Trick-or-Treat!

Do it.

I want kids to trick-or-treat. I want them out in dark, tripping over capes and clown shoes, spitting on everyone as they yell “Trick or treat!” through plastic fangs. I want the young ones to come to my door and look up at me with that look of resigned confusion that says, “Lady, I don’t know what’s 8146023035_7589abbddfgoing on. The big ones, they dressed me up like some kind of pink rodent and are parading me around in the dark. Strangers keep giving me stuff I’m not allowed to eat. I suspect I’m being used as some kind of candy lure. I’m just going along with it because it makes the big ones smile and, well, what choice do I have?”

I want to drop Butterfingers in the pillowcases of properly costumed teens who manage to drop their guard enough to offer the evening’s greeting in a clear voice. I want; I really want the cool uncostumed teens to show up so I can ask them to please sing a song or dance instead. That’s the All Hallow’s Eve deal: You show up properly dressed and call out. I admire your efforts in exchange for candy. You say, “thank you” and everyone gets what they want. There are procedures if you cannot comply, and they involve singing, dancing, or a good joke.

I get the impression that fewer and fewer kids are out on Halloween night. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a warmer climate where we only had to wear a jacket as we ran around neighborhoods. In the upper Midwest, a knit cap and puffy coat destroy the aesthetic of any dainty fairy or fearsome warrior. The weather doesn’t explain all of it; people here go fishing through a hole in the ice… and they aren’t even beginning to starve.

Parents are fun slayers. Gauntlet thrown. Parents don’t want to get cold, don’t want to traipse around in the dark and don’t trust their kids or neighbors enough to send the kids out alone. I get that. I don’t let mine go out alone… I send their father with them so I can stay home and have more conversation with small people than they desire. I understand that it’s a school night. I know that kids come home with pounds of teeth rotting, appetite killing, behavior modifying, tasty crap. I get it. But…

2991216294_c7b3bc03f9I want the tradition to continue. For one thing, it is not a holiday I want dragged out. I like it as a single evening’s activity. Sending kids out trick-or-treating is many times easier than throwing Halloween parties. I only clean the porch for trick-or-treating. I want childfree adults remember their childhoods. I want them to think about the kids in their area and buy treats for them. Yes, I wish it could be apples instead of candy corn, but I won’t throw out all the good fun of trick-or-treating just because candy isn’t a healthy choice. I want neighborhoods to open up their doors and their generosity to small wandering bands of mermaids and zombies. I want kids to wear costumes in public because it is SO FUN.  Every Batman should run through the darkness, cool night air snapping his cape behind him. I want older kids to hold the hands of the younger ones when a gory apparition runs by. I want parents to stand back at the sidewalk and let their tiny children find the courage to walk up to my door by themselves, or in a brother’s wake. I want them to talk to a grown up they don’t know in a safe way- because it builds communication skills. Don’t belittle it; these small lessons are where the growing happens. Also, I like talking to them.

We are the parents. We can put limits on how late they’re out and how much sugar they shove in their gobs. Yes, you can do it. Put on your big girl pants and a hat, make some candy rules and a hot toddy to keep you company and take those kids outside on the last dark night in October.  It’s worth it.

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Homemade Halloween

Please, just be a ninja.

Every Halloween, I vow to purchase the children’s costumes. Every Halloween, I end up masquerading as a seamstress.  I can follow the simplest of patterns, ripping out only 3 or 4 mislaid seams, but it takes me forever and if you look closely, (please don’t) my finish work is rubbish. Sewing is not a cheap activity. Buying fabric and required notions for a princess dress is more expensive than forking over the dough for a store bought one.  In fact, store bought is much cheaper because it doesn’t cost me countless hours struggling with tailoring skills that I don’t possess.

When we start discussing costumes, I secretly hope for something commercial and hanging on a hanger somewhere. Generic Princess? Happily. Ninja? Oh yes, please, yes. Batman, Ironman, Merida? You bet. My eldest, maybe because she’s sophisticated, maybe because she likes to push my buttons, picks wonderful characters that are woefully uncommerical. And I, not wanting to discourage her original thinking, comply. Ugh.

Terrifying, isn't he?

Terrifying, isn’t he?

