Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discipline (Vengeance)

     I hate disciplining our kids, but I do so for their own good and our sanities.  I suppose it's one of the more difficult and aggravating responsibilities of parenting, at least for me, because it seems so futile at times.
     Shouting doesn't work.  Kids love loud noises—firecrackers, thunder, sirens, helicopters, leaf blowers, and garbage trucks—preferably all at the same time.  Hearing a parent shout at them—they become immune to it after awhile—is like a DS video game in which the objective is to make Mom's and Dad's faces turn red, the veins of their necks bulge out, and their hands and arms tighten and flail about like animatronix until someone's head explodes like the stomach of a decompressed deep sea fish.
     To illustrate what I mean, this has happened every afternoon for the past two years:
     “Clean up your room,” I tell Jaren with I-mean-business brusqueness.
     “Yes, Daddy,” he responds.  (We trained them through consistent discipline to respond appropriately every time.)
     Nothing happens.  I come back later and discover this.
     “What did I tell you to do?” I ask, voice and tone rising to signal what's happening to my blood pressure.
     I point toward his room with searing eyes.
     “Oh yeah, clean up my room.”  He dashes off down the hallway in the proper direction.
     When I return later, his bed is somewhat fixed but the floor's still a mess.  “Ok, time out, I told you twice already.  Don't come out until dinner.”
     There's a thirty-three percent chance the floor still won't be cleaned properly by dinner time (down from sixty-seven percent a few months ago—progress!)  If so, he gets time out for the rest of the evening.  He still sometimes cries—just for show—over time outs but once he's in them he just lies on his bed or floor quartering his imaginary Star Wars friends.
     I tell myself not to stress over discipline because the underlying principle is so simple:  back up words with action by always enacting consequences for every instance of noncompliance.  After all, this is an autocracy in which we are the bosses.
     My wife is not with the program.  And the kids know it so what they do is make a game of it, ignoring her direct commands, hoping they'll get away with it—the sole form of legalized gambling in Hawaii.  Then, often enough, when she's in a good (lazy) mood, she'll pretend not to notice, which thrills them to no end as their ears turn red and pointy and arrow-shaped tails emerge from above their butt holes and their eyebrows start looking like Mr. Spock's (The Vulcan, not the Doctor).
     “Go outside,” she tells Braden, who's tormenting his siblings.  Separating them can be very effective and so can sending Braden outside since he hates it even though there's tons of fun things to do like sweep the garage and wash the car.
     Five minutes later, I still hear his voice inside, and it's obvious he's progressed to unanesthetized surgery.
     “What did Mom tell you to do?” I shout from my room, not wanting to go outside and get a coronary or stroke because that would just make my knotted stomach feel inferior to its overachieving sibling organs.
     “Go outside,” Braden slurs out.
     This is when Deanne shouts at him and I hear him stomp out and I can tell he's fuming, showing utter contempt for our unreasonable authority.
     It doesn't bother me, though, because discipline has to hurt to be effective.  This is what makes discipline similar to vengeance but not because when he hurts, I hurt worse (sometimes).  So if I don't hurt or even enjoy seeing him stew in his own juices that doesn't mean I'm a sicko sadist, it just means he's bluffing to get back at us—sort of like a game of poker in which everyone adopts serious miens, secretly rejoicing their strong hands, though ours will always be strongest since we're the parents and can do with him whatever we want as long as no one finds out about it, thank God.
     No, what bothers me about discipline is Deanne's lackadaisical attitude that makes me out to be the bad guy every time.
     I remind her again and again of the need for consistency—the kids only behave when I'm around and if she would just discipline consistently for two weeks they wouldn't misbehave ever again.  She says, “Yes, Tim,” and I can tell she means it.
     But nothing changes.  Or at least not within two weeks.  Because she's not consistent enough.  At least not when I'm not around.  I know this because I catch Jaren whining—a big no-no—in a half-whisper to her, hoping I won't hear.  And this happens again and again and again.  And he's already six years old!
