On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Symbol me this

I have lots in common with the kids at Juvenile Hall, one thing being that I have poor drawing skills and that's true for most of them. Still, I muddle by. I want to learn how to draw so I practice every day. And sometimes I resort to symbols.

Last week I showed the boys some basic drawing symbols that are often used in maps and depictions of places -- railroad tracks, lollipop trees, rectangle buildings, rivers and roads. They, of course, remembered even more - how to draw a simple dog or cat and other critters.

Then I showed them a diagram of the neighborhood where I lived when I was six years old in the Little Egypt part of southern Illinois. I told them some of the stories that I associate to that place -- the old guy riding a rickety wagon pulled by an old horse -- that was our community's "modern" garbage collection of the day. I talked to them about clamp-on metal roller skates and the key I wore around my neck. I recalled the day I lost a 50¢ coin (who remembers those?) in the bushes on the way home from the store after buying a loaf of bread -- and how my mother returned with me and helped me search because 50¢ was so much money 100 years ago.

(Some of the boys really did believe that I'm 106, so what that my hair has almost no gray and I raise puppies and am generally quite active. Not to mention that I visit them week after trying week. I think we call that weak reality testing, but of course they are in Juvenile Hall largely due to a lack of common sense.)

At any rate, I asked the boys to pick one year from their own lives and develop a simple schematic using basic symbols instead of great drawing. Later I gave them a chance to walk us all down their personal memory lanes. I plan to repeat the same project with the girls in the Hall this afternoon.

What's the point? Well, given that I'm one of their current mom figures, I'm hoping that the mere fact that we spent some time together will be useful. Recalling the past and integrating it with the future is generally useful for most of us, we seem to need to know from whence we came. And, since they believe they can't draw, not even a straight line with a ruler, I think they'll appreciate realizing that there are lots of ways to draw and that simple symbols can be useful when other skills are lacking. It's sort of a don't-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater sort of thing -- draw what you can draw, don't give up totally. And, since the girls are adding pages to their visual journals each week, this will be the next page. They like to sit and turn their very own pages. (If you click on the image you'll be able to read the descriptions.)


  1. Give yourself a pat on the back for working with those kids...they are trying but love the attention!!

  2. This is such a great project idea. I love hearing about what you do with these students, and no matter what paths their lives eventually take, I bet they'll remember the lessons they worked on with you fondly.

  3. I think the kids will remember that someone actually cared about them and bothered to teach them some things to take with them forever. You are doing really good work. If someone doesn't touch their hearts what will happen to them?

  4. It is very inspiring to hear what you do with these kids. You are probably someone they look forward to seeing. What a generous way to spend your time!


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