Sunday, March 27, 2011

No one really wants to rain on a parade


Ittybit was brimming with excitement. When I got home from work she greeted me at the door holding a familiar drawing, enhanced with new and unfamiliar autographs.

She'd been reticent to go to her after-school program but unable to pinpoint why. With gigantic huffs and theatrical eye rolls, she recants a litany of complaints: "It's no fun. There are bullies. No one plays with me. I can't get to the craft table soon enough. I just sit there. And. Wait."

We didn't want to minimize her concerns, but the four days a week she attends its programs getting her to leave has been similar to extracting a confession from a statue. It's just that Tuesdays, the day after her three-day respite from respite, that seem to be the problem. It's all in the lead up.

So, in an effort to get her past this moment of dread, I offer a vast and changing array of suggestions: "You could bring a game or a toy? You could bring a book and read? "Maybe you could get a game of Freeze Dance going? You love Freeze Dance."

It was plain from the tilt of her head and the diminished distance between her eyelids that I'd grown another head.

I was not deterred.

"How about you bring some drawing paper and pens?"

Her eyes widen and her head balances evenly on her neck. I had her attention.

"You know, we need kids to help us with the parade dragon we've been making. ... Maybe, if you take the drawing with you, you can explain what it is we're doing and recruit volunteers."

She liked that. It appealed to the wee little art director in her soul. And as her face brightens, I can picture her flitting from student to student trying to gain their interest.

As she stood there ... beaming up at me gripping her autographed plans, she wanted me to know the day had been G-R-E-A-T. Everyone loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it. It was going to be the best parade ever and she'd be making flyers and cookies for all who came to dance down the road under a cardboard box trailing a quarter-mile of iridescent fabric.

"Look," she said, thrusting the paper in my direction.

I turned over the drawing and found a list of names neatly printed alongside a column of phone numbers.

Numbers like 555-1234.

"When should we call them?" she wondered. "A month before? A week? How about tomorrow?"

“Next Tuesday in Never” sprang to mind, but I knew I'd need to put it more delicately.

"Honey, these phone numbers aren't real phone numbers. We can't call these. My guess is you asked some older kids who didn't want to say "No" but didn't want to get a phone call either."

"Are you sure?" she asked with a wry little smile. "Would someone really give a little kid like me a phony phone number?" she said squinting at the numbers.

"There's too many patterns. Most real numbers don't go in such clear order," I explained and showed her a listing from a phone book.

She just shrugged her shoulders and skipped off. Every bounce of her being proclaiming it "Their loss."

They won't get any of the special "dragon cookies" she'd been planning to bake for the crew. They wouldn't get to throw candy at the crowds who gather at the edges of their driveways. They would miss the best parade of the year and they wouldn't even know it.

My shoulders weren't as relaxed as I wondered aloud if I should have mentioned the deception. I could have just as easily asked her about all the kids we know well, children her own age, who'd actually LIKE to be in her parade.

My husband just shrugged his shoulders. "I think it's best to tell her the truth. She'll find out anyway. If someone's going to rain on her parade, it's probably better that it's you."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Worries linger but construction paper fades

I had imagined parents the world over have been quietly slipping their children’s artwork in with the recycling — saving only the most precious for posterity — since the invention of paper thousands of years ago. But I had no idea it was a subject of great consternation until the New York Times in January published a much-shared expose on the most ruthless of all art critics: Mom.

Maybe the stick figure families committed to scrap paper make it to the refrigerator before finding their way into the trash, maybe they don’t. Or maybe the squiggle-made “elephant” of an undecipherable color helps start a fire moments after it is prodigiously praised for the arch of its trunk and the way its girth fills up the page space.

Health care premiums sky high, education budgets in the toilet; taxes up, jobs down – those worries will always be with us while the color on construction paper fades.

First-World problems, perhaps, but serious business nonetheless, and one more reason our kids will end up in therapy. “Mom is throwing out ART WORK? HO-MY-GAD!”

