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.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thank God for that New Car Smell

“Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live
In cars…”

—Gary Numan, Cars

Bryce kicked the back of the new seat in front of her. Then Beatrice followed suit.

"Girls, stop kicking the seats right now!" the Mama cried out.

The salesman kept on with his final checklist. "So, when you press this button here, then you'll be able to..."

But I could no longer hear him. His voice trailed off like a commentator during a stressful playoff game. I knew he was telling us important last-minute things to remember, yet it was too late in a game that had become a nail-biter for us all.

The girls were throwing their small stuffed animals at each other. They rocked in their seats behind us and kicked at our seats, squealing with crazy glee.

"I said stop kicking the seats!"

" can see how your phone connects to the car here..."

I'm sorry, what?!? The entire time the salesmen spoke he kept a well-balanced disposition as if he were a flight attendant talking to the passengers on his 1,000th flight about flotation devices and emergency exits while parents rocked wailing babies in front of him.

"Sweetie, we have to go now," the Mama said to me.

"...congratulations again, and now I just need you to sign here to acknowledge I walked you through these items..."

"Great," I said and signed the form. "We gotta go. Thank you!"

"Thank you!" the girls and the Mama echoed.

He thanked us again, I shut the door and we drove away.

Three and a half hours earlier...

We were ready to go. Cars evaluated and research done: best value bang and family safety for the buck and all that. We'd briefly considered hybrids and all electric in the past, but they still didn't pencil out for a family car. Then we reviewed our negotiation prep: don't lead with your number or the monthly payment -- get them to serve their best price first. Plus, it's Memorial Day weekend and it's the end of the month, and all that other car-buying jazzercise. Which, according to online car-buying sites, no matter when you go, says plan on being at the dealer marathon for up to four hours. Or more. Mercy me.

And then there's the meltdown-card prep. Yes, the part where you keep your kids in your back pocket for leverage. As in, "Listen, just so you know, once our kids start melting down, then we have to wrap things up. Just so you know. You know?"

Because the last time we bought a new car was before Beatrice was born, just over eight years ago. We'd been putting off getting a new family that last two years, even though we entertained it because our trusted family car was no longer trusted. So much so that the multiple repairs from this year alone were enough for us to cry out, "We need that new car smell!"

Blech. Nobody wants a new car payment, though. Especially for those like me who only see them as a means to an end, a way to get from point A to point B, and unfortunately a depreciating investment that can sink you quickly like wearing concrete shoes. The last time I truly loved cars was when I had my first car in high school -- the only manly muscle car I've ever owned and actually cared about as a status symbol and means to identity -- a 1972 Chevy El Camino. Sigh. Good times.

We were certainly ready for the buying experience this time. And we did pretty well in the overall negotiating department. The girls played the entire time with their coloring books and iPad and spent a lot of time in and out of the new showroom cars, pretending that they were taking their imaginary stuff animal families on road trips and into traffic jams. We didn't have to play the meltdown card. They only got squirrely during the last long hour of the buying process and us waiting to transfer our stuff from the old car into the new one and sign off on the final checklist.

"Great," I said and signed the salesman's form. "We gotta go. Thank you!"

"Thank you!" the girls and the Mama echoed.

He thanked us again, I shut the door and we drove away.

...later that same evening...

The new car hangover had settled in and I went outside to sit in in for a few. Not because of buyer's remorse, but mainly because I needed a little melancholy Rocket Man action, to sit in my new spaceship after a few glasses of wine and float through outer space to clear my head (counterintuitive with a few glasses of wine inside you I know, but work with me here). I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife and kids. I knew they were all right there with me, just inside at my sister's house, who was finally home from the hospital. All good news. Amen.

But I had been gone on so many back-to-back trips of late, more travel that I usually do, I avoided the thinner emotional atmosphere of everything going on and where it's much harder to breathe. I'm usually pretty good breathing up there. Usually.

Lately though, not so much. The why of it all still keeps me gasping for air, a precursor to panic attacks of old, which in turn makes me grumpy as hell. Not a proud combination to say the least. Thank God for that new car smell.

And family, too. Yes, thank God for family wrapped in that new car smell.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dive In We Do

Her shrieks were maddening. Out of context a passerby listening might think we were drowning her. Fortunately with all the other parents, babies and children around us in the pool with swimming instructors instructing, we were in safe company.

Except that Beatrice hated it. Every single minute of it. The swimming instructors did their best to console her, as did we, each of us getting in the pool to hold her and guide her.

Yet she cried and howled and thrashed and wanted nothing to do with immersing any further in the warm pool water, especially when her head hit it. Thankfully six-month-old Bea wasn't the only crying baby and toddler being taught the fundamentals of floating and paddling in the water.

We tried to comfort her and acclimate her, but she was disdainfully vocal, if not the loudest. We only went a few times to those swimming lessons way back then. In the years since there have been more swimming lessons with more painfully visceral results, sometimes to the point of making herself sick. Even in the bathtub, she still hated putting her head under the water.

All because she was scared to death that she'd sink.

When she could articulate how she felt, that's what she expressed over and over again. Even today after finally being comfortable in the water, learning how to swim and submersing her head, she's still worried about sinking.

Conversely her younger sister Bryce is not only unafraid to put her head under water, we have to temper her desire to dive in head first nearly and literally every single time. Bryce has never really had a problem with wanting to swim, just the normal fear of going under the first time. Her shrieks are joyous and infectious when she's in the pool.

All because she eats "sink" for breakfast.

The dichotomous sister swimmers are now water-ready anywhere we go and look forward to it all. They are my lifetime metaphors personified -- to be deathly afraid of what could happen next or to boldly go with whatever happens next. What comes next for them is to learn how to manage the poles and all the in-between. And us grown ups know how much in-between there is.

