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, January 29, 2017

More Science and Less Me

The hypothesis seemed simple and clear enough. We'd already talked about it for weeks, along with another idea that our oldest wanted to explore, but our youngest tipped the scales in favor of the catapult and the flinging of stuff. Actually per the Super Cool Science and Engineering Activities with Max Axiom Super Scientist book we used, we literally made a trebuchet, which is a siege engine most frequently used in the Middle Ages that used weight and gravity to fling stuff. I kept calling it a catapult, though, so that's what the girls called it.

The planning also seemed simple and clear enough. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) would be at Kidpower training during the days all weekend, so the project window would be Saturday midmorning. Everything was set -- the poster board, the notebook, the weight scale, the catapult (trebuchet), a landing board, a ruler, pencils and all the stuff we'd fling.

But no matter how well I planned, there were three variables right in front of my face, including literally my own face, that I didn't account for: two children and the Daddy, who is not the Mama.

So the hypothesis went like this: Smaller and lighter things will fly a farther distance than bigger and heavier things using the same force – because it takes more power to fling bigger and heavier things just as far as the smaller and lighter things.

There we were gathered around the table. The smaller and lighter things -- Beatrice and Bryce -- flying all over the place, laughing and playing. Bryce climbed under the table and tickled Bea, and Bea laughed and laughed.

"Girls, c'mon, if we don't do this today, we won't get it done before the science fair this week," I said, doing my best to remain calm.

"Do what?" Bea said, laughing maniacally.

The bigger and heavier thing, me, felt powerless to channel the girls frenetic energy into productive science.

"Okay, so now let's fling the marble and see how far it goes," I said.

I flung it and marked where it landed, but Bea wanted to mark it where it rolled to.

"No, it went here!" she cried.

"No, Beatrice, we're marking it where it lands."

"No, it went here!"

"No, Bea."

Bryce kept scrambling all over and under. I forged ahead, the situational gravity sucking the light and patience out of me.

I flung the little piece of wadded tape. It landed and rolled farther.

"Mark it there, where it landed."

"No, it went here!"

"Beatrice, why are you doing this? We agreed it would be where they landed first."

"I'm just teasing you, Daddy."

This kept going for nearly 15 minutes and I realized that I just needed to chill out and let them have fun. We'd get it all done once they calmed down. There was no rush. We had all day. But then Bryce sat back in the chair next to me and started slamming the weight scale onto the table and laughed even harder. And Bea started flinging the stuff all over the place.

I asked Bryce three times to stop slamming the scale, and Bea to stop flinging. And then, because it takes more power to fling bigger and heavier things just as far as the smaller and lighter things, I clamped my large hand down onto her smaller one and stopped her from slamming.

"That's it girls! I'm done! We're not doing this anymore! I don't understand why you're acting like this! This was supposed to be our fun time together doing the science fair project! Go away from the table!"

Bryce cried. Beatrice went white. And I felt like crap. Immediately. And then I felt justified. Yes, they're just kids, but it had to be done if we were going to get any of it done.

A minute later Bea asked, "Daddy, can we still finish the project?"

"Yes, I'm sorry girls. Bryce, I'm sorry. It's just frustrating when we're trying to do something together and you don't want to do it. It's okay if you don't, but I'd really like to finish it."

"We want to do it, Daddy. I'm sorry."

"Bryce, do you want to come over and help finish?"

Bryce nodded. Beatrice smiled. And three free elements finally came together to fling stuff, measure stuff and analyze stuff. And it was awesome.

The girls love science and we'll continue to encourage them to learn about the world around us and those beyond us. Unfortunately women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM), but if we can have anything to do with it, then we'll help ensure their imaginative wonder will never cease. (God knows we need more wonder today than in recent memory.)

A little later after flinging stuff...

"Daddy, you know what?"

"What Bryce?"

