Archive for September, 2010


The next morning, I got out of bed after only 3 hours of sleep, not sure what the hell had happened, and not sure what I wanted to do about it. The last thing I wanted was to continue to work for an event that I found, quite simply, irritating. But it bothered me to think that I’d be crushing children’s creativity. I mean, that’s the last thing I’d ever wanted to do to any kid.

I went back through old emails and re-read what my friend and I had talked about way back in February and March about this little arts program, and I spend most of the day talking to friends and to RegularDad and checking my motives. In the end, I realized that the best thing to do was to write up the guidelines that we’d planned on writing, guidelines I should have had written already before I went into that planning meeting. If I’d been prepared, I could have handled it better. I could have stuck to my guns, so to speak, and not lost my temper.

So, I wrote up a detailed description of my little arts program, including guidelines for what things the kids could present. I stated specifically that the program welcomed all forms of art, including modern music and dance, but that the children had to be the ones performing the piece. Air guitar and lip-sync-ing, while fun and entertaining, just didn’t meet the requirements any more than a child saying she wanted to play the piano and then popping in a CD of Beethoven’s 5th and then wiggling her fingers in the air over the piano keys would.

I had RegularDad edit this thing for me twice, making sure I removed any passive aggressive statements that just didn’t need to be there. (Yes, there were a few.) Then I wrote an apology to everyone who’d been at the meeting, saying I’d been unprepared to discuss the Afternoon with the Arts program and apologizing for that, and for my disruptive behavior. RegularDad reviewed my apology email for me before I sent it, to make sure there wasn’t anything passive aggressive in it. (This time there wasn’t.) I attached the guidelines document to the email and told them that this document was what I’d been trying to explain about the changes to the Afternoon with the Arts program, and that the guidelines would be effective immediately. I sent off the email and hoped for the best.

Then, after a long talk with the other friend who I was working with on this thing, I posted the guidelines out to the homeschool group in general and asked the membership to review the document so that everyone would be clear in what the program was about before signing up to do it.

It was the best I could do to heal a bad situation. Or so I thought.

Two days later, I got an email from the homeschool group’s leader (HIP-HOP Mom). She obviously didn’t like the guidelines I’d posted. She began to use phrases like: “As the director of this homeschool group I am going to give you permission to make your own decisions [about these guidelines] but I really think you need to reconsider what you’ve done…” etc etc etc. She also said that I was negatively impacting her son’s self esteem by not allowing him to play air guitar and sing along to a CD. And that I was denying him his chance to show his “love of dance”. (Huh??? He loves dance, I thought to myself? That’s the first I’ve heard of THAT. And I didn’t see him dancing all that much when he did his HIP HOP routine, either. But… WHATEVER…)

I bristled a bit. Well… I bristled  A LOT at that, actually.

I didn’t like the idea of her giving me permission to do anything, really, least of all as it pertained to an event that I’d created myself and ran on a purely volunteer basis. “Her” homeschool group wasn’t funding me, hadn’t commissioned me to create this thing. I’d just accidentally created it and posted it through her group because it’s the primary group I network in. I didn’t like the fact that she’d donned her “directorship” hat and began posturing with it. Never before had I seen her do anything like that before. She intimated that she OWNED my arts program, and that she somehow had final authority with how I ran it.

But I’d already lost my temper and lost face with people in this group as a result. So, I didn’t answer her. I called my friend who was running the thing with me and asked if there was precedent for this woman to take over something I’d created. (There wasn’t.) I showed her email to RegularDad. He frowned at it, thought for a moment, and said: “Don’t do anything. She’s not asking you a question here. She’s just pissed and blowing off steam. Ignore it and it’ll go away. If nothing else, wait 3 days before you reply.”

It was good advice. So I took it. I did nothing.

So, probably as a result of my silence, the next day, HIP-HOP mom and ROCK BAND mom went public. They took the fight to the public message board, and what followed was a couple of days of hellish absurdities. They dubbed me the “arbiter of what is art” and basically attempted to burn me at the stake on the board. I’ve been told that I’ve damaged the self-esteem of their children and children everywhere. I’ve been told I have a narrow definition of art. HIP-HOP mom restated her belief that as the director of the group, she had the final authority over my little arts program and that all along she’d been “giving me permission to make my own decisions about my program with the hope that I’d come to the proper conclusions” etc about what kinds of acts the kids could perform. And now that I’d made the wrong decision, she was terribly disappointed at the fact that I was excluding her children. And that they’d be forced to no longer attend.

