My mother was an inordinately thorough tourist and, I admit, when it comes to culturing my kiddos, this apple didn’t fall far from its tree.
But with my mom, it could be 6pm and we’d have been in a museum for the previous five hours and my mom would still be reading Every. Single. Panel in Every. Single. Exhibit.
After which, Mom would’ve remembered our AAA guide book’s recommendation and suggested, “Oh, that house where some obscure author slept one time in 1957 is just 16 more blocks away.” So we’d keep going.
She’d drag my whiny ass everywhere. And I do remember complaining; like…the entire time.
I swore I’d never be the same.
I feel empowered by walking out of a museum within 90 minutes because, let’s face it…nobody has that kind of attention span. Or hip-flexor strength. Or stamina in their shoulders to hold a backpack of fruit snacks and water bottles while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical re-enactments for four hours. (Even when that backpack is the best/coolest diaper bag for dads.)
But folks…I did it, today. Culturing my kiddos became my #1 mission…to their extreme annoyance and boredom.
I’m in London with my partner (after two months solo in NYC). But he’s still working all the time as his two Broadway shows are prepping for opening nights on the West End. So it’s still just me and the kids.
Except, again: we’re in London. Totally foreign city to me. No clue how to navigate with kids. Ugh. Pray for me with a charming accent.
So today we went to the British Museum. We saw mummies. Lots of mummies. Mummified adults the size of my 5yo, mummified cats, a mummified alligator, a mummified eel (wtf?) The kids were horrified/fascinated/traumatized. But mostly bored.
Seriously – we saw one mummy and my 3yo says, “I’m bored. Let’s go home.” Admittedly, he might’ve been overwhelmed by the 3,000 students mobbing the room of 3,000 year-old mummies. But really, I think he was like, “Nothing to TOUCH in this museum? This place blows.”
But we were in the GD British Museum. We weren’t gonna leave without seeing some more priceless stolen treasures. (I kept saying “And the British stole that, and the British stole this, and that…” Curiously, neither of them asked “why?” or “but stealing is bad, Daddy.” They just begged to leave and didn’t demonstrate a modicum of moral rectitude.)
We continued. “Hey look, kids – a 3-story tall statue of Buddha!”
“Daddy? Can we go to the cake pop store? (Read: Starbucks)”
“Shut up and look at this amazing stolen Roman thingy.”
“Daddy, my stomach feels angry that we are here. Can we go?”
“Are you gonna throw up? Look at that sarcophagus.”
“No. I mean, yes, I’ll throw up. If we stay here.”
“Can it, kid. Look at these stolen friezes from ancient Greece.”
And then: The Rosetta Stone. I mean – the translator that opened humankind to a trove of another rich civilization. Kids, this is one of the most important archaeological finds in all human history!
I mean…the ROSETTA STONE. This is bare minimum for culturing my kiddos!
Okay, okay. So they’re only 5 and 3. I should cut ’em a break. But we’re in the BRITISH MUSEUM for stolen’s sake!
“Look guys! Sphinxes and obelisks and some old stolen temple, oh my!”
“Daddy? Can we buy a present?”
“No. Look at this medieval…metal thingy.” (I’m boring myself, by this point.)
“I hate it, here, Daddy. There’s nothing to do but look at stuff.”
“Right, but you’re growing smarter by the second. I just know it. You’ll pass that test to get into the G&T program and I’ll never have to worry about you being dumb. I’ll just worry about you being a drug dealer at Ivy league schools. And that’s preferable to you being stupid.”
“Daddy, don’t say stupid.”
And then, it happened. We stumbled into a room of pilloried splendor that even my kids couldn’t avert their eyes. They were transfixed, they were enlightened, they were stimulated. My nagging and dragging had been worth it. They were changed beings from near-toddlers to almost-tweens. Such magic a little T&A can do…even for little American, uncultured troglodytes.
For ten titillating and hilarious minutes, butts, boobs and penises made us all giggle and thrilled my kids. They were finally engaged and curious.
