Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

I'll Never Miss a Moment Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Love you!"

"Are you feeling better, Daddy?"

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

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

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


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Where the Force Flows with Mindful Christmas Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm sorry, what?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prayed/meditated to shut down my maniacal machinery regularly with an unrivaled focal strength and be the effectual stretch. Meaning to stretch myself (and in turn others) to become more self-aware and learn new ways to see and understand life, and to expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in ways that produce desired yet diverse, highly personalized and usually effective results. This could mean the literal extremes of big success or failure, or those incremental leaps and lapses in between that give our daily journeys sustenance for mind, body and spirit.

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

Amen.

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

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





Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Joyful Heck of Awesome

“Don't shoot me Santa Claus
I've been a clean living boy
I promise you
Did every little thing you asked me to
I can't believe the things I'm going through…”

The Killers, Don’t Shoot Me Santa

Somewhere between the cafeteria and the parking lot, we lost our Joy. She'd been with us the whole night and every time we saw her or felt her, we couldn't help but smile. I swore I had picked her up with everything else when we loaded up to go. Beatrice swore, too. She said she saw her in my arms as we headed for the car.

But when I dumped everything in the back of our car, she was no where to be seen.

"Beatrice, where's Joy?"

Immediately the angst of losing Joy simmered inside. Bryce and the Mama would know soon enough and not be happy about it; Joy was Bryce's favorite character.

"I don't know. I thought you had her Daddy?" Beatrice clicked her seatbelt.

Dammit, I thought. "Bea, I'm going to see if I dropped her."

"Okay."

I walked back through the parking to see if I could find Joy. Nothing. Joy was gone. I went back to our car and told Bea to get out and help me look. We walked all the way back to the cafeteria where her latest grade school's movie night had transpired early that evening, the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. It's currently Bea's favorite movie, having seen it nearly 20 times, and of course Daddy cries every friggin' time he sees it. Hence why she wanted to bring the stuffed character of the same name, one of a set of characters we had given to Bea for her birthday. We had also brought Disgust with us, Bea's favorite character and a foreshadowing of sorts.

Only Beatrice and I were supposed to go to this movie night just as we'd done the previous two, but this time Bryce actually wanted to join us. So the Mama packed up more stuff for us all to bring. We still brought both cars anticipating that Bryce would want to go home early (which she did).

But happy we were with the fact that the entire family wanted to go this time. Joy filled in the space between us all sitting on a blanket spread out on the cafeteria floor. We ate pizza, chips and carrots and the day before felt like light years away...

...Unfortunately, Joy was safe and sound at home when I took the girls to get their flu shots and mine as well the day before movie night. The Mama had already gotten hers through work. Our family doctor had lost an entire batch of flu mist and shots due to a refrigeration problem, so that had killed the close-to-home pleasant option. Sure, we could've gone to the county clinic, but that was way across town and would've taken too much time for me that day. Instead we went to Safeway down the street where the plan was to get the shots and get them a treat next door at Yogurt-land. But the pharmacist had no help that day and couldn't administer shots until later in that afternoon, long after I had to get back to work.

Fine. We'd go to CVS instead since I wanted the girls to pick out something cheap and fun for the Mama to round out her Christmas gifts. Yes, CVS. No judging, please. But the problem there was the fact that they couldn't administer the shots for any child under eight years old. Argh. (That would end up being the case the day after movie night at Safeway where they had originally told me six years or older could get the flu shot. Cold-hearted bastards.)

"Okay, girls. Let's pick something out for Mommy."

But immediately Bryce picked out a toy for herself. "Daddy, I want to get this."

"No, Bryce. We're only getting presents for Mommy."

"Yes! I want this!"

"Bryce, please. We're only shopping for Mommy and then we're going home. You already got a treat after Safeway."

"I want it!"

The Brychter scale flipped on in my head and the tremors around us started rocking and rolling. Please, no. Not until we get out of here.

I moved as quickly as I could with Bryce's earthquake escalating all the way to a 10.0. I negotiated with Bryce, gave her another couple of choices, and Beatrice tried to help too, but the earth was roiling out of control and Bryce was beyond the rational. Impulse control down. Sanity off the grid. The world imploding around us. Checking out and leaving in short order was the immediate plan.

Unlike the day the Bea stung, this time Bryce roared like a hungry lion in the middle of the now shaking store floor near the register where I paid for the gifts. She threw down the toy she wanted, picked it back up and threw it down again.

"Bryce, we're leaving now. Please come over here."

"I want the toy, Daddy! I want the toy now!"

"Bryce, I already gave you another choice. These gifts are for Mommy and you can pick a small toy like Bea has, but not the one you want."

Tears streamed down her bright red face and she fell to the ground as if participating in her own private Occupy CVS protest.

"Bryce, please come over here."

Everyone around us watched, but I blocked out all fields of vision except my lines of sight on Bryce and Beatrice. Less than a week earlier I lunged in to care for sick sweetie Bryce who had thrown up all over the place while I tried to work, but now she was wild animal I had to cage, get home and get the Mama to help soothe (in that order). My tranquilizer gun perpetually shot placebos.

"Please, Bryce."

"No! I want the toy!"

More up and down off the ground. More throwing of the toy. A crowd gathered.

The positive parenting and natural consequence negotiating just wasn't going to work at this point. Somewhere deep down I heard the Mama and other positive discipline pundits shouting Remove her from the environment -- Now! Lousy local conditions be damned.

That's when Bryce ran up and hit me on the hip. I'd just finished paying for the merchandise (I selfishly wasn't leaving without the Mama gifts) and as soon as she retracted her hand, I grabbed her arm firmly.

"Stop!" she yelled.

I pulled her firmly toward the door with my right hand while all the purchases hung from my left. I got her to the sliding doors, but then Bryce grabbed the security system alarm gate and held on tight with her free right hand. I pulled, she shifted diagonal, but didn't budge. I could've pulled her vertical like in a cartoon.

