Thursday, December 26, 2013


I made my son an omelette a few weeks ago, and he decided it was the best food he'd ever eaten. He's eaten omelettes nearly every morning since then.

Most days, he'd ask me for help cutting it up. Motor skills are a challenge with our little guy, so we try to encourage him to work on them as much as possible. But when he's hungry, I'll break down and cut his food for him. Boy's got to eat.

But I've tried to get him to do it. One day I noticed he ate his entire omelette without asking for help. I was so impressed. Then I  noticed that the knife and fork were spotless. He never used them. He just picked the omelette up with his fingers, like a hamburger or something. 

But I still gave him credit. Even if he didn't do what I expected, he found a solution without asking for help. That's what you do as a parent, especially if your kiddo has special needs. A victory is a victory. 

But then this happened. 

All I did was hand him the omelette and the fork and knife. The rest was all him. I didn't even notice at first what he'd done. And then I did. And I got a big grin on my face, and I told him how proud I was of him. He was grinning too. 

This was a good morning. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Obliterate Me

I love music. I listen to music constantly - for company, for motivation, for relaxation. And sometimes, when my hamster brain is moving at a frenetic pace, I need music to overwhelm me and take over my senses. There is some music that I listen to because I know it will demolish everything in my head and force me to listen listen listen listen dammit listen.

Music like this has a few basic requirements. It has to want to be played loud. It needs to be busy - every beat needs to be filled up with percussion, guitar, blips, samples, background singing, handclaps, something. It should be relentless. Vocals should not be subtle. Quiet is fine, but it should be intense quiet that builds to something larger and more explosive.

This is a short list I turn to when I need to be obliterated by sound. These are my songs. I want to hear about yours. Let me know in the comments.

Wilco -


"Poor Places"

Radiohead -

"The National Anthem"

Radiohead - The National Anthem(live SNL) from amnesiac440 on Vimeo.

"There There"

Temple of the Dog - "Reach Down"
(Note: this song deserves its own blog post, but I'll write that another day.)

The The - "Boiling Point"

Michael Jackson - "Don't Stop ('til You Get Enough)"

Gang of Four - "Anthrax"

Bob Mould - "Black Sheets of Rain"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Faith Restored

I figured he'd be miserable. It was election night and his guy lost.

I came to the election night party late. After the results had come in. I knew. We all knew. It was one of the races that was decided early. I arrived around ten, bought a drink, gave my friend a hug and asked him how he was doing.  And he surprised me. He said he was doing great.

My friend, B__, he's been doing political work for a long time. He's run a lot of campaigns. Some great, some disappointing. You win some, you lose some. It's a job. Even though he's young (younger than me), sometimes I see him as a grizzled old veteran of the political wars. He just does the job for whoever hires him. And that's where I was wrong.

B__ told me how proud he was to have worked on this campaign. He told me about the thousands of hours of volunteer service that the campaign had gotten. How he was the only paid staffer on a citywide campaign (!)  and yet, he was never the first person in the office. There was always some bright-eyed volunteer who got into the office before him because they just couldn't wait to get started.

And B__ told me about his candidate. Told me how proud he was to have worked for the candidate. He wasn't perfect, but he was dedicated to public service. He made decisions and he stuck with them, damn the consequences. And he was sincere. Too sincere, in fact, to make it as a politician.

But he had made an impression. Even in losing, he had made B__ proud to know him and work for him. And I think that this campaign, this losing quixotic campaign, renewed his faith in politics.

I believe in politics because I believe in people. I started in politics as a community organizer, and you have to believe in people to organize. You need to have a hard-wired belief that people are essentially good and that they will, given the choice, decide to do the best thing for the most people. That's politics, at its essence. That's what it's all about.

Politicians don't get into the job because they want to destroy people, or wield unrelenting  power. They do it because they care -  about their communities, about their neighbors, the kids on their block, the homeless people in their alleys. And political campaigners like B__ are seduced into the job. They fall in love with a candidate, and they devote themselves to a candidate. And win or lose, it's that love for the first candidate that they always hold onto. Sometimes it can just turn into a job. But at its heart, politics - and even political campaigns - come down to love.

I was proud that night to see that my friend wasn't mourning. There was fire in his eyes. He had rekindled his love for a public servant, someone who would rather be wrong than be victorious. He saw the goodness in his candidate and in the pursuit of victory for him. And he saw, for a brief few weeks, that that was the reason he'd gotten into politics in the field place.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Moment of Clarity

I've talked about my brother before. But I don't know if I've ever talked about what happened during his trial.

