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 know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?
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?
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?
(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.”
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?
I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.
Luckily it’s not snowing.
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.
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.
Has it been an hour, yet?
Twenty three minutes.
Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.
It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.
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…
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?
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.”
And that’s the point of art?
Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?
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.