Sunday, December 30, 2012
In fact, a big misconception is that we're so much more violent today than our ancestors were yesterday. Media exploitation aside, the data actually shows rates of violence and violent death have declined over the past few thousand years, and our ability to empathize, curb our violent impulses and value human life has never been higher. Steven Pinker does an amazing job of explaining this all in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The rates of violence today really are lower than they've ever been.
Even those experts who don't necessarily agree with all the violence-declining theories Pinker postulates in his book do agree that statistically speaking we've gotten less violent as a species, not more violent. And the increase of impulse control and how we value human life is a big part of that.
Until it's not and control is again lost in horrific examples where we regress quite rapidly, the latest in the news makes it seem like there's a crazy on every corner ready to kill us and our children.
But it was the news I saw posted from my friends at The Pixel Project about the gang-rape in New Delhi of a 23-year-old medical student, and her eventual death from her injuries, that really stopped me cold. Of course I immediately thought of my own two young daughters and the fact that they could be 23-year-old medical students someday and that even with the overall decline in violence, violence against women is still a worldwide scourge.
Many women's rights advocates say that rapes, sex crimes and violent deaths go unreported in many parts of the world, even in the U.S. And for those reported, nearly 1.3 million women and about 835,000 men are assaulted by their partner every year in the United States.
We're not talking random rape here like in the recent India example. According to a National Women’s Study that sampled a total of 4,008 women, 13 percent of all adult women become rape victims during their lifetime. About 9 percent of the female victims were raped by their husbands or ex-husbands, nearly 10 percent were raped by their boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. Additionally, 11 percent of the female victims were raped by their fathers or stepfathers, and 16 percent were raped by other relatives.
The outrage in India has sparked protests and a cry for justice, but it also needs to be a cry for self-control and an even greater value of human life, for those we know and those we don't.
The picture of protesting Indian schoolchildren holding up declarative signs moves me to write yet again about putting an end to violence against women and intimate partner violence for both women and men, to renew my investment in 2013 in generating empathy, increasing impulse control from the day we're born, and elevating a little higher, however incremental, our value of one another, our children and our children's children.
Do Not Touch Me, My Dress Is Not A Yes
Indeed it is not. The Mama and I and our girls concur and we hold our signs on high.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Saturday, December 8, 2012
like a gold band forged now and forever.
I walk and cry and laugh and run along the paths,
Draw beauty of sky, trees, debris and water
deep into my lungs' tendrils that feed my heart.
I stop to pay homage to Kinkade and Sparks,
tempered (of course) by Hopper, Folds and Peart,
Bly and Kerouac, and Stein and Thompson Walker of late.
I thank God for my parents, for their love and suffering
when their bodies finally slowed to sudden stops
only four months and a day apart after a millennium.
Heartache leaves permanent scars of pleasure and pain,
but I thank God for my parents and their heaven,
for it will be there for me every morning I rise
promising more than until death do us part,
an eternal promise for my wife and us all.
The Mama had finally made it home from Oregon, but I was still here with my sister taking care of what had to be cared for. There I was, watching my family on FaceTime in front of our fireplace adorned with stockings and lit Christmas moon lights.
"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down..."
Bryce babbled and ran back and forth across the camera's field of vision, calling for Nonna, and Nonna answered back softly. Beatrice stood in front of the couch while the Mama kneeled next to her. Bea held the little figurine of two mice that she fell in love with when we were up visiting my parents in June, Nana and Papa as all the grandkids knew them.
"Beatrice," the Mama said, "we want to tell you that Nana isn't sick anymore, that she's with Papa in a better place."
"Yes," I said.
The Mama continued. "Nana and Papa are now together in heaven where they will be forever."
"Nana and Papa are together," Bea echoed. "In heaven."
"Yes, sweetie. They love you very much and will always be with you."
As I said those words, I ached to believe them, as if my very presence in that moment depended on everything I learned as a child in the Nazarene Church -- the many pictures of smiling Christs, arms always draped lovingly around children of all colors and nations, set in a meadows on warm spring days.
"They will always be with you, Bea."
I watched as Bea's mind swirled and ticked, trying to understand what it all meant. She held the mouse figurine tightly and smiled. I took that as my answer.
For two people who've always questioned the edicts and redeeming value of conservative Christianity, the Mama and me were quite comfortable telling Bea about the coloring book version of heaven.
Because we believe we'll be together someday in a better place. Because we already are -- the Mama, me, the B-hive and our family and friends.
Heaven is being with those you love. To hell with everything else. Heaven is now; heaven is forever.
We love you, Mom and Dad. Now and forever. Merry Christmas.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
And there it is. Through all the loss and drama my family has experienced during the past few months, leave it to Beatrice to keep it real for Daddy. Both Beatrice and Bryce don't really understand what happened with my Poppa, their grandpa and my Pop, when he died, but Bea realizes he's gone. We've handled it with explanation-light for Bea, although Bryce is still really too young to get it.
They also don't understand my mom's chronic illness and continual health problems, their Nana. They don't know how stressful it was to get Nana from my sister's to us right after I returned from Europe, and then me driving her back home to Oregon so she could reset in her health system while her doctors facilitated some stability. Although with my mom these days it's more like a defective light bulb that constantly flickers off and on, sometimes shiny brightly with radiance, and sometimes going completely dark.
But the girls did feel the stress of their daddy, and that's something I'm going to have to be more sensitive to as they get older and more aware of every nuance to life's pops, buzzes and brain stops.
Any comfort for the chronically ill is always welcomed, and getting mom set up with her iPad and FaceTime so she can see the B-hive any time she wants was critical. I have to continually explain to her how to use the program, but she'll get there. That time to be around any friends and family now is healing, if sadly brief and fleeting. The reality of my dad being gone has all but flattened her to the far side of the universe with a gravity unmatched from the darkest heart of a collapsed star. She's alone in her house now. However, we are working on moving her down to us as soon as feasibly possible.
Fuzzy is Beatrice's little swatch of pink, silky and "fuzzy" Winnie the Pooh comfort that her Auntie Jill made, the Mama's sister. It's her soul food comfort in the form of a blankie; Bryce has her own bigger yellow blankie. Each of us has our own "blankie" of sorts, some literal or figurative vessel that carries us away and soothes us with a gift of calming joy.