It had been several years since he died. We sorta gave up on the idea that his killers would ever be found. We knew who had done it, but they had fled the state and New Orleans' police was overwhelmed. This was before Katrina, and they were overwhelmed then. Too many outstanding warrants, too few cops.

And then my dad got a phone call. They had caught one of the suspects. The killers. And they wanted to fly us down for his trial. So my dad and I went down.

It was an odd time for me. I was going through bankruptcy, had had a relationship fall apart, and was rebuilding myself. My life was in complete flux.

So we flew down. I saw the guy who did it, sitting in the front row with his lawyer. He looked at me and did a double-take, like he'd seen a ghost. I look a lot like my brother, and maybe he thought he was being haunted. I hope he did.

I stayed for as long during the trial as I could, and then, when they started showing evidence, I left.  I took some time in the city to think, and as I left the room, I saw the family of the suspect. They were upset. Not because of what their son had done. They were in denial. They couldn't believe he had been accused of such a thing.

While I waited for the trial to end, I thought about the penalty phase. He was in Louisiana, which still had the death penalty. Would I accept someone being killed on my behalf?  After all, that's what it was all about. The state was enacting justice - killing him - on behalf of the victims. Me, my brother, and my dad.

I had thought about execution before, and I went back and forth and back and forth. Was it right? Was the death penalty ever justified? What about when it was my own family member? Was it different when it was my own family, the brother I had known for nearly 30 years, who was the victim? Where would I fall? It was a deep and wrenching struggle inside my heart.

I had talked to people who thought the purest form of the death penalty would be to allow the victim's family to carry it out personally against the killer. I thought was a bit brutal. Still, there was truth in that.

When he was convicted, I looked over at his parents again. They were crushed. The reality of what he had actually done - it devastated them.

I made a decision.

I went over to them and introduced myself. They had seen me of course, but they didn't know who I was, not by name. I was just "the victim's brother." I introduced myself. And I said that I didn't want the state to ask for the death penalty. And I said that if they did push for the death penalty, I would do anything in my power to help them fight it.

That was it. It was as simple as that.

I didn't feel conflicted. You think that when you make huge decisions like that, it's going to feel like you're still struggling. It doesn't. It felt like a cloudy day had suddenly turned to blue sky. Once I knew what I would do, I stopped caring if it was the best decision, the most reasonable decision. I stopped worrying what people would think. People like my dad. Or the prosecutor. It didn't matter. Because I was doing the right thing.

The prosecutor was a little stunned. He came up to me afterward and said that if I felt that way, I should have just told him. I didn't really know how to respond. I hadn't felt that way when the trial started. I didn't know until I knew.

These pure moments of clarity don't happen very often in one's life, but they're intensely powerful. It was the closest I've ever felt to following my heart. It was an incredibly serene feeling. You don't know it's going to happen until you know. And once you know, you look back and wonder why it was so hard to see.

I started going to church after that happened. Not because of it, but because I felt like church was a thing I needed in my life. I realized that that moment was something that the church describes as grace. A feeling of giving that is unmotivated by reward. The act of giving compassionately and generously. I let go of my anger and my desire for vengeance, and I accepted that my humanity and the killer's humanity were both valuable. I let go. I accepted that I could let it go.

Sometimes, you won't know the right thing to do until it's staring right at you. And when those moments come, don't worry about what you should do, or what the best argument would be, or what intellectually would be the best course of action. Listen to your heart. If you're right, then your heart will tell you. And if you listen to your heart, it is always the right thing to do.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eagles' Wings

The other day, my son told me that he wants to do something when he's a grown-up. He is going to make (invent? genetically engineer?) an eagle, 1000 times larger than regular eagles. Then he's going to fly the eagle around the world.

I told him that a 1000x eagle would be about the size of an airport. I think he liked that image.

He told me that for the trip, he'd need a safety harness, 10 seat belts, and a book. Probably a few books, he corrected himself.

Also, apparently he's going to have a lab that's bigger than the desert.

Gotta have somewhere to create your giant eagles, you know.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Surprise Television

I remember watching the 5th season of Buffy and being absolutely gobsmacked. Who was this Dawn person? Why was everybody acting like she had always been part of Buffy's life? What the hell was going on here?

It took weeks before it became clear what was happening.

The waiting was delicious. That feeling of "what the hell is happening here?" Remember that? That was before the days of the internet, the real 21st century 24/7/365 internet. Before Twitter and Facebook. Before every surprise was revealed days before it happened.

I saw Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Monday. And I loved it - it was fun and exciting and hilarious and everything I wanted.

