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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where The Heart Longs To Be


The Mama called downstairs right after I heard the coughing, and I knew what it meant. I knew even before she called out for me what was happening. One of the girls was sick and throwing up. I reached their bedroom and sure enough it was Beatrice.

"Poor baby," I said.

The Mama consoled Bea and took her to the girls' bathroom. I immediately stripped her bedding and hauled it quickly it to our bathroom to rinse off, consciously closing off my nose to prevent that ever-present gag reflex. Of course we love our children, but nobody likes to be close to the vomit.

We got her cleaned up and mouth rinsed and back to bed while Bryce bounced off the walls. Bea's always an-early-to-bed great sleeper. Bryce is not. But on the other end Bea get's up even earlier than me now that school has started, at or right after 5 a.m., and Bryce gets up much later, around 6:30 a.m.

For now and at least the next few years they'll share a room, which has worked out fine to date, even with the growing differentiation of sleep patterns. They sleep snuggly in their own beds, safe and sound, surrounded by dozens of their favorite stuff animals, while we sleep comfortably in our own room down the hall.

All in the safety and security of our own little locked up home.

When we bought our house, we weren't going to have children. Less than two years later we thankfully changed our minds. The night before Bea got sick above, I had finished watering our backyard, something we only do sparingly these days because of the drought. When I came back inside I gazed out our kitchen window.

"I love our little house," I told the Mama. "We raised our babies here. We put that little backyard together ourselves."

"Yes, me too," she said.

I reminisced bittersweet. We made it through the lean times and I learned a lot about the rock bottom perspective. We held onto our house when so many lost theirs during the great recession (although some economists would argue we should've let ours go).

But something kept nagging at me, like when you're trying to forget something you never wanted to remember in the first place, but it's always right there in the peripheral of your frontal lobe.

The NPR article -- that's what it was. The one about homeless families in San Bernardino, CA and the fact that California ranks third in the U.S. — behind only Kentucky and New York — in the percentage of children who don't have a home, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. (Read more about the things you never wanted to remember via the Los Angeles Times staff writer Joe Mozingo's series San Bernardino: Broken City.)

There are about 2.5 million children who experience homelessness in the U.S., which represents about one in every 30 children. And it should come as no surprise, but again according to The National Center on Family Homelessness at American Institutes for Research:

Research shows that homeless children are hungry and sick more often. They wonder if they will have a roof over their heads at night and what will happen to their families. Many homeless children struggle in school, missing days, repeating grades, and drop out entirely. Up to 25% of homeless pre-school children have mental health problems requiring clinical evaluation; this increases to 40% among homeless school-age children.

The impacts of homelessness on the children, especially young children, may lead to changes in brain architecture that can interfere with learning, emotional self-regulation, cognitive skills, and social relationships. The unrelenting stress experienced by the parents may contribute to residential instability, unemployment, ineffective parenting, and poor health.

If you're familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, safety and security are the second tier of the pyramid, ahead of physiological needs (food and water). Unfortunately issues like homelessness are so emotionally and politically charged that no one cares about hierarchies of the many needs. This makes it difficult to shine a light on the fact that there are solutions that really do make a difference, including safe and affordable housing as well as education and employment opportunities for parents.

I'm also not suggesting we would've been on the street or in a shelter or motel if we would have lost our house. We were fortunate and still had resources, employment and a family support system. But my heart goes out to the millions of homeless children and families in this country (and throughout the world), thousands of whom are in Santa Cruz County, for whatever reason they lost theirs.

Pointing fingers at those less fortunate and saying it's their fault because they're homeless is not a solution, especially for the children.

Bea just started 1st grade and Bryce has one more year of preschool, and for them, home is where the heart is -- and they still have years to be a kid. But for those without, a loving safe haven is where the heart longs to be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

We Still Have Years To Be A Kid

That's when they made the canary sing like a potty mouth. A dozen sweet little girls dressed like princesses, fairies and kiddie hip hop gangstas bouncing off our walls, laughing crazily and screaming at the top of their lungs, all because of a two simple yet somewhat taboo words for little kids:

Poop and pee.

The canary, a little technological joy that chirps happy birdie songs and also repeats whatever is spoken to it, was actually a Christmas gift for Bryce last year. How fun it was and is to have it repeat poop and pee and even a few frickin' this and frickin' that for good measure (no thanks to me).

So of course it was the perfect party companion for Bryce's big 5th birthday Barbie bash extravaganza.

The rite-of-passage potty talk had actually started downstairs between Beatrice, Bryce and one of the other girls. The grownups were catching up with one another and commiserating over having laughing and screaming kids in the first place.

"Take the potty talk upstairs," said one of girl's mom, and the girls were gone, with most of the others following closely behind.

"Daddy, go upstairs and watch them," said the Mama.

Slowly I climbed the stairs. The bedroom door slammed shut and startled me, but the dissonant howls still escalated to a fervorous crescendo.

I made it to the doorway, opened the door and there they were -- manhandling the poor little bird, forcing it to say "poo-poo and pee-pee" over and over again in various iterations and kiddie dialects.

Thank goodness I was drinking wine. Some of the other little girls watched the potty talk in horror as if the tainted mantra would open up a dimensional doorway to hell. They looked to me empathically for intervention.

"Girls, keep your voices down and please keep the door open," I said, and then I went back downstairs.

My work here is done, I thought.

Hours later after everyone was gone and we were getting the girls to bed, Beatrice made a magical observation.

"We're not going to be grownups for a long time. We still have years to be a kid."

Frickin'-A, baby. Frickin'-A.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Scorched Perspective

They stood on overpasses holding American flags and painted banners and signs. We couldn't read the signs as they were facing westbound traffic on Highway 50, out of the Sierra Nevada mountains and into the Central Valley, and we were heading east toward Lake Tahoe.

