Arts & Illustration
about your originality. You could not get rid of it if you
wanted to." - Robert Henri
1- Me, Myself &
5. (December 2010)
Children & mistakes: notes from the frontline
"Be not ashamed of mistakes,
and thus make them crimes." (Confucius)
There is so much shame
in childhood. One of my big parental fears is to add to all the
pressure and stress that occurs naturally in growing up. Each
conflict takes a toll
on both the parent and child, and with each conflict; there is an
opportunity. Last night was one heck of an opportunity- it was the
agony of enforcing a rule attached to an important lesson. I use
that term agony
as a 6-year old has developed a keen awareness that tears and tantrums
can sway results into their favor. They use them like tools of the
trade, masters of their craft. No one wants their child to cry,
but it is an unavoidable part of learning. The crying hits right
at the core of a parents fear: What if I
do something wrong that sticks for life?
If I act, I could break him- and if I don't act, I
could break him. That thought alone could freeze a parent, or at the
very least induce a stroke! Last night the topic was: how to
handle breaking rules and making mistakes. The details are
irrelevent, it was the message that mattered.
The parents establish
the rules, the children obey the rules. That's something all
adults think is set in stone, that is until the children reach the
testing stage. Soon after, every
day is a test. Then the rules
have a pushing and pulling, back and forth tendency- until one side or
the other has had enough. But, I do know one thing. If you
keep losing boundaries, and you don't establish rules today- tomorrow
will be harder for everyone. It's the battles that most parents
dread and want to avoid. In order to not drive yourself crazy,
you pick the battles that count. Everyone has certain
rules that can't be tested, they are the ones that lay the groundwork
for life: no lying, no fighting, be respectful of everyone, love is
important, be kind, - and so on. One of mine is: If you are given
a rule or a limit, follow it. That is basic, and important.
Life has limits and rules which are followed by consequences. Last
night, that was ignored- and our child was caught red-handed breaking a
big-much-discussed limit. Limit setting can create enough of a
tense situation- as it always has a stand-off quality. But add in
a newly charged (and confusing) feeling of embarrassment and
tears, blame, stomping, and running away all come rushing out in a tidal
I know adults who
respond that way to emotions, and I don't want my 6-year old to grow up
into and adult that acts like a 6-year old. So, after a minute of
calming- a limit was set. That limit was:
You do not have the right to have a tantrum and be
angry when you break the rules. Pretty
simple, but a lot of people do not get that idea. And that was
by the main point: Everyone makes
mistakes, and it does not have to be a big deal. What matters is
what you do to fix the mistake. If you
do nothing, if you ignore the situation- it grows like a disease.
It grows and grows, and eventually takes over. So act on it while
it's fresh. Make it right the best way you can- and crying,
yelling, stomping or blaming will make nothing right. Accept the
mistake (as we all make them), fix it, and move on.
All this in the span of 20
some odd minutes. Am I doing it right? Isn't that what we
all ask? All I can answer to that is that I am trying to do it
better than the way I was raised. I am trying to give an operating
manual to a great machine. I never had the manual given to me, I
have had to guess all along- and I have made some whopper mistakes. Many
times I never knew how to fix them, and it came down to the simplest
lesson- say "I am sorry", and mean it.
It's not what you do when everyone is watching, it's what you do when no
one is watching. That is the groundwork not for respect- which is
what others think of you, but honor- which is what you think of
Journals of a stay at home dad & bittersweet parenting.
Asher laughs so much
that I wonder if people
think that he may be
"special". I blame that
on Chris's laughing fits
while she was pregnant.
Anytime he moved she
would bust out laughing.
That's why "Asher"
(Hebrew name meaning
happy boy) is
so fitting. He
already laughs so much
that people (kids and
towards him. He used to
right near my old job.
We had 2 or 3 half days
in the morning as a
necessity while we both
was so scared when he
started because at that
point he had limited
experience. But by the
second or third time,
when he would arrive and
leave -EVERYONE was
yelling his name.