I was told all of these things publicly, in front of the 100 or so families that make up that particular homeschool community. ROCK BAND mom asked the group directly to express their opinions of me and the decisions I had made about ART.

And the funny thing is, only 2 people actually responded to that question. One to say she thought I had the right to set whatever rules I wanted in a program I’d created and put the work into, and that she appreciated me taking the time to write out such detailed guidelines because it helped her to have that information. Then another mom posted in saying she was an artist and understood my vision, but she also thought that it would be a good idea to create another program that didn’t focus solely on art media, a entertainment-based program where the kids could do whatever acts they wanted.

HIP-HOP mom seized upon that idea immediately, made a large public show of saying she was moving her kids to THAT FAR SUPERIOR PROGRAM in which no child’s self-esteem would ever be threatened by ME the evil nasty mean mom, the Arbiter of Art, who won’t let them do air guitar anymore.

I’m condensing a lot of this into as brief an explanation as I can, but you get the idea. My week sucked, basically. Somewhere in the middle of all this bullshit, I posted one final message to the group, asking them all again to read my guidelines and make their own decisions about if they wanted to attend my program. I said that while I didn’t think of myself as the arbiter of art, I was definitely the arbiter of what I would invest my own time and energy into. And I left it at that.

As far as I know, at this point, HIP-HOP mom and ROCK BAND mom are busy planning out their new ‘That’s Entertainment!’ program. And I’m sure they’re gleefully excluding me from it. Creating guidelines of some sort. Something to the effect of THE ARBITER OF ART NEED NOT APPLY.

But during those days, I did also receive a smattering of supportive emails and phone calls. Not a huge amount, but enough to know that I’m not being crazy or unreasonable, enough to keep me going, and to know who my friends really are. The best of those emails included two from leaders of two other local homeschool groups in the area. They’d been following the drama and they both emailed me to offer support and asked if I’d like to advertise my arts program through their boards. In the end, Afternoon with the Arts may just prevail. But even if it doesn’t, even if it folds, it’ll be okay.

So, the drama died down, and things have moved on. And I thought I was over it, but I’m not really. Because here’s the thing:

I was embarrassed when they called me the Arbiter of What Is Art. Embarrassed because that’s something only snobs would do, right? And no one wants to be a snob… or at least no one wants to APPEAR to be a snob, right? And through all the ugliness of the past few days, and the cringing and the sitting on my hands NOT REPLYING no matter how much I wanted to, what haunted me the most was the idea that I’d destroyed a little boy’s love of dance. That’s what HIP-HOP mom accused me of in the end, remember? And I tortured myself for days with the idea that I’d destroyed something so precious in a child. If I’d ever imagined that all of this would come to THIS POINT, I never would have said a damn word. I would have just folded the program and walked away rather than hurt a child.

For days, I’ve replayed in my mind every performance that little boy ever did. And never once did he say he was going to perform “DANCE”. Never once did he actually attempt any dance steps. He’d put on sunglasses and held a microphone in one hand and mumbled along to a rap song, his plastic guitar hanging over his shoulders. It certainly didn’t look like dance to me. But what if I was wrong???

It haunted me, I tell you.

But then, in my Internet wanderings, I came across this video:

I watched this video. And then I watched it again. And again. And again.

And then I came to my senses. Because if I was ever confused about what the Love of Dance looks like, I sure wasn’t anymore. Every single moment in that video screams LOVE OF DANCE.

I realized finally that this whole fight was never about a kid’s love of dance at all. This whole fight was about the laziness of two women who didn’t want to put in the work in takes to help a child find his way in the Arts. The Arts are HARD. And both of those women knew that what their kids were performing wasn’t ART at all. Because impossible as it is to define ART, one thing that all the ARTS contain is VOICE. And voice is something that simply cannot be faked. There is no shortcut to voice. To find it, you have to risk it all. Even if you’re only eight years old. You have to take the risk. And if you have a child who shows an interest in the ARTS, then it is your JOB as a MOTHER to help them take that risk. Because there is just no other way.

And so I find that I’ve changed my mind after all. The Arbiter of Art, they called me? Well, somebody pass me a crown and scepter. I’ll take that title gladly. And the first thing I’m going to do with my position is to point at the two of them and shout loudly till all the world stops to hear:

SHAME ON YOU, YOU VAPID, LAZY BITCHES! I may be the one who disappointed your children this week, but I am NOT the one who failed your children this week. That honor rests with the both of you, and you alone.

