Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Portland Daddy Group









Portland Dads at Home



(cross posted at bigWOWO)

I learned of this group maybe a month ago, but they got written up in the Oregonian just this past week. Check out the article here.

I've communicated with some of these guys through e-mail, and they seem very nice. I think it's a great idea for dads to do community activities like this, even those of us who aren't Stay-at-Home-Dads. We humans are communal animals, and kids have so much more fun when they're playing with and surrounded by other kids. If Eric, the guy in the video, had success in a small city like Portland, I can imagine that forming a dad's group would be possible in other cities as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mei Mei and Me

(Cross posted on bigWOWO)

Edit: Okay, I just saw some of the later videos, so I have to correct what I wrote. Some of the later DVDs in the series are quite high tech and shot from China. They look like they had professional choreographers and makeup artists, and the sound quality is professional. So the following only applies to the other ones we saw. My bad, Mei Mei.

My original post:


For parents trying to teach their kids Chinese, there's a huge selection of Chinese language DVDs out there. My three year old son Gun-Gun has checked out Ni Hao Kai Lan, Language Tree, and a bunch of others, most of which use high tech DVD tricks to create interactive dialogue. Language Tree, for example, asks the children to press buttons on the DVD remote in order to pass little pop quizzes. Ni Hao Kai Lan has stories about children and animals getting along and sprinkles Chinese in with the main English dialogue. These videos are good looking, well produced, and have all kinds of cute animated characters and dialogues. One gets the feeling that they spent a lot of money to bring in experts on language acquisition and child psychology. As the saying goes, "you get what you pay for," so it naturally made sense to my adult mind that the high production DVDs would be the best.

So understandably, I was baffled when I found that my son's favorite Chinese language DVD was not Kai Lan, not Language Tree, not any of these other high budget productions, but an obscure series called Mei Mei and Me that looks like a home video someone's mother made with a Sony HandyCam in her basement.

The Mei Mei series of DVDs is really cheap looking. It looks like Mei Mei herself set up a tripod, shot from a cheap videocamera, and edited in the little videocam window (It's almost as bad as my podcasts, but that's a different issue.). The format is a woman named Mei Mei teaching little kids Chinese nursery rhymes and songs. There are no fancy cartoons, no DVD remote gimmicks, no lessons, drills, or cute characters. They don't even have real music. Just a Chinese woman teaching, smiling, clapping, and singing unaccompanied by an other sound.

Mei Mei sings in Chinese and asks the children to repeat. They have a translation flash across the screen, but there's no sing along book or explanation. You just have to pay attention.

My son can't get enough of it. He says, "Ba ba, I want to watch the Chinese one." And then he watches and sings. It's wild. I don't get it. I tried (and failed) to convince him that Language Tree was interesting. But he absolutely loves the Mei Mei Hu DVD. He loves watching the kids onscreen repeat after her when she speaks or sings. He loves singing along with it. I don't even think he's aware of the fact that it's low budget. It reminds me of the times I bought him a fancy high-tech toy car only to watch him play with the box.

The good news is that he's actually learning something from this DVD, something that doesn't take place with Language Tree or Kai Lan. He actually used his Chinese for the first time the other day with an older woman that we met. Maybe because the woman was human and responsive to him, just like Mei Mei and the kids in the Mei Mei series. Go figure.

(Mei Mei, if you're reading this, DON'T change the format. He loves it.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!


photo: Don Quixote by Honoré Daumier.

Happy Father's day, Rice Daddies!

Here's to fatherhood, and how it changes every frakking day.

Rabbit Dragon and Pony Princess are both getting so much older. The school year is over, didn't it just start?

Today at the hardware store we got Rabbit Dragon his first set of house keys. A season ago, house keys had never come to mind. But now we go on family bike rides, and he's always the first to reach home, doing the pee-pee dance while waiting for the lumbering parents and the kid sister to finally pull in and toss over the keys.

It feels so ad hoc, discovering these sort of important decisions on the fly as situations come up. What's next, the Talk? No, no, let me stay in denial a little longer, the kids will always stay kids, yep.

At the kids' first music recital this year (another Rice Daddy rite of passage?) a pair of teenage girls played and sang Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide":

"Time makes you bolder / Even children get older / I'm getting older too."

Maybe I'm just feeling old and creaky this particular weekend, maybe its that the big four-oh is looming. So fellow Rice Daddies, on this Father's day I share a couple of riffs on not going gentle into that good night:

Days With My Father is a beautiful photo journal of Phillip Toledano's father in their last days together. It's really moving, and I've kept it on my browser for over a month to make sure I didn't forget to share it this weekend.

