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, May 22, 2016

Dive In We Do

Her shrieks were maddening. Out of context a passerby listening might think we were drowning her. Fortunately with all the other parents, babies and children around us in the pool with swimming instructors instructing, we were in safe company.

Except that Beatrice hated it. Every single minute of it. The swimming instructors did their best to console her, as did we, each of us getting in the pool to hold her and guide her.

Yet she cried and howled and thrashed and wanted nothing to do with immersing any further in the warm pool water, especially when her head hit it. Thankfully six-month-old Bea wasn't the only crying baby and toddler being taught the fundamentals of floating and paddling in the water.

We tried to comfort her and acclimate her, but she was disdainfully vocal, if not the loudest. We only went a few times to those swimming lessons way back then. In the years since there have been more swimming lessons with more painfully visceral results, sometimes to the point of making herself sick. Even in the bathtub, she still hated putting her head under the water.

All because she was scared to death that she'd sink.

When she could articulate how she felt, that's what she expressed over and over again. Even today after finally being comfortable in the water, learning how to swim and submersing her head, she's still worried about sinking.

Conversely her younger sister Bryce is not only unafraid to put her head under water, we have to temper her desire to dive in head first nearly and literally every single time. Bryce has never really had a problem with wanting to swim, just the normal fear of going under the first time. Her shrieks are joyous and infectious when she's in the pool.

All because she eats "sink" for breakfast.

The dichotomous sister swimmers are now water-ready anywhere we go and look forward to it all. They are my lifetime metaphors personified -- to be deathly afraid of what could happen next or to boldly go with whatever happens next. What comes next for them is to learn how to manage the poles and all the in-between. And us grown ups know how much in-between there is.

"Can we go swimming at Auntie Kristen's World?" the girls asked when we told them we were going  to visit my sister again to see how she's doing and to help where we can.

They ask if my sister's house was an amusement park complete with swimming pool, just like when we take the girls to Disneyland and go swimming in the middle of the day to break up the park trekking. Damn, if only that were the case. My sister is now awake and doing better, although there's a long way to go with her "in between" and the healing that will hopefully come.

Of course we don't share everything with the girls at this age, but they do know she's sick and that she needs the family's help. They're already packing their stuffed animals while pretending to talk with them:

"We're going to Auntie Kristen's again."

"Awe, but why?"

"Because she needs our help again."

"Okay, let's go help her then."

"Yes, and then we'll all go swimming!"

"We can't wait!"

And so dive in we do.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Why Is the Loneliness of Space

“I miss the earth so much
I miss my wife –
It’s lonely out in space…”

—Elton John, Rocket Man

I asked for it. I did. I wanted it. All of it. The back-to-back travel that came with the candidate experience half-day workshops we’ve been running via the research organization I work for. Since February I’ve gone to 10 cities across the U.S. with a Toronto trip coming up to culminate delivering 13 workshops overall.

Not a Herculean effort compared to those road warriors who travel every week for business.
And no, I’m not looking for a medal or a gold star next to my name. I love doing what I do. I keep saying over and over that I don’t like being away from my girls and my wife, but I do love what I do and love to travel. (And no, I’m not going to sing you Cats in the Cradle.)

Although I think I keep saying it over and over because I’m trying to convince myself that I don’t miss my family as much as I do, which I do. Yes, I talk to them every day that I’m gone and we see each other on FaceTime. Of course it’s not the same as when I can give my girls a hug and give my lovely wife a kiss.

Now, combine that with the fact that my sister’s in the hospital four hours away from where we live and it gets even more complicated. Not just for the fact of being there for her and her grown children due to the seriousness of her illness, but for all the things that have to get done when a loved one is down. All the additional expenses that add up when you’re coming back and forth with your family or just yourself. Keeping your kids out of school if they come with you. Having to rent a frickin’ car because one of yours is in the shop. Managing your work and business trips in between. Attempting to unravel the highly complex realities of the healthcare system. Dealing with rotating nurses and doctors and technicians and social workers and endless paperwork and questions and headaches that all the hopes and prayers in the world can't make enough magic to change.

We just did this a few years ago with our own parents, and now my sister is the one in the hospital. You tell yourself that these are just the things that you have to do, and you don’t count the costs when it comes to taking care of someone you love and all the things around them that need to be taken of.

But you do count them, you have to count them, and that’s okay (so don’t look at me that way). Love is powerful, yes, and yet there are asterisks and footnotes in the paperwork. It’s just a matter of reconciling with yourself that these are the things you can and are willing to do and sustain as long as it takes.

