Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Why the Betta Splendens Is Splendid

And there it is. Their first pet. A Siamese fighting fish. Which is more commonly known as the betta (Betta splendens).

Which is actually quite an invasive species and an aggressive one at that. Invasive and aggressive like our little Bryce, the tipping point in this first pet equation. For nearly the past year, both girls have been pitching for a real live pet, but Bryce has doubled-down on the request (with Beatrice backing her), and got the Mama to cave negotiate a pet start date when Bryce turned five later this year.

That's when the Mama started researching various low-maintenance pets (dogs and cats being years away), ones that could be kept in the house and that the girls maybe could help take care of. I say maybe because, at 4 and 6, it's not really an inherent priority to take care of another living thing behind day one so it stays alive. So the hamsters and guinea pigs sounded like a good idea until they didn't. (And daddy couldn't even get the Sea-Monkey experiment to last more than a day.)

But can they care for pretend things? Absolutely. The girls are really good at that. And we've got a billion stuffed animals, baby dolls, and little figurine collections that both girls have practiced on. But again, that's not really taking care of a live animal, only make-believe playing and sometimes pretending to care for and mend the owies and the boo-boos.

And then throwing them at each other or across the room. And then smothering them under blankets and pillows. And then dunking them in the water during bath time. And then...

For those of you who grew up on farms and dairies, and whose kids are now growing up on farms and dairies, I'm sure you and they learned early on how to take care of animals of all shapes, sizes and utilities.

But for the rest of us, it's a lot of work to care for pets -- in addition to the children. I'm sure that pets bring joy and obviously learning moments for the kids, but again, a lot of work for the adults in the room.

Bryce was relentless, so last year we got her one of those cheap robot dogs (the ones with the remote control cord attached) to play with, which she loved. And for Christmas last year we got her the annoying mechanical birdie that sings and records the girls' own voiceovers (the favorite extremes being either "I love you" or "you are poop and pee").

At some point between Christmas and now the pet start date got moved up with secret negotiations escalating without my knowledge (or the fact that I just blocked it out). Suddenly there was a small aquarium set up and a pretty fish swimming in it.

Betta splendens -- I kinda like that. And it's splendid that we don't have to pick poop up in the yard or from a cage for now.

And you can read to them. Who knew?

His name you ask? Well, it's Jumpy Tree Summer. Lovely, isn't it?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Back on the Bull Like They Own the Beast

"Are those the good people?"

I don't even remember what Beatrice and I were watching, but it was age-appropriate and her question was a good one.

"Yes, they are."

"Why are they doing that to the other people?"

I opened my mouth and hesitated. Because they're the bad guys, I thought. But was that really the right answer? The bad guys actually included some girls, too. Plus, the word bad is so subjectively loaded that, even for a six-year-old, I would end up simply over-simplifying it and stereotyping it. 

For example, the world is much more complicated than that: Was it bad that if I had no other affinity or closeness with other family or friends, homeless and starving, and only a terrorist faction comforted me, providing food, a safe haven and security while systematically convincing me, a young girl, that those people over there were the real bad ones? And then shortly thereafter shooting those people right on the street, or even in their own homes? Or strapping wired explosives to my body to blow myself up in the local bazaar, or the neighborhood church, or an abortion clinic, or whatever. 

Well, was it bad? It's not good or right, but bad?

But I said it anyway, because she is only six. "Because they're the bad guys, and the good ones are stopping them."

"Stopping them why?"

From doing bad things. "From hurting the good people. Most people are good in this world, Beatrice. But there are some people who just want to take things from others and hurt them because they're really unhappy or angry or believe they're doing the right thing, and will do whatever they have to do to get what they want."

Wait, what? I didn't expect this impromptu and dichotomous sociological questioning in that moment watching a children's show, although I shouldn't have been surprised either, since Beatrice's awareness and insight have been expanding dramatically. 

I quickly added, "Sometimes good people do bad things when they're angry or sad or believe in something that's not quite right, and then sometimes are very sorry about it."

Silence. Then, "Oh, okay." And we were back to watching the show.

