Was that heaven? No, it was a Ben Folds Five concert!

There’s being in Lake Michigan’s presence. There’s afternoon games at Wrigley Field.

And then there’s watching Ben Fold Five live. Twelve years after they disbanded and I doubted whether they’d ever be heard from again.

For two hours tonight I think I died and went to heaven. For two hours, all of life’s stresses left my mind. Everything was right with the world. Life was perfect.

After the crush of missing a chance to see their reunion show at Summerfest, my favorite band in the history of mankind booked some fall concerts, including a show at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre. I booked a ticket within minutes of the seats going on sale. … It also redeemed another lost opportunity when I desperately wanted to see the band at Starlight in June 1998, only to have my plans derailed when my parents opted to move back to Wisconsin and I was sent with my dad to help him settle in to the new place. Of course, my parents are always quick to remind me that had I not agreed to the move, I never would have met Kates, and, well, the rest is history.

But back to now …

I’ve written so much about Ben Folds over the years, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more I can say.

The musicianship of Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge is something special. Their play tonight was so tight, it was as if they’d never been apart. They’ve matured individually as musicians and it's made their little band sound better than ever. They were in their element. By playing on stage together each of them makes the others better. And they make it look so easy.

I’m convinced Ben Folds is one of the most talented pianists in the world, in this era. I’ve said before that Darren Jessee is so automatic on the drums he’s like one of those drum-beating windup monkeys. And Robert Sledge can just plain play a mean bass guitar. Throughout, they took solo turns on their respective instruments, sometimes straying way off the original arrangements.

They opened with “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later,” a song from the new album, and followed it with the softer, slower “Missing the War” off their peak album “Whatever and Ever Amen.”

As I leaned forward in my seat and took in the trio’s signature sound, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and sigh a deep happy sigh. Chills ran down my spine and I was transported back to my glorious youth.

That’s how it went for most of the night as the band drew a pattern of new songs and old songs. Upbeat songs and slow songs. … And with the smoke machines endlessly clouding the stage, I sometimes wondered if I was dreaming the whole thing. (After the opening number, Ben unexpectedly ran off the stage for a couple minutes. When he returned, he said into the mic that he had to tell the stage guys he wanted more smoke.)

I’ll also say this, hearing the new songs live gave me a much deeper appreciation for the new album, and it may grow on me faster than I first thought. I fell in love with “Sky High” and “Hold That Thought” the first time I heard them, and hearing them live tonight solidified them as favorites within Ben’s all-time catalogue.

Here's “Sky High” ...

And here's “Hold That Thought” ...

There was perhaps no song I anticipated hearing more than their 1997 hit, and arguably my favorite of all, “Battle of Who Could Care Less.” Ben led it off with a story about the premise of the song that I’d never heard.

The guys really turned it up a notch during the last third or so of the show, playing “Philosophy” and “Kate” without a break and then transitioning seamlessly from “Song for the Dumped” to “Army” – all four songs making for nearly 20 minutes of non-stop playing. The crowd never sang louder tonight than it did on “Song for the Dumped,” especially when Ben took a break from the piano and led a rollicking crowd sing-along on the chorus. From there, he returned to the piano and knocked out some of his “Weather Channel Music.” Then, when Ben gave the cue during “Army,” the audience knew exactly what to do and belted out the horn parts without hesitation.

Watch …

After “Army,” the band left the stage for a few minutes before returning for an encore featuring two songs that every hardcore fan knew they couldn’t leave without playing. To the crowd’s delight they kicked out “Underground” and then a raucous, fast-paced “One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces.”

Here's “Underground” ... I couldn't capture the entire song because I filled the memory card on my camera.

To finish it off, as he always does, Ben picked up his piano stool. Dropped back from his piano, like a quarterback stepping back from the line of scrimmage, and threw the stool at the piano keys for a final thunderous note.