"We're going home now, Bryce! Stop it!"

As I screamed this I felt horrible. I never wanted it to escalate this far. Remove her from the environment -- Now!

I finally got her out the door and now she thrashed making it exponentially more difficult to manage the moment.

"Beatrice, please carry this stuff for me so I can pick up Bryce."

Bea complied and as I hauled Bryce up to cart her to the car, she thrashed and hit and scratched, and all I could think about was not hurting her. To get her home. Intact. Unscathed. To the Mama. And away from me.

I strapped her and we got home. Finally. Still with the Mama's gifts. As Bryce settled down I discussed what happened with the Mama, her consoling me and telling me I had no other choice but to remove her. Bryce later told me she loved me, and then all was well with our world again. We all survived no matter how guilty I felt about treating her a little roughly (just as the Mama has had to do herself). And although Joy was all but lost, we made it through movie night and then the reattempt at the flu inoculation the next day, which only I could get this time due to the age limit and that nearly made the Mama flip out. But we made it unscathed to our annual visit with Santa Claus where we had a Zen-like moment with him, discussing the mindful omnipresence of Santa (and, in a way, parenting). Amen.

And then later that night, we both lunged in as Bryce threw up again all over her bed, and then Bea's.

Compared to the rest of the crazy shit happening in the world today, and to those less fortunate than us, our family growing pains are quite benign, but they're still our growing pains nonetheless.

We still haven't found Joy, but we're grateful it continues to find us, and that always makes for a Happy Christmastime.

Here's to a Joyful Heck of Awesome!






Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Part Where I'm Lunging In

Towards the end of my first work call, she threw up. I would've heard it anyway prior to turning around in my chair, but turn around I did at the moment she opened her mouth puked on the couch.

"I've got to go -- my daughter is throwing up!"

I ended the call, pulled out my headset ear buds and moved swiftly to where Bryce was getting sick.

"C'mon, Sweetie. Let's get you into the bathroom."

"Daddy, I don't feel good."

"I know, Sweetie."

I got her cleaned up and had her drink some water. Fortunately she hadn't eaten anything yet so all that came up was water and bile (and a little bit of green candy from the night before -- yummy). She was pale and weak and burning up, but the ear thermometer only gave me a normal reading. This thing must not work, I thought. I moved her to the recliner with a fresh set of blankets and a big bowl and then cleaned up the couch. I threw her blankets and her little stuffed bunny (a vomit casualty) into the washer.

There, we should be good now.

"How do you feel, Sweetie?"

"Not good."

"I know. Here, drink some water and rest."

"Okay."

Soon after she drifted off to restless, sweaty sleep. Poor baby. While she can be a handful, she's like a wild animal hit with multiple tranquilizer darts when she's sick. I moved back to the dining room table to work. From home. Cell phone, laptop and Internet connectivity wherever I go. My garage office (converted office slash guest room completed years ago) -- also known as the offage (pronounced oh-fahge, a name bestowed on me recently by our web developer) -- is my usual work-from-home stomping ground, but on this day with Bryce sick and staying home from school and the Mama having to go to see her physical therapy patients after taking Beatrice to school and with no other child care available --

Breathe.

It's on me. Because I can do it. Because I work from home. Because when I'm not traveling for work, I'm here. Because I love my family and my life and embrace all that it brings. My children and the Mama are priority number 1. From seemingly banal everyday issues to the urgent. There are no exceptions. Ever. If you're a Walking Dead fan, I'm a Rick channeler.

But it's also not just the part of the story where I lean in like Sheryl Sandberg's book and the Lean In organization encourages, the blending of traditional roles and responsibilities at work and in life based on what needs to be done regardless of gender -- it's the part where I'm lunging in. Literally.

That's not always easy to acclimate to and accept readily either. Family life is disruptive even on its best days. Especially when we've both got work to do and our own schedules. Now that the Mama is working more again, I've been scaling more with the childcare. We do have baby sitters, which is great, but there's a limit to that coverage. We did have family help for a while, but when that went to hell, we had to reconfigure the big picture.

While I'm not comparing our situation with other parts of the socio-economic strata, the more I scale with the childcare, the more I do empathize completely with single parents who have to work away from home and deal with paying for childcare or having to miss work, especially when they're on the clock, when their child is sick (my own mom was one for a while when my sister and I were young).

Most single parents are still women (see the last U.S. census). And according to the U.S. Department of Labor, more men are working full-time than women, and more women are working part-time than men, and upcoming Talent Board research (where I work) shows that even more women than men are applying for more core work across the board -- from hourly wage positions to entry level and experienced salaried positions -- 82 percent to 69 percent.

So yes, I do empathize and am grateful for the intact and loving family unit we have and our ability to adapt easily.

The second conference call of the morning commenced and this time I was using the computer audio with the headset instead of my cell phone. The call neared its end and this time I didn't turn around -- that's when I heard Bryce throwing up again.

Now, I could've just gotten off the call abruptly like I did the first time, but it was a program sponsor  on the other end and she was in the middle of explaining something important to me. Instead I picked up the MacBook Air with my left hand, moved quickly to the chair where poor Bryce retched this time, lunged into the chair and leaned in, picking up the bowl with my right hand and shoving it calmly under her chin.

The sponsor kept talking but I had lost track of what she was saying, so I gave up.

"Um, so sorry, but my daughter is throwing up and I have to go."

After another clean up was completed, I moved Bryce back to the now clean but damp couch where she again drifted off to sleep. She was burning up but the thermometer still wasn't working right and read a normal temp. I called the Mama and asked if we had another thermometer, which we did, but it was the one she used for her physical therapy visits and she had that one with her in her work bag.

Thankfully she returned shortly after that call and got Bryce to take some medicine to bring her temp down. And yes, she did have a 101 degree temperature. Ack. Now that Bryce was back in the healing hands of the Mama, that's when I was back to business rounding out an otherwise productive Friday.

