In the car today on the way to gymnastics, D says:
“Mom, say this: Raise your hand if you know the name of the ship the Pilgrims sailed on.”
“Raise your hand if you know the name of the ship the Pilgrims sailed on.”
D raises her hand. I call on her.
“The Mayflower.” Then she says, “Wasn’t it good how I didn’t just blurt it out?”
“Yes. Nice job not blurting. What else did you learn about the Pilgrims? I noticed a picture of Pocahontas in your Friday folder last week.”
“Pocahontas went to meet the king and queen. She was an Indian. She lived in India. Her dad was in charge of their area, and he didn’t like the pilgrims, and then Pocahontas got tooken to meet the queen, and then she met her husband and they had a baby and he was their son! So was that baby a boy or a girl?” (That last question is clearly an imitation of her teacher’s voice, so I answer.)
“Um, a boy.”
“Right. He was a boy.”
I wait a minute, to see if more information is forthcoming, but this seems to be the end of the story of Pocahontas. I ask a couple follow up questions, but it seems like she genuinely has no idea why Pocahontas’ father didn’t like the Pilgrims, why the Pilgrims came to North America, or why Pocahontas went to England to meet the king and queen. Since we only have a few minutes in the car, I decide to try and intervene with the most glaring misunderstanding.
“Hey D, remember when you read about Christopher Columbus?”
“Yes. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. That’s a rhyme: two, blue. His mom and dad thought the earth was flat but he did his dream and sailed and he was right because our world is a sphere, mom! A sphere!”
“Um, right. Remember how he wanted to sail to India, but he ended up in North America, but he didn’t realize that he had made a mistake sailing, so he called the North Americans he met Indians?
“Yes! But they were NOT India Indians!”
“Right. And neither was Pocahontas. She lived in North America, near the ocean, and the Pilgrims met her when they sailed here.”
“Oh. Did they think they were sailing to India?”
“Um, no. They pretty much knew where they were going. They just weren’t very respectful about people’s names. What else did you learn about the Indians?”
“Um, some really nice people bought Squanto and set him free after the bad people taked him and sold him. There’s a special word for that.”
“Slave? They made him a slave?”
“YES. They slaved him, and it was really bad, they were bad guys!”
“Who? The Pilgrims?”
“No. Well, I don’t know. Maybe Pilgrims. Or maybe Indians. But then those other people bought him and set him free. Wasn’t that nice?”
“Yes. That was definitely nice.” Again, all my follow up questions about this gem of a revelation are met with total confusion. She does not know if Squanto was enslaved (or freed) by Pilgrims or Indians, why he was enslaved, or how this story is connected to Pocahontas, if at all, beyond her initial (mis)understanding that both Pocahontas and Squanto lived in India.
Also, at no point did she mention the Pilgrims and Indians having Thanksgiving dinner together, which I would have assumed would be the centerpiece of any kindergarten lesson about the holiday. Or maybe it was, and I have the kid who only remembers the peripheral details of interest to her: ships, slavery, conflict, marriage babies. American History at its kindergarten best.
1.) It’s not all tea parties. Yes, there are tea parties and princess dresses and My Little Ponies. There are also dinosaurs and robots made of legos and occasional wrestling matches and hair pulling. Today, D and Lucy defeated some sea snakes in the hallway by spraying large quantities of air freshener and then fleeing for the top bunk. Rather than saying no to gendered toys, we have tried to say yes to most things ( only a few things–Bratz, Alien Autopsy kits–have been ruled out entirely) and then encourage them to mix it up. It would not have occurred to me to put the My Little Pony skirts on the dinosaurs and stage an elaborate dino ballet, but they don’t hesitate to cross gender (and species) boundaries when they play.
