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Exploring All the Pronouns

Welp, we’ve hit another funky milestone.

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’?”

“Whatever,” she/they/he responded. “I’m flexible.”

Oh. Okay. So there we are.

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 it.”

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.

And I’m so proud of her for that.

So that’s where we are, now.

Break Some Rules Kids – Please?

I’m nice and I strove to please my teachers.

But nice people who please teachers don’t paint the Sistine Chapel. They don’t break sound barriers. They don’t develop Apple Computers, right?

Crazy people who break rules and smash conventions do big shit.
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 destinies.

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.

Right?

That Damn Elf on the Shelf – (or: Our Transgender Shelf Elf)

That Damn Elf on the Shelf – (or: Our Transgender Shelf Elf)

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, despite my 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.”

“Yeah?”

“But is also wearing a skirt.”

“Oh.”

“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!”

Yes. 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.

Making Kids More Woke in Frozen II

Making Kids More Woke in Frozen II

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!

Exploration of pagan spirituality.

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.

From Fear to #MeToo

From Fear to #MeToo

I’m fascinated by the ongoing societal discussion of sexual harassment and worldwide reckoning with the thousands-year exploitation of women.

The movement makes me think about a badass dear friend of mine, Charlotte, who talks about the dawning of the age of Aquarius (unrelated to the song) and who’s personal mission is to reunite people with their inner divinity.

I’m not well-versed in astrology, new age intellectualism, or vortexes. But I do believe there is a deep energy force that connects humans to each other and to nature, and is what orchestrates the harmony with our Mother Earth (however unharmonious we humans try to make it.) Call this energy what you will. I’m fine with calling it God.

So Charlotte is the leader (she hates that term but I’m proud to call her that) of an ever-expanding “circle of women”. They believe in the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine (which are vastly different from the notion of gender roles) and seek to harness the power (or divinity) within human beings to reformulate a more peaceful, energy-focused, divine world that’s less fucked up by humans and the institutions that screwed it all up for us: government, church, corporations.

Or, if you will, organizations constructed by men.

All of these institutions are elements of un-divine masculinity: a perverted basis of power, competition, destruction and war that didn’t always dictate humankind.

For example, Charlotte talks about how Europe in the “Dark” Ages was actually much more matriarchal and not “dark”, at all. The women had deep knowledge of nature, plant remedies, and energy forces. Society was egalitarian and symbiotic. There wasn’t ownership of land by individuals since villages had to work together to survive. And women were leaders in their communities.

Sure, there were invading Huns, pestilence, and life was about survival, with much less pleasure. But what we call the “Dark Ages” wasn’t a time of universal suffering; it just happens not to be an era defined by conquer, control, competition, ambition, and domination. Life in fiefdoms was marked by fewer historic milestones, so the men writing the history books considered it a dark time. But “normal” life was not “dark.”

But then societal institutions (church, government, and “companies”…meaning private ownership of stuff) became fearful that they couldn’t keep control. So they move to repress. And these organizations run by men certainly couldn’t have women’s input. They were afraid of losing their grip on power, so these organizations acted as tyrants and demagogues, harnessing power and competing to be top dog.

Bringing that closer to home, “masculinity” (power, competition, domination, war) has screwed up society and men. This last-couple-millennia age of war (as opposed to that of Aquarius) has meant a distorted notion of masculinity has screwed up men, our notion of manhood, and gender roles.

And we men are so very screwed up. We have impenetrable emotional walls, we are afraid of showing vulnerability or proclivities other than the mainstream. In general, we lack the intimate friendships that bond women to each other. We focus on competition instead of mental health, domination instead of mutual benefits, defensiveness instead of openness.

And we are afraid. So very afraid – of not being the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the richest, the manliest, the most virile and most respected. We fear NOT being top dog.

But what does being the top dog get us? – things that really matter in life?

We have manipulated our worlds into that of power and conquest – leading us directly to the scandals du jour of rampant sexual harassment. Instead of sex being a mutual bond, it’s about domination and conquest.