But Cobie Smulders was right there at the opening scene, and I knew he was coming. Ron Glass was coming, and I knew he was coming.

I just sorta miss being surprised by something happening. Of course, I didn't know everything that was going to happen in the episode. (I stayed off Twitter for a while to avoid spoilers.) I just miss that feeling when tv shows would take a completely unexpected turn, and you had not the slightest inkling it was coming.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Dark Hand

It sneaks up on me in unexpected ways. Something goes just slightly wrong. My boss glares at me. The wife and I don't have dinner together. Or the news - the news drags me down often. Stories about children - stories about despair. The floods in Colorado. Meaningless deaths, natural disasters, shameful political behavior.

It doesn't matter if the story on the 5:00 news is big or small. It doesn't matter if I'm being fired or if the boss just growls at me a little. It's like I have a trapdoor inside my heart, and if I step the wrong way, down I go.

Depression is something that I live with. I don't think about it very often, but my mother was bipolar. My brother was almost certainly bipolar. Manic depressive, that's what it used to be. Manic highs and lows. You go up hard, you come crashing down like a plane that's run out of fuel.

I have had my bouts, when it was hard to focus or concentrate on anything except the sadness. After 9/11, I crashed hard for a few months. I was in a funk. I couldn't stop listening to the news, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't concentrate. I would cry unexpectedly, unpredictably. I went to therapy. I got better. But it never goes away. The dark hand never stops reaching for you. It's just that, for a while, it can't reach you. That doesn't mean it's not still clutching.

Anyway, sometimes I don't even know what causes my funks of depression. Sometimes it's just a collection of small things, inconsequential in themselves, but the combination of them just seems to set me reeling. And I'm in the cloud. The dark cloud, the cloud that follows me around like Pigpen's cloud of gloom. And nothing can snap me out of it.

When I'm depressed, it's like a horribly sick game of chess. I see how one thing can lead to another, can lead to another, and pretty soon I'm imagining how easily I could end up sleeping in my car. Or declaring bankruptcy again. Or maybe I'll lose this job, too. I can see everything going completely, awfully, catastrophically wrong. Every blue sky looks like a looming monsoon.

There are days when all I want to do is sleep, when anything else just seems to be too much effort. There are days when I don't think I can stand the effort of doing my job, talking to other people, being part of the world. And I just want to pull the covers over my head and go away. When I was younger, that was a solution to the petty aches and pains of teenager-hood. I slept a lot. I'd come home from school at 3 in the afternoon, go into my room, and nap until dinnertime. It's easier than feeling.

I could be an alcoholic very easily, I think. I can see that the cloud of alcohol haziness would be a comfort in times like this. The blur of not seeing straight, of not quite being able to hold your thoughts together. The comfort of not holding onto things. Like time. Like memory. Like feelings. I can see the appeal of that. But I don't drink. Not really. I don't let myself. We keep only a small amount of liquor in the house, and I only drink one or two drinks when I'm out. I don't drink at home. Maybe a beer. That's it.  

Mostly, it's being aware that I have this tendency. I can get depressed. I can sink hard into despair and sorrow and sometimes I don't even know it's happening. So I try to check myself. I try to evaluate where I am and whether or not I'm sinking. When I am, sometimes the best thing is to tell my wife what's happening. It's not her fault. Depression isn't anyone's fault, anymore than you can blame cancer on your obnoxious neighbor or your sister who never calls anymore. Depression is a condition that exists in my body. It's a biochemical defect, an error in the coding, and sometimes it flares up. If I know it's there, I can watch for the signs. And if I watch for the signs, I can pull myself up out of the nosedive before I fall too far.

You, dear readers. Thank you for listening when I just need to talk things out. This blog, after all, is mostly so that I can say things out loud. This - this depression thing - is a thing that I need to talk about sometimes.

If you experience this too - if the dark hand reaches out for you sometimes, talk about it. Let your loved ones know that it's a part of your life. Because it's a part of theirs, too. And they care about you, and they can't know how to help you and how to be there for you if they don't know what's going on. So talk to your friends. Let people know. Educate yourself and take care of yourself. Start a blog, hell, it's still legal. Don't hide. We don't need to be ashamed. We didn't do anything wrong. Don't be ashamed that you suffer. It's hard enough just suffering, without feeling like we're somehow failures too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Killers and Cops

For years, I avoided shows and movies that I thought were callous about the value of human life. I didn't read detective books or watch movies about serial killers (everything from Pulp Fiction to Silence of the Lambs.) Many people who have lost loved ones to violent crime tend to do this - I'm not alone. (For more, listen to the brilliant episode of This American Life called "How to Rest in Peace.")

