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10 Best Children’s Books about Sexuality

10 Best Children’s Books about Sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlon Bundo

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

And Tango Makes Three

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

Who Am I?

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

Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with the Spoon

by Jacinta Bunnell & Nat Kusinitz

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

Prince & Knight

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

King & King

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

Jack & Jim

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

Worm & Worm

by J.J. Austrian and Mike Curato

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

Princess Princess Ever After


By Katie O’Neill

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

This Day in June

By Gayle Pitman and Kristyna Litten

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

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

It’s Okay to be Different

By Todd Parr

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

Mother’s Day For Two Dads

Mother’s Day For Two Dads

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

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

He approached a nanny a few feet away.

“Is this yours?”

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

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

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

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

It was awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “what if’s” are endless.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it’s happened a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom’s Night Off? Not when You’re a Gay Dad

Mom’s Night Off? Not when You’re a Gay Dad

When I first became a dad, I didn’t expect to be forced to out myself as gay, but since everyone assumes you’re straight (understandably) because when you’re on your own with the baby, people ask, “Oh, is it Mom’s night off?”

(Funny how society also uses the phrase, “Dad’s babysitting because it’s mom’s night off.” All woke dads chant: #dadsnotbabysitters #dadsnotbabysitters.)

When my first child was seven weeks old, a friend invited my partner and me to an antique auction in Nowheresville, Connecticut. My first auction. I’m always game for “firsts”.

There were hilarious (shocking) items for sale. Of note was a box of lawn boy/mammy figurines, including a 7-inch Aunt Jemima iron doorstop. Not all of Connecticut is Martha Stewartville.

But I digress.

At the time of serious bidding, when the room hushed and you could cut the tension with a knife, the kiddo got fussy. Of course.

So I walked with my baby bjorn into an adjacent room where a woman sold hot dogs, coffee and cookies.

She had a mullet half way down her back. On her sweatshirt was an airbrushed wolf howling at the moon. It was awesome.

(Not that I’m furthering rural stereotypes, but across the street was a drag racing track.)

Anyway.

She ooh’d and ahh’d over my 7-week-old and marveled at keeping baby quiet. We made small talk about regular baby things: birth weight, sleeping, etc.

Then she asked, “So is this Mom’s night off?”

I kept bouncing, but my eyes went dead. “Um…”

“Or is she just watching the auction?”

Rage boiled within me and I looked at her pointedly. “Mom’s, just…well, she’s just fine.”

Wait, what? “Mom’s just fine”? That was a worse response than Baby’s “I carried a watermelon,” in Dirty Dancing. It lacked any logic, least of all in my emotional response.

I walked away, trying to hide my huff.

Aaaaand…I quickly realized my irrationality.

She had made a reasonable assumption. Of COURSE she’d assume there was a mom nearby. How often do you see gay fathers with newborns? Not very often. And in rural Connecticut? Even less often.

This is something that happens to a lot of gay fathers. I’ve noticed a lot of sleep-deprived fathers already stressed about the pressure of keeping a newborn alive, who’ve gone on Facebook tirades about the assumptions made by others. I think it might be a gay dad rite-of-passage.

But surprisingly for me, I just hadn’t realized being a father would often force me out of the closet to strangers.

Not that I’m closeted, but straight people don’t have to walk around declaring they sleep with the opposite sex. Why must I walk around outing myself all the time?

Also, a lifetime “proving” my straightness to people makes me jittery about being perceived as gay. I know. It’s my own issue. More on that in another blog. Or not.

I needed to chill out and realize that if she went on some tirade about me being a fag-besmirching-Jesus, so be it. To be a good dad, I need to deal with close-mindedness productively, anyway.

I returned to the kitchen area. She was wary.

I said, “I’m really sorry. I haven’t been asked questions about my son’s mom, yet, and it’s bound to happen. Fact is, my partner and I are raising this little boy and he’s watching the auction, right now. And unfortunately he’s buying a useless phonograph that will undoubtedly collect dust and take up space in our already-cramped house.”

Before I could finish my awkward apology, she reached for my hand and nodded warmly.

“I got it. I got it. Before you said anything, I got it. And that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. That’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.”

I bought a hot dog from her. It wasn’t Mom’s night off, but it was a very good night for me.

Feeding my Kids at the Happiness

Feeding my Kids at the Happiness

Feeding my kids happiness is one of my highest parenting priorities. Usually that means foods that make me happy. Sometimes it’s theirs. If there was any doubt, let me shuffle-ball-change out of the closet loud and proud: I’m a food snob. I wholeheartedly embrace Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables.

When I was the perfect parent (meaning: before kids), I knew fast food would never touch the lips of my precious snowflakes.

Admittedly, it’s easy to avoid fast food living in New York City. You’re never in a car, the kids haven’t fallen asleep in the back, and all food is fast.

