|Lights, camera, action!|
From a purely pragmatic point of view, it was magical to watch the children stare agog at the sparkling allure of the movie theatre, reminding me of country bumpkins who walk into New York's Times Square at night for the first time.
They would point at giant, three-dimensional cardboard displays advertising movies and ask what they were (what was their purpose). They saw the Madagascar penguins and remarked how they had received a penguin toy in their Chik-Fil-A meal just the other day . . . and why was that? (I explained advertising and cross-marketing).
"I smell popcorn!"
They asked if ours was the only movie showing and I explained that there were probably 15 movies showing all at various times throughout the day and evening overlapping, which made their heads spin. They began shouting out titles to me and, when John saw an advertisement for an upcoming Hobbit movie, he just about burst out of his skin with anticipation. Because they don't see commercials ever, they truly don't understand marketing and are unaware of any movies (or products) upcoming.
I was tickled to see their first exposure to what should be and was a very exciting movie theatre experience.
There were many fellow homeschooling families at this one-time showing. I counted six families from our parish alone just in the 3D theatre: I don't know who might have been in the regular viewing theatre. At one point while we were standing in line for concessions, I saw a mother and all her daughters walk in wearing skirts to their ankles, the mother with a full head covering, and I knew just what movie they were going to see. As I chuckled at perhaps what I look like to some people, then another devout Catholic homeschooling mom walked over to talk to me and she keeps her hair nearly shaved off and dyed any random color she pleases that week (today: blue), which helped remind me that, thankfully, we don't all fit one mold.
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
The movie was absolutely exquisitely done. This is a film worth owning when it becomes available and I would let my children watch it as many times as they want. The viewer is given a tour through the Vatican museums, with much time properly given to the Sistene Chapel. Especially with the 3D effect, we feel that we are there, walking down the marble hallways.
"An extraordinary voyage of discovery to see the most impressive collection of works of art built up over two thousand years of history. VATICAN MUSEUMS 3D, a SKY production in collaboration with the Vatican Museums Directorate, for the very first time brings Ultra HD 4K/3D film cameras inside the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, to show the masterpieces in these collections as they have never been seen before.
"A unique, spectacular, fascinating event: the history of one of the world’s most famous,renowned museums, the history of us all. A mega-production by a team of 40 professionals who, in the magnificent setting of the Vatican Museums, traveled hundreds of miles while filming amazing night-time footage through the halls which house some of the most rare and precious works of art in the world, spanning all cultures and all epochs…
"Thanks to a unique mix of native 3D and the most advanced dimensional techniques used in cinema by James Cameron and Tim Burton, audiences can literally immerse themselves in the great masterpieces of art history: “enter” the paintings of Caravaggio and, with unprecedented realism, touch Laocoön and the Belvedere Torso, and feel swathed by the figures in the Sistine Chapel that have never seemed so real before.
From the masterpieces of classic statues to the Cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà, right up to Fontana’s modern sculptures; from paintings by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio to those by Van Gogh, Chagall and Dalì; from the extraordinary frescos in the Rooms of Raphael, such as “The School of Athens” to the spectacular masterpieces by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel such as the “Creation of Adam” and the majestic “Last Judgment”. These are the stages of a unique , emotional journey under the guidance of the Director of the Vatican Museums, Professor Antonio Paolucci, expertly leading us through past, present and future."
John (8), a comedian who rarely stops joking around, was so instantly engrossed that he fell silent and didn't want to talk to me or hear my commentary. Mary (6), on the other hand, couldn't stop talking to me. She whispered squealing commentary the entire time and couldn't stay sitting down, but repeatedly had to stand up in her thrall, sometimes hugging and kissing me just to release some of her joy.
I noticed a striking effect as my children watched Prof. Antonio Paolucci lead us through the artwork, narrating in Italian with an English voice over. This learned gentleman is 75 years old, white-haired and covered in liver spots, and I believe his left arm might have been injured or paralyzed because his dynamic right arm gesticulated wildly through the whole movie but the left never moved from hanging still. One might understandably think that children six and eight would be bored stiff by such a man talking at them, but these children were engrossed. Why? Because what he was saying was engrossing.
Very early in my parenting, when I had a mere preschooler and toddler, a wise, older mother explained to me that the purpose of education should be to teach truth, beauty, and goodness, all of which will always lead one to God, who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. This is why we don't teach solely what is Catholic; for example, Catholic seminarians spend four years learning classic philosophy, which is pagan from the Greeks, but is also full of truth, which can lead only to God.
I contrast to truth, beauty, and goodness, I witness at so many institutions we visit that are genuine attempts at being educational for children employ what I consider babyish, cartoonish attempts at engaging children. Adults expect that children can't possibly be fascinated by a world-class aquarium without a cartoon dolphin figure leading the children through the tour, which I believe draws the children's eyes away from the glory of God's creation that is the sea creatures to focus on a silly character. An art museum might have a cartoon paintbrush character who gives a tour to the children, drawing the children's attention away from the greatest art man has ever created to obsess about a cartoon. Children can't possibly study this or that academic subject without the book being filled with cartoon characters. Any educational TV show is filled with these garish, over-the-top cartoon people without whom it is expected that children couldn't possibly be interested in the content.
