“You want to show Momma?” I hear the question come through the open door as I sit nursing the baby.
She comes into the living room and spying the baby in my lap, immediately drops her construction paper while she starts to wiggle onto the couch pressing her kisses up against Sugarplum’s damp head. In return, Sugarplum frees her hand from the gauzy Aden & Anais and pushes her away, half territorially, half in jest. Looking down and seeing the baby’s eyes glitter as she grins around me I decide to not intervene for the moment.
“Show me Quail.” She climbs back down off of the couch and picks up her artwork grinning as she holds it up to me. In the bottom left hand corner is her name written with green marker in her newly developed four year-old-scrawl. The coordinating stain on her shirtsleeve confirms it as her work. In the center is a bright orange jack-o-lantern. Cut. Painted. Pasted.
A simple piece of kid’s artwork.
Except that it isn’t quite as simple as it first appears. In reality, more work than art.
This bright, seasonal piece is the work of a therapy session. Occupational therapy. She would have been refining her fine motor skills for a good piece of the session, most likely over multiple sessions to finish this. She would have had to verbally identify the paper color with enough articulation to make her choice clear. She would have been asked what color a pumpkin is and had to locate the paint that looks just right. The painting of the pumpkin itself would have been pure pleasure for her now. If there is one medium that inspires this girl it is paint- oil, acrylic or water no matter. Pull out a paintbrush and she would even turn off Barney willingly. The fact that she can swish enough water on the brush, then visually aim the brush to the small oval of orange, coaxing her arm to move the way her mind knows it should, next coat the brush and apply it mostly within the black-pre-marked picture with ease- well that’s a testament to the amount of time she has spent practicing. Once the paint was dry enough the tough task would have begun. Holding the painted page in her left hand she would slip her forefinger and thumb into the child scissors, now the ones that she has to open and close independently, having graduated up from the ones that spring back open on their own and carefully turn the page as she cut so that her scissors are able to follow the black outline of the pumpkin. Once her pumpkin was cut out, she would have needed to be able to open the glue bottle, turn it upside down and squeeze with enough force to get the dots from bottle to page. I don’t know if she drew in the face. That isn’t a skill I’ve witnessed yet. But once the picture was complete she would have been expected to write her own name in the corner, also a hard-earned, recent skill.
Literally years of weekly practice at what most of us would consider work. But to her- it’s art, and fun, and playtime and a pumpkin picture- just like her friends make that she was asked to sign her name to and that will spend the fall season on our refrigerator, magneted next to the family tree Zuzu brought home. Or at least it will be hung there. Considering the emerging fine motor skills of her baby sister, odds are it won’t remain for long.
Maybe- more art than work.
Smiling at the picture I ask- “Did Jodie help you with this?”
“Did Ginger help?”
“Ms. Jan or Amanda?”
Finally it occurs to me that all of these skills that have been bundled into this simple picture- those would have come from her public school class.
“Ms. Lee or Ms. Dobson?”
I grinned. That was the last person I expected based on the most recent progress report we received on her IEP. It had appeared that perhaps our Quail was not being, shall we say- the most cooperative- with her new school OT. I’d been intending to send her a note, making sure she knew that what the Quail was able to do so that she wouldn’t be snowed into thinking she was not capable. The Quail, if she knows you’ll help her, she asks for it.
I’ve yet to confirm if this was the case, that she did all of this with the new OT, but regardless of what I find out, the fact of all of that work that went into this art still remains. Her pride in her work still remains. Her pride in her art still remains. The picture still remains. The promise of more to come remains.
Now- more art than work.
As I start to praise her efforts and progress, the Quail reaches over to snatch Sugarplum’s blanket. The baby roars up with her own tiny but fierce protests. Zuzu comes clamoring up on the couch grabbing for the remote. At the end of a long weekday they are back together and more pressing matters like whose turn to choose a show it is and whose lovey is being handled by a sister. I swipe the pumpkin picture up from the squabble just as the Quail lets go of the blanket. Zuzu starts up Netflix and the Quail starts chanting Barney over Sugarplum hollers for Elmo. Heading back into the kitchen I pin the picture up to the side of the fridge and reach into the cold to start dinner before the triad notices it hasn’t been served yet.