But I understand that fast food drive-thrus are a godsend…in desperate situations…international pandemics, zombie armageddon, and heavy thunderstorms. Oh, and when Daddy flirts with jail time during a road trip due to a desperate yearning for “friesandashake” and considers* leaving the kids asleep in the backseat cuz who’s gonna know and you’ll be really fast and besides the dog’s in there with them.

But we all know (don’t we???) that feeding my kids happiness through fast food contributes to the destruction of now-infertile fields from Fargo to Fresno, the dumbing-down of our collective national gastronomic taste for all things over-salted and over-sweetened, trillions of gallons of fertilizer run-off that’s caused the vast oceanic dead-zone known as the Gulf of Mexico, the inhumane treatment of cattle and fowl (and probably fish), the brain-washing of our youth to crave/demand/consume calories exceeding adult dietary needs, and the lowest-common-denominatorization of “family” time.

Anyway, I read Fast Food Nation. I know that there’s shit in our fast food meat. And by “shit”, we mean literal poop.

I saw Super Size Me. (And after seeing it, I craved McD’s fries.)

Having spewed in-eloquently for 300 words, allow me to expose my personal hypocrisy:

Me lovey some fried goodly-goodness.

Caveat being: never in quotidian life, frequently on road trips, and always at the airport. Because according to the Onion Newspaper in some issue that I KNOW I read 87 years ago and still rings true:

“McDonald’s doesn’t count at the airport.” **

Anyway.

So once upon a time I chose to feed my kids happiness in a suburban McDonald’s with a play place and all the features. (In what felt like a small victory in my masochistic love affair with Ronald McD, they don’t know it’s actual name, they just call it “The Happy Meal place”.)

I have no idea how to reconcile my train of thought in the above tangential/parentheticals, let alone my contradictory love for this scion of global dining degradation. My sodium levels are still elevated after feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place.

Anyway.

My oldest kid opens the Happy Meal and actually says, “What’s in my Happy Meal? Oooooh! A napkin!”

Seriously. She squealed about a fucking napkin.

And my eyes welled.

My two children were so goddamn happy to be at the “Happy Meal place”. They pulled out five items, all gastronomically inedible, from their special boxes with increasing delight. (That there are no less than five “things” to discover – six including a napkin – is all the more thrilling.) Some of the “things” were food, some were toys, all were comprised of a majority plastic ingredients. (Excepting the twice-referenced napkin…perhaps the healthiest option in the box.)

There I was: SuperDad with two beaming children at America’s most hegemonic export. I felt like Tim McGraw and WalMart and Venti lattes all wrapped up in a big Made-in-China-American-flag; a new face of ‘murrica nestled in a plastic booth of sensory overload.

I took a sip of my 32 liter iced coffee containing 483 calories of god-knows-what, to cover the cry-quiver in my chin. Then I removed the bottom bun of my buttermilk-fried-mystery because removing one of the buns makes me feel a teensy bit less guilty, okay? And I took a pre-orgasmic bite.

It was underwhelming. I should’ve just gone for the Quarter Pounder; but somehow chicken seems minutely less naughty. But let’s face it: life is short.

If you’re going to eat at Transfatty McCancer, just super size that shit and get what you want, not what you think might be “better”.

There is no “better” for you in this shack.

Again: I digress. (It must be the insane amount of caffeine still coursing through my engorged belly.)

Anyway.

Feeding my kids happiness at the happy meal place made them insanely full of joy. I completely forgot about the fact that a mere 20 minutes previous, they’d been whining about who had the matchbox car first, one was kicking the back of my seat, and the other would not stop asking me about which princess was my favorite princess.

Seriously: I wanted to leave both of them at an orphanage at 12:45. But by 12:51, everything was good, again.

All thanks to the happy meal place. (Lower case letters intended.) I didn’t want it to end. Except for the fact that I was composing this post in my head, checking my email and might have scrolled HuffPo twice (cuz a lot could happen during a 12-minute degustation), I was completely in the moment. I didn’t even take pictures to document. I just was.

(Also, my phone had died. So.)

But it was a magical family moment. And in that time, I appreciated McDonald’s for more than just a delectable airport French fry. I loved it for creating something that over-principled foodie snobs can’t appreciate: the delight in breaking bread with children…with delicious bread that can actually kill them.

I didn’t want those 12 (actually, I think it was 9) minutes of familial, convivial, quality time to end.

But then my asshole oldest child just couldn’t get enough. See? Therein lies the problem with this mega-corporation preying on our human addiction to salt and sugar. We just want more, more, more.

Yep, that older child had seen the well-placed pictures of milkshakes and ice cream that exploits illiterate 4 (and 44)-year-olds.

“Daddy? I want ice cream for dessert!”

You hear that? No appreciation for the magic I’d already created. She had yet to take one bite of his shit-filled “cheese” “burger”. Just: more, more, more.