Watering down and making babyish the content for long enough and I believe the overall cultural effect is that younger children become older children and ultimately adults who do require such pablum, such cartoonish crutches to engage them. Evaluation is made solely on the packaging and not the content.
My husband and I have tried to limit our children's exposure to garish, over-exciting television and such toy junk in general. We're the ones who will go to a museum and actually decline the little take-home plastic character junk. (If I take my kids to an aquarium, I might buy them a souvenir real starfish, but I'm unlikely to buy them the stupid stuffed animal dolphin mascot.) While much of what we censor from television is for immoral content reasons, maybe equally as much is for being generally too wild, too loud, too boisterous, and using too much slouchy, snarky slang.
I will give one example that I know many well-meaning religious parents enjoy: My husband and I decided some years ago not to show Veggie Tales in our home. Now, if our children are at a friend's house and it comes on, we're not going to turn it off because it's not immoral. Veggie Tales are a valiant attempt at making the Bible engaging to youngsters, giving them wholesome entertainment. But you know what? We believe that the Bible stories are engaging on their own. They are, in fact, the most amazing, dramatic, stories the world has ever hard, full of war, romance, sorrow, and drama.
It really hit home to me when my children couldn't stop horsing around and mocking how the walls of Jericho fell because in Veggie Tales, the soldiers are throwing grape jelly down on the Israelites. Totally lost to my children was the actual story of Joshua (and why he was leading the Israelites to conquer Canaan instead of Moses), how Joshua received direct instructions from God and followed them obediently, that it was a miracle that God brought down the walls, and the wonderful lessons stemming from the ignorant but faithful Rahab. And I had already taught them the whole story many times. But they couldn't hardly recognize it through the hilarity of grape jelly.
Every episode of Veggie Tales we watched ended in my children laughing uproariously (even if the story was one of war or sorrow) and learning no Biblical story or message, so we exchanged Veggie Tales for reading the actual Bible and listening to the finely dramatized and unabridged "Truth and Life" CD series (which became three-year-old John's favorite CD to listen to daily, despite having many child-friendly fiction options).
I've felt in the dumps this week about our school work, feeling that we're not achieving enough, we're not learning enough, and what is the point of it all? First trimester hormones may or may not be involved, but Chris can attest that I haven't been the most fun to be around. Well, last night was such a gift to me, such a joy!
I received the gift of seeing what I perceived as confirmation of eight years of some of our parenting choices bearing fruit. (Not all our choices bear fruit: we have much to learn!) My mere six-year-old whispered to me for an hour and half straight comments like, "Mama! I recognize that art! It's in my such-and-such book."
"I know that one, it's in my prayer book!"
"Mama, this movie is the best!"
"Look, I know that saint, it's so-and-so! He is the one who did . . . "
"Mama, I can't believe I'm here!"
"I remember learning about that artist, he's the one who . . ."
"Look at that symbol! I remember you taught us that! It means . . ."
"We learned that story in history!"
All of this bubbling enthusiasm while she and her brother hung on every word from a one-armed septuagenarian with liver spots talking in elevated, poetic language about classic art from hundreds to thousands of years past.
You'd think that I must think I am some kind of art history expert who has given the children a curriculum of study in these matters, but I don't think so and I know I'm not. I feel that I've cleared away a good portion, but not all, of the detritus of this media culture so that the children have space and time to exposed to truth, beauty, and goodness.
One book that has never rotated out of our Holy Reading Basket is "Saints in Art." The children have been occasionally flipping through its pages since they were preschoolers. Over nearly 400 glossy pages, this book shows more than 100 saints in classic art, with innumerable margin notes (with helpful black lines pointing to the details in the paintings) describing the symbols, what this means, why artists did such-and-such technique during such-and-such time. Gruesome at times? Absolutely, yes. St. Lucy's eyes being gouged out, St. Bartholomew being skinned alive, St. Lawrence being roasted alive. Such stories are part of the truth in truth, beauty, and goodness, and I can only attest that our children have shown no harm by knowing these events.
(And now on my Christmas planning list are the Sister Wendy glossy art books, which I perused in our parish library some time back.)
The children are listening. Amidst the sometimes chaos, the noise, the baby crying, the children hear my saint story read over breakfast toast. While playing blocks or Legos, the children really are listening while I read from history narratives. Within the swirl of coats and shoes flying, sometimes too little sleep, and my losing my temper, the children are noticing the classic art and music to which we expose them. It is worth it to my husband and me to keep trying to reduce the deluge of insipid media so that they have the space and time to experience truth, beauty, and goodness.
I have luxuriated for an hour and a half to write this blog post in an attempt to capture what had my mind swirling last night. I know this writing needs much more time to polish it, but I offer what I can now that it is seven, children are waking, and duties call!