Greyson and The President

My son, who is 3, can name all 50 U.S. capitals. And he has no idea who Donald Trump is.

Greyson has known the Obama family by name since before he was 2, courtesy of a First Family mug I drink coffee from while I read him stories in the morning. (Sasha has always been his favorite Obama.) But I can’t bring myself to tell him anything about the current resident of the White House, since doing so would prompt so many questions I’m not ready or willing — or in some cases, able — to answer.

The reason I have withheld this information from him has nothing to do with partisan politics. I am not a Democrat, although many of my conservative friends and relatives assume I am. And my disapproval of the president has nothing (read: zero. zilch. nada.) to do with him being a Republican.

It has everything to do with morality, decency, and truth. Those are concepts I learned during my formative years from people who, almost without exception, happened to be Republicans. Many of those same people (my immediate family not included) now openly support or consistently defend a man who aspires toward none of those ideals, and who in fact often shows unbridled contempt for them.

I haven’t told Greyson about Donald Trump for the same reason I haven’t told him about Vladimir Putin or Harvey Weinstein. Because I believe a 3-year-old is not ready to start learning about the deep chasm of lies, cruelty, and immorality into which some men throw themselves headlong. I couldn’t begin to explain the president’s ugly words and terrible behavior to Greyson, and he couldn’t begin to understand it.

I have watched in horror over the past 6 years — with my own eyes, and without needing any help from the media — as many of our most cherished moral codes and principles of social decency have been trampled underfoot by the most spiteful, erratic, nihilistic, truth-averse candidate who ever ran for president. A man who was then, despite these qualities, elected to be the leader of the free world.

A man who, before his presidential run, was widely viewed by those with a well-oiled moral compass as a debauched business tycoon, and who is now viewed by many of those same people, against all basic moral logic, as God’s chosen leader.

A man who, I’m convinced, my grandparents’ generation would have recoiled in righteous horror to see elevated to power.

A man who, I’m also convinced, my parents’ generation would never have dreamed of embracing 20 short years ago. Or even as recently as 10 years ago, when the conservative candidates of choice were honorable, civic-minded statesmen like John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And yet here we are.

I have watched this nauseating, unthinkable regression in my country, and I have come to one conclusion as a father. There is no viable way that I can even begin to explain Donald Trump to my 3-year-old son.

I want the world to be comprehensible to Greyson. I want to show him people he can emulate. I don’t want him to live in fear of bad men. And I certainly don’t want to explain to him that good people can be convinced — fairly easily, as it turns out, when partisan politics are involved — to root for bad men to take (or retain) power.

I want to protect Greyson, even at this young age, from the beginnings of disenchantment.

I want him to remain, just as he is, deeply enchanted by the world.


A Barrel of Monkeys… and Macaws and Moose

On Tuesday at 4:59pm I felt burned out from the numbing inefficiency of working remotely via my personal laptop. (I’m grateful in a dozen different ways, believe me, but virtual working has its challenges.) I walked down the stairs — my new and improved 15-second evening commute! — feeling a bit discombobulated. Rain had been in the evening forecast, but the weather was somehow clear as a bell.

So I shimmied the kids’ shoes onto their adventure-seeking little feet in order to whisk them outside while Danielle made dinner. Greyson wanted to bring some animals along, so he filled a small plastic orange bucket with some of his favorites.


With Violet in one arm and Greyson’s hand in mine, we ventured to our favorite place — the wooded area in the park across the street. Or as I’ve variously dubbed it: Greyson’s Glade, Violet’s Valley, and Wingert Woods. A quarantine-friendly nature getaway just 100 yards from our house.

Almost immediately, I felt un-discombobulated (or would it be combobulated?) by the fresh air and the innocent joy of my children. We sat down on a wooden park bench and Greyson eagerly unpacked the contents of his orange bucket — a gorilla, a scarlet macaw, a moose, a cheetah, an elephant, a raccoon, a deer, a lion, a giraffe, and an unidentifiable bird from some Dollar Tree grab bag. For 20 minutes I watched their imaginations run wild as they arranged wild animals into a wildly shifting tableau.