(Disclaimer: I totes wanted a shake; and I kinda wanted to buy my daughter’s love via ice cream. Sadly, I justified these hankerings to myself – per usual – by recalling a completely not-science-based report I read in a 2001 edition of GQ stating that McDonald’s vanilla ice cream is “surprisingly good for you”…which is not the same thing AT ALL as saying it’s actually good for you.)***

(Once again…I’ve lost my own train of thought in the midst of my steroidal use of parentheses. Probably from the crack that they sprinkle on those fries cuz: DAMN!)

Anyway.

My kid demands ice cream.

I responded, “No, buddy, I’m sorry. This is enough treats for today.”

She whined and almost turned on her freakishly over-active water-works.

But then she had a moment of reflection. Perhaps it was the gratitude washing over her as her insides were lubed by peanut oil? Perhaps the musak playing Katy Perry hits reminded her of her first crush: Rosie, the pink train from the Island of Sodor? Whatever it was, she stopped whining. And McD’s climbed an inconceivably higher rung in my estimation.

She looked at me and said, calmly. “Well, Daddy. You said ‘No.’ And that’s mean. And ‘mean’ is what Donald Trump is.”

Wiping away a tear of pride for the political insights my 4yo shared (quite possibly thanks to the modicum of nourishment she received from her Happy Meal apple slices that had been picked, peeled, packaged and preserved but most definitely thanks to the quick discussion we shared in the McD’s parking lot where I saw a Trump bumper sticker on a car at which I scoffed and swore and my son said “What?” and I mumbled to myself “Seriously? In Connecticut? I mean…people are actually supporting that bigoted, inexperienced blow-hard?”), I desperately suppressed the guffaw in my throat, enjoyed another couple of fries, and watched my sons become exponentially uncontrollable as they over-dosed on 10,000 calories of wonderful, delicious crap.

Thank you, McDonald’s. See you, soon when I want to again be feeding my kids happiness.

All too soon.

* I said “considered” not “actually did.” I would “never” do “that”.

** Though I can’t find this in a quick Google search. It must have been a statement on the Onion faux newscast. Clearly, it stuck with me.

*** I can’t cite this because seriously: how could anyone actually cite an article in GQ that justifies eating McDonald’s ice cream? Perhaps their “how to give her a 2-hour orgasm” is citable. Even dating back to 2001. But not some “study” of what you should actually eat, nestled between an ad for the first iPod and a salacious spread of Jennifer Lopez flaunting her rocks, pre-imploring us not to be fooled by them.

Positivity in the Time of COVID

Positivity in the Time of COVID

I was recently struck full force in the face with the power of positivity in the time of COVID-19.

A good friend of mine, Mark Hsu, recently published a book.

(Disclaimer: I’m in awe. Writing a book is superhero work.)

Its title speaks for itself: Please Open in the Event of My Death…A Father’s Advice to His Daughters in Case Something Horrible Happens…(Which Hopefully It Won’t but Just in Case…)

Hilarious, no? It’s not morbid, though in these trying times, jokes about death might be misinterpreted. But this isn’t about mortality, it’s about fatherly advice…from a worrywart.

Yesterday, I read a section about success and happiness where he recounts flipping through TV channels and heard a teaser for Dateline NBC in which they’d explain one of life’s conundrums: “Why are some people lucky and some people unlucky?”

Mark delights the reader describing the mental shenanigans of deciding he would in fact stick with Dateline to learn this secret to life.

It came down to one thing: attitude.

He then went on to dole some more attitude advice to his daughter highlighting Charles Darwin’s “facial feedback hypothesis” saying facial movement can influence emotional experience. Rather than smiling just being a result of our emotion, smiles actually make us feel better.

Mark’s book reminds me of another friend going through what must be a living nightmare. Her husband has been in an induced coma for 19 days due to an extreme case of COVID-19. He’s 42yo and in vibrant health. She dropped him off at the hospital with seeming pneumonia, and because of the pandemic, she wasn’t allowed in. He was immediately intubated and he’s had massive complications and a surgery to amputate his leg in order to save his struggling body.

During this time, my friend hasn’t been able to see him (except for the occasional video call thanks to a generous nurse taking the time to hold the phone up to his comatose ear.)

And oh, yeah – they just moved from one coast to the other and are renovating a house.

Despite this, she has displayed nothing but positivity and grace. She is living a nightmare that would consume the rest of us in bitterness. Delving into darkness would be totally understandable, but she’s choosing not to do so.

She chooses a positive attitude and spreads light across her social posts and updates about her day, her exercise regimen (she’s a trainer) and her husband. Sometimes she’s fighting back tears; sometimes they flow. But she continues living to the best of her abilities for her 10-month old baby, her own sanity, and for her husband.

Our positivity in the time of COVID can be greatly influenced by attitude.

