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, March 27, 2016

Let's All Rise Up And Create Healthy Realities

“How can you expect a child to understand the sickness of a world whose eyes are blind? The dying man inside this little boy is questioning his once upon a time…”

—Toy Matinee, There Was A Little Boy

And on the morning that Jesus haunts, our girls awakened to stuffed bunnies and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. They arose still innocent and full of hope, living in the safety of loving parents and a larger community whose social fabric is still fairly intact.

The day before Easter I took our girls downtown to go grocery shopping and then to get a "treat" at our favorite local candy and ice shop called Marini's.

As we passed locals and Spring break tourists shopping, eating and taking in the sights, I was again reminded that Santa Cruz has always been a progressive city and a defender destination of those less fortunate -- runaways and homeless that include aggressive panhandlers, many of them either mentally ill, drug addicts or both.

This time I was extremely conscious not of the older homeless on Pacific Avenue, but those younger kids, the teenagers with hollow eyes and shallow smiles selling homemade jewelry and other various items, or simply asking for money with poorly handwritten signs.

As we passed the female teens, most likely runaways from broken homes due to abuse of some kind (upwards of 75% of runaways are female), my heart cried out for them. I held my girls hands tighter, thinking to myself that no matter what, this wasn't going to be them. That no matter how much the world shakes things up around us, the Mama and I would always be there to protect and guide our girls.

Amen. Much of what follows I wrote last year, but sadly this is an ongoing problem too many children and teens face every day, their hope of Springtime faded like pastel watercolors washed out in the rain.

Admittedly I've never been fond of Easter. It was always an emotionally conflicted holiday for me. The spirit of Spring renewal, and for those of us raised with Christianity and learning of Christ's ascension from the grave, always gave me elusive hope that I too could overcome anything life put in my path.

For decades I felt helpless, the healing from abusive relationship after relationship just as elusive, and then channeling my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an young adult.

My mother and sister here the only support network back then, but they were just as damaged at the time, if not more so than me. Unfortunately too many other family and friends didn't want to know and/or acknowledge what was happening. And we didn't have the skills to ask for help either.

Decades later the Mama and I went from not wanting children at all to changing our minds happily and having two lovely little girls. We knew we were "all in" and would do everything we had to do to protect and empower them while ensuring and sustaining only a healthy network of relationships around us all.

Sadly, the statistics say otherwise for too many others. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. And that's only what's reported. Statistically speaking, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

This combined with having children of our own is why I've been a domestic violence and child abuse awareness advocate for years, and why the Mama is now a certified instructor for Kidpower headquartered here in Santa Cruz.

Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, 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.

Since April will again be Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wanted to again share four recommendations from Kidpower on how awareness, action, and skills can keep our precious children and teens safe from most abuse, most bullying, and most other violence, most of the time:
  1. Making SURE kids know you care. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with every young person in your life who you are in a position to help. Tell them, “You are VERY important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know. Even if I seem too busy. Even if someone we care about will be upset. Even if you made a mistake. Please tell me and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Ask them occasionally, “Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me.” Listen with compassion to their answers, avoiding the temptation to joke or lecture.
  2. Not letting discomfort get in the way of safety. Decide to make the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment: “I WILL put the safety and well-being of young people ahead of anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.”  The fear of upsetting or bothering someone can make it hard to speak up – and breaking the silence is at the foundation of stopping sexual abuse. Don’t automatically trust people or places because they are familiar to you, have a great reputation, do nice things for kids, are in positions of authority, or seem wonderful. Make sure that their behavior and values are consistently Worthy of Trust.
  3. Supporting young people in developing healthy boundaries and strong relationships. Teach kids positive communication skills. Uphold the Kidpower rule that touch, games, or play for fun or affection should be the choice of each person, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. Teach kids that touch should not be secret, games should not be secret, presents someone gives you should not be secret, videos and photos should not be secret, and problems should not be secret. Coach young people so they are successful in practicing skills – using examples that are relevant to their lives – so that they are prepared to stay aware, speak up, resist emotional coercion, move away from trouble, and be persistent in getting help from busy adults.
  4. Sharing information. Tell parents, educators, and administrators about Kidpower’s tools for teaching child abuse prevention strategies and skills for schools and other youth-serving organizations that help protect children and teenagers, including those with special needs, from most abuse, bullying, abduction, and other violence. Share the articles and videos on our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.
Let's all rise up and create healthy realities for our families and communities. To that end, our family is part of team Kidpower in this year's Human Race Walkathon & Fun Run, raising funds to help make our community a stronger, safer, more vibrant place to be.

