Thursday, October 13, 2011

Freedom of Expression

Apparently, the desire to write and create can run deep in a family's roots. I was reminded of this yesterday when I picked up my grandchildren at school.

When my granddaughter and I arrived at my grandson's classroom, he was crouched over a piece of paper at the far side of the room, obviously engaged in a very important task. After his teacher called him to be dismissed, she and I discussed his creativity and love for writing. He and the friend sitting behind him were busily working on a book project for which he has great plans. Only a week ago, he'd asked me to find a picture of the two of them to use on the cover of their developing manuscript.

As we headed to the parking lot, our discussion turned to future career options and I was happy to hear the words “author and illustrator” among the choices my grandson is considering. One of my greatest desires is to instill a love for reading and writing in my grandchildren. I'm quite sure some of this has come from my three decades of working with children as a teacher, but my own love for the printed word has its roots in something I believe is much deeper.

As a kindergarten teacher, I was always reminded that writing takes many forms, especially in the beginning. Lines, circles and even scribbles were acceptable as little ones learned the proper pencil grip and experimented first on a large blank piece of manila paper with a chunky kindergarten pencil and gradually moving to smaller paper, pencil and crayons. Recently, I saw a picture of my youngest grandson, a left hander, like his dad, practicing his freedom of expression on a large white board. His fine motor skills are being honed as he is given the freedom to first “draw” his thoughts as he gains confidence in his ability to communicate a message in print.

Perhaps my inner dreams of being a writer took root early as I explored an extremely large canvas... the siding on our neighbor's house. I can still see the swirls of color made by my Crayolas and the look on my mother's face when she learned of my naughty deed. My creative expression also found its way in a pair of child size scissors as I made my mark on towels, dust ruffles and bedspreads sometime before reaching school age. It seemed I was off to a really bad start when it comes to creative expression. In second grade when my thoughts became words scribbled on my personal crayon box, giving voice to some unsavory feelings towards a friend, I earned my first and last “B” in citizenship. One might wonder how I was able to hold onto my love for the written word in light of my beginnings.

Perhaps it was the feeling I had when printing my name on that first piece of paper with the red dotted lines in the middle. I can still remember the joy of using a newly sharpened pencil and the satisfaction of opening a brand new box of crayons. Or could it be my first “I love you mommy” scrawled on the handmade Valentine card or the tiny hopeful words scripted on those conversation hearts that trumped my negative thoughts about myself as a writer. Who can know how and when the “writing bug” bites? Where does it originate and from how far back does it come?

When I look back into the genealogy of my family, I find writers in both my mother's and father's family line. These authors, while anonymous, found expression in poems, hymns, recipes, journals and letters declaring love, giving hope and encouraging faith. Like pen and ink, connecting the dots, the gift of expression seems to find its way into each generation.

Somehow I've known it's never been easy when one is called to become a scribe, a communicator of thoughts, and follow that calling.

It was in my grandson's words I saw the dilemma facing each of us, as this gift comes knocking at the door of our heart.

“Neenie, when I have a pencil in my hand and a spare one on my ear and I'm staring at a blank piece of paper, I have a funny feeling in my gut.... I'm not sure what to write about.”

For those who have felt the fear and trembling of sharing one's thoughts through written expression, there is an identification with this fourth grader's uneasiness. I dare say it's a fear that what we have to say and even a rejection of who we are that keeps us frozen in moving forward with our writing or even in a genre that has become comfortable.

“I want to talk to you about poems,” he said next. “I wrote a poem about a Willow, do you want to hear it?” “Of course,” I replied.

The Willow

The willow is something free,

For it is a lovely tree,

The glistening leaf takes all the while,

To float and sway into the pile.

His face lit up as I used the words “ absolutely beautiful” to describe his creation. His sister chimed in with “tell her about the other poem!” I'd obviously opened the door for more sharing as she also told me of one of her recent drawings followed by the recitation of another poem.

Long after the children went home, I contemplated this poem. It painted a picture for me of the beauty in the freedom of expression. It is a lovely thing that slowly and imperceptibly, as the glistening leaf, finds its way into a writer's heart. It takes only the gentle breeze of encouragement to prompt the letting go, releasing it to its destination.

Children come to us as a blank slate. It's up to us as teachers, parents and grandparents to put the tools in their hands and provide the encouragement. Let's give them a great big canvas (hopefully not your neighbor's house) and lots of room to make mistakes. Let's “use our words” and provide plenty of freedom of expression in our praise and watch their words be released to their destination. Who knows how their words will be released? To inform, encourage, heal, or inspire as my grandson's words have inspired me. Go ahead teachers, parents, grandparents and scribes... Express yourself!


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