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The Reason for Presidents Day

The Reason for Presidents Day

All of you 17 readers of this blog know that I highly prioritize understanding the “reason for the season“. That’s not a Christmas allusion, although Christmas is definitely one of those seasons for which I insist on forcing the kids into seasonal Biblicality, much to their dismay.

But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.

As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”

Though I never saw it, I’m pretty sure Newsies is an admirably socialist story (cue McCarthyism)- especially for Disney – in which newspaper boys at the turn of the 20th century go on strike; presumably to dance with higher kicks on the streets of New York, given my quick glance at the video below.

So anyway.

My kid say, “The newspaper sellers were struck.”

“Close enough,” I thought.

That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.

Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”

So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”

This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.

Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)

Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”

I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”

“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.

“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.

At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.

President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:

  1. Codified a 3-day holiday weekend for American workers.
  2. Spread these Monday holidays throughout the year to lower worker absenteeism.
  3. Conveniently provided a sure-fire way to increase in retail sales (so rich business types would be down for it, too.
  4. Included a provision to officially celebrate another February Presidential birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s, alongside Washington’s.

But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?

We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.

Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)

I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.

Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.

But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.

Which was, objectively, a good thing.

At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.

Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?

Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.

No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.

Finding the Moment

Finding the Moment

We’re all obsessed with finding the moment and savoring the now – and that’s certainly my greatest subconscious block in fully devoting myself to social media. Besides worrying I have nothing to say, I don’t want to walk through life in a double-tasked, obsessive fog constantly crafting the wittiest facebook posting, the dreamiest Instagram picture, or the most re-tweetable tweet.

I’m already busy with a triple-tasking mentality. My endless conveyor belt of to-do lists exhausts me. But I don’t need social networking to invade my thoughts and make me a quadruple-tasker.

As it is, I’m terrible about taking moments just to be. Sometimes I think I should take up smoking because it might force me to step out of a situation to breathe deeply. But I’m sure I would double-task my smoke trolling my phone for some absent, but obviously life-changing, email I’m not expecting.

I suppose lung cancer isn’t the answer.

So won’t hyper-scheduled and spreadsheet blogging/posting/tweeting/choosing-the-perfect-Instagram-filter-er disconnect me all the more from living “in the moment”?

Yet, to my great surprise, in my cultivation of social media events, I think I’ve been a better about the moments.

Sure, I snap even more pictures of my kids. But I also actively look for things to remember and document. It’s helping me in finding the moment to relish.

“Mindfulness” is almost a joke of a term, in 2020, isn’t it? The meaning is vague. And I think so much of us stumble around thinking, “I want to be more mindful. But how do I do it?”

To me, “mindful” is a westernized, 2020 translation of being.

And I mean “being” in the Zen paradigm of awareness, calm, being present, and just…being.

So mindfulness is a super-American translation of being from a state into an action.

We’ve altered a state of being into a state of action.

That might just be semantics, but I think there’s a profound cultural distinction, therein.

Just like the essence of yoga should be a physical practice of being in the moment (rather than checking exercise off a list and moving with our day), mindfulness should be a state of being, not an action.

Then again, we shouldn’t should all over ourselves.

Was that a double-negative? Am I making any sense?

Whenever I “practice” mindfulness (irregularly and with the help of the Mindfulness app) it’s definitely a practice taking place in a concentrated amount of time and left behind.

Which indubitably defies the purpose of mindfulness.

A few days ago, while enjoying a blissful afternoon in Washington Square Park, I coaxed Big E into laying on the artificial grass with me. We took a few minutes to look up at the trees.

It was an intentional forcing of finding the moment, together. (Or, at least on my side. My kid was like “weird. Daddy’s laying on the ground. I’ll give this a go.”)

I suggested looking at the sky.

“Um…”

“Look, kiddo! A kite in the tree!”

We saw a plastic grocery bag stuck in the branches overhead. Ah, the charm of city living.

We lay there together in a few minutes of adorable calm.

