It was a hot summer afternoon, but the two mothers and children walking through Laurel Hill Cemetery were dressed in black nonetheless.
Faith Eternity Ranelli-Del Rosario, 4, wore a black T-shirt and a pink skirt, along with a temporary tattoo on her right calf. She held hands with her friend Joe Holtzinger, 7, who sported a T-shirt with a skull and crossbones on it. All four were on their way to their favorite picnic spot, a scenic bluff overlooking the Schuylkill.
While a cemetery might not seem like the first place a parent would think to take a kid on a picnic, Jennifer Holtzinger, 31, and Lynnea Ranelli-Del Rosario, 37, take their families there for two reasons. One is that it's historically appropriate: Before Fairmount Park was built, Philadelphians regularly took their families there to picnic and lounge among the departed in the 78 impeccably landscaped acres.
And second, Holtzinger and Ranelli-Del Rosario are goth.
The gothic subculture began among the generation born in the 1970s. The term covers a broad spectrum of "dark" interests, including vampires; industrial, electronic and punk music; black clothing; Renaissance, medieval and Victorian culture; and outsider literature. Most goths start in high school, experimenting with black hair dye, eyeliner, nail polish or clothes, listening to a variety of parent-challenging music.
For many, goth is a phase. For others, goth is a lifestyle. And as the first generation of goths has begun procreating, the lifestyle has changed to accommodate goth parents as well as kids.
"If it does take a village to raise a child, there is nothing that says that the village can't be decorated with a motif of friendly bats and crushed velvet," writes Jillian Venters, also known as Lady of the Manners, on her blog Gothic Charm School (http://www.gothic-charm-school.com).
Toward that end, Ranelli-Del Rosario organizes social events for a group of Philadelphia-area fun-loving goth parents through Meetup.com, with 73 members, and runs an occasional club dance party called Kinderbats for parents and kids.
"I started the Kinderbats night so we could have a Baby Loves Disco-type club night for parents to go to and have fun," she explained. "I mix goth music with Disney. I play everything from Nine Inch Nails to Barney. Our kids hear our music all the time; they love it."
A music promoter and nightlife enthusiast before Faith was born, Ranelli-Del Rosario has turned that same fervor for community to her life as a parent. She still DJs, but instead of going out all night, she is more likely to spin "Monster Mash" for an audience of kids and parents and be back home in the Northeast on the early side.
Kinderbats provides an opportunity for parents and kids to pull out their finest gothic clothing, as the ordinary challenges of parenting prevent the elaborate dress-up that some love about goth culture.
"You have to run after your kid, you don't want to be running in heels or boots," Ranelli-Del Rosario pointed out. Since she's become a parent, she's "mellowed out" her look to eliminate the black leather and PVC.
"In Disney movies, the villainess always looks like a goth queen! I don't want my daughter to think I'm the evil one," she said. "Turns out, you can still look goth and be in pink!"
For the next Kinderbats, Oct. 21 at the Raven Lounge, Ranelli-Del Rosario plans to wear a velvet ball gown with a crinoline. Faith's outfit will also likely be black, perhaps from the online store BelleMarie's Boo-doir (where Kinderbats merch is sold) or from Babies R Us - which, to the surprise of many goth parents, is an unexpectedly rich source of black clothing for kids.
Goth parents report that they occasionally face bias and ostracism among more mainstream parents. Today's anxious parenting culture seems to deal better with difference among children than among parents. Like other members of visually identifiable subcultures, goths of all ages routinely encounter discrimination, prejudice, and insults shouted from car windows.
Sometimes the snub is more subtle.
"I got together at the Camden Aquarium once with my friends from the Philly Families Meetup group and the goth Parents Meetup group, and it was like high school," Ranelli-Del Rosario remembered. "They sat at different tables."
In an interview for Nancy Kilpatrick's book The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined, goth parent and Oregon resident Kitte Ka'at suggested that being goth had helped her as a parent. "It has made me not be afraid of weird things my kids want to do, because I do them, too," she said.
"I understand that black lipstick and colored hair harms nobody. That black walls in the bedroom are not going to make her worship Satan and go around killing people. That a few piercings are not a big deal, really. It gave me a good perspective on what behaviors are actually scary in kids and what are 'just goth.' "
Erin Sellers, 32, became goth during high school in Annapolis, Md. She and her husband, Zane, 35, are performance artists and are deeply involved in the local gothic/industrial music scene.
Erin has a tattoo of zeroes and ones around her arm; Zane has a matching tattoo, along with many others, including black tears dripping from his eyes. He wears piercings, dresses almost entirely in black, has long black and white dreadlocks, and has filled the living room with computer equipment and DJ gear.
Erin and Zane are lifers. Their 15-year-old daughter Kentukki may or may not be. For now, she considers herself goth. On a recent summer afternoon in the family's apartment in North Philadelphia, she wore black pants with a red plaid corset top. Her hair was dyed black, and she wore thick black eyeliner.
The apartment was sunny; the family cat purred near some half-burned black candles. A black leather hobbyhorse was tucked in a corner behind some amplifiers. A pogo stick leaned in a corner near the door. A taxidermied bat hung in a shadow box on the wall.
"If you ask Kentukki, she'll probably say we're not goth enough," Erin said.
Home-schooled until she began high school last year, Kentukki spent a good part of her childhood traveling with her parents, hanging out backstage at shows and DJ gigs.
"I'm sure when she's older, she'll think how cool it was to grow up the way she did, depending on where she ends up," Zane said. "But she's our daughter, so she'll rebel regardless. Being the coolest parents is meaningless for her; we're parents."
Like all teenagers, Kentukki is slightly skeptical of most of her parents' musical taste, their rules, their choices. She went through a brief period of listening to country music, largely to annoy her parents. It worked. Erin and Zane cringed at the memory.
"I think if you ask her, she'd prefer to live with one of her friends' moms, one of her friends who are able to run wild," Erin added. "We don't have a television. Her grandfather just bought her one of those handheld video-game things, which we never would have bought for her. Her friends go to nightclubs, and we don't let her go. If we believe what she tells us, other parents are more lenient."
The notable exception is when Zane DJs at an all-ages show. Kentukki lit up at the mention of a recent gig at Shampoo, when she was allowed to go with her dad.
"We're strict with her, because we've seen so much. It's probably made us more cautious, in a weird way. Maybe overly cautious," Zane said.
Asked to comment on growing up with goth parents, Kentukki gestured toward the shadow box on the wall. "Once you have a stuffed bat on the wall and a jar of brains in the cabinet, anything goes," she said with a shrug. She slung a canvas messenger bag over her shoulder and headed out to return her library books.
Meredith Broussard is the editor of an anthology, "The Encyclopedia of Exes: 26 Stories by Men of Love Gone Wrong." Her Web site is www.failedrelationships.com.