The second-most frequent question people ask about our trip — after, “Why Colombia?” in a variety of tones from simple curiosity to horror — is, “Can you just pull your kids out of school?” This often comes in a scandalized tone, and phrased more like, “But what about the kids’ school?!” as though we were asking our children to live without oxygen for six months, or walk away from any chance they have at Harvard (which is nil already…). The simple answer is yes, we can just pull our kids out of school. In fact, we could take them out of school for years, and the California education system would toss them right back into their age-appropriate grade, regardless of whether they had studied anything at all.
But alas for my children, a learning-free environment was never in my plans. Instead of building a mission out of sugar cubes and slogging through interminable math worksheets, I had this hippy-dippy idea of turning everyday life into interesting lessons, that being immersed in an entirely different culture 24/7 would obviously offer plenty of scope for carefully crafted lesson plans with two enthralled scholars soaking up wisdom from their wise and beneficent mother.
My naivete was truly adorable.
It turns out that it takes two to tango (or to learn something school-like), and there is perhaps a good reason that I did not follow in the footsteps of my mother, who successfully molded young minds (and their parents) for 25 years; namely, the teensiest, tiniest lack of patience.
Here’s how our lesson on Botero went: After a desultory read of Wikipedia’s entry on Botero and two perfect hours in the Botero museum, I gave the children a brief writing assignment. “Jack,” said I. “Pick two Botero paintings and give me three really juicy sentences about each one.” This is what I got:
Really juicy sentence. Really juicy sentence. Really juicy sentence.
You have to appreciate the kid’s sense of humor.
After a couple hours of nagging, some “scaffolding” that tread uncomfortably close to “doing it for him” and some tears — none of which were in my idyllic vision of Learning From the World — we compromised on this:
I like how the lighting hits his face. I like how the dolls are strewn all over the floor. I like the whip in his hand.
I like how these ugly, naked-green devil-like things are right in front of the iglesia [church] with the red steeple. [ed.note: this is where tears began because there was nothing else to say about this painting. At all. Even in response to specific questions. Just, “I dunno,” a shrug and enough stubbornness to wear me down. Grrrrrr….]
So I gave up. And re-dedicated myself to supporting teachers everywhere who deal with this sh&t every day.
My other child, being a very different human who is currently obsessed with knowing things and sharing those things, and who also likes art and artsy things, gave me this:
Botero’s paintings were amazing. They were beautiful (and fat) with an undercurrent of something else. One was a woman with smooth, lovely skin and glamorous pearls but with armpit hair, a cigarette, and dirt under the fingernails. Every detail had contrasting views; they were dripping with awe-inspiring paint subtly mixed with the gnarled remains of, well, humanity. The subjects of his paintings were unattractive but in a way there was a sort of beauty to the awfulness, a familiarity. Like you knew exactly what he was trying to portray, like you’d seen it before.
Another picture was of a young child that is holding a hand that is fading away at the elbow. I felt like it portrayed how this particular child is feeling after the death of someone he loves; reaching out and finding a bit of them left but not enough to be them. Trying to show grief by painting like how some people feel about music; expressing feelings without words.
Another parallel I see is in the picture with a woman showering a smaller man with money and flowers but that man also happens to be wrapped in a snake whose tail is under the woman’s foot. I feel it is portraying control and, for humanity, control is power. The money could be the riches the man is getting for the control he is under. Or the money could be the observers or citizens because he is the face of the group or army and if he is the face, or image,then he would only be needed to keep that good image. For example, in Harry Potter when Scrimgeour is placed as the minister to be the image but he is one that no one knows is related to Voldemort. So they think it’ll all right.
The last interesting work of Botero that I am going to talk about is a portrayal of Adam and Eve. It is naked Adam and Eve facing away from the drawing, braced against each other. But Adam is reaching for the apple on the right of the picture. Like rewriting scripture with his paintings. Also, this is one of the few where the man’s body is attractive, not just chubby and awkward.
Fernando Botero is an internationally famous sculptor and painter. Many of his works hold political commentary and, I think, hidden messages about life specifically in Medellin, Colombia.
And I felt redeemed. Even though I know that this is just how she is wired and it’s not due to my actions at all, and that she would want to learn and share her knowledge if she lived alone on a farm in Siberia — which frankly, wouldn’t be materially different from her life exiled in Colombia, except Colombia is slightly warmer. But taking a smidgen of credit makes me feel better, and like I might have the psychological strength to tackle another lesson in a month or so, like writing poetry about things we miss or something…