Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Jumping Off the Deep End Part

She eyed the family checking out the rope swing. There were only two boys initially willing to insert their feet into the bottom loop, hang on to the upper loops with their hands, and swing wide over the river and back to the beach again. One of them glided knee deep into the water and right back out again with the swinging momentum. The river water was cool but comfortable due to the hot summer day at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Beatrice kept eyeing the boys and then pointed. "Daddy, I want to go on the rope swing."

Bryce stayed busy with her floaty, battling the little rapids of the low river. I thought, Do you really want to go on that, Bea? I don't think you'll do it.

"Are you sure, Sweetie?"

"Yes, I want to try it. I may not go in the water, but I want to try the swing."

I knew it was more about wanting to be a part of the boys' adventure time than the boys themselves (although there is a boy she "likes" from school, which is another Daddy article for another time). And now there were even more boys swinging on the rope and plopping into the deeper part of the calm river. There were still a few others climbing up the cliff on the other side of the river and jumping into it from about 10 to 15 feet up.

"Let's try it out, Beatrice," the Mama said.

"I want to do it too!" Bryce called out.

Well, let's see where this goes.

Bryce has always been the bolder of the two girls, which in turn motivates Beatrice, since she is the big sister in this equation, looking even older because of their disparate physical sizes (nearly 6 and 8 years old now, closer in age than in size). Also all the swimming lessons that led up to our Maui summer adventure had paid off exponentially, with both girls swimming not only in the pools, but also in the sea with plenty of snorkeling as well. We were so happy that they're finally more relaxed in the water, and safer now that they had a basic swimming foundation underneath them. It took Bea a lot longer than Bryce to get there -- and Amen, they're both there now. They won't be surfing Steamer Lane any time soon, but based on their growing confidence and bravery of late in the water (and out), soon may be sooner than later.

I watched my lovely wife walk the girls over to where the rope swing was. Lo and behold, Beatrice let the Mama talk her through it and help her position her right foot and hands into the rope loops without hesitation. I immediately headed their way.

"Wow, look at this. Right on, Beatrice," I said. "Your legs are good, but you need to hold on with big, strong arms, too."

There was no fear on my daughter's face, only determination. Suddenly she was swinging across the river and back again, completely jazzed by this new exhilarating experience. 

"I want to do it again!" she shouted.

Go baby go!

"Great job, Beatrice," the Mama and I said together, let her swing away over the river.

That Bryce, she just barrels into new experiences head first, much more often than her sister. However, this time it was her big sister who enticed her to try. 

"My turn!" Bryce yelled.

The girls took a few turns each and then some of the boys came back from jumping and swimming and wanting to swing again. Bryce got distracted and befriended some other younger kids playing fetch with an energetic dog unafraid of bounding into the water to retrieve the stick in its jaws. 

That's when Beatrice said, "I want to jump off the cliff over there."

I'm sorry, what? Just a few weeks earlier, they witnessed me jumping off Black Rock from a height of 30 feet, something I never thought I'd do in a million years; I'm not a big fan of heights to say the least.

I did it, though. I climbed right up there and looked over the edge -- and jumped. Splash!

I'll never ever friggin' do that again. But still, I did it. 

I didn't think Beatrice would ever jump from a cliff off any size any time soon. She did, though. She actually jumped from ultimately around 4-5 feet. Granted she had her floaty around her waist, which was fine, because she jumped over and over again, all by herself, a little higher each time.

All this jumping and swinging of course is supervised by us, the Mama and the Daddy. But mercy me, we're proud. Now, if we can continue to help both girls develop appropriate risk-taking and sound decision-making skills through the rest of childhood, their turbulent teen years and eventually to the jumping off the deep end part of adulthood, that's a big bold win for us all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

As Quickly and Calmly as Possible

“May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied…”


When we emerged from the shark exhibit, there was smoke everywhere. The wind gusts were even stronger than when we first arrived just 30 minutes earlier. Ash whipped around us as we turned around and around to get our bearings. Burning grass stung our noses, but we thought the fire was across the two-lane highway on the dry mountainside.

