August 22, 2008

Watching my son watch Great Big Sea at Wolf Trap

Sorry it's been so long -- if any of you are still out there, of course. My old friend TJ mentioned in comments that were devoured by my spam filter that he's running for the General Assembly. Consider it reposted. If you can vote for a Libertarian, I can vouch for his character as long as we're not talking about dorm room games of Earl Weaver Baseball.

...What? Oh, yeah, the subject! Great Big Sea! Wolf Trap!

I'm sitting in a Courtyard by Marriott. An exhausted, unconscious six-year-old in a hide-a-bed told me this morning that this is the most amazing place ever. He's worn out from a great deal of jumping up and down and socializing in rows C and D at the Filene Center, his closest vantage point ever for GBS. Watching him dance in place -- as I sometimes danced with him -- I felt inexpressable joy, such happiness generated from his own. Great Big Sea is not kids' music. Certain innuendo flies over his head (for now, thankfully), and I'm finding little ways to remind him that their drinking songs are not exactly role model moments. But the melodies and beat are so accessible, it's hard not to get swept away by them. The family of four behind me -- the elder son eagerly showing mine his parents' iPhone lightsaber -- seemed to have a similar experience.

All that is to explain that I spent most of the time watching Will watch the concert, and not focusing as much on the stage as I otherwise would have. That and my despised-but-necessary ear plugs probably reduced the impact of the show. That aside....

Much like their current album Fortune's Favour, the Wolf Trap gig presented a band in transition: uneven, but undeniably powerful. The between-song rambles revealed some fatigue, and that plus the gigantic album-cover backdrop made them seem oddly smaller on that Filene Center stage than I'd ever seen them before. Their mailing list just sent an e-mail breathlessly reporting that "The boys are performing in Vienna, VA right now and are making an important announcement to the audience.... Great Big Sea will be at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore, MD on October 25." Someone should have reminded "the boys" to announce it.

Their new music was potent and drew a positive response, however, particularly "Love Me Tonight," "England," "Here and Now," and "Walk on the Moon." The latter thrilled my son, who a few hours earlier stood in awe at Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's actual space suits at the Smithsonian. Several of the classics were represented as well. Typifying the night, Sean McCann began "General Taylor" strongly, then wandered the stage without an apparent plan, before reasserting himself, sitting on the edge and blowing the roof off.

It wasn't a perfect night. Then again, it didn't have to be. I was there with my son, wolfing down hummus, veggies and flatbread after having danced and sung with him. I'm better than content. I'm happy.

June 26, 2007

On Jonathan Coulton and Parenthood, Two Well-Worn Topics

So there's this guy you may have -- should have -- heard of. Jonathan Coulton. Musician. Sidekick. Troubadour. (No, really; he's the official troubadour for both I'm-a-PC-Areas-of-my-Expertise John Hodgman and Popular Science.) He made his claim to fame with songs like "Code Monkey" and his white-boy acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." His complete catalog of music is here, while there's also a less intimidating page of listening suggestions.

Popular Science recently held a make-your-own-video contest for Coulton's song, "I Feel Fantastic," an ode to our over-medicated society -- embedded here for your entertainment (and to break up the page). I'll be back after the song to talk about one of his songs about parenthood (yes, parenthood again).

Very lovely, very lovely. Golf claps for Mr. Coulton and Ms. Crain all around.

I first encountered Coulton through his December 10 interview on Morning Edition with Andrea Seabrook. They played his biggest "hits," "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" (smug corporate zombies in cubicles for the win!), but the song that captured me was "You Ruined Everything." It's a love song to a child. Yes, I mean it:

I was fine
I pulled myself together
Just in time
To throw myself away
Once my perfect world was gone I knew
You ruined everything
In the nicest way

Coulton writes in the liner notes:

I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling - I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.

In the interview, Coulton and Seabrook talked about the way new parenthood strips you down -- you find yourself inhabiting clichés such as "it's all for you." Hearing their conversation brought it all back -- the panic I felt before his birth because I knew I was going to screw it all up, the claustrophobia I felt as our social world (necessarily) shrank due to our new responsibilities, the mutual aggravation when Shannon and I contend(ed) with a child who knew better but misbehaved anyway, dammit!, and the love and pride when he gets it right.

In this song, as well as his ode to the suburban nightmare "Shop-Vac," Coulton brings the candy-coated Harsh to his music -- but finishes with heart. He may please the geeks like me with songs like "Code Monkey," but songs like "You Ruined Everything" show that he's more than a gimmick songwriter. Much more.

