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 31, 2011

Gotta get out and go, go, go through sun, rain, sleet or snow

Tv

The B-hive are Toy Story junkies. All of us. One and all.

(And I write that with nothing but fatherly love and admiration -- Bea is team Woody, by the way).

Although they’re still way too young to get all the adult subtleties, the Mama and me know how sweet and brilliantly written the stories are and how the themes of teamwork and support as well as second, even third chances in life are important and empowering for us all.

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And in another medium--the alien technology known as the iPad--there's an amazing interactive storybook we’ve been watching with the elder B, Bea. It’s called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and it’s all about the importance and power of reading books and stories.

There's also the current favorites of Yo Gabba Gabba for Bea and Baby Einstein for Bryce.

TV, DVR, movies, shows, on-demand cable, DVD's, video, computers and laptops, downloadable content for the iPad and iPod, the internet itself...

Hey, Nielsen says more Americans are watching TV than ever before--up 1.2 percent in the last quarter--and they’re spending more time watching TV, too--that’s up 1.9 percent, to a staggering 153-plus hours per month.

And that's just TV.

We do wonder if we're allowing too much of all of the above. Childhood obesity and general lethargy are chronic problems in the US for sure. But the Mama and I grew up with TV--way too much TV and we had only a fraction of the choices the B-hive has today--and yet we were still extemely active.

Because we actually went outside. And did stuff. Active stuff. Like we do now. Brain melting schmelting, too; we've avid readers as well.

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Gotta get out and go, go, go! The Mama is amazing at keeping the kids and me active every single day. Just yesterday we walked to one of the girls favorite parks about a mile away and played, played, played!

Yep, gotta get out and go, go, go through sun, rain, sleet or snow. (Okay, no snow here, but you get my point.)

Go, go, go!

But I'll tell you, from a couple who were never going to have kids, having the iPod and iPad on an airplane is a-ma-zing. Don't ask us to go without on family vacation. Ever.

Then there's this. We said this would never happen either. No judging, please. We're ashamed enough as it is, but I forgot how friggin' good a Big Mac, fries and a coke tastes.

Then get out and go, go, go!

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Daddy Day in Monterey

He beat me 3 to 1.

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With the kids, that is, at least for our Daddy Day in Monterey. One of my best friends from college; a man like me who never thought he would have children (or really wanted them, until he did).

And now we do. The score is actually 3 to 2, but I didn't take Bryce with me this time, only Beatrice. Just a little fun Daddy time with the elder B.

But my friend, Troy? He has a three. A four-year-old and two two-and-a-year-old twins (boy and a girl).

I thought giving the Mama and me a badge of honor for surving the B-hive on our recent family vacation was worthy.

However, a soon-to-be-divorced dad with three little kids? I was in awe on how he managed all three, with a loving but firm, efficient style, whether it was out our house, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium or during lunch at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

And we had an amazing time. The kids were good at almost every turn and Bea was thrilled to bits to play with Troy's oldest. If we lived closer, we'd be getting together more often. We don't, though, so these times are precious.

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One of the precious moments was when all the kids were next to me and I was telling Beatrice to look at the camera. I then imagined what it would be like to have five children.

And I passed out.

When I awoke, another precious moment was watching Bea chase a penguin swimming around in the tank -- or more accurately, watching the penguin swim around and chase Bea.

For 10 minutes I watched and reveled in the world of an almost three-year-old. The whole week prior to going we built up the aquarium buzz for Bea, and almost every time we asked her what she wanted to see, she said:

"Penguin!"

There you go, baby. There you go.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's all in the caring now

Caring is emphasized as much as curing.

That's a sentiment that really touched me when I read David Brooks' recent opinion piece titled Death and Budgets from The New York Times, and kind of where I've arrived when it comes to my parents' health, particularly my mother's.

The rest of our family vacation was bittersweet in that regard, my mother still in the throes of a severe Porphyria attack as well as recovering from a stomach surgical procedure, her body an embattled shell of itself, losing its battle to the years of chronic illness, pain and multiple medications.

That's been hard for the entire family, but we've been so focused on the "curing" and her getting her life back by pushing her to take better care of herself, we lost sight somehow of just simple caring for her as she has cared for us all these years.

Moms are supposed to care for there families unconditionally (although I know every family, including my own, who would argue there are always a few conditions), so why don't we do the same for them? There's a point when we just have to stop blaming our loved ones for not taking the best care of themselves and just encourage them and care for them unconditionally (with a few conditions thrown in for good measure).

My mother was in good spirits when we visited last week, especially since her sweet granddaughters were there (no matter how exhausting they were for the Mama and the Daddy -- enough with the fairy godmother dumbstick, please), but she was limited in what she could do physically. Unfortunately I've never seen her look so ill.