     I rationalize that her inconsistency is virtue:  she's modeling mercy, grace, and forgiveness (lets see Heidi Klum do that) of which we all need massive doses now and then.  If she were exactly like me the kids might be well-behaved all the time, but eventually grow up stiff and distant—strict model citizens, true—but lacking in love and compassion.  I'm also fearful that my strictness could break their spirits, so her laxity is a nice counterbalance that gives them room to breathe and act up like normal kids with snotty attitudes (while also giving me an easy “out” if things turn out not-so-hot).  Parenting like life, after all, requires balance and perspective.
     Though I complain, I must admit God has blessed me with a wonderful family, including Braden, a boy with a good heart and not an evil bone in his body.  But embedded within such virtuous body parts lies a bad, horrible, stinking lazy attitude that's about as responsible as roach crap.
     He does a sloppy job with the dishes.
     Discipline:  He gets to do all the dinner dishes for the coming week—obviously he just needs more practice.
     We discover through his social studies teacher who made him print out his grades-to-date and show them to us that Braden's gotten recent horrid grades that make our hair fall out (when we yank at their roots in frustration.)
     What's with teachers giving out mid-quarter results to or e-mailing parents these days?  (We refused to give him our e-mail address because Braden's school work is his responsibility, not ours.)  My teachers never contacted my parents mid-quarter or ever except through report cards.  (Even after I got a D once in fifth grade social studies from Mrs. Horaguchi, whom I once had a crush on—operative word here is had, because I could fill in the blank U.S. map with only thirty-two states, I just hid the thing and that was that.  That was my worst grade ever throughout my academic career that I can recall, though my memory's been lately going...)  And here's Braden getting C's and D's, and even an F for not turning in an assignment until very late and he didn't even follow-up the way he was supposed to by redoing them all and checking to make sure they were all B quality or better.
     Decisively, I have him hand write a five-page essay explaining what happened, what caused it, what he felt, and what he will do in the future to make sure it never happens again, then type it up with no spelling or grammatical errors, then attach my note requesting the teacher to sign-off on the accuracy of Braden's statements, then turn them in and show me the teacher's response.  Plus redo all the sub-par work for the teacher to critique.  Plus do all the chores for a week and remain in time out for a day.
     Then, because she's a glutton for punishment (mine, not hers) Deanne the following weekend (and for the first time ever) checks his on-line Jupiter grades (I told her never to do this because it's his responsibility, not ours) only to discover F's in other classes for assignments not turned in within the past week!
     She disciplines him by saying no scouting that Friday.   I say that's nothing to him and give him all the chores for a month plus one week time-out outside, plus letters for the two teachers to sign like before.  One of the letter reveals a lie.  He had told me upon questioning that everyone had gotten F's for not turning in their English reading logs because the teacher hadn't passed out the blank reading log forms beforehand.  Yet the letter describes others turning in their reading logs on time while he watched dismayed.  (These logs are due every week; he could've asked for a blank form or used a blank sheet of paper; his explanation was dismembered roach parts.)  So at that point I tack on an additional month of dish washing.  (I hate dish washing.  So does he.  Perfect discipline!)
     I tell Braden (an eighth grader) that the way things stand (his continued bad attitude and irresponsibility even after repeated discipline—this has been going on since grade school) I don't consider him college material anymore.  We're not going to expend all the money we've saved to date—billions of dollars that will one day cover perhaps a couple weeks of his college tuition at an affordable in-state university—only to have him squander that golden opportunity with continued lame, I-don't-care attitudes and that if he intends to do that, I may as well blow it all right now on a Canon, Nikon, or Leica digital SLR with full-frame sensor plus lens kit on sale used on e-bay so that I can photograph for his benefit all his current cute antics on film (actually temporal bits and bytes stored in electronic format upon reliable storage media that become damaged and permanently inaccessible every other day).  Henceforth, it's up to him to prove us wrong.  If he starts getting straight A's, fixing his bed every morning, and discovering the cure for congressional ineptitude, we may reconsider.  If he needs help with school work, he's old enough to ask us, teachers, classmates, friends at church—whomever.  And I convince him the chores he's doing are good.  Without a college degree, he'll probably end up working menial jobs just like it—all honorable, nothing to be ashamed of, and work that can't be outsourced to China or India (at least not yet, mainly because they pay too little.)
