Parenting

Why Do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)?

“We want to do children’s theater that doesn’t suck.”

That was Debbie Devine and Jay McAdam’s answer when I asked how 24th ST Theatre’s shows were different from their local competition. I laughed and understood. I was just starting as their marketing director and not a parent myself, but I certainly knew the horror stories of wide-eyed “children’s theater” talking down to their audiences.

And so I set about convincing progressive Los Angeles parents that a show about death, or one with a scene about getting your period, or a one-woman King Lear, were exactly the shows they should bring their kids to see.

Read more on The Clyde Fitch Report.

This is the first column in a year-long series investigating Theatre for Young Audiences. Click the Talking TYA tag for more.

The Cat in the Hat and Consent

One of the reasons I love being a parent is getting to revisit children’s literature and discover the newest stories. Although I knew about Dr Seuss, I realized that I hadn’t actually read many of his books.

A good friend gave our son a Horton doll, so Horton Hears a Who was a natural starting place. What a wonderful message for children: a person’s a person no matter how small. Then The Lorax, quite a progressive environmental novel for the sixties. We were thrilled at how Dr. Seuss could affect our young son’s thinking about the world. For instance, when LPD [Little Pirate Dude – not his real name, unfortunately – editor] helps me put recycling in its bin, I tie it to The Lorax and our responsibility to the environment. Some of it sinks into his developing brain; more will click later. His young age doesn’t stop us from planting the seeds.

One day, I figured we should begin at the beginning and bought The Cat in the Hat. How exciting! I knew the character but nothing about his origin.

Well, I got quite a shock. The whole story raises serious red flags, in terms of consent, and reads like a manual for child molesters.

Read more at Dwarf+Giant

Graphic by @heatherwhooo

 

MINI MYTHS BOARD BOOKS FOR YOU(r Kids)

If you’re going to read the same book to your toddler fifty times in a row, make sure you don’t want to gouge your own eyes out in the process.

I’ve found quite a few books that my husband and I adore reading to our sons, many in thanks to my comic convention attending friends. The Mini Myths Board Books came to us, as so many wonderful enrichment does lately, through our local library.

Read more on Dwarf+Giant

Graphic by @heatherwhooo

 

Two Articles I Wrote on Art as a Parent

I guess being a parent really does affect how I view art. Yesterday two articles I wrote dropped on different publications, Better Lemons and Dwarf+Giant, a blog of The Last Bookstore LA. I didn’t realize until I shared them to Facebook that both show how I view art differently since becoming a parent.

One is how The Cat in the Hat reads like a manual for child molesters. I thought I’d get more pushback on this story, but so far all comments except one appreciate my argument for removing that book from your collection. Thanks to Dwarf+Giant for publishing this one!

The other is the first in a series, What Theaters Need to Know: Courting Families on Better Lemons, a relaunched Los Angeles arts website. Here I detail how small changes and larger ones can go a long way towards making families feel welcome at your programming. Until you’ve had to change your child’s diaper on a nasty restroom floor while other audience members bang on the door during intermission, you really haven’t lived as a parent.

Stay tuned for some more interesting articles from me……

Social Media Timing in the Age of Despair

I have words but they are jumbled

We’re in this vicious cycle now:

Tragedy

Outrage

Tears

Thoughts and Prayers

We need more than just thoughts and prayers

Think Pieces

Action items you can take

Reactions to Think Pieces

New Tragedy

Outrage

Rinse and repeat

 

After the Sandy Hook massacre, I created a social media policy for handling mass shootings in progress, tailoring it to each of my clients at that time.

It took me until Tamir Rice to create a policy for when an unarmed Black person is killed by police.

After Charlie Hebdo attacks, I adjusted the mass shootings policy to include terrorist attacks. Why that didn’t start earlier and why it mostly only focuses on attacks in the western world is a topic for another post.

What to do when we wake up each day to horrible news, or at the very least, weekly?

How to continue business on social media outlets when you need to acknowledge, or at least respect, but life also must continue?

How to let some light into the dark, either through happy photos, good news or commentary?

How to continue your work and your life without sounding like you are ignoring the devastating news of the day? Without sounding selfish, or privileged enough not to be confronted with the fear every minute, either because of where you live or the color of your skin?

I think about this a lot. It even makes me pause sometimes from posting the cycle of gun control, of Black Lives Matter, of how to raise a white child without white privilege: because in a matter of days, I can start to sprinkle more photos of my happy toddler or outreach advice or activism through art.

