fbpx

Yesterday: A Good Day Not to Die

Yesterday was a good day not to die.

My father died when I was eight years and fifty days old.

Today, my child is eight years and fifty-one days old, and has officially lived with a father longer than I did.

That is a crazy milestone that I’ve anticipated for years. I’ve calculated it down to the day (clearly). There’s a weird sense of relief – to think I’m sparing my kids the tragedy that befell me.

After the loss of my parents, I’ve of course maintained memories, their presence is always with me, but sadly, their memories fade in my mind as I grow older and busier and my own brain calcifies.

But I never, ever forget their death days. Every single time I see or hear the date (November 14th), in whatever form (11/14) it gives me pause. These simple numbers are singed into every crevice of my brain. With every conjuring of these calendrical digits, my mind takes an instantaneous detour from its intended path.

And I’m grateful for “taking pause”. My life is more based in emotion than math, so it’s refreshing to have numbers divert my forward momentum. There’s nothing emotional or messy about numbers. They just are.

And “11/14” doesn’t make me emotional or messy. It just makes me be. And it reminds me I’m experiencing a day unique from other days – like visiting a museum or marching in a rally or celebrating a holiday.

So. Back to life with/without my dad.

He was struck down after a heinous battle with brain cancer. It was gnarly, given his war wounds from his time as a U.S. Marine, his linebacker stature, and the tragedy of his young age. For two years he lived with a terminal diagnosis. He tackled it head-on with humor and determination. He kept on keepin’ on because of his mighty strength of character. And when his body expired, everyone in the family was relieved…because it was an exhausting fight.

I cannot imagine the anguish his sickness caused him or my mother – two people halted from pursuing all-American dreams at age 38; not in a quick tragedy, but in a drawn-out, gruesome one. And all while trying desperately to maintain a sheen of calm for their 8yo kid.

Having aged several years more than my father when he died, I see just how damn lucky I am – to witness my children’s growth and to have my health; to prioritize my kids’ development over everything else, and to have the luxury of getting wrapped in petty day-to-day crap that shouldn’t matter (but luckily does) because my life is not reduced to survival.

I wish I took more pauses on a daily basis to be present, and not just on visibly jarring number-days like my parents’ death days. (I should definitely get on that “meditate 3x/wk” on my vision board before I regret not having done so.)

I might burden my kids with the emotional weight that they have it better than I did when I was eight years and fifty days old. I think death isn’t something to be shunned or hidden, but rather confronted and discussed.

Or maybe I should just hug them an extra few times.

And have a drink to cheers my dad.

And just keep keepin’ on…with an occasional pause for gratitude.

The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas'”. However, I want my children to know the reason behind every season. Despite them rolling their eyes, I always discuss with my kids the significance of cultural events and holidays.

It’s worth the eye rolls for my kids to understand why of cultural markers and holidays.

This applies most especially to holidays as “abstract” as Veteran’s Day. Yesterday, my older kid jumped with joy as she celebrated having THREE DAYS OF MORNING TELEVISION this weekend. Uncharacteristically, I held my tongue so as not to deflate her joy. I’ll save the posturing about Veteran’s Day for the actual day.

I’ve always been (morbidly) fascinated by WWI, which came to an end 101 years ago, today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This was the first war in which men were able to massacre acres of men without catching sight of each other. The wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and trench warfare that wasted a generation rooted in agreements and misunderstandings between insecure, rich white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the universe.

Talk about toxic masculinity.

WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, Caucasian paradigm) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.

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

Today, Veteran’s Day is known as Remembrance Day in Canada and Armistice Day in Europe. Poppies are worn on the lapel as a symbol of remembrance (“lest we forget”) to commemorate the vast fields of poppies that sprung up across the mass graves in Belgium and France. The poppies were the inspiration for John McCrae’s poem, “Fields of Flanders.”

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

I couldn’t agree more – patriotism is the opposite of nationalism. And nationalism led to WWI.

Because nationalism (setting national gain over international citizenship) is what caused WWI. And nationalism could easily cause another unimaginable world conflagration. This is what most scares me about Trump and what most scares me about my kids’ generation not having a grasp of history. I pray neither of my children ever has to endure a generational war (although let’s not forget that American forces are waging battles around the world, today).

In order to raise “good” kids, I’m constantly preoccupied with their sense of gratitude and appreciation. So, yeah: I’ll always lecture them on history and teach the significance of world citizenship. They’ll be good kids if they grasp “world citizenship” and that patriotism means NOT allowing insecure, rich men to repeat history and take us down the path of selfish nationalism, again.

We’re all in this together…the entire world.

I don’t exactly know how to talk with my kids about such disturbing issues as massive loss of life in the name of freedom (and on behalf of European royals and leaders). But I’ll lecture my kids and will embrace the eye rolls in the interest of world citizenship and patriotism. I’ll recite “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, even though it’ll mean nothing to my kids.

For now.

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

Discussing Death with Kids in 5 Easy Steps

Discussing Death with Kids in 5 Easy Steps

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

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

We took them to the funeral where they were by far the youngest attendees. We walked in last (that’s how we roll) and I imagine many people thought, “are you crazy having your kids at a funeral?” In addition to the torture of cultural experiences, a funeral is another opportunity for memorable, learning memories.

But I think discussing death with kids is important – for all our emotional health.

Having lost my father at age 8 and then my mother at age 33, I was a “young orphan”. And I’ve thought a lot about death and our (as Americans) relationship with death.

A few months after the death of my mother, a friend asked “How are you doing? Or, wait – do you want me to talk about it? Are you okay talking about it? Is that wrong for me to ask? Oh, shoot. Sorry I brought her up.”

