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, December 3, 2017

Real Friends Transcendent

"Oh, if I could hear myself when I say
Oh, love is bigger than anything in it's way..."



It was like every teen friendship movie we've ever seen, except played out in grade school. The part where mutual friend X stops hanging out with group Y and starts hanging out more with group Z, based on whatever reasons friend X has.

Such is the circle of the modern free-society life. And that's fine, because the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife) and I have been through it; many of us have. But we also don't want our girls to sacrifice one friendship for another, especially during these preteen years when overlapping relationships can sour and lines are drawn, and all regardless of what we think as the parents and who they should be friends with (as long as it's not destructive relationship). Where the peer pressure overwhelms many of us and forces us to choose -- or unfortunately we're selected out by the very friends we thought we had and the groups we thought we belonged to -- or we self-select altogether. 

In this case, friend X is Beatrice, our oldest, who like me her father has an empathic heart and friendly disposition that makes her accessible to girls and boys of many backgrounds. Again, it's easier as a kid to have multiple friendships, learning to trust and respect others based on shared likes versus dividing each other based on gender, race or varied interests and beliefs. It's bad enough how some men end up treating women later in life (i.e., devaluing them, harassing them, bullying each other, assaulting them, etc.), as well as how women end up treating women (and/or all of the above). It becomes a complex destructive mess leaving painful scars and potentially years of therapy in its wake depending on the severity. (Read this article and this article for painful reminders of our adult realities.)

So friend X is Beatrice and let's call group Y the puppy club and group Z the kitten club (the names aren't really the important part, although it is important to note that they were clubs they formed and they're all girls except for one boy in the puppy club). Beatrice played everyday during recess and lunch with her friends in the puppy club, and then one day the kitten club was formed, but not everyone from the puppy club was invited to join the kitten club. Not for any particular articulated reason except for just because that's who they wanted.

Beatrice loved playing in both clubs, but started spending more time with the kitten club. Then the puppy club's feelings were hurt.

Sound familiar?

That's when the puppy club wrote Beatrice a note. A very heartwarming note saying they missed her and wanted her to play again in their club, but not at the expense of the other club. They didn't ask her to be exclusive, just to play with them again sometimes.

So we encouraged Beatrice to think about it and respond to the puppy club, thoughtfully. And that's what she did. She told them she missed them as well and wanted to play, but that she also wanted to play with the kitten club. 

The puppy club recommended having a movie night to rekindle their friendship. And that's just what they did. Plus, no puppies or kittens were harmed in the making of this reconciliation and the playing continues. They don't all agree all the time on what they want to do and talk about. Their friendship transcends the differences and these are important life lessons to learn. We're also so proud that Beatrice received an empathy award from school recently.

That's why it's always a good reminder to review some powerful Kidpower lessons, ones that are all about better communication with those important to us. Here are three keys ones from a list of five:

1. Think Before You Speak

Staying mindful about what you say and do can prevent a host of communication problems. If you are feeling so upset that you lash out at someone in a disrespectful way, this can cause damage to the relationship – in the same way that a rock will cause damage if it is thrown through a window. A clean apology with no explanations or justifications will often repair the damage – but it causes less stress and hurt for everyone if you can avoid the damage in the first place.

2. Respect the Other Person’s Point of View

People are different, and seeing things differently is normal. Communicating respect for another person’s point of view does not mean that you are agreeing with it.  For example, you might say, “I really respect your point of view, but this is an area where we are going to need to agree to disagree, because I believe differently than you do.” When people feel that you respect their perspectives and feelings, they are more likely to treat your feelings and perspective with respect.

3. Keep Your Heart Connection

When you are important to someone, you have a lot of power and need to use that power wisely. This means that, no matter how much someone’s behavior has frustrated or upset you, you need to separate the behavior from your caring and compassion. None of us are perfect, and all of us make mistakes of different kinds.

