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, March 18, 2018

For the Adults in Charge

"Time after time we lose sight of the way; our causes can't see their effects."

—Rush, Natural Science

It's never okay, even if it's directed at a pet rabbit. I heard it again from upstairs and cringed.

"You're a stupid bunny!"

That word – stupid, or iterations of it like dumb or idiot or brainless – is never okay when they're used to tease or demean, even if the context is somewhat playful, because that word can be objectifying, labeling, and even threatening because of its usual negative context.

We're cutting someone or something else down by using words like that. There's no mistake: it's quite intentional when we say, "You're stupid." Even from the mouths of babes, which has been a recent problem we've been working on in our house.

Both our girls have been using the word too frequently, and when they started to call us "stupid", although they assumed their context was teasing, it was not okay. At all.

"You're a stupid bunny!"

"Bryce," I called down the stairs, "please stop using that word. We don't call people or things stupid. Use another word, like silly bunny, or don't use another word at all. Thank you."


A minute later. "You’re a silly bunny!"

Obviously picked up at school from other kids using it, because even in my grumpiest Daddy Goat gruffness, I would never use words like that to describe either girl, or anything they do, poor childhood choices and all.

I can't say the same for when the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I are talking about other adults and/or the world's state of affairs. I hope we've limited the use of any similar sentiment during calm or heated discussions when the girls are within earshot.

We're all works in progress, and the Mama and I are no exception to incremental growth. We work hard to keep each other honest and free from saying things that are never okay about attacking others, again no matter the context. Since the girls have been using the word way too much, we're all over it each and every time, reminding them not to call others stupid and to use other words that don't hurt – or nothing at all.

We're all about the Kidpower in our house, and if our children are calling someone by a hateful and hurtful name, and it's not okay with the adults in charge (us, their teachers, etc.), then it's never okay.

But what about if it is okay with the adults in charge? What about those in leadership positions including your immediate family, and/or those that work in the public or private sector and have a responsibility to their students, or their constituents, or their workforce, or their volunteers?

What if the adults in charge make it okay, including the current President of the United States? Where in public forums online or in person, we call each other losers or dummies or dumbshits or fuckups or faggots or fascists or libtards or c-words or worse?

What then? Do we just scrap this whole thing we call empathic humanity for being able to say any friggin' thing we want because we think we’re better, or we don’t agree or like something or someone else?

Absolutely not.

Does it make us weak when we cry foul at those using words that attack us and cut us down?

Absolutely not.

I believe it actually makes us weaker when we can't have civil discourse around dissenting opinions, even if it ends in stalemate; and when we just can't be nice and call each other hateful names because we think we're better, and that it's funny and we want to intentionally hurt.

Unfortunately, our emotional trigger fingers get itchy really quick these days and we overreact and underwhelm. Good God, there are also way too many people today who revel in being bad to each other's good, who respond positively to the negative celebrity of it all.

And for those of you today who say, "Wow, everybody's so sensitive; we can't say or do anything anymore," what you really mean is, "Wow, we can't get away with saying or doing anything we want any more."

Our children don't miss a beat when it comes to modeling our language and behavior. It's time for the adults in charge to continue to call out the other adults in charge to clean up their offensive acts and mouths. Being good to each other shouldn't feel so stupid bad.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Little Did We Know

"California dreamin' 
On such a winter's day..."

-The Mamas & the Papas, California Dreamin'

11:30 AM, Saturday

I hit a wall right after the merry-go-round. It was still fun though, riding the iconic and historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk merry-go-ground, where you sit on one of the outer ring horses and then grab a metal ring from an outstretched metal and wooden arm to throw at a big clown's mouth on one of the walls. I missed each time; I think I've only hit the hole once in all the times I've ridden it. However, with each revolution, my wall of exhaustion loomed dead ahead.

Beatrice and I exited the ride and started walking toward the bumper cars where the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), Bryce and the rest of the Brownies and parents were.

"Dad, I want Dippin' Dots now," said Beatrice.

"No," I said.

"Dad, Dippin' Dots!"

"No, we'll check in with Mom and see what's up about snacks."

"Dippin' Dots! Dippin' Dots! Dippin' Dots!"

Each time she said it, she yanked on my arm. Not too hard, just insistent and playful enough to be really friggin' annoying.

We met up with the rest of the crew and I gave the Mama a kiss.

"I gotta go," I said.

And with that, I went home to nap. That's when it started to rain.

11:00 AM, Saturday

Beatrice and I rode the Sky Glider above the Boardwalk. The gray cloudy sky made it feel colder than it really was. I counted less than 10 people walking along on the beach beyond. Beatrice screamed and waved at the Mama directly below us.

"Dad, let's go on the that ride down there," Beatrice said a minute later.

She pointed to a ride where cars went round and round on a track with loud popular music blaring overhead.

"Goodness no, Bea. Daddy doesn't do rides that go round and round."

"C'mon, I don't want to go on it by myself."

"Ask one of your friends then. I can't do it. I'd throw up all over the place."

"C'mon, go on with me."


