Dear Go Noodle – Thank You for Making Me a Hero

Dear Go Noodle – Thank You for Making Me a Hero

Dear Go Noodle

Thank you for making me a hero and providing a common language for my children and me…and making me look very cool for already knowing the lyrics to “Love Shack”, “ Bye, Bye, Bye” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Go Noodle is a teaching tool used in my kids’ classes where the students watch child dancers do simple choreography that the kids in class can follow and mimic.

It makes your living room look something similar to this:

Most pertinent, the music they use is from the 90’s and 00’s. Hilarious that part of the GoNoodle approach must be hooking in the parents and teachers who all remember and love the music.

And I love my kid’s reaction to the question, “Daddy? Do you know the song ‘Saved By the Bell’?”

“Of course I do.”

Cue: kid’s mind blown by my utter mastery of the universe.

Luckily, Go Noodle foots the bill for both activity, skill acquisition, AND screen time. My kids think they’re watching TV, but they’re also absorbing some basic rhythm and dance skills that might help, down the line (since my kids think they’re “already such good dancers” they don’t need actual lessons. Whatever.)

Plus – hits of the 80’s and 90’s helping make me look like a god among parents (you, too, can play this game. If you remember 20% of the lyrics to “Two Princes”.)

But I gotta say, I still need my kids to expand their musical consumption beyond these basic mixes. Even when we listen to Pandora there’s the basic recycling of the same thirty songs. What are we missing out on when we allow data to pre-select our music rather than trusting musical curation by DJ’s whose jobs it used to be to discover new music and share it with the world?

We especially need the tireless work of independent and college stations exposing us to the underground scene so we’re not just pawns of the data-driven musical scene of 2019.

I don’t know how to solve this, that’s for sure. I’ve never been well-versed or interested in seeking out new music. I totally rely on the taste and guidance of my friends (and pop culture. I’m basic.)

But just like the mélange of basic foods and the globalization of world cultures and the blending of real news/fake news/opinion/blogging, it’s so hard to find independent and ground-breaking music (especially when you’re trying to raised kids not to be assholes, put some words on paper, and participate in the PTA.)

I need your help, y’all – help me steer my kids away from GoNoodle and Pandora and help me discover some ground-breaking stuff.

(Thank you for making me a hero…in advance.)

I’ve put together my own lists of music for basic consumption and expansion so I don’t have to hear Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift on incessant repeat. Gotta culture my kiddos (and here’s my “this has got to end!” missive making me turn my back on current pop and toward 1970’s classic American hits.) But I know these playlists are the most obvious of starting places.

Here’s hoping Spotify shuffling takes my kids (and me) on a journey far beyond the predictable tropes of GoNoodle.

(Although I do loooooooove you, GoNoodle. Okay – and you, Tay-Tay. But one repeat is enough. Ad nauseum repeat is torture.)

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

Art Changes Everyday Life. But Why Bother?

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 dunno. I just saw it on Instagram and read about it in the Times, a few months ago. So…I’m here because the Times and some people on IG told you to come?

More or less.

So we are posers. Just wanting to see things cuz other people are doing it?

I guess. Isn’t everybody?

Especially in New York.

Seriously – except for the 1% of artistic elite (and who are those people, anyway?) aren’t we all just seeing stuff cuz other people tell us to?

Do you think we’ll get in and think it’s stupid?

I mean, duh. It’s some woman’s paintings of polkadots.

Seriously – like, our six year-old could almost do the exact same thing.

Right.

How much time has passed?

Three and a half minutes.

Jesus H. I’m freezing. Thank goodness for this coffee to warm my hands.

For now.

Seriously.

<20 seconds of silence passes in the freezing cold>

Two hours in the bitter cold just to say we did it? Is this worth it? This is when New York sucks. There’s just too much demand.

I know. The crowds screw it up for everyone.

But we still play the game. You just do these things to say “I was there”?

Uh-huh.

The Gates?

Right.

That play you had to see in three parts and some people saw it all in one day.

Right. I missed that. Coast of Utopia?

Something like that.

Hamilton.

At the Public.

Right. Pre-Broadway. I’ll always brag about that.

That photographic exhibition on the old White Star Lines pier ten years ago?

Right. With the over-sized sepia photography of elephants and kids underwater.

Oh, yeah. That was…random. But it felt cool to have seen it.

And brag that you were there.

Right.

But now? We’re standing in line for 2 hours…

Please don’t let it be that long. Surely that’s an exaggeration.

And we will be in the gallery room for a couple minutes, at the most.

Wait, what?

Yeah, they don’t let you linger more than 30 seconds in the three rooms. There’s just too much demand.

Ohmigod, this is bullshit.

Thank god the kids aren’t here.

Seriously. And then in those 30 seconds, we’re just gonna have our phones out Insta-bragging about the experience. Shouldn’t we put phones away and be in the moment?

Are you fucking kidding? Then there’s no proof we were there. If it doesn’t happen on Instagram….

I know. But this is art and it’s fleeting. Maybe we should go all 19th-century?

Hell, no.

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?

I guess.

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?

Who could say?

