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.)

I (Suddenly) Love Frozen

I’ve written a variation on this theme, before, but it’s the greatest hope I have for my kids.

“Daddy? You be ‘Anna’ and I’m going to run away from you with my cape and you say, ‘No, Elsa! Don’t go!’ Ok?”
“OK, buddy.”

Role-play ensues.

Even Colton, who’s words are limited to “pee-pee” and “nana” gets into it. When he sees anything Frozen, he shouts “Anna!”

As already discussed, our household is ruled by Frozen. (Actually, Thomas the Train still rules, but there’s a lot of Disney princessifying going on.)

Frozen thrills Ellison. He plays all the rolls: Kristoff, Sven and (especially) the sisters. I’ve gotten good at fashioning dresses out of old swaddlers (blankets, not Pampers.)

The other day I figured, “Eh, he hasn’t watched it in two weeks. Why not?” As we waited for the movie to load on my computer, Ellison jumped on the bed shouting, “Hooray! Hooray! I’m so excited to watch Frozen!”

He shouts “hooray” sans irony. I mean, who talks like that? It’s so…earnest, so…“Barney” dialogue.

After a recent snowstorm, we built “Olafs” in our backyard with some play-date friends, a boy (age 5) and his sister (age 3).

When Ellison started singing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” the boy said, “I hate Frozen. It’s all about love. And I hate love.”

“Wow. That’s…specific,” I sputtered.

His little sister said, “Yeah. I don’t like it, either.”

“Oh,” Ellison said; then (matter-of-factly) added, “I like it!”

It was as if they’d said “my name begins with R” and he said “Oh. Well, my name begins with E.”

And in that moment, I felt a desperate need to stop time, grab Ellison, and say, “Buddy, you go ahead and LOVE Frozen with all your heart, just as you do, now. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”

Their mother rolled their eyes saying, “Whatever. They were both dancing around in Frozen dresses, this morning. Peer pressure. It’s no longer cool for him to like the movie. And his sister’s just following.”

“Already?” I thought. “At five years old social acceptance looms?”

I hate that.

I’ve spouted lessons for my son in this blog. But above all, I wish most for him to hold on forever to that innocence where he loves what he loves. If he’s thrilled with Frozen or football or fungi, I’ll be elated to talk about it.

How I wish he could live divorced from anyone else’s opinion. Watching his captivated face as he’s engrossed/scared/delighted watching Frozen warms my heart.

Eventually, I know he’ll follow crowds.

I know he’ll say to me, “Daddy, don’t hug me so much,”

or “Daddy, it’s not cool to sing,”

or “Daddy? Can you drop me off at the corner? I can walk the rest of the way myself.”

But I wish it wouldn’t happen soon.

Son, just hold on to whatever makes you feel joy and free and light and inspired. And if whatever inflames your passion is something that isn’t cool for the outside world, I promise you: it’s safe in our house. So act out Frozen or play football or become bizarrely obsessed with fungi.

Your passion and interests are always safe with me.

I know you’ll be influenced by others far too soon.

But be innocent for as long as possible.

That’s my deepest hope for you, buddy boy.

We’ve Entered the FROZEN Tundra

What is it with Frozen? I know people with 4 -6 year-olds went through this last year, but my 3-year-old is quickly catching up. He is obsessed with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and that insidious song.

I mean, do any adults think the movie is amazing? How on earth did they craft something so addictive for kids?

Is it immediacy?…that we can conjure the song on phones and parents couldn’t have done that with The Little Mermaid? Would we have gone ape-shit over Aladdin if we could YouTube “Never Had a Friend” while on a ski lift or in line at the grocery store?

Obviously Disney creates magic, but I wonder if they don’t have a “Department of Nefarious Arts” in a turret of Sleeping Beauty’s castle where they plot to seduce impressionable minds with scientifically-chosen colors and committee-crafted plot points?

Ellison is learning a lot about families, behavior and body parts with his preoccupation with Frozen. Last Tuesday he asked me 16 times why Elsa stays in the room hiding from Anna. I explained twelve times (and ignored the other four), “Because Elsa has magical powers in her hands, but she doesn’t know how to control them. So she hides from Anna to keep Anna safe.”

“But Elsa loves Anna. They’re sisters.”

“That’s right, buddy. Sometimes you have to protect people you love by hiding from them.”

How on earth is that a concept he can understand? But maybe Frozen is expanding his brain capacity?

Yesterday, Ellison pulled a blue yoga mat around his chest and said, “Look! I’m Elsa. My purple cape flew away. Now I’m in the blue dress.”

He does this with blankets, towels and, once, a paper towel.

It’s hilarious how he taps into the role-play. (I bet this woman would have something to say about it.)

As we walked to school, the other day, he asked this non-sequitur: “Do Elsa and Anna have penises?”

“Um, no buddy.”

“Oh. What do they have in front of their hinies?”

I took a deep breath to quell my guffaw. “They have vaginas, buddy.” (We’ve discussed anatomy, before.)

He responded, “Olaf doesn’t have a penis.”

“Oh,” I said, newly enlightened. I refrained from saying, How do you know he isn’t just suffering from shrinkage? He’s a snowman!

Another non-sequitur: while playing trains, Ellison stood, stomped his feet and informed me, “When Elsa stomps her foot on the stairs, she makes snowflakes. She runs up stairs but she doesn’t fall. I don’t run on stairs. I could fall.”

Bless his preschool and their staircase vigilance.

And the song. Seriously? Is it really that good? Even Idina Menzel, herself, has declared the song “too damn high.” (I can’t find the citation, now, but I swear I read it.)

And the ending? “Cold never bothered me, anyway.” Isn’t that some kind of dangling grammatical deviant? It’s so clipped…like the writers jumped off the horse mid-stream.

But maybe this is the Disney psychological warfare? Adults are musically unsatisfied, the kids don’t seem to care.

And the writers and Disney are laughing at my novice criticism all the way to the bank.

Yesterday I needed to wake Ellison from a nap (he could nap for hours in the afternoon, but then he’d never sleep at night. So I wake him at 45 minutes…resulting in crabbiness.) I brought him from the brink of tears by pulling up “Let it Go” on my phone. Breathlessly, he whispered, “What’s that song, Daddy? It’s…it’s…it’s ‘Wet it D’oh.’”

Ellison couldn’t care less about my envy-tinged artistic grand-standing. And I’m still charmed by him singing.

Let it go, Gavin. Write something better and then we’ll talk.

What are your thoughts on Frozen and “Let It Go”?