When our 4-year-old son, Lyric, was an infant, my side of the family took great joy in how much he looked like me as a baby. They pulled out photos to compare, and, as my grandmother put it, “He looks like Mikey — but better looking.”
I agree. And even if I didn’t, I know better than to argue with my grandmother.
But, despite the physical similarities early on, Lyric quickly showed he was a person all his own. His predilection for math and science stood in stark contrast to my love of all things creative. And much to my dismay, he soon preferred working jigsaw puzzles with my wife to playing drums with me.
So, when he received an invitation to a create-your-own-clay-piece birthday party for one of his preschool buddies, I couldn’t help but wonder: How would his piece compare to those of his friends?
It’s safe to say Lyric likely will not pursue a career as a master sculptor.
Wearing his art apron, Lyric sat patiently and quietly with his hands folded on the table as the teacher went through the instructions for creating a clay animal.
It could be anything, she said. Let your imagination run wild.
Even before we arrived, I decided I would let Lyric complete the project on his own. I’d simply assist.
Lyric eyed the large ball of clay curiously.
“What do you want to make?” I asked him.
“A ball,” he said, proudly.
“No, no,” I tried to explain. “We’re going to make an animal with this ball. What animal do you want to make? A dog? Cat? How about a turtle?”
Lyric thought about it for several seconds as I repeated his options. He reluctantly decided on a turtle. We rolled out the ball, stuffed newspaper inside and squished it back together to form a body. We then used a second piece of clay to form a head.
“OK, so now you have to use your hands to make it look like a turtle,” I advised.
Lyric took his fingers and pinched out some tiny legs and a tail. Then, he took one of the clay tools and scraped some striations along its back. He was having a grand time, but truthfully, his creation barely looked like a turtle. I took a quick glance around the room. One kid made an exact replica of Snooty the manatee. Another had his creation standing up on two legs. A third had facial features. It looked pensive, like it was considering the finer points of Shakespeare.
When it was time to paint, Lyric didn’t choose coordinating colors or even separate hues for different parts of the creature. Rather, he chose all the colors and outfitted his turtle in some strange tie-dyed mess from head to tail.
But when he was done, Lyric put his paintbrush down and sat back in his seat. His face beamed as he looked up at me.
“It’s amazing!” I told him, truthfully. “You did such a great job!”
And it was: An original creation by my boy. It was by far the best sculpture made that day.
Following the birthday cake, Lyric had a chance to tour the art center and see the different kilns. And as the instructor explained how all the animals would cook, turn hard and become fragile in the end. I could see all the information soaking into Lyric’s brain. He lingered in the room, taking a few extra seconds to examine the kilns before before we left.
Last week, Lyric’s creation finally came home after its time in the kiln. I unwrapped it and handed it to him.
“Oh!” he said as he held it in his lap. “It’s my lizard turtle! We have to be careful with him. He’s breaked-able.”
And that’s when I realized: Lyric’s creativity that day had nothing to do with the clay or the paint. He wanted to create a new species.
So he did.