2.) Having 3 is actually not that much more difficult than having 1. Because when you have 1, all you know is how to be a parent to 1 kid. And if you are anything like me, it is the most unbelievably overwhelming life-altering time suck you could ever imagine. I distinctly remember feeling that every minute of every day was overflowing with this new weird experience of parenting and sometimes that was joyful and sometimes we were all crying but there was no escaping, either way. I wrote about the intensity of those emotions earlier this spring. But once I had two, and three, I flexed. Time flexed. I parent differently. I’m less likely to read Busy Busy Pandas 100 times in a row and more likely to read it once and then say, “Now look at the pandas and make up your own story!” Or, “Go find your sister and ask her to make up a panda story with you!” Or, “Go roll around on the floor and pretend to be a panda!” Before Margeaux was born, I worried that D and Lucy would be jealous of the time I would need to devote to her. It only took a couple weeks to realize that in fact, they are so deeply enmeshed in their relationship to one another that if I left the fruit snacks and juice boxes within their reach, they might ignore me all day. And now that Margeaux is on the move, she tags along behind them and plays along to the best of her ability. Which brings me to:
3.) By the time you get to the third, safety standards seem like very flexible recommendations. When D was 1, if you had suggested that I let her go down the steps alone to jump on a trampoline with a 4 and 5 year old, I would have laughed out loud at your hilarious joke. Margeaux does this every day. In the morning, she sits on the couch with a toaster waffle and watches Ni Hao Kai Lan in her sleeper. She brushes her teeth. When I drop Lucy off at preschool, if I start chatting she’ll slip away and sneak into the classroom and sit down in a chair at one of the tables, like she’s totes ready for art center or play dough time. She can climb all the way up the ladder to the top bunk, though I try and prevent this since she and Lucy came crashing down in a sad, bruised pile last week. Today, though, I forgot to pull the ladder up because D slept in late, and when they fled the sea snakes Margeaux followed them up, lickity split, and they rolled around on the top bunk laughing and shrieking. When I reminded them that it’s not safe for Margeaux to be up so high D said, “But Mom! We were escaping the sea snakes! And sea snakes aren’t safe for babies either!” Can’t blame a girl for looking out for her baby sister.
Today was observation day in dance class. You can see the reflection of all the parents in folding chairs in the back of the studio. The girls started classes at this studio in early September, and parents haven’t been able to see or hear (other than the echo of the tap shoes) the classes yet, so today was exciting for all of us.
When I was pregnant with Dorothy, I had two CDs in my car that I listened to over and over: Weezer’s The Blue Album and Springsteen’s Born to Run. Back out of the driveway, put on my seatbelt over the awkward big belly, down the hill to the highway, music blasting out my windows into my otherwise quiet West side neighborhood: Say it ain’t so, My name is Jonas, the Sweater Song. Lying on the floor! Lying on the floor! I’ve come undone!
On the way home, bumping down the brick streets away from the warehouse/office/greenhouse, singing Thunder Road: Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night—you ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright…
All the pregnancy books tell you that your baby is absorbing sound and rhythm before she’s born, learning to recognize your voice, getting smarter as muffled waves of Mozart wash over her. I wonder if there are long term studies on the effects of Weezer and Springsteen, if Born to Run babies grow up unafraid to ride motorcycles into some dark night. When an old friend’s band came through town I declined the offer of earplugs, needing to feel the sound full on, hoping the baby could feel the intensity of that show: Turn off the lights and watch it all melt down, Napoleon slow, to the bottom of this town. Am I a bad mother if I secretly hope my girls absorbed a little bad boy rock star in utero?
T has always been resolutely opposed to kid-oriented music: in his car, the girls listen to Phish, or jazz, or the local radio station that makes me batty because you never know if you’re going to get Ani DiFranco or Celtic folk or terrible low-key techno, bass thumping under some weird repetitive phrase: Ambient! Technology! AMBIENT! TECHNOLOGY!
I’m more lenient. Laurie Berkner Band, Muppets soundtrack, even the dreaded Kidz Bop, with its kid safe versions of pop songs that can’t possibly hold any meaning for my kids: The Chipmunks singing Party Rock, a shiny clean version of Call Me Maybe: Your stare was holdin’, ripped jeans, smile showing, where do you think you’re going baby?