No one else at the aquarium seemed to be distressed, just confused, although some of the staff skittered back and forth between the food stands and the gift shop.

I overheard another aquarium guest ask a staff member, "Where's the fire? Should we be leaving?"

He shrugged and said, "No, the fire is across the road and so far we haven't been asked to close the aquarium. You're okay."

"Where's the smoke coming from?" the girls asked us.

"We don't know, maybe behind us on the mountain," we answered.

Maybe we should leave, I thought.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined.

"Let's find something to eat," the Mama said.

We went one of the food stands to see what was for sale. The girl behind the counter looked bored, head in her hands and elbows on the counter, even with the smoke that billowed above us and around us.

I could tell the Mama was unsettled. She shook her head after quickly scanning the food for sale and said, "Let's wait to eat." And then to the girl, "Thanks anyway."

"Sure," the girl said with a weak smile.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined again.

"Me too," echoed Beatrice.

That's when we witnessed some of the families streaming out the exit, as if the wind carried them out to the parking lot. No one at the Maui Ocean Center directed anyone to do anything while the smoke continued to fill the air.

"We should go now. Yes, we have to go now," the Mama said. She'd already been thinking it, obviously, and it sounded as though she wished she would have said it sooner. Time to turn to the Kidpower channel: use your awareness to notice trouble — and don’t just move away from trouble — you move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

"C'mon, girls," I said, ushering them out the exit to the parking lot.

We headed for our rental car, smoke everywhere. All those who were leaving, including us, moved swiftly to our cars with confused, anticipatory faces, as if maybe there were prizes awaiting us.

And that prize of course was safety, although again, we didn't really know how urgent things were or the extent of the fire. Just the fact that white and brown smoke came at us down the mountainside like a slow-moving tsunami.

In order to get to the stoplight and eventually back to our hotel in Kaanapali Beach, we had to exit the parking lot and turn left, with dozens of other cars behind us and in front of us on the street.

"Where are we going?" Beatrice asked.

"Back to the hotel," I answered.

"I'm hungry!"

"I'll get some snacks out in a minute. C'mon Daddy, let's go," the Mama said.

I drove to the parking lot exit, the majority of cars still behind us. As soon as the light turned green for the waiting cars to turn left to go back to Kaanapali and right to go back to Lahaina, the Mama ordered me to move.

"Go, go, go! Get out there!"

You move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

I punched it and we edged into the lane in front of a patient family (who had waved us in) with the same escape in mind. In fact, everyone remained calm as they drove to where they needed to go. We made the light and within five minutes we saw the line of flames bleeding closer and closer to the highway. But we assumed we were on the road back to safety, and that was a good thing.

Sometime after we were on our way back to the hotel, the fire department closed down Honoapiilani Highway and then the Hawaii Red Cross, along with Maui Civil Defense, opened up two shelters at the Maui War Memorial and the Lahaina Civic Center. In fact, two friends of ours who were also on Maui and staying near us (which we found out the next day) were trapped behind the fire line coming back from the road to Hana, and had to stay in one of the shelters until early the next morning. Over 600 people, mostly tourists, had to stay in the shelters overnight.

Back at the hotel we discovered that the power was out as was cell phone service across the west side of the island and would be for hours. Fortunately no injuries were reported and no homes were damaged, although between 5,000-6,000 acres were burned in the fire.

Watching the sunset on the last night of our vacation, my Halleluiahs were multiplied. Nothing like a little trouble in paradise to keep you grateful for family safety first, no matter where you are.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

To Co-exist in the Unforgiving Surf

“I think the ocean has too many waves
There’s gotta be a way to make it behave
The world would run better
If it was run our way…” 

—KONGOS, The World Would Run Better

They huddled together on the edge of the lazy river. They didn't look scared, just hesitant, as if they were waiting in the wrong line and weren't sure where to go next. There were two younger girls, teenagers, and an older woman I assumed was their mother, all wearing colorful one-piece bathing suits, their puffy pale skin smeared white with sunscreen. The mother's face brightened as if she remembered where she was and separated from her daughters. She dipped her toe in the river, smiling a big winning smile.

