Friday, August 29, 2008

Leif Painting - Age 28 Months

Somewhere in an earlier post I mentioned that Leif showed considerable artistic talent as a child. I think this is the earliest photo we have of him creating something artistic. He was just over two years old and was attending Rocking Horse Country Day School in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can see how intent he is on what he is doing. Leif was like that from the beginning. He could concentrate intensely on whatever interested him for long, long periods.

Leif was not left-handed, yet he's using his left hand to make this painting. I suspect that was an experiment, too.

Most children aren't attending a school at the age of two, even a preschool, but Leif needed it. Have you ever seen the movie, "Short Circuit"? If not, look it up and watch it. It's great! It came out in 1986 when Leif was 11 and our whole family enjoyed it. There is a scene in which the robot that has come to life, Number 5, is trying to learn everything he can at lightning speed, and the priceless line is, "Input, more input!"

That's how Leif was. He wanted more input. His mind was so brilliant that without new and interesting input, he was miserable and frustrated. I can't remember whether I've written about this already or not, but if so, here it comes again.

When he was just short of two years old and we were living in a townhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, he started exhibiting some very strange behavior. He would go off by himself and bang his head against the wall, sometimes until he bruised his forehead. This behavior greatly alarmed me. With my background in clinical psychology, I was afraid he had a serious neurological problem. We had him throughly checked out medically, but nothing was found to explain the behavior. He wasn't doing it to get attention, either, since he went off by himself, and would shove anyone away who tried to comfort him.

After awhile, by trying to observe whether there was any pattern to the behavior, I discovered that he never did anything like this anywhere but at home, and then only if we were at home all day. If we were, no matter how much time I spent with him, trying to teach or entertain him, he seemed to get frustrated, and that's when the head banging would happen. If we went out somewhere during the day, there was no head banging.

I developed a theory that he was bored out of his skull and didn't know what to do out it at that tender age. I guess we were lucky he wasn't the kind of kid who would be destructive, or he might have tried damaging something beside his head.

At any rate, I started looking for a place to provide him with "more input," and found the new Rocking Horse Country Day School run by Linda Jurlando. She was willing to take Leif, still in diapers and not yet two years old, as an experiment, in her Montessori day school.

Leif started going two mornings a week for 4 hours. When I came to get him, he would run kicking and screaming in the opposite direction. We increased it to three mornings a week, and he still didn't want to go home. Then five. I feared people would think I was a terrible mother. The other kids ran TO their mothers when it was time to go home, not away from them.

When another teacher at the school became ill and left, Linda offered the position to me. I had been substituting, and discovered that Leif paid absolutely no attention to me while I was there, so I wasn't concerned about him just hanging on to me. Now he was there 40 hours a week, and he STILL didn't want to go home at 5 PM! He kept himself busy the entire time.

But the head banging stopped!

Leif continued to need enormous amounts of new input, and he also continued to show frustration by taking it out on himself or inanimate objects, like the time he was so upset at something that happened in high school in Puerto Rico that he came home and smashed his fist into the concrete block wall in his bedroom. I probably never would have found out about it except I found the watch that flew off his wrist and broke when he did it, and asked him what happened. Then I got to see the bruised and scraped knuckles. Good thing he didn't break them.

Or the times he would get furious at something he drew and crumple it up and throw it. Or, as a small child before he was six, turn his room upside down . . . taken the drawers out and dump them, pull the mattress off the bed, upend chairs. But he never took it out on people.

Somewhere on the ZAON forums after 2002, Leif mentions why he didn't continue to draw or paint, though he did do some drawing at the end of the 1990s. I understand exactly what he meant. He said that he could see perfectly in his mind what he wanted to create, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not make it look as it did in his mind. That discouraged him and he dropped it. I suspect that if he had had the "fire in the belly" to be an artist, he could have developed his abilities to the point where he could have produced what was in his head, but Leif was used to having things come fairly easy to him, and he wasn't interested in pursuing something that he felt was too much effort for the result. It's shame, though, because I think he had a fine artistic sense, and his interest in science fiction would most likely have led him to create some fantastic art.

Most small children are uninhibited about their drawing and painting. The haven't yet really learned to compare it with art created by others, and they haven't yet learned to judge themselves harshly. I think Leif reached that point when he was about nine or ten, when we were living in Hawaii, and began to develop other talents.

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