When I was a kid I seriously considered being an artist when I grew up. Everyone told me I was great at art, so why not? Then one day my mom ordered one of those art school prep tests and that's when I realized - I stink at drawing.
Comparison is a vengeful destroyer of childhood fantasy. That day when you realize there are people better than you at basketball, smarter than you in school, or when you can't figure out why everyone likes some other kid more than you – these are all devastatingly eye-opening moments in the eyes of a kid that drive them one way or the other.
The actual art test I saw had me drawing a couple simple cartoons like these guys, but the "level two" section was some master class on the intricacies of a duck in flight with shading and feathers and perspective and other nonsense. Realizing my own capabilities in this moment, I wasn't just comparing myself to other kids, but to professional adult artists. Did I leave out that I was still in elementary school at this point in time?
I could've been driven to pursue the craft but instead admitted defeat and gave up on the short-lived dreams of artistry. And thank God because being a musician was "starving artist" enough for me. But it stood out as a moment when I realized I wasn't the best at something and had to make a decision. Not just about believing in my own strengths, but also in believing what people said about me. Why would you tell me I was a great artist if I wasn't?
My oldest kid is 4 now and she's learning so much all the time. I remember back when she first started to scribble on paper and I jumped at the opportunity to draw with her because I had loved it so much as a kid. Now she's learning to draw things from her imagination and staying in the lines when she colors. When she showed me this picture of Elmo a few months ago I honestly couldn't believe she had done it all by herself once her mom colored in the crayons at the bottom.
In her life she is going to have no bigger supporter than me no matter what she chooses to do. But I'm going to be honest with her every time I have the opportunity to do so. Staying away from sweeping generalizations like "You're the best!" and focusing on praising her persistence will hopefully soften the blow when she finally realizes that some other kid is better than her at something. Hopefully it will help her learn her strengths in her own way so she's able to buckle down and actually become the best at something, or move on and not let it get her down.
But that's a long way away. For now we're just going to sit together and come up with ridiculous stories and draw whatever comes to mind. In the pics below there's a balloon floating through space while a purple alien hand tries to grab it before it gets too close to the sun (also pictured: grass, purple flowers, and random silver streaks "because they're pretty, Dad").
And on the bottom is a picture of a dragon fighting a princess with green hair that I'm entirely too proud of making. As you can tell, my drawing ability stopped progressing in elementary school but I couldn't be happier than when I'm telling stories and making art with my kids.