I am a physician. Ever since the med school days, we had it hammered into us that Medicine is both a science and an art. Even before you got admitted, your GPA was taken to indicate your fitness for the science part, while during the interview you had some presumably pro artists evaluating you for suitability as an apprentice. The science is what gets taught throughout the medical school, the art is hinted at, with the hope that you’ll eventually get it figured out on your own. As a result, medicine is now full or reasonably skilled artisans who are very mediocre artists, a situation that Dr. Goldman is valiantly trying to address in his radio show “White Coat, Black Art”.
The reason I bring medicine up is that it is a messily intertwined union of skill and art, whose ultimate goal is to make a human being more whole and wholesome. As such, it is analogous to parenting. Isn’t forming a whole and wholesome human being is what we are after? Yet are we clear about the unavoidable fact that it takes a certain set of basic skills, painstakingly acquired then constantly improved and expanded, in combination with talent, patient practice and inspiration, in order to assist at creation of such a being?
As an art, parenting witnessed its meandering journey that paralleled that of painting. It started at the dawn of time with the first caveman’t drawings, then proceeded to the curious Egyptian profile/en face homunculi, on through the rigid perspective-less stick figures of the middle ages to the glories of renaissance and baroque at the peak of realism, over the top of the hill into impressionism and surrealism, fanning out into the fragmentation of the modern art trends, the likes of cubism, fauvism, expressionism, primitivism (back to caveman’t paintings), and finally coming to rest at Malevich’s Black Square, beyond which lies no man’s land.
From where we stand now, we are left picking our path through this phantasmagoric array of parenting trends, trying to find the right tools just to draw something recognizable on the blank canvases that are our children, using the confusing mix of oils, acrylics, watercolour and even coal that we’ve got at our disposal as the media of expression. To add insult to injury, we soon realize that our canvases are anything but blank, and that they squirm, get of of the way, and try to knock the paint out of our hands just as we are frantically trying to work and learn at the same time. For the most part, we are blissfully oblivious to the very existence of anything beyond the most basic parenting genres, and so we blunder on undaunted, in the hope of eventually approaching some poorly defined ideal of well-behaved perfection that we hold in our mind’s eye.
This is what parenting is like for most of us. Once your baby is born, the nurses at the hospital show you how to give it a bath, hand you a pamphlet on how to avoid destroying your baby by shaking it in frustration at its utter incomprehensibility, and send you on your merry way to do with it as you please. Every parent is expected to be somehow qualified to figure out what to do on their own, without any formal instruction, just by virtue of having had sex nine months ago. Is it surprising that we get overwhelmed, and after trying our hand at various genres of parenting, offer our kids up to the black square of daycare and public education, liberally supplemented by the surrealism of the electronic tutors, with our own occasional caveman contribution thrown in for good measure whenever the going gets tough?
So, is there a way of getting it together?
Well, the reality is not as bleak as it seams. As Hermione Granger informs us in Harry Potter, to get through the devil’s snare you first have to relax. Only then would you have your wits about you to realize what you are up against, and then to be able to set to the methodical task of navigating the rough waters of the vast parenting ocean. This is what this book is about – first, about helping you relax enough to step out of the immediacy of your situation and assess it with some objectivity and good humour. And then, about giving you the rudimentary skills of working together with the canvas in order to create the unique masterpiece that you both would be rightly proud of.