Yes, I took a picture of it.

But we were actively finding the moment. That was progress.

Don’t Remove My Kid’s iPad

Don’t Remove My Kid’s iPad

Recently, a friend without kids suggested I should remove my kid’s iPad.

I was ready to throw down.

More specifically, he posted a HuffPo article suggesting the prohibition screentime for kids until age 12. Alongside, the friend wrote, “While I’m not a father, it breaks my heart to see children in restaurants staring mindlessly at screens. I was raised to paint and draw and entertain myself with puppet shows. If I’m ever a dad, I’ll never let my kid play with an iPad.”

Thank goodness several other parents lashed out before I needed to.

I snarkily/charmingly wrote, “You’re more than welcome to come spend four straight days in a cramped apartment with my kids, eat out at a restaurant with them, all sans iPad. If you can do it, then you can be my nanny and I will worship the unplugged ground you walk on. Oops. ‘Scuse me. 2 yr old screaming to play w my phone. Gotta go.”

I think screen time limits of 30 minutes are a good idea. But does my kid sometimes spend 60 minutes watching homemade YouTube videos of children opening Thomas the Train toys? Absolutely.

Do I think I’ve derailed his future imagination?

Do I think he will entertain himself with puppet shows in coming years?

Dear Lord, let it be when I’m not around.

One of our favorite children’s books is a parody of Goodnight, Moon entitled Goodnight, iPad. My then-2yo knew how to read “Nooooo!” on the illustration where Grandma tosses all electronics out the window.

Every generation thinks the latest innovation signals the death knell of childhood imagination: Barney, Mortal Kombat, Real Houswives of Atlanta.

Maybe so. But we’re still here.

Ain’t it funny how the “perfect” parents are those who don’t yet have banana fingerprints marring their iPad screens? While they’re busy judging haggard parents, I hope they indulge in a nap and enjoy a leisurely dinner at Babbo for me.

Having calmed my reactive rage, I should’ve just responded on Facebook to my friend:

Pal, you should have stopped at “While I’m not a father…”

Don’t forget sensationalist articles like “Your iPad is making your child stupid” are like 24-hour news segments causing reactionary fear. Fear is sexy and drives internet traffic.

How about this much lengthier study of child screen time in THE ATLANTIC? In short, it says, ‘everything in moderation.’

I know. Moderation is so unsexy.

I find screen prohibition unnecessary and perhaps detrimental for the touch-screen generation. Why not cultivate technological whizzes?

I also know that a happy parent translates to a happy child. Thirty minutes of quiet time thanks to my cheapest babysitter, Elmo, works wonders for my happiness. Thirty minutes matching letters to their outlines, counting ladybugs or watching THOMAS THE TRAIN makes me a happier (and better) father all while engaging and educating my kiddo.

Before becoming a parent, I made categorical prohibitions about how I planned to parent:

‘No sugar, no TV, no disposable diapers.’

Now? I think teaching my kids limits is more effective than deprivation. (Cloth diapers were a straw that broke my sleep-deprived back. “Seventh Generation” diapers are my compromise.) I’m just trying to cope the best I can.

Please don’t remove my kid’s iPad.

Thanking & Letting Go

Thanking & Letting Go

My mom kept lots of stuff and didn’t put much effort into thanking and letting go of things. Instead, she kept.

After she died, cleaning out the house was entirely my job (being an only child). And while previous to that I’d always thought, “That’s gonna be a horrible job”, I ended up loving every second of it. Going through the rooms and closets and chests and drawers was a surprising delight of my personal museumization.

I was able to get rid of most of the stuff. In fact, I reduced a 1400 square foot house packed to the gills down to a small U-Haul trailer. And most of the stuff in the trailer should’ve just been dumped.

But it’s hard to do that when you’re genetically predisposed to sentimentality.