We called him a rock
star. Friends, older kids,
teachers...he is such a
people person. He is
infectious, and he is my
real art. Being a
father has been
bittersweet. I love it,
and I loathe it. I see
myself in him, and I am
at peace. A lot of
parents say that they no
longer fear death, I
don't know if I'll be
quite that morbid- but I
get the sentiment.
Adults can get so
distracted by life, and
I am not immune to that.
I do everything I can to
not project my
distracted adult mood on
him, but at times I
do...and I have to let
him know what I feel.
He deserves that
respect, as long as it
still allows him to be a
child. He is so
good at accepting that,
and even trying to fix
it, or rebound from an
issue. Kids are
resilient like that.
bittersweet areas are
the lack of freedom and
the difficult times of
everyday life that all
adults have. Anton
Chekhov has a quote:
"Any idiot can face a
crisis, it's the day to
day living that wears
you out." I
struggle to find the
balance (like all other
parents) where his life
ends, and I get mine
back- even for a few
Sometimes, I feel just
Sometimes I miss my
old do whatever I want,
whenever I want life.
The best are all the
other moments. The
small ones. The nightly
bath routine, reading
books, putting on
Thelonious Monk for him
to go to sleep to every
night, watching a movie
together (even for the
100th time). Making him
laugh, the double kisses
and hugs, the multitude
of endless nicknames we
have for each other (and
the fact that he gets
it) like when he says to
his mama "Whoa Turny"
when she makes a sharp
turn while driving,
getting his chocolate
milk when I get my
coffee, the demands for
candy when he "poops" in
the potty (He was potty
trained with chocolate,
so when he first started
pooping he would yell "I
the little things make
the bittersweet hurdles
So I am embarking on week 9 of being a stay at home dad, and I am feeling isolated, drained, stressed, and overwhelmed. My days have been loaded with "I'm cooking what now?" , and playdough villages, and dance parties, and upsets, and chocolate milk, and hugs, and snacks, and thomas the train, and life skills, and art, and children's programming (both tolerable and frustrating). At times, I am left to wonder where "I" am in all this. Where is the adult "Alan"? It's not a new worry, I have had it for over a year now. Chris has worked nights since before Asher was born, so I am not new to the toll of childcare. I am like the people in that photograph stuck in the strings of Michael J. Fox's guitar at the end of "Back to the Future". I feel like I am fading, and for christ's sake- if they don't hurry up and kiss...I'll just disappear.
Career Dilemmas fuel the disappearing me
What about my career? For a very long time I balanced art and teaching part time with a career in social services. But, the last few years have produced a lot of conflict between my career and fatherhood. I accepted a full time teaching position at a local college right after Asher was born, leaving my position in social services. I ignored the red flags about the administration and the supervision, and the length of the commute 45 minutes + one way, resulting in 7 hours of driving a week. My first fatherly conflict arose after I came home one late afternoon to the nanny showing me that Asher could now walk across the room...and I missed it. I watched him stand up, and stumble-run across the living room in the arms of the nanny. Not my arms, hers. I spent another year and a half teaching at the school. Every day was tense and filled with political nonsense. When I was given the opportunity to play ball "their way" or leave, I chose to leave. Was it teaching career suicide? ...yep. But I taught the next year at 2 other local schools, and I would have stayed on if they had a position. I accepted another job in 2007 returning to social services. Again, I ignored red flags on the character of the supervisor, and ignored the red flags within myself. As summer approached and the supervisor conflicts piled up, I chose again to resign. Career suicide? ...maybe. But in looking at the daycare and pre-school looming for the summer (at a cost of nearly $1,000/month), I decided to stay home. Now for just a moment, set aside preconceived notions on career to see what I see long term. We all are influenced by our childhood. Some of us take years of therapy and drugs to never sort out a negativity based in our youth. We spend decades making poor choices for reasons we do not understand as it relates to our upbringing. Some of us figure it out and overcome the negativity. Some of us are raised in a positive environment, and rarely have to deal with our past. Some daycares are great, some so-so, and some awful. Our childhoods make us who we are. So, with that in mind- I had a career in art and social services. Neither of which would ever make me rich. After a lot of thought and a LOT of anxiety, I chose to be there for Asher. I could have stayed in a SUNY teaching position, or in social services and have someone else raise my son for large portions of the day. Or I could be there, and have him remember me being the one helping him through the days. It was a choice of career or his life. Which would you choose? Struggling with a career in art is not new, I think that I can struggle and be a better parent.
