Category Archives: children

My life as a Nutcracker.

Okay, look. When kids are involved in performing arts, you have 2 choices. One, let them be kids, in which case they will fuck up, but the audience will say “Aww, look at the sweet little things expressing their creativity”. Two: run your production like a Nazi death camp. StepLadder belongs to a ballet school that subscribes to option 2. Srsly, we are in rehearsal or class at least 3 times a week for the duration. She thrives on it, though. Today, she was all, “look at this,” as she stuck her leg out perpendicular to her body. “Most of the girls in my class can only hold that for a couple seconds. I can do it for ages.” Which she proceeded to do.

I am happy that she is lapping this up, but it does make me into a ballet mom. Just saying. There will be dispatches.

I’ve written about the teacher before, and she really is awesome. Today, she was herding the 5 and 6 year olds who have the parts that last all of 30 seconds, but by gum, they are going to do it right. Srsly half of the rehearsal time is spent getting them to learn their “marks,” so that they are not wandering aimlessly all over the stage. The thing is, they are perfectly capable of getting it, which is a serious lesson in managing expectations. There are schoolteachers who need to learn this.

Generally, during rehearsal or class, I sit in the lobby and knit, which means people feel compelled to make conversation. Ballet parents are not all entirely snobby wankers, although there are a number of those. Mostly what they have in common is that they want their girls (again, I could be PC and say kids, but the gender ratio is like 100:3) to be exposed to music and “high culture” (those are air quotes) and physical activity. Knowing this about them makes them mostly tolerable. Hot topics this afternoon: why my knitting is not crochet, do you give your kid Tylenol for fever, and my that girl from our ballet school who is in So You Think You Can Dance, Canada, is talented, but why is she wasting her time on a show where they make her do a Hip Hop number and then criticize her for not grabbing her crotch hard enough.

The girls are so into The Nutcracker, they are great fun to watch. The ballet company of the school (that is, the core of dancers aged 9-19) make up the bulk of the cast, although they hire a professional dancer to be Cavalier, and then there are a few parents plus all the little kids under 8 in the party scene, and one dad gets to be Mother Ginger, lucky devil.

Because the whole company is doing the whole of the rest of the show, there is a lot less angst about who is Clara, which I find refreshing. They all throw themselves into whatever they are given, and the prized parts are often surprising. StepLadder is hugely delighted to be a soldier this year because “they have swords that look like real,” but the mice (played by older girls) have a better part: more jumping. “The jumping” has been her favourite part of ballet since she was three.

Nutcracker also inspires a lot of the children for the graft that is the rest of the year in ballet, and it gives all of them a rare gift in 21st Century North America where most kids are raised as Speshul Snowflakes who are praised and ego-massaged within an inch of their lives – it lets them experience the satisfaction of working hard in order to do a good job.

Mishmash of nothing much

I have a bunch of thoughts, none of which are particularly edifying or coherent.

Those rat bastards at RYS are “on hiatus”. This makes me want to bite things. Reading RYS is, some mornings, the only thing that can get me into class. Sarcastic Bastard (also a regular RYS reader and contributor) says we should just email them and say if they won’t do it, we will.¬† Maybe we could start a movement.

For Halloween, StepLadder was dressed as follows:

Which I show you, not just for you to marvel at my skills of a seamstress, but because I wanted to make an observation about old TV. We have Seasons 1 and 2 of The Muppet Show, on DVD, and they are on high viewing rotation. Professor Birkenstock said his kids are absolutely in love with Get Smart, which made me remember how much I loved it when I was 7 or so. My mother was a tv Nazi, and only let me watch one show a day, and that was my show of choice. Recently, I aquired an episode of The Addams Family, which is another one which goes right to the 8-year-old sense of humour, even though it is in – horrors! – black and white.

I like my child to have pop culture literacy, which I think I have observed previously, and it occurs to me that some of these older shows are so ingrained in her parents’ generation, that watching them may give her some insight into why we are so weird. Of course, heaven forbid that I would ever breathe a word of such a thing to her, lest I suck the fun out.

It also tickles me that I can tell her to Kermitflail, and she knows what I mean.

In unrelated pop-culture news:

You don’t have to live in USistan to be delighted and relieved. And a big thanks to Lorelei for the gif which expresses these feelings so effectively.

Finally, some of you may have seen SJ mention that we have made a forum called Uppity Women. If not, oh, hey, we made this really cool forum. Come along and check us out. We talk about feminism and pop culture and all sorts of related (and unrelated) issues.

Coming soon: the tale of the Flasher and the Spitting Boy, and how I made a local Vice Principal pee his pants.