Interestingly, “Landed” was the only song from Ben’s solo albums to make an appearance in the show. I could name at least a dozen other songs I wish the band would have played – “Don’t Change your Plans,” “Mess,” “Evaporated,” “Theme From Dr. Pyser,” “Zak and Sara,” “Video,” “Where's Summer B?”, “Sports and Wine,” “Not the Same.” Heck the concert could have lasted another two hours and I still would not have been tired.

But I wasn't totally surprised. In all my years of seeing Ben and his respective mates perform, they've never played longer than they had to.

All things must come to an end, and I had to drift back to reality at some point.

On a couple side notes ...

Kate Miller-Heidke opened the concert. I'd never heard of her, but I enjoyed her airy vocals and single acoustic-guitar-playing partner. She opened with "Caught in the Crowd," which sounded a lot like this (compared to the dramatically more poppy album version) -- whistling and all -- and it completely delighted me; it was a great tone-setter for the cool autumn night. Sadly, Miller-Heidke went more new agey with the rest of her set, and her opera training showed loudly, which turned me off.

It turned out Miller-Heidke has been touring with Ben Folds for years and said she likes's playing for his audiences because "they're generally made up of intelligent, warm, musically literate people." She's right.

The temperature for the night was in the '50s -- far lower than the '70s we've had for most of this week and far lower than I expected. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I was not prepared. And as much as I hoped I could fight through the chill, I decided my enjoyment of the night's entertainment was going to be seriously hindered if I didn't do something. So I ventured over to the merchandise table and my eyes latched onto a couple Ben Folds Five "Reunion Tour" hooded sweatshirts -- or hoodies, as the kids are calling them these days. I've never been one to buy up T-shirts and memorabilia when I go to concerts, but on this night -- for once -- the prices were reasonable. And there was a red hoodie with white trim that I thought was pretty dang cool, so I bought it.

Despite the cool temps, the sky was clear and the full moon shined overhead. It was beautiful fall night for a concert.

Here’s Ben Folds Five’s full set list:

1. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
2. Missing the War
3. Hold That Thought
4. Jackson Cannery
5. Selfless, Cold and Composed
6. Erase Me
7. Alice Childress
8. Sky High
9. Landed
10. Magic
11. Battle of Who Could Care Less
12. Do It Anyway
13. Brick
14. Best Imitation of Myself
15. Draw a Crowd
16. Philosophy
17. Kate
18. Song For the Dumped
19. Army
20. Underground
21. One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces 


Carrie Underwood covers Coldplay's 'Fix You'

This popped up on my Twitter feed this morning. Carrie Underwood covering Coldplay's "Fix You."

This song has always struck a chord with me. And as crazy, busy and overwhelmed Kates and I have been feeling lately, it's doing it again.


Best news of the day?

Kansas City is getting an Ikea!

I learned the news from a friend's Facebook post this morning. What!? I replied. ... And then, as I scrolled further through my Facebook newsfeed, more friends were sharing the good news. It was big news at lunch today, too, during a baby shower for one of my co-workers.

Kates and I have been dreaming of this day since we left our local Ikea behind in Chicagoland and moved to the center of the country. It was almost unfathomable that Ikea was not here.

Interestingly, here I am, writing this post on one of my favorite pieces of furniture in our house -- an Ikea work table. I'm unbelievably excited and not sure I can wait until 2014, but we'll make it work.

And all I can think about is those classic Ikea commercials.

And the fact that commercials like those will soon be airing in the Kansas City metro area makes me very happy. 

The Sound of Ben Folds Five

After all of my sulking, as my friend Gina called it, over the summer because I couldn’t make it to Summerfest for Ben Folds Five’s reunion show

Wouldn’t you know it, the band announced in August that it was coming to Kansas City. I held my breath and snagged a ticket within minutes after they went on sale.

Tomorrow night, barring an unfortunate surprise (See: The Shins nightmare), I will be heading to the Starlight Theatre for the second time this concert season to the see the one and only Ben Folds Five. It will be my 10th Ben Folds show, and my fifth with the original lineup; I briefly recounted those past shows in my Summerfest post in June and have been doing a lot of reflecting on those good times over these last few days.

