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Mixing Work and Kids = Inspiring Your Creativity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time balancing work and kids. Next week, we celebrate Family Day in Ontario, and I realized I’ve book the day full of work duties! But the upcoming holiday has also reminded me that your family can feed your creativity and reinvigorate your brain for work.

If you’re more on the cerebral side of the spectrum, like I am, you may find communicating with kids a little hard, because you have difficulty breaking down your thought process to their level. Heck, you may even find what they do boring, because it doesn’t challenge you intellectually. I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still trying to work on it.

(Granted, as hard as I try to find interest in my kids’ hobbies, I can’t develop any amount of enthusiasm for watching YouTubers play video games.)

Over the years, though, I’ve pushed myself to spend creative time with my kids, not just chore and parenting-related time, and not only does this push my brain in different directions, but it brings me closer to my children, and I find they even listen better.

See if any of these ideas work for you.

Creative Activities for Parents and Kids

Mad Libs: You buy these as pads, usually somewhere in a bookstore. They’re short texts with blanks, and you have to fill them in. The blanks are usually described as a noun, verb, adjective, or something similar. Not only will they help your kids recognize some parts of speech, you’ll likely both find yourselves in stitches as you read back the zany story you’ve both created.

Lego: This I find hard, because I’m stuck with some old inhibitions (I can’t create anything out of Lego except basic houses), and because I need to concentrate on the very foreign world the kids have created. But nothing makes my kids happier than showing off their Lego creations, and the brain drain I experience when playing with them improves my concentration.

Sewing: If you own a sewing machine,  just letting the kids (carefully!) run some fabric through it can be fun. I used to let my older son control the foot pedal when he was four or five. But certainly use your parenting judgment here. A sewing machine does have a needle, and kids’ hands are very small.

Sports: You don’t necessarily have to play a game that already exists. My husband loves making up games with our kids, and they have a blast at it. They’ve even created their own boardgames that the two play together in the evening. I’ll admit, this is less suitable for me, because I like consistency, but then again, maybe it could force me to use my brain differently.

TV: Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you watch TV with your kids. Not only does this help you, the parent, see what they’re actually watching, but it will, again, force your brain to focus on something different. If watching YouTubers playing video games is all your kids watch, then try a movie on the weekend, with some popcorn.

Painting: Yup, show your children that they’ve probably already bested you in the arena of art. And if you are talented in art, show them one or two tips that’ll make them better. (Of course, if your kids are old enough, maybe actually painting a room might be more engaging for all of you.)

Colouring: Those adult colouring books are more than suitable for kids over the age of five. My older kid (in the junior grades) will occasionally sit in the same room with me as we both colour for ten or fifteen minutes in separate books.

Writing: My youngest loves this. He’s in the primary grades, so he still finds spelling and printing arduous. He absolutely loves to dictate a story to me as I type it out in Scrivener. I set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes (my forearms can’t handle anything longer), and he’ll easily produce 300-600 words.

Dancing: Kids don’t care how you move. If your kids is active, turn on the tunes and get dancin’!

So, those are just a few ideas of how to build in some creativity time that will help you in your profession but also connect you with your children. Do you do any of these activities already? Or other ones?

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Language is More Than IQ Scores and Alzheimer’s Prevention

img_0063One thing I’ve always envied about descendants of pioneer families is that those descendants had easy access to their roots from the past one to three centuries. Naturally, everyone in Canada is or is a descendant of an immigrant (save for the First Nations peoples), but my envy was about knowing how your family lived in ages gone by. Descendants of pioneer families could go to a special room at a local library and research to their heart’s content. Not only that, much of it was in English.

My path to understanding where I came from was harder: the information lay overseas and in German (and Hungarian, Romanian, and even Latin). The outcome: I knew very little.

Changing Borders and Forbidden Education

My sense of the world was also very naive.

So, when I learned that my grandmother had been tutored in secret because new laws prohibited her from going to school, I wondered why anyone would want to go to school if you didn’t have to.

When my great grandfather talked about living in different countries depending on where the borders were, I couldn’t understand how the borders of a country changed and thought that maybe something in his story had gotten lost in translation.

My grandparents tried to share some of these stories with me, but they seemed so surreal that I couldn’t comprehend them.