June 9, 2007

Jumping Monkeys

A new podcast dedicated to parenting in the digital age: Jumping Monkeys, hosted by former TechTV personalities Leo Laporte and Megan Morrone. Having started drinking from a podcasting firehose ever since I got an iPod, this podcast scratches a completely different itch. I'm not in the tech industry, but the hosts' observation that parenting and family issues are something of a taboo there rings true. So Jumping Monkeys feels pretty fresh: the first full podcast is an intriguing look at how current Web2.0(TM) technologies such as Twitter and Flickr can intersect with parenthood.

Shannon and I are both listening to this one, and she's finding it a lot more enjoyable than Star Wars Galaxies with Yivvits and MrBubble. Hard to believe.

(Oh, yeah. I'm back.)

March 5, 2005

Enthusiasm, check. Vocal range, notsomuch...

...which is what you'd read if you could see the text crawl at the end of this short QuickTime video which demonstrates that Will has heard way too much Great Big Sea and not enough "The Wheels on the Bus" for his age. (His previous performance, which prompted Shannon to grab the video camera, was letter-perfect if not note-perfect.)

Apologies to my regular readers (both of you) for the string of parenting-related posts. It's actually helped me get through my bloggers' block. More varied material to follow.

March 2, 2005

That's my boy!

Remember, he just turned three:

WILL: Mommy, I think cookies should be shaped like keys. Then they could be coo-keys!

His first pun. (sniff) I'm so proud.

March 1, 2005

You Know You're a Parent...

...when you suddenly start identifying with the father in Calvin and Hobbes rather than the son.

Wearily, I realize that raising Will and any hypothetical sibling won't just be about teaching. It'll be about winning battles.

December 8, 2004

Extreme Punishment

"No, Daddy! I'm sorry! I won't do it again! Please don't make me wear...."

(Truth in advertising: Will doesn't really understand the depths of human loathing of all things Jar Jar. He's a good actor.)

(In our defense: The pajamas were a gift from his grandmother, who doesn't understand the depths of human loathing of all things Jar Jar either....)

July 9, 2004

Vile 'Parents'

Even if I weren't feverish and woozy today, news like this would make me want to throw up.

TRENTON, Tennessee (AP) -- A couple facing criminal abuse charges forced some of their 18 foster, adopted and biological children -- many of them disabled -- to dig their own graves, warning the youngsters they could be killed and nobody would care, according to investigative documents.

June 5, 2004

Proud Papa

I'll finish my aikido stories later tonight. For now, I just want to crow that my kid can finally work the pedals on his tricycle. And he just lined up the trike with two smaller riding toys and pronounced it a "parking lot."

OK, that's evidence we go shopping too much. But I've got a cool kid here...

February 29, 2004

Learning Curve

"OK, Will, now you hide and I'll try to find you."

"OK, Daddy!"

Gallop gallop gallop down the hall. I start counting.

"...9...10! Ready or not, here I come!"

Gallop gallop gallop back up the hall. He grabs me around the legs.

"You found me, Daddy!"

"Will, you're supposed to hide!"

Shannon decides to help teach Will how to play hide-and-seek as a hider. They hide together in the bathroom.

"Ready or not, here I come!"

From down the hall I hear, "Mommy, Daddy's looking for me. Mommy, we're in the bathroom." Shannon can barely contain herself from laughing. Stealth is not yet this child's forte.

We try again. They hide. "Ready or not, here I come!" I start wandering. "Where are you, Will!"

Loudly: "In the bathtub, Daddy!" Shannon collapses. Will beams.

We all want to be found. Some play harder to get than others.

February 18, 2004

Missing My Focus

"Got it? Okay, let's begin."

Hazelrigg sensei clapped and rose from his knees. I blinked. What had he been demonstrating? Oh, right: shomenuchi ikkyo surariwaza. So why did I have no memory of the last two minutes?

Because my mind was far from the dojo. And it wasn't coming back. At the water break I begged off the rest of the aikido class.

I had to deliver some flyers for a Seven Nations concert to a college student who wasn't home yet, so I detoured to the Chapel Hill Borders. But I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home.

With Will.

The last couple of weeks, he's been increasingly fragile. (Or, if you don't like kids, fussy. Or, if you love kids but are forced to live with them because they're yours, tantrum-prone if you're not careful.) Before aikido and going to the office, the litany's been the same: "Don't go, Daddy."

I can resist that just about one time per day. Gotta pay the bills. It's every time after when I'm stopped cold. Aikido attendance has suffered mightily since.

