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, February 25, 2018

Elfing It Up

My sister pointed to the open suitcase on our mother's bed. I could tell she was disappointed, but at the same time her voice betrayed a lack of surprise.

"See, it's the Easter stuff. Mom brought it home from her trip. I knew there was no Easter Bunny," she said.

Inside the suitcase were colorful plastic eggs, chocolates, plastic green grass and two small baskets.

I attempted to soften the truth. "Maybe the Easter Bunny gave Mom the stuff to bring home to us. He's got a lot of homes to visit, you know."

She wasn't buying it. And that was the end of it. Suspension of disbelief dissolved. Childhood's dead end. I was nine and my sister seven at the time.

"No, Mom's the Easter Bunny. And everything else, too."

It didn't just happen in that moment, though. The magical world of little baby Jesus, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Herbie the Love Bug (I owned that one), Star Wars (which was beyond my childhood years but probably the most impactful on me long-term), and so many more childhood pleasantries that carried us through our early years finally faded in the harsh light of domestic violence, divorce and sexual abuse. Keeping the faith can be difficult in even the best of times, much less the worst. Even the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) didn't have the greatest of childhoods.

Ugh. What a buzz kill, right? That was our reality, though. Thankfully we survived it and grew up course correcting as best we could until we had our own children, rebooting the magical world of belief yet again.

The Mama has been the magical architect to date, especially when it comes to Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the East Bunny and fairies in general. (We're even talking about God now, but that's an article for another time.) However, you can't get any more excited about something as magical as fairies when you have girls (although I'm sure there are boys that dig them, too). For a few years our girls were immersed in the new Disney Tinker Bell and friends movies (great girl power stories, by the way). When I got to go to Ireland back in 2015, I purchased fairy doors for the girls, and ever since, they both have written note after note to the fairies -- Berry and Spark are their names. Of course the girls ask for things all the time, jewels and other gifts.

And the fairies, they do write back. The Mama helps with that, taking the time to write in a fancy fairy cursive each time she responds. Recently though the writing in the notes has changed, and I was clueless as to why. I thought the notes were all from the Mama each and every time.

But there's a new magical sage in our house and she's looking out for her little sister, keeping the "fairy" fires stoked as long as possible. Our eldest Beatrice, who does still want to believe in Santa, has become more aware of the veil between fantasy and reality. Probably hearing it at school as well, Bea decide to help us out with keeping the magic alive for her little sister.

Bryce wanted a shelf elf. Never a tradition for me or the Mama, Bryce first saw them on one of her kids' YouTube channel shows and immediately shouted from the rooftops for one. So we ordered one for five dollars and girls tracked its travels via USPS from China, an adventure all its own. The day it was supposed to be delivered, it wasn't, and we thought it lost forever. So we ordered another, and then they both arrived.

Pinky and Cotton Candy. Those are the names of our pink shelf elves. Our year-round, all-purpose shelf elves. For those of you that participate in the Christmastime shelf elfing shenanigans, you know how you move it around your house and stage it doing stuff. Not creepy at all, right? First, it was the Mama moving Pinky around for Bryce, leaving a note in response to Bryce's requests for Pinky to do stuff.

Then more recently, Beatrice started doing it, writing notes as Pinky and Cotton Candy for Bryce and moving them (yes, the shelf elves are girls) around the house. Then early one morning before Bryce awoke, Bea asked me to help her get Pinky set up eating Girl Scout cookies (S'mores -- super yum) on the kitchen counter with a note that said:

Sorry I ate a cookie but it was good. I didn't want to eat a lemon one because I am allergic to lemonades. I didn't want to eat the peanut butter because I eat peanut butter on toast. I was also looking around the house too and I love your house. 

Or something like that. Nope, not creepy at all. Plus, it's not always easy to read shelf elf, you know. And even though Bea's on the precipice of leaving the magic of childhood, we know she'll hold on to it as long as she can. One way to do that is to keep it alive with her sister, elfing it up every chance she can get. We're also thankful we can and do provide much safer and stable environment that we grew up in, one that encourages imaginative thought and creative outlets.

"Bryce, did you see that? They just moved!" Bea exclaimed just this morning, moving the elves seconds before.

"No, they didn't. You moved them," Bryce said, not quite sure.

"No, I didn't do anything! I swear they moved!"


Eyes light up. A smile appears. The magic's alive. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Actually Can

I stared at the clear gelatinous rectangle cuboid and wondered what the hell it was. There was a series of them each within a clear plastic display case. Inside each gelatinous cuboid was what looked like dried out weeds fanned out throughout.

