Raising My Kids as Activists: Brainwash ‘Em Young

Raising My Kids as Activists: Brainwash ‘Em Young

I’m raising my kids as activists because I’m petrified of raising children without gratitude…just…entitled little shits who expect gifts, holidays and rights without appreciation for the significance of, well…anything.

And I annoy myself when I feel my feet step onto my own insufferable soap box to preach in response to my kids exhibiting selfishness:

“I don’t WANT to write thank you notes.”

“I don’t WANT to go see Papa walk in the Veteran’s Day Parade!”

“I don’t WANT to do another march.”

 “It’s gonna be boring.”

Pic of a kid sitting and watching a Veteran speak after a Memorial Day march.
One of my kids watching his papa (a Veteran) speak on Memorial Day

And you know what? I’d prefer binging Netflix and eating Lucky Charms straight from the box instead of recognizing historic achievements or trying to change the world, too.

So raising my kids as activists is integral to my parenting because it cultivates appreciation and gratitude.

If nothing more, it’ll help my kids be grateful for the days I DON’T pull their lazy asses out of their routines and force them to stop and think about the world beyond themselves.

In 2019 America, we live in a world of comfort and walk paths of least resistance. Furthermore, my kids are white and middle class, giving them all the more carefree existence.

We don’t come from a long line of money. Our ancestral tree includes two salesmen, three teachers, a labor attorney, three factory workers, a coal miner and several farmers.

Thanks to activism of the last hundred years leading to labor reform, a minimum wage, union protections and education (especially for women), my family is no longer one of subsistence farmers or coal miners. (With all due respect to this demographic, as well. Activism helps them, too!)

Not to mention the fact that I’m a gay father and decades of activism made it possible for me to be a father.

So, yeah – I get preachy about the meaning behind Veterans Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Even Thanksgiving sees me harassing my children about their bounty.

So I drag them to marches.

Pic of author looking stoic and activist-y? Or just annoyed?
The face of pussy hat determination? Or just really annoyed w the kids?

“OMG, what friggin’ things to I need to pack in my bag to keep them tolerable?”

“They’re going to complain the entire time.”

“My shoulders are going to be killing me with these extra water bottles.”

“How big a flask should I bring?”

“Is it wrong for me to make a march a drinking moment?”

“KIDS! YOU MUST POOP, NOW! THERE’LL BE NO PLACE TO POOP ON THE MARCH!”

(That’s a way to sell your kids on activism.)

I began raising my kids as activists by dragging them to the Women’s March in 2017. I knew they would NOT be thrilled. But I prepped their expectations, and went through a familiar refrain: “This is not going to be the most fun day. It might be a bit boring. But this is an important experience in which you’re going to learn. And it’s important you understand we are here because bad things are happening to other people. In this case: women.”

Picture of the author with kids at the Women's March, NYC, 2017
Women’s March 2017, NYC

As for the march, most of the time I was the only one suffering.

Them: “Daddy? When will this be over?”

Me: “You think Gandhi whined about twenty four days it took to march to the sea?”

Them: “Daddy? I’m thirsty.”

Me: “Welp, lucky for you, I have an extra water bottle and tons of snacks. No, wait. Not that water bottle. That’s a flask. Gimme that.”

Them: “Daddy? My feet are tired.”

Me: “Isn’t that too bad? Kids marched on Selma without a stroller.”

Them: “Daddy? This is boring!”

Me: “Tell that to the graves of child laborers who burned to death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.”

* Takes a deep swig from flask.*

I know. I really inspire with fun and humor, don’t I?

This summer, we stood around for five hours waiting to carry the 1,000 foot “River of Rainbow” flag.  Was it insufferably boring to wait five hour before we actually started walking? Indubitably.

Author posing in front of the "River of Rainbow" Pride flag during Pride, 2019, NYC
Hour 2 of 5 waiting to march with the Pride Parade’s “River of Rainbow”

But I’d rather wait five hours and tell my kids to stop whining instead of being persecuted for loving my partner of fifteen years.

My kids remember these marches – not as having been hell, but that they were there.

(Scratch that – they TOTALLY remember it being endless hell.)

So be it.

One day, I hope they’ll remember they were there, they witnessed, they won’t forget their day-out-of-the-ordinary, their…sacrifice (of not being the masters of their own domains for a mere four hours.)

My kids are so lucky – to have been born with money, light skin, to an educated family and in the United States. I will gather them to march for injustice and force-feed their gratitude for not having been born in 1910, or slums in developing nations, or with a skin color making them the target of deplorable, institutional, societal bigotry.

Pic of kids protesting the stupidity of politicians
Protesting stupid politicians

Without activism, powerful, rich white men get all the comforts of life and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves because the man will always keep the people down; the needs of the rich will always come before the needs of the rest of us and this all needs to change.

So I will raise my kids as activists who understand gratitude – from sacrifices made by veterans giving us national holidays to birthday thank you notes.

I will raise children who maintain their sense of justice – because fairness is a concept children understand better than most adults…and mine will maintain that concept.

Picture of kids with protest posters.
Posing with our “I’m not a Whiner, I’m a PATRIOT!” signs

I will raise my kids as activists because this world needs more gratitude and the fight for justice goes on and on.