Later that night Beatrice went with me on our weekly taqueria run, and I asked her if she wanted Mommy or Daddy to walk with her and her school in the downtown Christmas parade. Since Bryce was sick, we wouldn't all be going together this time.

"I want you to go, Daddy."

"Okay," I said. I had walked with her last year while the Mama and Bryce cheered us along the route (Bryce didn't want to walk the entire parade route).

"But," Beatrice continued, "I think I'll ask Mommy this year since you and me were in the parade last year. Okay Daddy?"

"Sounds like a plan, Bea."

"Bryce needs to get better anyway and you can help her like you did today, right?"

"Yes, indeed."

Yep, that's why my Bea received an empathy award at school. Right on, Sweetie.

Here's to the lunging in, Daddies.




Sunday, November 29, 2015

When the Bea Stings

It's been a week since the three words stung me. The pain has since subsided, but the memory lingers on like a healing itch.

The Daddy Day plan was to go to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, what the girls call the "little aquarium" (we call the Monterey Bay Aquarium the "big aquarium"), and then go to Natural Bridges State Beach and check out the Monarch butterflies. The Mama was away for the day getting some much needed R&R with her best friend, and so I was in charge.

Which is fine. It ain't my first rodeo; the girls and I have had many fun solo adventures prior to this one. The Mama made sure I had plenty of snacks packed (note to self: always have snacks at the ready when adventuring with your children). And of course, don't forget the water. I brought plenty of both with us.

We weren't even going that far away, but the girls and I both were excited to again check out the little aquarium. The warm weather made for a spectacular day and off we went. At first, the adventure was smooth sailing. We went inside the Seymour Center and participated in their scavenger hunt, each girl marking off the different fish and sea creatures we found from an erasable laminated sheet. Or, more accurately, Daddy marking off Bryce's sheet with Beatrice kind of managing hers, but both the girls did help me identify all the various ocean animals and winning a creature necklace in the process (that I ended up wearing).

From swell sharks to sea cucumbers to the touch tanks filled with hermit crabs and green sea anemones -- the girls had a blast. And so did I. Of course they hounded me for a gift from the gift shop before we left, and I caved for something small for each girl.

Back out into the sunshine the girls then wanted to play on the elephant seal statues for a bit. But then a cold front brewed inside Bryce. This happens when she gets hungry and her passive-aggressive behavior becomes a sudden thunderstorm.

"I want to go home now!"

"Let's have a snack, Bryce," I said. "We still want to go see the butterflies after this.

"No! I want to go home!"

"No, Bryce. We're not going home," said Bea.

"Girls, let's have a snack and then we'll go see the butterflies and then go home and have lunch."

"No!"

Ugh.

We took a break and had a snack, which seemed to clear Bryce's angry sky, and then walked around the Seymour Center along the ocean cliffs and back around to where the big whale skeletons were. We were doing okay, although Bryce still wanted to go home, so I should've known better and cut our losses then and there. But I didn't, and we drove over to Natural Bridges. When we got out of the car, the storm clouds were waiting on the side of the road like sketchy hitchhikers cursing under their breath.

Stalemate #1: Bryce wouldn't budge. We had started along one of the trails toward the Monarch butterfly grove and Bryce still didn't want to go. She stopped cold, plopped down on her butt and stubbornly whined that she wasn't going any farther. This fun exchange lasted about five minutes until finally I agreed we could go to the gift shop to look but not buy anything else, but then we'd still have to go see the butterflies. Bryce reluctantly agreed and we were off again.

Stalemate #2: We immediately hit another trailhead and again Bryce refused to go on, crying even more adamantly that she wanted to go home. Bea jumped in the angry fray telling Bryce she had to go see the butterflies. Then sister bickering ensued. There were a lot of families out hiking through Natural Bridges, many from other countries, their various languages drifted by us while we stood there on a little wooden bridge along the trail and argued. We were there for at least another 10 minutes while Bryce said she wanted to go and Bea said she wanted to stay. I waited and was patient and did everything I could to keep focused on the principals of positive discipline.

"Girls, the longer we stand here, the less time we'll have to see the butterflies."

"I want to go home!"

"I want to see the butterflies!"

Ugh. Another five minutes went by with them only agreeing to disagree and I finally said, "Girls, we're going home now. If you can't agree on what we're going to do, then we're going home. It's time for lunch anyway."

Stalemate #3: Bryce got onboard with that, but Beatrice did not. In fact, Beatrice's storm clouds broke  and that's all she wrote; she wasn't budging. But Bryce took off back up the trail, no matter how many times I told her to stop. Bea's arms were crossed.

"Bryce! Stop right now!" I yelled. "Bea, c'mon now, we're going home!"

"No!" they both shouted back at me.

A German family came down the trail tentatively (I heard them talking, which is how I knew), hearing our shouts and sensing our distress and probably reading the angry daddy on my face. And the fact that I held Beatrice's wrist in my fist pulling her toward me didn't help the situation.

"Hi," I said as they passed.

"Hi," they echoed uncomfortably and scurried on down the trail.

"Beatrice, we're going home now! Bryce wait for us!"

"No!"

Ugh. That was it. I had tried to be patient and calm. I tried to negotiate with them. I tried to muster up my positive discipline and Kidpower powers, but to no avail. They were dead to me. Daddy Goat Gruff firmness stomped its hooves and we were not playin' no more. I pulled Beatrice up the trail, caught up to Bryce, and then finally got them both headed to the car on their own power.

Stalemate #4: But when we got to the car and I got Bryce buckled in, Beatrice stood defiantly next to the car. She wanted to sit in the front seat. Nearing exasperation, I told her she could not sit in the front seat as it was against the law. Instead, she sat in the front passenger seat. That's when I got really pissed off.

"That's it," I said, scrambling around the car to get Bea from the front seat to her booster seat in the back. "We are done and going home now! I'm tired of this crap and you both not agreeing and not listening to me! Get your butts in the car!"

