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Causing Tears and Exploring Nudity in Art: Coronavirus Homeschooling Day 1

Causing Tears and Exploring Nudity in Art: Coronavirus Homeschooling Day 1

Yesterday for our household was about causing tears and exploring nudity in art.

How’d that whole “Setting Expectations” thing go?

Just another day in the COVID-19 life.

Honestly? Not so bad. Or…the morning wasn’t so bad. Get up, go for a walk (thank goodness we can) and they’re pretty motivated to be doing “school” in another form. It’s a relatively quiet and focused time.

And then helicopter dad swoops in and starts screwing everything up.

Again – we were pretty focused for the morning, had a snack, got some reading and writing done, had lunch, and then had some “gametime with daddy” time after lunch.

I’ve made it my personal mission to teach my kids some basic sporting rules of basketball, soccer and baseball…which is hilarious given my lack of care about professional sports. But in our school which is wonderfully arts-heavy and focused on participation and dance, I don’t think they’re getting any actual sports learning. So…I’m the not-by-choice-default coach. (All my friends are laughing at this.)

Anyway, I wanted to have some actual soccer drills going on. The younger kiddo (who loves soccer) was game for some passing and teamwork. The older was just annoyed with me.

She kicks.
Great job. Maybe just a little lighter.
She kicks.
Good. Now can you do it with the side of your food for more control?
I control it just fine! As she’s kicked like a Rockette and the ball’s sailed over my head and way off to the side.
Right, but you can control it more if you kick lightly with the side of your feet.
I kick and demonstrate.
Daaaaad! Stop telling me what to do!
She Rockette-kicks the ball away from me.
I retrieve ball and start dribbling over to her (poorly…but with a bit of control) over to her, trying to show off.

See? If you trot along and kick lightly with the side of your foot, it’s so much easier and you just control the ball and everything stays together and…
Daaad, stop telling me this!


She’s pouting and angry, I’m increasingly annoyed by her lack of willingness.
And mind you – I was exactly the same at her age. Zero interest in sports. My parents constantly encouraging me to show an interest and practice and play in soccer and baseball leagues. I loathed it. But I succumbed to social pressures making me do “boy” things that just didn’t interest me at all.

She’s pouting. She’s angry.
I’m demonstrating and pleading with myself, “god DAMN child, you can do what you want, but learning these skills now will be a life skill that will help you just be well-rounded…”
Daddy, stooooop!
But sweetie, this is 'games with Daddy' time!
You’re not making it fun!
Because you need to learn the skills!
I already know the skills!
But kicking with the side of your foot…
Stooooop! I already know that….
And I kicked the ball to her. And I swear to you, dear dozen readers, I did NOT put extra sauce on it intentionally.
But I did. And it struck her. Hard. In the chest.
Cue: instant hysterical tears of frustration, anger, and pain.
I mean - it couldn’t be that much pain. It wasn’t THAT hard.
But I get it. I admit: I wanted to laugh just a little bit. But I refrained from that. I hugged her. For a long time. I held her sobs and let her calm down as I held her close.
We had a good recovery. And a good cry.
I calmly explained to her all I wrote above - I hated this as a kid, too. But life will be easier if you have some skills for the future when you’re somehow forced to play soccer. Or baseball. Or basketball.
She got it.
And it was time for a snack.

Later, the other feature of the day was when I forced our “social studies.” They were losing focus, understandably.

So I used a link sent to me about virtual visits of world museums. We had options like the British Museum (not a very kid-friendly interactive site), the Guggenheim (fun’ish) and then my kid wanted to go to Sao Paolo.
We did so.

I’m all about forcing culture onto my kiddos. Not matter how torturous.

And on their fabulous tour of what I suppose is main floor of this fab modern art museum (Museu de Arte de São Paolo…the MASP), we got a wonderful reminder and tour of art through ages, from Middle Age portraiture to Renaissance still life, religious everything and then some modern.

And all of it (from the religious forward) had boobs. Lots of boobs.