And their temporary discomfort just might help them appreciate those lazy mornings with Netflix and Lucky Charms just a bit more.

*** Force-feeding gratitude and justice to my kids is tough. Lecturing to my kids about MLK Jr’s “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is tougher. (One helpful book series is “Ordinary People Change the World” bringing the concept of justice to young readers.)

Real New York and Techie Thrills

Real New York and Techie Thrills

The fabric of real New York is often obscured by exasperation. The city’s too expensive, too crowded, too corporate and has sold out to international investors parking nefarious earnings in apartments that are driving up prices for all the rest of the people actually living here.

Everything authentic from independent designers to diners has closed cuz rent is too damn high.

But occasionally, one stumbles upon scrappy outposts that harken to the creative energy making real New York colorful and exciting.

This happened to me, recently, and inspired me to actually get off my lazy ass and write one of those forever-threatened (but never executed) Yelp reviews – a love letter to the creative types who pursue passion and make real New York badass.

Dear Louis Rossman – You made me fall in love with New York, again.

So my computer blanked out on me over the summer.

I stood up from typing to refill my coffee, returned seconds later, and the computer had turned off. Weird.

I clicked the track pad, then the space and return buttons (somewhere between two and seventy-six times) with varying degrees of force. Then I hit the on/off switch.

It re-booted and miraculously re-started for fifteen seconds until: poof.

My screen went dark.

And I couldn’t revive it.

The inside of Grand Central is stunning.
Grandiose location, location, location.

The next day, I went to the Apple Store in Grand Central (talk about spectacular location) and the Apple Genius diagnosed it as “electronic anomaly.”

Me: Huh?

Him: It happens more than you realize.

Me: Huh?

Him: Did you have it backed up?

Me: LOLz.

Him: It’s only 2 years old. For $450 we can send it away for a new motherboard.

Me: Will my 736 documents randomly strewn across my desktop be saved?

Him: Most likely not.

Me: Welp, how do I do that?

Him (suddenly under his breath and leaning closer to me): There’s this guy on the Lower East Side. My colleagues around me would be pissed if I told you about him. But go to him.

(And the Genius Bar guy typed out a phone number on his iPad to show me.)

The outside of Rossmann Group - unassuming, but thrilling.
Short on charm, long on results.

A few hours later, I stumbled upon the least charming storefront in New York City and walked in. A dude at a workstation a few feet from the front window had multiple monitors and cameras pointing at him, his desk, his hands, and his face.

View of the inside of Rossmann Group - a cacophony of bustling workers and video cameras.
Cameras at all angles. (I was too afraid to snap pic of him at desk. Sorry.)

He looked at me, said hello, then turned back to his work while saying, “What can we do for you?”

It was very efficient – not overly Midwestern-ly warm, nor in that NYC way of mild annoyance at being in the service industry.

Also, I felt like I’d stepped into Mr. Robot.

He was Louis Rossman. The owner and head technician. Or as he later said to me, “The Mac Janitor.”

I explained my situation, he nodded, took my computer and immediately unscrewed the microscopic screws, himself.

Taking in the entirety of his operation, there were four or five more technicians doing varying things in the workplace – answering phones, organizing boxes, and presumably repairing all manner of tech. It was the organized chaos usually hidden from public eye but that makes real New York so much more exciting. It was thrilling to witness because it had the air of scrappy DIY’ers saving technical lives. I stared until jolted from my awe as Louis piped up at me: Yep. Your motherboard. I can replace it for $350 in a couple days and transfer data for $100.

Me: Is my data safe?

Louis: Is it backed up?

Me: LOL. No.

He pulls some thing looking like a micro thumb drive out of my motherboard and says, “Looks fine.”

He grabs another laptop near him, puts my data thumb drive thingy into that computer’s hard drive, hands it to me and says, “Start uploading to Google drive.”

So I turned on this other random computer that suddenly had all my data on it.

Huh. That’s how it works? Everything that makes my computer mine is imprinted on that mini-thumb drive and plugs into the other doo-hickey that must be a motherboard but looks like the crumb tray in a toaster.

I copied my ten million documents to upload.

Google drive told me it would take approximately 3 hours.

I sat there for one hour watching the status of my upload tick down far too slowly. Meanwhile, Louis was a wonder.

Totally organized chaos.

At the same time that he dissected a computer (I didn’t realize it was mine…his hands worked so quickly and, well…they all look the same), under the watchful eye of his multiple cameras, he calmly answered questions of his employees who shouted out without care of interrupting him, answered the consistent main phone line, and greeted every single European tourist, hipster, delivery person and desperate person like me without the slightest hint of being overwhelmed.

He was a master – unshakably calm at the epicenter of a business driven by panicking techno-idiots like myself. We rubes who dropped, shook, spilled upon and generally abused our phones and laptops were the cogs in the wheel making his business hum at a mind-boggling tempo.

An hour later, he hands me my computer, says, “Stop your back-up. Just put it back in here.”

My computer was fixed.

Him: You had water damage. But I didn’t see any spills.

Me: Weird. Could it be humidity?

Him: Yep.

He popped onto the monitor in front of him and reversed the real-time video screen to show me the motherboard he’d just fixed. He pointed out a circuit that had blown and apparently started a chain reaction. (Or something. Not sure I understood it all.)

