Monday, March 26, 2012

You Never Know (Babble)

You never know the impact you have in the world.  Occasionally people come to us later and we find out how something we said stuck and I’m always surprised at what did.  I think we accidentally hurt others more often than we realize.  But sometimes we help or inspire and can be just as oblivious of that, too.

I’ve been teaching violin for many years.  At my peak I had a studio of about 40 students which wore me out.  Currently I only have one, but with three kids and a store and more things to juggle than I can handle most days, she sometimes wears me out too.  I like getting to know other people and I like music and I like passing on things I’ve learned.

For many students I think I was a pretty good teacher.  For some I know I wasn’t right but hope I did okay.  And then there are a few I still wonder about with no sense of how I did at all.  When one of those pops up again it kind of rocks my world.
(window at the conservatory I teach for)

Being a music teacher often feels like being a counselor.  Part of that is simply having one on one time with a student apart from parents and friends.  Students confide because they want to and they can.  Sometimes it’s merely practical to listen and talk because lesson time is valuable and if a student is preoccupied with an emotional issue it’s hard to get any real work done until they get it out.  I know when I was in college I couldn’t play two notes on my viola without my teacher being able to diagnose my emotional state.  Music is expressive, and I was unable to separate my feelings from my playing.  I would start to dive into Bach or Telemann and the next thing I knew my teacher was saying, “Oh no, why are you so sad today?”  Then I would talk, and he would listen and nod, and eventually we’d get some real work accomplished.

I’ve been a sounding board for kids who are upset about dating troubles or their parents fighting or problems with siblings or school or who are freaked out about the future.  I listen, I nod, I try not to overstep my bounds, and I get them to clear their heads enough to concentrate on music before our time is up.

Most people in a position to take violin lessons come from fairly stable situations and their troubles when they crop up are things I can relate to.  But I’ve had some students with hard lives and problems I don’t always know how to address.  I tell them what I can, hope it has any bearing, and worry that in my efforts to help I’m not inadvertently being insensitive or making things worse.  You never know.

Recently a student I hadn’t seen in more than a decade resurfaced.  This was a student I have thought on and off about for years.  I’d never had a student who had been bounced around to more foster homes, and I was worried that this person when released from the system would lack direction and end up with a bad crowd.  I was honestly concerned that this student could be taken advantage of and wind up dead.  So when this person appeared in my violin store I was relieved, to say the least.

I never knew if anything I did in violin lessons had an impact on this student.  This person’s life was complicated, and I was never sure where violin fit in.  I played it by ear (so to speak) and did what I could and hoped for the best.  But now I know my presence in this person’s life did matter, even if at the time I wasn’t sure.  When you make assignments and they are ignored week after week, and someone doesn’t follow your instructions or is distracted when you try to explain something, it can feel like talking to a wall.

However, I think being there, being consistent, not letting down my expectations or giving in to ways this student pushed me, made an impact.  I was there at a time as other people came and went.  And not only did this student remember me, but retained a love for violin.

This person came by just to say hello, but I had learned a few days before from a fellow teacher who taught this person with me that our former student, due to difficult circumstances, no longer had an instrument.  So I fixed that.

Every once in a while I’ll get a donated instrument that should go to someone special.  I’ve had a particular violin hanging behind my bench for some time waiting for the right person.  I decided my former student would be a good match.  It’s not a valuable instrument from a market point of view, but it was dearly loved, and will now be treasured again.

My former student is still on a hard road, but doesn’t act like it.  This person is trying to address life and the world with a sensitivity that I find humbling.  Now this person can do it armed with a violin.  I watched my former student leave, smiling, cradling that violin as if it were the key to something grand and hopeful.  Which is exactly what music is.
With a little luck some of those lessons I taught all those years ago will go to good use.  That makes me happy, and it makes me proud.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Books Vs. Movies (Babble)

I can’t see movies made from a book I’ve read and liked.  Am I really all alone in this?  I feel like it.

I know this bugs the crap out of people sometimes when we’re trying to pick a movie everyone can agree on, and looks like some weird affectation that borders on simply being snooty.  But I’ve tried to watch films made from books and I don’t enjoy it.  I am so distracted by even small deviations from the story the way I read it that I can barely follow what’s happening on the screen sometimes.  I just start tallying up moments that are in some way or another wrong.

