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Second Parent-Teacher Conference (1st Grade, Lucy)

So Megan and I had our second parent-teacher conference ever. This time, it was 1st grade—Lucy, Ms. Merlin, Megan, and I. Beatrix played on the toy rug. Picture a half-circle table, very rounded, Ms. Merlin sitting on the inside, and Lucy between Megan and I, directly across from Ms. Merlin.

The format of this thing was a surprise to us, as it mostly consisted of Ms. Merlin talking directly to Lucy. Megan and I weren’t addressed much at all. Not that I have anything against it, even looking back—Ms. Merlin’s message was one of support and understanding, as well as some genuine affection for Lucy—but it was a surprise.


Cross-Post, Sound Revue: Ghost, acoustic in seattle, family-friendly

What follows is a re-post from my music blog, Sound Revue. It's so family-focused, I figured it would fit here on my parenting blog really well. Original link. Enjoy.

Ghost—acoustic in Seattle, family-friendly

Papa, the Ghouls, and my girls

The Ghost show at Silver Platters was hot, stuffy, harder for my wife and I than possibly anyone else there—and totally worth it.


r/Parenting post posits potential parental wordplay problems

Hey fam, I wanted to share some Reddit shiz that I found, and found funny.

Below is a link to a post on r/parenting that made the front page today.


7 Reasons to Click This Link

  1.  It could have been good.
  2.  My beat is correct.
  3.  My dadhood is the rockest.
  4.  Star, and bucks, mixed together, yield so much more than pure market value.
  5.  Do you click clickbait like this with frequency? If so, tell me more.
  7.  What if I did outline seven reasons to click the link you clicked? Would you have been more satisfied with the outcome of this blog entry?

Please screw your entry thoughts into the comment bard.


Back-from-vacation update

Pious Mighigan defiled by Seattle Grease

I was looking forward to writing, "Earlier today, I was in Michigan. Tomorrow I won't be able to say the same thing," and throwing it out on the internet.

But getting off a plane, having a booster seat lost by the airline, having my wife and kids wait on one side of the airport while I dealt with a customer service guy on the other, Megan's feet burning from bug bites, and my kids just wanting to get the eff out of the airport and go home, and then the unpacking and making of food really quick, and having to do a quick grocery shop, eeeeehhhh I was just a liiiiittle bit tired. So a simple social media update was not going to happen.

Anyway, yesterday I was in Michigan. It had been five years. Lucy's first birthday was so long ago!


First Parent-Teacher Conference, Sixth Birthday Surprise School Visit

I know, right? Talk about traumatic. It was a earlier in the year, but I never blogged about it, and I'm going to tie it in to a birthday story.


"Diamonds in the Sky"—notes

Lucy's been talking about writing a song called "Diamonds in the Sky" for about a week. Megan came to me last night and requested help writing the song, given my area of expertise. So I whipped out MSWord to take some notes, give Lucy a short typing tutorial, and take down whatever lyrics she hopefully had in mind. The following is what emerged from last night's brainstorming session.


At what age is it appropriate for humans to watch South Park?

Megan owns a sizeable collection of South Park seasons on DVD, and Beatrix loves to look at them. They look kid-friendly if you judge them by their covers, right? (Marketing—sell it to the kids' money-having parents.)

We don't let Bibi watch South Park. She'll be four years old in less than a month, and her tastes are still child-specific. She loves to play Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and watch Curious George, Daniel Tiger, and My Little Pony. And Pingu, Busytown Mysteries, Dora, and Diego before Netflix removed them. Funding, rights, revenue, Nickelodeon, whatever.