And it will inform how we demonstrate happiness for our children.

I often get caught up in envy of the creativity of people all across social media. Keeping up with the Joneses, feeling like I’m not applying my creativity, becoming unjustifiably angry with the brilliance of people like Chris Mann.

Another friend of mine recently asked “How’s it goin, Daddy?”

He caught me in a time of annoyance at the end of a homeschooling day. I responded, “Shitty. And you?”

He gave me a virtual hug. Chatting some more, he let me know he’s feeling inspired and creative. Admittedly, he doesn’t have children. But I’ve a feeling even with kids, he’d see the good side. This friend writes “choose joy’ in his email signature. He regularly reminds me that even though I feel saddled with my kids at this time, I can always choose joy and focus on the positive.

I saw on TikTok a high school senior who (rather darkly…so in contrast to my friend with the positive energy) shared pictures of “seniors in 1918” and “seniors in 1941” and “seniors in 1968” with pictures of 18yo boys shipping off to war.

Good reality check, eh? It sucks to be a senior in high school missing out on prom and graduation.

But the fact is we are asked to stay home to save lives, not shipping off to end them.

I hate this pandemic. I’m concerned about the future health of my friends an family. I’m terrified about my future financial stability.

But I’m reminded time and again that I definitely am in charge of my own attitude in a world that’s so totally out of control.

Thank you, Mark, Amanda & James (and Chris Mann?) for reminding me joy is often a choice and we can find positivity in the time of Covid.

Pardon me while I go force a smile.

5 Ways to Raise Happy Children in 2020 (Even During CV19)

5 Ways to Raise Happy Children in 2020 (Even During CV19)

If you read no further, here’s the cliff’s notes in 5 ways to raise happy children in 2020:

  • Maintain your awe.
  • Stop, contemplate, think, reflect.
  • Understand fairness and justice.
  • Manage expectations a little bit
  • Cultivate gratitude

(Read on for a bonus! Insert smirking emoji, here.)

While chatting at school with another dad back before the entire world changed overnight, I asked about a family trip he’d recently taken. He mentioned his daughter was ho-hum about it…that she was ultimately disappointed with it not meeting her expectations.

Isn’t that sad? Trust: I mean no judgment of the dad or their trip. But isn’t it sad that a child under 10 would be disappointed that a family trip hadn’t met her expectations?

Years ago, during one of my very first trips to McDonald’s with my kids, I’ll never forget the moment my older kid opened the Happy Meal and squealed with delight…at the napkin.

I know that wouldn’t happen, anymore.

But my kids do still have a fairly good sense of excitement over being in the moment and enjoying the punctuation of life’s mini-adventures.

At the same time, my older one is already a bit jaded and would choose to stare at YouTube over doing, well…anything else.

The other dad with whom I was speaking, back at school pre-COVID-19, mentioned that losing a sense of excitement or constant disappointment is actually something that can lead to depression, down the line.

More than growing up to be smart or rich, don’t we all just want our kids to be happy? (And kind. And generous. And humble. And all that other stuff.)

Let’s chat about some of the 5 ways to raise happy children (even in COVID quarantine).

1. Maintain Your Sense of Awe

A wise man once told me, “never lose your awe” as I was headed out on a college semester program. It was a call-to-arms to choose to keep our awe. So much of life is a choice. Choose joy; choose attitude; choose to keep your awe.

2. Choose to Stop and Appreciate

We might have to force kids (and ourselves) to stop, look and contemplate, everything in life. But this is another choice. We all must choose to smell roses, stare at clouds, watch construction crews in city streets, be amazed by cappuccino-makers; you know – stare at the magic happening around us. Even forced mindfulness is mindfulness.

3. Acknowledge Injustice (but don’t accept it)

When my older kid whined that she didn’t get candy after her brother came home laden with candy after a birthday party, I responded, “Not everything in life is fair.” Admittedly, she whined about this at a frenetic, inopportune moment in the day. My response, rather than trying to negotiate generosity, was to say, “Not everything in life is fair. The sooner you understand injustice, the less disappointed you’ll be.” It was callous, I admit. But she listened to me and sort of shrugged. Seriously – life isn’t always fair. Maintain those expectations now, parents.

4. Deal with Disappointment

Speaking of – maintaining expectations and addressing expectations is critical. It’s okay to be disappointed, sometimes. But we really can choose to let the disappointment devour us, or not. We can choose to brush it off and move on with our day. We can choose to make lemonade of lemons. And while we shouldn’t go around expecting to be disappointed, we really can let it roll off our backs when something doesn’t meet our expectations.

5. Cultivate gratitude.

Just like the mini-movement to write down things for which you’re grateful at the end of the day, gratitude is an active choice. The more we consider our blessings, the more we’re likely appreciate what we’re given. This is an easy way to focus on the positive rather than the contrary. I’m preoccupied with cultivating gratitude in my children and force it upon them as activists and especially at holidays. Not sure how much it’s working, but I’m trying!