And he said, “I record my work for all the nerds who like to watch these videos of me tinkering.”

That’s what all those screens and cameras were for – his multi-view YouTube station bursting with videos of him tinkering.

It was amazing and hilarious.

And he only charged me for the new motherboard.

Louis – you fixed my computer in an hour and for $100 (and a week) less than Apple.

You’re the real deal and you make the fabric of real New York so much more livable.

You Know What I Miss? Scouting

You Know What I Miss? Scouting

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.

When I was in ninth grade, my mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on top)  but said, “But I’ll take this back if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”

It worked.

But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.

I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)

And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.

Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.

In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.

It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.

Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?

Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.

The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)

And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.

What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?

I reflected on how scouting made me better at being adventurous when I camped twice with my kids, this summer. They were skeptical, at best, and I anticipated a high amount of whining and me kicking myself for the effort.

But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.

We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.

Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.

But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”

This is for sale on ebay. It will not be warm or lightweight. So.

I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.

I don’t know how on earth my parents’ generation of wannabe John Denver campers found it remotely fun to schlep such awful equipment anywhere, let alone on their backs.

(This blog is adorably nostalgic, but none of the people in these pictures could possibly be happy schlepping the ungainly equipment.

Anyway.

At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).

At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”

Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)

I mean – no forest fire are going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was prepared to quickly stamp it out.

This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.

I didn’t bring Swiss army knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we will carve wood next summer.)

But this wasn’t glamping, either. I mean – my phone didn’t work for Christ’s sake.

But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!

(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)

But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.

Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .

On that note, the Mormon Church, which once made up 20% of the boys in scouting, will officially separate from the BSA at the end of this year. I wonder why?

So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.

I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).

When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.

There are several NYC-based Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a ten-minute walk of our apartment.)

Wouldn’t it be awesome to start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground zero for the gay rights movement?

I love the irony.

And hopefully so would the BSA.

But this is not a manifesto for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.

Can someone else do this for me, please?

Potty Training Kids to Poop Healthily

Potty Training Kids to Poop Healthily

During a recent conversation with parents about potty training kids to poop healthily, a friend of mine stated unequivocally, “Pooping in the ocean is the best.”

Meaning: when they are at the beach, they have no problem just letting a turd slide out and float away.

I thought, “Really? It’s that easy? And don’t you think that, even in the ocean, that’s pretty disgusting and a turd could float next to a child who’s playing in the surf and they could ingest that shit?”

Then again, I get the curiosity…. you’re on a hike on the NaPali Coast of Kauai and there is literally not a soul around you and you’re on a gorgeous beach all to yourself and you might or might not be clothed and you’re like, “Hm. I wonder what it would be like if…”

Not that I would know.

This all makes me think that we, as a society, are far too preoccupied with our bathroom habits. I mean – don’t get me wrong, I don’t want someone else’s poop floating past me. Ever.

But as a parent, I’ve had a lot of poop on my hands; and I survived.

A couple of years ago, I had my kids in France visiting family. We were at a playground and I had with me my own two kids and my niece.

Seconds after our arrival (and certainly after I’d said “before we got to the playground, anyone need to poo?), my older kid approaches saying, “Daddy? I need to go.”

Me: well, go behind the bush.

Kid 1: No…I need to poo.

So I grabbed my kiddo’s hand and we jogged over to public toilets that strike fear into the hearts of Americans – just two foot prints in the middle of a porcelain square with a hole in the middle.  The French call them “Turkish toilets”, which I’m pretty sure is tremendously derogatory and not one that immigrated with the “technology” of a squat-and-hole. Oh, well.)

Anyway, yeah: a squat-over-the-hole-and-go.

Luckily, my kid wasn’t remotely fazed. When you gotta go…

So I hiked up her dress and watched as she squatted all the way down (surprisingly easily), one hand holding the dress, one hand paranoiacally on a questionably-dirty porcelain wall. She relaxed and went.

Phew. Crisis averted.

Then I looked around for toilet paper.

None to be round. Zero. Nope. No toilet paper.

Only after this visit to the squat-over-a-hole-and-go did I learn these Turkish toilets are meant to be a clean drop. Even in diarrheal emergencies, it’s how our bodies were designed, you don’t really need to wipe, and it’s how we should be pooping all the time, anyway. The toilet (most likely an invention by European royalty to separate us from the “savages” have resulted in generations of IBS, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids. We really just need to squat in the woods and go, like our ancestors.)

No toilet paper necessary.

But I digress.

So I’m looking around for toilet paper and see nothing. In desperation, I searched in a trash can to see if there’s something, ANYTHING I can use.

Nothing.

My kid’s yelling at me from the toilet, still hovering.

I’m in a flop sweat frantically searching for anything for wiping.

“Oh, well, I thought. Don’t some societies wipe with their hands and consequently don’t eat with that hand?”

So…

I walk into the toilet and reach over to wipe my kid’s bare ass.

It was completely clean (see aforementioned discussion of clean drops.)

A second sweep for good measure (still nothing), at which point slow-motion set in:

I felt a movement in the breast pocket of my button-down shirt as I slowly felt my Ray-Bans fall…

…out of my shirt…

…and straight toward the 4-inch Turkish hole of French poop.