Be thankful for your own well moments of body and spirit, and be sensitive to those loved ones whose very fragility reduces them to motes alighting inside an empty house at dusk. Give them the gift of love and hugs this holiday season; give your fuzzy a present.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Call me Ody. And I don't mean the frickin' dog from Garfield. I mean a metaphorical Odysseus caricature of sorts. Ody, the adventurous B-hive daddy who flew to London and then will fly off to Amsterdam for business and maybe a little sightseeing in both locales.
But I wondered if we'd get there. Because the Sirens called us to the cliffs on the way to London where landed in Chicago four hours into the ten-hour flight because the autopilot doesn't work. And to land at Heathrow Airport in London, where low clouds and fog abound like San Francisco from whence we came, the autopilot has to be operational.
Which begs the question: Why wasn't it checked before we left? Or was that what's really wrong?
You never know when you fly these days. But the "what's wrong part" really began prior to this trip when the "Wreckers" came a-callin'. That's similar to "Sirens" from the current book I'm reading by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart called Clockwork Angels, based on Neil's concept album with Rush by the same name. Yes, I called it an album. And it's a really damn good one. (They're all really damn good, though).
Although I haven't gotten to that part of the book yet, based on what I know about them and the song of the same name in Clock Angels, the Wreckers are pirate-like sirens who crash and pillage cargo steam ships in this hybrid Steam Punk sci-fi world.
Hence, the Wreckers.
"All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Of everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Because sometimes the target is you."
Yes, the Wreckers came a-callin' last week for sure. With my back against the wall to get ready for my UK/Amsterdam trip, finish some marketing deadlines for the exciting new firm I work for (BraveNewTalent), and finish editing my career management book due out next month (which I'll make sure you'll hear about more soon for sure), my chronically ill mother, still grieving sadly for Pop (we all still are in our own ways), went in the hospital. She's been staying with my sister ever since Pop's memorial, and was supposed to come see us during the holidays, but now everything's gone to hell in a big ugly hand basket.
That's all I can really share about that situation right now, but know that there's been a lot logistically to handle the past few days, not to mention trying to help my extremely fragile mother, who I love, get back on the path of going back home to her medical and friend/church networks, which I had planned on doing weeks after I returned from this trip.
Until the metaphorical Wreckers, that is.
As I sat and waited for my flight to London, which turned out to be a four-hour delay overall, I found myself thankful I would only be away for seven days total instead of seven years that poor old Odysseus was away for in The Odyssey, to then have to return and beat off his wife's slimy suitors.
Oh, how I miss the Mama. We've been together for over 15 years now from the day we met. Nine years since the day we married, which was on the same day we met. And the lovely little B's that came years after…
The Wreckers better look out, because no matter what else happens this week, this Ody's gonna make it back intact.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
But share I'll continue to do. Last night was a precious moment. After Bryce was put to bed, we asked Nonna (the Mama's mom) to monitor the monitor, and we took Beatrice down to the cliffs above the water. It was such a balmy night last night, our Indian summer simmering, stirring memories of our own youth.
We ran along the West Cliff Drive walkway, laughing and jumping, reaching for the tiny diamonds that shimmered in the night sky.
I pointed up to the sky. "Wow, is that the milky way?"
"Yes," the Mama said.
"Bea," I said, pulling her close and pointing up. "That's the milky way. See all the stars inside it?"
"The milky way," she repeated.
We all gazed at the starry sky in a moment of quiet reverence. And then we were off again, laughing and jumping into the warm night.
Gotta hold on to those moments, kids.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
The teenagers threw us for a few minutes. Yes, the Mama was told they were college kids, but mercy me did they look like kids. They were supposed to resemble a prince and princess -- correction -- the girl had called and asked if it would be okay if she dressed up like a fairy.
But when they walked in the house, the boy wore a Navy-like military outfit in all white with a Burger King-esque crown on, kind of a Prince Harry caricature (clothed), and the girl wore a conservative "I Dream of Jeannie" outfit that never made it off the studio rack to the sound stage. They hauled in boxes of stuff with them. What stuff we weren't sure of.
I mean, they really looked like kids, and I was worried. They were supposed to perform magic tricks, paint faces and make animal balloons. And fortunately that's exactly what they did, although Bea's birthday four-year-old and younger party attendees were just happy when the dressed up "older kids" strolled through the house to the backyard with the mysterious boxes. I joked with the Mama asking her if she had ordered ponies, too. Thankfully she didn't.
We laid out blankets on the grass for the kids and parents to sit on while Prince Harry and Jeannie started the show. The kids loved every minute of it, Beatrice as bubbly as I've ever seen her. One little boy was overheard saying:
"I didn't know magic even existed."
Brilliant. And you know what else is a big hit with a little kids' magic show? The little animals. The cuddly, furry and feathery little animals. The magic kids brought a hamster, rabbit and dove to share -- or more specifically, made them appear. Everyone had a chance to pet them after the fact.
Of course Bea loved opening gifts and immediately playing with and sharing all her new toys with all her guests and her little sister. For being the youngest, Bryce held up pretty well, but was also the one who dragged and dropped her iced cupcake all over the living room. What did we expect, right? Give a kid a loaded cupcake…
Oh, the party was so much fun. Really. We couldn't have dreamt it go any better. The magic kids, their live trick animals, the face painting, the balloon animals, the pizza, the cupcakes and cupcake decorating (which thankfully didn't turn into a sticky sweet mess), all of it fun beyond measure for the kids, for the me and the Mama, for Nonna, for my best friend Troy and his children, and all the other parents who came over to celebrate.
The best part came in witnessing our elder birthday B interact and play with the other kids, laughing and tousling one another without incident, gasping and giggling with ever sleight of hand and surprise animals to pet, sharing and playing with toys and gobbling up pizza and pink cupcakes and slurping down juice.
I didn't even know this kind of magic existed, this new magic of now.
Happy Birthday Beatrice.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Atoms spin at different speeds. The younger, faster B atoms swirl around
the older, slower A and K atoms, keeping the older, slower atoms a little younger and a little faster.
