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, January 31, 2016

For Her Poop to Bear Its Glassy Green Fruit

She sprinted at me crying.

"Daddy! Daddy! I swallowed a toy!"

At first, I had no idea what to do. Her crying registered, but the part about the toy hadn't yet.

Crap, I thought.

My youngest Bryce had been at home with me after I picked her up from preschool while the Mama completed her final Kidpower workshop day. The Mama had been gone during the day for the past five days overlapping the weekend, and although I had childcare help on the school days, I didn't do half bad with the Daddy daycare overall.

When Bryce ran at me crying, I was halfway through a work call via my Bluetooth earpiece and cell phone and pacing around the kitchen.

Methodically my thoughts of what I should do next rolled into the industrial complex of my brain like ball bearings in the Mouse Trap game. They halted as they hit one another, stopped by my reaction center's closed door.

"Daddy! I swallowed a toy!"

When she reached me, she wrapped her arms around my waist -- that's when my internal door opened and the little silver balls rang my action bell.

"Hold on," I told Meghan and Cyndy, the TalentCulture friends and collaborators I was on the phone with. "I have a situation here; my youngest swallowed something she shouldn't have and I need to deal with it."

I put myself on mute. I remember thinking, Why don't you just hang up the phone?

I grabbed Bryce's face and pointed it upwards to mine. "Bryce, what did you swallow?"

"A little toy," she answered.

"What toy?"

Raising my voice only made Bryce cry more, so I dialed it back. "Bryce, honey, you need to tell me what you swallowed."

"It's over there." She pointed to a broad array of toys strewn all over the living room floor.

"C'mon, please show me what it looked like."

She wasn't choking, so that was a good thing. I prayed that, whatever it was, it was small enough without sharp edges. I also realized it could've been one of a kind without a match for her to show me. Her crying had quieted but I wasn't convinced she could articulate what the object was.

She took me right over to the spillage of her toy jewels she loved to play with and pointed at them.

"It was one of those?"

"Yes."

Crap.

If it was one of cut plastic jewels, then a few of them had pointed ends -- potential dangers to her small throat and esophagus.

"Bryce, this is really important. Do you see one like the one you swallowed?"

That's when she picked up the small round green glass jewel. It was like a squashed marble, about the diameter of a dime and a couple centimeters thick. And it was very smooth. No sharp edges.

Thank God.

"It was like this one."

"Bryce, how did you swallow it?"

I already knew the answer holding the object in my hand. Bryce showed me how she had put it in her mouth and sucked on it like it was a piece of hard candy.

"Bryce, you have to throw up so we can get it out of your stomach."

"Why Daddy?"

"Because it might make you sick and the sooner we get it out the better."

"Okay."

I shuttled Bryce into the downstairs bathroom and lifted the toilet seat.

"Come here, Bryce. Open your mouth."

She complied. I realized the moment I was doing it that maybe it wasn't the best idea, but all I could think about was getting it out of her.

"Okay, Daddy. I need to throw up. I feel sick."

I slowly pushed my forefinger into her mouth. I hit the back of her throat -- she gagged.

"Kevin, what do you think?"

Somebody asked me a question through my earpiece. I was still on the phone. Bryce gagged again then grabbed my wrist.

"Daddy, I don't want to do this. I don't want to throw up."

She's not choking and she's not in pain, at least not the kind caused by Daddy's reactionary angst.

"I love you, Bryce. Let's go back into the living room and I'll call the doctor."

I wrapped up my call (finally) and did an online search for kids swallowing toys:

...as long as the child isn't choking or getting sick...
blah blah blah
...and the object has no sharp edges...
blah blah blah
...or toxic if made from lead or other heavy metals...
blah blah blah
...the object should pass within 5-7 days...

Then I called our doctor's office. I vaguely remembered that there was an advice nurse I could speak with, but when I reached the receptionist, she said that service was only available after 5:30 PM.

Crap.

All this less than two hours before I was supposed to leave for a conference. She did suggest that I look on the back of our health care benefits card because they should be an advice nurse number on it to call. Sure enough there was. I called and talked with a very nice nursed named Marsha. Marsha asked me a series of questions to ensure Bryce wouldn't need immediate medical attention.

