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 12, 2019

Our Fairy Daughter-Mother

"If we go down then we go down together
We'll get away with everything
Let's show them we are better..."

-The Chainsmokers, Paris

We couldn't wait to fly to Paris. No kids, no jobs, no other responsibilities other than our pets that would be taken care of by both our parents. We'd be gone for nearly two months, traveling through Europe, stopping along the way in Internet cafes to email our families about our trip.

At the time, we were never going to have children, and our families, especially mine, didn't understand why. We were seen as selfish for not wanting children, causing a low-level reciprocal resentment between us and my family.

And we were selfish about our lives -- because they were our lives -- and we lived them exactly how we wanted to live them. Unapologetically. Although, my familial guilt nagged at me a lot more than my wife, Amy.

It would be years and a lot of other interrelated family drama later before we changed our minds about having children. Our choice. Our terms. Our love evolving into our own blossoming family, with Beatrice first, followed by Bryce nearly two years later. Some of our past family frozen tundra thawed, and life moved on with various family gatherings here and there, holidays and other days throughout the year.

Even more interrelated family drama later we've made a concerted effort to see and speak with much of our families throughout the year whenever we can. And the "we" in this equation is really singular, the fact that families tend to have specific individuals, usually female, the moms in my experience, who stay connected with extended family, wherever they are in the world. My mom prided herself in doing that until she died, always ensuring loving communication with even the most distant members on birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries -- the endless mesh of life events from childhood to the elder years.

My sister continues to carry some of this responsibility, as does my wife, much more so than me. In fact, I've never really been very good at keeping in touch with extended family over time. It's not that I don't care, I do. It's just that I default to the moms in my life, especially my wife who keeps our extended family fires burning. It's been easier that way. Sadly I am that lazy gender stereotype at times who, in his head, claims to be too busy to do the outreach work.

And yet, there's a new champion in our family for family, one that came on unexpectedly, especially since she doesn't see our families that much, but is always asking about them, always wanting to see them and/or talk with them via iPad, phone, text or in person when possible. That's our oldest, Beatrice. Bryce loves to see family too, but she's too much like her dad, the occasional grumpster who doesn't always want to see or talk with folks, who's too "busy", and who defaults to the Mama to manage all that stuff.

Beatrice -- a caring, compassionate child. An empathic old soul. Our fairy daughter-mother who wants us to be better as a family for our family.

Happy Mother's Day to you, my child.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Building Blocks of the Brave

"My true self is always grateful."

-Deepak Chopra, A Centering Thought Meditation

She changed her mind about the trombone. She played it all year in 4th grade beginning band, and although she didn't practice as much as we wanted, she learned to read music and really seemed to enjoy it.

Our oldest daughter, Beatrice, is a creative visual and auditory learner and has an excellent musical ear and mind, and while she's struggled with reading and math, the music has helped her overall well-being and self-confidence (but science is conflicted on this one as it relates to transferable skill across subjects).

She's also been learning how to play the recorder in music class and really enjoys that even more. She's been proud of her recorder progress, getting different color belts (strings) for every song she masters in class and tying them to her recorder. In fact, it's motivated her to want to learn another instrument -- the flute. Both instruments are similar in how they're played with the fingers, yet held differently and how you blow your air to make it play.

And unlike the trombone that plays mostly the back-beat and never the melody, the recorder and flute do play more the melody. We're not sure if that's why she wants to play the flute, but we support it no matter what to keep her in music. However, she's conflicted about having to play in beginning band again.

Her idea is that, if she practices over the summer, she could go into intermediate band in the fall. We encouraged her to ask her music teacher about the process and what it would take. She didn't want to do that initially, feeling anxious about approaching her. Instead, she wanted her mom to send an email. But we kept encouraging her to pitch her music teacher her idea, until she actually did it. Most of it, at least. She didn't ask about if she practiced over the summer, could she play flute. She just asked if she could switch to the flute instead.

The music teacher responded that, if Beatrice passed the beginning flute milestones, she could eventually move to intermediate band. Not exactly what Beatrice wanted to hear, but she asked for part of what she wanted to with a clear idea, and we couldn't have been more proud. She definitely wants to play the flute and will hopefully practice over the summer no matter what happens (as well as take piano lessons -- something else she wants to do).

