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, October 19, 2014

With Girl Power and All That Jazzy STEM

"Daddy, we want to work on the car!"

"Sure, just don't scratch the paint and work on the bottom along the sides and and the tires only."

Thrilled, Beatrice and Bryce brought their play toolkit down to the driveway and got to work. Unfortunately, they did rub some of the tools against the side of our car, which I immediately got all Daddy Goat Gruff about.

Besides that, however, I proudly watched while they "worked" on the car, really thinking about the tools they chose to use and what they were doing, and discussing it with one another.

Until, of course, the thrill of discovery broke down into chase-around-the-car mayhem -- they are kids you know.

We've encouraged them since the earliest moment of awareness and learning to embrace science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM skills as they're known. Unfortunately women only make up about half of the workforce in the U.S. economy today, less than 25% of them hold STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). That's a lot of untapped talent in the workforce today with many cultural and institutional reasons of why.

And if we want our children, girls especially, to be in the 60th-70th percentile and above in the world of work and STEM skills, then we've all got work to do.

Yesterday I listened to an NPR Planet Money episode titled When Women Stopped Coding and I was floored by what I heard. That before 1984, more computing pioneers were women. But post 1984, something changed: "the number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged."

Boys will be boys will be encouraged to do techie things, but not girls, right?

I wrote a recruiting article last week for TalentCulture that focused on the importance of skilling up and company culture when recruiting in-demand tech talent and beyond. In it I cited a Fast Company article and recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation, U.S. women working in science, engineering, and tech fields are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within the year. This is due to male-dominated tech, biased performance evaluations and lack of women mentors. 

Quite disheartening for the Mama and I, being parents of two bright little girls who may go into tech someday. Oh, I’m not even going to comment on the egg-freezing benefit offered to Facebook and Apple female employees who want to delay motherhood either.

But if we can have anything to do about it, and thanks to shows like Doc McStuffins and Earth to Luna and others, and if the girls want to go into any of these fields, we can help them develop and thrive in a male-dominated tech world that they make their own, with girl power and all that jazzy STEM. 

In fact, I say we make a 21st century version of the 1980s classic Weird Science with nerdy girls dominating and objectifying boys.

No worries. Us boys can take the sting.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Buzz of the Long Run

Sometimes life's a sprint. Full out. Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Legs burning. Sweat flying. From point, to point, to point. (And on the list -- check off, to check off, to check off.)

Even with knee surgery I pushed through it like a dedicated athlete does, no matter the damage done. And mercy, my knee was more blown than what even the surgeon thought before he dug in there. In fact, during my last check-in with him, he ended up draining over 60 cc's of old pre-surgery blood from the tight ball the size of a plum behind my right knee that he thought was synovial fluid from my original injury (meniscal tear and cartilage damage).

Sixty cc's of old pre-surgery blood. Damn. Hey, no pain, no gain.

And yet, even with the bumps in the road, sometimes our peripheral radar is on, cranked super-high, and we capture much of what's happening around us. I say radar because it's not always vision because the other senses are fully operational as well.

We went from Bryce turning four; to my knee surgery; to Beatrice starting kindergarten and turning six; to my 30-year high school reunion; to end of summer beach time; to my almost end-of-the-40's road birthday; to Beatrice passing her first martial arts test; to Bryce being a master card maker and dancer; to travel, travel and more business travel; all culminating in the Mama and my anniversary in fabulous Las Vegas, celebrating 11 years of marriage and 17 years since the day we met, one day on the beach.

Knee limping. Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Life loving. Love longing.

That's the magic of the B-hive. And although there will always be bumps in the road, when we're resilient and mindful, and keep our hearts and heads in shape, may our sprints and the buzz of the long run never wear out.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Big Heart Love to My Class of 1984

The arsonist had returned. I would've been caught by complete surprise if it hadn't been for the smoke of memories; the recurrent waking nightmare of being trapped in a burning room of invisible flame.

The nightmares, barely minutes in duration, are thankfully few and far between in these middle years, but the arsonist knows how to create the right Molotov cocktail when I'm feeling unwell. This flammable concoction includes one ounce exhaustion, one ounce under the weather, and one ounce low-level nervousness. In the right environment at the wrong time, this three-fingered shot spontaneously combusts and the air around me catches fire.

My wife Amy saw the smoke as well, noticed the discomfort on my perspiring face, my eyes dancing and ready to bolt, the tendrils of translucent flame curling around my head. Without missing a beat, she went to the nearest table and poured me a glass of ice water, returning swiftly with a sunny smile on her face.

I kept talking to my reunion classmates as if nothing were wrong, this from years of learning how to keep the arsonist in its place. Although my conversations sounded as if they were coming from an rotary phone in the next smoke-free room, I hung in there. The ice water quelled the heat, the smoke cleared, and the arsonist was vanquished yet again.

One little victory in a span of minutes 30 years on, while for some of us, phantom villains keep tracking us over time no matter what we do to lose them. Phantom villains such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression, all of which come in differing forms and personas.