Was your daughter choking?
Was your daughter having difficulty swallowing or stomach pain?
How big was the object?
What was it's shape?
Did it have any sharp edges?
Was it made from lead or another toxic material?
How long ago had she swallowed it?

"Do not attempt to induce vomiting. That could lead to further complications like aspirating the liquid and/or the object that could lead to suffocation," Marsha informed me.

Wow.

"Got it. A little late for that one, but the good news is that my attempt to get her to throw up failed."

"That's all right. Now, get her to drink lots of fluids and watch her closely for the next few hours."

Marsha ended by explaining that the object should pass in Bryce's stool within seven days, but that we'd have to keep checking for it in the stool to confirm it actually passed. If not, we should take her in to get an X-ray to ensure there's not a problem. I thanked her and hung up. While I was on the call with the advice nurse, our babysitter had showed up, so now that I was off I explained to her what had happened and for her to watch Bryce closely while I went to pick up Beatrice from school.

At school, I asked the mothers of three of Bea's classmates if any of their children had ever swallowed anything like what Bryce did.

They all nodded and one of them smiled and said, "She'll poop it out. No worries."

I had to leave for my conference prior to the Mama getting home from her workshop, but explained everything to her on the phone before I left.

"She's seems fine for now and you'll be home in less than an hour."

"Thank you, Sweetie. So, this means I'll have to check her poop for the jewel?" the Mama asked.

"Yes. Sorry."

"Ugh."

"Tell that kid to quit eating things that aren't food," I said.

"I know, right?"

The Mama's had the daily poop checking pleasure, but the jewel hasn't yet passed. I've offered to help since I've been back from my conference (where I shared this story in its entirety halfway through my presentation), and while she appreciates it, the medical gloves she has are too small for my hands. Fortunately we've still got a few more days before we have to take Bryce to the doctor, a few more days for her poop to bear its glassy green fruit.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Jukebox of Our Sweeter Past

“Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round…”

—Diana Ross, Upside Down

And just like that, I had my first kiss. Plus,
built-in bully protection.

Before that though, walking home from pre-first (the grade between kindergarten and first grade back in my younger days) was like walking home along the wrong side of the tracks. Tracks that represented the only way I was allowed to walk home from school. The bully's name was Ronnie, and he threw rocks and dirt clods at me from atop his fence as I ran past.

This was a different time of course, the time of unregulated free range kids. My sister and I both were walking home and/or riding bikes home from school since we were six years old. The Mama did too growing up. For my sister and I early on, home to school and back was about a mile round trip.

I used to think I was in kindergarten when this all went down, but I was actually six when this happened, and that put me in pre-first. My mom thought me too young and shy and frail in kindergarten (which I was, being very shy and riddled with allergies and asthma), so instead of holding me back another year, she had pre-first as an option for me.

Every day the terror of walking home led to the flying of lethal objects. Ronnie didn't aim directly at me, otherwise I would've been taken out early on, but his point was to bully and scare me, which he did.

Until Judy. Judy who was sweet and cute (at least cute in the way a six year old thinks about it) and actually asked me if we could walk home together (her family lived three doors down from mine). I was thrilled of course, but worried about Ronnie, unsure if he had bullied her as well to date, or would start because of me.

Then it happened. Right there on the corner before the Ronnie gauntlet homeward one day. I asked her to kiss me.

Correction. I begged her to kiss me. I don't remember why exactly, but maybe it would've been protection of some kind.

She frowned, then smiled and said, "Okay."

We kissed. I remember it vividly, like an old favorite pop song, lyrically sweet and upbeat without the adult complexity in the rearview or periphery. After that, with her by my side, Ronnie had a invisibly imposed restraining order placed on him -- the rock throwing stopped. He even stopped calling me names. Of course I clung to her like dryer lint.

But now I'm a dad of two young girls, the oldest of whom is in first grade. Beatrice now has her own first grade admirer, a classmate of hers who is young and shy like I was. He's also very clingy and possessive, indicative of the male immaturity gene that activates full force throughout most of youth and early adulthood (and sometimes beyond). And she towers over him, like most girls do early on in the growing years. Beatrice likes this attention, but again, this isn't adolescence. It's the simpler side of childhood. Thank you Lord.

They are only seven years old, mind you. They are friends and this friendship is reciprocal. Together they have a lots of fun with imaginative play including the "becoming a dog" formula in the living years of science article.

