What happens when you show your kids your favorite musicals

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I know there are many people in the world who would rather get a root canal than watch a musical.  I know that many folks – even intelligent ones of my acquaintance — have a deep-seated contempt for any movie in which characters suddenly get a manic gleam in their eye and stand up and break into song.  These people think musicals are hokey and lame.  I get that.

But I think they’re wrong.

I’m a musical junkie from way back, somewhere around the time my mom took me to a community theatre production of Brigadoon at age four and I was so enraptured that I wanted to be Fiona for Halloween (“But no one will know who you are,” my mom said.)  Around forty years later, I still adore them.

And it occurred to me recently that since I have two captive audience members here in the house with me (it would be three, but my husband has a means of escape),this summer is a great chance to revisit some of my favorite musicals and hopefully expose my two boys to a little culture.

I started with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which you really should see if you haven’t.  It’s the very definition of “rousing” and “robust” — focuses on seven backwoodsmen in the 1850s, so the dancing is pretty muscular. And the songs are wonderfully catchy.  I thought, “Gee, my boys will love the barn-raising dance scene,” which is justly famous.

What they really loved was the fight scene.  I had to replay it a few times, at their request, all the while adding, “But you know you should never fight people like that, right?  Right?”

“We know,” they said dutifully, eyes aglow as they watched Frank get smacked with a board.

And then we got to the part where the lonely brothers kidnap six girls to marry and bodily carry them off to their mountain hideaway, and I was thinking,  Oh man, I didn’t vet this one as well as I should have.   (“You know you should never force a woman to go with you if she doesn’t want to, right? Or anyone, actually?”) It was a slightly more complex viewing party than I’d expected.

Then I tried Kismet.

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I have to say, I was way more familiar with the music of this show (lovely) then the story (um — a little odd).  I’d seen it long ago but didn’t remember it well, other than that it was an Arabian Nights-type show with a bazaar scene (and several bizarre scenes, quite honestly).  For example, when Howard Keel was about about to have his hand cut off by the evil Wazir, he started singing to it, which led to the following exchange:

Son: Who is he singing to?
Me: His hand.
Son: Why?
Me: That’s what people do in musicals.
Son: That’s weird.

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Next, we tried State Fair by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This one is a sentimental favorite — homespun Americana, telling the story of a lovely and bored-out-of-her-gourd farmgirl who falls for a big-city newspaper reporter.  Her brother falls for a singer who (spoiler alert!) turns out to be married.  And other than a scene or two of drunken behavior involving spiked mincemeat (truly), there’s nothing objectionable here.  Good songs, too, and my kids enjoyed it. (And I didn’t have to say anything like, “You know you should never _______, right?”).

But this whole Summer of Musicals is making me think about them in a new way.   And as I think about which ones to share next, I am realizing that  all of these musicals have some sort of darker element.

Carousel: Oh, the music is so pretty.  It’s one of the most glorious scores. But then there’s that subplot about how Billy hits his wife, and she takes it and makes excuses for it.  I saw a stage production of this years ago that handled that icky part very effectively, but the movie doesn’t, alas.

Oklahoma: Cornfed goodness and a surrey with the fringe on top!  What could be wrong with this? Well, there’s Jud the socipathic farmhand,  who has a stash of girlie pictures in the shed and ends up with a knife in the ribs.

The King and I: Aww, best polka scene ever —  totally sexy in an understated way.  But I still remember being spooked as a kid by the big whip and how Tuptim almost gets thrashed. And concubines and slaves are not exactly light subject matter.

My Fair Lady: I love this musical, so I sort of hate to say it: When you stop to think about it, Henry Higgins is a raging misogynist.  Even worse, he gets rewarded for it at the end.  (In the original play, Eliza leaves him, which I kind of prefer.)

Fiddler on the Roof:  Such great music, but there are all those nasty Russians smashing things.  Pogroms are anything but light fare.  On the plus side, this one might lead to some good conversations about ecumenism.

Brigadoon: I loved the musical when I was a kid.  I think the only objectionable thing about it is the risibly fake scenery.  I may try this one with my kids, with the appropriate fashion warning (“You know you should never belt your pants that high, right?”).

Gigi: A girl is trained to be a courtesan.  I am so not going there with my boys.

The Sound of Music: Major Nazi unpleasantness.  But there’s a triumphant escape at the end, and no real violence, except to the curtains and the Gestapo’s car.