I looked down and vertigo's gravity clawed at my frontal lobes. "Beatrice, sometimes I really don't like heights."

"I know. Me either. Let's go on that ride, though."


I gazed out across the steely ocean to settle my nerves. "On such a winter's day," I sang.

"What's that?"

"An old song, Beatrice."

10:00 AM, Saturday

Bryce hit a wall and started crying.

"What's wrong, Sweetie?"

Through the crying and whining a each gasp of air she said, "I -- want -- to -- play -- laser -- tag -- again!"

With the Bryce-specific snacks nearly gone, I knew satiating her hunger to curb her frustration wasn't going to happen.

I asked the young girl running the laser tag counter if there any more spots -- there were not.

"Bryce, let's go do something else."


"Kevin, let me ask my daughter if she can give up her pass. She's already done it more than once," said our Brownie troop leader. "We're all pretty strung out."

"Thank you. I know."

A minute later she returned with the laser tag pass.

"Bryce, you get to go again!"

"Okay, thank you," she said with a sniffle.

And as it worked out, another mom with kids had two extra passes to give us, so even I got to go again along with Bryce and our Brownie leader's daughter. Sometimes the universe works out and extinguishes the wildfires of the id-driven childhood.

8:30 AM, Saturday

The first girls' team started their sand castles and made them in the shape of a sea turtles. The other girls' team was closer to the water and they went the traditional route of castle towers and turrets. I was tempted to help, but the girls were supposed to make it themselves for the contest.

"Those turtles are great, girls. Why don't you add some walls and towers around them to protect them?"

No response. They just kept on decorating their turtles.

"Here, use this to make the towers with," I said and handed Beatrice one of the tower-making sand toys.

"No, thank you," she said, decorating her sea turtle.

One of the other moms said, "Let the creativity commence."

I nodded. "Right on."

7:30 AM, Saturday

"Where's Bryce?" I asked.

One our troop moms pointed towards the hot chocolate table. "Bryce just dropped her plate over there and spilled her hot chocolate. I think she's getting back into line to get more breakfast."

"Sorry, Daddy," Bryce said behind me, grabbing a new paper plate and utensils pack.

I turned around. "Are you all right, Sweetie?"

"Yes, I just dropped my plate. Sorry. It was too heavy with the hot chocolate."

"That's okay. Get a new plate and make sure to get some of those eggs and bacon you like. And maybe only get a small hot chocolate. Don't fill it all the way up though so you can carry it all."

"Okay, I will."

"I got you some oatmeal to try."


When Bryce got back to our table, she had a big portion of bacon and eggs on her plate, as well as a completely full cup of hot chocolate.

7:00 AM, Saturday

I helped the girls pack up all the things they brought from where they had slept with the rest of the Brownie troop.

"Kevin, Bryce was up running around last night around 12:30," said our Brownie troop leader. She tilted her head disapprovingly, but with a smile on her face.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. "Why am I not surprised. She had come into see me at 11:30 saying she couldn't sleep."

The Brownie leader smiled. "It's okay. I guess she was running around by herself swinging glow sticks and tripped over another parent."

"Ugh. Of course she did. So sorry. Bryce and her own personal rave."

"It's fine. She went right to bed after that I guess."

I looked around to find Bryce to ask her about it, and there she was, dancing around the room with burnt out glow sticks.

6:45 AM, Saturday

"Here Dad," said Beatrice.

She had brought her and Bryce's blow-up beds and bedding into the Dads/Family room where I had slept.

"Thank you, Bea. That's such a big help. Did you sleep okay last night?"

"Yeah, I slept."

"I know it was late. How did Bryce do?"

"I don't know. I think she slept all night."

6:00 AM, Saturday

I laid there on my back, my blanket pulled up over my head. Someone touched my arm.

When I looked out from under the blanket, Bryce stood there smiling at me. I removed the headphones from my ears.

"Hi Daddy."

"What's up, Bryce?"

"I'm awake."



"Is Beatrice awake?"

"Yes, everyone's waking up now."


"Okay, what would you like to do? Breakfast isn't for another hour or more."


"I'll go play some more."

"Great. Love you."

"Love you."

I pulled the blanket back over my head.

4:30 AM, Saturday

When the coughing and hacking started, I couldn't pinpoint from which direction it came. I knew it was near me, the child coughing that is, but couldn't triangulate. My blanket covered my head and I had the white-noise fan noise cranked up into my ear bud headphones. The coughing and hacking continued; the child was on my right I finally figured out.

Every five minutes it came and went. Followed by low whimpering and sniffling. I felt bad for the child, girl or boy. I empathized about being in a strange place and feeling so horrible while you were there. I assumed that the kid had been hopped up on cold medicine earlier in the night until it ran out, as there was no coughing and hacking until this point.

Every five minutes it came and went. And the whimpering increased in intensity. The white noise in my ears just didn't make a difference either way at this point. I wasn't mad, just over-tired and strung out and hoping that the kids' parents were tending to him or her.

Every five minutes...

4:00 AM, Saturday

First, I heard one pulsing beep.

Beep. Beep. Beep. 