But then there's this: he recently kissed her on the playground. Multiple kids witnessed it and immediately told the playground monitor and then their teacher.

The first kiss is innocent enough, but because the Mama and I have lived all of this before in our youth, we do worry about what happens next, year after year. So we did have renewed boundary talks with Bea and her teacher, focusing on the Kidpower strategies (the global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, of which the Mama is an instructor for). This means empowering both our girls to develop the awareness of when something's not comfortable and then literally creating a figurative fence and/or wall and saying aloud:

"Stop! I do not want to play this game."

Because no means no. It's not oversimplifying either; it's a critical empowerment practice for all girls and boys. Putting safety first among many other strategies is the very embodiment of Kidpower’s core principle:

The safety and healthy self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.

Amen. Thankfully we're still in the sweet and innocent years with the girls, and while we're still vigilant and teaching them these safety skills, we recognize that growing up will happen.

Bea's classmate admirer just had a bowling birthday party. It warmed my heart to watch both Bea and Bryce be kids with him and all the other kids. These are the years when the Mama and I get to again experience the silly jokes, the friendly rough-housing, the spinning in chairs, the chasing, the laughter, the high-fives and quick hugs, all the innocence and more.

There once was a little boy who bowled backward between his legs to impress a little girl, and the little girl saw and liked and clapped, and then matched him in kind; all these new childhood memories a jukebox of our sweeter past.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Years of Living Science

“It's poetry in motion
She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm - but she blinded me with science
She blinded me with science
And failed me in biology…”

—Thomas Dolby, She Blinded Me With Science

"Look at what Bryce did, Daddy," the Mama said.

We had just had the under-the-stairs closet remodeled with shelves, cubbies and hooks, so I figured it had something to do with that. The closet had been a hiding place of sorts for the girls, but it was always so full of stuff, making it difficult for the girls to really enjoy the rite of passage hideaway.

I peeked in the closet and there was Bryce kneeling on the floor with a flashlight lighting up whatever it was she had set up.

"It's her bug lab," the Mama answered before I could ask.

"Ah, your bug lab, Bryce. Very nice."

"Daddy, Daddy -- I have to tell you something," Bryce said.

"Yes?"

"This is my bug lab where I do science. You want to see it?"

"Yes, I see it. Pretty cool, Bryce. Science!"

When the girls do something science related, I always post it proudly and declare, "Science!" This being a reference to the 1982 Thomas Dolby song referenced above, when the crazy psychiatrist shouts it out throughout the song.

But that's not really what the song's about, the literal science things. No, Thomas used science as a metaphor for attraction and love. It's a campy video, complete with the "home of deranged scientists," all men of course. It was never supposed to be a supportive message about women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

My apologies to my girls, although my intention is always supportive when it comes to them learning and expanding their hearts and minds, especially in the world of STEM. This past Christmas we got them fun experiment gifts -- a slime kit and a volcano kit -- both of which they've already indulged in gladly. The novelty of the robot dog and dinosaur gifts have already worn off, but the microscope kit for Bryce was a huge hit. She keeps exclaiming over and over again, "Let's do science!" And Beatrice is an artist and math fan who's now entering her school's science fair this year with a classmate (which I got to be a judge for last year). She's even cracked the physics formula of becoming a dog: kids + dog food + dog hair = dogs.

Right on.

So when's the part where they're discouraged to continue to expand their hearts and minds through STEM? When's the part where they're only seen as lovely useless objects of biology and nothing more?

Because it's coming, statistically speaking. And that's quite disheartening.

Thankfully there are kids'  books like Going Placeswhere a strong lead female character is highly creative and inventive, and shows like Odd Squad on PBS Kids (one of my favorites actually), an X-Files for kids, where gender diversity and all diversity in STEM is celebrated, and where two of the lead characters are girls (and there are many more in the show).

But at what point will their teachers stop picking Bea and Bryce to lead class projects and/or teams? Right now they have very inclusive and supportive teachers, women of course, who celebrate all the girl and boy strengths (just as the Mama and I do and thankfully many other responsible parents as well). But when will that stop? Middle school? High school? College? All of the above?

