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.
“Take my shirt off! Take my shirt off!” my 3yo shouted with pure childhood bliss. She wanted to be like the older kids running across the grass as shirtless savages of summer. Normally, she does not let it all hang out.
So I took off the shirt, cursing myself for having left the sunscreen at home. It was already 4:30. Post-PTH, hopefully. (*peak tanning hours.)
I knew one of the boy’s parents and we’d met at the park for happy hour summer picnic. I needed adult contact since my one-year-old was near peak of his incessant whininess.
Upon arrival, the parents offered me a beer. I nearly downed it in one sip.
Seconds later, I noticed my 3yo and the older kiddos were missing. I said as much.
“Oh, they’re over behind that brick wall playing in the fountain,” the mom said as she handed me a second beer. “They’re fine. Don’t worry.”
I’m sorry. What part of that statement should not have made me panic? Our kids were out of sight, in New York City, playing in a fountain hidden by a stone wall.
I was fairly certain the 5-year-olds weren’t trained lifeguards.
I tried looking calm with a frozen smile. I took a sip, stood up, carried the whiny 1yo (who whined with the movement), and left to investigate.
At the stone wall I saw that the fountain was “only” a 12-inch-wide ring of water surrounding a 10-foot sculpture by Tom Otterness. The water flowed in a circle around the sculpture. True: I needn’t worry. Too much.
My 3yo joined the boys dropping items (trash, really…broken balloons, styrofoam) in the “upstream” part of the fountain, then chased it around the 10-foot circle. They were definitely in pure childhood bliss.
As I approached, my kiddo reached into the water, jumped up with hand clenched and squealed, “I got one!”
“What’d you get, buddy?”
“Yeah!” she beamed. It was new for her to play so imaginatively.
She was so happy. I was so happy to watch it.
The entire situation reminded me of studying “A Perfect Day for Bananafish“, J.D. Salinger’s short story, in my high school English class. It’s a moment of innocence in which an unstable Army Veteran is reminded of “pure childhood bliss” as he unexpectedly plays with a child in the ocean who swears she sees “bananafish” underwater.
But I digress.
Some kids around nine or ten years old had entered the scene at the fountain. They sat on benches nearby. They held skateboards and sported baseball caps over shaggy hair.
The 5-year-olds playing in the fountain stuck started taunting the skater boys and sang “nanny, nanny- boo, boo.” The skater boys didn’t take the bait. They minded their own business and joshed around like 10-year-old boys. They occasionally laughed or pointed at the little kids. It was innocent, but it also looked like gangs forming.
My 3yo still jumped and splashed, squealed and laughed. She kept grabbing items (trash) at the “top” of the stream and watched it float with the current. He dipped his bloated diaper in the water. She looked at me and enthusiastically screamed, “Daddy!”
It was a juxtaposition of innocence (and innocents): my kid and the two rival gangs (the 5yo’s and the 10 yo’s). I whipped my phone out to video the pure childhood bliss. She hadn’t a care in the world, least of all the chiding of other kids. Not a speck of self-consciousness informed her actions…no insecurities about clothes, having two daddies, vocabulary, nothing.
She just played.
How can she know the joy that brought me or how precious that time was for her? The only thing existing for her was imagination and water and pure childhood bliss (and trash).
If I could endow my kids with only one gift, just one, I’d make them impervious to judgment. I know that’s impossible. But couldn’t she always play in her own world with the water and ignore the others?
Kiddo: don’t modify your behavior or preferences or speech. Just play. Just be. Just maintain that pure childhood bliss for as long as possible.
I hope I’m able to show that video to her one day (assuming I don’t drop my phone in the kids’ bathtub a third time) and help her reconnect with a paradigm free of self-consciousness.
May there be many, many, many more moments of pure childhood bliss.
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
(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
The younger one laughed but yelled “stop!” and kept running
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.
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.”
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.
It’s human, I suppose. And it seems like a rite of passage.
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”.
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.”
I’m fascinated by the ongoing societal discussion of sexual
harassment and worldwide reckoning with the thousands-year exploitation
The movement makes me think about a badass dear friend of mine, Charlotte,
who talks about the dawning of the age of Aquarius (unrelated to the
song) and who’s personal mission is to reunite people with their inner
I’m not well-versed in astrology, new age intellectualism, or
vortexes. But I do believe there is a deep energy force that connects
humans to each other and to nature, and is what orchestrates the harmony
with our Mother Earth (however unharmonious we humans try to make it.)
