The couple up the street from me has a very large extended family. She takes care of her many grandkids and other children each day during the summer. This summer I befriended four of them, girls aged 8 – 13. I’d had contact with them previously when they climbed our dogwood trees, and when I visited their lemonade and brownie stand last summer, and when they sold American Heritage Girls Candy this past holiday season. But our real friendships began this summer when, on one of my daily walks with Marley, our Catahoula dog, I saw that they’d been drawing in chalk on their grandmother’s driveway.
I couldn’t resist. On my next walk, I brought my own chalk and began to draw a little here and there among their drawings when they weren’t home. One morning beside one of my sneaky doodles were the words “Who drew this?”
Another morning I walked by, and big blue letters scrawled the sentence “I’m going inside to write a song.” I answered with a drawing of a pink bird, a gold ring, and the words “Write a song about a bird and a gold ring.”
The next day, in pink, the words “a bird found a gold ring” were written beneath mine. Chalk birds flew all around the driveway.
One day, when the driveway was blank, I wrote in the bottom corner “Where are the drawings?”
When Marley and I arrived the next morning, beside my question was the reply “we’re sorry, here they are” and an arrow pointed up to a menagerie of colorful daises, birds, suns, smiley faces, and scribbles.
Eventually they caught me in the act of drawing. And still we continued to exchange conversational chalk images that seemed to be speaking on levels more conscious than words. I would draw, they would mimic the drawing in their own colors and styles.
I looked forward to what their driveway would reveal each morning. At night I conjured up all kinds of things I could draw for them. This game of ours was getting bigger. It was my turn. I knew I had to do something to wow the kids. I wanted to surprise them.
One morning I drew the outline of a huge sea monster spanning the width of the driveway, it’s scale-backed, polka dotted, arched humps emerging from and disappearing into the gutter beneath it. From between it’s pointed teeth came the words “Color me.” Not wanting them to see me, I drew quickly. I was giddy. As if I was doing something illegal, afraid of getting caught. I walked home trying to act normal though my mind spun. What would they think when they saw it? Would they want to color it? Would they like it? When I reached home just minutes after I’d finished, I turned and looked up the street to see chalk bins open and tipped over, the girls running in every direction, hair flying, squatting, bent over, stomachs pressed to the cement, knees bent, laughing, and squealing. I watched, elated.
I walked up for a peak the next hour. They let me take pictures, but they were intent and focused, so I left. That afternoon when I arrived they spilled out of the front door into the driveway all jabbering, pointing, and gesturing simultaneously to which sections they’d colored or drawn, proud of their contributions. The sea monster had come to life. Not only was he fully and brightly colored, now waves of undulating blue supported him and dolphins and ships while birds and clouds circled his scaly head.
Together we created this creature. They had given it life and a home. I asked them to pose for a picture. Now they entered it’s world. They climbed upon his back. One positioned her head near its open mouth.
The “call-and-response” chalk drawings led the five of us on more creative adventures in chalk and other mediums: video and body painting.
My new girl friends up the street and I have built a realm in which to playfully create with the carefree, uninhibited spirit so critical to true creativity; that spirit I’m too quick to let slip away. When I am too long tangled in the rigors of how my work “should” be for validity, to be accepted, to sell, to be published, I lose sight of the joy of the process. Eventually I end up choking and stagnant. To draw with kids sea monsters that will disappear in the summer evening rain is my response to this ever-present challenge.