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, May 28, 2017

Because We Could Be Them

“The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between.
Forever dwells in that moment,
Hope is what remains to be seen…”

—Rush, The Garden

We did our best to stay focused on our strategic planning, but the raucous laughter and marijuana smoke kept distracting us. The nightly homeless encampment outside city hall was bigger than ever and it had nearly blocked the entrance to the conference room where we met.

It was our planning retreat for the prevention of violence against women city commission. At one point an especially loud but indecipherable argument outside the door silenced us. One of our city advisors broke our silence.

"It's sad and ironic that only this wall separates us from where we could be. Many of us today are still only a paycheck away from being out there; we could be them."

I nodded and said, "I know. We're still crawling out of our last economic crater from what seems like a lifetime ago. But it was only a few years ago."

The painful memory of that distress welled in my throat like bile. What I didn't share is that we almost walked away from our home and our community back then. While I wasn't one of millions laid off from their jobs during the great recession -- one poor business decision by me, followed by a severely compromised income, and with two very young daughters in tow, we had to make some very difficult decisions.

Over 9 million people lost their homes in the U.S. during the great recession. In the development of 15 homes where we bought in 2006 near the height of the housing bubble, one-third either went through a short sale or foreclosed. At the time we could afford it until we nearly couldn't, and so we weighed our options on what to do next: either stick it out and work on keeping the house, or walk away and move to the midwest to be close to extended family. We didn't qualify for any of the public assistance plans at the time and our mortgage lender would not work with us at all. Even our accountant recommended we walk from the house, to get out and start over. Many economists echoed that sentiment for those of us underwater at the time.

But in the end, we never missed a mortgage payment, and we were never late with a payment. The unrelenting stress at the time of keeping a roof over my family's head motivated me to hustle, hustle and hustle some more. Both my wife and I hustled. Apocalyptic visions of living on the street were enough to keep us inspired to stay off it.

Of course homelessness is much more complex than that and a recent Santa Cruz City Council subcommittee analysis highlights just how complex it gets on a local level. And although homelessness is down today overall where we live, we're still living in a community with 60 percent of the homeless population living unsheltered within the city limits. Also, over half have been homeless for a year or more and also suffer from one or more disabling conditions like substance abuse, psychiatric conditions, physical disabilities and more. Sadly one in three have been in jail within the past year as well. Then there's the harsh reality for too many homeless is that there is a potential violence and sexual abuse that comes from living on the street.

The noise quieted a bit outside and we continued with our commission meeting. Afterwards we went went home and went on with our lives. The city of Santa Cruz has since converted the public spaces around City Hall from an open-access “park” to more restrictive office grounds, citing a purported escalation of homeless use and aggression. Which has certainly been the case. But everyday we witness the plight of what any of us could become at any time. We empathize and count on the fact that assistance from local organizations and countless volunteers, family and friends can and will help, along with sound public policy empowering safety nets from all levels of government that includes a continuous investment in public safety.

And the argument that dismantling most business and financial regulations today will free up the economy to keep us all employed, our savings intact and safe from being decimated by the greed of a few, and ultimately to keep us all off the streets, is simply ludicrous and ignorant.

Again, it's really complex and I don't know what the answers are. I only know that ignoring it, chastising it or criminalizing it won't solve the long-term homeless problem.

Because we could be them. And then what?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The All of Them

“We love the all the all of you
Where lands are green and skies are blue
When all in all we're just like you
We love the all of you…”

—Spacehog, In the Meantime


Then comes the part where there’s two related points in time, that when connected, intertwine and light up throughout the vast skies and seas of proud hearts.

The first came in a most innocuous way; watching our girls play at a friend’s birthday party on the beach. An impromptu game of beach ball soccer kicked off and the happy squeals and shrieks echoed around us. Some of the parents joined in, and I usually would have, but instead I just stood there and witnessed the joy of play. The running around, kicking at the ball and the sand, the falling down, the rolling around in the sand, the laughter, and blue sky, sun and sea.

And then there was Bryce – nimble as a ghost gliding over the sand, bobbing and weaving in and out of all the other kids and adults, stealing the beach ball and maneuvering it with a confident natural agility, losing it and then stealing it back again. Even showing up one of the better boys playing with them all. That was followed by the falling down and the laughter and the rolling around in the sand, and then a few more bursts of soccer showmanship, which is a sport she has not played to date. In fact, unlike her big sister, she hasn’t played any organized sports to date.

Later that day, “Bryce, I’m going to sign you and Bea up for soccer still. You still want to play this fall, right?”

“Yes!”

“Right on. I’m going to coach Bea’s team again and Mommy will help with your team.”

“Okay. I love soccer!”

“Five-it,” I said as I held up my hand for a high-five. That’s my own way of celebrating the fiver with my girls.

