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The Reason for Presidents Day

The Reason for Presidents Day

All of you 17 readers of this blog know that I highly prioritize understanding the “reason for the season“. That’s not a Christmas allusion, although Christmas is definitely one of those seasons for which I insist on forcing the kids into seasonal Biblicality, much to their dismay.

But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.

As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”

Though I never saw it, I’m pretty sure Newsies is an admirably socialist story (cue McCarthyism)- especially for Disney – in which newspaper boys at the turn of the 20th century go on strike; presumably to dance with higher kicks on the streets of New York, given my quick glance at the video below.

So anyway.

My kid say, “The newspaper sellers were struck.”

“Close enough,” I thought.

That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.

Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”

So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”

This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.

Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)

Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”

I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”

“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.

“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.

At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.

President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:

  1. Codified a 3-day holiday weekend for American workers.
  2. Spread these Monday holidays throughout the year to lower worker absenteeism.
  3. Conveniently provided a sure-fire way to increase in retail sales (so rich business types would be down for it, too.
  4. Included a provision to officially celebrate another February Presidential birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s, alongside Washington’s.

But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?

We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.

Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)

I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.

Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.

But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.

Which was, objectively, a good thing.

At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.

Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?

Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.

No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.

That Damn Elf on the Shelf – (or: Our Transgender Shelf Elf)

That Damn Elf on the Shelf – (or: Our Transgender Shelf Elf)

That damn Elf on the Shelf. Just recently we gave in and followed the crowd.

My kindergartener came home with a friend for a playdate. Within minutes, the friend asked, “Where’s your elf?” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d asked, “Where’s the shitter?”)

And my kid responded, “We don’t have an elf,” (as matter-of-factly as if he’d said, “we eat cauliflower on Thursdays.”)

Up to that moment, avoiding the damn elf on the shelf nonsense had been a point of pride. Friends were in awe at us having avoided the charade. I thanked my lucky stars as I occasionally scrolled social media documentation of elf creativity I never want to emulate.

But when my kid showed no sense of betrayal or disappointment, I felt all the more guilty that I’d deprived, neglected, abused, manipulated, and robbed his childhood of the true meaning of capitalist Christmas: the damn elf on the shelf.

I pledged then and there I would join the crowd. No longer would my kid need to accept being short-changed by Christmas (corporate) magic.

The next day, I zipped right over to Barnes & Noble. (When was the last time you made that statement. Poor big box under-dog.) It was already December 19th, so elves were in short supply.

I’m sure all of you know that elves come in different genders, skin tone and eye colors. (That was news to me.)

This day all they had were blue-eyed boys. How…ironic? Typical? Dated? Pathetic? Socially irrelevant?

I grabbed a stupid WASPy elf.

And then I noticed the accouterments shelves. AYFKM? There are wardrobes and accessories for these dumb-ass symbols of capitalist excess?

And then I was inspired! I’d get a “girl” set to make our elf at least interesting.

I s’pose I should give you some context for this need to make our elf “interesting”.

I was in the Broadway show, Head Over Heels. Quick explanation of the show: “punk Shakespeare set to the music of the Go-Go’s and smashing the patriarchy.” The plot smashed the hetero-normative paradigm with gender-bending and gay love aplenty. And one of the stars of the show was Peppermint, made famous by her turn on RuPaul’s Drag Race as the first openly transgender contestant. In the show, she played a non-binary character.

Further, my older child is gender-fluid. Our current line in the family is that she has a “boy” body and a “girl” brain. She latched onto this line, herself, after reading I am Jazz, a wonderful picture book about a transgender girl.

So my point is, my 2nd grader and kindergartener are totes woke. They grasp nuances of gender identity and a non-binary world better than 90% of adults.

Back to the damn elf on the shelf.

The next day, walking home from school, I told them to expect a surprise.

We walked into our apartment, and on a shelf right inside our front door is our elf on the shelf.

I am not exaggerating when I say their heads almost exploded.

Even if just for that magical moment, I’m so glad I joined the insanity that is the damn elf on the shelf shenanigans.

Right away, my older kid (while jumping uncontrollably) asked, “What are we gonna name him?”

Younger kid enthusiastically agreed and they started running through names.

Rudolph? Santa’s Helper? Jeff? Red Tiger?

They assumed elfie was a he, despite my shelling out for the dumb-ass $20 felt skirt and scarf…accessories I could’ve sewn, myself. And I can’t sew.

So I pointed out, “Well look, kiddos – the elf seems to have short hair.”

“Yeah?”

“But is also wearing a skirt.”

“Oh.”

“I mean – it sort of looks like a boy and is wearing a skirt? Or maybe it’s a girl with short hair?”

The kids pondered and stared for a second.

And then my younger kid – the five year-old who tolerates the insanity of his dads and drama of his gender-fluid older sister – shouts:

“Maybe it’s trans-ginger!”

Yes. Trans-ginger.

The kid said trans-ginger.

Then, my non-binary badass shouts, “It’s name is Trans Ginger Jingle! But just “Ginger” for short.”

With that, I became a disciple of that damn elf on the shelf.

Discussing Race with My Toddler: 3 1/2 Baby Steps

Discussing Race with My Toddler: 3 1/2 Baby Steps

On this Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and after a conversation I had with some narrow minds over the holidays, I’m venturing into discussing race with my toddler. I’ll make it as digestible and relatable with 3 short lessons.

