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, December 30, 2018

One Grain at a Time

[Spoiler Alert: I don’t give too much away, but I am commenting on changes to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride and one thing that happens in the Ralph Breaks the Internet movie. Just giving you all a head’s up.]

I noticed the female pirate first. Actually, I heard her voice first, then I saw her to my left. She was calling out rivals across the small, man-made river we traversed.

“That’s new,” I told the Mama, what I lovingly call my wife.

“I know,” she said. “And the brides for sale are gone. It’s like a market for selling other goods and food now.”

And so, there we were on our annual holiday Disneyland trip, one we’ve been doing since our girls were little, and the #MeToo movement finally hit the Disney-fied raping and pillaging of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The original version of Pirates had opened at Disneyland in Anaheim in 1967, and it was the last attraction that Walt Disney oversaw, but he died three months before it opened.

Good for Disney today, though. While the ride originally was a dark-lit but light-hearted caricature of a “pirate’s life” that we know historically was full of harassment, rape, slavery and violence towards women (and other men) in real life, there’s nothing wrong with updating it with a strong female character and editing out the selling of women. Mind you, there was still only one strong female character in the ride that we noticed. Otherwise, it’s still the same classic Disneyland ride I remember growing up (except with the addition of Jack Sparrow and the successful Pirates movie franchise).

Disney seems to keep moving forward with progressive norms, like Ralph Breaks the Internet in 2018 with all the Disney princesses helping to rescue a “big strong man who needs saving.” A funny and refreshing twist indeed.

That doesn’t mean Disney hasn’t had its own share of real-life discrimination and harassment problems, with the latest one being a middle-aged male former labor analyst at Disney Cruise Line claiming his younger female manager created a hostile work environment by bullying him about his age and more. Plus, this past year, there was the Pixar titan John Lasseter on leave from the Walt Disney Company following complaints about unwanted workplace hugging. And then there was actress Kristen Bell publicly expressing concern about “Snow White” and the prince who kissed her without consent.

Which was exactly what I was thinking about as we rode the Snow White ride at Disneyland. It’s really quite creepy and scary, especially for little kids. And yet, when we got to the end of the ride, it went from the Seven Dwarves trying to save Snow White from the evil queen disguised as an old woman giving out poison apples in a dark forest, to heading out the final door into the real light with “They Lived Happily Ever After” painted on the last wall. Where did the nonconsensual prince kiss go?

I don’t know. Anyway, what I’m more excited about is the blurring of gender types from such a media and entertainment powerhouse like Disney. The massive influence they have on our children (and us) is unprecedented and has been for decades, so injecting strong female characters into the greater Disney animation canon has been refreshing for those of us raising strong females with healthy self-identities, especially since The Little Mermaid. I know that it can be argued these characters’ male counterparts still have had the hero-story edge, but that’s been slowly changing.

For the past two years, Bryce has wanted to go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland, a place where, for a price (always for a price at the Magic Kingdom), kids can be turned into elegant princesses and shining knights. Beatrice wanted to do it too, so this year we conceded and made reservations.

Beatrice had no interest in dressing like a princess; she wanted to be a knight. Bryce has been our traditional princess to date, always dressing like one and enjoying all the related princess accoutrements. We assumed that’s what she wanted. But the day before her appointment, she said she wanted to be a knight.

Usually we encourage the girls to be whatever they want to be. Beatrice identifies as a girl but tends to skew boyish by her own choice, and so it’s no surprise that strangers have called her our “boy” over in the past. Until Bryce got a pixie haircut, cutting her hair really short, that never happened with her. But since the haircut, it has, although both girls seem to roll with it without being offended. This is good and we want them to be comfortable with who they are and how they look, no matter how non-gender specific.

By the way, for those parents who want their girls to dress like princesses and their boys to dress like knights, fantastic. More power to them and no judgement here, as long as their children are not being forced into a stereotypical gender role that they’re not comfortable with, because their parents aren’t comfortable with them being something other than a princess (for a girl) or a knight (for a boy).

We gave Bryce the choice either way the day before her Disney transformation, although now I feel bad as we kept reminding her how much she loved being a princess and how she’s always wanted to get the princess treatment. In the end she chose princess, and she was quite happy with it, which we knew she would be, but we would’ve been fine with two knights.

Yes, things are slowly changing, the sands of patriarchy draining one grain at a time from the happiest place on earth’s golden hourglass. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Year of Learning, Loving and Healing: The GOTG Top 13

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA

What a year! Lots of learning, loving and healing for me and my family. Thank you for stopping by and reading.

