I now understand why so many people say that children grow up too quickly. At a year and a month, Charbel is already well past the newborn stage, and has crossed the threshold into toddlerhood. Right now, it seems like he has one foot on each side of the door – sometimes he acts like a toddler, while at other moments, he reverts back to baby-like behavior. Nevertheless, day by day, his baby tendencies fade more and more; all too soon, they will be a distant past. While I miss the newborn Charbel that I brought home from the hospital a year ago – the Charbel that did nothing but eat, sleep and look to be cuddled – I thrill to the little boy he has become, a little boy who can eat real food and play, that can walk and talk. He struggles with the typical woes of toddlers his age: learning that he has a will of his own, but can’t always follow it, needing to cope with a new annoyance in life called rules, and having to accept that mommy and daddy can’t spend all day on the floor playing with him, even when he asks nicely. In spite of these childhood difficulties, Charbel is a little boy in love with life, a joyful boy who wakes up and starts each morning with a gurgling laugh as he shakes the side of his crib, asking to be lifted out. Aside from diaper changes, he loves all parts of his life: he loves playing with us, he loves going to school with us and getting attention from everyone that passes by, he loves visiting grandma and grandpa next door (perhaps in part because they have a ‘treat’ cabinet that he is allowed to look in every time he visits and always happens to have something in it)… He loves his meals – and the messier they are, the more he enjoys them! And, he loves to learn. He is picking up words more and more quickly now. He knows that we use remote controls to turn on the heaters, the TV and the stereo, although he doesn’t know what buttons to push yet. He knows that one of us is going to come down when he hears a door open upstairs, and he rushes to the banister to meet us. He knows to put his hand to his ear, say “hello” and start talking when the phone rings. And he knows to warn us when he is thinking about doing something he shouldn’t by wagging his finger “no” at himself before proceeding to grab at the laptop or other forbidden object.
His cognitive strides have also transformed play time. He can engage in his toys for longer stretches now, on his own or with us. He can take his legos apart and sometimes get them back together. He bounces and throws his balls, plays hide and seek with us, or with his stuffed animals when we aren’t available, wrestles with his tiger and talks to his monkey… He pushes all the buttons on an educational easel that teaches him about letters, numbers, colors and shapes… He explores his environment and surroundings. The list goes on. Most recently, as signified by the title of this blog post, he has begun experimenting with drawing. No pens or pencils yet – he still puts too much on his mouth and is too indiscriminate in where he puts things down – anything with ink would be devastating for the walls or carpet – as well as for his clothes, hands, and most probably cheeks as well! But he has an Etch-a-Sketch with various drawing tools. It stimulates his creativity and is parent friendly – the drawing is contained to the surface of the board, and can be erased with one swipe. Learning how to properly point the magnet end of the “pen” downward to draw on the board resulted in Charbel’s first intentional picture; or perhaps it would be more proper to call it his first deliberate scribble. Needless to say, I got very excited seeing Charbel using the board and making something.
My pride goes beyond that of a mother seeing her son reach milestones and develop his fine motor skills. It is really awe at the amazing things that Charbel – and all little children – have hidden inside of them. This first drawing is the opening of a door through which many more things will come. Although his scribbles are faint and unintelligible, it is a sign of intelligibility. It is the beginning of a greater connection between our son and the world. Previously, he has received, taken things in through his senses, and communicated over essential matters, conveying through body language, sounds or first words when he is hungry, tired, angry, happy, etc. The ability to channel thought through an instrument of drawing opens up a new form of communication, through which our little Da Vinci can bring what he has inside of him out, and begin to make his own unique contributions to the world. Little by little, he will express himself more and more perfectly, through both tongue and pen.
As I watched Charbel scribble, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite authors – G.K. Chesterton – that in some way reflects when I felt seeing my son touch his pen to the Etch-a-Sketch. In The Everlasting Man, he speaks about the beauty of art as something that distinguishes man from all other creatures:
“It is the simple truth that man does differ from brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man,”
“A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.”
With their first jagged lines and curves, little children show the wealth they have within. It is one of the ways they demonstrate their privileged place in creation as children of God. And it is one of the ways they can use to make the world a better place by bringing new beauty into it. I have always marveled about the different types of beauty in the world and, more specifically, the difference between the beauty of man and that of the rest of creation. In most of creation, the greatest beauty lies without, on the outside or the surface. It is there to be seen. Only man can truly appreciate it, so all beauty, even the beauty that stays submerged under thousands of meters under water, or can only be seen through a microscope or telescope, exists for man’s pleasure. The external nature of the beauty of creation places it at man’s service; all we have to do is open our eyes to perceive, enjoy and benefit from the beauties of nature. In contrast, the greatest beauty of man lies within. Yes, there is an external beauty to the human person; the natural desire each of us has to look our best, and the enjoyment – or jealousy – we feel at seeing the beauty of others tells us that we do have external beauty. Our greatest beauty, however, is the wellspring of love, thought and creativity that lies within each of us. Even people that lack external beauty possess this wealth of internal beauty; in fact, it is this interior beauty that defines us as persons. I believe that a person’s eyes are a window to this beauty. Through them, we see beyond the external form of the person and catch a glimpse of them as an individual. Each of us is a work of God’s own art, and the light in our eyes shows what makes us a masterpiece – all of us somehow the same, yet each one so different, reflecting a different angle of God’s own goodness, creativity and love. Yet, beautiful as they are, looking into the eyes of another leaves something to be desired. We see depth and beauty, but we also see mystery; we cannot reach the interior of another person from the outside. The person has to bring forth what they have within; they must release the vast stores of beauty God has hidden within them. Words can be used to express a lot, but words are limited. They can only express what we ourselves have understood and logically formulated. Art can go further, using lines and curves, lights and shadows to portray abstract ideas and emotions that we ourselves haven’t fully grasped or can’t put words to.
Perhaps this is reading a lot into little Charbel’s first scribble… but I don’t think so. More time will pass before his drawings clearly represent ideas, but these first lines have opened a door that will play an important role in his life, helping him discover who he is, explore his creative side, and share what God has given him with others.