When my children were younger, they had the opportunity to participate in an opera scenes production at the University of Tulsa. I was working there as a staff accompanist at that time and we needed “three spirits” for our production of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Well, it was quite an experience. Our oldest son Robert followed directions perfectly, as did our daughter Rachel. But we couldn’t help chuckling as Rachel kept our youngest, Ryan, in line. Invariably he would stray from their practiced path, and little mama Rachel would gently guide him back. As a result, Ryan was nicknamed the “wandering spirit.”
I think about that often, as he is now a 6’3, 17-year-old senior in high school. Others in our family often refer to Ryan as a free spirit. He is our artist, always imaginative, his mind always moving full speed ahead with constant ideas and images. I love viewing and sharing his work and look forward to seeing where life takes him.
There was a time, however, when I’m not sure we did our best to encourage that creativity. Ryan was that kid in school teachers often thought was not paying attention. “Easily distracted in class” was a common conference theme. His backpack was always filled with drawings, on whatever paper he could find. Art covered homework, though most of the time completed, was not always turned in. Many clean-out sessions and lectures were held at the kitchen table.
I remember saying things like, “You have to stop drawing all the time at school! You’ve got to focus on your work!” We were trying to be good parents, making sure his grades matched his ability. After all, grades would help with college. Of course, we had no idea what he might do in the future, but we wanted to help him be prepared. We pushed him to work harder, and the early high school years were a challenge. Of course Ryan, in his “wandering spirit” way didn’t seem to be concerned.
All children are different. Each with their own interests and personality which need to be cultivated. As educators, my husband and I would both readily agree. But as parents, it’s not always easy to apply that knowledge when it comes to our own children. For our first two children, school work wasn’t an issue. Of course, they were not perfect but did learn how to “do school” early on. Very few reminders were needed. Ryan was another story. Don’t get me wrong, he was not rebellious or a bad student. He just had his own way of doing things and needed a little extra guidance.
His junior year of high school, it was like a light switch flipped. The previous summer he had been doing a lot of drawing. We had gotten him a digital drawing tablet to connect to his laptop, and he asked to take a summer art class. He also received some animation software as a gift from his brother. Now we were encouraging his true passion. Those experiences along with helping him create a class schedule which included some virtual hours gave Ryan the freedom he needed for success. It was his best school year yet!
This current summer he is once again taking an art class. The time and effort he spends on his artwork continue to increase. His creativity amazes me. I’m so proud of him and his commitment to his work. As we approach his senior year of high school, there is no question where his interests lie, and it is exciting to hear him talk about studying animation after graduation. I’m thankful that we did not miss the chance to encourage Ryan’s imagination.
It is tempting to think our children should fit into a perfect mold like little soldiers always walking a straight line. What a boring world that would make! Yes, there is a need for discipline and structure. Just not at the expense of creativity and purpose.
I want my “wandering spirit” to continue traveling his own path. He is very comfortable in his own skin, and I never want that to change. No matter how far his wanderings may take him, I hope he finds time to make his way back home. And never forgets how much we love him—exactly the way he is.
Check out more of his work on Instagram–numbskull19