Papa’s Guided Tour
Through Imagination

Enzo, age 3

Picasso, age 13

Picasso, age 15

Enzo's Art Gallery

MARCH 2002

March 4:

Yesterday, our creative journey attempted to create music. However, as I am musically reclined or declined, but certainly not inclined, I suppose this predisposition led me astray in believing I could create harmony from rubber bands, nails and a piece of scrap pine (board). Enzo was elated both about the idea and end-product, but quite frankly from the warped adult perspective of mine the results were crap. The twanging of our makeshift "xylophone" produced dull buzzes. I recovered some dignity form Enzo's enthusiastic pleads to play with it, much more vigor than that evoked with the xylophone he received from Santa this last Christmas. I should have known I was bound to fail as my ability to comprehend musical concepts during one of my required courses was a mild source of stress for me, close to that which the international economics course which applied advanced calculus caused me.

I've taken piano, trumpet and violin lessons and nothing ever came of them. I've bought all kinds of silly "exotic" instruments to teach myself to play, but always ended up just beating a drum like a silly monkey. I truly believe that there was a faithful moment which prevented me from becoming an Issac Stern or Wynton Marsallis: It was in fourth grade and for the second or third time I had forgotten to bring my trumpet to class. I was doing well practicing at home and fondly remember how proud I was that I had learned Mary Had A Little Lamb or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, when the instructor ("teacher" seems too nice of a word) told me to never come back to class again for having forgotten my instrument. And that was that, he had single-handedly crushed any and all prospects of musical glory in this eight year-old.

I also borrowed some ideas from a "keep your pre-schooler busy" book. We filled a small bowl with water and dish washing soap and took two straws and watched as our blowing blew up a huge bubble-brain right before our eyes. It was almost more exciting than blowing a plain old stream of bubbles into the air.

We also took tiny espresso spoons and tapped them against different sized glasses filled at different levels with water. It was fun, but once again we ended up banging bongos like Bonzo. I tried explaining how the different levels of liquid volume in the pairs of same sized glasses created different pitches, but did not do a very good job. But at least this makes up for the other failed attempt of the day, when I had tired to resonate sound with the same glasses by swirling my wet finger at their brims, just like I've seen some street buskers do. This ill-fated attempt was right after the xylophone debacle.

Perhaps, more of a saving grace is the fact that I try to play a wide variety of music for the boys when I have them down in the dungeon with me. We listen to an extensive variety including classical (violin concertos mostly), country, international, rancheras, elctronica, lounge, pop, disco, and jazz, amongst many others.

March 5:

No activity worth reporting. However, Enzo did say something this morning which made me quite happy.

Last night we were reading a Berenstain Bears book, and the story developed by outlining sister and brother bear's hobbies. Enzo asked what a hobby was and I hobbled through a definition.

I suppose he had a few hours of sleep to let the new concept sink in, for upon awaking and greeting me as I exited the steamy bathroom, he said "Papa. I want to tell you something."
"Yes, mijo?"
"You know what my two favorite hobbies are?"
"No, why don't you tell me?"
"Eating green popcorn with Ruby and making spaceships with you, Papa."

If anything, these few words clearly indicate that my efforts are paying off.

March 17:

It's been a while since I entered anything into the boys art journal. The creative antennae had to be retracted for a while, while we took care of business.

Last week, I purchased a large paper roll and promptly posted a 3 foot by 24 inch sheet on a playroom wall. Enzo and Ruby scribbled on it a bit and Enzo added a few lines since then, but nothing spectacular came of it.

Yesterday (3-17-02), however, Enzo impressed me with a drawing which he entitled "A Message" which appeared to me to be an exquisite chock of colored madness upon genius upon haphazard form. I am planning to matt and frame it just like his rendition of the Brooklyn Bridge which he created over a year ago.

As a poorman's substitute for the airplane Enzo was begging that we build, we put together a flying saucer out of the tops from assorted broken glass percolated coffee decanters, a simple 3-piece construction which he decorated randomly with stickers.

Finally, we took a tour of Bodyworks 5.0. Enzo seemed quite interested, though it was a little difficult to immediately gauge what might have sunk in. However, I am confident that the visual lessons are invaluable, as they reinforce concepts such as layers, systems and functions.

A side note: I tried to get the game Operation to operate, but it proved dysfunctional, a change of batteries was futile, so I am guessing (hoping) it is merely a matter of changing the light bulb.

March 20:

It appears that my tabula rasa inductions are proving true.

This morning Enzo and I had the following conversation:
“Papa, if we take off our skin we’ll be muscle-strings?”
“”If we take off our muscle-strings we’ll be just bones?
“If we take off our bones, we’ll be scarecrows?”
“Yes (chuckle).”
“..and we’ll scare crows?”


