We’re trying on different pronouns in our household.
Before school started, my partner and I asked the big kid, “What would you like to say, this year? ‘He’ or ‘she’?”
Kiddo answered sheepishly, “She.”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
An hour later, we were discussing my show, Head Over Heels,in
which a trans actress plays a non-binary character. My older kid is
officially obsessed with this gender-bending character (played by
Peppermint, the drag queenfamous for her stellar turn on RuPaul’s Drag Raceas well as for being the first contestant who was outwardly trans beforecompeting on RuPaul.)
In the conversation with my kiddo, I had to backtrack withhersaying, “But wait. You know Peppermint is a trans woman playing a non-binary role?”
“Yeah! A ‘they’. Like me! I’m ‘they’!”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
An hour later, I sat with her/theyand said, “Now, sweetie, do you want me to say something to your teachers about how you want to be addressed?”
“Daddy,” she/they said, “can we stop talking about this? I’ll handle it.”
Oh. Okay. So there we are.
The first day of school passed uneventfully.
On the second day, while walking back from school, I had both kids
with me and inadvertently referred to she/they as ‘he’, at which point I
turned to she/they, again, to ask, “Wait, honey, where are we, now?
‘She?’ ‘They?’ ‘He’?”
The more time passes, the more I feel like I’m betraying her by ever calling her him. “Her” feels more right.
Which leads me to our milestone: we alerted the teachers via email
about my kid’s fluid self-expression and let them know, “We’re just
rolling with it. Hopefully you can too?”
There are times it’s cool to be flexible. And then I realize (as much
as I’d like to live in a world without definition) that people need
labels and definitions so we’re all speaking the same language.
Yesterday, my kid was benevolently outed by an old friend in class to
one of the new friends. The old friend said, “But he’s a boy. He just
likes to wear dresses.”
The new friend said, “But she talks like a girl and dresses like a girl.”
Which then led to a cavalcade of questions for the teachers, which
freaked them out (understandably) because we were all just “going with
Suddenly, my agenda became very clear.
I want my child to be proud of who she is. I want her to celebrate
her differences and never feel defensive or shamed. I want her to be
able to speak about who she is and inspire the truth in others.
I don’t think she needs to be locked in a box of hyper-definition. In
fact, I don’t think my kid can really be defined, right now, except as
gender-fluid. Nor need she be.
So my partner and I put our heads together and strategized how to let
our precious first-born write her own narrative, be in charge of her
story, and define herself for others.
The worst thing would be to pretendshe never was a boy. I
don’t want her peers, teachers, friends or acquaintances to think she’s
keeping secrets or making things up. We have old friends at school who
know from whence we’ve come. There’s no reason to shun/deny/erase that
part of her history.
What she isis what she’s choosing to be, right now; and we get to celebrate it and show how badass she is for choosing to be her.
Suddenly, in discussing this with her (which is taking time) I’m this
over-aggressive tiger dad suffocating my child in inspirational sayings
like “you’re all the morespecial for being so brave and
special!, for choosing your own path which isn’t always clear or easy.
But you’re doing it! That makes you so awesome!”
She is FULLY giving me the rolled eyes and begging me to “stop talking about this.”
Sorry, kiddo. Can’t stop; won’t stop. Because I’m doing my best to armor you for a tough world – and it’s tough for allof
us. So you might as well suit up, now. Because you’re way ahead most of
the rest of us in terms of knowing yourself and speaking your truth.
But nice people who please teachers don’t paint the Sistine
Chapel. They don’t break sound barriers. They don’t develop Apple Computers,
Crazy people who break rules and smash conventions do big
I say that I just want my kids to be happy.
But also kind. And smart. And independent. And creative. And
change the world. No pressure, kids.
Of course I want
my kids to be trailblazers.
Like the kids about whom the teachers throw up their arms
and say “what am I going to do with you?” And then they end up being Einstein.