Our youngest, Bryce, on the other hand, is a doer without a lot of encouragement. We went to a family wedding recently where at the reception there was a table set up with a guest book to sign and a Polaroid camera to take pictures with. The directions were that each of the wedding guests sign the book with a Sharpie pen color of choice, then have someone take a Polaroid picture and paste the picture in the guest book. There were also fun picture accessories to hold up like cute big glasses to use in the picture taking.

At first, Bryce and Beatrice had fun taking a pictures of each other, and then we all sat down at a table next to my sister and her boyfriend to eat. Beatrice joined us, but Bryce did not. I looked up and saw that she had co-opted the guest book / picture table, welcoming guests and explaining to each one what to do.

We got busy talking to one another, and when I looked up again, Bryce was managing the whole welcoming affair. Not only did she explain what guests needed to do, she took the pictures, waited until they developed, and then pasted them in the book. I even saw her direct guests to the remaining empty seats at the tables.

The guests were thanking her, the bride and groom were thanking her, and she while she enjoyed the kudos, she never lost sight of her adopted task. Even after all the guests had arrived and were seated, Bryce continued to hang out at the registration table, tidying up and checking in with passersby if they had signed the guest book and had their picture taken.

In the end, they were both still kids, and as the reception went on, the grown-up stuff got old and the iPads came out. They hung in there, though. We were so proud, not only because of how they handled themselves at the wedding as our children, but because of the confidence we encourage them and empower them to have; to be building blocks of the brave people they'll someday become. To put themselves out there and being vulnerable knowing that expectation doesn't always align with reality (more painful yet powerful positive lessons to come as they traverse adolescence into adulthood). We're so grateful for who they are and their potential true selves they've already started to embody.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

He Said Cornhole

I never said it wasn't fun. I just asked why it was such a competitive sport. Especially after a recent work trip where, while sitting at the bar eating after a long flight, I witnessed a bean bag toss tournament being broadcast on ESPN, a major cable sports channel.

And had no idea it was called cornhole [snort and laughter] -- complete with the American Cornhole Association and the American Cornhole Organization and the American Cornhole League.

Wow. It's bean bag toss. A game you play at family parties, children's carnivals or to keep your kids busy at breweries while you're tasting beer. I had no idea that the modern game of cornhole, known more commonly as bean bags or just bags in the Chicago area, was likely spread after an article on how to make the boards was published in Popular Mechanics magazine in September 1974. The game spread in Chicago, Illinois, and the Northwest region of Indiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Again, I never said it wasn't fun. It is. And it's competitive as well, like many fun family games can be. It reminds me of growing up playing horseshoes with my grandfather and how much I got into the game. He taught me how to toss in a way that ensured the closest landing to the post. And then of course there's the sweet ringing sound of the ringer. It's the same metaphorical sound with bean bag toss when you hit one of the open holds. 

Right on.

But I have to fast forward, because the game of bean bag toss (i.e., cornhole) wasn't the point of why it even came up in conversation in the first place between me and my wife, Amy. She was researching possible day and weekly camps for both our girls for the summer and reading off options to our youngest, Bryce. Our oldest, Beatrice, was at a friend's house for a sleepover. 

Every camp offering Amy read out loud to Bryce she said no to, except for the theater camp. The girls have been in multiple after-school theater productions and have had a lot of fun doing them. In their latest production, Charlotte's Web, Beatrice played the role of Charlotte and Bryce played multiple roles including the sheep and a baby spider. 

Camps ain't cheap, though, especially when looking at weekly rates. Figuring out the most best bang for our buck, and for the children's time and infotainment, isn't easy. We're balancing our work schedules and budget with the kids' summer vacation and all that time off when they're home. Many parents struggle with this every summer, and yet not all parents have the means to send their kids to even a day camp. We do, but again picking these most cost-effective, learning-effective, engaging and fun camps for our kids is overwhelming to say the least. 

And then we were back to reading the local summer camp catalogue, when Amy came across pickleball (which is also apparently quite big as a competitive sport): 

"What is pickleball? Nobody plays pickleball," said Amy.

"I have no idea. Did you know that bean bag toss is a competitive sport?" I said.

