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.”
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:
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.
“Take my shirt off! Take my shirt off!” my 3yo shouted with pure childhood bliss. She wanted to be like the older kids running across the grass as shirtless savages of summer. Normally, she does not let it all hang out.
So I took off the shirt, cursing myself for having left the sunscreen at home. It was already 4:30. Post-PTH, hopefully. (*peak tanning hours.)
I knew one of the boy’s parents and we’d met at the park for happy hour summer picnic. I needed adult contact since my one-year-old was near peak of his incessant whininess.
Upon arrival, the parents offered me a beer. I nearly downed it in one sip.
Seconds later, I noticed my 3yo and the older kiddos were missing. I said as much.
“Oh, they’re over behind that brick wall playing in the fountain,” the mom said as she handed me a second beer. “They’re fine. Don’t worry.”
I’m sorry. What part of that statement should not have made me panic? Our kids were out of sight, in New York City, playing in a fountain hidden by a stone wall.
I was fairly certain the 5-year-olds weren’t trained lifeguards.
I tried looking calm with a frozen smile. I took a sip, stood up, carried the whiny 1yo (who whined with the movement), and left to investigate.
At the stone wall I saw that the fountain was “only” a 12-inch-wide ring of water surrounding a 10-foot sculpture by Tom Otterness. The water flowed in a circle around the sculpture. True: I needn’t worry. Too much.
My 3yo joined the boys dropping items (trash, really…broken balloons, styrofoam) in the “upstream” part of the fountain, then chased it around the 10-foot circle. They were definitely in pure childhood bliss.
As I approached, my kiddo reached into the water, jumped up with hand clenched and squealed, “I got one!”
“What’d you get, buddy?”
“Yeah!” she beamed. It was new for her to play so imaginatively.
She was so happy. I was so happy to watch it.
The entire situation reminded me of studying “A Perfect Day for Bananafish“, J.D. Salinger’s short story, in my high school English class. It’s a moment of innocence in which an unstable Army Veteran is reminded of “pure childhood bliss” as he unexpectedly plays with a child in the ocean who swears she sees “bananafish” underwater.
But I digress.
Some kids around nine or ten years old had entered the scene at the fountain. They sat on benches nearby. They held skateboards and sported baseball caps over shaggy hair.
The 5-year-olds playing in the fountain stuck started taunting the skater boys and sang “nanny, nanny- boo, boo.” The skater boys didn’t take the bait. They minded their own business and joshed around like 10-year-old boys. They occasionally laughed or pointed at the little kids. It was innocent, but it also looked like gangs forming.
My 3yo still jumped and splashed, squealed and laughed. She kept grabbing items (trash) at the “top” of the stream and watched it float with the current. He dipped his bloated diaper in the water. She looked at me and enthusiastically screamed, “Daddy!”
It was a juxtaposition of innocence (and innocents): my kid and the two rival gangs (the 5yo’s and the 10 yo’s). I whipped my phone out to video the pure childhood bliss. She hadn’t a care in the world, least of all the chiding of other kids. Not a speck of self-consciousness informed her actions…no insecurities about clothes, having two daddies, vocabulary, nothing.
She just played.
How can she know the joy that brought me or how precious that time was for her? The only thing existing for her was imagination and water and pure childhood bliss (and trash).
If I could endow my kids with only one gift, just one, I’d make them impervious to judgment. I know that’s impossible. But couldn’t she always play in her own world with the water and ignore the others?
Kiddo: don’t modify your behavior or preferences or speech. Just play. Just be. Just maintain that pure childhood bliss for as long as possible.
I hope I’m able to show that video to her one day (assuming I don’t drop my phone in the kids’ bathtub a third time) and help her reconnect with a paradigm free of self-consciousness.
May there be many, many, many more moments of pure childhood bliss.
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?”
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.
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 know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?
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?
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?
(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.”
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?
I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.
Luckily it’s not snowing.
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.
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.
Has it been an hour, yet?
Twenty three minutes.
Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.
It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.
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…
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?
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.”
And that’s the point of art?
Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?