Perils of the Imaginative Life

We are not morning people in our house; we never have been. However, this semester, I had all early classes, and of course StepLadder had to be taken to school, so that meant everyone had to be up and out the door, and mostly it was Feckless doing the dropping off and me doing the picking up. Yesterday morning was no exception, we were all a little slow getting out the door, and StepLadder still had a piece of jam toast in her hand as we started off down the street. We said goodbye as I headed to the bus and they headed to school.

Feckless said “I am not awake yet,” as normally they chat on the way to school, to which SL replied, “That’s okay,” and they walked in companionable silence. The school is on a busy street, so we walk her across the road, but usually hug goodbye at the gate to the school field, and she runs to play for those precious 5 or 10 minutes before the bell rings. That part of the day went as usual.

Feckless waited for the lights, crossed the street, and then turned to see if SL wanted to wave goodbye. To his surprise, she was still standing just inside the gate. He watched for a few moments, and she didn’t seem to be moving. He wondered if there was something wrong. She’d seemed happy enough to go to school, but then, they hadn’t talked much on the way.

So he waited for the lights again to cross back to the school, all the time watching as SL stood, head down. By the time he got back across the street and walked up to her, she had moved all of a couple more metres.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” was the reply. “I’m being a turtle.”

“Well,” he said, “It’s nearly time for the bell, and you need to wash the jam off your face. Could you maybe be a leopard and run really fast and go wash up?”

“I can be a cheetah.”

“Excellent.”

By the time he got across the road again, she had run all the way across the fields, the playground and the courtyard, and was going in the door.

This morning, I took her to school, and as I hugged her goodbye, asked what animal she was going to be today.

“A wolf,” was the response. Well, they are fairly quick, even if they go on all fours, so that was fine.

Proud Parenting Moment

This morning, while I was procrastinating about getting up, doing some reading and chatting online from bed and enjoying the coffee Feckless had just brought me, Stepladder came in to tell us about her dream. She was describing how, in the dream, instead of houses behind the bus stop, there was a meadow with deer, and a forest with other animals, which she was listing: coyotes, wolves, and so on, until she got to badgers.

“Wait a minute,” said Feckless, “There are no badgers here. How could there have been badgers?” This is the kind of people we are; we nitpick dreams for zoological accuracy. Stepladder got into it a bit with him, but since her arguments were based on the premise “there were, I just know,” she wasn’t making much headway. Stalemate, with Stepladder developing something of a mulish look on her face, and wandering off to her room.

Feckless went to do some important computer work in the study (apparently involving learning what a camel toe is, thank you SJ for enlightening him), and I stayed in bed, mainly because I want to steal A Year of Living Biblically from him (one of the worst breaches of etiquette is taking someone’s new book before he is finished reading it – if I am going to be so heinous, I have to at least show some finesse).

A little while later, Stepladder came bounding into the bedroom. “There are badgers! I knew it! It says so in this book!” I was delighted. “You mean, you went and found the information that shows you were right? I am so proud of you. Run and tell Daddy right now that you did research to show he was wrong and you were right.” So she did, and then we did a little “I pwnt Daddy” dance. So now she’s thinking that maybe she will be an animal researcher when she grows up, as well as an artist.

My 7 year old knows how to do research to support her arguments. Put this one in the parenting win column. I think it quite balances out the other day when she poured herself a big glass of the vodka I was running through the Brita in preparation for making limoncello, and took a big gulp before complaining that “something is wrong with the water”.

New Year’s Resolution: Post MOAR

Since I got this shiney new computer, and I can blog from anywhere, I figure I really should blog from anywhere.

We’ve taken the spawn skating the last couple of days. She seems to have taken to it like a duck to water – she has her father’s native athletic abilities not mine. It’s nice to have a rink just down the road, and to see her enjoying it, just because it is fun.

I thought about asking if she wanted lessons, but people take skating lessons so seriously in this town; there are girls in her ballet class who are there because, at age 7, they are taking skating seriously enough that they do other activities, like ballet, to support their skating. Getting up at 6 in the morning to go skating 3 or more times a week seems like a recipe for sucking the fun right out of it, to me.

Of course, I say this as a parent who makes her kid go to ballet and violin, so maybe I am just one-eyed and pushy in my own way, but I hope not. A couple summers ago we tried diving, since she was really keen to do it, and all the kids there were taking it really seriously. At 8. One mother said her child was doing diving because she had fractured her wrist horribly – twice! – in gymnastics, and “her career was over”. At age nine, and her mother said this in front of her.

I don’t want my kid to be an athlete (my grouchiest pal would say that is because I am an incurable egghead), but I love it that she is good at physical activities and confident in her own body. That’s such a difficult gift for girls to retain as they grow older.

img_7895.jpg

Not enough sugar.

