But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.
As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”
That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.
Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”
So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”
This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.
Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)
Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”
I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”
“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.
“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.
At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.
President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:
But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?
We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.
Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)
I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.
Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.
But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.
Which was, objectively, a good thing.
At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.
Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?
Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.
No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.
We’re all obsessed with finding the moment and savoring the now – and that’s certainly my greatest subconscious block in fully devoting myself to social media. Besides worrying I have nothing to say, I don’t want to walk through life in a double-tasked, obsessive fog constantly crafting the wittiest facebook posting, the dreamiest Instagram picture, or the most re-tweetable tweet.
I’m already busy with a triple-tasking mentality. My endless conveyor belt of to-do lists exhausts me. But I don’t need social networking to invade my thoughts and make me a quadruple-tasker.
As it is, I’m terrible about taking moments just to be. Sometimes I think I should take up smoking because it might force me to step out of a situation to breathe deeply. But I’m sure I would double-task my smoke trolling my phone for some absent, but obviously life-changing, email I’m not expecting.
I suppose lung cancer isn’t the answer.
So won’t hyper-scheduled and spreadsheet blogging/posting/tweeting/choosing-the-perfect-Instagram-filter-er disconnect me all the more from living “in the moment”?
Yet, to my great surprise, in my cultivation of social media events, I think I’ve been a better about the moments.
Sure, I snap even more pictures of my kids. But I also actively look for things to remember and document. It’s helping me in finding the moment to relish.
“Mindfulness” is almost a joke of a term, in 2020, isn’t it? The meaning is vague. And I think so much of us stumble around thinking, “I want to be more mindful. But how do I do it?”
To me, “mindful” is a westernized, 2020 translation of being.
And I mean “being” in the Zen paradigm of awareness, calm, being present, and just…being.
So mindfulness is a super-American translation of being from a state into an action.
We’ve altered a state of being into a state of action.
That might just be semantics, but I think there’s a profound cultural distinction, therein.
Just like the essence of yoga should be a physical practice of being in the moment (rather than checking exercise off a list and moving with our day), mindfulness should be a state of being, not an action.
Recently, a friend without kids suggested I should remove my kid’s iPad.
I was ready to throw down.
More specifically, he posted a HuffPo article suggesting the prohibition screentime for kids until age 12. Alongside, the friend wrote, “While I’m not a father, it breaks my heart to see children in restaurants staring mindlessly at screens. I was raised to paint and draw and entertain myself with puppet shows. If I’m ever a dad, I’ll never let my kid play with an iPad.”
Thank goodness several other parents lashed out before I needed to.
I snarkily/charmingly wrote, “You’re more than welcome to come spend four straight days in a cramped apartment with my kids, eat out at a restaurant with them, all sans iPad. If you can do it, then you can be my nanny and I will worship the unplugged ground you walk on. Oops. ‘Scuse me. 2 yr old screaming to play w my phone. Gotta go.”
I think screen time limits of 30 minutes are a good idea. But does my kid sometimes spend 60 minutes watching homemade YouTube videos of children opening Thomas the Train toys? Absolutely.
Do I think I’ve derailed his future imagination?
Do I think he will entertain himself with puppet shows in coming years?
Dear Lord, let it be when I’m not around.
One of our favorite children’s books is a parody of Goodnight, Moon entitled Goodnight, iPad. My then-2yo knew how to read “Nooooo!” on the illustration where Grandma tosses all electronics out the window.
Every generation thinks the latest innovation signals the death knell of childhood imagination: Barney, Mortal Kombat, Real Houswives of Atlanta.
Maybe so. But we’re still here.
Ain’t it funny how the “perfect” parents are those who don’t yet have banana fingerprints marring their iPad screens? While they’re busy judging haggard parents, I hope they indulge in a nap and enjoy a leisurely dinner at Babbo for me.
Having calmed my reactive rage, I should’ve just responded on Facebook to my friend:
Pal, you should have stopped at “While I’m not a father…”
Don’t forget sensationalist articles like “Your iPad is making your child stupid” are like 24-hour news segments causing reactionary fear. Fear is sexy and drives internet traffic.
How about this much lengthier study of child screen time in THE ATLANTIC? In short, it says, ‘everything in moderation.’
I know. Moderation is so unsexy.
I find screen prohibition unnecessary and perhaps detrimental for the touch-screen generation. Why not cultivate technological whizzes?
