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, July 31, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Levity

Not too long ago I walked along the water and cursed the world. After witnessing major media in all mediums playing and replaying the hateful societal and political rhetoric around us 24/7 -- and then with family, friends and acquaintances echoing it all in person and online -- I just felt done. We were all done. Our goose was cooked. The end had come. Time to pack up your loved ones and move far away from the cynical grid.

Overdramatic per my usual emotive self, but I couldn't help it -- some of you can be so hatefully depraved. And this just from the past six months. I can't imagine what's coming over the next six. 

I gazed out over the ocean in front of me and witnessed a boat moving slowly through the waves. I thought, Like a distant ship grounded in a godless sea. Amen for #‎BhivePower.

BhivePower being the affectionate nickname of our two girls plus the Mama, my wife. The power that keeps me afloat and lit up with optimism.

And then there was this conversation last night after eating out at a local Chinese restaurant:

"Eating spicy sauce can make you pregnant," said Beatrice.

"Yes, I know," said Bryce.

"None for me, thanks," said the Mama.

"Me neither," said Daddy. "Wait, where did you hear that?"

There's nothing like the sweet family funnies, a breath of fresh levity. In the years to come will weigh on our girls and the hateful rhetoric around them will taint even them, no matter the positive affirmations that we hope to instill. They're already picking up all sorts of things from their friends, from the media, music, TV, movies, books and elsewhere, hence the spicy sauce pregnant comment above (which I still have no idea where they got that one).

In the past six months we've had a few of these refreshing breaths, and I'll share some of those with you all below. I hope they bring a smile to your face, one that will remind your of your own sweet family funnies and carry you day by day through the rest of the year and beyond.

"I'm never going to get rid of you," said Beatrice during a family hug.

"What's this music?" Beatrice asked, right after "Teenage Wasteland" by The Who started playing.
"Something you're going to know something about in a few years," I said.
"I like it."

"Daddy, look under there," said Beatrice.
"Under where?"
"He said underwear!" exclaimed Beatrice and Bryce, giggling.

"Can we eat it?" asked Beatrice, talking about a big, live turkey at the zoo.

"What are all those toys doing in the corner?" Daddy asked.
"They're packing for college," answered Beatrice, as a matter of fact.
"Okay. Then why are there toys everywhere?"
"Because they need partners for college."

"Poop, there it is!" sang Bryce, not quite getting it right.

The part where you book your family vacation and your youngest says, "Yes, I can't wait to go there so we can relax." 

"You know, if you left Bryce and me at home, we could do whatever we want."
"You're a funny girl, Bea."
"No, really."

"Winner, winner, chicken dinner!" exclaimed Bryce after winning family bingo.

"Bryce, who you gonna call?"
"Ghost Catchers!"

"Hey, who didn't flush the toilet?!?" Daddy yelled.
"How big is the poop?" asked Beatrice.
"Does it matter?"
"Then it was Bryce."

"Thank you for the Star Wars sticker book, Bryce."
"You're welcome, Daddy."
"Daddy, can I play with the Star Wars sticker book?"
"Yes you can, Bryce."
"Thank you!"
"You're welcome, Bryce."

"Daddy, please turn that down!" exclaimed Beatrice when Daddy turned on the car with AC/DC playing.
"Too loud, Sweetie?"
"You know Daddy likes his rock and roll, Beatrice."
"Do you like rock and roll?"
"Why not?"
"Because it's too loud."

"I want to read this!" exclaimed Bryce, holding up the little white book.
"Nobody wants to read the Bible," said the Mama.
"Heathen," said Daddy. "Bryce, what do you think the book is about?"
"Baby werewolf goes to New York."

"Daddy, why didn't you tell me you were the Mystery Reader today?" asked Beatrice.
"Because then it wouldn't have been a mystery."

"I want to watch Martin Hears a Who again," said Bryce.
"It's Horton," corrected Beatrice.
"I don't know his name, I just want to watch it again!"