But after those ten minutes (make it six), and they were back to…”Daddy, this is boring. I wanna go.”
And we did. We’d been there an hour. Pretty good compromise, if I do say so, myself.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and after a conversation I had with some narrow minds over the holidays, I’m venturing into discussing race with my toddler. I’ll make it as digestible and relatable with 3 short lessons.
Or make that 3 1/2.
Have empathy for people who feel down-trodden
Don’t condemn an entire population for the actions of a few.
Racial issues are more about socio-economics than skin color.
Except it IS about skin color, so realize that and fix it.
So here’s a 3-part conversation (that I *might* have imagined) with my 3yo:
Part 1: Empathy for those feeling harassed and down-trodden
Son, if I were a perfect (or just better) daddy, I’d address all your tears with “I understand you’re frustrated that your brother stole your train. But you can’t body-slam him to the floor.” I admit I often roll my eyes and give YOU time-outs for your “brutality”.
But he took my train!
That’s right buddy. He was the aggressor. Doesn’t it make you mad that I gave YOU the time out? But, wait.
Can I have a cheese stick?
Okay, here. So back to this: you know how I’m always telling you to take your shoes off, and wash your hands? I tell friends you’re a demanding emperor. But really I’m the tyrant barking orders at you all day long. And sometimes you say, “No, Daddy! You’re not going to tell me to share my trains!”
Daddy! Sometimes I don’t want to share.
I get that, buddy. (Speed this up, pops. Make discussing race with my toddler a meaningful experience…) And when you tell me not to watch you as you’re hiding behind the couch to intentionally poop your pants, isn’t that frustrating? Doesn’t it make you angry to have anyone look at you suspiciously? Like you’ve done something wrong? (Pooping isn’t wrong, son.)
See? It’s frustrating to feel constantly harassed or have your stuff taken. And imagine having people stare at you suspiciously all day long. That would be sad.
You’re allowed to be frustrated. You deserve to speak out.
When you see people of all skin colors protesting in the streets, it’s because they’re frustrated that someone took their things or looks at them suspiciously or treats them unfairly.
I hope you might ask why they’re marching. Their feelings are important. Just like yours are.
(You still can’t tackle your brother or avoid washing your hands. In New York you wash your hands before going to the bathroom.)
Part 2: Don’t stigmatize an entire population
Son, sometimes you say “I don’t like kids at school!” And why is that?
That’s why(*) that boy pushes me and always takes Percy**.
But that’s just the actions of one little boy. It’s not the actions of everyone. See? You can’t blame everyone for the actions of one. Like, buddy, when you say ‘I don’t like green food’ but it’s really that you don’t like peas, right?
No! I don’t want peas for lunch!
Right. But you can’t stigmatize*** an entire group because of one thing. It goes for vegetables and people. Do you understand?
What do you think?
Um. I don’t know.
Okay. Well, we will not lump things together in this house. You don’t say ‘those people’, you don’t say, ‘I don’t like greens’ and you don’t…
Part 3. Don’t condemn an entire population for the actions of a few.
Son, racial issues are very often socioeconomic issues.
I’m glad you asked. (High five, pop. Discussing race with my toddler has already expanded into the socioeconomic factors and he is INTO it.) Poor people are often driven to make some bad choices to survive in our country. But they aren’t making bad decisions because of their skin color, rather it’s because they want to have what you have: food, warmth, a few toys. It’s not because of skin color, it’s because of money. You understand?
But because of the actions of a few desperate people, an entire population is found guilty. And that’s wrong.
Daddy? Can we play trains, now?
(You’re losing him! You’re losing him, pops!) One second, buddy. I’m on a roll. Here’s part 3 ½: The system is stacked against poor people. Some kids don’t do well in school, but it’s not because of their skin color. It’s because of a whole host of reasons: they have underfunded schools, they didn’t eat breakfast, no one read to them like I read to you.
Daddy? Can you stop talking? Pleeease?
