Hope, forgiveness, dancing and the carnival


The time spent with my nearly-4-year-old becomes more and more important to me. For whatever reason, I seem to make constant note of it now.

Perhaps that’s a symptom of being a single dad. Or that I incessantly hear from others to “enjoy the time now because it flies by.” That’s a truth I am still learning.

My daughter is a very “scheduled” individual. And, again, part of that is growing up in two different households. If she could write (or had a iPhone) I could very well see her taking down her social, school and grandma schedules throughout the day. She often asks me, multiple times, where we are headed, what we are doing and whom we might see along the way.

On the particular Saturday, her social father had set a rigorous schedule – the Lee’s Summit Farmers Market for pumpkins, Blue Springs Fall Fun Fest and then to New Longview for the art festival. One of those events, in Blue Springs, included the word “carnival.” So, of course, that was the topic of the week leading up to Saturday.

Sept. 13 was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside doing anything. That I got to spend it with a kiddo that, at the mere mention of games and rides goes berserk, made it even better.

Of course, as with any 3-turning-4-year-old, there are challenges. For her and for me.

Listening in a big crowd is secondary to just darting off and looking at the next shiny, new thing in front of you. Oh to be that age and mesmerized so easily again. I should learn to embrace that rather than be as much of a helicopter dad.

A few minutes (or more like 15 or better) in the bouncy house cures a lot of father-daughter ills, however. Addy went in like a tornado and held her own against the older boys. She even stopped occasionally to press her face against the mesh, call out for my attention, and tell me she loved me. I don’t know how long I get to have those moments with her, but I will take every single one.

A few rides and games of popping balloons with dull darts later, and we were off to our next stop in New Longview.

Taking a child to an art fair is probably not on the top of the list for some parents, but the music and creativity are always something I want to expose Addy to.

Before we could take it in, she spotted the Poppy’s Ice Cream truck. So, three bucks later, she had her chocolate scoop on a cone. As she devoured her treat, A.J. Young was entertaining the sparse crowd with some catchy jams. As soon as the ice cream disappeared, the music took over Addy’s soul.

“Dada, dance with me. Dance with me!”

Her pleas fell on deaf ears for a minute or two. As I was talking to Summit Theatre Group President Ben Martin, I was content with watching Addy dance while the adults sat by and watched. But I couldn’t say no for long.

Addy dragged me to the area in front of the stage and we proceeded to incorporate some of my best moves, twirls, leg kicks and other “dancing” arrangements.

What’s amazing about my daughter, and in watching the other children, was that they simply didn’t care. The music moved them, so they moved back. I just love that about her. Her spirit. Her ability to be carefree.

I began to feel like my irritation with some of the petty things I called her on throughout the day just melt away. How do I balance being a dad, having fun and still parenting with a purpose?

I’m still a work in progress in that regard.

And my Addy, she just loves me unconditionally. She gives me hope that I will always take her hand to dance and always be able to be her protector and her guardian.

Even through the time-outs, stern talks and a few tears, she reaches out to hug me and asks if I am OK.

She gives me hope like no other. Through carnival smiles, public displays of dancing and simple gestures of love.

My Adaline Sophia turns 4 next week. Happy birthday. You’ve given me 2,190 days of of adventure and I can’t wait to see what is to come.

All that’s different since 9/11

I often think of how we would have looked at the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on our country had we been immersed with social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.

Information, right, wrong or speculative, certainly would have been in front of us in a much quicker fashion. We would have most likely had many more angles of the planes hitting the towers and probably even better footage of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. With that flow of information, however, would have come even more images that were agonizing for many of us.

Even with the flow of information that day, we were mostly sparred the really graphic images of those caught up in the carnage. Today, it would likely be a lot different. What we consumed on a tragedy of that scale would be 10-fold today. And it would be even tougher to erase those images from our conscious.

How we record history is just one of many ways we look at the world differently after 9/11.

Tall buildings, air travel, security – all of it took on a completely different meaning in our minds from Sept. 12, 2001 through today and beyond.

I went to Facebook this week to ask people what has changed in their worlds and I got some fascinating responses.

Briefly, for me, travelling by air has been the toughest change of all for me.

