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, July 27, 2014

Reward Those Incremental Moments

When it comes to attracting, motivating and engaging employees, there's tons of research that highlights the merits of both monetary incentives and other types of rewards.

Sometimes it's the money honey, and sometimes it's not. That's why I love economics so much, the study of people and the marketplaces they live, sell, buy and thrive in, or don't thrive in.

I've heard more than one story about how to motivate and change behavior in your toddlers and children, how using behavioral economics, incentives and rewards can actually help.

Recently on Freaknomics, there was a report about why we should bribe our kids to change behavior. For example, giving them little inexpensive trophies to reward them for eating more fruits and vegetables.

And it worked. All the educational material in the world shoved down the throats of children and their parents didn't work, but the little trinkets that said "I did this" are what helped do the trick to eat the right treats. (Plus there's a bigger scope here for both kids and adults because we all struggle with making sound short-term decisions that will have a long-term benefit.)

So I said, "Hey Mama, we should attempt to do this with Bea and Bryce, combining positive discipline with incentives to encourage Bea to try different foods and to encourage Bryce to sleep all night in her bed and not wake you/us up."

And she said, "Let's do it."

And so we did. We put together a prize bag full of inexpensive toys and trinkets to have at the ready to reward. At first, it seemed to be a bust, because Bryce kept getting up and Bea, our fruit girl, wouldn't touch anything else.

But then Bryce slept all night in her bed without coming into our room and was rewarded with a prize from the prize bag. Then Bea ate some peas and liked them. Then Bryce stayed in her again and again and again and picked out prizes. And then Bea ate chicken nuggets and liked them (with a little help from sweet and sour sauce) and picked out a prize.

Positive progress is made up of rewarding incremental moments, not monumental change. So keep a prize bag handy for the kids (and adults), because recognition is where it's at.

Oh, and go to pirate birthday parties when you have a chance. Lots of good booty at those.








Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vacationland Spirit and Tethered Hearts

We finished loading our car, buckled the girls in, and then the Mama turned the key in the ignition – nothing. She tried again – nothing. The car wouldn’t start. All we heard was the clicking sound of the ignition on every try. The sprinklers around us sprayed water all over the front of our car.

“Shhhh-it,” I said, trailing on the “it” with the girls in the back listening.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Bea asked. “Is the car sick?”

“Maybe you forgot the battery?” Bryce said.

“How can the battery be dead?” the Mama asked.

“I don’t know, it shouldn’t be. Time to call for roadside service. Hopefully that’s all it is.”

The Mama tried yet again – nothing. In fact, there seemed to be less power as the dash lights dimmed further.

I got out of the car and made the call.

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Seven days earlier…

Summer vacationland lay before us. After a brief stop visiting family in El Dorado Hills, we arrived at Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is derived from the Washo word “da’aw,” which means literally lake.

Hence, this year, I dubbed it Lake Lake.


Our third year into this now annual trek, and this time was one of the funnest times of all. Probably because the girls are yet another year older and this time we had even more family joining our usually spry clan of Nonna and the Mama’s Sister’s family, including Amy’s uncle and his wife, and a surprise visit from my step-sister and her husband.

Don’t look at me that way. More family joining in can be a good thing. Right?

;)

I think so.

Oh, and then there’s the part about recharging mind, body and soul – all the while being “unplugged” nearly 95 percent of the time. From work actually, but not from Daddy’s Social B-hive Club. That umbilical is hardwired right into the Daddy mainframe (with regular maintenance and software updates, of course).

Not that I didn’t need a complete recharge; the world of work has been good to me of late, and me to it. Getting to do what I do well and what gives me the most pleasure is, well, most pleasurable.

But closing my eyes and floating away from the rest of the world (in Lake Lake and the pools where we stayed) truly made all the difference in the rest of the world. That, and spending a helluva lot of quality time with the Mama and the girls (yes, and the rest of the family).

Bea’s self-confidence soared from her time in martial arts this summer, with her feeling more comfortable in the pools and lake than ever. She embraced every waking moment at Lake Lake, from swimming to playing on the beach to going on the Gondola to the top of the mountain to eating ice cream to running to and fro until dusk, just as it should be for a kid on vacation.

Bryce, well, she was as fearless and playful as ever, enjoying all of the above, except for nighttime where things got truly hairy for the Mama and me. A trick fuse indeed. All but one night she woke throughout the night, sometimes crying, and sometimes howling, thrashing, flailing and shooting up to an 9 .1 on the Richter scale, leaving rubble and little sleep for any of us in her wake, especially the Mama. Although not sick, we weren’t exactly sure what was wrong, but we persevered and had a great time despite of her wakefulness.

