Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Emotion Called "The First Days Of School"

First days of a new school year can be exciting, but also intimidating. This goes for children, parents, and teachers. It's about stepping into the unknown and it has an effect on us all, even if you, like me, have been doing it for decades.

I've always started the year with easel painting, a kind of personal tradition, one, I suppose, that brings me a bit of comfort and control. Before applying paint to paper, one four-year-old, a veteran of our school, combined red and blue to mix up a proprietary hue, then took a brush in each first and began to paint energetically, swirling her paint into a massive storm of purple. She painted like this for a good twenty minutes. Adults commented on her work, but she barely looked up. Other children suggested adding other colors, offering yellow, red, and blue as suggestions, but she didn't take them up on it. A few people asked her, "What is it?" but she didn't answer.

Last year, I'd not thought of her as a child with particularly strong focus, but here she was, only three months later, pouring every ounce of herself into a self-selected project, indistractable. I stood beside her, for a time, more in admiration than anything else. Occasionally, I thought I saw her entire body quiver, betraying some strong emotion. At one point she began to paint with her hands near her mouth, as if speaking the paint onto the paper. And then I understood: she was painting the emotion that can only be called "the first days of school," a purple storm made with intensity.

As I watched, she spoke, not looking at me, but at the paper that was beginning to wrinkle under the force and wetness, "I can make anything I want." She said it again, "I can make anything I want." She was speaking to herself, to her painting, to me, and to the school. "I can make anything I want." She painted for several more minutes, stopped, decided to add a few dots of orange and green, then declared to the room, "I'm finished. It's time to get it dry."

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