Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Chicago’s museums are second to none.  Though all the major museums in the Windy City are worth an afternoon or two, none is better, in my humble opinion, than the Art Institute of Chicago.  As luck would have it, theAIC-Facade-North-View1 AIC is all of two blocks away from the Chicago campus of Robert Morris University.  For each class I teach, I try to create at least one assignment that gets the students over to the AIC for a couple hours. If I have a little free time, I am more than happy to join them.

As a father, I have been looking forward to taking my two daughters to the Art Institute for some time.  The girls have already visited the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum more times than I can count.  I take them to museums because I want them to gain an appreciation for Chicago’s cultural attractions early in life. How early?  Well, my daughters are now 7 and 5 respectively.  You may think this is too young for places like the Field, but you would be dead wrong.  The girls love it there, and never get enough of the Evolving Planet exhibition, the Ancient Egyptian exhibition or the Hall of Gems.  Heck, they even have had fun going into the special exhibits on Ghenghis Khan and The History of the Horse.  The Field, not to mention the Museum of Science and Industry are wonderful places for children, since their exhibits are usually pretty flashy and hands-on.

On the other hand, the AIC is a bit more staid and serious.  I love the AIC, but it is safe to say the term ‘hands-on’ isn’t very welcome there. Still, both my girls are pretty well-behaved, and they love doing, and looking at art, so I figured it was time to break the seal.  The perfect opportunity to take them to the AIC presented itself the day before RMU’s December Holiday break. Since the girls did not have school, and their babysitter could not watch them, my wife and I decided to bring them to the downtown campus for the day trading off parenting duties between our classes. During my two hours with my little…angels, I figured I would introduce them to the Art Institute.  Why not?  I figured they were finally ready, or, perhaps, I was finally ready.

I am happy to say that the experience was a positive one.  The girls really enjoyed themselves, and though the younger one  took her teddy bear in, they didn’t end up breaking anything.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that a good number of exhibits at the museum were, at least partially, ‘hands on’.  Some pieces had computer tablet set-ups that allowed viewers, including my girls, to investigate the art more closely.  The girls loved this, and since they have been using touchscreen computers since, roughly, their births, they were able to really go crazy playing with images of the art.

As a parent, the ‘hands-on’ aspect of the museum was a nice surprise. But, also as a parent, the gruesomely violent nature and/or graphic sexuality of much of the art was an unpleasant shock.

Now, let me make myself clear. Neither I, nor my wife, are prudes or philistines.  I am not some ignorant bumpkin who never noticed the raciness of art before.  I am not embarrassed or disgusted each time I walk into the Ancient Greek exhibits.  But, as I walked my girls around the museum, I was looking at the artwork through new eyes; parents’ eyes. I have been looking at art during my adult life as a student, or a connoisseur (honestly a dilettante), or a teacher, and never as the protector of two small girls standing by my side.  As parents, my wife and I have tried to shield our children from the violence of television and movies as best we can.   Then, boom!  I let my guard down at an institution devoted to culture with a capital C, and as we walked out of the area devoted to Impressionism, we stumbled upon this:


And, here come the questions.

What is she doing to him?  Is that blood? Why are they cutting his head off?

Crap. This is a tough one. As I tried to scoot the girls out of the room, they didn’t want to go. They were transfixed by the gruesomeness, and obvious taboo nature of the painting.

So, what could I do?  I did not want to shut the door on this experience.  I decided not to cover my girls’ eyes, ears or mouths.  Let me try to explain.  After all, no matter how much I want to protect them from worldly knowledge, they are going to come upon such images sometime, or someplace. It might as well be in the reverent halls of the AIC, instead of the trash-heap of FX, FOX, or A&E.

“Well, girls….you see….”


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

On Thanksgiving morning, my wife, two girls and I headed out on a five hour car trip to Michigan.  Grandmas and Grandpas live up there, so our family makes this trip a good 10 times a year. We are all pretty used to it; or, I might say, we are all pretty sick of it.  Five hours with 2 children under 7 years of age in a car can seem like an eternity.   Keeping them occupied, and away from any sharp objects they could use to stab each other, is the name of the game.