"Beatrice, where's your tooth?"
"I left it for the tooth fairy."
"What did you get?" 
"I got a bag with two gold coins."
"Where are they?"
"One's in my bed and one's in Bryce's bed."
"Of course. Bryce, you'll loose some teeth soon enough, you know."
"Well, when I loose my teeth, I'm going to wait until I have three so I can get a big bag of gold coins."

"I am a famous painter!" exclaimed Bryce, wearing a Basque beret and a mascara mustache.
"Where do you get this stuff, Bryce?"
"I learned it in France."

Meanwhile, playing school share day with tiny doll house toys and stuffed animals...
"Let's get ready for share day everyone," said Bryce.
"Think of three clues for your share everyone," said Beatrice.
Daddy started, "Okay, my first clue is --"
"Daddy, you're last!" cried Beatrice.

"Did you like the movie, Bea?" Daddy asked as they left The Good Dinosaur.
"Do you think Daddy cried?"
"Daddy always cries, doesn't he."
"Yes, but that's okay."

"You girls are the bees that buzz," said Daddy proudly.
"And you're the big Queen!" shouted Bryce.

"Unicorns poop rainbows!" exclaimed Bryce. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Jumping Off the Deep End Part

She eyed the family checking out the rope swing. There were only two boys initially willing to insert their feet into the bottom loop, hang on to the upper loops with their hands, and swing wide over the river and back to the beach again. One of them glided knee deep into the water and right back out again with the swinging momentum. The river water was cool but comfortable due to the hot summer day at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Beatrice kept eyeing the boys and then pointed. "Daddy, I want to go on the rope swing."

Bryce stayed busy with her floaty, battling the little rapids of the low river. I thought, Do you really want to go on that, Bea? I don't think you'll do it.

"Are you sure, Sweetie?"

"Yes, I want to try it. I may not go in the water, but I want to try the swing."

I knew it was more about wanting to be a part of the boys' adventure time than the boys themselves (although there is a boy she "likes" from school, which is another Daddy article for another time). And now there were even more boys swinging on the rope and plopping into the deeper part of the calm river. There were still a few others climbing up the cliff on the other side of the river and jumping into it from about 10 to 15 feet up.

"Let's try it out, Beatrice," the Mama said.

"I want to do it too!" Bryce called out.

Well, let's see where this goes.

Bryce has always been the bolder of the two girls, which in turn motivates Beatrice, since she is the big sister in this equation, looking even older because of their disparate physical sizes (nearly 6 and 8 years old now, closer in age than in size). Also all the swimming lessons that led up to our Maui summer adventure had paid off exponentially, with both girls swimming not only in the pools, but also in the sea with plenty of snorkeling as well. We were so happy that they're finally more relaxed in the water, and safer now that they had a basic swimming foundation underneath them. It took Bea a lot longer than Bryce to get there -- and Amen, they're both there now. They won't be surfing Steamer Lane any time soon, but based on their growing confidence and bravery of late in the water (and out), soon may be sooner than later.

I watched my lovely wife walk the girls over to where the rope swing was. Lo and behold, Beatrice let the Mama talk her through it and help her position her right foot and hands into the rope loops without hesitation. I immediately headed their way.

"Wow, look at this. Right on, Beatrice," I said. "Your legs are good, but you need to hold on with big, strong arms, too."

There was no fear on my daughter's face, only determination. Suddenly she was swinging across the river and back again, completely jazzed by this new exhilarating experience. 

"I want to do it again!" she shouted.

Go baby go!

"Great job, Beatrice," the Mama and I said together, let her swing away over the river.

That Bryce, she just barrels into new experiences head first, much more often than her sister. However, this time it was her big sister who enticed her to try. 

"My turn!" Bryce yelled.

The girls took a few turns each and then some of the boys came back from jumping and swimming and wanting to swing again. Bryce got distracted and befriended some other younger kids playing fetch with an energetic dog unafraid of bounding into the water to retrieve the stick in its jaws. 