     And I say to him in closing if he just does things right the first time every time, he won't ever have to deal with this stuff again.
     He says, “Yes, Dad.”
     And Deanne agrees never to check his on-line Jupiter grades again.
     Best of all, I think he's slowly starting to catch on.  (And when I say slowly, I mean in a race against a glacier, he'd lose.  Unless it was a retreating glacier, in which case he'd win—assuming he crosses the finish line before the onset of the next ice age.)  But at other times, I get the distinct impression that to him, it's all just a game.  And as long as he gets a nice hot meal to enjoy in quiet comfort at the end of every day, he's happy, despite the walls crumbling in around him that only we can see.
     I tell Deanne, maybe that's how God wants us to be.  We have enough; shouldn't we content ourselves with that?
     Braden is a good kid that has taught me a lot.  And I love him dearly.  But his lack of regard still sometimes gets to me like roach eggs stuck to the insides of my underwear.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


     In a way, it's much more demanding raising one child than three.
     Here's why:  When Braden was an only child, chores tripled (conservative estimate) compared to what they had been before due to changing diapers; laundering his soiled clothes and cleaning cloths; sterilizing bottles; preparing formula; and holding, burping, feeding, talking to, picking up after, bathing, dressing, transporting, and photographing him while trying to figure out why he cried so often.  Things eased a bit after he began sleeping through the night and didn't have to be fed or cleaned quite so frequently, but then again we couldn't leave him unattended for very long because he kept getting into trouble—even in our tiny baby-proofed apartment.  (He crawled everywhere, toppled over, banged his head, and put anything—including dead roaches—into his mouth.)
     When he reached age three, we had Penelope—the dearest, sweetest bundle of joy ever.  Rarely cried—and when she did, it sounded more like gentle gurglings than urgent pleas, unlike Braden's screeching wails that made us fear the neighbors would call Child Protective Services on us.  (Trust me, he didn't cry because of us, he cried in spite of us, a colicky baby that pushed the limits of the definition.  Never have I heard a baby cry anywhere near as loud or persistent.  And this all started from three days old when we first took him home from the hospital.  When he grew a bit older and I held him to my chest during his inconsolable fits, I plugged my near-side ear with a fingertip to prevent permanent hearing loss.  Plugging his ears was out of the question as it sent his pitch and volume that much higher, exasperated shrieks unimaginable.  He'd cry so loud and so long—an hour, say—that his voice turned hoarse.  Exhausted, he'd finally yawn and fall into deep, lost-to-the-world sleep, easing our jungled nerves for the next few hours if we were lucky.  Full disclosure:  He has a genetic disorder that I am convinced caused his infant fussiness.  There was and is no treatment or cure for it so it's our job to accommodate the best we can.  He outgrew the incessant fussiness after several months and has grown mostly normal since.)
     As much because we needed their help as to build their characters, we assigned them chores early, starting with straightening up after themselves, fixing their beds, getting dressed, attending to their personal hygienes (although potty training took awhile for the older two, especially Braden), and busing their own dishes to the sink.  Then as they grew, we added folding laundry; wiping the table; sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping the floor; and emptying the rubbish.  Additional chores a few years later included dish washing; setting the table; preparing certain dishes (cooking rice in the automatic cooker, making and serving milk from milk powder, preparing ramen with condiments, washing lettuce for salads, and cutting fruits); opening and closing the louvers and blinds; cleaning counters; carrying in and storing groceries; hanging up and taking down the laundry; carrying heavy bags; and almost anything else we feel they are ready for and capable of doing safely, being of the mindset that there is no greater satisfaction than a job well done and the best preparation for life is for them to become independent, capable of living on their own by the time they reach age eighteen.
     After dinner is a joy now—everyone to their assigned duties:  Jaren controls the light switches and wipes the dining room table; Penelope wipes the counters and stores away the small leftovers, Braden vacuums the floors; I put away the dishes from the dish rack, stack the dirty dishes, and prepare the soapy water; Deanne scrubs the dirty cookware, cleans the stove, and puts away the spices; and dish washing gets done by whoever's turn it is.  (Often enough, it's Braden or Penelope due to discipline for misbehavior.) 