I also know that a happy parent translates to a happy child. Thirty minutes of quiet time thanks to my cheapest babysitter, Elmo, works wonders for my happiness. Thirty minutes matching letters to their outlines, counting ladybugs or watching THOMAS THE TRAIN makes me a happier (and better) father all while engaging and educating my kiddo.
Before becoming a parent, I made categorical prohibitions about how I planned to parent:
‘No sugar, no TV, no disposable diapers.’
Now? I think teaching my kids limits is more effective than deprivation. (Cloth diapers were a straw that broke my sleep-deprived back. “Seventh Generation” diapers are my compromise.) I’m just trying to cope the best I can.
After she died, cleaning out the house was entirely my job (being an only child). And while previous to that I’d always thought, “That’s gonna be a horrible job”, I ended up loving every second of it. Going through the rooms and closets and chests and drawers was a surprising delight of my personal museumization.
I was able to get rid of most of the stuff. In fact, I reduced a 1400 square foot house packed to the gills down to a small U-Haul trailer. And most of the stuff in the trailer should’ve just been dumped.
But it’s hard to do that when you’re genetically predisposed to sentimentality.
But we’ve hit a limit. My family lives in a NYC apartment.We have no space for sentimentality. And there’ve been some ridiculous things I’ve clung to if only to laugh with you, dear reader, about my absurdity. I’d like to think I’m not a hoarder, but the items, herein, might make me look like I’m ready to have a collection of dirty pizza boxes crowding the 23 cats’ litter boxes.
But it’s OK to let things go, too. (Mind you – I started composing this email long before Marie Konde’s Art of Tidying Up lit up our Instagram feeds. I was just late in publishing it cuz I was certain I’d find new items to add to this post.)
For example, this felt like my own personal stuffed animal massacre. I searched online for a (for lack of a better word) humane way to recycle or up-cycle my kids’ neglected stuffed animals. Seriously, they never gave a stuffed rat’s ass about Elmo. Isn’t that crazy? Elmo never figured into our lives. So even though I thought it terrible to trash him, I did it,anyway. And though I felt guilt walking away from trashy Elmo, I haven’t given it much thought, since.
Oh, and as for up-cycling, there’s a lot of suggestions on Pinterest for turning stuffed animals into chairs and furniture (no shit)and then one non-profit that sends them to child victims of hurricanes and natural disasters. But when a dear friend who’s brother survived Caribbean hurricane Maria and told his sister (my friend), “We need water, but people are sending fucking stuffed animals!” I nonchalantly made a mental note not to send my kids’ discarded Beanie Boos to St. Thomas or San Juan.
My Star Wars sheets.
When I pulled these out of my mom’s massive pile of“Gavin’s childhood stuff with which I just can’t part”, I was thrilled to find these Return of the Jedi sheets. They might as well be sand paper at their 40-or-so thread count.
I remember the time at Target when I begged my dad for them, and because my frugal mother wasn’t there, he acquiesced, but sort of made me look away so I wouldn’t see them in the cart. Not sure what the point of that was, but I vividly remember being forced to walk in front of the cart so I “couldn’t see the sheets” and Dad could gift the sheets to me for my birthday.
And I was able to put them on my son’s bed for awhile.And then the little asshole ground silly putty all over the corner of the sheet. And I just can’t even with the “googling how to remove silly putty from your vintage Return of the Jedi sheets that your dad gave you.”Because sometimes it’s just time to say goodbye.
This Orange Raincoat
This over-priced rain jacket was a purchase from a very stressful time of my life. I bought it, impulsively, when I was going to Alaska to hike with a friend to temporarily escape a confused chapter of my life. My hiking friend had most of the equipment and a place to stay that we could call home base as we hiked/camped for a week on the Kenai Peninsula. And because I only needed this jacket one day during a glacier-viewing cruise, I actually had the gall to try to return it. (The store manager rolled his eyes at me.Justifiably so.)
I wore the jacket for about eight years. But when the rain started seeping through every single seam to the degree that I felt like it was actually pooling inside the jacket more than it was repelling the wet, I supposed it was time to say, “peace out”.
Just – what was I thinking with this shirt? In a way, just “documenting” the life (and my memories of) these items allows them to live on in perpetuity and (and provide endless laughs).
But I like having a de-cluttered apartment, more.
