John’s mother had just been in jail for 18 months.
Her boyfriend “was mean,” John told me, and his mother “better watch out because she was becoming just as mean as he was.”
(Like many kids, John talked about what was going on in his life while he was making art. He wouldn’t look at you, he’d just paint and talk.)
The police were often at his apartment breaking up fights between his mother and his older sister.
John wore his crazy life with the same straightforwardness that he wore his clothes.
With so many aggression issues at school, the AP stopped letting him come out to Time In. It wasn’t safe to have him on the bus with other kids.
I called his mother and told her that John could come to HiArt! on Saturdays for free. All she needed to do was bring him. Okay, she said.
But they never showed up.
On Monday morning I called her. She sounded very tired. She said,
“I’ll promise you lots of things, but in the end I won’t do them.”
Then the school said he could come back to Time In if his mom came on the trips with him.
But she didn’t come.
So I offered to send my assistant to the school to travel with John on the bus in place of his mom. He REALLY wanted to be back in class and so, little by little, we started seeing more of him.
At the beginning of January, thanks to Agnes Varis and Tamar Hirshl, John got to see the Julie Taymore production of the Magic Flute live at the Metropolitan Opera.
(All through December we’d been “studying” it in the studio.) John was in ecstasy. He couldn’t stop talking and thinking about it.
When we started our next project in the studio, Sleeping Beauty, John was impatient,
“When are we going to see the REAL people do this”?
So when someone donated their extra Sleeping Beauty tickets to me, I called John’s mother and arranged to take them both to the ballet myself.
The Sleeping Beauty production was boring and long. John’s mother dozed. But John never took his eyes off the stage.
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His mother had just been released from prison after 18 months away.
And when the Bluebird was in her cage at the end of the ballet, John leaned over to me in a hushed voice and said, “They must have been thinking of Pappageno.”
When you watch the Time In video, you’ll see incredibly jubilant faces. You’ll see John jumping for joy. And kids dancing and painting and gallery hopping at the most provocative, amazing shows in Chelsea.
Yet, there’s a back story to every kid in the program. And it isn’t necessarily one that provokes smiles.
A friend of mine, a distinguished professor of law, saw the video and was distraught. If this is who these children are, he wondered, then how do they end up failing?
Time In: It doesn’t take much to fulfill a dream of colored pencils …