     Whereas Deanne and I might have taken forty-five minutes to do a thorough after-dinner clean up, now we're usually done and out in less than half that time and sometimes in less than five minutes.
     Not to suggest that it's easier raising more kids than less—it's not, it's far more complicated.  As my friend Norm said, “As your children mature, the demands on your personal time lessen, but that doesn't mean things get any easier.  New challenges arise that need addressing.  And these are always changing.”  When I asked him for specifics, he mentioned character development issues such as honesty, work ethic, self-image, dealing with feelings and friends and mean people and other age-specific growth issues ranging from stranger anxiety to opposite gender parent attraction.
     Which reminds me of the teen years—I can see them coming.  (Actually they've already arrived—early for both Braden and Penelope—though maybe what we've seen to date were mere minor tremors before the big ones yet to come). 
     Remembering my teen years, I cringe.  If theirs are anything like mine were, then we're in for a rough ride.  (Well, not that rough.)  But I'm hopeful.  A Christian counselor once said that all the hard work raising children right when they're young pays off during their teen years when things are relatively smooth sailing.  We'll see.  At the least, those years should be interesting.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pity the Rich, Famous, and Idle!

     A wise man once said, “The two greatest burdens in life are time and money, and the unhappiest of all mortals are those with an excess of either."  I’d add a third to that:  fame.
     I don’t envy the rich, famous, or idle in the least.  I’d literally die from stress and boredom if I had to live the stereotypical rich, famous, and idle’s shallow, meaningless life.  I’m sure a lot of people would say I could get used to that.  But no, the truth is most sweet, innocent people can’t, at least not happily—just look at lottery winners, Elvis Presley, Princess Di, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Michael Jackson, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour Hoffman—the list goes on and on.  I’m sure they all started out happy enough, but somewhere along the way it got to them.  I’m certain they would all have lived happier lives as unknowns, working common, middle-class jobs, concentrating on family and friends first, perhaps indulging in a hobby or two, and giving selflessly to charities and helping those in need.  Versus life at the top, with no one to trust, feeling torn by all the hangers-on, imprisoned by the damning press and deranged stalkers, alienated by envious or judgmental friends and relatives, ever fearful of betrayal and losing it all, and struggling to contain an over-inflated ego.  As Elizabeth Taylor said, “Fame is just awful.  You lose all your privacy.  There are millions of other jobs—choose any one of them.  No one is forcing you to become a star.”
     Brook Lee is Hawaii’s very own Miss Universe 1997 (sure doesn’t seem that long ago).  She looked cute, innocent, and spoke clear and vibrant—absolutely gorgeous in the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, both well-deserved wins.  A year later, she appeared in some pop news show as a lead-in announcer and looked awkward, ill at ease, and uncomfortable in her own skin, striking unnatural poses as if to say, “I don’t want to do this, it’s not me, they made me do it.”  Her skin’s freshness was gone, there were bags under her eyes, and her All-American charm had seemingly transformed to Hollywood-wannabe-desperate.  I turned to Deanne, my newly wedded wife, and said, “You look better than Miss Universe.”  And I meant it.  After a pause, I shook my head and said, “I hope she’s alright.”  Now I don’t know what caused the obvious one-year turnaround, whether personal, professional, or otherwise, but I suspect the fame of being the supposed Most Beautiful Woman in the World and perhaps Hollywood-type success pressures had a lot to do with it.  I wished her well and still do.  And am I ever glad Deanne never won Miss South-East Asia or Ms. Universe.  Had she done so, I might instead be Mister Brook Lee today.  (Just kidding.) 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Competitive Sports

     I grew up pushed into competitive sports, had great fun with them early on, and took for granted their benefits and inevitability in nearly every boy's life until twelve years ago when my college buddy Norm said he was agonizing over which extracurricular activities to sign his kids up for.  I suggested baseball, soccer—.
     He said, “Ehhh.  I'm trying to avoid organized competitive sports.”
     Stupefied, I asked, “Why?”
