There are many ways our family story flips convention on its head. Here’s another one …

Among the endless categories in which I flunk at being a gay man, one that stands out is my less-than-zero interest in musicals. Pre-parenthood, I think I had seen a grand total of two: Cats with my family circa 1979, because my older sister was a big fan; and Chicago in 2001, when I was visiting New York with a group of gay men who clearly know the rules better than me.

Then I adopt these two little boys, and for about a five-year period, it was “all musicals, all the time.” Our house seriously turned into show tune central.

As with many things related to our family, I can’t really remember how our love affair with musicals started. I can only say during those year we watched them and listened to them … a lot.

Here, off the top of my head, are the musical movies we’ve seen and (usually) loved, either live, at the movies, or on DVD:

  • The Wiz
  • The Wizard of Oz (three guesses which one the boys voted had better music)
  • Hairspray (a particular favorite)
  • Oliver
  • Mamma Mia!
  • West Side Story (both the movie and the “edgy” onstage revival, which basically meant sometimes they sang in Spanish; which would have been fine, except neither Tony nor Maria could sing)
  • Xanadu (the movie from 1980—I’m not even joking)
  • Fame (when they were a little older—and can I just say, seeing it again for the first time since I was a teen: Wow!)
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Godspell
  • Pitch Perfect
  • All the High School Musicals (yes, I love my kids a lot)
  • Bring It On
  • The Color Purple
  • Fela!

But for as much as (mostly) enjoyed everything we saw on that list, nothing … and I mean, nothing … compares to the spell cast on my kids (pun intended) by Wicked. Oh. Em. Gee. For a solid year, our house was all about Wicked. We saw it, bought the soundtrack, and listened to every song, pretty much every day, all day, all the time. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 12- and a 10-year-old boy dueting at the top of their lungs in the roles of Elpheba the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch to “What Is This Feeling?” (Answer: LOATHING!) Priceless.

Proving the “too much of a good thing” rule, we saw Wicked a second time about a year and a half ago. This round, everyone (i.e., the kids) was a critic: Glinda was too goofy, the original Elpheba sang better, the band didn’t sound as good, etc.

But we will pop the CD in from time to time, and it’s still fun to watch them belt away about how much they loathe each other.

Honorable mention to all those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, which, if you count them, add another half-dozen musicals to the list. Thanks to The Year Without a Santa Claus, every holiday season we were treated to another kids’ competitive/insulting sing-off: “Mr. Heat Miser/Mr. Snow Miser.”

I have to say, it’s much more entertaining when my kids are mean to each other in character.


Next: Hike

Miss Kookamooka

The next few posts look at some of the things that make our family unique: The rituals, family lore, etc. that define “us being us.” (Warning: Much silliness ahead—that is a family hallmark, or at least was, until my kids reached the age where “We love being silly!” gave way to “We need to be cool.” Sigh.)

There are no real “lessons learned” in these posts, except maybe an overarching one: I think rituals and lore are important for all families, and maybe even more so for alternative ones. They create a sense of tribe and belonging. So I encourage every family to create and meaningful rituals and share family stories (real or made-up), especially when your kids are young enough to enjoy them.

I start with probably the silliest example of all …

Miss Kookamooka lives at the North Pole. She is Santa Claus’s next-door neighbor. She travels the world teaching the cha-cha.

She is a real person.

You may find this hard to believe, but my kids found it hard to believe in Ms. Kookamooka. As “evidence” they pointed to the fact that they never saw her, even though I claimed that she was a friend and visited our house often.

Me: “It’s not her fault you are always away doing dumb stuff like school and activities when she comes here. And besides, she is very busy—it takes a lot of time to travel the world teaching the cha-cha.”

I suppose it is Ms. Kookamooka’s fault they my kids also, for years, did not believe that there was a Queen of England.

Me: “Your rooms and beds need to look better than that. What would the queen say if she stopped by for a visit and saw those covers all over the place?”

(Apparently, in addition to being friends with Miss Kookamooka, I am also friends with the Queen.)

Kids: “Daddy, there’s no such person as the Queen of England!”

(Side note: There’s a joke here somewhere about how queens come to visit our house all the time, but I’ll hold off on that one.)

Anyhow: The Queen was vindicated when Uncle Cedric sent a postcard from London, and there was Liz in all her glory not only in the photo, but on the stamp. Clearly Uncle Cedric has more credibility with my kids then I do, because from that point on they were firmly on “team Queen.” So much so that, a few years later, they both voluntarily sat through Helen Mirren’s “The Queen” movie—twice. But that’s a story for another day.

(Mostly unrelated tangent: A while back Mark said he wanted to go to London someday, because you never know, you could meet a “dutch and duchess.”)

As it turns out, Ms. Kookamooka got her vindication as well, when we happened upon Santa’s Village in Tilden Park in Berkeley (yet another story for yet another day). As we walked through the village, right next to Santa’s house, there was a “snow”-covered cottage. At the end of its lane stood a mailbox labeled S. K.

Shirley Kookamooka.

See you in cha-cha class.

Next: Musicals

2 on 1

[Note: It was 13 years ago today that two little knuckleheads climbed into a mini-van with their bags of clothes and favorite toys, tried to remember that this guy “Joe” was now “Daddy,” and started the adventure recorded on this blog. Happy anniversary to my two favorite people!]

Imagine that you have one friend in Fiji, and one in Greenland, and you are trying to pack to visit both of them in the same week. With one suitcase.

That’s what dealing with two kids at once can often be like.

