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, August 28, 2016

To Own Their Own First Takes

Life is a series of first runs that we rerun with fragile memory. No matter the amount of fretting and anxious prep, every scene is a first take -- no do overs or over-produced multi-edits -- one take whether we're ready or not.

And most of the time we're not. But that's okay, because this reality show is the realist of them all, and one with script after script of blank pages, where the story appears as we live it, the reappearing ink full of light and shade, color and smell, taste and touch, and plenty of tears and smiles.

The first days of school each year for many children are full apprehension and fear, the pits of stomachs holding fast rabid squirrels bouncing off rubber walls. I remember my first days of kindergarten still to this date, over 45 years ago. And while most of the details have since washed away over time, the feelings I had are still quite vivid: my nervousness, my shyness, the longing for home and my mother who had just dropped me off, and the sheer terror of meeting strange adults and other children I had never met before in my life.

The years to come were filled with less and less fear and a greater social stability, one that I would enjoy well into adulthood, and continue to in my unwritten pages of today. As parents, that's one of the best things we can hope for with our children beyond the security of food and shelter.

The past few years for Beatrice included auditory processing delays and a social angst that hurt our hearts to witness. All we could do was encourage healthy responses to these transitions and do whatever we need to do to support her, and her sister of course, who continues to break stuff while dressed as a princess.

Bryce has no social qualms whatsoever, but her aggressive tendencies (i.e., hitting and kicking) are a work in progress for sure. Bryce still struggles with exotropia as well and the eye doctor still isn't sure she'll need eye surgery in the future or not. Until then her cute little pink glasses with transitional lenses rock our world, just as much as she does.

While always being "on" academically since her preschool days, Beatrice has now blossomed socially and is more comfortable than she's ever been in social situations. She couldn't wait to start second grade. Frothing at the mouth to start, those rabid squirrels driving her onward to new life experiences. She may be more "boyish" than "girlish" at the moment, but that doesn't matter to us because the only moments that do matter are those when she happily adapts and enjoys her scenes.

Bryce made the leap to kindergarten this year, and due to dropping enrollment in our district, she was put into a combined kinder/1st grade classroom. We were a little apprehensive, as was she, but what was perfectly clear on her first day was her reaction sitting at her new desk with her name tag proudly displayed in front of her -- she kissed us each goodbye and sent us on our merry parent way. No crying or fear, just ready to rock her next feature film.

We definitely have the Bridges to Kinder preschool program to thank in helping develop both girls early on. Of course I have the Mama to thank for her tireless parental guidance, Kidpowering and helping me play my best supporting Daddy role.

We know we are blessed and never take for granted our family's pivot points and plot twists, because we want our girls to own their own first takes, regardless the memories replayed again and again, and replayed they will be.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Until the End of Our Time

There we were drifting together on the choppy Big Lake,
lit up in the sun like safety buoys bobbing to and fro,
our youngest dripping wet and cradled quietly in my lap.

Fragrant pine and cool waves crested our floaties over and over
as the Mama pulled us farther out from shore bound together,
the water only knee deep these days due to years of drought.

Beatrice and cousin Braxton shared joyous laughter
while Bryce kissed me on the forehead, shivering.
I teased, "Bryce, I'm scared! Please save me! Save me!"

She giggled, "Daddy, you're big! You're not afraid of anything!"

Her words settled like silt, fathoms deep in my heart,
and in a mere moment a hundred thousand years passed
where they fossilized into layers of a hard time with happy.

You're not afraid of anything!

But I am, Bryce.
Of some things that is.
Not as much as I used to be.
But there are resurgent fears
now that you and your sister are here.