That's when Beatrice said, "I want to jump off the cliff over there."

I'm sorry, what? Just a few weeks earlier, they witnessed me jumping off Black Rock from a height of 30 feet, something I never thought I'd do in a million years; I'm not a big fan of heights to say the least.

I did it, though. I climbed right up there and looked over the edge -- and jumped. Splash!

I'll never ever friggin' do that again. But still, I did it. 

I didn't think Beatrice would ever jump from a cliff off any size any time soon. She did, though. She actually jumped from ultimately around 4-5 feet. Granted she had her floaty around her waist, which was fine, because she jumped over and over again, all by herself, a little higher each time.

All this jumping and swinging of course is supervised by us, the Mama and the Daddy. But mercy me, we're proud. Now, if we can continue to help both girls develop appropriate risk-taking and sound decision-making skills through the rest of childhood, their turbulent teen years and eventually to the jumping off the deep end part of adulthood, that's a big bold win for us all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

As Quickly and Calmly as Possible

“May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied…”


When we emerged from the shark exhibit, there was smoke everywhere. The wind gusts were even stronger than when we first arrived just 30 minutes earlier. Ash whipped around us as we turned around and around to get our bearings. Burning grass stung our noses, but we thought the fire was across the two-lane highway on the dry mountainside.

No one else at the aquarium seemed to be distressed, just confused, although some of the staff skittered back and forth between the food stands and the gift shop.

I overheard another aquarium guest ask a staff member, "Where's the fire? Should we be leaving?"

He shrugged and said, "No, the fire is across the road and so far we haven't been asked to close the aquarium. You're okay."

"Where's the smoke coming from?" the girls asked us.

"We don't know, maybe behind us on the mountain," we answered.

Maybe we should leave, I thought.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined.

"Let's find something to eat," the Mama said.

We went one of the food stands to see what was for sale. The girl behind the counter looked bored, head in her hands and elbows on the counter, even with the smoke that billowed above us and around us.

I could tell the Mama was unsettled. She shook her head after quickly scanning the food for sale and said, "Let's wait to eat." And then to the girl, "Thanks anyway."

"Sure," the girl said with a weak smile.

"I'm hungry," Bryce whined again.

"Me too," echoed Beatrice.

That's when we witnessed some of the families streaming out the exit, as if the wind carried them out to the parking lot. No one at the Maui Ocean Center directed anyone to do anything while the smoke continued to fill the air.

"We should go now. Yes, we have to go now," the Mama said. She'd already been thinking it, obviously, and it sounded as though she wished she would have said it sooner. Time to turn to the Kidpower channel: use your awareness to notice trouble — and don’t just move away from trouble — you move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

"C'mon, girls," I said, ushering them out the exit to the parking lot.

We headed for our rental car, smoke everywhere. All those who were leaving, including us, moved swiftly to our cars with confused, anticipatory faces, as if maybe there were prizes awaiting us.

And that prize of course was safety, although again, we didn't really know how urgent things were or the extent of the fire. Just the fact that white and brown smoke came at us down the mountainside like a slow-moving tsunami.

In order to get to the stoplight and eventually back to our hotel in Kaanapali Beach, we had to exit the parking lot and turn left, with dozens of other cars behind us and in front of us on the street.

"Where are we going?" Beatrice asked.

"Back to the hotel," I answered.

"I'm hungry!"

"I'll get some snacks out in a minute. C'mon Daddy, let's go," the Mama said.

I drove to the parking lot exit, the majority of cars still behind us. As soon as the light turned green for the waiting cars to turn left to go back to Kaanapali and right to go back to Lahaina, the Mama ordered me to move.

"Go, go, go! Get out there!"

You move towards safety as quickly and calmly as possible.

I punched it and we edged into the lane in front of a patient family (who had waved us in) with the same escape in mind. In fact, everyone remained calm as they drove to where they needed to go. We made the light and within five minutes we saw the line of flames bleeding closer and closer to the highway. But we assumed we were on the road back to safety, and that was a good thing.