And Amy and I? Well, besides a little Daddy Goat Gruff, we truly enjoyed our family vacation having taco nights and barbecues and walks and hikes and sunning and swimming and parasailing –

Yep, parasailing over 350 feet above Lake Lake. While amazing overall, the point where the boat turned and we got caught in the headwind, swirling us a little in a way we really didn’t want to be swirled, filled us with vertigo, motion sickness, and the incessant pull of mother earth.

Exhilarating, though. Right frickin’ on all the way.

Then there was the hike to Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake with Amy’s uncle and his wife. I was worried about even being able to hike since I had hurt my knee three weeks earlier running like I’m 28 (which I’m not), but fortunately it’s been on the mend and the walking and hiking in and around Lake Lake were part of my physical therapy (plus the fact that the Mama is my PT, so there’s that).

We hadn’t done that hike together since 2005, and it was just as breathtaking as it was then. Amy didn’t remember the “kiss” picture from the way back hike, but we took another and then I spliced them together for good love measure.

A friend of mine on Facebook posted, “So much has changed in your lives over the past 9 years!”

True indeed – 9 years of almost 17 total. From no kids to two kids to losing both my parents to surviving economic ebbs and flows...

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the deep love I have for my best friend, partner, mother, lover and wife. The Mama keeps rocking and I’m right there keeping the backbeat.

Paradiddle, paradiddle – damn girl...

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Less than an hour later the nice man from the towing service gave us a jumpstart and then we were on our way home.

Sure I had fleeting fatalistic visions of the car being towed for extensive mechanical work, leaving us stranded at Lake Lake, but they were unfounded, thankfully (although maybe not such a bad thing).

Nope, a dead battery will never dampen our vacationland spirit, or the family love that tethers our light hearts together, floating away from the rest of the world…

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Trick Fuse of Firecracker Bryce

I watched as she scraped the fork back and forth along the side of the bookshelf. Then she poked it a couple of times.

"Amy, please don't let her do that," I pleaded with the Mama.

The Mama didn't respond.

"Bryce, stop it," I growled.

"Bryce, what's your idea?" the Mama asked.

There it was -- the positive discipline response. But Bryce kept on scraping.

"Amy, please don't ask how she's feeling right now. Stop her from gouging the shelf. Thank you."

"Sweetie, she's not gouging the shelf. C'mon."

Amy sighed. "Bryce, Daddy doesn't want you doing that. Please don't scratch the shelf."

As soon as the Mama took Bryce's fork away, Bryce cried out in protest and shook her head. That's when I saw the fuse: a small, white, frayed cord that protruded from the lower back of her sweet little toddler head. I imagined that it originated deep in her reptilian brain's core, completely detached from her developing frontal lobes.

And sometimes the fuse smelled of gasoline.

All it took then was a single spark to ignite it. 

Sizzle. Hiss. Boom.

More like -- Ka-Boom.

Such is the life with firecracker Bryce, and the closer she gets to turning four years old, the shorter the fuse seems to get. She's been exploding, hitting, yelling and crying at a exponential rate -- the classic temper tantrum. Sometimes the tantrums take what feels like an inordinate amount of time to extinguish, the fuse lighting over and over again like a trick candle.

It's especially difficult when we're in public, like just yesterday at the old fashioned 4th of July at Wilder Ranch State Park when Bryce fights, screams and thrashes while the rest of the world watches her cruel parents drag her away after calming her fails.

According to the Positive Discipline folks, it's not easy for most of us (children and adults included) to verbalize our feelings when they are upset, and there are those of us who can't verbalize their feelings at all at any time. Children (and unfortunately still too many adults) haven't learned how to articulate what they need and want. Scheduling time to have family meetings, talking through the problems, teaching the child to brainstorm for solutions -- all these things are supposed to help snuff out the fuse and calm the child. Temper tantrums often occur when children feel controlled.

I know that positive discipline doesn't mean being so completely permissive that there is no discipline at all, but it does mean we need to "both kind and firm in our actions. Kindness shows respect for the child. Firmness shows respect for the needs of the situation and for parents. Spanking and punitive time out are not kind."

Except when the child is gouging my bookshelf or smacking me across the face.

Sigh. Okay, even then, and even if it takes forever for the fuse to go out.

When experiencing hot things, my grandfather used to say, "Hot as a firecracker on the fourth of July!"

With Bryce, it's more like, "Hot as a Molotov cocktail on the eve of end times!"

She's our fearless little headstrong force to be reckoned with. Look out world. This kid means business.

