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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where The Heart Longs To Be

"Kevin!"

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.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Scorched Perspective

They stood on overpasses holding American flags and painted banners and signs. We couldn't read the signs as they were facing westbound traffic on Highway 50, out of the Sierra Nevada mountains and into the Central Valley, and we were heading east toward Lake Tahoe.

The Mama got online with her phone and looked for a news reference to the flags and banners. Then she found something about honoring a firefighter killed by a tree battling one of the many blazes burning throughout California

That's when the procession of local firetrucks and CDF firetrucks streamed past us on the left as we drove beyond Placerville. We grieved audibly explaining to the girls there were lots of fires burning that were dangerous to everyone including the fire fighting men and women trying to put them out.

The Golden State is a tinderbox, more so than usual due to the five-year drought and the increasingly hotter annual temperatures. There are currently well over a dozen fires burning in California, both in Southern and Northern California. 

At the same time state water tables and aquifers are low getting lower and lower. Lake Tahoe was visibly lower to us, and we experienced the difference as well as we waded way out along the South Shore beach where we stay. The water level that only last year hit our chests was barely above our knees, this being the 6th largest U.S. natural lake and the second deepest. Little if any snow collected along the Sierras this last winter, and even if the projected Godzilla El Nino (who comes up with these names) hits this coming winter, it will only be a brief reprieve from probable longer spells of dry, hot weather in the West.

The entire state of California has been on mandatory statewide water restrictions for residential and business properties since January 2014 with one exception -- groundwater for agriculture. In fact, California is the only state in the nation that has never regulated groundwater. Ever. Farmers in the Great Valley are for the most part free to pump as much water as they want and they don't have to really track it.

I grew up in the Central Valley in Visalia and was actually shocked to learn that parts of Porterville, a town near Visalia and where my dad was from, have run out of well water. You actually have to go to the fire station to receive bottled water so you can survive. Your hygienic needs must also be met in church parking lots where makeshift sinks and showers are set up. Can you imagine that in 110 degree heat?

For a state that is economically thriving, this seems to be madness to me, the part where some communities are beginning to actually run out of water while many farmers are receiving investment money to drill deep and deeper into the California water table and suck it dry for profitable cash crops that are only profitable because of the drought. 

I'm all for capitalism, but c'mon. We continue to be our own worst enemy when it comes to compromising basic necessities for a quick bottom line.

I get the fact that may take hundreds or even thousands of years for natural climate change, and the man-made short-term destructive nature, to force the West Coast population to live elsewhere, but mercy me this is scary. We've done our part locally in Santa Cruz to cut back on water usage and continue to be well under our allotment. There's a lot more we could do as a state and the privatization and further regulation of water in California could be a good start.

When we hiked above Emerald Bay in Tahoe, one of the many natural wonders we've been grateful to visit more than once, I couldn't help but wonder what might come of this lake and all of California someday. Would it all be a desert? Would we experience another ice age? Would the state burn up in massive fires? The span of geological time is unrelenting in its slow wake, and our current generations of human progress and memory will wash away like the fossilized ash of those before us.

No matter how resilient we are in California, and how much water most of us are saving, the scarcity of life-giving resources leaves a scorched perspective on both near-term and long-term survival. We could all use a little #BhivePower and positive hive mind mentality at this point.




Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Bhive-Sized Group Hug Cry

They hadn't noticed the tears already leaking out the corners of both my eyes. I kept wiping them away quickly, not because I was ashamed for crying, but because I worried it would make them upset.

The Mama was away at a Kidpower workshop and Daddy was in charge. The girls and I already had a happy afternoon of pizza and ice cream and then we came home to watch the animated movie Home, a story about friendship and looking out for the friends and family you love.

This of course was an unrealistic wish, for them to not see me cry, since both girls are older now and more aware of themselves and the world around them, their level of empathy awakened forever. And the fact that they've already seen Daddy cry many times. Thank goodness for this, both seeing Daddy cry and their awakened empathy. And although they're still young, the Mama and I have nurtured their emotional intelligence since the first glimpse of their empathic differentiation.

