Friday, November 29, 2013

In Honor of Thanksgiving...

I am so thankful for my beautiful family, especially my daughter.

I am also deeply aware of how blessed I am that I have the ability to express myself in writing, and even more humbling... I am thankful for those of you who enjoy reading my thoughts...

So in honor of Thanksgiving (and the fact that I am now 100 PAGES IN!!! Woohoo!!) to my latest project, a collection of non-fiction...

I give you a crazy but true story of everyday life that celebrates the one, the only, Kaliah Rose McFadden:

The “Budding” Artist

            Considering how much crazy runs in our family tree, I count myself extremely blessed when I ponder how intelligent, compassionate, kind, and well-behaved our daughter has turned out to be thus far.  As a teacher, it is especially important to me that she treat her teacher and classmates with respect.  Rarely has she let me down in this aspect.  The one time she got herself in a somewhat serious bind occurred in the first grade.

            We were driving home from martial arts practice.  Each day after school, my daughter rides the bus to the martial arts studio, where she receives babysitting services and a tae kwon do lesson, two for the price of one.  So I hadn’t yet had a chance to ask her about her day when I picked her up from the studio.  She had barely shut her door and I had just climbed into the driver’s seat when she announced, “Mom, I have something to tell you.”

            “Okay,” I replied, backing the car up.

            “I don’t want to tell you,” she continued, seriously and honestly.

            I closed my eyes briefly before shifting gears and pulling out of the parking lot.  This had already been a long day (as most of my days dealing with seventh graders were).  I remember thinking, what now?, as I caught a glimpse of my daughter’s worried face in the rearview mirror.

            “Kaliah,” I said slowly.  “Whatever it is, I will still love you.  But you are going to be in much less trouble if you tell me the truth about it now than if I hear about it from someone else later.”

            “Well,” she began reluctantly, “I drew a drawing at school.  Because Kevin asked me to.”

            “It was an unappropriated drawing.”

            “Inappropriate how?” I demanded, feeling my blood pressure begin to rise, trying to keep my voice at an acceptable decibel.

            Silence answered me from the back seat.  I met my daughter’s eyes in the rearview.  They were shining with tears.

            “What did you draw, Kaliah?” I asked her, fighting to stay calm.

            “Well… Kevin asked me to draw a naked lady. So I did.”  She then burst into uncontrollable sobs.  “I feel so ashamed!” She wailed.

            For a moment, I nearly laughed.  My seven year old had drawn a naked woman, and now was beside herself, crying and apologizing.

            I grimaced to hide my smile.  “Kaliah,” I said sternly.  “You know better than that.”

            “Are they going to expel me?” she moaned.

            Again, I furrowed my brow to suppress a giggle.  “No, I don’t think so.  What else happened?”

            “I got into trouble with Mrs. Williams.  I didn’t mean to!  I’m sorry,” Kaliah melted into tears again, pressing her face into her hands.

            “We’ll talk about it when we get home.  It will be okay.  Thank you for telling me,” I practiced my best maternal discipline voice—firm but not heartless. 

            Upon arriving at home, as I fished my child’s folder from her book bag, removed her homework packet and placed Kaliah at the kitchen table with it, I rummaged through the take-home side of the folder, finding at once a handwritten note from Mrs. Williams.  I removed it from the folder, leaning over the counter to read the story according to Kaliah’s teacher.

            Dear Ms. Meister,

Today during reading time, Kaliah drew the following picture in her journal.  When I asked her about it, she claimed that a classmate asked her to draw it.  When I questioned her classmate, he denied asking her to draw this.  Kaliah approached my desk a bit later and claimed that actually, a family member had told her to draw it.  I sent a copy to Ms. Fox and explained to Kaliah that these kinds of pictures are inappropriate for school.

Thank you,

Mrs. Williams

            I could feel the blood rushing to my temples as I lifted the note to discover the drawing folded neatly underneath it:  Undeniably my daughter’s artwork:  The face, smile, and hair were mirror images of other artistic efforts she brought home.  The neck, the shoulders, and then, the reason she was in trouble:

            Two large round circles (each about twice as large as the drawing’s head).  Each circle had a carefully defined smaller, shaded circle within it.