9/3/08 Asher's first day of pre-school begins. Today is open house day, so it's only an hour, but I am still so nervous. My first school day did not go well, and I want him to fair better that I did. Chris is at school today, and to be very honest- I have only done one child-life-meeting-event without her...his stitches. I had her do a dry run with me last night in fear that I would suddenly forget how to drive, or find my way around a city that I have lived in nearly my whole life. This is the beginning of his school years, and I feel like a deer caught in the headlights. While I don't think it's a severe life issue - it's pretty serious to me right now.
I guess if I have to
look at my parenting, I
can say that I did not
continue the cycle (or
create one)- I am not
perfect, but I did that
right. I am around
him all the time, and he
is very visible to me,
and he knows that.
There is so much
pressure for parents
today to be out of the
home- out of their
child's lives. We
are pressured to be so
busy, even when we are
home, that our kids
If parents aren't being
dogged for more and more
productive work hours,
then they are being
dogged to fill up their
kids lives with endless
activities. I want
to fill up this period
of his life with us.
Time with his mama and papa. He is
loved, and feels that- I
know it because in
return, he is loving.
He has a family, one
that is there and
celebrating the present
moments with him. Maybe
I have taken that book
"the Precious Present"
to heart, but I want to
be there everyday.
I don't want the
majority of his waking
day to be spent in
daycare, or with someone
getting paid to take
care of him. I
don't want him to be
sleepily loaded into a car
at 7am, dropped off at
daycare, and to be put
back in that car at 5pm.
This is NO judgment of
any other parent, it is
just a conscious choice
that we made before he
was born. This is the
one shot Chris and I
have, and we want to do
it the best that we can.
He'll get that time away
when he is in school all
day...and that time is
In fact, it has arrived.
My greatest regret is
that my father is not
here to see him and love
him- he was a great
grandpa to my nieces and
nephews. So, for the
sake of some odd-weird-twisted-cyberspace-universe-theory, I put his
picture here with theirs,
where it stays together
forever in a cyberspace realm.
In a way, this journal
is me telling my father
that he did a good job
in starting to break the
cycle. He did the best
that he could for me, he
tried and was there- and
I am passing on that
love to my own child.
My father Barney passed
away in 1993, long
before I met my wife and
we were married -and
long before his grandson
was born. This is
an introduction. Barney
meet my wife Chris, and
Hey now, that is a great goal.
Last year, my wife was a substitute teacher in a local school
district. Although she can't work there this year (she was hired
in another district)- they still sent her the new call system
information. This information came on the official district
letterhead- complete with the goal/motto for the district.
Emblazoned in a large font at the bottom of the page is "STUDENT
LEARNING IS THE GOAL". Really?...duh.
I thought it was pretty funny. That seems a bit obvious as a goal
for a school district, so I thought maybe I could come up with a few
more, just in case other schools draw a blank...
1) Our teachers
look the other way.
2) India & Asia
have won the battle, so who needs math
and science anyway?
3) We are all about
equal opportunities and shit like that.
4) No new
taxes- we'll just dust off & use the leftover textbooks from the
5) Dude, we so
need gas money...busing is killing us.
6) 11% fewer
weapons is our goal.
7) Every student
will be completely unprepared for life this year by
focusing on bland historical facts.
8) We cut Band,
Art, and English to buy new uniforms for the football team! Go
9) Our desks now
adjust to accommodate teen pregnancies of all sizes.
10) Well...at least
we're not Florida.
2. (August 2008) It’s Ed-U-Tainment!
Ok…I have a lot to say on kids (“KidZ”) entertainment. Having a
child means that I have an obligation to watch what my son watches,
that’s not so hard because I am actually a big kid myself. I enjoy
cartoons, good cartoons that is- I grew up on some quality cartoons.
