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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hard C

She asked the person to remove the C-word from the Facebook post. The person responded sorry you're offended by my freedom of speech. And after that for my wife, it was all she wrote, so to speak.

Whether the person was talking about a woman or a man doesn't matter. It's still a highly offensive term to many, especially those of us with young daughters. Daughters that will grow up and read Facebook posts with the C-word in them from family, friends and far removed connections of connections we may never know, but who still impact us with their use of demeaning words.

Recently I saw someone post on another friend's thread that the new leader of the free world was nothing but a C-word. On the other hand, the other leader of the free world recently defended a man with a history of sexual harassment claims against him. Think about the unfortunately clear signals this sends to our children.

Feminist writer and English professor Germaine Greer said, "I love the idea that this word is still so sacred that you can use it like a torpedo: you can hole people below the water line; you can make strong men go pale. It is a word of immense power, to be used sparingly."

She also said, "Yet for most people the C-word is still a very offensive term…"

This isn't about us being easily offended buttercups -- this is about being parents (and my wife being a woman) and wanting to throat punch the offensive ignorance that still abounds. And although I've read there are instances where the C-word can have positive connotations, it's very definition still primarily refers to an unpleasant or stupid person and is usually a disparaging and obscene term for a woman. Think about the destructive slippery slope this hateful rhetoric sends us down.

As a man who has used his own share of offensive words, I now get it more than ever why not to use them, helping to raise two strong and independent children, who just happen to be girls. And while the word is still as loathsome as the mouths that spew the hard C, we've again empowered it and other taboo words to demean and bully one another. Usually without much cause and only because we've convinced ourselves of the limiting constraints of supposed political correctness, and that freedom of speech can and should be used as a weapon of insult and degradation.

And with yesterday being the holiest day for Christians around the world, I again realize there is no convenient time to talk about these things, and that forgiveness is a powerful healer. The inconvenient truth is that we must be willing to talk about these things at any time to be aware of them, to prevent them from happening again, and to strive to be our better selves. Like the similar piece I wrote last Easter about domestic violence, and the fact that this month is again sexual assault awareness month and national child abuse prevention month.

When in doubt, seek the grace of your God if you have one, as well as educational resources and the positive action of organizations like Kidpower and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. And of course the solace of each other's restraint, empathy and civility.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here There Only Be Humans

“Oh, my God! What is with Rick? Again, he does nothing. He’s gotta go,” said the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.

“I know, I hear you this time. At least this time he talked smack back at Negan,” I said.

“He didn’t do anything! He could’ve at least head-butted him. What happened to the Rick who bit that guy in the throat to protect his son?”

“I know, I know. It sucks because I identify with Rick; doing the right thing when he can but not being afraid to fight back.”

“You’re not Rick – you’re more like Morgan.”

“Morgan. Wow. Okay, I’ll take that, but I still prefer Rick.”

As I said that, I thought, What, am I that frickin’ crazy?

“No, you’re Morgan. Me, I identify with Maggie. Yes, definitely Maggie. Nobody messes with me.” [With all due respect to my wife, she's Maggie, not Carol -- all fixed!]

I thought, Yep, I see that. That’s why you’re the Mama Bear, Mama. 

“Maggie, sure. And I agree with you, too – Rick should’ve at least head-butted him, especially after what happened the first time with Negan. I don’t know why the writers didn’t play it that way.”

“Frickin’ Rick. Ugh.”

“I know. Love you.”

“Love you.”

For those keeping score at home and have no idea what we’re talking about, it would be the zombie-apocalypse-survival-fiction series called The Walking Dead. Based on the graphic comics of the same name, we’ve been hooked on the show for a few years now. One of the few shows we watch in that tiny window between putting our girls to bed and us going to bed.