I got sucked into costume making with an easy one. I made a Theseus costume (his choice) for 4 year-old Bear out of a pillow case- hemmed slits for head and arms gathered at the shoulders, a braided belt of old curtain scraps, and a Minotaur head to hold candy. I knocked out the tunic in 20 minutes. Once I found a black plastic pumpkin bucket, the Minotaur was easy too. I fashioned a bull nose and horns out of Model Magic and glued them on. Cheap, easy, and literary: I win! The next year, I tried to convince him to be Perseus. I would only have to pull off the bull bits and glue on some plastic snakes. Everything else could stay the same. But he had grown out of his Greek phase and went as a store bought knight instead.

Up to this point, AJ is always happy to be some kind of princess, which is just fine by me. I purchase a beautiful costume for $25, and she plays dress up in it until it is too tight to squeeze over her body.

The hard one is Q. I stitched together Wendy Darling’s blue nightgown from Peter Pan.

Blue Princess, Mary Poppins, Ninja who insisted on carrying the Minotaur head for the third year in a row.

Princess, Mary Poppins, and Ninja who insisted on carrying the Minotaur head for the third year in a row.

It was atrocious, even with all the time I spent on it. I was glad Halloween is an event that happens in the dark. But, she wore it as PJs for a year, so at least the effort wasn’t wasted. Last year was the big challenge: Mary Poppins. This one was all me, from head to toe. Red rubber grapes and fake daisies from the Dollar Store went onto my wool hat to make her cap. I folded, pinched, and stitched a ladies’ jacket from Goodwill into shape while Q was wearing it.  I made a red bow tie and pinned it to a collared white shirt she blessedly already owned.  A friend taped a piece of brocade over a big satchel for her carpetbag. It was all done but the skirt, the giant time suck of a skirt. There are a few easy ways to make full skirts, but they are not La Belle Époque shape and are not structured enough to look right.  So, because I’m an idiot who has difficulty prioritizing, I scoured the internet for historical dress patterns to use as a guide. I made my own pattern using a lot of algebra and butcher paper, and sewed the blasted skirt out of a remnant of blue upholstery cloth. It looked great. No one was as surprised as I.

Q went to her school carnival so proud of her costume. She told everyone how it had been made down to the last detail.  She had seen the whole process: the finding, figuring, and the complaining. I began to suspect that my priorities had been in the right place all along.

This year confirmed it. Q and her friend, Ann, began making Q’s costume during summer break: Queen Susan of Narnia. Ann, who has more confidence in her stitching, fashioned a skirt out of a piece of blue silk and they began decorating a blue t-shirt for the bodice. Does it look particularly like a royal frock? No, it’s better, so much better. It looks like two creative girls had an idea and made it happen with the skills and materials at hand. Did I offer to purchase a different dress or re-make this one to “look better?” Heck no. I would not belittle their accomplishment. I bought her gold buttons to sew down the front, bits of ribbon for trim, and a crown.

I suspect that nothing we do for our kids that is out of the range of feeding, clothing, and driving them around goes unnoticed. Okay, that may be a little too much Pollyanna, but when we meet them where their interests are and help them accomplish something, our efforts make an impact. I am so glad I stumbled through making that Mary Poppins costume; it helped Q think she could make this year’s costume (with the help of a can do friend.) I am so proud of it. This year, at the school carnival, I will tell everyone how it was made.

Honoring Alice

Remembering a Terrifying and Brilliant Teacher

Since I became an adult many years ago, I have meant to thank those pedagogues who equipped me, challenged me, called my B.S., and treated me like I had a mind that mattered. I haven’t yet. Whatever excuse I might offer, those important people have not received my gratitude. Yesterday, I learned that one of those invaluable people passed away. While she knew the value of her craft and was highly respected by her colleagues and feared by her students (her colleagues may have feared her a bit too,) I missed my chance to say thank you. It is a shame to eulogize someone, much better to honor them when they are around to enjoy it.

What makes an excellent teacher: A love of one’s subject, an standard of excellence from oneself and one’s students, an expectation that students can and will do more than they are initially willing to do? That is the crux of it: to push them, stretch them, force them through the growing pains that will leave them stronger and lithe.

In Dr. Alice Hanson’s case, the metaphor of broken bones healing stronger is more fitting than that of growing pains. That’s baby stuff. She didn’t mince words and didn’t bother being nice, but she was honest and demanded mature scholarship from her 20 year-old students. Ultimately, because she was such an effective teacher of such high standards, her honesty was more honorable than kindness. If you gave a wrong answer in class, she’d make the sound of a buzzer, cross her arms in the shape of an X and say, “No Credit.” Then she’d ask your neighbor the same question and your neighbor would curse and drop her pen from the nerves. Dr. Hanson would make passing comments that were so far from my realm of reality and knowledge that I couldn’t even tell if I should know of what she was speaking or not. I gave plenty of blank stares as answers.