It came from my left and I knew then it was the CPAP machine alarm the woman sleeping next to me was using. Earlier in the night she had asked if she could use the other plug in the outlet I had my blow-up bed plugged into. She said she needed it to help her breathe in the night so she could sleep. I said no worries, and that my mom had used one for years.

Beep. Beep. Beep. 

But something was wrong with the machine now. The alarm meant something was off. No one stirred. Then the beeps increased in cadence -- two beeps at a time.

Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep. 

Still no one stirred. I wondered what the hell was going on.

Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep. 

I sat up and couldn't see anyone moving. I laid back down and covered my head again. Now it escalated to three beeps at a time.

Beep-Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep-Beep. Beep-Beep-Beep. 

Finally I heard one of the woman's kids mumbled something and a minute later the machine went quiet again.

But of course, I was already quite awake.

2:30 AM, Saturday

My father used to snore like an old bear with a sever sinus infection. Sometimes in the middle of the night we could hear his snoring ground its way through the walls of the house and into our heads. Crazy loud.

I woke with a start thinking I was a teenager again with my dad's snoring drilling through my ear drums. But it wasn't my dad, it was three other dads on all sides of me snoring like old, sick bears.

Jesus H. Christ, I thought.

The white-noise fan noise app I had on was cranked up into my ear bud headphones -- and it still didn't help quiet the bears around me.

But I was trapped, because this was the Dad/Family sleeping room and there was nowhere else to go.

Nowhere. Else. To. Go.

The irony was that, while the Mama and I joked that it would one or both of the girls wanting to come home in the middle of the night, in the end it was me.

1:30 AM, Saturday

I awoke with a start wondering where the hell I was. I had only been sleeping for about two hours and the late evening had already weighed on me like an imaginary elephant learning to sit on my head.

One of the other 10 dads in the room snored away loudly in the far corner, but otherwise it was quiet. Almost too quiet for the over 600 Girls Scouts and Brownies who were there for the overnight campout at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

I tried to meditate but couldn't quiet my mind. Farts and other unearthly body odors permeated the stale, air-conditioned room. I winced and rubbed my nose. The ear plugs I wore weren't doing a thing for me, so I switched to the ear bud earphones and turned on the white-noise fan application on my phone.

I read a few pages of Purity, the latest novel I'm reading, and finally fell back asleep.

11:30 PM, Friday

I turned over, half-asleep, and there was Bryce standing next to my blow-up bed. She leaned down and put her elbows on the mattress, her head in her hands.

"Hi Daddy. I can't sleep."

I took out my left ear plug so I could hear her better. "I'm sorry, Sweetie. You can either sleep here with me or go back to your bed."

"I'll go back to bed," she said, but didn't move.


"Bryce, you can either sleep here with me or go back to your bed."


"I'll go back to bed."


"Bryce, what are you going to do?"


"I'll go back to bed."

"Okay, love you, Sweetie."

"Love you."

Bryce didn't move. She just stared at me.


10:45 PM, Friday

Lights out finally. Most of the dads and those with families who were going to stay together in the Dads/Family room were already in bed.

I saw Beatrice walk into our room. She came over and laid next to me in bed.

"Dad, when is everyone going to sleep? I'm so tired."

I hugged her. "I know, Bea. I'm tired, too. Everyone should be quieting down now. It's time for bed for all of us."

"Okay," she said, getting up.

"You can either sleep out there with your troop, or in here with me. Your choice."

"I'll go back out there."

"Sorry, Sweetie. Hopefully everyone will be asleep soon."

"I know. Love you."

"Love you, Bea."

10:15 PM, Friday

The movie Sing was just about over. Thank goodness, because Beatrice and I were beat. After dinner and arcade games, the Girl Scouts did a general meeting and then we set up our respective troop sleeping areas. Everything went pretty smoothly overall, although it was clear that most of the girls weren't ready for bed.

Especially not Bryce. She danced and ran around in front of the screen with about 50 other girls, all of them wearing or swinging glow sticks of all colors. Shrieks and other decibels of varying laughter surrounded us all like the rainbow neon lights of the glow sticks.

"Dad, do you see what Bryce is doing?" Beatrice pointed out.

"Yes, I do. She's having fun."

"I'm so tired, Dad. I wish Mom was here to rub my back. Will you rub it?"

I smiled. That was a nightly ritual to help put Beatrice right to sleep, although I doubted it would work in this chaotic environment.

And it didn't.

"Sorry, Bea. I've got to go to bed now. You're welcome to come in with me if you want. Otherwise, it's lights out in about 30 minutes."

"Okay. I'll be fine."

"Goodnight, Sweetie."


6:50 PM, Friday

I told the laser tag attendant that we had 13 in our party, but I forgot to count the adults. That meant that some adults wouldn't be able to do it. We did a count and realized that two of the girls weren't going to do it, and so after figuring out which adults would go in, we waited for our 7:10 pm time.

Beatrice didn't want to do it, however.

"I don't want to do it," she said more than once.

I knew it was partly to do with her still being sound sensitive at times and being anxious about new experiences in general.

