Family Movie Night: Halloween Edition

Every Friday night through the month of October, my kids and I have been watching scary (ish) family movies. The Addams Family. Coraline. The Nightmare Before Christmas. Little Monsters. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen me live-tweeting along with the movies. Observations. Commentary. Memories. For those of you who do not follow me there, here is what you’ve missed.

The Addams Family
• 'Tis the season for family appropriate scary movies. Introducing the kids to The Addams Family.
• I forgot how brilliant Raúl Juliá was in acting. He owns every line.
• "Dirty pool, old man. I like it."
• Reason to worry about Gomez: he coughs up blood, but not like he used to.
• Antennas in a lightning storm. I laugh, my daughter rolls her eyes.
• My brother used to look like Fester Addams. Pretty sure Aaron even dressed up as Uncle Fester for Halloween one year.
• So many details I missed when I was younger. Like Granny reading from Gray's Anatomy & The Joy of Cooking for her recipes.
• "You dance in the graveyard." What a wonderful way of saying you live a blessed life.
• Time to dance the Mamushka!
• "That's the spirit, Thing. Lend a hand." Brilliant. Thing ... a hand ... Ha!
• Are your Girl Scouts cookies made from real Girl Scouts?
• The motel has "kitchins."
• I wish someone with programming skills could make a version of Frogger featuring Thing running through Traffic.
• "Wake the dead!" You have to dig.
• Movie night is over. Kids are all in bed. But 2 of 3 were asleep before the closing credits. Not sure how they slept through my laughter.

• Halloween movies with the kids begins now. This week, it's Coraline.
• The opening credits of Coraline can only be described with one word: melancholy.
• "I don't have time for you right now." Crappy parenting 101.
• "I'm glad you're not like the parents in Coraline." Stuff my daughter says.
• Mr Bobinsky. I'd be willing to be he had a secret meeting with Jared Kushner or Trump Jr. to discuss adoption.
• I don't trust this cat. Because cats.
• "Soon, you'll see things our way." Other mother
"Because that's not creepy." My oldest son
• The feral cat in Coraline is such a cat. The cattiest cat that ever catted.
• The moral of Coraline: sure, your parents might be horrible but at least they're not hideous monsters.
• Christian is talking to the movie. Asked Coraline "Why aren't you running?"
• The other moral of Coraline: it's OK to be a selfish little brat.
• Christian's overall impression of Coraline & Family movie night - "Thaaaaat was creepy."

The Nightmare Before Christmas
• Is it a Halloween movie, Christmas movie, or both?
• This is our third year watching Nightmare Before Christmas together. By this point, it’s a family song-a-long.
• Favorite Nightmare Before Christmas characters ...
Christian: Jack
Zu: Zero
JJ: The Mayor
You: ?
• Have you ever woken in a strange forest and find a circle of trees that served as portals to different holiday themed realms? Me Neither
• If you don’t sing along with ‘What’s This,’ it’s possible you have a heart of stone.
• “Did anyone think to dredge the lake?” Every day.
• “They don’t understand the special kind of feeling in Christmas Land.” Either you get it or you don’t.
• Spider snowflakes. Teddy bear autopsy. These are the kind of experiments I can get behind.
• If this formula doesn’t make your nerd heart swoon, do you even geek?
• ‘Kidnap the Sandy Claws’ might be the most delightful yet sadistic song ever.
• Oogie Boogie isn’t scary. He’s annoying like your obnoxious neighbor who likes to BBQ naked in his backyard. And you don’t have a fence.
• Zero = Rudolph. Because of course.
• Jack & Sally. A better love story than Twilight.
• Military fires, Jack thinks they’re celebrating him. I’m starting to think Jack is a sociopathic narcissist.
• Jack lands in a cemetery after being shot down. What are the odds?
• Jack dodging blades in Oogie Boogie’s trap - it’s like Catherine Zeta-Jones & the security lasers in Entrapment.
• “Kris Kringle has pulled it out of the bag.” I feel like that should be a euphemism for something.
• And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Little Monsters
• Halloween Family Movie Night, round 4. Tonight, it's Little Monsters
• Amazing, in almost 30 years, Fred Savage got taller, but he didn't age much. He's 40-something and still looks like a kid.
• Kid'll never have another friend like Maurice. He was a picker, a grinner, a lover, and a sinner.
• Mom was probably snoring. But Dad wears a pinstriped oxford shirt to bed.
• So far, the scariest thing in this movie is the dad's glasses. Holy 1989 Batman.
• Peanut butter and onion sandwiches? Ew.
• The dad fails to look if anything is in the driveway before backing out. Blames the kid. Bad parenting courteous of the 80s.
• "Pick on someone your own size." "Yeah, like Bigfoot." Don't ever back down to bullies.
• JJ: "They had really high pants back then."
Me: "Yes, yes we did."
• Brian is like a pre-pubescent MacGyver. All you need to trap a monster is a bed frame and a broken bike.
• "Oh, Brian is smart." My oldest son's only observation so far.
• Dad could hear Brian wrestling the monster, but not the stomping and pounding that followed?
• Maurice is my spirit animal.
• "I'm a monster and monsters don't do wishes."
• This is such a good movie for kids. Teaches them to hate the word "can't."
• "Any flavor you've ever flaved." I see what you did there.
• Saran wrapping the toilet: Best Prank Ever
• "Everybody cares, but some people have a different way of showing it."
• It's amazing how much Little Monsters inspired Monsters Inc.
• How does ADHD look? Like Howie Mandel as Maurice. Now imagine that is your kid. All the time.
• Monster hunting = science project. Sounds legit.
• Correction: Kiersten is the young MacGyver.
• Sometimes, bullies help you fight bigger bullies.
• Friends come in all shapes and sizes.
• Little Monsters is so very 80s. It holds up thought. Except for the music. Other than that, it aged well.
• The sound of someone eating Doritos plays in the background at the end of the closing credits. Self-referential synergy.