Not sure where all my babbling went with her. Of course we've had and continue to have the stranger-danger talks with both girls, and it's not okay to bully or be bullied talks, and the stay where I can see you talks, and the who can be in the bathroom with you talks, and the who can help you get dressed talks, and the how do you dial 9-1-1 talks, and the what is your address and phone number talks, and what to do if you get separated from us talks. All of the above and more.

However, the world is becoming more peaceful, believe it or not. Unfortunately media messiahs prey on our fears daily, skewing our world views. I've read multiple accounts the past few years of parents today remembering yesterday when they were children and ran around outside, without parental supervision, and walked, rode bikes or took city transit to school and back again. My sister and I did. Now many of us no longer let our children do the same, especially if we don't have to.

I'm not suggesting there aren't bullies, bad guys and girls out there still, because there are. Even with tethers intact, the Mama and I are teaching our girls to be bold yet aware, to protect themselves but not live in fear, to keep getting back on the bull like they own the beast, horns held tightly in hands.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

So Due For Some Afternoon Delight

For some reason the Valentine assembly line on the table made me think of Rosie the Riveter, except it was Mama the Pragmagical Maker, investing hours in putting together the girls' Valentines for school. Beatrice helped more with hers, writing her classmate names on each small paper heart, but Bryce's efforts were short-attention-span-theater lived, wanting instead to invest in other forms of Bryce-craft, making unicorns or interactive monkey houses.

I watched the Mama in fleeting moments throughout my busy work week -- and there she was putting tiny candy hearts in bags and sealing Valentines with red sticker hearts, complaining lovingly of the time invested and that next year she was not going to make such a production out of it, but I knew she would do it again and again and again...

...and then you go back in the way back day when you handed your Valentine's Day goodies out to your friends, and super excited to get yours, with "Be My Valentine" and "Sweetheart" and "You Are Too Cute" written all over the cards and candies and tiny gift bags... years later in high school when you asked that super cute girl to the Valentine's Dance and she said yes and you danced close for the first time, so wonderfully and uncomfortably close, while your internal negotiations of whether you'd kiss her to not raged on... years later in college and beyond experiencing torrid love and heartbreak and making mistakes that you promised yourself you'd never, ever make again... years later one day at the beach and the buzz of the long run with kids and work and bills and family tragedies and drama and one thing after another that leaves you beat up and tired with a libido ground down to sand washed away yet again for another night... the now of early morning when you wake up and imagine your wife as Princess Leia in the gold bikini thing in Return of the Jedi, except she's actually still Rosie the Riveter, or more like, Leia the Riveter, and then you find an off-centered picture of her the Bryce-crafter took and your heart beats fast because she's your super hot wife and you love her and miss her and...

We are so due for some afternoon delight. Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetie. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Grateful for #GirlPower

We gathered around one the project tables, parents and other community volunteers, to listen to the science fair organizer.

"So, I hope you're all comfortable judging children," he said.

A father next to me answered, "Sure, I do it everyday at home."

Rim shot. Laughter. I said to him, "Now that's a shareable sentiment. May I?"

"Certainly," he said.

Good times. The science fair organizer finished explaining the judging rules and we were off. It was my first time volunteering for such an event where our daughters go to school. Neither of my daughters participated this time, Beatrice being in kindergarten and Bryce still in pre-K at Westlake Elementary (Go Wildcats!), but maybe in a few years they'll enter. Fourth graders are actually required to develop and enter a science fair project.

The science fair had about 140 entries in total and the 30 judges were broken up into subsets. I had about 12 entries to review and judge across a variety of criteria including interviewing each of the project creators. Some of them included two kids working together, but most were individual contributors.

It was obvious the level of insight and scientific inquiry (regardless of how much their parents helped, and we know we will) versus those that just had to finish one. With the exception of one extremely shy boy who could barely answer my questions, I was able to draw the other kids out, to get them to expound enthusiastically as to why they did what they did and what they would've done differently.