It has happened more times than I care to think about over the years that on any given day one of my kids is in his Fiji space—happy, go-lucky, playful—while the other is off in Greenland—cold and remote. This is fine when I’m 1 on 1 with either of them. Being Mr. Sensitive Parent and all, I simply follow their mood. You’re feeling playful and chatty? Let’s chat and play. Channeling your inner Gloria Swanson? I’ll give you all the space you need.

When the three of us were all together, however, dealing with “Fiji vs. Greenland” presented a challenge. Given that there was no other parent around with whom to adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy, I was forced to figure out how to juggle the different atmospheres alone. I’d like to say I came up with a brilliant solution, but I’m trying to keep this book relatively honest. I was able to come up with three options, none of them ideal:

  • Prioritize Fiji: In other words, stay playful and light so that the Fiji kid doesn’t feel let down. This generally has the effect of driving Mr. Greenland crazy, as he feels pulled into a party he’d rather not attend.
  • Honor Greenland: This creates a mood of sulk that works well for the kid in focus, but leave Fiji (no pun intended) out in the cold.
  • Give each place its proper focus: In other words, be playful with Fiji and ignore Greenland. This is probably the logical answer, although there’s something about knowing that kid 1—already in a mood—is sitting there watching kid 2 and me goof around that doesn’t feel right. Or actually, feels dead wrong.

In reality, in these situations I would most often defer to Greenland. There’s something that feels worse about forcing a Debbie Downer to have fun than there is to create a quiet space for all. Fiji is usually in a good enough mood not to let it bring him down, or at least that’s how the thinking goes.

I’m sure sometime in the next 10 years I’ll get to hear all kinds of variations on, “And then there was the time I was in the WORST MOOD and you and [Fiji brother] were telling jokes and LAUGHING!” (and vice versa). Followed by a litany of everything else I did wrong over the past 20 years, probably in excruciating detail. I can’t wait …

I guess this is why people buy homes with wings. Or watch most of their meals in front of the TV.

Next: Us Being Us: Miss Kookamooka


There are lots of ways having kids makes a person feel old. Most of them have to do with crappy music or current TV depictions of high school, not to mention the Harry Potter view of relationship, which I describe elsewhere.

Another way is when you compare a milestone from your childhood to that same milestone as your kids experience it—and the two have nothing in common. And you think, “Wow. Am I that old?”

Case in point: When I was a teenager, driving went like this: As a sophomore, you took driver’s ed. As a regular class. In school. Driver’s ed included both the written work and driving time with an instructor. At 15½, you took the written test and got your permit. This cost maybe $10. You drove around for a while, whenever you could convince a grown-up to get in the car with you. At 16, you took the written test and got your license—another $10. Then your life was divided between doing errands for your parents—usually your mother, and usually involving shuffling your younger siblings to gymnastics or piano or little league—and taking off with your friends, usually with no destination in mind but just for the sheer joy of being out on your own and DRIVING.

Fast-forward 30 years, and here is what driving looks like for my kids: First, you need to take an online course—there are no school driver’s ed classes anymore. This costs anywhere from $50-150, depending on whether you can find a discount code. Assuming you pass the course—if not, you need to take it again, and no, there is no “second try” discount—you get a certificate in the mail. Certificate in hand, you go to the DMV to take your written test. This I believe is another $30, but don’t quote me. It certainly isn’t 10. Then you get your permit.*

Then you need to do six hours with a professional instructor. The cheapest one I found was $65 per hour, for a grand total of $390. The instructor needs to sign off on the permit.

Then you need to do 50 hours of driving with a licensed adult over 25. Fifty hours probably takes about a month in your average suburb, and is probably a couple of round-trips in L.A. Here in the Bay Area, with our awesome public transportation, it took us over six months for each kid to get his 50 hours. And that’s with me making up trips just for the heck of it. (Global warming, anyone?)**

Fifty hours later, you go back to the DMV for the driving test. If you fail after 50 hours, this is not a good sign for your competence as a driver in the years to come. Assuming you pass, congrats, you have a license!

So now you can hop in the car with your buddies, right? Au contraire. Unless you are 18, for the first year you have your license, you can only drive by yourself, or with at least one licensed driver over 18 in the car. So if you want to take off with your buddies, buddy-mom (or uncle or older sibling) needs to go with you. Not exactly the exhilaration of freedom.

You can, however, be coerced into errands by your dad.***

So overall, getting your license today is a lose-lose for the young driver, dad’s wallet, and the car, which keeps appearing in front of the house with new, mysterious scratches and dings.


*This really happened: Daveon took his course certificate to the DMV for the written test. The very nice DMV woman told us that this course was not approved by the DMV, but she was going to let him take the test anyway. I asked her for a list of approved courses, so we didn’t run into this same problem with his brother. She said, without even blinking, “Oh, we don’t have a list. We can only tell you whether the course is approved after you bring in the certificate.”

**You may wonder why, given our wonderful public transportation, the kids needed to get licenses at all. My reasons are simple: One, if I ever fall down the stairs, I want them to be able to get me to the hospital, stat. And two, their athletic activities take them far and afield, well out of the reach of our bus and train service. You only have to drive your kid an hour to the same ice rink three days in a row once, and suddenly having other driver options starts to look pretty appealing.

***There are exceptions. If you get your license at 17 or later, you only have to wait until your 18th birthday to lose the restrictions—not an entire year. And drivers under 18 can drive younger siblings in cases of “parental need.” Believe me, we had a lot of parental need in those first driving years.

Next: 2 on 1