Buddy, I just need to finish this one point: I said it’s not about skin color and yet it IS about skin color, because in our country many people are afraid, so very, very afraid of anything that’s “other”. And that “other” is a different skin color. And because of their fear, they hate.
Daddy? (He over-dramatically rolls his eyes with annoyance at me.)
And hate always comes from fear.
So anyway, buddy, some people hate people with different colors just because of their color. So they’re treated differently and not given privileges and not respected. And some kids drop out of school because they don’t have support at their house to strive for greater academic achievement, but that doesn’t have to do with their skin color.
Some parents can’t give successful tools to their kids, but that’s unrelated to their skin color. They never had those tools in the first place (because other people were afraid of them and hated them), and because they weren’t born into a lucky position with support and resources (and a different skin color), this vicious cycle of racism and socioeconomic disparity cycles through several generations. It started with fear of “otherness” and skin color and then it becomes about economics. But they’re people just like you and me.
He walks away from me. I pursue.
Buddy, you cannot make blank statements about groups of people and you cannot discount how people feel. But you can empathize and ask why and you can seek to understand the world through their eyes.
Daddy? Stop talking. You play with green trains. I don’t like them. They’re green. I want the purple trains.
And you can always talk with me and ask questions about these topics. Because discussing race with my toddler is something we should do. A lot.
Give me my train.
I’m glad we had this discussion.
* My son says “that’s why” in place of “because”. I hope he never changes.
** Percy = Friend of Thomas.
*** You don’t know what stigmatize means? What are they TEACHING you at that preschool?
Though I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the
‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas’”, I’m definitely one who wants my
children to know the reason behind every season, or in most
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
I’m feeling particularly attached to Veteran’s Day, this year,
because of the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. I’ve always been
masochistically fascinated by WWI. It never fails to send a sobering
chill down my spine to reflect on 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 all because of agreements between insecure, rich
white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the
Talk about toxic masculinity.
WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, caucasian paradigm, of
course) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.
A pall of sadness always lingers over WWI media (books, poems, movies, stories.) And so much changed for men in that time – so many poets
and authors emerged from the battles in France scarred for life…with
new-found expressionism. Seems to me, WWI created a generation of
self-reflection, as opposed to WWII which created the emotionally stoic
“Greatest Generation”. It wasn’t just a triumph of good vs evil, allies
vs. axis. it was the destruction of humanity.
Because nationalism (setting national gain over international
citizenship) is what caused WWI and could easily cause another
unthinkable 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).
So we have to teach our children the significance of world
citizenship, collective good and personal sacrifice so that insecure,
rich men don’t repeat history and take us down the path of
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, tomorrow, 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.
I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.
Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:
“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”
And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”
We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.
After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”
This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.
As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a
united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure
with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And
Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.
Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good
tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’
sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off
from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people
once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.
That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.
I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.
No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping
the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?)
insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups
lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he
would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.
The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.
Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.
Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)
Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”
Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.
It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.
Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)
I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.
For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”
“And what do we do besides get presents?”
So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.
Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.
Last night, my partner’s brother came over with his sons (ages 16 and 13). They’re great doting cousins.
My kids were excited for their arrival, but when they walked into the house, my older kid promptly veered into “shy kid” land, wanting to “play indoors” and not interact.
One family rule we don’t negotiate is “you must say hello to
friends and family. You don’t have to talk more than that, but you must say
And holy cow my older one took that to heart – she said
“hello” then disappeared.
But that’s fine.
I tell myself over and over that I don’t want to push my kids
to become slaves to social obligations. I have this revulsion because so much
of my upbringing was spent pleasing people around me.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m social and out-going. I love groups
of friends and comradery and fellowship.
However, my entire youth was spent feeling the desperate
need to be the life of the party and center of the action. My FOMO trampled any
self-awareness that could “just being chill and quiet”.
I wanted to please/impress/delight everyone around me, so I
pushed myself to be “that guy” All. The. Time.
It was exhausting.
