Hidden Figures: A Parent’s Guide

Hidden Figures tells the story of Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) all three women were Computers (people who did computations before electronic computers were used) at Langley NASA.  It is based on a true story – all three of the women were brilliant mathematicians who made great advancements for NASA in mathematics, engineering, and computer programming.

If your kid (especially your daughter!) can pay attention during a dialogue-heavy movie, I highly recommend taking them.  I consider myself a space enthusiast, and I had no idea that the “West Computers” (NASA’s term for the women-of-color Computers who were segregated and worked on the west side of Langley’s campus) existed, let alone their amazing contributions to space and aeronautics science.

To fully appreciate many of the plot points, your child should be familiar with the United States Civil Rights Movements, segregation, and Jim Crow laws. Our country’s ugly history of racial discrimination is an important conversation to have anyway, and this film shows a little of what it was like to be a person of color in a segregated state in the early 1960s.

It’s rare to see a film where the heroes are women, even rarer to see a film those women are geniuses, and rarer still where those women geniuses are black women. Nine-year-old Kitty left the theater inspired to learn more about computer programming and women’s contribution to the American Space Program.

This is a big Hollywood take on true events, so there were some liberties taken with the timeline, with names and places (most of the supporting characters are composites of people who worked at NASA rolled up to represent sentiments on women and race at the time), but according to those in the know – including the real-life Katherine Johnson – the movie is true to the main characters and the general events in the movie.  According to NASA Historian Bill Barry:

“Like anything based on real-life events, there are some temporal things that, as a historian, are like, ‘eh, that didn’t really happen like that,’ but I think that the movie is true to the stories of the main characters,” he said. “On the whole I was very happy with the outcome.”

This article at History vs. Hollywood has a good breakdown of what/who was real and what was fluffed up for entertainment value is a good place to start after watching the movie with your kids.

So…

Can I bring my nine year old to Hidden Figures?

I would say yes!  As long as your child can sit through a character driven movie, I think you should ABSOLUTELY take your kids to see Hidden Figures. Just make sure that your kids are aware of the basic ideas of segregation and misogyny in the 1960s and you should be fine. Besides the racism and misogyny, there is little questionable here.  There’s a mild romantic subplot, a little drinking, and some mild swearing. Kitty had a bit of a hard time paying attention during some of the scenes that were not based in NASA, but she absorbed all of the important plot points.

It’s inspiring to see the perseverance the three main characters showed while facing some really despicable discrimination. And if your child is like Kitty, she may even come away inspired to investigate a new career path!

Living our Values in 2017 – Media Edition

This was originally going to be an article about a bunch of ways you can involve your kids in your politics and beliefs, but I got a little carried away with my media suggestions, so we’re going to start there, and I’ll be back soon with the other things the Parenting Geekly Family is doing to live our values in 2017 – including writing a Family Mission Statement!  I kept these suggestions as mainstream as possible to keep the barrier to entry low. You should be able to borrow or find most of these things on Amazon, streaming, or your local library.  (Note: Post conatians Amazon affiliate links).

Media

It can be intimidating to think about “resisting” or “revolution” or protesting when you have children. The good news is that you can teach your kids about justice, inclusion, diversity, activism and social justice without ever leaving your house. The easiest way to incorporate the ideals of equality, social justice, representation, and action is to make sure the media your family consumes showcases those topics.

Here is a very brief list of some of the media we’ve consumed recently:

Books
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – Kitty received this as a Christmas gift from her Aunt Karen. It features an intersectional (white, black, Asian, trans, cis, young and old are all represented) selection of women who did what they felt was right, all delivered in short one-page stories with beautiful illustrations. This beautiful hardback book is currently on back order until February 2017 – but if you just can’t wait Amazon has a Kindle version.

Kitty’s Rad American Women Lantern

Rad Women series – I was introduced to the Rad American Women and Rad Women Worldwide books by my daughter’s fourth-grade teacher. Every year their school holds a lantern festival before winter break. Each child designs and creates a lantern. Some years the classes make punched-tin lanterns or lanterns from clay or decoupaged milk cartons. This year every fourth grader picked a woman from one of these books and decorated a vellum lantern with her portrait. It was a super cool project, and these are super cool books. Kitty’s Rad Woman was Bessie Coleman, the first African-American Woman and first Native American woman to become a licensed US pilot!

