Dear Js,

Guess what! Today is a day with another first.

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

It was interesting.
The first thing I did before even loading it up into our trunk was take the training wheels off. I told you that the wheels were only for displaying in the store. I saw you with them in the store, and I knew they were going to harm your progress. They let you lean on them and that makes you go too slow. You need speed to stay upright. Plus, you already knew how to balance. You just needed to learn how to pedal and how to get going from stationary.

So first step was to let you know that you’re not going to fall. Why? Because look your two feet can touch the ground. All you have to do is put your feet down. You tried it and you saw that it was true. The next step was launching. You tried to put both legs up onto the pedal at once. That was a good idea, but not how bikes work so you fell. I said put one leg up on a pedal. Then push with your other leg like a scooter. You tried to put one leg up and you fell to the side where you lifted your leg. OK, so I showed you how to shift your weight to the left, so you can lift your right leg onto the pedal. That worked. Then I pushed your hands against the handlebars and said, “Push! Push push push push your bike forward like a scooter.” Then put your legs up on the pedal.

You got going. But you were still wobbly. I think most of it was either because you weren’t used to the bigger bike’s geometry and weight; or you weren’t used to pedaling while balancing. Each kick added new forces that tugged you off-balance.

The trick was to give you enough room to fall. Because the way to balance a bike is by falling continuously. If I held on too tightly, you’d lean on me and you’d just end up pedaling sideways. So we had to resist trying to help too much and let you fall. This way, you’d ride upright, and you used your existing balancing skills to stay upright. Before long, all I did was run behind you, gently tapping your elbows with my hands whenever you needed a little help balancing. I think all you needed were 10 launches or so before you rode free.

And then not too long after, we rode the bike all the way to the train station. It’s something we used to do almost every evening, before j was here. I was on Christmas break and mama took j to a play date. The first train caught us by surprise. You insisted we wait for the next 2 trains, while monkeying around on the rails.

"I want to do what you're doing"

“I want to do what you’re doing”

"Look at me"

“Look at me”

"Only my hands have energy that's why I'm tired"

“Only my hands have energy that’s why I’m tired”

"Daddy maybe we went too far" “I want to make a nest” “I’m going to read us a bedtime story” “Daddy... keep trying to close your eyes!” zzzzzz

“Daddy maybe we went too far”
“I want to make a nest”
“I’m going to read us a bedtime story”
“Daddy… keep trying to close your eyes!”

Our credit cards have been taking a beating lately. We also bought our first family piano.

It had always been on our mind. But here’s what made us drive out to a physical store to buy it the very next day. I was playing “Twinkle Twinkle” on my guitar. You were listening and I heard a “tap tap tap tap tap tap.” You were tapping the melody with your fingers. I imagined that your fingers were remembering playing the song at Bing. They have the color-coded keys and sheet music there and mama says you play sometimes. I know the feeling that makes your fingers move. It’s when you hear something and you feel it in your body.

That night, I said to mama, he’s ready. We hadn’t planned to buy a piano for Christmas. After all, we already had a bike, scooter, 1000-piece Lego set, books, a few hundred more train tracks with bridges and tunnels, etc. But of course the lesson here is that buying is an emotional decision. We had already made up our minds. I like music and mama loves music.

But the tough part was justifying whacking the credit card again. It wasn’t cheap either. It was going to be a few hundred dollars. So we got to work coming up with reasons and excuses. You can always justify a piano as something you can’t outgrow. A standard-sized piano is something you can use at any age. (Provided it’s still in one piece.) So it’s a once-in-a-lifetime investment spread over your entire life. Plus, the cost of owning a digital piano is much less than a real piano. It will always be in tune, and it isn’t a one-ton hull of metal, wound cables and solid wood. When we move we’ll just pop it in the car. And with the latest technology, you can get much closer to the feel of a real piano than when I was little. Plus, with the power of computers and software today, keyboards don’t have to have very sophisticated electronics. All they need good keys with nice action, and a clean audio output signal. We can send that signal to a computer, tablet or even a decent smartphone, and software can do all the post-processing magic to transform that signal into whatever we want. The keyboard becomes just a “Controller” or input device. And software gives it its voice.