But that's not what it was at all. Not even close. One of the San Jose Museum of Art volunteers told us it was part of new exhibit. She pointed to the monitor along one of the walls that highlighted the shooting of guns into the gelatinous cuboids (also known as ballistic gelatin) to trap the splintered bullets in time and space. One of the points of this exhibit was that the cuboids represented human flesh and what happens to it when bullets rip through us and explode inside.

It was only a few days after the shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida. The day before we went to the museum I had listened to the Morning Joe news program as I worked out. I listened to them talk about each of the 17 victims and highlight something special about each one. About the teachers who sacrificed themselves by wrapping their bodies around those of the scared children trying to save themselves from the shooter. The children who got out and ran for their lives.

Then I listened the mother of one of the victims imploring our president to do something to make our schools safer. That one brought tears to my eyes. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Even conservative media is calling for a change:

"It is time for conservatives to embrace our new reality: today’s violence-prone society makes ownership of high-powered rapid-fire guns too dangerous."

I'm writing this because my wife and I care about the safety of our children first and foremost. There have been 1,600 mass shootings in America since Sandy Hook five years ago (that's about 4 victims or more on the average per shooting). Unfortunately our elected officials have done little to nothing to help stem the violence. And our children are dying.

We're supposed to be better than this. Aren't we? This isn't the other person's problem. This isn't a partisan problem. It's an American problem -- from our communities to state and federal government. Yes, we can and should choose more violence-free shows and media to consume for ourselves and our children. Yes, we can and should also choose how raise and empower our children with awareness and violence prevention.

On the other hand, California may have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, but damn if you can't still own an assault rifle and a whole lotta ammunition. Even my father, a retired police detective who passed away in 2012, who owned many guns himself, never agreed with the growing proliferation of assault rifles in this country. He didn't like regulation much either, but knew that something had to give somewhere for the average citizen.

And unfortunately that give continues to be us and our children. Which is why on the way to the San Jose Museum of Art referenced above, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I discussed as discretely as we could our safety plans and whether or not our girls' school was prepared for such a tragedy, while the girls listened to a Wow in the World podcast in the backseat. Even though we live in a community that appears to be much less likely to have a shooting like Parkland, the fact remains that this killing can occur anywhere at anytime.

Thankfully our school has an emergency active shooter safety plan (and we hope yours does, too). We discussed it and what would happen if our girls were out on the playground and something like this happened. Would they remember their Kidpower basics about safety first and run away and hide from harms way if they could? Would they remember to get under and stay under their desks if trapped in their classroom? Our girls haven't brought up what happened to us, but we're sure the older kids are talking about it, and we need to talk with them about it.

Ballistic gelatin is much more forgiving than human flesh. I'd bet we have much more rigorous regulation around the production of it than we do regulating the proliferation of assault rifles and exploding ammunition, guns and ammo that most of us would never touch in our lives, even with 30-40+ percent gun ownership in America.

I don't want to take anyone's gun ownership away (and couldn't even if I wanted to), but I don't have a problem pressuring state and federal elected officials to make it a much more rigorous process for you to own one and to purchase ammunition; if you're a serious and safe hunter or sports shooter you'll jump through the friggin' hoops to shoot. But making it easier for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun sure as hell didn't help us make our country safer. And arming our teachers and administrators is also not a solution to help prevent this unnecessary violence.

After the Mama and I talked about our safety plans and what we would need to discuss with our girls, I couldn't help by helplessly imagine our children running for their lives and us not being able to do anything about it.

The good news is that we actually can.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

To Run for My Life with the Love of My Life

"Wake up
Run for your life with me
Wake up
Run for your life with me
In another perfect life
In another perfect light
We run
We run
We run..."

-Foo Fighters, Run

Wow. She actually told them. I knew we weren't hiding it from them, but it wasn't something to date that had come up in any context or conversation.

Until now.

I'm not even sure of the context actually; the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) just said it out loud.

"You know, Daddy was married to someone before me."


"What?!?" said Beatrice. Bryce just stared at me.

"Yes, he was, but they didn't have any children," said the Mama.

"What happened? Did she die?"

Kids, they simply say whatever comes into their amazing little heads.

"No," I answered. "She didn't die. We broke up and got divorced."

I knew they knew what that meant, going to school with other kids of divorce.

"Where is she now?" Bea asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"Are you guys going to break up?"

We laughed. "No, honey. We love each other and love you both."

"Okay. Love you, too."

"I can't believe you told them that," I then said to the Mama. But I wasn't mad, just surprised.

"Why not?"

I know, right? Why not. But what they don't know yet is that our life wasn't all romantic neat-and-clean happy endings. It's much messier than that. Overlapping with of failure and sorrow and poor choices and sometimes we have to be pushed really friggin' hard to get moving in the right direction.