I used to desperately wait for the new fall saturday morning line-ups to
start, it made the new school year bearable. Looney Tunes were (and
are) a classic, the Smurfs were not. Any of those people who
look back with rosy nostalgia on the Smurfs, please- stop...don't force your
kids to watch that junk and tell them how good it was- even they know
better. At the time of this topic being written, my son Asher is
4-1/2 years old. So here lies a guide through the dark forest of
trendy child Ed-U-tainment…
First, I need to start with the lowest of lows...movies. A few
years back they remade the Little Rascals
(1994) into a kids (or is it KidZ?)
I grew up on the Rascals reruns, I knew those 1930’s leftovers very
intimately. The shows raggedy dress and antics fit the 1930’s
depression era, but transporting that to the mid 1990’s was idiotic.
Clubhouses and trousers are a thing of the past. The child acting
is awful, and it panders to the camera with each one-line-moldy-old
joke. I can't watch a whole movie for the "aw, isn't that cute?"
moments. I considered this to be the high water mark of god-awful hollywood crap- until recently. Thomas and the Magic Railroad
(2000) is without a doubt the
worst-eye-gougingly awful-fill-your-ears-with-draino garbage I have ever
endured. Shame on you Alec Baldwin...you were in the Hunt for
Red October and the Good Shepherd for cryin' out loud! Was there an oscar in the wings for your role of "Mr. Conductor"? What's next?
"man on bench", "waiter in restaurant", or "
Mr. mailman"? Who does a Thomas movie that
ignores all of the show locations, voices, and characters of the freakin’
series? Even my 4-year old son was like...WTF is this? When
did magic become a part of Thomas? I am taking out a restraining
order on this movie- it must remain at least 500 feet from me at all
times. I will
never allow this near my home ever again, I would sooner let my son be
raised in the wild. As long as he is in the wild, I may want him to
skip the sure-to-be-revisted hip (was it ever hip?) enviromental epic Fern
Gully (1992). Wow! This was
remembered with rose colored glasses, because it is now nearly
unwatchable. I recall media reports that said this film, this
masterpiece, this deeply wound emotional yarn...would bring the destruction of the rain forest to
a screeching halt. It was as if some Dungeons & Dragons fanatics watched the Tom
Cruise classic Legend after previously watching the David
Bowie classic Labyrinth- and decided to make a lousy cartoon movie to save
the rain forest...surprisingly, it didn't work. I think children
may have ended up actually caring less about the rain forest.
television. Everyone oohs and ahhs at Dora the Explorer’s
cultural exposure…but is it really? Is it really cultural because she
uses a few Spanish terms? The show plays like an idiotic point and
click videogame. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again- this show
retards our youth. The character design is a mix of wishy-washy generic
Disney ethnic displays and bad big eyes anime. It has however perfected
invasive marketing. I can buy Dora backpacks, soup, notebooks,
hair gel, clothing, and jewelry. Congratulations on flooding the
marketplace with soon to be tossed in a landfill craptacular products.
Lazytown…yikes. Thanks Sweden for producing a freaky pandering show
to “make kids (sorry kidZ) get up and move”. From generic trance music
to creepy weird puppets and characters, I have simply banned this show.
And the best is for last, Boobah. Good god! This show is
possibly the worst thing I have ever seen. I tried to banish the memory
of the show from my brain by quickly banging my head against the wall,
but it only gave me a headache. I still remembered the show, but
now I can't do math. I can’t say much more about this show without
cussing, or without a thesaurus. I don't even answer my son when
he asks to watch the videos online. I just look at him, and he
laughs. He's smart like that, but he wouldn't be if he watched Boobah.
Lastly, books & music & technology. Specific books get a kind of
pass with me. It’s hard to screw up a book. Even the bad ones are
worth reading to expose story
and letters to a child. I guess if I have to go with bad, it’s the
cheap books that use extra-curricular items to hide the poor art or weak
writing. See Rainbow Fish, or most any sound activated super
annoying book in Wal-Mart for a good example. Music generally gets the
same pass, except for KidZ Bop. I know…let’s take popular pop
music and make a group of KidZ sing the lyrics- that’ll be a hit right?