I seem to be watching a show now that is immersed in the "serial killer" genre, and that has me thinking.

Now, first, the show is brilliant. Luther is the show. I'm a little late to the bandwagon - it came out in 2010 and hit our side of the pond in 2011. I'm watching it now on Netflix, and I'm riveted. It stars Idris Elba, who is one of the most compelling actors I've ever seen. Luther is driven and ruthless and unpredictable, a pitbull in the clothes of a homicide detective. He's haunted by what he does for a living. But his chief tendency is tenacity. He will not let go of a crime until he has tracked down the perpetrator and either brought them to justice or otherwise stopped them.

I love the show. I love the depth of each character, the fact that characters never seem to do what you expect them to do. I love that the writers inflict real consequences on their characters. Like Joss Whedon, the writers of this show know that to care about the main characters, you have to see them in genuine danger. Luther might lose his job. He might be killed. He might lose people about whom he cares dearly.

And I love his foil, Alice Morgan. She is an adversary for him, a foil, his dark conscience that whispers the worst things into his ears. When Luther wants to bring someone to justice, Alice wants to stab him to death and leave him in the street. There is a scene in the fourth episode - if you've seen it, you know the one I mean. The scene places Alice and John Luther at opposite ends of a phone line, and they both end the scene screaming, broken apart at the seams. Alice does something unspeakable and when Luther tries to chastise her for it, she screams at him, "I did it for you, pig! Filth! I did it for you!" It explodes off the screen. I've rewatched the scene at least five tiimes, and I may do it again tonight before I go to sleep.

And it's about killing. Bodies fall. People are killed, serial killers track their victims mercilessly and dispatch them brutally. It's a very bloody show. But ... and maybe this is because I don't watch a lot of these shows... the murders have consequences. They are bloody and messy and they leave holes in people's lives. The detectives are upset - traumatized sometimes - by what they see. This is as it should be.

I can watch a show like this. They care about the lives of people and they pursue killers, not as puzzles to be solved, but as menaces to be removed from society.

When my brother was murdered, I thought we would never find the killers. My brother was one of a thousand victims in New Orleans, a city that was facing thousands of outstanding warrants before Katrina even happened. The city was overrun by crime and its police force was drowning. They wouldn't find the killers. They didn't have the time or the manpower to find them.

Four years later, one of the killers was found. And arrested. And I attended his murder trial, along with my father. And he was sentenced to life in prison (the most severe penalty I could accept - I refused to go along with the prosecutor if they pursued a death sentence.)

John Luther is a superhero of sorts. He's brave and true, ruthless and relentless, and he does things that most of us would never imagine. He puts himself in danger, time and again, to catch the bad guys. I like the idea that detectives are like that. When the most horrible thing happens to a loved one, I am comforted by the idea that those detectives, those police officers, are as haunted as we are. That they are staying up at night, trying to figure out how to solve the case. That they would do anything in their power to find the perpetrators. John Luther is a rampaging bull, but speaking as someone who has had to rely on the dedication of police detectives and inspectors and prosecutors, I'd always want someone like him on my side.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Superheroes and Super Kids

This image is from Tiny Superheroes, an awesome nonprofit that you should support. Go here to do that:

I need to update my blog roll. Since our kiddo was diagnosed with Asperger's, I'm reading a whole new crop of blogs.  In the meantime, here are a couple of articles that restored my faith in humanity.

Gandhi Vs. Wolverine: The Adamantium of Peace

I presented the litany of usual suspects: the Joker, Lex Luthor, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, etc. Then she asked who Wolverine’s enemy was. And that’s when the conversation shifted.
“We are.”
That wasn’t the answer my daughter expected, nor was it what I expected to say, frankly.
It was just a conversation about comic book heroes, but any good parent knows to seize an opportunity to impart a message about acceptance and diversity. So we spent a few minutes talking about the fact that in the X-Men mythos, other average people tend to be the ones who can’t accept that there are people different than they are. Then again, I confessed, it might take me a few minutes to get used to someone who absorbs my energy through skin-to-skin contact.
Then she asked about Iron Man’s villain.
My answer was simple: “Actually, I think he is the enemy.”
And then there's this:

