Last night, my partner’s brother came over with his sons (ages 16 and 13). They’re great doting cousins.
My kids were excited for their arrival, but when they walked into the house, my older kid promptly veered into “shy kid” land, wanting to “play indoors” and not interact.
One family rule we don’t negotiate is “you must say hello to
friends and family. You don’t have to talk more than that, but you must say
And holy cow my older one took that to heart – she said
“hello” then disappeared.
But that’s fine.
I tell myself over and over that I don’t want to push my kids
to become slaves to social obligations. I have this revulsion because so much
of my upbringing was spent pleasing people around me.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m social and out-going. I love groups
of friends and comradery and fellowship.
However, my entire youth was spent feeling the desperate
need to be the life of the party and center of the action. My FOMO trampled any
self-awareness that could “just being chill and quiet”.
I wanted to please/impress/delight everyone around me, so I
pushed myself to be “that guy” All. The. Time.
It was exhausting.
I came from a family life that always put forward the best,
happiest filter. So it just didn’t occur to me that we could be anything but
And as an adult, I’ve finally
realized I don’t like big parties
(I’d rather have a conversation around a dinner table with eight friends, max)
and I don’t like hosting (I’m
terrified no one will show up) and I don’t like
going out all that much (I’d rather hang in my sweats.)
Maybe I’m just getting old?
But what’d I do that evening with my kids and their cousins? Forced socializing.
When my older kid wanted to go inside, I cajoled her into
joining the rest of us outside kicking balls and playing chase in the summer
And I got pissed when she didn’t want to join in.
Granted, she was whining for me, “Daddy! I want you to come
inside and play with me!”
Perhaps I was a teensy bit justified. “No, Sweetie. I’m
playing outside with family and it’s a gorgeous summer evening. I’m not coming
I didn’t make her feel bad, but I didn’t make her feel good.
It’s just that, “NO! On a gorgeous July evening, I’m not going to indulge the
sudden impulse to play with those damn LOL dolls!”
(And mind you this wasn’t with random people that might
induce shyness…but actual family whom they know and love.)
A good friend of mine inadvertently has given me permission
to pump the brakes on forced socializing. Once I invited his family over for a
playdate leading to pizza on a Friday evening and he said, “You know what?
Fridays our kids usually just melt down and it ends in tears. We’re more likely
gonna play it mellow at home.”
(He also pointed out to me that he loathes our school’s
“publishing parties” all the adults are crammed in a room frantically
pretending to enjoy the classroom party, when in reality it’s just a sweaty fest
of parents judging other kids. I’ve given myself permission to loathe these
parties, too…or at least to lower my expectations and not force myself into
enjoying them, at the very least.)
So anyway. Summer evenings spent indoors.
Am I being a hypocrite? Am I making my kid feel bad for not
jumping into horseplay with her older cousins?
Gavin! Remember: you weren’t that, either. Playing sports was not my idea of an idyllic summer evening. (Kick-the-can with neighbor kids was the ideal.)
Forty-five minutes later, she came out of her shell and was
intrigued by the baseball game we’d all struck up.
She picked up a bat of her own volition, after I’d long
since chilled the hell out.
And she was GOOD! A little slugger.
It just takes her a little time, perhaps.
My take-home from the night? Try try TRY not to pressure your precious child into being instant participants. Let them observe. Let them suss it out. Let them play inside a little bit. Who cares if everyone’s outside? They can do their own thing and make their own decisions about socializing.
But don’t force the comradery to keep up appearances that your
kid is – what? Well-adjusted? Smart? Sociable?
How about let them be their own form of well-adjusted?
Don’t force the socializing or the happiness, because that
just takes the enjoyment out of it.
Driving up the Merritt Parkway and listening to Disney Pandora with my kids a few weeks ago, I found myself jamming to “When Will My Life Begin?” from Tangled. I’m definitely out of the closet and love pop music.
I canNOT resist that song.
I know. I’m a grown man bopping my head to princess music. But trust me: it is so catchy. I felt silly, I admit. I’m a musician and enjoy all types of music. But the pint-sized dictators in my life demanding “ABC’s” or “Princesses” when we drive make a lot of the tuneful decisions when driving. And I’ve become an unknowing participant.
What has my life come to? I actually like Pandora’s “Kid’s Pop” station.
But don’t we all secretly like Katy Perry? Just a little bit? I mean, when she was on that awkward firework-spewing contraption a few years ago at the Super Bowl, didn’t we all feel a little thrill?
Well, I did.