     He said, “The sports themselves aren't the problem.  It's the everything else that goes along with them that are bad.”
     I thought a moment.  “Like bad coaching?”  I had had baseball coaches in Pony League that made it a point at times to ridicule my ineptitude and awkwardness.  I was a pitcher used only once or twice a season against Panaewa—the worst team in the league.  At a practice once, we held a scrimmage with me pitching and they bluffed steals while I was in the stretch.  (“Stretch” means the pitcher is standing sideways to the batter with his back foot on or immediately in front of the white rubber board (called a “rubbber”) on the pitcher's mound.  While in the stretch, if there are runners on base, any sort of jerky movements of shoulders by the pitcher without a throw to either home or to one of the bases is considered a balk—allowing each base runner to advance freely to the next base.  Pitchers may make all the jerky movements they want or chase after runners if they first “step off the mound” by stepping their rearward foot backwards a few inches to a position behind the rubber.)  As I peered over at Coach A or B at first or second base, he'd suddenly bound off in a mad dash toward the next base.  Alarmed over the eminent steal (whereby the base runner moves to the next base before getting tagged out with a gloved ball), I jerked around to get a better look to see what I should do next—throw to my teammate on first, second, or third base, or give chase on foot.  I balked every time.  Kyle shouted, “When you're in trouble, step off the mound!”  I nodded and yet, whenever it happened, I jerked.  “Balk!” Kyle shouted while his sidekick Doug shook his head with disdain.  “What are you supposed to do when you're in trouble?”
     “Step off the mound,” I mumbled.
     “Step off the mound!”
     “OK.  Try again.”
     Jumpy, I went back into the stretch and peered over only to see him jerk right in a feint, then take off like the Road Runner.  I was so jumpy by then that all my movements appeared jerky.  Balk!
     Kyle had me spend the rest of the afternoon in the dugout shouting, “When I'm in trouble I will step off the mound.”  Humiliated, I eventually mumbled the mindless phrase, only to have Kyle shout, “I can't hear you!”
     Decades later, I realized this was awful coaching.  (They also insisted that everyone hit off their front foot—the foot nearest the pitcher—with a pronounced weight shift that way—bad advice.  And they never let me pitch submarines—low deliveries—or knuckle balls—my best pitches.) 
     The reason I kept balking is I had never before stepped off the mound.  No one had taught me how or why I should do it or when or had me even attempt it.  Virtually all sports involve calling upon “muscle memory”—skills ingrained through repetition, until they become so familiar, they're second nature.  A good free throw shooter in basketball concentrates only on the basket and executing set ritual—everything else comes automatically via muscle memory.  What Kyle should have done was take me out of the scrimmage (and its attendant pressures to win or not embarrass myself) and have Doug tutor me on the side lines.  Doug should have had me step off an imaginary rubber dozens of times from the stretch until it felt sooo comfortable, I practically enjoyed it.  Except for the rare blessed few, all new sports skills feel awkward and uncomfortable at first.  I never, ever got over that discomfort and never, ever stepped off a mound during a real game or practice.  (Thank God no one ever bluffed or attempted a steal while I was in the stretch again.) 
     Getting back to my conversation with Norm, he responded, “The bad coaching; the must-win, beat-the-opponent-to-a-pulp at all costs mentality; the star-worship; the bad actors; the bad parents; the bad attitudes; the only-the-best-get-to-play priorities; the politics; the favoritism; the bullying, put-downs, and hazing; the conceitedness;... need more?”
     I saw his point.  Even though I had witnessed all these first-hand as a player, I had never before thought of them as faults.  They had all just seemed part of the game and culture and therefore inevitable for anyone who played.
     Reflecting back, I remembered my years post-Little League when due to my ineptitude I rarely got to play, and even the Little League year when I was assigned to the second-rate team that consisted of all the lousy players, unable to make the first-rate team that eventually had all of my most talented classmates.