"What are you doing?" one of the younger girls called out to the older woman.

At this point I floated calmly in the river on my pink donut floaty, courtesy of another hotel guest who was leaving the next day. He wanted another family to have fun with the two floaties they'd been using and didn't want to take home. We gladly took them.

My wife basked in the sun on a nearby lounge chair. Our two girls jumped and splashed in the pool, one of a few the lazy river flowed throughout the resort. Not too far away a sign on the side of a bridge read: All hotel guests must wear a wristband in pool areas.

I noticed the two teenage girls and their mother didn't have wristbands, but I didn't worry about it. Other guests were pointing it out every chance they could. I was too relaxed in my floaty to care, and then the mother said something I couldn't shake.

"For as much as I paid for our breakfast at this place, I'm going swimming."

She swam around for only a minute, pulled her heavy body out of the water and left with her two girls, both with expressions of embarrassed surprise. There it is, I thought. It wasn't that I cared she went swimming without being a hotel guest. I've "jumped the pool fence" a few times in my life. It was the idea that she was owed the pleasure. That she was due. That she was entitled to something else because for whatever reason she couldn't have otherwise due to screwed economic circumstance. And she was clear with her children that it was okay to feel this way.

The next day as we lounged in our small covered cabana, that we paid for, and which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is, another group of non-guests swam by and one of the guys said, "Look at those fancy celebrities."

Wow. And we even packed our own drinks and snacks to save money. At that moment I realized how apologetic I had been about our summer family vacation, still sensitive of surviving the great recession. Prefacing the family fun with the fact that I wove together credit card miles and points to make the vacation magic. Feeling almost guilty about investing in fun and family memories.

Almost, but not quite. I shouldn't feel that way, I know. We work hard to have the little we have, but we weren't due. We weren't owed. We weren't entitled to it because. We made the vacation happen because we could. Nothing more. 

Many of us can be and have been victims of circumstance. Getting the shaft and the short end of the stick due to financial forces beyond our immediate control. But it shouldn't mean we have a right to take because of it. This behavior has diminishing returns, and when it's played out again and again, and it is, we perpetuate the painful socioeconomic disparities that can and do lead to greater conflict. 

It's like witnessing a century-old sea turtle swimming alone in the shallows of a crowded beach. We can either swallow it whole like a monster, or learn to co-exist in the unforgiving surf.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Future Depends on Us All

"Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances." --Maya Angelou

Then comes the part where a cool morning summer stroll becomes a little magical, and the faux columns I see transform into real ones; I imagine I'm among Roman ruins at sunrise.

Really, I did. Just for a moment I immerse myself in antiquity while hundreds of years of history rise and fall inside me. Of countries conquering and collaborating. Of generations of families, friends and enemies living and dying, loving and warring. Of leaders leading progress and those leaving a destructive wake. (At least the parts I remembered from school and the time the Mama and I were actually there years ago.)
Of course we were nowhere near Rome. We were in Folsom, California, the morning after a fun weekend visiting family and friends, our girls getting time with those good folk we don't see very often.     
And I love Folsom. And El Dorado Hills. And Lake Tahoe. And Sacramento. And of course Santa Cruz. And every single city and destination I've ever been in throughout America. Hiking through the Southwest in the spring. Walking through Central Park on a muggy summer day (and now swimming under a waterfall on the lovely island of Maui). Strolling through the Blue Ridge mountains in the fall. Celebrating the holidays and Christmastime in Anaheim at Disneyland (we are not snow people).

From sea to shining sea.

But not just in America. I also love every place around the world I've ever been fortunate enough to visit, especially the travels I've had with the Mama. To witness the wonders of the world as well as the harsh realities of poverty and civil unrest.

Shortly after 9/11, the Mama and I went traveling abroad, counterintuitive to what many Americans were doing at the time. We stopped by a deli in Venice to get some lunch and the man behind the counter, who didn't no much if any English, smiled and asked:


We said yes, and then he added:

"God Bless America."