237977_18469_LAs a sensible person, I was terrified of her. When she strode down the dimly lit halls of the music building, she reminded me of the giant stone ball from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom– unyielding, unstoppable, careening down a fixed course toward her office where some student was waiting to have his paper thesis ripped to confetti. I always appreciated her loud shoes; I like advance warning for tornados and Dr. Alice Hanson.

Dr. Hanson taught music history at St Olaf College and she was a force of nature. You showed up to her lectures alert, sober, and on time. She could not abide anyone walking in front of her once she began. She trained us to fill the seats furthest from the entrance so fate-tempting latecomers could take the seats closest to the door. I don’t begrudge her this idiosyncrasy. Walking in front of Dr. Hanson while she was giving an impassioned account of a Beethoven symphony was like sauntering past of the Queen of the Night during her vengeance aria. It wasn’t done and it certainly wasn’t wise.

We took copious notes during lectures. That was the stuff we needed to know later. She was wickedly precise, deeply analytic, maddeningly pedantic, and meticulously linear. Her lectures flowed like outlines, making note taking effective and easy. Seldom did I ever have to go back and add in information, or draw arrows back to something mentioned three minutes previous. We had textbooks, but her lectures were better: information distilled to its most basic and potent elements. Her listening and written tests were harrowing, and everyone studied for them, everyone, even those who didn’t crack a book for anything else. You could not wiggle around an answer. If you answered an essay question indirectly, demonstrating that you didn’t really know what you were talking about, she was not above crossing the whole thing out and writing, “BULLSHIT” in all caps across the page. Of course, you got no credit.

!B7rwfnQEGk~$(KGrHqV,!hEEyr2qBRCLBM07e!LpPg~~0_35I was required to take two semesters of music history surveys from her. I have never worked that hard for a B+ before or since. While my biology majoring friends were sweating over organic chemistry, I was getting hives about Palestrina. Dr. Hanson was terrible for my GPA. If I had avoided her after those first two semesters, I may have graduated magna cum laude. But I would not have learned as much. I traded a stellar GPA for learning and took five semesters with Dr. Hanson.

I have always learned most from teachers I feared, and I learned a lot from Alice (as we called her only behind her back. She used to say that only her parents called her by her first name, and they were both dead.) I learned piles of music history. Even better, I learned her specific and effective way of reading music as poetry, history, and psychology. How to write an academic paper proved my most difficult lesson.

Every “Alice” class ended with a big analytical paper. I was a decent writer. My language was clear. I painted lovely word pictures and constructed artful and smooth transitions. I went in for my first draft conference with her. She already had a red pen in her hand when I walked in the door. There may have been 6 others in the wastebasket, having been bled dry on other first drafts. She eviscerated my introduction; striking through sentences saying, “State your thesis. Say how you’re going to defend it, points 1,2, and 3. Then get to it!” She muttered, “blah, blah, blah,” while crossing out an entire paragraph. (Remember, I was sitting right there.) She wanted me to write like she lectured- without airs, facts and analysis only, please. If she wanted to read beautiful writing, she certainly wouldn’t pick the offerings of a sophomore with a head full of mush.

I pared it down, realizing that without flowery writing, I would have to do a lot more musical analysis. Poop. I did more analysis, but I couldn’t bring myself to write the way she wanted. A double handful of English and history teachers before her had spent years training me not to write the way she wanted. I left in my transitions and linguistic curly cues. I got a B-. I struggled through every paper I wrote for her, unwilling to comply with her style requirements and her crossing out all my fluff with maddening regularity, until my fifth semester with her.

I chose seven minutes of Copland for the subject of my last paper. I wrote the entire paper as an outline. It looked just like my notes for her class.  Then, I made each point a complete sentence and strung them end on end, like a paper chain and just as artful. No fluff, just twelve pages of analysis, musical examples, and a thrice-checked bibliography. It irked me, but I turned it in just like that. When I got it back, I waited until I was out in the spring sunshine to open it up. Across the entire last page was written, “You finally got it!” I have never been more pleased with a grade, because that ‘A’ took me five semesters to earn. I learned to write to purpose, to bend my style to meet the demands of the moment.

Music history in graduate school was a lark. I met my requirements with such ease that I barely remember what classes I took. I remember reading a journal article on Stravinsky and thinking, “blah, blah, blah. Get to the point” with Alice-like impatience. My opera professor commented that my paper was nothing but analysis. Of course it was, because an academic champion trained me.