But time is much different physics for the younger atoms. A moment to the B's could be days for the A and K. Even weeks. And the faster it moves for A and K doesn't seem to affect the B time, or it can make them move even slower.
And be crankier.
Yesterday I took Beatrice to her occupational therapy session, which went well; the progress she's made since last year in getting her neural network to fire age-appropriately has been excellent. But afterwards she wanted to play in the playground right outside of the building we go to, and I wanted to get us to the lighthouse to meet the Mama and Bryce so we could all see the Space Shuttle fly. I encouraged her positively and even tried to barter, but she fought and cried and mercy if the school we were at (which isn't where Bea goes) didn't think I was stealing a child. Ended up she was fine once we got to the Mama and Bryce. Sigh.
And last week we all went to see Bea at preschool where the Mama volunteers in the class -- me, Nonna and Bryce. But soon after I read a story to the class and we got to celebrating Bea's birthday, Bryce got ornery as all get up, which she does more often these days, so I removed her from the class crying and flailing and throwing herself to the ground, which outside meant atop the kid-safe bark that sticks to kids like velcro-friendly objects. Highly friendly objects. That stick everywhere. Hair, face, mouth, arms, legs. Ended up she was just hungry and wanted a snack. Sigh.
Thank goodness for the lightness of Pop. The B's are sister disco birthday sidekicks, now two and four respectively (but not always if you know what I mean). Since Pop's passing it's all been a blur -- the B, A and K atoms all accelerating to the speed of light and life -- providing for and nurturing family the best we can.
The B atoms whirl and spin even faster and faster around the A and K atoms. Family love has a dizzying trajectory but each other's gravity keeps us all in place.
Or spinning in a chair.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
"It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
It was always a sunny smile, my dad's. A master of levity, Pop injected humor and silliness into most everything he did. He infectious laugh brought smiles to anyone in its radius, the scar above his lip glinting under light like polished glass. For the life of me, I can't remember how he got the scar. All I know is that it added a richness to his character, like biscuits soaked in honey and butter -- you could never get enough.
This from someone who served in the Air Force and who also was a law enforcement veteran of 32 years. Anyone who ever worked with him shared the same sentiment -- from the most hardened cops and criminals (who he called his customers), to literal strangers he'd meet on the street, in the store, in the campground, in the post office, in the doctor's office...everyone experienced his sunny disposition, his goofy humor and his viral smile.
He inspired me to do the same, to be silly, to embrace life and all the people in it, to give life and all the people in it a second and third chance, to laugh in the face of adversity -- while at the same time tackling it and pinning it to the ground. Mercy me, that ain't easy, but his gumption combined with the Mama's has helped me keep it pinned to the ground.
And when the Mama and I started the B-hive, we knew we'd go all in. For us, there was and is no alternative; your children B-come your life, and your life B-comes more beautiful, more vibrantly alive with wondrous mess, like crayons melting together beyond the lines and creating pictures we never thought possible.
Pictures of rainbows and silly faces and sunny smiles and birthday hats. There's enough darkness out there as it is. I prefer to stay in the lightness of Pop.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Sometime around 2:00 a.m., I woke to the sound of Chips barking and growling outside my open window. I sat up quickly as my heart shot straight up and striking my head like a bell in a carnival iron man game. My 14-year-old ears strained desperately to hear what our sweet little black and white Cockapoo was barking at.
But in between her growls and barks all I could imagine hearing was the quiet buzz of June bug wings. My bladder full and forehead sweaty, I did not dare go to the bathroom for fear whatever evil lurked outside the door would get me. The hot summer night clung to me like a coat. It was at least 85 degrees outside and my rotating white fan circulated only thick hot air from corner to corner and back again. There was no moon, only darkness outside. The house behind ours sat dark and quiet and the streetlamp in between was out. It usually spilled faint yellow light into the shallow end of our swimming pool, but now there was only still black water.
I was paralyzed, now bathed in sweat and fear. I closed my eyes and held my breath.
Chips kept up the barking, but she seemed to be moving past my window towards the first set of sliding glass doors that led to our living room. All the doors and windows were open that night, something we always did in the summertime to save on air conditioning costs. Thankfully the screen doors were locked. I almost laughed, wondering just for a few seconds about the genius who invented locking screen doors. Another Chips growl wiped the smile away. My hearing deceived me as I realized Chips wasn’t moving forward along the backside of our house.
She was moving backward.
Oh God, please.
Obviously I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her moving backward while someone (or something) was forcing her backward. Somehow I had actually inched to the edge of my bed, wearing only faded red gym shorts and a soaked gray tank top, my entire body now useless, my breathing a steady, shallow beat of a metronome. I listened desperately for anyone else stirring who might have heard Chips barking: my sister, Mom or Dad. Nothing. No one.
Then someone (or something) kicked some of the rocks that filled the space between the pool decking and our house. Chips’ bark intensified -- her growling became a violent storm bashing the side of the house. Boards creaked with human weight along the deck that led to the locked screen door.
Why doesn’t Dad wake up?
I didn’t move. My hands and butt were fused to the bed, my head cocked unnaturally towards the window. My eyes opened even wider. They felt like hot glass plates. I actually moved, a little, but each muscle resisted painfully. I couldn’t believe that Dad or anyone in my family hadn’t heard, and the fact that my sister's bedroom shared the same backyard facing direction. I made it to my window and peaked my head slowly to the left to look for any movement.
There was none.
Then I heard a brief metallic screech and the screen door clicked and slid open. Someone (or something) stepped inside our house. Chips now growled and barked from inside the living room. Again I couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move. Only wanted somebody else to move first. My throat completely dried up. All the water in my body seemed to escaping from every pore as well as filling my bladder beyond its normal capacity.
I moved two feet towards my bedroom door and froze again. I heard a hollow thud sound. Chips yelped.
The bastard kicked my dog.
The yelp faded into a whimper. After that, nothing. A gurgling sound bubbled up from the pool. The pool sweep had come on. I looked back at my clock on the side of my bed. Less than five minutes had passed all together.
