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 28, 2018

What Science Is All About

Reluctantly, she sat in front of my laptop.

"Why do I have to watch this again?" asked my oldest daughter.

"Because," I said, "I want you to understand what kind of science fair project we're doing."

"But I do understand -- Sweetheart and Dragonlily are going to do the maze."

I nodded. "Yes, but this is still learning time for you to understand what other scientists have already done."

"Okay."

Slumped in the desk chair, Beatrice watched one minute of an old Yale University film about hungry rats and mazes. Even I had no idea what was going on and my major was psychology in college.

Super dry and super yawn.

"Wow, well, that's enough, but please just read these two pages about rats and maze experiments," I said.

"Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do. Thank you."

"Okay," she said.

Just prior to this, as I was researching relevant resources online for both our daughters to review for their school science fair project, I found strange and silly videos of kids and young adults spoofing rat-maze experiments, even dressing up as the rats literally and pretending to play rat and scientist around the house. Tolman gone awry (Tolman was an American psychologist best known for his studies of learning in rats using mazes).

Wow. Way too much time on their hands.

Weeks before, both the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had talked with the girls about what they wanted to do for this year's science fair. Both are interested in how things work and we do homemade science projects a lot, especially Bryce our youngest who's always investigating anything and everything.

They decided they really wanted to do something with our pets -- Sweetheart our guinea pig and Dragonlily our new rabbit.

The girls decided (with our help) to conduct a maze experiment, with the hypothesis that both the guinea pig and the rabbit would be able to complete the maze for food after five trials each. Maybe getting faster each time because they would learn how to do the maze, and because they were always hungry anyway, and that the rabbit would complete the maze much faster than the guinea pig, because the rabbit was already faster and seemed smarter. We did have to explain to the girls that although guinea pigs are rodents, rabbits are lagomorphs, something we didn't even realize ourselves.

Whatever the classification of each animal, it seemed a reasonable hypothesis, and both the Mama and me agreed.

But it wasn't what happened at all. Nope, not even close.

I built the maze with some help from the girls, having to make the walls wide enough to accommodate our very large guinea pig. And then the day came to conduct the experiment. Bea and Bryce were giddy with anticipation.

First trial: Sweetheart the guinea pig. We placed her at start of the maze, having to help her in little due to the fact that she spread her legs out and caught her claws on each side of the maze walls, almost as if she did not want to be put in the maze.

Once in, she just sat there. And sat. And sat. And never moved. Just sat and stared at me with her blank dark eyes.

And then she peed.

The girls bounced off the walls. Bryce couldn't help herself and kept put her face right in front of Sweetheart's, patting her bottom and encouraging her to move.

"C'mon, Sweetheart. You can do it!"

"Bryce, get back and let her try. You're scaring her," I kept insisting.

"I am back! C'mon, Sweetheart!"

We all cheered her on. Nothing. We even tried to put food closer to her to entice her, but nothing. Didn't budge. We did the other trials with the same result. And more pee.

Sigh.

Then it was Dragonlily the rabbit's turn. First trial: we placed him at the start of the maze. He didn't fight it like Sweetheart did and he actually began to move through the first straightaway of the maze.

"He's doing it!"

Within a few seconds, he jumped out of the maze. Because that's what rabbits do, they jump. All of us laughed. It was actually really funny.

We did the other trials with the same result, each time Dragonlily jumping out of the maze after a few seconds. And each time we all laughed.

"Well," I said, "we may have to scrap the experiment. The data just isn't there. They never even made through the first part of the maze."

"Maybe we should leave the room so Sweetheart can try. Maybe she's just scared," Bea said.

"We can try again," said the Mama. "Maybe we just put a fence around the maze so Dragonlily won't just out. That's what I thought before you even put the maze together."

"Yes, again! Again!" shrieked Bryce.

We need to write all this up, I thought. Our hypothesis was completely wrong, but that's part of the scientific method, of investigating the world around us and learning new things and correcting the things that we thought were correct in the first place. This is what the girls need to understand.