Most days, though, we listen to the Fresh Beats. When we started watching the show on Nick Jr, D was immediately hooked: the plots and jokes are a step up from Dora and Wonderpets, the music is insanely catchy, and the mix of fantasy and pseudo-reality is weirdly engrossing. And then she noticed the commercials for the Fresh Beats LIVE IN CONCERT. Kids dancing in the aisles, Kiki rocking out on guitar on stage: Mom can we please go tomorrow?
Live music, lesson one: let’s check the tour schedule.
Indeed, the Fresh Beats were coming to our very town, and the tickets were outrageous.
Live music, lesson two: sometimes it’s worth it.
I ended up buying scalper tickets through Stub Hub, guessing that the small mark up would be worth it to get close to the stage. I’m a front row junkie. Live music was a central part of my identity and my relationship with T in our 20s (our experience seeing Phish at Coventry was the pinnacle of this). I proposed at a Phish show. The fact that it was the Fresh Beats didn’t so much matter – I wanted the girls to have a taste of the magic, the intensity, the awesomeness of rocking out in the presence of a band you love. Front row seats were hundreds of dollars and could only be bought as part of a package including a backstage party with healthy snacks, but I got us on the main floor about 15 rows back.
Live music, lesson 3: Vocab
I may have been the only parent there who used the words merch table, opener, set break, cover, and encore. The 2 year old next to us spent most of the first set quietly weeping. Some kids appeared overwhelmed; others seemed underwhelmed. But D and Lucy really loved it: maybe because of my dorky prep, they were expecting a concert, not a live version of the tv show, they were psyched to be close to the stage, and they stood up and danced spontaneously to their favorite songs. Afterwards, they were bursting with excitement, wanting to rehash their favorite moments, excited to talk about the new songs, stoked that the band played some old favorites. When the songs we heard live come on in the car, they talk about the show: “Remember when the monkeys came on the screen and we all yelled GO MONKEYS! GO MONKEYS!”
I want them to love Weezer like I do, and Phish, and the Killers, and Regina Spektor. I hope that those months spent floating in the belly listening to Born to Run mean they learned the Boss’ voice along with mine. But for now, it’s okay with me if they love the Fresh Beats and Carly Rae Jepson. After all, my first concert was New Kids on the Block. I want them to know the dorky joys of fandom, the thrill of unrolling the poster from the concert and taping it up on your bedroom wall. I love that they know all the words to their favorite songs, fantasize about being rock stars with their own bands, put on shows in the living room. A couple days ago, D said from the backseat while we were listening to a Fresh Beats cover of I’m Yours, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to have a band, and I will sing, and there will be guitars and drums and a banjo and a washboard and Jason Mraz will play the keyboards.” Maybe it’s time to start those guitar lessons: we’ve got a couple rock stars in the making here, and they’re already imagining their heroes singing back up.
I’m blogging every day in the month of November as part of NaBloPoMo at Yeah, Write– check out the other amazing talented bloggers who are also on this crazy train!
“This is my ArtPrize,” D says. “I made it with paper and markers and it is about how rainbows are made of water and sky and light. Would you like to touch it? Here is a card if you want to vote for me!”
I’m not an artist. My primary artistic accomplishments include Play Doh birds and drawings of kitty cat faces with long whiskers. Based on D’s recent drawings, I’d say she is well on her way to surpassing me in the visual arts department. I also don’t know very much about art history, or contemporary art, or how to interpret or critique art. My art education borders on nonexistent: I remember going on a field trip to the Grand Rapids art museum in third grade; we each got a poster of a painting of fried eggs to take home. Was it a famous painting? Did we see it at the museum? I have no idea. After the art museum we went to the fish ladder, which I mistakenly believed to be art until well into adulthood, when I learned it actually serves a really important purpose for salmon who swim up the Grand River and would otherwise be halted in their progress by the dam. I took one art history class in college, while on study abroad, and it was taught in French, which I barely spoke. The midsize Midwest city where I live has never been known as a hub for art or artists. I admit, I probably would not have taken my kids to the Art Museum on my own.