Sharing a Black Voice: Phil Bouie

I'm Facebook friends with a guy named Phil, and he posted the following today. He gave me permission to share it, so without further ado, I give you Phil Bouie:
If people just took the time to listen, we wouldn't be in this situation as a country right now.
Ya'll can say what you want, but the point is: You're not black. You don't know.
You don't know what it's like for folks like me in this country. You don't. Instead you hypothesize, you use conjecture, you try and relate your own experiences (as non-black people) to folks like me and you can't. When women talk to me about the hardships they face strictly because of their gender, I don't counter their remarks by saying, "This is what's it like for me as a black guy." No, that's not how dialogue works. And if you think that's the way to have a productive conversation, you're a total [something].
Being black in America is like a being in a quasi abusive relationship. On an almost daily basis we have to process messaging that reinforces the idea that we're less than. In the Information Age, I would argue this is a daily thing. And that's something most of you can't understand. We're constantly told what's wrong with us. It can be large, meaningful things or it can be trivial nonsense. 
For instance, I ask people all the time, what do think of when you see a fire hydrant? For most of you, it's the fire department or a firefighter. Do you know what I think of first? Black people getting sprayed with firehoses during the civil rights movement...and I fucking wasn't even alive then! That's imagery I internalized as a kid and have carried with me into adulthood. That's not taught. My parents didn't do that. Other black people have different triggers. We all have them though, and if you think we don't, you're naive. The first time I saw Emmett Till's battered face in an open casket, I wasn't even his age. You don't forget shit like that. You don't. You can't even if you tried. And if you're like, "That was over fifty years ago!" What, you think a black man in 2015 can't end up at the bottom of a lake for being attracted to someone outside of his race? You're naive as hell.
And the media only reinforces these images and messages on a 24-hour loop. People that look like me and express themselves in a childish, violent manner are "thugs." Fair enough. Looting is stupid. I don't agree with it at all. The problem is, people don't limit that perspective to 50-100 black people in inner city Baltimore. Nope, suddenly those handful of people become the entire representation of my race! What the fuck is that!? And then some talking head on the news will ask Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg or other prominent black person who isn't even educated, "What the hell is up with your people?" Those motherfuckers don't speak for us. Why didn't anyone ask Toby Keith or Rush Limbaugh what "white people" are going to do after the Aurora movie Mass Shooting? Nobody asked Courtney Love what to do in response to the elementary school shooting in Newtown. People who aren't black listen to the thoughts and words of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson more than we do. I can't tell you how many times I see a sarcastic article like, "Black teens film kid getting beat down. WHERE'S AL SHARPTON!?"
Fuck Al Sharpton. He's an opportunist parasite. Who cares.
And once again, peaceful protests would be ideal but it's not realistic. Pop quiz hotshot, name one modern black leader who hasn't been killed or smeared by the federal government or American culture? You can't. 
1) Because you don't know any (thanks education system).
2) Many of them were killed or put in prison. 
Obama isn't a "black leader," he's the "leader of this country." Everyone wants to talk about MLK Jr. The truth is, if we had another MLK Jr., that guy would end up dead. Someone would kill that guy. True story. 
Others have different solutions outside of peaceful protests. "Well, if they had a two parent household..." Last time I checked, America has a divorce rate of approximately 50% regardless of race. Second, because we house roughly 1/5 of the WORLD'S INCARCERATED POPULATION in our own prisons, you can guess where dear old dad is at. And it isn't as simple as saying, "Well, if they obeyed the law, it wouldn't happen." Black folks can get harassed and locked up just for being around. True story. All it takes is a phone call from "a concerned citizens" (read: someone who is scared or unwilling to communicate with a black person) and that's it, you're done. Either you're cuffed or your shot. Maybe both. Whatever. 
You attend school, many of your teachers think you're stupid or lazy. You play sports, people assume that's your sole purpose on this Earth. You walk into just about any department store, everyone thinks you're there to steal. You speak correct English, people wonder why you're "acting white." 
Obviously people like me are just here to rap, tell jokes and provide ya'll with drugs. That's mostly what I've internalized my 32 years on this Earth. 
Something as small as crossing the street is more difficult for people like me than it is for most of you. Don't believe me? Look it up. Black folks have known this for years, but they had to conduct a "study" on it anyway. 
People like me have to prove we're not something (insert hundreds of years of stereotyping) before we get the opportunity to prove we are something. We get no benefit of the doubt. Zero. 
People like to speak on the power of the individual in America. You know, work hard and make something of yourself. The American Dream. That's fine and dandy. But when you have outside forces constantly telling you that you are shit, that's not so easy to do. Have you ever been verbally abused by someone on a regular basis? How productive are you in situations like that? As a young black boy, you have no worries (if you're lucky). As soon as you get to adolescence, that shit is over. You're now a potential threat to society and it happens almost overnight. 
I'm an exception. I've had it better than 99% of the Black Americans in this country. And if this is how I feel, you can't even imagine how black people in Baltimore and other impoverished areas feel. You won't find a word intense enough in the English language. 
Stop pretending that you know and just listen for once. 
(And yeah, I know black folks have a lot fucked up issues that "we" don't address. Glorifying the wrong things, materialism, misogyny, homophobia, blinded by religion, a lack of self-respect, not enough of an emphasis on becoming better educated, etc. If you want a rant on all that bullshit, I'd be happy to give you week or something.)
I found this poignant. This is an important piece. Phil kind of encapsulates the entire black experience. You can feel his rage and the years of punishment coming through to the surface, but he keeps it in check. I know not everyone will agree with him, but as a white man, I feel it's important to recognize and share black experiences.