I love to read, and I love the experience of working with a writer’s words to create places and people in my mind.  I don’t want to see actors who don’t look like the people in my head wearing costumes that don’t match images I liked in surroundings that never resemble the pictures I’ve already chosen.  I don’t want all of that getting muddled together.

So, no, I’ve never seen an entire Harry Potter movie.  I’ve caught bits and pieces on TV and found myself muttering unhappily when I did.  I don’t want that castle in my head, I want my castle.  I don’t want those people playing the characters, I want the ones I came up with in collaboration with the author while I was reading the books.

Recently I’ve been making my way through The Hunger Games series.  I read through the first book in about a day and a half and ran out to the bookstore to grab the second and third before I was done with the last chapter because the idea of getting to the end of the first book and having to wait more than a matter of minutes to start reading the next was unbearable.  I understand the hype because the story really sucks you in and propels you forward in a way that the term ‘page turner’ was meant to describe.  It’s a fun read that doesn’t feel frivolous because of the severe subject matter.

I’m fascinated with the cognitive dissonance the book generates by setting the reader up to be appalled by a society that can’t tear itself away from watching children being forced to kill one another, while at the same time counting on us to have the same inability to stop reading about it.  We are guilty observers as we root for the hero just as everyone in the fictional audience is.  That’s interesting.  (The only element I disliked in the first book were the muttations toward the end, because what?  How?  Really?  Mutant dogs are one thing, but generated from dead people in a matter of days?  Maybe something in one of the next two books will throw me a bone on that one but I doubt it.)

Anyway, great book.  Love it.  Can totally see how it inspired a movie franchise.  But I am not seeing that movie.

I know people who already have tickets, who are counting down the days.  I know with the Harry Potter books people would read the stories then camp out at the theaters to see how they were adapted for the screen and it becomes an event.  Lots of people anymore kind of put books and their movies together like some sort of package deal to be enjoyed alongside one another like that’s how it should be.  So I sit on the sidelines with my book and hope other people have fun but I can’t join them.

What I enjoy better is pairing things that complement each other.  I took a film and literature class in college that did a clever job of picking books and movies that had obvious parallels and it was amazing.  We read The Phantom Tollbooth and watched The Wizard of Oz (which I know is also a book, but not one I read until last year), A Rose for Emily paired with Psycho, and Heart of Darkness along with Apocalypse Now.  That was fun.  But a movie drawing inspiration from a book is different from a movie trying to be the book.  I don’t enjoy that at all.

Maybe I have too much attachment to my imagination and should be able to see other people’s interpretations without them obscuring my own.  Or maybe I cling to more details than the average person and they aren’t seeing the little discrepancies that needle me all through a movie adaptation.

All I know is I watched part of one trailer for The Hunger Games and in it the main character is giving her sister a mockingjay pin and telling her it will keep her safe and my brain started screaming, “But that’s not what happened!  It was from the mayor’s daughter to Katniss after she volunteered!  Aaaargh!”  So no, that movie would be no fun for me at all.

Which is too bad because it’s probably a good movie.  Like Hugo which I don’t want to see and people think that’s stupid of me.  But the last time I tried to see a movie based on a book I liked was Pride and Prejudice.  I figured it had been a long time since I’d read the story and maybe I didn’t remember everything and it would be okay.  But then they changed the ending.  And at that point I officially gave up.

A friend once asked me what I would do if someone made a movie out of one of the books I’ve written.  This is as ridiculous as asking me what I would wear to meet the queen because it’s not going to happen.  I’m still doing the crushing work of simply trying to find an agent who could even just make my book into a book.  But in that mythical universe that wants to turn my book into a movie, no, I probably don’t want to see it.  (My friend doesn’t believe me, but unless that mythical universe also lets me eat nothing but donuts and cereal without ruining my health, it’s not a different enough universe that I am likely to have a change of heart.)

I’ve decided I’m done apologizing for not wanting to see movie adaptations of books I’ve enjoyed.  I don’t care anymore if I’m the only one this bothers.