Remember the Geri Chair, is quite a different story, a (true?) tale about a stubborn old Spanish aristocrat, freedom, and a hooker.

When my number is up, I would feel blessed to be remembered fondly like Toledano's dad, but I'd settle for a good story like the Spaniard's.

Happy father's day, all, and many more!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lyrical Feet

cross-posted at Noraebang.

She had asked about dance last year, and even the year before. There were roadblocks before, and sometimes excuses. But, I couldn't sit idly by while time passed and she grew out of the dance phase. She has only one childhood.

Her friends in school were doing it, and she had asked about it again. So finally she got her wish when I signed her up for a month of summer dance camp. They do lyrical, jazz, tap, hip hop, and ballet from 9am - 2:00 pm every day. Her favorite is tap, but primarily because I think she likes the shoes and making noise.

After the first day, I could already tell she was unsure of herself. She sees that a lot of the other girls have already been there before, or that many have taken lessons before. But, she said she liked it and forged on. I kept saying that I just wanted her to have fun, to go out there and do her best.

Each day she'd show me a few steps that she learned, and we practiced singing "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid.

Later in the week, her nerves got the best of her. She was going to be performing in the weekly "talent" show. She hasn't always been one to put herself out there, to assert herself in a new group of people, or to march out in front. She started feeling anxiety like she does when something new happens, or when she's in unfamiliar waters. She's been like that a lot of her life. I've seen those nervous looks before and those anxious moments.

But, I keep encouraging her to try new things, to get her feet wet and dirty, and to take things in stride. She's a kid, and I believe that if kids aren't exposed to new things, they'll often wait until it comes to them. But, to me, life is about nourishment and experience, and very little of that just falls in your lap during the summer.

There are times when I think parents push their kids too much to do something. At the same time, there are parents who don't push enough. I'm not sure which one I am, but I'm afraid I'm the former.

I push her to try new things, to go see new things, and not be scared. I try to teach her that she should at least try something a few times before giving up. And, because she's my daughter, and she loves me, she pushes on. She will do it because she wants to make me happy. And I push her to have fun in new experiences, because I want her to be happy.

Some parents believe that kids should be kids. They need time to play and express themselves and just goof off. However, isn't camp part of being a kid? Each day she gets to express herself, play games, make new friends, and just goof off. At the same time, she's learning something. Not just dance, but poise, conquering fear, pride, and accomplishment.

When I was a child, I was pushed to try things every summer. Art camp, wildlife camp, camping camp, and even grandma camp (I spent almost every summer with my grandmother at the beaches in Texas). Even though there were times I didn't want to go, I went on and on. As I grew up, I took those experiences with me as life lessons. You learn about yourself during summer camp.

At the same time, I lived a life of minor disappointments. I asked for music lessons, and my parents didn't send me. My brother instead got guitar lessons. I asked for a good skateboard, and my parents gave me a cheap Toys r'Us version. My brother instead got a custom deck and wheels. I asked for many things, was told we could do many things, and was often disappointed.

It's part of childhood. There's no such thing as an easy childhood, or the perfect childhood, or the magical childhood. Just take a look at Disney movies, and you'll realize that children face disappointment in many different ways (I know - I shouldn't be praising Disney that much).

At the same time, as a divorced father, I know she's already faced disappointment. It is perhaps that disappointment for which I'm trying to compensate. It is perhaps the disappointments elsewhere she faces that I'm trying to soothe. But, shouldn't I overcompensate rather than not at all?

So for me, this summer has become something not just for her, but also for me. Perhaps it's a bit of me looking back on my own summers as a child. Perhaps it's me trying to be the salve for any disappointments she might have had.

So today she danced away. Her legs leaped across the floor, and tapped away a tune, and even hip hopped from side to side. Today, it was her feet that played on the strings of my heart. It wasn't just for her that I put her in dance camp or art camp; it was for me as a father. And maybe, just maybe, she knows that and will forgive me when she grows up for making her carry the burden of my happiness as a dad.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A couple announcements...

First, to anyone coming to us via NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin, on which I'm privileged to be a member of a dadblogger roundtable for the second June in a row, welcome to Rice Daddies! You can listen to the segment on the NPR website here.