"We're going to still write all this up and turn it in, girls. This is what science is all about, that there's always something new to learn regardless of what we thought was going to happen."

Bryce had already moved on, chasing the rabbit around the house. Beatrice had the guinea pig on a towel on her lap feeding her vegetables.

"Sweetheart peed again," she said.

"Of course she did," I said.

Sigh.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Advocates Who Activate

And then I thought, What happened with the boy who hit Bea?

"Amy, whatever happened with the boy who hit Bea at recess that day?" I asked my wife.

It had already been a couple of weeks and I felt guilty about not following up, about not being a father and asserting myself as the patriarch protector of my girls. About not being a man.

The irony wasn't lost on me, considering that one of the sentiments I despise the most -- boys will be boys -- has written off many a legitimate abuse and acquiesced to the most aggressive provider/protector male behavior for thousands of years.

"No, but I can check. I did talk with the yard duty teacher after it happened, and she said she didn't see it happen, but would look into it," my wife said.

"Please do. Thank you."

I should've done something, I thought. I compartmentalized my guilt and frustration and went on with prepping for the day ahead, a day of community protest and political activism at the local Women's March. My wife had a Kidpower workshop to teach and would meet me and our two girls downtown.

At the time, what we could best glean from Beatrice about the recess incident, and what she initially told her Mom the day it happened, was that she was at recess playing with another friend when she accidentally kicked the boy (or something in the context of play), and he thought she did it on purpose. So he punched her in the stomach. Twice.

It's unclear if she used her voice to tell him to stop, something we've instilled in both girls, but she's still socially timid at times. We assumed it all happened so fast that the boy had moved on and then recess was over. She did say she told him to stop, but only after us asking her over and over, and I wonder if she knew that's what we wanted to hear. I told her that it's never okay for a boy (or another girl) to hit her like that. Never. She told us to stop talking about it. She was done.

Shortly after that, I read a Facebook comment from a woman who warned of the siren song, those women who lie about being harassed and/or assaulted to bring down the "great, able-bodied men who have built this nation." Oh, how I wanted to comment, but didn't, because I felt that either I wouldn't contribute any positive dialogue, and if I did, it would've been missed by those who agreed with her.

Of course there are those who fabricate abuse, but there are so many more who never speak their truth for fear of reprisal. These are the everyday women (and men) who aren't the high-profile cases we've come to know in the past year, who have to keep swimming upstream through toxic water.

And just because the boy hit my daughter in a moment of playground angst doesn't mean he'll grow up to be violent. (Although he does need to know that aggression like that needs to muted and reframed in dialogue and other constructive channels as he gets older.)

Two weeks later on a day that celebrated inclusivity and equality and social justice for women (and men) alike around the world, regardless of race, cultural background, religious affiliation or sexual orientation; a day that abhorred sexual harassment and assault with lifts from the #metoo and #timesup movements, I felt like I wasn't very good father, or even a good man for that matter. All because I wasn't there to protect my daughter on the playground and ensure justice for her.

My patriarchal guilt, thousands of years of socialized gender roles and the ever-present thin biological and religious arguments to "justify gender inequality and the continued oppression of women" dissipated for me when we made our way downtown to march with friends and about 30,000 people from our community. With my wife and daughters walking just in front of me, and the thousands of women (and men) all around me chanting phrases like "What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!" -- I thought, The middle may thankfully hold, but the status quo cannot. 

After the march I sat at the CPVAW table among the 50 non-profits represented at Louden Nelson Community Center and talked with a variety of women and men from our community. I again realized what I already knew deep down -- something I had known for decades and that my own mother had instilled in me -- that we as men are just as important to the progressive equation of social justice and putting an end to sexual harassment and violence. And that we can and should be the advocates who activate other men around the world to nurture the lives of our sons and our daughters.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

So Bang and Burn Away

"Oh my dear Heaven is a big band now
Gotta get to sleep somehow
Bangin' on the ceiling
Bangin' on the ceiling
Keep it down..."