Anyhow, as I run through the list, I just keep realizing how substantial these musicals actually are.  They are not cotton candy fluff, most of them — they address real issues and complex human situations.  I’m not saying they all address them well, but there is much more to these musicals than meets the eye, and I can’t help but feel that maybe there are a lot of Teachable Moments lurking in there.  (So take that, musical detractors!  There’s more to them than relentlessly cheerful people singing and dancing in unison!).

But for our next one, we’ll play it safe and go with The Music Man.  I think I’m on pretty benign thematic ground with that one … at least until we get to the song “The Sadder But Wiser Girl for Me.”

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What’s your favorite musical?  And why?

Chutes and ladders and the spiritual life

 

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This has to be one of the simplest games ever invented.  You spin, move your token, and if you land on good action (like rescuing a kitten from a tree), you go up the ladder; if you land on a bad action (like stealing a cookie), you go down the chute.

I hadn’t played this game in decades, until my kids spotted it in the closet at my parents’ house and wanted to get it out.  So lately, we’ve had a few Chutes and Ladders tournaments chez Moyer.  I will admit that it’s not the most intellectually gripping game — perhaps only CandyLand exceeds it for its totally stultifying lack of strategy — but it is strangely addictive.

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And I’m grateful for it, because it has given me a little spiritual food for thought.

As my summer vacation gets under way, and now that I’m not spending hours teaching, planning, and grading, I find I’m thinking more deeply about my daily habits.  What are the things I do that make me grounded, more mindful, more healthy?  What are the things I do that don’t?

The whole point of the game is that our actions have consequences.  Obviously, this is a point that kids need to learn – you lie to your teacher, you miss recess; you help your mom without asking, she rewards you with a huge hug and maybe an extra dessert.  But I’m embarrassed to admit that at the age of 43, I still struggle at times to accept that my actions lead to effects that I may not want.  I often know what I should do to reach my goals, but — due to inertia, or lethargy, or stubbornness – I choose the opposite.

What does my own personal Chutes and Ladders board look like?  Well, much like this:

Spend too much time on social media rather than reading a good book: slide down the chute and go to bed with the niggling feeling that I’ve wasted the evening.

Get up early to exercise: climb the ladder and feel healthy and energized all day

Stay up way too late watching Netflix: slide down the chute and feel like death warmed over the next morning

Make time for writing or prayer, or writing AS prayer: climb the ladder and stay in touch with the core of  who I am (with the added bonus of finding a gem of an idea for the next writing project)

I know, of course, that life isn’t quite as easy as a board game.  There are plenty of situations where I make thoughtful choices and end up taking bad tumbles just the same, through no fault of my own.  Likewise, we’ve probably all had that experience of suddenly getting a huge blessing or gift that we’ve done nothing to earn (in the biz, I believe that’s called “grace”).   Sometimes, there is no cause/effect we can control. Period.

But often there is, especially when it comes to the daily routines and habits that define me.   And that’s why this summer, with a lot more free and thinking time on my hands, I’m going to do some extra discernment about which things lift me up, and which drag me down.

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Because don’t we all want that good feeling of rescuing the kitten from the tree and climbing up to the sky, our new best friend by our side?

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A rose is a rose is a rose …

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Sometimes I wonder which phrases my kids will associate with me in years to come.  Which sayings do I repeat over and over?  I’d guess “Be careful!” and “Did you remember to flush?” are two of the most common ones.  I hope, though, that “Look at those roses!” is right behind.

I’m a rose junkie.  An entire chapter of Taste and See is devoted to them, not just because they offer such beautiful sensory experiences but because they invite me to think about how humans can co-create beauty with God. (We humans are the ones who have hybridized and come up with all these different marvelously colorful varieties, tapping into the Creator’s artistic genius.) So now that it’s summer and rose season is in full bloom, I thought I’d share a little visual complement to that chapter and share some of the glorious beauties I’ve come across lately.  (No, these aren’t from my yard – though I wish they were!).

Let’s start with red:

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Pink more your speed?  There are no lack of those, either.

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I know the Yellow Rose of Texas has its own song, but the Yellow Roses of California are pretty nice, too:

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Purple isn’t the color I naturally associate with roses, but they are striking as well.

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White has its own purity and grace:

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And I love this one, too — sort of peach, sort of yellow:

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Where are you seeing beauty lately?

