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Their Eyes Meeting the World

Jean Hoefling

11 HoeflingSee that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:10

The first grade art assignment was simple enough: draw our mothers working around the house. I went with a laundry theme; as the oldest of four kids I probably saw my mom beside that front-loader a lot. But to draw it? I was an abstract-leaning kid even then, and this exercise in visual realism apparently escaped me. I managed to produce a spindly specter with sea urchin fists inside a swishy enclosure whose boundaries pushed against the edges of the paper. While my classmates’ drawings yielded Mary Tyler Moore moms next to sensible blenders and ironing boards that looked like the real thing to me, my own mother was caught in an appliance nightmare. I simply could not visualize her anywhere but wedged inside that washing machine. I remember my tears; I still feel the moment’s helplessness and shame.

My mother saved the drawing. And now I know—because I know the rest of the story and a whole lot more about the psychic wisdom of young children—why I created what I did. I knew intuitively what grownups wouldn’t admit for years more—that Mrs. Johnson was desperately, clinically depressed, with no way out of the spin cycle there on Meade Street.

Child psychiatrist Robert Coles remembers his mentor, poet-physician William Carlos Williams, encouraging him to trust the psychic acuity of young children as they drew or painted their symbolic concepts of reality: “Look at them, looking, their eyes meeting the world. . .“ In Coles’s book on children’s art, Their Eyes Meeting the World, Williams tells him, “A youngster drawing is . . . a youngster telling you a hell of a lot. When will we know that?”

When indeed will we know that? A child dying of leukemia says little but paints a girl floating on a river of blood (her transfusions no doubt) toward a verdant, healing island. Then she dies. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her either how things are or how they ought to be. When will the chattering, arrogant world lose its appeal and we turn to the uncluttered expressions of the least of these and pure in heart who see and hear things we no longer can? Wasn’t it Christ who claimed God forms perfect praise in the mouths of children?