They don't know that, 20 years ago, when the Mama and I were already seeing each other and very much in love, that I was only separated from my ex, not divorced yet. I knew then that I wasn't going back; I was done and very unhappy with me and the relationship I had with my soon to be ex, no matter how good of a person she was. And she was.

Instead, I wallowed in limbo, not willing to pull myself out of the self-loathing sludge and get on with life. I wanted to, but wasn't willing.

At least not until the Mama inspired me with a little fight or flight adrenaline. I had wanted her to go with me to meet my entire family for my sister's birthday, which just happened (and still happens) to be the day before Valentine's Day.

She went to work one day and left me a note in the apartment I had at the time, basically saying she wasn't going with me anywhere until you get your shit together and move on with your life if you want to be with me.

Damn straight. She had shared a lot more passionate words than that in making her case, which was crystal clear to me. And so I moved on with my life.

Wake up.
Run for your life with me.

For weeks since we told the girls about my past, the above song has been full-throttle volume in my head. Although not really a romantic song to say the least, the very essence of it struck me as representative of that moment in time, to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with living and being me. To run for my life with the love of my life. With all the stumbles and skinned knees along the way.

In another perfect life
In another perfect light
We run...

"Ooooo, why do you guys have to kiss all the time?" said Bea.

"Because we love each other," said the Mama.

"Indeed we do," I said. "And we love you, too!"

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Even With the Best of Friends

"Goddess in my garden
Sister in my soul
Angel in my armor
Actress in my role..."

-Rush, Animate

This is where I have to be careful. Where I need to step back and reflect. To attempt a limbic system recalibration to adjust what I'm seeing based on how I'm feeling. To not project me onto them.

No easy trick when you watch your eldest from the edge of a dance floor, shuffling back and forth, dancing a little here and there, and following various friends racing back and forth, seemingly just out of reach.

Plus, she actually wore a dress for the school Valentine's dance, something she doesn't do all that often. She was so excited to hang out with her friends and run around and dance. And she did, although every time our eyes met, she feigned a smile. I sensed anxious awkwardness and isolation that only comes with the social awakening in late childhood and the tween and teenage years. Sometimes extending throughout adulthood. I know, Beatrice, I thought. We get into our own heads and we can't get out.

But again, this is where I have to be careful. Because she does have friends and she does have play dates and she also likes being alone at times to recharge. Like many people do. Like I do and the Mama does (what I lovingly call my wife) and even our gregarious younger daughter. This is also the age where girls hang with girls, and boys hang with boys, and girls hang with boys, usually irrespective of gender. For now, anyway.

Recently the term "tomboy" came up. I don't know exactly what the specific context was, whether or not someone called Beatrice a tomboy directly, but it sounded like that. The Mama discussed it with her one day and asked her: "Does being called a tomboy bother you?"

"No," Bea said. It was a definitive no, devoid of emotion or hesitation. I don't think she knew what it meant, even after we attempted to define it, and still doesn't.

In the 16th-century the term first appeared and meant a "rude and boisterous boy." By the end of that century, it evolved to mean a "wild, romping girl, [a] girl who acts like a spirited boy." (There's a brief article on the history here.) While she is spirited, although much more muted compared to her little sister, her identity is more complex than calling her simply a tomboy.

Bryce, on the other hand, is just as complex, being a more traditional female, and yet can be highly aggressive and acts like a "spirited boy" at times. She may dress and act the part, but at the end of each day, she's playing a part all her very friggin' own, thank you very much. And there she was, dressed to the nines in her Valentine best and dancing the night away with her friends.

Either way tomboy can be dangerous since the term connotes a negative context of being a feminist and even gay, among not being a true feminine female, which wouldn't matter to the Mama or me either way. Unfortunately since the 16-century, it's been used as a derogatory sexist and even racist term (again, ready the brief history of it linked above) no matter how much we've romanticized it over generations.

And like being called a tomboy, I've been called a girly-man many a time over the years. For decades I've been in touch with my feminine side as "they" say (whoever they is) being more emotionally accessible and in touch with my feelings than the average heterosexual North American male. I'm more than comfortable with who and how I am, and I've also given my good friends plenty of rope to hang me with the "faggot" sentence. And for decades I haven't thought much about it, knowing they were teasing me, just like I teased them time and time again.

