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 4, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to Me

“I’ve gone through life white-knuckled
In the moments that left me behind
Refusing to heed the yield
I penetrate the force fields in the blind
They say I'll adjust
God knows I must
But I'm not sure how
This natural selection picked me out to be
A dark horse running in a fantasy…”

—The Killers, Flesh and Bone

Like a ship on fire in the vacuum of space, I burned helplessly mute. In space, fire is unpredictable and tenacious, burning for longer periods of time, even when it seems to be out. In space, there is literally no sound, at least none heard like we can on planet earth.

So there I was, spiraling out of control and burning blue, when finally earth's gravity wound me back in and down to crash landing after crash landing. I escaped the fiery wreckage each and every time, but not before sustaining a recurring emotional concussion, one that made me feel insignificant and unworthy. One that left me wanting to run sobbing into the unknown horizon, to the point of know return.

I was 17 years old when my anxiety and crippling panic attacks started. Mostly from the inordinate pressure I put on myself to be liked, to succeed, to not be the skinny and shy asthmatic kid I used to be. Yes, I'd survived growing up in domestic violence and sexual abuse, but I never wore those chains like radioactive bling for all to see. In fact, I didn't really connect the past to the present anxiety until therapy in my 20's.

My memories weren't repressed, just more like emotional missives written but never sent to the ones who cared for me the most, the ones who misunderstood me. My interstellar trauma trips continued throughout my life, but thankfully decreased dramatically over the past two decades.

When I was in college I used to imagine what my world would be like in the year 2000, the year I'd turn 35. Envisioning that future-scape included visions of grandeur and popularity, of complete self-awareness and impulse control, of being anxiety free, of being smoke-free and healthy, of saving children from violence and abuse, of being loved by the love of my life, of being a good husband and father, of having the peaceful popularity of being the next Lee and Kerouac and Faulkner and Hemingway and writing my own great American neo-hipster novel. All before running out of time.

Back then I would've said you were as crazy as a loon if you thought I'd someday be comfortable in my own skin, mostly impenetrable from the extreme temperatures of the ever-expanding universe and the very fabric of relative time.

Now, in 2015, you weren't so crazy after all. Although I'm nobody's hero, I am a survivor who finally learned how to cope and manage the rhythm of my own overreactions and who's navigated life's booms and busts fairly well with a sometimes witty, self-deprecating grace. Sometimes...

And although I didn't write that novel yet, I have found a modicum of success and I did find the love of my life -- and two little lovely girls later, the fatherhood I never had as a child. I've learned that you don't ever run out of time, you just learn how to run alongside it and make it a partner for life for whatever duration that ends up being.

In space, no one can hear you burn. Welcome to planet earth, Kevin. And welcome home.

Happy 50th birthday to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

These Symbiotic Sister Catalysts

One child thrives in the literal, and the other the imaginative. Beatrice has struggled with, and thankfully adapted to, a noisy and overwhelming world where she longs to take a beat atop a clearing on a hill to comprehend clearly what's before her, one thing at a time. Bryce seemingly thrives in storied ambiguity where wild lands of fairies, unicorns, puppy dogs and rabbits rise from the floor and carry her away on one adventure after another.

It's not that both of them can't perceive the way the other does, because they can, but one is much more able to articulate her imagination than the other. Watching Bea the past few years play silently with her toys or her many collections of small things -- jungle animals, dinosaurs, insects, movie collections with the most recent being from Inside Out -- I can see her mind working away and making sense of her world, weaving tales of simple triumph.

Like me when I was her age, she's pretty quiet about it, because expressing it can be more challenging and sometimes out of order. But mercy that mind is brilliant. Watching her quickly solve puzzles with the Cool Circuits game she got for her birthday is inspiring.

That's why Bryce is a catalyst for Bea's verbalized artistic expression. The Mama sees and hears this all the time, that Bryce is an atom split and the resulting fission is infectious. I'll hear them upstairs, the feisty Princess Bryce taking Bea to a faraway world where unicorns fly (pegacorns actually) and talk and participate in stuffed animal pet shows with fabulous prizes. Bea follows the lead well, laughing comfortably in Bryce-world until one of the two is done or makes the other mad (they are sisters, you know).

And when Bryce wants to tell us all something the energy released could power entire cities within 100 miles.