She didn't respond.

"No, really. It's actually called cornhole, or cornholing," I said.

[laughter then a snort]

"That's what it's called."

[more laughter and a snort]

"What is this, Beavis and Butt-Head?"

[snort and laughter]

For those who've never watched the old MTV Beavis and Butt-Head, a highly inappropriate cartoon for kids featuring two teenage boys who like to rock out and who laugh at anything that sounds sexual. Anything and everything. Kind of like my teenage years. Or, wait, that was my friends' teenage years, not mine. 

Right? Right.

Which is why it was so funny to me when we were talking the endless summer camp iterations and costs and I said cornhole and Amy burst into tittered snorting laughter. 

He said cornhole. [snort and laughter]

Cornhole camp it is then!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dance Like Your Kids Are Watching

"Say you'll always be my baby we can make it shine
We can take forever just a minute at a time..."

Bee Gees, More Than A Woman

The song ended abruptly and we stopped dancing. We stood awkwardly in front of the line of teachers being honored at that moment, wondering what to do next. Our dance was to kick off a special part of the night's fundraiser, and while we weren't half bad, it was a little surreal. But it wasn't a dream either; we weren't dancing naked in front of everyone, although the year before we were half-naked. This time we were dressed up in glittery silver, ready to boogie-woogie-woogie till we just couldn't boogie no more.

Here we were again at our daughters' school auction fundraiser, and this year's theme was disco dance party. This was the second year that my wife Amy was PTA president and I also helped out more with our annual auction. 

But beyond all the planning and coordinating with many other amazingly selfless volunteer parents and friends to pull off another successful fundraiser date night for all the other school parents, Amy and I were relentlessly focused on dusting off our dance moves. 

Six years ago we were out with Amy's mom for some wine tasting on Valentine's Day, when a mixed gender barbershop quartet appeared and entertained us with some classic a cappella. They sang 1950's doo-wop and Amy called me out to dance. We danced a little swing and a little traditional hustle, some of the moves we remembered from our dance lessons years ago. 

And remember them we did. Dancing with her in that moment was delightful, just as it was the day I married her, when we actually made up our own dance, years before dance lessons. We choreographed our own dance to our song -- Ambrosia's Biggest Part of Me -- and it was so much fun to do.

Shortly after we were married, before the girls, we took formal dance lessons. Everything from swing to the hustle to salsa and more. We usually did this with an older couple who really knew how to cut a rug on the dance floor. It was fun, but admittedly, not always comfortable for me. Dancing was stressful and awkward; trying to remember each and every dance step didn't come easy. I used to be a much more literal learner, putting a dance together like I cooked -- one recipe step at a time while struggling with the big-picture end result. The sheer enjoyment of dancing magic. 

In the weeks leading up to this year's disco dance party, we started dancing to the Bee Gees' More Than A Woman from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It was just the right speed for our muscle memory to reignite our hustle moves. Amy would write down what we'd remember and we again choreographed the first half of the song. The second half would just be mixing and matching all the dance moves. Both girls would hem and haw and say "Stop, Mom and Dad -- c'mon!" acting embarrassed by our dancing and in-between kissing. 

Even though the auction dance didn't go exactly as planned, we still pulled it off. And yet, the most intimate and special memories were those of practicing at home in front of the girls. Our connection in every beat, step, twirl and giddy laugh filled me with a relaxed and loving satisfaction that I didn't always have when we took lessons all those years ago. We also loved the fact that our children complained, because we knew this was another testament to the love we share, one we want them to witness it every day. That's why I recommend to dance like your kids are watching, whatever the "dance" means to you and yours (only G to PG ratings for the kids, of course). Show your children how important a loving and healthy relationship really is.

We can take forever just one minute at a time...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Their Ultimate Wellbeing

The doctor was wrong.

"These areas here," the doctor said, tracing a few white streaks on youngest daughter Bryce's x-rays of her lungs, "are the beginning stages of pneumonia."

But we didn't know then he was wrong. Not until our primary doctor in Santa Cruz told us the radiologist's reading of the x-rays were that she didn't have pneumonia. Thank goodness, because Bryce just threw up the liquid antibiotic that he had prescribed. Over and over again. The four different times we tried to give it to her.

