When our daughter was 8-years-old, my wife was going to be spending a big chunk of July in New York on business, so instead of staying home in Seattle without her, and to save her all those cross-country flights, we decided to rent an apartment in SoHo for the month.
Each morning after sending Jennifer off to work, Josephine and I would head down into the subways and spend our days getting to know the city. We swam at Coney Island surrounded by jellyfish and plastic bags. We rowed ourselves around the lake in Central Park. We ate frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3. We caught an American Ballet Theater performance. We accidentally spent an emotional afternoon at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We stuck our heads into hundreds of shops, saw Broadway shows, and generally roamed the streets looking for adventure.
I was keenly aware of her digging in of heels, however, whenever the idea of something overtly educational, like a museum, was proffered. We argued about it and I finally bribed her into hitting the Museum of Natural History, but it was so unpleasant dragging a sulking kid around that I just gave up on forcing her into places she was reluctant to go. After all it was summer vacation and this trip was going to be a broadening no matter what, right?
One of the highlights of the trip was heading up to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where our friend Terry O’Brien is the artistic director, to see his production of Macbeth. This was Josephine’s first exposure to Shakespeare. Maybe one of the comedies would have been a gentler introduction, but she thoroughly enjoyed it, blood bath and all. It helped immensely, I’m sure, that Terry’s daughter Jenne (then 12) played a small role and that one of the actors was recognizable via his a semi-regular role on a Nickelodeon television program Josephine enjoyed. I felt pretty good about sneaking in some education without her realizing it.
One afternoon shortly after returning to the city, we were caught in a torrential downpour and ducked into the lobby of a movie theater to stay dry. Since it didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon I suggested we pick a movie. A quick scan of the posters, however, revealed nothing but ones tagged with never before broached “PG-13” or “R” ratings, one of which was King Arthur.
Josephine asked, “Why can’t we see that one?”
“It’s too violent. You’ll have bad dreams.”
“But Papa, I’ve seen Macbeth.”
How could I argue with that? And to this day Josephine lists this movie as one of her all-time favorites, in spite of the violence and my using it as an opportunity to “educate” her about the Sir Thomas Malory version (Le Morte d’Athur) of the Arthurian legends from which this surprisingly clever movie was derived.
Since then Josephine has become a Shakespearean actress in her own right, enthusiastically performing with a troupe of teenaged, self-described “Shakespeare freaks,” through the education department of the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Her career aspiration is to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
As we’ve entered our middle school years, Shakespeare has been our starting point for discussing just about every delicate topic under the sun. Josephine generally turns me off when I get onto a political rant, unless, of course I take the time to apply it to Julius Caesar. Every conversation about racism or anti-Semitism revolves around The Merchant of Venice. The Taming of the Shrew is our touchstone for sexism. All discussions of the dangers of manipulation lead back to All’s Well That Ends Well. And sex, well it’s hard to find one of Shakespeare’s plays that doesn’t deal in some aspect of sex, from adolescent passion (Romeo and Juliet), to playfulness (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), to perversities (Pericles).
We didn’t do anything educational in New York. We didn’t see the Rembrandts. We didn’t walk in the footsteps of great statesmen. We didn’t even make it into the Dinosaur Hall.
But the whole world was opened to us anyway. We didn’t miss a thing.