I'm afraid of growing old and of maybe getting sick,
of losing the Mama, your amazing mother, my wife.
I'm afraid you'll lose us like I lost mine
and that maybe we'll lose you both before our time.
I'm afraid you'll be bullied by unforgiving teens
and be hurt by a lifetime of minimized misogyny.
I'm afraid of perpetual ignorance, prejudice and fear,
and the fact that true justice no longer prevails
and in the blink of an eye good people can and do die.
I'm afraid that our economy will tank again
and everything we have will again be at risk
and that you won't have half the opportunities
we've had that were half of what our parents had.
I'm afraid that our democracy might one day fail
and that maybe that day is already here.
I'm afraid there is no God.
And I'm afraid that there is one.
I'm afraid of being accused of something I never did
and of never forgiving others for something they've done
and of always regretting something from near and afar
and of never having the chance to reconcile the lot.

I'm afraid of everything and nothing, Bryce.
It's you and your sister and your mother
who help quell most if not all my fears
and fill me with a hope and a love unending,
and who I will fight for and with
until the very end of time,
or until the end of our time,
or until the end of mine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Live the Effectual Stretch

Experience the great outdoors! Be one with nature! Revitalize your spirit! Live the effectual stretch!

"I want to go camping," said Bryce.

"Yes!" echoed Beatrice.

"Mama doesn't go camping, girls," said Daddy.

"Nope, no camping," said the Mama. "But we can go to Paris."

"That's not camping."

"To some people it is."

"I don't want any parrots," said Beatrice.

"Not parrots -- Paris. Like Paris, France. Ooo, la, la," said Daddy.

"That's where I want to go," said the Mama.

And so it goes. One African safari nearly 20 years ago with one of her best friends and the Mama just can't do the tent camping thing. This was a year after we'd met and I was green-eyed with envy for sure. Of course I wasn't too disappointed when I learned that diarrhea had swept through their camp for a few days challenging the notion of "resetting the mind and spirit." Nothing like a good colonic in the presence of Mount Kilimanjaro to then be confined to your sweltering tent for a few days.

I shouldn't complain, though. Around the same time I had gone on a business trip to Barcelona and Paris (ooo, la, la) and did not get sick. However, I did go out of my way to during a dinner event in Barcelona to run down to the beach, take off my shoes, hike up my pant legs and put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. 

For years as a child, our family went tent camping every summer at Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, south of Yosemite. Real tent camping. Dirty, cold at night, cooking meals over a fire (and a Coleman stove), fishing and hiking and exploring glorious tent camping. One year I had what my Mom called sand crabs on my head. To this day I'm not sure if that's what they were -- or if they were sand fleas, or sand lice -- but whatever they were, I got 'em good. All over my head. Buried deep in my scalp under a blanket of sandy blonde hair. 

There were no medicinal shampoos at the lake store, only turpentine. For those who have never had this very special liquid poured over open wounds on their head, you have no idea how "alive" it makes you feel. To this day I remember how much is stung and throbbed. And how much I cried. But no matter what, it never wiped away the happiness I felt fishing for rainbow trout or exploring a mountainside of granite rocks and all the various Sierra Nevada pines filling me with the amazing scent of adventure. 

Decades later and we're off to another annual trek to Lake Tahoe, the Big Lake as the girls first called it. We're not literally camping per se, but we are hiking and swimming and visiting with family and experiencing the great outdoors in a mountain range over 100 million years old. We did take the girls on a beautiful mountain hike to Eagle Lake, just above Emerald Bay. It's only about 2.5 miles round trip, but that's the most the girls have ever done in any one stretch. And thanks to perennial hiking family members Uncle Brian and Aunt Julie, and the Mama and the Daddy, the experience motivation moved them along.

Research shows that "experiences" are critical to happiness, healthy connections and relationships. In fact, "one study...even showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, once they have the chance to talk about it, their assessment of that experience goes up."

This is why invest in experience for ourselves and for our girls. It's the effectual stretch as I call it -- to push ourselves to learn new ways to see and understand our individual and collective worlds, and to expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in ways that produce desired yet diverse, highly personalized and usually effective results. This could mean the literal extremes of big success or failure, or those incremental leaps and lapses in between that give our daily journeys sustenance for mind, body and spirit

Happiness and healthy connections, kids. That's what I'm talking about. And we impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to embrace experience -- 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. This includes exposing them to travel, new locales and people, experiences that we hope will shape their adult lives and those they interact with for the better.

