On Quiet Stubbornness and Messy Creativity


“Ok, but your teacher would like you start your ‘a’ here”  I say for what seems like the millioneth time in the last 2 years.

You know those girls who are really prim and proper? Who are precise?  Who colour inside the lines?  That’s not Liv.

It’s not just that her handwriting’s messy.  It’s not just that handwriting is not her favourite thing.  It’s that she’s found another way to do it!  She’s found a different place to start the letter! It’s that she has noticed ‘four’ looks like this in some books: ‘4’, so she has decided to write it like that now (said ‘4’ is formed with great care, in a sea of otherwise illegible numbers).  It’s that she LIKES CAPITALS! It’s that I look away for one moment and she has ‘accidentally’ written in her right hand! (She is entirely left-handed, “Woops”).

I feel her quiet stubbornness dig in, take hold.  I feel my stress levels rise.  I do not want to be locked in a battle with my 6-year-old about handwriting, but here we are.

Later, I sit down with my yellow writing pad and inky black pen.  I form my ‘a’ like a type-written ‘a’.  My ‘g’ has no tail.  I form ‘s’ from the bottom.  Random capital letters creep in, or go missing.  I don’t write on the line.  I don’t dot every ‘i’.  My writing slopes in inconsistent, ever-changing form.  Still, “start your ‘a’ here”, I tell my daughter.


Last year Liv had one of those ‘Craft’ homeworks – build an emergency vehicle with recycled material in the course of a week.

On a few previous occasions we had built the essential parts of her ‘Craft’ homework ourselves (“My daddy made it” she said, holding up her boat in p1) so I set my determination to find something she  could make completely on her own.  And I was successful.  I found a brightly coloured fire engine online made out of egg cartons and milk lids and straws.  The necessary paint colours were already in the art cupboard.

Every afternoon I set out her materials and told her which bit to paint, or stick.

She did it, but there was a quiet, persistent mutter about how she was making an ambulance, how she wasn’t taking the fire engine into school.  I ignored her.  The fire engine was going to look great, she would love it.  I didn’t know how to make an ambulance, we didn’t have the stuff.

I ignored her until Thursday afternoon when we had a fabulous, bright fire engine that she had made herself, but that she did not want.

“Can I make my ambulance now?”

She asked for an empty Tropicana cartoon and some yellow and green paint.  I asked if she wanted me to get a photo up on my iPad?  Nope.

“I know what it looks like.”

Of course there wasn’t enough paint and there wasn’t enough time but I had learnt my lesson, I knew – the orange juice carton with splodges of running paint – was Art.


There are more stories. The same story, repeated.

As someone who is drawn to the quirky and unconventional,  it’s a strange thing when I find myself inexplicably trying to iron out these traits in my daughter.

It usually means I need to watch Sir Ken Robinson again. ‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,’ he says.

The girl is original, let her be original, I remind myself.

‘All children are born artists,’ Picasso said, ‘the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.’

I don’t want to be part of the problem.  Let’s not be part of the problem.


Photo by Marian Trinidad on CreationSwap






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