Somewhere high above the clouds.
We had just left Tel Aviv behind and below us when the stewardess approached us in the back of the plane. To be precise, she didn’t come to me, but to the little girl (about 5 years old) sitting next to me with her father on her left side. With her dark brown hair in a bun and her big warm brown eyes, she looked like what we call a »Buba« in Hebrew – a real doll! Her name was Romy.
Like all airlines usually do, also El Al handed out children’s kits to their little guests to keep them happy and entertained.
El Al’s version existed of a collection of multicolored sheets of adhesive foam rubber stickers that were cut in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Those were meant to be stuck onto an illustration. This illustration showed a smiling El Al plane with clouds surrounding it, a bear and a giraffe traveling in it, bees and butterflies swirling around it. A happy and colorful illustration. The set contained a smaller size sample image of what the finished illustration was supposed to look like and a larger sheet of A4 cardboard that was incomplete with only outlined shapes and figures, waiting to receive the foam rubber shapes.
Romy unpacked her »art kit« and started to examine everything carefully.
But she didn’t do what adults (who are naturally the ones who had designed it) would have expected her to do.
She took the printed sheet of cardboard – the one with the illustrated outlines – and flipped it on its white unprinted back side.
And it was on the white and virginal back that she started to stick the rubber shapes. She did it with a lot of care and attention. Looking at all the shapes and colors, combining them with the intuition and this unique natural organic feeling only children possess.
paradise for a few minutes
It was beautiful to watch.
She was living and enjoying her creativity and fine-tuning her intuition. I could see how she was thinking about the shapes and colors and how to combine them with each other. Nothing else existed at that moment. It was almost carried by a certain holiness. Her creation didn’t resemble anything known to the real world, but it was beautiful precisely because of that. I was totally charmed by this little girl. The gentle look in her eyes (this unique kindness only children still mirror in their faces), her focus and concentration, enjoying this most natural way of getting in touch with herself. It was totally enchanting.
After about 10 minutes …
Until her father noticed what she was doing.
Can you guess what happened next?
a paradise lost
Yes! He told her that this is not what she was supposed to do. He removed the stickers from the backside of the cardboard and started to put them in the »pre-destined« outlines on the front of the printed illustration.
I screamed internally.
»Leave her alone! Let her continue!«, I would have loved to beg him.
As it had to happen, of course, that was the end of Romy’s engagement in »her« creative process that she had owned until that moment. It was hers alone, until — her father took it away from her. And as it was to be expected, Romy had her father take over. Of course, he started to stick the cloud shapes onto the cloud-outlines, the sun shapes onto the sun outline and so forth and so forth. His daughter observed him doing the work and gave him the rest of the stickers to put in the »right« places …
The magic had ended abruptly and she now even commanded him to stick the pieces properly in the right places.
No more creativity.
No more wonderland.
A little paradise conquered for a moment and lost again.
Nothing but the adult repetition of a pre-programmed behavior, telling the child to do the same.
After landing, I could see how all the children happily left the plane, all holding the ever the same looking illustration with adhesive foam rubber stickers in their hands. I was weeping inside.
And what I couldn’t tell the father on the plane, I would like to tell you now:
Parents, leave your kids alone!
Allow them to be creative.
Encourage them to be creative.
Allow creativity to »happen« and trust your child.
You don’t have to understand it.
And I promise you – you might be surprised …
A drawing by my daughter Shira when she was 4 years old.
Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.
—Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)