Technology arrived through our chimney, this year, and I question whether Santa ruined my kids forever.
I questioned it before letters were sent to the North Pole or credit cards were swiped. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked my partner. “I feel like we’re definitely crossing the Rubicon.”
When they opened their individualized packages (replete with Santa’s “special” wrapping paper) their ear-piercing, sustained screams were unforgettable: what to their wondering eyes should appear but a Nintendo Switch.
I’m certain they will never forget this.
And I’m fearing I’ll always regret it.
Christmas morning was filled with the blissful calm of techno-absorption punctuated by child laughter. It was a lovely morning – I was able to read a book for more than four minutes, sip multiple cups of coffee, and watch them not get bored within five minutes of opening their presents.
But I’m just afraid we’ve crossed into a world with less creativity, increased demands for outside stimulation, and higher-priced games requiring plugs and batteries and screen that keep anyone from looking at each other.
Though I begged and pleaded, I never got a Nintendo as a kid. (Truth be told, I’m so old I wasn’t allowed a Nintendo or an Atari.)
Though I felt deprived, I was fine. Consequently, I don’t care about video games – which is a good thing; I’ve got no skill.
So this year, Santa also brought my kids ice skates (purchased from a second-hand kids’ store, because unless they’re actually hockey players, nobody needs to buy new skates, amiright?)
Near our place there’s a marsh maintained in winter as an ice-skating pond. We spent an hour as newbie skaters. Because these were hockey-style skates, the kids were much more adroit at standing straight up. They actually were pretty good, there were lots of laughs and races and falls that miraculously didn’t result in tears.
A few hours later, we allowed another half hour of tech gaming, after which I cajoled us into some old-fashioned gaming. We huddled for our go-to card game, “Avocado Smash.” The kids like it, it’s quick, it’s not mind-numbing for the parents, and usually creates plenty of laughs.
But it’d been a tiring day. We played one, half-assed round. And they were done.
Later, I kissed them both goodnight and told them, “Today was such a fun day. You got so many awesome gifts. And I loved ice skating with you.”
I wasn’t coaching them to answer, not in the least.
So I asked them, “What was your favorite part of the day?”
“Getting the Nintendo Switch” they both answered.
I know they’ll never forget the ice-skating, either.
Ultimately, I don’t want my kids to be Luddites. I embrace technology. I hope they’ll be programmers and understand how to use technology to enhance their lives and increase their communication with me.
If gaming allows them to do that, so be it.
After two days of technology in the house, we’ve spent more
time with less conflict, but we’ve also spent less time looking at each other.
That makes my heart hurt just a tiny bit. Grrrr. Santa ruined my kids.
Any suggestions for dealing with tech beyond “setting limits” and “earning screen time”?
You won’t love it. Kids will basically like it. Conversation starters: Exploitation of indigenous people. The importance of spirituality.
Rating: 3 bears (out of a possible 5)
Disney is not known for making kids more woke. Sure, they are often on trend for cultural movements like being super queer friendly and paying lip-service to environmentalism (Pocahontas, Moana). But with Frozen 2, Disney has blown up princess tropes and jumped feet-first into seriously complex themes of world society.
We saw Frozen 2, this weekend. We spent a lot of time time with Arendelle Royalty several years ago. There was no way not to catch up with the Norwegian gang.
Frozen 2 blew my expectations to smithereens by (making kids more woke).
(And I was out for blood.)
Don’t get me wrong: over all, it’s fine.Frozen 2 is often ridiculous (a fire-creating chameleon? WTF?), perennially frustrating – seriously with the Barbie doll figures and ginormous eyes?), and occasionally touching (here’s looking at you: Olaf animators.)
But my main takeaway was the dense story. Frozen 2 dives into pagan nature worship and the betrayal of indigenous peoples by Western society. It’s utterly over the kids’ heads, I’d say. But down the line, the movie is making kids more woke. And I am HERE for it!
Frozen 2 has a through-line celebrating the nature-worship of the Northuldra, an indigenous tribe based on the Scandinavian Sámi peoples. (It was this culture that inspired the opening song in the first movie.) The Frozen 2 writers and directors signed a contract with the Sámi to avoid appropriation and respectfully celebrate their indigenous culture.