And a bonus!

People will disappoint you and life is full of unfairness and injustice. Accept that sooner than later, vow to live of life devoted to fairness and justice, and you’ll be less disappointed. Am I essentially saying “walk around with a glass half empty, and you’ll be happier?”

Perhaps.

But sometimes lowered expectations is one of the 5 ways to raise happy children…even in COVID quarantine.

You’re welcome.

Best Educational Movie Musicals for Kids

Best Educational Movie Musicals for Kids

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all looking for ways to pass of educating to someone else…and why not with the best educational movie musicals for kids?

Occasionally musical theatre is the best story-telling medium to contextualize and educate kids and adults about history.

Many musicals are a delectable treat for sheer escapism. You can watch 42nd Street and She Loves Me on “Great Performances” on PBS. (And that’s a worthy investment of minimal monthly dues.) They meld acting with singing and movement, they’re a feast for all the senses. Further, they demand our children pay more attention than with typically schizophrenic movies.

But others are able to convey more emotion and drama to teach us all more about our ancestors and historic figures.

BroadwayHD is a streaming service presenting dozens of Broadway plays and musicals, mostly in their stage-presented context (as opposed to re-made in a Hollywood studio like Les Miserables.) Disclaimer – this is not a sponsored post pushing BroadwayHD. (Though fellas: gimme a kickback, eh?) It just happens to be about the only place you can watch some of these historic musicals.

Many old classics can be found on library websites. (HBO and Netflix don’t have a lot in the way of obscure musicals beyond Mamma Mia and Disney.)

And in some cases, you might need to seek out YouTube productions, snippets and videos. But that leads to a fun and educational deep-dive down the YouTube dumpster of endless clips. And that’s not a bad thing, if they’re focused and don’t end up on a some weirdo’s site.

Even if they get bored or fidgety, our kids often don’t care as long as there’s a moving image in front of them, amiright? Most of all: they can just learn to be patient and focused.

“Really? You’re bored? Would you rather I get you a stick and a ball and you just go make your own fun like I did as a child?”

(Even if none of us actually didn’t just watch hours of television…albeit not on demand.)

Here is a list of a a few of the best educational movie musicals for kids to entertain/educate them while you go on auto-pilot during COVID Curriculum.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions for more scholarly musicals in front of which we can just park the kids with less guilt and pour ourselves a drink.

I’d start this list for kids 6 and up. Some are heavy topics. But musicals make it art. Push the kids a bit. Should 6 year-olds be taught about Presidential assassins and public lynchings? These aren’t as graphically violent as any of the Marvel movies. Plus it helps teach about injustice, morality and history. So go ahead – push them with the best educational movie musicals for kids.

1776

This is a slightly lesser-known piece of brilliance from 1969 that exquisitely teaches more about the nuances in American history. Before Hamilton re-wrote the musical theatre history books, 1776 illustrates the many different personalities that formed our independence – especially the irascible (but irreplaceable) John Adams. The songs highlight the debates at the heart of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, especially the song about slavery, “Molasses to Rum” sung by delegate Edward Rutledge from South Carolina.

Most important, the musical shows that the debate surrounding the declaration were nuanced and extensive – about political issues, egos, personalities and principle.

(It particularly cracks me up that somehow those 1776 wigs seem from 1976. But I digress.)

Newsies

Definitely a way to teach your kids about workers’ rights, how the “man” will always keep the “little guy” down, and how grit, principle and passion can unite down-trodden folks to over-come injustice.

And it’s got awesome singing and dancing to entertain the most Scrooge McDuckiest of rapacious capitalists.

Available on DisneyPlus and on YouTube clips by hundreds of high school productions .

Jesus Christ Superstar

Let’s be honest – explaining Holy Week and the impact Jesus had on his contemporaries is very difficult to explain as adults, let alone understand as children. This musical, over-wrought though it may be, does a great job of contextualizing Jesus’ impact on his local society. Further, the show briliantly conveys the cult of personality in which human pbeings love to deify leaders and equally lovs to watch them torn down. JCS is true to the title showing how Jesus was treated like a rockstar of his era and inspired jealousy and fear in the leaders who felt threatened by his cult of personality. Easiest to access on the NBC streaming platform, this version of the Andrew Lloyd Weber rock opera is excellently conceived and stars pop folk your kids might already know: John Legend and Sarah Bareilles. And they both clearly did their homework to give powerful performances.

Assassins

This is an extra-credit, over-achiever assignment for you. Byond Tony awards snippets (see below) this show is super-smart and super-poignant. It’s almost a psycho-sociological study of the minds of all those who attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate American presidents. The album is badass and is over-flowing with historical trivia that will definitely help your kids (and you) eventually win Jeopardy. (The revival in 2004 starred Neil Patrick Harris when we still thought of him as a washed-up Dougie Howser.) Pop that album into your music-player for a road trip or, hell – you don’t have anything to do during the pandemic. This is excellent for laying on the couch and letting the words, music and history wash over you.