I came from a family life that always put forward the best,
happiest filter. So it just didn’t occur to me that we could be anything but
And as an adult, I’ve finally
realized I don’t like big parties
(I’d rather have a conversation around a dinner table with eight friends, max)
and I don’t like hosting (I’m
terrified no one will show up) and I don’t like
going out all that much (I’d rather hang in my sweats.)
Maybe I’m just getting old?
But what’d I do that evening with my kids and their cousins? Forced socializing.
When my older kid wanted to go inside, I cajoled her into
joining the rest of us outside kicking balls and playing chase in the summer
And I got pissed when she didn’t want to join in.
Granted, she was whining for me, “Daddy! I want you to come
inside and play with me!”
Perhaps I was a teensy bit justified. “No, Sweetie. I’m
playing outside with family and it’s a gorgeous summer evening. I’m not coming
I didn’t make her feel bad, but I didn’t make her feel good.
It’s just that, “NO! On a gorgeous July evening, I’m not going to indulge the
sudden impulse to play with those damn LOL dolls!”
(And mind you this wasn’t with random people that might
induce shyness…but actual family whom they know and love.)
A good friend of mine inadvertently has given me permission
to pump the brakes on forced socializing. Once I invited his family over for a
playdate leading to pizza on a Friday evening and he said, “You know what?
Fridays our kids usually just melt down and it ends in tears. We’re more likely
gonna play it mellow at home.”
(He also pointed out to me that he loathes our school’s
“publishing parties” all the adults are crammed in a room frantically
pretending to enjoy the classroom party, when in reality it’s just a sweaty fest
of parents judging other kids. I’ve given myself permission to loathe these
parties, too…or at least to lower my expectations and not force myself into
enjoying them, at the very least.)
So anyway. Summer evenings spent indoors.
Am I being a hypocrite? Am I making my kid feel bad for not
jumping into horseplay with her older cousins?
Gavin! Remember: you weren’t that, either. Playing sports was not my idea of an idyllic summer evening. (Kick-the-can with neighbor kids was the ideal.)
Forty-five minutes later, she came out of her shell and was
intrigued by the baseball game we’d all struck up.
She picked up a bat of her own volition, after I’d long
since chilled the hell out.
And she was GOOD! A little slugger.
It just takes her a little time, perhaps.
My take-home from the night? Try try TRY not to pressure your precious child into being instant participants. Let them observe. Let them suss it out. Let them play inside a little bit. Who cares if everyone’s outside? They can do their own thing and make their own decisions about socializing.
But don’t force the comradery to keep up appearances that your
kid is – what? Well-adjusted? Smart? Sociable?
How about let them be their own form of well-adjusted?
Don’t force the socializing or the happiness, because that
just takes the enjoyment out of it.
And I’m grateful to say I’m not concerned about my weight. I’m genetically tall and lean-ish, socially programmed to be high-speed, and professionally burdened to worry about appearances (as an actor).
But I’m over forty and wonder, “Will I ever be able to lose this tire around my waist I’ve had since high school? If not now, when?”
So I took on a friend’s challenge of counting calories for a healthy summer. She reminded me when it comes down to it – losing weight is simple: eat fewer calories than you burn throughout the day.
And then you lose.
But I’m not really setting out to lose weight. I don’t feel like sacrificing summertime hamburgers and booze and desserts. So ultimately, I’m getting out of counting calories exactly what I hoped: much more awareness of what and how I eat.
This is mostly gonna be, “Yeah, well, duh, you idiot.” But still – putting it all into math is eye-opening.
What I’ve learned:
1. There’s three categories of calories – 70, 120, and too much.
An vegetables, salad (un-dressed), fruit and eggs are less than 100 calories. Keep it light and abide by Michael Pollan’s 7 Rules for Eating: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, and we’d all be golden (and always under 100 calories.)
But let’s be real.
So much of everything else is, like – 120-150 calories. A serving of chips or pretzels or even M&M’s is about 150 calories. A slice of bread is 110. A beer is 150, Coke is 140, a cocktail is even about 150. No harm done. And this salad I make multiple times/week loaded with kale, some cheese and toasted hazelnuts is about 120 calories. Nice, even playing field.
