my head, I am saying, “What on earth was she thinking? She draws way better than any of these little rugrats. What is that drawing? Ohmylord, does Stacey think she’s abused? Psychotic? Is there something wrong that I have missed?” And like that.
We finish up with Ms. Stacey, and return to look at other displays around the room. LG, who has been playing across the hall with Ms. Betty, joins us in her classroom and quietly escorts us around its perimeter while Ms. Stacey meets with the next parents. We find ourselves in front of the self-portrait bulletin board.
“This one’s mine!” she says proudly.
“Yes, I know. Can you tell me about it?”
“It’s hard for me to tell, that, though. Because I can’t really see your face . . . “
“I got bored with faces. And hands. And stuff. Do you wike my dwess?”
“This is your dress?” I ask, pointing to the wildly colored triangle.
“Yes! I designed a new fabwic! Do you wike my fabwic?! I was going to finish my face and stuff, but I took too wong on the fabwic! Do you wike it?!”
“This is fabric?” I asked, my voice catching in relieved giggles/snickers.
“It’s paiswees! Do you wike my paiswees?!”
I WIKE ‘EM A WOT! “These are the loveliest paisleys I have ever, ever seen. You are a most excellent fabric designer!” Thank. GOD.
At the end of that school year, Ms. Stacey pulled out the first self-portrait, and another one, the one that LG did at the end of the year. The final one had a face, and hands, and fashion accessories, the way most of LG’s drawings had for a long time. And Ms. Stacey was so very proud at the progress LG had made under her guidance over the school year. I never told Ms. Stacey that while the other kids were mastering hands on the ends of their arms, LG had moved on to textile design.
The moral of this story: ask a kid to tell you about his or her drawing before you call protective services.
file under: &Family &Can’t Make This Stuff Up