One hand was wiping, the, the other hand steadying myself against the wall, and I’m literally bent over my child who’s squatting under me. The probability of a disaster where I fall on top of her and we both end up sitting in a (remarkably clean) 3’x3’ porcelain basin that catches poop AND pee, was high.

I couldn’t catch my glasses.

They fell out, circled the hole like those quarters–in-a-spiral-thingy at museums, and plopped.

Basically: my glasses into the toilet hole.

Into my kid’s poop.

But reachable.

And you bet your sweet ass I got my kid safely out of the way and re-robed, and then I figured, “I already have one hand dirty,” and reached into the hold and got my glasses.

They were shitty, for sure, but just a little bit. I washed them at the sink, nearby (that didn’t have paper towels. Because of course it didn’t) and, well…put them back in my pocket.

Fear not – I wasn’t going to wear them, and the shirt needed cleaning, anyway.

Sigh.

That was a lot.

I happened to be at the playground with a friend (a French dad) and I asked him about the toilet paper situation, and he said, “Well, Gavin, that’s why French parents carry this.”

He pulled out Kleenex from his denim jacket.

Mind you, it was summer, hot as balls, and this guy wore a jacket to the playground. Because that’s how you do it in France. Shorts aren’t fashionable – it’s just the Germans who would wear shorts in public (along with their Birkenstocks and socks.) And you bring a jacket. Just in case. Or at least a scarf.

Some guy demonstrating the French fashion of using a scarf to regulate body temp and eating a chocolate croissant, because of course.
Just a scarf and a choc croissant. Squatting. But in a different way, of course.

(And mind you – I love French scarf culture. We need to adopt that, America. Do you realize how effective it is just to wear a scarf in the fall and spring? No jacket necessary.)

Anyway.

Kleenex. Carry Kleenex. For toilet paper.

Noted. I should’ve just brought my ECKnox. (Wink wink.)

Seconds later, my younger kid told me he needed to poop.

I exchange a look with French dad friend, he hands me his Kleenex, and away we go.

Second kid also needs to poop badly. And he’s never done a Turkish toilet, either. We run up, he squats, balances, all’s fine, no biggie. Funny how, in the moment, apparently potty training kids to poop healthily won’t stop them from squatting, like this. When you gotta go…

And thank goodness I won’t have to sully my hands, again. Phew.

He poops super fast (partly out of necessity, partly because this is the WAY WE SHOULD BE POOPING, PEOPLE – IN THE SQUAT!) and I’m ready with an (unnecessary) tissue.

I find my balance, bending over his squatting body, reach behind, it’s a clean drop (nothing on the Kleenex) and…

Yes. You guessed it.

My glasses fell out.

Again.

Because I’m an idiot and forgot I’d replaced them.

Same scenario: same unnecessary wipe, same retrieval of my Ray-Bans from poop.

Because obvi.

I wash off poop, return them to my pocket, and off we go.

By this point, less squeamishness. I’m a veteran.

Also, though? – gag.

But that night I sanitized the shit out of my glasses (pun intended), and tossed the shirt in the laundry.

And it was all fine, and no one had rashes from insufficient wiping and no one got pin worms from sunglasses.

But let’s face it: parenting seriously lowers the bar for excremental evacuation, don’t it?

And that’s a good thing.

In the process of potty training kids to poop healthily, we all need to give less of a shit and move on with our lives.

Selfies with Royals – Meghan and Harry and Archie and Me

Selfies with Royals – Meghan and Harry and Archie and Me

So I’m soon to be royal-adjacent and I’m counting on taking selfies with Royals.

Last January, I received an email saying, “We’d like to schedule a five minute private call with you about the upcoming royal birth.”

Just: lolz.

My first thought was “Is this my long-lost cousin writing from a jail in Nairobi and needing $38,000 to get out?”

But, hey – I’m game. “I’m all ears.”

The woman explained she was calling from St. Jame’s House, a London Publishing Company, that publishes fancy coffee table books highlighting big British events like the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, royal weddings, and the 100th anniversary of Rolls Royce.

They were in the process of gathering “patrons” to be featured in the upcoming book, Our Royal Baby, to be launched after the christening of as-yet-unborn Archie, the child of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And they wanted to feature, well…the best and/or coolest diaper bag for men.

As a “patron”, I’d be featured in this book as an “exciting new company on-brand with this Modern Royal Couple.”

In the words of my deceased grandfather, “If I had dentures, I’d have lost them.”

Mr. Robert Jobson, “the godfather of royal reporting” and official biographer to Prince Charles, would interview me and write the feature on my company.

In addition, I’d receive an invitation to the royal christening and an invitation to attend the book launch in London at the Ritz Hotel.

(Non sequitor: should I be capitalizing “Royal” and “Christening”? Golly gee whiz I’m such an American un-versed in R/royal etiquette.)

After picking up my jaw (or dentures) from the ground, I asked, “Well, this is astounding. How on earth did you find me? And will I be able to take selfies with Royals?”

The woman laughed and said “We have researchers constantly seeking innovative and stylish companies appealing to a royal sensibility.”

Aw, shucks. I’m blushing. I mean – I may not be selling tons of bags, but…

…apparently I’m doing something right? (Notice my desperation.)

