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Monday, May 28, 2007


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 me."

"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

29 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger Traci said...

OMG! That is a fabulous story! I totally LOVE the innocence of children!

Blogger Lynn said...

OMG, Susie!! The same thing happened to me with Ms. S's tap shoes! When I saw a blue/grey heart covered up by a red one, I thought, "Oh, what is my baby trying to hide? What brand of depair is this? Has someone harmed my baby?" When I asked her to tell me about it, it became obvious that the first heart was her displaying her disappointment with the rigidity and lack of freedom in choreographed dance and the second one was her asserting herself and taking back her craft. The swirls represented "really good dance moves that she makes up herself" (that she didn't get to use in class) and celebrated freedom of artistic expression. I was so relieved!!! I totally understand how you felt when you saw that picture, you poor scared Mommy. I know that felt terrible. I know.

Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Thanks for the memoir, Susie.

Anonymous kalki said...

What a kid. :)


I wike paiswees, too. (I would like more LG stories, please. She cracks me up.)

Blogger Mr. Bloggerific Himself said...

Having sat in on my "art therapy" sessions (later changed to "expressive therapy" I believe) I've seen my share of some, um, interesting art. Days that we had PE and AT were very unnerving. Maybe it's just me, but it didn't seem like a good idea to get kids all hyped up with loud echoing noises and bouncing balls and running in the gym and then take them to AT where there were tools for carving.

Have you seen the "tool" used to cut a huge hunk of clay in half? Yikes.

I did manage to find out that I can carve soap with some mad skillz. (though I don't seem to have to sculpted anything since that realization oh so many years ago)

Blogger Sandi said...

That reminds me of the story about the little boy who always drew his pictures in black. No color. His parents and teachers were worried, and they finally decided to talk to him about it. Found out the reason he only drew in black was that by the time the crayon box got to him - that's the only color that was left! It's amazing how quickly your heart sinks when you think you've uncovered something dark in your child - but usually it's as simple as an empty box of crayons. Remembering that story helped me through a lot of interesting times when my kids were little!

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

What a great story and LG's accent is priceless. She wocks!

Blogger SassyFemme said...

Oh I love it! I second here today, gone tomorrow's request, we need more LG stories! :)

Blogger eclectic said...

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Having never learned (nor had occasion to learn) to interpret early childhood art, I ALWAYS have to consult the artist about the subject of his/her work. I've found, quite unscientifically, that it works best if my questions are open-ended, but my compliments are detailed. :) I heart LG!

Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

I've been playing a little catch up on your blog, and I must say that "The Others" brought me to tears. But this, my dear, is the laugh I've been seeking all ding dong damn month.

Anonymous Daphne said...

Your stories are so excellent and well-told.

And re your comment on my "June 11" post, I've dated it so it'll stick at the top... in some sort of vain hope the problem will be fixed by then. Thanks for commenting there, it's so nice to feel connected.

Anonymous Ortizzle said...

Great story! I wonder how many kids have been 'mis-diagnosed' just on a basis of a quirky drawing. That's the sort of anecdote that needs to be told to psychology students to... uh, keep it real! :-)

Blogger WILLIAM said...

LG is just waiting for the rest of her class to catch up to her brilliance.

Blogger Effie said...

she's a complex sort...and very smart too...you should be proud of your darling daughter!

Once, when I was in VBS as a little girl, we were making banners with our names on them and for some odd reason, I put the glue on the wrong side of the felt letter 'E'. I was so upset--we couldn't get a new one so I had to use it. I could have just put it upside down, but then I thought "oh no--people will think I'm stupid--putting the capital letter 'E' upside down--I just can't do it" so, (because of course people will think I did it on purpose) I'll put it on backwards. That's so much better. Duh. Even stupider.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

I'll be first in line to buy an LG Fairchild original when she debuts her own line in Milan.

Anonymous LadyBug said...


Thinking of you, Susie, and hoping you get some answers this week. XXOO

Blogger Karen said...

My sister had a similar story with my nephew. He has been a skilled artist since the day he could hold a crayon (he was drawing perfect circles when he was barely two). When she got her first written report from the teacher, my sister was expecting special mention of her son's artistry, but instead saw something like, "age appropriate skills". When my sister met with the teacher, she took his drawings from home to compare to the ones at school, and there was a vast difference in apparent skill. Turns out my nephew was also adept at the art of "fitting in". When asked about his school artwork, he said that he was (purposely) drawing exactly like all the other kids.

By the way, I love the story of the paisley. She seems to be an Indigo child (from what I understand of the term). I'm sure LG has many fields of endeavour open to her. She will surely be successful in whatever she chooses.

Anonymous SUB said...

My mother had a similar experience when I was in first grade. Every drawing I did was in black crayon - no other color. My mother was so concerned until I said that that was the only crayon I had. Being as shy as I was I guess my classmates commandeered the better colors.
Although this really was a harbinger of my true nature.

Blogger Squirl said...

I bet that fabwic was fabuwous!

LG just might be one of the Indigo children. She's very bright and talented.

