Feeding my kids happiness is one of my highest parenting priorities. Usually that means foods that make me happy. Sometimes it’s theirs. If there was any doubt, let me shuffle-ball-change out of the closet loud and proud: I’m a food snob. I wholeheartedly embrace Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.”
When I was the perfect parent (meaning: before kids), I knew fast food would never touch the lips of my precious snowflakes.
Admittedly, it’s easy to avoid fast food living in New York City. You’re never in a car, the kids haven’t fallen asleep in the back, and all food is fast.
But I understand that fast food drive-thrus are a godsend…in desperate situations…international pandemics, zombie armageddon, and heavy thunderstorms. Oh, and when Daddy flirts with jail time during a road trip due to a desperate yearning for “friesandashake” and considers* leaving the kids asleep in the backseat cuz who’s gonna know and you’ll be really fast and besides the dog’s in there with them.
But we all know (don’t we???) that feeding my kids happiness through fast food contributes to the destruction of now-infertile fields from Fargo to Fresno, the dumbing-down of our collective national gastronomic taste for all things over-salted and over-sweetened, trillions of gallons of fertilizer run-off that’s caused the vast oceanic dead-zone known as the Gulf of Mexico, the inhumane treatment of cattle and fowl (and probably fish), the brain-washing of our youth to crave/demand/consume calories exceeding adult dietary needs, and the lowest-common-denominatorization of “family” time.
Anyway, I read Fast Food Nation. I know that there’s shit in our fast food meat. And by “shit”, we mean literal poop.
I saw Super Size Me. (And after seeing it, I craved McD’s fries.)
Having spewed in-eloquently for 300 words, allow me to expose my personal hypocrisy:
Me lovey some fried goodly-goodness.
Caveat being: never in quotidian life, frequently on road trips, and always at the airport. Because according to the Onion Newspaper in some issue that I KNOW I read 87 years ago and still rings true:
“McDonald’s doesn’t count at the airport.” **
So once upon a time I chose to feed my kids happiness in a suburban McDonald’s with a play place and all the features. (In what felt like a small victory in my masochistic love affair with Ronald McD, they don’t know it’s actual name, they just call it “The Happy Meal place”.)
I have no idea how to reconcile my train of thought in the above tangential/parentheticals, let alone my contradictory love for this scion of global dining degradation. My sodium levels are still elevated after feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place.
My oldest kid opens the Happy Meal and actually says, “What’s in my Happy Meal? Oooooh! A napkin!”
Seriously. She squealed about a fucking napkin.
And my eyes welled.
My two children were so goddamn happy to be at the “Happy Meal place”. They pulled out five items, all gastronomically inedible, from their special boxes with increasing delight. (That there are no less than five “things” to discover – six including a napkin – is all the more thrilling.) Some of the “things” were food, some were toys, all were comprised of a majority plastic ingredients. (Excepting the twice-referenced napkin…perhaps the healthiest option in the box.)
There I was: SuperDad with two beaming children at America’s most hegemonic export. I felt like Tim McGraw and WalMart and Venti lattes all wrapped up in a big Made-in-China-American-flag; a new face of ‘murrica nestled in a plastic booth of sensory overload.
I took a sip of my 32 liter iced coffee containing 483 calories of god-knows-what, to cover the cry-quiver in my chin. Then I removed the bottom bun of my buttermilk-fried-mystery because removing one of the buns makes me feel a teensy bit less guilty, okay? And I took a pre-orgasmic bite.
It was underwhelming. I should’ve just gone for the Quarter Pounder; but somehow chicken seems minutely less naughty. But let’s face it: life is short.
If you’re going to eat at Transfatty McCancer, just super size that shit and get what you want, not what you think might be “better”.
There is no “better” for you in this shack.
Again: I digress. (It must be the insane amount of caffeine still coursing through my engorged belly.)
Feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place made them insanely full of joy. I completely forgot about the fact that a mere 20 minutes previous, they’d been whining about who had the matchbox car first, one was kicking the back of my seat, and the other would not stop asking me about which princess was my favorite princess.
Seriously: I wanted to leave both of them at an orphanage at 12:45. But by 12:51, everything was good, again.
All thanks to the happy meal place. (Lower case letters intended.) I didn’t want it to end. Except for the fact that I was composing this post in my head, checking my email and might have scrolled HuffPo twice (cuz a lot could happen during a 12-minute degustation), I was completely in the moment. I didn’t even take pictures to document. I just was.
(Also, my phone had died. So.)
But it was a magical family moment. And in that time, I appreciated McDonald’s for more than just a delectable airport French fry. I loved it for creating something that over-principled foodie snobs can’t appreciate: the delight in breaking bread with children…with delicious bread that can actually kill them.
I didn’t want those 12 (actually, I think it was 9) minutes of familial, convivial, quality time to end.
But then my asshole oldest child just couldn’t get enough. See? Therein lies the problem with this mega-corporation preying on our human addiction to salt and sugar. We just want more, more, more.
Yep, that older child had seen the well-placed pictures of milkshakes and ice cream that exploits illiterate 4 (and 44)-year-olds.
“Daddy? I want ice cream for dessert!”
You hear that? No appreciation for the magic I’d already created. She had yet to take one bite of his shit-filled “cheese” “burger”. Just: more, more, more.
(Disclaimer: I totes wanted a shake; and I kinda wanted to buy my daughter’s love via ice cream. Sadly, I justified these hankerings to myself – per usual – by recalling a completely not-science-based report I read in a 2001 edition of GQ stating that McDonald’s vanilla ice cream is “surprisingly good for you”…which is not the same thing AT ALL as saying it’s actually good for you.)***
(Once again…I’ve lost my own train of thought in the midst of my
steroidal use of parentheses. Probably from the crack that they sprinkle
on those fries cuz: DAMN!)
My kid demands ice cream.
I responded, “No, buddy, I’m sorry. This is enough treats for today.”
She whined and almost turned on her freakishly over-active water-works.
But then she had a moment of reflection. Perhaps it was the gratitude washing over her as her insides were lubed by peanut oil? Perhaps the musak playing Katy Perry hits reminded her of her first crush: Rosie, the pink train from the Island of Sodor? Whatever it was, she stopped whining. And McD’s climbed an inconceivably higher rung in my estimation.
She looked at me and said, calmly. “Well, Daddy. You said ‘No.’ And that’s mean. And ‘mean’ is what Donald Trump is.”
Wiping away a tear of pride for the political insights my 4yo shared (quite possibly thanks to the modicum of nourishment she received from her Happy Meal apple slices that had been picked, peeled, packaged and preserved but most definitely thanks to the quick discussion we shared in the McD’s parking lot where I saw a Trump bumper sticker on a car at which I scoffed and swore and my son said “What?” and I mumbled to myself “Seriously? In Connecticut? I mean…people are actually supporting that bigoted, inexperienced blow-hard?”), I desperately suppressed the guffaw in my throat, enjoyed another couple of fries, and watched my sons become exponentially uncontrollable as they over-dosed on 10,000 calories of wonderful, delicious crap.
Thank you, McDonald’s. See you, soon when I want to again be feeding my kids happiness.
All too soon.
* I said “considered” not “actually did.” I would “never” do “that”.
** Though I can’t find this in a quick Google search. It must have
been a statement on the Onion faux newscast. Clearly, it stuck with me.
*** I can’t cite this because seriously: how could anyone actually cite an article in GQ that justifies eating McDonald’s ice cream? Perhaps their “how to give her a 2-hour orgasm” is citable. Even dating back to 2001. But not some “study” of what you should actually eat, nestled between an ad for the first iPod and a salacious spread of Jennifer Lopez flaunting her rocks, pre-imploring us not to be fooled by them.