But we still had a great time visiting with them, going out to the local parks for strolls and also visiting a wild animal safari park that the B-hive buzzed wildly about. The Oregon coast is really gorgeous and the weather couldn't have been better.

There were a few times, when Mom's strength was there, when she could hold our girls and play with them a little. Dad could do more, but his strength has been sapped as well because of his own physical impairments over the years as well as caring for Mom (which is why it's time to bring them close).

I contrast that with the years my sister had with my parents helping to take care of her two wonderful children, when they were younger and in relatively better health. Years my family will most likely never have with them at this point.

Family dynamics are not always warm and fuzzy, but for those of us who have parents we love, and for those who are parents today, you embrace the all of it.

Sure some folks would say, "You should've had your kids sooner," or, "Your parents should've taken better care of themselves."

Although my dad would retort, "Should'ves and could'ves don't mean shit."

And I agree, because they don't. Only the "now" means anything and how you respond to the now. No, I'm not resentful. Sad, but not resentful. My sister was blessed with those years as I'm blessed with the moments I've gotten of late.

It's all in the caring now. It's all in the caring.

We love you, Mom and Dad.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ah, more dumbstick and the sacrificial soles

The irony wasn't lost on me. The fact that the only exercise we're getting on our family vacation is keeping time the B-hive and sleep deprivation.

And then I lost my running shoes. Gone. Vanished. Somewhere between playing in the fountains at Jamison Square in Portland with a good friend and his family, our motel and the Oregon Zoo, I lost them.

How? Who the heck knows. The point is they're gone. Vanished. Never to be run or walked in again. I brought them as walking shoes in case I got a chance to run, which I didn't, as mentioned above.

The fairy godmother dumbstick strikes again.

It was worth the sacrificial soles, though. I think. Running and working out just wasn't in the family vacation plan anyway. My God, just keeping up with and managing the B-hive temperament was stressful and strenuous enough.

When we first got to Jamison Square, I rolled over dog poop with the stroller and then stepped in it, right as Mama was saying, "Watch out for the dog poop!" Great. Then I chased Bea around the park fountain and I couldn't get her out. But once she got surprise splashed by a little boy, I couldn't get her back in. After lunch with our friends, it was time for the B-hive to nap and so we went to our motel, getting lost along the way (why are the Northwest roads and byways like the confusing Northeast?). However, once there, naps were out of the question, so we packed the girls back up and took them to the zoo. Bea loves animals and Bryce is starting to as well, but the Portland summer heat wilted us all after an hour or so, and then back to the car we went.

That's when the real unhappy shrieks began.

We were driving to our same friend's house for dinner and highway construction slowed us to a crawl.

And that's when the unhappy shrieks escalated.

Five minutes with a crying baby is a long, long time. Like 4-6 weeks in parent time. Really, you know what I mean if you have kids.

So 20 minutes of crying on a crowded highway is excruciating for all parties including the toddler sister. Enough to make you want to head to the airport and go home, which of course would've been even more insane.

This is why we always try to align the car travel time with baby naps and the toddler afternoon nap. Sometimes we get it right, but otherwise I'm better off making string theory a reality.

We survived though and had a great pizza party with our friends while the girls played with their children. Bubbles were being blown everywhere, from a Buzz Lightyear bubble blower to manual ones, the kids were digging it. And so were we!

All I had to wear most of the day were flip flops and dress shoes, and of course the flip flops won out, although I really could've used my sacrificial running shoes. My cheap sunglasses and my decent everyday watch became part of the sacrifices for the day as well because both broke that same day.

That night in the hotel was a little sketchy -- sharing with two little ones isn't the travel glamour of our past lore. We did manage to get some sleep and then we were off to see Nana and Papa down the Oregon coast.

And that was only the first 24 hours. Good times. Really. Next up -- Nana and Papa time.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Family Vacations and the Fairy Godmother Dumbstick

When I was a teenager, my dad used to tell me, "You'd lose your head if it wasn't attached to your body."

He was a detective. Really. He knew these things. But he forgot to tell me about the "having kids" part, becoming a father and the fact that my fairy godmother would someday hit me other the head with her step-sister dumbstick.

It's big and ugly, but feels like a feather pillow. Her dumbstick, not her step-sister.

Ah, we traveled the world before kids. The sights, the sounds, the glamour, the intrigue, the sex. Since, we've traveled a little with Beatrice, and that's been manageable, brain power and focal strength mostly remaining intact.

Traveling with two uniquely distinct tiny child humanoids? Whack! (Whoa, your step-sister is really cute, you know?)

It all starts with a series of simple missteps.

