Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Peter Pan, Criticism, and Hatewatching

Cathy Rigby, the eternal boy, in Peter Pan.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed (obsessed) with the 1960 taped telecast of Mary Martin's Peter Pan. She was perfect (perfect) as the boy who never grew up. After that, every time my friends and I played Peter Pan--which was a lot, because I was a really bossy kid--I was Peter, standing atop the jungle gym with my legs defiantly splayed and my hands on my hips. Rebecca was Wendy, Emily was John, and my brother was Michael, because he was the smallest.

When I was ten, Cathy Rigby came to Baltimore as Peter Pan. My parents bought tickets, and I was so excited. Also when I was ten, my grandfather died. His funeral was the same week as the show. My mom's friend Kathie took me to see Peter fly over the audience and sprinkle us with fairy dust while my parents sat shiva with my grandmother. I escaped from reality for those two hours, and it was nothing shy of magical.

Peter was my first love. Okay, just after Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, but still. S/he showed me that gender was fluid and that happy thoughts can make you fly.

Like so many others, I cried during Finding Neverland in 2004, but unlike a lot of other people (I'm assuming here) I was deep in the thick of figuring our what to write about for my Master's thesis, and the movie secured what I had always known would be the focus of my research: Peter Pan. My thesis, "The Feminine Dialectic in Peter Pan," focused on the original 1904 straight production, but I couldn't escape reading about the musical during my research. You know, for funsies.

All of this is to give context to my thoughts about tonight's Peter Pan Live event on NBC.
One of my prize possessions, and a fab 30th birthday gift,
an impossibly intricate grownup pop-up book of Peter Pan by Robert Sabuda.
One might assume that, because of my attachment to the original material, that I'd automatically be wary of this new production. And, truth be told, I think that there were probably better choices out there than Allison Williams to play Peter. (I promise this is my one piece of snark in this post: I've been dreaming of playing Peter my whole life, too, and I bet if my dad was a famous NBC anchor, they might let me do it, too. The end.)

But my whole dramaturgical and theatre-going career has been built on a foundation of hope, kindness, and finding the love, and I can't help but be SO INCREDIBLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS. Yes, I went into The Sound of Music Live with sarcasm, but I felt uncomfortable the whole time--like I was jumping on a bandwagon--and though I kept watching to see what trainwreck would happen next, the scene I talk about whenever people bring the event up is The Goddess Audra singing "Climb Every Mountain," bringing everyone--including Carrie Underwood--to tears, and essentially telling her "you're playing Maria von Trapp right now. It's not going great. Who cares? Buck up and bring this thing home."

Finding the love.
Mary Martin as Peter Pan on Broadway in the 1950s.
I've been called a Pollyanna when it comes to criticism, but I honestly don't understand why criticism has to be nasty. It can be constructive, but it doesn't have to be mean. Too often--and particularly in this post-ironic media world we live in--the meaner one is when discussing popular cultural events, the "smarter" folks might think they are. Or at least that's the perception. An argument can keep a conversation going longer than a stream of compliments, and may feel more satisfying.


But contrary to what some people thought when I told them I was getting my MA in Theatre History and Criticism ("You're going to learn how to be a critic? But you're so nice!"), one can be critical without being wholly negative. I--and many of my colleagues--prefer to focus on form and function rather than starting a conversation with "Here's what I didn't like." And the least constructive form of criticism comes when people go into an event expecting not to like it. Like finding the words of god in the phone book, you can find anything you want if you go into it with a specific intention and look hard enough.

I might not be completely excited about some things that I'm thinking might happen tonight, but I have to be open to possibilities. I've been very interested in some of the changes that are being made to the script, libretto, and music, particularly with the Indians. It seems as though they're coming at the changes from an interesting historical and dramaturgical angle, even going so far as to hire the daughter of one of the original songwriters, which I think is a really interesting approach!

