Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Happy Little Post

A Burban-Infused Idea

So young Ethan and I are working on Christmas Crafts this week and I let some small expletive slip when one of my reindeer's google eyes slid down his clothespin face and landed on his felt tongue. Curious to know what prompted my outburst, Ethan glanced over at my handiwork and asks "What's the matter, Mommy?".

"Oh, nothing. It's just my reindeer eyeball fell off and now it's stuck to his tongue and I can't get it off and now this one is going to be a reject."

And my sweet little boy looked at me with a solemn countenance and said "Art is never wrong, Mommy." and then went back to his work. And it's a good thing he did, because if he had continued to look at me, he would have seen Mommy's teary google-eye sliding down her cheek onto her tongue. He's such a great kid, that one.

And it made me thankful for the wonderful preschool he attends that encourages him to be his best, to express himself, and to strive for pride in his work - rather than perfection. But it also reminded me of a different experience I had with art.

Back in high school, we were forced to take a creative arts class to fulfill our graduation requirements. Possessing neither a musical nor artistic bone in my body, I was pretty much fucked from the get-go. But, I figured it would be easier for me to fake it through art rather than band, since I may be tone-deaf, but I'm not blind.

So here I was, super-Mathlete stuck in an art class trying to draw flowers and whatnot. Eventually we graduated from pencils to paint and I thought I'd be golden from here on out. I mean, I was a faithful viewer of that painter guy on PBS - the white dude with the afro that painted "happy little clouds" and "happy little trees" all the time. You know the guy, right?

So I started my painting with a happy little stream and added lots of happy little trees and happy little clouds. I layered my paints, trying to emulate my happy little painter dude. I spent two weeks working on that damn painting and by the time I was done, my 8x11 masterpiece must have weighed about ten pounds with all the happy little layers of paint. It was the first artistic thing I had created that I actually liked, although, admittedly, there hadn't been many attempts.

So I'm showing my painting off to the folks at my art table, and most likely bullshitting a bit and talking about whatever party was coming up that weekend. Apparently, I was being a bit boisterous (I know, you're SHOCKED to learn that I'm loud-ish) because the art teacher was getting a bit testy, telling me to sit down and finish my work already. I held up my piece to show her how magnificent it was and doesn't she say - and I am not making this up - "That looks like shit."

Yeah, public education is great, ain't it? Now, while she didn't come right out and say my art was "wrong", I did get the impression that she didn't quite think it was "right" either. I was intuitive like that, even back then.

Well, I don't have to tell you that my inner happy-little-artist died right there on the spot. It's not like I ever would have been a career artist, but that bitch sucked any possible future joy out of it like a Dyson. And from that day forward, any art class homework assignments were completed by my good, and artistic friend, Heather. And I never had to hear another criticism of my artwork - because there was none that I had done.

What's my tragic life story got to do with the environment? It's this: whether it's a passion for art, a love of music or a concern for our environment, it is absolutely imperative that we give our children the encouragement they need to at least TRY. They need to be empowered so that they can find their own solutions, to create their own sonata or to paint their happy little clouds. And they need to do it their own way, which may not necessarily be your way, but it's not the wrong way either.

So the next time your three year old picks up some trash on the playground, don't freak out and scream "Ew! Gross! Put that down!!". I mean, come on, unless it's a dirty needle, I think they'll survive. Instead, help them find a trash can to put it in and tell them how good it is to clean up the playground so animals don't accidentally eat the litter and get sick.

Or if your teenager is complaining about all the soda cans that get tossed into the trash at school, help her find a solution and present it to the school board or PTA. It may take some time on your part, but your involvement will help give her the courage to make a change in her community. And that is huge.

So keep on making eco-changes in your life, but help your kids make their own changes too. It will boost their self-confidence and will help instill in them a sense of pride and a love for the environment. What a great gift to give your children.

And PS? The next time your friend gives you a Christmas tree ornament with a google eye on its tongue, smile and say "What a happy little reindeer!" and let it go at that.

This is my submission for December's APLS Carnival, Children Are Our Greatest Natural Resource, which is being hosted by Robbie at Going Green Mama. Check it out.


Jenn said...

Oh, great post! There's nothing worse than having the fun sucked out of something that's supposed to be fun and killing that desire to even try in the first place. I'm still rather sad for the rest of us who've had that experience in one way or another, but it's so good that your little one's learning this lesson.

Anna said...

What a great post! I agree that empowering is the way to teach children rather than criticism. I too experienced this actually in law school when my first year teacher told me to get a book entitled Plain English for Lawyers since he obviously hated the way I write. How encouraging was that? If I every win an award for my website, believe me, I will be sending him an email (which he will probably want to correct...)

knutty knitter said...

Thats why I hate sports team games. I was forever being blamed for letting the side down and now I cringe when someone else lets the side down. I'll happily watch or do individual games because only you get the bad score and no one else has to suffer.

For the rest - I always scored a fail in physical education no matter how hard I tried because I was just plain no good at the sports in vogue at the time. Trying hard was not valued at all.

viv in nz

Robbie said...

Fabulous post. I still don't sign publicly after being told in the 6th grade music class "Don't even bother."

Thanks for participating in this month's blog carnival!

Heather @ SGF said...

It's amazing from where those little "truths" pop up and kick us in the butt. Kids are so simple and honest. What a wonderful reminder :)

Electronic Goose said...

Great post. Your kid is right on and your old art teacher is nuts.

eco 'burban mom said...

At least you didn't let that art teacher take away your sense of humor! Too bad there wasn't a stand up comedy class, somehow I'm betting you woulda aced that one. Who knew that mathletes were so funny! ;o)

Jenni (My Web of Life) said...

Your experience reminds me of when my school librarian told me in 3rd grade that the book I was checking out was waayy too difficult for me to even attempt. Why do adults seem to have that urge to squash any ambitions that fall outside of the 'norm'?

Fantastic post- It made me happy to read it!

Green Bean said...

Ahh! Great post. :) And what an important reminder to all of us to keep trying, to allow our children to flourish and grow and to refrain from squelching those little dreams.

To Anna: I had the same exact experience in law school.

Crafty Green Poet said...

excellent post, children need to be encouraged and nurtured, the time to start criticising their work is the time they are preparing for exams but no earlier.

Abbie said...

I CANNOT believe that a teacher said that to you!

I did have a student complain to me that another teacher called her project "stupid" (a science project) so I went to this teacher's mentor (it was a first year teacher) to speak to her about it. If you're going to say things like that, there's no place for you in education.

Anway, I took photography in high school to fulfill my art req. Now, I always make sure to compliment my band and art stars and tell them how envious I am of their talent (no matter how they do in my science class!).

leslie said...

"Art is never wrong, Mommy."
I am making that my personal mantra.

I predict that Ethan will become a civil liberties attorney, with an art career on the side.

JessTrev said...

Sheesh, I take a break from my computer and you throw this puppy up? Love your son, and love the post (frightening art class experience you had - you gotta read Young At Art, you'd like it). Negativity gets us nowhere. Actually pretty important to remember as environmentalists. No one wants to be told that their actions are sh*tty either.... We should *all* strive to empower each other, not just the kiddoes. Sheesh, you're going to make a tear start rolling down my cheek, too!

Fix said...

Thanks for this! As an artist, I am interested in the creativity in everyone and have made my work about facilitating whatever it is. I, in fact, think the creativity in everyone is what will solve the world's problems. Solving math problems elegantly and innovatively is about as creative as it gets. I'm so sorry that the teacher closed the door for you. And now your kid is trying to re-open it!

Megan from Fix


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