This year, for most of the trip, we continually scanned radio stations, looking for the channels that play nothing but 1406eb94Christmas music during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas day.  We figured this would keep our girls happy. Happy girls means happy parents.

However, after five hours of listening, we had had enough. The family discovered that there is a limited number of recognizable, pop-radio friendly Christmas tunes.  Though there seems to be endless iterations of these songs, there are only so many different versions of ‘Winter Wonderland’ (reggae, synth pop, smooth jazz) you can listen to before you are ready to jump out a moving car on I-94.

After hearing the same twenty or so songs over and over, I realized that Christmas music falls into a limited number of thematic categories. These are:

  •  Your classic, extremely Christian Christmas carols that have been within the catalog for a couple centuries.  This would include ‘Silent Night’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘O’Holy Night’, ‘We Three Kings’, ‘Joy to The World’, etc.  Generally, I love these songs….as long as Josh Groban or Carrie Underwood don’t get their mitts on them.  If so, I shudder.


    THIS is not calming.

  • You also have your Santa Claus songs.  Usually not very religious, but obviously written specifically for one day of the year.  Most of these are from the twentieth century, and can be performed by artists from almost any genre. Think ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’, ‘Rudolph,’ etc.
  • Don’t forget the hybrid of the previous two. Christmas songs more serious than the Santa songs, but not as revered or religious as the classic ballads/choir pieces.  You could put ‘Silver Bells’, ‘A Christmas Song’, ‘White Christmas’ under this heading.
  • Lastly, you have the songs that are associated with Christmas, but are more about the season than the holiday.  Songs such as ‘Sleigh Ride’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Let It Snow!’

But, wait! There is one more genre of Christmas music; the weirdest kind.  You might call this ‘adult’ Christmas music, as it usually deals with love and romance.  Some are sad, such as ‘Blue Christmas’, and some are just pop songs, such as ‘Christmastime is the Time to Say I Love You’.  Most are pretty innocuous.  But then….

We come to the sexualized Christmas song.  That’s right, sexualized. A small number of regular rotation Christmas tunes are filled with adult situations, and double entendres.  Look at ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’.  Here is a song about a guy trying to talk a woman into staying the night at his house. Why is this song a holiday classic?  I mean, the dude tries to spike her drink, for goodness sake! Maybe it is my 21st century jadedness, but all I can think of is ‘ruffies’ when I hear that lyric.  

But, the most inappropriate Christmas song has to be ‘Santa Baby’.   The language, the singing style, the message, the music; double entredre on top of double entredre, with ‘strip tease’ beats.  It is so out of place to hear this tune squeezed between “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  If you think I am overstating things, or reading too much into an innocent song, have a listen to Eartha Kitt’s classic version.

Remember, this song was recorded in 1953.  1953! In 1950’s America, this song must have been inappropriate, comparable in the 1990’s to a ‘2 Live Crew’ recording of ‘Frosty the Snowman’.

Okay, with that mental, and aural image in your head, I will just stop.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.


Noah and Lane

I met Jen when we were both twenty years old.  We were half-way through college, and had plans to go to graduate school. We were instantly inseparable.  We wanted to move to the big city, experience independence and live our lives. In other words, we had no thought of having children.

In our early twenties, Chicago was the place to be and graduate school took up all our energy.  After graduation, Jen and I were both lucky enough to find jobs at Robert Morris.  Economically stable, we figured we might as well get married. We were 26, and we were Chicagoans through and through. Each weekend we hung out with friends, disposing all of our disposable income. Still, no plans for children.

At 29, things changed. Jen and I made a decision. We wanted a child.

Our first daughter, Noah, was born when we were 30 years old. Though both Jen and I had advanced degrees, and full time careers, we never knew hard-work until Noah arrived.  From Noah’s first three months, when she inconsolably cried every night from 6-9pm, to today when she has the attitude of a 16 year old in a 6 year old’s body, every day was, and has been a new challenge that continuously tests us physically and psychologically. We have come to the realization that our 9-5 jobs are relaxing in comparison to our grueling occupations as mom and dad.