When I need a refresher on Schubert, I don’t go to the Internet. I crack open a 15 year-old notebook full of lecture notes and re-read Dr. Hanson’s clear and precise distillation of the man and his music.

She was hard and suitably unusual for someone so brilliant. Her standards were high and rigid. She goaded us toward them, nipping our heels and exclaiming at our ineptitude, but never giving up or letting us settle for less than the summit. All of us who passed her classes became reasonable musicologists in spite of ourselves.

Resting in peace is not Dr. Hanson’s style. May Heaven possess enough interest and joy to meet the fervor with which she taught and thought. I hope, for his sake, Beethoven knows what his own music is about. If not, Alice will tell him.HansonAlice1

She would hate this remembrance; it’s far too long. This is what I would have sent to her.

Dear Dr. Hanson,
            Thank you for holding us to standards that were so high that we didn’t think we could meet them, but we did, with your help and your inspiring and clear teaching. In my eyes, you are largely responsible for redeeming the academic credentials of a performing arts department.
 
Forever in your debt for my knowledge of sonata form,
C.W.
241, 242, American, 19th Century, and 20th Century Music.
(You gave me an A one time.)

Why The Arts are Essential to Your Kids’ Success

And Your Neighbor’s Kids Too.

 The case for the arts needs to be made across the entirety of American culture, but if we don’t plant artistic seeds in the young, the argument is pointless.  

The arts are being squeezed out of the American educational system. Music, theatre, dance, visual, and literary arts are all losing their place in the formation of our next generation of citizens. The reasons given are often financial: there are more demands on schools and fewer resources with which to meet them. There is also our well-intentioned push to measure and quantify student learning with standardized achievement tests, as if all students are clones and we are programing them like computers. Parents feel strapped for cash and time and don’t make the sacrifices required for music or dance lessons.

When arts education is on the chopping block, I hear the objection: “But the arts are important.” It is a throwaway line. Few people articulate why the arts belong in education and that is a shame, because it isn’t a hard case to make. So here’s my purely experiential, non-scientific stab at the case for the arts: Why the arts belong in education; why we need them and how do they serve their students.

Art as Societal Bellwether

496px-Athena_Herakles_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2648      Art is an integral part of who we are and who we’ve been. It is a primary method of recording and reading history. It reflects the general psyche of a place and time. The Renaissance fascination with all things Hellenic is reflected in the architecture, sculpture, and paintings of the era. The ennui and cynicism of Fin de siècle Europe is observed in the art of that time.

Looking through this window into history- we see the micro impact of huge historical events on individuals (the artists) and whole societies (how the art was received.) How much richer is the study of history when it is studded with songs, paintings, and literature of the people affected by the actions of governments and nations?Picasso: Guernica

We spend thousands on public art projects to charm and invigorate public spaces. In the US, the Kennedy Center honors influential artists of our nation annually. Foundation and government grants pair with private donations to fuel every major orchestra, ballet, opera and art museum in the country. Tourists all over the globe visit museums full of artistic cultural artifacts and seek out local art and music in order to get the flavor of a place.

Awareness of art’s significant influence on society makes us more critical of the art we want in our society. Anyone who thinks that violent song lyrics and misogynistic advertising are inconsequential doesn’t know art or history.

The Art of Persuasion

Elementary school textbook, 1971. Notice the use of pen as bayonet.

Elementary school textbook, 1971. Favorite bit: the use of pen as bayonet.

When we understand history and art’s role in it, we exert some power of discernment over the propaganda, advertising, and media that bombard us. Governments know the power of the arts- Soviet and Chinese communists spent a lot of energy and ruined a lot of lives trying to control it. Art had to meet Soviet standards for promoting communism. In Maoist China, artists who were permitted to create were those that toed the party line. Others were silenced (in any number of ways,) or sent to “re-education” camps. In the US, we once closely scrutinized and threatened artists we suspected of harboring communist sympathies. I doubt we would have bothered if we didn’t think them influential people.