Here's the top 13 GOTG articles from 2018, my lucky number. Enjoy!

13. To Be Brave As Needed

I wanted so badly to intervene, but that would've been too easy...

12. This Was All Them

She was prescient...

11. It Always Burns a Hole

Because it always burns a hole in their pockets...

10. Free to Feel

The bad man was 20 feet from my sister and me...

9. An ALL CAPS Family

Every morning it's the same thing: we have to tell them more than twice...

8. Unraveling Our Own Patriarchal Demise

It was the Sunday school coloring pages of Jesus smiling with open arms that still haunt me today...

7. Getting Busy with the Bliss

I just wanted to stay home for the afternoon...

6. The Lightness of Us All

The very weight of her unsettled me...

5. The Childhood Check-First

"Have you seen my daughter?"

4. One Simple Yet Powerful Thing

I could tell she was nervous, talking about everything else except her first game...

3. Manifest the Goods

I just wanted to get ahead of the growing mediocrity in my head and get home to my family...

2. A Perfect Day, Right Here

It would’ve been the perfect day...

1. I Believe

Then from across the bar he pointed at me and mouthed the words: You're dead...

Get off the ground and make a positive stand happen in 2019. 

Happy Parenting, Personal Leadership and Happy Holidays!


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Holding On With All My Might

"Do you ever dream
Or reminisce
Wondering where to find
What you truly miss
Well maybe all those things
That you love so
Are waiting in the place
Where the lost things go..."

The Place Where Lost Things Go, Mary Poppins Returns

On the furthest edge of childhood, she holds on to believing with all her might, dangling precariously over the chasm of the rest of her life.

Yes, she still holds on; our oldest Beatrice believes in the Christmas magic. She's 10 and believes in the Santa and the shelf elves, something we've only gotten into the past year. Our youngest Bryce, who's 8, is definitely still all in, complete with a splash of Baby Jesus and the message of hope and love.

The advent calendar action we provide every year -- aspirational notes in each daily pocket plus a trinket or a candy -- is something they look forward to every year. Although this year they both know it's us filling the calendar pockets and not the shelf elves.

And they're okay with that. Phew.

Bryce is the one who wanted a shelf elf in the first place. Never a tradition for me or the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), 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.

They were named Pinky and Cotton Candy. And then within months the two became six:

  1. Pinky
  2. Cotton candy
  3. Violet
  4. Peppermint (who you can't touch with your hands or you'll have to place her in a pan and surround her with cinnamon; the girls have special gloves to handle her) 
  5. Buddy
  6. Angel Cakes (who you also can't touch with your hands or you'll have to place him in a pan and surround him with cinnamon; the girls have special gloves to handle him) 

Plus, add in the shelf elf reindeer their grandma Nonna just got them: Cocoa Chestnut.

Every night starting on December 1, our shelf-elfing shenanigans have them moving around and doing fun things every night, a little light mischief without compromising their elven integrity like some do on the world wide interwebs these days. Plus, there's been the occasional note from the girls to the elves, asking them for things, and then the elves writing back, sometimes complying.

The girls are convinced that Santa will take the elves away on Christmas and won't return again until the following December 1. I didn't realize this was part of shelf elven lore. Who knew?

The girls wanted the shelf elves to create a treasure hunt of sorts before they left at Christmas, so they wrote them a note -- and presto! -- a treasure hunt.

The girls woke up and found a note on the elves in front of the fireplace.

"Do you see that note?" said Beatrice.

"Dang, it's in cursive," said Bryce.

Beatrice read the note aloud:

Look on our shelf to start the hunt! --Pinky

One of the bookshelves in our living room has a shelf dedicated to the elves, of course. From there, the treasure hunt continued.

This is where you keep your musical instrument. -- Peppermint

"How does he know where it is?" said Beatrice, talking about her trombone.

"Because he watches you," said Bryce.

"Oh, that's creepy," said Beatrice.

The treasure hunt led to the place where we bake cookies.

"It might be the oven," said Bryce.

And sure enough, it was. What was in the oven, you ask? Four pairs of elf outfits -- one for each of us, of course.

"Yeah!" the girls shouted.

"Let's wear them!" said the Mama.

"But they were supposed to do this on Christmas Eve. It's early. But, I guess that's okay," said Beatrice.

The Mama and I smiled at each other. Within minutes we were all dressed in our new elven garb, and of course, that's when I sat everyone down for a family picture, for posterity.

And for Instagram and Facebook, of course.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. In fact, as I write this, Beatrice is setting up a Santa trap that will wake them up so they can see him when he arrives. The trap prototype includes string "trip-wires" that will ring a bell upstairs in their room, and we'll run down to the hardware store later for some fishing line for the final trap. We ain't playin' at our house.