“I mean, this is crazy. I can say the ultimate dream would be for Prince Harry to carry my bag.”

“Well, we can make that happen,” my contact said, “though there’s no guarantee he would be photographed with it. But Mr. Jobson can personally give a bag to the Prince.”

Yo – Sign. Me. Dafuq. Up.

So, skipping over lots of banal details about contracts, I became part of the Our Royal Baby team.

As weeks and months passed trading messages about new photography and editing copy, I felt like the people in the charming novel, 84 Charing Cross Road, in which an informal American book collector strikes up a written friendship with a formal British antique book seller. His Britishisms contrast hilariously with the American’s, well…American-ness.

Point being – I’m the crazy, informal American and I’m certain my new British friend, Dhruti, must look at my emails and think, “This chap is off his rocker.”

Notice I improved upon the official photo.

Moving along, over the summer, Megs and Harry held the christening of wee Archie with zero fanfare. (I guess St. James’s House hoped to invite me to London around that time. Did I harbor illusions of taking that desired selfie with Royals? Absolutely. But I suppose an “invitation” meant a literal paper document for framing.)

So St. James scheduled our book launch at the Ritz for just after Labor Day – because that’s convenient (except for un-cultured Americans. Eye roll.)

Borrowed baby bored by paparazzi.

In the spring – several photo shoots took place. I was going for a uniquely New York scene in which I’m carrying the diaper bag and holding a (borrowed) baby. (Shout out to Adam’s photographic genius and Ashley loaning me her baby.)

See the green pipe behind the borrowed baby? Legit drug drop.

Charmingly, before taking this picture (at left), I noticed a guy pause at the green pipe over my shoulder and stick something inside. Minutes later, as I was posing with little “borrowed baby”, another dude lingered down the road. I could sense we were in his way. It wasn’t hard to realize he was waiting to pick up from the green pipe behind us.

So…pretty much we did a fashion shoot in the midst of a drug deal.

(Ultimately, Dhruti passed on that pict. Clearly it wasn’t “on brand” for the royal couple. Oh, well. It was on brand for NYC.)

Dhruti and I settled on this one.

In other news, I had dubbed the bag The Frenchie” because the blue/red racing stripes reminded me of the French flag. But then I figured “Frenchie” probably was not on brand with the Royals, so it was re-dubbed “The Windsor.”

Months passed, designs and wording of the editorial page were finalized, and I spent the summer hemming and hawing over whether to attend the party at the Ritz.

Finally, I figured, “I’m most likely going to come back utterly empty-handed. But I’ve invested this much, and I have the AmEx miles for a free trip. This seems like exactly the right frivolous trip on which to cash in.”

So: I’m here. In London. Ready to be Royal-adjacent.

Not holding my breath for taking selfies with Royals, Megs and Harry.

But a daddy can dream…

5 Rules to Raise Good Eaters

I follow 5 rules to raise good eaters…or at least pretty good eaters. Oh, we have plenty of negotiating at our dinner tables, don’t be misled. The frequent negotiations, occasional whining, rare tears. But still – it’s tolerable.

But we have mostly avoided eating anxiety and unhealthy habits (not to mention table drama) by following these five rules to raise good eaters.

Mind you – we are very consistent and hyper-annoying to our kids about them. That’s the main thing…like all parenting…consistency. It’s tough being the constant nag, I know. But it pays off.

So… stick with me, dear reader: among a few others feed them this:

…and follow these 5 rules to raise a good eater (with hopefully little drama).

*Absolutely no guarantees, mind you!

1. This is dinner. Eat it or not.

Your call. But: no drama, li’l llama. If you don’t want it, you can leave the table. But you’re not sitting here and complaining and pushing food around and whining and negotiating how many more minuscule bites you have to eat. Either eat your dinner or not. (We don’t do clean plate, we require 80%, give or take.) But if you leave the table, no dessert.

2. At least 3 bites.

A new food that’s scary? You don’t have to eat it all. But if you want dessert, you must have three bites – one to feel, one to taste, one to decide. No negotiations.

3. No snacking after 4:30 pm.

If they’ve worn you down and you’re already sipping a cocktail and making dinner, and you KNOW they really are starving, then: fine – let them snack on broccoli or cucumbers or carrots. If they’re REALLY hungry (as opposed to bored) they’ll eat. And they may always gobble all the veggies they want. But no snacking after 4:30.

4. First the “anytime” foods, then “sometime” foods

Earn the good stuff. This is our parenting mantra. Like Michelle Obama said, “There are sometimes foods and there are anytime foods. But you gotta earn the sometimes foods by first eating the anytime foods.”

First apple, then more crackers; first dinner, then dessert; first twenty minutes of quiet time, then ten minutes of screen time; first daddy’s beer then I’ll chase you around the house.

But especially for food: anytime foods then sometimes foods.

5. Half the plate should be vegetables.

May the culinary gods bless my kids’ doctor for sharing this rule. I get to throw her under the bus as I shrug my shoulders and say to my kids, “Sorry. Not my rule. It was the doctor’s. Half the plate has to be vegetables.” Hell, we almost NEVER make that. But it’s a good thing to aim for. We all know we’d be better off gobbling half a plate of vegetables.