Bryce screamed and cried that she was already in the car as I got in the driver seat. In the rearview mirror Bea's face beamed red with anger. I could almost hear her growling.

"No TV or iPads when we get home! I will fix lunch but nothing else. I'm so disappointed, girls. I thought we were going to have a nice time today."

It was at that moment I was stung (and stunned).

"I hate you!"

That was Beatrice. Three words. One big sting. She was furious with me. Bryce began saying something else through her tears, but I didn't hear her. Beatrice's red face glowed in the mirror.

All I could think about was -- wow, that hurt -- and -- wow, I'm proud of her. Really. Those two things simultaneously. Yes, almost every parent deals with their child's defiance and the words "I hate you." And yes, it hurt, but it also didn't surprise me.

But as a matter of expressing oneself, it's a different story. Bryce has no problem speaking her heart passionately. Never has. But Beatrice has struggled to express herself in everyday situations. Over the past two years she's gotten more confident with her feelings and communication and it's no wonder that Inside Out is her favorite movie to date (she's already watched it at least 15 times).

So yes, when the Bea stings as she can now do, it's painful, but it's beautiful, too. I was also proud of her as we headed for home.

"Daddy, why can't we watch TV or play with our iPads?" Bea asked, her fury gone.

Great question, my sweet girl. My anger had also fled as quickly as it had held my heart and head hostage. My firmness had turned to meanness and my punitive response in the end wasn't going to help undo what had already been done; it just made me feel better, that I had the control, the parental power over them to DO AS I SAY.

But the girls knew why I was mad and why we were going home. We did talk about it once we got home and I told them why it was so frustrating for me and that no matter what I still loved them. They told me they were sorry as well, even Bryce, who doesn't take kindly to sorry.

"Can we play with the iPads now, Daddy?" they asked.

Sigh. "Yes, my lovely bee stings, yes you can."

After reviewing with the Mama and the girls' pre-school teachers during Bryce's parent-teacher conference two days later (Bridges to Kinder is where both girls attended preschool and where we learned positive discipline), at some point you have no choice to be firm. Not mean parental control where I unfortunately defaulted to, but firm nonetheless.

Our dear friend and the Bridges to Kinder preschool director, Teacher Laura as we lovingly all call her, shared some books with me, one of which is called Anh's Anger, about how to teach children (and even adults) coping skills when it comes to dealing with their anger. I highly recommend it.

Learn to sit with the sting until you soothe yourself. Amen.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

A New Reason to Give Thanks

"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there..." —The Star-Spangled Banner

The first boom came at 5:28 am. Then a second boom. Followed by a third. I put my laptop to the side and sat up, torn to move in two directions at once: go to the living room window to see what I could see, or go to our phone and call 911.

Being an early bird I had already been up since 5:00 am tinkering away on my MacBook. A fourth boom and I grabbed my phone and went to the window. I could hear the girls talking upstairs; obviously the booms woke them. A fifth boom and then I saw it: the spectacular flower of an exploding firework. Then multiple booms with more reds and whites and blues and a myriad of other colors. 

I aimed the camera to try and capture a firework mid-flower, instead of calling the police, but the booms stopped. I waited, the girls came downstairs (which was around the time they wake up anyway), and the fireworks stopped. 

These weren't just a box of illegal jumbo fireworks bought in Nevada or Mexico. No, these were pretty cool fireworks. Disneyland pretty. The stadium-quality variety. Shot off at 5:28 in the morning for over five minutes down the street in the vacant lot where the local weekly farmer's market is held.

Disruptive? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Pretty? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe, but since they exploded over a vacant lot, probably not. Illegal? Well, yes, considering that fireworks of any kind are illegal in Santa Cruz County. 

The Mama got up shortly after the girls did ask asked what the booms were. I told her and the first thing she said was, "Did they girls get to see them?"

I told her no, that they didn't get to see them. The booms woke them, though. But after we were all up and sunrise yawned and stretched her lavender hands skyward, I reflected and gave thanks with a silent reverent prayer that I had my family with me, safe and sound and healthy, with sustenance and shelter, fairly secure in a seaside community at the South end of the greater Bay Area in the Golden State of one of the greatest nations ever to be created and sustained in the history of the world. A nation of immigrants wanting a better life for themselves, the "huddled masses," to have the freedoms they didn't have in their homelands, whether driven out because of religious and/or political persecution, disease, famine and/or especially war. 

Granted, it was at the expense of those who had already lived her for thousands of years, but that's a story for another time, and not one to be told in any form fully sanitized to validate America's Thanksgiving folklore. 

No, I was just thankful in the moment as I try to do daily reflecting on who I am and what I have, taking little for granted when I'm mindfully present. 

But then the sentiment of a family member interrupted my prayer with an important question, one she posted the day before when referencing a video about the harsh reality of Syrian refugees clamoring for safety in Greece (or insert your Western country of choice here). It was right after my weekly beach run, the one where I share a picture of the remaining natural bridge at Natural Bridges State Park and some creative and cutesy phrase. Of course it was "This week on God Bless everyone beach run."

She had posted:

Imagine this is your family, fleeing for your lives, trying to provide your children with a safe and decent childhood. 

My response was: Amen. But most of us don't want to imagine, so we don't.

Wherever you fall on the ideological and political spectrum, and whatever you believe we should be doing or not doing to address this latest global crisis, most of you will go through your lives unscathed, just as hopefully many of your children and children's children will as well, but as I wrote last week, together the aggregate power of your safety plans may just change the world.

Maybe. But with the rockets' red glare from this morning, to those from this afternoon when my daddy time with the girls turned into a battle of #BhivePower wills (that I lost), the only proof I need is that my home and family are still here with me, and I with them. 

Plus the proof that we still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The brave who shouldn't fear but be aware, who shouldn't blame but be responsible, who shouldn't resent but be empathic, who shouldn't hate but still be wary and vigilant to protect country, community and family. The brave who, if they can truly provide their children with a safe and decent childhood, should do just that. 