And then we get into “everything else”. Sausage? Lots of calories per serving. A single muffins? 300+. Cheeseburger? 550 calories. It’s shocking how much processed foods (and meat) suddenly catapult you over your daily caloric goal.
2. Eat less
Stick to the serving size. It’s not impossible to limit your input of Lay’s potato chips to 13 chips (160 cals). Is it too tedious to count them out? Not as tedious as trying to lose a decade’s worth of over-eating.
It’s eye-opening to know just how many chips are actually part of a healthy serving size. And that can be pretty guilt-free. So, yeah: count the Pretzel Crisps (17 at 165 cals) and Cheez-its (27 for 150 cals). Eat that amount, and then have another serving size, if you want. But teach yourself how it feels to eat a measured serving size. Talk about eye-opening.
And yo – a ½ cup of ice cream (150+) is a perfectly fine amount. We don’t need to gorge more than that.
3. Slow down
Normally, I grab a handful of peanut M&M’s and mindlessly gobble them. But when I count out a serving size (12 M&M’s, 140 calories) I realize that
that’s still about a handful and that should be enough to snack
how about savoring each tasty candy instead of devouring them like Cookie Monster? (and hence consuming way more than I actually need?)
4. Alcohol: damn you
It’s really interesting to measure my booze intake. I was actually surprised that booze of all kind (from Moscow Mules to Sauvignon Blanc to Sam Adams) measures fewer calories than I expected. Again: everything’s about 150 calories. Give or take. Let’s not get caught up in the nuances.
But what’s really fascinating (and obvious – I’m well aware) is how quickly one drink leads to three (especially on summer evenings) and how these utterly empty calories increase your daily intake without nutritional value. It’s less the fact of having a drink a more a factor of “holy cow, this builds FAST.”
5. Holy cow processed foods really are the death of us.
My eyes almost exploded after dinner, the other night. I made a pesto pasta (already high in calories, but it’s all good; this isn’t a bowl of ice cream) plus some grilled vegetables (negligible calories…60 for a cup of veggies) and then I added some delicious sweet Italian sausage. Holy SHIT, y’all! We all know sausage is actually awful for us, right? But when you’ve been calculating everything in servings of 150 calories and suddenly sweet sausage doubles the calories? Damn. That’s too much.
6. I want to binge while binging.
What I really want to eat? Ice cream (140+ for 1/2 cup), peanut M&M’s (140 every 12), or my favorite treat: a couple tablespoons of peanut butter mixed with honey and raisins (280 calories for like less than a 1/4 cup) , I want to eat basically after 10pm. We all know it’s not great to gorge yourself just before bed, but worst of all is eating a bunch of these high-caloric, processed foods at the end of the night. They throw you WAY over your goal. It’s not hard to stick to 2,000 calories a day…but when you really want to binge 1,000 calories while binging Killing Eve, you learn rrrrrrreal fast just how you can screw up your daily allotment.
7. Exercise earns treats.
With the calorie-counting apps, you’re able to input exercise. That earns you more calories to use on drinking beer and eating chips. And it’s interesting to gauge how many bonus calories are earned through exercise. Just keeping in mind what you’re burning and what you’re consuming is eye-opening and educational. You can easily earn a serving size of chips or a beer with your lawn mowing. But keep it all in perspective.
30 min of running is ABOUT 380 calories;
30 min of lawn-mowing is ABOUT 180 calories
45 min of road-biking is ABOUT 450 calories
30 min of yoga is ABOUT 200 calories.
Anyway – I highly recommend re-calibrating your relationship and awareness of food with these calorie-counting apps. I use My Fitness Pal which was easy (and free! – meaning they collect information to later sell all my information to some pharmaceutical company that will out me for that Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Creme I happen to be eating at this very moment – 310 cals – and then sell me some other crap, down the line.) But there are plenty of others.
My goal while counting calories for a healthy summer (and I recommend your goal) needn’t be obsessing over weight or developing an eating disorder. Let’s take smaller steps.