Last night, seemingly our of the night sky blue, while we were in my workshop (i.e. the basement) checking out another leak from the foundation, Enzo asked me “Papa, who’s God?” (this might have been prompted by seeing the new Virgen de Guadalupe candle I recently added to my vigil of light—which I explained to Enzo a few days ago was a picture of “the Mother of God.” )

I hesitated to answer, because I still struggle between my own ardent atheism and my role as a parent who wants his children to have the basis for a good (respectable) moral grounding. Well, I answered, “God is the Creator of all living things, the One who created us, people, and all the animals—dogs, cats, cows, and birds, all those creatures which Noah saved on his ark.”
Enzo replied rather matter-of-factly, “Oh.”

Later that evening as I was putting Enzo to bed (this is the creativity part) I asked him to please recite the Lord’s Prayer with me. He resisted.

So, I had to cajole him a little.

There was a period where we said it together every night without any second thoughts to whether or not he wanted to. Well, with the interruption of the move and all, we kind of got off track and the consciousness of second thoughts snuck in. Lo and behold, Enzo began to have no desire to repeat after me anymore.

So, here we are, again, and I finally get him to say “Our Father, who art in heaven…” under his breath. I accepted it as a start and continued. It appears Enzo caught on and decided to have a little fun.

“Hallowed be thy name ‘to the Drerder…’”
“…Thy Kingdom come ‘with the Drerder…’”
“It will be done ‘with the Drerder’”

And it continued like this through the whole prayer completely pan-faced, it was an impressive performance.

As sacrilegious as it may have been, I did not stop him and his fortune cookie-“in bed”-silly suffix wordplay, because, quite frankly, I was laughing hysterically each time under my breath. I’m sure my repressed chuckling only encouraged his naughty antics, but it got him through the prayer, the habit of which—like the belief of which—I waver between the devout proselytizing and the questioning of its legitimacy and the ultimate worth thereof.

“So, Enzo what does ‘Drerder’ mean?”
“It’s for prayers.”

I thought “Okay, good enough,” for I was happy he had employed his imagination to get through something which was always a matter of mere rote repetition and “how fast can I say it tonight” for me.

Besides, the primary reason I suggested “Our Father” in the first place was to fill in the time. Usually, I would read a story or two in order to ease him in to bedtime, but Enzo was being quasi-punished by going to bed without one this time. I dislike disciplining him, but out of parental fear I just don’t feel that simply explaining the whys, why nots and wherefores suffice.

His crime? Dispensing soap water upon his brother a few times after I had asked him not to. He also dumped half a bottle of coveted lavender baby wash into the bathwater while I was drying and getting Nicky dressed in the other room.

Oh, the woes of (self-righteous) parenthood.

March 21:

Enzo's drawing of a rocketship was impressive for the mere fact that his objects were not subject to interpretation. Perhaps, not on his way to being a child prodigy like Picasso was, producing impressive sketches and oil paintings at 13 and 15, but I was still pleasantly surprised to see such clear form from my almost-three year old. March 24:

On Saturday afternoon Enzo drew a pillar of charged creativity in splashes of red, orange and yellow, he immediately declared it to be a picture of “Boltin’ Man!” I could not help but think of Michael Bolten, but knew that by Enzo’s enthusiasm that his latest creation was more like a crack of lightning than a soothing rush of new-age ocean waves.

I asked him how he conjured the name and he promptly answered “I used my imagination.” As you can imagine, it was another proud moment for me. I was beaming.

A little later on, I was clued in to what might have been the inspiration for this portrait. We were looking at a collection of photos on the PC and when we came to a picture of the sock puppet I made for him a couple of weeks back he said “Hey! That’s Boltin’ Man!” One could see the akin elongation, but I was not sure what came first. The two-dimensional outline or the 3-D rag of resemblance?


Sunday morning Enzo and I were down in his playroom and I fumbled over the parental thing I do and tried to get him to clean up. I first I was a bit frustrated because he just kept playing. Imagine that—a three year old playing. It suddenly dawned on me that I was the cause of my own grief. Why, if I took five minutes to clean up the toys, I would not have to stand over him like a big bad owl impatiently tapping my talons over the next half hour, to make sure he put everything in its proper place. Why, if I did it myself and smiled about it, he might even learn by my example. Maybe…

Parental fear of the moment: I’ll end up spoiling him, if I do ‘everything’ for him. He’ll end up being like ‘one of those kids’ who can’t do anything for themselves, who won’t do as their parents ask them to, who begrudge their father for not teaching them discipline (the army boot camp variety, not the Sunday school nun hand in ruler kind—I don’t know which one is worse, being stern or being stringent)


I introduced the idea of focusing on “the details” with Enzo by watching slideshows of the pictures I took this weekend of our house, the collages of which attempted to flush out the idiosyncrasies of our homemaking design. I tried to explain to him that one can either look at the “big picture” or look at the details of things, and that the latter was often the preferable thing to do. We’ll explore the other side of the spectrum of perspective by having a discussion on the importance of having a “vision” some other day.

