Grandpa Steve’s Kids is a project that I have been working on for many years. This program was not always called Grandpa Steve’s Kids. It was called the Hopeful Lullaby project. But, let me tell you my story, so that you can better understand this project’s purpose and evolution.
After graduating from college, I was an elementary school teacher for approximately five years. First, I worked in the public school system and then on the Navajo Reservation at a small mission school for special needs students. I then moved to Tucson, Arizona where I decided to try a different more physical type of work.
After working four months setting power poles in the desert I was ready for a job that offered an air-conditioned environment. I landed a job in a local hospital on their mental health unit, where I worked for the next 18 years as a mental health counselor/therapist. I was blessed to have some great mentors who helped me develop my communications skills and confidence in myself as a therapist. I had always been a good listener and further developed my active listening skills in this position. I liked this job and felt that I was not only competent as a therapist but I felt that I pretty good at what I was doing.
One day I discovered two high quality guitars that had been left over from a previous “music therapy” program. In the past, I had tried to learn how to play the guitar several times. I hadn’t really disciplined myself or invested the time necessary to feel good about playing. This time, I decided I would learn, and I told myself that I could learn to play guitar. The head-nurse encouraged me to learn to play so that I could entertain the patients. In a matter of months, I was actually playing and entertaining the patients. Then I began to write my own songs. These first songs were what I called “mental health”’ songs. They usually had a message relating to circumstances or a situation that some of my clients had in their lives. This was my way of creating a message song to let them know that I was listening to them when they shared their lives in therapy.
As I continued this therapeutic style, I began to see that self-esteem issues were very commonly part of most patients’ struggles and problems. I believe that playing music, writing songs and hosting music groups became a solid part of the therapeutic environment on our unit. Patients responded positively to songs that I wrote for them. The music and the lyrics seemed to help patients feel better about themselves and sometimes helped them have insights into their situations or problems. Music and therapeutic messages seemed to be a very potent combination. Much of the therapy I practiced had some focus on self-esteem issues and their implications for a person’s life.
At this point, I had been working on enhancing my own self-esteem for a few years. I would read books, go to workshops and seminars, and was introduced to new therapeutic approaches for helping people with their self-esteem issues. Helping people feel better about themselves and understand themselves more became the focus of my therapy. I continued to write “therapeutic music” with positive themes.
A new phase of my life began when I met and married my beautiful wife, Marj. When I first met Marj, I also met and fell in love with her five-year-old daughter, Vanessa. This began a whole new way of thinking as a parent. I wrote a song for Vanessa, called, “Happy and Bright.” The song, “Where’s Your Smile,” started with Vanessa, as a game we played to brighten her mood. With the arrival of our daughter, Lyla, I began to focus more on writing music about and for children. Our daughter, Catherine’s arrival provided more music stimulation and ideas. I wrote about my nephew, Tyler, in the mid-90s and about my grandson, Antonio in the late 90s.
All of these songs emphasized feeling good about oneself and taking care of oneself. The songs were messages that I thought were important for children to hear. My songs center on nurturing self-esteem in children as they grow. There was a shift in the emphasis of my music from therapeutic songs or mental health songs, as I originally called them, to songs about my girls and children that focused on their self-esteem development.
During my daughter’s early elementary school years. I would go to their classroom and share some of the songs I had written. I would then challenge the students in the class to write a class-song. The students came up with a theme and we brain-stormed the lyrics together and I worked out a melody line that they found acceptable. We performed several of the songs for the entire school in various school assemblies. Most students felt very proud of their class song that they wrote.
In the mid-80s, I put together a musical package called “Hopeful Lullaby” aimed at helping parents and grandparents develop positive self-esteem in their children and grandchildren. An artist friend developed a three-dimensional poster with a green growing vine and butterflies surrounding the word of the song Hopeful Lullaby. This song was written for my daughters to sooth them when they went to bed at night with a positive message about themselves and about their lives. The song Hopeful Lullaby described how we get what we feel about ourselves from our parents. We pass along to our children what we’ve learned about ourselves from our parents as well as what we have learned from our own experiences. Our children grow from the messages and the experiences we provide to them, just as we grew from the messages and experience that our parents provided for us.
I worked with a good friend who had a small home studio and recorded the 6 original songs that made up this package. Each song spoke to the listener about some aspect of self-esteem and feeling good about oneself. The songs were recorded on a tape cassette (older media) and I wrote a brief description of each song and why I wrote the song. These narrative descriptions were included in a Parent guide along with a Song Lyric booklet. I had such excitement for the Hopeful Lullaby package and the messages that it would convey. Two of the six songs were “personal-izable”, meaning that other children’s name could be substituted into the song.
