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I AM A BAD MOTHER. I'll admit it. Not that the kids are starving or being beaten or forced to sleep outside in the rain or denied schooling or hugs or books or videos or tree forts or popsicles or garden plots. They have all of those things. To borrow from Judith Viorst, what makes me a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad mommy is crafts. You know, those happy moments that the magazines assert should be spent together as a family unknotting yarn, catching uncapped glue bottles as they edge off the table, and scrubbing ink off the walls. All the while trying to confine the glitter merely to the reaches of the entire spread-out protection of the Sunday paper, keep the egg dye from turning khaki with mixtures, and refereeing the inevitable brawl over the single red crayon left in the box.
Take this small test to determine if you are a similarly bad parent:a. Arts and crafts--a fine term for an artistic movement, resulting in some really terrific lamps.
b. Arts and crafts--a terrifying three-word term for 10 a.m. wine lust and tearfully constructed holiday presents.
AS AN EMPHATIC b, it seems only natural for me to seek help. After all, a craft impairment is a terrible thing to visit upon other generations. The madness must stop here, before my sons find themselves as grown men doing the rainy-day shout of "Dammit, if you're not going to watch that TV, I'm going to turn it off!" at their own kids, rather than calmly setting out the playdough.
Once upon a time, before the dragons of Proposition 13 slayed the California school programs, the arts were emphasized in the classroom. And, as any modern parent who has ever considered buying an extra refrigerator simply for the additional gallery space knows, there are still plenty of art projects being done at school, at least elementary school.
Kindergarten is practically nothing but the glory of tempera paints and the fast whir of plastic-handled scissors slicing up the alphabet. That flood of creative fervor trickles upward to the sere flat plane of high school, where most kilns are cold and photography dark rooms have long been shuttered. If you want your budding Brancusi to have additional training but can't do it yourself without feeling an irresistible irritable urge, what do you do?
On campus, many local schools offer after-hours enrichment programs partially funded by the PTA, featuring everything from leatherwork to computer classes for a nominal fee. Additionally, there are programs at the YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and various Community Centers, such as the one in Sonoma.
Petaluma boasts a new Children's Art Center, co-founded by Laura Bussey and Kate Tatum, two mothers who found that demand for their artistic enrichment program at the local McNear Elementary School was so successful that they wanted to offer it to the whole community. "There aren't a lot of choices, outside of athletics, for children," says Bussey, on a short break from teaching art while her summer-session kids pound out a dance lesson behind her.
"If you have a kid who's more cerebral than physical, what do you do?" she asks.
Her answer is the Children's Art Center, where she and Tatum offer a full slate of performing and visual arts classes during after-school hours for children ages 2 to 14. Begun in the spring of '95 with a small blessing from the city, the art center has grown quickly.
"People are definitely looking for this," says Bussey. "They see much less art in public and private schools."
In addition to maintaining the center, Bussey and Tatum are also glad to dispense advice, recently attending a Mother's Club meeting to offer tips to new moms on how to survive the slings and arrows of outrageously messy art projects.
"Think of your level of tolerance and then provide that much," says Bussey. "Papier-mâché may make too much of a mess for you, but we can all tolerate crayons."
Linda Galletta, the director of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, tolerates more than crayons. Her center offers everything from fabric art to a loosely structured open studio. Serving some 500 kids a year, the center offers sliding scale and scholarship options for lower-income families. "The arts center has always felt that art for children is very important," she says. "It takes a lot of my time to develop the funding, but it's something that we feel fills a need, and there is a demand, and our role is good."
After listening politely to my moans about the craft infractions I have inflicted on my kids, Galletta says kindly, "We also offer a class for parents and teachers who want to do more with crafts."
Perhaps there is hope, after all.
Children's Art Center of Petaluma, 415 Western Ave. 762-5680. Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 6821 Laguna Park Way. 829-4797.
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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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