I just saw Moulin Rouge on Broadway and my age doesn’t get it. I went from “Team Christian” to “Team Satine” to my utter shock. But let’s rewind.
Moulin Rouge is a spectacle that gives you everything you hope for – massive production numbers, a dazzling cast, and a badass update to the music (as if that was even necessary). I had a great time.
And, although the plot is not at all child-friendly) nor is the spread-legged g-string choreography) I couldn’t help thinking constantly about the lessons I’d hope my kids could garner from the message…were they ever to see the show.
When I first saw Moulin Rouge, the movie, I was alllllll about Christian’s dreams of living for love and truth and beauty and freedom…the four pillars of Moulin Rouge’s message.)
And now? As a jaded father with life experience, I empathized slightly more with Satine’s dilemma.
My age doesn’t get it.
And that makes me kind of sad. But also – shrug – it’s life.
The story (if you need a refresher) is: Satine (played ravishingly by both Nicole Kidman and Karen Olivo) falls in love with Christian (Ewan McGregor and the vocally-stunning Aaron Tveit) but must also indulge in a love affair with a Duke, without whom her beloved Moulin Rouge would close and she’d be back on the streets as a struggling artist (and probably prostitute).
Romantic escapades and pleading scenes “what more is there
to live for than love?” scenes ensue.
The frequent reference to the bohemians struggling in the
squalor of 1890’s Paris is the principle that life is only meaningful with truth, beauty, love and youth.
And I quickly thought: you know what’s sexy? Truth and beauty and love.
You know what’s not sexy? Poverty.
What else isn’t sexy? Endless struggle, even in the name of art.
So once again: my age doesn’t get it.
A few times throughout the show, Christian begs the indulgence of the audience to “remember the thrill of your first love.” That was a smart “breaking the fourth wall” device allowing cynics (guilty) to put aside eye rolls and appreciate Christian’s infatuation.
And I totally went to my own “folly of first love” – to my obsession with Jenny in seventh grade, Lori in 8th, Eileen in college, and the uncontrollable, untethered, schizophrenia of the beginning of my current relationship with my partner (which of course still has that burning passion 15 years later.)
But even without my cynicism, I still empathized with Satine
(who’s quickly losing her youth.). If she indulges the Duke, she gets to
continue to perform at the Moulin Rouge, will have relative stability (for
Bohemian Paris in the 1890’s) and a working artist.
Sure, she lacks the love. And joy. But come, now. Even Satine and Toulouse Lautrec (her friend in the show for fictional but historical context) muse about the purity of their art, but misery of their poverty.
What should she prize more? Love and joy? Or warmth and food
and choose to be happy as the concubine of an insanely rich man?
I honestly don’t know what is the “right” choice.
Of course I want
my children to experience the insanity of youthful love. And I hope they
experience that passion throughout their lives. That ravishing thrill of love can
re-visit throughout the ages, but it definitely mellows with romantic
commitment. I hope they experience it over and over.
I hope my kids realize that burning passion often (maybe not
always) fades, and, in the end, making practical decisions about life is
necessary to live with relative comfort and stability.
Ugh. I feel like I’m undermining my own principles of beauty, truth, love and freedom. But those massive values aren’t always timeless.
If I were Satine’s or Christian’s parents, I’d definitely counsel “I’m sure it was fab to be so in love with this penniless artist. But it’s time to make life choices. Christian: go get a real job and call me when you’re done. Satine: choose to be happy living in comfort as a working actor(!) in 1890’s Paris!”
Further, I suppose this fading of beauty and youth (and transition of love through experience) is quite possibly the point of art – to bring us pleasure in the things that fade, remind us of bygone emotions and feelings; and to help us connect to our faded passions.
Such practicality is foreign to the folly of youth.
And perhaps why art is probably appreciated all the more with age.
As was my experience with Moulin Rouge.
Thank goodness for art and music and stories, because without their focus on love, beauty, freedom, and truth, our stories would be dull and cynicism would consume us. We need art (and to force-feed culture to our children) to remind us of bigger ideas and a connection to these Moulin Rouge pillars.
We need the romance and beauty (and the pain) to move our
emotions in our busy lives – so we can remember that glorious insanity of unlimited
love…without always having to live it.