And maybe, just maybe, we'll give ourselves a new reason to give thanks by helping those fighting for their lives abroad because of war and terrorism, and those fighting for their lives at home because of economic hardship and prolonged hunger.

Happy Thanksgiving America. We know you can do this.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Aggregate Power of Our Safety Plans

“All this time we're hoping and praying we all might learn, while a billion other teachers are teaching them how to burn…” —Rush, Peaceable Kingdom

There are no absolutes. There is no black and white. There are only filtered perceptions and reactions to life experience, the shadows at dusk of what is truly right and wrong.

Until I was nine and my sister seven, we lived with an alcoholic who year after year escalated violence against our mother. Drunken rage drove our birth father to blame her for his self-hatred, and he'd berate her, and he'd beat her, and then self-loathing would spiral him into dysfunctional regret.

That regret led him to always say how sorry he was, and how much he loved us, and how much he loved her. The holidays were the times when the most bittersweet poignancy welled up in his eyes, and ours, with his signature Dorothy phrase, "There's no place like home."

I always want to believe that. To believe that he really meant it, that he'd truly rehabilitate and he'd stop hurting her and we'd all go back to being a loving family. But he didn't. And then we left.

Right after that we experienced a whole other level of dangerous family dysfunction, and yet I always wanted to believe that it would be okay. Hope coursed through me as if hit by lightening (and it still does). We had some family and friend intervention and help through these experiences, and our mother did her best to care for us, but until I was nearly 13, life was far from being a safe family haven. For at least two decades after that I felt helpless and I channeled my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an adult.

Thankfully, our girls haven't and won't experience this, since we have everything to do with it. And many other people don't experience this either (although what's reported versus what's not is telling -- God bless those who have experienced it). And although today most of us don't experience other kinds violence -- especially terrorism and war -- it's all around us and being transmitted to us via traditional media and social media, all with the competing slants and filtered perceptions.

Because of what's happened of late in Beruit and Paris, I've thought about how we'll respond to our girls if (and when -- if not now, in the future) they ask about what happened.

Prior to taking Beatrice and Bryce to New York City earlier this year, the Mama read the girls the story about the Man on the Wire, Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. She told them we weren't going to see the buildings because they weren't there anymore. The "whys" ensued and then the Mama proceeded to tell them there were bad men who didn't like the buildings and who brought them down.

The same story was repeated when we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The Mama and I went on solo tours, but we didn't bring the girls through the whole thing together. They did see some of the damage on display, however. But then, we were both overwhelmed and we had to quell our own emotions from our 9/11 memories.

Why did we do that? Why didn't we share them and the why of emotion with the girls? How do you explain that to a four and six-year-old? And unless they experienced it directly, why would you explain it to them in any greater detail?

That answer has been clear to us now more than ever because my wife is a Kidpower instructor. Kidpower is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that can increase the safety of young people and adults alike and that can last a lifetime.

Talking about worries and fears creates unnecessary anxiety without making kids safer. According to the Kidpower program, protecting kids from adult feelings helps to reduce anxiety and increase competence. You do what you can to protect children from hearing details, speculation, and any and all media coverage as much as possible.

But when you do have to explain some tragedy to your children, instead of trying to keep them completely insulted and inside, for fear of what may or may not happen, talk about your family safety plan, and take the time to make safety plans and to discuss, review, and practice safety skills with your children and teens if you don't already have one.

You should always project calm and confidence as the adults in charge, and this will help your kids, too. For example, Kidpower references studies that show even during wartime when people went into shelters from the bombing, the children were far better off (less traumatized) in the shelters where adults were singing and being positive that they would all get through this, than in those where the adults were acting and projecting fear. In fact, read this column about singing in an Israeli bomb shelter.

Then go out into the world with your children and help teach them so that they can practice making safe choices together without radical judgement. There are just too many teaching otherwise.

Again, there are no absolutes. There is no black and white. And yet, it's unfortunately always easier for us to take sides and cry out in the wilderness our subjective takes on justice and injustice. The nuanced complexity of family violence, global violence and extremist terrorism is barely accessible to learned adults much less children and teenagers.

So instead let's stand together through awareness and vigilance while making our own safety plans, knowing that we're all susceptible to violent tragedy. Many of us will go through our lives unscathed, just as hopefully many of our children and children's children will as well, but together the aggregate power of our safety plans may just change the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Spectrum Activity Disorder Known As Sports

One ball zipped passed her into the goal. Then another. Both within minutes of each other.

She could've stopped them, at least from where I stood on the sidelines. They were solid kicks from the other team, and the balls did zip along at a nice clip, but she could've stopped them. Before the quarter finished, and while the ball was being kicked around at the other end of the field, I walked around behind our goal and level-setted my voice.

"Beatrice, whatever you do, stop the ball. I know you can do it. All you have to do is get in front of it and pick it up, just like we practiced. Watch the ball and get in front of it and stop it."

"I tried, Daddy! I did!"

And although I believed she did try per her level of heart versus skill, I struggled. I struggled the rest of the game as the coach. I struggled all the way home as the dad. I knew I shouldn't have felt the way I felt, but I did. I wanted her to be better. I wanted the whole team to be better. 

This is non-competitive U8 girls soccer and the girls are only six and seven years old. We're supposed to have fun and teach the girls some key soccer skills and not worry about winning or losing. Teach teamwork and have fun, fun, fun no matter what and no matter the level the girls are at. That's why everyone will always get a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season. Even if when we have a few Buttermaker moments. Thank goodness my assistant coach has a cool head and gets it, too.

But I still struggled. I grew up highly competitive, and unfortunately still am, no matter how much emotional intelligence I've worked really hard to gain in my half century. The struggle became even more complex during the game because another team member approached with her mom, tears streaming down the girl's face. 