Some butts, a couple of uncovered vulvas, interestingly no penis until we got to a modern piece of an over-exaggerated baby boy.
Whatever. They were thrilled to look through artistic pornography at a museum in Sao Paolo. At least I had them engaged.
And they’ll remember that little “social studies” tour as the most delightful part of COVID-19 Day 1.

A virtual tour of Museu de Arte de São Paulo…seeing lots of nudity

Not sure if tomorrow will be more about causing tears and exploring nudity. But it seems like a full day, after all.

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

A conversation I had with myself while waiting in January sub-freezing temperatures for two hours to spend about five minutes in an art exhibit so I could feel cultural and be able to Insta-brag. I had some real epiphanies about parenting and art…mainly: Art changes everyday life.

And even when it’s fleeting and temporary, that’s OK.

Thus: my misery in collective, cultural experience:

9:40? not bad. I’m probably about the 100th in line. But did any of these surrounding tourists drop off kids at school, this morning?

Surely that chalked sign on the sidewalk can’t be accurate: “90 minute wait from this point.” Yeah, right. It can’t seriously take that long to see this artist. Wait, what is this exhibit, again?

I dunno. I just saw it on Instagram and read about it in the Times, a few months ago. So…I’m here because the Times and some people on IG told you to come?

More or less.

So we are posers. Just wanting to see things cuz other people are doing it?

I guess. Isn’t everybody?

Especially in New York.

Seriously – except for the 1% of artistic elite (and who are those people, anyway?) aren’t we all just seeing stuff cuz other people tell us to?

Do you think we’ll get in and think it’s stupid?

I mean, duh. It’s some woman’s paintings of polkadots.

Seriously – like, our six year-old could almost do the exact same thing.

Right.

How much time has passed?

Three and a half minutes.

Jesus H. I’m freezing. Thank goodness for this coffee to warm my hands.

For now.

Seriously.

<20 seconds of silence passes in the freezing cold>

Two hours in the bitter cold just to say we did it? Is this worth it? This is when New York sucks. There’s just too much demand.

I know. The crowds screw it up for everyone.

But we still play the game. You just do these things to say “I was there”?

Uh-huh.

The Gates?

Right.

That play you had to see in three parts and some people saw it all in one day.

Right. I missed that. Coast of Utopia?

Something like that.

Hamilton.

At the Public.

Right. Pre-Broadway. I’ll always brag about that.

That photographic exhibition on the old White Star Lines pier ten years ago?

Right. With the over-sized sepia photography of elephants and kids underwater.

Oh, yeah. That was…random. But it felt cool to have seen it.

And brag that you were there.

Right.

But now? We’re standing in line for 2 hours…

Please don’t let it be that long. Surely that’s an exaggeration.

And we will be in the gallery room for a couple minutes, at the most.

Wait, what?

Yeah, they don’t let you linger more than 30 seconds in the three rooms. There’s just too much demand.

Ohmigod, this is bullshit.

Thank god the kids aren’t here.

Seriously. And then in those 30 seconds, we’re just gonna have our phones out Insta-bragging about the experience. Shouldn’t we put phones away and be in the moment?

Are you fucking kidding? Then there’s no proof we were there. If it doesn’t happen on Instagram….

I know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?

Hell, no.

I kinda think you shouldn’t photograph churches or sunsets. Photos never do it justice.

Um, 1986 called. It wants its photographic pretension back. Are you kidding me? This is why we’re here! Pretension! Shouldn’t we be too good for Instagram?

I suppose. This kinda thing drives me crazy, though. Reminds me of my mom. She drug me around to museums and always took 6 hours to read every panel about harbor seal genus or random Dutch painters who weren’t even in the same epoch as Von Gogh. It was awful. I hated museums.

But you remember going, right?

I guess.

And were you the most worldly 4th grader having schlepped through the Air and Space Museum for six hours?

Um, maybe? Was it worth it? Wouldn’t I still have been smart’ish without suffering through four hours in an art museum that no 10-year-old could care about?

Who could say?

What if I had my kids, here? They’d just whine and say they wanna go and I’d just be herding cats and telling them, “don’t touch that. Don’t touch that. Stop running. Don’t touch anything. Calm the fuck down.”