            The drawing continued to the end of the page with two long lines underneath the breasts to indicate the body, a dot in the middle of the parallel lines for a belly button, and then, thankfully, the end of the page.

            I spun around to stare at my daughter incredulously.  “You told Mrs. Williams a family member told you to draw this??” I waved the drawing in the air.

            Kaliah’s big brown eyes gazed up at me, swimming in tears.  “Yes,” she said in a small voice.

            Which family member?” I demanded, barely recognizing my shrill, squeaky voice.

            “Um… I just told her a family member,” Kaliah said quietly.

            Why?” I demanded, panic gripping me.  Oh, my God, Mrs. Williams was going to think we were all perverts!  A family full of them!

            “Well, Kevin lied and said that he didn’t tell me to draw anything.  Even though he did.  And I didn’t want Mrs. Williams to think that I came up with drawing the lady on my own,” Kaliah was crying again, refusing to look me in the eye.

            “So you let her think that people at home told you to draw this?  Kaliah Rose!”

            “I’m sorry, Mom!” Kaliah was dissolving into full break-down mode again.  “I didn’t want to get in trouble!”

            “Well, it’s a bit late for that!  Who’s Ms. Fox?”

            “The assistant principal.  Are they going to expel me?  I don’t want to be expelled.  I like school,” she was sobbing inconsolably again.

            I stared at my daughter, a mixture of emotions ebbing away at me.  I was humiliated that Mrs. Williams might be viewing our family as group of perverts or nudist enthusiasts.  I was proud of Kaliah for confessing her wrongdoings, and a little amazed at the degree of regret and shame she was displaying.  I was angry at this other kid, Kevin, who clearly had more experience with getting into trouble and lying his way out of it than my daughter.  Of course I believed that she had been told to draw the nude—every single day, when she finished her work early, she drew, probably to date, thousands of people, most of them girls.  Not a one amongst the thousands had ever been naked before.   Also, she hadn’t drawn it in some obscure place, knowing what she was doing was wrong.  She’d put it directly in the journal that Mrs. Williams was sure to look at. 

            At a loss for what to do, I called her father, relating the tale to him while Kaliah was taking her bath.

            “I think I did that, when I was her age,” he said vaguely.

            “Drew a naked woman?” I asked dryly.

            “Yeah… it might have been in kindergarten.”

            I hung up the phone.

            That evening, I wrote a long apology letter to Mrs. Williams, explaining that Kaliah and I had spoken about the situation, Kaliah was deeply sorry for her actions, and now she knew that drawing anything like that was completely unacceptable.  (Of course, I also mentioned that no family member had suggested that Kaliah draw a topless woman, and that we had also discussed how lying to make a situation better will inevitably make it worse.  I managed to jot down my belief that she had drawn her picture at the other child’s suggestion, but concluded that nevertheless, my daughter should know better than to listen to every idea her classmates have).

            To my daughter’s relief, no further disciplinary actions were taken.  She was not expelled, as she dreaded she would be.  The rest of her first grade year passed by uneventfully.

            Recalling the incident to a bartender at the restaurant I work at part-time, my free-spirited friend shrugged.  “It’s art!  How dare they limit her right to express herself!  Can’t anybody enjoy the form of the human body anymooooore?” he demanded, winking as he shook his dred locks from side to side.

            All’s well that ends well, I reasoned.  Taking some comfort in the fact that she had been so hard on herself, I hoped that in the future she would think before she… well, drew.

            And to this date, she has yet to be reprimanded for any additional nude drawings, nor feared expulsion for any other offense.  She may be taking less artistic risks… but in my opinion, it’s a fair trade.  After all, one year is down, and only eleven more remain.  Then, Kaliah Rose, you can draw all the naked women you want.

            Just don’t tell anybody I told you to do it.

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