"Guys, guys -- I have to tell you something --"

That's usually how she prefaces her story, a fantastical interpretation of something from her day, or something from somebody else's day, maybe something inspired by the literal Beatrice who just "told us something" matter of fact like, "The wasps tried to get our lunch at school today."

"Guys, guys -- I have to tell you something -- the wasps came and stole our food and then carried us all away to the flower garden where the pegacorns live and helped us make cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles and a frickin' buttload --"

That last part unfortunately is courtesy of the Mama and Daddy saying inappropriate things in front our highly perceptive and bright princess nuclear-reactor with pink-rimmed glasses. Then, like her little bird toy that repeats everything, then Bea starts repeating the same unfortunate expression. However, when we do appropriate things in front of them, like the fun "elephant toothpaste" science experiment the Mama just did with them was such a "gas" to watch.

One child thrives in the literal, and the other the imaginative, but they're both creative, resourceful and smart. It's a joy having these symbiotic sister catalysts to parent.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Whatever We Want It to B

“The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect,
The way you live, the gifts that you give
In the fullness of time,
It's the only return that you expect…”

—Neil Peart, Rush, The Garden

It's ritual. Every single night after we read stories and put them to bed, unless I'm traveling for work. Before we start, I have to consider the physics of each turn: their weight, distribution, arc, launch and landing. Of course I don't want to hurt them, but I also don't want to hurt myself either.

They're still young. I'm not getting any younger.

Oh, and there's the count. Always there's a count. The count is important because, while it's always the same count from me, it's their opportunity for creative variation.

Every night the Mama says, "Girls, you want a swing?"


Beatrice is usually first. Not because she's oldest or for any other particular reason other than she's the one who falls asleep the fastest of the two. Bryce's fire can take another 30 to 45 minutes to put out, something the Mama is painfully aware of and deals with every night.

Beatrice always has to hold one of her stuffed animals when I swing her. She'll then stand up straight and I pick her up in my arms. Mercy me, she's a big girl now, being in the 95th percentile of height and weight for her age, so I really have to be careful for me.

The swinging commences, more of a simple swaying in my arms as I count.

"One...what's after one?" I ask, in synch with the sway.

"Two," Bea answers. Sway.

"Two...what's after two?" Sway.

"Three." Sway.

"Three...what's after three?" Sway.


Sway. Launch. Land on the bed.

The answer is always different on four, whatever's top of mind for either of them, an outlet to get the sillies out. After Bea, Bryce gets her swing, and it's like picking up a feather compared to Bea. Bryce is on the other end of the developmental scale. She's quite healthy, just much more of a light sprite.

After launching them both on their respective beds, Mama takes over and tucks them in and wraps up bedtime. I go downstairs and am left to my own devices, literally and figuratively, sometimes working or reading, sometimes playing on Facebook. But sometimes the physics around me manifest into physical spirals, swirls and sways, and time circles back on itself.

Beatrice's birthday is two days away. Bryce's was last month. I reminisce their birth stories, Beatrice's being much more dramatic than Bryce's, but I remember the first time I held each girl in my arms, the sway and the coo. The feeling that this is the very beginning of time, their time, and in those moments nothing could steal that away. I remember gently handing each girl back to the Mama (no launching yet) and thinking, What a difference a life makes.

They're still young. I'm not getting any younger. I wonder about the sway of the next 30 years...

Time circles back again and it's last month three years ago. My dad is dying of stage 3 melanoma. He decides he no longer wants experimental chemotherapy and we bring in hospice. In less than one week he goes from lucid levity and walking on his own to being unable to talk or walk. His body weight has dropped dramatically and it's now only a matter of time. It always is.

He points weakly to the bathroom. I know he has to go so I put his left arm around my neck and walk-carry him to the bathroom.





The first few feet are fine and all I can think about is how he's let himself be helped in this way, how he's surrendered to his failed body, to his son, to his God. The peace he's made with it all, it now spirals, swirls and sways around us as we finally reach the bathroom. He looks at me and smiles weakly. We're both exhausted. What a difference 10 feet makes. Two days later he was gone.

Time circles back again. We're still young. I can still swing my girls every night and launch them into slumberland. The Mama still takes over and tucks them in.

Three...what's after three?

Whatever we want it to B.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Put On The Frickin' Socks And Let's Play Ball

Enough about the frickin' socks already.