Oh, and let’s make countless sequels by just adding a number. Now let’s
make it look super-happy-fun-hip-groovy by having plastic gap model KidZ
pretend they are belting out the heartfelt lyrics in commercials. Oh,
and what the heck- lets sex ‘em up. Technology is too wide open to be
specific, and this is not a discussion on age-appropriate videogames- so
I’ll avoid that. However, I have found an endless number of “CD games”
(they are generic, so I’ll actually call them "CD games") tossed in with
toys and cereals that are completely pointless for children. I could
hammer out a more comprehensible game on my 1981 compaq computer.
Movies: I am huge fan of the old Winnie the Pooh
(The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh- 1977, but
released earlier in the 60's as shorts), not
new Disney airbrushed bland junk. The old Pooh is gentle, positive,
helpful, supportive and calming- a perfect example of Taoist life
philosophy. Pooh showcased classic voice acting, genuine relationships, and character
studies. We all know a depressed eyeore, a cranky rabbit, or a
pretentious owl...don't we? Pixar also makes consistently
excellent films. The art and the message highlight the blueprint for
making quality art. Form (the art or visuals) and Content
(the story) work as one. Finding Nemo
(2003) is a house favorite, and I
can watch it again every time my son does. It's beautiful, funny, and
moving. The lessons learned about family, support, and
perseverance with change are classic grounds in parenting. I was
also very surprised by the new Curious George
(2006) movie. The
visuals were very soft and fluid, just like the old books…that was a pleasant
style that produced a calming effect- not to mention that teaming that film up with the
music of Jack Johnson made for a great time. The Polar
Express was also a surprise that added a lot to lackluster Christmas
movies that keep plugging away on the "you have to believe in Santa"
mantra. My only problem is the puzzling inclusion of the
Aerosmith elves and song. Was that really necessary? Really?
Couldn't the elves just have been elves?
Television: The good aspects of tv have improved from when
I was a kid. When I was little, kids had to wait until Saturday
morning to have their cartoons. The whole line-up was advertised and
played from 7am to 12 noon (always ending with Looney Tunes), but
also loaded with some god-awful one season shows. Today, there are
whole networks for kids like Noggin. I am always very pleased by
It seems like those that produce it really care about kids. It lacks
commercials (except for their shows), it’s fun, it's entertaining, and
educational without being pandering. There are too many children's
entertainments that force education, but it is not education with any
depth (see Dora). I think they are all trying to desperately be
Sesame Street. Franklin books never wowed me, but the
show does. Characters get angry with one another, utilize conflict
resolution, and face issues that
I know I had as a child. It presents real issues without being obvious.
The Backyardigans and Jack’s Big Music Show are shows that
mix true quality music with fun short stories- every kid loves music.
Books, Music & Technology: There are a lot of amazing
children’s books out there, I collect them and they are bankrupting me-
but I am ok with
that. Some are older like Goodnight Moon or Little Gorilla,
and some are recent like Cow or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
There are too many to mention, too many quality art books and a lot
of quality messages. Books have branched out from when I was kid.
There are books that confront every issue, where when I was a kid they
were mostly for fun. Music is the same. Although I am no fan of
groups that make kids music, I think there are a few doing good fun
things for kids. Most have exposure through Jack’s Big Music Show
(Noggin network) like Laurie Berkner and Nuttin’ but Stringz
(even with that “z” they are too cool for words) and struggle in a
limited children's market. See, it’s my money that buys the music- not his, that
means sales are generally limited...for he has no income. My son
has, from day one had an affinity for music- but is an oddity. He prefers our
modern music to kids music. He has gone to sleep listening to
Thelonious Monk (jazz) for
most of his life. And for those parents who push nostalgic items
upon their children, I still think that the Schoolhouse Rocks
shorts DVD is one of the best around.
Although I don’t let my son loose on the internet, he
does have free access to Noggin.com and Sprout.com, and
both are a lot of fun for him. I am shocked at how quick he has
understood how to use a computer. The sites are easy to navigate
and provide a lot of fun variety. Again, like I said earlier- this is
not a topic debating videogames- but it is worth noting that he also
really enjoys my playstation
2 game: Katamari Damacy. Maybe it’s the overtly japanesque-homoerotic
nature, or the clean bright graphics…whatever it is, he likes it and
So, to wrap this epic-self-indulgent-kid-based diatribe up…I am amazed
at the range in kids (KidZ) ed-U-tainment. For every high, there is a
low. For every Pooh there is a Boobah, every Goodnight Moon there is a
Rainbow Fish, every Bugs Bunny there is a Smurf, and every Laurie
Berkner there is a KidZ Bop 11, 12, or 13. I guess we'll just keep
watching- and for all of our sakes, please leave the Smurfs in the
eighties...thank you, and good night.