Happy Independence Day indeed.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Resolve of Buddy Bea

Watching her bow at the front of the mat was thrilling. Pride lit up inside me like white-hot spotlights at a Hollywood premiere. It took everything in my power not to coach and encourage her from the sidelines like an enthusiastically overbearing daddy.

"Okay, Beatrice. Count off for me," said instructor Mike.

"Hana, dhul, sehtt, nehtt," Bea answered, counting in Korean.

"That's great, buddy."

Buddy -- instructor Mike called them all buddy -- even Bryce as she bounced around the mat trying, and failing, to follow instructions (which led to her eventual mat removal; she's too young yet anyway). Bryce is a stick of dynamite with a short fuse, another story for another blog post.

But Buddy Bea, she was determined to learn each and every martial arts move. Some she somewhat mastered, while others she struggled with, but through it all her resolve moved me to the point of tears. Seriously.

And this was only class number two for her. After the Mama had taken her the first time to Lairds Academy of Martial Arts, Bea immediately embraced martial arts and excitedly shared with us all what she learned when she returned home.

All except the breathing part. That part, which includes a power shout when breathing out, bothered her. That because of the auditory sensitivity and earlier delays she's experience since she was very little.

So prior to the second class starting, the one I went to with the Mama and both girls and where Bea received her uniform, we talked with the instructors about her auditory sensitivity. They were gracious, but when the class started and Bea herself articulated she didn't like the loud breathing, the primary instructor, Mike, simply told her:

"You're a good student, Beatrice, you'll do fine."

And that was that. She actually smiled and continued on happily with the rest of the class, completely engrossed in learning, with her daddy tongue poke and all. Plus, with all the Mama (and a little Daddy) gumption in their DNA, Bea and Bryce both are go-getters, and Bryce, well, she really helps to drive Bea out of her comfort zone. Amen.

Although her intellect has never been in question, just three years ago we were really worried about where she'd be today developmentally and socially. The resolve of buddy Bea has proven to have a resilience (so far) we had always hoped for, especially on the eve of kindergarten.

Her growing confidence, social skills and longing to learn has been a blessing for all of us. This martial arts class will help improve her coordination, flexibility, focus, patience, self control, and the importance of never initiating violence.

Here's to resolve, kids. And a hana, and a dhul, and a sehtt, and a nehtt...





Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Continuous Mothering of Daddy Goat Gruff

“We go out in the world and take our chances,
Fate is just the weight of circumstances,
That's the way that lady luck dances --
Roll the bones…”


--Neil Peart

The traffic delay fired up our grumpy. No detour signs, the CHP officer out of his car but not directing traffic, the stoplight still running on its own timer -- only Caltrans and PG&E trucks blocking the highway straight ahead, forcing us to turn left and take the long way back around to get to Highway 152.

That little delay and detour tacked on another 45 minutes to the drive to my sisters to celebrate Father's Day. By the time we hit Casa de Fruta, it was pee-pee time for me and Bea. But we soon discovered that their power was out (connection then made to the nearby highway detour, Caltrans and PG&E trucks), so the only bathrooms open were portable ones with a 20+ minute wait in line.

We had parked on the other side by the playground and were worried about leaving our car with all our stuff inside, so the Mama stayed with Bryce near the car and I took Bea to wait in the bathroom line.

But then Bryce had to go, so Amy brought her over to me and then went back to drive the car over.

And the three of us waited, and waited, and waited...the girls playing in the white filler rocks that lined the children's railroad that wasn't running because of the power outage. They started filling my shorts pockets with the rocks.

"Stop it girls!" They didn't.

The Mama was nowhere to be seen. Finally, I called her.

"Where are you?!?"

"I'm in the car waiting. I peed in the bushes over here."

"What?!?"

"What do you mean what?"

"You peed in the bushes? Please bring the car over here now so you can help me with the girls."

"Um...okay. You need help taking them to the bathroom?"

I heard the sardonic edge in response to my terseness.

"Just come over here, please."

It wasn't until later on the road when I realized what I was really saying was:

"Please come over here and mother."

Not a proud moment in Daddyland.

Back to the earlier moment -- the girls strayed farther and farther from me the closer we got to our turn in the porta-potties.

"Girls, no, come back here. Stay with Daddy. Come. Back. Here. Now!"

No, no, no. Stop, stop, stop. No, no, no. Now, now, now. All the responsible and patient parenting out the frickin' window and I transformed into Daddy Goat Gruff.

Amy finally showed up and then we both "gruffly" helped the girls in the potties. Then back in the car we went.

"Please come over here and mother." Sigh.

