Remember…we reap what we sow. Sow knowledge. Sow strength. Sow courage. Sow kindness. Sow empathy. These are not mutually exclusive qualities. #besmart #bestrong #bebrave #bekind #beempathetic #beyourbestyou
Remember…we reap what we sow. Sow knowledge. Sow strength. Sow courage. Sow kindness. Sow empathy. These are not mutually exclusive qualities. #besmart #bestrong #bebrave #bekind #beempathetic #beyourbestyou
I generally refrain from commenting on social media and news outlet posts. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, just ask my husband. I simply choose not to engage in the public debate, which all too often turns ugly and counterproductive.
However, as a female, daughter, sister, wife of 33 years, mother of two sons, and aunt to 14 nieces and nephews, I cannot stand by and fail to react to the statement made on September 20, 2018 by Gina Sosa during an interview with Randi Kaye on CNN. Ms. Sosa, sitting alongside four other women, all supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court after his testimony following the sexual assault allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, made the following statement: “We’re talking about a 15-year-old girl, which I respect. I’m a woman, I respect. But we’re talking about a 17-year-old boy, in high school, testosterone running high. Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school? Please, I would like to know.”
Regardless of political affiliation or position on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, this is disturbing. It is a statement that was casually made as if it were absolute fact. In actuality, it is merely Ms. Sosa’s personal opinion. While that, in and of itself, is worrisome, what is more worrisome is the lack of public outcry or reaction. I have been waiting nearly a month now, to hear from someone, anyone, who is as irate as I am at the notion that all 17-year-old males are perpetrators of sexual assault. This unfortunate declaration normalizes behavior that is not merely unacceptable, but, in fact, criminal.
What does this suggest to 17-year-old boys? It suggests they are incapable of exercising self control due to the presence of testosterone in their bodies. Not only does such a suggestion invite dangerous repercussions, it is utter nonsense. And what does this suggest to 15-year-old girls? If they are around 17-year-old boys, they should just expect this to happen? I don’t think so!
With all we know about the devastating consequences of sexual assault, this kind of attitude must not prevail. Surely, we have not become so immune to the depiction of violence and sexual assault in the media that we are willing to accept it as expected behavior from our sons. No thank you! Not me!
Where are the males bold enough to stand up and proclaim, “Not me! I did not at the age of 17 or any other age commit sexual assault”? Where are the men willing to challenge their peers and declare the sexual objectification of females was not, is not, and never will be okay? Where are the men who are confident enough to say, “I don’t need a woman to be less of a person so I can feel more like a man?” If we truly want to prevent future generations from belonging to the #MeToo Movement, then we must include the voices of those who can proudly say, “Not me!” The grounds for starting a movement seem clear. Gentlemen, consider yourselves challenged.
That our boys have been the center of our lives, since the day we learned we were to become parents, is a well-known fact among our family and friends. For days following our return to a sonless house, we received numerous phone calls and texts to check on our condition. One neighbor brought a plate of freshly baked baklava. Another brought plants for my friendship garden. The outpouring of caring and concern has been heartwarming and prompted me to put pen to paper, (well actually, fingers to keyboard, but pen to paper sounds so much more literary), to give an honest account to those who have thoughtfully inquired as to how we are doing. This is the story behind the, “We’re fine.”
Knowing our younger son was going to leave home was a very different factuality from having him actually leave. We were fully aware that he was going to college. Last year was a flurry of writing essays, completing financial aid forms, submitting applications, and waiting for acceptance letters. The final decision was a huge relief and cause for celebration.
We took him to freshmen orientation. We attended parent informational meetings and mock classes. We toured dorm rooms and ate lunch in the cafeteria. He had a student ID made and picked up his course schedule. Throughout the day’s activities, I discreetly observed him. Witnessing his decisions, the manner in which he conducted himself, the way he interacted with and treated others, filled me with a satisfying sense of reassurance and validation. He was ready.
When Joseph invited me to go shopping for college, I jumped at the chance to accompany him. Walking alongside his graceful, 6’ 2” frame, I recalled those long-gone days, pushing him in the cart where my list was held tightly in his pint-sized fist, his gold-flecked, green eyes intent on my face as I named items and compared prices. It was gratifying to watch him looking for bargains, rather than popular trends; making selections based on recyclability and environmental friendliness; referring to his list and checking off items as they were added to the cart. A growing stack of neatly arranged college supplies occupied the corner of his room all summer. Of course he was moving out.
Throughout the summer, I took advantage of every opportunity to be with him and do things he enjoyed. We prepared his favorite meals. Vacationed on our favorite beach. Rewatched favorite TV shows and movies. All the while, my husband and I secretly collected items for a care basket to be left in his dorm room to be discovered after our departure. There was no use pretending. He was leaving home.
