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.

Friday, December 26, 2014

This Day After Christmas

"When someone breaks their heart, we have to wash it to fix it." -- Bryce Grossman

Mom raised the broom over her head and crashed the handle through the window. We froze; the breaking glass should have been louder than it was, but instead sounded as if it were inside a pillow. My sister and I stood behind her, straining to hear anything else around us, hoping that no one heard.

Especially him. But he was at work over 30 minutes away, and I kept reminding myself of that hopeful fact while Mom cleared the jagged glass away from the window frame. It was early afternoon and not too hot yet, especially since we were on the shaded side of the house. I wondered if the older neighbors next to us were home, and if we ran into trouble, would they call for help.

"Okay, honey," Mom whispered to my sister. "You're the only one who can fit through the window. Once you get inside, go open up the front door for us. Be quick about it, too."

He had already changed the door locks, which wasn't a big surprise to us, and Mom had anticipated that we'd have to break in. I couldn't even begin to fathom how much fear coursed through my sister at that very moment. But even if it pulsed through her little heart as it did mine, she didn't show it. Mom laid an old towel over the bottom of the window frame and then hiked my sister up through the window.

"I love you, honey. Just go straight to the door and open it."

And that's exactly what she did. Before going inside, I turned quickly to see if anyone on our street was watching, but all was quiet. Once inside it felt darker than I remembered just a few days prior, the air heavy and stale. It pressed in on us from every direction, changing atmospheres with every step.

Mom handed us each a trash bag. "We have to be quick about this, so look for anything we missed and put it in your bag. Take only what you can carry and then we're leaving."

The house was immaculately clean, which was unsettling considering how much of a mess it was only a few days earlier as we moved our stuff out with five officers in the driveway ensuring our safety. One of those officers was the man I'd eventually call Dad, and it took every single ounce of his police professionalism to remain calm while the crazy one shouted horrible obscenities at Mom. My "almost dad" knew just as his fellow officers knew there was nothing they could do, except keep us safe.

I opened the refrigerator and gazed inside. There was really nothing I wanted, considering we were never allowed anything more than bologna for sandwiches, mustard and Miracle Whip. We hadn't starved living with him, but we weren't allowed anything more than a few staples most of the time. Bologna has very few creative variations and I had experimented with all of them. I actually smiled for a minute.

But then a car drove by and again the wildfires of constant fear returned. I imagined that, as soon as I closed the refrigerator and turned around, he'd be standing there holding a gun and smiling his crazy smile, the same gun he'd pointed at Mom many times before. He'd already tried to kill her, more than once, including poisoning her, and he'd already abused me more than once, my sister absorbing it all like furniture nailed to the floor in a perpetually flooded room.

He wasn't there, though. Only Mom and my sister, full trash bags in hand.

"I love you," Mom said. "Time to go. We're going to be okay now."

And for the most part, we were. Bryce is right, although the washing can take decades, which is why the Mama and I thankfully have some control over the "heartbreaking," at least until both girls are on their own as young adults.

This day after Christmas I again remember and renew my vow to help educate and end domestic violence and sexual abuse. A nice thought if we could ever get there, but at least we can try. This holiday season, the next time you’re in a room with 6 people, think about the following (according to statistics compiled by NOMORE.org):

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes.
  • 1 in 3 teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
  • 1 in 5 women are survivors of rape.
  • 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
Help give a voice to those who can't find their own, so that maybe someday the most wonderful time of the year will be everyday.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Almost Theres

"There's been trials and tribulations
You know I've had my share
But I've climbed the mountain, I've crossed the river
And I'm almost there…"

—"Almost There" lyrics, Princess and the Frog


Isn't that always the way it is? You've worked hard all year and you're finally on the verge of success, or maybe ultimate glory, or maybe partial nirvana, or maybe incremental awareness, or maybe you turned a blind corner blindly...

Ah yes, you're almost there. But where is almost there?

Life is like that -- sets of disparate swirling scatter plots, loosely correlated and connected in a vast universe that sometimes feels really small, accessible and attainable; while other times it, does, not.