So those are decent logical reasons. But if you really want to sell something to yourself, you need to hit the emotional buttons. So we reasoned… nothing in our house filled it with music. I tried to describe to mama my feeling that music adds an extra dimension. It adds color to a black-and-white world. Words are good and reading is good… so are building with blocks or drawing or playing. But there’s something about music that challenges and stretches and tickles your brain in a way that nothing else can.

Mama said, “YES.” I knew she loved music, but mama explained how much she did. It was even a physical reaction. She said that when she hears something that moves her, the right hemisphere of her brain gets warm and tingles. And even when it doesn’t blaze up, it tingles in spots, like ants walking. She shivered a little describing it. I was thinking are you sure that’s normal? I have nowhere as severe a reaction.

Anyway, we couldn’t let you guys miss out. Especially now that your brains are still juicy and growing. We needed to fill our house with more music. The guitar and ukulele are great but it’s hard for kids to press strings. I don’t think there’s any instrument easier than a piano. It’s perfect for kids to get instant aural gratification from every action, even if you play it with your elbows, feet or face.

But I had one condition, we had to find a decent one with keys that didn’t feel like soggy spaghetti.

So we went shopping. We couldn’t wait so we went to a real store because I wanted it RIGHT NOW. Amazon Prime next-day delivery was not good enough. Based on reviews online, I found a keyboard I liked, like the Yamaha YPG-235. But when I tried it at the store, it was disappointing. I wondered if I could live with the lasagna keys. So we tried all the other keyboards and pianos in the store. I’m not an expert, but if you’ve played for a couple of years on real pianos, you can tell very quickly which ones feel right.

I only tried the ones in our price range. But you tried ALL of them.

I only tried the ones in our price range. But you tried ALL of them.

And ALL the drums. And ALL the guitars.

And ALL the drums. And ALL the guitars.

When your sister woke up in the car, she came in to double-check all the instruments too

When your sister woke up in the car, she came in to double-check all the instruments too

Eventually a nice man came to help us. (Or chase us away — I wasn’t sure.) I said great I need help. I was looking at the YPG-235, but I said the Williams one in the back felt better. With that comment he looked at me differently and smiled, like I wasn’t entirely stupid. He asked me if I played and then said, “I disagree. I don’t think piano is something you can say you ‘used to play'”. Then he said, if you like this one, did you see this Casio one here? Hmm… I asked him for advice, “These two are the same price. Which would you recommend?” He chuckled and pointed to the Casio without hesitation. So we got the Casio CDP-130, which was on sale at $300. Of course, mama checked the price online, and $300 was the lowest price anywhere. SOLD! In our excitement, we only realized in the parking lot that the box was too long to fit in the trunk. It was almost sad times, standing next to the car with a piano in my arms that we bought but couldn’t take home. I ripped all the packing bullshit out of the box and luckily, it sat in the front seat.

At first you were happy to bang on it with J. Slapping multiple keys with each hand. "Now Dino's playing too."

At first you were happy to bang on it with J. Slapping multiple keys with each hand. “Now Dino’s playing too.”

Then we showed you how to play music. We copied the color code that you had at Bing and drew up a few songs for you to try. It seems that reading helped you read sheet music. You understood the left-to-right top-to-bottom path. Then j took my pencil. I asked her for it and she said, “NO. MINE.” I said, um excuse me. It’s actually mine. I bought it and I was using it. You snatched it from me. “NO. MINE!” And you threatened to scream. But J, you helped me get it back by copying how she says please, “P-leece? P-LEES?” You kept repeating that until j said, “OK.” Phew. But when I tried to take it, you said, “uh uh” and gave it to your brother. Then J gave it to me to finish writing.

We made song after song after song. I’d make, you’d play, then think of another one. Then we made Happy Birthday. I discovered that it had a B flat. Not sure if I got the right key, but 80% into the song, there was a B flat. Too late now, so we rolled with it. “Daddy what’s a B flat?” I explained that it’s the black key before the white key. “Is this an A flat? Is this a G flat? Is this an E flat? Is this a D flat?” Yes. “Is this an C flat?” Well… a C flat is a B. “Is this a C flat?” Okay this might take a while…

I thought it was going to be too hard but you had no trouble. You even liked going back to it… “Daddy I want try the tricky one.” “Which one?” “Happy Birthday.”

