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, May 31, 2015

The Unapologetic Parents Who Integrate It All

There we were, sitting at dinner, talking away, while the girls watched shows on their iPods. One of us asked Beatrice a question, but she didn't respond. We asked again, and then she quietly and reluctantly answered with one clear disclaimer: "I'm watching my show."

Dinner with friends and family at restaurants has included childhood distractions for decades. I remember getting crayons and coloring pages when we'd go to Sambo's or Bob's Big Boy, whether supplied by the restaurant or by my parents or grandparents. Usually both.

So, with iPods active, I made the definitive statement: "Yes, we unapologetically bring our devices everywhere we go."

Then I added: "Amy and I grew up with the TV on all the time, and our brains didn't melt."

Which is not entirely true, for us or for our children. The Mama and I are big readers, always have been, and this is one of many activities we encourage with Beatrice and Bryce. In fact, every week they go to the library and bring back a big bagful of new books to read, which we do every night before bed.

There are those child development experts who agree all things in moderation and integrated into everyday family life that includes talking with your children, doing arts and crafts projects together, reading together, writing together, drawing together, engaging in make believe together, or build forts (and even buy one once in a while), or watching a show or playing a game together. In fact, Bryce and I designed a unicorn video game together recently and then imagined we were actually playing it.

And think of it from the kids point of view while out at dinner. Having to listen to adults blather about this and that as they eat painfully slow with no consideration of the fact that the kids are missing out on valuable play time and reading time with the Mama and the Daddy.

As I write this, the girls are watching Little Einsteins on Disney Junior learning about music and art. And then we'll watch some more, and then they'll play on the devices, and then we'll do some art projects together, and then we'll read some new books, and then...

We are the unapologetic parents who integrate it all into some semblance of family time, even when they want to draw daddy's foot when he's working.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Part When Daddy's In Charge

What a difference time in a child's world makes. 

One minute they're bubbly molten lava: "I don't want to go anywhere!"

And the next, they're outside happily staring down a moth resting on the house.

The Mama had gone to visit a friend and Daddy was in charge. The idea was for the girls and I to pull ourselves together after playing iPad games consisting of baking cupcakes, dressing princesses, and riding horses, all the while watching the Mother Goose Club recently discovered on Netflix.

This old man, he plays two
He plays knick knack on my shoe
With a knick knack paddy wack
Give a dog a bone
This old man comes rolling home


I, of course, wasn't baking cupcakes or singing nursery rhymes, but rather, doing a few house nips and tucks that had been on my honey-do list for weeks. Then came the time to wrangle the B's and buzz them out the door to the park for fresh air and outdoor playtime.

Unless you're a full-time daddy, mommies are the ones who usually wrangle the kids, wrap them in clothes and wrestle them out the door -- day after day after day. Yes, there are those of us in the daddy realm who help with the child rearing, but mommies know the subtleties and the score when it comes to inspiring the lovely spawn.

Beatrice isn't a problem anymore to get out the door. Socks and shoes loaded, she was ready to go. Unfortunately Bryce was not. She launched into a passive-aggressive tirade about what she wanted and didn't want to do. 

"I don't want to go anywhere! I want to go somewhere!"

Then flip to me with the gruff daddy to positive parenting to gruff to positive slingshot approach. Here we go again: a battle of pure impulse, temper tantrums and reactive wills. I tried to get Bryce's socks on while she kicked away at my chest. Bryce held me fast with her eyes, defiant fury unleashed over and over again like rapid-fire solar flares. Shards of melting self-control rained down upon us (again).

I gave up. "Bryce, Bea and I will be playing out front and you're welcome to join us when you're ready."

"I don't want to go anywhere! I want to go somewhere!"

We went outside and one of Bea's kindergarten classmates rode up on her bike with her parents in tow on their bikes.

I explained we were waiting for Bryce to simmer down so we could go to the park and play, and they of course commiserated with me. While we talked, their daughter, Bea's best friend and a sweet friend to Bryce too, snuck up on our front porch for some quick playtime with the girls. 

I went to investigate. The three girls stood together fixated on something on the side of our house. It was a big brown moth. Bryce's meltdown gone, she ran to retrieve her bug catcher from the backyard and then somehow got the moth into it without mutilating it. All was well again with the world of B-hive power. Hey, don't look at me -- I only work here. I had nothing to do with it.

After that, getting them to the park was a breeze, where it actually was way too breezy to play for very long, but Bryce did release the moth safely again into the wild while we were there. Afterwards I took the girls to get a rainbow sherbet cone, or "rainbow sugar" as Bryce likes to call it. Meltdown behind us (for now at least), we came back home to play, and play, and play some more.