I finally moved, anger trumping fear for just a second. I reached my door and felt for the doorknob. I heard rustling sounds like someone frantically searching for something. Then whispering. My heart pounded nails into every nerve ending. I grabbed the doorknob and turned.
Someone (or something) was out in our hallway. I could’ve reached through the door and been able to touch him or her (or it). My lips were so dry that I could feel them splitting. I tried to lick them; it was like running a hot towel fresh from the dryer over them. I turned the doorknob slowly.
Another bedroom door burst open in the hallway beyond my own.
I jumped, maybe even let loose a little shriek, surprised I didn't let loose my bladder. I heard someone yell, maybe Dad, but I wasn’t sure. Heavy footsteps from multiple people pounded down the hallway. It sounded like a stampede. The front door opened and slammed against the inside entryway wall, and it was almost as if I could see through the walls, my adrenalin flooding my body with super human powers. Too bad I couldn't move.
Chips barked again and sounded like she ran out into the front yard.
That was Mom.
That was my sister.
I finally opened my bedroom door.
The hallway ended here and emptied into three rooms: Mom and Dad's, my sister’s and mine. Mom stood there wearing only underwear and a white t-shirt. Her hair wet and matted along her forehead and ears.
My sister hadn’t opened her door yet. “What’s wrong?” she called from behind it.
"Everything’s fine, sweetie," Mom answered nervously. Something large, shiny and metallic rested firmly in her right hand.
Dad's .357 magnum. Holy crap.
Mom spoke again, her voice clear and calm. "Son, listen to me. Someone broke into our house and your father ran after him. I need you to go and take him his gun right now. Hurry."
You’ve got to be kidding me. Everything's fine?
She held the gun out to me, shaking it a little as if I hadn’t seen it.
"Son, you have to take Dad his gun right now. Go!"
There was an edge to her voice I understood all too well. This wasn’t a simple favor she was asking of me: it was an order. She lowered her hand and I knew she was going herself. I took the massive handgun from her. It was very heavy in my hand and it pulled my right arm down like I had an oversized bowling ball.
"The safety is off, so be careful. Now go!"
The safety is off?
I ran down the hallway and out the front door.
Chips barked randomly from the front porch. Dad was nowhere to be seen and neither was the intruder. The huge pine in our front yard leaned towards the house as if wanting to shield it. I ran down the stone pathway around the tree and out to the street. At the same time, someone was running back towards our house from up the street. The streetlight bathed the man in eerie yellow light as he came up on me. He wore nothing but his underwear. Tighty whiteys as they're more commonly known.
It was Dad. I couldn't help but to squeak out a little laugh. At that moment I thought of his professional nickname -- Tricky Dick. It originated from his fellow officers commenting on his use of so-called unorthodox procedures on the street.
I held the gun up by its handle, away from my body, as if I was holding up a dead rat by the tail. Dad caught up to me and doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for air.
"Thanks -- son -- he got -- away. I - think -- down the -- street. I have -- to call -- downtown. Hold -- the -- gun -- would you?"
Holy crap. Again?
"I already called Sandy downtown, Dick," Mom said from behind me. I jumped.
"Sorry, honey." Mom rubbed my back. "Anyway, officers are on their way. Are you all right, Dick? Did you get him?"
My dad could only shake his head no. Even though the hair on his head was thinning, the rest of his body was covered with curly and coarse graying hair. He spooked me; he might as well have been shape-shifting into a werewolf.
"Was he big?" I asked, not knowing what else to say. My right hand felt like it burned holding that gun. I hated guns. They were awkward and uncomfortable and killed people.
Tricky Dick stood up straight again. He finally caught his breath.
"I think so," he said. "He looked pretty damn tall to me. Fast too. Sonofabitch jumped somebody’s fence up the street and then ran into something pretty damn hard. Could’ve been the side of the house. Whatever it was, I heard the ever lovin’ air get knocked out of him, but then the bastard jumped over the back fence and was gone. Nothin’ but dogs barkin’ and lights goin’ on. Stupid sonofabitch."
"What would you have done if you’d caught him?" I asked him, scanning the street, worried that the intruder might return. Mom had already gone back to the house to quiet down Chips and to check on my sister.
Dad shrugged, then forced a smile. "Good question, son. I have no earthly idea."
He thought about this for a moment, then added, "Sometimes you just have to figure things out when you get there."
That’s it Tricky Dick? That's the unorthodox procedure?
I was surprised. To think that there was this indecisive parameter that existed in brave men like my Dad. They usually had it all figured out, didn’t they? I expected more, but that night there was only a balding middle-aged man in his underwear standing in the street with his sissy son holding a gun like a dead animal. Tricky Dick and the gunslinger, ready to save the day.
I wanted to hug him then, but didn’t. I wanted to cry, but didn’t. I heard sirens. Red and blue flashing lights washed the yellow streetlight away. I handed Dad his gun.
"Thank you, son."
"You’re welcome, Dad."
We stood there together on the sidewalk as four police cars screeched to a halt in front of our house.
"Can we turn the air conditioner on now?"
He smiled. It was a warm and loving smile.
Head down, I shuffled back into the house. I gave Chips a little pat and let her lick my face. Screen doors that lock, I thought. Yeah, right.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
He never opened the e-mail; the birthday e-card was never picked up. Granted it was silly -- an animated e-card of a Tyrannosaurus rex with an English accent wearing a tiny birthday hat and sharing a funny yet offensive joke about a guy peeing all over a bar to win a bet. Just the kind of humor a veteran cop of 32 years would want to read on his 80th birthday.
But he never opened it. I only stare at the notification verifying this fact. I never open up the auto-responder either, marking it read to remove the blue dot next to the e-mail in my Apple mail. I just visit it from time to time in the list of opened e-mails as if it were a reminder of something lost, the blue dot exposing the space where the sadness seeps in.
And it's only been 21 days since I sent it to him, 17 days since I went to see him, and 9 days since he died.
Dad's lucidity intact when I sent it, there were bigger things on his mind on his 80th birthday. The fact that he and Mom could no longer take care of each other weighed heavily on them both, especially Dad. Mom's chronic illness came to a head again and my sister and I had to come help them both.
