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, August 28, 2016

To Own Their Own First Takes

Life is a series of first runs that we rerun with fragile memory. No matter the amount of fretting and anxious prep, every scene is a first take -- no do overs or over-produced multi-edits -- one take whether we're ready or not.

And most of the time we're not. But that's okay, because this reality show is the realist of them all, and one with script after script of blank pages, where the story appears as we live it, the reappearing ink full of light and shade, color and smell, taste and touch, and plenty of tears and smiles.

The first days of school each year for many children are full apprehension and fear, the pits of stomachs holding fast rabid squirrels bouncing off rubber walls. I remember my first days of kindergarten still to this date, over 45 years ago. And while most of the details have since washed away over time, the feelings I had are still quite vivid: my nervousness, my shyness, the longing for home and my mother who had just dropped me off, and the sheer terror of meeting strange adults and other children I had never met before in my life.

The years to come were filled with less and less fear and a greater social stability, one that I would enjoy well into adulthood, and continue to in my unwritten pages of today. As parents, that's one of the best things we can hope for with our children beyond the security of food and shelter.

The past few years for Beatrice included auditory processing delays and a social angst that hurt our hearts to witness. All we could do was encourage healthy responses to these transitions and do whatever we need to do to support her, and her sister of course, who continues to break stuff while dressed as a princess.

Bryce has no social qualms whatsoever, but her aggressive tendencies (i.e., hitting and kicking) are a work in progress for sure. Bryce still struggles with exotropia as well and the eye doctor still isn't sure she'll need eye surgery in the future or not. Until then her cute little pink glasses with transitional lenses rock our world, just as much as she does.

While always being "on" academically since her preschool days, Beatrice has now blossomed socially and is more comfortable than she's ever been in social situations. She couldn't wait to start second grade. Frothing at the mouth to start, those rabid squirrels driving her onward to new life experiences. She may be more "boyish" than "girlish" at the moment, but that doesn't matter to us because the only moments that do matter are those when she happily adapts and enjoys her scenes.

Bryce made the leap to kindergarten this year, and due to dropping enrollment in our district, she was put into a combined kinder/1st grade classroom. We were a little apprehensive, as was she, but what was perfectly clear on her first day was her reaction sitting at her new desk with her name tag proudly displayed in front of her -- she kissed us each goodbye and sent us on our merry parent way. No crying or fear, just ready to rock her next feature film.

We definitely have the Bridges to Kinder preschool program to thank in helping develop both girls early on. Of course I have the Mama to thank for her tireless parental guidance, Kidpowering and helping me play my best supporting Daddy role.

We know we are blessed and never take for granted our family's pivot points and plot twists, because we want our girls to own their own first takes, regardless the memories replayed again and again, and replayed they will be.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Until the End of Our Time

There we were drifting together on the choppy Big Lake,
lit up in the sun like safety buoys bobbing to and fro,
our youngest dripping wet and cradled quietly in my lap.

Fragrant pine and cool waves crested our floaties over and over
as the Mama pulled us farther out from shore bound together,
the water only knee deep these days due to years of drought.

Beatrice and cousin Braxton shared joyous laughter
while Bryce kissed me on the forehead, shivering.
I teased, "Bryce, I'm scared! Please save me! Save me!"

She giggled, "Daddy, you're big! You're not afraid of anything!"

Her words settled like silt, fathoms deep in my heart,
and in a mere moment a hundred thousand years passed
where they fossilized into layers of a hard time with happy.

You're not afraid of anything!

But I am, Bryce.
Of some things that is.
Not as much as I used to be.
But there are resurgent fears
now that you and your sister are here.

I'm afraid of growing old and of maybe getting sick,
of losing the Mama, your amazing mother, my wife.
I'm afraid you'll lose us like I lost mine
and that maybe we'll lose you both before our time.
I'm afraid you'll be bullied by unforgiving teens
and be hurt by a lifetime of minimized misogyny.
I'm afraid of perpetual ignorance, prejudice and fear,
and the fact that true justice no longer prevails
and in the blink of an eye good people can and do die.
I'm afraid that our economy will tank again
and everything we have will again be at risk
and that you won't have half the opportunities
we've had that were half of what our parents had.
I'm afraid that our democracy might one day fail
and that maybe that day is already here.
I'm afraid there is no God.
And I'm afraid that there is one.
I'm afraid of being accused of something I never did
and of never forgiving others for something they've done
and of always regretting something from near and afar
and of never having the chance to reconcile the lot.

I'm afraid of everything and nothing, Bryce.
It's you and your sister and your mother
who help quell most if not all my fears
and fill me with a hope and a love unending,
and who I will fight for and with
until the very end of time,
or until the end of our time,
or until the end of mine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Live the Effectual Stretch

Experience the great outdoors! Be one with nature! Revitalize your spirit! Live the effectual stretch!

"I want to go camping," said Bryce.

"Yes!" echoed Beatrice.

"Mama doesn't go camping, girls," said Daddy.

"Nope, no camping," said the Mama. "But we can go to Paris."

"That's not camping."

"To some people it is."

"I don't want any parrots," said Beatrice.

"Not parrots -- Paris. Like Paris, France. Ooo, la, la," said Daddy.

"That's where I want to go," said the Mama.

And so it goes. One African safari nearly 20 years ago with one of her best friends and the Mama just can't do the tent camping thing. This was a year after we'd met and I was green-eyed with envy for sure. Of course I wasn't too disappointed when I learned that diarrhea had swept through their camp for a few days challenging the notion of "resetting the mind and spirit." Nothing like a good colonic in the presence of Mount Kilimanjaro to then be confined to your sweltering tent for a few days.