I empathized and yet cranked up the pure pressure anyway. "C'mon, Bea, you'll be fine. Everybody's doing it. We're doing it as a troop. It'll be fun. I promise. I'll be right there, too."

"I don't want to."

"C'mon, Bea. Really, everybody's doing it. You want to be with your troop, right?"



"C'mon. It'll be fun."


"Okay, I'll do it."

"Right on."

And mercy me, did we all have fun, Bryce included, although I wasn't worried about her. We ran around in the black light lit room with fluorescent colors everywhere, our light-colored clothes aglow, shooting our laser guns at each other, constantly being told by the attendant to not run or they'd cut our time short, laughing and hiding everywhere we could.

Afterwards, Beatrice said, "Dad, that was awesome. I want to do it again."

"I know," I said and smiled.

6:00 PM, Friday

Then it was dinnertime. C'mon, who doesn't like chicken fingers and pasta with red sauce?

5:20 PM, Friday

"This your first time?"

I had been blowing up my bed in the Dad/Family room when I heard the voice. I looked up and a very large white man smiling with a very toothless upper gum, waiting for me to answer. He wore an old nondescript baseball hat and had a country twang in his voice. When he said "your first time" it sounded more like "yo furst tahm".

"Yes, it is," I said.

We introduced ourselves and shook hands.

"It's stuffy as all get out in here," he said.

"Yes, it is. Will they let us turn on the air? I noticed the windows don't open in here," I said, knowing full well I wasn't going to have a pleasant night if it was going to be this hot.

"Yep, it's purty stuffy, but they'll turn the air on. Last year they turned it on and it got real cold in here."

I nodded. "I'd rather have it too cold that too hot."

"I hear you," his wife said. She was setting up a CPAP machine to help her sleep at night. "Can I use your other plug to plug my machine in?"

"Of course."

They had two daughters with them and they were all going to sleep in the room next to me on my left. They were very nice people and we talked a little more about expectations for the night and how much fun it was for the kids.

"Good luck," the father said to me with another toothless smile.

"Thanks. I assume I'm not going to sleep much tonight."

"Nope, you're not. You got ear plugs?"

"Yes, I brought some. Have fun tonight."

"You too," he and his wife said.

As I left, I eyed the CPAP machine, and I hoped that the alarm on it wouldn't go off if her mask got skewed on her head. I remembered it all too well happening with my mom's machine years ago.

4:50 PM, Friday

I don't make beds and the Mama doesn't do campouts. Over the years there are specific activities that each of us simply refuse to do.

Can we do them? Of course we can. Would we do them? Of course we would, in a pinch that is. For the most part, there are really very few things each of us don't want to do for the other and the family.

But again, I don't make beds and the Mama doesn't do campouts.

So when it came time to register for the Girl Scouts campout at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an overnight that consisted of team-building, games, food, movies, sand castle building and rides -- I said I'd take the girls.

We would be "camping" indoors, although they've had other campouts at the Boardwalk with tents outside, which we hadn't participated in. The Mama had gone on one African safari about 20 years ago with one of her best friends and just can't do the tent camping thing. Or any camping for that matter. They had all gotten diarrhea and were confined to their sweltering tents for a few days, with little to no sleep.

Traveling together around the world in varying qualities of hotels and motels? Great, we're both in. Camping overnight with 600 Girl Scouts of all ages on air mattresses and in sleeping bags? No way for the Mama. We agreed that, going forward, any literal camping or semblance's thereof would be the Daddy-Mama's responsibility -- and that's me.

As I drove the girls to the Boardwalk, I was excited to be responsible for and share in this new experience with them -- their first true overnight campout away from home. The Mama had a nice evening planned with one of her best friends, a much-needed respite from parenting for her. (The Mama does it all, you know -- I just work here.)

"Are you girls excited?" I asked, glancing in the rearview mirror.

"Yes!" Bryce shouted. She was good to go the moment we said we were doing the campout.

"Yes," Beatrice answered, less emphatically. We knew she was apprehensive and a little anxious about the event.

"It's supposed to rain tomorrow," I said. They didn't comment.

"We'll have a great time either way, since we'll be indoors mostly until the sand castle contest tomorrow morning."

"I hope I can sleep," said Beatrice.

"I'm sure we'll all get a little sleep."


Little did we know until we knew, the experience itself that makes it all worthwhile.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

This Hopeful Romantic I Am

"If only I don't bend and break
I'll meet you on the other side
I'll meet you in the light
If only I don't suffocate
I'll meet you in the morning when you wait..."

It was just another game of Life with our girls. We got the game for them at Christmas and it was an instant hit, something the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I played as children.

This time I was the yellow car and I took the college route and became a secret agent, making $100,000 per year. And when I landed on buying my first house, I bought a houseboat. Super cool.

The Mama arrived at the get-married "stop" first.

"I'm going to marry a girl this time," she said.

"You can marry a girl?" our oldest Beatrice asked.

"Yes," I said. "And boys can marry boys."

"Yes, I knew that," said Bryce, always wanting to be the one in the know.

When I arrived at the get-married "stop", I said, "And I'll marry another man, please."

"You can marry a boy?" Bea asked.