Right.

So what would be the point?

(Hint: Art changes everyday life. Is that enough?)

They’d remember it like you remember suffering through the Air and Space Museum.

Is that why we do this? We bring on the sadist and the masochistic cultural suffering to brag we were there and hope our kids will have a faint memory of having done it…just so we all get social ladder points for saying, “I was there.”

Maybe.

Couldn’t we just see it in a book? Instead of waiting for 2 hours in 27 degree weather? How long’s it been? An hour?

Fourteen minutes.

I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.

Luckily it’s not snowing.

Yet.

So then we will get inside and just video the entire thing and our pictures of ourselves will be in mirrors with our own reflections. How’s that an artistic experience?

I’m not sure.

Shouldn’t it be a pure artistic experience? Something zen-like?

Like through the eyes of kids?

Right. Un-besmirched by technology.

Sure. It’s the 21st century. But, I dunno. You’ll have recorded it.

Will I ever watch the video again? Sure as shit no one else wants to watch it.

What’s a “pure” artistic experience, anyway? Who can quantify that?

Does it matter?

I suppose just being silent with the art.

Sure. Silence is golden. But we’re limited to 30 seconds in this exhibit. It’s not like you can commune with any of this polk-a-dot nonsense.

Right.

How do you ever achieve zen –like appreciation of anything? A sunset, a church, a piece of art?

I dunno. Just…try to enjoy it.

Huh.

…..

Has it been an hour, yet?

Twenty three minutes.

Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.

It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.

That’s it?

I mean, shit. It’s just polk-a-dots. Are you supposed to get greater meaning out of life from polk-a-dots?

And tiny, repetitive eyeballs painted by a funky 90 year-old woman.

Right. That. Is that really art?

Well, it’s silly. And whimsical. And that’s fun, isn’t it? In the age of…

Right. Trump.

See? Don’t we need more colorful eyeballs and polkadots to take us out of our every day?

I guess that could be enough.

Sometimes it just needs to be. Smile at the polkadots, even with your phone in your hand. Enjoy it.

Yeah, I suppose even Van Gogh would say that.

Eh, probably not. He’d have already become pretentious and over-analytical.

But for the rest of us…just…enjoy it.

I’ll try. Makes sense.

……

How long, now?

Thirty-one minutes.

Why am I sweating so badly in my pits? Always in the cold, if I just stand here, my pits are over-active. Are they confused?

I can’t answer that for you.

….

So this’ll be worth it?

Sure it will. You’ll remember the suffering, you’ll remember the polkadots, and you’ll remember how you smiled through it.

Art changes everyday life

That should be enough.

It has to be.

And we can brag “we were there.”

Exactly.

And that’s the point of art?

Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?

Fair point.

…….

How much time, now?

Forty-one minutes.

The mesmerizing art of Yayoi Kusama - the endless repetition of mirrors and balls and polkadots.
Okay – it was mesmerizing. And now – looking back on these pix, I’m glad I took them. Because art changes everyday life.
I'm a bit perplexed, but also fascinated.
It’s silly. It’s whimsical. It’s wonderful.
Kusama's tiny room of endless reflection and color.
I mean – yeah. This is cray-cray. And I love it.
The E.C.Knox "Windsor" posing...unknowingly.
*Shameless product placement. @E.C.Knox (insert winking emoji, here). The staff was NOT happy about this.

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10 Best Children’s Books about Sexuality

10 Best Children’s Books about Sexuality

Sooner than later we need to talk about sex with our kids – and by that I mean sexuality – and for that I have the 10 best children’s books about sexuality.

Nope, not talking about sexual intercourse, don’t worry. (Although all these conversations should start earlier than later.)

Nor am I referencing gender. Gender is separate from sexuality. Don’t forget: sexuality is the object of your attraction. Gender identity is how you identify inside.

I have a list of books about gender identity over here that can help you navigate this important topic with your young children (preschool through early elementary.)

My 10 best children’s books about sexuality deals with same-sex attraction.

These are surprisingly rare, especially given how society thinks of “gay” as being the umbrella term for most topics about unconventional identities.

