Vampires, wolves and, oh yeah, art

A Bad Mom lugs her couch tubers to Artown

<i>Nosferatu</i> is just one of the films you can drag your kid to during Artown.

Nosferatu is just one of the films you can drag your kid to during Artown.

You’d think kids wouldn’t be self-conscious about art. That the young, malleable mind would be creative—less constricted by society’s twisted values or adult expectations.

But no. Sit down with a group of kindergartners and watch them draw on blank sheets of paper. Maybe one or two confident kids will start drawing a subject with which they’re already familiar. A rainbow, a vampire, flowers. Then watch the other kids imitate. The boy sitting next to the vampire artist will tentatively copy the cape, fangs and blood dripping from smiling red lips.

Art imitates art.

If you want your kids to expand their imaginative repertoire, you’re going to have to give them some tools. Spark their creative juices. Expose them to vivid, juicy, fun things. This will mean leaving home and the comfort of television, your worn-out VHS copy of The Lost Boys and your family’s tangled mass of Nintendo controllers.

I’m in no position to point fingers. I am a Bad Mom. My five kids, ages 10 to 18, marinate themselves daily in an array of electronic media. In 1,700 square feet of living space, we have five TVs, three VCRs, two PlayStations, a Nintendo 64, a Super Nintendo, a Sega Dreamcast and four networked PCs with speedy DSL Internet connections.

I am not exaggerating.

Once upon an idyllic summer, we’d happily make batches of dough to craft into animals, pots and beads. We’d haul out finger paints, markers, glue, glitter and T-shirts for tie dying. The kids would write plays and perform them. We had reading contests. We’d go to the library and park for all free events.

But things fell apart. The center could not hold. Anarchy was loosed upon my family.

I actually didn’t realize just how fully the ceremony of innocence had drowned (it’s from a Yeats poem, but you knew that) until I produced the Artown brochure and asked the kids what they wanted to do this year.

“Look, you can Discover Puppetry!” I enthused.

“I’m just not a puppet kind of person, Mom,” my 10-year-old said.

“Does that mean you don’t want to go see Puppets Do Seuss?”

“Maybe if we were 5 or 6 years old,” 14-year-old Tabitha said, furrowing her eyebrows in her classic I-can’t-believe-how-dumb-my-mom-is way.

But all is not lost. A few of my kids (those who’ll still be seen in public with Bad Mom) really do want to do some Artown stuff. They want to watch scary movies in Wingfield Park on Friday the 13th and check out the Burning Man at Artown installation. The two-story chapel constructed entirely of plastic recyclable bottles, my 10-year-old said, “looks cool.”

One actual “youth event” that they’re interested in is the Discover Wondrous Wolves thing. But Tabitha was dubious: “Will these be live wolves?”

This isn’t a fear thing. She wants live wolves.

So I called the May Museum. The museum is making its Wondrous Wolves event free to the public twice during Artown, from 10 a.m. to noon on July 5 and July 19. The space is limited to 50 participants each day. As of last week, the museum had 17 spots left for July 5 and about 40 for July 19. And yes, Tabitha, they will have living, panting wolves.

“In fact, we have a darling eight-week-old wolf puppy,” museum curator Diane Donaldson told me. The wolves appear at the museum courtesy of Reno animal handler Mace Loftus, who has 15 wolves, two bears, coyotes and “a lot of snakes.”

“I think his house must be crawling with animals,” Donaldson said. “His wife’s a really good sport.”

So, OK, wolves aren’t exactly art. But hunkering down in a room full of furry critters is a healthy step above spending the day in front of a screen playing Starcraft, upgrading your Sims neighborhood, watching 10 Things I Hate About You for the 10 millionth time or trading Neopets online.

My daughters both want to see the Young Chautauquans. They have ulterior motives. They want me to feel guilty. I was supposed to sign them up to do Chautauqua last year. Tabitha was already picking out a character she wanted to research after she performed Jane Goodall at her school last year.

I called once to ask about enrollment and promptly forgot about the whole thing. (And I am secretly grateful, because it all sounds like A Lot Of Work.) So we plan to Discover Young Chautauquans from 1-3 p.m. July 13 at Wingfield Park. During the event, well-studied kids become characters from the World War II era, like Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom, George Orwell and Eleanor Roosevelt. The presentation in the park precedes the full-scale Chautauqua goings-on July 16-19 at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park.

Please note: My older teens will have a standing invitation to all of these events. But I doubt my sons, ages 16 and 18, will be going to Artown with me. I’d be lucky to talk them into a night at Rollin’ on the River, unless I bought dinner and beer. (Kidding, ha, ha.)

In addition to the stuff that the (younger) kids actually want to do, I’m sneaking in a few events that I think they’ll like. Even though they insist that watching other people dance is boring, I’m dragging them to AREA-51’s multi-media dance theater at 7:30 p.m. July 10 in Wingfield Park. It’s free. I’ll buy them Scooper’s ice cream après performance as a signing bonus. I think they’ll dig it and, if they don’t, they’ll still get a strawberry walk-away sundae in a waffle cone. (I do not know what I will do when they outgrow this bribe.)

On July 22, I’ll invite them to Wingfield again for the Basque Festival. Their horizons will broaden as they watch folks dance the jota. And “Bilbao’s hottest musical export,” Kepa Junkera, will perform at 2 p.m. How could they not like that?

While I’m not thrilled about going to the park to watch a movie—we watch plenty at home—I’m thinking about doing the Friday, July 13, double feature of 1950s horror flicks: House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler.

I am looking forward, though, to the silent film Nosferatu at 7:30 p.m. July 19 in Trinity Episcopal Church. The film’s soundtrack will be live music cranked out on Nevada’s largest pipe organ. I love that church. I love that pipe organ. (That reminds me. A Discover the Pipe Organ session runs 1-3 p.m. July 12 at Wingfield.)

But Nosferatu is a definite go. My kids have never seen a silent film before. I might even be able to talk the older guys into going. We could be a family! Again, I might have to use culinary coercion—maybe Chinese food. But, as we’ve mentioned, that is my parental modus operandi. And it works.

“If there’s food involved, I’ll go,” said Eric, 16. “I’m down with that food thing. Did you know we have nothing to eat around here?” (Free idea for a Bad Mom parenting book: How to Starve Your Teens Into Submission.)

The 1922 flick by German director F.W. Murnau will probably give me nightmares. The vampire is played by Max Schreck, who is “one very scary looking guy,” according to a Web site selling the movie.

My kids, who roll on the floor laughing when this Bad Mom gets emotionally involved with an episode of The Simpsons, will be thrilled by my fear. They might even hold my sweaty palm.