But aren’t genius/artistic/world-changers often miserable,
asocial sad-sacks destined to substance-abuse who cut off their own ears and
live within prisons of their own artistic genius?
So then will they be happy?
Maybe we should just hope for nice.
But am I trying to raise
nice kids? Those rule-following,
vanilla, boring goody-two-shoes?
(Who wants to be nice,
anyway? Nice is so…insipid. Do you ever want to share a drink with someone
first described as NICE? Zzzzzzzzz.)
This reminds me of a hilarious recent tweet I saw:
“Parenting looks so hard. You need to raise your kid with just the right amount
of trauma so they end up funny.”
Because funny is more interesting than nice.
I’ve been thinking about achievement in the context of my
older kid’s soon-to-be immersion in the ballet world. He is going to begin the
first ballet classes of his life and, while I’m excited for him, my Libra nature
has invented this dilemma: “Do world-changers come from ballet class?”
Think about it: the point of classical ballet is to conform,
to dress identically as surrounding dancers, to dance with perfection so that
not one pinky finger is ever out of place.
The dress code for these classes is rigid, for both boys and
girls. (More on that in my next posting because do not get me STARTED about the
anxiety I’m feeling in saying to my kiddo, “sorry. No tutus in this class. It’s
white t-shirt and black pants.”)
At least there’s no hair protocol for these little boys. I
guess my little gender renegade will be able to rock a ballet bun.
My French sister (the witch) talks about the point of
nursery rhymes was to separate European society from nature so that Little Red Riding
Hood stays always to the path (dictated by the church) to never stray (citizens
shouldn’t color outside the lines) and to always fear the woods (because nature
is bad) and always be nice.
Oh, and sex. Because duh. Nature = sex and sex is bad and
the church and society need to tame sex and pleasure. Because people should be
worshipping the Church’s appointed dogma, fighting wars, and making stuff for
the nobles. Not having sex.
(And of course – burn the witches. )
And I see her point. Nursery rhymes teach children the way
to be good. To follow rules. To conform. To obey. To be the perfect ballerina/o
in the back line.
Now…we all want our kids to be good and obey their parents.
But it’s true – the world is more colorful with the rule-breakers,
by those who stray from the path, think differently and write their own
I suppose it’s all a balance, (Please reference
aforementioned Libra nature.)
My kiddo already writes her own rules evidenced by her entire comportment.
So maybe classical ballet will be the perfect balance for
her? You gotta learn the basics…
So then you know what rules to break and re-write.
I just saw Moulin Rouge on Broadway and my age doesn’t get it. I went from “Team Christian” to “Team Satine” to my utter shock. But let’s rewind.
Moulin Rouge is a spectacle that gives you everything you hope for – massive production numbers, a dazzling cast, and a badass update to the music (as if that was even necessary). I had a great time.
And, although the plot is not at all child-friendly) nor is the spread-legged g-string choreography) I couldn’t help thinking constantly about the lessons I’d hope my kids could garner from the message…were they ever to see the show.
When I first saw Moulin Rouge, the movie, I was alllllll about Christian’s dreams of living for love and truth and beauty and freedom…the four pillars of Moulin Rouge’s message.)
And now? As a jaded father with life experience, I empathized slightly more with Satine’s dilemma.
My age doesn’t get it.
And that makes me kind of sad. But also – shrug – it’s life.
The story (if you need a refresher) is: Satine (played ravishingly by both Nicole Kidman and Karen Olivo) falls in love with Christian (Ewan McGregor and the vocally-stunning Aaron Tveit) but must also indulge in a love affair with a Duke, without whom her beloved Moulin Rouge would close and she’d be back on the streets as a struggling artist (and probably prostitute).
Romantic escapades and pleading scenes “what more is there
to live for than love?” scenes ensue.
The frequent reference to the bohemians struggling in the
squalor of 1890’s Paris is the principle that life is only meaningful with truth, beauty, love and youth.