ArtPrize is a ginormous public art competition, and when I say public, I mean anyone can enter, anyone can vote, almost anything goes, and huge sums of prize money are awarded based on the public votes.
Almost every aspect of this is controversial. Read the comments section of any article about ArtPrize and you will hear the same arguments over and over: That’s not art, it’s just skillful welding! That’s not art, it’s just really big! It’s just shocking and offensive! It’s just loud! It’s not original! If ArtPrize keeps awarding prize money to grizzly bears carved with chainsaws/enormous metal animals/really big images composed of really tiny things like push pins or post it notes or polka dots then real artists will stop coming back!
And it’s true that some aspects of the experience are predictable. ArtPrize BINGO capitalizes on the repetitive memes; even Lucy is on to it:
ArtPrize is different every year, but some things are the same, like the giant stuff. There’s always giant stuff at ArtPrize.
And she’s right. There’s always giant stuff. Trout that tower over parking lots. A life size T-Rex skeleton. Enormous dragons made of buttons and wire and reclaimed metal and duct tape (each of those is a separate entry).
In addition to giant, there’s also weird. Thousands of paper bags filled with the artist’s breath and arranged into a tunnel not unlike the enormous balloon structures you might have built for your high school prom. A wood floor that oozes bubbles. An abandoned museum exhibit festooned with antique lightning rods.
And some of the entries are experiential. One year, an artist launched thousands of paper planes from the roofs of downtown buildings. We spent the better part of an hour inside a hippie temple with neon lights. We took the girls to be part of the lighting and release of 20,000 biodegradable Chinese sky lanterns.
I think we established in the first paragraph that I am probably not qualified to judge whether any of those are art. But here’s why I love ArtPrize: the radically open approach means I don’t feel pressed to explain anything. I feel like it’s okay if I am not an expert, if I don’t have all the answers. Often, I just listen to what the girls say, how they respond, what they think it all means. I vote for the entries that excite and interest them and the entries that excite and interest me, and yes, some of their choices are predictable (ceramic penguins frolicking in the fountains outside the Gerald R. Ford museum, for example) but they are also learning to pause and think about the entries that don’t have immediate kid appeal. My interpretative strategy is to tell them what a piece is called, read them snippets from the artist’s statement, and then help them figure out how they feel about an entry by asking a couple basic questions:
What do you see?
How does this make you feel?
What does this make you think about?
Can you make your body into that shape?
If the artist is there (and many of the artists hang out near their work, trying to garner more votes by engaging the crowd), I help the girls ask questions. I have been amazed by how many of the artists are willing and able to talk with kids and meet them at their level, explaining how a piece is put together and sometimes letting kids cross the lines to touch a piece that’s officially marked hands-off. Artists have lifted the girls up to touch T Rex teeth, pointed out small details in paintings I hadn’t noticed, patiently showed D how to find the word TULIP hidden in a garden of tulips made of wooden dowels.
Sometimes an entry still fails to engage. That’s okay. There are literally thousands of pieces of art and hundreds of venues to explore. We can always move on to the next one. I don’t push if it seems like they’re not into it or not ready for it. I let them linger when they are interested and move on when they are bored. If they ask to go back to a favorite piece we go back, look again, see if we can find a new angle to view it from or a new question to consider. I love to return to their favorites with friends and family members who haven’t been there yet so I can hear the girls explain what they’re seeing and why they like it. And I love it when they come home and play ArtPrize: they draw pictures, then stand in the kitchen holding them up and I walk through pretending to be a visitor, asking them questions about their entry.
I’m not an artist or an art critic. Maybe the critics are right when they argue that some artists will refuse to return because average people are too enthusiastic about Jesus mosaics and reclaimed metal polar bears. But it’s hard for me to imagine that the attrition of the few artists who would prefer more exclusive exhibitions and awards could compromise the incredible outpouring of energy and goodwill and yes, enthusiasm for art in many forms, that I’ve witnessed and experienced.