Hilarious, no? It’s not morbid, though in these trying times, jokes about death might be misinterpreted. But this isn’t about mortality, it’s about fatherly advice…from a worrywart.
Yesterday, I read a section about success and happiness where he recounts flipping through TV channels and heard a teaser for Dateline NBC in which they’d explain one of life’s conundrums: “Why are some people lucky and some people unlucky?”
Mark delights the reader describing the mental shenanigans of deciding he would in fact stick with Dateline to learn this secret to life.
He then went on to dole some more attitude advice to his daughter highlighting Charles Darwin’s “facial feedback hypothesis” saying facial movement can influence emotional experience. Rather than smiling just being a result of our emotion, smiles actually make us feel better.
Mark’s book reminds me of another friend going through what must be a living nightmare. Her husband has been in an induced coma for 19 days due to an extreme case of COVID-19. He’s 42yo and in vibrant health. She dropped him off at the hospital with seeming pneumonia, and because of the pandemic, she wasn’t allowed in. He was immediately intubated and he’s had massive complications and a surgery to amputate his leg in order to save his struggling body.
During this time, my friend hasn’t been able to see him (except for the occasional video call thanks to a generous nurse taking the time to hold the phone up to his comatose ear.)
And oh, yeah – they just moved from one coast to the other and are renovating a house.
Despite this, she has displayed nothing but positivity and grace. She is living a nightmare that would consume the rest of us in bitterness. Delving into darkness would be totally understandable, but she’s choosing not to do so.
She chooses a positive attitude and spreads light across her social posts and updates about her day, her exercise regimen (she’s a trainer) and her husband. Sometimes she’s fighting back tears; sometimes they flow. But she continues living to the best of her abilities for her 10-month old baby, her own sanity, and for her husband.
Our positivity in the time of COVID can be greatly influenced by attitude.
I often get caught up in envy of the creativity of people all across social media. Keeping up with the Joneses, feeling like I’m not applying my creativity, becoming unjustifiably angry with the brilliance of people like Chris Mann.
Another friend of mine recently asked “How’s it goin, Daddy?”
He caught me in a time of annoyance at the end of a homeschooling day. I responded, “Shitty. And you?”
He gave me a virtual hug. Chatting some more, he let me know he’s feeling inspired and creative. Admittedly, he doesn’t have children. But I’ve a feeling even with kids, he’d see the good side. This friend writes “choose joy’ in his email signature. He regularly reminds me that even though I feel saddled with my kids at this time, I can always choose joy and focus on the positive.
I saw on TikTok a high school senior who (rather darkly…so in contrast to my friend with the positive energy) shared pictures of “seniors in 1918” and “seniors in 1941” and “seniors in 1968” with pictures of 18yo boys shipping off to war.
Good reality check, eh? It sucks to be a senior in high school missing out on prom and graduation.
But the fact is we are asked to stay home to save lives, not shipping off to end them.
I hate this pandemic. I’m concerned about the future health of my friends an family. I’m terrified about my future financial stability.
But I’m reminded time and again that I definitely am in charge of my own attitude in a world that’s so totally out of control.
Thank you, Mark, Amanda & James (and Chris Mann?) for reminding me joy is often a choice and we can find positivity in the time of Covid.
If you read no further, here’s the cliff’s notes in 5 ways to raise happy children in 2020:
Maintain your awe.
Stop, contemplate, think, reflect.
Understand fairness and justice.
Manage expectations a little bit
(Read on for a bonus! Insert smirking emoji, here.)
While chatting at school with another dad back before the entire world changed overnight, I asked about a family trip he’d recently taken. He mentioned his daughter was ho-hum about it…that she was ultimately disappointed with it not meeting her expectations.
Isn’t that sad? Trust: I mean no judgment of the dad or their trip. But isn’t it sad that a child under 10 would be disappointed that a family trip hadn’t met her expectations?