Yes, for now their friendship transcends the differences and hopefully will continue to do so. But as the puppy and kitten clubs turn into dogs and cats, transcending the differences gets a lot harder. Our views changes, our beliefs change, our lives change and our friends change, too. Sometimes we just can't come back from friendship setbacks, no matter the reasons. 

However, for some of us, there are those friends we hold onto for life. I can only hope that our girls hold onto some of their friends today and tomorrow as we have done. Where some of our best friends are the real friends transcendent.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Even the Road Well-Traveled

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

That's when we decided to head to the hills on Black Friday. The big mountains actually -- the Sierra Nevada. It had been over 10 years since I'd been to Sequoia National Park, up above where I grew up in Visalia, California. Back then the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had driven up past Hospital Rock to Moro Rock and then hiked the harrowing two miles around the huge dome-shaped granite to the top.

So, what to do on Black Friday? Going to the movies the day after Thanksgiving was scrapped by our family, and the Mama didn't want us sitting around on our duffs all day, and I didn’t want to be hanging around in stores or malls (although we did make our annual post crazy-crush morning Walmart run -- no judging, please), so my idea this instead was to go to Grant Grove and the General Grant tree, named the "Nation's Christmas Tree" in the 1920s by President Calvin Coolidge. It’s also honored as a living national shrine in memory of Americans lost during wars by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I hadn't been there for decades, the last time my sister and I going with our grandparents. At that time they lived in the very small mountain community of Dunlap, just west of Kings Canyon National Park where Grant Grove is located.

We had gone to my sister's house for Thanksgiving again, but the day after she had to work on Black Friday, so it was just going to be the four of us. I mapped the way to the mountains on the computer and then my phone; there were two ways to get there, one a little faster than the other.

"We should go the faster way, Sweetie," the Mama said. "It's still going to be almost an hour and a half to get there."

I shook my head. "No, I want to go the way I know. It won't take that much longer."

The Mama shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked out her window. I knew she wanted to go the shorter way; she always wants to go the shorter way.

"Okay," she said.

"Do we have enough gas?" I asked, now not sure about the drive. "There aren't any gas stations in the parks."

"The gauge says we've got enough miles left in the tank. Let's go for it."

"Right on, Mama."

“Are we there yet?” the girls asked.

Thirty minutes later we inched along the long line of cars to enter the park. Obviously, we weren't the only ones with the idea to head to the hills.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock, a place I had been too many times over the years. But I was itching to get to the General Grant tree. I wanted to see the Nation’s Christmas tree. I had to see it. Be in its historic and emotive presence with my family by my side. But not in the snow. Because we’re not snow people. (Thankfully it was a balmy 65 degrees.) And then take a picture of it. Share the love on Instagram and Facebook. I felt like Clark Griswold on an obsessive mission to see America’s Merry friggin’ Christmas tree, and I wanted to get there now.

“Let’s hurry up, girls. Daddy wants to go see America’s Christmas tree.”

“No, we’re going to make stops along the way if we’re going this way,” the Mama said. “Especially now that the girls can get their Junior Ranger badges.”

“But I want to see America’s Christmas tree.”

“Yes, we get it, Sweetie. Do they even decorate the tree?”

I thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. Although it’s really pretty in the snow. Which we’ll never see, because we don’t do the snow.”

“Right. So, relax.”

Sigh.

“We’ll get there,” the Mama added.

“Yep, it’ll be a fun family adventure,” I said.

And as long as we get to that friggin’ tree, I thought.

Onward and upward we went – into Giant Forest, the smells of the high sierra coming in through the open windows, then past Moro Rock (the girls and I weren’t up for the heights of the hike), the General Sherman tree, Lodgepole, and finally a late lunch at the Wusachi Lodge. The thing you forget when you don’t drive in the mountains a lot is that it takes a lot longer to go from point A to point B – and the winding road can take its toll, which is why the Mama always has to drive on winding roads because she gets carsick. The girls must have her genes on that one because they were getting a little carsick, so the Mama emptied two plastic shops for vomiting just in case during one of our stops.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we made it to lunch. By that time the girls had finished their Junior Ranger workbooks, but we had to get to the Kings Canyon Visitor Center at Grant Grove Village by 4:00 PM for them to get their badges, and it was already after 3:00.