Here are two items made from 1980’s plastic that survived storage for a very long time and with my own kids for a much shorter time. But I mean:antique plastic, right? I was mildly annoyed but didn’t get upset when, in one day, both items were broken by the jerk-face kid. (I don’t even remember which one it was.) But I suppose just because I keep something for 30 years doesn’t mean it’s meaningful to anyone else. Meanwhile, they were both having fun with the trumpet, still, despite the broken mouthpiece was basically a shard of plastic just waiting to stab toddler gums and lips.
These have already gone bye-bye.
This stash of gift bags I’ve shoved into a bedroom corner:
I kept dozens of gift bags from our baby shower and subsequent birthday parties. Seriously: will I ever actually re-use them? Not only do theylook creased and smashed, but I alwaysforget to use them.
This reminds me exactly of the extra bedroom closet in which my mother stored recycled wrapping paper and bows. I found it so unsightly the way she would fold and preserve wrapping paper and then I’d have to sift through the scraps to wrap things, myself. But now I applaud her giftly conservatism.I’m just unable to even with this 5-year-old stack of gift bags that I never remember to use.
Hopefully they can be recycled. Fingers crossed.
This Dated Suit.
I bought it to attend a wedding in 2007. Just because it still fitsdoes not mean it should be worn,again. Aren’t the ravages of fashion trends the worst? This was a perfectlycool linen suit for summer weddings when I bought it.
But when I dusted it off for a wedding, last summer, I looked like aclown. It just doesn’t fit according to 2019 fashion rules. And no: no oneneeds to be a slave to fashion and trends. But seriously – look at the rumpledlook at the ankles. Did I ever lookgood in this?
So life will be easier once I retire (trash) these items and without their nostalgic weight pressing down on my shoulders. They’ll live on inintrawebs infamy, instead. So it’s time for thanking and letting go.
Growing up, I marveled at my mom’s commitment to maintaining an ancient wardrobe hidden in her bedroom. She was famously nostalgic and her closet was no exception.
In her bedroom, hidden under the bed, bursting out of her closets and poking out of the dressers were:
Costume jewelry from the 60’s and 70’s “Oh, just in case they ever come back in style!”
Pants that were just…old. “Well? They’re perfectly good and
they still fit!”
Shoes she never, ever wore “Well, I know they’re dated but they’re still just so comfortable!”
I’ll never forget a pair of underwear she had for decades that barely stayed up for its lack of elastic. But “I just think they’re funny and I’ve never found ‘dancing skeleton’ underwear to replace them!” (Yes Dancing skeletons.)
There were tons of unopened items she’d probably bought on sale – all underwear and socks (but no dancing skeletons).
Ugly Christmas sweater upon ugly Christmas sweater, never purchased or worn for its ironic ugliness. Each one would make an appearance at some point in the Christmas season.
And then there were her Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sweatshirts. They were threadbare and holey – in just the right way to make them super cool in 2020. Kappas would definitely pay a premium for their distressed look, today.
I’d ask how old the Kappa sweatshirts were and she’d giggle and dismiss me with her famous hand wave and say, “Oh, I don’t know. Fifteen years, or so?”
“Mom! That’s like…maintaining an ancient wardrobe! Throw it AWAY!”
In my teenage years, I couldn’t imagine EVER holding onto
clothing more than a decade old.
Bringing us to today – I definitely have clothing a decade (or two) old. Not that much, but there are some dress shirts I only wear a couple times a year – why trash them? They’re timeless for New Years-y wintery events. And for a night when it’s dark and everyone’s drunk, already, no one notices if the collar’s TOTALLY from 2007, right?
(OMG. That’s 13 years old. How did that happen?)
I’ve definitely held on to a pair (or 3) of hole-y jeans that are bunny-soft and just feel good.
Somewhere buried away is my sweatshirt from rowing on the crew team in college – full of holes and cracked logos but oh, so beloved.
And I just threw away a pair of Adidas sneakers made with durable navy blue felt that were eight years old. You wouldn’t have known it, except, well…the laces were broken and my pinky toes poked through the crease where the shoes folded when walking. Yeah – it was time.
And I’ve recently pulled out of storage (because why just leave it buried in a box?) a V-neck t-shirt that says “Vote” vertically, incorporating the v-neck as the “V”.
I bought it during the John Kerry Presidential election 2004. The website on the back of the shirt reads DeclareYourself.com. It’s now a dead end.
But in those comfortable times watching movies on the couch or puttering around on Saturday mornings, I fully embrace maintaining an ancient wardrobe sparking joy and reminding of the journey I’ve traveled.
I’m really trying to pare down my wardrobe of unnecessary items. Reduction by attrition (as with my Adidas shoes.) It seems so much more practical to be a bit more European in my approach to clothes – higher quality, less volume.