That covers everything. Do you have a favorite scary family movie? What should we watch next year?



How do I get all three of my kids to look at the camera and smile at the same time? I can get two to look at the camera, one to smile. As soon as the third looks at the camera, one looks away and the other stops smiling. All three look at me and no one smiles. Two smile as the third looks away. Is this typical? What do I need to do to get my kids to smile in unison and look at me long enough to take a single photograph?

Why do teenagers and preteens fart so much more frequently than other humans? I get why they find it funny. I'm a 38 year old man and I still laugh at an inappropriately timed flatulence. Still, why so much?

Why is my son so distracted while doing homework? The TV is off. His younger siblings are playing quietly in a different room. He's smart enough to complete it with minimal help. Why does he suddenly stare off into space every thirty seconds?

Why is it so hard to remember to do the simple things? Like combing your hair every morning. Using soap in the shower. Flushing the toilet after use. Closing the cereal box after filling your breakfast bowl. Getting dirty clothes into the dirty laundry basket. Putting away crayons, markers, and pencils. Why do my kids have a better understanding of quantum mechanics than they do basic acts of hygiene and cleanliness?

How do I find time to attend all of the practices and games and competitions for my youngest son, who wants to play every sport, all at the same time? Will his passion for athletics lead him to injury at a young age? Can he turn his love for sports into a college scholarship? Am I able to encourage, support, and motivate him to turn it into a career?

How I convince my daughter that she doesn't need a boyfriend in fifth grade? Will she become a statistic of the many women who are sexually assaulted or raped in high school and college? Will she still believe me ten years from now when I tell her she deserves the best in life? Will she remember she is strong and courageous and that she is smart enough to accomplish anything she wants?

How do I answer my oldest son when he asks me, "Will a girl ever like me?" Or "Why would a girl be interested in me? What is there to like?" Am I big enough and strong enough to help him survive the cruelty of school children? How long will it be before he finds his tribe - that circle of friends who will relentlessly defend him and lure him out of his comfort zone? Will he learn from or repeat my errors?

How do I teach my boys that it's OK to cry? How to I convince them that no means no and they should always respect the choices for their friends and romances? How do I raise them to value their relationships over wealth or power or influence?

How will I guide my daughter through her first heartbreak? Will I show her compassion or will I want to shred her ex into a million pieces?

Will I be a safe spot to land when my kids make mistakes? Because everyone makes mistakes.

Am I a good dad? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

These are only a small percentage of the questions I ask as a father. Many of the others are directed at the kids. (Why would you? What were you thinking? How did you do that?!?" Others are more existential. (Is this normal? What was I thinking? Did I do that when I was younger?) Sometimes, I feel like I have more questions than I have answers. Sometimes I feel unworthy of such a grand responsibility, especially when my kids ask me questions I can't answer.