“We don’t have much time,” I said, knowing it would be close.

“It’s all right,” the Mama said. “If we make it, we make it. If not, then the girls will be fine. Completing the workbooks was fun enough for them and everything they saw.”

“Yep, a fun family adventure.”

“Exactly. We would have never done this otherwise.”

I winked. “I know, I haven’t been this way for decades. Not since my grandparents took my sister and me. And I get to see America’s Christmas tree!”

And then we were there with miles and miles to spare – making it in time to get the girls’ Junior Ranger badges and traverse our final loop hike to the General Grant tree, right as the sun was going down behind the mountains to fall into the sea where we live.

“Worth every minute,” I said.

“Yes, it was,” the Mama said.

“Did you have fun girls?”

“Yes,” they each answered, and then continued keeping each other company in the backseat.

As we drove back down into the foggy, smoggy Central Valley at sunset, I realized yet again what I’ve known for years: that even the road well-traveled, whether in our distant past or today's now, can make all the difference in this crazy-crush world. It's a matter of perspective, of seeing things again for the first time and with fresh nuance. These magical new experiences then imprint one after the other upon our cyclical consciousness. Many become lyrical and melodic, powerful memories that transcend time and stream on-demand like our favorite songs, anytime we want them, and anytime we need them.

As we drove deeper into the Great Valley dusk, my family holiday memories played all at once.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

To Brave the Hope

The blue tag swirled down the streetlight pole like a sloppy signature, which was exactly what it was. I hadn't noticed it before and had no idea how long it had been there. Knowing me and my sometimes marginal peripheral awareness, it could've been there for weeks, even though the streetlight was directly in front of our house.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was delivering a Kidpower workshop that morning and our daughters and me had just finished a packed morning of soccer and the grocery store.

After unloading the groceries, I filled a bucket with soap and water and a new scrubbing sponge intent on cleaning up the graffiti. Before I went outside with the bucket, I told my daughters what I was going to do.

"Girls, I'm going to clean off the poll out front, okay?"

"Why?" Beatrice asked.

"Because someone painted on it when they shouldn't have. It's called graffiti and I want to clean it up."

"Okay," Beatrice said. Bryce was too engrossed in her iPad to comment.

"That's very helpful of you, Dad," Bea added.

I smiled. "Why, thank you, Bea."

"You're welcome."

It was a glorious day outside, a warm fall day bathed in cerulean blue sky. Heavenly even, like a day from the Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep comedy Defending Your Life, where everyday was 72 degrees, there were all-you-can-eat buffets where you'd never gain weight, bowling alleys, comedy clubs and more. When in fact, this was purgatory in the movie, the weigh station to heaven and hell.

I conjured the silly 1991 rom-com because the world had become more violently absurd than ever. A bizzaro pre-apocalyptic world where the super heroes aren't so super anymore, much less heroes. A disrespectful world where others deface and tag in the name of marking property that'll never be theirs. A wag-the-dog world teetering on the edge of civil wars where fake news is real and real news is fake. A world full of splintered agendas and raging biases where our leaders compromise principles and laws and bastardized religion for partisan short-term gains. A world where the worst inside all of us is celebrated because an angry few feel they've been legitimately oppressed as others had truly been for hundreds of years. And a world where violence against women and sexual assault are compartmentalized, rationalized and diminished in the face of overwhelming bittersweet awareness.

All this swirled inside me while I scrubbed the blue tag off the pole. Except that it wasn't coming off. At all. I even scraped at it with a putty knife and nothing. I started sweating and decided to try window cleaner on it. Still nothing. We didn't have anything else stronger, so I stood helpless starting at the pole. A neighbor drove by and then stopped in front of our driveway.