The few days before his departure, he went through the house looking in closets, searching shelves, rifling through drawers, deciding what to take and what to leave behind. Hopefully, he collected an abundance of pleasant memories as he wandered from room to room in this house where he’s spent a lifetime. Memories to sustain him, to remind him who he is, where he comes from, and how he is loved.
The eve of his assigned move-in day arrived. I sat on his bed keeping him company while he sorted and packed his belongings. Some of the things he chose to take surprised and moved me – several plush sea creatures, a little pocket knife keychain his brother gave him, his grandfather’s old worn cowboy hat. When he noticed the look on my face, he said, “Well, I want to make it feel like home.” He seemed to be putting a bit of each of us in his pocket to carry along with him. And we will be. With him. Always.
Filled to capacity with his plunder, the car was further laden with ambivalent anticipation during that early morning drive to campus. In spite of our attempts to create a cheerful atmosphere of normalcy, there was a lingering sensation that something momentous was afoot. Flashbacks to a comparable trip taken ten years previously, while providing some insight into what lay ahead, failed to diminish the magnitude of the current reality. Once again, we were traveling toward an inevitability that would leave each of us changed forever.
When we pulled up to the dorm, a host of friendly volunteers descended upon the car rendering the frantic unloading a jovial affair. Standing like islands in the midst of a sea of overflowing boxes, baskets, and bags, there was a moment of mild panic. How would all of this stuff ever fit in this little area? Putting his organizational skills and artistic eye to work, we went from ‘where do we start’ to ‘all done’ in record time. The final result was a space reminiscent of the one he occupies at home – a reflection of his combined passions for marine biology and the arts, a blend of mementos from the past and reminders of the present.
The remaining hours passed in somewhat of a blur. One minute we were companionably arranging his room and the next we were standing in the parking lot awkwardly avoiding the obvious. It was time to say goodbye. For weeks I’d been planning all the things I wanted to say at this moment. But all I could manage as we hugged, gazing up into his sparkling eyes was, “I’m honored to be your mother. I love you,” and sealed the sentiment with a kiss. As we pulled away, he stood there waving before turning to go back to the dorm. I watched him recede in the rearview mirror. When he heard the familiar beep, beep, beep (we love you), he turned and smiled raising his hand one last time before disappearing from view.
Suddenly all those things I’d intended to tell him came rushing back. Be good. Be mindful of your choices. Be both cautious and courageous. Seek the company of those who encourage you to be your best. Do the same for them. Avoid those who delight in your adversity or the misfortune of others. Beware of those who degrade and would destroy that which they do not have, just to prevent others from having it. Be a blessing to others. Look for the good in them. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Work hard. Use your time wisely. Ask for help if you need it. Aim for excellence. Enjoy yourself. You have a healthy conscience. Listen to it. Make yourself proud. Choose to be happy. Then I realized, he’s heard those messages all his life. Now it’s time for me to have confidence that he was listening.
I enjoyed imagining him finding the care basket we’d left in his room. Tucked inside was a message saying, “…what an emotional roller coaster it is to start something new. Take a deep breath, stand tall, and just keep moving forward. You are on your way to doing even more amazing things and becoming a more complete version of yourself. Enjoy the process!”
The return trip seemed to take twice as long. My husband and I attempted to lighten the solemn mood by commenting on trivial matters – the weather, traffic, gas prices – but our efforts were strained. Distracting ourselves from the conspicuous vacancy in the back seat made it possible to keep our emotions in check. Struggling to maintain our composure became more challenging when we finally arrived home.
Never before had we entered that house quite so alone. The silence was deafening. The sound of our entry magnified by the emptiness. For over twenty-eight years our lives had been filled with the noise, blessed noise of two growing boys. There was never time to imagine life when our sons would no longer be with us.
The Joseph-sized void was palpable, accentuated by his signature touch evident everywhere as we moved from room to room. The power-washed, meticulously organized garage. His clean, neatly arranged room. Pictures, artwork, seashells, music still open on the piano. Reminders of one of the two greatest gifts resulting from our coming together. From prior experience, we know the gnawing ache will eventually mellow, but never disappear entirely. For now it is fresh, raw, genuine. The person who wrote, “To become a parent is to choose to have your heart walking around outside your body,” comes closest to describing the hollowness, the actual physical sensation associated with discovering that those you’ve grown accustomed to seeing every day are no longer where you expect them to be. No other absence compares with it. No other presence fills it.
