Reclaiming Benlandia

My son Ben is a very creative thinker. He comes up with some really interesting, imaginative ideas and I love hearing about how he sees the world. For a four year old he is an amazing conversationalist. Yesterday he asked me to tell him a story about when I was young, then asked totally related questions to keep the conversation going, such as, “Then what did you do?” and “Did you feel sad?” I was blown away. Every day I am surprised a few times by something he says or does, certainly sometimes in a negative way, but usually pleasantly surprised. Lately he has been surprising me with his art work.

When we lived in the Bronx I started working at a daycare where Ben went to the two year old room and I worked downstairs in the baby room. The kids upstairs did a lot of artwork but there was one teacher in particular who was pretty controlling about how the projects turned out. When Ben brought home a turkey napkin holder at Thanksgiving with perfectly aligned eyes and feathers all in a row it was clear that my two and a half year old had not actually made it. Since I worked in the building I stopped by often to visit with Ben and, let’s be honest, check up on what was going on in there. I saw the way his teacher would stand over the kids while they worked on their art, and while it made me uncomfortable, I didn’t think too much of it. Ben liked to scribble and play with Play-Doh at home and everything seemed pretty age appropriate.

When we got to Israel and Ben started school there I noticed that he was becoming reluctant to make any art at home. His projects from school were mostly blank with a few scribbles here and there. Mo and I were concerned and tried to encourage him to play with markers and crayons and draw on things other than paper like card board boxes. He would just use the markers to aggressively poke holes in the cardboard. We weren’t sure what it was about the school in Israel that was inhibiting his creative expression but I could venture a few guesses. The classroom was very overcrowded (thirty five kids ages two to four with only two teachers) and chaotic and I can only imagine what went on at art project time. I certainly don’t think it was a relaxing moment for unleashing his inner artistic impulses. The teachers only spoke Hebrew so the language barrier was a huge stress for Ben. The bottom line is that he basically refused to make any art (other than a few 3-D creations in modeling clay) from age three to four. A whole year hiatus. We occasionally bought new art supplies and encouraged him to use them but he always asked us to color while he watched. We would say, “No, it’s for you to color! Make anything you want.” He always refused. 

Now he is at a school here in Miami with fifteen four and five year olds and two teachers in his classroom. There are some things that I find frustrating about the school but I know that his teachers are warm and caring and that he is happy to go there in the morning. Mo works at the school (Pre-K through 12 are on the same campus) and it makes Ben feel special to know that his Abba is around. He also gets greetings from his aunt Whitney and other teachers he knows throughout the day which really adds to his feeling safe and secure there. In the classroom the atmosphere is b’seder (in order) and calm. The kids play and get wild but it never feels chaotic. The room is brightly lit and clean, with wooden furniture and low tables and chairs.

Ben’s teacher approached us at the beginning of the year because she was concerned about the scribbles he made instead of more elaborate drawings, and how he held crayons. She thought that he may need occupational therapy. We see him build intricate vehicles out of tiny Legos and zip his own sweatshirt at home, so to us it seemed unlikely to be an occupational issue. We told her that he had been discouraged or possibly criticized in some way in the past and that he lacked confidence and interest in drawing. She began gently encouraging him and little by little his drawings improved. When I say improved I mean that he became interested and excited about drawing, and that he began drawing more age appropriate figures and scenes. I think what he makes now is much less technically skilled than some other kids his age, but the difference from where he had been in the past year to where he is now is vast. He began asking for markers and paper and when he shows us what he makes I can see that he is proud of himself. For Mo and I this is so encouraging and it makes me fill up with joy just to think that he is feeling b’seder enough inside of himself that he wants to create!

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Cave Etching from Early Benlandia

 

When he drew a figure on the wall our first impulse was pure happiness that he felt inspired. Then we tried to remember that he’s not supposed to draw on the walls and we told him that. I certainly don’t plan to wash it off, it’s as valuable to me as a cave drawing from a lost civilization. I was so excited that he was excited about art that I bought him a low table and chairs with buckets underneath for his art supplies and he can often be found there creating masterpieces. His favorite subjects this week are alien versions of himself with one eye and extra limbs. If you need me, I’ll be over here kvelling.

Here are a few recent favorites:

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He can write his name! ::swoon::
That’s our family, I think Ben is in the middle, Ella is the tiny person perched on top of his head, I’m the one with the long hair on the left, and Mo has a beard covering his entire head (obviously)

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Ben and Abba (note the peyot and Ben’s beard)

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Ben and Abba again- his first drawing using multiple colors!

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Some colorful aliens he made this morning

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Ben as an alien with one eye and extra arms. I really love this one!

 

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