Second, to anyone in the LA area this weekend who is mixed-race, the parent of a mixed-race child, or otherwise interested in multiracial issues, please check out the free, second annual Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in LA's Little Tokyo, Friday June 12 and Saturday June 13. Click thru that link for free registration info and a full schedule of workshops, readings and screenings. Saturday morning features a family event designed for children and their parents, and on Friday at 11:45, I'm proud to be leading a workshop with fellow multiracial parentbloggers Susan Ito (Reading Writing Living) and Liz Dwyer (Los Angelista):

Parentblogging at the Crossroads of Race and Family

Friday 11:45-12:45

Blogging technology has transformed parenting into a public act, with mombloggers and dadbloggers documenting both the big moments and tiny details of their family lives online. How race, culture and politics intersect with parenting, however, often gets glossed over. A growing number of parentbloggers of color and parentbloggers raising children of color are showing that race is a parenting issue. This workshop will explore how multiracial parents and parents of multiracial children can use blogging to record their familial journeys, reflect on important questions, develop their writing voices, and build community at the same time.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Hype it! Up! (WARNING! Spoilers!)

[If you are going to see the movie Up and are the type of person who is sensitive to being told of plot elements ahead of time don’t read any further. Go see the movie, then come back, read and let me know if you agree or not.]

The appeal of Up is its simplicity and universality. There is nothing innovative or new about Up. Its strength is its subtle and artful expression of the oft-told human condition.

Beginning with the familiar shot of a young Carl watching his hero, adventurer Charles Muntz, in a newsreel, 25-feet tall on a movie screen. The hero in classic hero form vows not to return until his innocence is proven. Charles is accused of faking the fossil of a new animal species. He dedicates his life to proving the existence of the species he stumbled upon. Capturing a living specimen becomes Charles’ life ambition. It is his “White Whale.”

The familiar story continues with the young shy Carl meeting and eventually marrying his childhood friend, the more extroverted Ellie, who is also a fan of adventurer Charles Muntz. She keeps a scrapbook of her adventures with plenty of empty pages for the adventures she is yet to have. After a miscarriage (which is handled impressively in a montage of dramatic “daily scenes” without dialogue) Carl promises Ellie one day they will visit exotic Paradise Falls, Muntz’s old stomping grounds. This promise eventually becomes Carl’s “White Whale.”

The Moby Dick analogy is made obvious as both Muntz and Carl take to the skies in “air ships.” Muntz in his an awe-inspiring “Spirit of Adventure,” which I felt was more Jules Verne adaptation than Miyazaki (as noted by Roger Ebert), and Carl in his awkward but endearing little ship – his house (which I suspect was inspired as an homage to his departed Ellie). When Carl and Ellie first met, Ellie was pretending that the very same house (which at the time was decrepit and abandoned) was Muntz’s Spirit of Adventure.

That said. We need an Ishmael. Enter Russell, an unwitting crew member on Carl’s ship. Russell is the youngest character in the cast. His presence singlehandedly balances that of the two older men. A Wilderness Scout with a clichéd desire to please and an innocence strong enough to withstand the cynicism of the two older men, Russell is the Ishmael who provides children (the audience this movie was marketed towards) with access to the story.

An additional appealing feature about Russell is that he is not a clichéd red-headed, freckled American boy but a dark-haired Asian American boy. Dressed in his Wilderness Scout uniform, he reminds me of old photos of interned Japanese American children in the 1940s and 50s, dressed in Boy Scout uniforms.

The comic relief that Russell provides as a bumbling all-too-eager-to-please child is artfully tempered with the subtle revelation that he is the product of divorced parents who no longer sees his father regularly. I was taken by the way this was revealed – Not in direct dialogue but through a well worded response to a simple question.

A friend asked if I were offended as an Asian American that the sole Asian character (and he only appears to be Asian. There is no direct mention of his ethnic heritage) is portrayed as a bumbler? The implications of Russell’s “Asianness” and his portrayal as a bumbler had not occurred to me before then.

Here’s my question: Is it better to have an Asian character playing an Asian role or a character who happens to be Asian playing a significant role?

Today’s audience is the post-Jackie Chan generation. He has created an international and historic niche for himself in film by playing the bumbler. Among the differences between this decade and the score past is the availability of images and information. If not here in the US, diverse portrayals of Asians are available online to help develop a more complete picture of being Asian.

I haven’t made up my mind regarding roles. However, it does not change my mind about the movie. Up is a really well choreographed film about getting old and questioning the degree of your life’s pursuits. It asks the question: At what cost? At what cost are you willing to pay to succeed? Or perhaps better phrased: At whose expense are you willing to take to succeed?