A musical about Presidential assassins? Just trust me. You’ll learn a lot.

Hamilton

Obviously this is the new gold standard for musicals that teach history as well as historical revisionism. It’s safe to say before the award-winning musical (based on the award-winning book by Ron Chernow), Alexander Hamilton had fallen to a secondary position in U.S. history books. But the musical, through deft musicality and astounding vocabulary displays, shows the pivotal role Hamilton played in our nation’s founding. Enjoy a deep-dive into stories about the making of the musical, listen to the album, and even give a stab at reading Chernow’s book. It’s excellent.

Carousel

One of Rogers & Hammerstein’s best works, Carousel teaches children about life in a New England fishing village at the turn of the century. There are, admittedly, some real clunkers and eye-rolling songs. However, the version on Broadway HD stars Kelli O’Hara, which means the lead character is as good as it gets. It’s old-fashioned, but sumptuous. Go ahead: expand those kids’ horizons.

Pippin

Available to view on BroadwayHD. This performance of Pippin is not only historic in Broadway history, but it’s also the story of Charlemagne’s son. Now, there’s not that much for historical accuracy, here, but it is based on ancient literature and fables sure to add to any child’s trivial and cultural knowledge. It’s also freakishly 70’s-esque. You’ll love the guitars and laugh at it’s charming datedness.

Les Miserables

Okay. This one’s a toughy. It’s too long, too dramatic, and too much. But you’ll cry in all the right spots in spite of your (my) cynicism. Despite trying to melt a 1,000-page French tome into 2.5 hours of musical, much of it is thrilling. The performances pale in comparison to actual Broadway performers (Sorry, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.) But the movie version gives an excellent visual rendition of French revolutionary history. To see the barricades in actual streets, to see the utter squalor in said streets, to see the mud and filth in which these people lived..you really see how misérable were these folks.

For a fun dive down YouTube, check out these best education musicals for kids in snippets, Tony Award highlights and bootleg videos:

Ragtime

Here’s another that’s not based on any actual history but does an amazing job of contextualizing American history in a beautiful package. Unfortunately, you’d have to venture to the NY Public Library to watch it in the confines of a booth where you can only watch it once. But a deep dive on YouTube can thrill you, as well. The album is genius and the original book is one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. So there’s plenty to expand your cultural understanding of the conflict between whites, blacks and immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century.

Parade

The true story of a trial and hanging of a Jewish factory manager who was unjustly accused of raping a young female factory worker in 1913 in a small Georgia town. a racism and anti-Semitism that gripped a small Georgia town in the 1920’s. Yeah – not uplifting. But spectacular music and performances.

Side Show

The musical based on the real-life Vaudeville lives of the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins exploited on the Vaudeville circuit. (They became the biggest stars of their day, as well.) Some of the songs are confusingly “on the nose”, but “I Will Never Leave You” sung by the (again: conjoined) twins is a classic in the modern American musical cannon.

Titanic

Okay – bear with me. This one is, well…over-wrought. However, don’t we all go through a slight Titanic obsession at one point in our youth? This one does bring together storylines and costumes! of the many different demographics who went down (or escaped) the ill-fated liner. But for a REALLY fun YouTube moment, pull up a glass of champagne and feast your eyes on this gem from a few summers ago at a regional theatre who staged and ACTUAL sinking of a “ship” into the lake behind the theatre. OMG. I love this.

What about you? Have you got more suggestions for this list of best educational movie musicals for kids?

How to Cut Your Kid’s Hair (COVID-19 Desperation)

How to Cut Your Kid’s Hair (COVID-19 Desperation)

Trust me – never did I imagine planning to say “here’s how to cut your kid’s hair.” I do NOT recommend cutting your own kid’s hair, least of all short hair…which tends to be more tedious than a long.

But CV19 is leading us to be resourceful like none of us in the privileged, entitled world of 2020 ever imagined or desired.

But glass half full – we get to try new things an probably have a long time before anyone sees us outside a Zoom call (in which hats are probably always acceptable, amiright?)

I intended to get my 6yo’s hair cut back in January. Then weeks went by and missed opportunities went by and suddenly we are in a COVID quarantine and I never got his damn hair cut.

He was complaining, I thought it looked awful, and he’s not a long hair kinda kid (yet?)

I mean – who doesn’t love having a pony tail once in their life, right?

So I contacted a dear friend of mine who used to cut my hair (before she ventured off to become a dietician.

She walked me through an hour-long IG live tutorial in cutting my kiddo’s hair. It’s not perfect, and it’s not really close enough to his scalp. But – we had no tears (or blood) and only two oopsie’s.

