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, 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.