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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kids and art: Musings from an art educator and parent

A photo of the artist as a young child c. 1972
Growing up in Toledo (Ohio) gave me the chance to go to the fabulous Toledo Museum of Art many times as a child; on both school field trips and trips with the family. The museum has a long and storied history of arts education for children of all ages. Some of my earliest memories as a kid are from the museum and the trips I took to this amazing institution. During the school trips, if you were good on the tour, the docent would end the trip with a visit to the Classical Court to see the mummy. Our deceased Egyptian friend is no longer on view due to changing ideas on displaying human remains, so for many of us, the mummy lives on only in our memories. Along with the school tours, the museum also offered Saturday classes for the kids of Northwest Ohio and it was a thrill for me to go back to the museum as a college student and help out as an assistant thanks to a scholarship from the University of Toledo.
My parents understood my love of art, and kept me happy with a steady supply of art materials as a kid. Coloring books were fun, but stacks of blank or recycled paper from my dad’s office were even better. Each trip to my maternal grandparent’s home had us racing to my grandma’s desk to pull out the countless coloring books and notepads that my cousins and I colored in each visit. They provided us the big clunky crayons when we were little, but as we grew, they crayons got smaller and the assortment of colors available grew. We knew we hit the big time when the 64 color assortment showed up with the built in sharpener!
"String Art" by Tommy Oakley 1970.

My parents also understood the power of displaying my creations. A string art picture made in kindergarten was given to my paternal grandparents as a gift. It hung in their family room and when my grandma moved into an assisted living facility after my grandfather’s death, it followed her and sat on her television. When my grandma passed, my dad returned the artwork to me, still framed and in pretty good condition (considering our less than ideal archival framing). It now hangs in our home along with our own children’s work. Our dining room is graced by a large oil painting done by my husband’s grandmother after her time following the amazing Bob Ross on PBS. A piece done by Anna at the Toledo Museum of Art, in the same classroom that I went to as a kid, hangs below it with one of Eli’s early paintings from day care. They might not be famous artists, but we love and cherish them just the same. We have a magnet purchased at the Detroit Institute of Art that says in big bold letters: THIS IS ART so there isn't any question about the artifacts done by our two kids hung on the fridge for display. If you haven’t figured it out, we love art!

Studies have shown that increased involvement in the arts beyond the school have a huge impact on the child on an emotional and educational level. The work of Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University found that students involved in the arts were:

·         Four times more likely to win an academic award, such as being on the honor roll.
·         Eight times more likely to receive a community service award.
·         Three times more likely to win a school attendance award.
·         Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair.
·         Likely to score higher on their SAT college admission test scores if they have been involved for more than four years of after-school arts study.
As an arts educator, it should come as no surprise that I try to expose my kids to the arts any time we can. They went with me to the opening weekend of Art Prize in Grand Rapids, MI to view my entry and have gone to countless museums and galleries with us as we have toured the Midwest. Just this past weekend, a group of artists from the Jackson area put on a show called “Renegade” in a vacant warehouse in our neighborhood. Many of the artists present were former students of mine and I was super thrilled to come and support them. The planners put out a kids’ table full of blank canvases, a roll of paper, and several different types of paint.
Anna's landscape. Watercolor on stretched canvas

Eli's abstraction in black and brown. Watercolor on stretched canvas
Where do you think my kids were all afternoon? When Eli wasn’t out dancing in front of the musicians, he was with his sister creating works that will undoubtedly end up gracing our walls in the near future. When you support the arts with your kids in tow, you support not only the artists but your kids’ futures as well.