What if I had my kids, here? They’d just whine and say they wanna go and I’d just be herding cats and telling them, “don’t touch that. Don’t touch that. Stop running. Don’t touch anything. Calm the fuck down.”

Right.

So what would be the point?

(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.”

Maybe.

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?

Fourteen minutes.

I can’t feel my feet and my coffee’s gone.

Luckily it’s not snowing.

Yet.

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.

Right.

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.

Huh.

…..

Has it been an hour, yet?

Twenty three minutes.

Ohmigod. I’m really questioning this.

It’ll be great. Just…enjoy the moment.

That’s it?

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…

Right. Trump.

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?

Thirty-one minutes.

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.”

Exactly.

And that’s the point of art?

Sometimes. Why not? A memorable blip on our generally boring existence?

Fair point.

…….

How much time, now?

Forty-one minutes.

The mesmerizing art of Yayoi Kusama - the endless repetition of mirrors and balls and polkadots.
Okay – it was mesmerizing. And now – looking back on these pix, I’m glad I took them. Because art changes everyday life.
I'm a bit perplexed, but also fascinated.
It’s silly. It’s whimsical. It’s wonderful.
Kusama's tiny room of endless reflection and color.
I mean – yeah. This is cray-cray. And I love it.
The E.C.Knox "Windsor" posing...unknowingly.
*Shameless product placement. @E.C.Knox (insert winking emoji, here). The staff was NOT happy about this.

Culturing My Kiddos

Culturing My Kiddos

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.

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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!

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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.

3 1/2 Ways to Teach My Toddlers About MLK, Jr.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and after a conversation I had with some narrow minds over the holidays, I’m choosing to think of lessons from MLK’s life in three segments:

  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.

I’m imagining discussing this with my 3-year-old:

1.

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 onto the floor.” I admit I often roll my eyes and give YOU time-outs for your “brutality”. But the fact is, your little brother stole your train! He’s the aggressor.

And 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!”

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.)

2.

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

He responds: “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!” he says.

“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.”

“Ok. 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?” he interrupts. “Can I watch Frozen?”

* 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?

3.

“Son, racial issues are very often socio-economic issues.”

“What’s soss-eponomis?”

“I’m glad you asked. Poor people are often driven to do bad things to survive in our country. It’s not because they’re Black, or Asian, Latino or White. 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?”

“One second, buddy. I’m on a roll. Here’s number 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: 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 they weren’t born into a lucky position with support and resources. It’s a repeating cycle throughout generations. But it’s about economics, not skin color.”
He walks away from me. I pursue.

“Buddy, you can empathize. But you cannot make blank statements about groups of people and you cannot discount how people feel. But you can 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.”

I’m glad we had this discussion.

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.

Unburdening Social Obligations

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 hello.”

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 social butterflies.

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 twilight.

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 inside.”

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.

Or not.

Or whatever.

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.

Even on gorgeous summer evenings.

Little Girl/Gay Music

Little Girl/Gay Music

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 those summer anthems and one-hit wonders are delicious candy. Catchy songs by Pharrel Williams, Justin Bieber, and Justin Timberlake get plenty of play on my phone.

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.

Or not.

While belting Rapunzel’s song, I was reminded of Bill Maher’s “New Rule” from a ahilwe ago: “Science has to figure out why little girls and gay men like the same music.”

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.

You’re missing out.

The Best Music to Make Kids Interesting Humans: The 1970’s.

The Best Music to Make Kids Interesting Humans: The 1970’s.

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.

Because I can’t abide any more “Oops, I Did it Again” (more than once a day. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some pop music.)

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.

Give your kids a leg-up on being interesting and share in my first Spotify playlist.

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.)

What did I miss?

This is the essential rock basics your kids need to know to be redeemable people.

1. Take Me Home, Country Road, John Denver

Because you’re never too old to feel that spine-tingling nostalgia tipping into full-blown tears. (As an aside, this is one of our very favorite picture books in our family.)

2. American Pie, Don McLean 

Because duh.

3. ABC, Jackson 5

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.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4kHC8cv3k

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

Because duh.

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.

Counting Calories for a Healthy Summer

Counting Calories for a Healthy Summer

So I started counting calories for a healthy summer project.

We’re a healthy eating family. My kids will eat just about everything. (Thanks to my insanity early in their early eating lives to become foodies.)

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.

To wit:

  • 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.
A real-time blogging picture as I write about health and enjoy a Dunkin' Donuts Boston Creme
Yep – I choose not to be insane about my health. Once in awhile, a Boston Creme from Dunkin’ is just what the dadbod ordered.

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.

We Americans have a toxic relationship with food – eating too much and rushing through to our next activity.

Instead, when counting calories, I recommend educating yourself about portions, calorie counts, and just getting a sense of what everything costs. And then you can “budget” in a more balanced way.

Further, savor your food. Enjoy every one of those peanut M&M’s. And stop gobbling. Take your time and appreciate all 17 of those Lay’s.

And finally, abide by (or at least make note of) the serving sizes all of us have ignored our entire lives.

Taking time to savor, appreciate, experience and think about what we’re ingesting can only make us healthier (and probably lighter).

And that’s delicious.