Sunday, January 08, 2012

Among the Darn Things that Kids Draw

Among the Darn Things that Kids Draw

By Kevin Stoda


CONTEXT


I was married just three years ago, and now I have a little girl nearing the age of two. So, now, I am busy reading a lot about raising children, about being a good husband, and other self-help books for families and couples. Sometimes the amount of material in such books is simply overwhelming— still, at other times, some parts of books seem so superficial or uni-dimensional.

In one particular book on relationships and marriage, 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love, one of the two main protagonists—that is, the one who provided a great lesson for all--was a very young girl named Sarah.


A CHILD’S DRAWING


For three decades now, Dr. Gary Rosberg--along with his wife, Barbara--has made quite a name for himself offering counseling seminars and writing books for married couples. In reading one of them, the Rosberg’s 6 Secrets to a Lasting Love, I came across the following vignette which will likely continue to influence my thinking on family and life for years to come:

The vignette deals with the Rosbergs and their children during the early stages of their own marriage—at a time when Gary was very busy as a full-time employee, busy as a student working on his doctoral dissertation, and still busier undertaking various volunteer counseling efforts in his own community and church. Meanwhile, Barbara was holding down the home front with their two daughters, Sarah and Missy,--and their pet dog, Katie.

Meanwhile, Gary’s wife Barbara had agreed to take on a lot of the family duties for the duration of Gary’s doctoral studies. Barabara was feeling a bit overwhelmed at times but she rarely bothered Gary with the troubles. Gary was obviously overextending himself, too. He was going from activity to activity each day, and he was leaving home early and coming home late at night. Sometimes, he hung out at odd hours in the library. When Gary was back at his own home, especially on weekends, he would constantly find himself penned up in the family’s den working on his doctoral research, reading, and writing.

One afternoon, as his doctoral defense approached, Gary felt particularly squeezed for time as his little daughter, Sarah, came into his office library and asked him if Gary wanted to see her newest drawing. Gary continued typing away and indicated, “Sarah, Daddy’s busy. Come back in a little while, honey.”

Sure enough, the little daughter dutifully returned 10 minutes later and asked if her father was ready to look at her picture. Gary brushed her away—saying that Dad was sadly still busy at that moment, too. Soon Gary thought better about it, and he went out of the room finally to track down his daughter. Gary wrote later, “[S]he obliged with no recriminations [at his impatience] and hopped up onto my lap”.

Sarah then showed him the picture on which she had carefully printed a title: “Our Family Best”. Sarah told Gary about the picture she had colored, “Here is Mommy [a stick figure with long yellow curly hair]. Here is me standing by Mommy [with a smiley face]. Here is Katie [our dog]. And here is Missy [her little sister was a stick figure lying in the street in front of the house, about three times bigger than anyone else].”

Gary told her that he loved the picture and would hang it up where he could look at it again. Little Sarah then happily hopped away.

A few minutes later Gary was back in his study—but he knew he could no longer study. He was disturbed by the picture—which revealed the world as seen through the eyes of his older daughter. Gary went back outside and found little Sarah.

“Sarah,” Gary pleaded, “could you come back inside a minute, please? I want to look at your picture again.”

Gary sat his daughter down and asked, “Honey, I see Mommy and Sarah and Missy. Katie the dog is in the picture, and the sun and the house and squirrels and birdies. But Sarah, where is Daddy?

“Your at the library,” his little Sarah responded.

Gary then concluded, “With that simple statement my little princess stopped time for me. Lifting her gently off my lap, I sent her back to play in the spring sunshine. I slumped back in my chair dazed. Even as I type these words [nearly 3 decades later], I can still feel those sensations all over again.” The next months and years were hard for Gary as he time-and-again walked past Sarah’s drawing. The drawing accused him of failing his family. Gary would have to take responsibility for the disappearance of himself in the lives of the world of his daughters and his wife. (Gary would have to work hard on rebuilding his family- and marital relationships over the next years before he could really learn to serve others much better.)

In short, Gary would have to reprioritize his life and put himself back in the center of the lives of his loved ones.


STOPPING TIME

I have been pondering doing a doctorate myself, but after reading of Sarah’s drawing, I am tempted to avoid ever putting the world of my family into jeopardy as Gary did when he struggled through graduated school while working on a professional dream of his own to become a doctor who could counsel others better. On the one hand, Gary and Barbara did, in fact, eventually work together on retransforming their marriage again once Gary had his doctorate in hand.

On the other hand, the painful memory of seeing Sarah’s drawing poses a warning to me—as a new father and relatively new husband—that one cannot lose focus on more urgent priorities—those priorities that are far beyond any single professional goals one might set for oneself. Nor should one set up as a one-dimensional visions of the eventual or hoped-for improvements in standard of living (or lifestyle) which one might be holding on to for one’s family destiny, i.e. based on having a doctorate and earning a bit more money and respect. .

Our realities and visions must be what a child can call us back to. They cannot be something too abstract or so contingent upon massive time spent away from our households. We—like Dr. Rosberg, need to hear the child’s voice in the drawing (of their world) —and act or proceed accordingly—before it is too late.

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