* slap *

A few days later the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had a Kidpower workshop to deliver, and so I was on to take the girls to school. It was a usual school day – getting the kids fed, dressed, teeth and hair brushed, and out the door on time, which we usually don’t have a problem with, even with the Daddy in charge. The Mama had already fixed and packed their lunches and prepped their backpacks, so I was covered there.

It was a usual day with one big exception – Beatrice had a highly anticipated, special appointment with the principal.

Throughout the year, all the kids at their school – kindergarten through 5th grade – have the opportunity every week to collect what’s known as Cool Cats (the school mascot is the Wildcats). These are tickets awarded to individuals based on displaying positive behavior with schoolmates, teachers and others as well as doing good deeds and classroom accomplishments of varying sorts. The children collect their Cool Cats and can then cash them in for cool stuff at the Cool Cat store in the office, or for individual and/or group activities.

Both girls had cashed in previously for cool stuff, but then Bea wanted to save up for one thing and one thing only – and that was reading the morning announcements to the entire school with the principal. Every morning the principal reads school announcements for all the students and teachers and students can sign up to read a few of them to the entire school.

She signed up weeks in advance to reserve her spot on the calendar. I attended the special reading in the principal’s office with her to witness the whole thing. Bryce is usually the bolder one in situations such as this, but they've both been making things their own of late; Bea stepped up and put her own stake in the “I own this” ground.

When she finished, she couldn’t contain the smile on her face. The principal thanked her and shook her hand and then mine.

“Five-it,” I said to her.

And high-five we did.

* slap *

“That was awesome, Bea.”

“I know,” she said.

Of course you do. It’s so inspiring to watch our children grow up and mature with a confidence I never had at their age. Early on we worried about Beatrice more than Bryce, and yet they both have proven fears are unfounded again and again. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks for them both in life, some of their own making, and hopefully they learn from them and build on them for a better next time. And we will do our best to teach them and guide them and support them in all their next times.

Because then comes the part where we love the all of them, always, and there’s nothing greater than the sum of all their points in time. 



Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Best of the Good

They both sprinted up the hill towards their classrooms.

“Let’s go to my class first!” shouted Bryce.

“No, we’re going to my class first!” shouted Beatrice.

“Bryce, we’re going to Bea’s class first to make sure her invention is set up and then we’ll go to yours,” the Mama said (what I lovingly call my wife).

Bryce grunted something indecipherable and then shouted, “No!”

“C’mon, Bryce,” I said.

“But I need to be your tour guide in my class!”

“We know, you practiced that, and we’ll go to your class next.”

It was open house at the girls’ school and they were busting at the seams to get us there. All week they talked excitedly of the things they’d show us once we were there – all the great projects they’d been working on, their schoolwork and their amazing artwork and more. Bryce and her classmates had also role-played with their teacher on how to be a tour guide for the classroom, complete with a checklist on a clipboard to ensure we saw every single station set up for open house.

And making sure we saw everything she did. As did Beatrice in her classroom, with her special flying concept car proudly on display. But it wasn’t just those things we were incredibly proud of. It was the in-between things we noticed; the peripheral behavior of our children growing up before our very eyes.

Of fearless Bryce jumping right in with other kids and adults alike to show us “the ropes” of her combined kindergarten and first grade class, and then wanting to visit the first-grade classes, one of which she longs to be in next year. To saying hit to everyone she knows, and anyone she doesn’t.

Of poised and bold Beatrice going out of her way to say hi to her speech and occupational therapists who have helped her tremendously over the years. To hand them and her current teachers thank you cards that the Mama helped to prep and package. And like her little sister, wanting to visit the third-grade classes to meet her possible teachers come this fall.

Of both never being afraid of asking for what they want and need, something I was much more afraid of at their age growing up in chaotic circumstances.

I glowed with such pride and love for my girls and my family as we walked around the school campus during open house. And for all that, I love and thank the Mama. Relentlessly focused on loving and consistent positive parenting and incorporating Kidpower into our lives, while tirelessly ensuring that every school day they are prepared for their days with their homework all done, the Mama is simply amazing.

Of course, I won’t sell myself short; I just follow her lead and do my best to keep up, underscoring the consistency when and where I can, even though I’m definitely rougher around the edges. For those of you with kids, you know parenting is a lot of hard work, and you don’t get it right all the time. There are times when we’re strung out and stressed out and the girls are driving us friggin’ bananas and we scream and whine louder than they do, but that’s the deal when you’re all in with your family. The good, the bad and the ugly – mostly good, sometimes bad and thankfully rarely ugly.

An old friend just texted me and commented that Mother’s Day would be rough for me since I lost my mom nearly five years ago now. He and my other close friends grew up with me and remember my mom well, some even “adopting” her as a second mother in high school. It was rough early on after she and my dad both passed. Both struggled with chronic illness and cancer. Plus, for my mother, she had the trauma of two previous crappy marriages that included mental and physical abuse, and did the best she could raising my sister and I for a while as a single mom.