We were in the fourth quarter of the game and she was upset because she wanted to play more. Since we're on a rotation each and every game, every player gets to play two to three total quarters out of four per game, as forwards, defense and goalie. I explained this all to her, why to be fair to all 12 team players we have to rotate and give everyone a chance to play, since we can only have seven on the field at any given time. I asked if she understood, and she nodded, but her struggle was just as real as mine.

In fact, nearly every game now, before the beginning of every quarter, every girl on the team asks me if they're going to play. Incessantly. On the one hand, the sweet pleading inspires because the girls all really want to play the game. But on the other hand, it adds to my struggle because my old school organized sports brain wants to rank and play -- 1st team, 2nd team, etc.

And speaking of 1st team, there are those highly skilled players on our team, the ones who have played for a few years already, who even though are years from experiencing and understanding true competitive soccer, still feel the foreshadowing of what it's like to lose, and not play very well during a game, and to be disappointed in a teammate who's missed two goals. And when you lose.

I love my Flying Hamsters. I really do. And my daughter tried. She really did. I hope that my assistant coach and I have instilled in all of them a sense of pre-competitive fairness and teamwork and some soccer skills regardless of what level they're at. To keep the competitive wolves at bay at this age (or any age), we have to be aware of and be able to manage our generational struggle with the spectrum activity disorder known as sports.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

When the Boo Zombie Bites

Of course it was right at the clown scene. Our neighbor had invited us to his Halloween party and we stopped by briefly after an fun but long afternoon and early evening of trick or treating.

"We're playing scary movies and just hanging out," he said. "Thanks for stopping by. And thank you for the pumpkin ale!"

Beatrice fixated on the computer monitor -- eyes wide open. The scared little boy from Poltergeist had just covered the clown on his chair (the original movie from 1982, not the remake).

"Stop watching that, Bea," I said.

Our neighbor paused the movie. "Sorry, I'll stop it for now."

"No, don't," said Bea. "I want to see it. What happens?"

What happens is that you'll be scared to death, my dear, I thought.

But she's already been bit by the boo zombie and it's spreading to her heart and head. We should have seen it coming; Beatrice has always loved many of the Disney villain characters and she's dressed up as Ursula and Maleficent for past Halloweens. And although she wasn't a villain, Bea loved Disgust, one of the emotion characters from Inside Out, and dressed up as her this year. Plus, she likes an odd Tim Burton-esque animated series called The New Adventures of Figaro Pho (about fear of all different kinds of stuff).

Bryce on the other hand is all puppies and kitties and unicorns with a princess on top. Always. No scary things here, please. Unless she's hungry and grumpy. Then she becomes a monster of a whole other genre -- the Brycinator. Once satiated, the princess takes back the throne.

The week before Halloween this year we went to a mask making festival where the girls made their own colorful masks. While the experience was light and fun, they did have a room set up with the gross touch boxes -- food items pretending to be body parts to touch and be grossed out by. We did go in there and but only Beatrice enjoyed it. The Mama did it too, kind of, but me and Bryce stayed clear. 

In another room they had a haunted house set up, and Bea begged to go into it. We told her over and over again that she would be scared to death. That was enough to convince her (for now).

The last time the Mama and I went to a haunted house for big kids was at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was way back in 1998 -- and that was enough to last three lifetimes. The last scary movie the Mama and I watched with intention was The Blair Witch Project. It literally scared the crap out of us. Those who continuously indulge in the horror genre find this movie mild at best today, but for us it was freaking intense. After that, we were done. No harm, no more fouling up our brains with this garbage. 

Yes, we grew up with scary and were weaned on the likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th and many other bloody others. The earliest film scare for me was a little known TV show called Circle of Fear from 1972-1973. I also remember being mesmerized while horrified by the George Romero films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and the campy trilogy end Day of the Dad. Not to mention the The Evil Dead romps. I was also a huge Stephen King fan, but his novels never translated well to film.

The boo zombie bites have always infected that primal desire to poke at millions of years of fight-or-flight evolution with pointed sticks until our pleasure centers swell full of sticky bittersweet fear.

The irony here is that I grew to despise all things zombie as I got older. Everything about them. My creep factor went through the roof and just the idea of zombies practically made me wet myself. At least figuratively. Even the comedy Shaun of the Dead freaked me out.

I never thought in a million frickin' years I'd watch another zombie show. But a year and a half ago while traveling for business, my boo zombie bite from decades earlier festered and compelled me feverishly to watch The Walking Dead pilot on Netflix.

And I was hooked. I couldn't look away. The Mama and I have always loved end-of-world stories, so it wasn't that much of a stretch; I got her hooked as well and we binged until we caught up with the real-time AMC series. It was just about getting past the zombie gore. But once past it, the writing and characters and survival plot has been blowing us away ever since.

Back to Halloween this year. While we didn't dress up like zombies or The Walking Dead characters, instead reprising our safe roles as Han Solo and Princess Leia (the new Star Wars movie is coming out soon for those not keeping score at home), we have a rediscovered respect for compelling story with splashes of horrid scare. And Bea finally got hers (age appropriate of course).

"Can we please go into the haunted house?" Bea asked. We had just finished Halloween story time at Trader Joe's. This year the store actually had a benign, family friendly haunted house set up for kids.

"Are you sure you want to go in there?" I asked her.

"I checked and they said no one pops out at you," the Mama said.

"Things pop out?" asked Bea.

"No, honey. They don't."

"You still want to do it?"

"Yes."

Bea's voice was tentative yet determined. So we waited in line and went. Just me and Bea. Bryce was having none of that nonsense and stayed with the Mama. Bea gripped my hand, and for a spit second she nearly pulled me back, but then we were in.

It was a little dark with stormy sound effects and creaks and groans. The scenes included a witch stirring a glowing orange brew and a banjo playing skeleton with glowing eyes and a sidekick human with a painted skeleton face who smiled ear to ear. There was also a body-part touching room too, but Bea had already satiated that desire by having her own gross boxes for her class, complete with zombie brains (spaghetti and pumpkin guts), witch eyeballs (peeled grapes), vampire ears (dried apricots in oil), and ghost poop (cotton balls).