But, we were not done.  Since one offspring didn’t break us, why not sire a second child?  Lane was born when we were 32 years of age, making us parents twice over.  The second is definitely easier than the first. However, the problem was Jen and I no longer had numerical superiority. It was 2 against 2 on the best days.  1 against 2 when Jen or I had an evening class. On those nights,mom or dad was outnumbered and outgunned.

I sometimes wonder: What would have happened if Jen and I had had these two kids when we first met? I shudder at the thought. At 20, both of us were still children ourselves.  We were self-centered and immature. Everything revolved around our needs and desires, and there is no doubt that emotionally and mentally we would not have been prepared for children. For us, the correct decision was to wait until our thirties. We needed the extra decade for psychological stability.

Yet, biologically, and physically, the opposite is true.  Women reach their peak of fertility at 19. Men around the same age. 19!  That is when nature intended for us to have Noah and Lane. At 19, my wife and I were in college, living on 4 hours of sleep, eating terrible food, and, yet, feeling indestructible. At that age, we would have physically been prepared for children much more than our 30 something selves.

The only thing I can figure is that Mother Nature must love a paradox.

By Paula Diaz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

I’ve always found it sad that so many athletic competitions are measured in hundredths of a second—you can get fourth place (which is the same as millionth place at the Olympics) by an over-clipped fingernail or an unshaven hair in swimming. You can miss the team by virtue of a misaligned shoe tread or a loose piece of fabric in running. We don’t look at the beauty of the stroke or the style of the gait; we only care about how long it took to put the thing behind us. These meager measures of time seem to find their ways into our non-Olympic lives—especially when it comes to dealing with our kids. Or at least my kids.

I do a lot of Bikram yoga. The shortest pose in Bikram is held for 10 seconds. I can suffer a lot in 10 seconds of Bikram and walk away. I can suffer a lot in 10 seconds of Bikram and then do it again. I’ve decided that 10 seconds is the shortest period of time that I will recognize.  Bikram teachers have been trained to internalize counts and seconds—you don’t see them looking at a watch or counting off repetitions; they just know it. I’ve decided to naturally understand 10 seconds and use it to define a “moment.”

  • I will give my kids at a moment or two to start getting dressed before I ask them again. And again.
  • Adding a few moments to my breakfast routine to let my daughter put the bread in the toaster is OK.
  • If another parent has to wait a moment while my son swipes the key card at daycare, I won’t feel anxious.

There is that scene in”Pulp Fiction” where Butch and Marcellus have just escaped the dungeon (don’t think too much about it or it will ruin this essay) and Butch is heading back to the hotel to get his girlfriend, Fabienne. She is upset because they fought earlier in the day (about the watch, but don’t think about it) and he is rather undone by the “single weirdest day of [his] entire life.” But, rather than frantically rushing her to get on the bike so they can get away—which she needs to do—he takes, what?, 10 seconds?, to ask her about her pancake breakfast. He gives her a moment of attention and the difficulty between them that wanted to take hold is gone.

I am heading into a long summer home with my kids. He will want to stop every day as we are on our way out and look at the dead wasps on the front steps and tell me that they are dead (as he has done every day for the past week since we sprayed their hive). She will need to pack a bag of crucial supplies each morning—today’s selection: newspaper sale flyer, notebook, flashlight, locked padlock, and 2 carat zircon ring. Every night he will require a kiss but no hug. And then a hug with no kiss.  And finally a kiss and a hug together.  Honoring these moments will add, what?, two or three minutes of being with them to each day that I have with them.

There are no records in parenting (which is way different than birthing). No medals. So why measure, in fractions of seconds, how long it takes each day to raise them? In Bikram, before that 10 second pose, the instructor will remind us to make a decision to be in the pose; to commit all our energy to that moment. I want to be committed to their moment; to their drawn-out and repetitive collection of moments for as many 10 seconds repetitions as I can.