Ava Thursday: Frustrated

"I can't draw anything," Ava sighs.

"Well, you don't have to draw anything if you don't want to," I reply.

"But I want to draw."

It was last Sunday night, and Ava and I were waiting in the car while Andrea was grocery shopping. It was late and Ezra was already fast asleep in the back seat. Ava loves to sit up in the front with me when Mommy is gone. She excitedly climbs over the seat and plops down with a pencil and some paper. But it was the end of a long busy day and Ava was tired. She wasn't feeling like her usual jovial self. After some thought, she resorted to the most basic of drawing exercises: she traced her left hand. Twice.

"OHH! I can't do it right! It's all messed up!" Ava shows me her drawings and while I see a great tracing job done by a 5 year-old, Ava thinks otherwise. "I can't draw anything," she sighs. Shoulders slumped and lips pouting.

It hurts me to see her like this, because I know just how frustrating it can be when you're tired and exhausted, but you still want to draw something. Drawing is Ava's primary creative outlet. It's hard for her sometimes though, because when she hits a wall with it, there's no release and she doesn't understand what that's all about. She just knows it doesn't feel good. And when I told her that she didn't have to draw anything if she didn't want to, she wasn't hearing it. Not drawing is not an option for Ava.

After our conversation, she fills a couple of pages with scribbles (with seeming reluctance) and then she draws this:

To me, this is a powerful image. I can almost feel her frustration, anger, irritation and dejection here. Notice the slumped position of the head, the disengaged pose, the sharp, scribbly features. There was no care taken in this drawing -- Ava drew this fairly quickly, almost on auto-pilot. If I did not know the story behind this particular drawing, I probably would've been worried for my girl, fearing that something was incredibly wrong with her. But I'm glad to have witnessed this creative output because if Ava ever produces drawings evoking this same intensity, I'll know that it's just something that she's going through. Just as every single artist has their ups and downs, so does my daughter.

As a parent, there's a part of me that wants to protect my child from anything rooted in negativity. But that's not entirely realistic, is it? And I would be depriving my daughter the full range of emotions that so defines our experience as human beings. It's one of the hardest things about being a parent.

The sweet and the sour: this is what makes great art.


  1. I love this....this is a great story and drawing!!! thanks for sharing!

  2. Ohh, fascinating post... I know I have been there, too tired to draw what I want, you know?

    But that drawing... holy smoke!! It's incredible. I just stared at it for a while. So expressive. I can't wait to see what she'll be drawing in just a year or two- she is obviously so talented!

    You're a lucky dad, Ward :)

  3. What a great story. This reminds me of me and my Dad. When I was little and would "hit the wall" with my drawing my Dad would tell me to just close my eyes, and draw crazy lines all over the page, then go back and color it all in using as many colors as possible. Proabably just a way to occupy me for a while, but I still remember these little drawings and how they forced me to get out all of the crayolas and the frustration.

  4. next time i get frustrated, i'm going to try this! seriously!

  5. I had a conversation very similar to this recently with my not quite five year-old daughter. Really, all you can do is just let them know that anybody who does anything creative has had this same experience, it's part of the process, its okay, and you just do something. Thanks for sharing.

  6. My Dad once told me the story of a parenting epiphany he had when I was young. I was an implausibly cheerful little kid, and my Dad use to call me the 'the boy who hasn't yet heard the bad news'. On hearing that once, my grandmother earnestly said 'Yes, and make sure you keep it that way as long as possible'. Apparently he suddenly realised that that wasn't the point at all. Life has inevitable ups and downs, and the aim is to become a person who can cope with them all and still be happy, not to live in ignorance of them. Sounds like you'll set Ava up well for that.

  7. oh, I have such a hard time watching her when she's experiencing this kind of frustration. want to help (and sometimes I can) but mostly, I can't. glad you shared this.

  8. wow! she really is so talented--and the slumped head and strong lines are such a great example of how she was feeling. fascinating!

  9. One of my favorites so far!

  10. what a great dad! i love that you not only delight in your ava, but understand her too. my dad always encouraged my art. still does. (he's an artist too.) but i never felt like he made an effort to truly understand.

  11. This is brilliant! It's so great that you relate with her.