-Foo Fighters, The Sky Is A Neighborhood


The sky caught fire. 

"Beatrice, look," said the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.

"What?"

"Look at the sunset."

"Wow."

"I want to see!" shouted Bryce.

"Look, girls. Daddy, come look."

We all crowded in front of our living room window. Deep blue bled lavender and charcoal gray. A layer of rippled clouds fanned out above us from the northwest and burned softly like the embers of a dying fire. The orange and red flared and grew brighter as if stoked from above.

"If we go out on the porch we can see it better," said the Mama.

The view was better, but still somewhat obstructed by trees and buildings in front of us. 

"Oooooo," said the girls. 

"Gorgeous," I said.

"Let's go down to the water and see it," said the Mama. "There's time."

Bryce flailed on the couch. "No! I don't want to go anywhere!"

"Yes, let's go now before it's gone," I said. "Get your shoes on girls."

"Alexa, what time is the Santa Cruz sunset," the Mama asked our new Amazon gadget.

"The sunset in Santa Cruz today is 5:11 pm," Alexa replied. I looked at my watch -- it was 5:21 pm.

"C'mon, let's go," I said. "We have to do it know or we'll miss it."

We all had our sweatshirts and shoes on, and were ready by the front door, except Bryce.

"I don't want to go!"

"Fine, you can stay home by yourself," the Mama said, not serious of course. "We're going now."

"Whaaaaa!" Bryce fake whined and thrashed on the couch.

"Bryce, get your frickin' shoes on and let's go!" I insisted.

"Okay, okay! I'm coming!"

A few minutes later we were down by the ocean looking for a place to park. As was nearly most of Santa Cruz it seemed. Cars and people were everywhere. Street parking was full. The Natural Bridges State Beach 20-minute parking was full. I parked along the side of the road that led in and out of the state beach main parking, facing the exit. That way we could leave after watching the sunset for a few minutes. There wasn't time to drive all the way down to the main lot and park and walk onto the beach, the same one I workout on every week. We got out to watch the burning sky.

The time is always now again -- the now of every beat and breath and being completely in on each one, without distraction, no matter how unruly the universe gets. The next day there would be the kisses goodbye with my lovely wife and the hugs from my girls before I headed out to see my best friend for his birthday, each kiss and hug a time capsule to be repeatedly unearthed during my time away. 

Then there would be the time spent with my best friend of 40 years. Two men in their 50's, one able-bodied and one paralyzed since our senior year in high school, looking backward and projecting forward, never afraid to be emotionally accessible to one another, or take each other out with relentless one-liners.

But that was yet to come; the sky caught fire again. It glowed white-hot where the sun had set into the sea beyond, it's periphery pink and red, scorched black underneath. I took picture after picture, and in between, let the now embrace me again, and again. Muted oh's and ah's filled the spaces between all of us watching this glorious sunset. 

Now this is heaven, I thought. So bang and burn away.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Lightness of Us All

"Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture..."

-Rush, Workin' Them Angels

The very weight of her unsettled me. She was small and light in life, with creamy brown fur and a streak of white between her eyes and down her nose.

But death brings on a heavier mass. Once the final breath and heartbeat flees the body, what's left increases in gravity dramatically, affecting everyone around it. I tried to wrap her in a cloth towel, and although I thought I could do it quickly, I struggled with it for over five minutes.

"I need help," I told the Mama, what I affectionately call my wife.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"I got her," I said, finally wrapping up one of our two pet guinea pigs that had died earlier that morning.

The guinea pig that died was three years old and it had been her birthday. She didn't know that, but our girls did. Our youngest Bryce cried and our oldest Beatrice kept it together, telling her sister it would be okay. We knew that Dandelion Clover, the full name of the guinea pig that died, was very sick and it escalated quickly over a period of 24 hours. On average guinea pigs have a lifespan of four to eight years, but poor little Dande as we called her wouldn't make it that far.