I love ArtPrize because it has changed our family’s relationship to art and to our city. My girls have seen countless amazing, beautiful, powerful, surprising, thought-provoking pieces of art over the past few years. They know artists are real people and they know art takes many forms and they are confident about their ability to talk and think and ask questions about art in whatever form they encounter it. They feel connected to their city, to the downtown landscape, in a way I never felt when I was growing up here. They know how their city can be transformed by the presence of steampunk pigs and horses running down the river and impromptu puppet theatre and tens of thousands of lanterns rising above the skyline past the full moon, and they have been part of that transformation with their own eyes and ears and hearts and hands. This is my ArtPrize: water and sky and light.
1.) I know all the lyrics to Call Me Maybe, Moves Like Jagger, and several songs from The Little Mermaid.
2.) The Chipmunks version of Party Rock is neither better nor worse than LMFAO’s version.
3.) Singing “Hey, you just woke up, your breath is stinky. Here’s your toothbrush, brush your teeth maybe” inspires even the crankiest 5 year old to smile.
4.) The Killers guest appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba rocked just as hard as I would have expected.
5.) The Chipmunks version of Three Little Birds is definitively worse than Bob Marley’s version.
6.) Lucy can sing a very respectable version of You Cant Always Get What You Want, but she can’t tell the difference between Mick Jagger and the street musicians downtown.
L: What’s this song about?
Me: It’s about dancing like Mick Jagger. He’s got sweet moves. He’s from the Rolling Stones.
L: We saw the Rolling Stones at Art Prize singing “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try try try you can find what you need.”
Not a bad morning, all things considered.
One week into kindergarten, this is what I have learned about what happens there:
1.) In music class, you stand on big shelfs. There are three shelfs, but really there are six shelfs, because there are three and three together. First position is when you sit down on the shelf, and second position is sit with your back tall, and third position is stand up. The music teacher has a monkey puppet and it whispers to her when kids are not following the rules and then she says Billy, my monkey says you are wiggling and kicking, we need to sit with our back tall in second position.
2.) On the playground, there is sometimes a problem because spiders and bombs don’t really go together. So when we are spiders upside down in our web and then the boys come and say there are bombs there are bombs and we say no there are NOT bombs here because we are spiders and spiders don’t like bombs. So that’s a problem, the spiders and bombs.
3.) When you give the teacher your quarters she gives you your milk card and there is a milk line and you give the teacher your milk card ticket and then you can choose your milk. The chocolate milk is SO GOOD.
(Side note: that afternoon, your mom will start receiving daily emails and messages reminding her that her daughter’s milk account is 50 cents overdrawn and instructing her to deposit money via a website that requires a student id number that does not appear to be on any form that has ever been sent home. Also, I have no idea who she gave the quarters to, because they obviously couldn’t be used to buy the milk.)
4.) We use our towels for rest time after we put our lunchboxes back in our backpack and we rest in the place we chose on the very first day we rested but sometimes Billy is SO LOUD TALKING TALKING TALKING and so that’s not really very restful.
5.) We are practicing our catness behavior and that means be kind be safe be respectful be responsible and when you use catness behavior you can get a green ticket.
(Sidenote: This is a behavior model based on the school mascot, Wildcats. All of the handouts say CATS, not catness, but I am not correcting her because in my head I hear Katniss, and I love the idea of an entire school of children practicing their Katniss behavior.)
It’s been an intense week emotionally: D started kindergarten, T is traveling, and I lost a dear friend who had two teenage sons. So I’m trying as hard as I can to just stay in the moment, be present, and enjoy the small details of their days as they share them with me. As cliché as it is to say this, I am deeply cognizant after this weekend that we have no way of knowing how many of their days we will be lucky enough to share.
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.”
We went school supply shopping this morning. Backpacks, pencils, crayons, markers. D chose a sparkly folder with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. When Margeaux wakes up from her nap, we’re off to buy school shoes.
D starts kindergarten this year: 5 full days a week. We are practicing waking up early, and opening packaged snack foods and Ziplock bags so she’ll be ready to eat lunch at school. I have tried to explain the process of buying milk. She is so excited, and so ready, and I am so excited for her, when I’m not secretly crying in the lunch box aisle at Target.