As the slideshows were separated by color schemas—aqua, red rum, sunny side-up, monochromatic—we also discussed the importance of being aware of the color of everything around you. Even though there was no tell-tale reaction, he seemed genuinely interested in everything I said and showed, sitting through a good hundred pictures without fidgeting.

When we went to Mass later that morning I tried to further imbed the understanding of what we had discussed by pointing out the round of spectacular stained glass church windows. “Look at the windows and try to count the different colors in each one, or see if you can find the same color in other windows.” Apart from teaching him about design, I was more immediately hoping to keep him interested in this whole communal ritual. Going to mass with children is not easy. Sitting, standing, kneeling, and all the explaining, if you have not already lost their attention by the time the homily rolls around, is not easy. Mass was certainly not made for kids.

So, I tried instilling some interest by whispering fascinating tidbits about the architectural design of this house of worship. For, of all the architecture in the world, I’m most often impressed by the creation of churches and cathedrals. The artistry and craftsmanship is awesome—awe inspiring quite often. Surely there are plenty of private and commercial structures that are equally ornate and expensive to construct, but to build a home as palatial as this entirely on faith is really incredible. The tallest buildings in the world are gratuitous feats meant to catalyze commercialism, churches on the other hand are meant to simply instill catechism.

And I well knew it was not the teaching of the body of fundamental principles or beliefs of Christianity that was going to keep Enzo from crawling through the pews, boisterously singing “Ooompa Loompa Loompa-di-do,” after I explained that the hymn sheets were composed of both lyrics and musical notes, or asking questions unrelated to the service out loud, all of which he did towards the end of this especially long Palm Sunday mass. But that did not stop me from trying to explain some of what we were celebrating that day.

Along with the swatches of colored glass cut to make the intricate portrait in each window, I pointed out to him that these were pictures of each stage of the Passion Play. I had some trouble though, because the 12 states depict such a sweetly sorrowful scene from the birth of Christianity. How do you explain “they nailed him to the cross,” or “he died and rose for our sins” to a three year old. You don’t and I didn’t.

However, I did explain that the palms we held were “symbolic” of when Jesus walked into Jerusalem and the people hailed him as King with palm fronds (in confirming this part of the story I found out that “leftover palms used to decorate churches are burned to make the ashes used for Ash Wednesday” – interesting wouldn’t you say?). Being that this entire experience of the rituals we were following is ripe with symbolism, I tried to make an analogy for him. “By hugging and kissing Mama and Papa you are ‘symbolically’ telling us that you love us. So by coming to Church we symbolically tell God and Jesus Christ that we want to follow what he taught us, that is to be good people, to give, to be kind to others, and to LOVE everyone and everything.”

By the way, I must add, really I must, that Arthur Hiller’s acceptance speech about his mother and father on last night’s 74th Academy Award show for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was perhaps the most genuine display of gratitude I have ever witnessed, the audience apparently did not know how to react to this great show of integrity. Here is the transcription:

Thank you, Mama, thank you, Papa. It feels humbling to receive a humanitarian award for doing what my parents brought me up to do. I had an unbelievably caring mother and father, who lived their lives with the moral values of … love and compassion … of respect and responsibility … of human dignity … and standing up for what's right.

Even though they had a hard time earning a living, they helped the poor and the hungry … and they also helped others who needed the support of a friend, or someone to stand up for their rights. They felt all other people as individual human beings, and judged them by their actions, and not by their color, or their race or religion.

I wish I could say that I'm as strong as they were in all those areas, but I'm so grateful to them for instilling those values in my loving sisters and me. And I'm so grateful to my loving wife and our wonderful children. My wife's so supportive. And Henryk and Erica just can't be better. Gwen and the kids are always behind me and sometimes pushing me to live up to those values. It's so embarrassing to receive an award for doing what you should be doing — but I must admit it pleases me greatly. And it especially honors me to receive it from this Academy that I respect so deeply and that has always meant so much to me personally. Thank you.

The love fest theme was my excuse to keep it simple. I’m still unsure as to when we should begin to discuss life and death and other esoteric and gruesome concepts like “sin,” “crucifixion,” “sacrifice,” “soul,” not to mention all the pure faith items like “immaculate conception,” “the trinity,” “a higher being,” “free will,” “eternal damnation,” “the apocalypse,” “the second coming,” and “heaven and the here thereafter.”

