Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thwarting the Creativity Thwarters

A couple of weeks ago, I was coloring with E and Z in the fire truck coloring books a friend had given them. As I filled a fire fighter's pants leg with red crayon, E asked me, "You color in lines?" "Um, yeah, I'm coloring in the lines," I said. "Where'd you hear about coloring in the lines?" At daycare, he said. I started swirling my crayon in spirals, rebelliously overlapping the lines. "Sposed you not scribble," Z said. "It's OK to scribble," I replied. "See? It's fun." I started using crazy colors, making faces purple and arms orange. When I started coloring with a black crayon, Z said, "Sposed you not use black. Can't see lines."

Oh, god. I knew that our daycare was not the most enlightened place on earth, based on the "girls play with the kitchen, boys play with the cars" incident last month. I also knew that their "crafts" were more geared toward making something pretty to hang on the wall than letting kids explore their own creativity. When M went there one day a week when he was three, while also attending Montessori school two mornings a week, I knew he did not choose his own crayons because everything came home in seasonally-appropriate colors, not just orange which was the only color he used at home at the time. Also pictures were cut out exactly along the outlines and the cotton balls were glued only exactly where Santa's beard should be. But I didn't realize it was this bad...I mean really, why should three year olds color in the lines? Why are there lines at all?

When M complained about going to Montessori school, I asked why he didn't like it and the only coherent answer I ever got was once he said, "Miss N makes me color pictures that are already drawn." And it was true that Miss N, the assistant teacher who was there in the mornings when the children arrived, handed out very (in my opinion) un-Montessori worksheets, probably in an attempt to keep all hell from breaking loose before the teacher arrived. "So turn it over and color on the back," I advised, hoping it would be a philosophy he carried well into public school. And it has--he comes home regularly with spelling lists and math papers that have wars scribbled all over the back.

I remember once in second grade, we had a substitute teacher and had to color a Halloween picture. The picture consisted of three witches around a big cauldron in front of a big full moon. When I finished coloring and went to hand in the picture, I was told to go back and color the moon. "But the moon's white," I protested. "Color it yellow," the sub told me. And I did, against everything I knew about moons. I wish I had been smart-assey enough to color the moon purple or blue or red or chartreuse. The fact that this incident still bothers me so much 28 years later tells you something about the way these seemingly benign events erode a child's creativity.

So yeah, it's a big deal to me that my three year olds are being told to "color in the lines." F*ck the lines! But do I broach this subject with the daycare provider? Is it only certain teachers (I can guess which one) that have this draconian approach to art? I haven't decided what to do on that front, but in the meantime, I'm redoubling my efforts to increase our at-home no-holds-barred creative time. When I decided to not go through the trouble and expense of sending E and Z to a preschool other than the one offered at our daycare (I may be reassessing this decision), I reasoned that I would use my at-home time with them as a sort of home-school preschool...but had not so far done much organized activity toward that end...mostly our home days consist of me trying to clean the house faster than they mess it up and a little more afternoon TV than I think is healthy.

So last week I got out the Creative Family book I mentioned a while back, and we made some homemade glue, painted it on paper and stuck bits of beans and macaroni and noodles to the glue. Then I mixed up some of the ridiculously expensive Stockmar water colors I bought when I was feeling in a Waldorfy mood a couple of years ago, and we folded our paintings in half to make Rorschach butterflies.

Then I found on my shelf a book called The Playgroup Handbook, which was published in 1974 (but appears to have been updated), and which I picked up at this restaurant in northern Connecticut called Food and Books (I think) where I stopped on my way to a meeting several years ago, and which serves a decent portobella mushroom sandwich and hands out a free used book with every meal. I never did anything with it (I think I was a little turned off by the number of Styrofoam-based craft projects), but as I flipped through it the other night, I was impressed by the way it was organized (by month), with activities in several categories, including arts and crafts, cooking, music, woodworking, exercise, etc. I also love how it has this 1970s sensibility of using things on hand--it includes two recipes for paste (because Elmer's glue is "expensive"), as well as recipes for play dough and finger paint.