And now 12 years after their heartbreaking separation, I’m still having trouble believing they’re back.

Of course, I pre-ordered the band’s new album a couple months ago, too. Then, a note appeared in my email inbox a couple weeks ago with a link to download it. (Novel, right? Decades ago I was buying Ben Folds Five CDs at music stores, and now I’m getting digital files sent to me via email. … Although I did order a CD copy, too, for good measure, as part of the special album package I purchased.)

I’ve listened to the album a few times, but I’m still developing my opinions of it.

It may be coincidence, but there seems to be nods to Folds' past songs and albums throughout the record. “Hold That Thought” reminds of “Jesusland.” “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” reminds me of “Boxing.”

After the opening track, “Erase Me,” which I can hardly stand to listen to, the album is pretty decent. But it hardly carries the catchy, sassy fun that made the early Ben Folds Five albums so captivating.

Rather, the album is more mellow and darker than the early albums. The new album is progression, an aged maturity and a sense that these guys are full-fledged adults who are wiser from their life experiences. So in that sense, as a true fan who’s grown from youth to adulthood with Mr. Folds, I appreciate the album’s grown-up feel.

Paste puts it more eloquently than I in its story about the band this week

One often had the sense that in its original incarnation, the Ben Folds Five were a bit embarrassed about being the smart kids in school. They tried to cover up with what Folds called “punk-rock for sissies," deliberate sloppiness, undifferentiated loudness and low-brow jokes (admittedly, the jokes were often very funny). But they don’t sound embarrassed anymore.

Now the vocal harmonies are painstakingly precise. Now the allusions to Robert Frost and Frank Sinatra are unexplained and unironic. Now the bursts of grunge noise are carefully controlled and contrasted against jazzy piano. Now even the low-brow jokes (“If you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on a wall”) are pointedly framed by Beach Boys harmonies and Herbie Hancock Fender Rhodes. It’s like anyone you meet after a 13-year absence: They’re the same people, but they’re not.

My only real beef is that most of the songs hardly feature Robert Sledge or Darren Jessee the way the early albums did. Those harmonies are lacking and “The Sound of Life” sounds a lot like Folds’ previous solo releases.

Nevertheless, the album has a couple strong standouts. “Sky High,” the wistful tune the group used in the promo video that made me tear up, is by far my favorite track on the album. I also really love “Hold That Thought” with its harmonies and arpeggio piano, and the elegy, “Away When You Were Here” (the instrumental track was featured in another promo video). I’d give the catchy “Draw a Crowd” high marks, too, if it wasn’t for the sophomoric lyrics in the chorus. … “Do It Anyway” is decent song. Even better, the video features the Fraggles.

Using iTunes rating system, I give the album a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

It was inevitable I would rank it against all other Ben Folds albums. Earlier this week, in preparation for the show, my good friend Tom challenged me on Facebook with this question: What one Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five CD do you take with you on your “stuck on a deserted island forever” vacation?

After much consideration, I answered “Ben Folds Five,” the self-titled debut. It’s raw, fun and upbeat. The harmonies are solid. The songs are timeless.

And I proceeded to rank the other albums, too. No compilations or live sets. Just original studio albums … And really, I could take either of the top three on an island and be content.

1. Ben Folds Five
2. Whatever and Ever Amen
3. Songs for Silverman
4. Rockin' the Suburbs
5. Sunny 16 (EP)
6. Speed Graphic (EP)
7. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
8. Super D (EP)
9. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
10. Lonely Avenue
11. Fear of Pop: Volume 1
12. Way to Normal (… Only because this is the only Ben Folds album I don’t own, and the reviews weren’t positive. The only song I’ve heard from the album is “You Don’t Know Me,” which I do enjoy and is part of my collection.)

I’m counting down the hours to tomorrow night.