Canadian WWII Poster      Politicians carefully consider the music they will use on the campaign trail, trying to set just the right tone and make all the helpful inferences that a piece of music carries with it. Advertising has put cash in many a jingle writer’s pocket. Visual artists create graphics to encourage everything from buying war bonds to drinking brand name soft drinks. Multiple artistic professionals are employed to sell the latest earworm of a song from the pop star of the moment (a melding of capitalist and artistic aims, not that they are mutually exclusive.) Songs motivate and give voice to social movements from the French Revolution to American civil rights.
Persuasion and motivation are, most often, emotional pursuits, despite our delusions of being rational creatures.  The arts are the tools to manipulate the heart. Knowing this, we may still be taken in, but we will know the forces at work. It makes us harder targets and we are better equipped to use the arts of persuasion to our own advantage and to the advantage of causes dear to us.

Fluency in the Languages of Human Expression

In order to benefit from art, we must know its vocabulary and have some basis from which to approach it. Most of us have perfunctory reactions to art we see or hear, even if we don’t know why. But knowledge deepens understanding of any subject.

If I had not been forced to study poetry, I wouldn’t know to consider the words that are left out as much as the ones that are chosen. There are mime gestures in ballet that function as sign language but I am wholly ignorant of their meaning, so I barely notice them. I often hear people not trained in classical music say that they find it relaxing. That is not my experience because I know its language. I know the aural vocabulary of consonance and dissonance, and some of its history. I hear detail and technique. I glean more because I know more.

Education in the arts teaches the languages of human expression, enabling us to not only understand others, but to better communicate our own ideas, both of which are important to the individual and to the health of greater society.

Know Thyself

Art (visual, performing, and linguistic) is communication. The arts are apparatus for communicating delicate and 364px-Van_Gogh_-_Trauernder_alter_Mannnuanced ideas, emotions, and experiences. They convey meaning at deeply human levels- levels that may not have words, or visuals, or sound, but are real and part of who we are and how we experience this shocking world. I have been moved to tears by a carefully composed photograph, been challenged by a painting, dug through a poem until I found a nugget of understanding, and had my mood changed by a song.

In order to communicate in any medium, I must examine and know my own mind. I must discover what it is that I want to convey. Creating artful expression forces me to first know myself better by seeking that clarity of mind.  I must isolate the idea I am trying to bring into the world, figure out how to present it, and make plans to build it.

Art is a safe place in which to do this work of self study. It offers a space to test ideas and affects, a space to express thought, a space to untangle ideas, and a space in which to safely experiment with modes of being. In the words of the composer and secular saint, Mr. Rogers: “[Art] is a way, that doesn’t hurt you or anybody else, to say who you are and how you feel.” What young person would not benefit from such exercise?

Honor the Other

Once I know my mind, I must consider the other- the audience. Who is my audience? What is their frame of reference? What do they need from me in order to understand my purpose? Effective communication requires me to honor my audience, increasing our mutual understanding.

That isn’t to say that effective art always results in the artist and consumer coming to harmonious conclusions. Far from it, but it does mean that artist and audience have both considered each other, possibly gleaning insights into themselves and one another. Society would be better if we made a habit of studying the frame of reference of others, instead of just trying to prove ourselves more right than someone else. Maybe the US Congress should be forced to play chamber music.

Discovery and Problem Solving

The imaginative skills required for making beautiful music and effective literature are the same skills for creative problem solving in the rest of life. Life is full of opportunities for a facile mind to find ways around problems, from organizing a home, to making a dollar stretch, to marketing a business.

Making art, like doing science, teaching, or plumbing, is full of problem solving. It is all about finding ways of bringing ideas into the world, a world full of rigid considerations. Art is always created within constraints. Children get frustrated when watercolors run into each other on a saturated page, or play dough refuses to have the rigidity and spring required to make usable fairy wands. Learning to work around and within a framework is where human creativity is at it’s best. Creative problem solving is the stuff of invention, and it bears all of our technological and much of our scientific progress.

A feat of creative problem solving. And then we paint it red, because it is awesome.

A feat of creative problem solving. Then we paint it red, because it is awesome.

Creative people find multiple approaches to a problem. They see connections where others’ haven’t and they discover new solutions to old problems. Developing a powerful creative process requires a good amount of practice. The arts, with their disparate mediums, styles, and skill sets, are stimulating places to begin resolving dissonance between a mental goal and the hard realities of materials and the limitations of one’s own skills.

Grit: More Powerful Than Talent

Art requires high-level skills to be effective and satisfying and these take work and time to acquire. My children are dissatisfied when the eyes on a face they’ve drawn don’t match, or they can’t play a piano piece as fast as they’d like. They already have an ideal in mind, but their skills don’t yet match up.

