A conversation I had with myself while waiting in January sub-freezing temperatures for two hours to spend about five minutes in an art exhibit so I could feel cultural and be able to Insta-brag. I had some real epiphanies about parenting and art…mainly: Art changes everyday life.
And even when it’s fleeting and temporary, that’s OK.
Thus: my misery in collective, cultural experience:
9:40? not bad. I’m probably about the 100th in line. But did any of these surrounding tourists drop off kids at school, this morning?
Surely that chalked sign on the sidewalk can’t be accurate: “90 minute wait from this point.” Yeah, right. It can’t seriously take that long to see this artist. Wait, what is this exhibit, again?
I know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?
I kinda think you shouldn’t photograph churches or sunsets. Photos never do it justice.
Um, 1986 called. It wants its photographic pretension back. Are you kidding me? This is why we’re here! Pretension! Shouldn’t we be too good for Instagram?
I suppose. This kinda thing drives me crazy, though. Reminds me of my
mom. She drug me around to museums and always took 6 hours to read
every panel about harbor seal genus or random Dutch painters who weren’t
even in the same epoch as Von Gogh. It was awful. I hated museums.
But you remember going, right?
And were you the most worldly 4th grader having schlepped through the Air and Space Museum for six hours?
Um, maybe? Was it worth it? Wouldn’t I still have been smart’ish without suffering through four hours in an art museum that no 10-year-old could care about?
(Hint: Art changes everyday life. Is that enough?)
They’d remember it like you remember suffering through the Air and Space Museum.
Is that why we do this? We bring on the sadist and the masochistic cultural suffering to brag we were there and hope our kids will have a faint memory of having done it…just so we all get social ladder points for saying, “I was there.”
Couldn’t we just see it in a book? Instead of waiting for 2 hours in 27 degree weather? How long’s it been? An hour?
I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.
Luckily it’s not snowing.
So then we will get inside and just video the entire thing and our
pictures of ourselves will be in mirrors with our own reflections. How’s
that an artistic experience?
I’m not sure.
Shouldn’t it be a pure artistic experience? Something zen-like?
Like through the eyes of kids?
Right. Un-besmirched by technology.
Sure. It’s the 21st century. But, I dunno. You’ll have recorded it.
Will I ever watch the video again? Sure as shit no one else wants to watch it.
What’s a “pure” artistic experience, anyway? Who can quantify that?
Does it matter?
I suppose just being silent with the art.
Sure. Silence is golden. But we’re limited to 30 seconds in this exhibit. It’s not like you can commune with any of this polk-a-dot nonsense.
How do you ever achieve zen –like appreciation of anything? A sunset, a church, a piece of art?
I dunno. Just…try to enjoy it.
Has it been an hour, yet?
Twenty three minutes.
Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.
It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.
I mean, shit. It’s just polk-a-dots. Are you supposed to get greater meaning out of life from polk-a-dots?
And tiny, repetitive eyeballs painted by a funky 90 year-old woman.
Right. That. Is that really art?
Well, it’s silly. And whimsical. And that’s fun, isn’t it? In the age of…
See? Don’t we need more colorful eyeballs and polkadots to take us out of our every day?
I guess that could be enough.
Sometimes it just needs to be. Smile at the polkadots, even with your phone in your hand. Enjoy it.
Yeah, I suppose even Van Gogh would say that.
Eh, probably not. He’d have already become pretentious and over-analytical.
But for the rest of us…just…enjoy it.
I’ll try. Makes sense.
How long, now?
Why am I sweating so badly in my pits? Always in the cold, if I just stand here, my pits are over-active. Are they confused?
I can’t answer that for you.
So this’ll be worth it?
Sure it will. You’ll remember the suffering, you’ll remember the polkadots, and you’ll remember how you smiled through it.
Art changes everyday life
That should be enough.
It has to be.
And we can brag “we were there.”
And that’s the point of art?
Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?
My mother was an inordinately thorough tourist and, I admit, when it comes to culturing my kiddos, this apple didn’t fall far from its tree.
But in my childhood, it could be 6pm and we’d have been in a museum for the previous five hours and my mom would still be reading Every. Single. Panel in Every. Single. Exhibit.