I shouldn't complain, though. Around the same time I had gone on a business trip to Barcelona and Paris (ooo, la, la) and did not get sick. However, I did go out of my way to during a dinner event in Barcelona to run down to the beach, take off my shoes, hike up my pant legs and put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. 

For years as a child, our family went tent camping every summer at Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, south of Yosemite. Real tent camping. Dirty, cold at night, cooking meals over a fire (and a Coleman stove), fishing and hiking and exploring glorious tent camping. One year I had what my Mom called sand crabs on my head. To this day I'm not sure if that's what they were -- or if they were sand fleas, or sand lice -- but whatever they were, I got 'em good. All over my head. Buried deep in my scalp under a blanket of sandy blonde hair. 

There were no medicinal shampoos at the lake store, only turpentine. For those who have never had this very special liquid poured over open wounds on their head, you have no idea how "alive" it makes you feel. To this day I remember how much is stung and throbbed. And how much I cried. But no matter what, it never wiped away the happiness I felt fishing for rainbow trout or exploring a mountainside of granite rocks and all the various Sierra Nevada pines filling me with the amazing scent of adventure. 

Decades later and we're off to another annual trek to Lake Tahoe, the Big Lake as the girls first called it. We're not literally camping per se, but we are hiking and swimming and visiting with family and experiencing the great outdoors in a mountain range over 100 million years old. We did take the girls on a beautiful mountain hike to Eagle Lake, just above Emerald Bay. It's only about 2.5 miles round trip, but that's the most the girls have ever done in any one stretch. And thanks to perennial hiking family members Uncle Brian and Aunt Julie, and the Mama and the Daddy, the experience motivation moved them along.

Research shows that "experiences" are critical to happiness, healthy connections and relationships. In fact, "one study...even showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, once they have the chance to talk about it, their assessment of that experience goes up."

This is why invest in experience for ourselves and for our girls. It's the effectual stretch as I call it -- to push ourselves to learn new ways to see and understand our individual and collective worlds, and to expand beyond what’s known and comfortable in ways that produce desired yet diverse, highly personalized and usually effective results. This could mean the literal extremes of big success or failure, or those incremental leaps and lapses in between that give our daily journeys sustenance for mind, body and spirit

Happiness and healthy connections, kids. That's what I'm talking about. And we impress the same approach and attitude on our daughters, teaching them to embrace experience -- 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.

We may never literally all go camping together, but we're certainly going to treat each new experience like a camp out -- to embrace the wilderness around us and the sky above -- and live the effectual stretch.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Like Men Knowingly Bound to Their Future

There we were on the power walk. Not the When Harry Met Sally Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby overly-animated Central Park stride, but a power walk nonetheless. Moving at a nice four-mile-per-hour clip. Walking and talking along a creek in Chico California about knee surgery, staying in shape and hitting plateaus. We walked and talked, huffed and puffed, my friend Craig and I, and I thought, Wow, we just keep coming back, after all this time.

And for good reason as I've noted before in Men of An Unremarkable Age and Because That's How It Works With The Guys That Work. Being friends for decades isn't unusual, but it's usually more emotionally intimate for women than for men, especially over the long haul.

Usually, but we're an exception to the rule. Every year is like reliving a single point in time that solidified our emotional connections forever; we had all experienced a mutual metaphorical monster that forever challenged our sense of normalcy: one fateful spring day at a swim meet our senior year in high school.

My best friend Robby had wanted to go with a group of us to the coast instead of his swim meet, but we all knew he wouldn't miss his meet for anything. When we returned early that evening, we learned he had broken his neck and crushed his spinal cord on his third false start. We rushed to the hospital to see him, and his mother claimed we were family so we could see him in the ICU the next morning when he was conscious.

Three months later he was brought by ambulance from the hospital rehabilitation center to graduate with our senior class, and I had the honor of pushing him into the football stadium and standing by his side throughout the commencement.

Then five years later he moved to Chico and that's where we've been going to hang out with him ever since. Our mutual circle of friends had grown during high school and beyond, and since has remained more or less intact.

We waxed poetic this year, as we always do, with a sprinkle of family chat, economics, colonoscopies, politics, music and more, and added yet another year upon year that we make it a priority to congregate and elevate our connected spirits. Emotional evolution has looked kindly over us since junior high and high school, although we're not too mature to complete devolve into ranting, cursing, snorting, pig-like beings who flip through old yearbooks and comment, "Did you date her? She was really hot."

It's a controlled setting, though. One that we've sealed off from the rest of the world. One that no longer seeps into the groundwater of our daily lives, or worlds of work, or our families. More like a private swimming hole that only we can find one or two times per year, lost the rest of the year inside our tangle of low-testosterone time.

Our swimming hole is always a little chilly at first, but dive in we do, the hot sun taking off the edge and then we're 16 again. And then we're 18 again. And then we're 21 again. And then we're 30. And that's when we remember saying, "Hey, will we be getting together when we're 50?"

The answer to that is a resounding yes. Because we're here today, men of a certain age, an unremarkable age, who continue to invest in a friendship that’s seen many ups and downs, ins and outs, and others who have come and gone over the years. Men divorced and married, with and without children. Men who have experienced hardship and loss as well as success and enduring love. Men finally comfortable in their own skin and who be friends of years to come.

"Do you think we'll still be getting together when we're 70?" we ask each other.

The answer to that, like men knowingly bound to their future, is another resounding yes.