And at what point will employers overlook them for their male counterparts (because someday they may have children or whatever the reason)? At what point does the hostility and the sexual harassment start because of their interest in technology and science (or anything for that matter)? According to a recent survey, 60 percent of women in tech reported unwanted sexual advances. I have failed myself in my distant professional past, but haven't tolerated it since.

I read an article is the Santa Cruz Sentinel this last week about the film Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which I wasn't aware of but now definitely want to see. The article highlighted these documentary facts:

The documentary by award-winning director Robin Hauser Reynolds, released in April, reports sobering disparities in the industry. At Apple, only 20 percent of employees are women. At Google, it’s 17 percent. And at Twitter, it’s just 10 percent. Of the 1.4 million computing-related job openings the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts by 2020, American women will fill less than 3 percent, or about one for every nine American men, according to the film.

When do the years of living science stop for our girls? We hope never, unless it's their choice, and even then we hope their sense of mindful fairness and imaginative wonder will never cease, and that it will continuously flow downhill like glowing magma, clearing the thorny landscape below of misogyny, harassment and discrimination for generations to come.




Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Only Chasm Between Us Now Is Sleep

“Somewhere in a lonely hotel room
There's a guy starting to realize
That eternal fate has turn it's back on him.
It's 2 A.M.”

—Golden Earring, Twilight Zone


It's 2 A.M. on day two. Delirium rocks in my arms. She's only about eight months old, but she wakes and cries incessantly about every two hours, and has been off and on for the past four months.

She quiets down and I think I'm okay to lay her back down in her crib, the one that's been in our room shortly after being born in our room, but she cries yet again. I resume my march, cutting a groove in the carpet under my feet. It's like I'm marching back and forth through mud and grass in the soupy darkness. Faint yellow light from the streetlamps behind our house seeps in through the blackout shades, casting just enough of it upon her pinched, wailing face.

Back and forth, back and forth. Then some sleep. Then back and forth, back and forth. Then a little more sleep. I was a wreck. There's a point when experiencing sleep deprivation, even after a day or two, where a darkness settles on the soul like radioactive ash. Basic decision-making becomes compromised. Moodiness increases dramatically. I simply felt like reheated shit.

And you want to break things. Any things. Three days earlier, the Mama had been up for weeks on end with Bryce, and although I helped get up with her some of the time, and to feed her when I could with a bottle of breast milk or formula, Bryce didn't take very well to it compared to Beatrice, and the disrupted sleep-cycle continued.

Yes, we were all in the same bedroom together -- me, the Mama and Bryce -- but the Mama is the one who got up nearly every single night. This was early in 2011, when Bryce was still an infant and not sleeping at all.

Finally the Mama developed a Jack Torrance aura (the crazy father from Stephen King's The Shining), one that was all red aglow spilling freely from eyes. She simply glared indirectly at me and said:

"I'm sleeping in the garage guest room for a few nights. You have to take care of her."

And then she was gone, and I was in the bedroom alone with the crying Bryce. Every two hours at night for a few days.

You really do go a little (or a lot) batshit crazy when you're up with your lovely offspring; you almost want to eat your young. The sleeping or lack thereof is a spectrum as well -- sometimes the newborns and toddlers sleep pretty well (Beatrice) overall, and sometimes they do not (Bryce). Either way you're up with them, trying to figure out how to deal with them, and how to cope with your primitive fight-or-flight response when sleep deprived while doing your best to stand erect as a responsible parent. And it can create chasms between the parents, chasms that impact communication and intimacy. That was something we weren't going to let happen no matter what.

Nearly a year later there was another bout of sleepless Bryce nights, and ever since there have been those nights when one of the girls gets sick or has a nightmare and comes in to wake us up. Usually the Mama first, until she lovingly convinces them after a few times in a row that I love you, Sweetie, but Mommy needs to sleep, so please wake up Daddy if you have a bad dream.

You know, those kind of supportive, double-edged messages of love. But when we're woken up over and over and one of us has to get up -- usually the Mama -- then a little bit of our souls slip away. It doesn't mean we don't love our daughters any less. Quite the contrary: we love them even more when they're scared or sad and will do whatever we have to do to quell their fears.