Priceless Criminal Intent
I don't like
Thomas the train. But, before I get any emails...yes- I do know
Thomas is not real , and is a pretty innocent
& positive toy.
I like trains, just
not Thomas. The toys are wickedly overpriced, and everywhere. My world
is saturated with Thomas toys, Thomas videos, Thomas bath towels,
hampers, garbage cans, shaped pasta, wrapping paper, and a whole
world encompassing industry forged upon Thomas. My mother in law bought a train
signal for our wood set, it has two signals, and makes a
powered "ding-ding!". I would have guessed the price to be $9-10.00.
But not in satanic Thomas land...where the cost was a WHOPPING $27! We
have asked that no family purchase any more Thomas items...but you can
only hold back the storm so long.
Recently at daycare, a
friend of Asher's (my son) had a Thomas engine that made music, that
inclusion of music was like crack to lil' Asher (he has an affinity for
music, I guess that's what happens when he goes to sleep listening to
Thelonious Monk for 4 years). So yesterday we went to the mall. While
Chris (my wife) tried on clothes, I took Asher to throw pennies in the
fountain, get a cookie, and check out the toy store. I like toys as
much as he does. Our intention was a "small" toy. After much bargaining
to NOT get the $100 radio controlled cars, he spotted the same
Thomas/musical engine from daycare...and it was only $12.99. So we got it. Outside
the store on the bench, I took it out of the box and let him him have
it, explaining that we would put batteries in it when we got home. On
the way out of the mall, Chris wanted to throw the box away- which we
did. We got home, put the batteries in...and nothing, zip, nada, zero.
Just Thomas, smirking at me. Great. We went to the mall on the other side of the city for a broken
After naps all around,
and Chris going to work, Asher and I went back to the mall with no box,
just the receipt. As we strollered up to the KayBee counter, there
were 4 girl (and I do mean to use that term) employees who had a total
age of maybe 64 (that's 16 each). After a bit of attitude ("Wuuhhll..howZ
this work?" my reply "It doesn't, that's why we brought it
back."), and the girls summoning a 17 year old manager (ha) who went to
get a new Thomas
followed, while Asher pawed through
all the really cheap toy junk that they have at the counter. So,
minutes passed as the "girls" could not figure out what the train
actually did, despite me explaining that it was broken. I had batteries
and a screwdriver in my pocket which I whipped out because the one girl
could not manage the screwdriver for the broken one. As I put the
batteries in the new one, I asked the manager (ha) "Does it make music
and just go?"...her reply was that you had to use the included
whistle to make it go- it was sound activated. Pause for a growing
embarrassment in me...see, Asher had told me they "wore out his friends
batteries" playing with it at daycare. But in reality, his friend did
not bring the whistle- so it never worked at daycare...he just WANTED it
to make music. So, as I realized how much of an idiot I was for
throwing the box away and not keeping the directions, or reading the box
(which I now noticed had a great big "SOUND ACTIVATED" symbol on the
side...top...front...bottom...), and BEFORE the gaggle of girls could
get the batteries in the old one (and possibly cure cancer) and notice
there was nothing wrong with it, I smiled and quickly strollered out the
store. I was rolling along when Asher exclaimed "UH-OH!". I looked
down, and he is holding one of those cheap toy combo suckers that had a battery
powered propeller and digital lights for $3.99. Rather than return in
shame, I quickly told him: "Oh, those nice girls gave that to you
because we had to come all the way back out here to get a new Thomas."
So to sum up.
Thomas the train $12.99, sound activated idiot cost of gas
$15.00, first true crime of shoplifting (see mugshot), and a failure to use
it as a teachable moment...priceless.
1- Me, Myself &