My second born son, Colton, gives me tremendous experience in dealing with whiny kids. He is a magnificent study in extremes. He is adorable. He could charm the wallpaper off the walls. His seductive grin makes mincemeat of the hardest of child-hating hearts.
And at the opposite extreme, what I call: #tearlesscrying.
Not tantrums. It’s worse. He whines incessantly.
Seriously, y’all. It’s soul-sucking. Dealing with whiny kids is, well…parenting. I know. But this is another level.
Believe me, Colton does not lack for coddling. Remember the whole ‘He’s so cute” bit? He’ll snuggle for hours. (Well, 15 minutes). It’s heaven to hold him in my lap after a nap. (Though his nap mainly consisted of 30 minutes of silence and 20 minutes of what? You guessed it: #tearlesscrying.)
“Take my shirt off! Take my shirt off!” my 3yo shouted with pure childhood bliss. She wanted to be like the older kids running across the grass as shirtless savages of summer. Normally, she does not let it all hang out.
So I took off the shirt, cursing myself for having left the sunscreen at home. It was already 4:30. Post-PTH, hopefully. (*peak tanning hours.)
I knew one of the boy’s parents and we’d met at the park for happy hour summer picnic. I needed adult contact since my one-year-old was near peak of his incessant whininess.
Upon arrival, the parents offered me a beer. I nearly downed it in one sip.
Seconds later, I noticed my 3yo and the older kiddos were missing. I said as much.
“Oh, they’re over behind that brick wall playing in the fountain,” the mom said as she handed me a second beer. “They’re fine. Don’t worry.”
I’m sorry. What part of that statement should not have made me panic? Our kids were out of sight, in New York City, playing in a fountain hidden by a stone wall.
I was fairly certain the 5-year-olds weren’t trained lifeguards.
I tried looking calm with a frozen smile. I took a sip, stood up, carried the whiny 1yo (who whined with the movement), and left to investigate.
At the stone wall I saw that the fountain was “only” a 12-inch-wide ring of water surrounding a 10-foot sculpture by Tom Otterness. The water flowed in a circle around the sculpture. True: I needn’t worry. Too much.
My 3yo joined the boys dropping items (trash, really…broken balloons, styrofoam) in the “upstream” part of the fountain, then chased it around the 10-foot circle. They were definitely in pure childhood bliss.
As I approached, my kiddo reached into the water, jumped up with hand clenched and squealed, “I got one!”
“What’d you get, buddy?”
“Yeah!” she beamed. It was new for her to play so imaginatively.
She was so happy. I was so happy to watch it.
The entire situation reminded me of studying “A Perfect Day for Bananafish“, J.D. Salinger’s short story, in my high school English class. It’s a moment of innocence in which an unstable Army Veteran is reminded of “pure childhood bliss” as he unexpectedly plays with a child in the ocean who swears she sees “bananafish” underwater.
But I digress.
Some kids around nine or ten years old had entered the scene at the fountain. They sat on benches nearby. They held skateboards and sported baseball caps over shaggy hair.
The 5-year-olds playing in the fountain stuck started taunting the skater boys and sang “nanny, nanny- boo, boo.” The skater boys didn’t take the bait. They minded their own business and joshed around like 10-year-old boys. They occasionally laughed or pointed at the little kids. It was innocent, but it also looked like gangs forming.
My 3yo still jumped and splashed, squealed and laughed. She kept grabbing items (trash) at the “top” of the stream and watched it float with the current. He dipped his bloated diaper in the water. She looked at me and enthusiastically screamed, “Daddy!”
It was a juxtaposition of innocence (and innocents): my kid and the two rival gangs (the 5yo’s and the 10 yo’s). I whipped my phone out to video the pure childhood bliss. She hadn’t a care in the world, least of all the chiding of other kids. Not a speck of self-consciousness informed her actions…no insecurities about clothes, having two daddies, vocabulary, nothing.
She just played.
How can she know the joy that brought me or how precious that time was for her? The only thing existing for her was imagination and water and pure childhood bliss (and trash).
If I could endow my kids with only one gift, just one, I’d make them impervious to judgment. I know that’s impossible. But couldn’t she always play in her own world with the water and ignore the others?
Kiddo: don’t modify your behavior or preferences or speech. Just play. Just be. Just maintain that pure childhood bliss for as long as possible.