This mismatch can be powerfully motivating. People work hard for things they really want, and if a child’s mind is captured by an artistic ideal, they may be convinced to work diligently toward the goal. And diligence is what it will take. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building skill.3602584451_a3b9222310_m

Desire for skill does not mean that they will always work joyfully and willingly. They will want to give up when it gets hard, like any normal person. That is where teachers and parents come in- people who can see the end game, people who already know that to give up is the surest way to fail, and who know that perseverance is one of the hardest skills to instill.

The wonderful thing about learning perseverance in the arts is that art interests so many young people and they are motivated by a desire to do it well.  Scientific discovery motivates some children, but the arts catch the interest of many.

For people with an interest in visual, performing, or linguistic art, the pay off is satisfying. Seeing yourself approach your ideal through your own hard work is powerful. Knowing that you got there by your own sweat and effort builds confidence and pride. Achievement and mastery of skills is the way to true self-confidence.

This is not to say that artistic satisfaction is possible with only the skills of a superlative artist. Yes, it takes years of diligent work to gain aptitude, but the near inhuman skills of top performing artists are not what are required for individual delight. Enrichment through the arts requires people who have creative vision and have worked hard for some basic artistic skills with which to strive and discover what is possible.

Cooperation

Practice and solitary work builds character and work ethic, but if art is communication, it is at its absolute best when

This worked out okay.

This worked out okay.

made and shared with others. I hated group projects in school. They took so much time, and there was always one person who’s dead weight the rest of us dragged across the finish line. However, I never thought of theatre productions, string quartet, or orchestra as group projects, even though they were.

These were voluntary collaborations, cooperative endeavors. Everyone had a useful skill set, skill sets that I understood and respected. We were patient with each other because we understood the difficulties of making ideas heard, seen and experienced as clearly as possible. We learned to offer criticism gently. Even more importantly, we learned to take criticism constructively. We helped each other and celebrated our triumphs. Even less than stellar efforts were easier to accept, because we had each other.

My highest emotional highs occurred when I fell in love and when I made impossibly beautiful music with people I liked, music that I could not make on my own. Love for my quartet members grew out of our explorations of Schubert and Dvorak. There is simply nothing like creating beauty with someone else. It is one of the profound delights on Earth.

Collaborative art fosters appreciation of others and their skills and imagination. Actors cannot put on a production without lighting designers. 1st Violins need 2nd violins. Dancers need costumers. Drummers need guitarists. None of it works without all of its pieces in place.

Finding Purpose in Creation

Knit GraffitiHumans are creative beings and nothing breathes life into daily existence like finding a place to stretch our creativity. The main reason there are so many craft, yarn, woodworking, and DIY home improvement stores is because people need to make stuff. The satisfaction that comes from building raised garden beds is soul feeding. People craft, build, and make art because it quenches a universal creative desire. I have friends who practice a creative hobby as an exercise for mental health. They find it calming and nourishing: concentrating on something they love, making it fit their own purpose and ideas. As creators, we take control over a small piece of our existence. And that is a thing of great psychological consequence.

Children know that they are not in control of much. Adults become wise when they realize the same thing. A creative outlet can do much to improve our mental health and help us cope with a world beyond our control, by giving us a small space in which to make things as we’d like them to be. And art is an outlet that is readily available, can be pursued at varying intensities of finance and time, and bends to meet the needs of the practitioner. Why would we keep such a gift from children?

Synthesizing Algebra, and Other Lessons.

I remember sitting in math class and wondering, “Why are we doing this? When will I ever need this?” It seemed like such busy work and I didn’t see the point. It wasn’t until I set out to make a sewing pattern for a skirt (something I would never have attempted if I did not have some practice in creative problem solving,) that I finally synthesized the need for algebra and was thankful for geometry. Making stuff puts theories and abstractions into concrete practice.

Art is for Children.

Does it matter if students can manipulate mathematics, or does it only matter if they punch the right answers on their assessment tests? Do we think it wise to shove the diversity of the human mind down shallow road of knowledge without understanding or synthesizing it? Do we want adults who come to their productive years with problem solving skills, the ability to work with others, engaged minds that are always looking for better ways to do things, who have healthy outlets for their emotions and are practiced communicators?

Zack, age 8, oil painting after Wyeth

Zack, age 8, oil painting after Wyeth

If this is what we want, the arts must be part of their education. Not every child needs all of them, but they all need some. They should have visual art to learn to see, literature to learn to consider beyond themselves, theatre and language arts to make themselves understood, music to voice the depths of the soul, shop class to bring abstractions into reality, and places to try, see, and learn the languages that tell of the human experience.

