advice

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.

Why I Love DC’s New Super Hero Girls

Yesterday DC Comics announced the launch of  DC Super Hero Girls a line of videos, digital games, books and toys marketed to girls.

DC Super Hero Girls_5537ee21c01bd1.39734216

DC’s new Super Hero Girls (image courtesy of DC Comics)

From the DC Press Release:

Beginning in Fall 2015, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Mattel join forces to launch DC Super Hero Girls, an exciting new universe of Super Heroic storytelling that helps build character and confidence, and empowers girls to discover their true potential.  Featuring DC Comics’ most powerful and diverse line-up of female characters as relatable teens, DC Super Hero Girls will play out across multiple entertainment content platforms and product categories to create an immersive world.

Developed for girls aged 6-12, DC Super Hero Girls centers on the female Super Heroes and Super-Villains of the DC Comics universe during their formative years—prior to discovering their full super power potential. Featuring a completely new artistic style and aesthetic, DC Comics’ icons such as Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy, Katana and many more make their unprecedented teenaged introduction. Each character has her own storyline that explores what teen life is like as a Super Hero, including discovering her unique abilities, nurturing her remarkable powers and mastering the fundamentals of being a hero.

And (one of my favorite parts):

Mattel category-leading firsts include a line of characters for the action figure category, an area of the industry that has been primarily developed with boys in mind, and fashion dolls featuring strong, athletic bodies that stand on their own in heroic poses.

Internet commenters have already pointed out that making a line targeted to girls is “othering”, deepens the divide between the genders and accentuates the thought that girls need something different than what boys need. I especially dislike the use of “Just for girls” and “exclusively for girls” language in the full press release. These are all valid points, and marketing to specific genders is always going to be problematic in some ways.

Let me tell you, though, why I am excited about this new line.

When I was a little girl I loved playing with action figures.  I had Thundercats, WWF wrestlers and He-Man, and none of my female friends ever wanted to play with them. When friends came they would almost always want to play with my Barbie collection, not my action figures.  When She-Ra debuted I went nuts.  I was a girly girl, who happened to like superheroes and so She-Ra was a dream come true,  I think I had all the figures, a castle and some sort of bathing/pool thing.  I watched the cartoon religiously. (I really cannot express how much I loved She-Ra. When I threw pennies into a fountain, I would always wish for She-Ra to be real.)  As a bonus, my non-superhero-loving female friends were totally into her, too. I finally had a way to share my geekiness with my female friends.

The fact of the matter is that girls and boys are already being marketing to separately.  Boys get building toys, cars and super hero action figures and girls get doll babies, barbies and froufy dress up clothes.  DC (and LEGO before them) is actually bridging the gender gap here by taking something that is traditionally found in the “boys” department and making it appealing for the “girls” aisle.  The two aisles exist, I don’t see that changing anytime soon, so I am happy to see more diversity  in what’s offered.

As I’ve written before (about my own daughter), there are going to be girls who choose to shop for the “girly” things. They love sparkles and ponies and princesses, and that frilly pink aisle is where they want to be.  I am so excited that those girls will have a line of fashion dolls that are empowering.  If these toys encourage a girl to pick up a comic book, to discover a love of superheroes, or just give her a different way to express herself, this is a win.

Taking your kids to Emerald City Comic Con?

Comic Con season is upon us. In the past I posted guidelines on bringing your kids to PAX. I was just going to rerun that article in anticipation of tomorrow’s Emerald City Comic Con, but realized that PAX and a comic conventions are two different beasts entirely. That’s great news for nerdy parents, though; I’ve found that comic shows are way more child friendly than PAX. So some of the info here is a repeat of that, but there are some tips specific to comic cons as well. And if you aren’t bringing your kids (yay for you!) I suggest heading over to my friend The Geeky Hostess’ website where she has some great general con etiquette info.

This will be my eighth year attending Emerald City, and my kids have come with me for at least part of the time every year. Kit made her first ECCC visit at under a month old. I was working at that show and it was the first time I was away from her for longer than a trip to the grocery store. I wound up having to pump in the ladies room. Save the breast-milk-in-the-bathroom episode, we have always had a great time.

Tips for attending Emerald City Comic Con (or any comic show ) with kids:

Stay Healthy. 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 to Triclosan), but cons are one place where they are appropriate. I have recommended Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers before they even 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 to wipe tables and game pieces. 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 fewer 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, not good when you have a cranky, hypoglycemic kid. We brought 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 discouraged 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, from cosplaying attendees to cool promotional displays to pose in front of.  

Be polite to celebrities. Even if you don’t stand in line to wait for an autograph, you will likely see notable people on the convention floor. If they are clearly being escorted to/from somewhere with a ECCC Staff member, leave them alone. If you are in a position to say hello, do just that. Say hello, offer a brief platitude and then leave them be. If your kid is a fan, introduce them, but don’t force conversation. I would happily have a conversation with anyone, from Edward James Olmos to the guy selling used collectables but Nate is much more reserved than I am. He’s happy to stand and admire his favorite celebrities from a distance, talking to them makes him crazy nervous. He’s 11, that’s fine.  

Talk to the writers and artists. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by the comic creators. They are all there because they want to share what they do with the public. If you’re not familiar with someone ask them what they’re working on. Who knows? You may find a new favorite.  

Try not to embarrass your kids. I once told Felicia Day a funny story about Nate calling her Tina Fey and then commenting on the similarities between their names. Nate was mortified. That’s nothing compared to some of the scantily clad cosplayers I’ve seen with kids in tow. Or the guy making his daughter stand next to every celebrity and guest in the hall. On the other hand, Nathan STILL talks about getting to play Rock Band with Wil Wheaton, an opportunity he wouldn’t have had if I hasn’t made him. Know your kid and what they are comfortable with, and then try to respect their boundaries.

“Look with your eyes, not your hands” My mom used to tell us that when we were at an antique store, or in the china department. The advice applies at Comic Con, too. You’d be surprised at the rare /valuable/breakable things vendors just have laying on their tables. Be mindful of what your kids are touching.  

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 a three day pass, 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.

Make a plan. Use the Emerald City Comic Con’s website to look over all the panels (if you must), check the event schedule and look at the long list of guests and exhibitors. If there is something or someone you have to see, make an agenda. If you or your kids are fans of a certain comic book, bring some copies to have signed.

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.

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. One of my readers (thanks, Gina C.) suggested via the Parenting Geekly Facebook page 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 limited editions, games, shirts and toys and most kids will ask for at least something. I suggest setting a spending limit before you leave home. We tell our kids how much they can spend and then don’t let them spend it until they’ve done a loop around the convention center. Otherwise they spend their money on the first thing they say and then regret it one table later. Also, be aware that almost all of the media guests charge an autograph and photograph fee (usually $20-$50).

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 geek community is all about. My kids look forward to it every year. If you have any tips to add please share in the comments!