It’s not as though the growing up came as a total surprise. In so many ways this summer, we have been realizing that unlike last year, when we had a preschooler, a toddler, and a baby, this year we have two girls and a baby. The big girls climb to the top of the tall slides, and push each other on the swings, and boogie board in red flag waves, and laugh hysterically at the Muppets. Of course they need backpacks and lunchboxes. Of course they need pencils and glue sticks. But standing there next to the enormous display of folders, I could remember being a kid and choosing my own folders and Trapper Keepers.
Some of the stories I think of as being definitive, revealing, about who I am, are stories my family tells about me, experiences I don’t remember because I was too small. I pushed my own stroller across the Mackinac Bridge. Those stories define a period of time in my life when my self, my identity was inextricable from my family. There are singular, definitive versions of those stories for me—unlike the later experiences I remember for myself, the secrets I remember keeping. I’m realizing now that this is the corner D and Lucy are turning: they will have their own memories of these days. The story won’t be mine to narrate. It’s beautiful and amazing and so, so scary for me.
The girls have become big fans of the Muppets this summer. (And if you haven’t seen the new Muppets movie with Amy Adams and Jason Segal, I cannot recommend it highly enough.) I bought a funky CD of covers of Muppets songs, with a version of Rainbow Connection done by Weezer and Hayley Williams of Paramore. We listen to it in the minivan all the time, and the girls know all the words. I remembered the chorus (in John Denver’s voice) from my own childhood, but not the lyrics:
Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
It’s a sweet, poignant song, about wishing and longing and dreaming and believing in something you haven’t quite found. It’s about questions, mystery, wondering, searching. It’s about having a sense of self, a calling, you can’t quite articulate. There’s no certainty, but there’s hope.
It’s August, and I’m trying to get my head around my own prep, the logistics of the schedule, whether I can afford the tap shoes this week or if I need to wait till the next paycheck. But in the backseat, little girl voices are singing Rainbow Connection, clutching new backpacks, imagining preschool and kindergarten. They have announced, with certainty, that they have style. (Dad, that shirt is not my style! Mom, yes! That dress is totally my style!) They might not know it yet, but this is the beginning of the life and self they will remember on their own terms. They are beginning to write their own stories. I hope that they’ll trust me enough to keep letting me hear them.
Last night, about halfway around the block, walking slowly, trying to let go of the stress of unpacking and laundry and semester prep, D asks, out of the blue:
“Where do people come from?”
I think she must be thinking about babies, because we’ve just spent time with her baby cousin, and I say, “Babies grow inside a mom, in her uterus, until they’re ready to be born.”
“No mom- the first people. Where did the first people come from?”
Her question is clear and reasonable, but I’m hesitant. T and I have not talked about what, if anything, we will tell our girls about God. I decide to go with science:
“So, a long, long time ago, there was a huge explosion called the Big Bang. That explosion created a lot of light and heat and energy in the universe, and on our planet, earth, the light and heat and energy meant that tiny creatures could start to exist. And very slowly, over a really long time, those creatures grew and changed a little bit at a time until eventually they were sort of like people. Sometimes we call them cave people. And the cave people kept growing and changing a little bit at a time, and slowly they became people more like us.”
We’re still walking. D is thinking. I am thinking I really need to brush up on my knowledge of evolution. Are there youtube videos about evolution for children? Lucy asks:
“What about sloths? Are sloths real?”
We talk about sloths for a minute. One of the differences between D and Lucy is that after you answer Lucy’s questions, she rarely needs any follow up. It’s hard to tell if she’s listening or understanding because she tends to scamper away as you’re answering. But D thinks it through and then repeats the answer to make sure she didn’t miss anything.
“Okay. So first was the big bam, and that big bam made the universe and the tiny creatures exist, and the tiny creatures grow and change to cave people, not like us, and the cave people grow and change to people people like us?”
“Yes. Does that make sense?”
She nods. We’re turning into our driveway. Lucy asks:
“But what about robot pinecones?”