That said, there's also the added pleasure of a loving couple sleeping together in the same beds for 18 years, where every detail of each other's sleeping habits are sacred knowledge. Biblical even. Knowledge kept in our Ark of the Marriage Convenant along with our vows, the love poems and notes, the wham bams and all in betweens, the passing gas, the snoring, the pulling sheets off the other, the getting up from bed like aftershocks from a major earthquake because of having to pee or having a belly ache or getting up with the girls -- and so much more.

Six years ago the Mama wanted us to get twin beds. In the same room and technically pushed together, but still, two separate beds. So we could both sleep better. I balked at the idea. I was even a little offended. This is what it's come to? Soulmates trapped in sleep hell and relegated to twin beds? To never touch again! No way, not over my gassy not-quite-dead old body!

The benefits of regular sleep and the now of every beat and breath have overwhelmed my fear of distance and the twin-bed chasm. Better health, mood, better sex. Yes, that last part. And so much more. So now we have two wonderfully sound twin beds, pushed together within one inch, and dressed as though we were one. Two nights in we've never slept better.

The only chasm between us now is sleep. And that we are thankful for.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Now of Every Beat and Breath


“Winding like an ancient river,
The time is now again.
Hope is like an ancient river;
The time is now again.”


There were 42 episodes last year. Not the 52 I had originally planned -- one per week -- but that's because of other priorities that took precedent. Like work travel. And vacations. And family time.

There was no other cast except me. No production team except me. Only one camera to capture one single image per show. On location at Natural Bridges State Beach. One mile walked up to Natural Bridges, two miles running on the beach, one mile walk/run back home.

The show's premise was (and still is) to complete an empowering weekly anchor workout, one that still presents me with the challenge of running (at least on the beach) since my knee surgery in 2014, while listening to my music of choice and let my mind do what it will. Mindfulness. Hopeful daydreaming. Problem solving. Introspection. Forward thinking. Reminiscing. The simple bliss of enjoying every beat and breath.

One little victory at a time. Linked and looped together into perpetual resolutions of what I want to be. Of what I can be. Of what I can actually control and of what is beyond me. 

The silly part of this idea was to imagine that my weekly beach runs are a show of sorts. A social media show of my anchor moments shared on Instagram and other channels like this one from the New Year:

This week on #HappyNewYear Beach Run. #BigDaddyPower


But always with the same all temporal yet transitory anchors in the background: the sky, the sea, the natural rock bridge (the only one left at Natural Bridges State Beach), and the beach itself. And sometimes me (because we are also transitory). Really more to remind me of that particular moment of being and doing and taking care of me so I can be there and take care of my family. 

In between the beach run is a whole lot of messy life, only some of which I can personally impact. So I tend well to myself, and then to my family, and then to others, because most of the messy will always be beyond my control (some of which I'll never want to touch anyway). I've been praying/meditating for three minutes a day now for over a week, blotting out everything except me, my breath and the greater I. While not wholly transformative, at least not yet, the incremental resetting is emotionally refreshing and is giving me new focus. Amen.

The rest of living well was summed up nicely for me in this short NPR article: The prescription is simple: Get enough sleep. Move around. Eat well. Interact with others.

The time is always now again -- the now of every beat and breath and being completely well in. It ain't easy, but it's certainly worth my family's while.

Happy New Year, Kids.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

I'll Never Miss a Moment Again

"It's good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." —Ernest Hemingway

Somewhere over Guyana I started feeling sick. Watching Santa fly over the South American sovereign nation via the Official NORAD Santa Tracker, I could feel my insides churn and flip. I chalked it up to indigestion at first due to our yummy but huge Christmas Eve dinner at home.

After some generic pink tummy medicine, I seemed to feel better and proceeded with our Christmas Eve. When it was bedtime for the girls, we read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and a few other stories and then put them to bed. We reminded them they couldn't get up before 5:30 AM, and being the early birds the entire family is, especially me and Bea, that would be tough on Christmas morning. Thankfully everything felt pretty good in my gut area at this point.

The Mama and I watched some more TV ourselves and then set up the rest of our Christmas gifts and prepped for Santa's visit. At this point he was already somewhere along the East Coast after delivering a few billion gifts elsewhere around the world.

We went to bed and the Mama asked how I felt. I told her better, but that wasn't exactly true.

"Wake me up if you need anything, Sweetie," she said.