And I quickly thought: you know what’s sexy? Truth and beauty and love.
You know what’s not sexy? Poverty.
What else isn’t sexy? Endless struggle, even in the name of art.
So once again: my age doesn’t get it.
A few times throughout the show, Christian begs the indulgence of the audience to “remember the thrill of your first love.” That was a smart “breaking the fourth wall” device allowing cynics (guilty) to put aside eye rolls and appreciate Christian’s infatuation.
And I totally went to my own “folly of first love” – to my obsession with Jenny in seventh grade, Lori in 8th, Eileen in college, and the uncontrollable, untethered, schizophrenia of the beginning of my current relationship with my partner (which of course still has that burning passion 15 years later.)
But even without my cynicism, I still empathized with Satine
(who’s quickly losing her youth.). If she indulges the Duke, she gets to
continue to perform at the Moulin Rouge, will have relative stability (for
Bohemian Paris in the 1890’s) and a working artist.
Sure, she lacks the love. And joy. But come, now. Even Satine and Toulouse Lautrec (her friend in the show for fictional but historical context) muse about the purity of their art, but misery of their poverty.
What should she prize more? Love and joy? Or warmth and food
and choose to be happy as the concubine of an insanely rich man?
I honestly don’t know what is the “right” choice.
Of course I want
my children to experience the insanity of youthful love. And I hope they
experience that passion throughout their lives. That ravishing thrill of love can
re-visit throughout the ages, but it definitely mellows with romantic
commitment. I hope they experience it over and over.
I hope my kids realize that burning passion often (maybe not
always) fades, and, in the end, making practical decisions about life is
necessary to live with relative comfort and stability.
Ugh. I feel like I’m undermining my own principles of beauty, truth, love and freedom. But those massive values aren’t always timeless.
If I were Satine’s or Christian’s parents, I’d definitely counsel “I’m sure it was fab to be so in love with this penniless artist. But it’s time to make life choices. Christian: go get a real job and call me when you’re done. Satine: choose to be happy living in comfort as a working actor(!) in 1890’s Paris!”
Further, I suppose this fading of beauty and youth (and transition of love through experience) is quite possibly the point of art – to bring us pleasure in the things that fade, remind us of bygone emotions and feelings; and to help us connect to our faded passions.
Such practicality is foreign to the folly of youth.
And perhaps why art is probably appreciated all the more with age.
As was my experience with Moulin Rouge.
Thank goodness for art and music and stories, because without their focus on love, beauty, freedom, and truth, our stories would be dull and cynicism would consume us. We need art (and to force-feed culture to our children) to remind us of bigger ideas and a connection to these Moulin Rouge pillars.
We need the romance and beauty (and the pain) to move our
emotions in our busy lives – so we can remember that glorious insanity of unlimited
love…without always having to live it.
Cuz let’s face it… no one can get shit done when in the
throes of Satine-Christian passion.
But it’s fun while it lasts.
I’ll have to add this to my canon of ageist idioms:
*** Quick side-note: I LOVE that Moulin Rouge is devoting some of its commercially-won dollars to support “The Bohemian Project“, pledging grants to help emerging creatives and artists. (Though the website states “more info and partners coming soon” and the show’s been open for months. So.)
During a recent conversation with parents about potty training kids to poop healthily, a friend of mine stated unequivocally, “Pooping in the ocean is the best.”
Meaning: when they are at the beach, they have no problem
just letting a turd slide out and float away.
I thought, “Really? It’s that easy? And don’t you think
that, even in the ocean, that’s pretty disgusting and a turd could float next
to a child who’s playing in the surf and they could ingest that shit?”
Then again, I get the curiosity…. you’re on a hike on the
NaPali Coast of Kauai and there is literally not a soul around you and you’re
on a gorgeous beach all to yourself and you might or might not be clothed and
you’re like, “Hm. I wonder what it would be like if…”
Not that I would know.