Then later on that very same trip we found ourselves in the midst of an anti-American rally. Swallowed up by an angry but thankfully peaceful mob while pickpockets poked at our jackets and belt lines.

I know it's a tired cliché comparing America with the rise and fall of any empire of old (think Brexit now). I really do. Even with all the policitical and socioeconomic divisive complexity, this is still a great nation, this United States of America. The Mama and I are proud and engaged citizens and we're raising our girls to be the same. This isn't a nation that's lost its greatness, it's still an important bastion of democracy in this ever-erratic polarized and populist world. But it is a nation like much of the modern world that sorely lacks in great leadership, effectual leadership.

Personal leadership in particular. We can blame all our woes on terrorists and Wall Street and Congress and even the President of the United States (and we did with Presidents Bush and Obama, depending on what side of the fence we hemmed and hawed on). We can blame two presidential candidates with the highest disapproval ratings ever in the history of this country. But for me it all starts at the "home office," no matter the circumstance or the status.

I am not you and you are not me and I yet will still celebrate all our differences, even the little crazy ones. Those of you with the big crazy however, God help you, because I cannot, even with the separation of church and state. I can empathize with those of us who are willing to stay informed about the state of their world -- from local to global -- and who are willing to take action that builds up and not tears down. I'm not asking everyone to be a Rhodes Scholar, or to forgo keeping the "bad guys and girls" in check. I'm just requesting that we stay informed as objectively as possible and make informed decisions, which can be a challenge I know. (Fact-checking detectives by nature we are not.)

It still starts with us. We may be oppressed and disenfranchised -- we may feel like puppets of the 1 percent -- and yet we can still rise above and make a difference for our friends and family, our neighbors down the street and across this great country. I know we can. We can strive for autonomy from the 50/50 split and move to at least the 60/40 compromise, creating the incremental improvements that truly are the catalysts of positive change and progress. To improve our individual and collective circumstance.

Which is why I'm declaring independence from ignorance and intolerance. Really, I am. This nation's future is inextricably linked to the future of the rest of the world. It cannot be uncoupled without detrimental economic and diplomatic consequence. And cutting off the world won't stop the gun-toting crazy.

Stand up straight and keep democracy alive. Stand up and lead. We are an American citizens. We are a global citizens. And our children are as well. Our future depends on us all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Differences that Are Sure to Come

He couldn’t stand Cesar Chavez. Every time he was in the newspaper or on TV news, rallying Mexican immigrant farm workers to unite, my dad would curse under his breath. He called Chavez a troublemaker.

I didn’t get it at first, especially in the late 1970’s. I had just turned 12 when my mother married my second step-dad, the man I would always celebrate as my dad from that point on. But I didn’t quite get why my dad felt the way he felt, at least early on. I didn’t know a lot about the world at that age, and why adults did the things they did, why the felt the things they felt. With the unfortunate exception of experiencing domestic violence and sexual abuse prior to that.

My dad had been a police officer and detective for 32 years when he retired in 1994. He was a tough, bourbon drinking, cigarette smoking (which he quit in 1984), very personable and pleasant matter-of-fact pragmatic cop who always lived in the conservative right, but was tethered to centrist sensibilities, like a padlocked box of assault rifles bound tightly atop a slow-moving station wagon.

We grew up in the Central Valley of California, the one that still “feeds the world.” The one that mostly embraces conservative Christian ideals. The one that battles over building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The one battles over whether or not we’re in a drought. The one that wants to own guns of any size and caliber because the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution says we can. The one that still needs immigrant Mexican farm workers to work the fields because no one else will do that back-breaking work.

Throughout high school and college as I began to understand my world better, I would challenge my dad and my mom, who also shared much of his world view and prejudices. My parents wanted order in the world, so any person who disrupted order, the status quo, no matter the reasons why, were nut jobs, troublemakers and criminals. It especially didn’t help if they were non-whites and not Christian, but even then, my parents were equal-opportunity and orderly conservative Christians (which they became more of over time together). Any social upheaval was one upheaval too many, no matter who the rabble rouser was. My dad simply didn’t like bad guys or girls, those who broke the law. He was a cop for goodness sake.