Call this energy what you will. I’m fine with calling it God.
So Charlotte is the leader (she hates that term but I’m proud to call her that) of an ever-expanding “circle of women”. They believe in the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine (which
are vastly different from the notion of gender roles) and seek to
harness the power (or divinity) within human beings to reformulate a
more peaceful, energy-focused, divine world that’s less fucked up by
humans and the institutions that screwed it all up for us: government,
Or, if you will, organizations constructed by men.
All of these institutions are elements of un-divine masculinity: a perverted basis of power, competition, destruction and war that didn’t always dictate humankind.
For example, Charlotte talks about how Europe in the “Dark” Ages was
actually much more matriarchal and not “dark”, at all. The women had
deep knowledge of nature, plant remedies, and energy forces. Society was
egalitarian and symbiotic. There wasn’t ownership of land by
individuals since villages had to work together to survive. And women were leaders in their communities.
Sure, there were invading Huns, pestilence, and life was about
survival, with much less pleasure. But what we call the “Dark Ages”
wasn’t a time of universal suffering; it just happens not to be
an era defined by conquer, control, competition, ambition, and
domination. Life in fiefdoms was marked by fewer historic milestones, so
the men writing the history books considered it a dark time. But
“normal” life was not “dark.”
But then societal institutions (church, government, and
“companies”…meaning private ownership of stuff) became fearful that they
couldn’t keep control. So they move to repress. And these organizations
run by men certainly couldn’t have women’s input. They were afraid of
losing their grip on power, so these organizations acted as tyrants and
demagogues, harnessing power and competing to be top dog.
Bringing that closer to home, “masculinity” (power, competition, domination, war) has screwed up society and
men. This last-couple-millennia age of war (as opposed to that of
Aquarius) has meant a distorted notion of masculinity has screwed up
men, our notion of manhood, and gender roles.
And we men are so very screwed up. We have impenetrable emotional
walls, we are afraid of showing vulnerability or proclivities other than
the mainstream. In general, we lack the intimate friendships that bond
women to each other. We focus on competition instead of mental health,
domination instead of mutual benefits, defensiveness instead of
And we are afraid. So very afraid – of not being the
strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the richest, the manliest, the
most virile and most respected. We fear NOT being top dog.
But what does being the top dog get us? – things that really matter in life?
We have manipulated our worlds into that of power and conquest –
leading us directly to the scandals du jour of rampant sexual
harassment. Instead of sex being a mutual bond, it’s about domination
And I believe that’s directly related to sexual harassment. We have
unhealthy perspectives of sex and sexuality that have been bastardized
by the institutions that control society and norms and laws…those
aforementioned institutions meant to control society and created by,
(Andrew Sullivan has written a myopic account,
recently, talking about the different genetic programming between men
and women and that men are programmed to compete and dominate. I don’t
dispute that. And he points out that gay men are a microcosm of
competition and domination without women’s influence and basically,
“It’s just fine.” I’d argue that, sure, men and women are genetically
programmed to act differently and that men are naturally more competitive and seek dominance. However, it can
be combined with respect and self-control. Healthy approaches to sex
and being in tune with one’s own ego doesn’t mean undermining our
genetic predisposition. Come on, Andy. You can’t excuse unwanted groping
as being acceptable because of genetic programming…for women or men,
gay or straight.)
But I digress.
I used to think the “Age of Aquarius”
was hippy mumbo-jumbo. But, maybe we are finally turning a corner from
an age of destruction toward an age of, I dunno…construction? You
wouldn’t think so with the saber-rattling of international leaders. But
let’s think big picture – 51% of the world population is acquiring more
influence and proving more than adept in leadership positions. For the
first time, possibly in history, societies are legislating parity.
We know we need to collaborate to save the delicate world that sustains our existence.
We know we are economically interdependent and need to wage cooperation, not war.
This dawning age of cooperation is a marathon, not a sprint. It might
take decades (or centuries) to establish. But war makes less sense.
Domination and selfish competition make less sense.
Is #MeToo leading us closer to Aquarius where men can re-discover the
“sacred masculine” (without fear “compromising” a 2018 sense of
“masculinity”) and women can settle into the “sacred feminine” (or men
can embrace their inner femininity without fear and vice-versa for
The new possibilities are limitless in a world with less fear.
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.