Join us!


Sunday, March 20, 2016

When the Choice Is Theirs

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they'd be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me…”

—Supertramp, The Logical Song


As we approached the baseball field, Beatrice walked with me.

"Daddy," she said quietly. "I want to play in the game now."

"I'm so glad," I said. "It'll be a lot of fun, Sweetie."

"Yes, I want to play with my friends."

My heart lifted. Yes! I thought.

Only a few days earlier, her eyes said it all to me: lost, overwhelmed, anxious, scared. Even over the FaceTime call I could tell. Her breathing rapid and a little erratic, she just kept saying over and over again she didn't feel good and didn't want to go to school. Then she went to the bathroom and threw up.

I knew exactly what it was -- I felt the visceral ache of her panic attack as if it were me. Because it was me as a child. It was me as a teenager. It was me as a young adult and sometimes beyond.

Two days before I had left for my latest business trip, it was more of the same. She'd even held me and cried, nearly begging us both not to go to school because she didn't feel well. Then she held the Mama and kept saying the same thing.

That whole week was the same every morning, Beatrice saying her stomach hurt and that she didn't want go to school, that she wanted to stay home. The Mama even took her to our family doctor who didn't find anything physically wrong with her.

The week before was when she fell in the mud puddle during lunchtime -- soaking her from head to foot. At first, there didn't seem to be any fallout from it. She said she was fine. She said she had just fallen all on her own. But the very next morning she said she did feel well and threw up, so we let her stay home from school. The anxiety symptoms weren't quite clear yet, so we assumed she had a stomach bug.

But she did get anxious every morning afterward, which made her feel ill. The good news was that every morning she overcame her fear enough to get ready for school and went on to have a somewhat decent day. However, everyone morning its manifestation was a little stronger and painful to watch.

We worried this day would come, when a trigger like falling in the mud puddle (whether she was teased or not) led to awareness of embarrassment and her ongoing struggles with navigating first grade, compared to other kids. That she'd struggle more with developing coping skills than other kids.

A few years ago Beatrice had a slight speech delay, which her speech therapist at the time confirmed was more than likely auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects less than 5% of school-aged children. This was something we first became aware of when Bea was three years old.

What this meant was that she had trouble processing the information she heard in the same way as other kids because her ears and brain didn't play nice together. That in turn affected the way her brain recognized and interpreted sounds and how she reacted to various stimuli -- too much stimuli always overwhelms.

Ever since we've ensured she's had the help and the resources to persevere. She's come a long way and academically is on par, and socially manages fairly well, even though she's still easily overwhelmed and overcome with stress -- a deer in headlights on the long road from childhood to adulthood.

"I'm telling you it's anxiety. She's having panic attacks," I told the Mama.

"Maybe. She could have a tummy bug as well," she replied.

"Maybe, but I'm telling you they're panic attacks. I know all too well what they feel like. We've just got to continue to help her with coping skills, just like we've discussed before."

"Yes, I know. Poor baby."

"Great, she's become her daddy now," I said. I'm sorry, Bea. 

Processing issues aside, according to a Parent and Child article, Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety, said that nearly 20 percent of kids today have actually been diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder — everything from minor phobias, like a fear of dogs, to generalized anxiety, which is when kids worry about everything that could go wrong. “Ten years ago, it was 13 percent. That’s a big jump in a decade,” she said in the article.