Fascinating and fun for sure -- from cat paws to potato batteries to Hot Wheels speed to catapults to lava rock and soil growth to how light affects fruit flies.

That last one? Well, it was brilliant, at least out of the 12 that I reviewed, and I recommended on the evaluation form that she go to the county competition as well. The girl is a fourth grader and told me that one day she watched her dad pull an old light down from the garage that was full of bugs and asked, "Why were so many bugs attracted to that light and not others?"

Yes, it was "she" who asked. As I interviewed her it was clear how invested she was in this project, from her early hypothesis to final conclusions, of which negated her hypothesis -- she was wrong. But what won me over is that she got that point, and all that she learned from this "trial and error" experience would be applied to the next time, and then the time after that. She honestly embraced failure as part of the process, and that to me won high marks.

This is the scientific method of inquiry not enough of us aspire to. Even if our daughters don't go down this path by choice, we certainly want to encourage them and ensure this path has a welcome wagon. That may prove difficult, however, since the number of women in science and technology are on the decline.

According to “What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?” from the National Center for Women & Information Technology, The IT labor force demand is growing, yet women’s participation is decreasing. In 1996, women made up 37% of the U.S. IT workforce; by 2010, they made up 25%.

And according to a Wall Street Journal article, in Silicon Valley, which includes Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and adjacent parts of San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Cruz counties (where we live). (And of course San Francisco is factored into some data because of the city’s quickly expanding tech sector.):

"For workers with bachelor’s degrees, median income for men was 61% higher than for women in Silicon Valley – for a difference of $34,233. That gap is growing, and compares with 48 percent in the United States as a whole."

Ouch. And as I referenced last year, although women 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).

With all the microscopes out showing how minimal the diversity impact is in tech today, especially in our neck of the woods, it's no surprise that Facebook and LinkedIn launched a collaborative mentoring and support initiative that will encourage more women to explore engineering and computer science.

That's a good thing, because the news announcement stated that, "Fifteen percent of Facebook's employees working in tech jobs and 31 percent of all employees are women, according to diversity figures the company released last year. At LinkedIn, women comprise 17 percent of its tech employees and 39 percent of employees overall. Most Silicon Valley companies have similar demographics."

Both Beatrice and Bryce -- the B-hive as we call them -- are quite imaginative and love to draw, design and build things, to solve problems and draw positive conclusions about the world around them. This is the golden age of childhood and universal awareness, and dammit, if I could somehow capture this awakened essence I'd inject it into every single one of us.

Me first, of course. Then the Mama (my lovely wife). Then the rest of you. In that order.

I jest, yes, but the good news is that many of us still have some of that essence and it helps us "work" toward making the world a better place, both men and women alike (why I'm thankful for my colleagues at PeopleFluent and my collaborators at the TalentCulture #TChat Show).

Plus, the “What Is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?” report shared many instances of how women positively impact business including the fact "that teams’ collective intelligence rose with the number of women in the group, possibly because of the women’s higher performance on tasks that required social sensitivity."

So, I'm certainly grateful for #GirlPower. More B-hive buzz, please.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Imagine One of Your Own Making the 911 Call

All I have to do is imagine one of our girls making the 911 call, and I'm gripped with anger, fear and the memories of my own childhood.

Today is Superbowl XLIX and the NFL will air a very important PSA by about domestic violence. Considering how the NFL commissioner was criticized for his lack of enforcement and investigation into player’s domestic violence charges and arrests, these types of campaigns are powerful, but also way overdue. Plus, there are the players themselves who have participated in anti-violence campaigns.

But on a game day where possibly over 150 million will be watching, I'll take it.

Now imagine one of your own making the 911 call. Please talk with your children about healthy relationships, consent and violence.

"No more, 'it's just the way it is.'"



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why the Wheels on the Bus Are Empathic

Let's take the city bus!

Granted, it's not glamorous global travel, to see the world through the eyes of locals from other cultures, but then again...

The Mama and Beatrice have already taken the Santa Cruz city bus around town, but have not as a family. I know, I know -- we drive all over town and don't usually use alternate forms of transportation, including walking, all of which are better for the environment (and the pocketbook, even with gas prices dipping like they've done).