But we’ve hit a limit. My family lives in a NYC apartment.We have no space for sentimentality. And there’ve been some ridiculous things I’ve clung to if only to laugh with you, dear reader, about my absurdity. I’d like to think I’m not a hoarder, but the items, herein, might make me look like I’m ready to have a collection of dirty pizza boxes crowding the 23 cats’ litter boxes.

But it’s OK to let things go, too. (Mind you – I started composing this email long before Marie Konde’s Art of Tidying Up lit up our Instagram feeds. I was just late in publishing it cuz I was certain I’d find new items to add to this post.)

For example, this felt like my own personal stuffed animal massacre. I searched online for a (for lack of a better word) humane way to recycle or up-cycle my kids’ neglected stuffed animals. Seriously, they never gave a stuffed rat’s ass about Elmo. Isn’t that crazy? Elmo never figured into our lives. So even though I thought it terrible to trash him, I did it,anyway. And though I felt guilt walking away from trashy Elmo, I haven’t given it much thought, since.

Oh, and as for up-cycling, there’s a lot of suggestions on Pinterest for turning stuffed animals into chairs and furniture (no shit)and then one non-profit that sends them to child victims of hurricanes and natural disasters. But when a dear friend who’s brother survived Caribbean hurricane Maria and told his sister (my friend), “We need water, but people are sending fucking stuffed animals!” I nonchalantly made a mental note not to send my kids’ discarded Beanie Boos to St. Thomas or San Juan.

My Star Wars sheets.

Admit it: you’re jealous of these. You can have them.

When I pulled these out of my mom’s massive pile of“Gavin’s childhood stuff with which I just can’t part”, I was thrilled to find these Return of the Jedi sheets. They might as well be sand paper at their 40-or-so thread count.

I remember the time at Target when I begged my dad for them, and because my frugal mother wasn’t there, he acquiesced, but sort of made me look away so I wouldn’t see them in the cart. Not sure what the point of that was, but I vividly remember being forced to walk in front of the cart so I “couldn’t see the sheets” and Dad could gift the sheets to me for my birthday.

And I was able to put them on my son’s bed for awhile.And then the little asshole ground silly putty all over the corner of the sheet. And I just can’t even with the “googling how to remove silly putty from your vintage Return of the Jedi sheets that your dad gave you.”Because sometimes it’s just time to say goodbye.

This Orange Raincoat

A rain jacket that doesn’t keep you dry is…nonsense.

This over-priced rain jacket was a purchase from a very stressful time of my life. I bought it, impulsively, when I was going to Alaska to hike with a friend to temporarily escape a confused chapter of my life. My hiking friend had most of the equipment and a place to stay that we could call home base as we hiked/camped for a week on the Kenai Peninsula. And because I only needed this jacket one day during a glacier-viewing cruise, I actually had the gall to try to return it. (The store manager rolled his eyes at me.Justifiably so.)

I wore the jacket for about eight years. But when the rain started seeping through every single seam to the degree that I felt like it was actually pooling inside the jacket more than it was repelling the wet, I supposed it was time to say, “peace out”.

At one point this shirt was cool. Or was it?

Just – what was I thinking with this shirt? 
In a way, just “documenting” the life (and my memories of) these items allows them to live on in perpetuity and (and provide endless laughs).

But I like having a de-cluttered apartment, more.

This Plastic Trumpet and My Childhood Cereal Bowl.

Here are two items made from 1980’s plastic that survived storage for a very long time and with my own kids for a much shorter time. But I mean:antique plastic, right? I was mildly annoyed but didn’t get upset when, in one day, both items were broken by the jerk-face kid. (I don’t even remember which one it was.) But I suppose just because I keep something for 30 years doesn’t mean it’s meaningful to anyone else. Meanwhile, they were both having fun with the trumpet, still, despite the broken mouthpiece was basically a shard of plastic just waiting to stab toddler gums and lips.

These have already gone bye-bye.

This stash of gift bags I’ve shoved into a bedroom corner:

Time to dump these saved gift bags.