To be brutally honest, there’s only so much construction paper a one-family construction can hold. But how do we know WHAT we should be saving what we can safely toss?

Some parents have told me they save only "original works of art" that come from the child’s imagination, as opposed to a web-site’s step-by-step instructions. We hate these folks (except for my husband) and have crossed them off our Christmas card list.

Others — *cough*NOT ME*cough* — will save only the stuff their kids insist on sleeping with because they know if they take their eyes off it for even a millisecond, their glorious glitter-covered princess will be art napped and never heard from again.

There rest of us fall somewhere in between. We save probably more than we should, push it around our desks for a while. Moving it from closet to closet — maybe even from old house to new house — before we decide to let some of it go.

We know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so most of us tend to save art work based on our own preferences. In addition to just "liking" something, I tend to save anything that has words used in explanation or that include stories. (Drawings containing misspelled expletives are framed).

But HOW we save it becomes another conundrum.

The following is a list of the most popular methods for saving cherished works of kinderart, which vary by cost and complexity:

Hold the dough, sauce and cheese-y goodness The most cost effective storage: Use a clean, empty pizza box to store artwork by year. Use one box per school: Elementary and Middle school. (High Schooler’s works will probably be off limits. They save what they want themselves). These can easily be stored on closet shelf or under a bed.

Artist Colony You can save all kinds of flat work a handled portfolio case. They are relatively compact but are large enough (if you are discriminating in what you save) to hold most two-dimensional creations a child makes during their entire educational career, unless they plan on going to an art college. In which case they will likely burn all their old drawing and use the case for their "real work."

Artistic Ant Colony This would be similar to the above portfolio case option, but scaled down in size to fit into ordinary office binders. This means parents are limited to keeping only art that conforms to the standard 8 ½” by 11” paper size. Think Origami originals.

Art Recycling Using techniques of collage, create new artworks from old ones: Laminate and make placemats or bookmarks or greeting cards. Use as gift wrap. Or literally recycle by putting lesser-loved works the revolving file ... in the middle of the night ... on the eve of recycling day ... whilst your petite Picasso sleeps. (Then pray the truck makes it to the curb before the bus comes).

The Mother of All Storage Schemes The overachiever parents among us** are digitally documenting each and every work of art Junior makes — from his pencil squiggles to his pipe-cleaner sculptures — and using any one of a growing number of self-publishing sites to turn them into carefully composed coffee table books that can be admired and cherished for generations.

**I have not done this … though I have take pictures of some of my favorites and uploaded them to the photosharing website flickr, where I’ve tagged them as "art" so I can search for them later. (But I pray, perhaps even more fervently than for schools to hold on to their arts programs, that flickr doesn’t go out of business taking all my carefully archived photos with it into the ethosphere).

Now, with the Whats and the Hows solved, the only question left is Why? What will eventually happen to all this pent up creativity?

One day you'll drag it out, dust it off and present it in all its musty glory to the artist, now grown and in possession of piles of his own children's creative genius. What he does with the collection will be the final answer to what has been the real question all along: whether hoarding ... like artistic prowess ... is an inherited trait.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All roads lead to the highway ... except the ones that lead to oatmeal

I took a left when I should have taken a right.

I was out of my element, more than an hour from home and it was dark.

As I turned I'd had the feeling I'd gone in the wrong direction, but continued on just for confirmation.

I thought about turning around.

One street. Two streets. A mile of streets. Another mile of streets.

Might as well keep going, I tell myself. Eventually I'll find something I recognize.

In a day in age when gasoline prices are eating into food budgets and car exhaust is poisoning the planet, other motorists might retrace their steps and cut their losses. I motor on through. I tend to think there are only six streets of separation from me and any major highway, and that all roads eventually lead to some place I'll recognize. I reason, maybe the drive will, at the very least, help my over-stimulated children, bickering side by side in their car seats, fall asleep.

I can hear my husband's voice in my head ...

