putting the wind in your sail

In ALL, RAISING HOPS INTO BEERS, SUGAR & SPICEby Stephanie Klein5 Comments

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I heard somewhere that memory doesn’t begin until we’re verbal. Once we’re able to speak, we’re capable of developing memories. Only, so much of early memory is created, invented and claimed as our own, from photographs and home movies, moments captured and viewed from the perspective of someone else. Someone else is the storyteller, yet it becomes our story. We plagiarize our childhoods.

Yesterday Abigail told me she was an artist. “Obviously,” she said, “because even when I was a baby in my crib, I found a way to make art.” She’s speaking of the months she tormented me with her proclivity to make great works of art with her excrement. Doody Dadaism. Despite my attempts at Duct Tape Therapy, she was a resourceful student of the arts, finding her unsavory materials come hell or hand painting. She doesn’t retell the story with any sense of embarrassment–no, she says it with pride, as if it’s proof of her natural-born nature. As if upon seeing the accomplished work of one of her peers, she’d scoff and secretly say, “Yes, but you probably had to work hard at that. Whereas, I, dear friend, am a natural. My mama has the video to prove it.”

And it bothers me. As a child, I always lit up at story time, and in only fourth grade, I knew, deeply, that I wanted to be some type of writer. Drawing the picture, writing the story, I had this inner delight come over me, a giddiness, excited when I would be in the spotlight, able to share my story and illustration with the class. But I was always eager to improve, to learn any bits I could, anything at all–I still am. I work at it, keeping lists of words I like, highlighting paragraphs that inspire, learning new rules. The idea of taking a class thrills me.

Snowwoman, Age 5
Above: While all the other snowmen played by the rules, Abigail’s wore a bustier.
Abigail, Age 5, The SnowWoman.

Abigail mistakenly believes that her talent is enough. Unless it’s exercised and challenged, I’m afraid, it doesn’t work that way. When I attempt to teach her a new art lesson–creating the illusion of distance, for example, using proportion, or overlapping elements to give the sense of a foreground vs background–she turns away, certain that she doesn’t need direction, that inherently, she already knows. I’m sure she would benefit from taking art lessons from someone other than me, but Phil thinks, and maybe I agree, that it’s silly to spend money on art lessons, when I’m capable of teaching her. Wouldn’t music lessons or foreign language immersion be a better application of the money?

One idea is that when she refuses, I teach Lucas instead. She’ll overhear the lesson, at least, and maybe ask for help. Any advice would be helpful. I want to gradually but firmly establish in their minds that we’re born with gifts, but it is our duty to be prepared, to breathe life into our natural abilities. We’re given the sail, a patchwork of talents and strengths, but it’s up to us to work and position ourselves to catch the wind. Maybe I illustrate that very lesson and make it a bedtime story. “We get it already,” she’ll say.

Also, yes, I realize this applies to my writing, too. I am a natural born writer, with real talent, and it’s up to me to practice at it and breathe life into it. I wish I had more storytellers in my life. There’s an art to that, knowing when to let out the line and when to reel it in, how to spread the sauce. Dammit, I’m working on it! Also, tonight, I’m digging through the video footage of Abigail and her early adaptation of Dadaism.


  1. I kind of love how your daughter has such confidence in her ability to create art. You must have had a hand in nurturing that confidence. Children are always watching, always learning.

    I really enjoy your writing.

  2. My thoughts are similar to Karen’s. This place she’s in, where nobody else’s vision or opinion matters except hers, is something many girls lose as they go through their teens and early twenties. It might be a trait that serves her well in the turbulent years ahead.

  3. Or maybe do not teach her and see where she goes?

    I watched a program once on natural talent and ability. The start of new movements of art and music were not taught, they simply happened.

    Either way, I loved this post and think Abigail is adorable. I will add that it may also be an age thing. My son is the same age and he does believe that he knows everything about a subject if it is taught at school and will not listen to corrections I have to make!!

  4. Have you read the book “NurtureShock?” The very first chapter of the book addresses the issue of kids who are told they are “smart” as opposed to those who are told they do well because they work hard. The entire book is a great read for any parent, but this post reminded me of that first chapter in particular.

    1. Author

      I haven’t read it, but in our home we’ve always made it clear that “smart” isn’t getting the answer right. “Smart means not giving up when it gets hard.” We emphasize perseverance, and lord love a duck, how I try to lead by example. I don’t want these sweet beans to ever fear trying things, for fear of getting things wrong and feeling inept. So, in our house, you’re never smart for being right. You’re smart for trying and not giving up.

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