Sunday, June 12, 2011

Michael’s Wood Carvings

Fish and boats. That’s what my son likes to carve most of all. They’re small enough that he can sell them inexpensively, and they make nice presents for people to buy. And he’s been lucky, people are buying. Therein lies a very important piece of inspiration.

My son has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD, formerly FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). It’s brain damage caused by the alcohol my son’t birthmother drank while pregnant with him. Michael had problems from the day we brought him home from hospital when he was seven days old, but it wasn’t until he was six that he was finally diagnosed. No doubt about it, FASD.

It’s been a struggle helping Michael find his place in the world since then. Dropping out of school after Grade 8 sure didn’t help. We did everything we could to keep him in, but it wasn’t in the cards.  Learning disabilities and poor social skills are part of the FASD package. ADD didn’t help either. School’s tough enough on “normal” kids. Michael couldn’t navigate the complex world of high school.

Michael’s been out of school for years now. Though he’s actually bright, he has serious memory problems. Some days he can’t retrieve information he knows. The next day, it might be back and available for him. He also has trouble remembering anything that’s sequential, whether the days of the week to a string of numbers. All this frustrates him, so its not surprising that he’s been fearful of returning to school.

Work hasn’t been in the cards for Michael either. Though he graduated from a printing program that would enable him to work in a print shop, he wasn’t interested. Work at the job he was placed in after graduation was repetitive. He hated it. One day, he just refused to go back to work. He tried out a few other little jobs, but he didn’t stick with them either. As parents, we were devastated. No school, no work. What were we going to do? Problems with school and work are classic symptoms of FASD.

Michael’s always had an artistic gift. Even when he was really young, he seemed to have good design and spatial sense. We gave him art classes, but like everything else, he never stuck with any one thing. While other young people were developing their talents, Michael’s lay dormant.

But clearly still there, just under cover.

A few years ago, I suggested to my husband that he take a night school class with Michael. Michael was always whittling, so I thought maybe a woodcarving class might be good. My husband found one through the Toronto District School Board, and enrolled them for a night class. Three hours a crack.

My boy found his niche. The first year of his class, he produced a beautiful bas-relief of a wolf howling at the moon. His teacher took to him and gave lots of encouragement. The carving is beautiful. It shows real talent. And it’s not just because I’m his mom that I think so. Robin, my husband, entered Michael’s wolf in the novice category of the Canadian National Wood Carving Association’s yearly contest. Michael took third prize. That little white ribbon is worth a million bucks to Michael. We framed it for him. “I won it at The Nationals,” he tells people. Though many people have offered to buy the wolf, he wouldn’t dream of parting with it.  I’d hate to lose it, too.

Michael has now turned to carving small fish and boats that sit on little stands he carves to exhibit them on.  He sells them at craft fairs and the special Christmas bazaar we have every year in our community. Last year, Michael sold every piece, over twenty, and came home with close to $400.

Michael has made two other major woodcarvings in his night school classes. One is of a bear with a fish in its mouth, standing in a river. It too is incredible. He’s now just finishing up another carving, again, a bas-relief. It’s a pike carved into a large piece of bass wood, with carved waves behind it. It’s absolutely beautiful, too. I can’t wait for him to do the final polishing and waxing. I have a perfect place to hang it.

Of course it will cost me. Seeing how proud Michael is of his work, and watching him actually stick with something is also worth those proverbial million bucks. I think I’ll get away with only spending a couple hundred, though. But whatever price he chooses to charge me for his pike will be worth every penny, and more. Much more.

Last week Mike mentioned that he might like to take some high school classes. I didn’t want to get too excited, at least until I found something I thought might actually work for him.

I cant help but wonder. Could the confidence he’s developing from his woodcarving be reverberating in unexpected ways. My hunch is a resounding yes.

Maybe I should offer Mike even more for the fish.

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