I’ve always had a penchant for catchy pop music, within reason. Pop radio stations are awful for more than 15 minutes. Everything’s interchangeable. Too much is even too superficial for me.
But somehow, the male musicians’ music isn’t embarrassing. And what’s up with that? It’s all cheesy pop, isn’t it? I suppose we can dissect why pop music by women is emasculating while pop music by men is still “pretty cool”. But that’s for another time.
It’s funny (cuz it’s true). And I couldn’t help but dissect his joke (cuz I’m me…and defensive).
I’d say little girls and gays like music that’s catchy, up-beat, and up-lifting. Maybe Bill Maher needs to come out of the closet and love pop music.
Isn’t it amazing that music and dance are both art forms shared by every culture around the world? Kids and adults around the world love to dance. At least the world outside of the US. In large part, we Americans are afriad of looking stupid or unsexy. People might jam a little at a wedding, but we are nothing like the rest of the world that loves to crowd a dance floor. We Americans are too caught up in looking, well…in control and poised and cool and, frankly…masculine. Especially men…like Bill Maher.
But aren’t kids universally entertained by sunshiney music that inspires them to wiggle? And then what happens? We reach adolescence and rebel. Sunshiney music is no longer socially acceptable. And that’s fine. “Mature” music lends itself to emotional introspection and artistic expression.
But what’s wrong with still appreciating “little girl/gay” music?
Our cult of cool trumps pleasure.
It seems to me Bill Maher and his fellow sticks-in-the-mud squelch their inner child by criticizing “little girl/gay” music. They repress their inner child who enjoys fun music. And heaven forbid their Spotify list seem remotely “feminine” (read: gay.)
Bill Maher, do you really protest “Call Me Maybe” when it comes on at a wedding? You never smile (even internally) when you hear Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”?
Is it too gay for you? Rather than be seen to enjoy yourself (like a kid), you’d sit and sulk in the corner?
Well, dude, real men know how to enjoy some bubble gum pop, too.
I just need my kids to be kind…and smart…and work hard. Okay, I lied. In addition to those attributes, I need them to be moderately interesting conversationalists. And because we are having a crisis of endless pop music looping in our household, I need to craft a list of the best music from the 1970’s to make my kids interesting humans.
My older kid is currently obsessed with Britney Spears. Britney walks (and gyrates) on water for my 7yo and, while I’m unabashedly in love with bubble gum pop music, my 7yo now thinks that skimpy schoolgirl outfits and head-to-toe red pleather is the very definition of what performance, singing and dancing should encompass.
And I am not okay with this.
With all due respect to Britney, pop music is simple and
basic. There’s a reason I doubt “Hit Me Baby One More Time” will ever be in the
canon of “recommended music for kids.”
In the car the other day, I insisted on avoiding Ms. B. Spears and scrolled through YouTube to find some more kid-friendly music, which included “Supercalifragilistic…” and “Do-Re-Mi” and suddenly both my kids were delighted to sing these songs that are relatable for their hearts and minds.
But I need to sophisticate my kids beyond basic nursery rhymes, however marvelous Julie Andrews’ biggest hits may be.
In the canon of American music, our kids deserve to know more than JUST the GoNoodle songs, more than JUST nursery rhymes, and more than JUST classical music.
My children deserve to sing along with something less insufferable than Britney’s kewpie doll “yeah, yeah’s”. And even complex riffing doesn’t give you the musical basis to be able to sing precisely and on-pitch.
Hence: this list of the best music from the 1970’s to make kids interesting humans.
For now, this is the ECKnox “Best Music to Make Your Kids Moderately Interesting Humans: the 1970’s” compilation to make any person minimally interesting. (Oh, yes. I plan to expand these playlists.) But without these basics from the American (and occasional English) rock canon of the 1970’s, you’re just not interesting. #sorrynotsorry.
Feel free to add or amend. I fully expect you musical trolls to criticize. Remember: I limited this to 20 diverse songs from the 70’s that would/could/should appeal to young kids. These are the basics for the starting point of an interesting and cultured life for your kids (and you.)
Because we’re never too old for an alphabetical review.
4. Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
Because our job is to reassure our kids
5. Crocodile Rock, Elton John
Because the happiness of his melody gives us all the feels. (Forgive the link to the movie Rocketman instead of to actual Elton John – I just love the crafting of this scene demonstrating the elevating power of music.)
6. Think, Aretha Franklin
Cuz there ain’t no one better than Aretha (even when refurbished in the Blues Brothers scene.)
7. Go West, The Village People
Because fun is necessary in all our lives. (As is camp.)
