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 16, 2017

The Vapor Trails

The first time they were all gone. The second time only she was gone. And then there are all the times when I'm gone.

The first time when they were all gone it only took to day two to feel so completely alone. Alone in a house that our children grew up in. Where we persevered through boom and bust. Where we sometimes felt angry at each other but always fell in love over and over again. Where we planned to solve the worlds ills and make a difference.

The silence deafened quickly and blotted out any attempt to fill it with transitory white noise. Comforts were few, sedation only slowed the sadness and so instead I kept myself as busy as possible, sticking to routine and getting stuff done. Stuff that in aggregate maybe made a difference, or not a hill of beans.

Anything I did, I saw, I heard, I smelled, I tasted and touched reminded me of them. Anything I felt; I became like an emotive magic 8-ball, displaying the gamut from "outlook good" to "ask again later" to "very doubtful" -- happy, sad, angry, indifferent, rinse and repeat. And yet, I lived on in the light of their legacy. I lived on with their memories. I lived on with both a clear conscience and with some regretful action and inaction, which is always the contradictory vastness of in between for many of us. At some point their vapor trail faded away, but their transcendent DNA is forever present.

There I go again, bleeding out drama like I do, because they did come back and were only gone for a few days to help out a family member after some serious surgery. They being the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and our two girls.

Good God, just a few days and all that spilled out from the poetter within.

It was the same thing when the Mama left again to continue the family help and the girls stayed with me. This time it was the missing of the Mama by all three of us.

And then there are times when I've had to leave and the Mama and girls miss me; it was the same thing when I left to continue with family help when my sister was gravely ill.

And again when my parents were so ill at the end of their lives.

And then there all the times I travel for work. When I'm gone for a few days at a time, sometimes a week at a time. The missing is reciprocal and palatable when we're talking on FaceTime from afar.

These are the vapor trails of loss, each one a painful signature that fades away into blue sky seemingly out of reach, only to shine forever from the darkness beyond. Whether they're gone for good or gone for a time doesn’t matter. The divine constellations of loved ones can eventually guide us to the happy each time, and until the end of our time. Because their time is all time. I miss you, Mom and Dad.

God bless those who have lost loved ones. May blue sky bathe you in their happy and that you outlive the vastness in between.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Using My Wareness

"...when you move me everything is groovy..." —Train, Drive By

I just wanted her to wear something other than than the gray sweat pants. The shirt she had on was fine, the Mama had already told her it was fine, and I had told her it was fine multiple times as a negotiating tactic to get her to change the gray sweat pants and put another pair on. 

She didn't budge, though. She dug in.

"No! I want to wear these pants."

"Beatrice, we're going to be filmed today for Kidpower, and all I want you to do is to change your pants. You can wear the shirt. The shirt is fine. Okay?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these pants."

Think, think, think...

"C'mon, Bea. Why can't you wear different pants? What's your idea? I want you wear different pants that are darker. I'm sure Mommy would agree. Something darker. C'mon. What about these?"

We were in her room now. I held up five different pairs of pants, mostly darker ones and some with different patterns on them. Anything but the gray sweat pants. 

"My idea is to wear these," Bea answered.

The what's your idea? framework was from the girls' early preschool days and positive discipline and parenting. Instead of being authoritarian and dictating to your children about any and all things, the idea is to include them in the conversation and decision-making to empower them and literally ask them, "What's your idea?"

And Bea's idea was to wear those friggin' gray sweat pants.

"Daddy, you should pick Beatrice's favorite pants -- the black ones with sparkles on them," said Bryce, trying to give me a hand.

"Which ones are those? These?" I held up something similar to what she just described.

"Um, no, those aren't it."

"Then where are they?"

Both girls shrugged. "I don't know," said Bryce.

Think, think, think...

I picked three pair. "Bea, can you pick one of these, please?"

"No, Daddy! I want to wear these!"

Think, think, think...

"Okay, then we'll bring these three and let Mommy pick one out."

Red-faced Beatrice was either mortified, angry, or both. Probably both. Yeah, that was probably it.

Right?

"Daddy, didn't you know that those are my favorite? I told you I wanted to wear those!"

She pointed to a pair of black stretch pants I head, the ones with stars and other geometric shapes on them.

"You did?"

Does it matter, Daddy? C'mon...

"Yes, those are the ones I want to wear. C'mon, use your awareness, Daddy."

Now that was funny. Why? Because of all the Kidpowering the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) -- all the important safety skills she teaches to children, teens and adults alike -- an important aspect is always being aware of your surroundings, who's around you at anything given time, to stand up straight like a giraffe and look, look, look around and be aware, aware, aware.

Use your awareness, Daddy. We use that phrase loosely around the house a lot these days. 

"Yeah, use your wareness," Bryce piled on, dropping the "a".

Well, at least we had the pants thing tackled. 

"All right, Bryce. Time for you to finish getting dressed now and then we've got to go, girls."

Minutes later we're all downstairs and Bryce called out behind me, "Daddy, I'm ready."

I turned around. 

Wow. 

I giggled. Not laughed, but giggled. 

"Oh, Sweetie, I love you, but we can't keep that on your face."

"Ah, c'mon, Daddy. I did it myself."