Why Care About the Past?

And then my grandparents began to die, and with them, their biographies. I only have one grandfather left now, and when he takes me to a corner of the room at a family get-together to tell me something, I listen. But I regret no longer hearing the voices of the other six I knew.

I study my family history for a few reasons. One of them is out of a sense of gratitude: When you think about it, if one person didn’t get into bed at the right time on a given night, I quite possibly might not be here. There’s something bizarrely awe-inspiring about the timing involved: all those people had sex at the perfect time that allowed for my creation generations later.

Less bizarre but just as awesome is being here despite all the infants and children who died. One ancestor had five children and I descend from the single surviving one. Again, one person out of whack and boom! I wouldn’t even have Marty McFly’s chance to go back and reconnect those two.

And the third is to understand the stories that contributed to my own life, to understand what kind of “stock” I come from, as it were. What hardships did my ancestors face? What courageous actions did they take? (Less courageous ones are rarely recorded or passed down.) How did history affect my family?

The Language Connection

By the time I was in university, an opportunity to dance in Germany led me to take a full-year university German language course. I’d tried learning the language in the past, but long story short, I didn’t gain too much at that time. Now, with three classes a week instead of a crash course every Saturday morning, everything began to mesh. By the end of university, I was fluent.

Learning German finally unlocked my family history to me and gave me roots. Although the German I speak is not the one my grandparents spoke, I still feel a connection. In a sense, I feel like I’m reconnecting the Germanness I grew up with back to the Germanness that is contemporary German and Austrian culture (minus all that right-wing shit).

What I couldn’t know then was that I would eventually coordinate an oral history project that included participants from my grandparents’ background. One woman, who was in her 90s, was the first and only voice I’ve heard talk about Yugoslavia’s civil war that took place during WWII. She spoke in German. My grandmother never mentioned it, and after listening to this participant, I can understand why: it was horrific, and my grandmother would have been around 10 or 12 when it happened.

I was 24 when she died after living with cancer for several years. I don’t know if I would have ever understood what she saw, and she may very well have not wanted to share it with me.

Speaking more than one language can open up a lot of doors. There are the usual economic and practical reasons, for example. Some studies show benefits towards fending off Alzheimer’s, others about how bilingual kids tend to perform better on intelligence tests.

But for me, learning another language helped me find out more about who I am, and that in turn finally gave me food for my writing: instead of my writing from my teen years, when I had little sense of who I was, being nothing more than bad copies of pop culture, I finally felt a cornerstone form inside of me, giving me the starting point for my own stories, both real and imagined.

And, to use the language of my youth, that’s pretty cool.

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What Creativity Can Do For Kids

Fred RogersI’ll be honest: I found Mr. Rogers boring as a kid. I preferred Mr. Dressup, not knowing that they were indeed very good friends.

A few years ago, I caught an episode of Arthur where Mr. Rogers made a cartoon appearance. My interest in his efforts to provide quality TV for children was renewed. I was also impacted by some of the quotes that swam through Facebook, and I finally understood what type of person he was.

Another quote attributed to him showed up in my Facebook feed. In an attempt to see if the attribution was correct, I looked up his official website and found this clip.

Mr. Rogers was in the same league as Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup: using public television to educate kids. His focus was on their emotional development. This clip is only seven minutes long. Watch it. You’ll learn about how much creativity he put into his shows, what his budget was when he first started out in the 50s, and how he used his knowledge of children’s development to advocate for better television.

45 Years Ago — Mister Rogers Addressed Congress | The Fred Rogers Company.

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How Gimp = Grandmother

The flat-weave gimp bracelet still sits on Ziggy today, 26 years or so after it was made.

Over 25 years ago, I had pneumonia. I recall very little about the actual illness except two things: I didn’t feel sick (so why was I away from my parents and in the hospital?) and I had no idea what phlegm was, let alone be able to spit it in to a container.

My parents visited me almost daily. They bought me Wrinkles and Pound Puppies, talked to me, and, I’m sure, worried about me. If I recall, the illness wasn’t healing itself as quickly as the doctor had hoped and I even had to stay longer than originally thought.

