Like Mother, Like Daughter?

January 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

When my daughter was a young girl she was always busy after school and in the summers with enrichment activities.

Drawing, painting, and poetry classes. Beading jewelry, knitting, stamp collecting and sewing workshops. Museums, galleries, theater, movies and music shows.  Drama workshops and crafting camps.  I felt virtuous paying for and encouraging these interests.

Because that list included what I’ve always liked to do and wished I’d had more of, I naturally thought she’d enjoy the same fun projects that filled up my own childhood days. Over the years I tried flipping on lots of different art making switches to see which one might light up her heart and soul, and mine as well.

On long trips across the west from California to Minnesota and back we’d read out loud. Books have always been piled everywhere in the house, and the public library always an extension of our living room. I brought my daughter to our local Catholic church for Sunday mass and religious instruction, and we’d drive out to the Buddhist “family meditation day” at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County. I wanted to figure out ways that I could spend more time out there, not because I had some bigger idea about training her in Buddhism. And because I wanted to save our budget and liked eating in more than eating out, I cooked several family meals a week and taught her how to help out in the kitchen.

These were all part of the routines of her growing up years.

Since project-making and how-to’s were, I imagined, special transmissions from some deeper place from me to her, it never occurred to me that making art and getting to be really skillful at it would have so little interest for her when she eventually grew up.

Now, I notice that she only goes to movies, museums, galleries or performances with friends or a date. Being out with friends is the most important part, and the content of the work is peripheral to the social experience.  I find it amusing that, while in college now, she’s never taken an art, music or literature class.

She’s turned in other directions — not rejecting the arts, just showing, if anything, complete indifference to their pleasures, either intellectual or emotional. The connection to culture that I thought I was nurturing with effort and consistency now lays dormant.

Recognizing this, I acknowledge my own impulse – often strong, sometimes weak — to accumulate, engineer and control my children’s choices. I’m told that it’s part of the parenting culture we’ve created to repel all the slinging of unwanted threats and perceived accusations that may come in adulthood.

Or, I ask myself another question.  Did I try to vicariously stay excited and engaged by setting in motion desires for new or left-behind activities when the difficulties and confusions of motherhood were sapping away my own personal sense of ease and improvisation?

Logically, I knew that it’s ridiculous to assume that we can pour “inputs” into our childrens’ brains and expect some sort of “return on the investment.” Yet, coming from another heartfelt place –mostly unconscious, and always repeating itself — I did want to demonstrate and give to her the kind of happiness I get every day from working hard at my kind of creative work.

Just like everyone else’s, my experience raising children has been an ongoing experiment, full of glaring mistakes and modest triumphs. Keeping at it, day in and day out, I try to stay as consistent and as lighthearted as I can muster.  The longer I do it, the less I wish for, and work towards, “results” based on external parenting ideologies.

Now I try to create a world where it is completely normal, and fine, to awaken my young son’s passions through the realm of the senses – through art and science, books, food and sports – in order to trigger new and unusual associations that are pleasurable and meaningful.

The hardest part of parental instruction is to teach values by example. And regardless if I’m aware of my performance or not, I can be sure that I’m being monitored closely as a model for behaviors to be accepted or rejected by my children.

And why are these thoughts and images bubbling up?  From this month’s posting prompt for our featured short film, Flamin’ Hot: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Observing the cooking and gardening classes throughout the Berkeley schools, I’m inspired by the teachers’ impulse to awaken children to taste, touch, smell, hearing and seeing – creating a temporary space far away from reading and math worksheets. Using cooking and gardening as the gateway, these teachers create methods and learning experiences to show kids how they can use all the tools of their brains and bodies to understand the physical world, and find their values and passions in life.

The science of burning down a Hot Cheeto ™ in 1 minute and 35 seconds is fun; and in the classroom, the middle school teachers can’t help but take a slightly ironic and comic approach to the topic. They know there is only so much you can imprint on to the brains of 6th graders who’ll soon be found in line at the corner store with their buddies after school picking up a can of soda and a jumbo bag of Hot Cheetos.

Yet.  Just this supposedly minor hands-on activity in school — the burning up of a Cheeto and unpacking its nutritional composition — might stick in one, or some kids’ vivid imaginations.

They might listen and connect the experiment to other sensory inputs they’ve experienced at school, even just from the food-related classes. Digging in the garden and pulling out a fresh carrot to clean and eat. Remembering the good parts of the school lunch hot meal that day. Or, tasting for the first time, a plate of seasoned greens that they made themselves in the cooking lab.

I can imagine a moment of hesitancy before the next snack purchase.  Maybe something more alive, more delectable in place of the Cheeto bag. Perhaps a winter season Cutie tangerine?  Even just one time during the week — and a new routine takes hold.

I’m saying that it’s the totality of little bubbling sensual experiences, day by day, that awaken the child’s awareness and ground their choices an actions – around food, the environment they inhabit, their family cultures and their emerging social values.

We’re experimenting with how our watch-and-share films at Lunch Love Community can offer lessons about nutrition, and open up new dialogues about food.

The films are like packets of visual seed we’re casting across the internet.  In our imaginations, you will get an “ah-ha” moment to download the films, and figure out your own ways to remix them into your menu of activities. There is no way for us to control how you will germinate and grow them, but the intention is there to share the results.

And about my young adult daughter who turned away from the arts?  She travels whenever she can, she loves learning new languages and living in foreign countries. She grounds herself in Catholic spirituality and Buddhist meditation, and she is becoming a good cook and confident writer.

Just like her mother.

§ One Response to Like Mother, Like Daughter?

  • Laura Weber says:

    Brava, Helen. Wonderful essay and videos. I learned something new–about the cheeto-burning phenomenon–and how the kids are doing.

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