Throughout Europe before the continental subversion of the Catholic church, pagan societies worshiped nature. They turned with the seasons, lived as one with flora and fauna, and shared a spirituality with the energy flowing throughout the world. These people worshiped five elements of nature: water, fire, wind, earth and then that “fifth element” nebulously defined as love/humanity/spirituality. (Yes, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is about this spirituality albeit set in the future.)
It is these five elements of pagan worship that drive the plot points of Frozen 2. There’s never been a Disney movie that dives so deep into environmental spirituality.
But then, with the growth of the Catholic church across the continent, competition and domination were the operating forms of societal organization. A symbiotic relationship with nature was replaced by fear and avoidance of the natural world. (Don’t stray from the path, avoid the wolves, “be good, don’t be wild”, state all of our nursery rhymes and fairy tales from Western “civilization”…and further developed by earlier Disney movies.)
Anyway. Back to the five elements.
We come to find that Elsa’s frozen magic has come from the marriage of her Arendelle father to her mother who was part of the Northuldra tribe. And her magic came from this environmental worship of the four elements. She is, in fact, the fifth element, placing her next to Milla Jovovich’s character in Baz Luhrman’s Fifth Element.
Betrayal of indigenous populations.
Further, Frozen II allegorically addresses the betrayal of indigenous populations by Western conquerors. It turns out that Arendelle society harnessed and limited the magic in nature when the “old white patriarch” literally stabs the indigenous leader in the back.
Modern world civilization has been built on the backs of Native American genocide, African enslavement, and Asian colonization. Western societies have profited from the stabbing in the back of indigenous peoples throughout the world. All of these societies had symbiotic relationships with nature. (Meanwhile, Western/European society has always tried to harness nature.)
The themes of the five elements and subjugation of indigenous peoples is not fully fleshed out in Frozen 2. It’s a movie with complex themes shoved between tongue-in-cheek 80’s power ballads and whatever tangent Olaf follows. But I appreciate that I will be able to point my kids to Frozen 2 for a simple jumping off point for deeper exploration of life’s complex themes.
For that, I thank you, Disney. You done good.
We’re trying on different pronouns in our household.
Before school started, my partner and I asked the big kid, “What would you like to say, this year? ‘He’ or ‘she’?”
Kiddo answered sheepishly, “She.”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
An hour later, we were discussing my show, Head Over Heels,in
which a trans actress plays a non-binary character. My older kid is
officially obsessed with this gender-bending character (played by
Peppermint, the drag queenfamous for her stellar turn on RuPaul’s Drag Raceas well as for being the first contestant who was outwardly trans beforecompeting on RuPaul.)
In the conversation with my kiddo, I had to backtrack withhersaying, “But wait. You know Peppermint is a trans woman playing a non-binary role?”
“Yeah! A ‘they’. Like me! I’m ‘they’!”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
An hour later, I sat with her/theyand said, “Now, sweetie, do you want me to say something to your teachers about how you want to be addressed?”
“Daddy,” she/they said, “can we stop talking about this? I’ll handle it.”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
The first day of school passed uneventfully.
On the second day, while walking back from school, I had both kids
with me and inadvertently referred to she/they as ‘he’, at which point I
turned to she/they, again, to ask, “Wait, honey, where are we, now?
‘She?’ ‘They?’ ‘He’?”
The more time passes, the more I feel like I’m betraying her by ever calling her him. “Her” feels more right.
Which leads me to our milestone: we alerted the teachers via email
about my kid’s fluid self-expression and let them know, “We’re just
rolling with it. Hopefully you can too?”
There are times it’s cool to be flexible. And then I realize (as much
as I’d like to live in a world without definition) that people need
labels and definitions so we’re all speaking the same language.
Yesterday, my kid was benevolently outed by an old friend in class to
one of the new friends. The old friend said, “But he’s a boy. He just
likes to wear dresses.”
The new friend said, “But she talks like a girl and dresses like a girl.”