I know I've never done that on this blog before, but Phil inspired me today. He did the majority of the work, too.

Phil's one of the more expressive guys on my FB feed, and his posts are usually defiantly lengthy, and somehow both passionate, and measured. This one I thought was particularly good. It inspires me.

I guess now's the time for me to make some grande statement about what it's like to be white, but that's not interesting. That doesn't help anybody. Being white is way too easy. Refusing to conform to norms, however—that's difficult for everyone.

Someday I'm going to have to cut my hair off. I know. But I'm a rock star, you're all just going to have to accept that. And the harder minorities have to fight for equality, the easier it is for me to pipe in, from my hiding place over in the corner of the room, my little mouse voice going, "Yeah! And I don't have to be like all the other white men with short hair!"


Handwritten Note, Subsequent Criticism, Further Unpacking

I already hate what I've written. It seems like it comes from someone with real anger issues, about to burst at the seams, and trying to rationalize bad behavior. It seems like I'm writing about a specific person. Really, I was trying to generalize! In my mind, I was an advice columnist, helping people.

And I think it's cool to write stuff down and then look at it with a critical eye, as if it was written by someone else, because that's how cool and comfortable with myself I am: I can switch personalities at the push of a button, and I can write something down which came from my brain, but then, unlike a typewriter writer tearing out the page, crumpling and tossing it trashward, I can take a picture of it, and look at it. Pure, unedited me. But then, it's out on paper, and it's not me! I'm me, I'm right here. That thing, that's there, and that's all it is, it's a thing, it's not me. I made it, but it's not me, it's outside of me now, but it's a reflection of what's inside of me, and now I can look at it, and scan it, and be like, that sucks, mmm, that sucks, that's good, and boy, am I glad no one else is going to be able to read this, but then I take pictures of it and post it anyway, BECAUSE THAT'S HOW COOL I AM!

I would change the "anything" in the first sentence to "something," because what if you're both, like in the kitchen together, cooking and drinking and listening to music? Life is good! 

You shouldn't be afraid to ask your partner anything at any time!

Well, that's not true, either. One must judge the target of one's question's mood before asking. It's a way to sort of sail smoothly through life, but it's hard to get right. And that's why I ended with the balance concept.

Sometimes though, I have to admit, I'm playing a video game, and Megan comes in, perfectly expecting to ask me something, because fuck video games, she's a person with flesh, blood and a brain and I love her, but I'm also frustrated at the game, and I don't respond like an adult, and that's a generous appraisal of my reactions sometimes. But men yell and scream. It's what we do. We're supposed to be macho and make loud noises to scare away other predators from our flock/herd/murder/pride/gaggle.

So I need work, I always need work, and I always want to recognize that in myself, because I never want to stop improving (and the more I work with 20-year-olds, the more I realize how much I have improved myself already). But also, relationships are work. You know how I know? Because the importance given to doing some kind of work every day around the house has risen exponentially since I had kids. I'm the stay-at-home dad, ya know? I'm the one who's at home more, so it stands to reason that I should not only share the workload, but do more chores than Megan. Because kids add a little bit to the overall everything—dishloads, laundry loads, messes on the floor and the furniture, the overall noise level, and that kind of covers the basis. Smells, as well. Germs. Illnesses. It all rises a little bit, and it adds up at the end of the day. For example, right now I have one pair of clean comfortable socks in my drawer, and I haven't done laundry yet today, because I had to wash myself, feed my children, sweep our floors, and look the other way from the disgusting interior of our microwave just be be able to do all that. Soon, microwave, you will be clean, bastard!

I was thinking to myself, as I was trying to think of a list of things to do today, as I was feeling good about my positive, forward thinking at my decision to make a list, as I was getting out of the shower and feeling clean, that when Beatrix is in school in less than two years, I'll be more free. Right now, I feel like I'm on the tail end of a very definitive phase of parenthood—that of pre-kindergarten-kid-care. When that day comes, I'll have more time to do things during the day.

Today, what I must do is put some of the recordings Andrew and I worked on for Freeze up on our Bandcamp page, and update the thing. Next, do some calendar outreach for Startup Weekend Bothell. But before that, publish my interview with a WBBA dude. That was fun. Then practice guitar because it's been a few days. 

Hey, did you guys know that Megan and I have been working hard on a cheesy pop cover?