But by 9:45 PM while reading in bed and shortly after the Mama dozed off, my tummy churned and flipped with a vengeance. I took more pink stuff, but then an hour later I lay there wide awake with a throbbing gut.

Crap, I thought. This is more than just a belly and/or intestines ache. I must be getting sick. Please no, not on Christmas Eve.

That's when the chills started. Although I felt hot laying there miserable in bed, when I got up to go to the bathroom, the chills set in, something I hadn't felt in years. Decades actually, especially if this was the flu. We all had our flu shots again this year, as we do every year, but that's never an iron-clad guarantee, and we did just return from that big petri dish amusement park called Disneyland.

But still, was it food poisoning somehow? None of the girls had belly aches after dinner, so that didn't seem viable. I was the only one who ate the sugar cookie dough, but I've done that every year for over 40 years and have never gotten sick on it. Either way I did not feel well and worries about the fact that I wouldn't make it through the night without getting sick.

No sooner had I thought that the horrid discomfort of painful bodily expression started from the bottom end. It was only 11:30 PM.

Back in bed things only got worse. I did everything I could to focus on my breathing, that maybe that would help me settle in the moment and feel better, but the bad brewing continued. I got the heating pad out to see if that would help, and while the heat felt good, the pain didn't subside.

12:00 AM, 12:30 AM, 1:00 AM -- I watched minutes of sick tick away, but it only got worse. At 1:30 AM I couldn't take any more and things erupted from the top end. I hadn't thrown up for 14 years and it's never an experience anyone wants to remember anew.

By 2:30 AM I felt slightly better, but every time I got out of bed to go the the bathroom, and going I still was from the other end, the chills were so bad I was visibly shaking. I looked out the bathroom to our street below and imagined Santa swooping down through our neighborhood to deliver the goods. Sugarplums dancing in my head indeed.

I shivered and shuffled back to bed. At 3:30 AM I was really worried I wasn't going to make Christmas morning. I felt horrible and knew at some point I'd be throwing up again. I've never missed Christmas with the girls, I thought.

This must be a reset. The thought had popped up in my fevered mind more than once that night. Maybe it's a karmic reset; a prophetic message from God. A needed purge and a movement in a new and improved healthier lifestyle direction. I've been working on my mind, body and spirit a little more of late, and although I've been pretty healthy, there's always work to be done, and this Big Daddy could use some more work, some true healthy mindfulness in equal measure applied regularly and liberally, to ensure I'm always there for me and my family. And although this wasn't the physical diet I had planned, we didn't eat that much crap at Disneyland, did we, Sweetie? Sigh...

Reset. Maybe. Although a little too convenient for being this close to the end of the linear calendar year, a week before the New Year. I'm just being delusional. Blech. It's not like I'm living on the streets of Bangladesh. Good God...

At 4:30 am I prayed/meditated that I'd make it at least until the girls opened their gifts, and then I could go back to bed.

Then, at 5:31 am, Bea had gotten up and I woke the Mama up and told her how I felt, which, if I were a cartoon, had felt like an ACME truck had knocked me off a cliff and I fell to the canyon bottom below. Poof. Wile E. Coyote indeed.

She told me she was sorry and that I should stay in bed, but I had to go downstairs. Bryce came in and said, "Daddy, it's time to go see what Santa brought us!"

And downstairs I went. I don't know exactly how I did it without getting sick all over, but I did. The Mama took my temperature and sure enough it was 101 degrees. Blech. But I made it for about 45 minutes as we opened gifts and took a few pictures. My limit hit, I slowly went back upstairs and straight to the bathroom, got sick, and then slept for nearly three hours.

Still feverish, but finally feeling better in the belly, I meandered back downstairs while the girls were playing with all their new toys and cool science gadgets, and the Mama was cleaning up. I had missed the Star Wars pancakes as well. Dammit.

"'You missed Christmas, Jack,'" I joked, quoting the character of Kate from early in the movie The Family Manwhen Jack returns after freaking out Christmas morning and taking off to NYC for a few hours.

The Mama laughed and said, "I'm so sorry you got sick, Sweetie. I hope you feel better. Girls, tell daddy you love him."

"Love you!"

"Are you feeling better, Daddy?"

"Yes. Love you, girls. Love you, Mama. Merry Christmas."