Or make that 3 1/2.

  1. Have empathy for people who feel down-trodden
  2. Don’t condemn an entire population for the actions of a few.
  3. Racial issues are more about socio-economics than skin color.
    1. Except it IS about skin color, so realize that and fix it.

So here’s a 3-part conversation (that I *might* have imagined) with my 3yo:

Part 1: Empathy for those feeling harassed and down-trodden

Son, if I were a perfect (or just better) daddy, I’d address all your tears with “I understand you’re frustrated that your brother stole your train. But you can’t body-slam him to the floor.” I admit I often roll my eyes and give YOU time-outs for your “brutality”.

But he took my train!

That’s right buddy. He was the aggressor. Doesn’t it make you mad that I gave YOU the time out? But, wait.

Can I have a cheese stick?

Okay, here. So back to this: you know how I’m always telling you to take your shoes off, and wash your hands? I tell friends you’re a demanding emperor. But really I’m the tyrant barking orders at you all day long. And sometimes you say, “No, Daddy! You’re not going to tell me to share my trains!”

Daddy! Sometimes I don’t want to share.

I get that, buddy. (Speed this up, pops. Make discussing race with my toddler a meaningful experience…) And when you tell me not to watch you as you’re hiding behind the couch to intentionally poop your pants, isn’t that frustrating? Doesn’t it make you angry to have anyone look at you suspiciously? Like you’ve done something wrong? (Pooping isn’t wrong, son.)

See? It’s frustrating to feel constantly harassed or have your stuff taken. And imagine having people stare at you suspiciously all day long. That would be sad.

You’re allowed to be frustrated. You deserve to speak out.

When you see people of all skin colors protesting in the streets, it’s because they’re frustrated that someone took their things or looks at them suspiciously or treats them unfairly.

I hope you might ask why they’re marching. Their feelings are important. Just like yours are.

(You still can’t tackle your brother or avoid washing your hands. In New York you wash your hands before going to the bathroom.)

Part 2: Don’t stigmatize an entire population

Son, sometimes you say “I don’t like kids at school!” And why is that?

That’s why(*) that boy pushes me and always takes Percy**.

But that’s just the actions of one little boy. It’s not the actions of everyone. See? You can’t blame everyone for the actions of one. Like, buddy, when you say ‘I don’t like green food’ but it’s really that you don’t like peas, right?

No! I don’t want peas for lunch!

Right. But you can’t stigmatize*** an entire group because of one thing. It goes for vegetables and people. Do you understand?

Yes.

What do you think?

Um. I don’t know.

Okay. Well, we will not lump things together in this house. You don’t say ‘those people’, you don’t say, ‘I don’t like greens’ and you don’t…

Daddy? Can I watch Frozen?

Part 3. Don’t condemn an entire population for the actions of a few.

Son, racial issues are very often socioeconomic issues.

What’s soss-eponomis?

I’m glad you asked. (High five, pop. Discussing race with my toddler has already expanded into the socioeconomic factors and he is INTO it.) Poor people are often driven to make some bad choices to survive in our country. But they aren’t making bad decisions because of their skin color, rather it’s because they want to have what you have: food, warmth, a few toys. It’s not because of skin color, it’s because of money. You understand?

Uh-huh.

But because of the actions of a few desperate people, an entire population is found guilty. And that’s wrong.

Daddy? Can we play trains, now?

(You’re losing him! You’re losing him, pops!) One second, buddy. I’m on a roll. Here’s part 3 ½: The system is stacked against poor people. Some kids don’t do well in school, but it’s not because of their skin color. It’s because of a whole host of reasons: they have underfunded schools, they didn’t eat breakfast, no one read to them like I read to you.

Daddy? Can you stop talking? Pleeease?

Buddy, I just need to finish this one point: I said it’s not about skin color and yet it IS about skin color, because in our country many people are afraid, so very, very afraid of anything that’s “other”. And that “other” is a different skin color. And because of their fear, they hate.

Daddy? (He over-dramatically rolls his eyes with annoyance at me.)

And hate always comes from fear.

So anyway, buddy, some people hate people with different colors just because of their color. So they’re treated differently and not given privileges and not respected. And some kids drop out of school because they don’t have support at their house to strive for greater academic achievement, but that doesn’t have to do with their skin color.

He starts singing “Let it Go” and tuning me out.

Some parents can’t give successful tools to their kids, but that’s unrelated to their skin color. They never had those tools in the first place (because other people were afraid of them and hated them), and because they weren’t born into a lucky position with support and resources (and a different skin color), this vicious cycle of racism and socioeconomic disparity cycles through several generations. It started with fear of “otherness” and skin color and then it becomes about economics. But they’re people just like you and me.

He walks away from me. I pursue.

Buddy, you cannot make blank statements about groups of people and you cannot discount how people feel. But you can empathize and ask why and you can seek to understand the world through their eyes.

Daddy? Stop talking. You play with green trains. I don’t like them. They’re green. I want the purple trains.

And you can always talk with me and ask questions about these topics. Because discussing race with my toddler is something we should do. A lot.

Give me my train.

I’m glad we had this discussion.

* My son says “that’s why” in place of “because”. I hope he never changes.

**   Percy = Friend of Thomas.

*** You don’t know what stigmatize means? What are they TEACHING you at that preschool?