And then a new outrage will occur.

Rinse. Repeat.

It’s much too easy to ignore before the next horrendous headline enters my morning Facebook feed.

 

After the brutal month of June and early July 2016, I decided the only solution is to stop letting myself ignore it on days that it isn’t in my face. Many people fight these inequalities and face these horrors every day. I need to make the real effort to be more than an ally, and I need to make it every day. There are times for self-care, but I cannot retreat into it. I need to not only post “What You Can Do” articles, but hold myself accountable and post when I actually do make those calls to Congress and inquire/fight for proper police procedure. Feeling jumbled, as in my July 8 Facebook post, is not enough. I also greatly respect those who are not as public with their feelings or actions. Silence is complicity, certainly, but just because I don’t see you touting your feelings or actions on social media doesn’t mean you aren’t doing the work in real life. Posting something just so you are seen as aware often makes it sound trite, no matter how genuine the feelings behind it. I worried about that with every other post that ran through my brain on July 8th, and so just focused on my exact feelings at that exact time. I still worry it could sound trite, but at least I know it was the truth and not me trying to make something more out of the truth that I felt at that moment.

Now this is only for my personal social media platforms. What about brands, entrepreneurs, businesses? There are ways to mirror mission with current events for nonprofits, but others? Right now,I just take it case by case. In much of my work, I ghost write social media posts for people, and I take my cues from their personal pages, or send that all too familiar email:

“In light of recent events, I would like to post something along these lines:” and then I say something relatively simple without making any real statement: the brand version of “Thoughts and prayers”. For a local Orlando business, I barely even mentioned the actual massacre, but focused on the helpers in Orlando and particularly helping Orlando businesses.

I take it day by day, adjusting social media protocols as necessary but mostly winging it, collaborating when I have a team. Sometimes it is best just to stay silent. You don’t want to feel like you’re trying to draw attention to your brand through tragedies, even if it is to express sympathy. Yet, with these events happening so often (or at least our awareness of them amplified by access to media), how can you stay silent?

There are no real answers, just conscience and judgement and the ability to feel ignorant and ask questions of those more knowledgeable more I.

How do you handle your personal social media and business accounts lately?

So I Got a Passion Planner

Right around January, that beautiful idealized time when everyone re-evaluates their life and dreams, I followed up on something I’d bookmarked a few weeks earlier:

The Passion Planner.

I checked out how it works, and printed a few free sample pages to see if I could better organize my February workload if I used it.

It requires a lot of dedication, a lot of planning to the minute detail and date as to how you will accomplish your goals. It takes a focused amount of time every week to not only organize your life by the half hour, but also to evaluate how successful you were in implementing your plan.

Here is the main thing I saw from using a Passion Planner that no other planner thus far has done for me:

It helps me understand exactly  how much time my various activities take and how much time I have left.

I gained a real understanding of my limits, but more importantly, I clarified my priorities. In order to continue with both my Outreach Nerd consulting, revising my novel-in-progress, keeping my toddler and I active, and eating as healthily as possible, I had to get real on my time commitments.

In no particular order, here are my concrete takeaways using the Passion Planner:

  • I have to focus on one writing project at a time. Decide whether I want short term gratification (blog) or to get absorbed into revisions, and plan my writing time that day accordingly (even if it is only an hour).
  • Schedule time to prepare food and eat it.
  • Plan on Sunday for the following week and discuss the work schedule with my husband where it overlaps with our time at home together.
  • Plan on 1-2 days where we don’t take the car and enjoy the lack of structured activities to let my son lead our playtime. This also means his nap isn’t overlapping with driving time and I then get at least an extra half hour of work time.
  • Take pleasure in highlighting the items I finish.
  • Schedule time to shower.
  • Perhaps most importantly: This is not a to-do list. Each line represents a half hour of my life, and some tasks take longer, some take less time. Adjust accordingly.

If you need better time management in your life and have multiple projects to juggle (including household and relationship ones), then I strongly suggest downloading some sample pages and testing it out for at least a month. I ended up buying the undated planner and it is working very well for me.

I am in no way associated with the Passion Planner and was not solicited to write this review in any manner. If you do want to try one, I would appreciate it if you say you were referred by cindymariejenkins@gmail.com and I’ll eventually get a discount. 

 

I Hope He Recalls the Hotels

We were in line to see the Pompeii exhibit at the Natural History Museum and our son was six months old. A gentleman there (presumably with his grandkids) pointed to Lil’ Pirate Dude and said pointedly:

“He won’t remember it.”