Sometime after we were on our way back to the hotel, the fire department closed down Honoapiilani Highway and then the Hawaii Red Cross, along with Maui Civil Defense, opened up two shelters at the Maui War Memorial and the Lahaina Civic Center. In fact, two friends of ours who were also on Maui and staying near us (which we found out the next day) were trapped behind the fire line coming back from the road to Hana, and had to stay in one of the shelters until early the next morning. Over 600 people, mostly tourists, had to stay in the shelters overnight.

Back at the hotel we discovered that the power was out as was cell phone service across the west side of the island and would be for hours. Fortunately no injuries were reported and no homes were damaged, although between 5,000-6,000 acres were burned in the fire.

Watching the sunset on the last night of our vacation, my Halleluiahs were multiplied. Nothing like a little trouble in paradise to keep you grateful for family safety first, no matter where you are.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

To Co-exist in the Unforgiving Surf

“I think the ocean has too many waves
There’s gotta be a way to make it behave
The world would run better
If it was run our way…” 

—KONGOS, The World Would Run Better

They huddled together on the edge of the lazy river. They didn't look scared, just hesitant, as if they were waiting in the wrong line and weren't sure where to go next. There were two younger girls, teenagers, and an older woman I assumed was their mother, all wearing colorful one-piece bathing suits, their puffy pale skin smeared white with sunscreen. The mother's face brightened as if she remembered where she was and separated from her daughters. She dipped her toe in the river, smiling a big winning smile.

"What are you doing?" one of the younger girls called out to the older woman.

At this point I floated calmly in the river on my pink donut floaty, courtesy of another hotel guest who was leaving the next day. He wanted another family to have fun with the two floaties they'd been using and didn't want to take home. We gladly took them.

My wife basked in the sun on a nearby lounge chair. Our two girls jumped and splashed in the pool, one of a few the lazy river flowed throughout the resort. Not too far away a sign on the side of a bridge read: All hotel guests must wear a wristband in pool areas.

I noticed the two teenage girls and their mother didn't have wristbands, but I didn't worry about it. Other guests were pointing it out every chance they could. I was too relaxed in my floaty to care, and then the mother said something I couldn't shake.

"For as much as I paid for our breakfast at this place, I'm going swimming."

She swam around for only a minute, pulled her heavy body out of the water and left with her two girls, both with expressions of embarrassed surprise. There it is, I thought. It wasn't that I cared she went swimming without being a hotel guest. I've "jumped the pool fence" a few times in my life. It was the idea that she was owed the pleasure. That she was due. That she was entitled to something else because for whatever reason she couldn't have otherwise due to screwed economic circumstance. And she was clear with her children that it was okay to feel this way.

The next day as we lounged in our small covered cabana, that we paid for, and which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is, another group of non-guests swam by and one of the guys said, "Look at those fancy celebrities."

Wow. And we even packed our own drinks and snacks to save money. At that moment I realized how apologetic I had been about our summer family vacation, still sensitive of surviving the great recession. Prefacing the family fun with the fact that I wove together credit card miles and points to make the vacation magic. Feeling almost guilty about investing in fun and family memories.

Almost, but not quite. I shouldn't feel that way, I know. We work hard to have the little we have, but we weren't due. We weren't owed. We weren't entitled to it because. We made the vacation happen because we could. Nothing more. 

Many of us can be and have been victims of circumstance. Getting the shaft and the short end of the stick due to financial forces beyond our immediate control. But it shouldn't mean we have a right to take because of it. This behavior has diminishing returns, and when it's played out again and again, and it is, we perpetuate the painful socioeconomic disparities that can and do lead to greater conflict. 