"Yes, he can," answered Bryce before I could.

We went on with Life, spinning the wheel and moving our cars forward. When it came time to have a family or not, we all chose having children.

"How can you have children?" Bea asked us both, having a basic understanding of biology since the Mama had already had an early "talk" with her because she had asked specifically where babies came from.

"Because we can adopt children," the Mama said.

"Yes, you can adopt them," Bryce echoed.

Life moved on and we played as long as our attention spans held out, just like we do every time we play the game, and each time our lives having their own unique experiences and nuance along the way.

Then we were off outside in between the rain, letting the girls ride their bike (Bryce) and scooter (Beatrice) down the small hill above us super fast to the street below, of course watching out for cars coming down our one way street, because we're good parents like that, and because life moves pretty fast, a Ferris Bueller reference that will be lost to future generations (unless they watch the movie, which our girls will someday).

I looked at the Mama and loved her more in that moment than ever before. I've found that, over time, I fall in love with her over and over again, something that continuously reinforces the spiritual connection we share, and the expanding interconnected growth we've experienced for over 20 years now.

We both share a greater belief in a spiritual plane that interconnects everyone and every other living thing -- me believing more in a benevolent God (force) than her, but she's coming around. We've been talking a lot more about God of late, listening to Oprah's Super Soul Sundays and taking the non-traditional Christian path to our "two halves make two wholes" spiritual truths.

I grew up an evangelical Christian, the Mama did not, and even though we've never seen eye-to-eye on how to approach the subject, we are now talking about what God means to us with the girls, and the concepts of love, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, mindfulness and much more. Certainly not my mother and father's conservative Christianity, but it still conveys the essence of that progressive New Testament love, the one where we are all each other's brothers and sisters, regardless of race or gender or social status.

We also believe we've been proverbial soulmates for many lifetimes, something that's not everyone's cup of relationship tea. It's our cup of tea though, and we've come and gone out of each other lives over a millennium (or more), sometimes as husband and wife, and maybe other times in different relationships as different races, genders and having varying social statuses, helping each other and empowering our spiritual growth.

Shake your skeptical head if you must, but mercy me, I've had a lot of crap to work through life after life (maybe I was really a secret agent, too). We've made it this far...and sometimes I daydream about what may happen later in our lives this time...

There's a song by a band named Keane called "Bend and Break" that was released in 2004, the same year the movie The Notebook was released (we did read the book first). While the song isn't a traditional love song, not like the many others the Mama and I share, the movie is heart-wrenching love story about a husband reading their life journals to his wife who suffers from dementia.

Ever since then, and every time I hear that Keane song, I have this recurring daydream about 30 years from now when the Mama suffers from dementia (just a fantastical daydream folks), and the spiritual visions I have, that if I get her to the place we met that one day on the beach 50 years earlier, where she came up to me and said, "So, do you always come here alone?" -- that she would remember the first moment of us (this time) and all that we've shared together, and only then could we move on to the next life together.

Our girls in this fantasy future, now women, one married to another woman and the other to a man, and both with children of their own (it doesn't matter who is who in the daydream; the iteration changes every time) -- they both believe that I'm losing my own mind the more I rant about taking the Mama to the beach, that I can save her and the memory of us.

Then a rare but fierce October storm makes landfall on the anniversary of the day we met (and the same day when we were married in 2003), and the storm surge has swamped the beach where we met. I sneak out from my eldest daughter's house, who I live with at that point, and I get the Mama from her assisted-care facility. I then bring her to the cliff above where we met on the beach all those years ago. The sky is bruised with heavy clouds and the wind howls and the rain pelts us like water bullets. The Mama looks at me for the first time in years and smiles. I start down the rickety stairs to the beach below.

Our girls discover what I've done and call the police and there's a climatic scene of sirens and flashing lights atop the cliff along West Cliff Drive. Someone is shouting from a bullhorn.

"Dad! Come back here! Don't go down there! You'll drown!"

It's our daughters. We can barely hear them now that I'm near the bottom of stairs and the wind and rain are so loud. The beach is being washed away over and over again with crashing waves. I struggle to stand straight while carrying the Mama.

"Dad! Don't! Please stop!"

"Mr. Grossman, please stop where you are and we will come get you!" shouts someone else from the bullhorn.

I hesitate, but I have to move on, because I know it's the only way she'll remember it all; all our lives together and our future that relies on this one seemingly suicidal action; this redemptive baptism I'm compelled to give us both to keep our love alive; this hopeful romantic I am.

A wave washes back from the spot on the cold sand where we met and it begins to glow gold like the banished sun above. The Mama hold me tighter and smiles again. The glowing gold spot grows bigger and bigger, swamping us like us like the frigid sea, but it's more warm and inviting, almost hot like the day we met.

"So, do you always come here alone?" the Mama asks, her voice again vibrant and young.

"Yes, yes I do," I answer. "Except this time I brought a bunch of people with me." I nodded my head to the cliff above.

Her eyes fill with tears and then the rain washes them away. "Damn, Sweetie, you're supposed to be the crier."

"I know. I still am."

