Sunday, January 27, 2013

The gateway drug

I've noticed a disturbing trait in A and B lately, and one I hope to nip in the bud. Apparently the preschool that they attend has been encouraging the girls to express themselves, and they're both demanding paper and crayons now and drawing, using their imaginations to create their own pictures of the world around them. Fire engines, rainbows, even pictures of themselves.

This has got to stop.

Drawing is the gateway art; no doubt they'll soon be expressing themselves in dance, music, and even, once they learn more about language, writing. If I let this go on there'll be no hope for them. I know, I know -- when they ask me for paper and crayons I really should take Nancy Reagan's advice and "Just say no"; but they'll learn about it somewhere, either from their friends or, these days, from their teachers. (God knows what kids pick up on the streets these days -- and the Lower East Side of New York, with all those art galleries, is a particularly dangerous neighborhood.) That's the kind of world they're growing up in, and it's all a parent can do to keep them on the straight and narrow path to some kind of productive adulthood, like a career in appliance repair or some other unionized discipline. Anything, really, but art.

My own parents ruined me by bringing me up in a household filled with books and classical music. (I do know, though, that my parents loved me. They permitted me full access to as much TV as I wanted to watch, which fortunately diluted the influence of all this art and allowed me to find a job and a place in society.) When I could have been playing in mud puddles and trying to jimmy open my parents' cocktail cabinet, I was instead listening to Beethoven and Debussy and reading "books" -- longer and longer books, with more and more words. Sure, A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth seemed innocent enough, but soon it was Thurber and Twain -- I couldn't get through even a single day without my "fix," as I was soon calling it. It was a short step from there to a passion for foreign films and theatre. I finally hit bottom when I very deliberately decided to get a bachelors' degree in languages and literature from a small college -- and I was barely out of my teens.

I do try. Whenever the girls express an interest in "putting on a show" for their parents or guests, or even "making up songs" before bed or demanding "one more book" for me to read before they finish the day, I suggest some other activity. "How about another episode of Curious George or Pound Puppies?" I beg them. "We haven't seen all the Woody Woodpecker shows!" But they're strangely unaffected by my loving but firm parental guidance. Out comes the Madeline book, or Jules Feiffer's Bark, George! (a particularly insidious and subversive story, that one), or, worse, The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham.

I'm not sure what to do about all this. As I mentioned above, their school seems uninterested in curbing these dangerous appetites, and my wife is curiously amused when I warn her of these dangers to our children's future. What good is this self-expression going to do when they need to get a job to support me in my old age? And I understand that there are things like "loans" and "scholarships" that might even permit them to attend these liberal arts schools should I refuse to bear the cost.

The next thing you know, my daughters will begin to think they can make a better world. Until then I can only dissuade them from these creative endeavors and channel their energy into more realistic disciplines.

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