We didn’t watch The Walking Dead from the beginning, though. Although we’re both end-of-world story junkies (Lucifer’s Hammer and The Stand are favorites from back in the day), I’ve never been a zombie fan. In fact, I hate zombies. Just the idea of the undead freaks me out more than any other horror story ever written. The movie Shaun of the Dead freaked me out years ago, and it was a comedy.

No spoilers here for fans of The Walking Dead, I promise. Like many forms of art and media including books, movies, TV and podcasts – fiction and nonfiction alike – the Mama and I consume quite a bit of stuff and discuss regularly how we relate to them as reality and/or metaphors of our world today.

Recently however, the reality of instability in the world has us worried – the continued conflicts throughout Middle East (especially in Syria), North Korea’s escalation and missile tests, whatever the hell is going on with Russia and us, homegrown incivility due to our last election, continued socioeconomic disparity, racial divides, sexual assault and domestic violence and more. We’re not fatalists and we do hope that America can keep it together, as well as the rest of the world, but the fears anew of potential nuclear strikes on our west coast and elsewhere, and the random nature of recent terrorist attacks abroad, has us a little freaked out.

We grew up with Watergate and the Iran hostage crisis and War Games and Terminator and Red Dawn and Iran-Contra and the Cold War ending and the Persian Gulf War starting and OJ Simpson and the LA riots and more.

Then nearly 10 years later came 9/11.

Today we have children. We want our family to be safe. We want your families to be safe. We don’t want to be in a civil war and/or a world war. We’re more involved in our community today than ever and more engaged with our elected officials. Recently we got our passports renewed and got passports for the girls. We have extra rations of food and bottles of water tucked away at home. We have other items of safety safely put away for now.

For those who think we’re overreacting, well, God bless you. I will pray for us all, Brothers and Sisters. Most of our generation grew up relatively safe in America, sans 9/11 and those of us discriminated against and all victims of crime across the crime spectrum.

We do think about what if, though. What if we must flee like millions have fled throughout history, from Jews of yesterday to the Syrians of today. What if we had to pack everything in our car and drive inland to avoid coastal missile strikes. Or drive to the border to avoid domestic terrorism and civil warfare. Or pack what we could carry and must walk miles and miles to safe havens that may not even be there when we get there.

What if.

We just don’t want to think about it because we still have it pretty good in America. Many of us at least. Even with the rise in racial, social and global tensions. Yes, I know that’s a generalization and still we should be thankful and be involved in our communities and elevate what we believe in regardless of our opinions at odds, and especially without rhetorical or physical violent escalations between any of us.

Yet, in the end, like many of you, we will do what we must do to protect our family, zombie apocalypse and all. And if that includes head butts and neck bites, then so be it.

However, there aren’t really any zombies. Here there only be humans.


God bless us all, Brothers and Sisters. Here’s to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where all men and women are created equal, where we can either empathize and thrive, or just simply survive.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Of Their Own Making

By the time we parked, Beatrice announced for the fourth time that she probably was not going to climb the rock wall.

"Did you see it?" I asked.

"Yes," both girls answered in unison.

"It's in the parking lot," Beatrice added.

The rock wall, which was actually a cylindrical rock wall tower over 30 feet high, stood in the corner of the supermarket parking lot. We saw it clearly once we rounded the corner of the parking lot entrance. There was only one girl climbing up its face at that point.

"Daddy, I'm a little nervous, so I don't think I want to climb it," Bea again reminded me.

"Bea, you don't have to do anything you don't want to. If you want to try it, great. If not, that's okay."

"Okay. I'm just a little nervous."

"I'm not climbing that," Bryce said.

"Girls, you don't have to. Don't worry. Let's go check out the other booths."

It was a small "summer camp" fair we'd gone to. There were about 10 small booths encircling a small corner of the parking lot with the rock tower at its head. Represented were science camps, active activity camps, adventure outdoor camps and even a LEGO engineering camp. The latter being the one the girls gravitated to first. Bryce immediately began building and Beatrice drop things on a LEGO conveyor belt that dropped them in a big bucket. Then they switched roles and Bea built stuff while Bryce dropped stuff on the moving belt.