I too hold on with all my might, over half a century in on this wonderful life I've been blessed with. I've never lost the love and hope of my childhood, even through the dark times. It's alive and well deep in my still beating heart, where Santa and Baby Jesus and Snoopy and Luke Skywalker and Mary Poppins sing Grown-up Christmas List day after day after day:

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list
This is my only lifelong wish

This is my grown up Christmas list

Merry Christmas World. I believe in you, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Family Shop Talk Time

"I'm thankful for mommy, daddy, Beatrice...and...the shelf elves," said Bryce, giggling when she said shelf elves.

This was the kick-off of yet another weekly family meeting (what we lovingly call The Family Bhive Club), where we share compliments, gratitude, appreciation and "noticing" -- something nice we notice about each other and/or ourselves that we share as a family, like being brave in everyday situations. I'm the scribe who keeps all our meeting notes in a journal and the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and the girls write the agenda each week on a small dry-erase board.

The Mama started these family meetings back at the end of October as a way for us to take the time to talk family shop each week about the above and other things such as:

  • practicing safety skills wherever we're at, 
  • homework that needs work like math and/or reading, 
  • everyday self-care, 
  • chores that need to get done for the allowance monies
  • the distributing of the allowance monies (which are always asked for way before we're done with the family meeting), 
  • the giving of the monies and/or related volunteering, 
  • what's coming on the calendar for the week ahead for all of us, 
  • and of course, at this time of the year, talking about the Christmastime -- 
  • all of which we empower the girls to help with solutions.

"Christmas!" both girls will shout.

Then both girls will rattle off something new they want, more than something actually -- all the things actually -- and then they bask in the afterglow of sugar-plum want.

Then we wrap up the meeting with open sharing about whatever else is on our minds and then it's fun time. Each week fun time rotates to one of us to choose what the fun time will actually be. Usually it's in the form of playing a game together like Monopoly, Sleeping Queens, HeadBanz, etc.

No matter what's on the family meeting agenda, each one starts with the compliments, gratitude, appreciation and the noticing. It's our family holy day where we not only share with each other the reasons of why we're thankful about each other and others outsides our family, but also what we're thankful for about ourselves. This to ensure at a minimum a modicum of self-worth and love in such a sometimes hateful, self-loathing world.

For us, this is the most important of the family shop talk time, and I'm so thankful for these moments that bind us together and empower each other.

Stink. Stank. Stunk.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Gift of Actionable Hope

"As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree.
Well, heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul..."

Grown-Up Christmas List

I spoiled Christmas.

I got up before my parents, before my sister, and walked slowly down the hall to our small living room. It was still dark, the curtains were pulled shut, and our Christmas tree stood silent in the shadows. There was only a faint light that leaked in around the curtain's edge from the nearest streetlight outside.

And there in the shadows beneath the tree, I saw the outline of the Big Wheel I had asked for, and the Baby Alive my sister had asked for.

The joy in my heart completely eclipsed any fear I had being up so early in the darkness. It also eclipsed any sadness and fear we still had from the latest fight our parents had gotten into on the way home from our grandparents the night before, from our dad calling our mom some pretty horrible names, from things crashing throughout the house long after we went to bed, from the screaming and crying outside our rooms.

But here, in the quiet of early Christmas morning, there was finally some peace and these amazing gifts under the tree. It didn't matter that we didn't have much money; we never really new the difference growing up anyway, thanks to our mom.

I don't remember how long I stood there staring at the gift shadows. The smell of evergreen, cigarettes and stale beer was almost comforting in a strange way. At some point I finally turned and headed back up the hallway, but instead of going into my bedroom and waiting for the family to wake up, I went in to wake my sister, to tell her what awaited her under the tree.

That didn't go over very well. I thought she'd be thrilled. She was not. Instead, she cried. I was mortified. I had no idea that was going to happen. I tried to calm her down, to explain how great it was she was getting a Baby Alive, but to no avail. Our mom explained shortly after that how I spoiled the surprise for my sister. That she really wanted to be the one to find and see her present first.

I felt horrible. Christmas morning moved on, and so did my sister. While our mom fixed breakfast, we played with our new toys, and our father sat on the couch drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. I remember him smiling through tears as he said:

"Merry Christmas, kids. There's no place like home."

My mom cried softly in the kitchen as she cooked. That moment in time was the greatest gift we could have ever asked for, something that repelled the darkness and sadness growing up in domestic violence. It was the gift of hope. Hope that maybe everything would be all right, that maybe our father would stop drinking and being so angry and unhappy all the time. That maybe we could be a family again. Forever.