Cuz let’s face it… no one can get shit done when in the
throes of Satine-Christian passion.
But it’s fun while it lasts.
I’ll have to add this to my canon of ageist idioms:
*** Quick side-note: I LOVE that Moulin Rouge is devoting some of its commercially-won dollars to support “The Bohemian Project“, pledging grants to help emerging creatives and artists. (Though the website states “more info and partners coming soon” and the show’s been open for months. So.)
Last night I was giving thanks by opening a beer seconds after putting my kids down, I felt gratitude that they most likely won’t wake for 10½ hours. I am so lucky to have sleepers.
As I sipped, I thought about gratitude. It was a Hallmark Channel moment. And I was reminded: the many ways I’ll be giving thanks this (and every) year is to my mom…for making me a dad.
I write about her in the past tense. Several years ago, she died unexpectedly from a cardial arrhythmia. Doctors said it’s the way we all want to go: one second you’re here, then you’re not.
Several people told me, “Ohmigosh, you’re an orphan!” (a label that never occurred to me til it was pointed out.) But there are worse tragedies in the world than my personal situation. Much worse. But in our culture, 32 is young to be parent-less.
Thanks to our close relationship where nothing was left unsaid, I wasn’t bereft. I was sad, but I’d be ok. That’s a tribute to her.
My father died when I was eight years and fifty days old.
Today, my child is eight years and fifty-one days old, and has officially lived with a father longer than I did.
That is a crazy milestone that I’ve anticipated for years. I’ve calculated it down to the day (clearly). There’s a weird sense of relief – to think I’m sparing my kids the tragedy that befell me.
After the loss of my parents, I’ve of course maintained memories, their presence is always with me, but sadly, their memories fade in my mind as I grow older and busier and my own brain calcifies.
But I never, ever forget their death days. Every single time I see or hear the date (November 14th), in whatever form (11/14) it gives me pause. These simple numbers are singed into every crevice of my brain. With every conjuring of these calendrical digits, my mind takes an instantaneous detour from its intended path.
And I’m grateful for “taking pause”. My life is more based in emotion than math, so it’s refreshing to have numbers divert my forward momentum. There’s nothing emotional or messy about numbers. They just are.
And “11/14” doesn’t make me emotional or messy. It just makes me be. And it reminds me I’m experiencing a day unique from other days – like visiting a museum or marching in a rally or celebrating a holiday.
So. Back to life with/without my dad.
He was struck down after a heinous battle with brain cancer. It was gnarly, given his war wounds from his time as a U.S. Marine, his linebacker stature, and the tragedy of his young age. For two years he lived with a terminal diagnosis. He tackled it head-on with humor and determination. He kept on keepin’ on because of his mighty strength of character. And when his body expired, everyone in the family was relieved…because it was an exhausting fight.
I cannot imagine the anguish his sickness caused him or my mother – two people halted from pursuing all-American dreams at age 38; not in a quick tragedy, but in a drawn-out, gruesome one. And all while trying desperately to maintain a sheen of calm for their 8yo kid.
Having aged several years more than my father when he died, I see just how damn lucky I am – to witness my children’s growth and to have my health; to prioritize my kids’ development over everything else, and to have the luxury of getting wrapped in petty day-to-day crap that shouldn’t matter (but luckily does) because my life is not reduced to survival.
I wish I took more pauses on a daily basis to be present, and not just on visibly jarring number-days like my parents’ death days. (I should definitely get on that “meditate 3x/wk” on my vision board before I regret not having done so.)
I might burden my kids with the emotional weight that they have it better than I did when I was eight years and fifty days old. I think death isn’t something to be shunned or hidden, but rather confronted and discussed.
Or maybe I should just hug them an extra few times.
And have a drink to cheers my dad.
And just keep keepin’ on…with an occasional pause for
I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas'”. However, I want my children to know the reason behind every season. Despite them rolling their eyes, I always discuss with my kids the significance of cultural events and holidays.
It’s worth the eye rolls for my kids to understand why of cultural markers and holidays.
This applies most especially to holidays as “abstract” as Veteran’s Day. Yesterday, my older kid jumped with joy as she celebrated having THREE DAYS OF MORNING TELEVISION this weekend. Uncharacteristically, I held my tongue so as not to deflate her joy. I’ll save the posturing about Veteran’s Day for the actual day.