"Very cool," I said.

Bea looked past me towards the climbing rock tower where another boy and girl were giving the climbing a go. "Daddy, I'm a little nervous. Maybe I'll climb it next time."

"Don't worry. You don't have to climb it; it's up to you."

At one of the active activity camps, the girls had to spin a wheel to then do a specific activity to win a prize. They both hit "do 10 jump jacks," and so they did 10 jumping jacks with the people running the booth. In between exploring each booth, we'd have to jump back to the LEGO booth for more building and playing.

About 15 minutes later, Bea said, "Daddy, I want to climb it now."

"What?"

I'd blocked out the possibility of it, because I just didn't think she'd want to climb it. I didn't want to push her either, or under-encourage her. Instead I just kept making it about her choice. But what I didn't get at that moment was the fact that, with her repetitively saying out loud she maybe didn't want to climb it, actually meant that she was building up her confidence to climb it.

Damn. You go, Bea.

And that was all she wrote, as the expression goes. One of the adventure booth representative fitted the climbing harness on her and away she went. Within a minute, Bryce said, "Daddy, I want to climb, too."

There will be times in our lives where the pride we feel for our children's accomplishments will send us skyrocketing into summer's dusk like brilliant fireworks on Independence Day. This was one of them; I beamed a reverent rainbow while I watched them climb the rock, repel down and then climb up again.

It didn't matter that neither went all the way to the top. It didn't matter that Bea made it twice as far as Bryce did. All that mattered was that they both climbed the rock wall tower by their own volition. They did that. I was supportive, yes, as I should be, but they did that. This part I didn't miss, knowing that their mountains will be steeper at times and potentially more treacherous because of their gender. That having each other as well as supportive and empathic mentors and peers, both women and men, will empower them. My wife and I also know we can only help them develop their confidence and grit one step at a time, and that the cumulative heights they reach will ultimately be of their own making.

Here be the bold and tenacious. Here be the #BhivePower. Amen.

“Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe…”

—Ashford & Simpson, Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Into the Open Air

It's strange because I've never gone skydiving. Yet that's what I imagined in order to stay focused while she read to me. Metaphorically falling fast through the air with literally no ability to think about anything else except the unrelenting presence of those seconds. 

And it worked. At least the idea of it helped to narrow my flailing attention to a fine focal point mindful presence. 

There's just been too much going on up in my noggin of late. Work, travel and seemingly a gazillion decisions to make and actions to take every day. And that's not even counting the other gazillion decisions and actions to make every day at home and helping to take care of each other and our children. That's not unusual for many people today raising a family and keeping a roof overhead, food on the table and squirreling some nuts away for always imminent rainy days. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) experiences it even more than I do, being the primary child-rearer as well as working, running a girl scout troop and now volunteering more. Something I'm doing more of now as well.

Of course not all of what we do are absolute necessities, but they are important activities nonetheless that give us personal joy, like the writing of these pieces for my blog, Get Off The Ground. They are critical to our personal learning and development, our passions and even our sanity. We are fortunate enough to be able to do these things while still squirreling those nuts away and praying for continual sunny days.

And every day the Mama works with our girls on reading and getting their homework done. Beatrice has more homework than Bryce being in 2nd grade, reading and math in particular, although Bryce has recommended work in her combined kindergarten/1st grade class.

The Mama does most of this work with the girls. It can be quite rewarding and very frustrating at the same time, since like most kids wanting to only play, doing homework is a painful distraction from just that. The girls could be playing with their toys, playing with our Guinea pigs, playing games on their iPads, drawing pictures, writing stories or watching a little television.

"Beatrice, it's time to read and do your reading log," says the Mama.

"No, I don't want to right now," replies Beatrice.

"The longer you take doing it means the longer it will take overall."

Sigh. "Okay."

