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.
Last night, my partner’s brother came over with his sons (ages 16 and 13). They’re great doting cousins.
My kids were excited for their arrival, but when they walked into the house, my older kid promptly veered into “shy kid” land, wanting to “play indoors” and not interact.
One family rule we don’t negotiate is “you must say hello to
friends and family. You don’t have to talk more than that, but you must say
And holy cow my older one took that to heart – she said
“hello” then disappeared.
But that’s fine.
I tell myself over and over that I don’t want to push my kids
to become slaves to social obligations. I have this revulsion because so much
of my upbringing was spent pleasing people around me.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m social and out-going. I love groups
of friends and comradery and fellowship.
However, my entire youth was spent feeling the desperate
need to be the life of the party and center of the action. My FOMO trampled any
self-awareness that could “just being chill and quiet”.
I wanted to please/impress/delight everyone around me, so I
pushed myself to be “that guy” All. The. Time.
It was exhausting.
I came from a family life that always put forward the best,
happiest filter. So it just didn’t occur to me that we could be anything but
And as an adult, I’ve finally
realized I don’t like big parties
(I’d rather have a conversation around a dinner table with eight friends, max)
and I don’t like hosting (I’m
terrified no one will show up) and I don’t like
going out all that much (I’d rather hang in my sweats.)
Maybe I’m just getting old?
But what’d I do that evening with my kids and their cousins? Forced socializing.
When my older kid wanted to go inside, I cajoled her into
joining the rest of us outside kicking balls and playing chase in the summer
And I got pissed when she didn’t want to join in.
Granted, she was whining for me, “Daddy! I want you to come
inside and play with me!”
Perhaps I was a teensy bit justified. “No, Sweetie. I’m
playing outside with family and it’s a gorgeous summer evening. I’m not coming
I didn’t make her feel bad, but I didn’t make her feel good.
It’s just that, “NO! On a gorgeous July evening, I’m not going to indulge the
sudden impulse to play with those damn LOL dolls!”
(And mind you this wasn’t with random people that might
induce shyness…but actual family whom they know and love.)
A good friend of mine inadvertently has given me permission
to pump the brakes on forced socializing. Once I invited his family over for a
playdate leading to pizza on a Friday evening and he said, “You know what?
Fridays our kids usually just melt down and it ends in tears. We’re more likely
gonna play it mellow at home.”
(He also pointed out to me that he loathes our school’s
“publishing parties” all the adults are crammed in a room frantically
pretending to enjoy the classroom party, when in reality it’s just a sweaty fest
of parents judging other kids. I’ve given myself permission to loathe these
parties, too…or at least to lower my expectations and not force myself into
enjoying them, at the very least.)
So anyway. Summer evenings spent indoors.
Am I being a hypocrite? Am I making my kid feel bad for not
jumping into horseplay with her older cousins?
Gavin! Remember: you weren’t that, either. Playing sports was not my idea of an idyllic summer evening. (Kick-the-can with neighbor kids was the ideal.)
Forty-five minutes later, she came out of her shell and was
intrigued by the baseball game we’d all struck up.
She picked up a bat of her own volition, after I’d long
since chilled the hell out.
And she was GOOD! A little slugger.
It just takes her a little time, perhaps.
My take-home from the night? Try try TRY not to pressure your precious child into being instant participants. Let them observe. Let them suss it out. Let them play inside a little bit. Who cares if everyone’s outside? They can do their own thing and make their own decisions about socializing.
But don’t force the comradery to keep up appearances that your
kid is – what? Well-adjusted? Smart? Sociable?
How about let them be their own form of well-adjusted?
Don’t force the socializing or the happiness, because that
just takes the enjoyment out of it.