Ghost poop. Who knew?

That's the thing -- when the boo zombie bites we're all in for the afterlife.  


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Heck of Awesome

Adjective or Noun.
  1. An expression recently used by the B-hive that interjectionally expresses glee about something very cool.
  2. Akin to "right on," an 1970's expression Daddy reprised years ago when he's digging cool stuff.
  3. An exclamation of encouragement, support, or enthusiastic agreement.
When Bryce spoke the magical words, we laughed. Later, the Mama and I asked each other, "Where did she get that?"

And then I thought, That's catch-phrase gold. I even did a Google search on it -- nothing came up that matched it.

We'd been reading bedtime stories with the girls and they both got really excited about putting play glasses on a dog named Arlo (from the book Arlo Needs Glasses by Barney Salzburg). 

First, Beatrice pointed to the dog visiting the eye doctor and said, "What the heck?"

Then, Bryce pointed to the page full of play glasses to try on and said, "It's the heck of awesome!"

The heck of awesome. Right on. That's exactly how I felt after she said it; exactly how I try to feel nearly everyday with #BhivePower. No matter the stresses of the day, no matter how Daddy Goat Gruff grumpy I may get, no matter what's happened in my life, or what may happen -- there's always the heck of awesome

Always.

The Mama and I are all about becoming the awesomer part of ourselves -- two scrappy halves that make up two wholes -- now proud parents proudly displaying all the figurative scars of earned failures and wins it took to get here (and still takes as a work in progress).

We've been together 18 wonderful years, but now that I've hit the half-century mark, that proverbial ceiling of time encroaches on me quickly as if I'm an aged Alice filling a house after drinking the wrong potion. Except I won't get small again no matter what I do, so I either learn to live in every nook and cranny as responsibly and comfortably as possible with my arms and legs hanging out the windows and the doors for as long as I can, or I don't. Of course we prefer the former and work hard on instilling that in the girls for their eventual house filling long run as well.

I'm blessed and I'm grateful. And while I've always joked about drowning in a sea of estrogen, the real truth is it makes me a better man and father. That's why it's all the sweeter when my girls afford me the occasional catch phrase and a daddy manhood rite of passage.

When the Mama and I were married, one of our wedding gifts was a George Foreman electric grill barbecue. I know, I know. For those of you keeping score at home, it's not really a barbecue when you plug it in to an electric outlet. However, we did use it over the years, and it certainly came in handy when the Mama was pregnant with Bryce and would've ripped my arms from their sockets if I would've cooked bacon or any kind of meat in the house.

My dad was a master barbecuer back in the day, but the golden grill spatula was never bestowed on me, and in recent years the Foreman grill usage has definitely dropped off.

That all changed on my birthday when the girls bought me a whole lotta awesome in a super-duper propane barbecue. It only took 50 years, but now my daddy manhood is complete. Somewhere in heaven my dad just shed a tear.

Amen.

Thank you for always being the heck of awesome, Girls. Right on. 



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Why We Say Let's Let the Pearls Play

Her question caused me angst. Not a lot of it, because I already knew my answer three days before I told her. It was the same answer the Mama gave as well. But I still found myself a little torn as to how to respond.

The question was this: "Daddy, the birthday party I was invited to is the same time as our soccer game on Saturday. Can I go to the birthday party instead?"

The very first thing I thought was this: Well, no. You need to go to your soccer game.

I didn't say it, but I thought it. More than twice because of a wrinkle. I mean, my reactive response came from a place of instilling commitment and teamwork in Beatrice, of teaching her that she could be letting the team down by not showing up to play. A place that I was reminded of more than a few times in my own childhood.

I was older, in 4th grade, and was pushed by my crazy step-father to play basketball (not the man I ended up calling Pop), a sport that I wasn't very good at compared to baseball and football. In fact, I wasn't even very good at playing HORSE, the creative shooting challenge game played with a basketball for people who can, well, shoot baskets and actually make them.

However, he used to be good at playing basketball, and so I was pushed everyday after school to practice on the driveway basketball hoop -- free-throws, layups, hooks, jump shots -- you name it, I was pushed to practice it. It didn't really make me any better and I hated every minute of it (for more reasons than just the game itself).

My basketball swan song came at the end of the season when as a "not really a power" forward I scored five points -- two baskets, one of which was an alley-oop blindly from behind, and one free-throw. 

That was it. Baseball, football and even soccer in junior high ended up being so much more fulfilling.

Now, I/we didn't push Beatrice to play anything. We have always been about letting our girls decide if they want to trying something, and of course encouraging them to try things, and then if they want to keep doing any of those things, we'll be there for all of it (Bryce loves swimming and dancing).

Bea actually wanted to play soccer, with the boys at first, just like when she played T-ball, and then conceded to be on an all-girls team in U8 soccer. Beatrice is definitely better than me in soccer than I was in basketball and she really gives everything a go that she tries. Let's just say she's got a lot of heart, loves her teammates and friend, and loves playing hard and having fun. 

And then there's the part where I'm the team's coach. Yes, that part. That's the wrinkle. So when she asked to go to the birthday party instead of our soccer game, I was a little torn to say the least. But like I said, I already knew my answer, and when I talked with the Mama about it and our response was united: instilling commitment and teamwork in both Beatrice and Bryce has already started and will be years in the making, like the pearls all our children will hopefully become.

She may never want to play sports long-term; maybe she'll be an engineer; or maybe she'll do both. Who knows. Both girls'  lives will be difficult and competitive enough as it is as they get older -- especially being females. Plus, I'm dealing with an age group who loves to chase each other, do cart wheels on the field during games, pick clumps of grass and throw them at each other, and give each other hugs. So there's that.