But my kids do still have a fairly good sense of excitement over being in the moment and enjoying the punctuation of life’s mini-adventures.
At the same time, my older one is already a bit jaded and would choose to stare at YouTube over doing, well…anything else.
The other dad with whom I was speaking, back at school pre-COVID-19, mentioned that losing a sense of excitement or constant disappointment is actually something that can lead to depression, down the line.
More than growing up to be smart or rich, don’t we all just want our kids to be happy? (And kind. And generous. And humble. And all that other stuff.)
Let’s chat about some of the 5 ways to raise happy children (even in COVID quarantine).
1. Maintain Your Sense of Awe
A wise man once told me, “never lose your awe” as I was headed out on a college semester program. It was a call-to-arms to choose to keep our awe. So much of life is a choice. Choose joy; choose attitude; choose to keep your awe.
2. Choose to Stop and Appreciate
We might have to force kids (and ourselves) to stop, look and contemplate, everything in life. But this is another choice. We all must choose to smell roses, stare at clouds, watch construction crews in city streets, be amazed by cappuccino-makers; you know – stare at the magic happening around us. Even forced mindfulness is mindfulness.
3. Acknowledge Injustice (but don’t accept it)
When my older kid whined that she didn’t get candy after her brother came home laden with candy after a birthday party, I responded, “Not everything in life is fair.” Admittedly, she whined about this at a frenetic, inopportune moment in the day. My response, rather than trying to negotiate generosity, was to say, “Not everything in life is fair. The sooner you understand injustice, the less disappointed you’ll be.” It was callous, I admit. But she listened to me and sort of shrugged. Seriously – life isn’t always fair. Maintain those expectations now, parents.
4. Deal with Disappointment
Speaking of – maintaining expectations and addressing expectations is critical. It’s okay to be disappointed, sometimes. But we really can choose to let the disappointment devour us, or not. We can choose to brush it off and move on with our day. We can choose to make lemonade of lemons. And while we shouldn’t go around expecting to be disappointed, we really can let it roll off our backs when something doesn’t meet our expectations.
5. Cultivate gratitude.
Just like the mini-movement to write down things for which you’re grateful at the end of the day, gratitude is an active choice. The more we consider our blessings, the more we’re likely appreciate what we’re given. This is an easy way to focus on the positive rather than the contrary. I’m preoccupied with cultivating gratitude in my children and force it upon them as activists and especially at holidays. Not sure how much it’s working, but I’m trying!
And a bonus!
People will disappoint you and life is full of unfairness and injustice. Accept that sooner than later, vow to live of life devoted to fairness and justice, and you’ll be less disappointed. Am I essentially saying “walk around with a glass half empty, and you’ll be happier?”
But sometimes lowered expectations is one of the 5 ways to raise happy children…even in COVID quarantine.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all looking for ways to pass of educating to someone else…and why not with the best educational movie musicals for kids?
Occasionally musical theatre is the best story-telling medium to contextualize and educate kids and adults about history.
Many musicals are a delectable treat for sheer escapism. You can watch 42nd Street and She Loves Me on “Great Performances” on PBS. (And that’s a worthy investment of minimal monthly dues.) They meld acting with singing and movement, they’re a feast for all the senses. Further, they demand our children pay more attention than with typically schizophrenic movies.
But others are able to convey more emotion and drama to teach us all more about our ancestors and historic figures.
BroadwayHD is a streaming service presenting dozens of Broadway plays and musicals, mostly in their stage-presented context (as opposed to re-made in a Hollywood studio like Les Miserables.) Disclaimer – this is not a sponsored post pushing BroadwayHD. (Though fellas: gimme a kickback, eh?) It just happens to be about the only place you can watch some of these historic musicals.
Many old classics can be found on library websites. (HBO and Netflix don’t have a lot in the way of obscure musicals beyond Mamma Mia and Disney.)
