Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

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 with my mom, 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 1957 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 swore I’d never be the same.

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 fruit snacks and water bottles while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical re-enactments 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.

My kids gaping at mummies, then quickly bored. Culturing my kiddos is worse that pulling teeth.
My kids gaping at mummies…one second before they’re over it and 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 and didn’t demonstrate a modicum of moral rectitude.)

So I dragged them to see the Samurai armor since we’d recently read “Night of the Ninjas” of the Magic Tree House series.

(BTW: zzzzz.)

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? 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!

My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone as I'm trying desperately at culturing my kiddos.
My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone.

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 enlightened, 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.

The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

Though I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas’”, I’m definitely one who wants my children to know the reason behind every season, or in most cases…holiday.

This applies most especially to holidays as “abstract” as Veteran’s Day. Yesterday my older kid jumped with joy as she celebrated having THREE DAYS OF MORNING TELEVISION this weekend. Uncharacteristically, I held my tongue so as not to deflate her joy. I’ll save the posturing about Veteran’s Day for the actual day.

I’m feeling particularly attached to Veteran’s Day, this year, because of the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. I’ve always been masochistically fascinated by WWI. It never fails to send a sobering chill down my spine to reflect on the first war in which men were able to massacre acres of men without catching sight of each other. The wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and trench warfare that wasted a generation all because of agreements between insecure, rich white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the universe.

Talk about toxic masculinity.

WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, caucasian paradigm, of course) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.

A pall of sadness always lingers over WWI media (books, poems, movies, stories.) And so much changed for men in that time – so many poets and authors emerged from the battles in France scarred for life…with new-found expressionism. Seems to me, WWI created a generation of self-reflection, as opposed to WWII which created the emotionally stoic “Greatest Generation”. It wasn’t just a triumph of good vs evil, allies vs. axis. it was the destruction of humanity.

Yesterday, in France, French President Emmanuel Macron declared at the ceremony marking the end of WWI, “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Because nationalism (setting national gain over international citizenship) is what caused WWI and could easily cause another unthinkable world conflagration. This is what most scares me about Trump and what most scares me about my kids’ generation not having a grasp of history. I pray neither of my children ever has to endure a generational war (although let’s not forget that American forces are waging battles around the world, today).

So we have to teach our children the significance of world citizenship, collective good and personal sacrifice so that insecure, rich men don’t repeat history and take us down the path of self-destruction, again.

I don’t exactly know how to talk with my kids about such disturbing issues as massive loss of life in the name of freedom (and on behalf of European royals and leaders). But I’ll lecture my kids, tomorrow, and will embrace the eye rolls in the interest of world citizenship and patriotism. I’ll recite “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, even though it’ll mean nothing to my kids.

For now.

And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them.

Santa With a Side of Jesus

Santa With a Side of Jesus

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:

“Why do we celebrate Christmas?”

“To get presents!”

“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.”

Anyway.

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.

Anyway.

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?”

Give 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.