With the completion of 2000 printed copies of the lullaby poster and the final mixing of the music cassette tape, I was ready to launch this package. I excitedly sent out 100 copies to various music companies, gift shops, catalogue companies, retail stores and even several music artist of the time hoping to find a marketplace. Although people expressed appreciation for the music, the poster concept seemed to be an impediment, “Your package is too big…, it is hard to ship…, hard to display…. There was no internet to display and sell the package at that time in history.
I sold another few hundred of the Hopeful Lullaby package at gift stores, various friends, family members, and other people that I would meet. The sales of this musical package just did not take off, and there did not seem to be enough interest in music about self-esteem. My wife was a full-time student, and I was the sole provider. We did not have the resources to accomplish all-of the “re-do” suggestion. In those days, there was no internet or ITunes for getting the Hopeful Lullaby package out.
So, the posters were stored away, but not my desire to write and create music. Writing was part of me, and I needed to express myself. In 1992, I left my mental health position and took a job as a program director for a small nonprofit that worked with gifted children who had acquired brain injuries. This work was intense and demanding but very rewarding. I was very proud of my collaboration with five of the older students, when we wrote and developed a theme song for the organization entitled, “Reaching for the Stars.” This song was well received by the parents, children, and the Board of Directors of this organization. After four years in this position, I decided to return to school and get a PhD in Educational Leadership. This was something that I had wanted to do when I was a younger man but didn’t have the confidence in myself that I could pull-off achieving the status of a PhD.
After completing my dissertation and doctoral program, I took a job as a School Principal in the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. After four years, I became the principal at Covert School which was a program within the Arizona’s Children Association that worked with high risk emotionally disabled students that the public schools could not manage.
I continued to write music for my own benefit and mostly shared them with my wife and family members. I had a heart attack in 2007 with bypass surgery and then decided to retire and “take-care of my wife and the home”. Marj had a good job that made it possible for me to retire early. Two years later, I underwent total right shoulder replacement surgery (after three previous shoulder surgeries). This surgery left me with a shoulder that had very limited usefulness and pained me greatly. I could no longer play the guitar. For a while I was very depressed and stopped my song writing and struggled with playing music on the guitar altogether.
From 2010 to 2015, I engaged with a team of people to teach Infant Brain Development in Tucson and surrounding communities. This opened up a whole new dimension for me in thinking about self-esteem in children. This program was about promoting a better understanding of how a infant brain evolves and “wires-up” for learning. The infant/child brain is wired up for life at a very early age. This course was geared toward creating awareness of how parents, grandparents and care givers can more positively affect a child’s neurologic development and happiness.
In 2015, Marj was preparing for retirement and getting her sewing room together. She asked me to please move the stack of Hopeful Lullaby posters out of our guest room closet and into my office. After spending the next six months looking at the stack of posters, I decided that I wanted to do something with this project. It was time to re-do my music.
After working on re-doing a couple of the songs, I decided to share them with some friends. From this sharing, I was referred to George Nardo, Music Producer at Luna Recording Studio in Tucson. George liked my music, and the idea of using music as a vehicle to spread positive messages for children and enrich their self-esteem. George offered to collaborate and help me in getting my songs professionally recorded.
Probably my biggest motivation was to complete the recording of 13 songs before I died. This was a bucket list project. I thought that maybe one of my daughters or grand kids could possibly pick up the songs at some later date and “do something with the music”. My depression over my shoulder issues was definitely clouding my thinking and emotions. I took George up on his offer to help me finish the album and we worked on the music for the next 16 months. We finally got to point where we liked the product and how the concepts and messages were taking shape. I began to feel like I had something of value to offer to others.
It was here, in talking with George Nardo that the concept of Grandpa Steve’s Kids came to life. I told George that, even as a child, I did not have grandparents who lived close enough or were able to help me when I had questions or needed some encouragement. I did not have the benefit of “grandparent wisdom”. My life may have been a lot easier if I had the love and connection with my grandparents. George looked at me and he said “Well Grandpa Steve you now have your chance to be a grandpa, and share your experience and wisdom with a whole bunch of young children, who could sure use a grandpa in their lives. You could be someone who might be able to help kids feel good about themselves and their lives.” Thus, the concept of Grandpa Steve’s Kids was born. I have been reinvigorated with this project and have begun to play guitar and write music again.