Even with fever, my gaze focused fully on my girls and all was well in my world, that 25th day of December, anno Domini (in the year of our Lord), two-thousand and fifteen.

In the end, I didn't miss Christmas, and if God willin' and the creek don't rise, as my Pop always used to say, and of course if I'm always present and paying attention in sickness and in health, I'll never miss a moment again.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Where the Force Flows with Mindful Christmas Magic

Let's say the probability of any one of 10 total random park entrance lines moving faster than the others is around 10 percent. So we picked one, one that looked as though it fell into that 10 percent, just as we had done the day before. At first it felt as though we were right this time; our line moved along steadily as the families ahead of us enter the park. A winner! Then a mere seven feet from the turnstiles, we stopped, while the lines on either side of us almost seemed to speed up. 

Ah, the painful self-fulfilling prophetic physics of Murphy's Law. I realized at that very moment, even as Bryce flailed impatiently in the stroller and the Mama sought peaceful balance to keep Bryce balanced, that there was nothing I/we could do to change the outcome of waiting time to enter the park. Except wait.

During my epiphany, Bea simply skip-bounded back and forth in and around us as she often does when she keeps herself occupied. Or when she's in creative-thinking mode. Or when she has to go potty. Whatever her bounding represented this time, we still didn't move any closer to the entrance.

"What is going on?" the people behind us asked.

I sighed audibly. "Well, this happened to us yesterday, too. It feels like every time we get in line it shuts down production. Mercy me."

"Why didn't you warn us when we got in line?" they joked. And then continued to milk the joke, even when it wore as completely thin as Bryce's patience. I laughed a little unnaturally and turned away from them.

The reality is that the Disneyland entrance line slowed when visitors have entered the park for the first time for whatever their ultimate duration is. This is because their tickets have to be scanned, then park entrance cards printed out and signed, and then pictures taken for identification and park security.

And these seemingly random lines we were in for two days in a row included everyone entering the park for the first time. Granted, that included us on day one, but it made no never mind when we -- I mean I -- wanted to go inside and get my Star Wars freak on.

Again, there was nothing we could do to make the line move. So I stopped worrying about it. I just stood there, relaxed in the moment, and the moment after that, and the one after that, completely disconnected from the frustration of waiting and the longing for the happiest place on earth, and open to everything, and nothing, around me.

That's not to say I wasn't aware of my family's angst; I did encourage the girls to be patient and that we'd be in there soon enough. The Mama only had to adjust Bryce one time and both were fine otherwise (the Mama and I also realizing that there was nothing we could do, except go back to the hotel room, which wasn't really on the table unless we had to deploy the nuclear option).

Those minutes of waiting were a respite of sorts, quite counterintuitive to usual human behavior in the modern frenetic age. I was completely relaxed, primarily focused on my breathing -- in and out, in and out -- while all the sights and sounds around me slowed to a pleasant crawl, at just the right clarity and volume. It was as if we were at home in our cuddle chair (large recliner) watching our favorite movie without disruption or any notion of time constraints.

Of course I mean that metaphorically; watching families rock impatiently in Disneyland entrance lines isn't really a favorite movie of anyone's. However, the more I focused on relaxing in a meditative way, the greater pleasure I derived from just being. There. In the moment. Without negative attachments, or attachments of any kind. Just there with my family and being. Nothing else. A little peace on earth inside.

Metaphysically sappy, I know. But still, I've been consciously engaging in this lucid relaxation behavior of late, something I attempted in my emotionally torrid 20's, along with therapy and medication, all with limited, if any, success. Ever since I've done okay being mindful and present some of the time professionally and personally, and I do try to be empathic and compassionate as much as possible. Although I'm pretty pathetic when it comes to short-attention-span social media theater.

I'm sorry, what?!?

And then everything comes to a screeching halt when interrupted by my Daddy Goat Gruffness and the occasional just-plain-reactively-mean dickness.

I just finished the book by ABC Nightline anchor Dan Harris titled 10% Happier and I really enjoyed reading about his own tempestuous professional and personal journey toward being of sounder mind, body and spirit through meditation. I had seen him speak at the Achiever's ACE Conference in November, downloaded the book and never looked back.

But unlike Dan, I grew up grounded in the evangelical Christian faith and the real reason we have Christmas -- the birth of the loving redeemer, the little baby Jesus, Son of God (of which my affinity stands that my favorite Jesus is the little baby Jesus -- thank you Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, co-writers of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). 