We were a family again, but not with him, so in a way, the gift of hope paid off. But I'll never forget what he said, even if I'm mixing memories, which happens as we get older. We were fortunate to have lovely family and friends who supported us and helped carry us through some tough times.

Fast forward to today  my wife and I work hard (which is thankfully easy for us) in providing emotional stability and love and an environment of personal growth and resiliency. We're also able to give them things we never dreamed of when we were growing up, as my wife had experienced some similar parallels as a child as well.

This is why we give back when we can, volunteer locally, practice Kidpower and encourage our girls to give back as well, to donate their toys they no longer play with and to save their money to give to a program that will help others. The past few years we've adopted a family via Monarch Services during the holidays, a program founded in 1977 to offer safe shelter and services to domestic violence victims. We get a list of things they want, usually a mother and her children, and then we purchase them and give them to the agency, but we don't know who they are; we'll never meet them. Their anonymity is protected for obvious reasons, especially if they're still in harm's way. We do get a thank you card from them after Christmas, and we're just glad we could give them some gifts that the mother isn't in the position to provide otherwise.

This year it's a mother and three boys and that's all we know. As we shopped for them and picked out toys for the boys, I knew these presents would be well received (who doesn't want to be a superhero encased in protective metal), but I bet I knew deep down what they really wished for.

We do these things because we can, and we encourage others who can to do the same, to support programs that help others who need it, whatever that is, throughout the year and not just during the holidays. For us, we participate in and support programs that help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).

That's why our wish is that atop their Christmas list is the gift of actionable hope.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

To Be Brave As Needed

"In the whole wide world there's no magic place
So you might as well rise, put on your bravest face..."

–Rush, Bravest Face

I wanted so badly to intervene, but that would've been too easy. The growth moment for our oldest daughter would've been gone. I knew the Mama did too (what I lovingly call my wife), but she restrained herself until very last minute, after progress had been made.

We were at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the MAH as it's known for short, making donuts with felt and hot glue guns (yes, donuts) during a fun arts and crafts event. Afterwards the girls wanted to see the rest of the museum, especially one specific thing on the 3rd floor  the foosball table. I'm not sure exactly why there's a foosball table on the 3rd floor, maybe to entertain children while their parents visit the exhibits, but it's their nonetheless.

This time though there were three boys playing foosball, maybe 10 to 12 years old. The girls wanted to wait, so we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Keep in mind that waiting from a child's perspective can be excruciating, and their quiet angst washed over us as well. Yet, it had only been a few minutes at the most.

We encouraged both girls to tell the boys they were waiting and wanted to be next. Of course, it was obvious we were waiting for the game, and I'm sure the boys got that. However, they continued to play away with raucous laughter.

Our youngest Bryce wasn't going to speak up, but Beatrice started to work up the courage; she told us that her and Bryce really wanted to play the game. We coached her (so did Bryce) and encouraged her, and minutes went by with the girls standing there waiting to play the game. But the boys weren't stopping anytime soon.

I had to walk away; it would've been too easy to speak up and "encourage" the boys to wrap it up for my girls. Intimidating children isn't a quality I want my children to see, so I wasn't going to do that. The Mama was patient too, continuing to coach Beatrice.

Finally, Beatrice worked up her nerve.

"How much longer are you going to play?" she asked the boys.

One of them answered, "Um...maybe another 15 minutes." And then they kept on playing without looking her.

Bea stood there and then looked back at the Mama. I was down the hall, pacing a little like an expectant father, and Bryce just sat on a bench waiting patiently (quite unlike her actually).

That's when the Mama spoke up, "Do you think 15 minutes is a fair amount of time if people are waiting?"

The boys paused their play, and then another said, "Okay, five minutes."

And then two minutes later they stopped their game and moved on.

We were so proud of Beatrice for speaking up and we let her know that. We expressed to both girls that it's okay to ask for what they want, to speak up and set boundaries and expectations when needed coaching them to be more direct with their requests instead of open-ended questions. To be firm and persistent without being mean or rude, whether they're dealing with other boys or girls or both. But especially the boys. In the age of #metoo and #timesup, we want our girls to embody individuality and inclusivity while never allowing themselves to be compromised because their gender.

This will serve them well throughout their lifetimes, because boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And in adulthood, there is magical realm where we treat each other fairly with respect and support each other with understanding and empathy. Some of us work daily on getting there, while still too many others do not.

This is why we want them to be strong and independent, to believe in themselves, to empower others to do the same, and to be brave as needed.