She asked what was going on and I explained the graffiti and that I couldn't get it off. She said they had some stronger "goo off" stuff back at the house and that I could use it. A few minutes after she drove away, another two neighbors were walking back from the nearby farmer's market. They too had some stronger "goo off" stuff and went to retrieve it.

Once I applied the stuff with steel wool the blue tag came right off. Like magic. After that I helped our neighbor remove more graffiti from a one-way sign on our street.

When the Mama got home from her workshop, I told her about the blue tag I found and that I cleaned it off.

"Thank you, Sweetie," she said.

"I only just noticed it this morning. How long had it been there on the pole?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"For at least I week. I was going to tell you about it."

A week, I thought. It could've been months for all I knew.

Sigh.

I know there will be more graffiti tags on streetlight poles and one-way signs. And I know we'll always be able to clean them off. But it's gotten harder to take the high road beyond the graffiti when the low road is so riddled with trolls and power predators these days.

When I shared that sentiment online a few days before the blue tag cleaning, a friend of mine answered:

Stay positive Kevin, people love that about you.

I smiled as I thought about it. I am positive most of the time. I am hopeful most of the time. But I'm even more thankful for the fact that there are many of us who are willing to take the high road, to remain positive, to make a difference regardless of our differences by taking action for the better however incremental or big, to ultimately prevent further social injustice and the literal moral unmooring of America.

I'm thankful for my wife who inspires me daily to brave the hope and put it in action, and my daughters as well who fuel my hope for the future. And I'm thankful for family and friends who inspire the same, that there is light and love and so many more of us willing to embody them both.

Right on and amen. Bring on that high road, please. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Most of Us Together

Number 9 ran off the field at halftime and yelled at me.

"Dad, why didn't you take me out earlier! I'm really tired!"

She panted after every other word. Her face glowed red. Her hair was wet and matted to her forehead and the sides of her face.

"Great job, Beatrice," I said. "You are being aggressive and going after that ball!"

"But I'm tired!"

I patted her on the back. "I know, so take a break and drink some water. You're doing awesome."

"Thank you," she said. Then she was past it, eating fresh strawberries, the last halftime snack of our final game.

In the next moment, one of the team parents approached me. Her daughter was sick and had already thrown up twice on our sidelines. But that's not why she came over to talk.

"You know, you should tell the girls they can help our goalie and not just stand around and watch," she said.

I took a "zen" beat inside my head before I spoke. This wasn't an unreasonable request; she had the best intentions. In fact, the parents of all our players were really good all season, one of whom was my assistant coach, another one who also helped, and a few others who had soccer experience and made great suggestions throughout the season.

But I took a "zen" beat because it had been a long season. Sure, we weren't supposed to keep score, this is recreational soccer, and I had stopped keeping score early on when we lost every game by a significant number of goals. Game after game. Week after week. For someone who grew up highly competitive -- me -- and coming off of a winning season last year, it had been a long season this year. And yet I tried to keep my head up, because even with this last game, there was always a next time.

I put my hand on the parent's shoulder. "I understand. I do. I just want them to score for the first time in this final game. Or just pass consistently to one another. Or just dribble and drive the ball down the field. Or just kick the ball straight and farther than five yards. You know, those little things."

She smiled at my mild sarcasm and attempt at humor. "I know, but they really could help their goalie out so they don't keep getting the score run up on them."

Sigh.

"Got it. Thank you," I said.

"Coach, you just stepped in the throw up," one of the other players pointed out to me.

I looked down.

Sigh.

Maybe it was me. My job as coach for a U10 recreational team was to help them learn some soccer skills and some teamwork, regardless of having boys or girls, and in this case, it was my third year coaching our oldest daughter and an all-girl teams. But from the first practice to this very last game, it felt like some of the girls just didn't really want to play soccer. That they only wanted to goof off with each other instead. That's okay. They're kids.

Maybe it was me. There had been a lot of work travel this season for me and I missed some practices and one of our games. And then there was my hospitalization and disruptive infection that scared the bejesus out of me and the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife).