We may never literally all go camping together, but we're certainly going to treat each new experience like a camp out -- to embrace the wilderness around us and the sky above -- and live the effectual stretch.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Like Men Knowingly Bound to Their Future

There we were on the power walk. Not the When Harry Met Sally Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby overly-animated Central Park stride, but a power walk nonetheless. Moving at a nice four-mile-per-hour clip. Walking and talking along a creek in Chico California about knee surgery, staying in shape and hitting plateaus. We walked and talked, huffed and puffed, my friend Craig and I, and I thought, Wow, we just keep coming back, after all this time.

And for good reason as I've noted before in Men of An Unremarkable Age and Because That's How It Works With The Guys That Work. Being friends for decades isn't unusual, but it's usually more emotionally intimate for women than for men, especially over the long haul.

Usually, but we're an exception to the rule. Every year is like reliving a single point in time that solidified our emotional connections forever; we had all experienced a mutual metaphorical monster that forever challenged our sense of normalcy: one fateful spring day at a swim meet our senior year in high school.

My best friend Robby had wanted to go with a group of us to the coast instead of his swim meet, but we all knew he wouldn't miss his meet for anything. When we returned early that evening, we learned he had broken his neck and crushed his spinal cord on his third false start. We rushed to the hospital to see him, and his mother claimed we were family so we could see him in the ICU the next morning when he was conscious.

Three months later he was brought by ambulance from the hospital rehabilitation center to graduate with our senior class, and I had the honor of pushing him into the football stadium and standing by his side throughout the commencement.

Then five years later he moved to Chico and that's where we've been going to hang out with him ever since. Our mutual circle of friends had grown during high school and beyond, and since has remained more or less intact.

We waxed poetic this year, as we always do, with a sprinkle of family chat, economics, colonoscopies, politics, music and more, and added yet another year upon year that we make it a priority to congregate and elevate our connected spirits. Emotional evolution has looked kindly over us since junior high and high school, although we're not too mature to complete devolve into ranting, cursing, snorting, pig-like beings who flip through old yearbooks and comment, "Did you date her? She was really hot."

It's a controlled setting, though. One that we've sealed off from the rest of the world. One that no longer seeps into the groundwater of our daily lives, or worlds of work, or our families. More like a private swimming hole that only we can find one or two times per year, lost the rest of the year inside our tangle of low-testosterone time.

Our swimming hole is always a little chilly at first, but dive in we do, the hot sun taking off the edge and then we're 16 again. And then we're 18 again. And then we're 21 again. And then we're 30. And that's when we remember saying, "Hey, will we be getting together when we're 50?"

The answer to that is a resounding yes. Because we're here today, men of a certain age, an unremarkable age, who continue to invest in a friendship that’s seen many ups and downs, ins and outs, and others who have come and gone over the years. Men divorced and married, with and without children. Men who have experienced hardship and loss as well as success and enduring love. Men finally comfortable in their own skin and who be friends of years to come.

"Do you think we'll still be getting together when we're 70?" we ask each other.

The answer to that, like men knowingly bound to their future, is another resounding yes.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Levity

Not too long ago I walked along the water and cursed the world. After witnessing major media in all mediums playing and replaying the hateful societal and political rhetoric around us 24/7 -- and then with family, friends and acquaintances echoing it all in person and online -- I just felt done. We were all done. Our goose was cooked. The end had come. Time to pack up your loved ones and move far away from the cynical grid.

Overdramatic per my usual emotive self, but I couldn't help it -- some of you can be so hatefully depraved. And this just from the past six months. I can't imagine what's coming over the next six. 

I gazed out over the ocean in front of me and witnessed a boat moving slowly through the waves. I thought, Like a distant ship grounded in a godless sea. Amen for #‎BhivePower.

BhivePower being the affectionate nickname of our two girls plus the Mama, my wife. The power that keeps me afloat and lit up with optimism.