The other morning I sat in my sister’s hospital room watching her sleep. I was the only other one in room with her besides the nurse coming and going. Her bed rolled automatically underneath her to keep her body moving and to help prevent pressure sores. It was fluid and slow, as if she were in zero gravity; I imagined she was floating in space. Why are we here? I thought.

“Why?” I said aloud. Why? It was just an allegorical question. A simple and calm inquiry. No angry fist shaking at God and the universe. No toxic well of emotion spilling forth in frustration.

Why?

Then I imagined we were both in space and all the years growing up together swirled around us and moved us along like soundless solar winds. I realized the why was pointless because it will never give me the solace I seek. The why is a vacuum that nature abhors.

The why is the loneliness of space, and it's gonna be a long, long time. And through it all I pray for my sister and miss my family.





Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Part Where I Went Wrong

“Make it easy on yourself
There's nothing more you can do
You're so full of what is right
You can't see what is true…”

—Rush, The Color of Right

We lost six years. All because I wanted to help and she didn’t want it and our entire family went to hell in an intimately woven handbasket.

Flame. Ash. Poof.

I wanted to be the one who was right. I obsessed over it. I went to therapy over it. I didn’t sleep because of it.

I just wanted to be right, which is where I went wrong. Not because I wanted to help my sister – that was as a noble gesture – but because I wanted to be right, to be acknowledged as the family champion saving the day. Instead, I was accused of destruction and then I chose to estrange myself from the family.

My sister and I, we lost six years, and it wasn’t until the Mama and I had children and our parents’ health deteriorated when we finally came together again and restored our relationship.

Then there we were – my wife, my sister and me – standing in silence around our mother's hospital bed. She lay swollen and silent, eyes closed, the only noise coming from the life support systems keeping her alive.

No more needing to be right. And so tired of being wrong. Just needing to be with one another, both our parents gone within four months of each other. Yes, heaven is being with those you love and to hell with everything else.

Nearly four years later and there she is. That can’t be her on the hospital bed. The swollen face and limbs. The endless tubes and pumps connected to her neck, arms and legs, feeding her antibiotics and fluids and oxygen. The pings, buzzes and alarms sounds from a myriad of machines displaying erratic vitals and undecipherable numbers.

It just can’t be her. No, my sister is at home working her butt off to keep the yard in shape. Running nearly every day to keep her body in shape. Working hard to earn a living on her own. Missing her two grown children, both far away from her, yet talking to them nearly every single day.

But there she is in the hospital bed. She’s laying there sedated, looking hauntingly like our mother, breathing on a respirator, her body in septic shock from a rapid infection. Right now it’s day by day, and we hope and pray that her strong will and her incremental improvements lead to a full recovery.

The part where I went wrong puts in all in perspective.

I love you, Sis. Happy Mother’s Day.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Before We Wreck It All to Hell

"You're an idiot!"

That's Beatrice. She's the big sister both in age and in size. Especially in size. 

"Stop it!"

That's Bryce. She's the little sister. She's about a foot and a half shorter than Beatrice. They're only two years apart, but when they stand side by side, you'd think it was a much greater age difference.

It's then that Bryce lunges at Beatrice and hits her on the arm. Or on the back. Or on the leg. Or on the head.

Multiple things are happening here at once; the physics of sibling actions and reactions. One moment they're playing cooperatively and all friendly like, which thankfully is most of the moments to date, but then the next moment they're antagonizing each other, going at each other's throats. The oldest can goad her younger sister to spark confrontation and then the youngest is much more physical in her response. 

Strike and retaliation and counter-strike. Again, not unusual for siblings. With positive discipline and  Kidpower in play, we approach as follows:
  • First we sportscast: "It looks like you have trouble solving your problem and you need help."
  • Then we encourage them to set clear boundaries without painful retaliation: "Beatrice, you were experimenting with your power but were being unsafe with your words. And Bryce, good job setting your boundary, but make sure to use your trash can and just throw those words away without hitting back."
  • Then we encourage them to play something else: "It looks like you both aren't playing the same game so maybe you should both do something different."
  • Then lastly: "Can you check in with each other please?"
That last part helps them expand their empathy by ensuring each other are okay both physically and emotionally. 

"Are you okay, Beatrice?"

"Yes. Are you okay, Bryce?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry."

"Me too."

I know what you're thinking: That's nice, but sometimes you gotta be firmer than that. That's where I still gravitate sometimes; it's tough to rise above canceling out a negative with an even stronger negative.

But even I've come a long way from my childhood and I know how it works. I see how it works. The Mama sees how it works and helps to teach us all. And yet, we do have to be firmer sometimes when the girls are way out of bounds. We get mad and yell. We're human. It happens.