We had this perfectly good tradition of trick-or-treating in the hallway in my department. Colleagues would put out those mini chocolate bars or bags of Skittles, and we would wander up and down getting a sugar high, so that students in one afternoon class commented that they had just come from a Shakespeare class with Professor Hobbit and he had been bouncing off the walls, he had such a buzz. Then some wanker brought a cheese plate one year, and someone made comment about more “adult” treats, and now it is wall-to-wall brie and olives, and you really have to struggle to get one measly coffee crisp.

I make a minor effort in the costume department, since I have a nice big pair of fairy wings, and a dress they match. This year, by happy coincidence, I got to teach Spencer’s Fairy Queen twice this morning, so students were puzzled about whether I was dressed for the poem or the day.

I had to teach this evening, which meant I didn’t get to go trick-or-treating with StepLadder, and she had to go with Feckless, who normally has the “stay home and give out candy” duty. He wasn’t really looking forward to it (i.e. bitching and whining about having to do it), but when I got home from class, I heard the tale of his pleasant surprise about how delightfully polite she had been.

I am trying to get over feeling sad about not being able to go. StepLadder and I have developed a number of Halloween traditions, many of which involve the planning and making of her costume. Rare domestic moment – look how cute my spawn is as a swan (swan spawn!) – a costume she designed herself; she made the beak, and I made the other parts:

As a semi-practicing witch, I have religious traditions I try to maintain with her too, but I find that the secular/material aspects of what North Americans are pleased to call “holidays” interfere with trying to make an event spiritually meaningful. Christmas is easier because the solstice is not on December 25th, but Samhain and Halloween fall on the same day. I normally can’t get my head to encompass cognitive dissonance between the collection of sugar and the ritual remembrance of the dead, so I usually make what religious observance I feel moved to on the full moon following October 31st. I am sure purists would be disapproving, but my witchcraft has always been of the practical sort.

This year I am more haunted by ghosts, and not nearly full enough of sugar, and so perhaps I will light a candle for the dearly departed who are on my mind tonight: as always on this eve, Virginia Woolf; my Aunt Susie, Stryder, Raphael, and the two nameless ones.

Flights of Fancy

My spawn (hereafter known as Stepladder, thank you Cheezburger) has a really amazing, overblown, out of control imagination. When she was a little girl, like 3, not the mature nearly-seven she is now, she said she had 105 imaginary friends. Now, she says she has “infinity a hundred”. These friends include characters from books, shows and video games as well as characters she just makes up – current favourites in the roster include Nellie, Aradia and Joy (the baby spiders from Charlotte’s Web), a siamese cat called Rainbow Magic, another cat called Cinnamon Bread, Yoshi (yes, Nintendo’s Yoshi), Mystery Yoshi and Lystery Yoshi. She goes to the playground with them, makes up stories with them, and plays a variety of games with them at home and school. Basically, wherever she goes, she has an invisible entourage.

Her imagination is part of what makes her who she is, like her long hair which is the result of her fear of the hairdresser, or that she chooses to be vegetarian, or has iron hard calf muscles. Sometimes it makes her delightful, sometimes it is annoying, but we work around it, and accommodate it, the same way we work around the other quirks by spending a lot of time brushing and braiding, feed her cheese instead of chicken, and put a rebounder in front of the television so she can jump and watch at the same time.

Yes, I let my kid watch television in moderation – she tends to watch DVDs rather than actual tv shows, and she plays games on the wii and her computer. I know that in some circles this makes me a Bad Parent, but I would rather not let my kid grow up being a pop culture doofus. This is really how I am molding her in my image, come to think of it – I mean, as this blog attests, I love Chaucer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also love lolcats.

Stepladder seems to exist in direct defiance of that popular opinion that “kids today have no imagination” which is usually said to be the fault of electronic media. In fact, she uses electronic media, and other media, and her real life experiences, to create her incredibly lively imaginary world (hence Yoshi and his side kicks). So if it isn’t the much vilified electronic media, what is it? I have been thinking a bit about creativity and imagination because I have noticed the ways in which they are challenged.

I’m not going to be so ridiculous as to say that a big imagination is like a disability, because it isn’t. However, as I suggested, imagination is part of my child, and it is part of her all the time, regardless of whether it is convenient. As a parent, I have a choice about whether I foster her imagination, or tolerate it, or try to modify her behaviour. I never really thought about how much I was doing to foster her imagination until recently, when another parent asked me that question. This has also made me reflect on how imagination is actually perceived, which I think is not exactly the same as the romanticised reactions there are to it in the abstract.

For example, I had a meeting a month or so ago with Stepladder’s teacher, and the principal of the school (the reason for the meeting has to do with they way parents who are academics tend to make primary school teachers shit themselves, which is, no doubt, a topic for another post). Anyhoozle, at one point in the meeting, Stepladder’s imagination came up, at first in a context that seemed positive: she’s fantastic at making up stories in language arts, she always responds to writing assignments with a wealth of material. Translation: other kids write 2 -3 sentences, Stepladder writes 2 pages. So, in the right context, imagination and creativity are seen as a positive.