(Oh, here’s an extra tip…but I avoided having an even-numbered list…”5 rules to raise good eaters” sounds better than “6 rules…”, doesn’t it?

Have your kids help in the kitchen.

Ask them/cajole them/require them to give a hand in food prep. It’ll make them more invested in the experience of eating. Let them experiment with using knives. Heck, they gotta learn sometime. Order one of these for young kids, but even so, let them know/understand/respect sharp knives, too.

I’m a Dog Saint – But Don’t Envy Me

I’m a Dog Saint – But Don’t Envy Me

OK, folks – I don’t mean to be all righteous, but seriously: I’m a dog saint…aaaaand…don’t envy me. As evidence, this post is crude but entirely based in fact. Enjoy at your own peril.

My dog, Maddie, is walking and running (more like galumphing), since the beginning of her FCE ordeal. She temporarily lost use of the back half of her body but has made incredible strides back to, well – striding.

And she’s utterly unperturbed when her hips occasionally slip and slam on the ground. She just keeps going in her new normal.

But I desperately hope for to regain control of her bladder and bowels.

Dear doggy lord: my Maddie is walking adequately. I’ll trade further progress in the leg region for any control in her nether regions.

We’ve had to “express” her bladder, otherwise she grows a 3-inch balloon in her gut. We put our fingers behind her ribs and squeeze back and in. This triggers her back legs to shoot straight out while urine sprays out of her with the force of a super-soaker. Not difficult, merely annoying. And a lot of splashing.

But nothing’s as bad as the poop.

Before walking returned, the poor dog soiled herself. Bowels emptied onto her tail and legs and she’d try to drag her paralyzed hind-end away. Daily baths were the norm. (Difficult with a dog who couldn’t stand.) We were all miserable.

Since walking, Maddie still lacks “function” control. Sometimes (usually at about 4AM) it seems she feels something and thinks, “Oh, crap. Oh, no. Oh crap, I think I’m gonna…”

She stands, takes two steps, and then: plop. Another step, another plop. We’ve surrounded her bed with wee-wee pads, so her scat is caught before she scats.

Then she shamefully hides from us in a corner.

The commotion wakes us, but over the past few weeks, we’re resigned to it. “Oh, well. The dog lost it, again.” So we clean doggy-doo by the light of cell phones.

For a month I lined up Ellison’s rubber alphabet tiles down our hallway for Maddie to walk without slipping. Because she stuck to that path, a few times she left presents along the tiles.

One night before turning in, I went to check on the sleeping boys, and I stepped in a pile. I was barefoot.

I slipped, smearing ordure along the P, Q, and R letters, at which point the tiles separated, and my foot further smeared feces on the wood floor.

My kids' rubber tiles running through my apartment to give my dog a grip and not slip.
See the bloody paw prints on the tiles?

I semi-sighed/semi-laughed. I wretched as I cleaned.

This wasn’t the first bare foot nastiness. I’m always the one who steps in it.

Recently, I started “expressing” her bowels. (Yeah: I’m a dog saint.)

Imagine, if you will, a grown man squatting behind his dog, squeezing her haunches until her tail pops up and her anus starts to pucker.

At this point, I’m (sadly) happy for action. It means less mess in the apartment. Since it’s now sub-zero in the Northeast, and I squat mere inches away from her, I actually see steam escaping her butt.

The height of indignity is when I force my dog to fart in my face. It happens almost daily.

We hardly react to this, anymore. It’s become de rigueur for the kids.

“Did Maddie go poopy again, Daddy?”

“Yes. Don’t touch it, please. I’ll clean it after I make your toast.”

One time, a babysitter sat on the couch reading to Ellison when my younger kid delivered something. It was poop.

To this point (knock on wood) Maddie’s had no diarrhea. So clearing the crud is quick and easy and it’s easier for me to say “I’m a dog saint.” Sometimes we scrub with chemicals, sometimes we just wipe with a paper towel. We’re so resigned to it now, we just shrug and keep on keeping on.

I haven’t cleaned with bare hands. That’s probably next.

We ask every visitor if the apartment smells like dog droppings.

They all say “No, not at all.”

I hope they’re not shitting us.

I (Suddenly) Love Frozen

I’ve written a variation on this theme, before, but it’s the greatest hope I have for my kids.

“Daddy? You be ‘Anna’ and I’m going to run away from you with my cape and you say, ‘No, Elsa! Don’t go!’ Ok?”
“OK, buddy.”

Role-play ensues.

Even Colton, who’s words are limited to “pee-pee” and “nana” gets into it. When he sees anything Frozen, he shouts “Anna!”

As already discussed, our household is ruled by Frozen. (Actually, Thomas the Train still rules, but there’s a lot of Disney princessifying going on.)

Frozen thrills Ellison. He plays all the rolls: Kristoff, Sven and (especially) the sisters. I’ve gotten good at fashioning dresses out of old swaddlers (blankets, not Pampers.)

The other day I figured, “Eh, he hasn’t watched it in two weeks. Why not?” As we waited for the movie to load on my computer, Ellison jumped on the bed shouting, “Hooray! Hooray! I’m so excited to watch Frozen!”