Maybe this is the same part of my brain that can’t relate to what people see in watching professional sports, or who enjoy drinking, or any number of other things I don’t find entertaining that so many people can’t imagine a life without.  That’s okay.  I’m not telling anyone else what they should or shouldn’t enjoy.  Have a blast at the movies!  I’ll eat my Junior Mints out here with my book.
This picture has nothing to do with anything at all.  It’s a drawing Quinn did on the white board back when he was still four and I have nothing to use it with but I love it and wanted to share his little solar system just because I’m his mom.  (It’s a parenting website after all, so I’m allowed a random ‘look what my kid did!’ moment I think.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Birthday off to a Good Start (Babble)

Happy Birthday to me!  I’m 43 today.  I really enjoyed being 42 and am sad to see it go, but 43 isn’t too shabby so far.

About a week ago I was feeling a tad grumpy about my birthday.  The Army has managed to interfere with it almost every year since we moved to Wisconsin.  It was scary having Ian in Iraq for two of them, and just irritating when he was home but had drill.  Looking ahead to my birthday on my calendar when I got it at the beginning of the year I thought to myself, “Wednesday!  There won’t be drill on a Wednesday.”

So of course Ian got sent to Ft Knox for the whole week to do things like SRP and PT and LMNOP and other capital letter events.  And it’s a week where I have rehearsals three nights in a row and have had to find sitters.

I gave up on the idea of going to work.  When Ian was last deployed Quinn wasn’t in school yet and I didn’t have to deal with the half-day pickup.  Now the half-day pickup is such a wrench in the schedule, and I couldn’t figure out a decent way to run the store from 10:30 until 5:00 with pickups at the school at 11:00 and 2:20, and still feed everyone and get them to violin lessons and choir, etc.  I hope my assistant is having a good time running things alone.

I had visions of getting a lot of work done on my violins since I would be home all week.  That has not happened.  I literally did not step foot in my shop yesterday, and the day before I cut a piece of ebony (for a saddle) down from 39mm to 36mm and that was it!  At this rate those violins will be done, uh, never.

But it’s okay.  Ian will be back soon and I will work again because we can share the chores and there will be a pocket of time for me to do what makes me feel like myself.  There’s a huge difference between getting by for a week or two, and having to adjust to an absence long enough it may as well be permanent.  The stress of always being denied the chance to do the things that interest me was hard to bear.  It made me unfairly resentful of the kids and a less pleasant person.  But just a week?  I can enjoy being here for them and not worry that my life is on hold.  It’s fine, and I’m having a good time, actually, running the house the way I like it and getting to spend more time with each of my children.

So back to my birthday.  My big gift today has been feeling like I have done a damn good job raising my kids.  I suffer the same guilt many mothers do about not doing enough or being there enough or any of the myriad of ways that enough doesn’t seem like enough.  But my kids are lovely and have some decent life skills and I got to see that on display this morning.

When I say life skills, I mean my kids can make crepes.  They would not survive the zombie apocalypse, or frankly even survive a movie trailer about it, but my kids put together a breakfast in bed that got my birthday off to the best start ever.

Aden and Mona set their alarm and got up early and told me to stay in bed.

They made crepe batter and flipped them all on their own.

They walked the dog.

They CLEANED THE KITCHEN.  (They emptied the dishwasher and refilled it and wiped down the counters and cleared the breakfast table of their own plates.)

They brought me a plate of crepes on a tray that used to belong to my grandmother.  They served them with honey from Germany given to us by my brother, along with a little powdered sugar and brought me water in a water bottle.  There was a knife for the honey and a hand drawn card signed by all my kids.

It was pretty amazing.

Now, my children are not perfect, because that would be boring.  They don’t have good time management skills and we got to school very late.  There was also a moment when Aden got angry with Mona for blurting out, “We’re not making you breakfast in bed!” and I had to break it to Aden that I had already figured it out and really what I want for my birthday is for everyone to get along so she needed to get over it and forgive Mona.  And Quinn was in tears for a while because when he couldn’t figure out what to draw on the card he got embarrassed and started telling his sisters to leave him alone and they were mad at him for trying to eat his own breakfast rather than help.  I had to cuddle the tears away and give him a bunch of my crepes because he didn’t want to go back downstairs.
So there’s that.