I am a proud, self-admitted cryer. Happy or sad, my tears have flowed freely from my earliest memories. I still remember quite vividly my 4th grade teacher Mr. Tapilaris reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class, the story of a boy and his dogs. The year before my parents had gotten divorced and my beloved Australian Shepard at the time, Poco was her name, went to live with my soon to be estranged birth father.

But I never was teased much if at all about being a cryer. That's always struck me as odd growing up being a boy and not being teased for being a girlie-girl or a sissy or a cry-baby. It was just never a thing for me, my immediate friends or family or others who knew me, so from the outsiders' perspective, it wasn't a thing for them either.

So the Mama and I don't want it to be a thing for Beatrice or Bryce growing up either. We want them to be comfortable of their own emotional responses to those they come in contact with throughout their lives and the world at large. The Mama is not a cryer like I am, although I've seen her cry. We tease each other about our respective crying thresholds, but it's always about embracing what makes up our whole selves and why we love each other.

Bryce is like me this way, the intense deep feeler who's up and down and up and down and all heart smeared all over her sleeves and every other inch of her, light years from impulse control. Even when I finally overcame the impulse drive, I still cry at almost anything laced with happy or sad.

Up until quite recently we thought Bea was more like the Mama as well. However, after I had already been crying during the movie Home, I looked over at Bea sitting on our couch and she had her new signature crying face queued up -- both sets of fingers shoved into her mouth as if she were trying to stop herself from throwing up. Then the tears welled and flowed freely. That was then the catalyst for Bryce to start crying, and in a New York minute all three of us were crying.

Channeling the Mama, I did take the time to discuss why the girls (and me) were feeling what they were feeling. I'm proud to be empathically balanced Big Daddy Girl and don't think of it as a derogatory label, at least not in the context of a Bhive-sized group hug cry.

You feel me?

Friday, July 31, 2015

To Never Be 9

And then late last Sunday afternoon, July 26, she disappeared.

The search ensued with hundreds of locals fanning out for miles with law enforcement. My wife helped to post flyers. The Santa Cruz community banded together and held their collective breath. I was on a flight to Boston, not knowing yet what had happened.

Monday morning came and went. I learned the news and commiserated with my wife. I hoped and prayed they'd find her. Hours ticked by. The FBI was called in. Monday evening came earlier for me being in the east and I went to bed.

That's when they found her dead in a recycling bin around 7:55 pm PT. I read the news the next morning, Tuesday. Sadness, helplessness then rage coursed through me. The 8-year-old knew her killer, already in custody, although how well is unclear. He's a 15-year-old boy who lived in her apartment complex, not two miles away from where we live. He had kidnapped her, beat her badly, raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a recycling bin.

Tuesday morning I sat in disbelief and sent my wife a Facebook message:

"Sweetie, they found Maddy. I'm so sad and all I want to do is hold our girls and I'm 3,000 miles away. Love you."

I had to wait a few hours because it was only 5:30 am ET. I cried. I longed for my family, but had to work the rest of the week on the East Coast. I cursed the monster who did this, wishing him an equally horrible and painful death. Kill the sonofabitch. I cried a little more.

Sweetie, they found Maddy...

We may tell ourselves we can't imagine such horror, but we can and do. Even with the incidence of stranger child abduction and murder being lower than it's been in decades, when the world spawns a new monster, we imagine he or she is right around the corner.

But none of that matters, not when a child has been killed. It doesn't matter because all you want to do is wall off and protect. It doesn't matter that he'll be tried as an adult or what his background was or the fact that "no one who knew him saw this coming" or how many times it's analyzed until it vanishes under the weight of future "bad news" cycles. Because unfortunately it will happen again and we don't want it to be our family.

All that matters is that Maddy is lost forever. We emphasize and sympathize and thank our deity of choice that our children are safe and we do whatever it takes to ensure that safety.