My anxiety regarding flying the friendly skies has skyrocketed since 9/11.

Katy Kelly Lautzenhiser can relate: “Today, I get extremely anxious flying, to the point of taking Dramamine before boarding to escape sickness-induced fear. Simply approaching TSA Security evokes a panic of harassment, or unjustified guilt.”

The little things annoy us – TSA, liquid containers, longer lines, pat-downs.

And then there are those things we are not supposed to openly discuss or question, things that make us uneasy at the airport, or on the plane, or, quite simply, just a vibe we get.

Every person that stands up during a flight is looked at a little longer. Every interaction with a fellow passenger a little less cordial.

The change in air travel procedures ranked on many lists as a big post-9/11 change.

“Even 13 years later, every day air travelers are impacted by the increased security measures that took effect due to 9/11, whether it be the shoes you choose to wear because you’ll have to take them off, the liquids/lotions in your suitcase, whether you put something in a carry-on bag or in checked baggage, etc., not to mention the TSA agents, the random bag checking, earlier check-in, increased emphasis on correct documentation … ” – Darla Hall

Referencing Martha Boyd, a trauma expert with TMC-Lakewood Counseling Services in Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit resident Sage Norbury agreed the visual trauma has stuck with us, noting: “I believe that we are suffering from ‘societal PTSD.’ Our subconscious minds couldn’t tell the difference between the first time the plane hit the building and the 389th time (when we incessantly watched the replays). I see trauma signs in the majority of my patients, but most of them never even think of it like that.”

Friend and fellow journalist James Dornbrook, a reporter with the Kansas City Business Journal, noted his increased appreciation for what our fire and police do on a daily basis. A wise observation amid the travel talk.

Chris Drake, a childhood friend, said: “I am even more cautious of my surroundings than I ever was no matter the date, time or area. Always on alert. It occasionally gets tiresome but I refuse to be a victim or caught off guard. Can’t let evil win. I have people who depend on me.”

Another childhood friend, Jim McCollum, noted his caution when he sees a plane overhead, wondering if that aircraft is in control and will it land. I would have thought that unreasonable pre-9/11. Not now.

I was particularly moved by this statement from Pat Larkin from Blue Springs. Pat really brings it back to what is important, saying: “Coming from New Jersey, right across the river, I think of my family more and more. I now never end a conversation without saying I love you. It was a scary day for all of us, had one nephew ready to get on a plane to California, friends in NY. I grew up watching those towers being built, it broke my heart to see them go down.”

A fellow journalism peer and now a fantastic teacher of future journalists, Christina Paulsell Geabhart brought an interesting point of view on the history of 9/11 and her students: “For my seniors, it was their sophomore year, some saw it classrooms. For others, It happened during their upper elementary and middle school years. They watched that news unfold uncensored by parents oftentimes.
Now students don’t seem to grasp the magnitude. They were infants or toddlers and never knew it happened between Elmo and Dora. It’s just another note in the history books for them.”

And mirroring that love for her family, my friend Shannan Godley Cunniffe had a particularly astute look at it: “Our lives are so fragile – they could turn on a dime in an instant. I think about my children, and how as their steward – their protector – it is my duty to shelter them as much as possible, to let them know they are loved unconditionally, to try as much as possible to give them the kind of childhood that I had – filled with innocence and joy and laughter – not the worry and stress and horror that comes with an event like 9/11. Who would have ever imagined? How could we have?”

Amen Shann. And thank you all for sharing.

I believe that in that sharing, we all continue to heal.

9/11 coverage probably keeps the wounds open

Everyone recognizes the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on our country in different ways. The emotions run the gamut.

Some hit the gym. Others go about their work day with some notice of the news. And a few of us watch the re-broadcast of the day “as it happened” on MSNBC and subsequent 9/11 specials on The History Channel and NatGeo.

The commercial airplanes, Flights 11 and 175, careening into the towers, over, and over, and over, and over. Then the towers crumbling into lower Manhattan. The Pentagon. Americans with no options left, above the impact zones, jumping to their deaths 90 stories below.

I began to ask myself, “why do I put myself through this every year?”