But I always took them to task and took the alternative perspective on various issues, my more liberal education channeling a different social perspective on the world than they were familiar with. I was also more liberal than my sister, who eventually became a cop herself, something my dad fought, then supported fully. He knew how tough it was going to be on her as a woman. And it was. Plus, he had three daughters from a previous marriage, our step-sisters, and I’ve always believed that this is what birthed his moderate heart.

What my family didn’t realize throughout my formative years, at least consciously, was that they helped me find my voice. My value. My world view. My ability to listen, to comprehend, to analyze and to make somewhat informed decisions, both good and bad. They helped shaped the inquisitive mind I have today. We were like TV’s The Goldbergs, except we were a Christian cop family growing up the Central Valley of California.

My parents took the time to listen to us, were patient with us, although my dad wasn’t shy about calling foul when I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I was able to do the same with him. Any social more, politics, economics, race, gender, sexual orientation, AIDS, the environment, terrorism, crime, gun control – you name it – we could talk about almost anything and agree or agree to disagree. It didn’t mean we were always civil, or without some name calling, but we worked through it nonetheless. And yes, there were some big bumps in our relationship road that took time to fix, but fix them we did.

My parents were loving people and good Christians in the end who did care about those victimized and those less fortunate than most. But they had their prejudices, that’s for sure. (Don’t we all?) I don’t recall my dad ever coming to terms with Chavez’s important and highly disruptive social and economic impact. Until the end of his life, he still didn’t like liberal “troublemakers” no matter what. That would never change. I would never agree with this take either, and that was okay with him.

My parents cared enough to let us think for ourselves. To encourage us think for ourselves even when that was at odds with their beliefs. To encourage discourse and accept the differences. This is why with a heavy heart I’m so disappointed with too many of my peers I grew up with who are parents today, some of whom are old friends or professional acquaintances I’ve met over the years.

Those who are blatantly spewing hatred on all sides of the political and social divide. Those who without pause go for the jugular and cut it wide open. Those who get nasty personal without regard for the other person’s values or viewpoint, who even go as far as threatening and doing bodily harm to one another. Those who don’t do any of this anonymously either, who just fill up their Facebook feeds and Twitter streams with uninformed idiocy and hatred and who just don’t want to hear an alternative perspective no matter what. No room for productive discourse or compromise.

We’re either all libtards or facists. And all the while their children and ours absorb it all. That's what perpetuates a country and a world divided. That's why solutions escape us.

Sure I can use my Kidpower throw-away and walk-away powers, and I do. And thanks to the Mama, who is amazing, we’re instilling the same in our girls, who have yet to experience the hateful rhetoric poisoning the wells of collective wisdom around the world.

We will still work hard to help our children find their voices, their values and their world views, while accepting the differences that are sure to come. We can only hope that other parents will continue to do the same.

Miss you Mom and Pop. Everyday should be Mother's and Father's Day for those who make a positive difference in this spiteful and complicated world, regardless of the difference or divide.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

No One’s Ever Asking for Rape

There they were, three little words: And more rapes.

These three words were in response to someone sharing a seemingly positive article about President Obama addressing Air Force graduates that female leaders will help make a stronger U.S. military.

It’s a post that seemed to be relevant for the professional networking site known as LinkedIn – leadership, education, business, etc. But these three little words were the first comment on this post: And more rapes.

I couldn’t get the post and comment out of my head after that, although I never went back to it, nor did I click on the post link the first time I saw it. However, I did take a screen shot of it and wondered what the context of those three words was. I may want to reference it at some point. Sadly, the reference came sooner than I thought.

Was he suggesting that more women leadership in the military would prompt more rapes in lieu of making for a stronger military? Probably. I feel that’s the only read on why he commented that way. Forget about what his politics are. Forget about whether or not he’s was being comedic (or thought he was). Forget about whether or not he was an asshole, which he probably was.