Either way Bea's in first grade and only seven years old and has come a long way, baby. That's why we say let's let the pearls play.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Celebrate the Wham-Bams and All in Between

"Time is passing by
I still want you
Crime is on the rise
I still want you
Climate change and debt
I still want you
Nuclear distress
I still want you
The Earth is heating up
I still want you
Hurricanes and floods
I still want you
Even more than I did before..."

—Brandon Flowers, Still Want You


And just like that, it's 18 years later. This is the part when you measure the magical moments against the realities of your life and a long-term relationship. From that moment of meeting the Mama one day at the beach...

...October 11, 1997. I usually get the words wrong, but our lover lore recounts the fact that the Mama walked up to me and asked:

"So, do you always come here alone?"

And like a fool, I almost didn't answer her; I wanted to be alone actually.

But then, "Yes, I do. And you?"

Within a few weeks we were hopelessly in love...

....to now 18 years later celebrating my 50th birthday party with friends and family on the eve of our 18th anniversary of meeting one another and our 12th anniversary of marriage. In fact, we had the local iconic Surfing Magician perform for the kids and the adults at my party, but dammit, he couldn't make me 40 again. Sigh.

But he did combine two signed playing cards from me and the Mama into one. Right on. My sweet Mama Ace in the hole.

Nearly two decades, two children, a finally refinanced mortgage, a few careers and economic ebbs and flows, and multiple family dramas later -- here we are.

None of this makes our relationship any less romantic, however. Real life may not be as colorfully dramatic and sexy as a novel or a movie, although throughout the years have been peppered with manmade and natural disasters and illness and death and -- good God, tell me to stop.

But there's one thing I know for sure, that real life can be just as super hot for long-time lovers. For example, recently the Mama read to me one of those fun sidebars from one of her Oprah magazines (which I actually had to look through to find again for myself -- ugh):

Overrated Sex: All night long
Underrated Sex: Wham, bam, thank you, man!

Add up those wham bams and you've got one hot lovin' super nova. Through all the years and a few ups and downs that even we have had, intimacy it a critical priority. Early on we made it so and told each other if we ever strayed to never come home. Seriously. Flirtation is one thing, but infidelity is the ultimate killer and actually a symptom of something missing, maybe multiple things, usually passion and intimacy, so our recommendation is don't ever frickin' lose it if you believe in it and long to keep it.

Do whatever you have to do to make that whoopee. Growing up I remember catching my Grandpa grabbing my Grandma's behind and patting it gently as he whispered something in her ear, even after 60 years of marriage. I proudly carry on that tradition today.

Of course real life gets in the way of mutual desire, like a belligerent drunk buddy who steps on your foot and leans over you to hit on your girl sitting at the bar next to you. You sulk away to the bathroom nurse the foot and the ego, and when you recover, you're either too tired or too stressed or too busy or too --

The Mama and I experience all this, but we want make it all work and keep the love simmering to a boil. Later today we'll go down to the place we met on the beach all those years ago and read our wedding vows to each other. It's a way for us to honor our love for one another, a reminder that two halves can and do make two wholes, a loving family, a continuous adventure and being the omniscient narrators of our own Rom-Com movie that goes on and on and on and on.

That's why you should always celebrate the wham-bams and all in between. Always.

Happy Anniversary Hot Stuff.




Sunday, October 4, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday to Me

“I’ve gone through life white-knuckled
In the moments that left me behind
Refusing to heed the yield
I penetrate the force fields in the blind
They say I'll adjust
God knows I must
But I'm not sure how
This natural selection picked me out to be
A dark horse running in a fantasy…”

—The Killers, Flesh and Bone


Like a ship on fire in the vacuum of space, I burned helplessly mute. In space, fire is unpredictable and tenacious, burning for longer periods of time, even when it seems to be out. In space, there is literally no sound, at least none heard like we can on planet earth.

So there I was, spiraling out of control and burning blue, when finally earth's gravity wound me back in and down to crash landing after crash landing. I escaped the fiery wreckage each and every time, but not before sustaining a recurring emotional concussion, one that made me feel insignificant and unworthy. One that left me wanting to run sobbing into the unknown horizon, to the point of know return.

I was 17 years old when my anxiety and crippling panic attacks started. Mostly from the inordinate pressure I put on myself to be liked, to succeed, to not be the skinny and shy asthmatic kid I used to be. Yes, I'd survived growing up in domestic violence and sexual abuse, but I never wore those chains like radioactive bling for all to see. In fact, I didn't really connect the past to the present anxiety until therapy in my 20's.

My memories weren't repressed, just more like emotional missives written but never sent to the ones who cared for me the most, the ones who misunderstood me. My interstellar trauma trips continued throughout my life, but thankfully decreased dramatically over the past two decades.

When I was in college I used to imagine what my world would be like in the year 2000, the year I'd turn 35. Envisioning that future-scape included visions of grandeur and popularity, of complete self-awareness and impulse control, of being anxiety free, of being smoke-free and healthy, of saving children from violence and abuse, of being loved by the love of my life, of being a good husband and father, of having the peaceful popularity of being the next Lee and Kerouac and Faulkner and Hemingway and writing my own great American neo-hipster novel. All before running out of time.

Back then I would've said you were as crazy as a loon if you thought I'd someday be comfortable in my own skin, mostly impenetrable from the extreme temperatures of the ever-expanding universe and the very fabric of relative time.

Now, in 2015, you weren't so crazy after all. Although I'm nobody's hero, I am a survivor who finally learned how to cope and manage the rhythm of my own overreactions and who's navigated life's booms and busts fairly well with a sometimes witty, self-deprecating grace. Sometimes...

And although I didn't write that novel yet, I have found a modicum of success and I did find the love of my life -- and two little lovely girls later, the fatherhood I never had as a child. I've learned that you don't ever run out of time, you just learn how to run alongside it and make it a partner for life for whatever duration that ends up being.

In space, no one can hear you burn. Welcome to planet earth, Kevin. And welcome home.

Happy 50th birthday to me.