November 12, 2010
Book: The Art you can Take Home
I hope you will all excuse me a personal, someone saccharine post. It does run bookish, eventually. I’ve had a rough couple of months, in truth. Those of you with children will understand: kids at the younger end of the spectrum sometimes go through phases (weeks, months, years) that force a mother to suspend her own well-being for a while. Sleep and peace of mind are the two biggest casualties, though don’t consider this a complaint. They are freely sacrificed. I might be incoherent and incapable of following an idea through to its logical conclusion, but that’s small potatoes in the wide world of well-being, mental health and safety.
My daughter, Miss Margaret, has been attending daycare full-time since the beginning of September. She was barely 2 years old when she began, and she’s 28 months old now. Like it is for so many little kids, the transition was rough. Though she enjoyed her first week, once she recognized this was to be a regular thing the resistance began. The Screaming Meltdowns began, the tears and the clinging and the begging for “one more hug, just one more hug!” at drop off. We were told to expect a couple of weeks of this.
After 6 weeks of this we wondered if something was up – not only did the Screaming Meltdowns show no sign of abating, but daycare has become a taboo subject around our house. “No! No! Nuffin’!” She yells at me when I ask her how her day was. “Nuffin’ about daycare!” She refuses, at daycare, to take any of her outdoor clothes off, or put any of her belongings away. She needs them, she says, for when Mama comes back. I find out how her day was through play. I might catch her sending one of her dolls “to the baby room” when the doll yells too much. She has elaborate conversations on her fake cellphone about which kids bit her and which kids hit her. Once or twice, just before drifting off to sleep at night, she has whispered something to me like “Mama, my friends at daycare not have words.” She has never said a positive thing about the place, ever.
It has been suggested that the problem is me, that I have a “negative attitude” towards the place and Maggie “picks up” on my vibes. I disguise my opinions on the matter as best as I can, hype the place up and approach it smiling each day, but meanwhile she has become more devious in avoiding it. “Okay, Mama.” she said, resigned, one day. “I come to work with you. I work at Bob Miller.” Nice try kid. This morning: “Mama, when I start school? I go big kids room today?” “It’s the weekend!” she announced, smiling, on Wednesday. Over the last four months she has lost much of the independence we’d gained up to that point. She will no longer sleep by herself. She wakes up screaming things like “No! Not take my hat off! I want my mom!” She started wetting the bed.
Well, you know, these are some toxic vibes I give off. In any case, Maggie spends 9 hours a day, 5 days a week in daycare, so I do my best on weekends to make up for it. Two full, luxurious days of family time. One of the issues with the daycare seems to be that Maggie isn’t a baby anymore, unlike many of the other kids. They don’t talk yet (much); Maggie does nothing but talk. They have a brief story-time, but the books are single-sentence board-books, compared to the long form picture books (Curious George Flies a Kite and Library Lion are this week’s faves) and short chapter books (Burgess’s Adventures of Jimmy Skunk and Winnie the Pooh are happily preferred) we read at home. They don’t do many structured activities, though “art” like gluing feathers to paper plates finds its way into her cubby-hole at the end of each day. She wants interactive, stimulating, challenging activities with the non-hitting, non-biting, non-grabbing safety of her mom.
I want to bring her to the museum and the art gallery, to puppet shows and plays. I want to bring her to concerts and demonstrations and readings. I want to expose her every day to the wealth and variety of cultural life available here in Toronto. But time is so short, and so rushed. Two days. Two days minus naps, the urgent, oft-neglected housekeeping and family obligations. In the end we’re lucky if we can manage one activity a weekend, and often it feels forced and cut short. It takes her a full day to “unwind” from the stress of the week and to really relax enough to enjoy herself. Art, and cultural education, is supposed to be a foundation of a good liberal, Humanistic society. Maggie is younger then one might usually worry about introducing those things to a kid, but she’s clearly ready and enjoys it when rarely we fit it into our lives. Do I hope these values will be instilled by the institutions I’ve already committed her to? Will there be a natural bridge from the campy CDs played in the background at daycare to the knowledge of what a violin is, and a desire to play one? Will they take her to the theatre? Will they teach her to dance?
At the end of every day Maggie starts pulling books off the shelf and piling them next to me. I always swore I’d read to her as much as she liked, until I realized she’d listen for hours each day if I had the voice for it. Now we bargain, like Olivia and her mother from Ian Falconer’s eponymous books. Five books, maybe six. Okay, one more. We are heavy library users, withdrawing ten new books every three weeks like clockwork. The library is a fixture of our lives. This, at least, I can do: the books are there, and need no tickets, travel or preparation to enjoy. For Maggie the appeal of the book is as much the chance to reconnect with mommy and daddy through the hours spent curled up on our laps, warm and comforted, as it is the story. However miserable our days have been, everything stops when we settle in to read. Her anxiety and crankiness melts away, as does mine. We read, talk the book over, bargain over what to read next, move on.
I don’t know if this makes up for what we’re missing out on. I envy stay-at-home moms violently. But it is what I have to offer. The realities of our life have whittled the ideal down to this: there is a huge, varied, diverse world of ideas and sensations out there, and we can glimpse it through books. Whatever else we can’t find time for, there is always time for reading, and for that I am very, deeply grateful. To all the other things I love about books, you can add this to the top of the list in big, boldface type. They are the very best gift I can give my daughter.