"Time to Listen":  Autism and the simplicity of relationships
...he calls out, “Mom – What is Mary Poppins about…?” 
I respond from the kitchen, “It is a story about two kids who are really struggling. They don’t behave very well and they are unhappy. Their parents are too busy and no one wants to be their nanny. Then Mary Poppins comes along and she teaches the children to find joy in being children, and she shows the parents how to notice and listen to and pay attention to their kids. Then her work is done… and they become a connected family …and Mary Poppins goes to help another family.” 
H concurs, “That is what I thought – the parents didn’t have time for their kids…” 
My curiosity kicks in, “Why do you ask?” 
“I was just thinking about it – and I wanted to know if I was right. I was! That is what I thought: the parents didn’t have time for their kids – and then they learned what was important.” 
“Do you think your dad and I spend enough time with you?”
The best way for any parent to learn how to do their job is to see how other parents are doing it.  Thanks to the magic of the internet, blogs give us a window into the living rooms of other parents and other kiddos. We're all struggling, but we're all doing okay.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day - Signs of Hope

Father's Day is often a dreadful day in popular media.  I wrote a bitter and frustrated post about it a few years ago, after reading a particularly infuriating post in a national magazine.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this commercial, depicting a dad doing ... well, doing what dads do. He was swaddling his kid. 

His wife called to check on him, and he responded that he had matters well in hand. He was a dad. Dads didn't need help - they managed. So she hung up, and then he pulled up a YouTube video to see how to do a better job of swaddling his kid. 

I probably could have helped him with his swaddle technique, if he'd only asked.

And lo and behold, a dad swaddled his kid on national television. And it was a beautiful moment. It was a real moment. He wasn't perfect, but he was trying his hardest and he wasn't intimidated. He was doing what dads do. (The commercial is called "Swaddle Master. I know a thing or two about swaddling, so I loved it.)

Another commercial, this one for toothbrushes. (Yeah, I know.) But holy cow, this commercial slayed me. Dads holding their kids, and playing with them, and teaching them stuff. It's so simple and just so perfect.

I wish I had a third commercial, so it would be a trend piece. But whatever. Two is good.

Oh, wait, here's a third. It's not a commercial, but it still works. It's a new piece by Louis CK that ran on CBS Sunday Morning for Father's Day.

And this one is great because it adds a lot of elements that are also true to life. Louis is full of doubt and self-loathing and that fiery, angry defiance that defines him. "No, screw you, I'm going to do it THIS WAY!!"

Fathers are doubtful. We are consumed by doubt. We're not sure we're doing it right. The problem with dads having taken such a backseat role in parenting for so long is that now, we're not sure we know how to do it.

Here's the secret. Moms don't know what they're doing either. No, really, they don't. They DON'T. There is no magic innate motherhood gene. We all just learn by trying it and screwing up and waking up the next day anyway.

But we're not hopeless. Lots of dads are doing just what they're supposed to do. They change diapers and hold their kids and kiss their boo-boos and look at report cards and fix lunches. They strap in car seats and make dinners and wipe tears away and make their stuffed animals talk in ridiculous voices.

We do what we're supposed to do. We're not boobs. We're not idiots. We're people, and there are some great ones, and some really lousy ones. But in between, there's a hell of a lot of us who are just doing the job, day after day after day. I saw a great quote today, one that I'd never seen before. "Being a great father is like shaving. No matter how good you shaved today, you have to do it again tomorrow." It's from someone named Reed Markham.

We don't want medals. Just treat us like human beings. When you see a dad taking his kid for a walk, don't think "oh look, daddy's babysitting." That father is being a parent. It's not special anymore to see fathers doing the parenting thing. The world is changing. This year, for once, I'm a little more hopeful that the change is being noticed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens, the Voice of God

People have used the phrase "the voice of God" in a lot of ways. To me, I hear Richie Havens' voice and I hope that's what God sounds like. That unique combination of authority and compassion is so hard to find. His voice just cuts right through to the soul.

I loved Richie Havens. I love Richie Havens. My dad had the soundtrack to the Woodstock movie, which is where I heard him for the first time. And I heard this.

Later, seeing this in the movie, made even more of an impression on me. He had his eyes closed nearly the entire time. He wasn't singing the song - he was channeling it.

That's what Havens did. He was a channeler. The voice that sang those songs was deep and heavy with emotion: sadness, empathy, heartache, elation, joy. He could add new meaning to unexpected songs. His versions of "Just Like a Woman" and "Here Comes the Sun" are legendary.

But have you heard this? The original is a classic, but he finds new depths of despair in this song.

I was very surprised a few years ago to hear Richie Havens' voice again in a movie. Remember Collateral? With Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise (back when people still thought of him as an actor first)? This was on the soundtrack.

The lyrics are simple, but Havens does so much with what he's given. The song is impossible to imagine with anyone else's voice. Even the moans - could anyone moan with as much conviction as him?

