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 in my childhood, 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 1857 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 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 snacks and water bottles and jackets and an iPad (for emergencies) while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical dioramas 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 without demonstrating a shred 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? No? Then 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 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.
Honestly? Not so bad. Or…the morning wasn’t so bad. Get up, go for a walk (thank goodness we can) and they’re pretty motivated to be doing “school” in another form. It’s a relatively quiet and focused time.
And then helicopter dad swoops in and starts screwing everything up.
Again – we were pretty focused for the morning, had a snack, got some reading and writing done, had lunch, and then had some “gametime with daddy” time after lunch.
I’ve made it my personal mission to teach my kids some basic sporting rules of basketball, soccer and baseball…which is hilarious given my lack of care about professional sports. But in our school which is wonderfully arts-heavy and focused on participation and dance, I don’t think they’re getting any actual sports learning. So…I’m the not-by-choice-default coach. (All my friends are laughing at this.)
Anyway, I wanted to have some actual soccer drills going on. The younger kiddo (who loves soccer) was game for some passing and teamwork. The older was just annoyed with me.
She kicks. Great job. Maybe just a little lighter. She kicks. Good. Now can you do it with the side of your food for more control? I control it just fine! As she’s kicked like a Rockette and the ball’s sailed over my head and way off to the side. Right, but you can control it more if you kick lightly with the side of your feet. I kick and demonstrate. Daaaaad! Stop telling me what to do! She Rockette-kicks the ball away from me. I retrieve ball and start dribbling over to her (poorly…but with a bit of control) over to her, trying to show off. See? If you trot along and kick lightly with the side of your foot, it’s so much easier and you just control the ball and everything stays together and… Daaad, stop telling me this!
She’s pouting and angry, I’m increasingly annoyed by her lack of willingness. And mind you – I was exactly the same at her age. Zero interest in sports. My parents constantly encouraging me to show an interest and practice and play in soccer and baseball leagues. I loathed it. But I succumbed to social pressures making me do “boy” things that just didn’t interest me at all.
She’s pouting. She’s angry. I’m demonstrating and pleading with myself, “god DAMN child, you can do what you want, but learning these skills now will be a life skill that will help you just be well-rounded…” Daddy, stooooop! But sweetie, this is 'games with Daddy' time! You’re not making it fun! Because you need to learn the skills! I already know the skills! But kicking with the side of your foot… Stooooop! I already know that…. And I kicked the ball to her. And I swear to you, dear dozen readers, I did NOT put extra sauce on it intentionally. But I did. And it struck her. Hard. In the chest. Cue: instant hysterical tears of frustration, anger, and pain. I mean - it couldn’t be that much pain. It wasn’t THAT hard. But I get it. I admit: I wanted to laugh just a little bit. But I refrained from that. I hugged her. For a long time. I held her sobs and let her calm down as I held her close. We had a good recovery. And a good cry. I calmly explained to her all I wrote above - I hated this as a kid, too. But life will be easier if you have some skills for the future when you’re somehow forced to play soccer. Or baseball. Or basketball. She got it. And it was time for a snack.
Later, the other feature of the day was when I forced our “social studies.” They were losing focus, understandably.
And on their fabulous tour of what I suppose is main floor of this fab modern art museum (Museu de Arte de São Paolo…the MASP), we got a wonderful reminder and tour of art through ages, from Middle Age portraiture to Renaissance still life, religious everything and then some modern.
And all of it (from the religious forward) had boobs. Lots of boobs.
Some butts, a couple of uncovered vulvas, interestingly no penis until we got to a modern piece of an over-exaggerated baby boy. Whatever. They were thrilled to look through artistic pornography at a museum in Sao Paolo. At least I had them engaged. And they’ll remember that little “social studies” tour as the most delightful part of COVID-19 Day 1.
Not sure if tomorrow will be more about causing tears and exploring nudity. But it seems like a full day, after all.
As I constantly harp on and rely upon in my own parenting, everything is about setting expectations.
And the best way to do so is have the kids’ input.
This morning, we sat down and had a “morning meeting” in which we set daily expectations with a to-do list that the kids helped craft.
Set a daily routine schedule Set some goals for what kids would like to accomplish on a weekly basis – culling through old toys, learning a new skill
Find a reward system for sticking with the program – incentivize (fine: call it a bribe) with screen time, sweet treats. But also – this is just life, kids. Rewards come from exceptional behavior. They don’t need a reward for every tiny thing they do.
Make a check-list chart so kids can gauge their progress.
Set lots of timers.
Keep your own expectations low so you don’t get too frustrated.
Be kind to yourself and the kids – it’s a strange time. Space everything out with snacks and breaks.
And at the end of the day, give up, have a drink, and hand over the iPad. You done good setting expectations to manage the kids’ enrichment. hell, they’re going to learn a ton during this pandemic and be touched for the rest of their lives.
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.)
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.