A whole lot of Mary

Somehow or other, the month of May almost passed without me writing a single post about Mary.  The spirit was willing, but the flesh — exhausted by end-of-the-semester grading — was weak.

But here in the eleventh hour, I’m finally putting together a little celebration of one of my favorite moms.  So here are some of my favorite Mary-themed photos, all taken by me at various times over the years.

Enjoy!

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

 

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

 

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

 

Mary statue, my backyard

Mary statue, my backyard

 

Nativity set figures made by my mom

Homemade Nativity set figures, my mom’s house

 

Pencil holder on my desk

Pencil holder, my desk

 

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

A Little League Litany of Thanks

 

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Hey God –

Remember how, when I was a kid, I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life?  Remember how my softball career consisted of one inglorious season in fifth grade?  Remember how, when my parents asked me what I liked best about softball, I said that my favorite part was getting drinks out of the cooler once the game was over?

So who could have predicted that 1) I’d one day have a son who plays baseball  and 2) I’d love having a son who plays baseball?

(I guess it’s safe to say that You could have predicted it.  I sure didn’t.)

And as this season nears its end, I’m going to try to put my feelings into a little litany of thanks.  Because, when it comes right down to it, for all the driving to practices and sitting on hard bleachers and constantly washing of dirty socks, there are a great many blessings to be found at the ballfield.

So here goes.

Thank you for games played on warm spring evenings when the light is beautiful and you are delighted to be outside.  Thanks also for games played on windy cool evenings when you freeze and wish you had another layer, because either way, you’re away from the computer and out in the fresh air … and sometimes you need that much more than you realize.

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Thank you for coaches who teach kids to respect the game, each other, and the umpires. Thank you for coaches who see the potential in their players and draw it out.  Thanks for the time and energy and heart they put into the game and our kids, not because they are getting paid but just because Baseball.

Thank you for gangly middle school umpires who go out there and have to make hard calls that  they know might not be popular but who do it anyway, often while standing right in the path of errant foul balls.  Thanks for their strength at sticking to their guns and trusting their instincts.

Thanks for the Snack Shack, where you can get soda on a hot day, coffee on a freezing one, donuts at the 8 AM game and pizza at the 6 PM one.  Thanks also for the many candy options that keeps bribable younger siblings entertained.  (Special shout-out, God, to those fabulous ring pops, which take more than an inning to finish.)

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While we’re on the subject, thanks for other younger siblings who find your own child and somehow find ways to entertain themselves with dirt, spilled chalk, and any toys they happen to bring.  Siblings’ Club at the ballfield!  It’s a good thing, God.

Thanks for the community of other parents who, over the course of a season, you get to know well. Thanks for the cheers and encouragement they give to your kid as he’s up at bat.  And thanks for the fact that sometimes, they have the inspired idea to bring little goodies for the adults in the stands.

 

A Mother's Day mimosa?  Why yes, please.

A Mother’s Day mimosa? Why yes, please.

Thank you for making me face something about myself: that I can, under certain tense conditions, veer awfully chose to becoming one of Those Parents who spontaneously erupt in outrage at a dodgy call.  I always said I’d never be one of those parents, and oh my, it’s much easier to be them than I thought. Thanks for the lesson in humility, God.

Thanks for the fact that every single game is a chance to practice detachment and going with whatever comes.  Even when it’s a nail-biting game that I really want our team to win, I’m finding that I can get myself to the point where I think – and actually believe –  Hey, we’ll be just fine if we lose.  That’s a helpful spiritual attitude to cultivate, on the ballfield and in life (St. Ignatius of Loyola called it “indifference” — the good kind.)

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And I have to give thanks for something else, too: the fact that even in a losing game, something good can happen.  The game where you get clobbered by thirteen points might be the game where your kid gets his first RBI or one of his teammates catches a fly ball that would make Pablo Sandoval proud.

And all this points to another thing I’m thankful for, God: that playing Little League is really not about the win, but about constantly putting on the cleats and warming up and going out there and challenging yourself to do a little better each time and realizing that if you have that attitude, you can still hold your head high no matter what the final score is. That’s a lesson that resonates both on the ballfield and off.  In seeing my son and his fellow players this season, I see how true it really is.  Thank you for that.

Oh, and one final thing: Thank you, God, for your wonderful trickiness in giving a totally unathletic parent like me this sporty little kid who is broadening her world in ways she didn’t even know she needed.

Play ball!