And in some cases, you might need to seek out YouTube productions, snippets and videos. But that leads to a fun and educational deep-dive down the YouTube dumpster of endless clips. And that’s not a bad thing, if they’re focused and don’t end up on a some weirdo’s site.
Even if they get bored or fidgety, our kids often don’t care as long as there’s a moving image in front of them, amiright? Most of all: they can just learn to be patient and focused.
“Really? You’re bored? Would you rather I get you a stick and a ball and you just go make your own fun like I did as a child?”
(Even if none of us actually didn’t just watch hours of television…albeit not on demand.)
Here is a list of a a few of the best educational movie musicals for kids to entertain/educate them while you go on auto-pilot during COVID Curriculum.
Please share your thoughts and suggestions for more scholarly musicals in front of which we can just park the kids with less guilt and pour ourselves a drink.
I’d start this list for kids 6 and up. Some are heavy topics. But musicals make it art. Push the kids a bit. Should 6 year-olds be taught about Presidential assassins and public lynchings? These aren’t as graphically violent as any of the Marvel movies. Plus it helps teach about injustice, morality and history. So go ahead – push them with the best educational movie musicals for kids.
This is a slightly lesser-known piece of brilliance from 1969 that exquisitely teaches more about the nuances in American history. Before Hamilton re-wrote the musical theatre history books, 1776 illustrates the many different personalities that formed our independence – especially the irascible (but irreplaceable) John Adams. The songs highlight the debates at the heart of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, especially the song about slavery, “Molasses to Rum” sung by delegate Edward Rutledge from South Carolina.
Most important, the musical shows that the debate surrounding the declaration were nuanced and extensive – about political issues, egos, personalities and principle.
(It particularly cracks me up that somehow those 1776 wigs seem from 1976. But I digress.)
Definitely a way to teach your kids about workers’ rights, how the “man” will always keep the “little guy” down, and how grit, principle and passion can unite down-trodden folks to over-come injustice.
And it’s got awesome singing and dancing to entertain the most Scrooge McDuckiest of rapacious capitalists.
Available on DisneyPlus and on YouTube clips by hundreds of high school productions .
Let’s be honest – explaining Holy Week and the impact Jesus had on his contemporaries is very difficult to explain as adults, let alone understand as children. This musical, over-wrought though it may be, does a great job of contextualizing Jesus’ impact on his local society. Further, the show briliantly conveys the cult of personality in which human pbeings love to deify leaders and equally lovs to watch them torn down. JCS is true to the title showing how Jesus was treated like a rockstar of his era and inspired jealousy and fear in the leaders who felt threatened by his cult of personality. Easiest to access on the NBC streaming platform, this version of the Andrew Lloyd Weber rock opera is excellently conceived and stars pop folk your kids might already know: John Legend and Sarah Bareilles. And they both clearly did their homework to give powerful performances.
This is an extra-credit, over-achiever assignment for you. Byond Tony awards snippets (see below) this show is super-smart and super-poignant. It’s almost a psycho-sociological study of the minds of all those who attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate American presidents. The album is badass and is over-flowing with historical trivia that will definitely help your kids (and you) eventually win Jeopardy. (The revival in 2004 starred Neil Patrick Harris when we still thought of him as a washed-up Dougie Howser.) Pop that album into your music-player for a road trip or, hell – you don’t have anything to do during the pandemic. This is excellent for laying on the couch and letting the words, music and history wash over you.
A musical about Presidential assassins? Just trust me. You’ll learn a lot.
Obviously this is the new gold standard for musicals that teach history as well as historical revisionism. It’s safe to say before the award-winning musical (based on the award-winning book by Ron Chernow), Alexander Hamilton had fallen to a secondary position in U.S. history books. But the musical, through deft musicality and astounding vocabulary displays, shows the pivotal role Hamilton played in our nation’s founding. Enjoy a deep-dive into stories about the making of the musical, listen to the album, and even give a stab at reading Chernow’s book. It’s excellent.