"What are you doing? This is crazy. Turn around."

Even when he's not in the car, he tells me how to drive.

In fact I'm sure, were I to think on it any further, he'd intervene with some form of pocket-sized salvation designed to contradict my fabricated understanding of the universe.

"Being lost isn't the worst thing. Sometimes it leads you to places beyond your wildest dreams."

The bickering stops for a blessed moment. I checked the rear-view mirror. Ittybit's eyes were wide.

"You don't KNOW where we ARE!?!"

"I said some of that out loud, didn't I?"

"We're LOST!?"

"We're not lost, really. I know generally where we are, I just don't know exactly where we are."

"You know what this means, right?"

"It's going to take us longer to get home?"

"No. We are going to have to sleep in our car, and in the morning we'll have to go to one of these houses and beg for food. ... Only they probably won't give food to you, because nobody will give food to an adult ... so I'll have to go up to the door and you'll have to hide in the bushes. ..."

"I am not hiding in the bushes," I say emphatically. "We are not going to pull a bait and switch on a homeowner. Besides, we are NOT going to be lost for long ... I'll find the highway and we'll be home before you know it."

"You know," she continues as if I hadn't spoken. "If they have oatmeal you will have to eat it. Beggars can't be choosers."

"We are not going to have to beg for food. Look, there's a sign for the highway. We're almost back to where we started. Why don't you just relax and listen to the radio."

She's quiet for a while as I turn onto the highway.

"Ah ... mom?"

"What, hon?"

"We're on the highway?"

"Yep. We are. It's the highway alright."

"You know what this means, right?"

"We'll be home soon?"

"No. It means we are going to STARVE! There are no houses on this road."

Some roads lead to highway, others oatmeal

I took a left when I should have taken a right.

I was out of my element, more than an hour from home and it was dark.

As I turned I'd had the feeling I'd gone in the wrong direction, but continued on just for confirmation.

I thought about turning around.

One street. Two streets. A mile of streets. Another mile of streets.

Might as well keep going, I tell myself. Eventually I'll find something I recognize.

In a day in age when gasoline prices are eating into food budgets and car exhaust is poisoning the planet, other motorists might retrace their steps and cut their losses. I motor on through. I tend to think there are only six streets of separation from me and any major highway, and that all roads lead eventually lead to some place I'll recognize. I reason, maybe the drive will, at the very least, help my over-stimulated children, bickering side by side in their car seats, fall asleep.

I can hear my husband's voice in my head ...

"What are you doing? This is crazy. Turn around."

Even when he's not in the car, he tells me how to drive.

In fact I'm sure, were I to think on it any further, he'd intervene with some form of pocket-sized salvation designed to contradict my fabricated understanding of the universe.

"Being lost isn't the worst thing. Sometimes it leads you to places beyond your wildest dreams."

The bickering stops for a blessed moment. I checked the rear-view mirror. Ittybit's eyes were wide.

"You don't KNOW where we ARE!?!"

"I said some of that out loud, didn't I?"

"We're LOST!?"

"We're not lost, really. I know generally where we are, I just don't know exactly where we are."

"You know what this means, right?"

"It's going to take us longer to get home?"

"No. We are going to have to sleep in our car, and in the morning we'll have to go to one of these houses and beg for food. ... Only they probably won't give food to you, because nobody will give food to an adult ... so I'll have to go up to the door and you'll have to hide in the bushes. ..."

"I am not hiding in the bushes," I say emphatically. "We are not going to pull a bait and switch on a homeowner. Besides, we are NOT going to be lost for long ... I'll find the highway and we'll be home before you know it."

"You know," she continues as if I hadn't spoken. "If they have oatmeal you will have to eat it. Beggars can't be choosers."

"We are not going to have to beg for food. Look, there's a sign for the highway. We're almost back to where we started. Why don't you just relax and listen to the radio."

She's quiet for a while as I turn onto the highway.

"Ah ... mom?"

"What, hon?"