We busied ourselves, seeking solace in the performance of mundane tasks. Sensing the need for some time to privately examine the plethora of paradoxical emotions that have been accumulating for months, we each engaged in our preferred tension-relieving activity. Jerry went for a bike ride while I rearranged furniture.
Alone with my emptiness, I was finally able to let the tears flow freely, uninhibited, unconcerned with how they might affect anyone else. I was not crying out of some deep, unfulfilled longing or regret. The tears came as a release of the intense, complicated mixture of grief and joy. Grief for the loss of the familiar, the loss of a clear sense of purpose and lack of direction, the uncertainty of how to proceed. Joy for all that has been accomplished, all there is to anticipate, and all there is still to do. Suddenly, I recalled my advice to Joseph, ““…what an emotional roller coaster it is to start something new. Take a deep breath, stand tall, and just keep moving forward. You are on your way to doing even more amazing things and becoming a more complete version of yourself. Enjoy the process!” Little did I know, at the time of its writing, how it would apply to me as well as him.
Once the tears subsided, I felt cleansed, invigorated, and surprisingly strong. When my husband returned, I could see in his eyes that he’d had a similar experience. We embraced one another, grateful to be together in our loneliness.
The irony of our current situation is not lost on us. We planned, educated ourselves, and made ready for their arrivals as well as their departures. And yet, while our efforts were invaluable, on each occasion, we found ourselves inadequately prepared. The launching of our final fledgling has been a stark reminder that although we signed up to be their parents forever, they never agreed to remain children.
Once again we are faced with adjusting our roles in order to become the parents they need and, hopefully, want. Like any transition, this will not happen overnight. It’s been delightful to rediscover that being married to my best friend sure makes it easier. Fortunately, he concurs. There is nothing so simple, yet so hard, but so wondrous as love.
The 2017-18 school year was a season of lasts, for me, punctuated by a progression of final events – the last first day of school; last prom; last musical; last choir concert; last awards ceremony; last, last day of school; and on the last day of May, the last high school graduation. In all honesty, the backside of some activities was welcomed – homework, testing, group projects, fundraisers, and summer assignments come to mind. But after 24 years of getting somebody ready for school every day, there is much to be missed – rousting a couple of dark-haired fellows out of bed each morning; walking to and from school; snow days; decorating holiday cookies; school pictures; reading together; grade reports; open house; making costumes; producing shows; recitals, concerts, and theatrical productions; car-ride conversations; and kissing their cheek at bedtime each night.
Once again, back-to-school reminders have been posted everywhere. It’s hard to believe they no longer apply to me. No more supply lists. No more lunch bags. No more teacher gifts. No excuse for buying a fresh box of crayons. Glancing out the window the other morning, I caught sight of a group of neighborhood children and parents gathering on the corner. Suddenly, it occurred to me, they are heading off for their first day back to school. For the first time in 24 years, I did not have anyone to wake up, pack a lunch for, or ask if they had everything they needed. Pausing to reflect on my tenure as a parent with school-aged kids, I’m so glad to have made the choices I did.
Read Together. I sat down and read with the boys at some point during the day, every day, when they were little and regularly even after they learned to read, right up through high school. Reading together promoted discussions about interesting, sometimes difficult topics. These conversations made it clear to them that we could talk about anything. They could ask me about anything. Exposure to literature stimulated their imagination, expanded their perspective, encouraged their empathy, introduced them to characters they could admire and emulate. The careful, intentional selection of books for children and young people is especially crucial because, as Kathleen Kelly tells us in “You’ve Got Mail,” “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
Considered Teachers Allies. Assisting a child in realizing their potential is an impossible undertaking for parents alone. Teachers are essential partners in the process. Every year, I introduced myself to the boys’ teachers and communicated with them regularly – to offer assistance in the classroom, to address a concern, or to express my appreciation for their hard work. While they started as teachers, many of them became friends.
Volunteered. Whether in the classroom or for school-wide events, volunteering gave me a chance to get to know the boys’ classmates and their parents. Being involved established a natural connection between home and school. Conscientiously avoiding behavior that might embarrass them made my presence at school more palatable. I wanted my participation to be welcomed, not dreaded – a source of pride, not mortification. There have been countless mutual benefits of volunteering.
Established a Backpack Ritual. From the first day of preschool, we made going through their backpacks a part of the daily routine. This made getting forms signed and returned, staying abreast of their progress, and keeping track of upcoming events easier. Establishing this ritual from the beginning made it clear that it was merely a way of checking in not checking up on them. It wasn’t an issue of lacking trust, because I trusted them completely not to have anything in their backpacks they shouldn’t, and they could certainly trust me to take appropriate action if they did.