Ms. Marvel – Kamala Khan is a teenage Pakistani-American, and Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. The team of creators is diverse, and according to writer G. Willow Wilson: “A huge aspect of Ms. Marvel is being a ‘second string hero’ in the ‘second string city’ and having to struggle out of the pathos and emotion that can give a person.” It’s appealing to wide range of ages. My husband and I enjoy it as much as 9-year-old Kitty does. This trade paperback collects the first issues into a single volume.

Movies
Star Wars – Not only do the Star Wars movies feature strong women and (at least in the two most recent films) racially diverse casts, they show a group of people fighting against evil. When you watch these beloved classics, make sure you point that out!

Captain America Civil War and Civil War comic books – Marvel showed two sides fighting for their strong opinions about social justice in this comic book series (which you can buy as a collection). The film is a condensed version but shows the same message of friends fighting on opposites sides for what they think is right. This could be a great entry point for conversation if you have close friends or relatives with opposing political opinions.

TV

The cast of Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries – This period police procedural from Canada was my big surprise love this year. Available on Netflix, it premiered in 2008 and take place in the 1890s. While the main cast isn’t diverse, it deals with issues of racism, women’s suffrage, social justice and progressive politics on a regular basis. There’s even an episode about abortion. I watch it with 9-year-old Kitty, but it does have some mild violence, mild gore (realistic dead bodies), and touches on adult themes (murder, sex, religion) – so maybe pre-watch it before you get the under 12s involved.

MUSIC
The Hamilton Soundtrack – If you can’t find something to talk about after listening to this race-bent take on our Founding Fathers you’re not trying. The creators and the racially diverse cast has talked about not feeling ownership of the story of the founding of our nation because it was done by a bunch of white guys. By casting people of color as the Founding Fathers, and using hip-hop in the soundtrack, they hope to make the story of the American Revolution accessible to all.
More easy ways to incorporate inclusive media? Listen to music from genres and cultures you don’t normally include. The recent inclusion of jazz to our repertoire has introduced our kids to Nina Simone, and her “Young, Gifted, Black” performance on Sesame Street. Seek out movies with racially diverse casts, or films that feature minority casts. Watch international films and TV (streaming has made this super easy!) Avoid films and TV that whitewash. Talk to your kids about diversity in their media and why it’s important. Don’t understand why it’s important? Here, let me Google that for you.

Bringing Kids to PAX West?

PAX Prime istomorrow!  If you were lucky enough to get tickets, congratulations!  If you are thinking of bringing your kids, I’ve compiled some tips.  We’ve gone to almost every year, we’ve been parents for all of them, and we’ve often (but not always) brought our kids.

Paxwithkids
First of all, let me be clear:  PAX Isn’t for kids.   That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t bring your kids, but it’s best to start out knowing that this isn’t necessarily a kid friendly environment.  There is a lot of swearing, a lot of adult video content and a fair amount of people who will not be happy to see your precious little snowflake.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, my kids love PAX.  It’s every gamer kids dream come true, with demos, swag and gaming everywhere.  There is a ton of stuff to see and do, and if you go prepared, your whole family will have a great time.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

Leave the kids over 2 and under 6 at home, and know your kids.  I know this isn’t ideal, but I really think it’s the best advice I can give.  Nate is 16 and has been fine since about age 6, but at age 9, Kit it still only ready for a half a day. She has some sensory issues, is super easily distracted, and has no fear of getting lost. Now that she’s nine, I’m more confident that she can stay close and communicate if she gets lost or needs a break, but I’m still only comfortable to committing to four or five hours with her. I know that if we stay any longer we’ll both be miserable.

We brought Kit when she was a baby and again when she was a year and a half and it was fine. I carried her in an Ergo carrier and she slept when she needed to.  I brought her when she was two and a half and it was not fine.  She was simultaneously bored and over stimulated.  They don’t allow strollers on the main floor and she was too big to stick in a baby carrier for longer than 30 minutes at a time. Toddlers at a busy con just aren’t good times.