Mine is an arsonist, one that first reared its vile head in high school, a panic attack fire-starter. Decades later I keep the arsonist at bay, although once and awhile it burns me down, albeit briefly. This is why every Mt. Whitney High School reunion, including the most recent 30-year reunion, is such a special event for me.

My classmates cared. About each other and everything that affected us, especially our friend Robby who broke his neck at a swim meet our senior year. Whether or not we were close then (or now), whatever cliques we hung out in, whatever flippant drama many of us certainly did participate in -- we still all cared. A class nearly 500 in size, we crossed The Breakfast Club picket lines again and again, a subset of us eventually rekindling our friendships on Facebook.

At this year's reunion, the number of those no longer with us grew, a painful reminder of our limited time in this world, and why we need to embrace the happy more often than not.

To hell with phantom villains, because there are moments that alter all our worlds dramatically, that forever bind us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship -- through all the personal tragedy, incremental joy, marriage, children, divorce, career success and failure, falling outs and ins, illness, injury (a recent bum knee for me), addiction, anxiety, depression, and even death -- always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

I hope to convey to my girls how important it is to overpower their villains and surround themselves with people like this who care, share and laugh, who want nothing more than to be better and shine their lights, and that maybe a little of that light will shoo the darkness away, whether they only see them in real life every 5-10 years, if at all, or only online.

We are all now men and women of an unremarkable age, seasoned old friends with big hearts that are always happy to see each other -- and just friggin' glad to be here, now.

Big heart love to my class of 1984. Thank you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family Fun Rehabbing

After reviewing my MRI before my knee surgery, the surgeon told me, "Sure, you'll be able to run again."

But then, a week and change after my knee surgery, the surgeon told me, " Not recommended."

Sigh. What a frickin' bummer. After years of getting in and staying in decent "old daddy" shape, especially after officially (and finally) quitting smoking back in 2002, becoming a cross-training and running hobbyist, I blew out my right knee just a few months ago.

My running had really improved for me too, finally reaching 8.5-minute miles the week before the meniscal tear slowed me to a crawl. Running was one of the only times I could disappear into the music melting my brain into heart and soul reflective mush...

Plus, being able to rough house and chase Bea and Bryce was always a top priority. I had to stay in shape for that alone.

Sigh. What a frickin' bummer, though. But it doesn't mean the B-chasing and staying in shape are over for this old daddy. No, far from it, but I'll certainly miss the running. Thankfully the Mama is a physical therapist and has been working on me since well before the surgery. That combined with staying in decent shape has given me the competitive advantage of rehabbing more effectively and a broken-down super hero rising fastidiously to light the darkness and save himself and his family from a depressing, sedentary life.

Okay, maybe not super hero, but work with me here. It's a metaphor for fighting back and staying healthy.

It's only been two weeks and I'm already back to walking and a light workouts, pushing that right knee with the PT exercises. Plus, we took the girls to our county fair for the first time, and I survived all the walking around and even carrying Bryce all the way back to our car when we left.

From the kiddie rides to corn dogs, pig races, chickens, cows and more, nothing heals better than staying active with family fun rehabbing.

Oh, and baby pigs. Lots and lots of baby pigs.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Because Saturday Morning

Remember Saturday morning?

Your favorite cartoons, your favorite snuggle spots, and your favorite children matching you frame for frame.

Although I'm writing this, and they're not. Instead they're engaged in a different kind of imaginative play, which is great for their executive functions, the management of their highly cognitive processes that includes working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. And all the while the TV rolls on.

Maybe your kids don't watch much TV, or any, like ours do every day. That's great. I don't care. Really. Don't judge.

Okay, they do watch a show called Zig and Sharko that is eerily similar to the old Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner Warner Cartoons. And they watch Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse sometimes. Ack. But then they also watch Martha Speaks, Cat in the Hat, Peg + Cat, Arthur and Wild Kratts, all of which are quality PBS educational shows.

The Mama and I grew up on TV and we turned out okay without violent tendencies or melted goo for brains. Sure I've seen the research, but we read to them lots, and they read lots, and we play with them lots, and they play with each other lots, and we all go outside for lots of experiential and physical fun and adventure, including Beatrice going to martial arts (which she loves still). I promise.

Back to Saturday morning. For some of us, Saturday mornings were (and are still) as sacred as reverent self-serving spirituality, a soft space of forgiving nirvana where our minds can meld with animated escapism and storytelling bliss, all without judgment, sometimes learning, sometimes not.

I remember as it it

And Saturday morning today for us, where old is new again, is where we can now pick and choose what the girls see (and they can and do too) because of our controlling the programming universe with magical devices and broadband portals. In addition to the above examples, there are also Schoolhouse Rock, The Magic School Bus, The Muppets and more. Plus, most of the Disney classics.

But now are the days of synchronized school girls, with Bea in kindergarten everyday and Bryce back in preschool three days per week. This school-bound book-learnin' week-to-week speed of light journey has only just begun, and for the girls (and us, because work doesn't disappear), we'll forever hold on to the weekend mornings as a critical free-range entertainment time.

