Mommybites Chit-Chat: Conversations with luminaries, entrepreneurs and influencers in the parenting world.
Tell us a little about you (your background, your job).
For the past nearly 20 years, I have taught in the Department of Music at Columbia University. I teach a class that every Columbia student must take, regardless of their major, called “Music Humanities.” Even though it covers the span of Music History, it is a not a History course where the professor stands at the front of the class and drones on about topics in music. Rather, it’s an open forum where students are encouraged to listen carefully to each other, then question and argue.
Each person shares the music they listen to and love, and there are always those in the class who dislike that same music. The simple act of listening to other students describe the music that moves them breaks down many barriers. Teaching this class has taught me a lot about parenting too!
What or who inspires you?
Creative people who are always changing, focused on growing, and never stagnant. Throughout my life I have really been inspired by Joni Mitchell, who constantly challenges herself and her audiences. In Classical Music, Beethoven comes to mind for those same qualities.
In the realm of teaching, I have been deeply inspired by the approach that teachers of young children embrace in Finland. On many trips there, I observed classroom teachers putting the child – not some cookie cutter template – at the center of their teaching, so that each day becomes an opportunity for diverse and imaginative interpretations of the material, with constant give and take between student and teacher.
For me, the best teachers are always the ones for whom learning from their students is an active and constant part of teaching.
What is your best piece of parenting advice?
To create an environment where children can become who they want to be. It sounds a bit cliché and obvious – like isn’t that what every good parent does or tries to do? Yes, but it is so difficult, and I definitely need the occasional reminder. It is easy to slip up into imposing my own dreams onto my son, who clearly has entirely different passions and dreams from my own!
What’s the worst piece of parenting advice you have heard?
I used to cringe any time someone suggested letting the baby “cry it out” in the crib at night. Just. No. When traveling and teaching in Asia many years before I became a mother, I was amazed and enchanted to see the prevalence of what we call “co-sleeping” here, which in many places is the norm, and just viewed as natural.
What are some of your favorite T.V. shows or movies?
OK admittedly I am a bit of a nerd…
My 10-year son and I enjoy watching history series, nature documentaries, and old Hollywood comedies. We recently watched The Crown and are kind of obsessed with The Tudors right now. These have been really great for discussions about changing gender roles, abuses of power, elitism, and finding connections between what is happening in politics today, and the political corruptions of the past.
What are your favorite books?
Way, way too many to mention! I go through phases where I’ll binge on non-fiction current event books, then spend weeks on fiction and poetry. Some of my favorite writers are Auster, Franzen, Haruf, Safran-Foer. Recently I discovered Lianne Moriarity (author of Big Little Lies) whose writing is – and I say this with a lot of respect – dangerously addictive. Do not read one of her books if you have anything else going on in your life – they’ll take you over.
What are your favorite foods?
I love to cook, and to explore New York’s many ethnic restaurants with my son. We often take trips to distant neighborhoods to try out a food place, and then attempt the dishes at home – often with humorous results.
What parenting books do you most recommend to parents?
While these are not parenting books per se, they have given me a lot of insight into parenting, and teaching: Gladwell’s Outliers; Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us; Cain’s Quiet; Simon Baron-Cohen’s Mindblindness, Colvin’s Talent is Overrated; Duckworth’s The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
What are some of your favorite parenting products?
Thinking back to when my son was a baby, I received so many products from well-meaning friends. The joke that is absolutely real in our case, was that my son often preferred the package, bubble wrap, ribbon, and paper to the product inside!
What’s up next for you professionally?
I am a part of the founding team of an extraordinary new Independent school, set to open in Fort Greene in September 2018 where I will be Head of School and Director of Music and Performance. MUSE Academy will be a unique school, in that a rich arts program will be deeply integrated within the rigorous academic program. There will be intensive daily music, art, and dance, with constant attention to encouraging children’s innate creativity.
Creativity seems to be prized when kids are very little, but somehow not so much when they grow into middle schoolers and beyond, where the focus shifts to testing and achieving academic success. The irony is that creativity has been proven to bolster academic success and enhance many other areas of life as well!