Good reads & links ...
a Ben Folds Five Craft First New Album in a Decade
a Ben Folds Talks New Album, BF5 Reunion
a Ben Folds discusses and performs "The Luckiest"

Swimming along

Another graduate paper submitted. And I’m exhausted. Every week is another battle lately.

To start our class last weekend, and to commemorate the halfway point of our graduate program, one of our professors asked us to share something from a movie that ties to the feelings we’re having about the program. One of the girls in our class recalled the “Finding Nemo” line, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, which was a running theme of ensuing answers to the question.

Interestingly, I had a dream the other night where I returned to K-Town and visited some of my friends at the newspaper. After entering the newsroom, I immediately found my good friend Laura and just fell into her arms, sobbing. The result of being utterly overwhelmed and missing those older days when life didn’t seem so challenging and cruel.

My work is demanding. But I recognize it was my choice – Kates’ and my choice – to make a major change almost three years ago now. We saw the huge benefits of this opportunity, and, for the most part, we’re reaping them. … My only regret is the guilt I can’t shake of moving away from our family – or to put it more bluntly, taking my family away from our parents, the girls’ grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Literally, not a day goes by that I don’t feel at fault for some of the recent hardships of my extended family. That I feel at fault for decisions made or words spoken with the best intentions only to have them misinterpreted or taken out of context. That I wish I could be closer to family to offer comfort and assistance. That I wish we could be a part of the family gatherings and celebrations.

Amid the chaos and frustration, I hope all of them know they weigh on my mind every day and that they can be proud of the good work I’m doing …

I recently received an invitation to join an academic honor society that is exclusive to the top 10 percent of college juniors, seniors and graduate students. … It came as such a surprise that at first I wondered if it was legit. I’ve never been invited – nor had I ever imagined being invited – to join an academic honor society in my life. Turns out it was definitely legit, and I’ll be inducted as an official member in November.

Amid the shock and aftermath of our student’s death two weeks ago, I wrote the president’s weekly message to the university, as I’ve done every week in my nearly three years on the job. I finished the first draft late last Wednesday evening and sent it to him. He told me later that it made his eyes well. And in the 24 hours that followed, we traded and debated a number of revisions, and scrutinized nearly every word, before the message was published Friday morning. The process was agonizing for me, but there’s few pieces I’ve written since joining the university of which I’ve been more proud. To hear the president publicly acknowledge my work in our debriefing session last Friday was powerful.

Then there was the glowing email he sent to the university’s board this week, in which he thanked those of us on the team that worked through last week’s crisis, acknowledging our “dedication, professionalism, coolness, compassion and genuine strong leadership,” and complimenting us as consummate professionals.

On Tuesday, the president was scheduled to give testimony to the state committee on higher education at another state college. I got the task of accompanying the president and one of our state representatives to the meeting – and I was designated to drive the car. It was another one of those surreal moments that I never could have imagined when I was attending the university as a student 15 years ago: Driving the president and our state representative halfway across the state for a luncheon and testimony to a state legislative committee.

The trip kept me out of the office for the work day, but the day was hardly finished at the strike of five. That evening, the great Herman Boone, the legendary football coach made famous by “Remember the Titans” – one of my all-time favorite films – was scheduled to give a lecture on the campus. Whenever we have a guest lecturer visit the campus, it’s part of my duty to greet him or her prior to the lecture and mediate our pre-lecture news conference. But what made this lecture experience especially neat was that I had met Coach Boone before. He also visited our campus about 10 years ago – with his assistant coach, Bill Yoast – and I was a student journalist covering that lecture. It was a privilege and an honor Tuesday night to walk into the staging room, shake his hand again and recall that time a decade ago. I then stayed with him for another hour as he met with the media and special guests, recounting his coaching days and experiences with civil rights.

And yet, for all of the compliments and pinch-me experiences, there was none more heart-warming than the one that occurred last Wednesday night. I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink when Kates and the girls returned home from their Wednesday evening church activities, and Phoebe came bounding through the door to greet me. After a few moments, Kates prodded Phoebe to tell me something she said during the car ride home. Phoebe looked at me and said, “Daddy, I want to marry you when I get older!”

