Monday, March 5, 2012

Grace under Pressure - Episode 2

We had an interesting Saturday, or rather, Ryan did. We took him to a trial art class and a violin observation class and they were completely opposite experiences for him. I'll tell you about what we think about both classes in the next post. In this post, I want to record how Ryan handled an encounter with a very difficult person in the art class. It's a very long post, so get settled in.

We signed Ryan up for a trial class at Studio Haroobee at the Esplanade and we dutifully trooped over there on Saturday morning. Richard and I weren't very enthusiastic about signing up for the programme since Ryan was doing so well with his art at home. Nevertheless, we thought it would be good to go and get an idea of how the lessons were conducted. If we agree with the approach, we could incorporate it into the art sessions that we do at home. If we disagree, well, that's fine too because then we would have considered other views, opinions and approaches, discarded the ones that don't work for us and settled on the ones that do. It would also be worthwhile to see if Ryan enjoyed the studio environment - if he did, that would be a strong reason to sign up.

Ryan was in a good mood and super excited when he got into the studio. He could see all the easels set up and all the artwork and materials lying around and he knew that he was going to paint! The smallest smock was still too large for him but Ryan was beaming with anticipation when we put it on him. He readily got up on the stool in front of the easel.

The instructor was a middle-aged woman who seemed a little surprised that Ryan was so young. Richard knelt down on his left and the instructor sat on his right, while I sat behind. Then, it sort of went downhill from there.

The instructor started by asking Ryan,"What do you know how to draw? What can you draw?" Ryan took his time to think and was slow to answer. The instructor was too impatient to wait so she filled in the silence with another question. And another. And another. After five rapid-fire questions, Ryan concluded that she was not that interested in his answer so he clammed up. He just held his hand up, as if telling her, "just give me the brush and I'll show you what I can do". There was no point talking because before he could form the answer in his mind, she had already fired the next question.

Under interrogation. Ryan's body language tells the whole story -
he feels the negative vibes but tries to stay calm and get on with the task
I was pretty annoyed actually. When we signed up for the trial class, we were assured that the studio could handle children of Ryan's age but, clearly, this instructor had no clue how to connect with young children. The instructor even told Ryan, "You don't want to tell me your name, so I will have to call you 'boy boy'". She already knew his name! She insisted that he had to say it himself otherwise he was going to be 'boy boy'. I found that ridiculous! If she wanted him to warm up to her, if she wanted to make a connection with him, if she wanted to draw out the best in him, then she was certainly not going to get anywhere with her emotional blackmail. I told her to just let him draw but she said, no, he must talk to her. After a few more agonising minutes of condescending questions to Ryan (which Ryan let slide), she finally gave him a pen and a pad, and asked him to draw a circle, an oval, a sun, basically various shapes. Ryan patiently drew what she asked. He didn't whine, he didn't pull a face, he didn't complain. He just drew. Gosh, if I were him, I would have stomped off.

After that, she went back to asking him what he could draw. I sighed to myself - that door had closed long ago. She was either completely obtuse or she just wanted to harp on it and give the impression that things were going badly with Ryan being the cause. Move on, lady! Finally, she took the pen and pad away and gave him a crayon. Ryan looked at the blank sheet of paper in front of him with his hand up holding the crayon at the ready, waiting for her to stop ranting and complaining and to say something constructive instead. Finally, she said, "Can you draw a sun?" And so, Ryan drew a sun. He was very steady and calm, drawing a circle for the sun and surrounding it with sunrays, one by one.

After that, Ryan drew a cloud. The instructor said that his cloud was all wrong and she drew her version on her notepad to show him. Ryan looked at it, turned back to the easel, and carried on with his cloud. I was silently going, "Yeah!" I mean, clouds are all different, aren't they? She looked at Ryan's cloud, pronounced it to be a bird and not a cloud, and asked him to draw another bird. She proceeded to draw one on her notepad, section by section (head, body, tail, wings, beak) and told Ryan to copy her on the easel. Ryan dutifully did so, section by section. Yet, she was not pleased. She was still harping on about Ryan's quietness and kept sighing and complaining that he was not talking to her.

She asked him to draw some grass. Ryan wasn't keen on that (he must have been thinking there's no grass in the sky, madam). She sighed again, and I silently went, "Yeah!" again. I mean, first she complained that he didn't want to communicate his ideas to her, then she complained when he did communicate his ideas (by rejecting hers). Ryan should have been the one sighing, but he just waited patiently for her next instruction.

She then asked Ryan to paint the sky blue. Ryan took up the brush, dabbed it in the blue paint and started painting. She took a dry brush and started pointing it all over the sheet, saying, "paint here, don't paint here, follow my brush", swinging her brush between the areas of sky and areas of non-sky. Ryan slowly followed her brush around and was careful to avoid the non-sky areas. He successfully finished one section and the instructor paused in her ranting. I guess she couldn't come up with anything mean to say at that moment. She then told him to start on another section of sky so he did, with her swinging her brush all over the sheet again, "paint here, don't paint here, follow my brush". Ryan just tried to follow that damn brush and - you can imagine where this was going, I certainly saw it coming - there was one time that she said "don't paint here" but her brush had already travelled ahead to the taboo area when the last instruction was "paint here", and Ryan's brush had already followed along. Ryan quickly moved his brush back to the sky area. It was just one stroke of forbidden blue, but she rolled her eyes and told Richard in an exasperated tone, "I think he's just going to paint over the objects and paint the whole thing blue. Ok ok ok! Just paint everything blue and we'll paint in the objects over the blue!"