Putting your kids up there with a karaoke machine sure is easy, but it certainly isn’t helping your kids at all. If nothing else, it hinders them, makes them think that they can’t try in their own voice, however fumbling those early voices are and must be. Trying to cloak your own laziness underneath the rubric of “love of dance’ spits in the face of every dancer out there who has spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours practicing until it hurt, the same steps over and over again, while a choreographer claps and chants mercilessly FIVE-SIX-SEVEN-EIGHT! AND AGAIN!!! until they’re at the very brink of exhaustion, and then they find a way to go an extra 15 minutes anyway.

Don’t you dare speak to me about the love of dance. Don’t you dare cheat your children and cheapen the Arts with your own faulty rhetoric just to make yourselves look noble. Your children’s self-esteem would skyrocket through the stratosphere if you just would give them the chance to try on their own to sing with their own voices. For them to fumble their way through even half a verse of Rapper’s Delight would be far more beautiful than 15 minutes of them whispering along to someone else.

SHAME ON YOU, I say! And shame on me, for believing for even one moment that this ever had anything remotely to do with me.

I am the Arbiter of Art!

Hear. me. ROAR!



So, about a year and a half ago, I was hanging out with a homeschooling friend of mine, and we got to talking about stuff we were thinking about doing for the kids. And I mentioned to her (me being a poet and all) that I was thinking about maybe starting up a poetry appreciation tea party kind of thing, and she (being an amateur pianist) said she’d been thinking about starting a music recital thing at her house, and then (WHOOPS!) her chocolate got into my peanut butter and the next thing you knew, we’d accidentally created this little arts appreciation program for homeschool kids in our area. We named it “Afternoon with the Arts” and held it once a month at her house, because her house was a hell of a lot bigger than mine. So, once a month, we’d post to one of the local homeschool groups near here, asking people to sign up for this thing, and before long, it became this Incredibly Popular Event. Practically everyone wanted in.

At first, it was really cool. Kids brought their musical instruments they were studying. Kids brought their artwork. They read poems and stories. Some danced. Some of the preschool set would get up there and do somewhat odd things that weren’t exactly related to the “ARTS”, but they were preschoolers, so we didn’t worry about it. We didn’t expect prodigies. And if they wanted to get up there and talk about firemen for 2 minutes, we’d just applaud and move on to the next act.

After a year or so of this, things began to deteriorate. It started with this one mom. (There’s always that ONE, isn’t there?) She’d been bringing her 3 kids since the beginning, and her youngest was only 3 years old, and he always liked to get up there and dance to Michael Jackson. And again, since he was only 3, we didn’t expect him to do a great job, although he actually had a pretty decent moonwalk going there. And since dance is part of the Arts, we figured he was well within the scope of the program, so no big deal, right? Well… he got so much applause for his routine that his older brother and sister wanted IN. So the 3 kids started doing something called ROCK BAND.

ROCK BAND was this act in which the 3 kids turned on some Hannah Montana song and bopped around the room for a few minutes, sort of lip-syncing and playing air guitar to the music while the 3-year-old danced his dance. For the first couple of ROCK BAND acts, we applauded politely and sort of shrugged. We figured it would eventually stop and the kids would go back to something else. Something that they were actually performing. We figured their mom would tell them: okay, that was fun, but remember, this is supposed to be a program where you show YOUR TALENT. Not just futz around up there.

But, noooooooooooooo….

ROCK BAND began to escalate. Another little boy (about 8 years old maybe) decided he wanted to do something like that too. So at the next opportunity, he got up there, put on a rapper CD, slung a KB Toys plastic guitar around his neck and mumbled along to the music. He called it HIP HOP. Next thing you knew, my kids wanted to do a ROCK BAND. And so did my co-creator’s kids. Everyone wanted to do ROCK BAND or HIP HOP. Because, let’s face it: you sound so much cooler that way, and no one can tell if you mess up.

I looked into the future of Afternoon with the Arts and saw endless hours filled with watching kids lip sync (badly) while playing air guitar and imaginary drums. And I didn’t want any part of it anymore. But, for a while I just kept my mouth shut. Who wants to be the kill-joy mom who brings ROCK BAND to a screeching halt and makes them go back to fumbling out beginner level tunes on the piano?

But then in February we held a special evening show (dubbed Evening with the Arts – we’re SO original, I know!) and invited the dads to come and see. And we invited the adults coming to also perform something if they wanted. And this little boy came with his dad, and the two of them sang a song together, a cappella, in perfect harmony. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard in my life. It was Afternoon with the Arts at its finest hour, you could say.