Homework happens both before school and after (there's a lot of homework for 2nd graders these days). Sometimes it all goes well, and sometimes the Mama gets frustrated with the girls. And with me too, because maybe I'm sitting there working or even writing like I'm doing this moment, when she could really use some more help than what I usually give in the homework department.

So I do more helping now. As it should be, helping my children learn and grow, because that isn't an optional requirement of parenting -- it's required parenting. Beatrice has also needed more focused investment due to the early delays she's had.

However, the other morning, when the Mama called down to me from upstairs to "please help Beatrice with her reading," my head was a flutter with a gazillion butterfly effects and other things to do. Beatrice sat next to me and started reading out loud Miss Brown Is Upside Down! and I didn't her a word she said for the first minute.

I'm the one who preaches about mindful presence and being in the moment and focusing on the things that matter in the immediacy -- and yet it's a continuous struggle when there are a gazillion things to be done, which there always will be. This time, for whatever reason, the image of me jumping out of a plane and into the open air, literally jumped out of a plane and into the open air.

I jumped and still remained tethered to the mothership of my frontal lobes. Nothing else mattered except me falling over 100 miles per hour, my cheeks pulled back and flapping in the rushing wind, while Beatrice read next to me. Within seconds everything went silent around me as I fell, except for Bea. All I could focus on was her forming and speaking each word, her cadence and her periodic query about how to say a word that wasn't familiar. She finished her 15 minutes of reading and then had to pick one of the exercises in her reading log to complete. I read the choices and she picked the one where she had to identify 10 action words from the book and write them down.

Afterwards, I pulled the cord, my parachute opened and yanked me up and away from Beatrice, and then I floated gently back down into the cacophony of a gazillion decisions to make and actions to take.

Beatrice's depiction of Daddy's metaphor

Monday, March 20, 2017

Let's Keep Talking About It: April Is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Here's the thing -- we just don't like to talk about it. 

And I get it. I do. For those of us who have young daughters, my wife and I included, none of us want to imagine what could happen to them at the hands of a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or a significant other, or a spouse, or simply a "date" they've known for less than 24 hours. 

If we only pray, then we pray that God will watch over them so they're safe, always, as well as our boys, to ensure they become better men and treat other women and men with respect and empathy.

If we only hope, then we hope the same sentiment as the prayer. 

And if we go beyond the prayers and hope, and do our part to create awareness and prevention, we can make and do make a difference in the lives of our children and teens (and even the adults in our lives). It isn't easy, because it's an uncomfortable conversation for even those of us currently involved in awareness and prevention. 

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. Less than 20 percent of battered women sought medical treatment following an injury.

That's millions, mind you. It's horrific and complicated, and yet prevention and awareness still seems to be one of the best paths forward for children, teens and us all. 

I'm proud to have been selected to serve on the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, to contribute my time to help generate awareness and prevention locally within our community as well as work with local law enforcement, and to help reduce the incidence of domestic violence and sexual assault.

For those of us with children, girls and boys alike, we have an ultimate responsibility to instill in them their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, and not react inappropriately and violently. We need to be clear that violence against women and girls, and men and boys, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

Here's the thing -- let's keep talking about it. 

Join us in April (and year round) in giving voice to those who feel they don't have one, in particular victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The following local, national and global events and activities are happening in April:

April 4, Tuesday – WEAR TEAL FOR NATIONAL “DAY OF ACTION”
All Day – Everywhere

Nationally recognized in the United States and observed annually as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), SAAM Day of Action provides a day to focus awareness on sexual violence prevention.

April 5, Wednesday – CRIME VICTIMS RIGHTS AWARENESS WALK
6:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m. – Santa Cruz County Courthouse

The goal for this observance is to increase public awareness of the impact that crime has on individuals and on communities.  Participants will meet on the steps of the County Courthouse on Ocean Street and walk to Santa Cruz City Hall on Center Street.  For more information, please contact Sylvia Nieto at Victim/Witness Services at (831) 454-2010. 