“Yes! Please ask me about it. Especially a few months down the line, please – ask away. It feels good to talk about her. I won’t get emotional – or if I do, so be it. But it feels good NOT to ignore the fact that I’ve had a massive life change a few months ago and now everyone walks on eggshells around me.”

That was eye-opening. I wanted to talk about my mom and the experience of losing her or getting accustomed to my new normal.

We suck at death in America. We’re uncomfortable addressing it with those in mourning (are we afraid of emotion, entirely?), think we’re bringing down the people who are going through a loss, afraid to discuss “nothing” after being selfish our entire lives, avoid thinking about our demise, and don’t know how to healthily talk about it or approach it. And certainly discussing death with kids is a topic avoided until it’s in our faces.

Look at the hysteria over “death panels” during the Obamacare debates and Sarah Palin’s talking points about “killing Grandma” and the fact that so much money is spent to prolong life by a few months when in reality we should be considering how best to healthily accept the end of life with quality rather than reflexively thinking that living on life support would be the active choice anybody actually wants. So discussing death with kids freaks us all out.

But I digress.

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

But accepting death and letting sadness flow through us is healthy.

Back to kids at a funeral.

I want my own to know that several things surrounding death are healthy –

  1. To be sad.
  2. To cry and to see other people cry.
  3. To know that death happens.
  4. To think fondly of the people we’ve lost and not repress their memory.
  5. To learn from the gifts of those we’ve lost.

Our loss was that of an elderly neighbor. She didn’t actually like my partner and I very much (long story for another post) but she was welcoming and loving to our kids (and still civil with us).

Moreover, she was an indefatigably generous woman who volunteered throughout the community and set a great example for the way I’d like to live as a septegenarian and octogenarian.

Most important (for her and her family) she lived a rich life full of family and experiences. She died ten years earlier than she should have, but at 87 she’d lived an enviable life.

So I emulate her.

And because she was a constant in my kids’ life, I wanted them to experience her death.

When we, as a family, paid respects to her visiting family, my older kid excitedly asked, “Can we go to the funeral?” like it was a birthday party.

Later, when I said, “Um, Sweets, that wasn’t really the way…”

She said (without rolling her eyes), “Yes, I know Daddy. That wasn’t the way to talk about a funeral.”

Glad we established that.

We checked out a book at the library entitled The Funeral. It was sweet to see a funeral through the eyes of an 8-year-old, except that this 8yo was able to run around in the church playground during the entire service and got to eat lots of refreshments and cookies. (I planned to force them to sit quietly in the church for at least 45 minutes.)

So of course my kid asked, “Will there be refreshments?”

“Yes, sweetie, I think there will be refreshments, but that’s not what a funeral is actually about.”

“Daddy, I know!” (This time, there was an eye roll.)

The night before the funeral, my younger kid said, “Tomorrow will be sad.”

“Yes it will,” my partner said. “But that’s okay.”

We dressed up and drove to the beautiful New England church.

The service clipped along and had the right balance of celebration and mourning. A few hymns were sung, the minister welcomed those in attendance who weren’t comfortable with religion and stated, “We are about freedom, here – the freedom to honor the human experience in whatever way is comfortable for you.”

There was a little Jesus, a little God, a little worship, a few laughs and a lot of humanity.

Ultimately, my kids have had enough church experiences that they knew what to expect. They were antsy, but not obnoxious. They heard words like death and mourning and God and whatnot.

When the deceased woman’s son broke down, briefly, during his eulogy, my older kid turned to me with a gasp, “Is he crying?”

“Yes,” I said.

Her eyes widened as she shifted to see my face straight on.

“Are you crying?” she asked.

“A little bit,” I said.

My eyes were wet. I was thinking about my mom, my life, my kids growing too quickly, my aging in-laws, and then also about how awesome this woman was (even if she didn’t really like me) and my kids’ loss of the intriguing old woman who lived nearby and always welcomed them into her home. (Not to mention the time they walked right into her house when she wasn’t there because they wanted to see the view from her second floor…unbeknownst to us.)

These are all losses and part of life’s journey.

And it’s good to be sad.

And for my kids to see me sad.

When there were references to the incident that applied to our falling out with the deceased, my partner and I shared a smirk. Bygones were bygones. Let’s celebrate life of an inspirational woman.

And afterward, there were refreshments.

Except my kids were disgusted by the fancy finger foods that included smoked salmon mini toasts, cucumber sandwiches, egg salad, fresh vegetables and turkey mini-wraps.

There were cookies, tho. And my little monsters were forced to eat some cucumber sandwiches and raw veggies before having about six cookies.

Each.

My younger kid returned twice, on his own, to the display of pictures to see our neighbor in her prime and through her years – piloting a sailboat in the 1950’s, laughing with her children as a young mother, and laughing with her children as an old woman.

We greeted all of her kids, all of whom did a good job brushing past the fact that she wasn’t our biggest fan, and thanked us for coming.

It was important to us – to honor her, and to teach our kids about death and loss and mourning and sadness.

I said as much to one of the daughters-in-law, and she said, “That’s beautiful that my mother-in-law’s life keeps on teaching. That’s just what she’d hope for.”

We left feeling fulfilled. And sad. And that’s okay.

And full of cookies.

When you’ve got friends who’ve had loss, I ask you not to shy away from talking about the loss. It’s good to sit in sadness with those who mourn.

It brings us all closer and helps the grieving process.

Death shouldn’t be shunned or ignored. It should be discussed and embraced and accepted and acknowledged.

It’s healthier for us all that way.

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.)

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.