We actually do walk a lot in and around our neighborhoods, especially back and forth to Natural Bridges State Park, and even sometimes to the girls' school. We're not a bicycling family, but we are a walking and hiking family, and we proudly push the girls to partake wherever and whenever we go.

The caveat to the "push" is that we literally have to push them in the sit-and-stand stroller still once in a while, Bryce especially, and the second year at Disney was no exception. But hey, we're still getting out and going, going, going!

We've been doing that with the girls since a very early age -- planes, trains and automobiles -- to various locales near and far in the states. No where international yet, but definitely on our travel radar.

The Mama shared a great Atlantic article titled Traveling Teaches Students in a Way Schools Can't and this quote really sticks with me:

It’s a very powerful Eureka! moment when you’re traveling: to realize that people don’t have the American dream. They’ve got their own dream. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing.

Indeed it is. The Mama introduced this good thing to me when we met and we've never looked back. But this quote's just as applicable inside America than out, which is why we want the girls to be comfortable and confident going anywhere, meeting new people, embracing new experiences across the spectrum of life (good and bad, but preferably not life-threatening), and learning a humane cultural awareness, empathy and perseverance to carry them through the good times and the bad (thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

So we took the city bus downtown to eat breakfast, riding along with locals, hipsters and UCSC students, and then we walked (and pushed) back home nearly three miles. A bit much, but worth the extra "umph" for me and the Mama. Plus, we stopped at parks along the way home for the girls to play, play, play.

Right on. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Be Coming Next And What Becoming's Like

We smuggled the girls into the boat. More accurately -- we smuggled their fears into the boat. We knew the journey wasn't for the faint of heart, but it's an experience we wanted to share as a family. We left under the faux of night, fireflies pierced the darkness around us as the river carried us towards underground caverns that eventually led to the open sea. We passed a ramshackle river shack with an old man rocking slowly on his porch. He didn't say a word, just watched us float on by.

We'd debated it off and on all morning, whether or not we should make them take the journey into pirate infested waters and the visceral booty beyond. We knew it might be quite overwhelming for them, maybe leaving a mental scar or two, and yet we figured it was time to take the trip from our port of call to New Orleans to the Caribbean and back again.

To Anaheim, that is.

"There will be a few drops down the river, girls," the Mama told Beatrice and Bryce. "But only a few."

Bea huddled closely to me in the boat and pressed her ear muffs tightly to her ears.

"When's it going to be over?" she asked, before we even got to the first fall.

Although Bryce wore her ear muffs as well, she sat up straight and took it all in, a huge smile lighting up the darkness.

After the boat trip was over, "yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me" still ringing in our ears, Bea was happy to be done with it.

"What did you think?" we asked.

"It was a little scary, but maybe we can go on again next year," Bea said.

"Did you like it, Bryce?"


And so ended the first B-hive family ride through the Pirates of the Caribbean. Mercy, what a difference a year makes. Last year we took the girls for the first time to Disneyland and we definitely thought that was a win. But this year? Wow. Much bigger win.

Disneyland really isn't for the faint of heart (or easy on the pocketbook), especially when you have children easily startled and especially sensitive to auditory and visual stimuli. Lots and lots of auditory and visual stimuli. And lots and lots of people. Tens of thousands every day, and those are the slow days.

But the girls stepped up their game this year, that's for sure, experiencing exponentially more than the last. And that meant that the Mama and Daddy had to step up their "endurance" game as well. Even with the stimuli and the crowds, their collective imaginations negated any and all adulthood demons projected along their paths. Instead, they looked ahead with brave anticipation on wanting to know what be coming next and what becoming's like, willing to take risks for the greater good of personal discovery and confidence building. That's something the Mama and I really want them to embrace now and never let go of.

And to see their very souls light up with sheer joy when they met their favorite characters, especially those super-charged with positive girl power, and especially the sisters Elsa and Anna from Frozen, that made every moment the most happiest place on earth.