"Last night, I had a dream that Mommy was Donald Trump, and Daddy was Taylor Swift, and Beatrice was Lady GaGa, and then I looked at myself in the mirror and I was Darth Vader with a light saber and then I hit you all in the face with a big stuffed animal, and then a Storm Trooper said 'would you like a cupcake' and then I woke up."

"Wow. Where did you hear this stuff?"

"You, Daddy."

Note to self -- more science and less me. #BhivePower indeed.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Transcendent Beauty of Inclusive Community

I could've been called worse considering the context. The girls and I each wore one of the many knitted and sewn pink "kitty" hats of the Women's March, mine with a Santa Cruz patch pinned to it. We walked across the street downtown at a brisk pace, hand in hand, on a mission to Bookshop Santa Cruz to buy some earned books for the girls. The peaceful march crowds were already thick and growing steadily and I needed to hurry us so we could me the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) at our designated meeting time.

"You're not even a woman, man," someone said to me.

Two young guys, probably early twenties, passed us crossing the street. One of them had made the crack. Peripherally I could see each had long hair and scraggly beards. They were laughing.

We kept moving toward to the bookshop against the clock, my comeback coming too late.

Yeah, well, you look like a women, man, I thought, but didn't say out loud.

It was dumb, I knew. Even inappropriate considering the sentiment of the day. But as quickly as it happened, it faded from immediate memory when we entered the bookshop.

The girls and I had already had a busy morning and then we headed back to downtown Santa Cruz to have lunch and go to the bookshop to buy a book each because of their latest star earnings for reading. The back-to-back rains we've had in California gave us a reprieve for most of the day, so we went to our local community center first where there's a fun playground for kids.

That's where we ran into the Mama. Being of the local organizers of the Women's March, she was at the community center setting up for the post-march community event (the community center is called Louden Nelson, named after a former slave who lived in Santa Cruz in the 1850's). The Women's March mission is to stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families -- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. 

Of course there's subtext here due to our recent contentious U.S. election, but it's about so much more now for us and millions of others around the world. The Mama's inspired activism and civic duty has moved and motivated me more than any moment since the day we met. I've never been involved in anything like this before. Neither has my wife. But we've always looked out for our family, our freedom and our future.

We're both white and come from broken homes from one the lowest of socio-economic stratum, me from a conservative Christian one, and yet we grew up and lived our lives, went to college and came together one day on the beach in 1997. Now we're called "coastal elites" because we live on the coast and celebrate an inclusive liberal-to-middle-of-the-road progressive perspective.

That doesn't matter though, because today the stakes are higher than they've ever been for us in our lifetimes. Because now we have young children in a country and world resurgent with misogyny, racism, bullying, xenophobia, intolerance -- and just blatant anger and hate -- from the top down to the cracks in between. 

We will not stand by and let our girls grow up in this kind of world, restricting the rights of the many for the oppressive rights of the few.

So we're all in.

That's not to take away those women, people of color and the LGBT population around the world who have suffered and sacrificed themselves for generations, fighting for their rights and the safety and security of their families (and the rest of us). We have never been beaten in a peaceful march or protest because of our gender or color or sexual preference, or because our land was taken away, or because some or all our rights were taken away -- or hosed down, or sexually assaulted, or arrested and locked up, or had our houses set fire, or strung up in a tree and hanged.

No, not to take away from any of what's come before us and those who have given their lives to making a difference, but to finally rise up ourselves and lend our voices to help ensure social justice, positive change. Just everyday like you and you and you, people doing everyday incremental things to affect and maintain a better world for our children and generations to come.

That's why my wife got involved. That's why we marched. All of us. Including our girls. Initially there were only supposed to be 1,000 to 2,000 people coming to march peacefully from city hall to the Louden Nelson Community Center. There ended up being anywhere between 10,000-15,000 people in all (probably closer to the 15K).

I've never experienced anything like this before. Not even growing up with a loving extended family who, with its own share of daily dysfunction, was still loving and supportive of itself, God and country.