Based on everything we know and have been reading about to date, not overwhelming either of our children with adult sensibilities is so important. Helping them break down their fears into easily managed incremental steps so their confidence not only remains stable, but increases over time, is also critical. Encouraging Beatrice to push through things isn't wrong, but it can also exacerbate her anxiety since her awareness has been amplified, and when she's ready to bolt in her head and heart.

However, parenting means making the hard choices, and the Mama and I both agree that not everything is a choice for our girls -- that there are things they have to do and push through. But in certain situations when we empathize and when the choice is theirs they can learn to overcome on their own. After the stressful week Beatrice experienced she didn't want to play in her first little league game of the season. I was especially bummed out by this since I'm helping to coach and wanted her to be excited about playing and having some fun after such a stressful week.

We explained to the girls that we were all going to the game (not a choice), and that I wanted Beatrice to sit with our team still (not a choice), but that it was up to her if she wanted to play or not (her choice). Before the game and on the way to the game, she said she didn't want to play.

"Beatrice, are you going to play in the game?" Bryce kept asking her, over and over along the way.

Ugh. Not helping.

"Bryce, please stop asking her that. Thank you."

"Okay."

We parked and got out of the car. As we approached the baseball field, Beatrice walked with me.

"Daddy," she said quietly. "I want to play in the game now."

"I'm so glad," I said. "It'll be a lot of fun, Sweetie."

"Yes, I want to play with my friends."

My heart lifted. Yes! I thought. One little victory at a time.

Let's play ball, Baby!



Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Poop Completion Principle

At the door I paused. Is it safe? I thought. Will it be clear? Will it be fresh?

It was a one in three shot in this house, finding a clean one to visit. The good news is that we keep them clean with regularity, me being the latest scrubber and wiper-downer. 

I crept into the bathroom, not sensing anything unusual, no pungent smells assaulting my nostrils or watering my eyes. As I inched closer to the toilet, my confidence level increased that all would be well in the #BhivePower world.

Thank good--

Before I could finish my thought, I had made it to the eggshell white abyss and peered into its watery bowl. There it was in all its normal functional glory: poop.

Noooooooooo!!!

"Hey, who didn't flush the toilet?!?" I yelled.

No response. I knew the girls were in the living room playing. 

"Who didn't flush?" echoed the Mama.

Still nothing; the girls were playing pet adoption with their stuffed animals.

"Who didn't flush the toilet?!?"

"How big is the poop?" answered Beatrice finally.

"Does it matter?"

"Then it was Bryce."

Sigh. Of course is was the other. It's always one or the other. Much more Bryce these days than Bea, but still...

Months and months if not more of potty training to get them the tipping point of poop-wipe-flush-wash. But the flushing part? Not so much. Yes, we're still in a drought in California even with the El NiƱo storms, and the old adage "when it's yellow let it mellow, but when it's brown flush it down" has always been one we've practiced, drought or no drought.

The flushing is a struggle because of the noise outside of the home. Beatrice has always been noise sensitive and those industrial toilets in schools, businesses and other locales can frighten even those wearing ear plugs or ear muffs. They are really friggin' loud. Like blasting the waste into another universe via a porcelain wormhole.

Bryce is also sensitive to it, but she's just not as hip to the poop completion principle, not always wiping and usually never flushing. Washing hands are intermittent as well, but Beatrice is really good about that these days.

Wiping correctly takes a while and any parent who does the family laundry can attest to that. Mercy me, even in adulthood it's a struggle sometimes, but at least we've got most of the traditional peeing, pooping, wiping, flushing and washing hands in a sustainable cadence. With the only exceptions being if you're camping, having to use holes in the ground of bathrooms (Mama and I have seen a few of those in our travels), an astronaut (and those are very expensive holes), and unfortunately living in poverty and third-world squalor. 

Fortunately we're in good potty shape overall. It'll take practice and patience with Bryce, but eventually she'll get there. And at least I've got a fun activity waiting for me when I get there as well.

[Flush!]