No more chemo, hospice in place, advanced directive decisions made all in a matter of a few days. Laughing, talking and then slipping away quickly, aware but unable to articulate any kind of verbal response, these haunting hiccups had started as his body began to shut down, as if his life were a worn record album with the needle jumping in the same place…
He hated my music. Maybe hate's a strong word, but when you hear "turn that crap down" or "turn that crap off" or "close your bedroom door when you listen to that crap" it leaves little room to wonder. Never a rock and roll fan in the first place, when the family tree of rock branched into grittier, harder more explicit and progressive directions, then Dad along with many others of his generation threw up their collective hands and then hung their heads in bitter silence, right before they shouted "turn that crap off."
Mom's the one who turned me on to music -- rhythm and blues, soul, light jazz, pop and of course my favorite, rock (and roll). And they both were actually supportive when I joined the Columbia Record Club and bought 13 records for 1 cent, which really turned out to be more like $46.01 in shipping and handling. But they both weren't really happy when they found out I still had to buy three more albums over two years at full overpriced Columbia Record Club prices. However, those first 13 albums where like precious metals -- Kiss, Kansas, Journey, Boston, Queen, Aerosmith and more (becoming a Rush fan would come later for me).
Shortly thereafter it was my 13th birthday and Mom and Dad took me to Sears to buy my very first bonafide home stereo for my room. My anticipation and impatience was palatable. Until that point I had played all my 45's on a Playskool record player. Really. How cool was that.
There was a budget of course as we walked up and down the electronics section of Sears. The choices were mind boggling. Every one I looked at I wanted and I knew I wanted the AM/FM radio, the record player and the 8-track player that recorded tapes as well. I practically peed my pants trying to decide which one.
"Son, you really should get the one with the cassette player, not the 8-track player," said Dad. This coming from a man whose favorite tunes were from the musical "South Pacific," on reel-to-reel tapes he purchased, ironically enough, in the South Pacific.
"No, I want the 8-track player," I said, defiant and quite sure of myself. I did already have a few 8-tracks and knew I'd be buying more of them and records with future allowance money.
Dad shook his head and smiled. "I'm telling you, son. 8-track tapes won't be around much longer. Cassettes are going to be the way to go."
No matter how many times he tried to convince me, with Mom concurring, I refused. I went home with an 8-track home stereo system and turned my crap up really, really loud. One week later, every 8-track tape still on the market was gathered up quietly from record store shelves and mail order services and shipped to an underground vault in Iowa, never to be seen again.
Dad was always insightful that way. Whether it was chasing people across paper when he managed forgeries and frauds on the force; or investing much of his retirement years on family research and genealogy, delving back generations and uncovering fascinating family stories over four family lines while smashing the stereotype that older folk don't know how to use computers and the Internet; or knowing how my music would last better over time (considering 8-tracks only lasted about a week until the tracks started playing over one another).
This is how we remember: the needle jumps around the record giving us snatches of our favorite riffs, choruses, melodies, guitar solos, drum solos, intros and outros. My girls won't understand the record player metaphor unless I explain to them, and explain it to them I will. I'll want them to hear the stories of my youth, of my Mom and Dad, of my family, of music metaphors and the sadness that sometimes seeps in.
The blue dot winks and I smile. I will miss you, Dad.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
He held the sign slightly askew. It read: Jesus Saves The Hungry. Please help. As I drove by, he danced lightly back and forth on the sidewalk as if he had to pee, a disheveled Mr. Bojangles with a painful smile across his face like a stained crease.
Somewhere deep inside my tired heart, I heard the music, but then it was gone and all I could think about was will Jesus save my parents?
I didn't hold my breath and I wasn't angry or resentful. I only drove back from the store to my parents' sweet little home here in Oregon, to continue to figure it all out with my sister.
Our father is dying, the surreality of that painfully clear now that we're here, his body shifting and slipping away to cancer like a Dali painting sitting out in the hot sun. The chemotherapy is most likely to be discontinued, with hospice to be brought in. Our mother, chronically ill with endless pain for decades, is desperately fearful she'll lose him soon; we all are. Time is that selfish friend who prefers to hang with the fun kids, not the sick or the old or the misfits. But at least our parents renewed their marriage vows two weeks ago, which is something they wanted to do for the last few years.
Of all the emotional dysfunction that can plague even the best of families, ours has thankfully fallen away for now like chunks of ice from a melting glacier, the global warming of our hearts uniting a family that once was: Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother.
When we were scared as children, they held us close. When we were sick, they cleaned us up and told us they loved us, that it would all be okay. Now our folks are the ones who are scared and sick, and so we reciprocate with love and respect. Our children will hopefully do the same for us, just as their children will do the same for them.
This is why the Mama and I made the decision last year and this year to visit family with Beatrice and Bryce, to immerse them in our collective stories, of past and present, from my family in the West to the Mama's on the Mississippi, and as many other visits in between we could and can still muster, "God willing and the creek don't rise" as my father always says.
My girls aren't here with me now. I miss them and the Mama terribly. I miss holding them close and telling them I love them.
But right now I must hold my parents close and tell them everything will be okay. Jesus saves the hungry, Mom. We're here to help.
Mr. Bojangles, dance.
"The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect -- so hard to earn, so easily burned. In the fullness of time, a garden to nurture and protect. The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect -- the way you live, the gifts that you give. And the fullness of time is the only return that you expect."
Saturday, July 7, 2012
I woke to crying. From a distance. Focus. In the other room. The girls' room. The clock next to my bed glowed 1:00 a.m. red.
More crying. I rose quickly and travelled the hallway in one bound. I entered the room and there she stood between two worlds -- her little bed and her big bed -- seemingly half asleep. As soon as she saw me she dove back into the big bed, curled up with her fuzzy and thumb in mouth ("fuzzy" is her small silky pink security blanket).
I sat with her for a while, rubbed her arm and told her I loved her. She sighed and then fell back asleep.
Such is a little life traversing the path from toddler-dom to little girl. As Beatrice nears her fourth birthday, a little less than three months away, the past six months have been quite transformative for her. She's catching up with her speech and processing delays; preschool, speech therapy and occupational therapy have really paid off. She's talking tons like sweet little girls do, talking quite loudly actually since she's been encouraged to express herself, going potty on the potty (big parental win), and starting to sleep more and more in her big girl bed.