When it happens in the confines of home we can learn and grow from it and use our trash cans and throw all that crap away.

Except when it comes from outside the home and that crap is online. When it arises from simply being different and being made fun of, or for making a mistake that you end up paying for over and over and over again.

When "you're an idiot" becomes a painful brand inflicted continuously by legions of cyberbullies and haters. And it's even worse when you're a woman. I read a recent rare interview via The Guardian with Monica Lewinsky, the woman who had an affair with then President Bill Clinton back in the late 1990's. Of course I'm not condoning the what happened between them, and when I imagine it being one of my daughters, I'm sure one of my first thoughts would be you're an idiot.

But then we'd be there for her to help her work through it all and to help her heal and move on. That's no easy trick today considering how much abuse individuals much less iconic than Monica have to put up with online. From the fallout and abuse she still receives today, from both men and women, she's now a respected and perceptive anti-bullying advocate. In fact, she helps out many different organizations including Bystander Revolution, a site that offers video advice on what to do if you’re afraid to go to school, or if you’re a victim of cyberbullying.

The writer of the above article pointed out something that as a parent of girls cuts me to the core:

"I noticed something similar during my two years interviewing publicly shamed people. When a man is shamed, it’s usually, 'I’m going to get you fired.' When a woman is shamed it’s, 'I’m going to rape you and get you fired.'"

I'm going to rape you and get you fired. Jesus H. Christ. It's not enough just to bully the individual, because when it's a woman, you're going to throw in a violent crime to raise the hater power stakes. 

When it comes to our children and teens, this is where we must start educating on what cyberbullying is and the harm it causes to all of us. Kidpower, the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, has some great tips on how to do just that including asking kids who are actively using technology for communication what they already know about cyberbullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas. Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know. Make sure that the young people in your life know that:
  • Cyber-bullying means using computers, mobile phones, or other technology to hurt, scare, or embarrass other people. Cyber-bullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyber-bullying are illegal.
  • Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will make someone unhappy.
  • Even if you think someone was mean to you, being mean back is not a safe way to handle the problem. Instead, get help from an adult you trust.
  • Have the courage to speak up if you notice anyone cyber-bullying. Say that this is wrong and that you are not going to keep it a secret.
  • Use privacy settings, but never post anything in social medial or send anything out electronically that you don’t want the world to see.
  • If you get an upsetting message or see something that is attacking you: Do not reply. Do not delete. Save the message, get a screen shot, print it if you can and get help from an adult you trust. If one adult does not help you, keep asking until you get the help you need.
Again from the above article: Lewinsky has advice for bystanders, too: “Don’t bully the bully. It doesn’t move the conversation forward. I see bullying as similar to cutting. People who cut are trying to localise their pain. I think with bullying, people are suffering for myriad reasons and are projecting it. Instead of cutting themselves, they’re cutting someone else.”

That's positive and quite progressive, something I'd struggle with being the father of a victim of so much visceral hate. Just as I wrote earlier this year about hateful online trolling and the site called Yik Yak, Kidpower also offers up another eight important skills on how to face bullying with confidence.

Skill #2, which is all about "leaving in a powerful, positive way," recommends that the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial." In other words, "don’t be there." Or as I like to call it -- change the channel, kids. Turn the channel and don't give "them" any more power than they already have. I do it all the time, especially online. This doesn't mean I wouldn't face an oppressor and stand up for myself, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.

That's really tough advice to give, I know. I'm still conflicted because I'll defend our girls no matter what -- both the Mama and I will -- and we want them to do the same for themselves. And in the same breath of me saying "turn the channel" I sometimes want to say "smack them back."

But instead of a world where victims and haters refer to each other as idiots, regardless of how much we want to believe otherwise about the latter, we should do a lot more checking in with one another before we wreck it all to hell. Because if we're not playing the same game, then for goodness sake do something else. 

Like read a book. Adopt a pet. Plant a garden. Go for a walk. Don't be an idiot. 



Thursday, April 14, 2016

Feeling the Road as I Do

“Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away…”

—Aerosmith, Dream On

The San Francisco Giants overcame a 0-5 first inning deficit to ultimately beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-6. And we were there.

Well, at least for the first five innings we were there. At that point the score was tied up at 6-6 and the girls made it as long as they could before we headed home.

It was an amazing experience for all us – especially the girls – since it was Little League Day at AT&T Park and Santa Cruz represented well among many other Bay Area cities. Beatrice and I wore our team’s shirts and hats (the Rockies) and Bryce wore the hat and shirt from our T-ball team last year (the Reds). The Mama wore the Reds hat as well.