No, this was something so much more. All kinds of people from a myriad of backgrounds swallowed us up once we met up with the Mama near the center of the march. This was a community, like the many others around the world and the main one in Washington D.C., that had come together in support of democracy and something bigger than our sometimes divisive perspectives. Of reminding ourselves that we're the power, the 99%, the difference between a police state and a populace governed by itself.

And so we marched, spirits high, and we sang, laughed and cried. Thousands of us in varied ethnicities, husbands and wives, domestic partners, mothers and fathers and grandparents, many of us with our children and babies, marching slowly and safely through the streets where we live in order to keep them this way.

Yes, there is still a disparate divide. Yes, some of us will always feel like we're going in the wrong direction regardless of who's in power. Yes, there are still too many social and economic problems we must continuously work on. Yes, the world can be a dangerous place, godless and dark and brutal.

But yesterday I witnessed no carnage, no global apocalyptic omens portending the end of us all. Only inspired millions worldwide adding to the momentum of a positive movement, the transcendent beauty of inclusive community. One where we keep ourselves and our leaders accountable, that we must sustain and build on together, or as much together as we can muster.

Now that the initial march is over, for those interested, check out the new Women's March campaign: 10 Actions for the first 100 Days



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reading Time Well Spent

Here we were again with the constipated fear. It was reading time for both girls, but Beatrice pushed back. Way back.

"I don't want to read right now," Beatrice said, face contorted.

"All right then, let's flip a coin and see who reads first," I said.

"I want heads!" shouted Bryce.

"No, I want heads!" said Bea.

"Bryce called it first, Bea. You get tails."

"Okay. Whoever wins gets to chose."

I flipped. It was heads. Bryce said Bea goes first. Bea said no way.

And so it went. Round and round until Beatrice was near tears from a paralyzing panic attack implosion, and finally Bryce conceded and said she'd read first. Now, Bryce has only just begun learning to read, so we're helping her with the words, but Beatrice is solid reader now. The problem has been that she gets intimidated at the sound of her own voice saying the words out loud and when others are listening. This most likely goes back to her auditory processing disorder (ADP) issues she had early on (which Bryce never had).

At three years old, we discovered 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.

That in turn created anxiety for her, anxiety she had no way to process or express, so it was internalized instead. When pressed, she shuts down and says she doesn't want to do something, and then doesn't do it (just like her dear old daddy unfortunately).

However, she's come a long way from five years ago, that's for sure, but the reading was something we had to tackle head on. We always knew that, even when she's improves year after year, there would potentially be residual effects of ADP long term. School would get progressively harder for her, and she'd have to work harder at building those confidence callouses we all need when it came to reading, writing and communicating, and the speech and occupational therapists have concurred.

Both girls love storytelling and we read together every day. Beatrice actually creates stories all the time, writing them out and illustrating them as well. The Mama and I grew up avid readers, and Bryce now has the fever, so we want to ensure Beatrice perseveres. Plus, she takes the girls every week to our public library to check out a bagful of books, and they also pick out books from their school library. We don't always read verbatim each and every book, but most of them are eaten up like the sweetest of eye candy.

So reading is one of those things we instill in the girls that "isn't a choice" and we've had to press on with her to ensure daily reading. For this I thank the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), because without her daily persistence in keeping Beatrice completing all her homework, especially the reading, we'd have a much steeper mountain to climb in the years to come. And what's matters the most when it comes to both our girls is their becoming of something better, smarter, stronger and resilient for whatever life throws their way -- and throw things it will, lots of things (damn all those things).

Of course I help, but the Mama is the innovative leader here. She's recently developed a motivating incentive plan for Beatrice when it comes to reading: every minute she reads -- and that means reading anything (books, signs, pamphlets, etc.) -- she gets a star on a reading chart she created.