And since Peter Pan has been around for over a century at this point, it has been subject to so much change already. It's reflected the needs and desires of its audience for a long time. For example, I was skeptical at first about casting actual boy actors in movies, but realized that the change reflected a change in technology and medium: the only reason women are traditionally cast as Peter to begin with is that they're lighter to lift on wires, and that's not a consideration on film. This is something I have to remember with tonight's promise of computer-generated Tink and Peter's Shadow.
Disney Junior's Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
The Kid is really into Jake and the Neverland Pirates right now, and while I have some quibbles with the show--there's a girl pirate, which I recognize reflects female viewers, which of course I fully support, but GIRLS DON'T END UP IN NEVER LAND BECAUSE THEY'RE TOO SMART--ahem. Sorry for the stream of consciousness.  And Hook is too whimsical and not scary enough. But if you look at Peter Pan as an eternal childhood game of Pirates and Indians, each using their creativity to imagine what their "character" would do, it fits perfectly with the original narrative, and is a reflection of how our kids play.

Evidenced by The Kid insisting that he's Jake, his dad (whose real name is Jake, which gets confusing) is Captain Hook, and I'm Izzy, thrusting objects into our hands, and "swordfighting." Or making up pirate narratives, asking Captain Hook questions about his life. Sometimes living with The Kid is like a never-ending improv game.

I love that he knows who Captain Hook is, where Never Land is, and is falling in love with my first narrative. L'dor v'dor.

OK, TLDR: haters gonna hate. I'm going to tune in tonight to watch Christopher Walken chew scenery to shreds. And I'm hoping to love it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Scrumptious Sunday*: A Recipe of One's Own

For the last few weeks, I've been trying weekly meal planning. It's a topic for another post, but it's been going a long way in saving both grocery shopping money and sanity.

This week, I thumbed through a cookbook I got from the library, trying to find a good cold-weather recipe...and found a whole damn bunch of them! The Food52 Cookbook is organized seasonally, and so I had no shortage of options**. But since I'm super-into squash right now, I went for their "best couscous dish," Fregola Sarda with Caramelized Squash and Charmoula.

Before a couple of weeks ago, I had never cut a squash open before. I had, you know, carved Jack o' Lanterns, but an actual squash intimidated the hell out of me. I didn't know how to peel one, how to cut one, how to make sure all of the seeds were done away with, without getting my hands all goopy. But I loved the warm taste, the smell in the kitchen while one was cooking...a squash is late autumn and winter to me. And if all one has to do is cut one up, throw it in the oven with some oil and salt, and let it be for a while to make a super-tasty meal? OK, I decided, if I'm working on getting comfortable in the kitchen, this was something I needed to learn how to do. (Thanks to The Kitchn for a great squash tutorial!)

And so after my first try with butternut squash two weeks ago, and making Pumpkin Butter with The Kid last week (also Food52), this recipe sounded like an absolute winner. It's getting cold and dreary here in MI, and some squash was just what my kitchen needed.

But I also had a couple of changes I needed to make for various reasons: grocery availability, family dietary needs, and so on. And so, since I'm trying to work on being zen in the kitchen, I did what I needed to do and came out with a damn good dinner that made everyone around the table happy. Seriously, The Kid gobbled it down, even though the one part of the dish he helped me make was the one thing that didn't wind up on his plate.

It's no Fregola Sarda, but it was awesome. Recipe after the jump. (Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients. There's a lot of stuff, but not a whole lot of work involved at all.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Making Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

The girl I meant to be: 1994
Okay, you guys, I'm still thinking about this "Sexy PhD" costume that popped up in my newsfeed via HuffPo the other day. It was the day after Halloween, so what's a few more days of reflection, eh?

The Amazon comments are fantastic. I suppose this is the natural progression from both the ubiquitous Sexy Teacher costumes, and the ever-increasingly-ridiculous Sexy Any-Profession costumes that have been popping up more and more every year. There is a Sexy Pizza costume, y'all. This needs to stop.

But there was an unforeseen (possibly terrible-feminist) part of me that thought, Hooray, smart girls are sexy now! Yes, I know that's not the actual message. 15-year-old me doesn't recognize that.

