YOU NEVER RETIRE FROM YOUR JOB AS A MOTHER — and that’s good

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Yes, yes, I know. Everyone says that, but what does it really mean? And notice that I used Mother not parent. Obviously I’m female and in most cases would be a “mother”. That’s what I know. But I suspect it is different for men – fathers. Although some changes have been taking place in sexual role identification, and some men are definitely more nurturing, I believe always showing up and being there has traditionally fallen to the Mother.

I just returned from a six week trip to visit my daughter in Florence, Italy. Nice, huh? Well it would have been nicer if it had been a more leisurely trip. My 32 year old daughter just moved to Florence to work for UNICEF, leaving her husband of one year in Bangkok to finish an assignment there before joining her. She had been having digestion issues, and before she took the new job, they had been trying to start a family.

All of a sudden, I get an IM with a picture of a pregnancy test that is positive. (To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure what it was a picture of, I thought it was some kind of funny paint brush. In my day, “the rabbit died.”) This is good news, right? Well yes except the digestion issues have continued and been diagnosed as gall bladder problems – she has attacks. Pregnancy is not a good time to have surgery, especially in your lower abdomen. So they start her on a stringent diet to prevent another episode. It doesn’t work.

She is taken by ambulance late at night to the hospital. Knowing very little Italian they tell her that the gall bladder is about to errupt and they must perform surgery. She explains that she is pregnant – gravadanza is one word she knows in Italian. They take every precaution and remove a gall stone nearly the size of an egg and her gall bladder using an ectopotapic technique that works through her belly button.

I was planning to visit her the next month, but someone has to be there to assist her after she leaves the hospital. Her husband is traveling in Southeast Asia, and she wants her mommy. I quickly change my flights and throw things in bags and fly from Albuquerque to Dallas – Dallas to Rome – train to Florence. Thank god, I’m met at the train station by an executive from her job who takes me to her in the hospital. (Thank you, Noboko).

I arrive just in time to help her check out and we take a cab to her apartment – the one where she has lived for less than one week. I begin my crash course in getting around central Florence and buying groceries and medicine. Talk about on the job training. My Italian is non existant; fortunately I speak fluent mime and the Italians will meet you half way. I found myself making clucking sounds in the grocery store when I wanted chicken.)

She is now well into her 2nd trimester. Ultra sounds indicate that the fetus is fine. She has recovered from the surgery and is back at work. I stayed on through my original departure and to go to the Rolling Stones Concert in Lucca, Italy – a long-planned event for my daughter, her mother-in-law and me. It was a bit much for all of us but we made it and Mick is still strutting.

I am not complaining; it is nice to be needed. As one gets older one is less crucial to the important things in life. It was nice to be her mommy again.

Now I just need to try to remember anything about the births of my children and their very early months. Nature has a way of turning it all into a blur. I would like to be helpful with my new grandchild.

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CAN ONE LEARN TO LOVE THE ARTS?

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For most of my career I was involved in arts education. As a drama educator I taught children creative dramatics; I studied with several leaders in this field, and eventually I helped create a program for young people at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

Arts advocacy was a part of my life. Conferences and retreats, lobbying federal, state and national politicians for arts funding and speaking at community events about the importance of the arts was part of my life. And, I never questioned the axiom that the arts are important. On the other hand, I never felt that I really converted anyone with talk and graphs and what have you.

Experiencing and appreciating the arts is intrinsic to the human experience — man meets and examines his image. We believe that artistic impulses and creativity are intrinsic, but are they also learned behavior? Do we learn how to listen to music and drama or appreciate a fine painting, or are we just BORN THIS WAY. Nurture or a Nature?

And why is the History of the United States so full of responses to the arts that blow hot and cold — acceptance and rejection. Why is it always a hot potato, a lightning rod of public political opinion?

My life has been a circle of enlightment – obscession – advocacy and now despair for the arts in our lives. Americans are unique in their distrust of the artistic. Most claim it descends from our Puritan heritage — Nothing Frivolous! What is it for? What will it do? Participating in and creating the arts is ephemeral, non- linear,too much fun, certainly not necessary.

For years arts educators have been trying to justify the arts in a public school curiculum by trying to develop and measure the contributions of the arts for children — to quantify what one really gets out of the arts. Of course, this is VERY SUBJECTIVE.

So is there any answer to getting the great unwashed to appreciate, nay even demand the arts in their lives? No one answer, I believe, but many answers.

Children who grow up to go to the symphony tend to be kids who were taken to the symphony by their family and are also kids who learned to play an instrument
People who appreciate the plastic arts usually have some experiences of going to see art in museums and galeries and in making art as they grew up.
Actors came to drama through the written word or through experience with improv and dancers came through movement and yes improvisation.

The key is familiarity. We are more comfortable with what we know. Where we may all possess the impulse to create, the appreciation and the doing is learned behavior. It is like reading. If you were read to and taken to the library; if your children saw you read — they will likely become readers.

So then, arts education is not just k-12; it is multi-generational. It does require an open mind and the ability to understand divergent thinking, but then shouldn’t all education require this?

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The arts are where man meets his image and contemplates his place in the universe. The arts bring us joy and reflection and greatly enhance the quality of life. Oh, if only we could all get to this place! I despair, but then I see a play or hear a piece of music and my heart is lifted and I have hope.