8. Stayin’ Alive, The BeeGees
Because every kid needs to know how to strut to this sick beat. (Although Travolta does it better than the actual BeeGees in this video.)
9. Brown-Eyed Girl, Van Morrison
Because life is better with a good tune and a big ol’ smile.
10. We Will Rock You, Queen
Kids will love the beat, the drums, the simple words.
11. Imagine, John Lennon
Because it’s a must-know for a life of love and hope.
12. Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
Because what do kids understand more profoundly than not getting enough?
13. Copacabana, Barry Manilow
Because story-telling is an art, and songs with a through-line (even a murder), are more interesting. (Also, you’re welcome for this particular old video.)
14. Hotel California, The Eagles
Because sadness is an emotion we all need to embrace for our healthy emotional lives and the minor keys of this song take the listener on quite the journey.
15. Sedated, The Ramones
Because it’ll make you feel cooler than the other parents when your kids know these very simple lyrics.
16. Lean On Me, Bill Withers
Because music teaches your kids to be compassionate instead of assholes.
17. I Feel the Earth Move, Carole King
Because she’s the queen who made queens.
18. A Horse with No Name, America
Because the randomness of these lyrics delights young and old.
19. September, Earth Wind & Fire
20. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, any version – Marvin’s or Diana’s.
Because imagery builds comprehension and every version is doing your kids a favor, here.
And I’m grateful to say I’m not concerned about my weight. I’m genetically tall and lean-ish, socially programmed to be high-speed, and professionally burdened to worry about appearances (as an actor).
But I’m over forty and wonder, “Will I ever be able to lose this tire around my waist I’ve had since high school? If not now, when?”
So I took on a friend’s challenge of counting calories for a healthy summer. She reminded me when it comes down to it – losing weight is simple: eat fewer calories than you burn throughout the day.
And then you lose.
But I’m not really setting out to lose weight. I don’t feel like sacrificing summertime hamburgers and booze and desserts. So ultimately, I’m getting out of counting calories exactly what I hoped: much more awareness of what and how I eat.
This is mostly gonna be, “Yeah, well, duh, you idiot.” But still – putting it all into math is eye-opening.
What I’ve learned:
1. There’s three categories of calories – 70, 120, and too much.
An vegetables, salad (un-dressed), fruit and eggs are less than 100 calories. Keep it light and abide by Michael Pollan’s 7 Rules for Eating: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, and we’d all be golden (and always under 100 calories.)
But let’s be real.
So much of everything else is, like – 120-150 calories. A serving of chips or pretzels or even M&M’s is about 150 calories. A slice of bread is 110. A beer is 150, Coke is 140, a cocktail is even about 150. No harm done. And this salad I make multiple times/week loaded with kale, some cheese and toasted hazelnuts is about 120 calories. Nice, even playing field.
And then we get into “everything else”. Sausage? Lots of calories per serving. A single muffins? 300+. Cheeseburger? 550 calories. It’s shocking how much processed foods (and meat) suddenly catapult you over your daily caloric goal.
2. Eat less
Stick to the serving size. It’s not impossible to limit your input of Lay’s potato chips to 13 chips (160 cals). Is it too tedious to count them out? Not as tedious as trying to lose a decade’s worth of over-eating.
It’s eye-opening to know just how many chips are actually part of a healthy serving size. And that can be pretty guilt-free. So, yeah: count the Pretzel Crisps (17 at 165 cals) and Cheez-its (27 for 150 cals). Eat that amount, and then have another serving size, if you want. But teach yourself how it feels to eat a measured serving size. Talk about eye-opening.
And yo – a ½ cup of ice cream (150+) is a perfectly fine amount. We don’t need to gorge more than that.
3. Slow down
Normally, I grab a handful of peanut M&M’s and mindlessly gobble them. But when I count out a serving size (12 M&M’s, 140 calories) I realize that
that’s still about a handful and that should be enough to snack
how about savoring each tasty candy instead of devouring them like Cookie Monster? (and hence consuming way more than I actually need?)
4. Alcohol: damn you
It’s really interesting to measure my booze intake. I was actually surprised that booze of all kind (from Moscow Mules to Sauvignon Blanc to Sam Adams) measures fewer calories than I expected. Again: everything’s about 150 calories. Give or take. Let’s not get caught up in the nuances.
But what’s really fascinating (and obvious – I’m well aware) is how quickly one drink leads to three (especially on summer evenings) and how these utterly empty calories increase your daily intake without nutritional value. It’s less the fact of having a drink a more a factor of “holy cow, this builds FAST.”