I first got glasses when I was five years old. 1980s-style bug-eye glasses, because that's all there was in 1985. And I was also a Very Smart Kid who related to adults much better than I ever related to kids my own age. And that made me socially awkward inwardly, and a certified nerd outwardly.
My mom tells a story about a woman at a restaurant who leaned down to five-year-old me and cooed, "You'll be so cute once you get contact lenses!" My mom, ever the champion of her children, politely snapped back, "She's cute now." That was the narrative I grew up with: I was cute with my glasses and, by extension, with my nerdliness. Sure, I wore contact lenses for a good six months, but I quickly went back to my glasses. They were a part of me.
Rocking my '80s glasses, with my still-adorable brother.
And then.

There was this guy I had a crush on in high school. A big crush. He and I were friends outside of school--we had an awesome phone relationship going--but he very rarely talked to me in school. It started out with him calling me for help on homework, and evolved into us talking for two hours at a time, several times a week. And yet, though we shared several classes and similar friends, we never talked in school.

One night over the phone, he told me he thought my best friend was cute. And I, in all of my fifteen-year-old-Jewish glory, asked, "So what am I, chopped liver?"

His answer? "We talk about you. We think you're okay. But...some guys just don't like smart girls."

There it was.

Some guys just don't like smart girls.

I could have focused on the "some guys" part, and realized--as I do now--that those aren't exactly the guys I want to hang out with. And who cares what they think anyway? But the reality was:

I cared. I cared a lot. Some guys in my head extrapolated to, the reason I don't get asked out, ever, is that I'm smart. And it's one of those things that sticks to your subconscious. Enough so that you blog about it almost twenty years later.

But though the facts of that conversation haven't changed in the last almost-twenty years, something has: my confidence in my nerdliness. I like to read. I like to talk about the things I read. I like to write things and talk about them, too. I like to teach other people about the things I like. And all of those things? Are awesome.

I am confident that I'm smart. And being smart is part of what makes me attractive. Maybe not to 15-year-old stoner boys (which now: ick), but to smart and funny people. Which, coincidentally, are also the people who I find attractive and want to hang out with. So, win-win.

OK, so I don't have a PhD, and so I wouldn't merit wearing this super-low-cut, super-short regalia, though admittedly I don't know what a "sexy MA" would wear, since I didn't walk when I got my grad degree. But I'm confident in the fact that attractiveness doesn't (have to) come from the length of your skirt, the size of your cleavage, or the accessories you happen to wear on your face. (And, I should note, If you choose to wear something short and/or cleavage-bearing, it doesn't affect your intellect one bit.)

Smart is sexy.
For the record, I was Hipster Wonder Woman for Halloween.
Here I am with Handy Manny, in my bespectacled glory.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Ode to the Observer-Learner

"Believe me," I'd tell a parent at the beginning of a class session, "He's watching now, but once he sees how his classmates participate, he'll jump in later, I'm sure of it."


"Watch how active her eyes are right now. See how closely she's paying attention? I can tell she's learning, even if she's not playing with us."


"You know, I've been Ayden's teacher for a while now, and I've noticed that there are certain activities he prefers to watch rather than do. That's totally cool--he always has the opportunity to join us, but I really love how much he's supporting his classmates."


"I have to tell you what Sophie did in class! We've been doing this warm-up game for the last three weeks, and she actually did it with us today! It was awesome!"

These are things I've said time and time again to parents who poked their heads in the window of class, and saw what looked like their children not participating in activities. Or parents who saw them doing their own thing during observation days in the middle of the semester. Thing is, everyone's got their own learning style, and sometimes it takes a child a little longer to feel comfortable with an activity. They might have to see other kids do it before feeling like they can jump in themselves.

So, as a teacher, I'm completely cool with observer-learners: the kids who have to hang back for a while to watch instead of participating, so they can become comfortable with what's going on in class. As long as a student is active in their own way, and absorbing what we're doing, its totally fine.

As a parent, though, it's really flippin' hard! The Kid does a great job participating in school and group activities. He's super-social and crazy-verbal. Until it comes to participation in a story or song. Then, he just shuts down. He sits and sucks his thumb...