Because Saturday morning. Sigh.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keeping Up With The B-hive

“You can make the most of the distance — first you need endurance; first you've got to last.” —Neil Peart, “Marathon”

I hit the crack and flew.

Maybe it was only a second or two, but either way, the ground came fast. I fell forward to my left at about six miles per hour, tried to break my fall with my left hand, rolled hard across my left shoulder and upper back, did an awkward somersault and then sprung upright on my feet like a cat dropped from a rooftop.

"You've got to be kidding," I thought as I checked out the damage -- scratched and bloody hands, arms and legs. I could also feel throbbing pains in my shoulder and upper back.

But no knee pain in either leg, so I finished my run, much to the chagrin of the Mama when I returned home beat up and bleeding.

The week following my fall I kept thinking about the half-inch elevated crack I tripped over.  Just a half-freakin' inch. What an uncoordinated doofus. Mercy me, I'd never do that again.

Yet, exactly one week later, I hit another crack during another run and flew, nearly replicating the exact fall and roll up to the left, just as beat up and bloodied as before.

But still no knee pain in either leg, although Amy threatened to take my running away.

Life went on and fortunately so did running, three times a week, four to five miles a clip. I'd been running since the early 2000's, before I had even quit smoking, and had even started running a couple of 10K's per year (the Santa Cruz 10K and the Wharf to Wharf), finally reaching a personal best of 8.5-minute miles just a few months ago.

Right on, Brother Kevin. But deep inside my right knee, my meniscus had a secret it kept from me. A secret that revealed itself two months after my second fall: a small tear that sent a state of emergency to my brain while running one morning that forced me to stop and walk. I nursed it for a week and a half and then went for another run. Two miles in the pain returned and I had to stop. Then a Baker's cyst appeared behind my right knee, a result of my knee injury.

That was the middle of June to early July. In early August the MRI revealed the secret "for reals" confirming my meniscal tear, which then lead to a orthopedic consult and surgery just this week. All in between I continued to cross-train to keep up my cardio, knowing full well the knee wasn't getting any better.

I was never really worried about the surgery once I knew it was inevitable, even though Amy and I debated where I should have it done and by whom, until she and her fellow physical therapists convinced me.

I got to watch the entire arthroscopic procedure -- from the cleaning out loose cartilage to trimming my torn meniscus to draining the Baker's cyst to drilling holes in the head of my femur in order to draw blood and eventually create scar tissue.

Fascinating indeed. No, I was only worried about the rehab afterwards and the "get back to gettin'." Since Amy is a physical therapist who's already helped me to date, she'll continue to rehab me. Unfortunately it's only been two days and the pain has been horrific at times; I have no point of reference in my past having never had any injuries or surgery of any kind other than getting my wisdom teeth removed 30 years ago. Plus I have to stay off my right leg for at least a week, meaning living like a shut-in and relegated to an ice machine, our bed and crutches when I need to get around.

And in the end that's what I fear most: being physically inactive and unhealthy like my parents were before they passed away, although that was due to chronic and terminal illnesses, something I'm grateful I'm quite a ways from at this point.

Every mile I ran before my injury was a mile run for my life, my wife and my children -- and even more so my mental well-being, which of course affects everything I do for them and me and every mindful decision along the way. And for me, a healthy mentality fuels the writing I so love to do. Sedentary dark spirals on smack, not so much.

Fight back I will, even if that means limiting any future running and sticking to lower-impact workouts to keep both knees alive (and my head on straight), because keeping up with the B-hive is my moral imperative.

Otherwise Known As Kindergarten, Day One

The first day finally arrived. We watched as she put her new backpack on proudly, full of her favorite things.

We watched as she hung her backpack on her labeled hook outside her class, the butterflies quite visible on her face.

We watched as her new teacher pinned her name tag to her shirt, asking what her name was and telling her something about the new class.

We watched as she sat on the floor, newly assigned book in her hands, while her new classmates gathered in and around her with their new books.

We watched and waited for any tears, any sign that her discomfort would spill into her legs springing her to the Mama's open arms.

We watched as she talked with new friends about the books they held, comparing notes and context from other books they had at home.

We watched as she looked up at us and smiled, still a little unsure, but mostly comfortable in her new environment.

The weeks and days leading up to this one were filled with ebbs and flows of receding fear and growing confidence, especially the latter which came from her weekly martial arts class we starting earlier in the summer.

In fact, the months and years leading up to this day were filled with a developing above-normal intellect, and due to the auditory sensitivity and earlier delays she's experienced since early on, a thankfully consistent "other" developmental progression.

We all couldn't have done it without the loving support of all the teachers at Bridges to Kinder as well as our school district's speech and occupational therapists. 

We watched and waved, teary-eyed and proud, knowing Bea's journey has only just begun, and there will be many trials and triumphs ahead (with Bryce not too far behind).

The Mama and I walked away arm in arm, leaving Bea in her new world, otherwise known as kindergarten, day one.

“And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother
Copernicus and Fortune's Wheel
Plato, Mengele and the New Deal
And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother…”

—Ben Folds, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”