And make a big friggin' mess. Yep, the part when the Daddy's in charge. Right on.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Our Unfathomable Love Abounds

A dear old friend just lost his son, a young man at the beginning of his adult life.

We say we can't imagine, but deep down we can and do. When you have children, you want to believe that they'll live a long life, and of course outlive you, their parents. But we worry every day on some level that something tragic might happen to them. Not consciously most of the time, although sometimes our fears break the surface tension like horrid mythical creatures that consume our very souls and obliterate the universe.

We say we can't imagine, but for those who have grappled with loss, we cry out from its belly, the darkness a black hole where no lights escapes. We cry out and ask why; maybe we blame ourselves, or we blame others, or we blame God, or we blame the abysmal soul-eating creature. Or we blame all of the above in vicious cycles that eventually unravel into some semblance of acceptance, a modicum of peace.

We say we can't imagine, but what else should we say? That we can and do imagine and this tragedy has reminded us it can happen to any of us, and that's why we're so sorry for their loss? Each death has its own context, but the resulting loss is the constant. It never varies other than the degree of painful remembrance and sorrow, but healing reconciliation is always in the long-tail of beloved memory. 

That's why it's the very collective outcry of sympathy, empathy, and the outreach of those family and friends within reach that can and does help ease the pain, whether the loss be a child, a parent, a spouse or a friend.

I say can't imagine, but I can, and I embrace the scripture my friend shared with us online:

"Out of the depths I cry to You Lord; Lord hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption." --Psalm 130

God bless you and your family, my friend. Our hearts ache and our unfathomable love abounds.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Effectual Stretch of Imagination

“He's got a road map of Jupiter
A radar fix on the stars
All along the highway
She's got a liquid-crystal compass 
A picture book of the rivers
Under the Sahara — 
They travel in the time of the prophets
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone…”

—Neil Peart

It wasn’t exactly the romanticized version of backpacking through an exotic land, especially if you consider a cheap roller suitcase a backpack, which unfortunately I did. But that was me then in 1998, when my then girlfriend (now wife) had bitten me with the travel bug. Prior to that my travel was limited and relegated to a few States, and then once to Hawaii, which when I was 13 I actually thought was another country, and then years later once to Mexico and once to Canada.

My wife had traveled extensively prior to us meeting, including the romanticized version of backpacking through Europe after college, only to get most of her belongings stolen in Prague after only two days into her trip. She could’ve got home after that, wanted to go home after that, but regrouped, bought a few new things, and went on to travel for another few weeks.

And so our first big journey together was to Costa Rica, about a year after we had met. A lovely country, it was the first time I had been to such an exotic land, and to travel with someone else who lived boldly, to experience such visceral sensations I had never before experienced was amazing in and of itself. But the meeting of people I had never met before, some of whom had alien worldviews compared to mine, and exchanging those worldviews with one another, was the epitome of the “effectual stretch.”

The “effectual stretch” meaning pushing oneself to learn and expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in a way that’s produces desired yet diverse effective results, whatever those results may mean to each person. It could mean the literal extremes of success or failure, or that fatty layer in between that gives sustenance to our tenuous journey of sinew and bone.

We’ve attempted to impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to be bold yet aware, to protect themselves but not live in fear, to keep getting back on the bull like they own the beast, horns held tightly in hands. This includes exposing them to travel, new locales and people, experiences that we hope will shape their adult lives and those they interact with for the better.

Listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast about empowering a better workplace and the cities where those workplaces are, which will take another article I'm writing in a tangential direction, I had to smile when I heard American economist and Harvard University professor Edward Glaeser talk about how he was taking a sabbatical while “…attempting to civilize my children by taking them to a variety of different cities.”

Yes, that's the idea of "civilizing" through the effectual stretch and why we're now taking the girls to the island of Manhattan and beyond this summer for our next family vacation. We've flown together already to visit my parents in Oregon and the Mama's family in the Midwest, flown to Sea World and the Zoo in San Diego, ridden trains together to San Francisco, ridden city busses in Santa Cruz, driven to Disneyland and back a couple of times already (and a few other road trips to visit our sisters in Nevada and Central California). And there have been a couple of international trips for me when I've extended the stretch of imagination for the entire B-hive by getting to go to Australia and more recently Ireland.