I don't want to spoil him. Neither is it guilt that keeps me at home more often than not. Half the problem is unrelated to parenting: late hours at the office, long drives from the office and to the dojo, early starting time for class. But the other half is simple: I love this child and don't see enough of him. Today I spent all of an hour and a half with him. Tomorrow I will blink and he will be asking for the car keys because he has a date.

There are things I can do to fulfill both heart's desires, for my child and to master aikido. I can go to bed earlier, get up earlier, go to work earlier, leave work earlier, spend more time with Will, go to aikido with a clearer conscience.

The steps are obvious. So why don't I take them?

February 16, 2004

Train Up a Child...

The next step: bagpipes.

December 14, 2003

I Blame My Family

Over Thanksgiving, my father and brother were amused by the brand name of the yogurt we feed Will: YoBaby. Of course, they started trying to get Will to repeat "Yo baby!" It didn't take much, and Will let out a stream of "Yo babys": matter of fact, quizzical, Barry White, and Dirty Old Man. (The last was really unnerving coming from a not-yet-two-year-old.) I kept hoping Will'd forget. And he hadn't said it in weeks.

Tonight, at the grocery store somewhere in the canned veggies, our shopping cart passed an attractive twentysomething's. Will turned to her, and said -- softly, but with the Dirty Old Man voice -- "Yo baby."

I kept going. Stared straight ahead. Refused to make eye contact.

October 15, 2003

I Guess It's a Phase

If Will had his way, every day would be Waffle Day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

With Great Big Sea's "Donkey Riding" as background music.

October 11, 2003

Ten Times

We drive to Applebee's. We put a tape in the deck: Great Big Sea's Road Rage, one of the best live albums ever. The opening song is a bouncing Newfoundland traditional song, "Donkey Riding."

The song ends. The audience cheers.

A small voice from the car seat.


We humor him. We rewind. We play the song again.


Humor. Rewind. Replay.


Humor. Rewind. Replay.


Psychic internal scream. Rewind. Replay.

He was very happy.

I can't listen to the album again for a few days.

September 5, 2003

Massed Coo

That was the sound I heard when I visited The Daily Tar Heel Wednesday with my too-sick-for-day-care son in tow. I had to take a couple of half-days so Shannon wouldn't burn all her sick days (as a part-time teacher) during the first month of classes, so I figured I'd take Will on an errand in the process. As my old friend Lisa Reichle led me through the newsroom on a brief tour, Will apparently made an impression on the ladies. A toddler on a college campus is as much a babe magnet as a puppy, except for the small detail that bearing a toddler tends to imply that you are either (a) married, (b) old or (c) all of the above.

If reincarnation were part of my faith, this incident would have had me leaving notes wherever my future self could find them: "In college, get a puppy."

Pushing the stroller, stopping for air conditioning breaks and giving him sips of water, introducing him to Lisa -- for the first time during a UNC campus visit, I felt like a different person than the one who graduated in '92.

August 19, 2003

Deserving Exile

When your son asks you for a horseback ride, and you deliver, and he slips off before you or your wife can catch him, biting his own lip in the process, then you instantly go from feeling like the World's Best Daddy to not feeling fit for associating with human society.

June 25, 2003

Shifting Emphasis

It only happens extraordinarily rarely -- say, once every couple of years or so -- that I happen to notice a member of the opposite sex who is not my wife who is also attractive. Such notices are fleeting indeed, then I lapse back into the reverie that is my meditation on my wife's eternal beauty.

So that rare event happened at Applebee's this afternoon, while my co-workers and I waited for fifteen hours for our orders -- I filled out my customer comment card with bloody runes -- when I noticed across the restaurant a blonde woman wearing one of those summer skirt outfit thingees. "Ah," I said. "She is aesthetically pleasing."

Then I looked at her lunchtime companion. He was dark-haired and about two feet tall. He was holding onto her hand, walking with a slightly inexperienced stumble. He led her to the step between the bar section and the raised dining area, and plopped down to sit just like Will does on the step to the den.

For the next few minutes all I could do was sneak looks -- at the toddler. And think about my son. And about how both these kids are experiencing the rapid-firing of neurons and the first inclinations of "cause and effect."

As I titled my last entry, "I'm a Sucker." I'm surprised how enchanted I've become with childhood and children since Will was born. I've always liked children, but impending-fatherhood panic made me forget it. I relearned it real quick after January 21, 2002.

But for me to miss a prime scoping opportunity because I was too busy appreciating childhood?

Sucker about covers it.