This all makes me think that we, as a society, are far too preoccupied with our bathroom habits. I mean – don’t get me wrong, I don’t want someone else’s poop floating past me. Ever.
But as a parent, I’ve had a lot of poop on my hands; and I
A couple of years ago, I had my kids in France visiting
family. We were at a playground and I had with me my own two kids and my niece.
Seconds after our arrival (and certainly after I’d said “before we got to the playground, anyone need to poo?), my older kid approaches saying, “Daddy? I need to go.”
Me: well, go behind the bush.
Kid 1: No…I need to poo.
So I grabbed my kiddo’s hand and we jogged over to public toilets that strike fear into the hearts of Americans – just two foot prints in the middle of a porcelain square with a hole in the middle. The French call them “Turkish toilets”, which I’m pretty sure is tremendously derogatory and not one that immigrated with the “technology” of a squat-and-hole. Oh, well.)
Anyway, yeah: a squat-over-the-hole-and-go.
Luckily, my kid wasn’t remotely fazed. When you gotta go…
So I hiked up her dress and watched as she squatted all the way down (surprisingly easily), one hand holding the dress, one hand paranoiacally on a questionably-dirty porcelain wall. She relaxed and went.
Phew. Crisis averted.
Then I looked around for toilet paper.
None to be round. Zero. Nope. No toilet paper.
Only after this visit to the squat-over-a-hole-and-go did I learn these Turkish toilets are meant to be a clean drop. Even in diarrheal emergencies, it’s how our bodies were designed, you don’t really need to wipe, and it’s how we should be pooping all the time, anyway. The toilet (most likely an invention by European royalty to separate us from the “savages” have resulted in generations of IBS, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids. We really just need to squat in the woods and go, like our ancestors.)
No toilet paper necessary.
But I digress.
So I’m looking around for toilet paper and see nothing. In
desperation, I searched in a trash can to see if there’s something, ANYTHING I can use.
My kid’s yelling at me from the toilet, still hovering.
I’m in a flop sweat frantically searching for anything for
I walk into the toilet and reach over to wipe my kid’s bare
It was completely clean (see aforementioned discussion of
A second sweep for good measure (still nothing), at which
point slow-motion set in:
I felt a movement in the breast pocket of my button-down shirt
as I slowly felt my Ray-Bans fall…
…out of my shirt…
…and straight toward the 4-inch Turkish hole of French poop.
One hand was wiping, the, the other hand steadying myself
against the wall, and I’m literally bent over my child who’s squatting under
me. The probability of a disaster where I fall on top of her and we both end up
sitting in a (remarkably clean) 3’x3’ porcelain basin that catches poop AND
pee, was high.
I couldn’t catch my glasses.
They fell out, circled the hole like those
quarters–in-a-spiral-thingy at museums, and plopped.
Into my kid’s poop.
And you bet your sweet ass I got my kid safely out of the
way and re-robed, and then I figured, “I already have one hand dirty,” and
reached into the hold and got my glasses.
They were shitty, for sure, but just a little bit. I washed
them at the sink, nearby (that didn’t have paper towels. Because of course it
didn’t) and, well…put them back in my pocket.
Fear not – I wasn’t going to wear them, and the shirt needed
That was a lot.
I happened to be at the playground with a friend (a French dad) and I asked him about the toilet paper situation, and he said, “Well, Gavin, that’s why French parents carry this.”
He pulled out Kleenex from his denim jacket.
Mind you, it was summer, hot as balls, and this guy wore a jacket to the playground. Because that’s how you do it in France. Shorts aren’t fashionable – it’s just the Germans who would wear shorts in public (along with their Birkenstocks and socks.) And you bring a jacket. Just in case. Or at least a scarf.
(And mind you – I love French scarf culture. We need to
adopt that, America. Do you realize how effective it is just to wear a scarf in the fall and spring? No jacket necessary.)
Seconds later, my younger kid told me he needed to poop.