I kept dozens of gift bags from our baby shower and subsequent birthday parties. Seriously: will I ever actually re-use them? Not only do theylook creased and smashed, but I alwaysforget to use them.

This reminds me exactly of the extra bedroom closet in which my mother stored recycled wrapping paper and bows. I found it so unsightly the way she would fold and preserve wrapping paper and then I’d have to sift through the scraps to wrap things, myself. But now I applaud her giftly conservatism.I’m just unable to even with this 5-year-old stack of gift bags that I never remember to use.

Hopefully they can be recycled. Fingers crossed.

Just because you CAN still wear it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

This Dated Suit.

I bought it to attend a wedding in 2007. Just because it still fitsdoes not mean it should be worn,again. Aren’t the ravages of fashion trends the worst? This was a perfectlycool linen suit for summer weddings when I bought it.

But when I dusted it off for a wedding, last summer, I looked like aclown. It just doesn’t fit according to 2019 fashion rules. And no: no oneneeds to be a slave to fashion and trends. But seriously – look at the rumpledlook at the ankles. Did I ever lookgood in this?

So life will be easier once I retire (trash) these items and without their nostalgic weight pressing down on my shoulders. They’ll live on inintrawebs infamy, instead. So it’s time for thanking and letting go.

Parenting: It’s Hard Y’all

Parenting: It’s Hard Y’all

I crossed another Rubicon, with my kid. Ugh. Parenting: it’s hard y’all.

Both my kids were running around in the twilight in blissful imaginary play. They were both wearing dresses (cuz that’s how we roll – and luckily the younger doesn’t mind being occasionally treated like a dress-up doll by his older sibling.)

So there was a lot of squealing and laughing and I noticed a couple times my older kid lifted up her sibling’s dress revealing that he was commando.

(Quick side note – can we all just agree that running around commando in a dress is the way we should all be living regardless our gender expression?)

The younger one laughed but yelled “stop!” and kept running and laughing.

But it happened a few more times, specifically just after I called them in for bedtime. And as they continued squealing and ignoring me and playing “lift the dress”, for some dumbass reason, in that moment, I was furious.

I read the riot act to my older kid about how she was crossing boundaries by exposing her brother’s hiny and this wasn’t ok and “you need to know that you are harassing him and you may be laughing right now don’t you dare laugh in my face about this it is very VERY serious. I know you’re laughing about it all, right now, but he said ‘stop’ and that means you STOP because you can’t go around lifting dresses how would you like it if I went around lifting your dress?”

At which point I did exactly that, exposing her…oh. Underwear.

Welp…that didn’t prove my juvenile eye-for-an-eye point, at all.

She started laughing. And then I wanted to laugh, infuriating  myself all the more, and rather than checking my anger, I channeled my giggles into greater fury.

“You need to realize this could get you in serious trouble. If you lift someone’s dress at school or you do this when you’re older you could go to jail. Yes, JAIL is where you land when you lift up other peoples’ dresses.”

This might have been a bit extreme, but it justified a tad bit of my anger in my pea-brain. Parenting: it’s hard y’all.

Man, I tell ya. I know seven year-olds are supposed to run around saying poop and laughing about butts and shaking wieners. It’s fun and funny. I laugh, too.

And I am 100% HERE for body positivity.

I don’t mean for them to keep body parts under wraps. Hell, walk around naked all day long, if you want (at home. Out in public would be a bit too much, obvi. I suppose I would head to jail, then.)

My entire point confession, here, is I was the one who snapped a little too forcefully and I crossed the line I thought I’d avoid for longer than this:

…that my kid started laughing in my face at my fury and that just sent me over the edge.

Sigh.

It’s human, I suppose. And it seems like a rite of passage.

Or whatever.

But I felt so stupid, afterward. I tried to talk about it with her, after I’d banished her to her room, but she was buried in a book and just said, “Leave me alone!”

At bedtime, I covered her in kisses and re-visited the topic that it really isn’t ok to expose body parts if someone’s screaming “no”, even if they’re laughing. “The fact is, that’s violating someone’s personal boundaries. Even if it’s your brother.”