But now that I've lived nearly half a century, fairly unscathed by violence or mayhem (except as a child and that which is emotionally self-inflicted as an adult), and surviving multiple economic swings -- everyday is a series of scatter plots, infinitesimally intimate mulit-colored actions and reactions that take the shape of moving pictures like "Dear Diary" flip books.

And we do love collecting flip books, don't we. Especially at Christmastime, when reflecting on this year and years past ups and downs, always heres and almost theres is the perennial pastime.

My "almost theres" are the three points of bright light that keep me moving and loving, hopeful and happy.

Merry Christmas my dearest B-hive. Keep the flip books coming.



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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Does anyone have a hurt or hurt feelings?

“Just don't grow up so fast
You don't want to know what I know yet
Maybe on paper it looks better way up here
Don't you hurry, try to take it slow
You will get there before you know it
Ain't just the bad times, the good times too shall pass
So don't grow up so fast…”

—Train


And so it begins, innocent as it was. One of Beatrice's friends and classmates smirked when she heard her last name.

"Your name is gross?"

"No, it's Grossman."

Her friend laughed. And then they both moved on to other little girl playtime. Beatrice didn't get it; she was literally all about her last name and how to say it, not knowing what "gross" meant. Yet. We worry because Beatrice may always be more naive than her classmates, and the eventual fallout to come once she realizes that someone is really trying to hurt her could be devastating.

Again, this time it was innocent enough, but the ramifications of future hurt feelings are more and more evident as she, and her little sister, get older.

Yes, that's life when we're growing up, and they'll need to go through the hurt and the happy, the sporadic bad times and the sometimes fleeting good, no matter how much we want to protect them. Yes, they'll have to learn how to be resilient, to adapt and to overcome.

We're still on the front end of awareness, of them flailing about because someone was purposely being mean to them, supposed friend or not. But that'll come soon enough. It always does.

In the meantime, let the children play, right? Hey, the doctor is in anyway. Funny how what we grew up with is new again to our girls. A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a big hit in our house, and although the girls only have a vague awareness of how Charlie Brown is treated, they got it enough to know how Dr. Lucy was trying to help Charlie Brown. Kind of.

Does anyone have a hurt or hurt feelings? Dr. Bryce is in.




Thursday, November 27, 2014

Grateful For It All Either Way

“…even my wonder, even my fear, only amount to a couple of tears. There is a rhythm, it's near and it's far — it flows through the heart of us…” --Duncan Sheik 

We fixate so much on the crazy and what's broken that we nearly all but negate the good and what works, of how far we've actually come.

I'm reminded of this everyday with my loving, pragmagical wife who keeps our family propelled in a healthy direction, and me grounded in the good, since I tend to drift from hopeful romanticism to flippant defensive posturing in times of stress.

I'm reminded of this everyday with our caring, smart, uniquely (head)strong, and beautiful little girls who keep me hopeful of a potentially utopian future they'll help create, and who keep the Pop hopping popping.

These words may not console those who struggle daily with any and all the miserable facets of tragic human fallibility, but I'm thankful we all have the capacity to elevate the haggard human spirit when we really need it, and even when we think we don't.

And of late, some of us really need it. I'm grateful for it all either way.

Godspeed and Happy Thanksgiving.





Saturday, November 22, 2014

Keep the Pop Hopping Popping

HOP POP We like to hop. 
We like to hop on top of Pop. 
STOP You must not hop on Pop.

--Dr. Suess

No, actually they must hop on Pop. You can hear it in earnest, in their gleeful squeals.

"Daddy, we want to jump on you!"

All right. Fine. Jump, jump, jump around. Jump, jump, jump around. Ugh. Whoosh--

That was the air rushing out of me as Beatrice, nearly twice the size and weight of her little sister, jumped on my midsection. Even with pillows and stuffed animals galore on top me, the physics of impact are inescapable. At least Beatrice telegraphs her jumps so I can plan for impact and the roll off.

"Daddy, more jumps!"

Bryce, on the other hand, is much lighter and easier to deflect, but is more fearlessly random than her big sister. There's no time to set or reset with her -- as soon as I think I've got her pattern figured out, I don't, and the shelling of Daddy mountain commences while my core workouts continue.