God bless Richie Havens. I'm heartbroken to hear of his passing. He was one of the first connections musically that crossed my dad's generation and mine. And many years later, I had the opportunity to see him live at Seattle's Folklife Festival. I've seen big name legends. I've seen Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Solomon Burke. But seeing Richie Havens was like touching eternity. I could have sat in the grass and watched him all night, and I think he would have been content to strum his guitar and sing all night.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Inspector Gadget Saves the Day, Maybe

My kid is watching an Inspector Gadget movie that he found on Netflix. I want to save you the trouble, in case your small child is thinking about watching it.

If you're able to tolerate Inspector Gadget, it's fine. It's about the Inspector discovering some giant egg that hatches into a gigantic flying lizard who wreaks havoc all over Metro City. Wacky hijinks ensue, and everyone seems to have a different idea what to do with the lizard. The mayor wants to turn it into a tourist attraction. Dr. Klaw wants to use it to destroy the city. Inspector Gadget wants to make it his juggling partner.

There's some weirdness in the show. Penny is 16 and doesn't look much like her original version. (Her voice is identical, which frankly is just weird.) There's a GadgetMobile, inexplicably voiced by Bernie Mac. (My guess: 1) money, 2) he wanted to impress his kids.) There's a Scottish bad guy, for no apparent reason.

The whole premise of Inspector Gadget is that everyone is incompetent. Let's just lay that on the table. The inspector is the biggest buffoon, of course. Every time he solves something, it's by complete accident. But the bad guys are also incompetent, and come up with absurd schemes that never work. And never make sense. The mayor is an idiot, the chief is a doofus, pretty much everybody is an idiot except the dog.

Here, the movie ramps up the incompetence factor. Dr. Klaw (who has the best voice of the show) wants to control the lizard, so he has his henchmen try to feed it some kind of remote control electronic device blah blah whatever. The lizard won't eat it. What kind of super villain has plans that fail because an animal won't eat something?! Goon.

The Scottish assistant is also incompetent. Penny is helpless - she seems more of a damsel in distress than she ever did in the show, in fact. She does a lot of screaming and flailing and crying for help. She has a boy who seems to have a crush on her (again, was there ever a boy in the show? We didn't need this subplot.)  The boy's also an inventor, but he completely fails at inventing some kind of potion that ends up saving the day. So the world is saved because Inventor Boy screws up.

It's a fine waste of time, but just be prepared as an adult to yell at the screen a lot. It's computer generated, so it doesn't have the warm feel of the original cartoon. One other difference: it sadly doesn't have the voice of Don Adams, who passed away in 2005. The guy who does the Inspector's voice does a fine impersonation, but it's clearly not the original voice.

I always thought that the device of the show was that Penny and the dog were the real brains behind the Inspector. But here, nobody has the brains. They all seem so confused that it's amazing the entire city doesn't come crumbling down around their ears. It's a little disappointing on that front. Still, like I said, if you're stuck inside and your kid has to watch something, it's not the worst thing on Netflix.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What the hell?

Maybe there have always been stupid people in the world and it's just easier to hear about them because of the connected world. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, everything makes it harder to hide your offensive stupid horrifying behavior.

But an honest question here. What the hell is happening in this country?

  • In Florida, a police sergeant shows up at a shooting range with targets that resemble Trayvon Martin. You remember Martin - the 17-year old boy who was shot dead by his neighbor, who then tried to hide behind the "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida? Now he's a shooting target. Nice.
  • A judge in Montana emails around a "joke" that apparently suggested that President Obama's mother had engaged in bestiality. 

Let me say that again, just to be clear. He sent an email that suggested that the mother of the President of the United States had sex with a dog. Nice. Remember all those times when people said things like that about Barbara Bush? Yeah, me neither.

The judge has since retired. He wasn't terminated. He retired, which means that now the state will be paying a lifetime pension to a racist idiot.

  • In New York, a teacher assigns her students to "think like a Nazi" and make a persuasive argument as to why "Jews are evil and the source of our problems."  The school has apologized. No word as to whether the teacher faces any punishment for this heinous behavior. 

  • This comes after ANOTHER New York teacher was called out for story problems about beating slaves. The assignment was in 4th grade.   Nine and ten-year old kids were asked questions like "a slave was whipped five times a day. How many times was he whipped in a month?" No word if this teacher was fired, but the whole school is undergoing "sensitivity training." Ahem.
  • And then, there was the Georgia teacher who took it one step further, asking questions about how many beatings Frederick Douglass received. Also, this lovely example: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”
In GEORGIA. Which has a history of, y'know, slavery. Again, no word if the teacher was fired, but the principal was apparently looking into "what staff development is needed for the teachers."
Can someone explain exactly what kind of human resources training is needed to remind people that beating people is wrong and treating human beings like property is also totally the fuck wrong?! Jesus almighty Christ on a cracker.