The tired answer of “this is the way it is in the military” or any other modern day male-dominated industry and/or society, which most if not all still are – is simply pathetically tired. That women who put themselves in certain situations are “asking for it” – that it shouldn’t be a surprise that they will be raped.

The reality is that every two minutes in the U.S. someone is sexually assaulted. I’ve been a victim myself. In fact, a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. And that's only what's reported. Statistically speaking, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

Brighter minds than mine have discussed all this for many years, but I need to speak up (yet again) because of one simple truth: I have a wife and two daughters. Three human beings that reinforce in me every day how precious life is and how important it is to love and respect each other.

I also had a mother, a sister and other strong female role models in my formative years to thank for the respect I have not only for women, but for other men as well. Respect, empathy and restraint. At least for those who share in kind. (God knows the men early in my childhood were no help whatsoever.)

Nobody’s asking for it. No matter what gender, how they dress, how they speak, how they act, their beliefs, their sexual orientation – even if they first say yes to intimacy and then change their minds. Nobody’s asking to be raped. No one. When it’s not consensual, when another person forces themselves sexually on another via intercourse, it’s rape and it’s a violent crime. It’s nothing else but that. It will never be anything else but that.

Except that there are countries, like in Brazil and elsewhere around the world, where a culture of rape thrives. Where a 16-year-old girl has reportedly been raped by at least 30 men in Rio de Janeiro. Where “images of the alleged attack on social media ‘racked up more than 550 likes and a deluge of replies with smiley faces and thumbs-up,’ The Globe and Mail reports. Where ‘Commenters using vulgar language celebrated the damage apparently inflicted on the girl's genitalia and said she had no doubt 'been asking for it.'"

Again, nobody’s asking for it. And yet, even in America, we still blame the victims a lot of the time. That for example, if they hadn’t been at that party drinking and wearing sexy clothing, then they never would’ve been raped. Like the Stanford student Brock Turner convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, but only sentence to six months in county jail and three months’ probation because, according to the judge, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

And when the father, understandably defending his son, states before the sentence was handed down, “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.”

Sure, it’s his son. But I don’t care that his father thinks it’s a steep price to pay. I really don’t. This isn’t fucking Con Air where the tattooed rapist telegraphs his every violent tendency towards women. This isn’t about stereotypical he-man woman haters.

No, this is about a young man who didn’t stop himself from raping when the girl lay unconscious behind a dumpster. Where he penetrated her with “a foreign object.” Where according to a statement the victim made she wanted “to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. ... My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."

He was the only cause. Not her. He went too far. Nobody’s asking for it. It wasn’t her fault. I remember one night early on dating my now wife, really drunk, both of us stumbling up the stairs to my apartment, making out and groping each other, and never in my most primal drunken delirium could I have forced myself on her, conscious or not.

So Scott Herhold of the San Jose Mercury News, I’m not confused “about the severity of this case for him.” I sadly think you are. A culture of campus drinking (and for those of us who went to college know of that culture everywhere) makes no never mind when it comes to rape. Because the 20 minutes of Brock Turner’s rape really comes down to the seconds where he could’ve and should’ve stopped himself. Where he could’ve taken her home, no matter how inebriated, and then gone home himself and slept it off. However, like my dad always used to say (who was in law enforcement for over 32 years), “Should’ves and could’ves only count in horseshoes and hand grenades; they don’t mean shit.”

I have a wife and two daughters. Or, I could have a husband and two sons. It doesn’t matter when it comes to rape and sexual abuse. Either way I will defend their worth unconditionally, as they would defend mine.

I’m outraged. You should be as well. We must all give voice to victims of sexual abuse and rape. We must stop blaming the victims and start making the rapists and abusers accountable. We must be the defenders of those precious seconds prior to a life destroyed, to instill self-aware prevention in our children. We must support organizations like Kidpower, a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, that provide positive prevention tips to help us focus on what to “DO” to handle different types of personal safety problems.

We must ultimately and definitively educate society here and abroad that no one’s ever asking for rape or sexual abuse. We're just asking for prevention and justice.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thank God for that New Car Smell

“Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars…”

—Gary Numan, Cars

Bryce kicked the back of the new seat in front of her. Then Beatrice followed suit.