5. Holy cow processed foods really are the death of us.
My eyes almost exploded after dinner, the other night. I made a pesto pasta (already high in calories, but it’s all good; this isn’t a bowl of ice cream) plus some grilled vegetables (negligible calories…60 for a cup of veggies) and then I added some delicious sweet Italian sausage. Holy SHIT, y’all! We all know sausage is actually awful for us, right? But when you’ve been calculating everything in servings of 150 calories and suddenly sweet sausage doubles the calories? Damn. That’s too much.
6. I want to binge while binging.
What I really want to eat? Ice cream (140+ for 1/2 cup), peanut M&M’s (140 every 12), or my favorite treat: a couple tablespoons of peanut butter mixed with honey and raisins (280 calories for like less than a 1/4 cup) , I want to eat basically after 10pm. We all know it’s not great to gorge yourself just before bed, but worst of all is eating a bunch of these high-caloric, processed foods at the end of the night. They throw you WAY over your goal. It’s not hard to stick to 2,000 calories a day…but when you really want to binge 1,000 calories while binging Killing Eve, you learn rrrrrrreal fast just how you can screw up your daily allotment.
7. Exercise earns treats.
With the calorie-counting apps, you’re able to input exercise. That earns you more calories to use on drinking beer and eating chips. And it’s interesting to gauge how many bonus calories are earned through exercise. Just keeping in mind what you’re burning and what you’re consuming is eye-opening and educational. You can easily earn a serving size of chips or a beer with your lawn mowing. But keep it all in perspective.
30 min of running is ABOUT 380 calories;
30 min of lawn-mowing is ABOUT 180 calories
45 min of road-biking is ABOUT 450 calories
30 min of yoga is ABOUT 200 calories.
Anyway – I highly recommend re-calibrating your relationship and awareness of food with these calorie-counting apps. I use My Fitness Pal which was easy (and free! – meaning they collect information to later sell all my information to some pharmaceutical company that will out me for that Dunkin’ Donuts Boston Creme I happen to be eating at this very moment – 310 cals – and then sell me some other crap, down the line.) But there are plenty of others.
My goal while counting calories for a healthy summer (and I recommend your goal) needn’t be obsessing over weight or developing an eating disorder. Let’s take smaller steps.
I’m that guy who’s obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything. Often, they do. Other parents hate me for it. Mwahahahaha.
At home, we have plenty of dinner drama over the introduction of new foods. Plenty.
But we don’t negotiate. “Kids, here’s dinner. Take it or leave it.”
There are zero substitutions and we aren’t short-order line cooks.
When I was expecting my first kid, among the many things I stressed over was dinnertime and eating. A dear friend counseled, “I don’t do the drama. If they don’t want to eat, they’re fine skipping a meal. No middle-class child in the Western world is going to starve to death after missing a meal (or even dinner for five nights in a row.) They’ll be fine.
Moreover, as long as you don’t let them snack too much (more on that later), their hunger leads them to eat. It’s as simple as that.
“You’re not hungry? No problem. You can go play in your room.” No drama. End of discussion. (But you ain’t gettin’ anything else.)
And if they come back saying they’re hungry, well…their dinner is waiting for them, still.
Our dinner rules are focused on how to get my kids to eat everything and can be summarized as such:
Eat your meal, get dessert. (It doesn’t have to be a “clean plate” mentality. Eat 85% of every item on your plate, I’m fine with that.)
Still hungry? Remember that 15% of dinner? Have that. When that’s gone? Fruit.
Still hungry? If I’m in a good mood, you’ll get another little sweet treat. And after that? Carrots.Iff there’s something new on the plate, you must take at least three bites – one to taste, one to feel, one to decide. If you do that, you can still have dessert.
If you refuse to try a new food, or if you refuse to eat something, that’s no big deal. You won’t have dessert. But you’re welcome to sit at the table and keep talking with us.
If you’re just killing time, distracting the rest of us, or throwing a fit, please leave the table and go play in your room.
No drama, no raised voices, no negotiation. There are rules. They know them.
We don’t waver on these rules (too often). And they work (when we’re consistent.)
On there subject of the food ingested, we aren’t insane about electrolytes or organic everything. I mean, yes – we’d prefer everything to be locally-sourced and organic. I wish everything we ate were locally-sourced, organic, and sustainably delivered to my doorstep. We can’t afford that.
However, we know Michael Pollan’s philosophy “Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Vegetables” is at least the goal. And as he suggests, we do most of our shopping “around the perimeter of the grocery store, instead of in the processed aisles.”
