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We were learning about Monet and Van Gogh, two of the world’s greatest artists, and my 7-year-old daughter asked:
Are there any artists who are women? Ok, I’m on it.
So I introduced her to George O’Keefe.
Then she asked, Are there any great artists who are women, who are alive? Woah.
So I introduced her to Faith Ringgold.
She was transfixed. She loved Faith’s art. Faith Ringgold, she declared, was her very favorite artist. We didn’t know then, that in just a couple of months she would meet her idol in person.
She watched the DVD: Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Faith Ringgold about Faith’s life and work over and over again. She loved Tar Beach, one of Faith’s most famous children’s books, about Cassie Lightfoot, a girl who dreams that she can fly, high above New York City and over the George Washington Bridge, from her building’s roof, hence the name, Tar Beach.
“…it’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.”
~Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach
The Bee is an artist and an author herself. She draws constantly. She creates a new book nearly every day, often staying up late at night drawing an entire book, upwards of 20 pages, which she brings to me in the morning. She dictates the text while I transcribe it for her as quickly as I can write. She spills forth with plot and dialogue and all the details she’s kept in her head since the night before.
There was more, though. She could relate to Faith Ringgold because Faith had asthma as a child. So does The Bee. Faith was often kept at home instead of sent to school, where she learned from her mother. Kind of like homeschooling.
So, as part of our artist study and because of my daughter’s enthusiasm, I thought surely I could find a museum that had some of Faith’s work that we could go see. We live near Washington, D.C. There are a lot of museums.
And great Googly internet searches, not only could we go see Faith’s artwork but we could actually see Faith herself! She was coming to town to speak for one night and a collection of her art was on display at The National Museum of Women in the Arts. I immediately purchased tickets.
And then I fretted.
This museum was in a part of the city I hadn’t been to before. It was in the evening, which meant fighting certain awful traffic to get there. I was taking a 7-year-old to an artist’s lecture meant for adults. What was I thinking?
So I took a deep breath and went with no expectations. If we didn’t find parking, or if she was bored, or if it all turned out to be not-my-best idea, we’d just come home. I was out of my comfort zone and I knew it, but I had to try, because my daughter was so very hopeful and excited about seeing her very most favorite artist in the world.
And do you know what happened? It was a-mazing. We eased into the city with no traffic. We wanted dinner and decided to pop into the museum to check if their café was open. We never did see a café. What we saw was Faith Ringgold, sitting in the lobby signing books. And the line. The line was only two deep. We purchased a copy of Tar Beach and got in line. Moments later people began to arrive and pretty soon the line was to the door.
We approached Mrs. Ringgold and I told her, “My daughter is an artist and you are her favorite artist.” She gave us a big smile and signed our book: “You can fly. Love, Faith Ringgold” and told her, “Keep on creating art.”
“I’m going to be famous, like you, one day,” she told Faith Ringgold.
“You will!” Faith said. And I don’t doubt it one bit.
We walked around and looked at the exhibit, then went to the lecture. I reminded The Bee that we could leave any time. We made sure to get a seat on an aisle. “If you get tired and you just want to go, that’s totally fine, we can go.” I figured we would sit for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, then slip out. The theatre was filling up with lots of very important-looking adults: artists and professors and other very dignified looking folks and it was then that I realized that my daughter was the only child there.
While we were waiting for the lecture to begin, she asked for something to draw on. I handed her our ticket receipt: ”Dear Mrs. Ringgold,” she wrote. ”I hope you can fly. ” She drew a picture of Faith and a few of her paintings that we had just seen.
She sat there transfixed in the lecture, watching the slide show, squealing in delight when she recognized many of the paintings.
She coughed and she coughed throughout the entire lecture. Because I forgot her inhaler and because she is super excited and it’s nighttime and that’s when the cough comes. But she didn’t want to leave, not even for a minute to get a drink of water to try to settle her cough.
In the darkened theatre, with several people in close proximity video taping what clearly is a very important lecture by a famous 83-year-old artist/art activist/feminist, possibly their only lifetime opportunity to hear her speak, there will be lots of coughing noise in the background.
I don’t know if people were shooting glances at us, wondering why on earth this lady brought her obviously germy kid to this very fancy adult lecture at a museum filled with artsy folks wearing scarves and teachers clutching small stacks of books to be signed and not one other single child in the entire crowd of 300, not even a teenager. I don’t know, because I just watched my daughter shiver with excitement and smile the biggest smile ever and I listened to this really fascinating and amazing woman speak about her art and how she did stuff that no one else was doing at the time and I thought, I am so glad we came here.
The lecture ended and it was Question and Answer time and The Bee wanted to give Faith the picture she had drawn but people had questions. Important questions like how to arrange gallery showings and how to something-very-technical-and-artsy from a pony-tailed man in a salmon-colored blazer and a lot of turquoise rings who had a golden rope moved for him so he could sit in the front-row VIP section.
So we waited and I coached The Bee to raise her hand as soon as Faith stopped answering Mr. Artsy Salmon Guy’s question but she looked at me with a blank expression and said, “Mom, I just want to give her my drawing and then go home.”
I knew I had to speak up for my daughter, even though I felt very out of my element. So I raised my hand and Faith called on me. Oh, no, wait, she called on the woman behind me who is giving me an annoyed look, but I’m already talking and saying, “My daughter has something for you,” and someone is shoving a microphone at me and I am saying, “My daughter made you a drawing, she is 7, and we have to leave because…she is 7 and it’s late but she sat through this whole lecture, so interested in what you were saying.” And Faith motions us up to the podium and The Bee gives her the drawing and Faith hugs her and says, “Well good for you, when I was 7, I wasn’t doing anything, I had asthma and…”
And I blurt out, “She has asthma, too, that is another reason she relates to you, Mrs. Ringgold.” Then Faith hugs The Bee and says some more encouraging words while I fumble for my phone to take a picture but realize it’s all going very fast and there is no time. Before I know it, The Bee is happily skipping up the aisle towards the exit and everyone is smiling at her and maybe even clapping, but I don’t remember because it just happened so fast.
Soon, we are at the elevator and she is telling me this is the best day and I am the best mom and isn’t this just so fun?
I drive home, past the White House and over the bridge with twinkling lights shining on the Potomac River and I think, Some days, you just get it right. And isn’t this a gift? This is what homeschooling has given us. The time and the space to fill her cup with what she loves.
Filling the cup for some would mean lots of science or music or math. For The Bee it is hours of time to draw every day, endless art supplies, strewing new and interesting artists and artwork in her path, finding a place to take art lessons, using art to learn geography and history and how to read.
It means not the same approach or curricula or schedule as her brothers or the homeschooling family on another blog or anyone in our circle of friends, whether publicly, privately or home schooled. It means letting her learn at her own pace and I don’t mean just saying that but actually doing it, which is hard. It is sitting with my own anxiety about Is she getting enough math? and fretting when she doesn’t know what in the world her 2nd grade publicly-schooled peers are talking about, and Shouldn’t she be reading chapter books by now? but trusting and knowing that she will get there.
Right now, she is so busy creating and drawing and composing stories and learning about history that—-hey, wait a minute! That’s it! That’s what she is supposed to be doing! That is learning in the most organic way possible. That is self-motivated, child-led, delight-directed learning at it’s finest.
It is so very hard sometimes, to trust the process but we homeschooling mommas, we need to trust. Because kids are amazing. They tell us what they need, what they love, what excites them, what they want to learn.
And if we trust the process and we give it to them, or at least get out of their way, they will fly. Oh, yes, they will fly.