There was a gorilla sitting astride the top of the bench, King Kong-style. There were two carefully delineated habitats, safari and forest, nestled in the pine needles at the foot of the bench. There was a rainforest based around a vine-covered pine tree. Greyson was determined to put the scarlet macaw in an actual tree but he couldn’t reach any of the branches, so I suggested tucking its tail feathers behind a vine so that it could perch there on the trunk.

He also put a giraffe at the base of that same tree, but a few minutes later he chuckled and said, “Why is there a giraffe in the rainforest?” So my budding little zoologist transported the misplaced giraffe to a more suitable ecosystem — the “hot Africa savanna” at the base of a bare tree nearby.


At one point, Greyson started saying to no one in particular, “Where are you, oxpecker birds?” (I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with a more voluminous knowledge of obscure animals than my 3-year-old has. It’s uncanny!)

Meanwhile Violet truggled around gleefully in her pink sneakers, tightly clutching an elephant and periodically pointing up in the trees with wide eyes whenever she heard bird sounds. My nature girl is in her element when we’re outside, rarely fussing, eager to explore, and constantly observing, pointing, and making monosyllabic utterances of giddiness and wonder.


Sitting on that park bench under tall trees, I couldn’t even remember exactly why I had felt out of sorts 20 minutes earlier. Being out in nature with my kids is the ultimate reset button. It recalibrates my dulled perspective. It rejuvenates my faded emotions. It reminds me of everything that matters in life. Because nature is life.

And like that barrel of monkeys in the old adage — or Greyson’s plastic orange bucket of monkeys and assorted other creatures — it’s also just plain fun.

As we all know, fun is a little hard to come by these days. So find it wherever you can.

Which is to say, make your own.



Of a Life Sustaining Nature

Because nature is the only “non-essential” destination currently allowed by either law or conscience, the great outdoors has become an even higher priority for my family than usual. (And as anyone knows who regularly spends time outside, nature is the most essential destination of all.)

First, I take Violet out for a short walk in the morning. At midday, unless it’s raining, we take the kids out for a 45-minute stroller walk to a farm during every work-at-home lunch break. Then after work, I whisk them out again while dinner is being conjured up by our resident world-class chef.

And since we’re uneasy about playgrounds right now, these pre-dinner nature jaunts usually only consist of one basic component: Walking through the woods near our house, including a short paved loop and an even shorter, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature trail.

The same exact stretch of woods each day. The same exact paved path. The same exact nature trail.


Given this repetition, there is usually a brief moment before I take the kids out when a small, nagging thought pops into my head that maybe this basic activity isn’t enough. Maybe we’ve done this one too many times. Maybe this time, the kids won’t be stimulated by a simple walk in the trees. Maybe I need to jazz it up with some bells and whistles.

And every single time without fail, that nagging thought is eradicated 15 seconds after we get outside, if not sooner.

Because every time we go outside, Greyson and Violet are instantly enraptured. They are under the sway of Mother Nature, the most dynamic babysitter, entertainer, and nurturer the world has ever known.

Nature is like a blank canvas that a wide-eyed child (or adult for that matter) can fill up with the colorful brushstrokes of her imagination. And those brushstrokes are a little different every day. So every day you take a child into nature, they will paint you a different picture.

All you need to do is get them outside; nature will work its magic from there.


It’s downright awe-inspiring to watch my kids observe the natural world. To see Violet’s tiny face light up anytime she sees a bird fly by, or a dog being walked, or a horse in the distance, or the moon overhead (that one’s her favorite). Or to watch as Greyson takes a keen interest in every little nature bauble underfoot — a pine cone, a black walnut, a patch of moss, a Y-shaped stick, a rock shaped like an animal. Or to walk behind them as they both run headlong through the woods.

There is never any shortage of conversation fodder in the woods. Never an ounce of boredom as we walk along paths we’ve traversed a hundred times before. There is somehow always something new to see, and always another topic for our freewheeling nature-walk chats.

Sitting inside, it seems like these things would be finite quantities. But once you venture outside, they start to feel almost infinite.

Why? Because being out in the open opens you up. Breathing fresh air freshens up your perspective. Spending time in nature — due to its essential and life-sustaining nature — gets you in touch with your deepest, truest nature.

Whether you’re 1½ , 3½, or 40½.