Later Tuesday morning I asked my wife, "Should we talk with the girls about this?"

"No," she said. "We have to protect them from what we're feeling. Talking with them about what happened will only scare them because they won't understand."

"Okay. Love you."

"I love you too, Sweetie."

Every child's life that's lost to this darkness should be celebrated, regardless of family history, ethnicity, location or socioeconomic background.

In fact, their lives must be celebrated so we as the adults can overcome some of what we're feeling: our fear and our anger and the sadness of not knowing what it's like for our own young children to never be 9. Or 13. Or 21. Or 49.

God bless you and your family, Maddy. We celebrate you and your brothers and sister before you.

What can we say to our own kids if a child is missing in our community? What can we do to keep them safe when they go out into the world on their own? How can we make our community a safer place for everyone?

Read these important recommendations from Kidpower, a Santa Cruz headquartered global nonprofit that teaches people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. 

Kidpower is also offering two free community workshops to learn about "People Safety" skills and how to practice them. 

The first is a Parent-Child Workshop geared toward children ages 5-12 years old with their adults and will be held on August 7th from 3:00-5:30 pm

The second is a Parents and Caregivers Workshop. This is an adult only workshop and will be held on August 7th from 6:00-7:30 pm

These workshops are free thanks to a special grant from Plantronics to support workshops for our Santa Cruz community at this important time. Preregistration is required for both. 

Kidpower was founded here in Santa Cruz over 25 years ago by Irene van der Zande as a nonprofit to teach people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. To enroll in either of these workshops or for more information, please visit our website at www.kidpower.org or e-mail Kidpower at safety@kidpower.org.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

To Be A Man Of Letters

I'm not a purist. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There are those who prefer longhand, sketching stories in pencil or pen on legal pads. Not me. 

No, I can barely read my own printing today. It's progressively gotten worse over the years, especially since I predominated type everything I write and have for decades.

The irony here is the fact that, throughout most of high school, I wanted to be an architect, and my printing was impeccable due to all the drafting courses I took.

But thanks to one typing class my freshman year in high school on an IBM Selectric III, my printing went to hell in a handbasket from then on. 

That's when my grandfather gave me his typewriter, a Remington Noiseless from the 1930's (hence my using the Courier font in this piece). The ribbon was a pain in the butt to manage, but mercy me I loved that typewriter. I typed many a poem, story and class paper on that old machine, and it was the only "word processor" I had my first year in college. Yes, white out was my best friend that year during all my late night typing fests. 

I dug up an interview I did with my grandfather the year after I learned how to type, one that I typed up on the very typewriter he gave me. We talked about the Great Depression and it's fascinating to me now since I've become a self-taught student of economics.

"Well, I [my grandfather speaking here] was 21 years old when the depression began, and my wife was 20. We lived in Bloomington, Indiana. We had gotten married just 6 months before the stock market crashed in 1929. The thing I noticed the most was that banks started closing and closing fast. People were losing money everywhere. People were also losing their homes.

Oh, yes, I remember the stock market crash! Besides losing money and banks closing, I was hearing of people killing themselves. Also, I had a friend that had lost all of his hair besides his money. He ended up separating from his wife and heading for the hills to pan for gold.

Most of the people I knew had lost their jobs. I was lucky. We lived on a farm. But the farm wasn't that good of an income then. I also chopped wood for making railroad ties at $0.10 an hour, 10 hours a day. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it helped a lot."

Ten cents an hour. Wow. Well, the writing for me continued and the typing went from the Remington to a Magnavox Videowriter (remember those?) to an early Apple home computer to a variety of PCs to my MacBook and iPad of today.

A big part of being a writer is reading and I've been fortunate to have such rich access to both. I grew up buried in books, tunneling through character and plot. Words were sustenance for heart and mind. I've always thanked my mother for feeding my primal critical thinking mind by reading to me and encouraging me to read and write. My wife grew up with a voracious appetite for reading as well.