I don't even know what to say. If a teacher assigned my kid something like that, there would be hell to pay. I'll be damned if some tone-deaf idiot is going to be indoctrinating my kid with their stupid racist 19th century ideas.

And the rest of them? I don't even know. What I'm going to do is raise my son to be open-minded, and to not be afraid to question authority. We all lose when people behave like absolute pigs and no one speaks up.

Monday, March 11, 2013

You Are Being Watched

We were in a fast food place the other day. I was pouring a cup of diet Coke from the fountain. I didn't even think about it, because I had done it so many times. Place the cup under the ice dispenser, get ice, put the cup under the Diet Coke spigot, push the button, fill the cup up near the top. Wait for the bubbles to disperse. Fill it up again, and wait again, and then fill it to the top.

That's just how you do it.

And then I realized I was being watched by a pair of seven-year-old eyes.

It's a humbling thing, seeing your child watching you. I wish I had been doing something really cool, like recoding a website or dismantling a carburetor. Or cooking the perfect omelette. But instead, I was just pouring a cup of soda. And my kid was watching me to see how to do it.

It must happen all the time. All the things I do all day that I don't even think about, and he just studies me like a walking textbook. Pouring cereal. Tying my shoes. Making coffee. Shaving my face. So many things.

I remember doing it myself, of course. I have clear vivid memories of watching my dad as he did the simplest things, things he hadn't even realized were things, if you see my point. Things like parallel parking. Like throwing a football in an effortless spiral. Like ordering food in a restaurant. And I watched him, because that's how you learn how the world works. You watch your parents. And the way they do things is the way that it's done.

Is that a little scary, parents and parents-to-be? Good. Because you need to keep it in mind. You are being watched all the time. Whatever you're doing - good, bad, lazy, admirable - your children have their eyes on you. Make yourself someone worth watching.

Photo from flickr user @ANDYwithCAMERA. Used under Creative Commons license.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"I've Got You."

We were watching the ocean waves crashing, far out in the distance. My son and I were walking on the beach, looking at patterns in the sand, looking at shells. I was lazily watching him. He was happily running on the beach, filled with joy. 

It was a bitterly cold day on the beach. But it was the ocean, and when you have a chance to see the ocean, you see it. We had traveled out to the Washington coast, and after a lackluster day, we drove to a place where we could walk out on the sand and see the ocean in its full glory. 

The weather was turbulent. We had been hit with a couple of surprise rain squalls. There were white caps on the water, and the waves seemed particularly explosive. 

A group of kids was out closer to the edge of the surf, and I heard their parents getting excited because the tide was coming in closer. The tide crept in toward them, soaked their shoes, and they went running away giddily. The tide kept rolling in, slowly but determinedly.

"Son, we need to get back," I called. "The tide's coming in too fast. We don't want to get wet." 

And then the tide devoured the beach. It came up to our feet, and it kept coming. My shoes were suddenly waterlogged; then it was up to my ankles. Then my calves. Then my knees.

It kept coming in, like a bathtub that had filled up suddenly. Oliver began panicking and screaming. I grabbed his hand, and we ran as hard as we could toward the dry sand, while the water roared around our legs. 

The water was up to his waist. He was running in slow motion and screaming at the top of his lungs. He was about as scared as I've ever seen him. I just held tight to his hand and I kept shouting back, "I've got you! I've got you!"

"It's trying to pull me in!" he screamed.

"It won't. I've got you, son. I've got you." We ran and ran. 

Finally, the enraged wave receded, and we were able to reach dry land. His mother, shocked, raced up to greet us. Oliver was still screaming, shivering from the bitter cold water that had drenched him. We ran back to the car where my brilliant wife had stashed an extra set of clothes for him. (I had no such luck. I didn't expect to need an extra pair of clothes. I had to drive back to town and buy a pair of emergency sweats.) 

~     ~     ~

They call them sneaker waves. We didn't see it coming; you never see them coming. The tide was actually going out, or so we thought. That's why we were so complacent. We thought we were safe.

Sneaker waves are dangerous things. They are impossible to predict and they take people completely by surprise. They pull people out to sea. It happens. I don't like to think about it now, but it does happen. Sometimes, they pick up floating logs or huge rocks, and then you have a dangerous wave with a weapon. Imagine, seeing a 1000-pound rock floating in toward you, being carried by an out-of-control wave.

