May 3, 2007 — -- It is a rite of passage, a part of growing up anyone can relate to: Saturday morning "cartoon time." For a new generation, though, Bugs Bunny isn't cutting it anymore.
On a recent Saturday morning in Los Angeles, hipster parents and their ultracool toddlers packed their iPods and diaper bags and got ready to rock.
In just a few hours, the same place would be filled with beer-swilling 20-somethings ready to watch a death-obsessed band called the Nekromantics. For now, though, it was filled with juice-spilling kids, doing arts and crafts across from the bar as they watched a band called The Sippy Cups.
The group is part of an explosion in toddler rock 'n' roll, driven by what some see as a new breed of moms and dads.
The inspiration is pretty easy for a parent to understand. "We have all been trapped in our cars with kids and yes, we are going to drive off the road if there is one more 'Wheels Around the Bus,'" said band member Doug Nolan. "So, you know, to have some music that we like and the kids like, and the kids do. My daughter is back there and she knows the words better than I do."
"When we write our songs, we really write stuff that appeals to us," said Paul Godwin who plays the keyboard and does the vocals for the band. "The ideas are generated from our kids. It's things that are happening to our kids that we know excite them &30133 the discovery of nature or bicycles."
These little rock 'n' rollers are more common than you may imagine, raised by a new generation of parents who deck their kids out in the latest retro tennis shoes, vintage concert T-shirts and slacker hairdos.
If they're called "hipster parents," author Neal Pollack might be considered one of them. He may not be the voice of a new generation, but his book "Alternadad" has struck a chord. It's about Pollack, his wife and their 4-year-old son, Elijah, sometimes referred to as "the roommate."
This is the cultural nexus on which I want to place my son. He would start out Indie, even punk, and then you'd have a breakout hit and get rich while still not becoming lame or he could end up like Gibby from the Butthole Surfers, which wasn't as glamorous a faith, but it was still an interesting one. Regardless, I silently pledged to myself that my son would not have a generic American childhood. My kid is going to be cool."
Not everyone is a fan of Pollack's book. New York Times columnist David Brooks calls him a "whiny narcissist."
In his column, Brooks pleads for the end of this hipster parent trend, which he says is fueled by parents who "turn their babies into fashion-forward, anti-corporate indie infants in order to stay one step ahead of the cool police."
Obviously Pollack disagrees. "David Brooks' column, to me, seemed like some fuddy-duddy in his bathrobe waving his fist and shouting at the kids to get off of his lawn. It took every sort of stereotype and cliche about hipster parents and magnified it. The people I read about in his column don't resemble the people I know in real life."
Pollack and his son have a much more normal relationship than you might think based on the book. They like to read together and they have creative father-and-son games for themselves.
But what if he doesn't turn out to be "cool?"
"I don't care, as long as he's nice to his mother," said Pollack. "I was as dorky a kid as I could have possibly been. I wasn't good at sports. I didn't even listen to music. I listened to news radio all day. In some ways, it's like I want for my kid what I didn't have for myself. That's what it comes down to."
Like most families, the Pollacks spend a lot of time going to the park. Pollack's wife, Regina, says they're not different parents, just symbols of a new generation that's evolved from the days of "Leave It to Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch," to a new style of parenting.
"I think we're just regular parents," she said. "I just think the aesthetics maybe are a little different, you know, they reflect our generation. And I think our interest in music and things like that. I mean every generation's had that. It's just the particulars of our generation that make it this sort of Gen-X parenting or whatever, or hipster parenting."
One absolutely critical ingredient, she says, is avoiding the corporate ideal of an American toddler.
"Trying to not let your kid be completely brainwashed by all the big corporate stuff that's fed to them," she said. "And it's in everything. It's in the cups that you choose for them, the plates that they eat off of, the little juice boxes -- everything has those characters marketed on it."
The ultimate critic, though, may be the 4-year-old who turned Pollack into "Alternadad." What does Elijah Pollack think about the book that describes him this way:
"It was like we'd taken on a new roommate, except he didn't have to pay rent. He hogged the TV with his crappy shows and we had to wipe his butt at least three times a day. On the plus side, he could sing the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on cue and was very soft and cuddly."
"I mostly like the pictures," Elijah said.
More importantly, Elijah also thinks his father is "cool."
"You know, let's ask him in a few years," said Pollack, " but I'm glad we've gotten this far. He's very cool, in my eyes. So it's mutual."