I’ve always been (morbidly) fascinated by WWI, which came to an end 101 years ago, today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This was the first war in which men were able to massacre acres of men without catching sight of each other. The wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and trench warfare that wasted a generation rooted in agreements and misunderstandings between insecure, rich white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the universe.
Talk about toxic masculinity.
WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, Caucasian paradigm) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.
Today, Veteran’s Day is known as Remembrance Day in Canada and Armistice Day in Europe. Poppies are worn on the lapel as a symbol of remembrance (“lest we forget”) to commemorate the vast fields of poppies that sprung up across the mass graves in Belgium and France. The poppies were the inspiration for John McCrae’s poem, “Fields of Flanders.”
I couldn’t agree more – patriotism is the opposite of nationalism. And nationalism led to WWI.
Because nationalism (setting national gain over international citizenship) is what caused WWI. And nationalism could easily cause another unimaginable world conflagration. This is what most scares me about Trump and what most scares me about my kids’ generation not having a grasp of history. I pray neither of my children ever has to endure a generational war (although let’s not forget that American forces are waging battles around the world, today).
In order to raise “good” kids, I’m constantly preoccupied with their sense of gratitude and appreciation. So, yeah: I’ll always lecture them on history and teach the significance of world citizenship. They’ll be good kids if they grasp “world citizenship” and that patriotism means NOT allowing insecure, rich men to repeat history and take us down the path of selfish nationalism, again.
We’re all in this together…the entire world.
I don’t exactly know how to talk with my kids about such disturbing issues as massive loss of life in the name of freedom (and on behalf of European royals and leaders). But I’ll lecture my kids and will embrace the eye rolls in the interest of world citizenship and patriotism. I’ll recite “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, even though it’ll mean nothing to my kids.
And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them and their future.
Recently, a neighbor died, which opened the door for discussing death with kids in five simple steps:
Just talk about it – if you’re sad or mad or depressed or even happy or relieved or whatever. Emotions are all okay.
Just talk about it – what you think happens after death in whatever way makes sense to you.
Just talk about it – my death, your death, everyone’s death.
Just talk about it – how life goes one for the rest of us.
Just talk about it – the ways your life was changed by the deceased.
We took them to the funeral where they were by far the youngest attendees. We walked in last (that’s how we roll) and I imagine many people thought, “are you crazy having your kids at a funeral?” In addition to the torture of cultural experiences, a funeral is another opportunity for memorable, learning memories.
But I think discussing death with kids is important – for all our emotional health.
Having lost my father at age 8 and then my mother at age 33, I was a “young orphan”. And I’ve thought a lot about death and our (as Americans) relationship with death.
A few months after the death of my mother, a friend asked “How are you doing? Or, wait – do you want me to talk about it? Are you okay talking about it? Is that wrong for me to ask? Oh, shoot. Sorry I brought her up.”
“Yes! Please ask me about it. Especially a few months down
the line, please – ask away. It feels good to talk about her. I won’t get
emotional – or if I do, so be it. But it feels good NOT to ignore the fact that
I’ve had a massive life change a few months ago and now everyone walks on
eggshells around me.”
That was eye-opening. I wanted to talk about my mom and the experience of losing her or getting accustomed to my new normal.
We suck at death in America. We’re uncomfortable addressing it with those in mourning (are we afraid of emotion, entirely?), think we’re bringing down the people who are going through a loss, afraid to discuss “nothing” after being selfish our entire lives, avoid thinking about our demise, and don’t know how to healthily talk about it or approach it. And certainly discussing death with kids is a topic avoided until it’s in our faces.
Look at the hysteria over “death panels” during the Obamacare debates and Sarah Palin’s talking points about “killing Grandma” and the fact that so much money is spent to prolong life by a few months when in reality we should be considering how best to healthily accept the end of life with quality rather than reflexively thinking that living on life support would be the active choice anybody actually wants. So discussing death with kids freaks us all out.
But accepting death and letting sadness flow through us is healthy.
Back to kids at a funeral.
I want my own to know that several things surrounding death are healthy –
To be sad.
To cry and to see other people cry.
To know that death happens.
