Modern Art make caveman feel old

When you’re very young, many things confuse you. Over time you change and you begin to understand more and more until you hit the prime of life, that fleeting moment when you understand as much about the world as you are ever going to. For that split second, you are in the grove, a knower of things, wise and worldly.

Then the world changes, and you understand less and less. Green reality turns to brown, dries to a brittle sheen, and floats away on a chilly breeze. All at once you are old.

I am old.

There are many things I no longer understand, but that which most recently warned me of my slipping mental grasp is stripes.

I didn’t understand stripes in my youth either. Circa 1971, my parents dressed me in a polyester shirt of many discordant, horizontal stripes, sporting a zipper V-neck with a metal hoop pull tab. I never figured out why. As I grew up, I discovered horizontal stripes look best on flags, while slim, sparse, vertical ones are better for fashion.

I thought I’d made my peace with stripes until our visit to the local art museum this past weekend.  The horizontal stripes were back, bigger and bolder than ever.

Even on my peak day in this world, I would not have presumed to understand art. My peak day is farther behind me than I realized. There are two huge rooms of stripes, and nothing else.

Hover over photos to see captions.

My wife asked the docent about the fabulous stripes. What I got is second-hand, but the upshot is the courageous artist freed us from the bondage of needing anything more than big stripes on big canvas to be aesthetically fulfilled. Perhaps this explains the tingle of aesthetic liberty I’ve been experiencing all week.

If only it were just the stripes conspiring to age me. There was also this.

or not so falling

Walls just don’t collapse the way they used to.

I roused the courage to ask the docent about this one. “It’s a falling wall,” she told me. I didn’t want to upset her, so I didn’t point out it wasn’t actually falling. There was more timber holding up that wall than the non-falling walls all around us. Maybe they were just supporting it until the crowd got there. I suppose you don’t want to advertise a ground-breaking Falling Wall exhibit and have all the latecomers be disappointed by a run-of-the-mill Fallen Wall exhibit.

Also in this gallery were two projector lamps projecting nothing but light onto the walls. The docent confessed the projector exhibits were open to interpretation. The boys interpreted them to mean they were to make shadow puppets on the wall. Some of the hand gestures were very artful.

We didn’t have time to view the rest of the museum because my family had to rush me to the Home Goods section of Target so I could flip through framed prints before I started shaking my cane and shouting demented gibberish at our brave new world.

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The sledding hills have changed but the cold feet are the same

When I was a kid, we used to sled down the big hill behind the barn. There were two runs, neither of them safe by today’s standards. The front run was straight and long. A barbed wire fence ran across the bottom of it. The side run was shorter, but steeper than the front run. At its bottom was a six-foot drop into a creek bed. Along the edges of both runs were thorny bushes and, here and there, a small tree. It was great.

Nobody got killed, although there was at least one snow suit torn by barbed wire. The worst injury I remember was when I ran my sled into the prickers and scratched my cornea. I had to wear a patch over my eye for three days. It wasn’t even a cool pirate patch – just some cotton taped over my eye.

If it sounds like I’m just blowing hard about how tough a kid I was, I’m not. I was so shaken by the idea of wearing cotton taped over my eye for three days, I fainted right there in the doctor’s office. This was the first time a doctor made me swoon. It wouldn’t be the last.

My children don’t sled as much as I did. We don’t have cow pastures with big hills in them. We have to drive to a hill. Mommy is not on good terms with winter and I don’t enjoy being cold nearly as much as I used to, so sledding isn’t common.

I feel guilty about this, so sometimes I put on my thermal skivvies and take the boys out. We go to a park with a big hill. Devoid of barbed wire, tree stumps, and watercourse embankments, the hill is safe by 21st century standards. This is a good thing; emergency room waits are much longer than the wait for our old family doctor used to be.

The most dangerous part of our modern, suburban sledding is getting up the hill with all the other park-going kids chomping at the bit to slide down. It’s kind of like outdoor bowling.

Big Brother headed for the steepest part of the hill, but the little boys wanted to take the path less traveled. This was gentle slope with deeper snow, where sometimes gravity alone was not enough to get them down the hill. My job became to push them down the hill and then pull them back up.

the power behind the sled

This fancy sled comes with a 1-Kidpower outboard motor.

Eventually they got brave enough to try a spot where I only had to pull them back up. This was major breakthrough for my sledding longevity. I even got to ride the sled down with them once.

One thing that hasn’t changed is feet still get cold in the snow. When Buster’s feet got cold, it began the 20-minute process of collecting all our people and sleds at the bottom of the hill. It’s hard when your feet hurt but you still want to play in the snow. I remember that every bit as well as the eye patch.

Once we master wheels we can move on to laces

My wife says there are three childhood milestones parents would pay somebody else to teach their kids: potty training, riding a bike, and tying shoes. There may be others, but these three are a good intro to the world of parental frustration. Multiplied by three kids, we tallied nine hurdles of child rearing.