There’s a line in Peter Cetera’s sweet song, “Daddy’s Girl” – one of those meaningful songs on Phoebe’s playlist – that goes “Then she puts her head upon your shoulder / Says she’ll marry you when she gets older.” … Truly, it’s a moment I’ve anticipated, and now it’s happened. My heart melted. And I think my eyes welled. It was reassurance that I’m doing OK at this fatherhood thing.

So I’ll keep swimming some more.


Monday night fiasco

I’m not sure where to start with this one.

By now, unless you’re living on the moon – and if you’re living on the moon, I doubt you’d be reading this – you know last night’s Monday Night Football game, featuring my beloved Green Bay Packers, featured a wild ending. And by now, the replay of that finished has been, well, replayed a quarter of a million times.

Twenty-four hours later, I still can’t believe it happened.

I was rendered speechless after it happened last night. I was working on graduate homework for most of the night, with the game playing softly on the TV in the background. It was only during the later part of the fourth quarter that I began playing close attention in hopes of watching the Packers squeak out of the game with a win.

Then, it happened. And for minutes after that play I sat on the couch. Mouth open. Stunned at the train wreck of it all.

I mean, c’mon. Two referees ran toward the play from either side. Looked at each other. And lifted their arms to give contradicting signals.

Unbelievable. … Laughable.

I mean, what more evidence do you need? It seems pretty clear to me who had possession of the ball.

Typically, during the football season I can barely stand to watch Sportscenter. Last night and this morning, I couldn’t get enough of it. This morning, I flipped it on almost as soon as I was out of bed, and then the anger and frustration arose all over again as I explained the travesty to Kates.

Mike Tirico’s call – “This is the most bizarre finish you'll ever see!” – will live in broadcasting infamy.

Stuart Scott and the guys on Sportscenter were on fire. They weren’t talking about anything but the final play of the game. Nothing else that happened yesterday in sports mattered. And they pointed that out several times.

Trent Dilfer looked like he was ready to break into tears while he ranted about his shame for the NFL and the havoc replacement referees are causing.

As bad as I wanted to turn off the TV, I just couldn’t stop watching last night. I actually did turn it off for a few minutes after the game. I had graduate homework, after all. But I turned the TV back on a few minutes later, looking for any new angles or developments to the story.

(Updated 9.26.2012) Good reads ...
a Bears fans actually feel kind of bad
a The Biggest Controversy, but Far From the First
a In N.F.L., the Show Goes On and On
a Comedians ridicule NFL over botched call
a 'Call It Maybe' mocks replacement refs
a N.F.L. Reaches Labor Deal With Referees


Broken down

It’s been a tough few days. I can’t find any other words to describe it.

Like so many nights lately, I worked late last Thursday and retreated to bed around 1 a.m. Friday But a couple hours later, a phone call woke me. The 3 a.m. phone call is an occurrence that, unfortunately, has become too common these last couple weeks as the school year has begun and students are settling on to campus.

One of our students was involved in an altercation at a bar. It continued outside. The student was punched and later died as a result.

The moment I received the news I was transported back to my crime-reporting days in K-Town. In my former life as a newspaper reporter, I covered two cases that were nearly identical. One was a high schooler’s New Year’s Eve party that went bad, and the other was a fight that occurred in a crosswalk outside a bar. Both involved alcohol and a single punch. The victims fell, hit their heads on pavement and died as a result.

After the phone call, I returned to our bedroom and broke the news to Kates. It was my day to take the kids to school, but Kates didn’t hesitate, coming up with a way to rearrange her morning schedule so she could take them. I searched for some clothes in the dark, dressed as quickly as I could and headed to the campus to convene with our crisis team. The seven of us who were in that room that morning, along with a few others who played significant roles in other areas, will not forget that morning for a long time. It has left a profound impact on us.