Further, most children’s books are about another kid’s family looking different with two mommies or two daddies. Those are great ice-breakers.

But let’s talk about the protagonist of the book actually being the gay one, shall we?

THAT’S the rub…to have a central character be the gay character and therefore relatable, sympathetic and inspiring.

The following books have a gay character as the central hero who can inspire your kids regardless their own sexual identity.

Marlon Bundo

By Jill Twiss. Leaving aside the fact that John Oliver’s joyful and touching book was meant as a parody mocking Karen Pence’s “A Day in the Life of the Vice-President”, Marlon Bundo is a rollicking book about a rabbit, his love for another bunny, and their struggle to overcome the crabby man with whom they live. It’s not about sex, it’s about love. And justice.

And Tango Makes Three

by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole One of the pioneering children’s books about gay love based on the true story of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who nested together, tried to hatch a rock, and were given an egg to foster (which they did successfully.) Seen as an excellent introduction for children to learn who families differ and love is love.

Who Am I?

Brook Pessin-Wedbee & Naomi Bardoff. Not a fiction book, but an interesting sociological study and beautifully illustrated book for children to analyze all the different ways they might identify, helping lay out the difference between sexuality and gender. (Possibly an excellent primer for confused parents, as well.)

Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with the Spoon

by Jacinta Bunnell & Nat Kusinitz

By adapting classic nursery rhymes and melding them with true children’s accounts of their non-conforming identities, this book allows little boys and girls know that convention is passe and there’s lots of ways to be themselves.

Prince & Knight

by Daniel Haack A modern fairy tale in which a prince and knight team up to fight a monster and end up finding love in the process. Can’t wait for the Disney adaptation.

King & King

By Linda deHaan and Stern Nijland This fractured fairy tale takes readers on a journey down the wedding aisle of a prince and prince. A predictable fractured fairy tale that turns convention upside down. The illustrations are often confusing, but it adds another queer protagonist to your kid’s collection.

Jack & Jim

A parable celebrating a friendhsip (that borders on love) and celebrating diversity in many forms – be it race, interests, backgrounds, and socioeconomics. It’s an ambiguous book that doesn’t smack readers over the head with messaging, leaving lots to young imaginations.

Worm & Worm

by J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato

When two worms fall in love, their friends don’t necessarily understand as they wonder who will wear the dress or the tux? Such details don’t matter when a worm just loves a worm.

Princess Princess Ever After


By Katie O’Neill

This graphic novel by an award-winning authro is for emerging readers. It breaks gender norms, embraces same-sex love, takes readers on fractured fairy tale adventures, and is thrillingly unconventional. Even the stereotoypes of the prissy princess and the tom boy are manipulated.

This Day in June

By Gayle Pitman and Kristyna Litten

A non-fiction primer on Pride Month and the history and celebrations that make all the rainbows worth it after the struggles of acceptance and and rights.

That was 10, but another author always deserves a special mention for his clear embracing of all children and all differences and all ways to love one another:

It’s Okay to be Different

By Todd Parr

Almost anything by Todd Parr is going to empower children to be who they are, love who they want, and celebrate differences. With simple, beautiful illustrations and simple, beautiful messages, Parr shows us all the most profound lessons are easy for children to understand.

Mother’s Day For Two Dads

Mother’s Day For Two Dads

A few years ago I was reminded of the unexpected realization that Mother’s Day for two dads is always kind of an issue. I was at the playground with my kid when he found a toy and wanted to take it home. It was a broken robot I’d wager was abandoned. I told him he needed to ask around to see if it belonged to any other children and, if not, he could take it home.

This was, btw, a total ploy to make him comfortable speaking with approaching strangers. #integratededucation

He approached a nanny a few feet away.

“Is this yours?”

“No,” she responded. “You should go ask your mom.”

As he turned away from her he said, “No I don’t have a mommy. I have a daddy.” He took a step, turned back, and finished, “No. I have two daddies. I have Daddy and I have Tatty.”

Then he ran onto the next guardian at the playground to continue his canvassing to figure out the owner of the toy.

The nanny smiled at me. That was the first I’d ever heard my son reference our family make-up.

