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.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keeping Up With The B-hive

“You can make the most of the distance — first you need endurance; first you've got to last.” —Neil Peart, “Marathon”

I hit the crack and flew.

Maybe it was only a second or two, but either way, the ground came fast. I fell forward to my left at about six miles per hour, tried to break my fall with my left hand, rolled hard across my left shoulder and upper back, did an awkward somersault and then sprung upright on my feet like a cat dropped from a rooftop.

"You've got to be kidding," I thought as I checked out the damage -- scratched and bloody hands, arms and legs. I could also feel throbbing pains in my shoulder and upper back.

But no knee pain in either leg, so I finished my run, much to the chagrin of the Mama when I returned home beat up and bleeding.

The week following my fall I kept thinking about the half-inch elevated crack I tripped over.  Just a half-freakin' inch. What an uncoordinated doofus. Mercy me, I'd never do that again.

Yet, exactly one week later, I hit another crack during another run and flew, nearly replicating the exact fall and roll up to the left, just as beat up and bloodied as before.

But still no knee pain in either leg, although Amy threatened to take my running away.

Life went on and fortunately so did running, three times a week, four to five miles a clip. I'd been running since the early 2000's, before I had even quit smoking, and had even started running a couple of 10K's per year (the Santa Cruz 10K and the Wharf to Wharf), finally reaching a personal best of 8.5-minute miles just a few months ago.

Right on, Brother Kevin. But deep inside my right knee, my meniscus had a secret it kept from me. A secret that revealed itself two months after my second fall: a small tear that sent a state of emergency to my brain while running one morning that forced me to stop and walk. I nursed it for a week and a half and then went for another run. Two miles in the pain returned and I had to stop. Then a Baker's cyst appeared behind my right knee, a result of my knee injury.

That was the middle of June to early July. In early August the MRI revealed the secret "for reals" confirming my meniscal tear, which then lead to a orthopedic consult and surgery just this week. All in between I continued to cross-train to keep up my cardio, knowing full well the knee wasn't getting any better.

I was never really worried about the surgery once I knew it was inevitable, even though Amy and I debated where I should have it done and by whom, until she and her fellow physical therapists convinced me.

I got to watch the entire arthroscopic procedure -- from the cleaning out loose cartilage to trimming my torn meniscus to draining the Baker's cyst to drilling holes in the head of my femur in order to draw blood and eventually create scar tissue.

Fascinating indeed. No, I was only worried about the rehab afterwards and the "get back to gettin'." Since Amy is a physical therapist who's already helped me to date, she'll continue to rehab me. Unfortunately it's only been two days and the pain has been horrific at times; I have no point of reference in my past having never had any injuries or surgery of any kind other than getting my wisdom teeth removed 30 years ago. Plus I have to stay off my right leg for at least a week, meaning living like a shut-in and relegated to an ice machine, our bed and crutches when I need to get around.

And in the end that's what I fear most: being physically inactive and unhealthy like my parents were before they passed away, although that was due to chronic and terminal illnesses, something I'm grateful I'm quite a ways from at this point.

Every mile I ran before my injury was a mile run for my life, my wife and my children -- and even more so my mental well-being, which of course affects everything I do for them and me and every mindful decision along the way. And for me, a healthy mentality fuels the writing I so love to do. Sedentary dark spirals on smack, not so much.

Fight back I will, even if that means limiting any future running and sticking to lower-impact workouts to keep both knees alive (and my head on straight), because keeping up with the B-hive is my moral imperative.


Otherwise Known As Kindergarten, Day One

The first day finally arrived. We watched as she put her new backpack on proudly, full of her favorite things.

We watched as she hung her backpack on her labeled hook outside her class, the butterflies quite visible on her face.

We watched as her new teacher pinned her name tag to her shirt, asking what her name was and telling her something about the new class.

We watched as she sat on the floor, newly assigned book in her hands, while her new classmates gathered in and around her with their new books.

We watched and waited for any tears, any sign that her discomfort would spill into her legs springing her to the Mama's open arms.

We watched as she talked with new friends about the books they held, comparing notes and context from other books they had at home.

We watched as she looked up at us and smiled, still a little unsure, but mostly comfortable in her new environment.

The weeks and days leading up to this one were filled with ebbs and flows of receding fear and growing confidence, especially the latter which came from her weekly martial arts class we starting earlier in the summer.