To think fondly of the people we’ve lost and not repress their memory.
To learn from the gifts of those we’ve lost.
Our loss was that of an elderly neighbor. She didn’t actually like my partner and I very much (long story for another post) but she was welcoming and loving to our kids (and still civil with us).
Moreover, she was an indefatigably generous woman who volunteered throughout the community and set a great example for the way I’d like to live as a septegenarian and octogenarian.
Most important (for her and her family) she lived a rich life full of family and experiences. She died ten years earlier than she should have, but at 87 she’d lived an enviable life.
So I emulate her.
And because she was a constant in my kids’ life, I wanted them to experience her death.
When we, as a family, paid respects to her visiting family, my older kid excitedly asked, “Can we go to the funeral?” like it was a birthday party.
Later, when I said, “Um, Sweets, that wasn’t really the way…”
She said (without rolling her eyes), “Yes, I know Daddy. That wasn’t the way to talk about a funeral.”
Glad we established that.
We checked out a book at the library entitled The Funeral. It was sweet to see a funeral through the eyes of an 8-year-old, except that this 8yo was able to run around in the church playground during the entire service and got to eat lots of refreshments and cookies. (I planned to force them to sit quietly in the church for at least 45 minutes.)
So of course my kid asked, “Will there be refreshments?”
“Yes, sweetie, I think there will be refreshments, but
that’s not what a funeral is actually about.”
“Daddy, I know!”
(This time, there was an eye roll.)
The night before the funeral, my younger kid said, “Tomorrow
will be sad.”
“Yes it will,” my partner said. “But that’s okay.”
We dressed up and drove to the beautiful New England church.
The service clipped along and had the right balance of celebration and mourning. A few hymns were sung, the minister welcomed those in attendance who weren’t comfortable with religion and stated, “We are about freedom, here – the freedom to honor the human experience in whatever way is comfortable for you.”
There was a little Jesus, a little God, a little worship, a
few laughs and a lot of humanity.
Ultimately, my kids have had enough church experiences that
they knew what to expect. They were antsy, but not obnoxious. They heard words
like death and mourning and God and whatnot.
When the deceased woman’s son broke down, briefly, during his eulogy, my older kid turned to me with a gasp, “Is he crying?”
“Yes,” I said.
Her eyes widened as she shifted to see my face straight on.
“Are you crying?”
“A little bit,” I said.
My eyes were wet. I was thinking about my mom, my life, my kids growing too quickly, my aging in-laws, and then also about how awesome this woman was (even if she didn’t really like me) and my kids’ loss of the intriguing old woman who lived nearby and always welcomed them into her home. (Not to mention the time they walked right into her house when she wasn’t there because they wanted to see the view from her second floor…unbeknownst to us.)
These are all losses and part of life’s journey.
And it’s good to be sad.
And for my kids to see me sad.
When there were references to the incident that applied to
our falling out with the deceased, my partner and I shared a smirk. Bygones
were bygones. Let’s celebrate life of an inspirational woman.
And afterward, there were refreshments.
Except my kids were disgusted by the fancy finger foods that
included smoked salmon mini toasts, cucumber sandwiches, egg salad, fresh
vegetables and turkey mini-wraps.
There were cookies, tho. And my little monsters were forced
to eat some cucumber sandwiches and raw veggies before having about six
My younger kid returned twice, on his own, to the display of pictures to see our neighbor in her prime and through her years – piloting a sailboat in the 1950’s, laughing with her children as a young mother, and laughing with her children as an old woman.
We greeted all of her kids, all of whom did a good job
brushing past the fact that she wasn’t our biggest fan, and thanked us for
It was important to us – to honor her, and to teach our kids
about death and loss and mourning and sadness.
I said as much to one of the daughters-in-law, and she said,
“That’s beautiful that my mother-in-law’s life keeps on teaching. That’s just
what she’d hope for.”
We left feeling fulfilled. And sad. And that’s okay.
And full of cookies.
When you’ve got friends who’ve had loss, I ask you not to shy away from talking about the loss. It’s good to sit in sadness with those who mourn.
It brings us all closer and helps the grieving process.
Death shouldn’t be shunned or ignored. It should be
discussed and embraced and accepted and acknowledged.