March 30, 2017

The Agony In the Playground

The playground isn’t my favorite place.

I haven’t always felt like this.  I used to love going there – when I was a kid.
The best was when my Uncle Don would take a bunch of the cousins.  He’s a big strong, fun man and playgrounds still had merry-go-rounds.  Well, just picture him pushing it at about 60 mph, kids hanging on for our lives, legs flying out, screams of delight (and fear).  Man, that was fun!

I also remember swinging as high as possible – hoping I wouldn’t actually go over the top – and then jumping at the zenith of the upswing.  Good times.  No bones broken.

On the way home through the neighborhood, Uncle Don would, at our request, shift the car into neutral and coast until the car ran out of momentum and came to a stop.  Then the kids would all jump out and push it home.  Those were the days!!

I don’t really remember playground times with my mom, but I’m sure there were some.  There must have been.  And I think I know why.

Well, since becoming a parent myself, time at the playground has lost some of its sparkle.  Okay, all of its sparkle.  It’s not even that busy-body mommy bloggers are berating my type on line for opting to watch my screen rather than my kids.  I don’t even have a smart phone.  But, yeah, I’ll talk on my flip phone if I can find a friend who happens to have time to escape her kids right then.  And, yes, knowing this discussion is out there does add a dose of guilt to an already loathsome activity.

What’s to like?  There are only so many pictures of happy kids with brightly colored plastic backgrounds you need at each age.  That moms take pictures of their kids at playgrounds is probably just another indication that everyone finds a playground an excruciating place to actually spend time.  If you’re not a kid.

It’s not that they’re too dangerous (though, I do have to watch to make sure they don’t do something that might result in death or injury), or not dangerous enough for proper development (see the above parenthetical comment).

Maybe it’s because I go there hoping for a few minutes of kid-bliss to give me time alone in my head – and then they say, “Mommy, look at me!” or worse, “Come or push me!”  I was really just hoping to be left alone for half an hour.  And I can’t shout, “Just leave me alone for a minute!” because it’s public and who knows if a busy-body mommy blogger is there (or one of her disciples)judging me. 

It could be that I don’t want to see another mommy there who is itching for adult company and feel obligated to engage in small talk – or, the alternative, mutually pretend you don’t see the other as our kids are becoming best friends.  No, that’s not awkward.

And then there’s the fact that I’m not in my twenties – or thirties, or forties – like all the other mommies of kids the age of my kids.  I’m old!  When you’re an old mommy, you’re supposed to be a trough of wisdom and good example, right?  But I’m not, because this is not my twelfth child.  I only have two.  No, I’m not her grandmother.  Leave me alone.

And when you have kids at the playground, one of them is going to need the bathroom.  You know how sanitary public bathrooms are in outdoor venues!  If there happens to be another mom in there, it’s a chorus of “Don’t tough anything!”

Someone’s going to be thirsty or hungry, too.

And it’s always too hot.  Or too cold.  Except when it’s really beautiful out.  There are those times too.  And those moments when your child is really, really happy just swinging.  The laughs at being pushed really high.  The smile because we're out somewhere that was made just for kids.

I suppose that’s why I still take them.  Mommies make sacrifices - big and small - for their children.  Now, if only their uncle lived locally enough to help them make enduring memories of the best kind of dangerous fun!

The reasons I go to the playground anyway!

March 18, 2017

I Didn't Realize They'd Be NAKED!!

While in college, I took a studio art course each semester just for enjoyment.  I don't have a lot of natural talent, but it appeals to my introspective side.  I generally followed two principles in selecting which course to enroll in.  First, I stuck with beginner level courses, which led to choosing a wide variety of methods and media.  Second, I learned early on only to sign up for classes that began after 9am (I am not a morning person).  This system led me to sample watercolor, screen printing, intaglio printing, design and other various various art techniques.

When I signed up for "Life Drawing," I looked forward to going out around the beautiful campus of UC Santa Barbara to take in the living scenery in this beach community.  The first classes entailed staying in and exploring light and shadow while drawing cubes and spheres arranged on a table central to all the students' easels.  The professor often referred to "when the models are here."  I was confused, curious and a tad disappointed.  Were we going to draw scenes from little models of buildings maybe?  Were we ever going to go outside and draw real landscapes?

Yes, I was a complete novice.

It slowly, very slowly dawned on me that the models were not going to be little buildings, but live people.  Models.  Ooooooh!  And it slowly, very slowly dawned on me, with a growing sense of dread and panic, that the models were not going to be wearing any clothes!

I was a "slow bloomer," shall we say (people often did).  Geeky, nerdy, whatever.  I was the kid who risked ridicule to change into my gym clothes in the bathroom, rather than in the open girls locker room, both in public junior high and in a Catholic girls high school.  You could call it natural modesty, some may call it prudery (probably those whose ridicule I was most likely to be risking would call it that).  I was just young, and shy and still maintained that sense of wanting privacy from everyone while changing clothes.  And I wanted the same for others.  I was not even from a home where people made a big deal about the virtues of modesty and purity.