The story was powerful to me, as it was to all Americans, in the minutes, hours and days after those two planes purposefully flew into the World Trade Center. As a journalist parading around as an advertising representative for the Blue Springs Examiner, there was no bigger story I would ever cover, even if it was from thousands of miles away.

Watching on a small television in our conference room, I saw the second plane hit and both towers fall as these events unfolded. My reactions were raw, powerful, emotional. And as we gathered as a journalism organization, many of us knew this was a story for the ages. Something we would carry for a lifetime.

The problem is, some people have carried it for 13 years, the images viewed over and over never going away. Imagining the pain and suffering of ravenous fires inside a building, life-and-death decisions and hearing the voices filled with anguish on the voice mail of loved ones.

Martha Boyd, a clinical supervisor and trauma recovery therapy expert at TMC-Lakewood Counseling Services in Lee’s Summit, can relate. Unlike many of us covering the story from the Midwest, Boyd knew someone in the towers that day. Her association to 9/11 had a face. A name.

Boyd and her friend, whom she’d worked with on non-profit projects for many years, had just attended a Chiefs game the Sunday prior to Sept. 11, 2001. On Monday, her friend got on a plane for New York.

On Tuesday, she died in Tower 2.

Boyd says the “multiple exposures” we all take in from that day leads to stress and strain.

“People didn’t have to be in New York. They become traumatized by the exposure and the continued exposure of this horrific event. The reason everyone gets re-triggered, our minds were not capable of processing it, so our minds get stuck.”

There was never a trace of Boyd’s friend recovered from Ground Zero. No closure. But Boyd doesn’t dwell on that. While seeing the images on the anniversary and throughout the years can trigger emotional and other traumas, Boyd chooses to focus on the positive memories of her friend.

From a professional point of view, immersing in the images of 9/11 isn’t a healthy habit. For me, talking to Boyd gave me an even greater perspective on the residual effects of what I was viewing on TV – that my daughter Addy, even in the midst of playing with her dolls and toys, was taking it in, too.

I found myself giving her a very small portion of information about planes hitting buildings, thinking that I was sharing information about a crucial piece of our nation’s history. Addy began to ask questions about people in the towers, how long ago it happened and about her cousin Mimi, who, today in 2014, lives outside of New York City. I explained that this happened long before Mimi lived in New York and, clearly cognizant of her acute awareness of the gravity of what was on TV, changed the station and let her know that many people got out of the buildings OK and went home to see their families.

Over the last few days, Addy has asked again about the buildings and the airplanes.

Boyd’s message was heard loud and clear: “Parents need to be mindful and not have children watching it. It will traumatize them.”

Some day, I will show Addy the newspapers from Sept. 12, 2001.

And my hope is there is a time when many of us can break away from the images. While I realize there is a journalistic responsibility to airing the coverage, I also know there is a human responsibility many of us have not to be consumed and continually affected by it.

Not a Billy Goat bluff


Part of any successful local, county or regional economic development plan focuses on many aspects of recruitment and retention.

The latter tends to be under-appreciated. But my goodness is it vital.

Recently, it came to light that Billy Goat Industries – a professional lawn care manufacturer that has called Lee’s Summit home for 45 years and is locally owned by Will Coates – had retained a consulting firm to look at its best options for a future home and warehouse location.

Even a rudimentary look at that simple fact tells us immediately that, at the very least, the company is exploring options for leaving town. With 100 employees and plans to add up to 10 a year for the next five years, that’s the kind of thing that gets on the radar of city leaders real quickly.

Billy Goat is located on South 291 past the U.S. 50 interchange.

Reportedly, other municipalities, including Pleasant Hill, have offered economic incentives to get Billy Goat to pick up and leave. And while those are always tempting offers for companies (see the ongoing border war between Kansas and Missouri) it is always a lengthy process and long road down that path from “interest” to actual “moving” for a company.

Picking up and moving any large operation or manufacturing facility takes an investment of time, money and, surely, patience.

Specifically for Billy Goat, Lee’s Summit, possibly Cass County and neighboring cities that would want to boast housing a known commodity in worldwide lawn care, the prospects of gaining or losing a company of this magnitude become immediately clear.