Blogger Susie said...

traci, innocence is to be treasured. xxx

lynn, I remember that post, and I went back now to look at it. Yep. Here's to paiswee dwesses and painted tap shoes.

ssnick, you're so welcome.

kalki, :)

htgt, I wike paiswees, too. Did you read the one here, I think I called it Maternal Mortification? She commented on the size of an old lady's derriere in a restaurant. Good times.

mrB, that's right, it's all Expressive Therapy now. Now that I'm a mom, I know that a lot of what I was taught about interpretation was over-stated and some, just not often correct.
I still remember carving a whale from Ivory soap, in vacation Bible school. I remain proud.

sandi, yes, I've heard that one. Thanks for the reminder. Assumptions are a bad idea, especially where kids are concerned.

kranki, you wock, for calling a (temporary) speech deficit an accent :)

sassy, thanks, I'll see if I can come up with any more. And see comment to htgt. :)

eclectic, that is perfect, open-ended questions and detailed compliments :) If I applied my book-learnin' to, for example, William's artwork, I'd be checking the statute of limitations on acts perpetrated by his hermaphroditic mom. But I know mom09 is innocent, so I won't.

umutha, it's been a long ding dong damn time. And that's all I'm going to say about that because that makes me laugh :)

daphne, thank you. I hope you get your rss stuff worked out. I'm a techno-dunce, or I'd try to help. :(

ortizzle, fo' shizzle, I know there have been reports based on drawings, that should never have been made (the reports, that is; not the drawings).

william, they've probably all caught up by now ;) And see my reply to eclectic.

effie, aw, honey. My heart breaks for little Effie and her misglued E. Some day you'll tell Katie how her backwards, upside-down K is just fine, and you once did the same thing.

bucky, actually, she still likes to "design" fabrics, etc.

ladybug, thanks, honey. Thursday is toxicdoc day.

karen, ah, yes, the fitting in thing. Blessing and curse. Thank you for saying such kind things about LG. You have quite a talented child there, yourself. I hadn't heard about Indigo children before.

sub, now you have lots of other colors :)

squirl, it was fabuwous. I must say here, as I said to CK, children are just better on the internet. Most parents write the good, cute, charming stuff, not the headaches, etc. Romantic parenting, here on the blogs :) But I think that's OK.

Blogger chiapet said...

Romantic parenting or not, still a blessing. Thank you Susie :-)

Blogger Nina said...

This is why I love children. Textbook Child Psychology and children don't always go hand and hand. I love that it doesn't.

Except when it was Michael. My youngest son taught me a lot. I remember thinking this is my third kid. I already have two in school so I know what I am doing. Shawna and Ben are smart doing well in school life is smooth all in all.

Michael was politely kicked out of one preschool. It being stated that he might do better with other services elsewhere.

Then picking him up at the principle's office on his third day of kindergarten. Because he wouldn't color the hippo they wanted him to. When I asked him why he wouldn't . . . he said he didn't see where it had relevance in his life. Yes those were his very words.

Michael helped me really appreciate summer and caused me anxiety every new school year with a new teacher. Because I knew I would be hearing from the school all year long.

He had few friends because he was so different and sensitive. He was a good kid all and all.

They decided to test him because of his grade being so poor. He tested out in the Superior gifted range. I never told him that, but did ask why he got a zero on a multiple choice test in the classroom? He pointed to the dark circles he had colored in and showed me the face they made. Sure enough a man with a beard and everything.

Once at the school a mom was telling me how gifted and talented her child was. I smiled, but in my mind I am thinking oh your child is so not gifted. Because if she was you wouldn't be saying it with a smile on your face. My life would have been easier had Michael been an average kid.

The fact that Michael graduated high school is because in his senior year a teacher understood him. All the teachers always liked him, but none understood him. This teacher had Michael earlier in the year. Michael got an F in his class. The last quarter Michael was in his class again. This time he saw Michael different. So he went back and changed the first quarter grade to a D instead of a F. That is how Michael graduated without having to attend summer school.

Now that he is a young man I look back and think dang he wore me out. I also learned a lot from him and how our schools only work well for those who fit in.

I learned from Michael more than I ever learned in textbooks.

Now that I wrote a book in your comment section . . . I love LG & You.

Blogger Amy said...

Wow, Nina. Mommahood can take it outta ya, eh. I love your perspective, though, that you learned from him.

And how wonderful is LG with her paiswees? Loved this.

Blogger judypatooote said...

ditto OMG Susie....that is the cutest story..... little kids really do have great minds...sometimes they have to explain things a little, but what great minds they have.....textile, wow, I love it....... when i went to my grandson Christophers class play and open house he had a picture on the wall that was of a fish aquar. and he was quite proud to point out that the seaweed he cut out and put in the picture was wavey like real seaweed, and no one elses was...those wheels are always moving......LOL

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Oh my gock, Susie... I WIKE DIS A WOT!

LG is something special to be sure.

I love kids on the internet. ;)

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

I forget where I picked up the expression, but "Oh! I like this! Tell me about it..." comes in SO VERY HANDY...

Blogger Susie said...

chchchchia, thank you, honey. LG truly is a blessing. That's what children are.

nina, so did Michael actually go on to live a hippo-free life? How odd! ;)
That is a truly GT kid. Thank God he had you for a Mom. Some such kids are so misunderstood, then abused, twisted to fit the mold, etc. I get tremendously frustrated with teachers, counselors, etc., of my clients and my students' clients, who don't take time to get to know the remarkable individuals that they're expelling, flunking, etc., just because they "color outside the lines." They do require a bit more effort from adults. They also have a bit more to give, I think, than we ordinary mortals. Thanks for telling part of Michael's story here. :)

amy, Nina's story is an important one.
When you see glimpses of LG, then you see that's why Lucy delights me so much.

judyp, without the wave, it just ain't seaweed. That's what I always say. :)

ck, oh my gock! I love kids on the internet too. IRL? Not so much . . . I KID! I'M A KIDDER!

Blogger Nina said...

You mean my son the Hippo trainer? :)


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