During the first practice, she didn't have any over her shin guards, because we didn't have any socks big enough to pull over them. And I hadn't even thought about that, yet. I had noticed that she wasn't the only girl on the team without socks, but most of the other 12 players had socks pulled up over their shin guards.

After posting one of her pictures featuring her sockless shin guards for my loving and supportive friends on Facebook -- the chiding comments rolled right off their fingertips.

Where are her socks? She needs socks!

Do you even know how to play soccer?

Where are her hair ribbons? Don't forget the hair ribbons!


Of course they were just giving me a bad time, as my friends of old have always done, but the sock saga was far from over. I told the Mama that Beatrice needed socks, which was met with a simple yet loving denial:

"No she doesn't. She'll be fine. Who else had socks? She doesn't need socks."


Two months earlier, while both Bea and Bryce were in a weekly soccer clinic, Bea decided she wanted to keep playing soccer with her friends. At first she really wanted to play on a boys' team, like the Amanda Whurlizer tomboy she is, but then accepted the fact it would be an all girls' team and was just as excited when she learned of other friends playing U8 soccer.

That's when the Mama reminded me that the Santa Cruz City Youth Soccer Club (SCCYSC) needed coaches and other volunteers for this year's fall season. At first I thought I'd just volunteer and be an assistant coach. Yes, that might be fun. I hadn't played soccer since junior high school, but it should still be fun.

So I signed up, being specifically clear that I wanted to be an assistant coach because I hadn't played for, well, decades.

Coaches' night came quick and it was time to go get the team information and some of the equipment. I opened up our team packet and the hallowed designation shone brightly bringing tears, like looking into the sun no matter how many times you were told not to.

Head Coach: Kevin

Holy moly. My eyes burned. Now what? Orientation flew by that night and all I could hear was the sound of my own voice:

What are you doing?

You know what? I'm gonna be a coach. Yep, that's what. Why not go for it? I mean, even years before having the girls I wanted to coach at some point. And when we decided to have kids, I vowed that boys or girls, I'd be involved in whatever sport they wanted to play, if any.

I have such fond memories of playing sports as a child and throughout junior high and high school with many a great coach in my past. Coaches who wanted me to learn new skills and to safe play and teamwork and leadership and to aspire to greatness, no matter my level of play.

And yes, unfortunately as I got older and the play more competitive, coaches who wanted the team to win, win, win, so there's that, but I'm good with that. But when I played (American) football, my sport of choice back in the day, we had a banner hanging in the coaches' office with a phrase familiar to many a player over the years:

T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Achieves More.


During our first T.E.A.M. meeting, our players voted on a team name and the big winner is: The Flying Hamsters. Right on, Sisters. And two other dads stepped up to be assistant coaches and help me make a difference in these players' lives. Appropriately our sponsor is the global organization Kidpower, empowering kids, teens and adults one safety and confidence skill at a time.

We look forward to practicing soccer fundamentals and teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level their girls are at. That's why everyone will always get a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season. A big plus is that we have really involved parents that feel the same way. Even if we have a few Buttermaker moments, we'll push on positively.

T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Achieves More.

Even though we're not "keeping score," we just played our first game -- and we won! Yes, this is non-competitive play, but we won! Yes, we're teaching the team soccer skills and teamwork and leadership skills, but we won!

By the way, did I tell you that we won? Well done team! What a great first game. Wow, what a powerhouse team we have.

#GirlPower and #BhivePower indeed.

The sock epilogue: When we got our uniforms we were thrilled, but then the purple socks seemed really big, and some of the parents including the Mama pointed that out to me. That maybe they were too big and we should ask the league to exchange them. And so I did that, but that it would be a no-go on exchanging the socks, that we had to make do. 

Because they're supposed to be big to cover the shin guards. Sigh. 

Put on the frickin' socks and let's play ball, girls. Or whatever you say in soccer. 

No hair ribbons needed. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Heart Ached For Her, For Me, For Us

“Drowning in the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown.” —Fleetwood Mac, Sara

I knew. I saw it on her haunted face and my heart ached for her, witnessing that catatonic anguish of being unable to answer. If I could've ran a black light over her, I would've seen the phosphorescent green glow of growing anxiety.

We kept asking her why school bothered her and she just stared at the TV without answering. My own sick feeling returned of when and how I used to respond, or not respond, when stressed out about something, an infected phantom limb that burned with fever.