"Daddy!"

"No more jumps."

"Yes, more jumps!"

And then there's the daddy-handling of picking them up and flipping them upside and landing them safely on our couch or cuddle chair, kind of like a kiddie catch-and-release program.

Sigh. But of course, I wouldn't have it any other way, even if days later I feel beat up, bruised with specific muscles and tendons contorted and sore.

I know these days will one day pass, and that the Mama and I will reminisce about them all while the girls grow into young strong, caring women and have lives of their own.

But these days are now, and I want to ensure they have a strong, caring male role model and an involved father in their life they can trust (even if I'm a little gruff sometimes), one that I never had as a child, only experiencing later as a teenager with my Pop (although I never hopped on him, of which he was surely thankful and grateful). Their pragmagical Mama's got everything else covered, so for that I'm always thankful and grateful.

Yes, these days are now, so let's keep the Pop hopping popping.

Stop, Bryce! You must not hop on Pop. Ugh.




Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why the B-hive's Going Green

"…he wrote me a prescription, he said 'you are depressed, but I'm glad you came to see me to get this off your chest. Come back and see me later — next patient please — send in another victim of Industrial Disease'…"

That's how we power ourselves. We over-process and burn our own emotional fossil fuels, continuously drilling for the bubbling crude along the barren plains and deep blue seas of our hearts.

Unfortunately, the carbon footprints we leave threaten our mindful presence and the relationships that are supposed to be very natural resources critical to thriving.

This is why we sometimes convince ourselves that we're championing for others, our intentions seemingly admirable, when we can't help but pollute each the others' airspace, not completely aware of how self-serving our actions actually are, of how much we're poisoning the world around us.

It's this pollution, where for too many the damage has already been done and the pipelines have long ago gone dry, that leaves them running on their own toxic fumes.

They're misguided, ungrateful, selfish and sometimes even unknowingly vengeful with no validity whatsoever. Their perceptual global warming contributes to adulthood's unfortunate industrial disease, one that can take years to clean up and cure, if ever. God help you all.

Amen that our children can terraform. That's why the B-hive's going green.







Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Mama's Pragmagical Muddy Puddles

I imploded. The frustration of not knowing what to do sprayed my gut like poison shrapnel, my heart buried in the rubble. The years of adept coping lost in a moment of weakness.

The poison seeped and seethed in my bloodstream until it reached the damaged language centers of my Cro-Magnon daddy brain, doing nothing more than igniting another series of fresh implosions, the poison ultimately reaching a lethal level. My heart was nowhere to be seen.

Finally, the Mama asked, “Are you grumpy again?”

The poison poured from my mouth; the caveman pounded my front lobes with his gnarled club.

“Yes, I am! I’m tired and hungry and I had to deal with Bryce screaming and again pounding on my face and chest like a mad woman while we were in line in the store. And I don’t know what to do about it. How am I supposed to just smile and use the whole positive discipline parenting approach and ask ‘what’s your idea?’ when all I want to do is smack her across the face!”

I sighed aloud. “Mercy, I actually do feel better now.”

The Mama gave me an uncomfortable smile, as if to say, Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place, butthead?

There we sat in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, us in the front seats, and the girls giggling in the back, oblivious to my angry outburst.

“Are we going to the harvest festival?” Bryce asked.

“Yeah, the harvest festival!” Beatrice echoed.

“To jump in muddy puddles!" they called out together.

“Yes, we are,” the Mama answered.

I remained quiet, still recovering from internal damage, but off we went. While I drove us onward, I reflected on my immature and impulsive delayed reaction, still struggling with the positive discipline parenting approach overall, especially when Bryce’s reactive tantrums explode in our faces.

I know the Mama struggles too, sometimes having a smack attack on Bryce when it’s just too much, which in turn only causes Bryce to strike back harder until she becomes a boiling sea of tears.

But that’s not why I was reflecting this time. Bryce is only four, and a much different animal that her older sister, and the fact is that we’re doing everything we can to instill positive and healthy “responsible” responses to anything that either girl will have to deal with short and long-term. Self-awareness, mindfulness and impulse control over destructive behavior takes time and a maturity that many adults can and do struggle with.

