Friday, May 25, 2007

All of us were in the playroom last night. Ezra was drawing. He’s never more focused than when he’s at the art table. He hunches over the paper; he holds the pencil tight. His tongue flicks all over the place with every mark he makes. Watching him, I can remember being able to shut the whole world out, the coziness and comfort of it. It’s just you and the thing you’re working on.

Lilah, who had been playing with some puzzle pieces a moment earlier, came up to the table, picked up a sky blue pencil, and started drawing on Ezra’s paper. Ezra grabbed the pencil from her and screamed one short scream of protest. Then he crumpled his paper into a ball and threw it on the floor and sat there, a remote look in his eyes.

I know that overwhelming frustration and fury, and the way it can turn inward because that’s the only place you feel like you can exert any power, the only place you can make something happen.

After reminding Lilah that the drawing wasn’t hers (as I had already done a hundred times this week), I told Ezra I was sorry he had crumpled it up. I asked him if I could take a look at it anyway. So we sat down together, knee-to-knee on the rug. I smoothed out the paper as best I could.

It was an amazing drawing, though he had only gotten started—something like a tree at the dead center of the page, with perfectly symmetrical spoke-like branches radiating out on both sides, and something like a door at the trunk. And then off in one corner, Lilah’s jarring scribbles.

Ezra looked up at me, with big tears pooling up in his eyes. “Mommy,” he started. Then he leaned over and whispered into my ear. “Mommy, I feel like I should have crumpled my drawing and I feel like I shouldn’t have crumpled it.”

I scooped him into my lap, that poor little boy. It’s hard to be the oldest, it’s hard to be in a family of three, it’s hard to be five years old. It’s just hard to be.

Maybe that’s why so many of Ezra’s drawings these days are like that one—geometric, architectural, balanced. If he puts a red squiggle on the left side of the page, a red squiggle goes on the right. If there’s a yellow line at the top, there’s bound to be one at the bottom. He creates elaborate, whimsical patterns that are grounded in their own symmetry, shored up by repetition. No surprises, no up or down, no chance that anything will topple.

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