Maybe it was me, because as the season went on, it got tougher to inspire myself, much less the girls. Are they getting any of this? I thought again and again. After each game the Mama countered my fuming by encouraging me to keep encouraging them. I had the same conversations with my coaches and they encouraged me to stay positive and stay the course.

"They are playing better today, Coach," my assistant coach said.

"Yep," I said. "They are."

That's the thing -- positive improvements aren't always evident -- they are more subtle than that, like the incremental slow-growth of a coral reef. One minute there's nothing but barren shallows, and then 10,000 minutes later there's a layer of lovely colors that are alive and well.

And in the final game, there were all the lovely colors:


  • Better dribbling for some.
  • Better change-of-direction and ball control for others.
  • Better passing to teammates for others.
  • Better aggressive going after the ball for many of them.
  • Even better defense helping the goalie keep the ball away from our goal.


And while the number of shots we got at the opponents' goal were again few and far between, there were those who played hard and seemed inspired to do so, had the "fire" as my assistant coach put it, like they really wanted to play well, individually and together, encouraging each other to keep going, even for the few who didn't want to.

Yes, it had been a long season, and besides being her coach and her dad, I was especially proud of our oldest, Beatrice, as she had truly improved over this last season (and the two seasons before this one). She wanted to play, liked to play, went after the ball and got it done. She even wanted to practice kicking the ball around in the backyard, and before this last game asked to play in the winter recreational league. I never thought I'd see that happen.

After the last game we had a team party, and as we were all leaving, one of my other players walked up to me and game me a hug.

"Thank you, Coach," she said.

I hugged her back and said, "No, thank you."

One after another most of the girls thanked me. One even wrote me a nice note. Maybe in the end it wasn't me; it was most of us together. And that should make us all feel like winners.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Be Part of the Solution

One minute I was happily serving drinks, and the next minute I blacked out. And I don’t think the Mickey was meant for me.

Neither of us did. A few years before our oldest Beatrice was born, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I attended a coworker’s Halloween party. Dressed as Han Solo and Princess Leia, we volunteered to help run one of the backyard bars.

We were having a lot of fun chatting it up with dozens of different people dressed in all sorts of great costumes, most of whom we didn’t know. The Mama was a much better barkeep than me since she’d worked in restaurants over the years and did some bartending. She helped me mix the drinks and I mostly stayed with serving beer and wine.

Maybe two hours or so into the party, I felt wasted. Literally shitfaced. And I shouldn’t have been. I’d only had a few glasses of wine.

“Are you okay?” the Mama asked.

Thankfully the crowd had thinned at our bar, because the world spun way too fast for me at that point.

“I feel really drunk,” I said.

“Wow, you're slurring. You haven’t had that much to drink. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t feel good,” I said. Although I probably said, I stone fee goo.

“I have to go to the bathroom now.”

I af to go to da bamoom now.

We went to the bathroom and then went back to bartending. A while later it was time to go and that was when the world became an acrylic swirl of black and yellow light like Van Gogh’s Night Sky. I barely remember the Mama putting me in our car and driving us home. Then I vaguely remember stumbling into our house. She knew something was definitely wrong at that point.

The next morning we reviewed the night. I had a killer headache and there was no way it was just from the wine I drank. After some research online, we agreed that something had been put into my drink, probably what’s known as a rufie, the date-rape drug.

But again, we don’t think it was meant for me. Probably another woman. Whenever it happened, however it happened, and whoever it was intended for, I happened to be the unlucky victim of a drug-induced blackout. Thank God my wife was there to take care of me. Again, most of the party goers were strangers to us, so it could have been anybody.

After telling my coworker about it, she was mortified and said she’d look into it. These people were her and her husband’s friends, and sure enough, she uncovered someone they knew who had tried to drug someone at a previous party, but denied having anything to do with what happened to me. Without proof, there was nothing she could do about it, or we could do about.

What if I was a woman and the intended victim? What would’ve happened to me? Would I have been sexually assaulted? Would it have been someone I knew, or a stranger?