I intentionally didn’t introduce Sharps yet. One concept was enough, and I figured that if you got Flats, Sharps is pretty much the same thing.

So the interesting thing is you still didn’t know that the keys repeated. Or that there was a pattern in the keys. The next day I showed you the highest key and the lowest key. You seemed to find that very interesting, that there is a highest and lowest. Maybe that helped you establish the range of the instrument. And scope the sounds you heard. Soon you started calling out to me to play the “middle keys” when I goofed around playing tunes higher and higher. And then the next day mama said, “He figured it out.” What? “He found the pattern of the keys.”

“How?” She said she played 3 cs at once, and played the whole song with 3 keys. And you stared bug-eyed until you saw. “Mama what’s that?” “Well, what does it sound like?” “When it goes up it sounds like steps. When it goes down… now it sounds like a slide.” Then she showed you the black keys. And you ran up and down the octaves.

What I found funny was that mama calls the five horizontal lines the Pentagram. I said, “What?” She said, “Si, el pentagrama.” “Like in the symbol of the Church of Satan?’ “Well, what do you call it?” “Definitely not Pentagram. Staff, I think”

It’s been a few days and J you don’t like j sitting at the piano anymore. Things changed ever since you started reading notes and playing music. you used to be happy making noise with your sister. But now you don’t like her interrupting . When we called called grandma to show her your playing, j wanted to play too. You pushed her, she bit you and everyone cried for 10 minutes. Including Kimi.

Fishies in the water, fishies in the sea, we all jump in the water in 1… 2… 3! Mama usually takes you swimming after dropping J at school. This Monday, I didn’t have work so I got to take you instead:

Later you told mama that you wanted to go back to swim class with me 🙂 But sadly I don’t know if we’ll get to again 🙁 So it was nice that we had this chance 🙂

New developments

j you bit J. He wasn’t giving you space to brush your teeth at the sink. So you bit him hard. When I showed you the mark you left you cried. You felt really bad you hurt your brother.

J, you’re reading Fox in Socks to j. Just imagine a 3-year old reading this: “Through three cheese trees three free fleas flew.
While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew. Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze. Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze. That’s what made these three free fleas sneeze.” Even I have trouble with it. But you go slow and read each word one at a time and seem to do fine.

j you counts to three now.
uno dos-
uno dos-
uno dos tres!

J, as annoying as it is, it’s kinda amazing that you can goof and talk in j’s language. You think it’s funny to downgrade yourself to copy her grammar, vocabulary and syntax. You do it because we laugh when j does it and you want to make us laugh at you too:
J: “Mas. Agua. Mas”
J: “Please? Please? Please?”
J: “Arya. Pulling. Me.”
J: “Making. Biocks. Me making. Biox.”
Mama: “J use your words and talk like yourself.”

j, on the other hand you don’t seem to know you’re one and a half. You think you’re three and a half and try to do everything J does.

Curious convos

J: “Daddy since its called spinach the name to me sounds like you can spin it in your mouth.”

(j having a nightmare)
j: “No J No. My leche!”

Mama: “Let me help you with the cup-”
j: “me SELF!”
Me: “I’ll hang it back on the tree for you-”
j: “me SELF! S-ELF!”

(J wasn’t sharing at a play date)
girl from your class: “Sometimes people take things away because they want to borrow it.”

j: “me bullet train.”

(At the table, not eating lunch, getting late to going out to play somewhere…)
Me: “Time is moving forward. Look at the clock here, it’s one. The sun goes down at five.”
J: “Ahhhh! Help! How do you stop time?”
Mama, coming from the garage: “What’s going on here?”

(when riding bike)
J: “Why when we exercise, our body gets warm?”

(staring at fridge)
J: “Why do they call it W?”
Mama: “That’s the name they gave it.”
J: “Is it because it has two U’s?”

J: “Why is the earth round but it seems flat?”