"What about the girls?"

"They'll be fine, Mama. You did good."

"So did you."

"Yeah, but I certainly wasn't perfect."

"No, you weren't."

"Hey, c'mon."

"Just kidding, neither was I."

"Well, what do you say -- let's do it again."

"Yes, let's do it."

And with that, I step into the light with the love of my life.

Happy Birthday, Mama! I love you!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Elfing It Up

My sister pointed to the open suitcase on our mother's bed. I could tell she was disappointed, but at the same time her voice betrayed a lack of surprise.

"See, it's the Easter stuff. Mom brought it home from her trip. I knew there was no Easter Bunny," she said.

Inside the suitcase were colorful plastic eggs, chocolates, plastic green grass and two small baskets.

I attempted to soften the truth. "Maybe the Easter Bunny gave Mom the stuff to bring home to us. He's got a lot of homes to visit, you know."

She wasn't buying it. And that was the end of it. Suspension of disbelief dissolved. Childhood's dead end. I was nine and my sister seven at the time.

"No, Mom's the Easter Bunny. And everything else, too."

It didn't just happen in that moment, though. The magical world of little baby Jesus, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Herbie the Love Bug (I owned that one), Star Wars (which was beyond my childhood years but probably the most impactful on me long-term), and so many more childhood pleasantries that carried us through our early years finally faded in the harsh light of domestic violence, divorce and sexual abuse. Keeping the faith can be difficult in even the best of times, much less the worst. Even the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) didn't have the greatest of childhoods.

Ugh. What a buzz kill, right? That was our reality, though. Thankfully we survived it and grew up course correcting as best we could until we had our own children, rebooting the magical world of belief yet again.

The Mama has been the magical architect to date, especially when it comes to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the East Bunny and fairies in general. (We're even talking about God now, but that's an article for another time.) However, you can't get any more excited about something as magical as fairies when you have girls (although I'm sure there are boys that dig them, too). For a few years our girls were immersed in the new Disney Tinker Bell and friends movies (great girl power stories, by the way). When I got to go to Ireland back in 2015, I purchased fairy doors for the girls, and ever since, they both have written note after note to the fairies -- Berry and Spark are their names. Of course the girls ask for things all the time, jewels and other gifts.

And the fairies, they do write back. The Mama helps with that, taking the time to write in a fancy fairy cursive each time she responds. Recently though the writing in the notes has changed, and I was clueless as to why. I thought the notes were all from the Mama each and every time.

But there's a new magical sage in our house and she's looking out for her little sister, keeping the "fairy" fires stoked as long as possible. Our eldest Beatrice, who does still want to believe in Santa, has become more aware of the veil between fantasy and reality. Probably hearing it at school as well, Bea decide to help us out with keeping the magic alive for her little sister.

Bryce wanted a shelf elf. Never a tradition for me or the Mama, Bryce first saw them on one of her kids' YouTube channel shows and immediately shouted from the rooftops for one. So we ordered one for five dollars and girls tracked its travels via USPS from China, an adventure all its own. The day it was supposed to be delivered, it wasn't, and we thought it lost forever. So we ordered another, and then they both arrived.

Pinky and Cotton Candy. Those are the names of our pink shelf elves. Our year-round, all-purpose shelf elves. For those of you that participate in the Christmastime shelf elfing shenanigans, you know how you move it around your house and stage it doing stuff. Not creepy at all, right? First, it was the Mama moving Pinky around for Bryce, leaving a note in response to Bryce's requests for Pinky to do stuff.

Then more recently, Beatrice started doing it, writing notes as Pinky and Cotton Candy for Bryce and moving them (yes, the shelf elves are girls) around the house. Then early one morning before Bryce awoke, Bea asked me to help her get Pinky set up eating Girl Scout cookies (S'mores -- super yum) on the kitchen counter with a note that said:

Sorry I ate a cookie but it was good. I didn't want to eat a lemon one because I am allergic to lemonades. I didn't want to eat the peanut butter because I eat peanut butter on toast. I was also looking around the house too and I love your house. 

Or something like that. Nope, not creepy at all. Plus, it's not always easy to read shelf elf, you know. And even though Bea's on the precipice of leaving the magic of childhood, we know she'll hold on to it as long as she can. One way to do that is to keep it alive with her sister, elfing it up every chance she can get. We're also thankful we can and do provide much safer and stable environment that we grew up in, one that encourages imaginative thought and creative outlets.

"Bryce, did you see that? They just moved!" Bea exclaimed just this morning, moving the elves seconds before.

"No, they didn't. You moved them," Bryce said, not quite sure.

"No, I didn't do anything! I swear they moved!"


Eyes light up. A smile appears. The magic's alive. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Actually Can

I stared at the clear gelatinous rectangle cuboid and wondered what the hell it was. There was a series of them each within a clear plastic display case. Inside each gelatinous cuboid was what looked like dried out weeds fanned out throughout.