Bryce was the last to get the bad gunky hacking flu/cold (whatever it was) bug. And she had the worst of the symptoms out of the four of us. All while we were away from home visiting family. I'd been patient zero, bringing back the bug from my last work trip the week before. It came on fast; it felt like my body was being beat up from the inside out. Within 24 hours, Amy and our oldest daughter Beatrice went down in hacking flames. Then Bryce got it.

Then a few days later, I got on a plane for back-to-back work trips, first to Houston and then to Washington DC. Most likely infecting everyone in my breath's wake. No shaming, please. Then I flew to Reno to be with Amy and the girls in Carson City, where Amy's sister's family lives, her mom lives and her dad and step-mom live.

Infecting everyone in my wake along the way. And I'm sure my family did the same, too.

The last night we were in Carson City, of which to that point they/we were having a great time, Bryce had been coughing nonstop for most of the day. Our worry escalated with every cough. We shouldn't have kept dragging her around, going to a pizza party and then playing at a park where the cold Sierra high desert wind pierced all our already compromised lungs. She should've been resting in a warm bed instead.

So, that night, we weren't sure what to do. Go to urgent care? Call a family member for advice? We'd already given her enough doses of child's ibuprofen and my wife Amy had run to the store for cough syrup, which in the end helped Bryce stop coughing and she fell asleep around nine that night.

We all slept on it, but it was really stressful because of a pattern my wife and I have -- I defer many parenting decisions to her, even though we've been a team for most of our relationship. Of course she knows this, and so she doesn't expect me to insist on decision making most of the time. But when I do insist, I'm overbearing and aggressive about it; there's no middle ground for me.

I wanted to go to urgent care. She wanted to call a family member for advice. And then Bryce fell asleep.

We discussed it the next morning, because although I have this long-term regressive emotional latency problem, we communicate openly and honestly with each other and really strive to find common ground. I'd argue this has contributed to us being together for 22 years and further cementing our relationship, not driving us apart.

On the way home Bryce started coughing incessantly again and this time I called the Kaiser advice nurse as we drove home. I had to call more than once because of the off-and-on cell reception coming down out of the Sierra Nevadas, but we've had a good run with Kaiser to date and need some definitive advice and action.

We ended up scheduling a doctor appointment in Sacramento, three hours from home, but it was the right move. Bryce was just so sick and pale and coughing nonstop again. The timing was perfect and we got there only a few minutes late. It was also the last primary doctor appointment on a Sunday, so we were so thankful we took it.

But again, the doctor was wrong, and again thank goodness. We did make it home intact and knew that no matter the adult relationship issues we have to work on to improve our relationship as husband and wife, we're parents as well, and that priority superceded any fallibility we have. We will do whatever we have to do to keep our daughters healthy and safe, making mistakes along the way, but always with their ultimate wellbeing in mind. Amen.

Monday, April 1, 2019

For Everyone They Impact

That's when he showed the open wound on the back of his right calf to the cars in front of us. He held a sign that said "NEED BANDAGES PLEASE" with a meek look on his bearded face. He stood in the middle of the median moving from car to car.

My first visceral reaction: disgust and anger. Empathy was no where in sight.

"What's wrong with that guy?" our oldest daughter Beatrice said.

"Don't look, Beatrice," my wife Amy said.

"Look at what?"

"This guy has a big wound on his leg and he's showing it to us all. It's gross and you don't need to see that," Amy said.

"What? What wound?"

"It's like his leg is cut open and you can see his calf muscles," I said.

"Kevin, don't tell her that."


Beatrice could see, but our youngest Bryce could not. Thank goodness. The left turn lane light changed to a green arrow and we moved past the man, his bad leg turned away from us.

"God, he could lose his leg," Amy said.

"He should go to urgent care or to one of the emergency rooms. They most likely won't refuse him with an injury like that," I said.

"Maybe he doesn't know any better."

"Sure he does; why do you think he's out here begging for money for supposed bandages with that friggin' leg? It's a sympathy play for drug money."

"Sweetie, he may not know any better. He could be mentally ill. I'm calling the non-emergency line."