Lucy made these seven sketches of Link yesterday like it was nothing, and I'm still impressed. The process took her half an hour. They were drawn with marker and some crayon.

Lucy is never without support on this at home. Grandma Smith mailed her a box of oil pastels and a sketchbook for her birthday last week, adding to the crayons, markers, and watercolors in her collection. Her mom brings blank and scrap sheets of paper home from work whenever we're running low, keeping us in full supply of sketch paper. So we're going to see more great work from her in the future, I'm sure of it. There's already a backlog of drawings I could capture and post here.

On Instagram I've got a hashtag going called #LZD. It's an acronym for Lucy's Zelda Drawings. She loves "The Legend of Zelda" game series, and is an avid player. Since she started drawing Link sometime around the time she was three, she never stopped. Link defines her, in a way. He's her model, her muse—and not just in art, but in imitation. Lucy wears her Link hat, sword and shield at almost all times that she's at home. It's like her security blanket. She's always in costume, so much so that I often tell her to take her sword and shield off before she hugs or sits next to me.

Alas, my hope of an easy, space-saving acronym for the categorization of Lucy's many drawings was dashed—for if you search #LZD on Instagram, you get mostly fashion shots. So I think I need to change it to #LucysZeldaDrawings. It's not bad.

#SocialMediaProblems #InstagramProblems #Hashtag

If only anyone ever made money creating visual art, amirite? If Lucy ever wanted to pursue graphic design, it might be right in her wheelhouse. But she just turned six. Easy dad, she's got a ton of development through which to go.

Here's my two girls when Lucy was making those aforepictured sketches.

And here she is on her birthday, last week. They made her a crown at school and sang to her, and she kept it on all day, all thru the school day, too! I know, because her sister and I came to her school for a visit—more on that later.


Awesome TechRepublic article on parenting and modern forms of screen time

This is a great article:

Ubiquitous screens pose new parenting challenges in the 21st century

Author Alex Howard (@digiphile) covers long-established pediatricians' recommendations about kids and how much daily TV or screen time is appropriate. Current standards set the limit at 2 hours, which holds true in the age of Internet 2.0. The changing landscape of television merging with pads, tablets, and myriad apps for kids labeled 'educational,' the old rules need a refresher.

Howard talks to a couple experts in the field and comes away with some solid recommendations. Click that link above and read it. It made me want to take my younger daughter outside, while the older one has all this awesome social time at school.


'No Middle Finger' and Bunk Beds

It's morning and I'm up before the girls, half an hour before my alarm.

Something Lucy said a few weeks ago stuck with me. It was a, 'Wow, she's maturing' moment. When she first started to come home on the bus, she would often be crying or near tears, because her bus driver often yells at the other, older kids. Kindergarten was a big change for Lucy. When I raise my voice at all, it's kind of devastating for my girls. So the bus driver yelling at other kids every day seems to have toughened her up / made her more able to handle bad things going on around her, with which she's tangentially involved.

A few weeks ago, she came home, and we were sitting just inside the front door, taking off our shoes. I asked how the bus ride went. She said, forlorn, "The bus driver yelled at the kids in the back." Then, as she does, she kind of dance-jumped away and said, emphatic and positive and helpful, "I wish they would just sit down!"

Loving this conversation, as it delved to new, maturer depths between her and I, I responded, "I know, right? Why don't they just behave?"

Keeping the enthusiasm, showing me she's learned something and probably trying out a new phrase, she said, "Yeah, he says, 'Sit down, and no middle finger.'"

At that point, a ceiling of bricks kind of fell on my head. Was it time to have that talk? Before I could formulate a response, because now that I think about it I must have looked confused, Lucy offers, "I think John thinks that if you stick out your middle finger, someone will pull it, and that would hurt."

Her gears were turning, trying to make sense of this new thing she witnessed—in execution, and in getting caught. So I said nothing, not absolutely sure that it was the right thing to do, but not sure what to say.

I'm not usually one to avoid important issues. I believe open communication is important. But this time, I felt it appropriate to save the middle finger talk for another time. Maybe instead of me coloring her opinion and eventual reactions, I can just let her see how it plays out in the real world. And I can wait for her to come to me with a question about it. I'm always here.

On to another thing. Lucy's turning 6 this month, which is the age some doctor-ly source says it's safe for kids to sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed. So a few days ago, Megan ordered some bunk beds. Isn't it great to upgrade parts of your life, and simultaneously say goodbye to parts that weren't that great? We're saying goodbye to a mattress-plus-pillow-cover-on-the-floor situation. No more sharing of a single bed for them. They each get a new, fun bed to sleep in.

