I used to attend a lot of live theatre. I also went to the ballet and the symphony, I frequently visited art exhibits and saw all the highly-acclaimed independent art house movies that came out. Although I went to see a small-town local symphony when I was growing up, and it was good, I was blown away when I saw my first performance of a large, professional symphony. I went out the next day and bought a CD of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” I couldn’t get the refrain out of my head, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to make sure I could recall the strains of the music over and over again, and I would never forget it. I loved that period of my life. I partially pursued all these interests because my job was tied into the support of the arts (which meant I got a lot of free tickets), but also because I enjoyed it. More importantly, my only responsibility in life at that time was to my job, so I did whatever I wanted to any time I wanted to do it.
Then I became a parent. I had a coworker who was parenting triplets and was 10 years into the process when I became pregnant. I was worried about everything, and he reassured me that it would be a wonderful experience and soon I wouldn’t be able to imagine my life having gone any other direction. When I asked him about finances, one time, though, he laughed. “It will work out,” he said. “You’ll never be able to go anywhere or do anything, so you’ll have lots of money!”
It was true. Not the part about having lots of money: raising triplets is expensive. We didn’t go anywhere or do anything, though. It was too much work to dress the babies, change them, pack up all their gear, get ourselves ready, and then try to jam an activity into the small window of time we’d have before the next feeding, or before the first baby began to cry inconsolably.
The first thing we did after having the babies was to change our television receiver to a high-def version with a DVR. Since we couldn’t leave the house, watching TV was one of the few things we could do. It was the only thing we had the energy to do once the babies went to sleep. Sometimes we’d think about asking someone to babysit and going to a movie, but we realized that we were in front of the TV so much that we didn’t want to be sitting down in front of a screen when we had a rare chance to leave the house.
Since having my children, I have been to the symphony once. It was a July 4th free concert in a park in my hometown. The local symphony, maybe some of the same performers I’d watched as a child, played patriotic numbers like “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They shot off canons at one point, and at the end of the concert, we all lit sparklers. The kids ran around in the grass while I kept my eye on them, they held their hands over their ears when the canons went off, and they were amazed by the sparkler flames they were allowed, for the first time, to hold in their hands.
I haven’t been to live theatre or the ballet since having children. Someday, we’ll try the Nutcracker, but I don’t think they are interested in sitting still that long yet. They were bored during Disney on Ice. I think that makes the Nutcracker “iffy.”
My husband and I both reached the conclusion that during the rare occasions we have time together without the kids, we’d rather be sipping some wine outdoors, going to an NBA game, a college football game or trying a new restaurant. We’re not investing that opportunity in live theatre, watching dancers or listening to violins.
Yet something is changing.
Within the course of a month, I had all three children asking me, “Have you ever heard of Matisse?” and “Do you know what a still life is?” They don’t have art classes at school anymore, so the Parents’ Association enlists volunteers to come into the class and give them periodic art lessons. They love it. One of the triplets is gifted at drawing and making crafts. At this young age, she’s a better drawer than I am. The other two aren’t natural artists, but they are naturally interested in learning about people and how things are created. They found two Matisse prints hanging in our home. The Matisse prints have been there all along. They just never knew what they were before someone took the time to talk about Matisse to them. They never bothered to look until someone made them aware.
Last week, I took them to their first art museum. They complained when they heard where we were going, and they felt cheated, because they thought they had an entire Saturday ahead of them to play with their electronics.
They enjoyed every minute of it. They couldn’t believe the strange things that adults paint pictures of. They were appropriately creeped-out by a painting of an old-fashioned porcelain doll with large pupils. They recognized a painting of Half Dome and were excited that someone painted something they’d seen in person. They saw several still life paintings and were amazed that they could identify them and felt like maybe they, too, were real artists since they’d painted some still lifes at school. They were particularly excited to see a still life with several dead birds among the grapes and oranges. “Wait a second,” they said, “that’s not still life, they’re animals.” I said, “Well, they seem to be dead, so I guess technically, it is still life.”
I don’t know where this will end up. Will they be going to museums one day on their own? Will they be deciding one day they’d rather see live theatre than a blockbuster movie? Will I finally take them to see the Nutcracker, and it will later prompt them to ask what other ballets they could go see?
Part of parenting is exposing children to lots of things and then paying attention to what sticks. We talk about work-life balance a lot when it comes to our jobs and our home lives, but there’s a balance to be found within our leisure time, too. I’m happy they loved the museum, yet I wasn’t surprised when 24 hours later I saw two of them dragging a scooter to the top of a sliding board and preparing to ride it down. Apparently, the art museum didn’t make them immediately smarter. When I nixed the scooter idea, they made a platform with some old boards and tried to use it as a catapult in an attempt to make a “real slam dunk.”
It’s all about balance. They seem happier when they have balance in their lives, and I’m happier when I have some in mine.