Earlier that morning we sat with Bea and Bryce and explained to them that Dande was very ill and would probably not make it through the day. Bryce cried and Bea eyes and mouth twitched a little. We continued that we could either bury Dande in the backyard, or that I would take her away to be "taken care of."

"I don't want to bury her," Bryce said in between tears.

"Do you want Daddy to take care of her then when it happens?" the Mama asked.

The girls both nodded. Bryce kept crying. Bryce and I are the criers of the family, that' for sure. I didn't cry then, but got choked up watching her.

The Mama ran some errands and I worked on my laptop while the girls played. What I didn't know was that sometime during the next hour, Dande had taken her last steps in the cage, fallen over and died. What I also didn't know was that Beatrice saw it happen, but didn't say a word to me or her sister, not until the Mama got back home and we announced that it happened.

I put Dandelion's wrapped, lifeless little body into a ziplock and carried her out into the garage. Her weight seemed to increase with every step I took. "Taken care of" can mean many things to many people, and for us it literally meant disposing of the dead pet without burying her in the backyard, and without sharing the details with your kids. They thought I would take Dande to the vet to be taken care of, and that's one of those parental lies we were fine to live with.

The girls loved the guinea pigs (and still love the other one we have that is still alive and squeaking). They don't fetch things, or chase balls of string, or laser pen lights for that matter (and trust me, our girls have tried), but they are cuddly, squeaky eating machines. And they're fun to dress up, especially when the girls dressed them up as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader right before Christmas.

Prior to the getting the guinea pigs last March, we had had two pet fish in two years. The first real pet the girls ever had, named Jumpy Tree Summer, was a handsome Betta that lived for over a year and half before he passed. We'd been at my sisters for Thanksgiving, and prior to leaving Jumpy hadn't been looking so good. Lethargic and listing, all his usual deep burgundy flowing fins were fraying and he looked more and more sickly. Then he'd stopped eating. We were only going to be gone for a few days, but just weren't sure he'd make it.

Which he didn't. The Mama saw him floating as soon checked out the tank, and while I continued to unload the car from our trip and the girls were playing in the living room, she took care of him.

And before we had Beatrice and Bryce, we had three pets between the Mama and me -- I had an adopted black and white Shih Tzu named Joshua, and the Mama had two cats from the same litter, a black and white boy named Charlie and a Calico girl named Chelsea. All three lived pretty long lives, with Chelsea living to be 22 years old. She was still living after Bryce was born and Beatrice was constantly pulling Chelsea's tail, something no cat ever likes. But in the end we had to put all three to sleep, an emotionally draining experience for anyone who's ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Each time it was me taking them to the vet's office, holding them in the cold, white vet examining room, holding them in their final moments, balling my eyes out.

The gravity of it all crushes me every single time. Because they are like family, and no one likes to lose a member of the family. Our other guinea pig, Sweetheart Watermelon, the mother of Dande, is much bigger and so far seems to be healthier than her daughter was. The girls held her fast in their laps after I took Dande away.

In the garage the weight of Dande increased exponentially. I remembered when I had to carry my father to the bathroom the week before he died, his frail body still buoyed by a little lightness he had left. I remembered the weight of my mother's arm as I held it the moment the machines keeping her alive were turned off. And then I remembered another heaviness, that of holding my own children the night I had to go to the hospital, not sure what would happen next.

But I didn't cry then. No, I didn't cry until my next weekly beach workout at Natural Bridges State Beach. As soon as I saw one of the last of the natural bridges, formed millions of years ago, the local iconic image I get to see each and every week; my spiritual anchor and gateway to God; that's when I cried. I was full of intention and gratitude, thankful to be alive, thankful to make a difference, thankful for my family, and even thankful for a fat squeaky guinea pig called Sweetheart Watermelon, one that may get another new friend at some point.

God bless the lightness of us all.