I don't know what a star's market value is at your house, but at ours, for every 100 stars earned, she gets to pick out a new book. Not a toy or a treat -- a book. And she just earned her first 100 stars this last week! We then went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and she picked out an ocean animals book. Right now we're playing a game where we break into teams, and one team picks an animal from the book, and the other team has to guess what it is from clues. Once guessed, Beatrice reads aloud the description of the animal -- 10 more stars please!

So far, it's definitely reading time well spent.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Friend's While As Well

It was just another beach run workout at Natural Bridges State Beach. One that I've documented on my fun "This week on..." Instagram feed for the past two years. Usually when I go there are only sea birds present, maybe the occasional human being or two, or small groups of people, families and friends visiting the beach depending on the time of year.

And then one morning almost a year and a half ago, a seal lion pup lay on the beach and barked as I passed it. But something seemed wrong with it. It acted weak, its bark muted, its head lolled slowly back and forth. It looked like it tried to waddle it's way back to the sea, but it wasn't really moving. I passed it by twice before I decided that I couldn't just keep going and do nothing, so I stopped and went up to the visitor center to tell one of the Natural Bridges staff members about the possibly sick pup.

I also sent texted my friend Doug Ross (who I interviewed last year on one of my Reach West Radio podcasts). Doug volunteered for the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals along the Californian and Hawaiian coasts, so I knew he'd want me to let him know. When he didn't respond to the text, I called him. He was already on the way to Natural Bridges to help rescue the pup.

"Why don't you stay and help me?" he asked.

"Ugh. I would, but I've got back-to-back conference calls I've got to get back to," I answered, after an awkward pause.

"Sure you do," he chided me.

"Ugh. Damn you. I do, though," I said.

"Don't worry about," he said. "I'm just giving you a bad time. I'm almost there and I already called the center. Go do your calls."

And so was our unlikely friendship. I had met him only a few years earlier at a co-working space we belonged to at the time. He was a introvert commercial artist who created amazing illustrations for HR technology articles (among many other industries and genres), and I was an extrovert marketing professional who worked in HR technology. We sat only one cubicle apart.

The joke at the time with those who worked near us was that you never knew Doug was there unless you saw his tall, quiet frame leaning over his keyboard, fixated on his computer screen with some new project. Yet you always knew I was there because of the noise complaints. I was on the phone constantly and my booming voice reverberated throughout the open office. It got so bad that the co-working facility actually installed sound boards inside my cubicle to absorb my loud cadence. It didn't work.

Once I left the co-working space, Doug and I didn't see each other all that regularly, but when we did,  usually for lunch, it was like we'd been friends for decades, always giving each other a hard time as well as talking seriously about our lives, our ups and downs and all arounds. We collaborated on a career management book I wrote and his amazing illustrations graced the pages throughout. He also went with me to SXSW a few years back, where I promoted my book and he promoted his artwork.

I also commissioned him to immortalize that one day at the beach where I met my lovely wife all those years ago, and now it hangs proudly in our living room.

Life got complicated with kids and work and we saw less of each other, but always making time for lunch now and again. His wife Ginger has horses, and so for a few years now we've taken our girls out to ride. But then the horse they always rode named Lulu passed away, and it had been a while since we'd seen both Doug and Ginger.

Which was why it was such a shock when she called us just weeks before the holidays to tell us that Doug had died unexpectedly. He'd been working hard late at night in his art studio, and then the next morning she found him dead. In the blink of an eye. I cannot imagine. I do not want to imagine.

Selfishly, the first thing I thought about was that I had planned on calling him to schedule a lunch to catchup. It had been since late summer when we got together last. However, the planning and doing are worlds apart. Always are. And the fact is I never did it.

The second thing I thought about was my own mortality. Doug was only a few years older then me, and seemingly in good overall health, as am I. Again, cannot imagine. Do not want to.

The third thing I thought about was the mindful presence I try to live in every day:

The time is always now again -- the now of every beat and breath and being completely well in. It ain't easy, but it's certainly worth my family's while.

