When I was about Calvin’s age I attended Catholic school. Every day I put on a scratchy wool pleated plaid skirt under which I wore cutoffs so I could climb the monkey bars at recess. Matching suspenders went over a white blouse and under a carmine wool sweater and I wore my hair in a pixie, my mother having put Scotch tape across my bangs in hopes of cutting it straight.
My teachers were mostly austere nuns who met us at the door every morning before class. I learned to read and write, do simple math, enjoyed some art and endured religion. I don’t remember any P.E. A couple of times a year, though, we had some sort of health day. We performed sit-ups and pushups, traced large chalk circles and figure eights on blackboards using both hands and ran races in the parking lot. The smallest girl in our class, Barbara Koreski, always won. She was very thin and compact, like an elf, but she was damn fast. I remember always coming in just behind her.
Once, during art, I watched the teacher-nun pace by my desk as we drew animals, which I was excellent at doing. She passed by me and stood above the girl in front. “That’s not how you draw an elephant,” she nagged, “elephants aren’t purple and pink.” Even at the age of seven I knew the nun was full of it. I felt so bad for the girl whose sad frown scowled down at her page as she scribbled over her creation. I wished I could have said something to the nun, corrected her for her narrow-minded, harsh opinion, for squashing a child’s imagination. But I couldn’t.
Another time in art class we fingerpainted. We each got to choose a color, and because I always wanted to be different, I chose yellow when most of the other kids had chosen red, blue or green. Only one other student, the girl next to me, chose yellow, but I made a very special loop de loop in the upper left hand corner so I'd know that it was mine. We pinned them on the wall to dry. All day during class I gazed admiringly at my happy yellow creation. At the end of the day we were handed back our masterpieces but the nun gave me the wrong one. I immediately protested saying that the other yellow one was mine, that there had been a mistake. “It doesn’t matter,” the nun barked, “they’re both yellow.” She walked away as I begged for my painting with the unique squiggle in the corner. The other little girl did nothing. Perhaps she didn’t know, or care, or maybe she wanted mine. After all, I really felt it was better.
Even now, I cringe when I hear an adult tell a kid that they aren’t drawing, coloring, painting or sculpting right. I can’t imagine what the point is. Someday, if the seizures abate and we can take Calvin off of the drugs, I hope that he can learn to grasp a crayon in his hand and make a mark—his very own—and know that he has created something beautiful, something unique—all by himself—and that I am proud.
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