I told that old friend that fortunately I didn’t feel that way anymore. That I celebrate the best of what she was, just as I celebrate the best of what my wife is, and the best of being a Mom (daddy) myself.

The mostly good, you know.

Two days after open house, while me and the girls were putting some cards and gifts together for the Mama and Mother’s Day, Bryce walked over to me and put her right hand and mouth close to my ear.

“Daddy,” she whispered, “I had an extra card I made at school, so I’m going to give it you.”

She handed me the card and the front read in big and colorful all caps MOM. And then right underneath she wrote in smaller all caps DADDY.

I gave her a big hug. “I love you, Bryce.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

This is the best of the good that I celebrate as a father on Mother’s Day. I’ll take the Happy Mom (daddy) Day any day of the week.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Last Vestige of Key Vertigo

"Daddy, do you know what happened?" Beatrice asked. Her cautioned excitement was evident as she came in the house and took her shoes off.

"What?" I said.

"Mommy dropped her keys in the street drain by the mailbox."

Beatrice eyed me closely while she said the words, waiting for my reaction. Her words shot back and forth in my head like a metal ball in a pinball machine, hitting random bumpers and making incoherent lights flash.

"You did what?" I asked the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife).

"Yes, I dropped them right down the grate into the drain."

"How are we going to get them back?" Bea asked. Bryce was oblivious playing a game on her iPad.

More metal balls flying in all directions in my head -- the bonus round -- except the points didn't add up. They were being deducted quickly. A myriad of "oh shit, these are the things we'll have to do next" rode those shiny speedy pinballs through multiverses and back again. And we were supposed to have a date night in less than an hour, something we both always look forward to and don't have enough of.

"Oh my God. I can't believe it," was all I could say.

"I know. Sorry. What are going to do?" said the Mama.

"I don't know. We'll have to call the city."

"But it's Saturday."

"Oh my God. I do not know. To replace the car keys alone it'll be up to $200 for each set. Can you see the keys down in the drain?"

The Mama shook her head. "I don't know. Let's go see."

"They'll get washed out to sea," I said, still focused on worst case scenarios. I felt visibly rattled, and although I knew it was an accident, it still sucked, and replacing them would be a pain in the butt. Or worse, someone will find them and trace them back to our cars, our house, our stuff, our kids -- I nearly tilted the pinball machine in my brain at that point.

"Let's go see if we can see them," I said. "I don't know what else to do."

I grabbed the mag flashlight from the garage and looked around blankly for something else that might help, but had no friggin' idea of what that would be. We left the girls inside the house and walked around the corner to our neighborhood mailboxes. The whole time I kept making that mental list of things to do if we'd truly lost them forever. I'm sure my wife was doing the same. The next day I'd read that upwards of 30 percent of Americans lose their house and car keys every year. And that we spend one year of our lives looking for all our lost stuff. And our lost stuff costs us thousands of dollars during our lifetimes.

Jesus H. Christ. 

"I see them -- they're right down there," the Mama said pointing.

The mag light didn't help, but sure enough, cloudy daylight shimmered off the keys at the bottom of the drain, about ten feet down and in about six inches of water. A heavy metal grate covered most of the street drain opening. My mind reeled with key vertigo -- I knew there had been many times I've gotten our mail with the sick feeling that my keys would be sucked from my hands into the drain like light into a black hole. Or the sick feeling from the times the Mama left her keys dangling in the front door lock and I'd find them. Or the sick feeling of all the times as a teenager I'd lock my keys in my car, and sometimes lose them, and having to deal with my mom's and dad's collective disappointment.

Thankfully some of our neighbors came to help. One had a long think metal brace that could reach the keys. With some leverage help from a crowbar and a pick axe, we loosened the heavy metal grate and tilted it up and out of the way of the rectangle hole down to the bottom of the drain.

Within minutes, the neighbor with the metal brace dragged the keys up the side of the concrete drain, and when within reach, the Mama snatched them from the black maw of despair. It was dizzying, but I held fast the metal grate during recovery. We graciously thanked our neighbors and went home.

After testing the car keys, the key fobs still worked. Amazing and amen. And just in time for our date. The girls were impressed that we got our keys back, too. Once the babysitter got to our house and the Mama reviewed our safety plan with her and the game plan for the girls, we were off.

"I'm sorry I got so upset," I said. "I easily could've done that myself many times."

"You were fine, sweetie. We figured it out, and thanks to our neighbors' help, we got the keys back."

"I know. Thank goodness somebody had something that long."

"I know. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Let's go have a date."

It's the simple pleasures, you know? Take 'em while you got 'em, kids. 

Later, I'd catch myself patting my front pocket for my keys, the last vestige of key vertigo still throbbing like a phantom limb.