Stay Healthy. Several years ago our entire family got very, very ill right after PAX.  It was 2009, the year of the Great PAX Plague, and we had all contracted the Swine Flu.  Cons are germy places. Bring Hand sanitizer and use it often.  I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer (and would recommend you use an alcohol based one as opposed toTriclosan), but cons are one place where they are appropriate.  I have recommended Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers before, and my friend The Geeky Hostess just reminded me that they make little rubber sanitizer holsters that you can loop onto your belt loop, purse, swag bag or baby carrier.  Let your kid pick their own scent, give them a little bottle of their own and make sure they use it often.  Remind them that it hasn’t worked until it has dried.   Bring disinfectant wipes.  Wipe the controllers, the keyboards, the mice, the tables, etc.  Most importantly: wash your hands as often as possible.  You need to wash them with warm water and keep the soap on your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”.  Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door, there was a recent study that found that one third of men – and only slightly  less women – don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.  Then they use their dirty hands to open the door, ewww!

Stay fed and hydrated.  Food is available in the convention center, and at restaurants around it, but the choices aren’t great and the waits are long. Hangry kids are no fun, especially when being chaperoned by equally hungry adults, so come prepared.  We bring Fruit roll-ups, trail mix, pre-packaged apple slices and cheese sticks in a little insulated bag. Be conscientious, eat in designated areas and bring foods that aren’t messy. Give each person in your party their own water bottle.  You’ll be on your feet all day and it’s easy to get dehydrated.  Refill your bottles often and drink up!

Bring a baby carrier.  If you have a kid little enough to tote around in a sling, Moby, Ergo or backpack carrier bring it.  Strollers are not allowed on the  floor of the main exhibition hall and toting a little one around in a carrier frees up your hands.

Bring a Camera.  There are tons of photo ops to be had, and tons of costumes from both the game companies and cosplayers, and there are tons of cool promotional displays to pose in front of.

Find the kids’ games.  The kid specific games may not be as plentiful as the adult-oriented stuff, but they are out there.  A few years ago the kids played a baby care simulator  and learned a Marvel-themed card game, Kitty rolled a giant D20 and won a prize, and both kids loved previewing a TMNT Wii game.  A lot of these games haven’t been released yet and the game creators are usually happy to get input from real children.

Take a lot of breaks.  The kids will tire faster than you do.  Sometimes being a good parent means that we have to pull ourselves away from all the fun and just go sit.  If you are staying at a hotel nearby, go back to your room for a nap.  Leave the convention center and go sit in the surrounding park.  If you have multi-day passes, go home early.  You don’t have to stay every hour all three days with a cranky kid.  Most years the kids only go for one day because it’s just too much, and one day is PLENTY for them.

Skip the panels.  While they’re interesting to you, your kid will probably be bored and cranky.  I’m a big proponent of NOT putting kids in situations that are bound to lead to what will appear to the average non-breeder as “misbehavior”.  Making your kid wait in a long line just so they can sit still and be quiet is a formula for disaster.

Tag-team.  If you are planning on bringing your kids the best thing I can tell you to bring is another able-bodied adult.  If you can switch off on child care duties you will have a better chance of getting to see a panel you really want to check out something more mature in nature.  This is how we are doing it this year.  I will accompany Nate in the mornings, while SD keeps an eye on Kit.  In the evening SD will accompany Nate and I’ll hang at home.

Make it easy to be found. Stick a business card in your kid’s pocket, or consider getting some Safety Tats.  Either option makes it easy for your kid to contact you if you get separated.  Staff members will be wearing distinctive T-shirts, make sure your kids know what they look like in case they need to find help. A reader suggested via the Parenting Geekly Facebookpage that parents wear a distinctive color to make it easier to find you in a sea of black T-shirts.

Be prepared to spend.  There is plenty to buy including games, pre-releases, shirts and toys and most kids will ask for at least something.  I suggest setting a spending limit before you leave home. We also have a policy of making the kids walk around all the merch tables before making their purchasing decisions.  There is so much cool stuff to buy if they buy the first thing that catches their eye, they are bound to find (and ask for) something else even cooler at the next booth.

Bring a Backpack (or a tote if you have a backpack carrier) and have the kids carry one too.  There is a lot of swag to be had, and if you don’t give the kids a way to carry their own, you’ll be carrying two times the amount of junk around.

Most importantly, have fun!  This is a great opportunity for your kids to see what the gaming community is all about. Even during our more “challenging” years we have had a ton of fun, and the kids look forward to it.   Now to break the news that she’s not going to Kitty…

If you have any tips to add please share in the comments!

This year, I’ll be hanging out at the GeekGirlCon Booth in the Diversity Lounge on Saturday from 10-2 and will be around the con for the rest of the long weekend. Come say hi!