|"Five Seconders": Art Warm-Ups|
My Son Does Each Day
I consider this. As a former teacher, I’d heard phrases like this many times over. When am I ever going to have to pick out a noun in a sentence? When would I ever need to know the dates of the Civil War? When would I ever have to prove that a triangle is a triangle? The last one is one I often thought myself in Geometry class.
“Roller coasters,” I say. “If you were ever involved in making a roller coaster or other amusement park ride, you would have to know how to figure parabolas.”
“Roller coasters?” he says.
“Yes, or maybe other inventions…how about anything having to do with physics…trajectories…like coaching someone with baseball. You would have to know how to figure parabolas if you were coaching a baseball player, definitely. There are tons of jobs that you would have to know how to figure out parabolas correctly,” I say.
“How do you know?” I say. “You can’t know that. Did you know that most people change their jobs at least nine times in their lives? You have no idea what life is going to bring your way.”
“Mom,” he says to me. “I know what I want to do and it doesn't involve parabolas. I want to be an artist.” The hard part about this revelation is that it isn’t a revelation at all. This is something my husband and I have known since “Jay” was little. “Jay” has been drawing since the age of 2. All of our children have shown some kind of “eye” on the world that we have not had within my husband or myself. But “Jay“ is the only one, at the moment, who has expressed wanting to do this as an occupation. He draws all the time. He draws on his tests, his papers, his napkins. When he was a one-year-old, he drew (like many one-year-olds tend to do) in red permanent marker on our living room couch. (Talk about an "uh-oh" moment!). When he was four, September 11, 2001 happened. We tried to shield him from the coverage, but he quietly picked up paper and pencils and drew the whole scene as he saw it. "Vultures," he said about the "birds" flying into buildings.
His room is full of sketches and then boxes of sketches that I put under his bed. Creating art is his way of interacting with the world. When he draws, he tilts his head a certain way, pulls on his ear, makes a kind of half smile, and sometimes even hums to himself, just like when he was two.
He says, “You don’t think I should do it, do you. You don’t think I can.”
It’s not that; it’s that I really don’t know what to say. I am in the land of the "unknowing parent". Limbo. Should I wholeheartedly support him? Should I be steering him towards technology, an up-and-coming field that will no doubt land him a job and make him independent in this world? Should I talk about something else and distract him from this conversation for a time when I am better equipped to respond? What about girls? Girls are easier to talk about than life paths...perhaps I could distract him with that. No. Not so easy, I guess. Or I could be the "angry parent" and say, "You need to get into that math tutoring, young man, and I don't want to hear another thing about it!" I really don't know what to say. Yet he interprets my silence as unsupportive, so I have to make some kind of decision, some response.
“It’s not that,” I say. “It’s a very competitive world in art. You could land a job and possibly not make much money. Or you could be very happy in that job. Or you could get a great job. Then again, you could struggle and not find anything for quite a long while." I want to say, "I mean, look at how Van Gogh ended up..." but I stop and instead say, "I have no idea what it will hold for you. You have to be prepared for not knowing.” I somehow know that I am speaking the last sentence for myself; I will have to be prepared for the not knowing...
“I know,” he says in his youthful, innocent, all-knowing way.
“Maybe you should have a ‘B’ plan…something to hold you while you make your way as an artist. Something to add to your abilities so that you can open up your possibilities,” I say. “Like technology?”
He says, “Mom, people tell me ‘why don’t you become a doctor, why don’t you do something with science or history? Art makes no money.’ What’s more important--money or happiness? What are you saying to me?”
I think about his idealistic logic. Do I want my child to be “rich” and unhappy in a secure job he doesn't love or potentially “poor” and happy in a job he loves? Where is the manual for how to guide a child when I need it? It seems like two weeks ago he was just finger-painting in the yard. I am not prepared for this conversation. This whole thought process, in my plan of what- life-is-supposed-to-be-like-with-children, was not supposed to happen for many years from now. I am still enjoying him as a child.
He interrupts me.
“Yeah, you're right. I guess I would need to know how to do parabolas for art,“ he says. With that, he smiles and then my son, the artist, opens the car door, gets out, and closes it. With a quick wave, he turns, and walks away.