Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Density and the Dazzle

“A society that puts an exaggerated premium upon youth is gravely sick. Of course, any culture needs the leaven of youthful irreverence and drive, but it also needs mature judgment. 

Otherwise, it will be all dazzle and no density.” — Stuart Holroyd


 The grandkids have come and gone. A whirlwind birthday present to their parents, as they can now fly from Portland parent-free. As usual, their grandparents and aunt planned event-after-event in the way that we do. Some were the things we know they’ll enjoy—  children’s playground, soccer/football/ basketball/ paddleball and cornhole, a “classic” movie (Tin Men)with popcorn, long bike ride topped off with ice cream. Some were things we think they “should” be exposed to— Diego Rivera at the MOMA, Faith Ringgold at the De Young Museum, a short rally to keep JFK Drive in the park car-free and a trip to the Jewish Home to listen to Javier and I play clarinet and piano music.


Malik was giving a little pushback to the latter, even though he had gone once before and enjoyed it. On the way there, I made clear to him and Zadie that while I generally hoped to offer activities I think they’ll like, it’s not always the main reason. In this case, there were three more important reasons:


1) I want them to hear live music, to be exposed to the beautiful tone of the clarinet and how it fits with the piano, to be exposed to a wide, wide variety of musical styles, most of which their peers won’t share with them or they would choose on their own.


2) I want them to understand how their mere presence amongst elderly people isolated from young people will brighten the elder’s day. 


3) I want them to see how their grandfather offers his skills to make others happy, as a model for them to consider their whole life long.


And so they came. Along with my wife, who hasn’t witnessed this scene since my mother passed away some 9 years ago and later, my daughter Talia stopping by on the way back from school. They mostly drew while we played, but occasionally sang along with the songs they knew and at the end, Zadie played a Chopsticks duet with me. Driving home, I asked them how much they enjoyed it on a scale from one to ten and they both said five and I said fine. Even if they had said “one,” I didn’t care. 


Part of our mistake in raising children in the progressive circles in which I run is constantly asking kids if they like something and giving them the power to make us apologize if they don’t. But if we adults understand why it’s important in ways that they cannot yet understand, we can hold firm to our decisions. I think of the old ways, kids visiting the grandparents on the farm and helping out with the chores without any questions about “Would you like to…?”


The above obscure quote comes from a Crostic puzzle I did. A quick Wiki search reveals that the author is British, born in 1933 and still with us at 89 years old. He apparently wrote much about spiritual matters, from a book about Krishnamurti to ones about extraterrestrial life. I like his perspective of balancing irreverence and drive with mature judgment, with a bit more weight to the latter. Of warning us of life that’s mere dazzle (the entire entertainment industry!) and not enough density. 

 Lest I’m coming across here as the “expert” on child-raising, let me be clear that convincing my grandchildren that my mature judgment counts a bit more than their momentary dazzling desires is a work in progress. And though they most definitely would often choose Sponge Bob Squarepants over a Hitchcock film, Beyonce over Bach or Bird, Pringles over papaya salad, they seem to get what a visit to the grandparents means and not only accept it, but ultimately enjoy it and look forward to it and appreciate it. While still being given the time, space and respect to be wholly 7 and 11 years old. 

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