In fact, the months and years leading up to this day were filled with a developing above-normal intellect, and due to the auditory sensitivity and earlier delays she's experienced since early on, a thankfully consistent "other" developmental progression.

We all couldn't have done it without the loving support of all the teachers at Bridges to Kinder as well as our school district's speech and occupational therapists. 

We watched and waved, teary-eyed and proud, knowing Bea's journey has only just begun, and there will be many trials and triumphs ahead (with Bryce not too far behind).

The Mama and I walked away arm in arm, leaving Bea in her new world, otherwise known as kindergarten, day one.

“And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother
Copernicus and Fortune's Wheel
Plato, Mengele and the New Deal
And it's noisy up there
(Noisy up there)
It rocks me like a mother…”

—Ben Folds, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”



Monday, August 18, 2014

Assumptive Judgment and the Big Rabid Beast

I spiraled downward into assumptive judgment, the simultaneous images appearing rapid fire in my mind’s eye.

First, there were our girls, Beatrice and Bryce, playing and having lots of fun at what they the “dinosaur” park (because of a climbable dark blue dinosaur statue), a fairly new playground nestled behind the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz. There were two other girls playing as well, and Beatrice befriended one of them, a sweet, soft-spoken Asian-American girl about her age who I’ll refer to as M. Bea and M ran back and forth across the new playground “safety” bark, with Bryce in tow, all of them picking imaginary plants to feed the dinosaur, as well as real dandelions, grass and some of the bark itself. The Mama and I sat on one of the park benches and talked while enjoying the girls play.

Second, before I even sat on the bench and when I was up and down from it, I noticed at least four young African-American males hanging out about 50 feet behind us near the sidewalk of the adjacent street. While not quite “media” embellished ganster drug dealers, two of them did light up marijuana cigarettes and the smoke wafted across the playground (please note that pot has been decriminalized in Santa Cruz). Rap music and guys’ laughter within earshot, nothing really gave pause to the neighborhood or others playing in and hanging around the park, including other parents, children, teenagers and a few homeless resting in the pleasant summer breeze caressing the afternoon shade. Other people drove up, parked in front of the smoking guys, chatted away with them, and then departed.

Third, a police officer driving along Laurel, the main street at the other end of the park and community center, seemed to slow and the officer (I couldn’t tell gender or skin color from my distance) looked up the street where the young black men were hanging out. But then I noticed that the officer had only slowed because of the traffic on the street. A minute later, the police car was gone.

All the while we were there, I kept imperceptible watch of the perimeter, quite aware where our girls were in relation to the guys, ready to call out “Bea and Bryce!” and literally go get them if they ventured too far away.

At some point during my watch I looked up and saw painted across the back of the two-story community center section nearest us a wonderfully vivid mural. It depicted a casual group of obvious locals, old and young, men and women, skin tones ranging from crème to dark chocolate, dressed comfortably and looking out over the park and playground from a faux balcony.

And most of them were smiling.

When we did leave the park on our own accord, nothing eventful had happened other than Beatrice making a new friend and Bryce being her daredevil self on the playground equipment. Not once did the Mama or I mention to each other the guys behind us, nor did we even flinch when we smelled the smoke or heard the music, nor did I keep my phone at the ready with an itchy trigger finger. My discomfort still hung in the air like the pungent pot smoke still swirling around the playground, though; they could’ve been Asian, Hispanic, Eastern European, Caucasian – it didn’t matter to me. But again, there was no need for parental action.

Who cares, right? Do we get a gold star by our names because we didn’t whisk our fragile little girls quickly away and back into our car because of the supposedly unsavory element smoking pot in the park?

No, we don’t. And I’m not asking for one either. They weren’t hassling anyone and I couldn’t tell if they were dealing or just “chilling out” with their friends and smoking doobie.

I also have no idea what it’s like to be a young African-American male in this city or any other across America. I have no idea what it’s like to be profiled, harassed or unfortunately sometimes killed because of ethnicity and stereotyped circumstance. I will never portend to understand growing up in racially divided socioeconomic environments (although I did grow up in a "poor" socioeconomic environment).

I do, however, know a little something of what it’s like to be a police officer, growing up in law enforcement as a preteen on, my step-father being a police detective (on the force for 32 years) and my younger sister years later becoming a police officer (on the force for about six years).