First, we overpacked for our family trip to see my parents in Oregon (or, maybe we still underpacked). Meaning that at five in the morning, 30 minutes before we have to leave for the airport, both suitcases are pushing 50+ pounds and so we had to offload into a third. Mama rocks at the packing, though; she taught me how to do it with laser precision. But when you're packing for two rug rats, all bets are off. It's like you have to pick up the kids' rooms and shake them into a "Honey, I shrunk the kids' stuff" machine thingie and pack them nicely into their respective two suitcases.

I mean, three suitcases. Not including the stroller, carry-on bags of food, toys, video-stuffed iPods and iPads, diapers and other assorted baby/toddler things. Oh, and the adult stuff we absolutely have to carry, like money and IDs and mood lifters.

Although traveling as adults for business and pleasure can be tedious, you get the process down and whip through the security line and head to your gate unscathed. Most of the time. This time at the airport with both girls (being very good by the way) the security line looked menacing at first, until another traveler told us to get into this other line for kids. You know, the first class, premium business class traveler line.

So we did, with three other families. Then, one of overworked and unhappy TSA employees started barking, "This line is for first class, premium business class travelers only. Please move to the other line if you're not traveling first class or premium business class."

"But we were told to get into this line with small children?" Mama cried out.

"This line is for first class, premium business class travelers only. Please move to the other line if you're not traveling first class or premium business class."

"Screw you, Jack. We ain't moving," I whispered to Mama. None of us moved. And we whipped through security and headed to our gate unscathed.

The flight to Portland was a blast for both girls, but especially Bea. She watched the planes take off from San Jose, then reveled in our plane taking off, watching the world fly by and sink away from the window and snap back again at landing. We did have the decompressing ears to deal with, but the girls survived.

But here's where the dumbstick double struck me us. We got off the plane, cruised to baggage claim, both girls calm and post-flight sedated (from the early morning flight, not meds), loaded up the $4 handy airport cart (wasn't it only a dollar last year?) and made our way to the rental car zone.

We then loaded our rental SUV, after I sweated it up installing the car seats, and I realized something was wrong. Something was missing. No, not one of the girls, or Mama, thankfully, but one of our suitcases. The third one we loaded that same morning. We had left the third bag in baggage claim.

Crap.

So we had to load everybody up in the stroller -- because keeping the B-hive buzzing helps to keep them calm, if you know what I mean -- and headed back to pick up our third bag full of baby/toddler joy.

More family travel fun soon, as well as more dumbstick strikes.

Right on. This is mint. Every single minute of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The many themes of Independence are flying high

"Um, um, um, red!"

"Okay, let's play with red."

"No -- um, um, um, white!"

"Okay, white."

"No -- um, um, um, blue!"

"Blue it is."

"Um, um, um, make french fries."

"Let's do it, sweetie."

That's us playing with Beatrice and her Cookie Monster Play-Doh food thingie-ma-bob yesterday. She was choosing the Play-Doh colors she preferred to play with, and while I manipulated the colors a little, because we don't really have white, it's been fascinating to witness Bea's word and sentence explosion these past few months as well as her daily awareness of the world around her and her path to independence.

Toddler independence that is. No, she's not driving and she won't be getting her own apartment anytime soon because's she's started grad school, but she is crossing that final length of Baby Bridge to Toddlerville and three years old.

Again, fascinating to be a witness to, to be parents of, to be mentors of, to be students of. (Yikes, and Bryce isn't too far behind not that she's a stumble or two away from walking.)

Play-Doh is a genius maker. Plus, it smells good. (What? You don't think so?) It fires the imagination and is cathartic, for those of stable homes filled with love and security, and for those without, like the kids of domestic violence I've worked with at the Walnut Avenue Women's Center (which is where I made my Picasso-esque Play-Doh face you see here).

While we played with Bea yesterday, I made a snowman witch hybrid out of brown Play-Doh (gross, I know) and Bea looked at it and exclaimed:

"Penguin!"

Right on. The power of imagination.

Tomorrow we're going to Wilder Ranch State Park for an old-fashioned Independence Day and the many themes of independence will be flying high in the sky for me and my family.

The obvious celebration of America's birth and the reveling in individual freedoms, the democratic due process, and beloved expressions like my grandfather's blast from the past, "Hotter than a firecracker on the 4th of July!" [insert what here]

Financial independence, which unfortunately too many of us have taken a backseat to in this post-apocalyptic economic ice age.

Mindful presence and emotional intelligence independence, which takes a lot more work than lip service, but the positive benefits are limitless.

Toddler, teenage and adulthood independence, which share enough collective fireworks to light up the dark corners of the universe.

But Independence Day takes on a whole new meaning when you're dependent on a broken body. Love you, Mom. We'll see you very soon.

Happy 4th of July, Family America. Give yourself a hug, would you? And break out the Play-Doh, too.