Today I’m an appointed volunteer on the Santa Cruz Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and part of our mission is to partner with local law enforcement and collect data on a variety of CA penal codes to better understand the nature of sexual assaults, occurring within Santa Cruz, and distribute this information to our community. Some of our findings from 2014-2016 of non-juvenile cases to be released soon include:


  • In 40% of the incidences of reported rape or attempted rape, the suspects were acquaintances of the victims.
  • 86% of the victims reporting sexual assault are Santa Cruz City locals.
  • Women between the ages of 18-29 make up 45% of the victims reporting sexual assaults.
  • Suspects were 59% locals, 32% unknown and 9% visitors to the area.
  • Alcohol was involved in 42% of the cases reported between 2014-16.


One of these days our girls will be young adults and may go to parties like this, whether locally or at college or wherever they end up living. Wherever that will be, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Mix in alcohol and powerful sedative drugs and you've got a very dangerous combination for potential victims. We can't be there all the time to protect our girls, but we can educate them to be aware and protect themselves.

The work we do at CPVAW has a broader mission of ending sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the City of Santa Cruz through prevention, programs, and public policy. October has also been domestic violence awareness month, and 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime and an average of 3 women die every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. Growing up, my sister and I witnessed my mother suffer continuous verbal and physical abuse, another reason why I speak up about it. To give voice to those who need help.

Recently on Facebook a friend asked why men don't speak up about the #metoo movement (the sharing on social media by other women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted), and also why so many men stand by and let harassment and sexual assault happen (and anything related to violence against women).

My response was simple:

I have stood by. I have called out. I have harassed. I have been harassed. I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I have been sexually assaulted

My wife and I have two young daughters who we are empowering to be strong and be part of the solution. As parents, we all have an ultimate responsibility to instill in both girls and boys their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, to not react inappropriately and violently, and to encourage all of the above with others. We need to be clear with our children that violence against women and girls, men or boys, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

So let's be part of the solution, today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Just Another Saturday

I just needed to pee when the Mama called to me from downstairs.

"Kevin, where are you? I need to talk to you about something important right now."

Her voice sounded off, odd, like she was uncomfortable about something. There was also an accusatory tone, as if I should be reading her mind to understand whatever the heck was going on as she bounded up the stairs. What did I do? I thought. Wait, nothing. All I knew is that we were getting ready to go to Bryce's soccer game.

"Kevin, where are you?"

"Going to the bathroom!" I called back at her.

That's when I heard a helicopter overhead. Then a plane fly by. Then the helicopter again. Then another plane. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, came into our bathroom where I was.

"There's a fire in Moore Creek down the street. We have to go now."

The "go now" part stung, as if the Mama had wagged her finger in front of me and then poked me hard in the chest. Her very being was all resolve and purpose betrayed only by the fear in her eyes.

"Sweetie, we have to pack some things and go," she said. "Our neighbor said they'll be closing the road soon."

We heard multiple firetrucks and police cars scream by us down the highway. The helicopter and planes flew overhead again. Moore Creek was right at the end of our street, where other friends of ours lived, whose children went to school with our girls. The property behind us lined with eucalyptus trees had ground cover as dry as kindling and most likely ready to go up in flames if the fire reached it. One of the eucalyptus had fallen into a neighbor's house over the last rainy winter, and when we saw the two feet of tree debris all over the ground soaking wet, we knew at some point it would dry out and be quite combustible.

"I have to pee first!" was all I could say to the Mama. Because I did, before I did anything else. Then I could get moving.

She went into our closet and came out with our home safe, full of important family paperwork among other things. It's a heavy little sucker, and yet, it was if she were holding a newborn close to her chest.

"Okay, that's fine," she said. "Then help me get some things together. We have to go before the road closes."

"Wait, have you heard anything on the news? Do we have to evacuate? What do we know? Let's not overreact if we don't know exactly what's happening."

"I only know that we have to go," she said.