                                                                   























Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chronic Marriage Fatigue Syndrome



Life has been rough lately, and I have been struggling to figure out why. I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed, and I have little hope left in my heart these days. Everything seems to be a struggle: from making dinner to getting our two kids settled down for the night. I feel like an extra on “The Walking Dead” as I shuffle through life and all it brings. It started back in November with my husband. We were both crushed by the results of our state and local elections.  A feeling of helplessness hung over our heads as we realized that the GOP would remain in control here in Michigan. The Michigan Republicans are decidedly unfriendly to LGBT people and to teachers. We are both of those.
We were also waiting for a ruling from the 6th Circuit Court regarding the repeal of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. I had joked via Twitter that we would probably have Ebola in Michigan before marriage equality, and one afternoon after the elections, that prophecy came true. No, it wasn’t Ebola, it was the 6th Circuit Court upholding the 2004 voter approved proposal against same-sex marriage.  Tod, my husband, had not heard the news, so when he came home, I grabbed him and told him what the court had ruled. I could see in his eyes he was crushed. We hugged and then we bonked our wedding rings together like the Wonder Twins in solidarity. I knew that this would be the outcome all along. I had little hope of the 6th Circuit Court agreeing with the end of the ban, so when the news came, it was no shock to me. But Tod took it hard. He was sad and unable to deal with the feelings that this brought. I was proactive after the ruling and ditched a ton of my commitments in the community. I needed to focus on my family and bring what little energy I had into our lives to help keep us together. Tod went to our physician (at my prodding) and he got some help from the doctor and he is doing fine now.
As the month wore on and the holidays approached, I couldn’t shake the funk from my shoulders. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. I do however have access to the internet and I did some self-diagnosis over how I was feeling and it became clear to me that this wasn’t just depression I was dealing with, it was something deeper. I found Robert Hirschfield’s “When the blues won’t go away” at our local library and I discovered that I most likely have dysthymic disorder. DD (as it’s known) is a low level, chronic mood malfunction. It’s not as severe as a major depression, bi-polar disease, or other macro-behavioral problems, but it is real and persistent and does not usually go away on its own. DD can go on for years, and it’s often impossible for the person affected to know that it is going on. Now, before you panic, I have made an appointment with our doctor and I am going in for a checkup to make sure that I am okay. In Hirschfield’s book, he mentions that trauma in your life can cause this disorder and he urges self-reflection to sit down and find out what was causing it.
I did that, and for me, the tipping point came when our governor announced that he would not challenge the appeal on the 300 marriages that were performed when the window was open last year. That was great news for many of our friends who took advantage of the window and got hitched that Saturday. But for us, our marriage in California is still not legal in Michigan. The unfairness of it all sucks, and it hurts. I started thinking about this and I realized that for the past ten years, I have been living in a state of angst over gay marriage and how it affects me. I was heavily involved in the struggle to defeat Proposition 4 in 2004 and when it came to be, I was pissed. I retreated to my own little world and shut out the world. I didn’t feel wanted, I didn’t feel loved, and I didn’t feel like a viable member of society. At the time, Tod and I had only had a commitment ceremony to cement our vows, but with this prohibition on the books, it seemed almost impossible to do anything else.
But then there was a ray of hope, streaming in from the west. California had approved same-sex marriage and there wasn’t a residency requirement. We were elated at the news and made plans in 2008 to fly out to San Francisco to get legally married on the 7th anniversary of our commitment ceremony in 2001.
But then Proposition 8 reared its ugly head and it all began to fall apart just a few months after our big day. The voters in California approved it and we, as well as the thousands of other couples were left wondering if our legal marriages were still intact. We knew that they would mean nothing here in Michigan, but we took the time, the money, and the risk to make it happen, not only for us as a couple, but for our daughter as well (Eli was not yet in the picture).
You know the rest of this story, and you know how it all played out a few summers ago with the repeal of DOMA and Edie Windsor’s triumph before the Supreme Court. But it hasn’t been a success for us. We’re still waiting and the waiting and uncertainty is what’s causing this depression and angst in my life. There are serious ramifications for our family, both from a personal (my legal adoption of Eli) and from a financial standpoint (insurance, taxes, etc.).
It’s time.
It’s time for us to finally be able to say we are legally married here in the Mitten and get out of this depressive state. I see my doctor next week and I am going to share with him what I have found out about DD and hopefully he’ll be able to shed some light on my mental state and offer me some solutions. I need to get my hope back for the sake of my kids and marriage. I need to get my peace of mind back for my own sanity and general health. I can’t wait for June and the ruling from the Supreme Court.  It is our hope that this cloud of inequality will finally pass and we can get on with our lives as a healthy, sane (?) and legally married couple here in Michigan.