After a few minutes on FaceTime I had to go. I was out of town on business, so I imagined what I couldn't see from that point on: the Mama getting the girls ready for school, or trying to, and then Beatrice saying she still didn't feel well and couldn't go to school.

The Mama, Amy, kept at it -- the going to school routine -- but Beatrice refused and started to cry. That's when the green glow of anxiety erupted into the real world; she threw up and cried and cried saying over and over she wasn't going to school. Amy struggled to keep their routine together and get both Bryce and upset Bea out the door and off to their respective pre-K and 1st grade classrooms, finally imploring with Bea that it was Bryce's birthday share day at school and they had to get her there.

The anxiety subsided and the day bloomed into a fun and positive one. But again, I didn't know all this was happening after the morning FaceTime call. My anxiety had spiked and my heart hurt for my eldest daughter. My fear unfortunately was validated when I saw the note from Amy to our 1st grade teacher:

Beatrice is feeling better today and will be coming to school. However, she is very upset to the point of tears about it. What I have been able to gather is that she is feeling anxious when she does not know how to do her work. She says some of her work is frustrating. I reminded her that it takes practice to learn new things, like riding her bike, and it may be frustrating at first and just to do her best even if it is not all done.

This of course isn't unusual for children, especially when transitioning into kindergarten, and from kindergarten to 1st grade (and many others in years to come). Bea's teacher's response concurred and assured us this is normal and that Bea had a much better day.

In fact, the teacher had made a class change to move kids into different work stations and change up seats. She wrote us back about Beatrice: She seemed really happy at her new table group and was star of the day today.

What complicates this for us is the fact that, although intellectually Beatrice is on par and even ahead in some respects, she does and will struggle socially, emotionally and with learning due to her earlier auditory processing delays. She's a visual learner who can respond awkwardly in learning situations, especially when there's a lot of verbal instruction.

This means is that Beatrice still has trouble processing the information she hears in the same way as other kids because her ears and brain don't play nice together. That in turn affects the way her brain recognizes and interprets sounds and how she should respond. Comprehension and her ability to respond in kind gets scrambled and I can't imagine how frustrating it is for her, even at this age. We're so thankful to have the support network services that help her learn and adapt accordingly.

But when this all leads to heightened anxiety, it's not about being unwilling to answer -- it's truly about being unable to answer. Because if you've ever been in a pre-panic attack state, the awakening beast within makes it nearly impossible to function. For those who haven't had the displeasure of experiencing them, a panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety and fear of both known and unknown, morphing into seemingly painful but extremely uncomfortable physical manifestations, something I have many uncomfortable memories of as a child, but especially as a teenager and young adult.

I knew. I saw it on her haunted face and my heart ached for her, for me, for us. All we can do is encourage healthy responses to these transitions and do whatever we need to do to support her, and her sister of course, not knowing what Bryce may as well face in the future. We are blessed and hope to buoy them in their seas to come.

My girls are my muses, the poetic realizations of my life's path prior to having them, prior to falling in love with their mother, prior to swimming comfortably with my own phantom limbs.

“…you're the poet in my heart — never change, and don't you ever stop…”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where The Heart Longs To Be


The Mama called downstairs right after I heard the coughing, and I knew what it meant. I knew even before she called out for me what was happening. One of the girls was sick and throwing up. I reached their bedroom and sure enough it was Beatrice.

"Poor baby," I said.

The Mama consoled Bea and took her to the girls' bathroom. I immediately stripped her bedding and hauled it quickly it to our bathroom to rinse off, consciously closing off my nose to prevent that ever-present gag reflex. Of course we love our children, but nobody likes to be close to the vomit.

We got her cleaned up and mouth rinsed and back to bed while Bryce bounced off the walls. Bea's always an-early-to-bed great sleeper. Bryce is not. But on the other end Bea get's up even earlier than me now that school has started, at or right after 5 a.m., and Bryce gets up much later, around 6:30 a.m.

For now and at least the next few years they'll share a room, which has worked out fine to date, even with the growing differentiation of sleep patterns. They sleep snuggly in their own beds, safe and sound, surrounded by dozens of their favorite stuff animals, while we sleep comfortably in our own room down the hall.

All in the safety and security of our own little locked up home.