April 26, Wednesday – DENIM DAY – WEAR YOUR JEANS
All Day – Everywhere 

Why Denim? The campaign was originally triggered by a 1999 ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Make a point to wear Denim on this day to challenge one of the myths surrounding sexual assaults. For more information, please contact the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women at (831) 420-5010 or cpvaw@cityofsantacruz.com and visit www.denimdayinfo.org

April 26, Wednesday – WALK A MILE IN HER SHOES 
5:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m. – Lighthouse Point, Santa Cruz, CA (or find one near you)

Join fellow community members as we put on our fanciest high heels to speak out against sexual violence in our community. Men, women, kids, and dogs will be teetering on heels down West Cliff to raise awareness and create a safer Santa Cruz County.  

Walk as an individual or gather a team. You can also donate hereAll proceeds raised will support sexual assault survivors and their families through counseling, legal advocacy, and medical assistance, as well as teen dating violence prevention programs in local junior high and high schools.  

SCHEDULE A DATE IN APRIL – ENGAGING THE BYSTANDER
The goal of this free, two-hour Santa Cruz workshop is to find ways how to respond effectively in difficult situations, as well as raise awareness regarding sexual assault for community members and agencies.  To schedule a workshop for your business, friends, church, or agency, contact the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women at (831) 420-5010 or cpvaw@cityofsantacruz.com

Here's the thing -- our children are counting on us.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dog That Ate The Moon

“Imagination is the golden-eyed monster that never sleeps. It must be fed; it cannot be ignored.” —Patricia A. McKillip


Back then it was The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators. Stories of boys, teenagers actually, solving mystery after mystery, with lots of action and adventure along the way, plus encountering and then explaining strange phenomena. I read what seemed like hundreds of these books, from the day of first getting my library card around 3rd grade until early adolescence. I never actually counted the number, though. I just kept on reading and reading.

And I wrote my own mystery stories and illustrated them as well. I even sent one of the detective stories I wrote in 6th grade to a publisher and never hear a word either way. In retrospect, they were cathartic creative explorations that allowed me to escape a sometimes harsh environment of domestic violence and sexual abuse. My imagination gave me an outlet to create fantastical worlds with words and images, sometimes just designing inventions I longed to make real, made up or based on something that inspired me, yet never fully realizing them in real life. Like the time I desperately tried to figure out had to turn my little red wagon into Herbie the Love Bug.

Then there was my long-running obsession with fantasy, like J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, two of my favorite series. In fact, in junior high I actually learned to write in Dwarvish runes. Really, I did. And I had a whole bunch of amazing nerdy friends that did, too. And Elvish and more. Also, for a short while early in college I played Dungeons and Dragons and my character was a bad-ass Dwarf who wielded a deadly battle-ax.

That's why imagination cannot be ignored as Patricia McKillip wrote above, regardless of circumstance. To me it was and is a wide-eyed monster that never sleeps and must be fed constantly. Whether growing up with violence, or a much more stable and loving environment, one that the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I have been able to provide for our girls, our imaginations have boded well for us for thousands of years of evolution and survival. It's helped us to innovate and problem solve and advance our fragile but resilient species as well as given us a powerful storytelling ability and varying filters and perceptions and differing ways to see and explain the world around us. We imagined gods and devils and reasons for living a good and just life.

Beatrice and Bryce have been imagining and articulating various worlds, creatures, science, inventions and stories since the very moment they could speak. Us encouraging imaginative play and reading, along with their teachers and others, have also helped to feed their creative beasts.

We just had a full moon and that evening the Mama said, "Since we have to spring forward with the time change, why don't we go down to the water before bedtime to see it. Otherwise it'll be lighter later and we won't be able to go."

At first I said, "Ugh. Really?" But I knew these were the moments to never let slip by, so I changed my tune.

"Okay, let's do it. It'll be fun."