"I know. But, no." 

I giggled again. Bryce had a big American flag bow pinned in her hair on one side of her head. But that wasn't the funny part. She had also taken it upon herself to put lipstick on. Lots and lots of lipstick. The Joker from Batman lipstick -- like the old-school Cesar Romero version and the Heath Ledger version combined. Swirls of bright pink lipstick around her mouth, with some of it actually on her lips.

Bryce didn't fight it much, because she knew it was too much and yet still very much enjoyed the act of putting it on. We wiped it off and minutes later we were out the door. 

A dozen hours later after a rare late night date night for me and the Mama watching Train in concert, a dear friend who was watching the girls and had texted Amy a picture of the girls hugging and smiling. She showed it to me as we waited to exit the concert parking lot. 

And there was Beatrice, wearing those friggin' gray sweat pants. Because that was her idea. And then there was me using my wareness, because sometimes I can. Right on for Daddy.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Stay Classy, America

Something was wrong. We knew it even before we saw what floated in the pool. At first, it had been another Saturday of summertime fun with the other neighborhood families -- swimming in a neighbor's Doughboy pool, listening to our favorite records albums and AM/FM radio hits, setting off leftover 4th of July street fireworks with lit cigarettes, eating barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and fresh watermelon, drinking over-sweetened Kool Aid and lemonade while the adults boozed it up, told dirty jokes and laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then it got late, especially late for my younger sister and I being two of the youngest kids on the block. It was well after 9:00 PM, the murky purple sky had turned black. There was no moon, only the pinpoint sparkle of stars barely piercing the night, kept muted further by the valley heat. We'd all been indoors for a few hours, watching TV and staying cool at our neighbor's house with their modern central air conditioning. Once outside, the heat drove us all again to the above-ground Doughboy pool.

That tingling frost of fear rode spread up my spine and burst inside my frontal lobes. The pool lights were on and the pool sweep, too. And there they were: dozens and dozens of empty bottles bobbed and twirled in the pool. Many had already sunk to the bottom. I was only eight years old, but I half-expected to see a body resting at the bottom of the pool. Thank goodness that wasn't the case.

But we knew something was wrong even before that; the boisterous adults, all our parents, had gone fairly quiet in the last hour before our creepy discovery. As we stood and watched the bottles sink, the smell of chlorine and alcohol filled us up with a dreadful nausea.

Then the party was over. Our parents told us it was time to go home. Nobody asked what had happened, and no one offered an explanation, and yet the creep factor increased as soon as we walked into our own house. There was trash strewn on our living room floor and in the kitchen. There were nasty words written with lipstick across all our mirrors. There was Vaseline smeared around our toilet seat.

Our mom told us that some stranger had broken in and trashed our house, which we knew wasn't exactly true since most of us in the neighborhood never locked the front doors when we were just down the street. She put my sister and I to bed, and then through my door I could only hear the muffled anger of my parents fighting, yet another night of my alcoholic father's abuse escalated further by the all day's drinking and the vandalism in our house.

Decades later my mom would tell me what really happened. That the neighborhood adult friends had been pranking each other all summer, and then one drunken Saturday night, everyone turned on each other and did some real damage to each other's homes. Some neighbors never talked again after that. She said that the pranking became an exponential revenge game, one neighbor punching back at the other, over and over and over again.

But it wasn't just about the pranking either -- she had told me there was this constant unfiltered judgement of each other's families and a certain few who spouted back-stabbing bullying slurs just because they didn't like something about the other or felt unjustifiably threatened by the other.

Today in communities across America, we seem to be more polarized than ever. Or at least, we're more painfully aware of the polarization than I can recall (or that historians could probably point out otherwise). And we seem to be collectively encouraging it, although I'd argue that the ebb and flow of political correctness isn't the culprit either. We've used that scapegoat one too many times, to make incivility okay and for us to turn on each other so easily. Our leaders and other supposed role models now use the "he said -- she said" bullying polarity nearly flawlessly and it's been fully injected into our societal DNA.

In fact, I just witnessed yet again another Facebook conversation dissolve into a hot mess of personal attacks, jabs, upper cuts and right hooks. Plus, as we all know, the anonymity of social media (like Twitter) has become a vampiric outlet for too many of us.

When faced with these toxic interchanges, my wife and I do our best to use our Kidpower trash cans (throwing verbal attacks away and letting them go) instead of punching back, and our walk away power, as in "leaving in a powerful, positive way," and we teach our children the same. In fact, the best self-defense tactic is called "target denial" -- in other words, "don’t be there." We don't get it right all the time and it also doesn't mean we shouldn't face a bully and stand up for ourselves, and there are many options and flavors of defensive responses including physical self-defense if ever needed.

My hope is that most of us in the muddied middle will again fill and slow the growing chasm for ourselves, for our children and for future generations. That we'll do the hard work of finding empathic common ground even with discord and disagreement. Not to live together in harmony either, because that's a wishful illusion, but to co-exist as fruitfully and happily as possible while working together to keep this grand experiment of our republic thriving.

Stay classy, America. Time to celebrate the beauty and bravery of freedom ringing, not the thin-skinned ugly of civility shrinking.