Helped with Homework. Our dining room table served as homework central. While they did homework, I engaged in activities that kept me accessible. Whether it was acting as a resource, quality inspector, editor, or source of calming support, I was available. Accepting responsibility for their homework did not mean they had to complete it in isolation or devoid of assistance.
Invited Curiosity. Children are born scientists. Their desire to know why, how, and what is limited only by the patience and support of the adults in their lives. Giving the boys names for the things they observed was a starting point for further exploration. General information progressed to more specific, complex explanations. Over time they developed an appreciation for both the tremendous diversity and commonality that characterizes our world. Learning about the world enhanced their ability to understand themselves and their place in it.
Cultivated Creativity. Children are born artists. Their desire to create is limited only by the patience and support of the adults in their lives. Providing access to the tools artists use combined with exposing them to the work of masters in visual art, literature, theatre, dance, and music allowed the boys to discover their own talent. Taking classes and lessons in those areas where they exhibited the most interest and demonstrated the greatest aptitude led to some extraordinary experiences for all of us. Through the arts they discovered that life is both distinctly individual and utterly universal.
Implemented Organization. Creativity does not preclude organization. Neither does gender. As far as I know an organizational chromosome has not been isolated. Self discipline and personal organization are beneficial life skills for anyone regardless of age, gender, or circumstances. Establishing organization was a tremendous time and energy saver. Since the boys knew where things belonged and learned at an early age to put things away when they were no longer using them, time was rarely wasted searching for things and cleaning their rooms was quick and easy. When they were little, making lists provided practice spelling and writing. As they grew older, lists gave them a sense of control over what otherwise seemed like an elusive tangle of tasks swirling around in their heads. They relished the feeling of accomplishment that came with checking off items as they were completed.
Promoted Interests. When the boys demonstrated a genuine interest in a subject or activity we provided supporting books, materials, and experiences. While some interests were short lived, others grew into passions and eventually career paths. They have discovered that when you do what you love and love what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work. And actually, if you find something to love about whatever you are doing, it seems less like work.
Encouraged Fitness. Adopting a lifestyle that included a balanced diet, daily physical activity, good personal hygiene, and adequate rest, made it possible for all of us to keep up with the boys’ hectic schedules. Establishing these patterns early on made healthy choices routine.
Nurtured Relationships. Our older son was born during our last year of graduate school. When we finished, we sought employment close to extended family. We arranged our work schedules so that he was always with one of us or a trusted family member. The same was true for our younger son. Knowing they were with someone who loved them allowed complete peace of mind when we were unable to be with them. We diligently populated their world with people who had a genuine interest in their well being, whether family friends or relatives. Including people of varying ages, races, cultures, and backgrounds made diversity the norm and established an early appreciation for how much we are all alike in spite of our differences. We figured the more people who loved them, who they could love in return, the better.
Stayed Connected. When the boys started school, I would include a note in their lunch each day. Before they could read, I used pictures to send simple messages. Over the years, the notes were designed to be commensurate with their reading and comprehension level. When they were beginning to appreciate humor, I would find age-appropriate jokes to include. This simple practice served to remind them that even when we weren’t together, I was thinking about them. Being the recipient of their regular emails, texts, and phone calls makes all those early-morning efforts worthwhile.
Parenting is neither consistently simple, nor easy. From the moment of discovering we are about to become parents, our mandate is to nurture and cherish, shelter and protect, teach and guide, encourage and support in a lifelong succession of letting go. Parenting is one of the few jobs where the better you are at it, the less necessary you become. What I am discovering, to my delight, is that becoming unnecessary does not mean becoming unwanted.
As a doctoral student at The University of Georgia in the Marriage and Family Therapy program, it was highly recommended that I become a member of the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and attend their state conference. The conference was held at The King and Prince on St. Simons Island, neither of which I had ever heard of before. Ever the dutiful student, I registered for the conference and made reservations to stay at Epworth By the Sea, another completely unfamiliar location.
It was early spring, 1987, when my husband and I, along with a dear friend and fellow graduate student, first laid eyes on what are so aptly described as The Golden Isles. At that time, the entrance to St. Simons included a toll road and a drawbridge. The anticipation was almost unbearable. For the first time in my life, I experienced the feeling of coming home to a place I had never been before.
For the 31 years since, we have sojourned to St. Simons on a nearly annual basis. The years we were unable to visit always felt incomplete. The elder of our two sons made his first trip at the age of five weeks – the younger was fourteen months. From time to time we toyed with the idea of vacationing elsewhere, and occasionally professional obligations demanded we travel to other shores, but inevitably the thought of not seeing our beloved island diminished the desire to go anywhere else.