"We're on the highway?"

"Yep. We are. It's the highway alright."

"You know what this means, right?"

"We'll be home soon?"

"No. It means we are going to STARVE! There are no houses on this road."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Putting out small fires is just part of the job

We can tell ourselves "parenting isn't a job it's a relationship" and other philosophical truths. But we all know it's work. And work can be exhausting. Vacations, on the other hand, are supposed to be refreshing. Yet, while the family may be doing something different for a week at a time, someone still has to do the laundry. And dispose of kitty litter. And put out small fires.

You may plan to be a tourist in your own town, sit poolside or read The Weekly World News to your heart's content, but when the junior miss and mister are bickering over who gets the last pretzel, and the boy sprays purple grape juice over the girl to make his point, it's likely to be you who is called to put out the fire.

It's just a fact. Similar to the understanding marriage is work, though no one would ever call it a job.

Now I'm not trying to create a gender war, here. Mom isn't the only one separating skirmishing siblings and scrubbing purple from duds. Although many-a-smart man has had the laundry duties removed from his Honey-Do List permanently if for no other reason than to ensure that her favorite cream-color wool zippered cardigan doesn't end up doll-sized and pink.

Let's just call it a matter of drathers.

I'd rather fold laundry than shovel sidewalks.

He'd rather shovel than have me drive his tractor into the house.

I'd rather scoop kitty litter than trap mice.

He'd rather be hung by his toenails and drained of blood than deal with the cat's recycled Nine Lives.

I'd rather clean bathrooms than cook dinner.

He'd like to eat.

So it's really not a he-said, she-said kind of fight I'm picking.

It's more of a everyone's going to be blind after we get done getting our eye for an eye.

For instance. Let's just say a certain person -- HIM -- discovered the kitty litter had been disposed of improperly.

Dumped unceremoniously into the backyard with the dog poo.

Now, to the dump scofflaw -- ME -- it's all poo, and it will be cleaned up in the spring.

However the dump discoverer -- HIM -- figures .. it's gross and I'm the one who's going to get the shovel job.

Commence the launching of arms:

Don't you know the dog sees this as a delicacy? It's gross. What will the neighbors say? It's gross.

Counter attack:

It's poo. I will clean it up in the spring. There's a fence. I said I would clean it up.

Fight, fight, bicker, bicker. Fight some more.

It's never really the thing you're fighting about that's the problem. It's the WAY you both do it.

Poke. Eyes. Poke. Eyes. Until each of you sit there blinking back blinding rage.

Eventually the argument ends and you try and put it behind you. Chalk it up to stress and short tempers. It's only kitty litter. Even the name of the stuff sounds funny. Kitty litter.

But some piece of it stays with you like sand from the beach.

Hurtful words that can't be taken back easily.

I'm still thinking about it as I load the wood stove, improperly. And the log I now realize won't fit completely into the stove is catching on fire. The gloves aren't where they should be. Nor is the fire extinguisher.

I calmly tell the kids to get on their coats and go outside to wait for me to call them back inside. And then I call him in a panic, yelling the words no one wants to hear after they sing-song a happy "Hello."

"WHERE IS THE FIRE EXTINQUISHER?"

What? Huh? What's going on?

Long story made shortened by another JUST TELL ME WHERE IT IS ... A log is on fire and I can't shut the stove door.

Just throw the log out into the snow! He says.

THERE'S NO GLOVE!

Use my good gloves. They're leather. They'll work.

I find them, return to the stove and the log still balanced precariously, and quickly open the door to the backyard.

But I'm standing there, now with the flaming log securely in his dress gloves ready to toss it into the snow, I can't help but laugh at what I see.

The Christmas tree he disposed of in late January is just a few paces from my little pile of improperly discarded kitty litter.

I toss the log between the two.

As the hiss of snow extinguishes the log, my shoulders release their grip on my ears. I won't say a word to him about this epiphany, or my feeling of victory. I'll just tell the neighbors.