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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.

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

A conversation I had with myself while waiting in January sub-freezing temperatures for two hours to spend about five minutes in an art exhibit so I could feel cultural and be able to Insta-brag. I had some real epiphanies about parenting and art…mainly: Art changes everyday life.

And even when it’s fleeting and temporary, that’s OK.

Thus: my misery in collective, cultural experience:

9:40? not bad. I’m probably about the 100th in line. But did any of these surrounding tourists drop off kids at school, this morning?

Surely that chalked sign on the sidewalk can’t be accurate: “90 minute wait from this point.” Yeah, right. It can’t seriously take that long to see this artist. Wait, what is this exhibit, again?

I dunno. I just saw it on Instagram and read about it in the Times, a few months ago. So…I’m here because the Times and some people on IG told you to come?

More or less.

So we are posers. Just wanting to see things cuz other people are doing it?

I guess. Isn’t everybody?

Especially in New York.

Seriously – except for the 1% of artistic elite (and who are those people, anyway?) aren’t we all just seeing stuff cuz other people tell us to?

Do you think we’ll get in and think it’s stupid?

I mean, duh. It’s some woman’s paintings of polkadots.

Seriously – like, our six year-old could almost do the exact same thing.

Right.

How much time has passed?

Three and a half minutes.

Jesus H. I’m freezing. Thank goodness for this coffee to warm my hands.

For now.

Seriously.

<20 seconds of silence passes in the freezing cold>

Two hours in the bitter cold just to say we did it? Is this worth it? This is when New York sucks. There’s just too much demand.

I know. The crowds screw it up for everyone.

But we still play the game. You just do these things to say “I was there”?

Uh-huh.

The Gates?

Right.

That play you had to see in three parts and some people saw it all in one day.

Right. I missed that. Coast of Utopia?

Something like that.

Hamilton.

At the Public.

Right. Pre-Broadway. I’ll always brag about that.

That photographic exhibition on the old White Star Lines pier ten years ago?

Right. With the over-sized sepia photography of elephants and kids underwater.

Oh, yeah. That was…random. But it felt cool to have seen it.

And brag that you were there.

Right.

But now? We’re standing in line for 2 hours…

Please don’t let it be that long. Surely that’s an exaggeration.

And we will be in the gallery room for a couple minutes, at the most.

Wait, what?

Yeah, they don’t let you linger more than 30 seconds in the three rooms. There’s just too much demand.

Ohmigod, this is bullshit.

Thank god the kids aren’t here.

Seriously. And then in those 30 seconds, we’re just gonna have our phones out Insta-bragging about the experience. Shouldn’t we put phones away and be in the moment?

Are you fucking kidding? Then there’s no proof we were there. If it doesn’t happen on Instagram….

I know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?

Hell, no.

I kinda think you shouldn’t photograph churches or sunsets. Photos never do it justice.

Um, 1986 called. It wants its photographic pretension back. Are you kidding me? This is why we’re here! Pretension! Shouldn’t we be too good for Instagram?

I suppose. This kinda thing drives me crazy, though. Reminds me of my mom. She drug me around to museums and always took 6 hours to read every panel about harbor seal genus or random Dutch painters who weren’t even in the same epoch as Von Gogh. It was awful. I hated museums.

But you remember going, right?

I guess.

And were you the most worldly 4th grader having schlepped through the Air and Space Museum for six hours?

Um, maybe? Was it worth it? Wouldn’t I still have been smart’ish without suffering through four hours in an art museum that no 10-year-old could care about?

Who could say?

What if I had my kids, here? They’d just whine and say they wanna go and I’d just be herding cats and telling them, “don’t touch that. Don’t touch that. Stop running. Don’t touch anything. Calm the fuck down.”

Right.

So what would be the point?

(Hint: Art changes everyday life. Is that enough?)

They’d remember it like you remember suffering through the Air and Space Museum.

Is that why we do this? We bring on the sadist and the masochistic cultural suffering to brag we were there and hope our kids will have a faint memory of having done it…just so we all get social ladder points for saying, “I was there.”

Maybe.

Couldn’t we just see it in a book? Instead of waiting for 2 hours in 27 degree weather? How long’s it been? An hour?

Fourteen minutes.

I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.

Luckily it’s not snowing.

Yet.

So then we will get inside and just video the entire thing and our pictures of ourselves will be in mirrors with our own reflections. How’s that an artistic experience?

I’m not sure.

Shouldn’t it be a pure artistic experience? Something zen-like?

Like through the eyes of kids?

Right. Un-besmirched by technology.

Sure. It’s the 21st century. But, I dunno. You’ll have recorded it.

Will I ever watch the video again? Sure as shit no one else wants to watch it.

What’s a “pure” artistic experience, anyway? Who can quantify that?

Does it matter?

I suppose just being silent with the art.

Sure. Silence is golden. But we’re limited to 30 seconds in this exhibit. It’s not like you can commune with any of this polk-a-dot nonsense.

Right.

How do you ever achieve zen –like appreciation of anything? A sunset, a church, a piece of art?

I dunno. Just…try to enjoy it.

Huh.

…..

Has it been an hour, yet?

Twenty three minutes.

Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.

It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.

That’s it?

I mean, shit. It’s just polk-a-dots. Are you supposed to get greater meaning out of life from polk-a-dots?

And tiny, repetitive eyeballs painted by a funky 90 year-old woman.

Right. That. Is that really art?

Well, it’s silly. And whimsical. And that’s fun, isn’t it? In the age of…

Right. Trump.

See? Don’t we need more colorful eyeballs and polkadots to take us out of our every day?

I guess that could be enough.

Sometimes it just needs to be. Smile at the polkadots, even with your phone in your hand. Enjoy it.

Yeah, I suppose even Van Gogh would say that.

Eh, probably not. He’d have already become pretentious and over-analytical.

But for the rest of us…just…enjoy it.

I’ll try. Makes sense.

……

How long, now?

Thirty-one minutes.

Why am I sweating so badly in my pits? Always in the cold, if I just stand here, my pits are over-active. Are they confused?

I can’t answer that for you.

….

So this’ll be worth it?

Sure it will. You’ll remember the suffering, you’ll remember the polkadots, and you’ll remember how you smiled through it.

Art changes everyday life

That should be enough.

It has to be.

And we can brag “we were there.”

Exactly.

And that’s the point of art?

Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?

Fair point.

…….

How much time, now?

Forty-one minutes.

The mesmerizing art of Yayoi Kusama - the endless repetition of mirrors and balls and polkadots.
Okay – it was mesmerizing. And now – looking back on these pix, I’m glad I took them. Because art changes everyday life.
I'm a bit perplexed, but also fascinated.
It’s silly. It’s whimsical. It’s wonderful.
Kusama's tiny room of endless reflection and color.
I mean – yeah. This is cray-cray. And I love it.
The E.C.Knox "Windsor" posing...unknowingly.
*Shameless product placement. @E.C.Knox (insert winking emoji, here). The staff was NOT happy about this.