...and then comes home and sings me every word of every song, or tells me every word of the story, acting it out with the motions that his teacher taught the class in school that day.

So, I know he's learning. He's watching, actively engaged, absorbing everything, and reviewing it for himself at home. Just like I've told so many parents of my own students. And so I have to let go of the idea that he would just have so much fun if he would just participate. During library story time today, he almost cried when I suggested he get up for the stretching song. Oy.

I feel a little bit stuck in a place where I'm forcing The Kid to do something he doesn't feel comfortable doing, but I know he'll have fun doing. I want him to spread his wings and try new things...but on his own terms. It's hard!

I think back on my own school experience, where I looked around the room to see what other kids were doing before I jumped in. I waited to see if anyone else would raise their hands before I did, partially because I was afraid of being labeled "the smart girl" (which is a topic for another post), and partially because I just wanted to see what everyone else is doing. It's one reason that of all forms of theatre, improv scares me the most: you have to jump in without observing, or else nothing will get done. (Once I'm in an improv game, I love it. The very thought of it gives me the willies, though.)

So, I'm going to nurture my observer-absorber-learner, continue to ask him to sing us the songs Mrs. A teaches in school, and to show us the games the class played. And hope that someday, he feels comfortable enough to jump in and play--without pushing him!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Very Handy Halloween

The Kid and his Halloween inspiration.
We talk about costumes a lot around here. The Kid has recycled all of his past Halloween costumes into dress-up clothes, which he wears pretty darned frequently, along with the ones he's picked up as gifts along the way. (In fact, as we speak, he's wearing his pirate costume from two years ago, which fits him much better now. He's not being a pirate, he's just wearing the costume.)

A while ago, he told Jake and I that he wanted to be a construction worker for Halloween this year, which came as no surprise. But he already has a construction worker costume, and we wanted to get him something new. You know, ignoring our budget, for special-ness.

And so when he told me that what he really, really wanted to be was Handy Manny--a character he loves so much that he started calling my parents Abuela and Abuelito for no other reason--I jumped on it. "OK," I told him, "If that's what you want, we're Doing This Thing."

Handy Manny plays "pin the eye on the spider" at his nursery school Halloween party.
I set up a secret board on Pinterest (Did you know you could do that?? It's amazing for remembering things you don't want anyone to know your kid's Halloween costume...) and got to finding costume pieces. There are actual Handy Manny costumes for sale out there, but I'm a dramaturg, and my kid was only going to wear pieces the character would actually wear, god damn it. No one wears a shirt with their own face on it. The great thing about Handy Manny is that he's just a guy who wears regular clothes, which meant not only that we could source pieces from The Kid's actual wardrobe, but that most of what we bought could be worn again and again in non-costume ways.

The downside to dressing like a regular-cartoon-person is that when you add a puffy coat for a Michigan Halloween, your kid kind of looks like...a kid in a down jacket going door-to-door begging for candy. But there were definitely a few people who approached him and asked if her was Handy Manny, so that was really cool.

So, if you ever find yourself in possession of a three-and-a-half-year-old who wants to be Handy Manny more than anything else in the world, here is how you do it:

The foundation of the costume was jeans and a couple of shirts we already owned. No earth-shaking purchase there, but it gave us the darker-green sleeves and collar Manny had. And, really, I wasn't going out to buy a new pair of jeans.

Then, we had to add Manny's unique elements.
We bought these shoes from Target, which have paid for themselves several times over. The Kid calls them his "Manny shoes," and he's worn them so many times. They're already a little worn on the toe, but they're super-comfy and utilitarian.

I got Manny's hat on Amazon, being sure to follow the customer comments and buy the child-sized one, even though my kid has a huge head. :) Since Manny keeps a pencil behind his ear, I sewed a plastic one to the hat with embroidery floss, making sure my stitches were tight enough that the pencil wouldn't fall out, but loose enough that we could remove it in case a kid running around with a pencil behind his ear proved dangerous. I also made the artistic (read: safer) decision to point the eraser forward, even though Manny wears his the other way 'round.

