Monday, February 26, 2007

Ampersand's Baby Blogging and Developing Children's Talents

Even though some people have complained about it being "off topic" from what they think Alas, A Blog is all about, I really enjoy Ampersand's weekly baby picture post. This week, it shows his little pixie drawing on his Cintiq tablet. As soon as I saw it, I got really excited.

VanGoghGirl started out the very same way except she began with the Microsoft Paint program on our computer. We used to set it all up for her up until she was about three years old. Then, to our surprise, she started doing it all by herself whenever the computer was on and no one was using it. Around that same time we placed her in a pre-school program because I was finally beginning college. We chose that school out of necessity because it was right on my university's campus which made our schedules a lot easier to manage. It wasn't until after enrolling her that we found out this was one of the best pre-schools in the city. They had an extensive arts curriculum and computers in every classroom. By the time she left there, she was already doing things with Paint that her dad and I still can't even do.

At first, we just saw drawing as something we could give her to do when we wanted a few moments to ourselves because, as an only child, she didn't have other kids around to keep her company. She would raid my mother's computer paper supply and draw all sorts of amazing pictures for us. Once, she saw a Chinese New Year's dragon on television for just a few moments. The next day, we found a picture that she'd drawn with the dragon along with two Asian faces. Somewhere in the house, she'd found some Chinese text on the back of a package and copied down the characters and put them in her picture too. We were dumbfounded that she could tell the difference between Chinese characters and the Japanese writings we had throughout the house.

On other occasions her art has produced some slightly embarrassing situations for me. One time in particular still stands out in my mind. As a toddler, she was only allowed to watch certain channels on television unless someone was sitting there with her. That evening, I had company over at the house, so VanGoghGirl was in the den watching a show on Animal Planet by herself while I was in the living room with my guests. After a half hour or so, VanGoghGirl came in with a picture that she wanted to show us. Being the proud mommy that I am, I told her to hold it up so that we could all see. Well, it was instantly apparent to us what the television show she'd watched had been all about.

In her full-page picture, there was a male frog lying on top of a female frog grasping her sides. The female had a rather large and bubbly mass of clear eggs at her hind end, each one with a tiny black spot inside of them. That's right! My sweet little girl had immortalized a nice little image of two froggies in the middle of the fertilization process. I was speechless. I didn't want to act shocked because I didn't want to send her the wrong message but I'd be lying if I claimed that I didn't REALLY wish that she'd have drawn that picture at a time when I wasn't surrounded by my college friends who didn't have any kids of their own.

When my VanGoghGirl entered elementary school, the school sent me a letter recommending that she be placed in the Talented in the Arts program. To be honest, I didn't realize how advanced her art really was. I mean, it's not like there were any other kids in the family who I could compare her to. She was the only great-grandchild on both sides sides of her family.

After being tested for the Talented program, the teachers also recommended that she be tested for the (academically) Gifted program as well. She was accepted into both programs. One year, while working with her art class as they designed the set background for the school play, she got to be around the theatre class as they rehearsed their roles. The drama instructor noticed VanGoghGirl helping the theatre students practice their lines. She sent us a letter asking us if we'd be interested in having her try out for the Talented theatre program. Of course, we were and not long after that, she was accepted, making her only one of two students in the school who were thrice-exceptional.

Unfortunately, that was around the same time that I got diagnosed with cancer. This turned into a very traumatic time for VanGoghGirl. Her whole routine was interrupted as different family members shared the responsibility of caring for her as I began my cancer treatment odyssey. I had to get an apartment out of town while I received the specialized care (intensity-modulated radiation therapy) that wasn't available in New Orleans.

VanGoghGirl began to use her art as a means of coping with what was going on. My cancer support center has a picture on their wall that she created showing a bald person in bed and a little kid standing at the edge of the bed with their foot planted firmly in the middle of a big fuzzy tumor giving it a nice NFL-worthy kick. That picture will be in my head for as long as I live. I realized that she was had been thinking that it was her responsibility to make me well again. She was using her art as a means of coping with the helplessness that she felt. If it wasn't for her art, I don't think that I could have understood how she was feeling or how to address her fears.

Her dad and I decided to invest in a nice easel and a huge supply of pastels and paints for her. We encouraged her to see art as a constructive way of dealing with her emotions and she responded to that suggestion enthusiastically. We have boxes and boxes of her artwork. I've never thrown away a single picture she created. Every once in awhile, I like to go through them and look at how her skills have progressed over the years.

Her thrice-exceptional status made it possible for us to get her into a very exclusive public middle school. All of the comparable private schools in this area cost several thousands of dollars a year in tuition--thousands of dollars that we'd have gladly spent if necessary even if it meant I had to eat ramen for dinner every other night. Art is what has kept her sane throughout these tumultuous years. It was something she could do no matter where she was spending the night or who was babysitting while I was being cared for. Even when everybody was concerned with my condition, creating her art ensured that she got the attention and praise that she deserved during the times when her father and I couldn't be all that she needed.

As much as I love my daughter and think that she's the "most specialest" girl in the world, I don't think that she's all that much different from other children when it comes to potential. I have yet to meet a child who was not talented in something. The only thing that separates her from some children is that we've been able to encourage her to develop her talents and interests. I know that this is a luxury. It takes money to do what we've done and this is money that some people simply can not afford, even if they sacrificed as much as they possibly could. However, if you do have the ability to help your child pursue the gifts that they were born with or developed afterwards, then I'd definitely encourage you to do so.

And I'm glad to see Ampersand doing so with his pretty little corkscrew-haired fairy girl. I'm sure that one day very soon, he'll be really happy that he started with her so early.


Veronica said...

Good Lord. I know I'm hormonal. This made me tear up.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am not a mother yet, but this post reminds me of how important it is to give children creative outlets. who knows what they are going to latch onto and find as their way of expressing those things that they might not yet have words for.

Crystal said...

Wow. Great post. I love that you have been so aware of aiding your daughter's potential. Thank you for sharing this.
(I randomly found Ampersand's post while Googling around for Cintiq, leading me to your post)