Six are behind us.

3 children potty trained

2 children riding two-wheeled bikes

1 seasoned veteran of shoe tying

Our most recent cleared hurdle was Buster learning to ride a bike. For a while we thought we might get a two-fer on the bike riding. Alas, despite Big Man’s attempts to catch up to Buster, his parents weren’t equal to the challenge of teaching him to ride.

When Buster was learning, it was difficult to get him to pedal continuously. He was tempted to put his feet down and keep himself from falling, the natural result of sitting on a dubious contraption with a propensity to tip over. He went too slowly and had trouble finding his equilibrium. He also kept looking backward to make sure the Parent on Duty hadn’t let go. He wasn’t fully vested in the idea that riding a tipsy two-wheeler would be worth the effort.

One day, a switch flipped in Buster’s little noggin. He decided he was going to ride his bike, and he wasn’t going to need any help doing it. He practiced on his own, refusing to let anyone hold him up. At the end the day, he could ride a bike.

It got much easier when he stopped looking over his shoulder.

Seeing this, Big Man demanded to have his training wheels removed. Being an obedient father, I complied.

Recalling how Buster’s skinny legs rarely peddled faster than I could walk, I didn’t bother to change out of my plastic sandals as I prepared to walk alongside our newest learner. This was the undoing of the whole endeavor.

Big Man has strong, pudgy legs. When they meet a pair of peddles they create a dynamo unlikely to be matched by middle-aged feet in plastic slip-ons. Also, his bike is low to the ground while my spine is old and composed of dried up chicken bones. It was an uncomfortable race to the end of the block for me.

By the time Stooped-Over Daddy became Stooped-Over Daddy Sucking Air, we’d determined that Big Man was an expert peddler. Balancing was a skill of secondary importance to him. Mommy came to relieve Daddy, but was quickly left just as ragged and dirty.

Even Buster stepped in to take a turn as spotter for his wobbly little brother, but he went heavy on expert advice from his deep well of experience and light on willingness to have his thicker brother fall over on him.

“Let me give you a few tips before I let go.”

It was a good workout for the whole family, but in the end Big Man had to go back to his training wheels until his worn-out family can recruit their strength.

Maybe we’ll work on tying shoes while we catch our breath.

 

In a perfect world every child would get their own cow eyeball

Who doesn’t love neuroscience? For a couple of hours, every spring, we can’t imagine anyone not having fun with brain studies. These are the hours we spend at our university’s annual neuroscience fair.

The boys get to see some fun exhibits and collect a little free swag. I get to revisit my theory about the neurons in the heads of little boys. In a nutshell, this theory posits that random testosterone spikes surge up the spines of boys to the brain neurons, causing entire lunchrooms full of synapses to have violent slap fights, resulting in periods of frenzied naughtiness. I have yet to get any of the science fair officials to endorse my Theory of Frenzied Naughtiness, but it’s only a matter of time.

The big draw at the fair is the cow eye dissection. You have to sign up in advance of one of the dissection programs – cow eye supplies are limited. In the past we’ve always arrived after the sessions were full. This year we got there early and secured a pair of eyes for our family.

While we waited for our session to begin, the boys touched some brains, did some surgery, and invested in the longevity of their own fledgling cerebrums with free bike helmets. Free bike helmets and cow eyes – and I always thought the only perks early birds got were worms.

Ever wondered what a Zombie buffet looks like?

He preferred performing surgery on the cherry flavored brain.

Wrapping up some precious little noggins.

In the dissection room, we donned our rubber gloves. If you can get a two-year-old and a four-year-old into rubber gloves before the event is over, you earned your cow eye. Nobody deserved those eyes more than we did.

Big Man and Big Brother shared their eye with Mommy. Buster worked with me. You might think an eyeball would be a hard nut to crack with a little pair of scissors, but if you squeeze that bovine peeper tight in your other hand, you can snip your way into the gooey center without difficulty. It helped that a couple of strategic slits were pre-cut for us. I had to wonder who got the plum job of scoring a hundred eyeballs. They should get an A on their freshman midterm.

We put our two best surgeons on this case.

Look: there’s a toy surprise inside.

There were nice, big placemats for us to work on, but every time Big Brother had a question, he would carry his preservative-dripping eye over to me, trailing eyeball juice on the table. The scientists were tolerant; this must not have been their first experience with young surgeons.

Knowledge gained, we left the operating room to go paint a brain. I don’t know a better way to wind down from a tense operation than with a little light brain painting.

A little orange makes it think better.

Then we sampled a magical berry extract that makes lemons taste sweet. It was interesting, but I’m not sure I want sweet lemons. I’m just an old prude, clinging to my traditional values about citrus. Before I could break into a rant about how the younger generation and their newfangled science was ruining tart, my family took me home.