(One person did think he was Ash from Pokemon because of the hat. Generational differences, I guess!)
Manny's tool belt came in the form of a $0.77 apron from Home Depot. (Seriously. $0.77. Also, I miss the "cents" key.)
Because Manny doesn't shill for Home Depot, I embroidered up a patch with our favorite tool and the slogan of Handy Manny's Repair Shop. I made it an iron-on, so no actual sewing was necessary.
And--of course--we stuck google eyes on all of his tools. :)

It was an incredibly successful day of trick-or-treating in downtown Ann Arbor, and evening spent with friends outside of Detroit. More importantly than the candy haul, The Kid loved his costume!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Food Friday: Food Everyday

I've been posting a lot about food on Facebook. I admit it. Though I try to keep the majority of the pictures to Instagram, as I scroll through my feed, it's a lot of what I've noticed.

But to be honest, it's one of the things I'm learning to adjust to in my transition to being a stay-at-home-mom. Back in Maryland, Jake was the cook in the house. I cooked once a week (sometimes), but he really wore the apron in the family. He had the subscription to Cook's Illustrated, he could make up recipes off the top of his head, he had it together enough in the morning to do more than just pour cereal into a bowl and drip milk over it for breakfast. I could do none of those things.

I wanted to, I really did, though I never felt like I had time to. (And I really like eating Jake's food. He's very good.) And I made steps by learning to bake along with The Kid. It became one of the Things We Did Together. We have a few spare minutes on a weekend? Let's make cookies! A few more minutes? Marshmallows! But it wasn't a priority for me unless we were working together, or I was DIY-ing something. (Although I had an awesome time doing it.)

Fast forward to now.

With me in the apartment full-time and Jake going to work five mornings a week, I've been taking the reins in the kitchen. I'm pretty damned proud of it. As comes with the territory of, you know, being me, I've been doing research into recipes, reading about food, talking about food, learning about cooking techniques. I'm not, like, great at it yet, but I'm learning and I'm trying. The Kid and cooking are kind of my jobs now, and though I am picking up some awesome freelance work, I know where my full-time gig is.

And so where I used to post about funny things that happen in classes I'm teaching, right now, I'm posting about funny things The Kid has said, or some recipe I've made. It's my job right now. And while that was a pretty jarring thing to realize, I'm having more fun doing it than I would have thought. Though it is occasionally, as all things parenting, kind of frustrating.

We like things Mini around here. (This is a tiny raspberry cheesecake.)
I do try to include The Kid in as much of the cooking as I can, so now we're not only making cookies and marshmallows, we're making savory things too. (Thank goodness from my waistline!) In addition to sweets, we've now made quesadillas, pesto, fresh pasta, and cauliflower "rice."

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what cookbooks I like to use with The Kid. I put off answering her (sorry, Lauren!), because I was trying to think of an answer besides, "If the recipe uses the KitchenAid, the food processor, or a whisk, The Kid is all over it."

I still haven't thought of a much more satisfying answer (honestly, those are his favorite things to do in the kitchen, and so that's how I gauge what recipes we can do together, and what he can do to contribute to those recipes), and someday soon I'll write a post about how we cook together without making a huge mess of things. 'Cause while cooking naturally makes a big mess of things, it doesn't have to be huge. And we're working on figuring that out.

The Kid makes pesto, using a recipe from Pretend Soup.
The one cookbook we've really used a lot, which we've renewed from the library three times now, is Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen. The recipes are written out for adults, and also pictorially for pre-reader kids. So, The Kid can tell me what to do when we're making, say, blueberry pancakes. There have been other cookbooks--and we're really looking forward to using a vegetarian one a friend sent us recently--but this one has treated us incredibly well.

To be honest, there's a lot of time in the day when one is getting used to making her own schedule, let alone her own schedule when she also needs to come up with activities with a three-year-old. And cooking helps fill our day, along with art projects, building train sets, and pretending to be the trucks from Mighty Machines. It's something comforting, that we know will take time and help us work together. And, like any convert, it's something about which I have become fervent and evangelical. It's something sequential with a qualitative outcome: either the hard work pays off or it doesn't, and often it's tasty.

