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 29, 2015

Heads Held High Above Our Failed Fray

“Then I looked up. And I said, ‘Oh, MAN!’ 
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.” 
—Dr. Seuss

Nope, you can't have it all. Not even the daddies. You just can't co-host an Internet radio show and help coach your daughter's little league T-ball game at the same time.

Maybe reading Wacky Wednesday on Tuesday night is what started it all. It wasn’t my worst mistake ever, but it still bothered me – just poor decision-making than anything else based on limited data, guesswork and of course wishful thinking.

Listening to the Reply All podcast episode The Time Traveler and the Hitman on that Thursday morning while I worked out didn’t help me much either. The episode told the story of John Silveira who in 1997 placed a joke classified ad in a tiny publication called Backwoods Home Magazine asking if anyone wanted to travel back in time with him. Surprisingly a lot of people took him seriously wanting him to fix the worst mistakes they’d ever made.

Again, it wasn’t my worst mistake, and I probably wouldn’t have written John Silveira asking for his help, much less even finding his ad in print or online where it eventually ended up. But it got me thinking about the “what if” of going back to undo the poor decision-making process. What if I could?

When you’re co-hosting a live Internet radio show, it’s best to launch it in a quiet, secure environment, one where the Internet connection is sound. Where my guesswork and wishful thinking went wrong was when I decided I could practically do anything from anywhere with my Wi-Fi hotspot and any device.

In this case, launch our show from the near the field where my oldest daughter plays little league T-ball, and where I’m one of the assistant coaches for her team. Unfortunately my Wi-Fi hotspot wasn’t strong enough and I a few minutes before the show started I frantically texted my friend and co-host, Meghan M. Biro, to launch the show.

We pulled that off, but then one our guests had a poor dial-in connection that sounded like we had cement mixers on the show. After he disconnected and dialed back in, we finished strong and then moved on to our Twitter chat portion. But I was already late to the game and caught half-focused online and real-time on the field.

I rolled with it all and adapted as quickly as I could, though, keeping my composure and delivering upbeat no matter what. There’s no other choice for those of us who are aware enough of our own limitations and strengths and where our emotional intelligence affects how we make decisions, mistakes, adjust and ultimately achieve positive results. This of course all validated by analyzing high EQ data on over a million people according to a recent LinkedIn article by Dr. Travis Bradberry.

Sure, time travel could have saved one of two things I had control over, but not both. We can’t have it all no matter how much we think we can – a common myth we perpetuate no matter what the painful reality tells us. I'm sure you all have many more train wreck examples of what goes wrong when you try to have it all.

Longing for time travel doesn't change what happened; it only saps us of the mindful presence needed to keep ourselves moving along, heads held high above our failed fray.

But then again, there was that one time in 1989...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Always Be the Titter to Our Totter

SPOILER ALERT: I'm giving away the Big Hero 6 climax, so read on at your own risk...

The part where Baymax sacrifices himself to save Hiro and the daughter of the misguided bad guy. That's the part that hit her so hard and fast that every fiber of her little being ached with sadness and burned with free-flowing tears.

So much so we had to stop the Big Hero 6 movie for a bit. Bryce cried and cried, struggling to breathe and regain the composure she had prior to that point. Over 15 minutes later we finally resumed and finished the movie.

Yes, we know it was a PG-rated movie and there was violence and death and dark action and loss and sadness and why in God's name were we letting our four-year-old watch this thing. But we've been melting our children's brains since we inadvertently let them watch The Incredibles two years ago thinking it was G, when it was actually PG, so there's that proud parenting milestone.

But hey, they're both Disney movies with heart-felt familial themes and the girls had been really wanting to see Big Hero 6, so we did, and they loved it.

When Bryce cried you could see the loss on in her wet, bleary red eyes and puffy ashen face. It was palatable, visceral and it glowed with the degenerative density of a white hot dwarf star. Her life experience may be very little to date, but mercy me does life move this little fireball. The Mama held her close and both Beatrice and me consoled her as well.

After the movie Bryce wanted us to make a Baymax for her to play with, but not the real one. She was very clear about it not being real, her emotional response still raw loss. I made one, although I'm not sure if it ended up more like a ghostly E.T. than a short-armed Baymax.

Anyway, 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 sentimentality, loss and redeeming hope. The Mama loves that about her man for those of you keeping score at home.

And conversely like me (something the Mama doesn't care for), Bryce can be a Daddy Goat Gruff when she's "all done" with whatever she's doing and not afraid to let you know that. The bark without a bite doesn't make it right, but dammit, when we're all done we're all done.

Up and down and up and down -- cry, snap, sniff.

Ah, my baby girl feeler -- unlike her sister and mother, both of whom respond with uncomfortable (but heartfelt) inappropriate tittering laughter when faced with sadness and tragedy. We love them, but c'mon. It's just weird.

Anyway, I hope in 40 years Bryce will feel just as deeply as she does today, that she'll cry at the sticky sweet and the sad -- and that Beatrice and the Mama will always be the titter to our totter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

That Lift of Heart and Soul

(Bea and Me)

The part where Amanda Whurlizer strikes out the boys. #GirlPower

That's the Tatum O'Neal character from the very funny and uncomfortably dark 1976 classic The Bad News Bears. Video shorts of Coach Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) and team, and my own fond memories of playing baseball, kept playing in my head during Little League opening day here in Santa Cruz.

A few weeks ago Beatrice started talking about her kindergarten classmates playing T-ball (which she actually thought was soccer at first, but who's keeping score, right?) and she really wanted to play. The Mama and I never want to push Beatrice or Bryce into any sport or activity that they don't want to try. Even then, we'll do our best to temper our competitive enthusiasm if either one gets really good at whatever they're involved in.

Strike that -- I'll do my best to temper my competitive enthusiasm. It has nothing to do of overcompensating for not having a boy, because I have two very capable girls who will be empowered to try and embrace whatever they want, no matter their prowess. Just like when Beatrice took martial arts last year, something that really helped boost her confidence and coordination.

But I am more of the competitive one in the family, and I do like winning. And although I don't ever plan on being one of those disruptive parents on the field, I do plan on encouraging and cheering on my girls "enthusiastically."

Opening day for Beatrice and her T-ball teammates was an unusually hot Spring day and thankfully we (the parents) had plenty of water on hand. I had dressed Bea before we left, and while she might have looked a little disheveled, she had the glow of a star ball player. The other dads said they loved how I pulled her red socks up like the old stirrup socks of old. (However, the Mama thankfully straightened her up before her team pictures.)

On the way to opening day we stopped to buy her first glove and she immediately picked a sweet little red one, to match her uniform of course. Mercy me gloves are expensive. Wait, the whole friggin' sports thing is expensive, but again, who's keeping score, right? Sigh. It's only just begun.

They didn't actually play a game on opening day, but they did run through skills training with the older kids in Little League: catching, throwing, fielding grounders, running the bases and hitting the ball off the tee.

By the way, Beatrice is the only girl on the team and the biggest kid by far. She continues to amaze me. Watching her play and really trying to learn the fundamentals while having fun lifted my heart and soul with so much love and pride. Granted, we really haven't played the game much with her, if at all, but she hung tough and worked hard on each and every skill. And when it came time to hit that ball -- whack! -- she hit that ball like a boss.

And that's what we want Beatrice to experience no matter what sports or activities she plays: win or lose, that lift of heart and soul.

But assistant coach Kevin will always take more win. Amen. #PlayBall #GirlPower

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.