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TODAY

Wednesday, November 20

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Airbags

Isn't everyone's favorite photo from a photo booth? I have a few that pop up from time to time as they travel through the flotsam conduit in our house. The best one is of my daughter and two of her chums from our baby playgroup 10 years ago. I'm in the background holding everybody up, and the three kids are looking very much like they do ten years later. My daughter is glowering at the camera, just like she would do to this very day. One friend is smiling and looking like she couldn't possibly imagine a more fun or exciting place to be, just like today. And the other kid, Frank, grew up to look just like himself as well, but sadly for us, moved away to live a gorgeous, nature-filled life in Oregon. The photo was taken at the Empty Bottle at an afternoon show called "Rudy's Rockin Kiddy Caravan," which was a compilation of various and sundry indie rockers doing the kid song thing. I'm hard pressed to remember who played, but I know it was great fun, as an afternoon of good music, beer drinking, happy kids, and dancing would be.

I remember thinking during that show — and maybe it was because I was having a beer in the middle of the day — that that's what I wanted to be doing as a parent in Chicago. Not the drinking part, necessarily, but the part where I got to go to cool events and hang out with other people who understood the importance of kid and family events that weren't designed for either to enjoy, but for all to enjoy. No insipid crap, nothing with soft edges, or fakey pastel colors, nothing with "kids music"; especially not that, as a lot of kids music really sucks.

When I wonder what would typify the perfect storm of all things bad, I can't help but remember a show called "Kid Songs" that used to be on the PBS daytime line up. The premise of the show was that this group of perfectly racially diverse children were in charge of a video show — just like MTV! — with a few well meaning adults on hand to help out. Every song was a reworking of either a children's song, or a "rock" song, like Rock around the Clock, with the boys dressed as "rock stars" and the girls dressed as teenyboppers swooning all over the place while the group lip synched the song to the cheesiest possible arrangement. If the song was along the Farmer in the Dell lines, you can bet there would be some actor dressed in his Sunday-best overalls, running around a farmyard with a bunch of adorably evil children bobbing in and out of the horse stalls, and jumping into piles of hay.

It's not just kids music, though. A lot of activities designed "just for kidz!" are the visual and experiential equivalent of "Kids Songs." Somewhere along the line someone decided that kids are not only a money making gold mine, but stupid as well, and regardless of your gender, nothing can be presented to you unless it has been reworked into the happy meal version of itself. I wanted nothing to do with any of that then, and ten years later, when it's even more insidious, I want even less to do with it. When we go out for something, I want real experiences, with real artists who are performing and making and teaching, and not something designed around the assumption that my kids, or any kids, are stupid and not able to hear real music, or see real art or learn about real things.

And that's one great thing about raising kids in Chicago. It's so easy to bypass the junk and just go for the gold, because there are piles of gold all over the place, every single day of the week. Who cares about junk? It's easily bypassed. If we lived elsewhere my kids might never know that you can take a bus to a bar on a Saturday afternoon and listen to a band, go to the movies to watch an Iranian children's film, see an authentic Italian family circus, be shown the decomposed skeleton of a deer when volunteering at the nature center, play a match of quidditch surrounded by hundreds of Harry Potter fans dressed as the staff and student body of Hogwarts, fly a giant dove in Grant Park, or watch "Singin' in the Rain" with Michigan Avenue as the west wall of the theater, and Lake Michigan as the east.

Fall in Chicago is when all of the stops get pulled out and everything starts happening at once. A wise parent carries a dayplanner everywhere he or she goes, and a few blank checks, because information about upcoming events as well as tickets sales and class sign-ups are coming fast and furious.

Here are just a few things duking it out for space on the calendar this month:

The Zoppe Circus, which just ended its week-long run in Dvorak Park is something not to be missed next time they come through town. This one-ring circus dates back to 1842, and is still run and performed by the Zoppe family in a beautiful blue and white tent, with lovely, live Italian circus music. And, the animals (dogs and horses) are happy and glowing with health.

The Chicago Children's International Film Festival starts next week, and runs October 19-29. We've attended in the past and have had the good fortune to have our horizons broadened immensely by viewing films from all over the world, about children all over the world. Tickets are on sale now!

The offerings at the Cultural Center are always worth checking out. Some of us will be going to see Jataka Tales at the Chicago Cultural Center, here's the blurb from the website: "Tireswing Theatre presents a stop in Northern India along the Silk Road with the Jataka Tales, very old stories passed on from generation to generation that serve as a source for moral behavior. Tireswing Theatre presents stories of wisdom written around 300 B.C. about the past incarnations of Buddha that are meant to teach the values of self-sacrifice, honesty, and other didactic values." There's been a lot of interest in Buddhism on the part of my son, ever since he started learning karate, so this will give us all a lot of food for thought.

The Viola Project, a series of workshops that present the works of Shakespeare to girls, and has them acting all of the parts, not just the Kates and Cordelias and Juliets, seems like a winner, especially if you have any verbal, thespian young ladies in your house.

Mudlark Theater's PeeWee Drama at the Prop Theater, taught by KellyAnn Corcoran will be a first class for a certain young man in my house. The hope is that the curriculum won't include running and tackling, since we've already covered that.

Words@play, a program that brings working poets into park districts all over the city for a free writing program just got started. It may not be too late to find out if there is space in a program near you, contact The Chicago Park District for more information about the whereabouts of all of the poets. The workshops culminate in a day long event at the Mexican Fine Arts Museum, as part of the Chicago Children's Humanities Festival.

There are always a ton of good things to do at the North Park Village Nature Center, starting with going for a walk. This fall there are several theater hikes planned, as well as the Harvest Festival next weekend, and a winter solstice fest in the December, featuring a shadow play done on a 50-foot screen in front of fire. That's definitely going on the calendar.

On Saturday night, a friend and I took our daughters down to the lake to watch the fire spinners. The harvest moon was shining down, the drummers were drumming, and the spinners were spinning. The girls were taking it all in with huge eyes, which is just how I want my kids to take in all of the cool things going on in this city of ours.

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About the Author(s)

Lori Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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