It’s important to nurture creativity in children, even if it’s a little startling, or, um, not quite what we had expected.
My granddaughter, L, had brought a coloring book of horses to amuse herself in a restaurant, so she and I colored a picture together while we waited for our food. I loved coloring as a child. I still enjoy the soothing sweep of a crayon against the soft toothiness of coloring book paper.
L seemed puzzled to see I’d colored the hooves of one horse a bright blue. “Why did you do that?” she asked.
“Yeah, it is,” L said, paying little mind to the animal’s anatomy as she resumed coloring. It was indeed a male, but her attitude was a refreshing “so what?” She’s just six years old, but she rides, and her equine training at a stable that summer included learning the parts of a horse’s body. In six years, she’s seen more horses in the flesh than I have in my entire life.
I was in the second or third grade when I drew what I thought was the most amazing picture of a horse, with a rounded breast, barrel and rump, and knobby hocks and knees. Aiming for accuracy, I added the male sheath. My horse looked so real it could have trotted off the page… at least I thought so. Apparently my teacher did, too, and she hung my drawing on the wall.
On the evening of Parents’ Open House that year, I waited at home, eager and excited to hear what my mother would say about my schoolwork and art, especially my horse drawing. To my surprise, she was all business when she came home, and wouldn’t look me in the eye. My stomach sank, wondering if the teacher said I was too chatty or I misbehaved.
“When you draw a horse, don’t ever draw that part” she scolded with pursed brows. “That thing between its legs. You don’t need to show that. It’s not nice.”
That was all she said. She offered no positive comments that I recall, but I may have forgotten any praise because I was stung. My beautifully rendered horse had made her angry. I retreated to my room. Apparently she was mortified because I’d drawn, in essence, a naked horse. I had shown its private parts, the shameful parts of a body that nice people don’t talk about, or even name, much less color.
As I drew the horse in class, I remember feeling pleased to include that one particular detail, so pleased, in fact, that I might have inadvertently accentuated it. I might have colored an impossibly huge and darkly outlined horse penis. I might have made it even larger than than the horse’s head. The sexual organ was undoubtedly the most vivid part of the entire drawing. I really can’t remember much else other than how clever I thought I was, and how crushed I was to learn I had done something wrong. Over the years, my mother saved many of my drawings and handmade cards, but she didn’t save the horse. It’s possible she threw it in the incinerator to destroy any evidence that her daughter had an obsession with male genitalia.
If anything, this incident and what was left unsaid only aroused my curiosity.
I stared at the horses in my granddaughter’s coloring book. They were not naked; they were wearing saddles. Their genitals showed because that’s the way horses look. My granddaughter added spots to the larger horse’s rump, and, to my surprise, colored the hooves of the other horse a bright pink. I didn’t ask her why. I said, “Hey, I like it.”
Then we turned the page.