That was enough for me.

Ten minutes earlier it was just another Saturday. Soccer games and errands and family time in between. Now there was a fire down the street, how serious we didn't really know yet. We do get local Nixle alerts, but there had been none yet notifying us of anything including whether or not we should evacuate. And considering all the wildfires north of us in Santa Rosa, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes, we weren't going to take any chances.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? We have disaster plans, at least frameworks to work within in order to get out, to meet up elsewhere if separated. Extra food and water in the garage if trapped at home. And so on. I carried the safe downstairs.

"Sweetie, get the suitcase for me," the Mama called down.

"I will. I'm going to pack the computers and devices for us."

"Yes, please do."

The girls had already been calmly tasked to pack a few things they wanted to bring. They were stuffed animals and a few toys, of course.

"Is our house going to burn down?" Beatrice asked.

"No, honey, but we need to be safe and go somewhere else for a while just until the firefighters put the fire out."

While the Mama kept packing I started to load our car. The Cal Fire helicopter and planes kept circling and dropping water on the mountainside and I could see the smoke for the first time, although I couldn't smell it. More first responders raced down the highway with sirens blaring. Many people were outside including our neighbors, some of whom walked down the street to investigate further. A Nixle alert did appear on my phone, but only to say the highway was now closed due to a fire and to stay tuned for more updates. Nothing about evacuation.

After getting everything into the car except the suitcase, our neighbor called us and said she and her son were at the end of the street and the firefighters had just put the fire out. But another Nixle alert told me that the highway and part of our road would be closed for awhile. At least we were safe for now and the firefighters had quickly contained the blaze.

"What about the guinea pigs?" the girls had asked.

Prior to knowing the fire was more or less out, the question of what to do with the guinea pigs came up. Their cage would fit in the car, that wasn't a problem, but if we ended up stranded somewhere, there was no way we could keep them in the car. It would be too hot. And the eventual smell of course. Maybe we could drop them off at a friend's house. Or maybe we just couldn't take them with us. Thankfully we didn't have to end up making that call.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? Your family, maybe your pets if realistic, and a few critical items like important paperwork, medicines if any, computers and/or devices, some clothes and toiletries. Everything else has to stay -- and you have to go. Now. While we packed our stuff I remembered looking at all our family pictures hanging on the wall and thinking I have all of these digitally, so we can print them again. 

We did end up going on with our day as planned, but it felt off, odd, like the tone of the Mama's voice when she first called to me upstairs only 30 minutes earlier. Should we have stayed and waited to ensure things didn't flare up again and that we'd really have to evacuate? Once we were away from our house without the stuff we packed, there would be no way to get back if things went south, and everything could've been lost.

But it wasn't. It was just another Saturday. God bless those who have lost.

The next morning the Mama said to me, "You know what?"

"What?"

"We forgot the key to the safe when we packed everything up."

"Again with the keys," I said.

The Mama laughed. "But it's not like we couldn't have broken into it. It's not that great of a safe."

"That's comforting," I said.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Of All The Things

“Always take a big bite
It's such a gorgeous sight
To see you in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It's Friday
I'm in love…”

— The Cure, Friday I’m in Love


The song rocked sweetly in my head as it played overhead while we walked back to our hotel after some shopping. It’s Friday, I’m in love. A week of successful work travel behind me, and still on the mend, and now my wife was with me in Las Vegas for the weekend to celebrate our 20-year anniversary of the day we met on the beach (14 years of marriage and the same date). The song was one of many special ones to us we had put on our wedding soundtrack to celebrate Friday date nights.

We walked hand in hand, and then my wife, who I affectionately call the Mama, said, “When we get back to the room we’ll call the girls.”

"Yes, absolutely."

One of our dear friends was watching our girls for the weekend at our house, and no sooner than the Mama had finished saying “the girls,” we were both texted.

I pulled my phone out to read the text. It was from that dear friend watching our girls. It was right after school, so she had picked them up and was bringing them back to our house.