And then there was this conversation last night after eating out at a local Chinese restaurant:

"Eating spicy sauce can make you pregnant," said Beatrice.

"Yes, I know," said Bryce.

"None for me, thanks," said the Mama.

"Me neither," said Daddy. "Wait, where did you hear that?"

There's nothing like the sweet family funnies, a breath of fresh levity. In the years to come will weigh on our girls and the hateful rhetoric around them will taint even them, no matter the positive affirmations that we hope to instill. They're already picking up all sorts of things from their friends, from the media, music, TV, movies, books and elsewhere, hence the spicy sauce pregnant comment above (which I still have no idea where they got that one).

In the past six months we've had a few of these refreshing breaths, and I'll share some of those with you all below. I hope they bring a smile to your face, one that will remind your of your own sweet family funnies and carry you day by day through the rest of the year and beyond.

"I'm never going to get rid of you," said Beatrice during a family hug.

"What's this music?" Beatrice asked, right after "Teenage Wasteland" by The Who started playing.
"Something you're going to know something about in a few years," I said.
"I like it."

"Daddy, look under there," said Beatrice.
"Under where?"
"He said underwear!" exclaimed Beatrice and Bryce, giggling.

"Can we eat it?" asked Beatrice, talking about a big, live turkey at the zoo.

"What are all those toys doing in the corner?" Daddy asked.
"They're packing for college," answered Beatrice, as a matter of fact.
"Okay. Then why are there toys everywhere?"
"Because they need partners for college."

"Poop, there it is!" sang Bryce, not quite getting it right.

The part where you book your family vacation and your youngest says, "Yes, I can't wait to go there so we can relax." 

"You know, if you left Bryce and me at home, we could do whatever we want."
"You're a funny girl, Bea."
"No, really."

"Winner, winner, chicken dinner!" exclaimed Bryce after winning family bingo.

"Bryce, who you gonna call?"
"Ghost Catchers!"

"Hey, who didn't flush the toilet?!?" Daddy yelled.
"How big is the poop?" asked Beatrice.
"Does it matter?"
"Then it was Bryce."

"Thank you for the Star Wars sticker book, Bryce."
"You're welcome, Daddy."
"Daddy, can I play with the Star Wars sticker book?"
"Yes you can, Bryce."
"Thank you!"
"You're welcome, Bryce."

"Daddy, please turn that down!" exclaimed Beatrice when Daddy turned on the car with AC/DC playing.
"Too loud, Sweetie?"
"You know Daddy likes his rock and roll, Beatrice."
"Do you like rock and roll?"
"Why not?"
"Because it's too loud."

"I want to read this!" exclaimed Bryce, holding up the little white book.
"Nobody wants to read the Bible," said the Mama.
"Heathen," said Daddy. "Bryce, what do you think the book is about?"
"Baby werewolf goes to New York."

"Daddy, why didn't you tell me you were the Mystery Reader today?" asked Beatrice.
"Because then it wouldn't have been a mystery."

"I want to watch Martin Hears a Who again," said Bryce.
"It's Horton," corrected Beatrice.
"I don't know his name, I just want to watch it again!"

"Beatrice, where's your tooth?"
"I left it for the tooth fairy."
"What did you get?" 
"I got a bag with two gold coins."
"Where are they?"
"One's in my bed and one's in Bryce's bed."
"Of course. Bryce, you'll loose some teeth soon enough, you know."
"Well, when I loose my teeth, I'm going to wait until I have three so I can get a big bag of gold coins."

"I am a famous painter!" exclaimed Bryce, wearing a Basque beret and a mascara mustache.
"Where do you get this stuff, Bryce?"
"I learned it in France."

Meanwhile, playing school share day with tiny doll house toys and stuffed animals...
"Let's get ready for share day everyone," said Bryce.
"Think of three clues for your share everyone," said Beatrice.
Daddy started, "Okay, my first clue is --"
"Daddy, you're last!" cried Beatrice.