Here, let me take a picture of them before they get up, in their old bed.

Yesterday, while Lu was at school, Bibi and Megan and I drove to Ikea Seattle (read:Redmond) and purchased a mattress & pillow cover for the other bunk. The bunk bed frame should arrive tomorrow in the mail from a different company, probably magically assembled in their room upon arrival.

Ikea's marketing scheme is genius—if you follow the path they set out for you, following the light-arrows on the floor, you pass by everything. The shortcuts are there, but not obvious. It's so smooth. Those Swedes and their excellent communication skills.


Auditing Edio

Today, it's like any other Saturday—I stink, I'm under rested, I worked till 11 last night and I'm in for 10.75hrs today starting at 12:45, my kids are both home, and my wife is at work.

And last night, "I May Have Seen the Devil" opened, featuring a soundtrack designed by none other than me. And my next job is to—

Lucy's pretending to be an inventor.

—to post said soundtrack on Bandcamp, in the hopes that it might draw people in to buy tickets.

And let me tell you, people, you won't be disappointed, if you like your art on the darker, avant side. It talks up, not down, to you.

When I saw the actors running through this thing last Tuesday for the first time with the lights and the music, they brought me to tears. Twice. Ophelia's funeral really works, and coming back from Intermission, Hamlet's evil theme really makes the tense argument between her and the queen seem real. It all works so well together. Where before it had been rehearsal, it finally seemed like a play.

I'm so proud of this thing. It's so good! So anyway, I hope they broke legs last night and by now they're probably rock stars, and at the last performance where I live-perform the music, the day after my 33rd birthday, it's going to rule so hard. I should bring champagne for all the guests that night and toast to the actors and Alejandro and Maren.

Okay, so but I also like have this other, other thing, right? Which is posting my band's Jan.15 Highline show online, which requires some editing. And like any good cook, I handle the first ticket in front of me. So that one's been getting a little old and I wanna get it done. And having to post the play in the back of my mind will hurry me along.

So I got my laptop in the bathroom with me, right? Because I keep it clean in there and I wash the hands and sanitize the buttons and come on, are you gonna tell me you've never taken your laptop into your bathroom with you? I mean, I've got a little table right there. So anyway, I'm in there, editing the Freeze show audio, and BB, still in pajamas at 10am, taking a break from her seventh hour of TV, comes in and goes, "Dad, what are you doing?"

"I'm auditing edio!" was my caffeinated response. And then I started laughing. She went back to her tv and her sister who's usually at school.

If I don't completely screw up my kids, it'll be a miracle.


Built Upon Solid Rock

One time I was riding the bus as a little kid and I flipped the bus driver off behind her back and she saw me in the big mirror above her head. She said she was going to write me up. I told my mom after school. Pissed. She called Mrs. Gunia to have me apologize. I remember her tone of voice and the feel of the phone to my ear and my mom standing over me, arms crossed, watching as I said to Mrs. Gunia, "I'm sorry I gave you the finger today on the bus." She said, "That's okay. You know, I didn't write you up." My mom taught me that you have to correct your mistakes as soon as you make them, and it means talking to people and apologizing to them when you've stepped in the poo. Being a real person. She also made me write thank you notes to people who gave me gifts. If I have any good qualities at all today, it's because she gave the solid foundation on which to build them. So now instead of a toast to you, Kathleen AB, because day drinking is irresponsible, I'm going to do dishes for the mother in my current life before I go cook for other people.


Composing for "I May Have Seen the Devil"

So here are a few pictures of me doing this play thingy. Check out our Indiegogo page at the link below. The music playing during the video is my own.

The first two pictures below were taken at Seattle's Littlest Performers, on the north side of the Ave. They rent rehearsal rooms. We didn't kick any kids out. Honest. It was my first rehearsal with this bunch. Improvising, I came up with a full piece, containing a beginning, middle, and end, with just my guitar and a delay pedal.

Everyone reacted positively, telling me it sounded good and made the scene more enjoyable for them, in various ways. One actor told me it helped her find her groove. Another told me at a later rehearsal that when my guitar sounds swell up it gives her goosebumps during her lines.

We were off to a good start.

These next few were taken at Theater Puget Sound, within the Seattle Center. Here I tried my hand at some bass improv, and came up with some really ghostly, sorrowful chord shapes to be played during a funeral scene.

All photos by Alejandro Stepenberg