But that my kids have figured out that the true joy of breakfast in bed isn’t the thought or the food but that it shouldn’t make more work for the recipient than it’s worth is a real breakthrough.  They CLEANED THE KITCHEN!  And served me a breakfast without anything that made crumbs or could spill.  I am stunned.  And happy!  And 43!

On top of that when I dropped the kids off at school I realized I’d forgotten my swim bag.  So I’m skipping exercise today because I’m tired and I don’t want to and you can’t make me.  I might bake a cake.  Or take a nap!  Or even get into my shop for more than ten seconds.  I miss Ian, but as far as birthdays go this one is working out just fine.  It’s not even raining!  I’m used to sleet on my birthday, but the sun is shining and it’s supposed to get into the 70’s today.  I even heard back from an agent requesting to look at my non-fiction proposal.  I’d buy a lottery ticket except there’s nothing much more I could want.

(Wait….  Maybe I’m not awake yet.  Eh, even if this is just a dream it’s a good one.  To everyone else, happy Pi Day!)
(Kids saying goodbye to their dad before he drove off to Kentucky.  What did I ever do to deserve this family?  I am the luckiest person I know, and I will remind myself of that the next time the dog throws up on the carpet.)

UPDATE:  The rest of my birthday was great.  I watched my kids on their scooters, baked a cake, read a book….  And at my orchestra rehearsal tonight the group played ‘Happy Birthday’ for me and I almost cried.  So far being 43 rocks.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dragon Day! (Babble)

Just a quick post for anyone who is curious about how the dragons at book club came out.
I thought it was interesting that Mona was the only kid who decided to make her dragon look like the one in the book.  She is annoyed that the paint job isn’t cleaner, but she gets impatient and doesn’t want to wait long enough for something to dry before trying to correct it, so I promised her we could do touch up this week and get it the way she wants it.
She’s also the only kid who chose to leave the weight off the bottom of the dragon so that she could use it as a puppet instead of a mobile.

The others got creative in different ways.
Here are some more dragons from book club:
We talked about the book while we painted and ate Fig Newtons and tangerines and I think it went very well.  I love hearing kids talk excitedly about books!

The one question I had for the kids was about the narrator (after discussing what a narrator was).  The book is called “My Father’s Dragon” and tells the story of Elmer Elevator and his adventures rescuing and befriending a baby dragon.  The story is about Elmer, but obviously told by Elmer’s child.  All of us jumped to the conclusion that the narrator was a boy, but I pointed out that it’s never stated.  It could be told by Elmer’s daughter.  But I think because the protagonist is male, we hear the narrator’s voice as male, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  Just because it’s a children’s book club doesn’t mean there aren’t always interesting things for adults to ponder about the reading too!

In any case, if you are looking for some kind of activity to do with your child and other parents and kids as well, book clubs are fun.  You can make it what you want.  I’m craft heavy and discussion heavy, but other parents put more effort into the food, or something else.  It’s nice to read with your children and stories are a good way to get them talking about something other than what they had for snack at school.  I’m already planning a book club for Quinn.  We’re just waiting for him to have more friends who can, you know, read.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Prepping the Dragons (Babble)

We’re having our first meeting of Mona’s book club this weekend.  I hope it goes well.
We read the three book collection of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  It was a book dear to my Great Aunt Dorothy’s heart and she passed it down to my mom and uncles and last summer one of my uncles passed it down to me and my children.  It’s a charming trilogy and my kids loved it.

From a hosting book club point of view, choosing snacks was easy because in the story they eat a lot of tangerines, pink lollipops, and Fig Newtons.  Much easier to pick up at the store than prairie food for pioneers.

The sticking point was coming up with a craft.  The problem is that Mona is too crafty.  She had elaborate ideas for her friends to construct their own dragons, and I had to explain that most people aren’t like her.  I told her that she can see things in her mind and make them real, but that many adults I know can’t even do that.  We didn’t want to make anyone feel inadequate or come up with something that would take days to do.  We had to keep it simple.  I suggested we give everyone a copy of the map of Wild Island from the book and let kids draw what they think might be on the blank end of the island where nothing was filled in.  Mona liked that, but still wanted a more elaborate craft to go with it.