But that's not what it was at all. Not even close. One of the San Jose Museum of Art volunteers told us it was part of new exhibit. She pointed to the monitor along one of the walls that highlighted the shooting of guns into the gelatinous cuboids (also known as ballistic gelatin) to trap the splintered bullets in time and space. One of the points of this exhibit was that the cuboids represented human flesh and what happens to it when bullets rip through us and explode inside.

It was only a few days after the shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida. The day before we went to the museum I had listened to the Morning Joe news program as I worked out. I listened to them talk about each of the 17 victims and highlight something special about each one. About the teachers who sacrificed themselves by wrapping their bodies around those of the scared children trying to save themselves from the shooter. The children who got out and ran for their lives.

Then I listened the mother of one of the victims imploring our president to do something to make our schools safer. That one brought tears to my eyes. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Even conservative media is calling for a change:

"It is time for conservatives to embrace our new reality: today’s violence-prone society makes ownership of high-powered rapid-fire guns too dangerous."

I'm writing this because my wife and I care about the safety of our children first and foremost. There have been 1,600 mass shootings in America since Sandy Hook five years ago (that's about 4 victims or more on the average per shooting). Unfortunately our elected officials have done little to nothing to help stem the violence. And our children are dying.

We're supposed to be better than this. Aren't we? This isn't the other person's problem. This isn't a partisan problem. It's an American problem -- from our communities to state and federal government. Yes, we can and should choose more violence-free shows and media to consume for ourselves and our children. Yes, we can and should also choose how raise and empower our children with awareness and violence prevention.

On the other hand, California may have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, but damn if you can't still own an assault rifle and a whole lotta ammunition. Even my father, a retired police detective who passed away in 2012, who owned many guns himself, never agreed with the growing proliferation of assault rifles in this country. He didn't like regulation much either, but knew that something had to give somewhere for the average citizen.

And unfortunately that give continues to be us and our children. Which is why on the way to the San Jose Museum of Art referenced above, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I discussed as discretely as we could our safety plans and whether or not our girls' school was prepared for such a tragedy, while the girls listened to a Wow in the World podcast in the backseat. Even though we live in a community that appears to be much less likely to have a shooting like Parkland, the fact remains that this killing can occur anywhere at anytime.

Thankfully our school has an emergency active shooter safety plan (and we hope yours does, too). We discussed it and what would happen if our girls were out on the playground and something like this happened. Would they remember their Kidpower basics about safety first and run away and hide from harms way if they could? Would they remember to get under and stay under their desks if trapped in their classroom? Our girls haven't brought up what happened to us, but we're sure the older kids are talking about it, and we need to talk with them about it.

Ballistic gelatin is much more forgiving than human flesh. I'd bet we have much more rigorous regulation around the production of it than we do regulating the proliferation of assault rifles and exploding ammunition, guns and ammo that most of us would never touch in our lives, even with 30-40+ percent gun ownership in America.

I don't want to take anyone's gun ownership away (and couldn't even if I wanted to), but I don't have a problem pressuring state and federal elected officials to make it a much more rigorous process for you to own one and to purchase ammunition; if you're a serious and safe hunter or sports shooter you'll jump through the friggin' hoops to shoot. But making it easier for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun sure as hell didn't help us make our country safer. And arming our teachers and administrators is also not a solution to help prevent this unnecessary violence.

After the Mama and I talked about our safety plans and what we would need to discuss with our girls, I couldn't help by helplessly imagine our children running for their lives and us not being able to do anything about it.

The good news is that we actually can.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

To Run for My Life with the Love of My Life

"Wake up
Run for your life with me
Wake up
Run for your life with me
In another perfect life
In another perfect light
We run
We run
We run..."

-Foo Fighters, Run

Wow. She actually told them. I knew we weren't hiding it from them, but it wasn't something to date that had come up in any context or conversation.

Until now.

I'm not even sure of the context actually; the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) just said it out loud.

"You know, Daddy was married to someone before me."


"What?!?" said Beatrice. Bryce just stared at me.

"Yes, he was, but they didn't have any children," said the Mama.

"What happened? Did she die?"

Kids, they simply say whatever comes into their amazing little heads.

"No," I answered. "She didn't die. We broke up and got divorced."

I knew they knew what that meant, going to school with other kids of divorce.

"Where is she now?" Bea asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"Are you guys going to break up?"

We laughed. "No, honey. We love each other and love you both."

"Okay. Love you, too."

"I can't believe you told them that," I then said to the Mama. But I wasn't mad, just surprised.

"Why not?"

I know, right? Why not. But what they don't know yet is that our life wasn't all romantic neat-and-clean happy endings. It's much messier than that. Overlapping with of failure and sorrow and poor choices and sometimes we have to be pushed really friggin' hard to get moving in the right direction.

They don't know that, 20 years ago, when the Mama and I were already seeing each other and very much in love, that I was only separated from my ex, not divorced yet. I knew then that I wasn't going back; I was done and very unhappy with me and the relationship I had with my soon to be ex, no matter how good of a person she was. And she was.

Instead, I wallowed in limbo, not willing to pull myself out of the self-loathing sludge and get on with life. I wanted to, but wasn't willing.