Little Miss Independence, still thankfully light years from teenage-land and adulthood, but moving beyond toddler-dom for sure. As her synapses continue to shape and shift, her awareness expands magically to a level I can't even remember having, and wish I still had. From bugs to blue sky to Bryce, the world around her has come tangibly alive with sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches.
Yes, from bugs to blue sky to Bryce -- her trusty Lil' Sidekick Shadow who's right behind her and is less than two months from two years. Bryce, the shorter supernova who's not afraid of much, unless Beatrice shrieks and scares her. Bryce, the baby-to-toddler-dom Braveheart charging ahead in everything she does, dragging her yellow blanket behind her like Linus from Peanuts. When she takes off in a playful run, she kind of pumps her arms and rotates her shoulders with a sly smile. No speech delays here; this kid's already stringing words together like hot popcorn on Christmas morning. Not quite sentences, but tasty strings of words nonetheless. And she's already modeling sitting on the potty. Mercy me.
Even more magically expanding awareness -- that now floods into the backyard, the one we didn't use much prior to kids that's now become one of many stomping and romping grounds keeping us all active year round. We just bought a new chair swing and the girls love it. Daddy can still put stuff together and that's a good thing, because these girls are gonna keep the Mama and me young and spry.
Little Miss Independence and her trusty Lil' Sidekick Shadow, running rampant through our summertime hearts.
Who says dashing naked through sprinklers is old school? We sure didn't.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
All these things the Mama and I witness within the love between two sisters, our daughters, the B's. The elder B will be four years old soon and the younger B will be two soon. Extraordinary girls who will hopefully become extraordinary women someday, women who will have each other's backs, as well as other women (and men), in a world that still defines women as subpar by a subset of their demeaning male counterparts.
I'm not just talking about economic, political and religious inequality for women, and all in between. I'm also talking about blatant, hateful violence against women.
The statistics are staggering. The United Nations estimates that 1 billion women will be raped and sexually brutalized this year, often as a consequence of war. Humanity still isn't all that humane when it comes to women, the mothers of our children, and anyone else we don't like or want on our block.
Thankfully there are groups like the League of Extraordinary Women -- an "interconnected group of executives, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, artists, government officials, and academics is formulating groundbreaking initiatives and hacking long-outdated aid models by tapping new thinking and a growing data set that suggests that investing in girls and women will create measurable economic benefits for all."
All over the world, mind you. According to a Fast Company article about the League, Multiple studies over the past decade indicate that the facts are unquestionably on their side: If you train a woman in a particular skill and give her a microloan, or a way to build up some savings, she is more likely than a man to use her income to educate and care for her family and invest in the community.
More likely than a man. Hey, I'm all about making money and being successful and giving back -- but a woman more likely than a man, baby. Read it, learn from it and share the benefits.
Closer to business home for me, there are the Women of HR -- those savvy HR industry movers and schoolers and sharp business minds who I admire tremendously. (Don't worry guys, there's plenty of you I dig professionally as well.) There's also a huge contingent of amazing women movers and schoolers at TalentCulture and #TChat, the weekly Twitter chat about the world of work, co-founded by me and my friend and mentor, Meghan M. Biro.
And as I've written about before, there's the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, headed up by my friend Kim Wells. The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence is a leading force in the fight against domestic violence and is the only national organization of its kind founded by business leaders and focused on the workplace.
In the end, as in the beginning, the truest way to instill positive change and impact in the world at large and the world of work, to increase civility and equality while reducing the abuse and violence against women and men alike, all starts at home with the League of Extraordinary B-hives.
You, the parents and your children.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
One hundred and seven deaths per minute worldwide. Some have many words associated with them, words that celebrate life. Some have only a few words, announcing death. Many have none.
One minute six months ago, my birth father died, the man with blue genes who had abused my mother. I say birth father because I hadn't seen him since I was 13 -- hadn't wanted to see him since then. He hadn't reached out after that point, and neither had I. I didn't even hear about it until a month ago.
One minute six months ago, two lines described his death. Twenty-five words in all. Twenty-five words that describe where he died and funeral arrangements only. Twenty-fine words that I looked up online, that I actually spent $2.50 to access in the local paper where it was published.
I have no feelings either way. No resentment or forgiveness, no sadness or relief. Nothing except maybe relief for him having to live with his alcoholism and his painful ghosts, if he ever had any.
But 173 words later, the man my mother's been married to for 33 years, whose name my sister and I took as our own, the man we call Dad, the man my sister's kids and mine call Papa, is dying.
The radiation treatments didn't get the melanoma. It's now spread throughout his entire body. Some form of chemotherapy is next, and although his oncologist seems to think he's strong enough to handle it, I'm not sure he's sure he is. Of course we want him to live, especially Nana (Mom) who's been chronically ill with an auto-immune disorder for almost three decades. He turns 80 next month and could live years more as far as we all know including the medical professionals. He's done it before after surviving a stroke in 1994 and an abscess on his lung that nearly took him home to Jesus back in 2002.
They've both been in and out of the hospital many times this past year and we've all been up to see and help them as much as we can. Living hours and hours away isn't easy, especially now. Thankfully we were just there, enjoying a family vacation with the B-hive as well as going to medical appointments with my folks and helping to plan their uncertain future.
We all have uncertain futures, though. When Bea is my age now, I'll be 88, if I make it that far, which God willin' and the creek don't rise I will, along with the Mama.
I've put the blue genes to bed; I have two daughters of my own. As I look to what's next for us all, I wish my father the happiest of Father's Days with many more to come.
I wish all the good fathers out there the same.
Be mindfully present and love your family. Always.
Friday, June 8, 2012
"Beatrice, get on the escalator with me!"
Bea froze. The stroller and my bag clicked atop the downward moving metal steps.
"Bea, come with Daddy!"
Bea backed up one step. The Mama and Bryce were already at the bottom. The stroller and my bag pulled me onward onto the steps.
"Beatrice, come on!"