Which then led to a cavalcade of questions for the teachers, which
freaked them out (understandably) because we were all just “going with
Suddenly, my agenda became very clear.
I want my child to be proud of who she is. I want her to celebrate
her differences and never feel defensive or shamed. I want her to be
able to speak about who she is and inspire the truth in others.
I don’t think she needs to be locked in a box of hyper-definition. In
fact, I don’t think my kid can really be defined, right now, except as
gender-fluid. Nor need she be.
So my partner and I put our heads together and strategized how to let
our precious first-born write her own narrative, be in charge of her
story, and define herself for others.
The worst thing would be to pretendshe never was a boy. I
don’t want her peers, teachers, friends or acquaintances to think she’s
keeping secrets or making things up. We have old friends at school who
know from whence we’ve come. There’s no reason to shun/deny/erase that
part of her history.
What she isis what she’s choosing to be, right now; and we get to celebrate it and show how badass she is for choosing to be her.
Suddenly, in discussing this with her (which is taking time) I’m this
over-aggressive tiger dad suffocating my child in inspirational sayings
like “you’re all the morespecial for being so brave and
special!, for choosing your own path which isn’t always clear or easy.
But you’re doing it! That makes you so awesome!”
She is FULLY giving me the rolled eyes and begging me to “stop talking about this.”
Sorry, kiddo. Can’t stop; won’t stop. Because I’m doing my best to armor you for a tough world – and it’s tough for allof
us. So you might as well suit up, now. Because you’re way ahead most of
the rest of us in terms of knowing yourself and speaking your truth.
But nice people who please teachers don’t paint the Sistine
Chapel. They don’t break sound barriers. They don’t develop Apple Computers,
Crazy people who break rules and smash conventions do big
I say that I just want my kids to be happy.
But also kind. And smart. And independent. And creative. And
change the world. No pressure, kids.
Of course I want
my kids to be trailblazers.
Like the kids about whom the teachers throw up their arms
and say “what am I going to do with you?” And then they end up being Einstein.
But aren’t genius/artistic/world-changers often miserable,
asocial sad-sacks destined to substance-abuse who cut off their own ears and
live within prisons of their own artistic genius?
So then will they be happy?
Maybe we should just hope for nice.
But am I trying to raise
nice kids? Those rule-following,
vanilla, boring goody-two-shoes?
(Who wants to be nice,
anyway? Nice is so…insipid. Do you ever want to share a drink with someone
first described as NICE? Zzzzzzzzz.)
This reminds me of a hilarious recent tweet I saw:
“Parenting looks so hard. You need to raise your kid with just the right amount
of trauma so they end up funny.”
Because funny is more interesting than nice.
I’ve been thinking about achievement in the context of my
older kid’s soon-to-be immersion in the ballet world. He is going to begin the
first ballet classes of his life and, while I’m excited for him, my Libra nature
has invented this dilemma: “Do world-changers come from ballet class?”
Think about it: the point of classical ballet is to conform,
to dress identically as surrounding dancers, to dance with perfection so that
not one pinky finger is ever out of place.
The dress code for these classes is rigid, for both boys and
girls. (More on that in my next posting because do not get me STARTED about the
anxiety I’m feeling in saying to my kiddo, “sorry. No tutus in this class. It’s
white t-shirt and black pants.”)
At least there’s no hair protocol for these little boys. I
guess my little gender renegade will be able to rock a ballet bun.
My French sister (the witch) talks about the point of
nursery rhymes was to separate European society from nature so that Little Red Riding
Hood stays always to the path (dictated by the church) to never stray (citizens
shouldn’t color outside the lines) and to always fear the woods (because nature
is bad) and always be nice.
Oh, and sex. Because duh. Nature = sex and sex is bad and
the church and society need to tame sex and pleasure. Because people should be
worshipping the Church’s appointed dogma, fighting wars, and making stuff for
the nobles. Not having sex.
(And of course – burn the witches. )
And I see her point. Nursery rhymes teach children the way
to be good. To follow rules. To conform. To obey. To be the perfect ballerina/o
in the back line.