I've decided to try at least one activity a week out of the book...not sure how long that will last, but we got off to a good start this weekend, making "smell" pictures (paint glue on paper and sprinkle on spices--we used ginger, cardamom, paprika and basil, yum) and tiny terrariums in baby food jars (I knew I saved those for a reason) using moss we gathered on our Sunday morning stomp. Next week (if I get energetic) we'll make jingle mittens--felt mittens with jingle bells sewn on and holiday images glued on.

Once I had a teacher who said, "We are all born infinitely creative...then society stomps it out of us" (or something along those lines). Can our home-based creative time actually counter-balance the spirit-stomping coloring in the lines taking place at daycare? I think they still have a lot of spirit--Sunday I went down to the basement to check on Z and found him jumping with the most delighted abandon on a big sheet of bubble wrap from C's new computer--the energy and joy that radiated from that little leaping body stopped me in my tracks as a nearly reprimanded him for destroying the bubble wrap; instead I turned around and went upstairs, leaving him to pop pop pop.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

50 Things I Love

As I approach my bloggiversary, I was thinking about writing a snarky post about how much I've accomplished over the last year, like growing my blog readership from about 4 to about, er, 4, but then I decided even I am getting tired of my own crankiness and in an effort to not alienate all four of my readers, I thought I'd write something positive, soooo, inspired by Pixiegenne, who wrote a list of 100 things she loves. The trouble is, I've been working on this all week and I'm only up to 5o, and most of those are variations on "bright colors" and "sugary desserts" (hey--it's harder than it looks!). Maybe the other 50 will come to me next week.

1. Cheese enchiladas
2. Hammocks
3. Lilacs
4. Strawberries
5. Yellow kitchens
6. Fiesta ware
7. Colored glass
8. Comfy shoes
9. Lemon desserts
10. Kids' drawings
11. Chartreuse (the color)
12. Wind chimes
13. Mountains
14. Blue sky
15. Fall leaves
16. Stripes
17. Swimming
18. Salty skin
19. Dandelions
20. Beer cheese soup
21. Wood floors
22. Beach rocks
23. Fresh air
24. Bird songs
25. Butterflies
26. Butterfingers
27. My old hooded sweatshirt
28. Fruit trees
29. Naps
30. Libraries
31. Blank notebooks
32. Warm winter coats
33. Kids that barf in the toilet
34. Mexican tile
35. Embroidered ribbon
26. Fleece
27. Hot baths
28. Road trips
29. Hikes
30. Mittens
31. Yarn
32. Crayons
33. Lazy days at the beach
34. Fancy desserts
35. Whipped cream
36. Angora socks
37. Honey
38. The desert
39. Getting mail
40. Summer
41. Toffee
42. Rainbow stripes
43. Sleeping in
44. Books
45. Lavender
46. Beeswax candles
47. Silk long johns
48. Warm vanilla pudding
49. Baby heads
50. Paper dolls

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recylce, Repair

Since we're descending into the "worst economic crisis since the great depression," I thought we should start dressing the part. I had this giant pile of pants that needed repairs (mostly holes in the knees) building up over the last year, and what better way to spend a grey weekend while sick than patching up jeans?

I found that patching was not at all difficult or unpleasant, and actually kind of relaxing. In the end I patched one or both knees in 14 pairs of pants, replaced the elastic in three (notably three of which I had made--oops), turned two into shorts and relegated one beyond-repair pair to the rag bag. I was hoping to hang them all on the line for a photo, or at least get a couple of knees in their patches, but since our camera spends most of its time at work with C, and I never really had the energy to hang out laundry that actually did not need to be hung out, you get this, the finished pile:

On most of the pants, I did invisible patches (tutorial here), like in the dark blue pair (they look a lot more invisible when you actually use the same color as the pants for the patch). I thought the frog corduroy would make a cute patch on the light blue pants, but Z, whose pants these were hates it (E loves it though, and calls it a "pouch"). M was most impressed with the camouflaged patch on his favorite camo pants (and I was impressed that I found a tiny piece of camouflage fabric in a box of swatches I got from an outdoor store many many years ago).

