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.
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…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.”
Technology arrived through our chimney, this year, and I question whether Santa ruined my kids forever.
I questioned it before letters were sent to the North Pole or credit cards were swiped. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked my partner. “I feel like we’re definitely crossing the Rubicon.”
When they opened their individualized packages (replete with Santa’s “special” wrapping paper) their ear-piercing, sustained screams were unforgettable: what to their wondering eyes should appear but a Nintendo Switch.
I’m certain they will never forget this.
And I’m fearing I’ll always regret it.
Christmas morning was filled with the blissful calm of techno-absorption punctuated by child laughter. It was a lovely morning – I was able to read a book for more than four minutes, sip multiple cups of coffee, and watch them not get bored within five minutes of opening their presents.
But I’m just afraid we’ve crossed into a world with less creativity, increased demands for outside stimulation, and higher-priced games requiring plugs and batteries and screen that keep anyone from looking at each other.
Though I begged and pleaded, I never got a Nintendo as a kid. (Truth be told, I’m so old I wasn’t allowed a Nintendo or an Atari.)
Though I felt deprived, I was fine. Consequently, I don’t care about video games – which is a good thing; I’ve got no skill.
So this year, Santa also brought my kids ice skates (purchased from a second-hand kids’ store, because unless they’re actually hockey players, nobody needs to buy new skates, amiright?)
Near our place there’s a marsh maintained in winter as an ice-skating pond. We spent an hour as newbie skaters. Because these were hockey-style skates, the kids were much more adroit at standing straight up. They actually were pretty good, there were lots of laughs and races and falls that miraculously didn’t result in tears.
A few hours later, we allowed another half hour of tech gaming, after which I cajoled us into some old-fashioned gaming. We huddled for our go-to card game, “Avocado Smash.” The kids like it, it’s quick, it’s not mind-numbing for the parents, and usually creates plenty of laughs.
But it’d been a tiring day. We played one, half-assed round. And they were done.
Later, I kissed them both goodnight and told them, “Today was such a fun day. You got so many awesome gifts. And I loved ice skating with you.”
I wasn’t coaching them to answer, not in the least.
So I asked them, “What was your favorite part of the day?”
“Getting the Nintendo Switch” they both answered.
I know they’ll never forget the ice-skating, either.
Ultimately, I don’t want my kids to be Luddites. I embrace technology. I hope they’ll be programmers and understand how to use technology to enhance their lives and increase their communication with me.
If gaming allows them to do that, so be it.
After two days of technology in the house, we’ve spent more
time with less conflict, but we’ve also spent less time looking at each other.
That makes my heart hurt just a tiny bit. Grrrr. Santa ruined my kids.
Any suggestions for dealing with tech beyond “setting limits” and “earning screen time”?
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
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.
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.”
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.
And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them and their future.
Recently, a neighbor died, which opened the door for discussing death with kids in five simple steps:
Just talk about it – if you’re sad or mad or depressed or even happy or relieved or whatever. Emotions are all okay.
Just talk about it – what you think happens after death in whatever way makes sense to you.
Just talk about it – my death, your death, everyone’s death.
Just talk about it – how life goes one for the rest of us.
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 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 –
To be sad.
To cry and to see other people cry.
To know that death happens.
To think fondly of the people we’ve lost and not repress their memory.
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?”
“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
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
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.
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
“I don’t WANT to do another march.”
“It’s gonna be boring.”
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.
“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
“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
(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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.