Now…we all want our kids to be good and obey their parents.
But it’s true – the world is more colorful with the rule-breakers,
by those who stray from the path, think differently and write their own
I suppose it’s all a balance, (Please reference
aforementioned Libra nature.)
My kiddo already writes her own rules evidenced by her entire comportment.
So maybe classical ballet will be the perfect balance for
her? You gotta learn the basics…
So then you know what rules to break and re-write.
That damn Elf on the Shelf. Just recently we gave in and followed the crowd.
My kindergartener came home with a friend for a playdate. Within minutes, the friend asked, “Where’s your elf?” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d asked, “Where’s the shitter?”)
And my kid responded, “We don’t have an elf,” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d said, “we eat cauliflower on Thursdays.”)
Up to that moment, avoiding the damn elf on the shelf nonsense had been a point of pride. Friends were in awe at us having avoided the charade. I thanked my lucky stars as I occasionally scrolled social media documentation of elf creativity I never want to emulate.
But when my kid showed no sense of betrayal or disappointment, I felt all the more guilty that I’d deprived, neglected, abused, manipulated, and robbed his childhood of the true meaning of capitalist Christmas: the damn elf on the shelf.
I pledged then and there I would join the crowd. No longer would my kid need to accept being short-changed by Christmas (corporate) magic.
The next day, I zipped right over to Barnes & Noble. (When was the last time you made that statement. Poor big box under-dog.) It was already December 19th, so elves were in short supply.
I’m sure all of you know that elves come in different genders, skin tone and eye colors. (That was news to me.)
This day all they had were blue-eyed boys. How…ironic? Typical? Dated? Pathetic? Socially irrelevant?
I grabbed a stupid WASPy elf.
And then I noticed the accouterments shelves. AYFKM? There
are wardrobes and accessories for these dumb-ass symbols of capitalist excess?
And then I was inspired! I’d get a “girl” set to make our elf at least interesting.
I s’pose I should give you some context for this need to make our elf “interesting”.
I was in the Broadway show, Head Over Heels. Quick explanation of the show: “punk Shakespeare set to the music of the Go-Go’s and smashing the patriarchy.” The plot smashed the hetero-normative paradigm with gender-bending and gay love aplenty. And one of the stars of the show was Peppermint, made famous by her turn on RuPaul’s Drag Race as the first openly transgender contestant. In the show, she played a non-binary character.
Further, my older child is gender-fluid. Our current line in the family is that she has a “boy” body and a “girl” brain. She latched onto this line, herself, after reading I am Jazz, a wonderful picture book about a transgender girl.
So my point is, my 2nd grader and kindergartener are totes woke. They grasp nuances of gender identity and a non-binary world better than 90% of adults.
Back to the damn elf on the shelf.
The next day, walking home from school, I told them to
expect a surprise.
We walked into our apartment, and on a shelf right inside our front door is our elf on the shelf.
I am not exaggerating when I say their heads almost exploded.
Even if just for that magical moment, I’m so glad I joined the insanity that is the damn elf on the shelf shenanigans.
Right away, my older kid (while jumping uncontrollably) asked, “What are we gonna name him?”
Younger kid enthusiastically agreed and they started running through names.
Rudolph? Santa’s Helper? Jeff? Red Tiger?
They assumed elfie was a he, despitemy shelling out for the dumb-ass $20 felt skirt and scarf…accessories I could’ve sewn, myself. And I can’t sew.
So I pointed out, “Well look, kiddos – the elf seems to have short hair.”
“But is also wearing a skirt.”
“I mean – it sort of looks like a boy and is wearing a
skirt? Or maybe it’s a girl with short hair?”
The kids pondered and stared for a second.
And then my younger kid – the five year-old who tolerates the insanity of his dads and drama of his gender-fluid older sister – shouts:
“Maybe it’s trans-ginger!”
The kid said trans-ginger.
Then, my non-binary badass shouts, “It’s name is Trans Ginger Jingle! But just “Ginger” for short.”
With that, I became a disciple of that damn elf on the shelf.