I had seen the signs. The signs on the ocean beaches don't mess around; they use phrases like "you can die" and "you will be swept out to sea." But I didn't think about them. I thought those warnings were for people stupid enough to go wading out in the water. I didn't think we were in danger on the sand, so far away from the edge of the water.

I can't even describe how fast that wave came in at us. It moved with the speed of a monster tentacle in a horror movie; you think you're safe and suddenly PHWIP! it's wrapped around your waist. We went from dry and safe to overwhelmed and terrified in a matter of seconds. 

If it had kept coming, I don't know what would have happened. I would have picked him up and run if I had to. I would have thrown him to shore if I had to. It hit with the speed and the shock of a car crash, and here I am, a day later, sitting in a warm office, still shivering at the memory of the wave that tried to pull me and my son into the Pacific Ocean. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Rules Haven't Changed

(Note: I'm going to start working more to keep this blog more active. I have lots of readers out there, apparently. Thousands of you have found this post about double-swaddling, and I'm grateful to each of you for reading it and sharing it. I keep being amazed that people still read this blog, and especially that you still read posts I wrote years ago.

I used to blog a lot more when my kid was smaller. Now that he's older, I have to remind myself I'm still a blogger dad. I'm putting it that way because "daddy blogger" just seems like an insult. 'Oh, you're a daddy blogger, how cute!' No, I'm a dad. Who happens to have a blog. My job is being a dad.) 

When Oliver was little, it seemed like I would blog daily about what was going on with him. When he was a baby, it was easy. First of all, I was home with him for the first year of his life as a stay-at-home dad, so I had lots of time to sit and contemplate his existence. He didn't do much, but it was amazing watching him. He would roll over, he would look at me, he would reach his little doll-like hand out to me, and I would sit and think about how miraculous it all was, and then I'd write a blog post about it.

I'm working now, and he's going to school. So we don't spend nearly as much time around each other.

I'm fortunate, though. My wife and I have a staggered schedule, so she goes to work early and I get the morning shift with him. He wakes up three hours before he goes to school, so we have plenty of time to be with each other. He plays with Legos, he reads, he watches old shows like Godzilla and the Power Rangers and the Fantastic Four cartoons, and we eat breakfast and we talk about stuff. About school. About the kids in his class. About stuff.

And then we drive to school at a breakneck pace, trying desperately to make it before the second bell rang. Usually, we miss it but I just walk him to class anyway.

When he was a baby, I had to feed him bottles of Mrs. B's milk. It was very hard at first, and for the first couple of times, he fought and thrashed and wouldn't let me feed him. It was upsetting for me, and obviously, he wasn't digging it either. So I looked around a couple of other blogger dads, and I figured out that the more anxious I was at feeding time, the more anxious he was going to be. So I started forcing myself to be calm during feeding time. "You're all right, little man. It's just me, and it's just your lunch. No big deal." The more I relaxed, the better it went. Success breeds success, so the better the feedings went, the better I felt about them.

The same is still true. Especially now that we know he has Asperger's, I have to pay more attention to how he's feeling at different parts of the day and how I might be contributing to that, consciously or not. Our mornings have been problematic for a while, and I realized what the problem was. We have three hours - THREE HOURS - to get ready for the school day. And yet, I'd been waiting until the last five minutes of the day to ask him to do some basic things - going to the bathroom, putting on his socks and shoes. And my son is not a person who likes to be rushed. So he'd dawdle, and he'd get distracted, and inevitably it would take him twenty minutes for him to do something that I could do in 30 seconds. And we'd be late.

What's wrong with that equation? What's wrong is that I'm thinking about how I would do it. I would move faster. I would look at the clock. I would realize how late it was. Well, my son is not me. He does things at his own pace. And I just need to accept that. Instead of trying to force him to be me, I need to accept who he is.

And for me, that meant changing our schedule. Now, I give him a full twenty minutes to do those final last-minute steps before we walk out the door. And it works! We make it to school sooner. There's also less yelling, less hectoring, and less resistance from him. I just give him enough time to do his thing. If he gets distracted, I still nudge him back on track. But it's not an emergency anymore. I'm respecting who he is. And I have to remember that my anxiety level feeds directly into his. When the last conversation before school includes a lot of yelling and badgering, it can't be good for his psyche. I like it this way.

So the rules when he was a baby are the same as they are now. When I'm stressed, he's stressed. When I calm down and relax, things go better. He's still the same kid he always was. And I'm still the same dad, who sometimes forgets that.