One of the great joys of parenthood is watching your children emerge as people. It starts very early, of course, witnessing the little things that babies do when they’re responding to the world, getting to know their favorite toy or food or song, the things they master and the things they struggle with, what makes them laugh and what makes them cry.
Right now, I am watching my kids’ talents emerge, and I am amazed all over again how very individual they are.
I am constantly impressed by my nine-year-old son Kolbe. I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog before, but Kolbe is autistic. His biggest challenge is language, and if you were to speak with him, you’d doubtless notice his atypical speech. He’s come a very long way, but still struggles with both expressive and receptive language. It can be very frustrating for him, when he doesn’t understand directions or can’t quite say what he means. He also reads below grade level, and hasn’t quite gotten to the point where reading is much more than a chore.
But, as is true of anyone, if you were to define Kolbe by his disabilities, you would be doing him, and yourself, a grave disservice.
Kolbe is very good at math, grasping concepts that are above his grade level with ease. He is also incredibly talented at music. We didn’t really realize exactly how talented before he started taking piano lessons this past fall. Despite never having played piano before, he’s sailed through the introductory pieces. He might not read for fun, but he plays piano for fun. He might have trouble expressing himself with words, but his music is full of nuance and emotion. It’s amazing watching him blossom like this.
My daughter Josie is seven, and also started piano this past fall. She works hard and has progressed well for her age and experience, but she obviously doesn’t have the same talent for it that Kolbe has. This upsets her sometimes, and Pete and I explain to her that she’s not in a competition with her brother, and that not everybody has the same talents. That she succeeds when she works hard and continues to improve.
Josie excels at reading. She reads well above her grade level, constantly “accidentally” checks books out of the library that are even above the advanced level she’s pegged at. (“Mom, this book has a lime-green dot…honestly, I thought it was yellow!” Once, maybe, twice, okay, but several times a week? I don’t think so.) She writes stories, which pleases me in particular.
But she is an amazing artist.
We’ve known this for a while. As soon as she could hold a crayon, she’s been drawing. And not always just scribbles. She would draw a lot of faces. One time we asked her what one of her drawings was. She said it was “a ghost on wheels.” And by god, that’s exactly what it was. Her drawings have developed along with her. Her first grade teacher eagerly showed us her illustrations for the stories they wrote in class. Every time I see one of her drawings, I’m amazed anew by how she has a marked ability to convey emotion on the faces of the people (and animals) she draws.
A couple days ago, she showed me a drawing of our dog, saying “Look! I based it off of reality!”
Holy cow. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but she had been drawing entirely from her imagination. She had never actually looked at something and drawn it until she drew our dog. I was amazed. I couldn’t draw that well when I was seven!
When my husband came home from his conference yesterday, I went through Josie’s sketchbook with him, showing him the dragons she’s drawn, the unicorns, the unicorn seahorses, the fancy princesses. Then we came upon this drawing:
Holy cow, man.
I’m going to work hard to make sure Kolbe and Josie have the resources they need to continue to develop their talents. I hope to do right by them and by the amazing gifts they’ve been given.