And a friend's while as well. Make the time now again. God bless Doug, his wife and his family.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Hope of Grit and Growth

"Beatrice G. and Bryce G.," called the Jedi training coordinator.

Music to my Force-filled ears. We had missed the regular reservation times and could only sign the girls up as alternates. No guarantees. Come back at least 15 minutes before one of these times later today. Thank you and good luck. And now they were being called to participate!

"I don't know if I want to do it," said Beatrice.

"It'll be fun, Bea. Don't worry," I said.

"I want to do it!" said Bryce.

"Don't worry," said the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife).

"Okay," said Beatrice.

This was the part where many parents come to in the lives of their beloved children: making them do something whether they want to or not -- so we can experience the experiences they need to have that we never experienced otherwise and live these experiences anew vicariously through said beloved children.

Thank you and good luck.

"Do you both want to do it?" asked the coordinator.

I'm not sure if they both said yes or not, but we ushered them to the gated entrance where all the Padawans were corralled, being dressed in robes and prepped.

Bryce beamed when I took her picture in her training robe. Beatrice had that look of constipated anxiety she gets when she's nervous about something, the same look I've had since I was a child and even into adulthood.

I gave Bea a big thumbs up and then we smiled and waved at them both. One of the Jedi training coordinators called for the parents to follow her and led us to the open quad stage where the performance/training would take place.

"I didn't realize we'd be leaving them up there alone," said the Mama.

"I know. They'll be all right, though."

"I'd better go check on them," she said.

"Okay, I'll be right here. Love you."

"Love you."

But then I worried that, by going up there to where the Padawans were being prepped, one or both girls would have a out with the Mama not to do the training exercise. I didn't want that to happen, although I did feel a little guilty about pushing them, Bea especially, out of their comfort zone. I remembered how painfully shy I was at her age, and how tentative I was to try new things like this, to try anything for that matter. Thankfully both girls already have more grit than I did at their ages, more like their Mama in that regard, so I thought they could handle it. It wasn't like we were sending them out to fight for the lives in The Hunger Games.

Right?

I mean, I wanted them to handle it; I would've paid money, begged, may even cry a little if Disneyland would've let me participate in the Jedi training. Even the Mama would've loved to do it.

I waited for the training to start and kept looking in the direction where the Mama went to check on the girls, half-expecting to see her return with one or both of the girls at any moment. I hoped they'd persevere and enjoy the experience. For me. And for them too, of course.

The Star Wars theme music launched and my heart lept back to the summer of 1977. John Williams composes a mean crescendo and diminuendo, that's for sure. The Mama joined me back near the stage, no girls in tow, as a line of Padawans filled the quad, Jedi trainers guiding them to their starting positions.

"Were they all right?" I asked.

"Yep, just fine."

The performance itself was quite entertaining, with all the Jedi trainees collectively controlling and channeling the Force to vanquish the dark side and the Seventh Sister, Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Each Padawan had an opportunity to battle the Seventh Sister and Darth Vader, showing off the newly acquired light saber skills.

Because the Force real. Really. No judging, please.

Our girls made us proud, washing away any guilt of pushing them into Jedi training. Pushing Beatrice more than Bryce that is. Which, with all due respect to our beloved children, was pretty minimal in the first place. After the performance ended, the girls ran to us all aglow and confident.

"Did you have fun?"

"Yes, I want to do it again! It was exciting for me," Bea exclaimed.

"Yes! It was awesome" said Bryce.

We want them to get excited like this after trying new things, to experience the unexperienced, and to always see them through. Not all of what's learned will stick long-term, nor will they even like everything they try, but that doesn't matter. What's matters is in their becoming of something better, smarter, stronger and resilient for whatever life throws their way -- and throw things it will, lots of things (damn all those things). What will matter the most is for them (and us) to always be a new hope of grit and growth.