But I forgot to hit “save” after the video.

So it’s lost. But that means I made a second video for you that’s only 10 min (not an hour)

Again: I’m NOT AN EXPERT. In fact, I’M A FOOL.

But my only goal is to show you it’s possible to do it and not be awful.

Get yourself

  1. “good” scissors (it’ll be a lot easier than with your kitchen shears)
  2. A hair clip (like a long barrette that can hold top hair out of the way)
  3. Towel to protect the neck
  4. A sheet on the floor to collect hair
  5. A comb/brush
  6. A way to wet the hair to reduce flyaways. Plus, it’s easier to control/cut the hair

Couple main pointers for how to cut your kid’s hair–

  1. Always have your knuckles against the scalp and cut the hair protruding from your fingers
  2. Just cut a million times in the above fashion. It’s methodical and not extreme. It takes awhile, but you’ll get there.
  3. No matter how much you may want to cut off those Roy Orbison sideburns, save them (and the neckline) for last.
  4. Don’t cut straight across sideburns. Sweep hair forward and cut the hairs stretching onto the face along the natural hairline.
  5. AFTER you’ve done the “knuckles against the scalp” trimming on the back of the head, do NOT cut straight across the neckline. Instead, make a million tiny cuts up straight up into the hair to texturize. This would cover up the horrible look you’d make if you cut straight across.
Best Books About Gender  for Kids in 2020

Best Books About Gender for Kids in 2020

We are so lucky to be raising children in 2020 and easily find the best books about gender for kids- in an era when their self-expression is supported and celebrated.

Further, there is a growing body of books out there normalizing kids who might not conform to archaic gender norms. (And normalizing is, indeed, the intended word.)

The following best kids’ books about gender have been instrumental in our household for my children to forge their own way and identities.

These books are for gender, not sexuality. There’s another list for sexual identity (pending!)

Further, if your child seems to be even remotely gender non-conforming, you might lack the words for discussion. And there might not even be anything to discuss. But books help give EVERYONE words to comprehend.

Furthermore, these are also great books for kids who are gender conforming, as well. (And their parents.)

Red: A Crayon’s Story. The most
wonderful children’s book about gender identity.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

This book doesn’t hit you or your kids over the head with gender identity, but it does illustrate marvelously how being mis-labeled is confusing, but also easily solved. It’s a shrug, a celebration, a realization what’s on the outside does not need to dictate and define what’s on the inside. Grown-ups struggle with preconceived notions. Children don’t. But everyone benefits from this most wonderful book. * Particularly great for kids who are gender conforming.*

Victor’s Pink Pyjamas by Laura Alary and William Kimber

I particularly loved this book about a boy who uses logic and his own reasoning to defend his love of pink jammies. It’s too bad he feels the need to defend, but it’s a great lessons in sticking up for one’s self. Further, the logic is sound for a society accustomed to saying “pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” Bravo on this one. * Another great one for gender conformers.*

Jacob and the Purple Dress by Sarah & Ian Hoffman and Chris Case

This is the book upon which my gender non-conformer fixated and adored. It addresses the teasing, hurt feelings and resistance. It was my child’s personal narrative wrapped up in a beautiful book. While I try to avoid books that focus on teasing so that my kid is never led to believe teasing is part of her destiny, this one beautifully shows that may happen, but this is also your super power. So soar, little kid. Soar.


Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchio and Isabelle Malenfant

Kind of like Jacob’s New Dress, this focuses on a young boy dealing with the stigma of wearing a dress at school. I wish it didn’t focus on the inevitability of being teased, but again, the story focuses on another wonderful mother who imbues her child with confidence to boldly strut and proudly wear a dress.

Who are You? by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and Naomi Bardoff
This one’s a bit text book. Like…an actual text book. But luckily, little kids don’t know text books from romance novels. Pictures and colors? Bonus. Thought-provoking text? Double bonus. This one is a wonderful book for discussion and asking questions. It also has no need for negativity or thought so bulling or razzing. Triple bonus. There are pictures that allow kids to identify what they “like” not who they “are”. Plus, there’s an extended parents’ guide for discussion and a fun color wheel kids can play with and line up what might (or might not be) their identity. *This one’s great for everyone.*


Be Who You Are by Todd Parr (and all his books)

Todd Parr clearly gets it. This one’s message is profound, but the writing and pictures *might* be for younger readers. Still – universal messages of “being you” are for all of us.

From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea By kai Chen Thom, illustrated by Wai-Yant Li & Kai Yun Ching
For those hoping for an ethereal, poetic approach to discussing love, acceptance and expression. A beautiful book that takes you to other worlds.

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

One of the few books featuring a child of color (which is sad…we need so many more of these!) It’s a wonderful story of Julián and his grandmother who fully supports her child’s creative expression.