In so many ways, it was like the sudden death of Coach all over again. We are a close-knit, pride-filled campus and community. And one of our own was taken in a violent way he didn’t deserve.

When I arrived in the conference room, the university president was just ending his phone call with the student’s family. Details of the altercation were still coming in from local law enforcement, but we had to begin laying the groundwork for our communication with the rest of the campus community. As we talked through the facts, I began drafting the university statements and the news release. Two male suspects, who had no affiliation with the university or our town, were in custody.

We coordinated with the police department and put out our news release around 6 a.m., and within minutes I began getting phone calls from TV reporters who wanted to go with the story on their morning newscasts. Social media was picking up steam, too, as our student body had begun to learn of the tragedy and were posting on the deceased student’s Facebook page. Within the hour we also alerted our students and employees of the death.

We scheduled a meeting at 8 a.m. with university leaders and a 9 a.m. meeting with student leaders. But before that, at around 7, we took a break to go to our homes, see our families and catch a shower or breakfast, if possible. … I arrived at our house just in time to see Kates setting Faye in her car seat and pushing Phoebe out the door. Seeing them, under the circumstances, meant everything to me in that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever hugged Phoebe so tight. … I took a quick shower, put on a new set of clothes and headed back to campus.

We reconvened for the meetings with university and student leaders and relayed the facts of the case to them, empowering them to take the facts back to their staffs and classrooms and squelch some of the rumors that already were swirling. … The meeting with our student leaders was especially emotional. By all accounts, this student was engaged, well-liked and had a bright future ahead of him. After all, witness accounts of the altercation said it started when he tried to defend some women the suspects were bothering.

I spent much of the rest of my work day Friday fielding phone calls from media, arranging interviews and updating the university president through a stream of text messages. … A mid-afternoon gathering was scheduled in the student union for people to share memories and discuss their feelings with one of our counselors. Students, faculty and staff members packed the room. The tears and laughter flowed as one of our counselors guided the crowd through their emotions and invited them to share what they were feeling.

I made it home again for supper and snagged a brief nap on the couch while Phoebe played cheerfully next to me. By 8:30 that night, I was heading back to campus for a candlelight vigil that the students had organized.

We’ve had vigils on the campus before, but none as emotionally stirring as this one. As the crowd swelled around the memorial bell tower in the center of the campus, I joined some of the university administrators lined up under a tree at the edge of the lawn. The president arrived, saw us and walked down the line, shaking each of our hands, looking into our eyes and saying words of thanks for our work – something he does so well.

The real gut-wrencher came when the deceased student's fraternity brothers appeared in the distance, walking two-by-two from their fraternity house toward the bell tower, lit candles in hand. I get chills just writing those words and imagining the image again now. … As the vigil began, the music fraternity sang a somber tune. The president and campus minister offered some remarks. The music fraternity sang another song. Soon, it was over, but people just stood in their places, holding their still-lit candles, not knowing where to turn next. …

The days that followed were a blur. We attended the football game Saturday. And on Sunday afternoon I took a three-hour nap on the couch with Faye, falling asleep to a Cubs game. One of my favorite pastimes.

There were more meetings this week as we continued to take the pulse of the campus. A Monday afternoon meeting with faculty was particularly emotional. … And today, the seven of us who were part of the initial crisis response spent a couple hours over lunch in an emotionally-charged debriefing session with a couple of the university counselors. The tears flowed as we took off our work faces and let go of all the emotions we piled during the previous seven days.

Ask me how I'm feeling, and I'm likely to say, "I'm good!" I'm doing my thing and life keeps moving, but deep down I know I'm not good. Something terrible has happened.

But I've had these experiences before, and I'm coping. And I'll reset when I'm able.  


Tumbling along

Excuse the lack of updates lately.

Maybe some day I’ll go back and fill in some of the holes. Right now, the day is a success if I’ve merely kept pace with the demands of my career choice and the day-to-day operations of our household.