When we bought our house, we weren't going to have children. Less than two years later we thankfully changed our minds. The night before Bea got sick above, I had finished watering our backyard, something we only do sparingly these days because of the drought. When I came back inside I gazed out our kitchen window.

"I love our little house," I told the Mama. "We raised our babies here. We put that little backyard together ourselves."

"Yes, me too," she said.

I reminisced bittersweet. We made it through the lean times and I learned a lot about the rock bottom perspective. We held onto our house when so many lost theirs during the great recession (although some economists would argue we should've let ours go).

But something kept nagging at me, like when you're trying to forget something you never wanted to remember in the first place, but it's always right there in the peripheral of your frontal lobe.

The NPR article -- that's what it was. The one about homeless families in San Bernardino, CA and the fact that California ranks third in the U.S. — behind only Kentucky and New York — in the percentage of children who don't have a home, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. (Read more about the things you never wanted to remember via the Los Angeles Times staff writer Joe Mozingo's series San Bernardino: Broken City.)

There are about 2.5 million children who experience homelessness in the U.S., which represents about one in every 30 children. And it should come as no surprise, but again according to The National Center on Family Homelessness at American Institutes for Research:

Research shows that homeless children are hungry and sick more often. They wonder if they will have a roof over their heads at night and what will happen to their families. Many homeless children struggle in school, missing days, repeating grades, and drop out entirely. Up to 25% of homeless pre-school children have mental health problems requiring clinical evaluation; this increases to 40% among homeless school-age children.

The impacts of homelessness on the children, especially young children, may lead to changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, emotional self-regulation, cognitive skills, and social relationships. The unrelenting stress experienced by the parents may contribute to residential instability, unemployment, ineffective parenting, and poor health.

If you're familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, safety and security are the second tier of the pyramid, ahead of physiological needs (food and water). Unfortunately issues like homelessness are so emotionally and politically charged that no one cares about hierarchies of the many needs. This makes it difficult to shine a light on the fact that there are solutions that really do make a difference, including safe and affordable housing as well as education and employment opportunities for parents.

I'm also not suggesting we would've been on the street or in a shelter or motel if we would have lost our house. We were fortunate and still had resources, employment and a family support system. But my heart goes out to the millions of homeless children and families in this country (and throughout the world), thousands of whom are in Santa Cruz County, for whatever reason they lost theirs.

Pointing fingers at those less fortunate and saying it's their fault because they're homeless is not a solution, especially for the children.

Bea just started 1st grade and Bryce has one more year of preschool, and for them, home is where the heart is -- and they still have years to be a kid. But for those without, a loving safe haven is where the heart longs to be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

We Still Have Years To Be A Kid

That's when they made the canary sing like a potty mouth. A dozen sweet little girls dressed like princesses, fairies and kiddie hip hop gangstas bouncing off our walls, laughing crazily and screaming at the top of their lungs, all because of a two simple yet somewhat taboo words for little kids:

Poop and pee.

The canary, a little technological joy that chirps happy birdie songs and also repeats whatever is spoken to it, was actually a Christmas gift for Bryce last year. How fun it was and is to have it repeat poop and pee and even a few frickin' this and frickin' that for good measure (no thanks to me).

So of course it was the perfect party companion for Bryce's big 5th birthday Barbie bash extravaganza.

The rite-of-passage potty talk had actually started downstairs between Beatrice, Bryce and one of the other girls. The grownups were catching up with one another and commiserating over having laughing and screaming kids in the first place.

"Take the potty talk upstairs," said one of girl's mom, and the girls were gone, with most of the others following closely behind.

"Daddy, go upstairs and watch them," said the Mama.

Slowly I climbed the stairs. The bedroom door slammed shut and startled me, but the dissonant howls still escalated to a fervorous crescendo.

I made it to the doorway, opened the door and there they were -- manhandling the poor little bird, forcing it to say "poo-poo and pee-pee" over and over again in various iterations and kiddie dialects.

Thank goodness I was drinking wine. Some of the other little girls watched the potty talk in horror as if the tainted mantra would open up a dimensional doorway to hell. They looked to me empathically for intervention.

"Girls, keep your voices down and please keep the door open," I said, and then I went back downstairs.

My work here is done, I thought.

Hours later after everyone was gone and we were getting the girls to bed, Beatrice made a magical observation.

"We're not going to be grownups for a long time. We still have years to be a kid."

Frickin'-A, baby. Frickin'-A.