Acclaimed food and wine critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl muses on the perils and pleasures of trying to raise a creative kid.
By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
September 4, 2007
Sagacious Head 6 and Sagacious Head 7
"Sagacious Head 6" and "Sagacious Head 7", by Magdalena Abakanowicz, bronze, 1989-1990. Courtesy WAC.

Sagacious Head 6 and Sagacious Head 7

WHEN MY SON WAS FIFTEEN MONTHS OLD, I BOUGHT HIM HIS FIRST BOX OF CRAYONS. I was leaving the Galleria after a business lunch, and I bought them with the typically bizarre mixture of best intentions and overwhelming guilt that seems to come with being a parent.

On the one hand: What was I doing at the Galleria when I could be at home with the baby?

On the other hand: I had read on the Internet that some other mother of a fifteen-month-old was already archiving her child’s drawings. Why wasn’t I archiving my kid’s drawings? How could it be that my darling didn’t even have any drawings to archive? Bad mother!

On the third hand: Didn’t I want to be modeling
good, strong, working-woman behavior for my little boy? And if I didn’t, what
was the alternative? Modeling living-under-a-bridge behavior?

On the hundredth hand: Does buying crayons for a
fifteen-month-old put undue pressure on a kid, like buying an SAT prep book
for an eight-year-old? Once I was in the store and surveyed the options, I had
new doubts: maybe fifteen-month-olds should work, not in crayons, but with
collage! Perhaps the two of us should be exploring
Jean Arp’s ideas of
automatic composition and the organic beauty of chance? Don’t Arp’s collages
kind of look like they were done by toddlers anyway? Or, wait: Is it wrong to
buy scissors for a fifteen-month-old?

Bloody hell.

It was out of just those thousand-arms of doubt
and hope that Creative Kidstuff
netted eight bucks for soy-crayons and paper. I
would say the hardest thing about raising creative kids is that you don’t do
it in a vacuum: the world intrudes.

My little boy is almost twenty months old as I
type this, and he is a bona fide Twin Cities art lover. He goes to the
Walker or the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts at least
once a week—in fact, he almost caused a major incident at the MIA yesterday.
When two art-installers were removing the glass cover from a priceless jade
sculpture, the baby shouted out: “Be ca’ful!” It was only the grace of God
that kept that vitrine intact as both the art-movers laughed so hard their
arms shook.

At the Walker right now all of his favorite
pieces are found in the
Sculpture Garden: He loves
the big bronze sculptures by
; Sagacious Head 6 and Sagacious
Head 7
may be grave and immutable to adults, but to my son Asa they’re the
perfect little mountains designed for peek-a-boo; last weekend my husband, the
baby and I spent half an hour running around them in figure-eights. “Where’s
Asa?” he cries as he runs. “Where’s Asa?”

He also loves Sarah Sze’s installations in the
Cowles Conservatory, and as his language grows so does his understanding of
her haunting constructions. Two months ago Sze’s pieces were mostly made of “pretty”; now the pretty is made of “boo flowers”,
“white flowers”, “fan on” and “light on”. And Asa loves the lights that
illuminate the Sculpture Garden’s pathways. Did you know that spiders
sometimes build webs in those lights? On lucky days you can also find the
dried husks of former beetles in there. On very lucky days I just let him do
what he wants with the dead beetles, and don’t pester him about not getting
them near his mouth. All of us have a better time when I just let the baby be
the baby and when I am not prey to all the doubt and fears about what I might
be doing wrong.

But without those doubts and good intentions Asa might not have ended up with
his first crayons and paper. So my fretting isn’t all bad. The day I bought
them, I opened the pad up to reveal the paper and showed him how the crayons
work. I folded a blue one into his little hand. He unfolded his fist and tried
to spin the crayon on its point, to see whether this thing might be a
particularly skinny top. Then he threw aside the blue crayon and seized the
white one. Naturally, I tried to take it from him: drawing with the white
crayon on the white pad, that won’t work! At which point he, quite rightly,
freaked out. So, chastened, I backed off.

Asa stabbed at the white pad with the white crayon for a while, spontaneously
creating his own version of
Rauschenberg’s “White Paintings
”. Then he tasted the crayon. Knowing it
was made of soy, I
left him alone, idly wondering if the next generation of crayons would contain
vital antioxidants. Then Asa tired of the white crayon and moved on to the
blue, yellow, and orange ones; putting them in and taking them back out of the
box, rolling them, tasting them—experiencing art on his own terms, in his own

I peered at the white paper, and wondered if
anyone but me could see the white crayoned dots on it or the tiny tracings of
blue and orange made by rolling crayons on paper. Eventually Asa decided the
paper would be good for peek-a-boo, and later that it would be good to
stand and, finally, dance on.

Soon the paper was in shreds, and the baby was
playing with cars.

As I put everything away, I considered other
things which are more difficult to put away, namely, the mess of trying to be
a good parent. You start out with such a hodgepodge of good intentions, guilt,
and confusion. If it’s a good day, your best intentions come out the other
side as well as you hope they will. Asa’s first experience making art came out
in a hail of white dots and microscopic orange and blue lines, and while I
haven’t archived that first drawing in the usual scrapbook sort of way, I’ve
archived it nonetheless.

About the author:
Moskowitz Grumdahl
is a James Beard Award-winning writer on food and wine, and
the recipient of the 2005 Loft/McKnight Fellowship for fiction. In addition to
her weekly City Pages column Dara currently writes a monthly
column for the magazine Experience Life, and occasionally
contributes to magazines including Gourmet, Wine & Spirits,
Midwest Living
, and Condé Nast's Traveler. She is a
frequent radio and television guest, and can occasionally be heard on local
Minnesota broadcasts of NPR’s All Things Considered and
Weekend America; on television she wears a wig and funny
sunglasses in her role as monthly restaurant critic for local NBC affiliate
KARE-11. She’s also working on her first novel, a black comedy about
adolescent girlhood tentatively entitled
Tempest, Tossed.

MN Artists