Like me. Although I’m light years from where I was before the Mama met me, the same pattern of internalizing angst until it implodes as referenced above still happens from time to time. It’s like having flashbacks from bad hallucinogenic drugs taken in an already fragile state of mind.

At least, I’ve heard from friends...

You get the point. I internalize. I implode. The poison seeps and seethes and hurts me and those around me. I expel it all as if exorcized. Then I’m better again.

The Mama’s always been better at being under control and direct in the moment, at quickly adapting while retaining a pragmatic and almost magical approach to every facet of life, but I’m getting there; I have my moments. A work in progress since the day we met over 17 years ago on the beach…

Sigh. Snap – wait, that’s it! For those of you keeping score at home, yes, I’ve seen the Mama meltdown (she is a lovely woman and human being), but it’s the “pragmagical” planning, execution and resolution that I now aspire to, before I implode!

And all it takes is a big, muddy puddle and harmonic convergence. Yes, that’s it. What a woman that Mama is. And for me, Bryce is the key as well, like malleable molten metal that can be easily turned into a precision tuning fork.

After Trader Joe’s, we did go to the Wilder Ranch State Park 40th Anniversary Heritage Harvest Festival and had an amazing time (which we usually do). It rained earlier in the day, which us West Coasters desperately need, but then the sun came out in the afternoon and it was gorgeous.

Thank goodness, 'cause Daddy Goat Gruff needed a little vitamin D and some family B love.

The Mama's the queen of the pragmagical -- planning ahead and bringing an extra change of clothes for the girls since we planned on letting them jump in the muddy puddles. We always do. It's incredibly fun and cathartic. I only wish me and the Mama would have joined them. (And if you and your kids watch Peppa Pig, you know what I'm talking about.)

Yes, B-come the tuning fork that needs to reverberate (and release) immediately in a big, sloppy, muddy puddle -- real or imagined -- before the implosion happens. That's the harmonic convergence I've been looking for.

So, if I just bend Bryce just the right way and hold her up to the glorious sunlight and jump...

Sigh. Splash!



Sunday, October 19, 2014

With Girl Power and All That Jazzy STEM

"Daddy, we want to work on the car!"

"Sure, just don't scratch the paint and work on the bottom along the sides and and the tires only."

Thrilled, Beatrice and Bryce brought their play toolkit down to the driveway and got to work. Unfortunately, they did rub some of the tools against the side of our car, which I immediately got all Daddy Goat Gruff about.

Besides that, however, I proudly watched while they "worked" on the car, really thinking about the tools they chose to use and what they were doing, and discussing it with one another.

Until, of course, the thrill of discovery broke down into chase-around-the-car mayhem -- they are kids you know.

We've encouraged them since the earliest moment of awareness and learning to embrace science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM skills as they're known. Unfortunately women only make up about half of the workforce in the U.S. economy today, less than 25% of them hold STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). That's a lot of untapped talent in the workforce today with many cultural and institutional reasons of why.

And if we want our children, girls especially, to be in the 60th-70th percentile and above in the world of work and STEM skills, then we've all got work to do.

Yesterday I listened to an NPR Planet Money episode titled When Women Stopped Coding and I was floored by what I heard. That before 1984, more computing pioneers were women. But post 1984, something changed: "the number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged."

Boys will be boys will be encouraged to do techie things, but not girls, right?

I wrote a recruiting article last week for TalentCulture that focused on the importance of skilling up and company culture when recruiting in-demand tech talent and beyond. In it I cited a Fast Company article and recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation, U.S. women working in science, engineering, and tech fields are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within the year. This is due to male-dominated tech, biased performance evaluations and lack of women mentors. 

Quite disheartening for the Mama and I, being parents of two bright little girls who may go into tech someday. Oh, I’m not even going to comment on the egg-freezing benefit offered to Facebook and Apple female employees who want to delay motherhood either.