I exchange a look with French dad friend, he hands me his
Kleenex, and away we go.
Second kid also needs to poop badly. And he’s never done a Turkish toilet, either. We run up, he squats, balances, all’s fine, no biggie. Funny how, in the moment, apparently potty training kids to poop healthily won’t stop them from squatting, like this. When you gotta go…
And thank goodness I won’t have to sully my hands, again.
So I’m soon to be royal-adjacent and I’m counting on taking selfies with Royals.
Last January, I received an email saying, “We’d like to schedule a five minute private call with you about the upcoming royal birth.”
My first thought was “Is this my long-lost cousin writing from a jail in Nairobi and needing $38,000 to get out?”
But, hey – I’m game. “I’m all ears.”
The woman explained she was calling from St. Jame’s House, a London Publishing Company, that publishes fancy coffee table books highlighting big British events like the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, royal weddings, and the 100th anniversary of Rolls Royce.
They were in the process of gathering “patrons” to be featured in the upcoming book, Our Royal Baby, to be launched after the christening of as-yet-unborn Archie, the child of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And they wanted to feature, well…the best and/or coolest diaper bag for men.
As a “patron”, I’d be featured in this book as an “exciting new company on-brand with this Modern Royal Couple.”
In the words of my deceased grandfather, “If I had dentures, I’d have lost them.”
Mr. Robert Jobson, “the godfather of royal reporting” and official biographer to Prince Charles, would interview me and write the feature on my company.
In addition, I’d receive an invitation to the royal christening and an invitation to attend the book launch in London at the Ritz Hotel.
(Non sequitor: should I be capitalizing “Royal” and “Christening”? Golly gee whiz I’m such an American un-versed in R/royal etiquette.)
After picking up my jaw (or dentures) from the ground, I asked, “Well, this is astounding. How on earth did you find me? And will I be able to take selfies with Royals?”
The woman laughed and said “We have researchers constantly seeking innovative and stylish companies appealing to a royal sensibility.”
Aw, shucks. I’m blushing. I mean – I may not be selling tons of bags, but…
…apparently I’m doing something right? (Notice my desperation.)
“I mean, this is crazy. I can say the ultimate dream would be for Prince Harry to carry my bag.”
“Well, we can make that
happen,” my contact said, “though there’s no guarantee he would be photographed
with it. But Mr. Jobson can personally give a bag to the Prince.”
Yo – Sign. Me. Dafuq. Up.
So, skipping over lots of banal details about contracts, I became part of the Our Royal Baby team.
As weeks and months passed trading messages about new photography and editing copy, I felt like the people in the charming novel, 84 Charing Cross Road, in which an informal American book collector strikes up a written friendship with a formal British antique book seller. His Britishisms contrast hilariously with the American’s, well…American-ness.
Point being – I’m the crazy, informal American and I’m certain my new British friend, Dhruti, must look at my emails and think, “This chap is off his rocker.”
Moving along, over the summer, Megs and Harry held the christening of wee Archie with zero fanfare. (I guess St. James’s House hoped to invite me to London around that time. Did I harbor illusions of taking that desired selfie with Royals? Absolutely. But I suppose an “invitation” meant a literal paper document for framing.)
So St. James scheduled our book launch at the Ritz for just after Labor Day – because that’s convenient (except for un-cultured Americans. Eye roll.)
In the spring – several photo shoots took place. I was going for a uniquely New York scene in which I’m carrying the diaper bag and holding a (borrowed) baby. (Shout out to Adam’s photographic genius and Ashley loaning me her baby.)
Charmingly, before taking this picture (at left), I noticed a guy pause at the green pipe over my shoulder and stick something inside. Minutes later, as I was posing with little “borrowed baby”, another dude lingered down the road. I could sense we were in his way. It wasn’t hard to realize he was waiting to pick up from the green pipe behind us.
So…pretty much we did a fashion shoot in the midst of a drug deal.