Lessons learned:

  • Patch pants as soon as the hole appears, when it is small and before you have 13 other pairs that need repair.
  • Use a thimble (I never bothered to dig mine out, but would have been nice)
  • Buy pants with reinforced knees
  • Wear your patches with pride...pretty soon everyone else will have them too (this may be the first time I was on the cutting edge of fashion)

Now I just have to start darning those socks…


Speaking of Great Depressions, maybe it's just that it's November, or that it's been grey and drizzly for days (weeks?--although today is blue and sunny), or that I have had this cold/flu/conjunctivitis/sinus infection/cough/sore throat for two-and-a-half weeks (I swear to god I'll stop whining about being sick as soon as I'm not sick anymore), but I am feeling LOW. It may have started with reading The Crying Indian article in Orion, which you can't get online yet, but which is basically about the usual story of how the government and corporations conspired to destroy the environment and manipulate us people. Then today I read this letter from Michael Pollan to the president-elect about food policy, which I guess is intended to be hopeful--we can change this--but the unlikelihood (unless Obama appoints Pollan to Ag. Secretary--is that possible?) seems great and overwhelming. Once in a while I get this sense that we're part of a feudalistic system with corporations, governments and really rich guys at the top and the rest of us blissfully shopping away our ignorance at the bottom...and I know I should feel really hopeful after the election (along with the rest of the world) but I wonder if the only real difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Democrats just want to make life a little more comfortable for us serfs...with no real desire to change the system...

Have I depressed you yet? This is why my friend JM dropped off a copy of season one of Thirty Rock at my house a few weeks ago. "I think you need some laughs," she said. You are so right, sistah.

Maybe a joke (stolen from my friend Sara) will help:

Two butterflies and a millionaire walk into a chainsaw massacre...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Wow! I have to admit to getting a little teary-eyed this morning when I first heard on the radio that Barak Obama officially won (but that may have been the antibiotic eye drops I had just dripped into my red and infected eyes). I had watched the early returns on TV last night for a bit, with Obama coming in ahead, but went to bed too nervous to hope--even though that's what this campaign was about, right? Hope. But after the last two elections...

I'm almost too stunned to take in the enormity of this landslide victory (but that may be the quart of mucous clogging my head). This historic moment. It wasn't so long ago, slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation. It's quite amazing really that we have come to the moment of electing an African American president. The other day, M (who is a big Obama supporter, despite his distinct Alex P. Keaton leanings) asked what country Barak Obama was from. When I explained he was from the US, M said, "But he has brown skin." Oh, boy. C and I explained that many Americans--probably close to half--have brown skin. I started hatching plans to move out of a rural corner of the whitest state in the country to somewhere a little more cosmopolitan so our children will not grow up so sheltered. "S who is Mrs. M's son has brown skin and was born in another country..." M continued. "Haiti," I supplied for him, and we looked Haiti up in the Atlas, saw it was on the same island as the Dominican Republic (another recent interest of his for some reason), and he perused the Atlas for a while, deciding he wanted to visit the Canary Islands someday, a plan with which I'm totally on board.

On Friday, when he came home from school (after I called to tell them to let him off the bus without me standing at the end of the driveway) and found my lying miserably on the couch, a spot from which I had not moved all day, except to eat a bowl of the macaroni and cheese my friend L brought over to feed E and Z because I was too sick to even conjure up lunch (Thanks L!), he looked at the book I was reading, The Shipping News, and asked what it was about. "Um, it's about a guy whose wife dies and he moves with his kids and aunt to Newfoundland and he works at a newspaper. But it was OK because the wife wasn't very nice" I didn't mention the incest and adultery that are woven through the thread of the story. "Is it a true story?" he asked. "No," I said. "It's fiction." His face lit up. "Really? I thought grownups only read non-fiction!" I showed him the word "novel" on the front cover and explained that meant "chapter-book" in adult-speak.

It's pretty amazing to be the bearer of these realizations--adults like to read (and write!) made-up stories. This country of ours is made up of more people of more different colors and kinds than you can imagine. Hope can triumph over fear. Love trumps greed. A bright future outshines a troubled past. This morning I crept into M's room and opened the curtains. "Good morning, buddy. Guess what happened yesterday?" He rubbed his sleepy eyes, looked confused. "Guess who won the presidential election?" He grinned his wide, dimpled grin, and whispered "Barak Obama."
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