If you, like me, feel like parents should be omniscient, you are not alone. If you believe our ability to answer questions should be like KD ratios in first person shooters (kill/answer more than we die/ask questions), there is hope.

In the Rebirth comics series, DC has given Superman and Batman the most challenging jobs they've ever faced: being dads to a couple of adolescent kids. In a couple of frames of print, Superman faces the doubt and fear felt by many fathers, and Batman has the perfect assurance for guys like us.

image courtesy of DC comics

Go ahead and ask some questions. Keep asking them and ask some more. Then seek answers. It's what good fathers do.


Uptown/Country Girl

Have you heard Billy Joel's Uptown Girl recently? It is possibly the most pure form of pop music ever recorded: three minutes and twenty seconds of irresistible fun with an infectious melody sticking with you long after the song fades out. Either that or it is an atrocity, an embarrassing stain in the catalog of an otherwise talented musician, an annoying ear-worm with no purpose other than making the listener cringe in shame and horror. I'm not sure which, and I am open to the possibility Uptown Girl is simultaneously the best and worst song in history.

I don't hear it often, and when I do it is usually over the in-house speakers of a restaurant, grocery story, or some sort of retailer. The frequency in which I encounter the song is so rare that it is over before I have a chance to roll my eyes in disgust.

Billy Joel wrote the song while hanging out with a trio of beautiful women, Elle Macpherson (his girlfriend at the time), Christie Brinkley (his future wife and star of the Uptown Girl music video), and Whitney Houston. The subject could have been any of the three ladies, each came from privileged upbringing. Meanwhile, Billy was a kid from the Bronx who grew up poor, dropped out of high school, and hustled his craft playing piano in seedy bars and dimly lit clubs to help support his single mother. The song wasn't autobiographical, yet it highlighted the differences between Billy and the high class women in his life. They were raised on different sides of the proverbial tracks. The song's narrator and the object of his affection were the unlikely couple who made it work. An uptown girl and a downtown man.

Out in a public setting this morning, the song began to play in the background. As I waited to be served, I thought of the story behind the song. I found myself empathizing with the singer. I thought of the relationship between me and my girlfriend. We don't exactly mirror the relationship between Billy Joel and Elle/Christie. Without overstating the obvious, neither of us are famous. Furthermore, neither of us are uptown or downtown. Yet, like the couple from the song, there is a difference between where we come from.

If I were the one to pen the lyrics to Uptown Girl, she would be a country girl and I'd be a suburban dude.

We are not opposites attracted to each other as the adage implies. Politically and theologically speaking, my girlfriend and I are quite alike. We share similar philosophies on parenting and communication. We enjoy many of the same hobbies. We both crave good Chinese food and neither of us like eating fish. For all our similarities, the geographic backgrounds which shaped our personalities and worldviews are as different as those between Billy's downtown man and his uptown love.

I grew up on the west side of the mountains and my girlfriend was raised on the east side. My hometown is what I always thought of as a small town. The last sign of population driving north from Seattle before the scenery devolved into dairy and produce farms. However, my girlfriend comes from a smaller small town, one which in comparison would make Marysville look like a metropolis. I was weened on grunge and punk rock, she was surrounded by country western music. The fashion of my youth were baggy pants and Doc Martens, hers were bootcut jeans pulled over a pair of well worn cowboy boots. I fell asleep to the sounds of traffic while crickets lulled her to slumber.

As I moved away from the Puget Sound area, I always stayed in or near a big (ish) city. Boise. Sioux Falls. And now Cd'A/Spokane. She left her everyone-knows-everybody town for the bigger city life of Spokane. And here is where she and I became we.

I've noticed a funny thing about those who grew up in a rural setting compared to those who did not. Take a country girl (or boy) out of the country and she (or he) is still a country girl (or boy). They will feel comfortable in almost any setting, be it a concrete jungle, bedroom community, a resort town, alpine village, or post-apocalyptic wasteland. The country life follows you and remains inside you. For people like me, the burbs are home. Cookie cutter neighborhoods, fancy parks, manicured lawns, garage sales mobile food trucks, and coffee stands on every corner are security items. We find solace in the sounds of sirens from police cruisers, firetrucks, and ambulances wailing in the distance. Take us a way from the house parties and the crowds and the Taco Bells, and we are out of our element. We feel a little weird. We begin to long for streetlights and honking horns of road-raging drivers.