Even though I'm not writing this to derail or disparage anyone's belief in any religion or spiritual practice whatsoever, and I do not want to have a theological debate proving or disproving the existence of any God, I do believe in the power of prayer and a higher power, sans the prejudice, anger and fear. I strive for the power of positive thinking and action, and of empathic thinking and action, of mindfulness and action -- with the personal relationship of me and my God being synonymous with the personal relationship of me and myself and every one else in my life I've ever come into contact with and those I've yet to meet.

Yes, the Force is what binds all living creatures in the universe together. It's loving and forgiving and even protecting when need be. You know, like God. And how we can be. In life and in our relationships. What? You didn't see the Star Wars reference coming? C'mon. However you end up dealing with the dickness and the dark side in your own psyche, then learn how to deal with it. I sure as heck have been dealing with it.

Because later on that same day in Disneyland, I got so mad at the Mama just because she edged her way into a packed Main Street to watch the Christmas parade. Actually, she didn't really edge, because she did ask the people in front of us if the girls could slip into a little pocket to watch the coming parade. The people said sure, but then I had to fold up the stroller and hold it right under the rope that separated the free walk area and the parade attendance section. I got mad because I thought about all the other parents who had waited with their kids when we didn't, and the fact that I had to hold the friggin' stroller in a cramped area.

But again, the Mama wasn't rude. She asked nicely, there was room for the girls, and so it all worked out. There was no reason for me to attach any reactive meanness to the situation, but that's just what I did. I understood what I did and resolved it fairly quickly in my head and heart, not wanting to be mean to the Mama or anyone. That's something I've been working on for a long time, a continuous work in progress.

We ran into other Murphy's Law moments in Disneyland as well, but one in particular was the tipping point for me to dig deeper into my own psyche and mindful presence. I had gotten a fast pass for Hyperspace Mountain (a special time when I could get on the modified Space Mountain indoor roller coaster more quickly than the normal wait time). I then went to the ride Hyperspace Mountain at my specified time and the Mama and the girls went to ride It's a Small World.

My wait was brief and I worked on my relaxation during my time in line. My turn came and the ride moved me and my fellow space travelers upward and then zoom -- we were flying through space!

Until we weren't. An attendant came over the loudspeaker, barely audible over the ride's Star Wars soundtrack, telling us the ride was temporarily stopping. We then really stopped, the soundtrack stopped and the attendant's voice told us due to a problem with one of the riders falling out of a car (I'm sorry, what?!?), the ride was over and other attendants would be coming to escort us out of Hyperspace Mountain. We were at the very top of the dome, too. The lights when on and there we were trapped in the roller coaster cars in a large, very gray, nondescript industrial complex.

So much for the magic. But then another kinda epiphany hit me: the fact that my mind was a lot like this ride, a big loud noisy mouse-trap game of a ride, where the addictive goal was to get the metal ball from the top of the trap to the bathtub at the bottom, over and over and over again, without reason. Just because I've always done it that way. Lock and load and do it again. Because it's addictive, fun and safe.

As I sat in the car waiting to be escorted down, I prayed/meditated to empower myself with empathic action to counter my frenetically circular inaction, regardless of the fact that I have no control of anything that happens in this world, only how I may possibly influence it and ultimately react to it (or not react to it).

I prayed/meditated to shut down my maniacal machinery regularly with an unrivaled focal strength and be the effectual stretch. Meaning to stretch myself (and in turn others) to become more self-aware and learn new ways to see and understand life, 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.

I prayed/meditated to be a better husband, father, friend and world citizen (which is why I took a break from writing this article to play paper dolls with Bryce and check out Star Wars artwork from Beatrice). To not be a softie pacifist pushover, but to continue to be a more compassionate man of stalwart action. To keep fighting the good fight and being more compassionate to others in whatever form that ultimately takes, as long as it takes form.

Amen.

Plus, I bought a Jedi light saber at Disneyland, an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Really. I did. What?!? It's fun. C'mon, I'm only a fan on the early path toward enlightenment (I hope). Not the nut you're looking for. Move along.

Happy Merry Baby Jesus Where the Force Flows with Mindful Christmas Magic Year Round!