And after they were done singing, the ROCK BAND jumped up, popped a disc into the player and did their lip-sync air guitar thing. And the kids watching responded (in an almost Pavlovian kind of way) by screaming and cheering like the Beatles had just landed, and I was just disgusted and tired of it all by then. All the work we’d put into making this happen, all so we could watch these kids do NOTHING up there. No thanks.

But the next month, when we sent out the signup notice, that mom put her 3 kids down for ROCK BAND again, and the HIP HOP act went in there too, and I finally emailed my friend as diplomatically as I could and told her I thought ROCK BAND really had to stop. I didn’t mind if the kids wanted to do rock music or hip hop, but if they wanted to do it in the future, they needed to actually PERFORM the song themselves. No more lip sync-ing. No more air guitar. It was just getting ridiculous. I also asked her if she thought I was being too picky, and if she said yes, I was ready to bite my tongue. I mean: who am I to say if it’s ART or not, right?

But my friend agreed. She told me she’d been thinking the exact same thing. But she wanted to wait until the year was done before saying anything. Let’s finish out the year, she said, and then next year, we’ll put some guidelines in writing and start the year fresh. She was moving across the country in a month or two and wouldn’t be here to start the year fresh with me, which made it much easier on her to say “oh, let’s just wait till the new year starts” but she’d just had a baby too, so I didn’t want to press the issue. I was just glad she’d been thinking like me. That I wasn’t being crazy or mean by wanting to stop this weird un-artistic trend that had developed.

So, fast forward to last week. The new year is starting up. Another mom stepped into the place my friend vacated when she moved. This is a good friend, who also agreed that it was time to refocus our little arts program. I didn’t think people would be overly upset about it. So when the call came out from the leader of our little homeschool group to come to the planning meeting, I signed up and went to the meeting without thinking much about what I was going to say about Afternoon with the Arts.

Big mistake.

When it came time to talk about it, and I mentioned that we were going to be limiting the kinds of acts that the kids could do that year, all hell broke loose. The mom with the ROCK BAND kids got upset. I knew she would. She’s a mess and a generally unpleasant person. She’s made it clear on many occasions that no one has it harder than she does, that she doesn’t like her own children, and often chastises people for not helping her enough with whatever she thinks we should be helping her with. We all have spent the past year tiptoeing around her IMPENDING NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Entire families have pulled away from her and her children in an act of self-preservation. I’d already had a couple problems with her in other activities, and I knew she’d take this badly. So, I said to her, Look, I’m not trying to single just your kids out. I’m not trying to mess with you. I’m just trying to bring this thing back to where it was supposed to be.

It didn’t go well at all. The fact that the HIP HOP kid is the son of the leader of the group didn’t help me much at all either. She got just as mad as the ROCK BAND mom. Then everyone started brainstorming OPTIONS for me. Like maybe we’d do a special ROCK BAND night. Or maybe the kids would have to take turns doing ROCK BAND. It all began to spiral out of control, and all their suggestions just added extra work to me, as the planner of the event. And I got mad. I bared my teeth a little. I told them if someone else wanted to do this thing, I’d be happy to pass it off on them. That it took an enormous amount of work to run the program. That we’d had a very specific vision for it way back when we started it and that the vision was getting lost in air guitar.

At that point, someone said, “you know… there are air guitar competitions all over the world… can you really honestly say that air guitar isn’t art?”

I almost cried right there. Picture it, if you can: there I was, the woman who’ s married to a rocket scientist who’s also a thrash metal bass player, a man who once took guitar lessons from John Petrucci, and who once was in a band that opened for Machine Head and Otep, sitting at a table in a Borders bookstore coffee shop listening to a bunch of “good Christian homeschooling mothers” defend the artistic genre of TEEN BOP RAPPER AIR GUITAR.

Somebody just fucking shoot me already.

More heated discussion ensued. I was no longer sure what I was trying to say or do anymore. I only knew I wanted to get the hell out of there. I threw my hands up in the air and said: “Okay!!! I stand corrected! If you think it’s art, then you decide. I leave it up to you as the parents to determine if your child is presenting something artistic.” It wasn’t what I wanted to say, but it was the only thing I could think of to say to MAKE THE CONVERSATION STOP. Then I made a ridiculous show of saying I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. And the whole meeting pretty much broke down (which made me feel worse) and I managed to just get out. I was 45 minutes in to an anxiety attack that would last about 16 hours.

I went home, told RegularDad the whole story, lay awake most of the night and wondered what the hell I was going to do.

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