One of Rogers & Hammerstein’s best works, Carousel teaches children about life in a New England fishing village at the turn of the century. There are, admittedly, some real clunkers and eye-rolling songs. However, the version on Broadway HD stars Kelli O’Hara, which means the lead character is as good as it gets. It’s old-fashioned, but sumptuous. Go ahead: expand those kids’ horizons.
Available to view on BroadwayHD. This performance of Pippin is not only historic in Broadway history, but it’s also the story of Charlemagne’s son. Now, there’s not that much for historical accuracy, here, but it is based on ancient literature and fables sure to add to any child’s trivial and cultural knowledge. It’s also freakishly 70’s-esque. You’ll love the guitars and laugh at it’s charming datedness.
Okay. This one’s a toughy. It’s too long, too dramatic, and too much. But you’ll cry in all the right spots in spite of your (my) cynicism. Despite trying to melt a 1,000-page French tome into 2.5 hours of musical, much of it is thrilling. The performances pale in comparison to actual Broadway performers (Sorry, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.) But the movie version gives an excellent visual rendition of French revolutionary history. To see the barricades in actual streets, to see the utter squalor in said streets, to see the mud and filth in which these people lived..you really see how misérable were these folks.
For a fun dive down YouTube, check out these best education musicals for kids in snippets, Tony Award highlights and bootleg videos:
Here’s another that’s not based on any actual history but does an amazing job of contextualizing American history in a beautiful package. Unfortunately, you’d have to venture to the NY Public Library to watch it in the confines of a booth where you can only watch it once. But a deep dive on YouTube can thrill you, as well. The album is genius and the original book is one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. So there’s plenty to expand your cultural understanding of the conflict between whites, blacks and immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century.
The true story of a trial and hanging of a Jewish factory manager who was unjustly accused of raping a young female factory worker in 1913 in a small Georgia town. a racism and anti-Semitism that gripped a small Georgia town in the 1920’s. Yeah – not uplifting. But spectacular music and performances.
The musical based on the real-life Vaudeville lives of the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins exploited on the Vaudeville circuit. (They became the biggest stars of their day, as well.) Some of the songs are confusingly “on the nose”, but “I Will Never Leave You” sung by the (again: conjoined) twins is a classic in the modern American musical cannon.
Okay – bear with me. This one is, well…over-wrought. However, don’t we all go through a slight Titanic obsession at one point in our youth? This one does bring together storylines and costumes! of the many different demographics who went down (or escaped) the ill-fated liner. But for a REALLY fun YouTube moment, pull up a glass of champagne and feast your eyes on this gem from a few summers ago at a regional theatre who staged and ACTUAL sinking of a “ship” into the lake behind the theatre. OMG. I love this.
What about you? Have you got more suggestions for this list of best educational movie musicals for kids?
But my only goal is to show you it’s possible to do it and not be awful.
“good” scissors (it’ll be a lot easier than with your kitchen shears)
A hair clip (like a long barrette that can hold top hair out of the way)
Towel to protect the neck
A sheet on the floor to collect hair
A way to wet the hair to reduce flyaways. Plus, it’s easier to control/cut the hair
Couple main pointers for how to cut your kid’s hair–
Always have your knuckles against the scalp and cut the hair protruding from your fingers
Just cut a million times in the above fashion. It’s methodical and not extreme. It takes awhile, but you’ll get there.
No matter how much you may want to cut off those Roy Orbison sideburns, save them (and the neckline) for last.
Don’t cut straight across sideburns. Sweep hair forward and cut the hairs stretching onto the face along the natural hairline.
AFTER you’ve done the “knuckles against the scalp” trimming on the back of the head, do NOT cut straight across the neckline. Instead, make a million tiny cuts up straight up into the hair to texturize. This would cover up the horrible look you’d make if you cut straight across.