It was awesome.

Often, we gay dads get a little defensive about conventional assumptions there’s a lady in our lives.

Mother’s Day for two dads, as I see on social media, often creates animosity. Lots of new gay dads will get a little huffy about being asked, “is it Mom’s day off?” or “Ahhhh, you giving Mom a break?” And we often get defensive and angry.

But we can all let that go. Societal convention is hard to break down.

My partner and I didn’t specifically discuss Mother’s Day during our months of debate over having a child. We did, however, discuss the significance of not having a mother in the household. He postulated, “But really – what if our kid’s missing something?”

I knew how I felt about the lack of a mother figure in our household: they wouldn’t be missing anything. We would love our kids as much as anyone else could and that was what mattered.

With several bottles of wine and hours of discussion, one could argue that my children might miss something by not having a biological mother in the household. What that might be is subject to animated debate.

But wasn’t I “missing” something when my father passed away when I was 8 years old? Aren’t innumerable kids “missing” something when they’ve lost a parent, or their favorite grandparent passes, or they lose both parents in a tragic accident?

The “what if’s” are endless.

But what my kids might theoretically lack (according to conventional definition) is over-shadowed by what they have: a loving family unit that will unconditionally love, support, educate, entertain, and enrich them.

So…my partner and I do not identify as mothers.

How do we “deal” with Mother’s Day for two dads?

It annoys me when people joke, “Happy Mother’s Day to you! Wait. Are you the mother? Or should we say it to your partner?”

Yeah, it’s happened a lot.

Listen, I know two dads is still (sort of) a novelty. But neither of us magically sprouted two X chromosomes when we became fathers. We’re two dads, not a dad and a pseudo-mom. We fill all the roles of child-rearing, whatever stereotypical gender rules have existed in the past. So…really – you don’t need to wish us a happy day. It’s not our day. You can simply wish us both a “Happy Father’s Day” in about six weeks.

In preschool a few years ago, our teacher gave us a heads-up: “There’s going to be a Mother’s Day project. We hope you don’t mind.”

Of course not. How can we be offended? Our kids know that some (nay, most) other kids have mothers. In each case, though, we’ve said, “Hopefully you’ll just discuss different types of families. Not everyone has a mother.”

(Funny enough, last year my son came home with an adorable clay planting pot he’d painted. Attached was a pre-printed letter wishing us, “Happy Mother’s Day.” I was mildly annoyed by that. The teacher didn’t need to include the letter. But whatever.)

I wouldn’t be opposed to “Parent’s Day.” Why do parental holidays need to be separated?- except stores might not as easily spread out the mass consumption of cards, flowers, spa treatments, ties and barbecues. But why couldn’t we combine these days into the celebration of “people who love their children”?

Just to be clear: I’m not offended by Mother’s Day or even wishes of Happy Mother’s Day. I know it comes from people who want to include me in everything that is the beauty of parenting. I just don’t think the Hallmark holiday really applies to me. So why not Parent’s Day?

Just a thought.

For me, Mother’s Day for two dads is a day when I think about the mother I lost at far too young an age.

I appreciate the increasing number of Facebook posts I see stating, “Here’s to those who’ve lost their mother and feel loss on this day.” Heck, I’m the one feeling loss, not my kids.

But for me, Mother’s Day is also a celebration of my mom’s success as a parent, without which I wouldn’t have a family at all.

So my kids aren’t missing anything. Instead, they have something equally full and rich and beautiful as any other family with two parents, a sibling, a dog and piles of dirty laundry.

In a few years, we will probably have more in-depth conversations about it. Perhaps jerks will make them think they’re missing something. Or maybe they’ll grow up identifying one of us as the “mother”…and then I promise to write about a change in my own perspective.

Regardless, we will roll with the changes. Embracing our family reality will hopefully be the least of my sons’ worries.

At least that’s how I intend for it to be.

Most important: to everyone who is a mother or identifies as a mother, thank you for loving us: your children. Happy Mother’s Day. And for those who feel loss and just a tinge of sadness as they remember their wonderful mothers: you’re not alone.