Heavy Hearts Are A Drag

I feel like I’ve been in a fight for the past two weeks. I am not sick, and my life is as good as it was before, but I am beaten down and sad.

I am immensely grateful for the life that I have lived thus far. My loved ones and I are healthy. We have what we need and some things that we simply enjoy. I am married to a man who gets better with age. Most of the time, remembering these things bucks me up. But there are days when my heart and mind are too preoccupied to be coaxed into a better mood by mantras of gratitude.

230878032_c9b7c7fad9In the past few weeks, we’ve had two mass shootings (that I’ve heard about) in my country. There has been a slaughter of innocents in Kenya. A friend had a sudden death in the family. The list goes on and on. But it is not as if suffering suddenly increased. This stuff goes on every day. People kill, abuse, hurt, and murder each other every day. Since the dawn of humankind, we’ve been suffering terrible accidents, dealing with famine, drought, floods, terrible governments, and bad people.

Most of the time, I do what everyone else does with suffering that does not directly affect their lives: I acknowledge or ignore it, package it up and put it aside. It is natural, even healthy. It’s a survival mechanism. It is how we are able to focus on living our next moment to the best of our ability, because that is our job and it is the only thing we can do.93271166_99309d0468_z

Sometimes, I stagger under the weight of the world. I carry it around as though it is my responsibility to solve it. I can’t set it aside to enjoy the lovely moments of my life. And I am almost religiously compelled to acknowledge the goodness around me.5915158402_909365a296

If carrying the world’s sorrow helped anyone, I’d do it gladly. But it doesn’t. It impedes my ability to be a force for good in the small ways I am able. We can’t relieve the world’s hurt by feeling bad about it. Oh, if only that were the case. We only make ourselves and those around us unhappy if we try.

4569344254_798ef75908_zI hope it will pass in the next few days. It usually does. I am able to set down that huge burden and focus on promoting truth and goodness among my small circle of influence- chatting with the checkers at the grocery store, trying to raise good children, attempting to be a decent wife, smiling at strangers and looking them in the eye. You know- the small stuff.

 

 

 

 

When the world or private issues overwhelm you, you have my prayers and sympathies. I hope that you are soon able to straighten up and feel the sun on your face again.

3257992946_5c79431b91_zThe sculptures are all from the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway. It is an intensely moving place to experience, if you ever get the chance.

Shock and Aww

Mine is not a militarily cultured family, but, I find myself thinking in military analogies. Here’s a sampling:

Rules of Engagement– Whatever tenuous rules and policies I’ve made for the moment and will change or abandon at will.

4869071404_77104ed8e8_z BDR– Yes. Make your bed every day. It isn’t “Basic [almost] Daily [if you feel like it,] Routine.”

Troop management– Getting to school, through IKEA, church, or Costco with all members accounted for, unbloodied, and almost on time.

Group Cohesion– Tying everyone’s performance to everyone’s reward. While strongly protested as unfair, it has proved an effective tool for building cohesion and accomplishing missions.

The Enemy– Colic, TV, exhaustion, or an opposing faction within a family usually consisting of barefoot short people.

Guerilla Tactics–  Sneaky goings on: Throwing away [read: donating] unused toys when children aren’t around. Putting mushrooms through the garlic press, so the kids can’t pick them out. Changing their clock so we can sleep in for another 30 minutes.

Surrender– My flag waving arm is sore and it isn’t because I’m such a patriot.

I surrender!

I surrender!

Routing– What happened to me last Saturday when Hot Swede was gone all day, ending with friends’ pity and their bringing me wine.

Trench Warfare– The parenting of very young children. Consistently interrupted sleep, chaos and destruction coming at you from all directions all the time and all you really want is a pair of dry socks.

Night Watch– What the stay at home parent gets when a child has nighttime vomiting, ostensibly because I “can sleep during the day.” Bwah ha ha ha.

Recon– going through the backpack, looking for a permission form.

Special Ops– Volunteering, attending, being over age 30 at the school carnival, teaching Sunday school, leading a boy scout troop, etc.

Coordinated Attack– When the plebes work together to attack every weakness I have on a given day [see “Routing.”] For example: “Okay, you whine. When you’re done, I’ll drop a full quart of yogurt on the floor. Then, you run through it on your way to almost make it to the toilet. After that, we’ll complain about lunch and fight about who hates squash more. She’ll take away our screen time and then we’ll break her. She’ll cave without the hour’s break. It will be mac and cheese for dinner and play outside for the rest of the night.”