"Girls, stop kicking the seats right now!" the Mama cried out.

The salesman kept on with his final checklist. "So, when you press this button here, then you'll be able to..."

But I could no longer hear him. His voice trailed off like a commentator during a stressful playoff game. I knew he was telling us important last-minute things to remember, yet it was too late in a game that had become a nail-biter for us all.

The girls were throwing their small stuffed animals at each other. They rocked in their seats behind us and kicked at our seats, squealing with crazy glee.

"I said stop kicking the seats!"

" can see how your phone connects to the car here..."

I'm sorry, what?!? The entire time the salesmen spoke he kept a well-balanced disposition as if he were a flight attendant talking to the passengers on his 1,000th flight about flotation devices and emergency exits while parents rocked wailing babies in front of him.

"Sweetie, we have to go now," the Mama said to me.

"...congratulations again, and now I just need you to sign here to acknowledge I walked you through these items..."

"Great," I said and signed the form. "We gotta go. Thank you!"

"Thank you!" the girls and the Mama echoed.

He thanked us again, I shut the door and we drove away.

Three and a half hours earlier...

We were ready to go. Cars evaluated and research done: best value bang and family safety for the buck and all that. We'd briefly considered hybrids and all electric in the past, but they still didn't pencil out for a family car. Then we reviewed our negotiation prep: don't lead with your number or the monthly payment -- get them to serve their best price first. Plus, it's Memorial Day weekend and it's the end of the month, and all that other car-buying jazzercise. Which, according to online car-buying sites, no matter when you go, says plan on being at the dealer marathon for up to four hours. Or more. Mercy me.

And then there's the meltdown-card prep. Yes, the part where you keep your kids in your back pocket for leverage. As in, "Listen, just so you know, once our kids start melting down, then we have to wrap things up. Just so you know. You know?"

Because the last time we bought a new car was before Beatrice was born, just over eight years ago. We'd been putting off getting a new family that last two years, even though we entertained it because our trusted family car was no longer trusted. So much so that the multiple repairs from this year alone were enough for us to cry out, "We need that new car smell!"

Blech. Nobody wants a new car payment, though. Especially for those like me who only see them as a means to an end, a way to get from point A to point B, and unfortunately a depreciating investment that can sink you quickly like wearing concrete shoes. The last time I truly loved cars was when I had my first car in high school -- the only manly muscle car I've ever owned and actually cared about as a status symbol and means to identity -- a 1972 Chevy El Camino. Sigh. Good times.

We were certainly ready for the buying experience this time. And we did pretty well in the overall negotiating department. The girls played the entire time with their coloring books and iPad and spent a lot of time in and out of the new showroom cars, pretending that they were taking their imaginary stuff animal families on road trips and into traffic jams. We didn't have to play the meltdown card. They only got squirrely during the last long hour of the buying process and us waiting to transfer our stuff from the old car into the new one and sign off on the final checklist.

"Great," I said and signed the salesman's form. "We gotta go. Thank you!"

"Thank you!" the girls and the Mama echoed.

He thanked us again, I shut the door and we drove away.

...later that same evening...

The new car hangover had settled in and I went outside to sit in in for a few. Not because of buyer's remorse, but mainly because I needed a little melancholy Rocket Man action, to sit in my new spaceship after a few glasses of wine and float through outer space to clear my head (counterintuitive with a few glasses of wine inside you I know, but work with me here). I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife and kids. I knew they were all right there with me, just inside at my sister's house, who was finally home from the hospital. All good news. Amen.

But I had been gone on so many back-to-back trips of late, more travel that I usually do, I avoided the thinner emotional atmosphere of everything going on and where it's much harder to breathe. I'm usually pretty good breathing up there. Usually.

Lately though, not so much. The why of it all still keeps me gasping for air, a precursor to panic attacks of old, which in turn makes me grumpy as hell. Not a proud combination to say the least. Thank God for that new car smell.

And family, too. Yes, thank God for family wrapped in that new car smell.