She didn't move. The distance between us grew and Bea's distressed face crushed my heart.
"Mama, she didn't come with me!" I called down. But the Mama didn't hear me, to focused on chasing Bryce.
For a few seconds I froze, watching Bea pull away from me atop the escalator. For a few seconds I just didn't know what to do, even with the nagging feeling in the base of my brain telling me to leave the stuff and scramble up the stairs for her. For a few seconds I felt helpless, a rookie father leaving his daughter behind, unable to move.
A few seconds can feel like forever when you're frozen to moving stairs, but then an older man took Bea's hand and guided her down the escalator.
"Thank you, sir!"
Now, I know what you're thinking -- you're thinking that if we were in a much larger airport someone could've easily swept her away. Even the Mama told me I should've just dumped the stuff and ran up.
Which was where I would've gotten to in two seconds more...but still. Sadly I'm slow that way sometimes.
The sick feeling dug a huge cold and vile pit in my belly when we were all sitting down at the gate waiting to board the plane. What was I thinking? And was I thinking? Why didn't I bolt immediately up to save her?
"God, I feel horrible."
"Honey, she's fine," the Mama said. "Next time just run up and get her."
The pit grew colder and more vile and then it was time to board the plane. At the same time another Pacific storm pounded the area with rain and hail. We went down another escalator -- without incident this time -- and proceeded to the tarmac. I threw the stroller on the checked bag cart.
"Beatrice, let's get on the plane," I said.
But again, she didn't want to go. The Mama had Bryce in her arms.
"Can you carry her?" The Mama asked.
"Damn right I can. C'mon, Sweetie."
I picked her up in one arm and my bag with the other hand and we ran through the rain, up the stairs and onto the plane. Bea held on tight, her head buried in my neck.
"I love you, Bea," I said, kissing her head. We sat in the plane and I seat-belted Bea in. Bryce squealed unhappily and squirmed on the Mama's lap.
And then I smiled, because for a few seconds I had dropped my bags and bounded up the escalator to grab my daughter. For a few seconds I hadn't froze to watch her drift slowly away from me. For a few seconds the sick feeling fell away, the pit filled in, and I found a little redemption.
For a few seconds I thought, That'll never happen again.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
"It's like learning physics."
That according to Beatrice's occupational therapist during her last appointment. I took her this time, wanting to witness the exercises she's put through -- learning to cross the midline better, improving fine motor schools and dexterity, and more.
Or having an apple and orange juice party with Daddy. She's more hip and fresh that way.
The Mama is witness to Bea's incremental progress every day, and while she's intellectually smart as a whip, she has struggled with some level of auditory processing disorder (APD). And that in turn has delayed various self-care activities and speech articulation, overall attention span and focus.
Not too long ago Bea struggled with potty training, dressing, stringing beads on a string, drawing a rainbow, speaking clearly, processing basic instructions -- while at the same time nailing her numbers and letters and other preschool academia as well as scoring quite high on the social butterfly scale. Kids with APD (or related diagnoses) have difficultly processing auditory signals and are visual learners.
Most children, even those with processing delays, fall into a broad spectrum of hitting developmental milestones. The big worry, one that we admit to having since Bea turned two years old, was that we were dealing with mild autism. But because of her progress and social prowess, both her speech and occupational therapists concur that's off the table, although it will take the next few years to see what other deficits might appear during grade school.
Activities like crossing the midline are critical, because when one crosses the midline, the brain begins to make new connections and the right and left hemispheres begin to work together. This communication process organizes the brain for better concentration and problem solving.
We are going to have some more testing done this summer to rule out physical anomalies, but while I watched her during her OT appointment, I was so proud of her progress. The physics of drawing a rainbow have been mastered, and even though her speech still includes a sometimes brief frequency-tuning undecipherable phrase before nailing a sentence, she's really doing quite well.
I was especially proud of her after taking her to the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo yesterday for a sunrise animal feeding tour. She really enjoyed it, paid attention and romped just like one of the regular kids. Don't get me wrong -- it's not that she's irregular, but for any parent who has a child with any "disorder," however mild, it's thrilling when they make progress like those children without any issues.
And we rocked the toddler roller coaster!
Beatrice's sunny disposition is the most amazing thing to be around, though. It's like she's mastered the physics of living a rainbow, something I wish I would've had more of growing up. We do hope she can carry that with her into grade school and beyond.
Bryce? Well, she's a different animal for sure -- bolder, more confident and developmentally in order than her elder sister was on the cusp of two. She's already mastered the physics of eating a rainbow. Seriously. More on that soon.
Look out world. My girls mean business.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
She didn't log them in correctly, so there was no record of them ever being there. No video surveillance to capture who took them. No witnesses whatsoever since they were the only ones there besides the daycare owner, who for whatever reason was out of the room.
And now they were gone.
It felt like a hot knife had opened me up, my vitals then falling to the ground with a slow-motion crash like glass splintering into billions of sharp slivers. Slivers that I had to crawl across emotionally while the Mama and me grappled with our loss.
The details were so painfully real, which is why I nearly wept when I awoke this morning, not wanting to recount the terrible dream, not even wanting to share any more of what I remember here (and I still remember too much).
It's one of parents' worst nightmares -- having a child abducted. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that each year:
- 797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
- 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
- 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
- 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. (These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.)
Over 2,000 reported missing each and every day. Dear God.
So this morning, I spent even more time playing with my girls, holding them in my arms and burning the memories into my mind like faded photographs of happier times from my own childhood.
That was when I wept.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
It's the reactions to and reflections of the Mama that move me the most.
Although the B-hive's trust and love of the Mama are conditional -- meaning that without the Mama's trust and love they most likely wouldn't grow and mature into unconditional adults -- the bonds of mother and child can and should be impervious to mistrust and hate.
This isn't always the case, but with us it is. Of course it also doesn't mean there aren't times when the Mama is tired and frustrated and needs a break. We must all pay respects to our cellular screams and shouts, there's no getting around that, Mama or Daddy alike. Responsible parenting is an 24/7 overtime job, but the intangible benefits of making the world a better place one moment at a time are exceeded only by experiencing the moments themselves.