Victory– If Hot Swede and I make it to 51 and they make it to 20 nearly whole, good, functional, and still smiling at each other, we will have a ticker tape parade.

Headless Nike: I'll take it.

Winged Victory: If she kept her head, it wouldn’t be as fitting.

School Fundraisers

My children attend a wonderful public school. I am very grateful. The parents association at school operates with a level of involvement and organization that I remember from my private school days. They are a highly motivated group of parents who work very hard at raising a lot of money to support the educational offerings of the school. Off the top of my head, here are fundraising campaigns they’ve launched in the three years we’ve been at the school.

Oh, the memories

Oh, the memories

  • Wrapping Paper & Gift Sale
  • Coupon Book Sales
  • Read-a-thon
  • A local restaurant that donates a % of the profits from a certain day of each month.
  • Boxtops/Labels for Education
  • Book orders
  • 2 Book Fairs per year
  • Plant Sale
  • A pair of carnivals: the pièce de résistance: one in the spring, one in the fall, complete with silent auctions, bake sales, live music, crafts, and games.

These parents work their tails off. They are awesome, and they raise a healthy chunk of change. Because I am always ready to advise others on what they should do, I thought I’d brainstorm a few new ideas. Half of them involve booze.

School Rummage Sale:

Families donate toys, snow gear, bikes, etc. for the sale. This is a parents only event, complete with wine and canapés. All unsold items will be donated. No children allowed, as who knows who’s Wii or train table has been marked for sale.

tiny bubbles in the [beer]...

tiny bubbles in the [beer]…

Cash bar, or keg at the Carnivals.

These are chaos intense events. Moms and dads would pay many tickets for a strong gin and tonic. I’ve done informal polling to this end. It would be a success. If there is a problem with having a keg on school grounds (of all the silly rules,) there are lots of families who live within 2 blocks of school. They could host in a garage or yard. I’m sure permits would have to be pulled, etc., but it would make the “throw wet sponges at parents” booth a distant second.

Service-a-thon

If we’re going to pledge money to our kids to read during the read-a-thon, how about doing the same for the time they spend serving others? I would love to pledge to a kid who was going to spend time weeding school flowerbeds, or helping the librarian sort books, or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor. File it under character education.

Change Drive

Get some Costco pickle jars and have a contest for which classroom/grade can collect the most coinage (American money only, please.) Prizes are given for the most money raised and the fullest jar. Root beer floats and bragging rights for the winning classroom. The losers have to roll all the pennies. Easy and unimaginative.

640px-Left_Hand_-_Kolkata_2011-04-20_2350

Please?

Straight Up Ask

Okay, here’s the deal. We can send your kids home with promises of iPads to the highest seller and you can look at their expectant faces and explain why you’re not going to buy more wrapping paper, popcorn, stationary, books, whatever else we can think of that is not too heavy for a kindergartner to carry… or, you can write us a check, three digits please. Like an NPR fund drive, the sooner we meet our goals, the sooner we’ll end the drive. Please, for the love of Ralph, that spring carnival is a killer.

Grant Writing

This will work better in high school, but how about it? Assign students to write grants to fund art, science & math enrichment, music, PE- all those “extras” that aren’t on standardized tests. They’d learn to research, assess what a foundation is looking for, to write to that interest, to be concise and clear, and to submit on a deadline, a real one. Little actual funding would get accomplished, but in the off chance that it did- double score- learning and money!

standing ovation for you, sir.

Standing ovation for you, sir.

Parent Prom

This would be fun… and just as awkward as the real thing. Get a sitter; buy tickets, and draw straws for a designated driver. There will be noshes, music from the olden days (your youth,) and other parents dressed up like you’ve never seen them. It could be a themed soirée -1980s, Dr. Who, dress like a middle schooler, dress like YOU did in middle school. Liquor is de rigueur, duh.

 

 

After School Ice Pop/Coffee and Cocoa stand

This would totally work.

This would totally work.

This idea struck as I watched the ice cream truck roll down my street, playing cheery Christmas music in July. We need our own food truck/rolling stand. There would be ice pops or snow cones in the fall and spring, for the two weeks that they last. When the weather turns chilly, it’ll switch over to coffee and hot chocolate. Not bad, eh? This one doesn’t require booze or babysitters.

 

Who doesn’t want to support the education of their kids? Getting rid of stuff, going to a party, and drinking (coffee) seem like great new ways to do that. Anyone else have good fundraising ideas? I can’t use any more wrapping paper.