And because I love my kids more than I love oxygen (and I’m obsessed with how to get my kids to eat everything), I commit to feeding them healthily and diversely. An open mind and pallet are cultivated through an open stomach so they’re hungry for adventure, experience, and flexibility.
(* – meaning they haven’t been snacking all damn day.)
Not every food needs to be LOVED. A frequent refrain in my house is, “Was it not your favorite? That’s okay. Was it the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?”
Plus – man cannot live on chocolate cake alone. There’s even a diminishing rate of return on chocolate cake. (It’s an economic law!) Even I can only eat a piece and then the rest of the cake just isn’t worth it. (Same goes for Oreos, which aren’t even my favorite…but I can house a box of those in twenty minutes.) But you gotta eat the veggies before you gorge on the cake or Oreos.
Also, at the risk of sounding like a complete hypocrite, McDonald’s fries are the best. (Everything in moderation.)
But we aren’t those sanctimonious parents who preach one hundred percent adherence to perfect eating. I mean – come on. Extremism doesn’t do anyone any favors, does it? I mean – who wants to sit next to these self-righteous hypocrites on the playground:
Have a cigarette, amiright?
Anyway, how have I indulged my obsession with how to get my kids to eat everything? Through the education of taste.
With a diverse pallet from the beginning stages of eating purees and solids starting at six months. We introduced herbs, spices, all manner of vegetables, and eggs.
There are, of course, foods we avoided for the first year.
Honey – the common knowledge from doctors and the intrawebs is we don’t fedd infants honey because it could contain botulism. The chances are very low, however. I’m not so sure we need to freak out about this. Read on.
Nuts – allergies are a real concern, of course, but the science is still out on whether or not nut allergies, and other, can develop in infancy. Though I’m no paranoiac, I avoided nuts (meaning peanut butter) until my kiddo could safely chew them, himself.
Fish and meats? Eh. I fed them all. I mean – my kid didn’t have a steak til he was able to really chew well. But mashed chicken (see below) and fish were totally on the table.
But it was all about the introduction of new foods as regularly as possible. Like…weekly.
I wish I’d known about the French Pediatric Society, in which the French government suggestions two new vegetables per week (as opposed to the American pediatric website that says, “serve a couple green veeteables and some yellow vegetables.” Could we be any lazier? (I swear I read that somewhere…and I’m still looking for the link…#fakenews.)
Anyway. It’s all about exposure, especially before the age of two, which is when it’s reported most children begin their food neophobia.
(Not nihilism – that’s Neitsche…which kids develop when they piss away 75k/year in college and return home blaming us for all their problems and proclaiming “God is Dead.”)
No: food neophobia, in which 3 out of 4 kids develop their fear of new foods.
So in the meantime – pump them full of new foods before they’re aware, and they’ll develop a taste and expectation of differences.
And the following recipes helped me introduce varied and complexity and made them eaters (especially salad eaters)…
Again – super easy. Let’s just poach a chicken and a sweet potato. Need some guidance, there? Watch/read on…
Recipe 3 – Kale salad with toasted hazelnuts
I’d have this salad and my kid wanted to eat all the toasted hazelnuts. And I was a selfish SOB and didn’t want to share my hazelnuts. I felt like the greatest gastronomic sacrifice I needed to make as a father was to let my kid have the last bite of a donut. And I made that sacrifice happily. But seriously, dude – don’t eat all my nuts!
So in order for my kid to “earn” the hazelnuts, they had to have a bit of greens between each nut.
Pretty soon, my kids were eating the entire salad on their own.
My kids never met a cracker they didn’t like. I would easily figure out how to get my kids to eat everything if it just came on a cracker. I can’t blame them. I’ve eaten half a box in the last fifteen minutes of typing. But I figure a cracker is a vessel to the mouth for some kind of dip.
And dips bring flavor, texture, and gastronomic experience ot my kids.
So every other cracker they eat has to have a dip.
And every few crackers require a carrot stick, cucumber spear or broccoli flower head. Do I count? Oh, yes. You know I do.
These three dips are easy and delicious and expose my kids to flavors we discuss (video below for a charming demo of all the dips)…
Buy one of those over-priced jars of sun dried tomatoes. I know – it’s insane how expensive they are, isn’t it? But listen – you’re going to get your use out of it with this recipe, not to mention they keep in the jar for *awhile* and you’ll remake this dip weekly…and never end up throwing out food.
And when you don’t toss food – you undermine the MAN. Because you just KNOW the MAN high-fives his minions of capitalist earth-haters every time we toss food.
And how easy is this? Take a 1/3 jar of drained sun dried tomatoes (vary the amount according to your taste), blend it with a log of goat cheese.