The Little League teams and their families got to march through the stadium before the game started. The girls were thrilled looking over the field and up at the surrounding stands.

“Where are we going to sit?” Beatrice asked as we walked along the stadium’s perimeter.

“Way up there,” the Mama and I answered, pointing to the upper deck above the third base line.

“Mama, I don’t want to sit up there,” Bryce said. “That’s too high up. I don’t want to fall.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You won’t fall. We all have seats to sit in.”

“It’s too high!”

Our parade ended and we exited the field. We then proceeded on the winding upward walk to our section. The girls ran ahead of us, energized by the ballpark and all the people and kids. The Mama and I walked behind deciding on what we wanted to eat for lunch. We rounded another bend in the walkway and fell silent.

Maybe I have another 20 years of good road ahead, I thought. Twenty healthy, productive years where I can provide for my family so that we can do things like this. The Mama probably has even longer, being five years younger than me and statistically speaking outliving me in the long run.

Maybe I’ll be able to keep running after them, at least until they’re out of the we-need-to-run-after-them phase. Maybe later on in my 70’s, 80’s and beyond, I’ll be in good health still. Maybe at some point I’ll see them start their own families if they so choose and still be able to shuffle after grandchildren. 

Maybe. God, I hope so. 

Man, what a buzz kill I am. Let’s play frickin’ ball!

The week before we had family visiting during Spring break – Amy’s Dad and Step-mom – and the girls were so excited. They couldn’t wait to show them they’re favorite toys and games and anything else they could think of in the moment.

The day before they arrived, Beatrice said, “Wait, how come they’re still alive? They’re so old.”

Beatrice is our literal inquisitor, not meaning any harm, but sometimes hitting the big-question sensitivity from out of the awkward blue.

“They’re not that old, Beatrice,” the Mama said. “They’re doing fine and will be here tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay. I can’t wait to see them!”

We all hugged and laughed and I thought, Daddy’s old getting older too, Bea. Mercy me…

Having children later in life and being older parents has never bothered me that much, only because we’ve worked hard to take care of ourselves and so far benefit from the best of our gene pools. And we both feel great. However, the imaginary infinite road we told ourselves we had throughout our 20’s, 30’s and even in our 40’s, is now gone for good.

Gone like the crushed cartilage cleaned out from my right knee when I had torn meniscus surgery nearly two years ago. I feel the difference every single time I work out, especially when I do my once-per-week beach run. It doesn’t hurt, but it’ll never be the same again either. And I certainly don’t want a complete knee replacement anytime soon (reminds my lovely physical therapist, the Mama).

Yes, I feel every inch of the finite road these days, my suspension nearly shot. And with more friends and family losing loved ones of late, mortality is a familiar tune hummed frequently to myself.

I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, although feeling the road as I do, I take nothing for granted. When even dropping the girls off at school before leaving on a business trip becomes as much as a memorable moment as walking in a Little League parade at a big league ballgame. Or when Beatrice hits the ball off the pitching machine during a Little League game and Coach Daddy’s arms fly into the air to cheer, overcoming her fear of playing. Or when Bryce shouts “winner, winner, chicken dinner!” when playing family bingo, but later on leaving poop in the toilet -- again.

All that has happened and all that is yet to be. Taking the scenic route makes it all worthwhile. The laughter and the tears. Until the Good Lord will take us away. Amen.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Support Team Kidpower at The Human Race



Many of you know the Mama (my wife) is a certified instructor for Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, and I'm a big supporter of the organization as well.

Kidpower is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that can increase the safety of young people and adults alike and that can last a lifetime.

Our family is now part of team Kidpower in this year's Human Race Walkathon & Fun Run, raising funds to help make our community a stronger, safer, more vibrant place to be.

The Human Race has been helping nonprofits fundraise together for over 35 years, giving an opportunity for Santa Cruz County nonprofits, individuals and groups to fundraise for local programs. 

The 2016 Human Race takes place on Saturday, May 7, 2016. Registration starts at 8 a.m. The run begins at 9:00 a.m., and the walk immediately after. Online giving goes through May 7, 2016.    

My Kidpower team goal is only $500 and I hope you will help me reach it (which you can do below).

Let's all rise up and create healthy realities for our families and communities!

You can also find recent Kid Power articles below and my interview with Irene van der Zande, Executive Director and Founder of Kidpower:

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Again with Now and Forever

"There's a feeling I get
When I look to the West
And my spirit is crying for leaving..."

—Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven

We weren't there when she coded. She had gone into the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine procedure, and sometime during recovery, her heart failed. The first time nearly 10 minutes transpired before they revived her. Then her heart failed again. And then a few minutes later again.

That's when the hospital called me, early one evening over three years ago, two weeks after I had taken her back home to Oregon from California. This after a disastrous stay with my sister only months after my father died from battling cancer and failed treatment.

The surreal phone call had me frozen in place in our kitchen, the phone pressed to my ear as the Mama watched me intently.

"Yes, I understand," I remembered saying. "But what happened?"

"We don't know yet, but we've cooled her body temperature with ice to slow any permanent brain damage that might occur due the heart failure and loss of blood flow. We have her on life support now."

"Will she wake up?"

Silence on the other end. Then, "It's possible. We'll know when we start warming her up in about 48 hours. I assume you'll be coming up."

"Yes. Yes, I will. We will."

Two days later my sister, my wife and I were all there. Together we stood in silence around my mother's hospital bed. She lay swollen and silent, eyes closed, the only noise coming from the life support systems keeping her alive. I had just talked with Mom on Thanksgiving the week before, but my sister and her hadn't spoken since their falling out.

During our awkward silence around her bed, I wept. Not only because I missed our mom and I couldn't say goodbye, but I wept because her broken heart still trailed in pieces behind her since she'd lost her husband, and more recently since she wasn't speaking to her daughter.

I wept because I believed then as I still believe now that her broken heart gave up, that she wanted to go home to heaven and be with Dad.

A week later we told Beatrice about heaven. In the simplest of definitions, with loving language and expository words used sparingly if at all.

The Mama had finally made it home from Oregon, but I remained with my sister taking care of what had to be cared for. There I was, watching my family on FaceTime in front of our fireplace adorned with stockings and alit with Christmas moon lights, thinking of It's a Wonderful Life.

"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down..."

Bryce babbled and ran back and forth across the phone camera's field of vision, calling for Amy's mom, and she answered back softly. Beatrice stood in front of the couch while the Mama knelt next to her. She held the little figurine of two mice that she fell in love with when we were up visiting my parents in June, Nana and Papa as all the grandkids knew them.

"Beatrice," the Mama said, "we want to tell you that Nana isn't sick anymore, that she's with Papa in a better place."

"Yes," I said.

The Mama continued. "Nana and Papa are now together in heaven where they will be forever."

"Nana and Papa are together," Bea echoed. "In heaven."

"Yes, sweetie. They love you very much and will always be with you."

As I said those words, I ached to believe them, as if my very presence in that moment depended on everything I learned as a child growing up in the Nazarene Church -- the many pictures of smiling Christs, arms always draped lovingly around children of all colors and nations, set in a meadows on warm spring days.

"They will always be with you, Bea." And I really wanted to believe that for me.

I watched as Bea's mind swirled and ticked, trying to understand what it all meant. She held the mouse figurine tightly and smiled. I took that as my answer.

For two people who've always questioned the edicts and redeeming value of Christianity, the Mama and me were quite comfortable telling Bea about the coloring book version of heaven.

Because we believe we'll be together someday in a better place. Because we already are -- the Mama, me, the B-hive and our family and friends.

Heaven is being with those you love. To hell with everything else.

Heaven is now; heaven is forever.

All this came back to me when I saw the post from a dear friend of mine who just lost her husband, both of whom have been battling cancer for years and the complications that unfortunately come with those battles. I touched my computer screen and wept for her and her family, losing her husband, her best friend, the love of her life and the father of her children and grandchildren.

I wept because I know how much she loved her husband. I wept because I still miss my parents. I wept because I imagined losing the love of my life and the mother of our two lovely little girls.

I wept because I know resiliency and healing are like continuous tides that eventually wash away our grief, while the footsteps of those loved ones who have passed before us remain permanently affixed upon our stairways to heaven.

Again with now and forever. Amen.


Heaven's Addendum

Their heaven wraps around the finger lake at sunrise
like a gold band forged now and forever.
I walk and cry and laugh and run along the paths,
Draw beauty of sky, trees, debris and water
deep into my lungs' tendrils that feed my heart.
I stop to pay homage to Kinkade and Sparks,
tempered (of course) by Hopper, Folds and Peart,
Bly and Kerouac, and Stein and Thompson Walker of late.
I thank God for my parents, for their love and suffering
when their bodies finally slowed to sudden stops
only four months and a day apart after a millennium.
Heartache leaves permanent scars of pleasure and pain,
but I thank God for my parents and their heaven,
for it will be there for me every morning I rise
promising more than until death do us part,
an eternal promise for my wife and us all.