     And I also remembered witnessing during games some of the most disgraceful parental behavior ever—fortunately in games in which I wasn't playing (because I was too lousy to be in championship games the really mattered—one of the few benefits of being less talented).  The Little League championship game (which featured the first-rate team I was too lousy to make) was temporarily suspended over a near riot precipitated by an umpire's errant call in the last inning.  It took minutes for most in the stands to quit hooting and hollering and even then, a team manager had to step out of the dug out onto the playing field and point out and shout down the most demonstrative of his player's parents, shaming him and others to finally sit and settle down.  Although play resumed, the atmosphere was charged with an uncomfortable tension—rare in sleepy, laid back Hilo.  As a side-note, my dad recently told me that a lot of the stars from that game have not done so well as adults—some were in and out of prison, some battled addictions, one died in a tragic accident, others were unemployed, divorced, or had other legal problems.  His point was that although they seemed so all-together back then, there may have been hidden problems that we only found out about later.  I said I doubt their problems related to their playing. He said no, but we held them in such high esteem, unaware of what would eventually befall them.
     And I remembered getting tormented by an older teammate in Colt League who even mocked me repeatedly during a game allowing fans in the stands to hear.  After that season, I quit.  It's amazing I lasted as long as I had.  In my last few years I averaged about zero hits and two strike-outs per game and all season I got on base twice, both on walks, and played in less than half the games.  As a second base in-fielder, I averaged about an error per game.
     At our Big Island high school championship basketball game, which Hilo High won, the awards ceremony was canceled over fear of riot.  One delusional parent taunted Hilo High supporters by gesturing dismissal of Hilo High's win and repeatedly signaled St. Joseph's number one status, shaking her head to their boos, shouts, finger points toward the score board, and jeers.
     In hindsight, I don't believe I gained any of the reputed benefits ascribed to team sports:  confidence, leadership ability, teamwork, work ethic, sense of belonging, or discipline.  Well, to be fair, there may have been times when baseball did help build my character, but, in general, there were far more avoidable negatives than there were only-available-through-competitive-organized-sports positives.
     Regarding our children’s participation, today's youth competitive sports teams can be very time-consuming—for both them and us, what with practices, games, travel times, pot lucks, snacks, refreshments, and set-ups and take-downs.  Since none of them have expressed interest or shown unmistakable natural athletic talent, we have yet to enroll them.  Sure, they (and we) miss out on some of the fun and excitement of doing well and maybe winning an award or two, but then again, they also “miss out” on the early disillusionment and ego issues and exposure to all-too-frequent bad behaviors and attitudes, including excessive pressures and unrealistic expectations.  Though they do lead lives less activity-filled than others, they’re fine with it and so are we.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Budget Travel

     As an accountant, I am aware that there are three things that are impossible for our middle income family to save enough for: our children's college educations, my retirement, and long-term health care insurance. But we try to do our best with the former two. As for the latter, in my opinion, only the extremely wealthy can afford it. (The only “affordable” long-term health care insurance plans cover approximately five years of nursing care—hardly long-term—which would only delay the inevitable spend-down of personal assets before Medicare kicks in.)
     And because we've lived for years with a five percent salary reduction due to The Great Recession (full pay recently got restored) our family has limited our travels to occasional outer-island trips of two or three nights each. The last time we traveled out-of-state as a family was to Seattle over five years ago. (Deanne did recently fly back twice to East Asia—once to visit her ill dad, the other for his funeral.)
     So to get the most out of our short stays, we packed frozen veggies and precooked rice; Cheerios; powder milk; empty water bottles; home-made scones; and preheated lunch boxes (sans meat) in our carry-ons, plus breakfast to eat before boarding the plane (we caught the low-fare first flights out at 5:30 a.m., which were still expensive compared to a few short years ago.) Each family member self-packed his or her own carry-on with clothes, toiletries, swim gear, a few plastic grocery bags (for wet clothes, dirty laundry, or footwear), and other necessities, all stuffed in a large plastic bag to keep things clean, dry, and organized. Upon arrival at our destination, we filled our water bottles, picked up our rental car, dropped off our luggage at the hotel front desk for safekeeping until check-in, then headed straight to a supermarket for fresh fruits for succeeding days' breakfasts, and luncheon meat and poke (seasoned raw fish) as supplemental proteins for our lunches and dinners. Sight-seeing followed with planned stops before noon to pick up a hearty protein (gourmet pizza, local beef burgers, or lunch counter entree) for takeout and to eat along with our pre-packed lunch boxes at a relaxing scenic spot. More sight-seeing and activities followed until late afternoon when we again picked up a protein (whole roasted chicken, ethnic or local food, or ribs) from somewhere affordable and tasty.
