Childhood in 2020 is very different from the 80’s and 90’s, and that’s all for the good. Safety and health are tantamount to parenting, as opposed to convenience and convenience back when we got to ride without seat belts munching a lunch of fruit roll-ups.
But we know things are better with shoulder restraints, air bags, educational television and a modicum of vegetables.
Nonetheless, I know my kids’ childhood in 2020 will be less fun than my own. In addition to my quick list of archaic pleasures, what will your kids miss out on?
Processed foods. I ate Mac’n Cheese, Kool-Aid, Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tarts and Fritos. And there was no about their nutritional value. But my kids will only have those on special occasions. (Like at the frequency of Haley’s Comet visits.) Now we worry about red dye, HFCS, and chemical additives that render food addictive. And we obsess over our kids eating vegetables. Actually, red dye confounds me. But I totally obsess over the veggies. In my childhood, canned creamed corn counted as a vegetable. And I will never serve that to my kids as a vegetable. Unless we’re camping. Actually, they can eat all those foods can be eaten when camping. All bets are off camping. But every day? Sorry guys. You’ll never have it as good as I did.
Seat belts. My dad drove a Volvo in the early 80’s. There was a black grip bar that inexplicably (to me) jutted out from the dashboard. When riding in that car, I’d hold onto the black handle to get myself as close to the front windshield as possible. Occasionally Dad would ask, “Gavin, please sit back and put on your seatbelt.” “No,” I’d respond. “Well, then,” he’d compromise, “at least lock your door.” Yeah, kids. That’s never going to happen, again.
And speaking of driving: the front seat by age three? Not gonna happen. Sorry. Please proceed to the back of the car with less of a view.
Saturday morning cartoons. My parents didn’t monitor me. I watched hours of cartoons until at least 11 AM. If I woke up early enough, I could catch the full 90 minutes of The Smurfs from 6:30 to 8. I didn’t have to worry about “what else was on” because I didn’t have a remote control. Few choices meant fewer worries. Now, let’s face it: with Netflix and YouTube, cartoons are less special and the sheer volume of videos at fingertips means less enjoyment and more worry what they’re missing. Instead, they schizophrenically tap between videos without indulging in the pleasure of calm watching. I lived for Saturday mornings. Kids, you’ll never know such bliss. I won’t allow it. Oh, and half hour of screen time. Tops. Except when daddy needs a break. So…whatever I say. And go read a book.
Classroom holiday parties with tons of sugar and nuts. Parents didn’t avoid the sweets and no one had allergies. Sorry, guys. With carrot muffins masquerading as “treats”, you’ll never have it as good as I did. Sorry. I have to play by the rules, now, too.
Russia was the bad guy. The world was black and white. Sure, I lay awake thinking about nuclear holocaust. But now? Yikes. Hurricanes, terrorists, cyclone bombs, CV-19, and Russia? Life seems more and more like an episode of 24 every twenty-four hours. I’ll do my darnedest to protect you. And I hope you don’t lie awake at night worrying. I’ll do the worrying for you.
Passing notes. I mean, I haven’t been in a junior high class in a long time. But passing notes, and the challenge of hiding it from the teachers? We lived for that. Plus, “do you like me? Mark the boxes ‘yes’ or ‘no’” is so much more titillating than sexting. Please, please don’t send naked pictures of yourself. Just draw them on paper and pass them in class. I’ll talk to the teacher if you get caught.
We didn’t have to be so friggin’ good. You have to volunteer for half a dozen philanthropies to qualify for junior high entrance, not , let alone college admissions. In my day, only serious over-achievers (with over-involved parents) did anything We watched Saturday morning cartoons and ate Frosted Flakes. You have it way worse, kids. I expect you to be volunteering for blood drives and writing non-profit grants by second grade. You’ll learn empathy, damn it.
What has my fatigue-fog made me forget? I want to know what your kids will miss out on in their childhood in 2020!
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.
My second born son, Colton, gives me tremendous experience in dealing with whiny kids. He is a magnificent study in extremes. He is adorable. He could charm the wallpaper off the walls. His seductive grin makes mincemeat of the hardest of child-hating hearts.
And at the opposite extreme, what I call: #tearlesscrying.
Not tantrums. It’s worse. He whines incessantly.
Seriously, y’all. It’s soul-sucking. Dealing with whiny kids is, well…parenting. I know. But this is another level.
Believe me, Colton does not lack for coddling. Remember the whole ‘He’s so cute” bit? He’ll snuggle for hours. (Well, 15 minutes). It’s heaven to hold him in my lap after a nap. (Though his nap mainly consisted of 30 minutes of silence and 20 minutes of what? You guessed it: #tearlesscrying.)
I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.
Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:
“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”
And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”
We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.
After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”
This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.
As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a
united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure
with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And
Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.
Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good
tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’
sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off
from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people
once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.
That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.
I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.
No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping
the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?)
insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups
lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he
would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.
The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.
Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.
Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)
Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”
Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.
It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.
Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)
I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.
For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”
“And what do we do besides get presents?”
So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.
Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.