Friday, September 23, 2011

Someone to Watch over You

I took my toddler to an art museum recently.  (It was actually called an “Art Institute,” which, in retrospect, was a better name.)

 For those of you who don’t regularly patronize art museums, allow me to ease your mind about jumping in to such a rich, cultural experience: Don’t bother.

 We knew something was wrong when we entered the front door and were asked to leave the diaper bag by the front desk.  What kind of twisted individual parts a toddler from his diapers, cheerios, and three extra pairs of pants?  And furthermore, what exactly were we going to stuff into the diaper bag and make off with?  It’s not like anything in the art museum was actually recognizable as art.  The primary display in the lobby was a collection of wire sculptures, kind of like what you get every year when you pull the Christmas lights out of storage to find that three strands have actually braided themselves together in the attic… only a lot more disorganized.  The masses of wire vaguely resembled human beings in various painful looking poses, possibly simulating a yoga class. 

We set off into a side room that contained what I suppose were meant to be paintings.  They were in frames and contained many colors, at least.  My son was quickly losing interest in anything but trying to touch the artwork.  I pulled him away from a masterpiece containing shades of grey interspersed with red lines just before he was able to get close enough to set off the art alarm.

 This movement did not go unnoticed, however, as a thin, pale woman cleared her throat in the opposite corner and began to take considerable interest in our wanderings.  I led my son into the next room, hoping that at least one artist had been inspired by an airplane, a fire truck, or at least a noun of some kind.

 But trailing 15 feet behind us was the woman with the previously mentioned throat obstruction- now obviously revealed as art museum security.  I wondered briefly what to do.  Should I feign interest in the artwork?  Walk away and pretend the toddler tugging on my leg wasn’t mine?

 Finally I decided to brave the bent wire exercise class and make a run for the door.  We made it just before art museum security could bring us in for questioning (a good thing, too; I sure wouldn’t want to have to explain what I was doing in an art museum.)  I guess for the foreseeable future the Winnie the Pooh coloring book will be the limit of my son’s art exposure. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Good Little Monkey

Every father wants his child to grow up and be a genius. We want our kids to be able to understand the world, solve problems, win Nobel Prizes, and furnish our vacation homes during retirement. To this end, we begin reading to them before they can even focus their eyes to see the pages. As my son progressed from “board books” [Books that contain upwards of seven words but are printed on heavy-duty cardboard to prevent children from destroying them and so the publisher can charge $19.99 for them] to more toddler-friendly material, I found myself suddenly remembering the books I was reading from my own childhood. And was I ever surprised. Take Curious George for example. In my childhood, the Curious Little Monkey was always in great danger. In one book alone he was thrown in jail, escaped by balancing on a power line, floated hundreds of feet in the air held up only by balloons, and landed on a street amidst rush hour traffic. The more recent renditions of George’s adventures, however, are not quite so fraught with peril.  These days George goes to the beach, and gasp, loses his picnic basket. This is hardly the material of a compelling plot. [Although this particular title does feature the Man in the Yellow Hat wearing a bathing suit, flip-flops, and sunglasses.]  In another recent Curious George story he takes a trip to the aquarium where he faces the imminent threat of entering the penguin paddock. Yes, penguins, those bloodthirsty, flightless killers.  George miraculously escapes and is made an honorary staff member at the aquarium.  Really? Is that the lesson I’m to teach my young son? Here, son, hop over this fence and play with the giraffes. When zoo security arrives I’m sure they’ll make you an honorary staff member rather than haul my butt to prison and refer me to child endangerment. Yes, gone are the days when Curious George smoked a pipe after breakfast, joined the circus, and flew rockets into outer space. H.A. Rey’s memory is not being honored here. So instead of my son learning to face adventures and hardships armed only with his curiosity, he gets gentle reminders to keep better watch over his picnic basket. This is not how Rhodes Scholars are made; I may need to rethink my retirement strategy.   

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dinner Is Served; Part 2

Eating dinner with a toddler is just like eating dinner with any normal, happy adult.  Assuming, of course, the adult is a species other than human.  Toddlers are at a stage in life where they learn new things every day.  Unfortunately, the one lesson they haven’t learned (and won’t until age 13, at least) is that not all new skills learned during the day are applicable at the dinner table.   Take throwing a ball, for example.  Now, like any good father, I began teaching my son to properly throw a ball when he was a fetus.  We fathers have several reasons for doing this, not the least of which is no man wants his son to throw “like a girl.”  (The trouble with this statement is that most girls throw just fine; it’s the guys who make a toss with their elbow tucked firmly into their ribs who bother us.)  The other reason, of course, is that we all think our sons are going to grow up to be professional baseball players.  This isn’t quite true- the average boy has a better chance of getting a college diploma and joining the circus than becoming a pro ball player.  Nevertheless, teaching my son to throw quickly and accurately receives a great deal of emphasis.  Is it any surprise then, that meatballs, chicken nuggets, chunks of hot dog, peas, sippy cups, and basically anything that has mass becomes a device for long toss at the dinner table?  It’s hard to know what to do in these situations.  When my son picked up a carrot the other night, briefly contemplated eating it, (or just took a moment to get a feel for its balance) and hurled it across the kitchen, should I have cheered his good throw or chastised his lack of manners?  Would it change your answer to discover that the carrot caught my wife right in the temple?  And why couldn’t someone have prepared me for this dilemma earlier?  As it is, I will have plenty of time to cheer my son’s throwing skills from my new bed on the couch.