But if we can have anything to do about it, and thanks to shows like Doc McStuffins and Earth to Luna and others, and if the girls want to go into any of these fields, we can help them develop and thrive in a male-dominated tech world that they make their own, with girl power and all that jazzy STEM. 

In fact, I say we make a 21st century version of the 1980s classic Weird Science with nerdy girls dominating and objectifying boys.

No worries. Us boys can take the sting.







Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Buzz of the Long Run

Sometimes life's a sprint. Full out. Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Legs burning. Sweat flying. From point, to point, to point. (And on the list -- check off, to check off, to check off.)

Even with knee surgery I pushed through it like a dedicated athlete does, no matter the damage done. And mercy, my knee was more blown than what even the surgeon thought before he dug in there. In fact, during my last check-in with him, he ended up draining over 60 cc's of old pre-surgery blood from the tight ball the size of a plum behind my right knee that he thought was synovial fluid from my original injury (meniscal tear and cartilage damage).

Sixty cc's of old pre-surgery blood. Damn. Hey, no pain, no gain.

And yet, even with the bumps in the road, sometimes our peripheral radar is on, cranked super-high, and we capture much of what's happening around us. I say radar because it's not always vision because the other senses are fully operational as well.

We went from Bryce turning four; to my knee surgery; to Beatrice starting kindergarten and turning six; to my 30-year high school reunion; to end of summer beach time; to my almost end-of-the-40's road birthday; to Beatrice passing her first martial arts test; to Bryce being a master card maker and dancer; to travel, travel and more business travel; all culminating in the Mama and my anniversary in fabulous Las Vegas, celebrating 11 years of marriage and 17 years since the day we met, one day on the beach.

Knee limping. Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Life loving. Love longing.

That's the magic of the B-hive. And although there will always be bumps in the road, when we're resilient and mindful, and keep our hearts and heads in shape, may our sprints and the buzz of the long run never wear out.


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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Big Heart Love to My Class of 1984

The arsonist had returned. I would've been caught by complete surprise if it hadn't been for the smoke of memories; the recurrent waking nightmare of being trapped in a burning room of invisible flame.

The nightmares, barely minutes in duration, are thankfully few and far between in these middle years, but the arsonist knows how to create the right Molotov cocktail when I'm feeling unwell. This flammable concoction includes one ounce exhaustion, one ounce under the weather, and one ounce low-level nervousness. In the right environment at the wrong time, this three-fingered shot spontaneously combusts and the air around me catches fire.

My wife Amy saw the smoke as well, noticed the discomfort on my perspiring face, my eyes dancing and ready to bolt, the tendrils of translucent flame curling around my head. Without missing a beat, she went to the nearest table and poured me a glass of ice water, returning swiftly with a sunny smile on her face.

I kept talking to my reunion classmates as if nothing were wrong, this from years of learning how to keep the arsonist in its place. Although my conversations sounded as if they were coming from an rotary phone in the next smoke-free room, I hung in there. The ice water quelled the heat, the smoke cleared, and the arsonist was vanquished yet again.

One little victory in a span of minutes 30 years on, while for some of us, phantom villains keep tracking us over time no matter what we do to lose them. Phantom villains such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression, all of which come in differing forms and personas.

Mine is an arsonist, one that first reared its vile head in high school, a panic attack fire-starter. Decades later I keep the arsonist at bay, although once and awhile it burns me down, albeit briefly. This is why every Mt. Whitney High School reunion, including the most recent 30-year reunion, is such a special event for me.

My classmates cared. About each other and everything that affected us, especially our friend Robby who broke his neck at a swim meet our senior year. Whether or not we were close then (or now), whatever cliques we hung out in, whatever flippant drama many of us certainly did participate in -- we still all cared. A class nearly 500 in size, we crossed The Breakfast Club picket lines again and again, a subset of us eventually rekindling our friendships on Facebook.

At this year's reunion, the number of those no longer with us grew, a painful reminder of our limited time in this world, and why we need to embrace the happy more often than not.

To hell with phantom villains, because there are moments that alter all our worlds dramatically, that forever bind 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, anxiety, depression, and even death -- always laced with happy silver linings and much needed laughter.