(Ultimately, Dhruti passed on that pict. Clearly it wasn’t “on brand” for the royal couple. Oh, well. It was on brand for NYC.)
In other news, I had dubbed the bag “The Frenchie” because the blue/red racing stripes reminded me of the French flag. But then I figured “Frenchie” probably was not on brand with the Royals, so it was re-dubbed “The Windsor.”
Months passed, designs and wording of the editorial page were finalized, and I spent the summer hemming and hawing over whether to attend the party at the Ritz.
Finally, I figured, “I’m most likely going to come back utterly empty-handed. But I’ve invested this much, and I have the AmEx miles for a free trip. This seems like exactly the right frivolous trip on which to cash in.”
So: I’m here. In London.
Ready to be Royal-adjacent.
Not holding my breath for taking selfies with Royals, Megs and Harry.
And she’s utterly unperturbed when her hips occasionally slip and slam on the ground. She just keeps going in her new normal.
But I desperately hope for to regain control of her bladder and bowels.
Dear doggy lord: my Maddie is walking adequately. I’ll trade further progress in the leg region for any control in her nether regions.
We’ve had to “express” her bladder, otherwise she grows a 3-inch balloon in her gut. We put our fingers behind her ribs and squeeze back and in. This triggers her back legs to shoot straight out while urine sprays out of her with the force of a super-soaker. Not difficult, merely annoying. And a lot of splashing.
But nothing’s as bad as the poop.
Before walking returned, the poor dog soiled herself. Bowels emptied onto her tail and legs and she’d try to drag her paralyzed hind-end away. Daily baths were the norm. (Difficult with a dog who couldn’t stand.) We were all miserable.
Since walking, Maddie still lacks “function” control. Sometimes
(usually at about 4AM) it seems she feels something and thinks, “Oh,
crap. Oh, no. Oh crap, I think I’m gonna…”
She stands, takes two steps, and then: plop. Another step, another
plop. We’ve surrounded her bed with wee-wee pads, so her scat is caught
before she scats.
Then she shamefully hides from us in a corner.
The commotion wakes us, but over the past few weeks, we’re resigned
to it. “Oh, well. The dog lost it, again.” So we clean doggy-doo by the
light of cell phones.
For a month I lined up Ellison’s rubber alphabet tiles down our
hallway for Maddie to walk without slipping. Because she stuck to that
path, a few times she left presents along the tiles.
One night before turning in, I went to check on the sleeping boys, and I stepped in a pile. I was barefoot.
I slipped, smearing ordure along the P, Q, and R letters, at which
point the tiles separated, and my foot further smeared feces on the wood
I semi-sighed/semi-laughed. I wretched as I cleaned.
This wasn’t the first bare foot nastiness. I’m always the one who steps in it.
Recently, I started “expressing” her bowels. (Yeah: I’m a dog saint.)
Imagine, if you will, a grown man squatting behind his dog, squeezing
her haunches until her tail pops up and her anus starts to pucker.
At this point, I’m (sadly) happy for action. It means less mess in the apartment. Since it’s now sub-zero in the Northeast, and I squat mere inches away from her, I actually see steam escaping her butt.
The height of indignity is when I force my dog to fart in my face. It happens almost daily.
We hardly react to this, anymore. It’s become de rigueur for the kids.
“Did Maddie go poopy again, Daddy?”
“Yes. Don’t touch it, please. I’ll clean it after I make your toast.”
One time, a babysitter sat on the couch reading to Ellison when my younger kid delivered something. It was poop.
To this point (knock on wood) Maddie’s had no diarrhea. So clearing the crud is quick and easy and it’s easier for me to say “I’m a dog saint.” Sometimes we scrub with chemicals, sometimes we just wipe with a paper towel. We’re so resigned to it now, we just shrug and keep on keeping on.
I haven’t cleaned with bare hands. That’s probably next.
We ask every visitor if the apartment smells like dog droppings.