I'm from the suburbs and she's a country girl. Wherever we go, it seems she's more at home than I am. I'm learning though. She's got me riding horses and watching the sunset in places removed from high rises and office lights. I've invested in bug spray and bought my first pair of cowboy boots. More and more I am longing for something I've never had: a country lifestyle. As long as I have wi-fi, it doesn't really matter to me, I can write from anywhere. Sooner or later, I'll be a suburban guy in the country. It might be awkward for a while but I'll make it work. And this thing with the country girl? It's love.

photo credit: Annie, she also takes better pictures than me


Too Close

Waking up last Monday to news about the Las Vegas shooting angered me. So much that I was too mad to write about it. I tried to compose a blog post last Wednesday but I was still too pissed to get it right. As it is now, that draft is still on my laptop, 800 flustered words looking at me with hostile glances of abandonment and unrequited rage.

Now we're a week and a half post-tragedy. Frankly, I'm still furious. I am sick and tired of talking about guns and violence with my kids and having to explain the horrific news to them - headlines now becoming so routine to almost seem meaningless.

I'm creased because of the same predictable arguments presented after each mass shooting. Everyone has their own opinion on gun control and their favorite indisputable set of statistics to trot out and shout at anyone who disagrees. I'm livid that we're the only industrialized nation where this kind of crime happens on a regular basis. I'm apoplectic that we have the power to prevent these killings and choose not to do it because of the special interests of a wealthy and powerful lobbyist group. I am outraged by those who value their gun ownership more than they do human life. I am flustered how terrorism is always the scapegoat for minority shooters, but white shooters are always described as lone wolves.

I am seething at politicians who continually defund mental health care, then say mass shootings happen because of a mental health crisis in America. I am irritated by every tweet and PR statement from politicians who say they're offering thoughts and prayers for the victims, especially from those who refuse to discuss any legislation could help us avoid more senseless violence. They remind me of the apostle Paul's letter to James, explaining how faith unaccompanied by action is dead.

I'm indignant. But I am also scared. Because these shootings are far too frequent. More than that, they're shooting close to home. Too close.

To begin, last Monday's shooting happened at the tail end of a music festival, mirroring the attack at an Ariana Grande concert in London last spring and the massacre in Paris nearly two years ago at a club where Eagles of Death metal were performing. My brother works as a concert promoter. He and I both have friends in the music business: performers and producers and promoters and technicians whose lives revolve around the stage and the road. All of them are hyper sensitive to the reality we live in, their world is now a target for those who wish to cause unbelievable harm to a large number of people. Music is not the only way to earn a living on a stage. I also have friends who are actors and public speakers. Our world needs these people and I do not want to see one of their events in a deadly headline.

Outside of the entertainment industry, I have several friends who are pastors, ministers, church volunteers, and laypeople who spend much of their time in houses of worship. Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques are not immune to this kind of violence. Historically, African American churches were terrorized by white supremacists across the south. Bombing, arson, gunfire. Even into the late 80s, the Aryan Nations attempted to murder a catholic priest and human rights activist in Coeur d'Alene. More recently, religious facilities have been the sites of shootings. A few weeks ago in Nashville. The EAME church in Charleston two years ago. A Sikh temple in 2012. And ten years ago, a shooter ended his rampage at a church in Moscow Idaho, a city about an hour and a half south of me. It is a sad state of life where I know terror can affect many of those I love the most in a place that should be a refuge.

Then there are schools, the most common location for mass shootings in America. I'm a dad. It should be more than obvious I am concerned for the safety and welfare of my kids. Earlier this week, a student at the high school my son will probably attend received threats she would be shot. A month ago, there was a shooting at Freeman HS in a small town about 15 minutes south of my girlfriend's house. And three years ago, a gunman killed four students at MPHS, my school, where I graduated in 1997. I grieve these shootings as they have hit so close to home and I often feel helpless to protect my own children.

This is not just a suburban issue. Or a teenage issue. School shootings have struck every level of education from elementary schools to universities; public and private schools; in urban districts, the suburbs, and rural communities. There have been nearly 200 school shootings since Columbine. Twice as many have been killed or injured in these attacks. This is a risk facing every family in America.

And we're not going to do anything about it. Why? Because we love our guns too much. This national fetish will continue to infect every corner of society and the body count will grow to staggering levels. As long as the best we can do in response is to offer thoughts and prayers, I'm going to stay angry. I have a feeling I might be waiting a while.

(me in 30 years, still waiting)