I hope I’m able to show that video to her one day (assuming I don’t drop my phone in the kids’ bathtub a third time) and help her reconnect with a paradigm free of self-consciousness.
May there be many, many, many more moments of pure childhood bliss.
I crossed another Rubicon, with my kid. Ugh. Parenting: it’s hard y’all.
Both my kids were running around in the twilight in blissful imaginary play. They were both wearing dresses (cuz that’s how we roll – and luckily the younger doesn’t mind being occasionally treated like a dress-up doll by his older sibling.)
So there was a lot of squealing and laughing and I noticed a
couple times my older kid lifted up her sibling’s dress revealing that he was
(Quick side note – can we all just agree that running around
commando in a dress is the way we should all be living regardless our gender
The younger one laughed but yelled “stop!” and kept running
But it happened a few more times, specifically just after I called them in for bedtime. And as they continued squealing and ignoring me and playing “lift the dress”, for some dumbass reason, in that moment, I was furious.
I read the riot act to my older kid about how she was crossing boundaries by exposing her brother’s hiny and this wasn’t ok and “you need to know that you are harassing him and you may be laughing right now don’t you dare laugh in my face about this it is very VERY serious. I know you’re laughing about it all, right now, but he said ‘stop’ and that means you STOP because you can’t go around lifting dresses how would you like it if I went around lifting your dress?”
At which point I did exactly that, exposing her…oh.
Welp…that didn’t prove my juvenile eye-for-an-eye point, at all.
She started laughing. And then I wanted to laugh, infuriating myself all the more, and rather than checking my anger, I channeled my giggles into greater fury.
“You need to realize this could get you in serious trouble.
If you lift someone’s dress at school or you do this when you’re older you
could go to jail. Yes, JAIL is where
you land when you lift up other peoples’ dresses.”
Man, I tell ya. I know seven year-olds are supposed to run around saying poop and laughing about butts and shaking wieners. It’s fun and funny. I laugh, too.
And I am 100% HERE for body positivity.
I don’t mean for them to keep body parts under wraps. Hell, walk around naked all day long, if you want (at home. Out in public would be a bit too much, obvi. I suppose I would head to jail, then.)
My entire point confession, here, is I was the one who snapped a little too forcefully and I crossed the line I thought I’d avoid for longer than this:
…that my kid started laughing in my face at my fury and that just sent me over the edge.
It’s human, I suppose. And it seems like a rite of passage.
But I felt so stupid, afterward. I tried to talk about it with her, after I’d banished her to her room, but she was buried in a book and just said, “Leave me alone!”
At bedtime, I covered her in kisses and re-visited the topic
that it really isn’t ok to expose body parts if someone’s screaming “no”, even
if they’re laughing. “The fact is, that’s violating someone’s personal
boundaries. Even if it’s your brother.”
But she was quickly like, “Yeah, Daddy, I get it. Stop
talking about it.”
We ended the night on a high note – prayers, a song, and a few “I love you’s”.
Hopefully I haven’t scarred her forever.
But I’m scarred – because of feeling that very first rage at
“hell hath no fury like that of a parent being laughed at by the kid they’re
trying to lecture”.
It usually begins, “It’s great you’re letting your son wear a dress.”
And ends, “Do you think he’s gay?”
And I just think, why can’t we live in a label-less and limit-less way?
And then I go in a mental tailspin. “What does it mean that my son wants to wear a dress? Does it mean he’s gay/transgender/confused/abnormal? No. It doesn’t mean anything. He wants to wear a dress. In the end, maybe he will be one of these things, and maybe not. But why label or limit him, now? He’s 5, for Chrissake.”
I try to shrug it off and be Zen. Many parents in the U.S.
have already tread this path….evidenced in blogs/news/facebook/life. A
boy in a dress is not that big a deal.
Aaaaaaand…it still scares the shit out of me.
I don’t want him to be teased.
I want him to feel safe.
And this all comes from my own experiences.
I came to my current “sexual definition” later in life. After a youth of romance with the ladies, I unexpectedly fell deeply in love with a man (he with whom I share my life and family, right now.) Without going into great detail (you can read about that in my as-yet-not-at-all-conceived book), my greatest struggle “coming out of the closet” at age 28 was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a closet to come out of.
I was just suddenly loved a dude.
Until then, I had never felt confused. I hadn’t had a “trouble” with women.
No, it’s not shocking that I found myself with a man – I was never the boilerplate macho meathead spewing virility. I was teased for being “gay” as a kid, though I wasn’t…technically. But I also didn’t lie awake during my teens and 20’s thinking I was doing the wrong thing with the wrong gender.