He shouts “hooray” sans irony. I mean, who talks like that? It’s so…earnest, so…“Barney” dialogue.

After a recent snowstorm, we built “Olafs” in our backyard with some play-date friends, a boy (age 5) and his sister (age 3).

When Ellison started singing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” the boy said, “I hate Frozen. It’s all about love. And I hate love.”

“Wow. That’s…specific,” I sputtered.

His little sister said, “Yeah. I don’t like it, either.”

“Oh,” Ellison said; then (matter-of-factly) added, “I like it!”

It was as if they’d said “my name begins with R” and he said “Oh. Well, my name begins with E.”

And in that moment, I felt a desperate need to stop time, grab Ellison, and say, “Buddy, you go ahead and LOVE Frozen with all your heart, just as you do, now. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

Their mother rolled their eyes saying, “Whatever. They were both dancing around in Frozen dresses, this morning. Peer pressure. It’s no longer cool for him to like the movie. And his sister’s just following.”

“Already?” I thought. “At five years old social acceptance looms?”

I hate that.

I’ve spouted lessons for my son in this blog. But above all, I wish most for him to hold on forever to that innocence where he loves what he loves. If he’s thrilled with Frozen or football or fungi, I’ll be elated to talk about it.

How I wish he could live divorced from anyone else’s opinion. Watching his captivated face as he’s engrossed/scared/delighted watching Frozen warms my heart.

Eventually, I know he’ll follow crowds.

I know he’ll say to me, “Daddy, don’t hug me so much,”

or “Daddy, it’s not cool to sing,”

or “Daddy? Can you drop me off at the corner? I can walk the rest of the way myself.”

But I wish it wouldn’t happen soon.

Son, just hold on to whatever makes you feel joy and free and light and inspired. And if whatever inflames your passion is something that isn’t cool for the outside world, I promise you: it’s safe in our house. So act out Frozen or play football or become bizarrely obsessed with fungi.

Your passion and interests are always safe with me.

I know you’ll be influenced by others far too soon.

But be innocent for as long as possible.

That’s my deepest hope for you, buddy boy.

We’ve Entered the FROZEN Tundra

What is it with Frozen? I know people with 4 -6 year-olds went through this last year, but my 3-year-old is quickly catching up. He is obsessed with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and that insidious song.

I mean, do any adults think the movie is amazing? How on earth did they craft something so addictive for kids?

Is it immediacy?…that we can conjure the song on phones and parents couldn’t have done that with The Little Mermaid? Would we have gone ape-shit over Aladdin if we could YouTube “Never Had a Friend” while on a ski lift or in line at the grocery store?

Obviously Disney creates magic, but I wonder if they don’t have a “Department of Nefarious Arts” in a turret of Sleeping Beauty’s castle where they plot to seduce impressionable minds with scientifically-chosen colors and committee-crafted plot points?

Ellison is learning a lot about families, behavior and body parts with his preoccupation with Frozen. Last Tuesday he asked me 16 times why Elsa stays in the room hiding from Anna. I explained twelve times (and ignored the other four), “Because Elsa has magical powers in her hands, but she doesn’t know how to control them. So she hides from Anna to keep Anna safe.”

“But Elsa loves Anna. They’re sisters.”

“That’s right, buddy. Sometimes you have to protect people you love by hiding from them.”

How on earth is that a concept he can understand? But maybe Frozen is expanding his brain capacity?

Yesterday, Ellison pulled a blue yoga mat around his chest and said, “Look! I’m Elsa. My purple cape flew away. Now I’m in the blue dress.”

He does this with blankets, towels and, once, a paper towel.

It’s hilarious how he taps into the role-play. (I bet this woman would have something to say about it.)

As we walked to school, the other day, he asked this non-sequitur: “Do Elsa and Anna have penises?”

“Um, no buddy.”

“Oh. What do they have in front of their hinies?”

I took a deep breath to quell my guffaw. “They have vaginas, buddy.” (We’ve discussed anatomy, before.)

He responded, “Olaf doesn’t have a penis.”

“Oh,” I said, newly enlightened. I refrained from saying, How do you know he isn’t just suffering from shrinkage? He’s a snowman!

Another non-sequitur: while playing trains, Ellison stood, stomped his feet and informed me, “When Elsa stomps her foot on the stairs, she makes snowflakes. She runs up stairs but she doesn’t fall. I don’t run on stairs. I could fall.”

Bless his preschool and their staircase vigilance.

And the song. Seriously? Is it really that good? Even Idina Menzel, herself, has declared the song “too damn high.” (I can’t find the citation, now, but I swear I read it.)

And the ending? “Cold never bothered me, anyway.” Isn’t that some kind of dangling grammatical deviant? It’s so clipped…like the writers jumped off the horse mid-stream.

But maybe this is the Disney psychological warfare? Adults are musically unsatisfied, the kids don’t seem to care.

And the writers and Disney are laughing at my novice criticism all the way to the bank.

Yesterday I needed to wake Ellison from a nap (he could nap for hours in the afternoon, but then he’d never sleep at night. So I wake him at 45 minutes…resulting in crabbiness.) I brought him from the brink of tears by pulling up “Let it Go” on my phone. Breathlessly, he whispered, “What’s that song, Daddy? It’s…it’s…it’s ‘Wet it D’oh.’”