In every place any of us goes individually or as a family, the idea is to learn something new about other people and ourselves, and to suspend our disbelief about the lore of the land we're upon, especially for our girls. There ain't nothing wrong in believing in magical things. (And yes, I kissed the Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle.)

You can't get any more excited about something as magical as fairy doors. Really. The girls have been immersed in the Tinker Bell and her fairy friends reboot for a few years (great girl power stories by the way) and when my new friend, Gina London, whom I met in Ireland (an Emmy award-winning veteran CNN anchor and correspondent turned international executive communications consultant, one of many amazing people I met while there), told me about how her daughter Lulu adores the fairy doors, I just had to have them for Beatrice and Bryce. Fairies originated from European folklore and Celtic, Germanic and Greco-Roman beliefs.

These particular doors are made by the Irish Fairy Door Company and come complete with door, key and wooden steps for the front of the door. You then give your fairy a name, and this is how it went with us:

"Beatrice, what name do you want for your fairy?"

"Tinkerbell, because I love her."

"Bryce, what about you?"

"My fairy's name is Barry."

In all fairness Bryce most likely meant "Berry," but Barry is funnier, so that's what I'm going with. You also get a fairy lease agreement, which is really cute and comes with stipulations such as:

“If pets live with the home, please that they do not tinkle against the fairy door. Having a wee-covered door can cause your fairy to get quite upset.”

You then find a place for the doors in your house and decorate around them, leave the keys out overnight, and if they're gone in the morning, the newly named fairies are the family's new friends and will visit regularly. Tinker Bell and Barry not only have new homes within ours, but they have the makings of a new fairy garden in the backyard courtesy of Bryce. And yes, the fairies have visited more than once already.

What the Mama and I love about the whole idea is how stretches their imaginations and gets them excited about new experiences both near and far. Ever since we met one day at the beach nearly 18 years ago, it’s been one new experience and growth opportunity after another. Not always travel related, and certainly not always successful, it’s been more about having an explorer’s mentality and approach to the mindful and agile living of the effectual stretch.

That is the gift the Mama gave to me and now our girls, and I couldn't be more thankful and grateful. Here's an excerpt of a poem I wrote her on my way home from Ireland that sums it all up:

The moment we met that day on the beach became a stunning ache
That has never left me — the soft light of your moving presence, 
A welcome sun that never fails to rise and lift my heart, hold it high 
In the sky and remind me this is how it feels to live life with love,
To be in love, to live boldly and burn brighter with the happy ache of 
Never wanting to be without, for that would mean we were never real, 
that our fated meeting had never happened, our heartmeld fusion that had
Never transformed two halves into two wholes, birthing two celestial
bodies locked in each other's gravity, a brilliant sun and moon, lovers 
And friends who can't look away from one another, who look out for
One another, who live life unabashed and empower their children in kind...

Happy Mother's Day, Mama. We love you.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Because Malls, Mary Janes and Making Up

The part when the Mama's right on the friggin' money. Which is usually most of the time.

"It's like 'The Family Man' when they go to store after store in the mall and Jack Campbell wants his Mary Janes, right?"

Right. That part.

That was during lunch, hours before the end of the endless errands. Already a Daddy Goat Gruff from earlier in the morning, because I let the "bother" bother me selfishly before I articulated the why of it, and the fact that the Mama had a stressful week before as well that I selfishly neglected to acknowledge at a vulnerable moment when the bother bothered -- the foresight irony of eating at the iconic Santa Cruz Crow's Nest wasn't lost on me.

Land (of emotional intelligence) ahoy!

Unlike Jack Campbell's frustration of braving the family trip to the mall, my "new suit" payoff had already been guaranteed. I had recently purchased a new one for a conference in Ireland and needed a few alterations. Picking up the altered suit was the end of the errand day.

And while it still takes me a little while to extinguish the gruffness, extinguishing she does come. Because malls. But not just that -- because malls with the Mama and the B-hive. I know, counterintuitive to the dangerous emotional riptide malls can cause, but since there's The Santa Cruz Children's Museum of Discovery, the local mall makes for an educational visit. We're members of the discovery museum and the girls (and us) love it. 

Land (of science and discovery) ahoy!

Plus, there's a tiny merry-go-round to ride elsewhere in the mall. That and at the last minute the Mama bought me my Mary Janes -- a Star Wars backpack -- knowing how Star-Wars poor I had grown up, only owning a few sets of trading cards back in the day.

Double plus -- the part about communicating and making up. Always a pleasure when you love each other and work on making the long-term pragmagical magic.

Right on, Baby. Because malls, Mary Janes and making up.