And so she did. We kept making our way to the store while she talked with the police department. They said they'd do a wellness check on the guy, and when we went back the same way to continue our errands, he was gone.

Like too many west coast communities these days, the growing acrimony between local community members and people experiencing homelessness seems to be at all-time high. Where we live is no exception. Crime and drug use are quite prevalent near the local unsanctioned encampment where conditions have only worsened over time.

And again, as I've written before, we have a family like many other families in Santa Cruz that we want to keep safe, and with 39 percent of Santa Cruz homeless having psychiatric and emotional health issues, 38 percent suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and nearly 30 percent being incarcerated for a night in the past year (as of 2017 local stats). Many of us struggle with "not in my backyard" syndrome. Because they are literally in our neighborhood backyards and the city was considering opening transitional encampments in literally our neighborhood backyards.

We continue to educate ourselves as to what's happening in our community and we most certainly understand that this isn't just a housing crisis but a drug and associated crime crisis as well. Not to mention the safety of women and children experiencing homelessness today in our community.

But this guy with the nasty leg, he's somebody's son. He could even be a father himself. We have no idea about his story and the fact that my wife was compassionate enough to call the non-emergency line, was at least something. Maybe others called, too. Giving him money wouldn't have helped; he needed to a wellness check and emergency healthcare. Could he have faked the wound? Maybe, but it looked pretty real to us. And in the end, he's not part of our family anyway.

Yet, on some greater spiritual level, maybe he is.

These crises are escalating in communities like ours at an alarming rate. They are complex and there is no unifying clear solution for everyone they impact. And they most certainly impact everyone, and every family.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Act with the Artist

"Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission..."

-The Police, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da

The tape recorder had a single speaker with monophonic sound. That's all we had, but it worked. My sister and I rode in the back of the truck, a camper shell around us, and we played Michael Jackson's Off the Wall cassette over and over again while our parents drove us to the coast for summer vacation the summer of 1980. The album had been released the year before and it was one of our mom's favorites, too. Growing up she had given us our love of music, from rock and roll to soul and rhythm and blues to pop and more.

So many fond memories throughout my life related to music. And many not-so-fond either. Music that's inextricably linked to our living, reminding us again and again of where we've been, what we've seen, what we've done -- and what we hoped for and still do.

Then came the allegations in the early 1990's that Michael Jackson sexual abused children. The news sadden me then, and yet I continued to compartmentalize it from my memories of his music, even after growing up with sexual abuse myself.

Why would I stop listening? His musical talents have nothing to do with his fallibility and his alleged crimes. Right? I reconciled in my mind over time and never felt bad about listening to his songs again and again since. And yet, I would never fully forgive the man who abused me, never wanting to associate with any memory of him.

How many perpetrators have we had throughout history -- from painters to writers to musicians to politicians to religious and sports figures -- all of whose brilliance many still celebrate today?

But then my wife and I had children and every year they get older the above gets harder to reconcile. Because they're going to ask us -- why?

  • Why do I keep listening to Michael after what we now know? (The same for those who keep listening to R. Kelly after what they now know.)
  • Why do people still revere presidents who sexually harass and bully (note the plural here)?
  • Why do people still go to church after priests and ministers sexually assault women and children?
  • Why do I still watch football when the NFL goes light on players who commit domestic violence so they can keep playing to win (and make money)?

The list goes on and on. And even I bang my head against the wall with split indifference and well-meaning bias, trying desperately to understand the why of others and myself.

So, why do I still listen to Michael Jackson? My wife has decided she can't do it anymore, and now I find myself removing his songs from playlists, even the playlist we made for Bryce when she was born (we did one for Beatrice when she was born and one for us when we got married, but Bryce's is the only one with a Michael Jackson song).

As I've written before, I didn't have any evidence when the sexual abuse happened to me, but my mantra is still clear and definitive: I believe survivors; I am a survivor. Yet, what I grapple with is how I and others compartmentalize some of these examples over others, and how we will answer these same questions from our children when they're older. Will I forgo any and all forgiveness for those who fail around me, especially when the complexity of failure crosses over into abuse and assault? Or will I continue forgive some without forgetting and without associating the act with the artist? Or is forgiveness ultimately a death that gives us life renewed without compromise?

They will ask us soon enough.