Even by college, I was still mortified at the prospect of having fully naked people stand before me to be drawn.  But, what could I do??  I was enrolled in the class I needed the credits, the day of unveiling was approaching, and I did enjoy learning to draw.  I realized it was an opportunity to mature in the area of professionalism.  I don't mean I decided to become a professional artist.  I decided that the ability to look at the human body uncovered without undue embarrassment, discomfort or titillation was a skill that should come with growing up.

Painters and sculptors throughout the centuries have honed their talents while gazing on the human figure without lust creeping in.  Art connoisseurs and museum patrons by the hordes have appreciated the nude works of the masters without giggles and smirks.  I do not doubt these works have elicited snickers from adolescent museum guests through the years.  Generally, this is unsurprising when it occurs in children, but is considered immature and in bad form when an adult responds thus.

Michelangelo's L'Uomo Vitruvian

When the disrobing occurred in my class in the third week, I also learned that it is possible to sketch a body without focusing unduly on any details that did not warrant focus.  I was indeed relieved that I was able to rise to the occasion.  After all, life presents nakedness, and if I was going to be a grown-up, I was going to have to put on my big girl panties and get used to it.

We expect grown-ups to be able to see body parts that are usually hidden without animal passions taking over.  We expect grown-ups to know there is a time and a place for exposing them.  It does not benefit the medical professional or the patient if prudery or titillation enters into a doctor visit.  If I should happen to be on the scene of a disaster or extreme poverty, I don't want a person's nakedness to deter me from helping, lest my "modesty" or theirs be compromised.  In fact, my response of respect, rather than shock, can protect their modesty.

Likewise, of course, being seen naked is not the same as putting one's body unduly on display for the purpose of attracting interest.  Unduly, because, attracting a mate does inherently involve our body.  We smile, we dress ourselves in a manner we think is attractive, we stand a little closer.

And, of course, there are times when we must be comfortable being seen in a state of undress by someone we don't know intimately.  When I gave birth, I uncharacteristically did not care how uncovered I was before a roomful of total strangers.  It would not have been an easy job to complete if I had been very concerned!  Especially with my first child when my arrival in the delivery room was recorded as being eleven minutes prior to the time of birth of my baby!

Virgen de Belen by Marcellus Coffemans

That semester, in addition to marginally improving my drawing skill, I learned that sometimes modesty means not flaunting what you've got and sometimes it means not making a big deal about some of the incidental nakedness in life.

Maybe that's why they called the course "Life Drawing" and not "Drawing Naked People."

Here is a sketch from that Life Drawing class.

March 7, 2017

Why Dad Should Never Babysit the Kids

Dads should just never be asked to babysit the kids.

It's not because dad is not competent.  No, he's able to do all the things the kids require, even if he has to use the trial and error method to figure out what seems obvious to mom.

It's not because dad doesn't really want to spend time with the kids.  He loves them and will enjoy time with them - and they'll love that special time, too.

It's not because they won't have fun.  They'll have fun - and mom may come home to a disaster of Fun Mess.

It's not even because mom might return to a chorus of little comedians telling Dad Jokes (though this might be worthy of consideration).

The reason dads should never be asked to babysit has nothing to do with dads.  It's simply because it's the wrong word.  When the kids are left in the care of dad, it's called parenting.

It's babysitting when you ask someone else to look after your children, who doesn't have the inherent responsibility of caring for them that parents have.

This was drawn to my attention by my friend Janet over a dozen years ago when my eldest was a baby.  In response to my comment that my husband was babysitting, she quipped, "That's not babysitting; that's parenting."  And I've never forgotten!

Of course he's not babysitting!  It seems so obvious when you say it like that.  When dad walks out the door to work in the morning, no one thinks mom is just babysitting during the day until he comes home.  Parenting is a team sport.  They both took on the responsibility when they welcomed the children into existence within that family setting.  It's what makes the whole group of them a family.

There are a great many things that are much, much more difficult for single parents (whether they are widowed, separated from a spouse or unmarried) than for families where both parents are present together.  These parents can, of course, do a fantastic job of raising their children, but it takes a lot of support.  It's not the ideal.

When the family is intact (mother and father both in the home raising the kids) it's still hard to do some things.  If they both see the job of parenting as theirs together, not just the mom's, they will work together to see that the children are cared for and each parent is also able to do the things that help keep them functioning well.

When parents see the job of parenting as primarily mom's - dad being an occasional "babysitter" - mom's needs can be overlooked a bit.  Some things are just harder to do with a baby or several kids in tow.  How does a mom get real exercise, have prayer time, read a book, maintain friendships give blood or a myriad of other pursuits necessary to personal growth if she is literally never alone?

One small thing we can all do to support families is to just stop saying dad is "babysitting" when he's alone with the kids!