"Did you like the movie, Bea?" Daddy asked as they left The Good Dinosaur.
"Do you think Daddy cried?"
"Daddy always cries, doesn't he."
"Yes, but that's okay."

"You girls are the bees that buzz," said Daddy proudly.
"And you're the big Queen!" shouted Bryce.

"Unicorns poop rainbows!" exclaimed Bryce. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Jumping Off the Deep End Part

She eyed the family checking out the rope swing. There were only two boys initially willing to insert their feet into the bottom loop, hang on to the upper loops with their hands, and swing wide over the river and back to the beach again. One of them glided knee deep into the water and right back out again with the swinging momentum. The river water was cool but comfortable due to the hot summer day at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Beatrice kept eyeing the boys and then pointed. "Daddy, I want to go on the rope swing."

Bryce stayed busy with her floaty, battling the little rapids of the low river. I thought, Do you really want to go on that, Bea? I don't think you'll do it.

"Are you sure, Sweetie?"

"Yes, I want to try it. I may not go in the water, but I want to try the swing."

I knew it was more about wanting to be a part of the boys' adventure time than the boys themselves (although there is a boy she "likes" from school, which is another Daddy article for another time). And now there were even more boys swinging on the rope and plopping into the deeper part of the calm river. There were still a few others climbing up the cliff on the other side of the river and jumping into it from about 10 to 15 feet up.

"Let's try it out, Beatrice," the Mama said.

"I want to do it too!" Bryce called out.

Well, let's see where this goes.

Bryce has always been the bolder of the two girls, which in turn motivates Beatrice, since she is the big sister in this equation, looking even older because of their disparate physical sizes (nearly 6 and 8 years old now, closer in age than in size). Also all the swimming lessons that led up to our Maui summer adventure had paid off exponentially, with both girls swimming not only in the pools, but also in the sea with plenty of snorkeling as well. We were so happy that they're finally more relaxed in the water, and safer now that they had a basic swimming foundation underneath them. It took Bea a lot longer than Bryce to get there -- and Amen, they're both there now. They won't be surfing Steamer Lane any time soon, but based on their growing confidence and bravery of late in the water (and out), soon may be sooner than later.

I watched my lovely wife walk the girls over to where the rope swing was. Lo and behold, Beatrice let the Mama talk her through it and help her position her right foot and hands into the rope loops without hesitation. I immediately headed their way.

"Wow, look at this. Right on, Beatrice," I said. "Your legs are good, but you need to hold on with big, strong arms, too."

There was no fear on my daughter's face, only determination. Suddenly she was swinging across the river and back again, completely jazzed by this new exhilarating experience. 

"I want to do it again!" she shouted.

Go baby go!

"Great job, Beatrice," the Mama and I said together, let her swing away over the river.

That Bryce, she just barrels into new experiences head first, much more often than her sister. However, this time it was her big sister who enticed her to try. 

"My turn!" Bryce yelled.

The girls took a few turns each and then some of the boys came back from jumping and swimming and wanting to swing again. Bryce got distracted and befriended some other younger kids playing fetch with an energetic dog unafraid of bounding into the water to retrieve the stick in its jaws. 

That's when Beatrice said, "I want to jump off the cliff over there."

I'm sorry, what? Just a few weeks earlier, they witnessed me jumping off Black Rock from a height of 30 feet, something I never thought I'd do in a million years; I'm not a big fan of heights to say the least.

I did it, though. I climbed right up there and looked over the edge -- and jumped. Splash!

I'll never ever friggin' do that again. But still, I did it. 

I didn't think Beatrice would ever jump from a cliff off any size any time soon. She did, though. She actually jumped from ultimately around 4-5 feet. Granted she had her floaty around her waist, which was fine, because she jumped over and over again, all by herself, a little higher each time.