After which, Mom would’ve remembered our AAA guide book’s recommendation and suggested, “Oh, that house where some obscure author slept one time in 1857 is just 16 more blocks away.” So we’d keep going.
She’d drag my whiny ass everywhere. And I do remember complaining; like…the entire time.
I feel empowered by walking out of a museum within 90 minutes because, let’s face it…nobody has that kind of attention span. Or hip-flexor strength. Or stamina in their shoulders to hold a backpack of snacks and water bottles and jackets and an iPad (for emergencies) while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical dioramas for four hours. (Even when that backpack is the best/coolest diaper bag for dads.)
But folks…I did it, today. Culturing my kiddos became my #1 mission…to their extreme annoyance and boredom.
I’m in London with my partner (after two months solo in NYC). But he’s still working all the time as his two Broadway shows are prepping for opening nights on the West End. So it’s still just me and the kids.
Except, again: we’re in London. Totally foreign city to me. No clue how to navigate with kids. Ugh. Pray for me – with a charming accent.
So today we went to the British Museum. We saw mummies. Lots of mummies. Mummified adults the size of my 5yo, mummified cats, a mummified alligator, a mummified eel (wtf?) The kids were horrified/fascinated/traumatized. But mostly bored.
Seriously – we saw one mummy and my 3yo says, “I’m bored. Let’s go home.” Admittedly, he might’ve been overwhelmed by the 3,000 students mobbing the room of 3,000 year-old mummies. But really, I think he was like, “Nothing to TOUCH in this museum? This place blows.”
But we were in the GD British Museum. We weren’t gonna leave without seeing some more priceless stolen treasures. (I kept saying “And the British stole that, and the British stole this, and that…” Curiously, neither of them asked “why?” or “but stealing is bad, Daddy.” They just begged to leave without demonstrating a shred of moral rectitude.)
We continued. “Hey look, kids – a 3-story tall statue of Buddha!”
“Daddy? Can we go to the cake pop store?” (Read: Starbucks.)
“Shut up and look at this amazing stolen Roman thingy.”
“Daddy, my stomach feels angry that we are here. Can we go?”
“Are you gonna throw up? No? Then look at that sarcophagus.”
“No. I mean, yes, I’ll throw up. If we stay here.”
“Can it, kid. Look at these stolen friezes from ancient Greece.”
And then: The Rosetta Stone. I mean – the translator that opened humankind to a trove of another rich civilization. Kids, this is one of the most important archaeological finds in all human history!
I mean…the ROSETTA STONE. This is bare minimum for culturing my kiddos!
Okay, okay. So they’re only 5 and 3. I should cut ’em a break. But we’re in the BRITISH MUSEUM for stolen’s sake!
“Look guys! Sphinxes and obelisks and some old stolen temple, oh my!”
“Daddy? Can we buy a present?”
“No. Look at this medieval…metal thingy.” (I’m boring myself, by this point.)
“I hate it, here, Daddy. There’s nothing to do but look at stuff.”
“Right, but you’re growing smarter by the second. I just know it. You’ll pass that test to get into the G&T program and I’ll never have to worry about you being dumb. I’ll just worry about you being a drug dealer at Ivy league schools. And that’s preferable to you being stupid.”
“Daddy, don’t say stupid.”
And then, it happened. We stumbled into a room of pilloried splendor that even my kids couldn’t avert their eyes. They were transfixed, they were they were stimulated. My nagging and dragging had been worth it. They were changed beings from near-toddlers to almost-tweens. Such magic a little T&A can do…even for little American, uncultured troglodytes.
For ten titillating and hilarious minutes, butts, boobs and penises made us all giggle and thrilled my kids. They were finally engaged and curious.
But after those ten minutes (make it six), and they were back to…”Daddy, this is boring. I wanna go.”
And we did. We’d been there an hour. Pretty good compromise, if I do say so, myself.
I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.
Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:
“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”
And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”
We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.
After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”
This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.
As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a
united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure
with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And
Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.
Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good
tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’
sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off
from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people
once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.
That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.
I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.
No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping
the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?)
insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups
lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he
would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.
The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.
Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.
Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)
Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”
Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.
It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.
Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)
I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.
For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”
“And what do we do besides get presents?”
So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.
Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.