So when the Mama and I had children, of course we planned to ignite our same love of books and story in them, which we've done successfully. The imagination fire in their bellies burns bright and we read every day and every night. 

The Mama takes both girls to the library every week and they bring a big bag of books home each and every time. This summer they've been in the Read to Rhythm program sponsored by the Santa Cruz Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries. And speaking of economics, they're incentivized to read -- the more they read the more "book bucks" they get to spend on yummy treats around town.

Both Beatrice and Bryce are rich storytellers and have been telling them visually through drawing and play-acting (just as we did at a very early age as well). And now that Bea is learning to read and write, her heart lights up with story, which in turn lights up ours. Bryce isn't far behind either, already writing her name and other letters relaying animated visions as if the world were her stage.

I've been fortunate to write regularly with modest success and visibility, to publish a weekly column about empowering a better workplace, and to have published a children's book and a career management business book. My girls and the Mama also inspire me to one day write that great American novel as well, to be a man of letters I've always aspired to be.

Maybe someday...

Just don't ask me to handwrite anything. It would be like trying to read Tolkien Dwarvish runes. Trust me. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Schooled At Schoolhouse Rock

“Interjections 
Show excitement, 
Or emotion. 
They're generally set apart from a sentence
By an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.”

Schoolhouse Rock, Interjections


The staff member stared at me, a slight forced smile on her face betrayed her awkwardness.

"Excuse me, but I'm going to have to stand here and watch you delete it."

An hour earlier the local musical production of Schoolhouse Rock Live! was just about to start and we all simmered with excitement. The girls were a little worried about how loud it would be and had their ear muffs at the ready, but the Mama and me couldn't wait. We grew up on Schoolhouse Rock and had introduced the girls to some of them in the past year, some of their early favorites being "Three Is a Magic Number," "I'm Just a Bill," and "Interplanet Janet."

The announcer began and ran through show preliminaries. We half-listened while waiting for the show to start.

"...and due to copyright laws, flash photography or video recording are not permitted during the production or anywhere inside the theater..."

The first half of the production started and the Mama and I were lost in childhood memories -- waking up early for Saturday morning cartoons and the Schoolhouse Rock shorts in between. Bryce got a little squirmy, but Beatrice enjoyed every song. This production told the story of a teacher getting ready for his first day of school and how his beloved Schoolhouse Rock comes alive in his living room to teach him how to be a better teacher. (We highly recommend it.)

Intermission came and we ate a snack in the lobby and took a bathroom break. Once back inside the theater, we sat down, but then I had the bright idea of taking a picture of the stage and posting it online. We'd already done a #BhivePower selfie and posted it, so being the social big daddy I am, I thought I'd take a quick shot.

As soon as I took the picture of the stage and headed back to my seat, Beatrice called me out.

"Daddy, you're not supposed to take pictures."

"Shhhh...I know. Don't tell anyone."

The people right behind us laughed at Beatrice schooling her father, but no sooner had I started to edit the photo to post, one of the theater staff appeared and looked right at me.

"I'm sorry, but I was told that someone down here was taking pictures down here. Again, photography of any kind isn't allowed in the theater."

"I'm sorry," I admitted. The Mama gave me a "you're caught" look, laughed and shook her head.

The staff member just stared at me. A slight forced smile on her face betrayed her awkwardness. I looked down to break eye contact, already bummed that I was caught. She didn't leave.

"Excuse me, but I'm going to have to stand here and watch you delete it. Sorry."

Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.

Rats.

So there I was, in front of my family, and those other audience members paying attention, deleting the stage photo I took so she could see I actually deleted it.

"Thank you," she said, and was gone.

"Daddy, I told you," Beatrice said.

Schooled at Schoolhouse Rock. The fact that my eldest daughter paid attention and knew what I did was wrong was actually an awkward but proud parenting moment.

B-hive power indeed. So instead, I took a picture of the production poster in the lobby, the rebel I am.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah -- Yay!

Darn, that's the end.