June 19, 2003

Pride and determination

It's been a while since I've had the time to blog. Shannon's taken a temporary summer job (for which part-time options were sadly scarce) so Will's in day care longer than we'd really care for each day for the next few weeks.

As I am inherently more dense than my wife (and she does spend more time with Young Master -- something which I'm working on) she tends to catch more of his developmental milestones. I was there for the first time he crawled (though in retrospect using my glasses as bait to encourage him wasn't terribly bright), and he took his first stumbling almost-steps toward me in Shannon's parents' den. That's about all I remember, while Shannon has everything meticulously catalogued, notarized and filed in her head.

Oh, yeah -- his first word was "kitty" and I was there for that as well.

Anyway, a couple of nights ago I was most definitely, vividly there and in the moment for another developmental milestone. There's a single step down from our kitchen to the den, and Will has always been fairly adept at steadying himself against the wall as he works his way down and back.

Shannon was on her computer, and I was watching Will when he stood in the center of the step, away from the walls on either side, and very cautiously, thoughtfully, stepped slooooowly down...

...and didn't fall. We clapped and cheered, and he ate up the adulation, of course.

That wasn't what stuck in my mind, though. Shannon resumed her computing. And I watched as Will turned around and immediately tried to walk back up the step, with much less trepidation. He couldn't quite pull himself up, and dropped to his knees. As I watched in amazement, he turned around, walked almost casually down the step, turned around again, and tried again. Stumble. Drop. Crawl. Turn. Step Down. Turn. Step Up. Stumble. Drop. Crawl. Turn. Step Down. Turn. Step Up. Stumble...

Over and over he tried, adding a little choreography by running across the kitchen, tagging the refrigerator, then coming back to the step to try again.

This was the first time I saw my son set his mind to something with the clear intention to "get something right." I could see the determination in his face. The gears were turning in his head. He was going to climb that step without using his hands. This was a challenge.

He finally figured it out last night. But I'm in awe of what I saw the night before: the further evolution of Will's personality. It's the kind of awe every parent feels when their child takes a first step, literally or metaphorically. But just because it's universal doesn't mean it's any less special when you see it.

February 16, 2003

Oh, God. It begins

Someone just reached up, banged away at my Windows box's keyboard, and somehow managed to open a work document in Microsoft Word.

Now I'm going to have to figure out how to babyproof the computer before he starts rewriting my stuff and spamming it. My son, the biological Klez virus.

December 29, 2002

It's either his ears or his teeth.

Whichever it is, there's a certain baby who's gotten very fussy and clingy at home all of a sudden. And although we'd made progress, I've now reverted to merely "Not The Mommy."

Way to make me feel useful, kid...

November 11, 2002

After further review...

...the play does not stand as called.

He walked. Just -- not at that particular time. He walked later. :)

November 4, 2002

I never get tired of this

It's a great thing to have a son. Especially such a happy one.

Parental units and others who would like a bigger version (suitable for desktop wallpaper, Mom and Dad!) can click here. (Right-click on it and choose "Save Picture As..." to download it to your computer.)

Yes, this was his Halloween costume. No, we don't dress him like that regularly.

October 3, 2002 the old block?

A couple of nights ago, Will discovered that he could easily climb up the single step from our den to the kitchen. (Looks like it's time to be more vigilant about mopping!) What's more, he just as easily climbed back down the step. Thrilled with his discovery and our enthusiastic reaction, he climbed back up the step then turned around again.

And stopped. Having figured out that "down" is a little more complicated than "up," he had to study the situation. He gingerly reached down, backed up, considered, made another couple false starts, then proceeded to face-plant rather gracelessly.

He was none the worse for wear, and started tearing around the floor again. But I had a flash of recognition. The first time down the step, he just did it. The second time, he thought about it, dithered, then tumbled. Just like his Daddy has a tendency to do, in a lot of contexts.

When he was only a couple of months old, he'd stare entranced from his mother's lap as Daddy played Tribes 2.

And one of his favorite toys is an old, de-batteried remote control. With lots of buttons!

Against all expectations, I'm seeing parts of myself in Will. I thought he'd be a carbon copy (albeit male) of his Mom. Don't get me wrong -- there's a lot of her there, especially her brilliant smile (which Will wears much of the time). But I'm in the mix there too, so I can't get away with my constant joke that Will's so cute and smart, I can't figure out who the father is.

Fine by me. As his personality is developing, I'm thrilled to be making connections with him.

All the same, I hope I'll be able to teach him that it's okay to charge down the step sometimes.