When I was a child and we'd make the trek to Greece in the summer to visit our grandparents, my favorite part of the arrival was rushing into the bedroom my sister and I shared when we were there and finding, like lost treasure, the books my grandmother kept on the shelves above our beds. It was an odd collection of novels for children--my favorites being the "Famous Five" books by little known British writer Enid Blyton. Oh, how I longed to be tomboy George and to have a faithful dog companion like Timmy! My sister and I acted out elaborate Famous Five mystery scenarios which were played out against the backdrop of citrus trees, resiny pines, and the concrete sidewalks that made up the neighborhood of the Athens suburb where my grandparents had their apartment.
Another book (now out of print), The Mystery of the Silver Circle delighted us summer after summer but my all-time favorite was another out-of-print book, Star in the Hand--a book about a young boy growing up by the seashore who defies his small-town rough-around-the-edges heritage and emerges as a creative, passionate, and talented artist--just as predicted by a fortune-teller lady who sees that the boy has a "star" in the palm of his hand; a sign of fame and creative genius. One night he creates, out of odds and ends collected from the seashore--bits of broken glass, pebbles, a cork, some fishing net and some dried seaweed--a crèche for his school play. He is so caught up in the moment that he is unable to hear his own mother call to him and his fingers move of their own accord, molding and arranging the objects just right.
We only got to read those books once a summer or, sometimes two years might go by before we could turn the pages again. By the end of the first few weeks at the apartment we would have read through almost every one of those books, the characters popping up in our lives again, like long-lost, dear, dear friends.
I thought about Star in the the Hand yesterday when I caught sight of L. bent over a Star Wars sketch he was working on. He was in the throes of a complete, almost primal, creative moment and I, with my arms filled with laundry paused to envy him the moment. I remember being a child and feeling the same out-of-body experience--the one you get when the creative energy, like an electrical charge, flows down through your fingers and the real world spins away to the boundaries of your consciousness and you are oblivious to everything but what you are creating. My own creative moments have become more controlled now--I still feel heady and satisfied when I am using my creative energies, but I have too many things anchoring me to the real world to enjoy the luxury of releasing myself completely to the moment, the way children do.
I'm realizing more and more now as I get further and further into parenting older school-aged children, how critically important the creative moment is for so many children, and how lost their sense of creative space becomes as they grow older. Maybe because I have to work so hard to find the time and space to be creative myself, I've become sensitive to how little time there is for our own kids to be creative--beyond the preschool days, that is. My kids once spent hours being creative when they were very young: L. used to busy himself for up to a full hour kneading and stretching play-doh out while classical music played in the background. When T. was very young, she would happily paint on the long sheets of easel paper I rolled out for her on the back porch on warm summer days. There was something intangible and soul-satisfying about the creative process and what it gave gave my kids--something that extended far beyond the painting or play-doh creation they produced.
I volunteered at T.'s school on Friday and helped out in a winter learning experience. The kids loved every minute of it--especially the creative moments that allowed them to escape into their imaginations. Yet I know that out of the long school day T., like most elementary school kids, probably only gets about a handful of opportunities to truly lose herself in a creative moment--so much of the day is structured in such a way that there simply isn't much time to for any child to get lost in drawing, or in painting, or using their hands to create wonderful masterpieces of their own. There is too much other work to be done--too many goals to be met, too much measurable learning to do.
I work hard to protect the time for my kids to lose themselves in something truly creative. I try and encourage quiet, creative time for both kids but L. is often too stressed out and overwhelmed during the week to settle into any type of quiet space (beyond the space he carves around the computer). Our busy, schedule-driven lives often take over and days and sometimes weeks will pass before L. or T. get the chance to sit and truly explore that important side of themselves, that creative space we all crave--and need.
How do you help your kids reclaim their own creative space?