I wonder if the whole preoccupation with this makes me just a product of my environment—the zeitgeist that perpetuates paranoia ensuring that the “the right (safest) thing” is infused into all that we do. And is it possible that holding back such information, or pacifying it through fantastic metaphors like angels and storks might prove harmful or at least digressive? They do say “ignorance is bliss” for a reason, and I do believe that exposure to violent and obscene multimedia or reality TV can have a negative effect on some children. I just want to make sure that I am not underestimating Enzo’s ability to accept and comprehend nature, evolution and life itself—and by holding back or distorting facts I am not inhibiting his imagination.

The concept/reality of eminent death and “killing” arise almost daily: in the form of insect pesticides for the indoor garden of Eden I am growing, the ‘dead’ bugs that collect in the overhead lights and the buzzed-out flies lying on window sills, road kill, eating meat, the whole “Christ died for our sins” bit every Sunday, survival of the fittest as witnessed in nature CD-ROMs and videos explaining how carnivorous and predatory animals thrive in the wild, and even in the ‘children’s’ books we read like “The Wizard of Oz.”

Case in point I left my pen and tablet during the inscription of this journal entry to watch the “In Memoriam” portion of the Academy Awards. For some morbid reason, it happens to be the favorite part of the whole show—perhaps, unlike the rest of the show, I appreciate it because it tends to be a genuine ode to those recently departed, and not a pretentious panorama of actors affecting pathos. I was not hesitant to shed a tear in their memory, in respect to those “who have made a difference.” Kevin Spacey began this portion of the program by asking everyone to rise and join him in a moment of silence for all the heroes who fell during 9/11. It was quite moving to hear the silence.

9/11, I find it ironic that being the single most significant public event in my life, Enzo knows nothing about it. And well he should—for now.

March 28:
Going through our usual bedtime routine I asked Enzo what he would like me to read. He answered “Um, read me a story about flowers.” I knew immediately that there was no such tale in our repertoire of literature, so I thought for a moment, hoping to be able to stretch a connection amongst bears and bunnies and toys coming alive. And then suddenly it dawned on me—why don’t we read from one of my gardening books? He might actually understand something, and if not, the bore of not understanding might put him fast asleep.

His level of comprehension actually surprised me and he seemed quite fascinated with the USDA Hardiness Zone maps, which are the basis for best practices in every green thumb gardener’s book.


I swear I heard Nicky utter his first word, “Ba-Pa,” meaning “Papa,” which he subsequently mastered over the next few days, for I heard him clearly utter two “P”s by Sunday. I admit it is not entirely clear that he was referring to me, but he was smiling and looking at me as he said it, so I have enough faith in this induction to make me happy.

As I did with Enzo, I will be chronicling Nicky’s verbally iterative progress. Because a strong vocabulary and command of language is vital to expressing one’s imagination, at least in the manner which these boys’ father knows best. If anything, I hope that we can instill the skill for creative writing in these two tykes, or at least the value of extraordinary expression.

March 29:
I brought home a couple of sheets of architectural blue prints and posted them alongside a new clean sheet of paper in the Boy’s playroom. I explained to Enzo that these were “plans,” instructions on how to construct things like buildings and machines and spaceships. He immediately began to make close-to-tracing marks on the room outlined on the blue paper and said “Okay, let’s build this.” I felt a bit less-than-guilty for misleading him when I had to let him down by explaining that we did not have the materials, tools nor skills to do just that. “Oh,” was his response and he continued to engineer his own plans for the impossible dream with an orange crayola.

March 30:
First thing in the morning Enzo asked to watch Body Works. He was particularly enamored by the part featuring a pseudo sci-fi setting where Dr. Body Works explains the various systems of the body. He demonstrated a pretty good command of the mouse and navigating through such software, and ended up going through every one of the good doctor’s presentations.

Several hours later that evening Enzo innocently relayed what he had learned and told his mother “Mama, your chi-chis are made fat tissue.” She did not seem amused.


That same afternoon Mama led the Easter egg-coloring activities, showing Enzo how to hard-boil eggs and make the various hues of food coloring with vinegar, water and dye. Tying an apron about him she helped him dip each egg into the various bowls to infuse each white and brown egg with a different solid color.

March 31:
I conducted Enzo’s first media interview. We set up the video camera in the kitchen and brought out about two years of his cumulated art work. There were about two hundred marker pen scratches, crayon sketches, finger paintings and hieroglyphic scrawls in all. I digitally catalogued my favorites and those which seemed some true effect of purpose and intentions to depict something other than random non-linear form. Click here to see Enzo's Art Gallery.

I proceeded through each piece, asking him what it was, what the source off inspiration was, and other various questions about the design of his work. Much of the time I tried to infuse humor at his bewildered expense employing a pretense to art criticism designed to fly over his head and hopefully generating a droll juxtaposition between this child’s creative freedom and an adult’s tainted application of meaning. I figured we might be mutually amused in some distant future when we all sit down to review our collection of family trove of media.