I was slowly but surely losing my cool. Ryan was drawing images, following instructions, showing his ideas, he was so well-behaved, but she made it seem as if nothing was going right and Ryan was to blame. She asked Richard whether Ryan drew any images at home and Richard told her, yes, and she sniffed, "Well, since he doesn't want to talk to me, then I won't know what he can draw." Well, lady, if I were Ryan, I wouldn't want to talk to you either!

We were about 30 minutes in and, at that point, one of the staff came in and said it would be better if we waited outside because the programme was a drop-off class. It would be a better reflection of whether Ryan could handle it if, for the trial, we waited outside. As Richard and I left, I saw Ryan's face become slightly panicked. He looked as if he was going to burst into tears.

Now, Ryan has never been to a drop-off class before so this was a real test. You know how parents always report how anxious they are to see how their child copes with separation anxiety on the first day of pre-school? This was much worse, for the simple reason that we were leaving him with The Instructor From Hell. Most children cry simply because they are separated from their parents but they are usually left with caring teachers who make an effort to put them at ease. This was not the case here - the person we were leaving him with was not going to make any effort to put him at ease. On the contrary, she could actually drive him over the edge.

And you know what? Ryan kept his chin up, held back his tears, steadied himself, focused on the task and got on with it. I don't know if it was his love of painting, his self-discipline, his social skills, his maturity or his manners, but he did not cry, he did not insist on leaving with us, he did not fuss, he did not whine or pout. I have to point out that Richard and I did not tell him how he should behave. We didn't say anything to him like: be good/don't be naughty, listen to the teacher, sit down/stay there, don't cry, do your painting, etc. We just told him we were going outside. He watched us go, but he knew he had to stay and finish the painting, and that's what he did.

From time to time, Richard and I would peek at him. We saw him painting away quietly and seriously, focused and deep in concentration. He seemed to be doing what the instructor wanted him to do - I could see her pointing here and there with her brush, and he would paint where she pointed.

Focused on the task
Dabbing his brush in the paint
After about half an hour, we peeked again and saw him at another table, drying his work with a hair dryer. A short while later, we peeked again. The instructor was holding his hand and leading him back to the easel. He caught sight of us and promptly burst into tears, straining to get to us.

Oh, my heart! I knew exactly how he must have felt. Under siege, stressed, pressured, harassed, harangued, victimised, bullied. He knew that he needed to finish his work and he loves his art, so he put up with that woman and her incessant complaining and snobbish ways. He followed her instructions, did what she wanted and, oh my goodness, he was so well-behaved and well-mannered, he didn't rebel at all.  He didn't take out his tension and stress on her, and he stayed in control of his emotions. The moment he was done with the piece and there was no reason to stay (ie. we had come to fetch him), he could let go of all that tension and all that stress and it was then, and only then, that he did. That little three year old has such a good heart and such strength of character, the word "amazing" just isn't adequate.

We rushed in to Ryan and I untied the smock, scooped him up, reassured him and praised him, and he regained his composure. He didn't complain about what he went through, he was just happy that he was done. Richard collected his art piece while I carried him out to the waiting area. Richard passed the piece to him and Ryan held onto it tightly. The instructor came out, saw Ryan in my arms, pointed to his work, and asked, "What's this?" Ryan replied, "Sun." "What's this?" "Cloud." "What's this?" "Tree." She said, "Now you talk. The whole class you don't say a word. And now you say three words."

I just wanted her to get away from Ryan. But wonders never cease - before she went back inside the class, she patted Ryan on the head and complimented him on his curls and his dimple, and told me how good-looking he was. I was completely taken aback so I just smiled weakly at her.

We left and drove into Orchard for lunch. Ryan held on to his art piece, even turning it around to show it to us whenever we looked back at him sitting in the carseat. We heaped praises and compliments on him, telling him how wonderful he had been and how beautiful his piece was. When we reached our destination and went to the restaurant, he insisted on bringing the piece along. It was so precious to him. After all, he had gone through hell for it!

I wrote an earlier post about an incident where Ryan behaved with grace under pressure, which made me immensely proud of him. Unlike that incident, what I feel now isn't pride. I can't pretend or tell myself that I deserve any credit for this (giving birth to him doesn't count). The previous incident was nothing compared to what happened at the art class on Saturday. On Saturday, Ryan took everything to a whole new level, a level which even some adults would not have been able to handle. I myself could learn a lot from this little guy. No, it's not pride that I feel. It's a sense of realising that I've being incredibly blessed (this comes with a sense of intense gratefulness). You know all those mushy quotes about children being angels sent from heaven? That's exactly how I feel right now. Like I've been blessed and entrusted with a little angel.

And with that feeling of being entrusted with a precious angel, comes the realisation of just how heavy and serious a parent's responsibility is, to NOT MESS OUR CHILDREN UP. It's not just about feeding them, clothing them, sending them to school and teaching them to read. That's the easy part. There's a helluva lot more and the "lot more" part of it is a helluva lot harder than we think. How do you make sure that you don't mess up your angel?

This is the piece that Ryan painted. It is going to hang in our home as a trophy which Ryan fully deserves, plus as a reminder of the beautiful people we can be if we only set our minds to it.


Anonymous said...

I almost wanted to cry reading the blow-by-blow account of what the art teacher did. Very condescending indeed. She also gives a bad reputation to Haroobee. You may want to try the other branches to redeem the experience?

Anonymous said...

Like the one at Fusionpolis?
-- Kamy

Pinkie Pirate said...

Kamy - Yes, there is a new branch just opened at Fusionopolis. Probably not the studio's fault, just a crappy instructor. We might try again in the future but for now, we are quite happy to keep with our home sessions.

terri said...

Pretty heart-breaking what Ryan went thru - but such nerves of steel!

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