And reconciling this at age 28 was difficult because I didn’t want to be painted into a corner.
Why did I need to be labeled a completely different person because of the person I suddenly loved?
Plenty of my friends condescendingly said, “Mm-hmm. Sure,” in response to me feeling label-less.
Some friends asked “are you bi?” And I was like, “I dunno.” Another screamed, “You’re gay! Get over it!” And one particularly sweet friend rolled her eyes at me when she mocked me, “Right. You don’t want to be labeled.”
Right. Is that so hard? Label-less and limit-less?
I wasn’t trying to eek from one orientation to the other through the
“clichéd-by-the-media-or-whatever” path from straight to bi to gay.
I just…chose to be.
That choice was really difficult. Why? Because of social fucking constraints.
I’m not saying I reserve(d) the right to go back to heterosexual knockin’ boots. By current social convention, “jumping back and forth” is virtually impossible.
But why must it be so?
Isn’t sexuality and identity more fluid than just black and white?
Isn’t there more depth to human connection than what moral (or church
or government or repressed political) convention allows for?
When we allow ourselves to ponder our place in the world, reflect on what makes us deeply happy, meditate on more than making and spending money; when we’re really allowed to ponder our place, our identity, and our desires – aren’t there hundreds of ways we relate to each other that could be interpreted as “gay” but are actually just different dimensions of human relationships?
I digress. Greatly.
So when someone asks me now, “Do you think your son is gay?” I refrain from snarling or barking. But I do want to scream, “How childish are YOU for needing to label my 5-year-old son? He just wants to wear a dress! Can’t he just have that without being defined for the rest of his life? YOU need to grow up.”
But instead, I usually just respond, “I don’t know. He’s 5.”
I’m late to the game, but having recently watched it, A Dog’s Purpose becomes more than just a movie, it is a teaching tool for profound topics. I’ve got all the feels for it – a movie that’s beautifully shot, well-acted, charmingly written, and poses questions about mortality, kindness and mindfulness for children and grown-ups alike.
A Dog’s Purpose
follows a dog’s quest for his, er – purpose?, over the span of several
reincarnated lives as several men’s and women’s best friend.
“Bailey”, charmingly voiced by Josh Gad (so you can tell
your children “That’s Olaf’s voice.”) cycles through several lives, some
thrilling, some sad, some long, some short.
What particularly moved me was the provocative questions the movie inspired: thoughts about reincarnation, mortality, kindness and mindfulness.
The day after watching, on the way to school, my younger kid asked, “Why do dogs have many lives but humans don’t?”
We then had several blocks of talking about profound human
beliefs. That led to more spirituality, speculation and religion after I said,
“Religion is often what comes from people asking un-answerable questions about
the world and about life and particularly about what happens to beings after
He responded, “Uh-huh.”
It was 8:15 in the morning. Too much for him, too.
Talking about the life cycle while watching A Dog’s Purpose when children ask “why
does he have to die?” and “Oh, good, he came back to life.”
It’s tough to chat with children about death, but there are beautiful and constructive ways of doing so and develop constructive life-long coping mechanisms. Death is part of life. We shouldn’t deny that fact from our kids.
Kindness entered our post-viewing conversation as we observed the treatment of the dogs by their owners. Some were neglectful, some strict, some were…uh…euthanizing, but most were quite loving. Kindness isn’t a hard concept for children, but it’s often glazed over or discounted. We all could use more modeling of kindness, right?
Finally (and most profoundly for me): mindfulness. Throughout the movie, Bailey is on the search for his (and in one life her) purpose. Discussing with children, “Why am I here?” and “Do I have a purpose in life?” ain’t easy. It’s tough for adults, too. But it’s a question that renders life stimulating for our feeble brains. (That old “the unexamined life…” adage.)
By the end of the movie, Bailey shares with the viewer: “So, in all my lives as a dog, here’s what I’ve learned:”
Have fun (obviously)
Whenever possible, find someone to save, and save them.
Lick the ones you love.
Don’t get all sad-faced about what happened and scrunchy-faced about what could.
Just be here now.
Be here. Now.
Isn’t that simple and wonderful and pure?
Life would be so much better for us all if we relentlessly
sought a purpose, played more, didn’t get scrunchy-faced about the past or the
future and learned to be here – now.
Simple and thought-provoking, A Dog’s Purpose is a must-watch for families.