It's like witnessing a century-old sea turtle swimming alone in the shallows of a crowded beach. We can either swallow it whole like a monster, or learn to co-exist in the unforgiving surf.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Future Depends on Us All

"Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances." --Maya Angelou

Then comes the part where a cool morning summer stroll becomes a little magical, and the faux columns I see transform into real ones; I imagine I'm among Roman ruins at sunrise.

Really, I did. Just for a moment I immerse myself in antiquity while hundreds of years of history rise and fall inside me. Of countries conquering and collaborating. Of generations of families, friends and enemies living and dying, loving and warring. Of leaders leading progress and those leaving a destructive wake. (At least the parts I remembered from school and the time the Mama and I were actually there years ago.)
Of course we were nowhere near Rome. We were in Folsom, California, the morning after a fun weekend visiting family and friends, our girls getting time with those good folk we don't see very often.     
And I love Folsom. And El Dorado Hills. And Lake Tahoe. And Sacramento. And of course Santa Cruz. And every single city and destination I've ever been in throughout America. Hiking through the Southwest in the spring. Walking through Central Park on a muggy summer day (and now swimming under a waterfall on the lovely island of Maui). Strolling through the Blue Ridge mountains in the fall. Celebrating the holidays and Christmastime in Anaheim at Disneyland (we are not snow people).

From sea to shining sea.

But not just in America. I also love every place around the world I've ever been fortunate enough to visit, especially the travels I've had with the Mama. To witness the wonders of the world as well as the harsh realities of poverty and civil unrest.

Shortly after 9/11, the Mama and I went traveling abroad, counterintuitive to what many Americans were doing at the time. We stopped by a deli in Venice to get some lunch and the man behind the counter, who didn't no much if any English, smiled and asked:


We said yes, and then he added:

"God Bless America."

Then later on that very same trip we found ourselves in the midst of an anti-American rally. Swallowed up by an angry but thankfully peaceful mob while pickpockets poked at our jackets and belt lines.

I know it's a tired cliché comparing America with the rise and fall of any empire of old (think Brexit now). I really do. Even with all the policitical and socioeconomic divisive complexity, this is still a great nation, this United States of America. The Mama and I are proud and engaged citizens and we're raising our girls to be the same. This isn't a nation that's lost its greatness, it's still an important bastion of democracy in this ever-erratic polarized and populist world. But it is a nation like much of the modern world that sorely lacks in great leadership, effectual leadership.

Personal leadership in particular. We can blame all our woes on terrorists and Wall Street and Congress and even the President of the United States (and we did with Presidents Bush and Obama, depending on what side of the fence we hemmed and hawed on). We can blame two presidential candidates with the highest disapproval ratings ever in the history of this country. But for me it all starts at the "home office," no matter the circumstance or the status.

I am not you and you are not me and I yet will still celebrate all our differences, even the little crazy ones. Those of you with the big crazy however, God help you, because I cannot, even with the separation of church and state. I can empathize with those of us who are willing to stay informed about the state of their world -- from local to global -- and who are willing to take action that builds up and not tears down. I'm not asking everyone to be a Rhodes Scholar, or to forgo keeping the "bad guys and girls" in check. I'm just requesting that we stay informed as objectively as possible and make informed decisions, which can be a challenge I know. (Fact-checking detectives by nature we are not.)

It still starts with us. We may be oppressed and disenfranchised -- we may feel like puppets of the 1 percent -- and yet we can still rise above and make a difference for our friends and family, our neighbors down the street and across this great country. I know we can. We can strive for autonomy from the 50/50 split and move to at least the 60/40 compromise, creating the incremental improvements that truly are the catalysts of positive change and progress. To improve our individual and collective circumstance.

Which is why I'm declaring independence from ignorance and intolerance. Really, I am. This nation's future is inextricably linked to the future of the rest of the world. It cannot be uncoupled without detrimental economic and diplomatic consequence. And cutting off the world won't stop the gun-toting crazy.

Stand up straight and keep democracy alive. Stand up and lead. We are an American citizens. We are a global citizens. And our children are as well. Our future depends on us all.