I hope to convey to my girls how important it is to overpower their villains and surround themselves with people like this who care, share and laugh, who want nothing more than to be better and shine their lights, and that maybe a little of that light will shoo the darkness away, whether they only see them in real life every 5-10 years, if at all, or only online.

We are all now men and women of an unremarkable age, seasoned old friends with big hearts that are always happy to see each other -- and just friggin' glad to be here, now.

Big heart love to my class of 1984. Thank you.






Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family Fun Rehabbing

After reviewing my MRI before my knee surgery, the surgeon told me, "Sure, you'll be able to run again."

But then, a week and change after my knee surgery, the surgeon told me, "Um...no. Not recommended."

Sigh. What a frickin' bummer. After years of getting in and staying in decent "old daddy" shape, especially after officially (and finally) quitting smoking back in 2002, becoming a cross-training and running hobbyist, I blew out my right knee just a few months ago.

My running had really improved for me too, finally reaching 8.5-minute miles the week before the meniscal tear slowed me to a crawl. Running was one of the only times I could disappear into the music melting my brain into heart and soul reflective mush...

Plus, being able to rough house and chase Bea and Bryce was always a top priority. I had to stay in shape for that alone.

Sigh. What a frickin' bummer, though. But it doesn't mean the B-chasing and staying in shape are over for this old daddy. No, far from it, but I'll certainly miss the running. Thankfully the Mama is a physical therapist and has been working on me since well before the surgery. That combined with staying in decent shape has given me the competitive advantage of rehabbing more effectively and efficiently...like a broken-down super hero rising fastidiously to light the darkness and save himself and his family from a depressing, sedentary life.

Okay, maybe not super hero, but work with me here. It's a metaphor for fighting back and staying healthy.

It's only been two weeks and I'm already back to walking and a light workouts, pushing that right knee with the PT exercises. Plus, we took the girls to our county fair for the first time, and I survived all the walking around and even carrying Bryce all the way back to our car when we left.

From the kiddie rides to corn dogs, pig races, chickens, cows and more, nothing heals better than staying active with family fun rehabbing.

Oh, and baby pigs. Lots and lots of baby pigs.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Because Saturday Morning

Remember Saturday morning?

Your favorite cartoons, your favorite snuggle spots, and your favorite children matching you frame for frame.

Although I'm writing this, and they're not. Instead they're engaged in a different kind of imaginative play, which is great for their executive functions, the management of their highly cognitive processes that includes working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. And all the while the TV rolls on.

Maybe your kids don't watch much TV, or any, like ours do every day. That's great. I don't care. Really. Don't judge.

Okay, they do watch a show called Zig and Sharko that is eerily similar to the old Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner Warner Cartoons. And they watch Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse sometimes. Ack. But then they also watch Martha Speaks, Cat in the Hat, Peg + Cat, Arthur and Wild Kratts, all of which are quality PBS educational shows.

The Mama and I grew up on TV and we turned out okay without violent tendencies or melted goo for brains. Sure I've seen the research, but we read to them lots, and they read lots, and we play with them lots, and they play with each other lots, and we all go outside for lots of experiential and physical fun and adventure, including Beatrice going to martial arts (which she loves still). I promise.

Back to Saturday morning. For some of us, Saturday mornings were (and are still) as sacred as reverent self-serving spirituality, a soft space of forgiving nirvana where our minds can meld with animated escapism and storytelling bliss, all without judgment, sometimes learning, sometimes not.

I remember as it it were...today.

And Saturday morning today for us, where old is new again, is where we can now pick and choose what the girls see (and they can and do too) because of our controlling the programming universe with magical devices and broadband portals. In addition to the above examples, there are also Schoolhouse Rock, The Magic School Bus, The Muppets and more. Plus, most of the Disney classics.

But now are the days of synchronized school girls, with Bea in kindergarten everyday and Bryce back in preschool three days per week. This school-bound book-learnin' week-to-week speed of light journey has only just begun, and for the girls (and us, because work doesn't disappear), we'll forever hold on to the weekend mornings as a critical free-range entertainment time.

Because Saturday morning. Sigh.




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…