.A little later in the conversation, though, there was a clear indicator that imagination is problematic: when Stepladder has problems with her friends, she will go and play with her imaginary friends instead. Now, personally, I think this is an okay coping mechanism. Stepladder says “The good thing about imaginary friends is that they always want to play what I want to play.” Unlike Calvin, she doesn’t fight with them, although there have been occasions when they have been recalcitrant.

The teachers don’t really see it that way. She “really needs to learn to deal with other children and work out compromises with them.” Likewise, when she is bored in class, Stepladder will just wander away into Cloudland, or some other imaginary place, rather than sucking it up and learning about life in a fishing village in Newfoundland, or whatever. They don’t seem to understand that like freckles, or athletic ability, imagination is not something that children can turn off when it isn’t convenient. I mean, you can encourage a kid to be less imaginative overall, but I really doubt if you can channel creativity and imagination as rigidly as teachers and parents seem to want to.

I know this article in The Onion is satirical, but I think it contains a grain of truth, in that it is pointing out the emphasis many parents place on practicality over imagination. It really isn’t that far from The Onion’s satire to this article.

I do hear compliments on Stepladder’s imagination, don’t get me wrong. Her Violin Teacher is delighted with the way she picks up on metaphors and stories and description the violin teacher uses those techniques to explain the music. “Some kids really don’t get it,” Violin Teacher says. But rejoicing in the fact that she gets it involves a trade-off. Violin Teacher has to listen to Stepladder expand on those imaginative ideas for a minute or two.

Miss Lilly, her ballet teacher, also waxes lyrical about Stepladder’s imagination. You see ballet, it turns out, requires an ability to express imagination physically through mime. This is Stepladder’s fourth year of ballet, and the first year she did a RAD exam. The exam includes a mime component, and it is interesting to me to watch the other girls (I know, I should say “children”, but come on, this is ballet for 6-year-olds; it is totally girl-centric), many of whom have trouble with the idea of miming “A Day at the Seaside”. Stepladder has no problems, she meets a mermaid, finds a seashell to listen to, swims, builds a sandcastle, or any of a dozen other things. Many of the others stand fairly stiffly until Miss Lilly suggests things things they might do. Thereafter, they repeat the same actions in sequence, looking at each other for confirmation, “Is this right?” Stepladder never does the same thing twice.

There is one little girl, Ivy, who really has trouble figuring out what she is supposed to do. Ivy’s mom gives me a typical enough backhanded compliment on Stepladder’s imagination, calling her a “free sprit”. Seriously, what is this supposed to mean? Flaky? And she asks what I am doing to develop Stepladder’s imagination. At the time, I was at a loss, because I really don’t think actively about it. Actually, what I tend to do is manipulate the imaginative life for my own ends. E.g:

We are walking to school, and Stepladder is giving me grief because we are running a little late (which means “on time, as SL likes to get to school a bit early in order to play on the monkey bars and gossip”):
SL: You know I like to get to school early.
Me: Well, we are running late because you took a long time to get ready, and you were slow.
SL: That wasn’t my fault. My imaginary friends made me late because we were playing a game.
(I paused a momement here to think about my response, I admit.)
Me: Well, who is the boss of them?
SL: Me.
Me: So, you are their boss. That means if they are doing naughty things, you have to take responsibility. You can’t blame them for being late, because you should tell them you need to go. They should respect that.
(reflective pause)
SL:Okay.
Me: Okay what?
SL: I am sorry for being slow and making us late.

I guess the thing here is that I work within her imaginative universe.

When the ballet lesson is over, the girls come out, and Ivy and Stepladder are chatting about horses. Stepladder is hoping that her godmother will take her horseriding. “Of course,” she says, “what I really want to do is catch my very own unicorn. What you need to do is go in to the forest, and when you see one, you have to sit very still, and then the unicorn will come to you, and put its head in your lap, and you can pat it, and tell it you love it, and you can make a rein with one of your hairs, and then it will be your friend forever.” Ivy is overwhelmed by the detail in this description and Stepladder’s earnestness. She turns to her mother and asks “is that true?”

Now, here I think Ivy’s mother had some choices, and I know what mine would have been, but she said “No, Ivy. A unicorn is a fantasy animal.” Stepladder was fully prepared to argue the point, but we had to rush off to meet the Feckless One at the Farmer’s Market. But here is my point – Ivy’s mother, while ostensibly admiring Stepladder’s imaginative ability, immediately moved to crush it in her own kid. I don’t think that is the fault of the electronic media, but rather of a failure of imagination.