My dad used to tell me that there are good cops and bad, mostly good thankfully (he was one of them), and soul-crushing reality that it can be one hell of a stressful job when constantly keeping the community peace with the real bad guys (and gals) usually a half step ahead leaving mayhem in their wake, with all the others in between. He also always acknowledged that police brutality happens, and like real life there is an unstructured spectrum of when it occurs and why. Plus, the fact that innocent men and women are sent to prison every year, sometimes locked up for years until new evidence has proven their innocence otherwise.

The system wasn't perfect, and never will be, but it did work and does.

However, he most certainly would’ve argued with me if I would’ve had the chance to share Steven Pinker’s theory with him before he passed that worldwide violence is lower than it’s ever been in human history (backed up by lots of fascinating research data). The world of the 20th century, and even today, may seem like a big rabid beast held at bay by only rusted wire fence, but fortunately the combination of communities, democratic governments and our own collective higher consciousness and self-control, the beast has been quieted, an extended hibernation not seen since recorded time.

Except that when we’re closer to home and we read, hear and see the stories of young, unarmed black men being gunned down in the street by cops (most recently Michael Brown), regardless of what they did or didn’t do, communities are polarized, parents and families devastated, with the media underscoring the painful splits.

If that was my son? Or one of my daughters?

I remember watching the 1992 riots live on TV after the Rodney King verdict and thinking, “Holy shit. What if that was me being pulled out of the truck?”

All because of vengeful reciprocity and a longing for karmic justice. God help us all...

As we drove away from the dinosaur park, we passed the young black men sitting on the grassy knoll above the sidewalk. I only caught their images peripherally, because I wouldn’t look at them, couldn’t bring myself to, not really afraid but not willing to deal with my assumptive judgment and protective parenting either.

Was I ashamed? A little, but the picture I took of the community center mural prior to leaving had immediately wed to my higher consciousness, my self-control and my hope that diverse communities and law enforcement everywhere will continue to seek harmonious non-violent solutions to keep the beasts at bay, for our children’s sake and our children’s children.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Men of An Unremarkable Age

The pushups, situps, arm band toning and the walking workouts became the "running" joke. I first referred to it affectionately as my Olivia Newton-John workout back in 1989. That's when our annual trek to Chico started, five years out of high school.

But let's jump into the "way back machine" to over 35 years ago, to when a gangly, tall boy by the name of Robin Christopher Day befriended me. We were in the 7th grade at the time and in Mr. Franks "hot hockey stick" history class together. I say hot hockey stick because Mr. Franks had a sawed-off hockey stick he used to rattle the young minds in his class.

And rattle us he did. If you were out of line in class – slam – right on the desk in front of you. Scared the crap out of us every single time. He never physically hit any of us, and God knows no one really gets away with that today, but memorable it was.

During that first year of friendship Robby made me a cassette tape of two Cheap Trick albums and our rock and roll friendship has never looked back. Yes, a mix tape. Feel free to tease (while you reminisce the dozens you made for friends and lovers).

Fast forward to a fateful spring day at a swim meet our senior year in high school. Robby wanted to go with a group of us to the coast instead of his swim meet, and he knew perfectly well he wouldn't miss his meet for anything.

We returned early that evening to learn that he had broken his neck and crushed his spinal cord on a third false start. We rushed to the hospital to see him, and his mother claimed we were family so we could see him in the ICU the next morning when he was conscious.

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

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

There are moments like Robby's accident that altered all our worlds dramatically, that forever bound us together, our lives and futures inextricably linked in a lifetime of friendship -- through all the personal tragedy, incremental joy, marriage, children, divorce, career success and failure, falling outs and ins, illness, injury (a recent bum knee for me), addiction, depression, and even death -- always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

You know, like a bunch of girls.

I write that not disparaging women at all. No, I write that because men don't have the same societal or genetic capacity to stay together in tight-knit support groups like women have for thousands of years.  

But us guys? We've managed to do just that.

Now we're all men of an unremarkable age, just north of prime, more so for Robby, getting together as often as we can, banking all those happy silver linings and laughter, plus a shitload of usually inappropriate "inside baseball" comedic catch phrases.

"Low T, low T!" (which is one of the milder ones)

As in, low testosterone alert. Hey, that's life, kids. So slip on those pink wristbands and headbands and let's get physical. The B-hive is a proud endorser of girlie-men everywhere.

Unremarkable is the new black anyway. Love you, my Brothers.





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.