Recipe for New Ideas

“Why can’t we see him?” the kids kept asking, hugely frustrated that the very personal voice they kept hearing refused to show himself.

After my last post, my friend April suggested that I include more recipes – to use the term broadly. Recipes for how to live creatively with kids. I love to cook – have been doing too much of it lately, in lieu of actual work and very real worry – so I understand the pleasure of a good recipe. It can open up new ideas and set your entire day on a different course. What had been a canned soup and apple slice kind of day is suddenly a Provencal Daube with dijon vinaigrette kind of day. Much better all around.

One of my favorite recipes for expanding my mind and my kids’ is to watch movies together. The rule is that they get one day a week to watch a video from the library – anime, old cartoons, whatever they want so long, as Tobey will tell you, “it doesn’t have blood or boobs.” (His term on the latter, not mine.) I don’t watch these but use this as housework or yoga time. The other night of the week when we watch together, on Friday or Saturday, Mom’s Choice rules. singingWe’ve watched Singing In the Rain, Field of Dreams, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy. They always say they don’t want to watch, but within two minutes of the start they’re hooked.

I’ve already dipped heavily into the nonfiction films at the library – which have the added bonus of a three-week rental versus the cursed one-week rental – and we’ve seen a lot of space specials and old National Geos about pandas and elephants. But more recently, I turned to feature-length documentaries. These often seem a bit out of the kids’ grasp, and I do plenty of translating, but I’ve been amazed at the their interest in them and the questions they have.
We watched Man on Wire, the recent Academy Award-winner about the French tightrope walker who walked between the Twin Towers. They kept wanting to know why he did this – something the film attempts to answer but not to their satisfaction. That brought up a conversation about passions and the artistic or athletic passion to achieve something that doesn’t necessarily make sense. We circled from Philipe, the tightrope walker, to Michael Phelps’ eight golds, to Van Gogh’s paintings that no one liked at the time (my kids have a huge soft spot for Van Gogh).

We watched Supersize Me, which made them angry and helped them to better understand why I only let them take school lunch once a week. We watched Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. This film is essentially a series of metaphors about global warming and, if understood at that level, is incredibly depressing. But the kids were intrigued not only by the amazing visions Herzog’s camera captured of Antarctica, but also of the format.
Unlike Supersize Me, in which the narrator is part of the film and we watch him interacting with people, and unlike Man on Wire, which has a third-person narrator that operates much like the captions in a magazine, Herzog is heard throughout the film pontificating on the meaning of the place, but he never appears on camera. “Why can’t we see him?” the kids kept asking, hugely frustrated that the very personal voice they kept hearing refused to show himself.

This led to a conversation about perspective, point of view, and narrators. It got me thinking about a project I’m working on right now and ways to do it differently. Perhaps I needed to put myself in the frame after all?
Perhaps the most successful documentary yet in the kids’ minds was Girls Rock! about a rock camp for girls in Portland, OR. There’s a lot of talk and statistics about how girls perceive themselves in the United States, about self esteem and body image. Bella kept looking at me in amazement when these topics came up: “Why don’t they like themselves? Everyone is beautiful!” she insisted. I worried a tad that by exposing her to these ideas, perhaps I was opening some Pandora’s box, but more so, I think I’m helping to safeguard her. It also reminded me of my interest in doing a project for and about adolescent girls.

The film made both kids keenly interested in electric guitar, a thought that will no doubt horrify their Suzuki violin teacher. The night ended in a way no other movie night has ended: with a primal scream contest. We were all winners.


2 thoughts on “Recipe for New Ideas”

  1. i think it’s fabulous that you watch these films with your kids! what better way to prepare them for life than to sharpen their minds and discuss issues with them before they actually become issues with their peers (such as body image)? my oldest just turned six and i believe it’s time to start discussing topics like this with her. great post!

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