My husband recovered much faster than I did from the rage and tactfully answered, “Maybe not details, but it sure will make an impression.”

Cut to fifteen minutes later and at each display, our son screeches in delight (also blew some raspberries, but I think he was just in that phase).

We have always lived life with LPD (Lil’ Pirate Dude) under the belief that he comprehends his surroundings. He, in turn, surprises us daily with what he understands (now seventeen months old).

So when we knew we may pack up the only life he’s ever known and move from Los Angeles to Orlando for a new job, we involved him in the process the whole way. I bought three books on moving (one with stickers!) and posted a huge countdown calendar on the wall. If we’re being totally honest here, the countdown calendar was as much for his parents as LPD. I knew we could prepare him pretty well for the packing, and the moving truck, and the big emotions he would witness from his parents. Those topics are well covered in children’s books. He got really good atwaving goodbye through all the parties and personal lunches. Just like the times we’d drop his father at the airport for business trips, LPD sometimes got serious but seemed to understand it was just a change. Not necessarily good or bad, just a change.

There is one aspect of our move, however, that is not covered in any book: the four of us would spend about two months living in a hotel: two very stressed out, homesick adults, one toddler and one fourteen year old, grumpy dog (Did I mention our dog had been diagnosed with cancer the week before we left?).

I debated adding those pages between The Berenstain Bears packing up their moving truck and arriving in the big tree house in Bear Country, but never got around to it. In hindsight, I wish I had done it; again, more for me and my husband than our son’s benefit.

Well, our first hotel (yes, I said first. We are currently in our second) was pretty lackluster.** It was clean enough and the employees were super nice. It was cheap and close to my husband’s job, and let me just say again: it was cheap. I was so concerned about our dog when I booked it that I didn’t realize we had two twin beds and no room for a pack N play. To keep our son from falling off the bed, I co slept. (To put this in perspective, before we left LA, he was sleeping by himself 9pm-5 or 6am in his crib and then co-sleeping until 7 or 8am. I called it “snoozing” him to get a tad more sleep.) But in that scenario, we all shared the bed as a family. In the hotel, my poor husband slept alone. And as much as I love co-sleeping, I had begun to really enjoy those few hours when my body was my own again.

Also, for someone who just moved his family cross country so he could pursue a job opportunity, I do believe my husband could have used more warmth overnight. Not to mention that time to reconnect as a married couple is pretty vital. [Hey Mom and Dad, skip this next sentence] We found time to just be with each other, even if we had to be quiet about it. But it was less the sex we needed and more of the togetherness. We met in Los Angeles. We had almost fifteen years of friendships and had stumbled into being parents there. Just as every night before we left, we had to ask ourselves “Are we really moving to Florida?” to ensure we were both in this together, keeping that connection and dedication during that dreary first month would have helped.

Not sharing a bed aside, the main problem is we just had no room. Even downstairs, there was barely a lobby and one elevator. There were two burners that sort of worked and one table for both eating (reminder: toddler) and working out the details of our new life.

My husband and I had our own coping mechanisms: coffee in the morning and wine in the evenings. Of course, it took us weeks before we bought actual wine cups.

Oh yeah, and my son was still recovering from pneumonia (almost couldn’t fly here on schedule) and both my husband and I had bad coughs while our lungs got used to the new air.*

Every day, LPD and I drove Dan to work, walked our dog, ate breakfast and got the hell out of that hotel because otherwise our dog would just growl at us all day. There was literally no place in the room we could go where we wouldn’t be in her way. Some days we found playgrounds that allowed dogs and that made it better. As great a companion as Sadie had been, she’s just old. She’s in pain, and she needs space. Staying in a hotel room just gets boring for a dog.

An interesting aspect to the hotel life is meeting other guests. The breakfast they offered was minimal, but LPD liked seeing all the people. So we brought avocado, eggs and other healthy food downstairs to eat. I looked at LPD as he stared in fascination at other hotel guests. He was fascinated with the languages he heard around us. He tried to get the kids his age to play with him. He mostly just charmed the parents whose kids were older.

I looked at him as he wiped the table the way he’d seen me do a million times, wiping away the avocado from his face, then smiling at me. I wondered how much of this experience he would remember, and if not detailed then how much of an impression it would make on him. What kindof impression would it make on him?