The girls were excited, something adventurous to do before bedtime, so off we went. It had finally warmed a bit to our usual early spring nice weather, and the night was lovely. As we walked along the water with the girls running ahead of us, they began to imagine stories about the moon and the stars.

Bea came up with her own folk story, one about a dog named J.J. who stole a rocket ship from an unnamed man. J.J. flew to the moon in the rocket ship, not because he wanted to be an astronaut, but because he thought the moon was a waffle, and he was hungry and wanted to eat the waffle. (Both girls love pancakes and waffles.)

However, he soon found out that the moon wasn't a waffle at all -- it was just a big yucky rock glowing in the night sky -- so J.J. spit out the pieces, creating a meteor shower that lit up the night sky.

And this is why we have meteor showers. Right on, Bea.

That's when it struck me -- the fact that, this folk tale that Bea created from her own limited but pretty positive experiences to date and her own imaginative interpretation, was a metaphor for the beauty of life around us. Prevalent for some, fleeting for others.

And the fact that sometimes we all have to eat big yucky rocks to see the light.



Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Slippery Slope to Dogs and Cats

Who knew what the Cavia porcellus could do. We certainly never imagined. Refused to imagine actually. After Jumpy Tree Summer and Goldie Rose Macaroni, that was it. No matter how much the girls worked on us for something else. No more domestic tragedies. No more fuss. No more muss.

But then a friend had four she needed to find a home for because her family was moving. Two brothers, a sister and their mother. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) talked with me about them, although we'd said previously, "Forget it -- not going to happen."

Until it eventually does.

The Mama showed me pictures. She showed the girls pictures. She told me we'd get a cage for them as well. She told me we'd probably only take either the boys or the girl and the mother, but not all four, which seemed to sound better. We talked about the pros and cons. We talked about how the girls would have to help care for them, to help feed them and clean their cage. We talked about how we'd have to find someone to care for them when we'd go on vacations.

Then she asked me, "What do you think? Should we take them?"

To which I replied, "Okay."

And that was all she wrote.

What's funny is this is exactly how it went nine years earlier when we talked about having the girls. We'd come off of another fun road trip through the Southwest, and it was during this trip where the idea of having kids finally began to chip away at our adamant decision to initially not have them. So there we were, sitting at the bar of our favorite pub, eating burgers, drinking beers and playing Scrabble on our then travel board (before the iPad application), and I look at the Mama ask:

“So, do you want to have a kid?”

Without missing a beat, or looking back at me as she formed her next word on the board, she said:

“Okay.”

And that was it. We didn’t talk about again until the next morning. And then one week later we started trying to have a family, the eventual #BhivePower.

Back to the Cavia porcellus -- the Guinea pigs -- these plump, colorful, docile balls of purring snuggly fur. Actually, they make a lot of different noises including a "wheek" -- a loud noise, the name of which is onomatopoeic, also known as a whistle. An expression of general excitement, it may occur in response to the presence of its owner or to feeding. It is sometimes used to find other guinea pigs if they are running. If a guinea pig is lost, it may wheek for assistance.

They're pretty adorable. They look more like rabbits sans the long ears, but much more cuddly. Oh my, are they cuddly. So we took the mother and her daughter and adopted them into our family. The girls named them Dandelion Clover (the little girl) and Sweetheart Watermelon (the mother). I joked with the Mama that this would be the slippery slope to dogs and cats.

"No. No, it's not," she said. "Not going to happen."

Until it eventually does.

Never mind that the little cuties only live about four to eight years. And that they've been bred as food for thousands of years. And have been used in folk medicine and religious ceremonies. And were used in biological experiments. None of which we've shared with the girls except for the longevity part, because they asked.

But when it comes to helping further develop empathy and engagement and taking care of another living "thing" -- and to turning off the TV and the devices (which we're quite guilty of using as distracting surrogates), we're all in.

Who knew what the Cavia porcellus could do.