I like tasty: I like reading about it, talking about it, and eating it. And while I still LOVE eating when Jake cooks (man, he's so good), I'm really proud of what I've been learning, and of being able to spend this time with The Kid making tasty things.

In conclusion: frittata. (I suck at ending blog posts.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Creativity Now!

The Kid has dropped his nap. Like, completely. An afternoon nap means he chooses not to can't fall asleep until 11pm. No amount of reasoning ("oh my god, kid, when you're a grownup, you'll wish you got to take a nap!") is changing this fact.

We've implemented "rest time" most days, which means we still get a story or two or three and a snuggle, and then he plays alone in his room for a varying amount of time so that we all get a break. Depending on what he chooses to play, this can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, so if I want to get anything done, I have to prioritize tasks like a madwoman. Or just go on the internet for 20 minutes. That's good, too. (Of course, my learning how to prioritize tasks is a topic for a whole 'nother post! The transition to stay-at-home-mom is a delightful yet weird one.)

And so I'm absolutely thrilled that The Kid's exploratory creative play phase is intersecting with this need to stay awake all day. The fact that he can play by himself in his room is wonderful, and he has fun in his garage with his creatively named trucks, Garbage-y, Cement-y, Excy (the excavator), and Bully (the bulldozer--we'll save the "bully" talk for a later time). He's also converted his closet into a tow truck, which essentially means that he drags a bunch of toys into his closet and hangs out for a while.

The emerging desire to create is also coming out in a newfound attention to art projects and storytelling. And this is where we're both starting to learn how to accept each others' creative ideas and run with them.
I'm apparently so much better at this with my students than I am with my kid. A few years ago, I realized that if I was going to effectively teach K-1-ers, I had to learn how to do art projects myself, so I figured out how to do, assign, and teach elementary visual art projects. I was expert at using emerging creativity language: flexibility, fluency, originality, and elaboration. Of course, even though the projects my students were doing were about the process of creating, there was still an outcome--a character design, a cultural exploration, a review of the day's lesson, an original scene or play--and so I find myself struggling a little bit with providing open-ended projects for The Kid. I recognize that he needs time to explore materials and create abstractly, but it's hard for me to live in the moment and not focus on what it's going to be.

I'm working on it by cutting out shapes for a project and letting him glue them wherever he wants, and letting him choose colors and materials for whatever he wants to do. So, we'll "make a face," and he'll direct me on what papers he wants to use, and what shapes I should cut. I am working on the confidence to have him cut his own shapes! (He does use the scissors frequently, but of course he doesn't have the fine motor skills to cut actual shapes yet.) Painting and drawing abstractly are much more comfortable worlds to live in, though I'm also working on the impulse to ask "What's that?" I find myself asking much more frequently, "Can you tell me about what you're making?"*

The Kid is perfectly comfortable with being "The Foreman," as he is sometimes in his construction sites. (Hey, he's aiming for a management position!) But where I'm learning how to be accepting of his visual creativity, he's doing the same with my verbal creativity.
He's also exploring the world of storytelling, and wants us to make up our own stories, usually about construction trucks. As if he doesn't have a million books about construction trucks. But anyway. We're more than happy to--his favorite right now is one I made up about a team of trucks who build a road up and down a mountain--but he gets really upset if we don't tell a story exactly the way he wants. So, a story I tell about a dump truck with a head cold (yep) might lead to a tantrum if I don't include a mechanic helping the dump truck feel better. (I was really proud of the excavator who brought chicken soup, personally.)

I've tried telling him that if he wants a story told exactly the way he wants, he should try telling the story himself, but he's not into telling his own stories yet. Yesterday, we had to have a long talk about how different people are creative in different ways, and the only one who can tell a story the way he wants it is him.

And then I realized the same is true for my acceptance of his art projects. If he doesn't make things exactly the way I think he should, it's okay. And desirable. And necessary.

*NOTE: The Artful Parent has been a great resource recently for directing my creative language, as well as helping me find projects to do with The Kid.