When watching our girls interact with the Mama, and her with them, I feel like a Daddy anthropologist in the field taking notes on how to be a better parent. Hey, I do okay, and if I was with them all as much as she is with them, then I'm sure I'd do even better, which is why again I'm fascinated watching our family participate in life.
There's a level of patience inherent in the Mama (and mothers everywhere) that takes a lot more energy for me to measure and match. The adage of soothing the savage beast couldn't be truer when one of the girls is melting down before bed for example (or both at the same time; when one catches fire usually the other bursts into flame as well). Within minutes the raging fires are out, almost as if the Mama love is kind of an elephant tranquilizer extinguisher when necessary. (And it is, because I've experienced it myself.)
When people tell us, "Just wait until your girls are older" -- we think, "We are waiting because we're here with them today, not pretending it's tomorrow."
Our own mothers and sisters as well as mothers before them and since have had a resilience and adaptability to daily circumstance in nearly infinite settings, unrivaled domain expertise of which most others can only dream about.
God bless the Mama. Happy Mother's Day! I love you!
Saturday, May 5, 2012
At first, it was just a picture of a rooster shared on my Facebook page with the Mama's caption, "Sweetie, look what I found!"
It came at an opportune time during a meeting I was at. I shared the picture with everyone at the meeting, who then shared some chuckles back, a moment of levity.
But then came the backstory -- the fact that the rooster belonged to a young woman living in her car up the street from us. She was from the Northwest and had picked up the rooster in Arcata on her way down to Santa Cruz. Her car supposedly had a dead battery and a flat tire. The woman told the Mama that she was living temporarily in her car, but offered up no other information, and the Mama didn't push.
The rooster ended up in our backyard because the woman wanted to go the beach. That's when I started firing off questions:
"The beach? Why? Did she have any track marks on her arms? Did she have pock marks on her face, like from using meth?"
Wow. Where did that come from, Dad?
The Mama answered, "Not that I could tell."
"You didn't let her in the house, did you?"
"Maybe she's mentally ill," I said.
The Mama sighed. "I don't know. What should we do, though?"
"Get that frickin' chicken out of the backyard, baby. That's what."
"Don't worry, she'll come and get it. But we should help her somehow."
"Were there any signs of abuse?" I asked.
"No, not that I could tell. We could recommend a shelter to her, right?"
"Yes, of course."
We discussed it further for a few, wondering what to do, how to help, but all I could keep thinking about was protecting my family. Why is this young woman traveling alone, living out of her car, with a rooster? What if she was casing our place? What if she was a druggy and/or mentally ill? What if she brought back sketchy guys to get the rooster, or worse, and I wasn't there?
That's where I went -- immediately to the horrific side of human nature -- which actually surprised me a little. Usually I'm trying to see the converse, the promise of personal responsibility and being one of the good guys and good girls.
Like my own girls, one of whom could grow up and somehow find herself alone, living out of a broken down car, with a rooster...
The Mama and her mother ended up shooing the rooster out of the backyard at the end of the day, a comical event to witness. They tried to shoo it up the street to where the girl was parked, but it just frantically ran across the street to the field and hid in the bushes.
Shortly thereafter I saw her; the young woman came back for her rooster. She looked earthy and wore flowing, hemp-like clothes, and was thin but pretty, reminding me of the Dead Head dancers at the Grateful Dead shows I used to go to. I watched her track the rooster, pick him up, kiss him on the beak, then carry him off down the street.
I watched her and wanted to know her backstory, to see if I could help her, but was worried I'd scare her if I approached.
The reality, however, was that I was scared of her, because of the italicized thought above. A strange mix of empathy, disappointment and despair overcame me, paralyzing me. I could only watch her walk away down the street. The Mama had her mom to take the woman a bag of food, which she did. The young woman was grateful, even teary-eyed. We're trying to figure out how to help her with her car now.
But why is this young woman traveling alone, living out of her car, with a rooster?
I could just ask her, right?
Saturday, April 21, 2012
How do I tell them that one day they may not speak?
That no matter how close as sisters and friends they may be with one another growing up, one day one of them may leave, to return but to never live here again, and how this will start an irreversible chain of events. Events that will propel the one who stayed into the cold vacuum of space where no one else can see; where no one else can know. Where black ice and rock will collect and grow...
Years will pass while the Mama and I love each of them proudly, marrying their hopes and realities to our own pasts, their futures, until one day the one who stayed will hit a wall at full speed, while the one who left will try to tear it down. Misunderstandings, mistrust and betrayals will then cause a rift in the entire family; the rubble of the wall too heavy to clear.
And at the same time, somewhere deep in space, all that black ice and rock will become something behemoth that one day falls back to earth. It will reenter the atmosphere close to the speed of light, under the cover of night, and lay waste in its wake, boiling oceans and cratering continents. Fires will burn uncontrollably for seemingly a millennia. The sky will be a perpetual ceiling of gray ash.
With this apocalypse between them, one day something may happen to the Mama and me, we may get sick, and there will have to be a coming together, a temporary reckoning in order to take care of family business.
We will tell them both, "She's your only sister."
And one will say, "That's not the way it works."
And the other will say, "I never did anything wrong."
And we will both say, "But she's your only sister, and we love you both."
And then the first one will say, "But blood does not trump the healing reciprocity of forgiveness. I can only do for me, not for both."
And I will think, you're right, it does not, and you can only do for you, as your sister can only do for her. Nor does any of this require a Hollywood ending where uplifting music will play and hugs and tears abound. But I know we will still love them both no matter what.
In the shadowy distance, a green shoot will spring from a dry, blackened crater.
So how do I tell them all this some day?
And do I?
Sunday, April 15, 2012
"Oh my stars!"
That's a new fun one I've got the girls saying and doing. I say the words with an animated face and put both hands atop my head.
"Oh my stars!"
Bea so sweet because her inflection and word emphasis changes each time she says the phrase.
"OH my stars!"
"Oh MY stars!"
"Oh my STARS!"
Then Bryce follows suit, not quite saying the words yet, but putting her hands on her head in synch with Bea's.
The Mama and I watch them and laugh, knowing these B's are our stars.
We'll keep reaching for them. No worries there.