"Can we go swimming at Auntie Kristen's World?" the girls asked when we told them we were going  to visit my sister again to see how she's doing and to help where we can.

They ask if my sister's house was an amusement park complete with swimming pool, just like when we take the girls to Disneyland and go swimming in the middle of the day to break up the park trekking. Damn, if only that were the case. My sister is now awake and doing better, although there's a long way to go with her "in between" and the healing that will hopefully come.

Of course we don't share everything with the girls at this age, but they do know she's sick and that she needs the family's help. They're already packing their stuffed animals while pretending to talk with them:

"We're going to Auntie Kristen's again."

"Awe, but why?"

"Because she needs our help again."

"Okay, let's go help her then."

"Yes, and then we'll all go swimming!"

"We can't wait!"

And so dive in we do.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Why Is the Loneliness of Space

“I miss the earth so much
I miss my wife –
It’s lonely out in space…”

—Elton John, Rocket Man

I asked for it. I did. I wanted it. All of it. The back-to-back travel that came with the candidate experience half-day workshops we’ve been running via the research organization I work for. Since February I’ve gone to 10 cities across the U.S. with a Toronto trip coming up to culminate delivering 13 workshops overall.

Not a Herculean effort compared to those road warriors who travel every week for business.
And no, I’m not looking for a medal or a gold star next to my name. I love doing what I do. I keep saying over and over that I don’t like being away from my girls and my wife, but I do love what I do and love to travel. (And no, I’m not going to sing you Cats in the Cradle.)

Although I think I keep saying it over and over because I’m trying to convince myself that I don’t miss my family as much as I do, which I do. Yes, I talk to them every day that I’m gone and we see each other on FaceTime. Of course it’s not the same as when I can give my girls a hug and give my lovely wife a kiss.

Now, combine that with the fact that my sister’s in the hospital four hours away from where we live and it gets even more complicated. Not just for the fact of being there for her and her grown children due to the seriousness of her illness, but for all the things that have to get done when a loved one is down. All the additional expenses that add up when you’re coming back and forth with your family or just yourself. Keeping your kids out of school if they come with you. Having to rent a frickin’ car because one of yours is in the shop. Managing your work and business trips in between. Attempting to unravel the highly complex realities of the healthcare system. Dealing with rotating nurses and doctors and technicians and social workers and endless paperwork and questions and headaches that all the hopes and prayers in the world can't make enough magic to change.

We just did this a few years ago with our own parents, and now my sister is the one in the hospital. You tell yourself that these are just the things that you have to do, and you don’t count the costs when it comes to taking care of someone you love and all the things around them that need to be taken of.

But you do count them, you have to count them, and that’s okay (so don’t look at me that way). Love is powerful, yes, and yet there are asterisks and footnotes in the paperwork. It’s just a matter of reconciling with yourself that these are the things you can and are willing to do and sustain as long as it takes.

The other morning I sat in my sister’s hospital room watching her sleep. I was the only other one in room with her besides the nurse coming and going. Her bed rolled automatically underneath her to keep her body moving and to help prevent pressure sores. It was fluid and slow, as if she were in zero gravity; I imagined she was floating in space. Why are we here? I thought.

“Why?” I said aloud. Why? It was just an allegorical question. A simple and calm inquiry. No angry fist shaking at God and the universe. No toxic well of emotion spilling forth in frustration.


Then I imagined we were both in space and all the years growing up together swirled around us and moved us along like soundless solar winds. I realized the why was pointless because it will never give me the solace I seek. The why is a vacuum that nature abhors.

The why is the loneliness of space, and it's gonna be a long, long time. And through it all I pray for my sister and miss my family.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Part Where I Went Wrong

“Make it easy on yourself
There's nothing more you can do
You're so full of what is right
You can't see what is true…”

—Rush, The Color of Right

We lost six years. All because I wanted to help and she didn’t want it and our entire family went to hell in an intimately woven handbasket.

Flame. Ash. Poof.

I wanted to be the one who was right. I obsessed over it. I went to therapy over it. I didn’t sleep because of it.

I just wanted to be right, which is where I went wrong. Not because I wanted to help my sister – that was as a noble gesture – but because I wanted to be right, to be acknowledged as the family champion saving the day. Instead, I was accused of destruction and then I chose to estrange myself from the family.

My sister and I, we lost six years, and it wasn’t until the Mama and I had children and our parents’ health deteriorated when we finally came together again and restored our relationship.

Then there we were – my wife, my sister and me – standing in silence around our mother's hospital bed. She lay swollen and silent, eyes closed, the only noise coming from the life support systems keeping her alive.

No more needing to be right. And so tired of being wrong. Just needing to be with one another, both our parents gone within four months of each other. Yes, heaven is being with those you love and to hell with everything else.

Nearly four years later and there she is. That can’t be her on the hospital bed. The swollen face and limbs. The endless tubes and pumps connected to her neck, arms and legs, feeding her antibiotics and fluids and oxygen. The pings, buzzes and alarms sounds from a myriad of machines displaying erratic vitals and undecipherable numbers.

It just can’t be her. No, my sister is at home working her butt off to keep the yard in shape. Running nearly every day to keep her body in shape. Working hard to earn a living on her own. Missing her two grown children, both far away from her, yet talking to them nearly every single day.

But there she is in the hospital bed. She’s laying there sedated, looking hauntingly like our mother, breathing on a respirator, her body in septic shock from a rapid infection. Right now it’s day by day, and we hope and pray that her strong will and her incremental improvements lead to a full recovery.

The part where I went wrong puts in all in perspective.

I love you, Sis. Happy Mother’s Day.