The school year has begun. And the more we do this, the more I realize we might as well be in a foreign country during the months of August and September, until we get our footing and settle into some semblance of a routine. … Phoebe and Faye are doing wonderfully. It’s Kates and I that need the support, having to keep up with the high expectations of our administrative leaders and stakeholders. Not to mention ourselves.

Then you add my continuing graduate work to the equation. I’ve just finished the first phase of my assignment for this week: Reading the first seven chapters – 140 pages – of “The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration.” Tomorrow night I’ll begin phase two – the illustrious paper discussing three concepts from each of the seven chapters – which I must complete and submit by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

But before embarking on the final three chapters of my reading tonight, I got some therapy in the form of watching Phoebe bounce and skip around a gymnasium floor. At her first gymnastics class.

You see, the dance classes we enrolled her in last fall never really caught on. It was fun at first. But it soon became apparent that Phoebe was more interested in playing with her friends than learning dance. Kates and I weren’t thrilled about having to buy the custom outfits either.

The recitals were the worst. There was the Homecoming episode last fall when Phoebe had The Meltdown and missed her dance troupe’s performance in the parade. Then, there was the series of Christmas performances, during which she mostly stood and watched her partners for most of their routine. And when the spring recital came around, we just skipped it out of Phoebe’s total lack of interest.

Eventually Kates stopped taking Phoebe to the practices. When Kates asked her if she was interested in doing dance again this fall, Phoebe said she wasn’t. And that was that.

In the meantime, Kates and I had had discussions about the idea that Phoebe might enjoy a gymnastics course more. Then, the Olympics happened, and we got pretty good evidence that gymnastics might be her thing. … After all, there are a lot of stories out there about how Shawn Johnson’s parents enrolled her in gymnastics classes because they needed something to help her burn off her abundant energy. And Phoebe has abundant energy.  
So we learned through a friend about a children’s gymnastics class at one of the local elementary schools. I took Phoebe last week to register for a class – hers is specifically for 4 and 5-year-olds. Tonight was her first class.

We arrived a minute or two late. All of the kids were sitting in a circle on a mat with the two instructors. But Phoebe shied away and refused to leave my side. … Here we go again, I thought, and we took a seat off to the side to watch the other kids.

Just as they were about to get started with their tumbling, one of Phoebe’s preschool classmates, Lucas, arrived with his mother, who is also a friend of ours. He wasn’t so keen on joining the other kiddos at first either. But when we suggested Phoebe and Lucas go together, they kicked off their shoes and joined the other kids.

A few moments later, Phoebe was doing handstands and somersaults with the help of an instructor. She was walking over stacks of blocks, balancing on low beams and high beams, swinging on ropes and doing simulated back flips.

The three instructors led the children non-stop for nearly an hour through what was basically an obstacle course of apparatus and fundamentals of gymnastics.

I brought my graduate textbook along, thinking I could spend the hour reading while Phoebe did her thing. But once she started, I could hardly take my eyes off of her. And between turns on each apparatus, she kept peering over at me to make sure I was watching.

To see her smiling and skipping around that gym floor tonight was something special. It was therapeutic.

My heart was filled with pride as I watched her, and I was reminded again of just how awesome this fatherhood thing is.


Phoebe discovers E.T.

So we introduced Phoebe to the world of E.T. tonight.

Kates and I were around the same age Phoebe is now when the film was in theaters. Although I didn’t see it until late in my childhood, Kates saw it in the theater with family and friends. There’s a story often told in our family circle about that day and how well Kates understood what was happening on the screen.

Phoebe was enthralled from the moment we pressed play. Her questions and observations were constant throughout the movie.
“He can talk!”
“He said, ‘Phone home!’”
“Is it Halloween?”
“What are the bad people doing?”
“Why is it zipped up?”
“Is Elliott going with him?”
There were moments she cheered. And moments she huddled close to Kates in fear.

And when it was over, Phoebe jumped off the couch with a smile and exclaimed …

“I like that movie!”