All this jumping and swinging of course is supervised by us, the Mama and the Daddy. But mercy me, we're proud. Now, if we can continue to help both girls develop appropriate risk-taking and sound decision-making skills through the rest of childhood, their turbulent teen years and eventually to the jumping off the deep end part of adulthood, that's a big bold win for us all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

As Quickly and Calmly as Possible

“May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied…”


When we emerged from the shark exhibit, there was smoke everywhere. The wind gusts were even stronger than when we first arrived just 30 minutes earlier. Ash whipped around us as we turned around and around to get our bearings. Burning grass stung our noses, but we thought the fire was across the two-lane highway on the dry mountainside.

No one else at the aquarium seemed to be distressed, just confused, although some of the staff skittered back and forth between the food stands and the gift shop.

I overheard another aquarium guest ask a staff member, "Where's the fire? Should we be leaving?"

He shrugged and said, "No, the fire is across the road and so far we haven't been asked to close the aquarium. You're okay."

"Where's the smoke coming from?" the girls asked us.

"We don't know, maybe behind us on the mountain," we answered.

Maybe we should leave, I thought.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined.

"Let's find something to eat," the Mama said.

We went one of the food stands to see what was for sale. The girl behind the counter looked bored, head in her hands and elbows on the counter, even with the smoke that billowed above us and around us.

I could tell the Mama was unsettled. She shook her head after quickly scanning the food for sale and said, "Let's wait to eat." And then to the girl, "Thanks anyway."

"Sure," the girl said with a weak smile.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined again.

"Me too," echoed Beatrice.

That's when we witnessed some of the families streaming out the exit, as if the wind carried them out to the parking lot. No one at the Maui Ocean Center directed anyone to do anything while the smoke continued to fill the air.

"We should go now. Yes, we have to go now," the Mama said. She'd already been thinking it, obviously, and it sounded as though she wished she would have said it sooner. Time to turn to the Kidpower channel: use your awareness to notice trouble — and don’t just move away from trouble — you move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

"C'mon, girls," I said, ushering them out the exit to the parking lot.

We headed for our rental car, smoke everywhere. All those who were leaving, including us, moved swiftly to our cars with confused, anticipatory faces, as if maybe there were prizes awaiting us.

And that prize of course was safety, although again, we didn't really know how urgent things were or the extent of the fire. Just the fact that white and brown smoke came at us down the mountainside like a slow-moving tsunami.

In order to get to the stoplight and eventually back to our hotel in Kaanapali Beach, we had to exit the parking lot and turn left, with dozens of other cars behind us and in front of us on the street.

"Where are we going?" Beatrice asked.

"Back to the hotel," I answered.

"I'm hungry!"

"I'll get some snacks out in a minute. C'mon Daddy, let's go," the Mama said.

I drove to the parking lot exit, the majority of cars still behind us. As soon as the light turned green for the waiting cars to turn left to go back to Kaanapali and right to go back to Lahaina, the Mama ordered me to move.

"Go, go, go! Get out there!"

You move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

I punched it and we edged into the lane in front of a patient family (who had waved us in) with the same escape in mind. In fact, everyone remained calm as they drove to where they needed to go. We made the light and within five minutes we saw the line of flames bleeding closer and closer to the highway. But we assumed we were on the road back to safety, and that was a good thing.

Sometime after we were on our way back to the hotel, the fire department closed down Honoapiilani Highway and then the Hawaii Red Cross, along with Maui Civil Defense, opened up two shelters at the Maui War Memorial and the Lahaina Civic Center. In fact, two friends of ours who were also on Maui and staying near us (which we found out the next day) were trapped behind the fire line coming back from the road to Hana, and had to stay in one of the shelters until early the next morning. Over 600 people, mostly tourists, had to stay in the shelters overnight.

Back at the hotel we discovered that the power was out as was cell phone service across the west side of the island and would be for hours. Fortunately no injuries were reported and no homes were damaged, although between 5,000-6,000 acres were burned in the fire.

Watching the sunset on the last night of our vacation, my Halleluiahs were multiplied. Nothing like a little trouble in paradise to keep you grateful for family safety first, no matter where you are.