J: “Pteranodon carried Troodon and after he gets high enough he can float”
(Mama said you guys talked about space earlier)

(I showed you the secet S.O.S. mode on the lantern)
J: “ooooo”
Me: “This is the emergency light”
J: “Why is this the emergency light?”
Me: “It’s like what the police car and ambulance have. If you are hurt or lost, turn it on. But if you are lost, don’t run anywhere. Just sit still and stay in one place and mommy and daddy will come find you. If you run all over the place, we won’t know where you are.”
J: “ok”
J: “What if our house is on fire?”
Me: “OK, in that case, don’t sit in one place. Get mommy and daddy and get out of the house as fast as you can.”
J: “Can we turn on the fireplace?”
Me: “No, if there is a fire, we don’t need more fire. The fireplace just adds more fire.”

j: leche?
Mama: “What! If you’re hungry you should eat dinner-”
j: “please?”
j: “Pl-eEEES???”
(Mama gives in)
*SMILE cheeky smile*

J: “Sometimes I like to play. But sometimes I like to sit on the couch under the blanket and read a book.”

J: “Mama I’m so excited for Christmas time. I’m going to wake up and race downstairs to open presents. Julie come with me”
j: “okei?”
J: “We will wake mama and daddy and abu up.”

(j, playing with me, then remembering you wanted something)
Me: “Row, row, row your…”
j: “Leche”
Me: “Gently down the stream… if you see leche don’t forget to…”
j: “*nok*nok* (tongue click)
(then you ran away to mama on the couch)
j: “Acoomi Kimi”
(you pushed Kimi away)
j: “Leche mama”

This week in pictures

All the balls must be on this branch


Just discovered the joy of tearing paper

And made a mail plane

Fireflies. We bought some LED lanterns for emergencies.

“My story”

Gingerbread house

Step one – free installation

Finished! New jungle gym

I taught Bao some new tricks. It’s too much for a 3-year-old, so I didn’t show you. After I made it, I realized that all that you need to know to build this is basic physics (v = d/t) and math (trigonometry) — stuff I barely remembered and had to look up. It could be a good science project one day…

Bao the dog hunter. As you can see you’re getting better at the controls. I took it for granted that it would be easy. But now that I think about it, controlling something from a fixed POV is hard. Because forward, right and left changes depending on where the robot is facing. I think this might have been why you lost interest for a bit — it was just too hard to make the robot go where you wanted it to go. But you’ve become more confident with practice; unfortunately for Kimi…

First ponytail

First ponytail

Mama went to get her hair done and left me with you too. j didn't like it. You kept shouting "Maaaamaaaa! mamaaaaaa! mamaaa…." but eventually I won.

Mama went to get her hair done and left me with you too. j didn’t like it. You kept shouting “Maaaamaaaa! mamaaaaaa! mamaaa….” but eventually I won.

Then I conned J into taking a nap. Double K.O. - daddy wins!

Then I conned J into taking a nap. Double K.O. – daddy wins!

"Tell me more brother you are so funny and interesting."

“Tell me more brother you are so funny and interesting.”



Balloons saved mama's sanity one afternoon

Balloons saved mama’s sanity one afternoon

Drawing on the kitchen floor

Drawing on the kitchen floor

Gingerbread housing

Gingerbread housing

Gingerbread architects

Gingerbread architects

j: "Me boat" J: "Mama I'm the captain"

j: “Me boat”
J: “Mama I’m the captain”

Kimi's one of us again

Kimi’s one of us again

Fireflies and a sleepy mama

Fireflies and a sleepy mama

On the park sign

On the park sign

"Choo choo jacha!" "Noooo!"

“Choo choo jacha!”

2 vs 1 - avion sticky ant

2 vs 1 – avion sticky ant

The reading car

The reading car

"We are spitting cobras"

“We are spitting cobras”

Reading at Bing. Mama wasn't thinking she was yawning

Reading at Bing. Mama wasn’t thinking she was yawning

We were waiting for a meeting with your teacher. Auntie J came to help watch you two

We were waiting for a meeting with your teacher. Auntie J came to help watch you two

Outside, last day of school year

Outside, last day of school year

Smile guys

Smile guys

j, I dreamt that somebody took you. I went to look all over the place. Street after street, building after building, floor after floor. It felt hopeless but I had to look. Somehow someone got the name and location of the suspect. As I entered the building I was trying not to think of what could have happened to you while I thought of all the things I would do to the person who did this. Then you grabbed my hand. You led me. You turned me around into a room with a dog. You picked him up. We went downstairs and you led me to a ball in a cart. Then I woke up, a little confused and a little concerned. I went downstairs to play with you, then researched GPS family locators later.

