Breakfast with Matisse: A Secret Tip for Awesome Weekdays

Breakfast with Matisse. A drive to the grocery store with Bach. Hanging out on the couch with Einstein. Lunch with The Beatles. Playdates with the Wright Brothers. Coffee with Pythagorus. Dinner with Dylan.

If you could spend a day this way, would you? 

Hanging around at home with a kid can be isolating. And monotonous. In fact, a person can go a little nuts sometimes. And, as great as lunch dates and play dates are, you can only plan so many of those every week. Here’s a secret that changes everything: we invite the coolest people we can think of. They might dominate the conversation, but they don’t take up any space on the calendar! And, man, are these guys champs at adapting to our traveling-circus-inspired lifestyle. Heading out on an adventure? Bach doesn’t blink at a three hour drive. Interminable mealtimes? Cat Stevens has endless patience for playing Sam’s favorite song thirty-two times.* 

In the day-to-day with tiny kids (I’ve got one in each hand these days), there’s a lot of minutiae to deal with, and it’s easy to lose touch with a bigger world. It’s the thing I dreaded most about entering parenthood: that slippery slope of disconnectedness from the bigger world. This is one way I resist it, and along the way, I get to introduce my kids to some pretty interesting ideas and people.

When you’re hanging out with your kids, you can be anything you choose to be. You can be naturalists by day and mathematicians by night, art connoisseurs at breakfast and classic rock experts at lunch. Besides, why use the words, “Because I said so,” when a law of physics will suffice? Why wait to learn about Sir Isaac Newton in a classroom when he can take a road trip with you? That magic age that you’re waiting for, when you can finally start talking about interesting stuff with your kid? It doesn’t exist. It starts on Day One. Right now.

Last year, when Sam I were on that crazy road trip to SoCal, driving up and over the Grapevine on I-5, Sam got frustrated. In perfect toddler form, he had determined that he was tired of driving uphill and JUST WANTED TO DRIVE DOWN. As the tantrum started winding up, I explained that we’d have to come down eventually, and I said in a ridiculous voice, “Sam. It’s the Law of Gravity. What goes up must come down!” Well, this struck him funny: he giggled for five minutes, made me say it over and over, and it became a huge inside joke. And it led us to other topics of gripping road trip conversation, like Newton’s laws of motion. Never mind that Sam was two years old at the time.

Okay, you say: but why would my tiny kid be interested in any of this stuff? Well, for one thing, little boys tend to be very interested in the laws of motion; in fact, they are typically concerned with very little else. Besides, the idea of an apple falling on the head of a stuffy old dude is funny at any age. The real question is, are YOU interested in this stuff? If so–if you are really, truly excited or curious about {insert topic of your choice here}–you can get your kid excited about it, provided you introduce it with real enthusiasm and curiosity of your own. Silly voices and a lot of humor and laughter won’t hurt, either. 

I’ve discovered that pretty much anything can be turned into a football cheer; for example: 
“How do you like to go up in a swing?” 
   “Up in the air so blue!”
“Oh I do think it the pleasantest thing”
   “Ever a child can do!” 
(Sorry, Robert L.S.; I don’t think you meant for it to be shouted. But it sounds good that way, particularly when you’re careening 5 feet in the air.)

If you were to drop into my kitchen at lunchtime, these days you’d probably overhear something along the lines of, “SAM, TAKE A BITE! Who sang Homeward Bound?” “Simon and Garfunkel!” “What’s the real name of parsleysagerosemaryandthyme?” “Scarborough Fair!” “What album is Blackbird on?” “The White Album!” pause.  “PUT IT ON,” He yells with glee. And we blast Sam’s 60’s playlist, and we look at the great album covers on my iPhone screen, and we sing along and talk about why The Beatles’ self-titled album cover is so…plain, and what Ringo Starr’s real name is.

To quote the great parenting movie Almost Famous: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Today, in the digital age, all your friends are right in your pocket, on Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, and Google, and they’re just waiting for you to tap into the incredible power that you have to access all the stuff they ever dreamed up. So, the next time that breakfast hour starts to feel like in-home purgatory, think of the most fascinating person you possibly can, call them up on the tiny supercomputer living in your pocket, and introduce them to your kid. You might be surprised at how good that bowl of oatmeal–cold by now, but that’s why good old Mr. Spencer invented the microwave–starts to taste. 

*It’s Moonshadow, in case you were curious.

Cover image via SFMOMA – Henri Matisse, Paysage: Les genêts (Landscape: Broom), 1906

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