Parenting is a team sport, I know, and I do participate fully, but will admit I lean more on the Mama than I should, especially at times when I'm stressed and am not mindful of the fleeting moment needing patience. I default to a delusional anti-pragmatic Daddy Goat Gruff who wants to cut to the chase, any chase, with a usually misunderstood and misplaced meanness. Not easy to do with little ones; not easy to do with older ones. Maybe I do it to compensate for a lifetime of being a "nice guy," wanting to be liked, and finally realizing I needed to like myself.

Plus, there's mostly unconditional love of a good woman, from my Mom to my sister to the Mama, the continuous mothering of Daddy Goat Gruff. Estrogen has always been my kryptonitic salvation.

Amen.

I was never a tough guy and never will be. My voice may carry a masculine boom, but I'm really just a loving B-hive keeper cowboy who rolls the bones while battling the weight of circumstances. I only hope that our girls take a little of my gruff perseverance to heart, to give them a little edge, to like themselves and be themselves, along with a lot of the Mama's true pragmatic vision and real-time practice.

I am B-hive, hear me bleat. 

Happy Father's Day, Girls.



Sunday, June 1, 2014

To School the World on the New Status Quo

“I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality...


...we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike."


—Maya Angelou


They sat riveted while I told them about Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, the Wicked Witch and the flying monkeys.

The flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch freaked them out a bit, not quite ready to watch the movie classic Wizard of Oz just yet, or read any of the fabulous L. Frank Baum Oz books from which it is based on, but hearing pieces of the story transformed them into their own animated storytelling mode, using felt people, objects and shapes on a felt board to create their own Oz-like fables of brave princesses battling dragons then drinking refreshing rainbows.

"Why is Oz only two letters?"

"Because it's that simple, Bea," I answered.

She smiled and then both Bea and Bryce continued their storytelling with the felt boards. I watched them both, Bryce gesturing even more so with her hand and arms while she spoke, while Bea laughed and played along, adding her own commentary.

We're very grateful for being able to create a loving, safe environment for the girls to be able to thrive in, to give them the freedom (within reason) to explore, absorb, learn, adapt, be expressive, confident and to think for themselves, even at nearly four and six years old. This has included their amazing preschool and pre-K experiences with the teachers, parent volunteers and their friends at Bridges to Kinder.

Part of that learning also means to experience first hand, to go out and "do" -- to be physically active and adventurous (within reason), to be comfortable with travel and meeting new people and having new experiences that continuously poke and prod at insidious complacency.

The goal being to help them develop the self-awareness, confidence, self-reliance, relevancy and flexibility needed to live their lives as "true profundity" and to be real in reality as Maya so eloquently puts it above.

The world in general still isn't very kind to women and we want our girls to be well, to learn to live strong on their own and with one another, and eventually school the world on why this should be the new status quo for every human being.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” —Paulo Coelho


Sunday, May 18, 2014

May the Force Be with You, Brother

"Now we're in the hotel room, Daddy," said Beatrice, smiling.

"Yes, Beatrice, you are."

I sat in our cuddle chair, at home alone, while my girls jumped from bed to bed at their hotel and the Mama held the iPad, FaceTime fired up.

Usually it's me traveling with one of their stuffed animals in two and talking back and forth virtually. But this time the travel beams crossed. Actually the light sabers crossed. Literally. (This I loved, since I had just watched Star Wars episodes 1-3 again while away on my latest work trip.)

Unfortunately the circumstances for this time-continuum swap were stark. My brother-in-law, the Mama's sister's husband, had a massive heart attack last Thursday night, then after a brief emergency diagnosis in the hospital, had immediate surgery -- a quintuple bypass surgery.

Quintuple, as in five. This volleyed back and forth in my head like a molten lava tennis ball all Friday morning as I ran through the woods behind my mothership office in Waltham. No Yoda on my back, though. No, high blood pressure and heart disease is the genetic monkey on my back. Every stride and heart-pumping thump got me one step closer to my girls; each one reminding me of why I need to be here today and tomorrows to come.

Stubborn like my wife and adamant that the healthcare system sucks your soul and pocketbook dry, my brother-in-law initially didn't want to go to the hospital, until ironically my wife helped her sister convince him to go.

And then the Mama, the girls and Nonna packed up and headed to Carson City to help my sister-in-law and family while I headed to the airport to fly home. I got home late Friday night to an empty house, but for good reason.

I miss them terribly, of course. The good news is that he's stable, but will have to be in the hospital for at least a week to ensure there are no complications. I'm glad they're there with him and the family.

May the force be with you, Brother.