You know that Christmas song, Little Drummer Boy? I always thought that was a terrible song. Repetitive, dull, sort of corny. So imagine my surprise when, after my kids were born, I found myself getting this big lump in my throat every time it came on the radio.
I’ll get back to that drummer boy thing in a minute. But let me start here:
The photo up there is the centerpiece of our kitchen. It’s a dragon. Finn made it. The three eggs remind me of Game of Thrones. Finn had talked about this dragon for some time – he was excited to bring it home.
The truth is I’m not sure what I would think if I went over to somebody’s house and found that little clay dragon in the center of their kitchen island. I mean, I know what I would say. I would say this: Oh, that’s cool! What a great job your son did! That’s sweet that you keep it there!
But I would actually be thinking this: That’s not exactly an attractive thing to have on your kitchen island and also I need somewhere to put the spinach dip so can I move that dragon or are you going to freak out on me?
Children’s artwork is one of those things that parents love and everyone else is fairly unmoved by. Before I became a parent, when I would visit somebody’s house and find their fridge pasted with so much artwork that it looked like a localized paper tornado, I would always think to myself how much better and cleaner the kitchen would look if they would just put those papers in some kind of box. Maybe in the attic or whatever.
That wasn’t me being cold-hearted. It was just not understanding why people junked up their kitchen like that.
Then my own kids starting bringing stuff home. And I was utterly unable to throw it away. I was mesmerized by it, as if every day they had brought me a new painting they’d stolen from the Louvre, rolled up and stuffed in their backpack next to the apple they didn’t eat.
My kids bring home crates of artwork, lugging it like a postman delivering the mail at an army base. And I sift through it, not wanting to miss a single jot or stroke.
And we don’t just like it. We love it. Like this pink owl Lucy did – it hung in our kitchen for a year:
It begs the question: Why do I love this pink owl? Why do I love any of it?
It’s easy to say “because my kids made it” but that doesn’t actually answer the question, because my kids make blanket forts all the time and it drives me bonkers because guess who’s folding up those blankets? It ain’t the dog.
I love their art because nothing captures innocence quite like a child’s art. And please, please believe me that I don’t mean that sentence in the corny, rainbow-barf way it sounds.
What I mean is this: We learn from a pretty young age to not put ourselves out there. Why do we sing in the shower? Because nobody’s around. How much creative stuff have you ever seen out of your friends? Who has shown you their writing or their drawing or sang something for you? For me, the answer is pretty close to zero. Of course it is! Nobody wants to lay themselves bare like that. It’s potentially mortifying.
But kids haven’t figured that out yet.
Our kids draw or sculpt or paint something and they can’t wait to show us. They can’t wait to gift it to us because they know we will appreciate it. We hang it up and we make it the centerpiece. That is what a parent is – when we are doing it right, at least: We are a perfect audience for the creation, because we adore the creator.
This time of life, childhood, is that glorious moment that stretches out, the moment where our kids haven’t yet been told that they aren’t as good as everyone else because they are being held up to a standard that the world has created.
But I will tell you in all honesty (and I think parents will back me up) that the sound of my daughter singing in her bedroom brings me exponentially more joy than any music I could listen to on the radio.
I just stand quietly outside her door at night and listen, knowing it won’t always be like that. That’s what innocence sounds like. A girl singing and knowing that she is so loved by her dad that her singing is a gift, not something to be judged or evaluated or rated or made fun of or praised for its quality. I love Finn’s art because I love Finn. I love Lucy’s singing because I love her.
All of that brings me back to the Little Drummer Boy.
That boy in the song had nothing to give the new king. Nothing. So he played his drum for him. Not because he was the greatest drummer in the land, but because he was a child and he trusted that he might be loved, even by a king.
That king was – if you believe this – the son of God. If you believe in this, then you believe that the boy was a child of that king. And if you are a parent, you can imagine the joy that that flooded the king when the boy began to play his drum for him, like a dad listening to his child sing in her bedroom.
But enough about my kid’s art, and more about my art. So here we have…
The Top Five Art Projects I Did as a Kid.
1. My First Story.
You remember those giant pages from kindergarten that were barely recycled and still had wood pulp chips in them where the top half was for drawing and there were three super wide lines at the bottom so you couldn’t possibly write outside the lines? I still have my first one. The drawing was me with a red ball and it said I had a red ball and that I liked playing with it. The truth was that I didn’t have a red ball. And I swear that to this day I still feel guilty about writing that.
In 8th grade, our art teacher did something cool, which was to give us a canvas with a grid on it and let us choose a piece of famous art and made that into a grid, and then we would just paint it, grid by grid, and it sort of ended up looking a little like the painting. I chose a painting by Cezanne. I then made Cezanne my favorite artist and begged my parents to take me to the museum in NYC to see a Cezanne and when we finally did they were like “Look, Cezanne” and I was “Whatever.”
3. Ash Tray(s).
Let me tell you what kids aren’t making any more: Ash trays. Raise your hand if you’re from the generation that was still making ash trays for your parents out of clay, whether or not your parents smoked. I feel like my generation single-handedly forced my parents generation to keep smoking, because we kept bringing home ash trays and asking why our parents weren’t using them.
4. Me, Myself and I.
My first grade teacher let us write a book and have it bound and everything. I called mine “Me, Myself and I” which I thought was awfully clever. It wasn’t long but it had drawings and information about me, like my name is Conor and I have these siblings and these pet parakeets and I like to play kickball. Which is really how I should be introducing myself as an adult.
5. Jupiter, King of the Gods.
Our sixth grade social studies teacher apparently played guitar. We learned this when, during the time we were learning about Greek Gods, he told us he had written a song to remember the Gods. He took out his guitar and he paused and said “If anyone laughs, you fail the class” and he was only half joking. But he was a good singer. He gave us a choice – write a report on Greek Gods or memorize that song and sing it in front of the class, solo. I, along with maybe half the class, chose to sing, beet red and mortified. It was traumatic and invigorating and I can still sing the opening verse: “Jupiter, King of the Gods! King of the Gods that’s Jupiter!”
When I came home that day after singing that song in front of my sixth grade social studies class, I sang it for my parents. They clapped. And I was not embarrassed.