But when your identity is disparaged, even if you don't identify directly, it's just not okay anymore. I love my friends, and yet, I no longer like calling each other that. This has nothing to with being politically correct and everything to do with who we are as human beings -- complex individuals whose make-up is much more than the sum of subjective prejudiced observation. Of being forced into traditional gender roles with so-called "normal" sexual identities. We make it hard on each other for not sanctioning beyond our own biased comfort zones. We create separation and resentment with labels. We make it hard on each other by denying ourselves. Even with the best of friends.

And that's where I need to again step back and reflect and to not project me onto them. Because as parents, both the Mama and me know we can't live their lives for them. There are times we want to, where we identify with what they're going through because we went through it as well, or something similar. These are also the times we know they have to go through it, and we're just here to help as much as we can.

So I stood there at the dance a witness to my own competing amygdala messages flowing back and forth across my field of vision -- Bryce streaming by with friends in tow, the Mama streaming by talking to friends and other parents, Beatrice standing in the middle of the dance floor dressed to the nines herself in a red dress and leather jacket looking off in the distance with that awkward social signal, and me standing on the fringe mirroring the signal. Because sometimes we all feel alone again, even with the best of friends.

"Polarize me
Sensitize me
Criticize me
Civilize me
Compensate me
Animate me
Complicate me
Elevate me..."

-Rush, Animate

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The #SamStrong Perspective

"In the shadows of a golden age
A generation waits for dawn
Brave carry on
Bold and the strong..."

-Journey, Only the Young

I did not want to be there. From the moment I made the appointment, to parking the car in the lot across the street, to walking inside the lobby -- all I could selfishly think about was me not being there.

What was so wrong with that anyway? I had already recovered from multiple infections months earlier, feeling better and hoping (and praying) for it to never return. Yet, here I was waiting to talk with my doctor. Again.

"How are you doing today?" the physician assistant asked me.

"I don't want to be here, that much I know," I said.

She laughed. I was sure she heard that a lot. Then she added, "Let's take your blood pressure now."

I thought it would be higher since it sometimes spikes I get when I'm stressed, but thankfully it wasn't.

"Not bad," she said.

"Well, we'll see what the doc says."

She smiled. "I'm sure she'll have some good insight for you."

"The insight that nothing's there," I said.

Another smile. "All right, the doctor will see you shortly," she said and then she left.

Again, I waited alone in the examination room, only a sanitary paper blanket covering my lower half. Moments passed. I checked my watch in between each one. I felt cold. I rubbed my arms and read as many of the informative posters around the room that I could see from where I sat.

I checked work email on my phone and then I checked out Facebook. That's when I saw it again in the feed: the post titled I'm Still Standing. My wife's step-sister's husband had posted it two days earlier and it had been the latest update about their youngest son, two-year-old Sam.

Sam has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). In less than two weeks after he had initially gotten sick, they didn't know what was wrong and had taken him to urgent care. Shortly after that he was diagnosed. According to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer that affects the white blood cells. These cells fight infection and help protect the body against disease. Patients with ALL have too many immature white blood cells in their bone marrow. These cells crowd out normal white blood cells. Without enough normal white blood cells, the body has a harder time fighting infections.

I can't imagine. We can't imagine. Don't want to imagine. All their posts, updates and pictures with the hashtag #SamStrong that they've posted since his diagnosis have only captured a fraction of what they must be going through. He's scared and sick. They're scared and sick. They're all living in and out of the hospital while trying to continue any regularity of day-to-day life with work and school and another child, a big brother who probably doesn't really understand what the heck is going on.

The chemotherapy, while killing the cancer in Sam's body (and the cure rate is high for children), has now made their young son susceptible to other infections, wreaking havoc on his immune system. His fever keeps spiking, so now his hospital stay that should've ended was extended another few days.

What do you say to your young child who gets so sick like that? What do you say day after day of tests and treatments and long days and nights in the hospital? What do you say to each other? That it's going to be all right? You pray if you believe in God's healing, and/or you hope if you believe in the doctors' healing.

I remember when Beatrice was born, her difficult birth, and her delayed responses to the Apgar test, as she lay there wrapped up in hospital blankets. And then I remember the standard hearing test the next day when everything was fine, the diodes and wires strapped to her elongated forehead and her ears, and thought about how different it could have been. We worried that something could be wrong, the same somethings we will worry about their whole lives.

Even with the developmental delays Beatrice had early on, both our girls have been pretty healthy overall to date, and I'm so thankful for that, I thought. Both my wife and I have been pretty healthy, too. God bless Sam and his family. All we ever want is for our children to be healthy and outlive us.

I set my phone down atop my pants that sat like a lump on the chair next to me and waited for the doctor to arrive. I sat up straight and breathed in and out slowly, filling myself with a new resolve of family love and the #SamStrong perspective. It's going to be all right.