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 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.