Travis McGee
John MacDonald is so f’ing good. The pace picked up in the middle of the 2nd book. He grabbed me by the eyeballs and I couldn’t help finishing the last half in one go. Good thing I bought the first 6 books and the next one is waiting on the shelf for me. He must have lived many lives to be able to flesh out all his characters so well. Or maybe he spends a lot of time sitting in cafes watching people. I guess that’s one of the fun things of being a writer. As we go through our days, we sometimes see strange things or people. Mama said she saw a 7-year-old girl one day getting cozy with two books she picked. One was a typical kid story and the other was a book in all white titled “Happiness.” Normal people grin and go on with their lives. But a writer gets to keep fantasizing. For a writer, the story starts where it ends for most people.

So that night, I thought why not play a ‘story game’ before bedtime. You wanted to read a book that I didn’t want to get from downstairs, so I said, “We can make our own story.” Soon it was tale of a lizard, his friend Bunny, fish, T-Rex and Pleisiosaur, and skateboards.

There’s time. I have all these things I want to do with you two. But I have to wait til you grow up. Like robots, squash, martial arts, music. Then I thought, why not business too? Maybe one day we’ll start having family projects to make money too. But we’ll do it our way, not like all these other families who do it just to brag about it. We’ll have fun. And just like how you’re learning everything (like the piano, or the bike), we’ll throw out all the rules. It’ll be natural and we’ll find our own baby steps. I think it’d be nice to have you guys making money so you can fund your own projects. Otherwise you’ll treat us like your infinite bank of Santa gifts.

Speaking of gifts, so it seems you’re “gifted”. Teachers at school have pulled mama aside to whisper to her. I was like wtf is “gifted”? I don’t think our Js are doing anything special that another kid couldn’t do. So we called Abu to ask her. Abu the psychology professor said, “I told you so. I’ve been telling you since I observed him as a baby.” Mama had dismissed it as her just being a grandma, but Abu said, I can put my grandma pride aside and tell you that it was my professional observation.

Then she cautioned us. She said that some studies have shown a disproportionate number of criminals that are “gifted”. Many of them were not recognized when they were younger, so they had nothing to keep their over-active brains occupied. To everyone else, they were just troublemakers, class clowns, bullies, or had “ADD”. Eventually they’d get into trouble or whatever small misdemeanors tickled their brain, and eventually crime.

After hearing that, we noticed that you are definitely more annoying when you have nothing to challenge your mind. You’re really pleasant when you have something to work on, or when you have some physical activity to tire you out. We have to keep your brain active or it becomes a devil’s workshop. When you’re bored, you start acting out, testing physics by doing things like jumping off the couch, terrorizing Kimi or finding ways to hurt your sister without us noticing.

So I asked mama, if J’s gifted, what is j? Mama said she doesn’t like the term. I don’t have any other kids, so you two seem pretty normal to me. A little crazy and annoying sometimes but I don’t see what the fuss is about. Abu says that it’s a combination of genetic and parenting. Some key traits include intense focus/concentration, how quickly you can learn new things, and how you can transition from stage to stage on your own. You’re almost always autodidacts.

But I thought, genetic, huh? So I asked mama, “Are you ‘gifted’?” Mama said she scored high. She said her sister could probably have scored even higher than her. But I didn’t have a psych prof as a mom, so I didn’t do any of that. But it made me wonder, was I “gifted” too? Mama said, “From what you told me of your childhood, I think you would have scored high too.” Hmmm… that might explain a few things I never understood.



P.S. Auntie L gave you a popup book for Christmas called Encyclopedia Prehistorica. It was made by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. It’s amazing. They not only make the creatures pop up, they open and close like an orchestrated dance.

Here’s how it’s made in China (by hand!):

P.P.S. our neighbor’s company invited a dinosaur for the families and they snuck you guys in while I was at work:

J you loved it but j wasn’t quite sure. So we bought just 2 tickets to the Dinosaur show. I don’t know what it’s about; it might be like Dinosaurs on Ice. It will be our first father-son outing. Excited but nervous… I don’t think I’ve ever gone to any big thing with just you and me. I hope you don’t throw up.

P.P.P.S. Abu’s on a plane and she’ll be here tonight! We’ll be having Christmas together. She’s under a lot of stress so we’re hoping to give her a nice break with her grandkids. You two always make her laugh anyway.