At least not until the Mama inspired me with a little fight or flight adrenaline. I had wanted her to go with me to meet my entire family for my sister's birthday, which just happened (and still happens) to be the day before Valentine's Day.

She went to work one day and left me a note in the apartment I had at the time, basically saying she wasn't going with me anywhere until you get your shit together and move on with your life if you want to be with me.

Damn straight. She had shared a lot more passionate words than that in making her case, which was crystal clear to me. And so I moved on with my life.

Wake up.
Run for your life with me.

For weeks since we told the girls about my past, the above song has been full-throttle volume in my head. Although not really a romantic song to say the least, the very essence of it struck me as representative of that moment in time, to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with living and being me. To run for my life with the love of my life. With all the stumbles and skinned knees along the way.

In another perfect life
In another perfect light
We run...

"Ooooo, why do you guys have to kiss all the time?" said Bea.

"Because we love each other," said the Mama.

"Indeed we do," I said. "And we love you, too!"

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Even With the Best of Friends

"Goddess in my garden
Sister in my soul
Angel in my armor
Actress in my role..."

-Rush, Animate

This is where I have to be careful. Where I need to step back and reflect. To attempt a limbic system recalibration to adjust what I'm seeing based on how I'm feeling. To not project me onto them.

No easy trick when you watch your eldest from the edge of a dance floor, shuffling back and forth, dancing a little here and there, and following various friends racing back and forth, seemingly just out of reach.

Plus, she actually wore a dress for the school Valentine's dance, something she doesn't do all that often. She was so excited to hang out with her friends and run around and dance. And she did, although every time our eyes met, she feigned a smile. I sensed anxious awkwardness and isolation that only comes with the social awakening in late childhood and the tween and teenage years. Sometimes extending throughout adulthood. I know, Beatrice, I thought. We get into our own heads and we can't get out.

But again, this is where I have to be careful. Because she does have friends and she does have play dates and she also likes being alone at times to recharge. Like many people do. Like I do and the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) and even our gregarious younger daughter. This is also the age where girls hang with girls, and boys hang with boys, and girls hang with boys, usually irrespective of gender. For now, anyway.

Recently the term "tomboy" came up. I don't know exactly what the specific context was, whether or not someone called Beatrice a tomboy directly, but it sounded like that. The Mama discussed it with her one day and asked her: "Does being called a tomboy bother you?"

"No," Bea said. It was a definitive no, devoid of emotion or hesitation. I don't think she knew what it meant, even after we attempted to define it, and still doesn't.

In the 16th-century the term first appeared and meant a "rude and boisterous boy." By the end of that century, it evolved to mean a "wild, romping girl, [a] girl who acts like a spirited boy." (There's a brief article on the history here.) While she is spirited, although much more muted compared to her little sister, her identity is more complex than calling her simply a tomboy.

Bryce, on the other hand, is just as complex, being a more traditional female, and yet can be highly aggressive and acts like a "spirited boy" at times. She may dress and act the part, but at the end of each day, she's playing a part all her very friggin' own, thank you very much. And there she was, dressed to the nines in her Valentine best and dancing the night away with her friends.

Either way tomboy can be dangerous since the term connotes a negative context of being a feminist and even gay, among not being a true feminine female, which wouldn't matter to the Mama or me either way. Unfortunately since the 16-century, it's been used as a derogatory sexist and even racist term (again, ready the brief history of it linked above) no matter how much we've romanticized it over generations.

And like being called a tomboy, I've been called a girly-man many a time over the years. For decades I've been in touch with my feminine side as "they" say (whoever they is) being more emotionally accessible and in touch with my feelings than the average heterosexual North American male. I'm more than comfortable with who and how I am, and I've also given my good friends plenty of rope to hang me with the "faggot" sentence. And for decades I haven't thought much about it, knowing they were teasing me, just like I teased them time and time again.

But when your identity is disparaged, even if you don't identify directly, it's just not okay anymore. I love my friends, and yet, I no longer like calling each other that. This has nothing to with being politically correct and everything to do with who we are as human beings -- complex individuals whose make-up is much more than the sum of subjective prejudiced observation. Of being forced into traditional gender roles with so-called "normal" sexual identities. We make it hard on each other for not sanctioning beyond our own biased comfort zones. We create separation and resentment with labels. We make it hard on each other by denying ourselves. Even with the best of friends.

And that's where I need to again step back and reflect and to not project me onto them. Because as parents, both the Mama and me know we can't live their lives for them. There are times we want to, where we identify with what they're going through because we went through it as well, or something similar. These are also the times we know they have to go through it, and we're just here to help as much as we can.

So I stood there at the dance a witness to my own competing amygdala messages flowing back and forth across my field of vision -- Bryce streaming by with friends in tow, the Mama streaming by talking to friends and other parents, Beatrice standing in the middle of the dance floor dressed to the nines herself in a red dress and leather jacket looking off in the distance with that awkward social signal, and me standing on the fringe mirroring the signal. Because sometimes we all feel alone again, even with the best of friends.

"Polarize me
Sensitize me
Criticize me
Civilize me
Compensate me
Animate me
Complicate me
Elevate me..."

-Rush, Animate