The Mama got online with her phone and looked for a news reference to the flags and banners. Then she found something about honoring a firefighter killed by a tree battling one of the many blazes burning throughout California

That's when the procession of local firetrucks and CDF firetrucks streamed past us on the left as we drove beyond Placerville. We grieved audibly explaining to the girls there were lots of fires burning that were dangerous to everyone including the fire fighting men and women trying to put them out.

The Golden State is a tinderbox, more so than usual due to the five-year drought and the increasingly hotter annual temperatures. There are currently well over a dozen fires burning in California, both in Southern and Northern California. 

At the same time state water tables and aquifers are low getting lower and lower. Lake Tahoe was visibly lower to us, and we experienced the difference as well as we waded way out along the South Shore beach where we stay. The water level that only last year hit our chests was barely above our knees, this being the 6th largest U.S. natural lake and the second deepest. Little if any snow collected along the Sierras this last winter, and even if the projected Godzilla El Nino (who comes up with these names) hits this coming winter, it will only be a brief reprieve from probable longer spells of dry, hot weather in the West.

The entire state of California has been on mandatory statewide water restrictions for residential and business properties since January 2014 with one exception -- groundwater for agriculture. In fact, California is the only state in the nation that has never regulated groundwater. Ever. Farmers in the Great Valley are for the most part free to pump as much water as they want and they don't have to really track it.

I grew up in the Central Valley in Visalia and was actually shocked to learn that parts of Porterville, a town near Visalia and where my dad was from, have run out of well water. You actually have to go to the fire station to receive bottled water so you can survive. Your hygienic needs must also be met in church parking lots where makeshift sinks and showers are set up. Can you imagine that in 110 degree heat?

For a state that is economically thriving, this seems to be madness to me, the part where some communities are beginning to actually run out of water while many farmers are receiving investment money to drill deep and deeper into the California water table and suck it dry for profitable cash crops that are only profitable because of the drought. 

I'm all for capitalism, but c'mon. We continue to be our own worst enemy when it comes to compromising basic necessities for a quick bottom line.

I get the fact that may take hundreds or even thousands of years for natural climate change, and the man-made short-term destructive nature, to force the West Coast population to live elsewhere, but mercy me this is scary. We've done our part locally in Santa Cruz to cut back on water usage and continue to be well under our allotment. There's a lot more we could do as a state and the privatization and further regulation of water in California could be a good start.

When we hiked above Emerald Bay in Tahoe, one of the many natural wonders we've been grateful to visit more than once, I couldn't help but wonder what might come of this lake and all of California someday. Would it all be a desert? Would we experience another ice age? Would the state burn up in massive fires? The span of geological time is unrelenting in its slow wake, and our current generations of human progress and memory will wash away like the fossilized ash of those before us.

No matter how resilient we are in California, and how much water most of us are saving, the scarcity of life-giving resources leaves a scorched perspective on both near-term and long-term survival. We could all use a little #BhivePower and positive hive mind mentality at this point.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Bhive-Sized Group Hug Cry

They hadn't noticed the tears already leaking out the corners of both my eyes. I kept wiping them away quickly, not because I was ashamed for crying, but because I worried it would make them upset.

The Mama was away at a Kidpower workshop and Daddy was in charge. The girls and I already had a happy afternoon of pizza and ice cream and then we came home to watch the animated movie Home, a story about friendship and looking out for the friends and family you love.

This of course was an unrealistic wish, for them to not see me cry, since both girls are older now and more aware of themselves and the world around them, their level of empathy awakened forever. And the fact that they've already seen Daddy cry many times. Thank goodness for this, both seeing Daddy cry and their awakened empathy. And although they're still young, the Mama and I have nurtured their emotional intelligence since the first glimpse of their empathic differentiation.

I am a proud, self-admitted cryer. Happy or sad, my tears have flowed freely from my earliest memories. I still remember quite vividly my 4th grade teacher Mr. Tapilaris reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class, the story of a boy and his dogs. The year before my parents had gotten divorced and my beloved Australian Shepard at the time, Poco was her name, went to live with my soon to be estranged birth father.

But I never was teased much if at all about being a cryer. That's always struck me as odd growing up being a boy and not being teased for being a girlie-girl or a sissy or a cry-baby. It was just never a thing for me, my immediate friends or family or others who knew me, so from the outsiders' perspective, it wasn't a thing for them either.

So the Mama and I don't want it to be a thing for Beatrice or Bryce growing up either. We want them to be comfortable of their own emotional responses to those they come in contact with throughout their lives and the world at large. The Mama is not a cryer like I am, although I've seen her cry. We tease each other about our respective crying thresholds, but it's always about embracing what makes up our whole selves and why we love each other.

Bryce is like me this way, the intense deep feeler who's up and down and up and down and all heart smeared all over her sleeves and every other inch of her, light years from impulse control. Even when I finally overcame the impulse drive, I still cry at almost anything laced with happy or sad.

Up until quite recently we thought Bea was more like the Mama as well. However, after I had already been crying during the movie Home, I looked over at Bea sitting on our couch and she had her new signature crying face queued up -- both sets of fingers shoved into her mouth as if she were trying to stop herself from throwing up. Then the tears welled and flowed freely. That was then the catalyst for Bryce to start crying, and in a New York minute all three of us were crying.

Channeling the Mama, I did take the time to discuss why the girls (and me) were feeling what they were feeling. I'm proud to be empathically balanced Big Daddy Girl and don't think of it as a derogatory label, at least not in the context of a Bhive-sized group hug cry.

You feel me?