I surprised myself with my lack of fear over the possible answer. He treats everything as an adventure, and even in the weeks to come when we’d find harder times, our little boy thrived. He played with his trucks and he played hide and seek and he asked to take baths and he watched his father somehow cook a tasty, healthy meal for us in the kitchenette that was smaller than a shower. If LPD wanted quiet time, he pointed to the chair by the window and sat there, staring in silence sometimes, gabbing to us about the trucks parked there overnight, watching the wind rustle through the trees and noticing the signs of an impending thunderstorm. You get a lot of practice at recognizing thunderstorms in Florida summers.

While living in a hotel (still) stresses out me and my husband, LPD takes it all in stride. He loved all the houses we visited while hunting for one to buy, but never seemed weirded out when we returned to a pretty dismal, yet adequate place to sleep.

Behold the magic of the box.

More than anything else, he saw me and his Dad hold on to our family and count on each other for support to get through this time. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to feel how unhappy we were with our living situation. The only indication LPD made that he needed more space or privacy was when he claimed an empty diapers box as the place he would put “his things.” One evening, he simply packed all of his toys, shoes, anything loose into this box and it became his place. Sometimes he would turn it over and just have a toddler sized chair in which to sit. We got two more boxes eventually and they became building blocks. You never saw a happier kid than LPD with his boxes. We packed up the whole room and moved to a nicer hotel for the second (hopefully last) month of temporary living and he made sure his boxes safely made the trip.

He also learned how to use an elevator (counting on his fingers up to two) and began actually peeing in his potty (we had introduced the idea because he was interested but never pushed him into “training”). His imaginative play skyrocketed. Hide and seek among bushes outside the hotel became the funniest thing on earth. We learned that at one of the many Splash Pads (an extravagance coming from drought-stricken Los Angeles), kids would play with you if you had a ball and/or a bucket. So we brought both. He saw people playing basketball and guess what? He loves it. When we needed to run errands and check our mail, he was perfectly happy exploring the mall near our PO Box, eating breakfast at the tables outside the Publix market, watching this new world begin their morning.

None of this comes as any surprise to those who know LPD. The part that surprises me, and in ways we can’t even fathom yet, is the emotional maturity he’s gained in these six weeks. He knows when his Dad needs an extra hug. He knows that I’m there most of the time he’s awake and so he’s free to explore within my sight and socialize or take his own quiet time to sit in the grass. He understands that Dad goes to work; so he wakes up, then marches directly to his father (even when that is the shower) so he can spend all the precious time possible with him. He makes sure that his Dad has his wallet and work id and glasses before he leaves the room.

Even on the hardest days, either emotionally hard or because he and I are only running errands to finally close on this damn house, LPD laughs even louder. He sees the adventure, brings the joy and appreciates all the love we have for one another. He thrills in pointing out new lighting fixtures, tall domes and ceiling fans. He hears me and Dan get on each other’s nerves faster than usual, then talk it out or drop it because we know it’s the stress, not each other. He sees our spontaneous embraces and giggles before running into our legs, making himself a welcome part of our hug. When he’s frustrated or angry, he tries his best to communicate and we try our hardest to listen, to interpret sounds that haven’t quite made it to words yet. Hell, sometimes that’s better than how me and Dan communicate.

By September, we will hopefully be living in this really cute house we found. LPD will have his own playroom, I’ll have a writing office and Dan will have a spacious kitchen. We will make a house into a home and continue our adventures as weird ass free range West Coast parents in the Southern United States. We’ll save to make the most of Dan’s international business trips, turning some into family adventures. We’ll work on having a second little pirate.

Many difficulties during this hotel life will be distant memories and some may carry into the transition. Whatever impression it’s made on LPD, it will be part of him. After these first few weeks, I believe it has made him even more resilient and empathetic. I believe the bond of our little family, even when our grumpy dog is grumping, sticks with him and makes him more secure in the knowledge that we are here for one another. We trust each other and we are building a life together.

And this life requires us all to be strong when we feel strong, and be willing to admit to one another when we feel sad and, more importantly, when we need help. It requires us to embrace the positive as we acknowledge the negative.

So I really do hope he remembers the hotel life. I know it has made an impression on him; by virtue of his own good nature, he has made it a positive experience.

— — — —

**I want to acknowledge the fact that compared to this story about a five year-old experiencing life in a budget motel, these are very first world problems.

* When I moved from NYC to LA, everyone warned me that I’d cough for two weeks as I got used to the air. Well, the same warning applies to Florida.

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