Hi, out your house. Didn’t find a house key in either backpack.

“Sweetie, did you give Laura our key?”

No response. She was reading the text, too.

“Sweetie?”

“No, no I didn’t. I totally forgot.”

“Are you serious?”

The usual edge I get when things go south slashed away at the air between us.

“I can’t remember everything, Kevin. There was so much to do before I left. I just forget to give her the keys.”

I took a beat and a breath, still mentally slashing away in the air.

“There’s a spare in the garage,” the Mama went on.

“No, there’s not," I said.

“Yes, the one by the furnace.”

I shook my head. “That was the one to get into the office and guest room through the garage, but not for the house."

The Mama asked Laura to look for the key, but it wasn’t there.

She then looked at me and asked, “Wasn’t there a key in the office, too?”

“No, we took both keys out years out. There’s nothing out there anymore.”

“Then we’ll have to call a locksmith," she said without missing a beat.

More slashing at the air. “Are you kidding me? That could be hundreds of dollars. No way!”

“Then how are they going to get in?”

“Can they spend the night at Laura’s and we’ll FedEx our key now? Every casino with a conference center has a FedEx office.”

The Mama thought about it.

“Maybe.”

She kept talking with our friend Laura on the phone and I just kept on stewing. I knew my wife had a lot going on with work and the girls, taking care of me before I traveled, and the fact that I’d already been gone for nearly a week.

But of all the things, the house key? Ugh. I mean, you can forget toothpaste and underwear, but the house key for your babysitter? It wasn’t exactly like the movie Home Alone, but I still failed to reign in my discontent.

“I get forgetting other things to do before you left, but the house key? How could you forget to give the house key to Laura?”

That did it. Too much push.

“Sweetie, stop it. It’s done. I forgot, okay? Nothing we can do about that now!"

We both sent quiet. Then she spoke up again.

"What about our neighbor? Could he get in and open the door for her and the girls?”

I always love how she moves on immediately identifying solutions. I still have to extinguish the stewing before I move.

“Is the upstairs bedroom window still open?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s open.”

“Then most likely, yes, he can get in.”

Our neighbor had been up on his own two-story roof more than once, so I knew he could he could get to our window that way as well. We've never had to do it, and we've never tried, because the Mama has always said the second story is off limits anyway due to, you know, gravity. I called our neighbor and he confirmed he could do it, just not until later in the day. After that, we both felt better knowing that at least they’d get into the house eventually.

“If they can’t get in, we’re going to have to call a locksmith then," the Mama said as we continued to walk back to our hotel.

Ugh.

"Yes, I know," I said. "Love you."

"Love you."

And then I added. "We're going to make Laura a friggin' key, Sweetie."

"Yes, I know."

The Mama stopped and checked her phone. "Wait a minute, they're in."

I checked my phone at the same time reading the same new text.

Mike is climbing through window now. Do we need to worry about an alarm?

Mike is Laura's husband and obviously was now climbing in our upstairs bedroom window.

We are in the house now.

Both the Mama and I smiled. I texted Laura back.

Wow. We’re going to make you a key.

We thanked Laura and Mike profusely. After we got back to our hotel room and talked with the girls on FaceTime, our anniversary weekend was back on track. Of all the things I love about the Mama, her ability to pivot and adapt to nearly every situation, big or small, positive or negative, and then think rationally about solutions, is probably the most inspiring thing of all (I remember the fire on Maui and many other examples). That and the way she cares for our girls and for me of late with my recent health issues again solidified for me why she's the woman of my dreams and why we're celebrating 20 years.

Twenty years of living fully and mostly well, loving comfortably within our lives. Amen to our #BhivePower.


"For 20 years now you’ve been my inspirational muse,
My stunning ache, and the us of which we choose.
We want to believe our two halves will always grow
Intact as two wholes that the end of days will show,
And until then we will live fully and mostly well,
Loving comfortably within our lives, our endless tell."

—Excerpt from a poem I wrote for the Mama on our anniversary