Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Idealism as an antidote to anxiety

On Mondays the kids take an art class. Great teacher, beautiful space, close to home, quiet, inexpensive, focused -- and all three of my homeschoolers can go at the same time.

Yesterday Little Guy scowled, "I don't want to go today!"

I inwardly groaned, and ignored it, using the classic "Sorry, but it's already paid for" line.

A little while later Little Guy proclaimed, "I'm not going to art today!"

"Hmmm," I replied, "Sounds like you're unhappy about something."

"We have to draw our sculptures today, and I'm not doing it!"

"I'm sure you'll be fine," I countered, adding, "And besides, if you don't go to art, you don't go to soccer."

Soccer trumps all. Glumly, he put on his coat. As we headed to the train for our two-stop journey I commented, "You know, usually when people don't want to do something it's for one of two reasons. Either they're afraid they'll be embarrassed, or they're afraid they won't be able to something well."

Little Guy nodded. I knew he'd made an awesome Dr. Seuss-like paper sculpture the week before, and he was scared it would be too difficult to draw.

Around here, any time a kid digs in his heels, you can pretty much bet that anxiety is behind it. It often helps if I can put a name on that writhing, scrungy feeling that makes children not want to do things: it's fear. Knowing the name and shape of the enemy makes it a lot easier for them to avoid mistaking Mom for the enemy, too.

We chatted about other things on the train. As we got off to go to art I said, "Do you know how many drawings Picasso made before he even started to paint a picture? Dozens! And how many paintings he did before he got one he liked? And that was Picasso! It's okay if you don't get it right the first time -- or the twentieth time."

"Yeah," Little Guy grumbled, half-smiling, "And Picasso put the eye under the nose, too."

I laughed, and said, "All I care about is that you try. I know it's frustrating when it doesn't work out perfectly, but you can't get better if you don't try." He went into class without complaining.

As it turned out, they elaborated upon their sculptures this week, and will draw them next week. All I have to do between now and then is draw the path to confidence for him a few dozen times, and then perhaps a few more dozen times, and then maybe he'll get the picture. Maybe. For at least one class.

It reminds me of the quote by the famous Anonymous, who said, "An optimist is a person who sees only the lights in the picture, whereas a pessimist sees only the shadows. An idealist, however, is one who sees the light and the shadows, but in addition sees something else: the possibility of changing the picture, of making the lights prevail over the shadows.” Me, I aim for idealism.

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