Ellison couldn’t care less about my envy-tinged artistic grand-standing. And I’m still charmed by him singing.

Let it go, Gavin. Write something better and then we’ll talk.

What are your thoughts on Frozen and “Let It Go”?

Thomas the Train Rage

Thomas the Train Rage

Well that blew.

It was our “Day Out With Thomas”, when a rail-riding, full-size “Thomas the Train” visits sleepy train stations with operable train tracks.

In our case, the Essex, CT, train station attaches some coaches to a locomotive, followed by Thomas, and makes a 20-minute trip to the local dump, and then back to the station.

Last year, our trip was idyllic. Ellison bounced along to the songs during the ride, thrilled at hugging a dressed-up “Sir Topham Hat” and riding a jankety fair rides dotting the parking lot.

This year’s day out started out euphorically. For the entirety of our fifteen minute drive, Ellison chanted, “I want to ride Thomas!” The cuteness drove me crazy.

At the station entrance, he skipped and chanted, “I’m so excited to see Thomas! Hooray!”

I love it when he talks like he’s reading a “Dick and Jane” book.

Colton was equal parts confused and excited.

We cheered Thomas’ arrival from the previous trip to the dump.

As we proceeded toward the boarding area, Ellison noticed a table sponsored by PBS displaying swag and a gift basket of Thomas toys.

Ellison walked up and asked, “Can I have that?”

The PBS woman said, “It’s not for sale, sweetie, but your daddy can register to win it. Would you like a PBS pen, instead?”

“No, thank you,” he politely responded…sneeringly.

I gave my spam email and a fake address to the PBS rep woman.

As we turned to board Thomas, I saw tears streaming down Ellison’s face.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I ask.

“I wanted the Thomas basket.”

You must be kidding. I didn’t expect to be one of those parents with one of those kids crying during this supposedly idyllic day.

Also, Ellison didn’t usually begin tantrum tears silently. Usually his hands go to his wide-open mouth and his cry is deafening.

I knelt down and said, “Buddy, that basket wasn’t for sale. I’m going to try to win it for you. But now is the exciting part. We’re gonna ride Thomas!”

Ellison whimpered and walked with fogged glasses (which adorably happens every time he cries).

We rode on Thomas for the 20 minutes in each direction to and from the dump. The first five minutes are deafening: kids screaming and parents frantically shouting to smile for pictures. It’s mayhem.

And then the passengers just stare at swamps and the back of dilapidated houses located near the railroad tracks. The return ride is understandably quieter.

Ellison sulked the entire time.

After disembarking from the train, I suggested we visit Sir Topham Hat (some poor sot forced to dress in a stifling plush costume.)

I forgot that meant walking through a massive Thomas pop-up toy store.

Ellison’s head almost exploded as we entered the store. He sprinted frantically around the displays grabbing and pointing. None of this happened last year when he had no concept of acquisition.

Apparently capitalism ruined my son over the last year.

I was suddenly re-living my childhood with my mom. During our summer road trips, my number one destination was gift shops. I’d beg her to buy absolutely anything: toys, books, doilies, figurines, ashtrays. Didn’t matter what. Acquisition was the name of my game. I’d hurry us through museums, memorials and monuments to GET TO THE GIFT STORE. I’d present crap as “educational” to help my case. Usually I came up empty-handed. Mom was no impulse buyer.

Eighty-seven years later, I’m watching my son act like the Tasmanian Devil and asking myself, “What would Mom do?”

When I said “no” to the dual train set of “Iron ‘Arry and Iron Bert”, Ellison’s channeled his inner Claire Danes in her 1990’s tearful glory; hands shot into mouth, glasses fogged.

And Thomas enraged me.

During the next few hours of bartering with Ellison, I looked around: were ANY of the other parents having fun? Was I the only adult infuriated with Thomas? Why have I become so bitter?

And then Ellison peed his pants. Again.

More tears, more internal rage.

Gavin: he’s 3. Give him a break. You need to be better about stopping to make him pee every 30 minutes.

Thomas soured me on any fairs. They’re chock-full of ways to make kids cry.

I should have managed expectations better. Do I say, “You can buy one treat?” I suppose so. But why must I feel obligated to buy something, anyway? Must I check asceticism at the door?

My mom never bought me shit from things like Thomas or county fairs or street fairs or Disneyland. Because of that, I loathed festivals like “Taste of Colorado” or “Lakewood on Parade”. I was a diabetic in a candy store. But I didn’t throw tantrums, cuz I expected nothing. I just wondered why we bothered attending. Mom liked the free concerts. But Julio Iglesias was not interesting to me as a 9-year-old (nor is he now.)

Back to my kids: how on EARTH do you manage DisneyWorld/Land/Hell? Seriously…tell me your secrets.

The day would have been more fun if we’d just gone to a lake and thrown sticks in the water.

Simple pleasures.

We did exactly that later in the afternoon. And it was bliss.

When we sat down for dinner, Ellison was starving and shoveled kale salad and asparagus into his mouth. (I know. Roll your eyes, now.) I asked, “Has it been a good day, Buddy?”

“Yes.”

“What was your favorite part?”

“This,” indicating his empty plate of vegetables.

I surrender.

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