So I started giving it some thought, which is dangerous.  Because Mona’s instinct to make elaborate projects comes straight out of my DNA. I love to build things.  So I’m over the top, too, but at least I know to put the burden of the work onto myself and not expect other people to follow my lead.

I decided what might be cute are little flapping dragon mobiles, like those hanging birds with the counterweight underneath that you pull to make the wings move.  I puzzled out a prototype with my husband and then started the assembly line.  I figured if I made a basic dragon the kids could paint them and tie on the strings and the weight themselves.

Want to see?

Here’s a not so great shot of the prototype:
And here are most of the parts:
The basic pieces of the dragon are cut out of pine, then a piece of felt for the hinge, string, perler beads to knot the string with, hot glue, and a rubber ball cut in half and with a hole drilled in it for the counterweight.  The whole thing will be strung onto a popsicle stick.
My design was probably not the most conventional, but it seems to work.  When I looked up similar things online most people used fishing line or wire for the hinge, but tying up the fishing line got annoying and the wings didn’t flap as well.  I sawed a notch in each wing and glued the felt in there, then glued the felt to the back of the body.
I figure the kids can paint their dragons however they want (I even have a bag of jewels they can glue on if they feel like it), and at the end of book club when everything is dry I can show them how to string their dragons up.  I’m really looking forward to it.
Not that I really had time for any of this.  Today was supposed to be a work at home on violins day, but what’s the fun of having a band saw and a drill press if I can’t use them for something non-work related once in a while?

Besides, I’ve been making real progress lately.  I’ve had to stay up past midnight every night for weeks to get anywhere on my violins so I earned a little dragon prep time.  Proof!  Here’s my finished top plate with the bass bar installed, and this is what a violin with a gabillion lining clamps on it looks like while glue is drying:

Anyway, I think I’m ready for book club.  I just have to make sure the other parents understand that I don’t believe for a second that anyone else has to do a project like this when they host.  Because that’s crazy.  But prepping all those little flapping dragons was fun for me and I loved having an excuse to do it.  I can’t wait to see how the kids decorate them!

I don’t know yet if this little book club will take hold, but I hope so, because we’re already looking forward to the next book.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Home Depot Fun (Babble)

This post is primarily to give other parents a heads up about something fun to do with your kids that might be available near you.  This is not a sponsored post because aside from the kinds of normal purchases we make there from time to time, The Home Depot doesn’t know we exist.  In fact, we’ve had ups and downs with the one near our house.
But it turns out The Home Depot does something kind of cool!  Another mom who was in my violin store about a year ago told me about it, but today was the first time I was actually on the ball enough to take advantage of the program.

The first Saturday of every month The Home Depot runs a free workshop for kids.  It’s a new project every month, and they supply all the materials and tools and set up a work space with lots of people available to help.  My kids each got an apron to put their names on, and when you finish a project they give you a pin about that project to put on your apron.  When you collect ten you get a special star pin.  We ran into a little girl from Quinn’s class there, and she proudly showed us her collection of more than a dozen pins.
Today’s project was making little race cars.  Quinn was the only one of our kids who resisted going in the first place, but by the time he was done hammering the little nails and putting on all the wheels he was a happy guy.  Quinn hugged that small orange car all the way home.
Next month’s project is a small open box bird feeder with suction cups on it and the kids can’t wait.  The workshop was so much fun I wish I’d managed to get us out there for it a long time ago.  Mona and Quinn wore their aprons around the house all day, and I found myself making the absurd statement, “Take your aprons off before dinner because they might get dirty.”  But then what are aprons for?  I guess today the aprons looked so fresh and pretty it was hard for me not to be a little protective.  I should just let them wear those aprons all the time, though, now that I think about it.

Anyway, I’m always pleased to know about free and interesting activities I can take my kids to, so thought I’d share.  If the idea of watching your kid wield a hammer makes you as happy as it makes me, check it out!