Pleasant Hill, which houses its economic development department under the city, gains a tax base and jobs, not to mention the build out on the new warehouse, while reportedly offering some Enterprise Enhancement Zone incentives to get them to move. Remember, too, Lee’s Summit balked at approving EEZ measures previously.

If Lee’s Summit gets them to stay, it preserves 100-plus jobs, keeps a tax base of over $100,000 (total for all municipalities) and adds another $110,000, approximately, in new tax revenue.

Discussions on incentives include Chapter 100 bonds and a 75 percent tax abatement over 10 years, not to mention improves on Jefferson Street around the Billy Goat complex.

The Lee’s Summit City Council voiced support at the Sept. 4 meeting for keeping Billy Goat in town and vowed to look at all plans to make that work at its Oct. 2 meeting. They also heard directly from Coates and the new President of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, Rick McDowell. McDowell, only on the job for 30 days, reiterated what many in the council chambers already knew – that keeping Billy Goat in Lee’s Summit should be considered at the top of their priority list.

In the meantime, in the competitive environment of economic development, it will be interesting to see what Pleasant Hill or others come up to to try and lure the manufacturer away.

Stay tuned.

Rotating chiefs

Moving pieces at city hall, no matter where the city or what situation predicated the moves, are always a work in progress.

In that regard, Lee’s Summit is just as normal as any other town.

In the last week, we’ve seen the transition in and transition out of two major roles in our police and fire departments. And while shakeups like that can sometimes make a Richter Scale movement in the foundation of a city government, in Lee’s Summit we assume, and rightfully so, that services and business as usual move on smoothly.

We spent many, many months with Maj. Scott Lyons acting in the role of interim chief with Joe Piccinini retiring in January of 2014 after 30 years with the Lee’s Summit Police Department.

And although the national search for Piccinini’s replacement didn’t ultimately fall to Lyons, police services, community policing and the business of protecting and serving moved on throughout the streets and neighborhoods of Lee’s Summit. And Lyons should be lauded for his past and continued service to the LSPD and his leadership during that transition.

On Sept. 2, Travis Forbes took the helm of the LSPD, bringing a wealth of policing, tactical, drug enforcement and criminal justice experience to a town nearly the population of the one he just left, Independence.

From his start in 1992 to 2006 with Independence, Forbes worked his way through the ranks from street cop to sergeant, captain and major. In 2013, he was named the deputy chief in Independence.

What Forbes brings to Lee’s Summit is a knowledge of working crime, dealing with criminals and managing a large force. Independence, while boasting roughly 20,000 more residents, has far more instances of crimes like domestic violence and burglary than Lee’s Summit has on a year-to-year basis.

That’s not an indictment of any police action or leadership, obviously, but more a symptom of the socio-economic aspects of both towns.

Forbes ascended through the ranks in Independence for a reason, and more than one officer in that town has told me his loss from the Queen City of the Trails is the gain for Yours Truly in Lee’s Summit.

He leaves an area where community policing was ever present to one that expects a strong, visible police presence and understands the values of law enforcement as it relates to our environment. And he walks into a situation where he has the expertise of Lyons and three other majors, John Boenker, Curt Mansell and Mark Taylor – all with over 100 years of police experience under their collective belts.

And down Douglas Street to the FD HQ, the firemen can safely say the same.

Keith Martin will hang up his hat and boots on Sept. 22 after 38 years with the LSFD and hand it, for the time being, to Rick Poeschl, one of many capable and reliable assistant chiefs on the department. And Poeschl will do what Lyons did in the interim – run the department and maintain the level of service we expect.

So, like many towns around that 100,000, we find ourselves in occasional transition.

In the case of Lee’s Summit, though, we are fortunate.

Services to our community in the most crucial areas never take a break due to leadership changes and we commit ourselves to finding the absolute best to lead our forces.

Birthday madness


Perhaps the most amusing part of throwing outlandish birthdays for our children is that we openly complain about the majesty of it all to any adults within earshot throughout the course of the event.

“Can you believe we do this?” we will ask one another. “Back in our day…”

Indeed, back in our day…

Birthdays are, of course, awesome as kids, no matter how titanic or low-key the party.

Cake. Gifts. Friends. Games. I mean, come on, it’s built in fun.