But she was quickly like, “Yeah, Daddy, I get it. Stop talking about it.”

We ended the night on a high note – prayers, a song, and a few “I love you’s”.

Hopefully I haven’t scarred her forever.

But I’m scarred – because of feeling that very first rage at “hell hath no fury like that of a parent being laughed at by the kid they’re trying to lecture”.

Sigh.

Parenting: it’s hard, y’all.

Label-less and Limit-less

Label-less and Limit-less

Over the last year, I’ve had several conversations about sexual identity and gender orientation, a topic difficult for anyone to grasp, let alone our black-and-white culture.

It usually begins, “It’s great you’re letting your son wear a dress.”

And ends, “Do you think he’s gay?”

And I just think, why can’t we live in a label-less and limit-less way?

And then I go in a mental tailspin. “What does it mean that my son wants to wear a dress? Does it mean he’s gay/transgender/confused/abnormal? No. It doesn’t mean anything. He wants to wear a dress. In the end, maybe he will be one of these things, and maybe not. But why label or limit him, now? He’s 5, for Chrissake.”

I try to shrug it off and be Zen. Many parents in the U.S. have already tread this path….evidenced in blogs/news/facebook/life. A boy in a dress is not that big a deal.

Aaaaaaand…it still scares the shit out of me.

I don’t want him to be teased.

I want him to feel safe.

Confident.

Supported.

Un-boxed-in.

And this all comes from my own experiences.

I came to my current “sexual definition” later in life. After a youth of romance with the ladies, I unexpectedly fell deeply in love with a man (he with whom I share my life and family, right now.) Without going into great detail (you can read about that in my as-yet-not-at-all-conceived book), my greatest struggle “coming out of the closet” at age 28 was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a closet to come out of.

I was just suddenly loved a dude.

Until then, I had never felt confused. I hadn’t had a “trouble” with women.

No, it’s not shocking that I found myself with a man – I was never the boilerplate macho meathead spewing virility. I was teased for being “gay” as a kid, though I wasn’t…technically. But I also didn’t lie awake during my teens and 20’s thinking I was doing the wrong thing with the wrong gender.

And reconciling this at age 28 was difficult because I didn’t want to be painted into a corner.

Why did I need to be labeled a completely different person because of the person I suddenly loved?

Plenty of my friends condescendingly said, “Mm-hmm. Sure,” in response to me feeling label-less.

Some friends asked “are you bi?” And I was like, “I dunno.” Another screamed, “You’re gay! Get over it!” And one particularly sweet friend rolled her eyes at me when she mocked me, “Right. You don’t want to be labeled.”

Right. Is that so hard? Label-less and limit-less?

I wasn’t trying to eek from one orientation to the other through the “clichéd-by-the-media-or-whatever” path from straight to bi to gay.

I just…was.

I just…chose to be.

That choice was really difficult. Why? Because of social fucking constraints.

I’m not saying I reserve(d) the right to go back to heterosexual knockin’ boots. By current social convention, “jumping back and forth” is virtually impossible.

But why must it be so?

Isn’t sexuality and identity more fluid than just black and white?

Isn’t there more depth to human connection than what moral (or church or government or repressed political) convention allows for?

When we allow ourselves to ponder our place in the world, reflect on what makes us deeply happy, meditate on more than making and spending money; when we’re really allowed to ponder our place, our identity, and our desires – aren’t there hundreds of ways we relate to each other that could be interpreted as “gay” but are actually just different dimensions of human relationships?

I digress. Greatly.

So when someone asks me now, “Do you think your son is gay?” I refrain from snarling or barking. But I do want to scream, “How childish are YOU for needing to label my 5-year-old son? He just wants to wear a dress! Can’t he just have that without being defined for the rest of his life? YOU need to grow up.”

But instead, I usually just respond, “I don’t know. He’s 5.”

Here’s to a label-less and limit-less society.