I wasn’t sure what to feel: I felt lonely and cool at the same time. Lonely because I wasn’t home, cool because I finally got to stay in the hospital during a time when many of my classmates slept over at the hospital to have their tonsils removed and eat lots of ice cream. Now I got to stay in the hospital. I was finally one of the crowd.

One constant over those ten days was a woman I believe was in charge of making kids feel happier. I don’t remember all of her visits, but I do remember the one (or ones) where she taught me the square style gimp bracelets. I got to make my own jewelry! Each one took me ages to complete, but I believe I finished three during my hospital stay. After all, I had the time.

That craft kept me occupied at times when my family wasn’t able to visit. Moreover, it also gave me a stronger connection to one of my grandmothers:

During the summer, my dad’s family would babysit us at their home while my parents worked. I frequently had some kind of craft or craft book with me.

My grandmother often bought me gimp at Lewiscraft, a now defunct arts-and-crafts store. One day, she returned with a new gimp pattern for me an employee had taught her. She showed me this tiny stump of a grey-and-pink flat weave and how to make it. I could complete it much faster than the square and twisty styles! Instead of trying my patience spending countless days making one bracelet, I could now make this flatter pattern in just a few hours.

I eventually learned the zipper pattern from some friends, and rode the gimp bracelet wave until it crashed on to shore and disappeared. But what came out of a potentially dangerous illness brought me closer to my grandmother and fuelled my passion for creating.

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Review: The Artist’s Way for Parents

The Artist's Way for ParentsI would argue that most parents in North America gain most of their parenting skills from “I’m not doing what my parents did” and parenting books. Whether Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears, we all have someone’s reference book somewhere telling us what to do in case of illness, what milestones to expect, whether babies need schedules or not, etc.

What I was sorely missing, though, was a more spiritual way of parenting. I’m not talking religion here. By spirituality, I mean a deeper sense connectedness to the world. Because creativity helps us connect with each other, I believe it’s important that kids be exposed to many forms of creativity so they can learn how to connect with others. This isn’t free play, though that’s also important. It’s simply arts and crafts and exposure to others’ creativity as is appropriate for my kids’ ages. Not easy for very cerebral types like myself.

My mom gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron. Cameron is well-known for The Artist’s Way, and while I haven’t worked through that book yet, I hear good things about it.

The beauty of The Artist’s Way for Parents is that it helped reconnect Kid Lori with Adult Lori in a non-self-help way. It fuelled my ideas and drew on what I’ve already experienced in my life, no steps to memorize or supplies to buy (unless I want to). Simple suggestions and case studies about activities like going for a walk with my kids, for example, inspire me much more than the rules I’m supposed to live my days by until the kids move up to the next parenting book. The Artist’s Way for Parents ever so quietly nudged me to remember what I enjoyed as a child and then encouraged me to simply draw on that.

So really, The Artist’s Way for Parents is actually about what my parents did right: they let me be creative.

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How Art Connects: Mama Says

Cover of "Mama Says: A Book of Love for M...
Cover via Amazon

My mom once in a while shops at a bookstore in Collingwood called Crow’s Nest & Gifts. (They don’t appear to have a website, otherwise I’d happily link to them.) The books she gives me are wonderful, spiritual, and simply fantastic stuff for kids, though they may or may not understand them from time to time. (My kids are still young.)

One of my favourites is Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons by Rob D. Walker, illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. Each page is a short verse about what a mother teaches her son. For example:

Mama says
Be good
Mama says
Be kind
Mama says
The rain will come
But still the sun will shine

For this particular page, the illustration is of a Cherokee mother and her son (cover graphic top left). Another verse in unfamiliar characters opposes the English verse. It’s the English verse translated in to Cherokee.

And so the book continues for 10 more verses, cultures, and their accompanying languages. At the back is a quick description of where each of these languages is spoken.

It truly is a beautiful work of art, both literally and visually.

It’s also a book I’ve turned to myself on many occasions to remind myself of what I do. With all the parenting books out there reminding me of all the things I ought to do (because otherwise I could be harming my child), this one reminds me of how my heart and soul want to raise my children. It also reminds me that I’m no different than any other mother, regardless of faith, culture, or geographic location. Our methods may be different, but in the end, we’re trying to teach our kids the same values.

That, my friends, is how art connects.