And I believe that’s directly related to sexual harassment. We have unhealthy perspectives of sex and sexuality that have been bastardized by the institutions that control society and norms and laws…those aforementioned institutions meant to control society and created by, yes: men.

(Andrew Sullivan has written a myopic account, recently, talking about the different genetic programming between men and women and that men are programmed to compete and dominate. I don’t dispute that. And he points out that gay men are a microcosm of competition and domination without women’s influence and basically, “It’s just fine.” I’d argue that, sure, men and women are genetically programmed to act differently and that men are naturally more competitive and seek dominance. However, it can be combined with respect and self-control. Healthy approaches to sex and being in tune with one’s own ego doesn’t mean undermining our genetic predisposition. Come on, Andy. You can’t excuse unwanted groping as being acceptable because of genetic programming…for women or men, gay or straight.)

But I digress.

I used to think the “Age of Aquarius” was hippy mumbo-jumbo. But, maybe we are finally turning a corner from an age of destruction toward an age of, I dunno…construction? You wouldn’t think so with the saber-rattling of international leaders. But let’s think big picture – 51% of the world population is acquiring more influence and proving more than adept in leadership positions. For the first time, possibly in history, societies are legislating parity.

We know we need to collaborate to save the delicate world that sustains our existence.

We know we are economically interdependent and need to wage cooperation, not war.

This dawning age of cooperation is a marathon, not a sprint. It might take decades (or centuries) to establish. But war makes less sense. Domination and selfish competition make less sense.

Is #MeToo leading us closer to Aquarius where men can re-discover the “sacred masculine” (without fear “compromising” a 2018 sense of “masculinity”) and women can settle into the “sacred feminine” (or men can embrace their inner femininity without fear and vice-versa for women?)

The new possibilities are limitless in a world with less fear.

What a world that could be…

Moulin Rouge – My Age Doesn’t Get It

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:

If you’re under 25 and no Christian, you’re a heartless, capitalist pig. If you’re over 25 and not Satine, you’re an idiot.

Sigh.

Age doesn’t get it. Sigh. I’m so old.

*** 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.)

Giving Thanks: My Mom Made Me a Dad

Giving Thanks: My Mom Made Me a Dad

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.

(more…)

Yesterday: A Good Day Not to Die

Yesterday was a good day not to die.

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 gratitude.

The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

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.

In contrast to WWII which created the greatest generation of stoic, productive veterans, the survivors of WWI fostered a culture of tremendous self-reflection. Poets, artists and writers emerged from the trench horror facing a world without meaning. Battlefield savagery created direct artistic movements of nihilism, abstraction and darkness; because after all they had expereinced, how could artistic expression ever again just be “beauty and expression for escapist enjoyment” anymore? WWI created modernism, and everything changed.

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.”

Last year, in France, French President Emmanuel Macron declared at the ceremony marking the end of WWI, “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”

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.

For now.

And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them and their future.

Discussing Death with Kids in 5 Easy Steps

Discussing Death with Kids in 5 Easy Steps

Recently, a neighbor died, which opened the door for discussing death with kids in five simple steps:

  1. Just talk about it – if you’re sad or mad or depressed or even happy or relieved or whatever. Emotions are all okay.
  2. Just talk about it – what you think happens after death in whatever way makes sense to you.
  3. Just talk about it – my death, your death, everyone’s death.
  4. Just talk about it – how life goes one for the rest of us.
  5. 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 I digress.

Unlike many other societies throughout world history, we don’t look at death as part of life. It’s to be avoided, so discussing death with kids is definitely taboo.

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 –

  1. To be sad.
  2. To cry and to see other people cry.
  3. To know that death happens.
  4. To think fondly of the people we’ve lost and not repress their memory.
  5. 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?” she asked.

“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 cookies.

Each.

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 coming.

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.

It’s healthier for us all that way.