My most memorable birthday as a child was the surprise I had when my mom drove me to one of the greatest places, at the time, a kid could get lucky enough to enjoy – Showbiz Pizza Place. Inside were a dozen of my best friends, my siblings and family. Oh, and wall-to-wall video games (this was the 80s so it was nonstop Mrs. Pac-Man, Moon Patrol and Donkey Kong for me), pizza and those creepy bears and other assorted animals that played in a band behind the curtain.

As an adult, now, we seemingly look for the most outrageous ways to say “happy birthday” to our children. And maybe outrageous isn’t the correct word. Certainly, though, we can agree that our parents and grandparents are most likely snickering at the massive events we are throwing today.

Addy loves a good birthday party. And a good wedding. She’s like her dad in that regard.

In the last few weeks, she’s been fortunate enough to be invited to a “princess party” for a friend’s daughter and a 1-year old extravaganza out at Legacy Park in Lee’s Summit.

The princess party, if I can look at that through the eyes of the 4-, 5-, 6-year olds, had to have been just spectacular to them. The fact that you can “rent” princesses is something that I chalked up to “things John didn’t know.” But these two ladies had captivated the room the entire time, telling stories, doing activities and giving the little girls makeovers.

Since the 1-year old wasn’t quite ready for that, the party at the park was a little more subdued, if not outright fun, still. These parents opted to entertain the adults as well as the kids, offering food and drinks and the built-in bonus of having right there in a park.

When Addy turned 2, we hit up the birthday party wonderland, Paradise Park, for that occasion.

At 3, it was a bouncy castle in my backyard and catered food from Hy-Vee East in Lee’s Summit.

Just around the corner now is 4. I am sure Addy’s mom has some fun plans up her sleeve. And it will probably involve ponies.

I am certainly not bemoaning the new world of birthdays and kiddos. I am sure this isn’t a fad that just started a few years ago. It’s just all over my radar now with a child of my own.

I told Addy recently that one of her birthdays was just going to be cake and games at the house.

She asked, “Can my friends come?”

A gentle reminder about what really matters most to them.

School’s out … past summer


Hundreds of kids are getting an extended summer break in Ferguson, Missouri.

It’s not a break they want.

While teenagers in other communities may openly scoff at the notion that Ferguson has yet to come off of summer break, the sentiment among most kids here is that, indeed, they are ready to go back to school.

Allisha and A’Nais, both 9, attend Johnson Wabash Elementary School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

Both took advantage of the open library time this week made available when school officials felt compelled to cancel classes until at least next week due to the unrest in Ferguson connected to the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown. Brown died during an altercation with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

School was actually supposed to start the week before. But was pushed back. And back. And back again.

And while the adults outside of the library work to calm the community, the children inside have a simple message – open school back up.

“Sitting at home is boring,” Allisha said, the room around her buzzing with creative and artistic energy.

Added A’Nais, “I hate it. I would rather be in school to learn.”

These are canned answers during a media blitz interview, either. These are the most candid of thoughts from the residents of Ferguson and surrounding areas that are the most affected by the turmoil.

“I went to a rally and it’s not as bad as it looks on the news,” Allisha said. “This is not a bad town. They have parties for us to go to.”

Indeed, Ferguson does much to encourage health play and children’s activities.

The city has been named to the Playful City USA program – four times, more than any other city in Missouri. The awards go to cities that take bold steps to ensure that children have easy access to a balance of active play in their communities.

Amairis, 11, is having a blast at the library on this particular day, making braids and bracelets. But she, too, misses school. And she has a most poignant message for those out on the streets.

“I want them to sit down and talk it out,” she said, a smile replaced on her face with seriousness.

Teachers and parents alike would like nothing more. Dr. Gloria and Laura, who helped bring kids in from the street corner to the library, said there is a definite void in the community with school out. And it reaches other communities, too, as the Ferguson-Florissant School District reaches into Berkeley, Florissant and touches other areas.

“We’re confused, sad, kind of resigned,” said Laura, a 24-year resident in North County and a 13-year teacher in the district. Gloria said not being in school is “disorienting.”

“The dialogue needs to start and healing needs to begin,” Laura said. “Public opinion is overriding the process.”