     Checked into the hotel room, we heated our rice and veggies in the microwave, ate dinner, cleaned up, bathed, and prepared for the following day, in which we basically followed the previous day's pattern.
     Another thing that helped our family to stay on budget were comprehensive daily itineraries, detailed to quarter hour increments including travel times, destinations, directions, restaurants, bathroom breaks, down-times, meals, relaxation, and play, which we followed and revised as necessary as the vacation progressed. Such scheduling avoided wasted time and frustration looking for fun, suitable, and inexpensive take-out food; play and rest areas; sight-seeing stops; and driving directions.
     We sought free activities and destinations that included something for everyone, seeing and doing things unique to the locale and with perhaps special historical, personal, or cultural significance. Thus, we avoided generic eateries, shopping malls, and activities such as bounce houses, movies, or water parks.
     Internet sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor (among the internet's finest) generated excellent suggestions. The first-hand accounts of visitors and their photos can get overwhelming to review, however, due to dozens of conflicting opinions written in anywhere from wonderful to awful English, and hundreds of photos burdensome to click through to find just the one with the information you're looking for (menu, shoreline access, parking area, scenery, safety, navigability). But discovering hidden gems that even I, a lifetime Hawaii resident, had never seen or heard of before, got me excited well before the trip.
     On Kauai, there were the swinging bridge, Lindsgate Park, Kokee, Taro Ko Factory, Kalalau Trail, Poipu Beach, Ke'e Beach, and Hanalei Pier.
     On Molokai there were the farmer's market, Halawa, Murphy Beach, The Kite Factory, Three Mile Beach overlook, Dixie Maru beach, and One Alii Fishpond.
     On Maui there were Kanaio, Makawao, Kepaniwai Park, Kapalua Labyrinth and Village and Beach trails, and Spreklesville Beach.
     On Hawaii there were Laupahoehoe park, Kalopa, Kapoho, Honokaa, Kamuela, Keaukaha, and Panaewa.
     All of the above—free of charge—provided among the best these islands had to offer. Of course we also visited the more famous low-cost destinations too, such as superlative Waimea Canyon, Haleakala, and Volcanoes National Park.
     But the best part was seeing the kids excited doing something new—exploring Dry Cave; hiking summit and coastal trails; fishing off the state's longest pier; walking a swaying bridge in high gusting winds; eating live opihi (limpets); catching misty sprays in their mouths at overlooks; chasing kite shadows in the sand; knocking low hanging coconuts off trees with pebbles; drinking the sweet, acrid water from these coconuts; petting wild horses that approached on their own; running through huge wooden playgrounds; lying in ocean-side hammocks; leading us through ancient ohia forest trails; climbing high up ironwood trees; and sleeping overnight in a backyard tent hitched at Grandma and Grandpa's house.
     Notwithstanding their inconvenience and expense, these trips were well worth it. We learned a lot, bonded, made lasting memories, worked as a team, and enjoyed every last minute of them. All islands were beautiful and special, but being averse to crowds and traffic, I probably enjoyed them in reverse order of their population densities: Molokai first, then Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui in that order.
     Thumb nail sketches: Molokai—deserted paradise; friendly, generous people who love to talk. Melt into the surrounding lassitude. Hawaii—pockets of interest among vast, unchanging landscapes. Fun to drive. Laid-back. Primitive feel encourages introspection. Kauai—fun with lots to see and do outdoors. Best beaches. Great, unfolding vistas. Maui—beautiful horses on Haleakala, wild nene geese, and awesome views of neighbor islands Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokini. Best air for workouts.
     FYI: all inclusive, each trip totaled less than one thousand two hundred dollars, the vast majority of which went to airfares, accommodations, rental car, gas, and airport parking.