10 Best of COVID-19 Film Festival for Families

10 Best of COVID-19 Film Festival for Families

Our 10 best of COVID-19 Film Festival for families includes movies that entertain parents and expand the kids’ world. That’s the E.C.Knox standard.

(And Disney need not apply.)

When venturing beyond the Disney/Minions/blockbuster realm, movies get more nuanced and profound. They’re frequently calmer and quieter, which might not cater to our current, fast-paced, frenetic society.

But in the midst of a pandemic, we’ve all got time to slow down and let our attention spans adapt, right? That might be most important for our kids.

The following are a top-ten in our personal “COVID-19 Film Festival”. And even if kids say “this is old-fashioned”, nine times out of ten they’re catatonic when a screen is illuminated, anyway, amiright?

So go ahead: stretch their limits and encourage them to see classics that deal with more mature topics that aren’t Disney-fied and simplified.

Consider it part of their cultural expansion during this hell of online learning and homeschooling.

Our 10 best of COVID-19 Film Festival for families should actually count as “online learning”.

You’re welcome.

The Black Stallion (full review)

is a high quality movie for the entire family…a Coppola film from the 70’s that doesn’t look or feel like that. It will enthrall your kids, provide the excitement that only horse-racing movies can inspire, and bring stunning visuals less dialogue that will leave you appreciating the silence. Further – you can cash in on the equally interesting sequel, The Black Stallion Returns. Watch on Amazon and Hoopla through your local library. WATCH THE TRAILER.

A Dog’s Purpose (full review)

What particularly moved me was the provocative questions the movie inspired: thoughts about reincarnation, mortality, kindness and mindfulness that are beautifully posed for young viewers. Watch on Amazon and Netflix.

The Little Prince (Full Review)

In short – your soul will be filled, the kids might lose focus, but screw ’em – they have the TV on, don’t they? And it’ll make them better little people. Watch on Amazon and Netflix.

The Red Balloon

A classic French tale with rapturous views of Paris in the 1960’s. Very little dialogue (luckily…since young kids won’t be interested in scanning subtitles over French speakers). But the simple relationship story of a little boy and his new favorite pet is universal (not to mention the heart-break of bullying) will be thought-provoking for your kiddos. A must-see. Watch here.

Coraline

One of the few animated movies I wanted to include. Just quirky and bizarre enough with lots of child-appropriate darkness. Remind your kids that Disney isn’t the end-all/be-all for animation. Watch here and on Netflix.

Heidi

This isn’t the Shirley Temple version, don’t you worry. So you won’t suffer from saccharine perspective of a hard life in the 19th century Alps (pre-Swiss bank accounts and highest global standard of living.) If you’ve never actually read the book (for reals: who has?) you’ll be surprised at some of the twists and turns of this movie. It’s also an excellent bit of exposure to “life in different eras and locales” for the kiddos. Watch on Amazon and Hoopla.

Matilda

This version of the classic Roald Dahl children’s story is hilariously quirky (directed by Danny Devito, after all). It lacks some of the actual darkness of the book, but it’s still just off-beat enough your kids will see “oh, that’s a fun way of telling a kids’ story.” Buy on Amazon or stream on Netflix.

Sound of Music

You know it’s been too long since you watched this with your own family on Thanksgiving. It’s long, it has Nazis, it might not seem like pre-school viewing. But didn’t you watch it in preschool? Exactly. It’s a classic. Re-familiarize yourself with the most classic of American movie musicals. Stream on Amazon.

Babe

In that charming way that foreign movies just don’t feel, well…American, Babe is heart-warming and adorable without feeling nauseatingly sappy. Once again, it opens your mind and heart with just the right amount of cheeky humor to delight the parents. Find it here and all the other places you should google. 🙂

Chicken Run

Why not show your kids the hilarity of stop-motion animation? It’s an entirely different art form that brings such different expression to stories and characters. And Chicken Run sends enough jokes over the kids’ heads to make you howl. Everyone can learn more from chickens. Stream on Amazon.

Yellow Submarine

Go ahead. Take your kids on a 1960’s head trip. It’s incomprehensible to the non-imbibers of edibles, but the incomprehensibility is also full of dated hilarity. Go ahead. Take the kids on a yellow submarine head trip. They’ll look at you like your crazy, but also it’ll make them the coolest kids on the playground…or at least serve their cool factor amongst the intelligent elite at college.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The lesser-known of the 1960’s family classics like Mary Poppins, this is still a classic movie musical that you won’t hate and the kids will this is cool. Just indulge your inner child, again, and go along for the ride. Hollywood movie musicals at their 1960’s best. Stream on Amazon, free on Hoopla, or on Netflix.

And some honorable, self-evident choices that are must-sees in life:

Please add to our list! We need to grow beyond 10 best of COVID-19 Film Festival for families.