If anyone were to ask me, “What is it about St. Simons that keeps you going back? Is it the great places to eat, the variety of accommodations available, the flora and fauna, the beaches, the wide range of activities, or the history?” My response would be, “Yes, all of those reasons and more.”
St. Simons is more than a vacation destination. It is a lifestyle. From the moment our car tires roll onto Kings Way, a calm washes over us. Our burdens are carried away by a receding tide and left behind at the other end of the Torras Causeway. Our breathing slows. The rhythm of the island seeps into our bodies. Our minds open to the natural beauty surrounding us. On St. Simons, anything seems possible.
One of St. Simon’s most attractive features, to us, is that it is a residential island. It is a place where real people live. There is a palpable sense of community. For one week out of the year, we have the good fortune to experience life on their island. We get to walk their beaches; bike their paths; explore their history; watch nature unfold along their shores, in their marshes, and maritime forests; eat their delectable cuisine; shop in their uniquely diverse stores; and enjoy the work of their gifted practitioners of all art forms.
In exchange for the marvelous hospitality, generosity, and patience demonstrated by the actual residents of St.Simons, we endeavor to abide by, not only the official rules and regulations governing the island, but also the rules of common courtesy and decency we would expect from anyone visiting our home. Committed to assisting in the preservation of this island treasure for future generations:
Change is inevitable. Over the thirty plus years we have been visiting St. Simons, we have witnessed considerable change. Some welcomed, like the dissolution of the toll road. Some natural, like the shoreline. But some troubling, like the increased amount of trash and personal items we see left on the beach; the increased presence of pets on the beach throughout the day; and the increased number of recklessly driven vehicles. The lack of consideration for the inhabitants, both human and non-human, whose home St. Simons is year-round, is frankly, disturbing. The prevalence of a theme park mentality seems antithetical to the natural picturesque serenity that St. Simons embodies.
Whether we get to call St. Simons home for a week or two, a month, or longer, our unwritten covenant with the natives is to leave it as we found it, or better. Practicing proper island etiquette seems a small price to pay for the privilege of spending time in this extraordinary place. A place that has motivated our younger son to become a marine biologist. A place that rejuvenates us and inspires us to do more of what makes us better versions of ourselves. A place with the power to transform the burdens awaiting us on the mainland into more bearable loads.
Straining to catch a final glimpse of our treasured island getaway, we turn right at the end of the causeway. Recharged and ready to resume our off-island lives with lighter hearts and clearer minds, we bid farewell. The memories we harbor, like the sand in our shoes, will lure us back to St. Simons again and again.
Forty-three years ago, our high school athletic coach asked me to be the scorekeeper for the boys’ basketball and baseball teams. I spent the next few years traveling all over the state, attending games and tournaments, learning more about basketball and baseball than I had ever imagined knowing.
As the official scorekeeper, sitting in the box between the two teams, I had a front-row seat for every game. In those days, players were not allowed to verbally harass the other team. To do so was considered unsportsmanlike conduct and, if caught by the referee, carried the penalty of a personal or technical foul.
Sometime during the intervening years, when I was not paying attention to sports, the rules changed. Now, not only is “trash talk” and “talking smack” allowed, it’s expected, even condoned. The more smack you talk, the better, tougher athlete you are. Really? How does making someone else out to be a loser, make you a winner? If you are truly confident in your superiority, why would you need to inhibit the performance of your opponent? Why would you even want to, for that matter? If you successfully undermine their performance, doesn’t that also diminish the significance of your victory? If you are genuinely superior, shouldn’t your abilities speak for themselves?
Avoiding “trash” and “smack” talk should be easy. Just steer clear of sporting events. Unfortunately, this style of communicating has become pervasive. It has leaked out of the arenas and stadiums and seeped into every facet of society from radio and television talk shows to social media comment sections to political events to backyards to playgrounds. And frankly, it’s ugly. No matter what the age, gender, color, religion, political affiliation, socioeconomic background, position, or situation – it is ugly.
Not only is it ugly, it is counterproductive and destructive. We are not only exposing the worst of ourselves to each other, but to the entire world. Is it only in tragedy that we are reminded of the great good we are capable of when we come together? What is it going to take to inspire us to speak and act from the best of ourselves? We are so much more than what we have become.
The current culture of anger is deeply disturbing to me. Granted anger is a natural human emotion, a signal that something is awry. However, it is both seductive and deceptive, creating the illusion of being in control when we are actually out of control. Like wild animals with features that exaggerate their size when threatened, we feel bigger and tougher when we are angry.
Anger is actually a secondary emotion, meaning that another feeling was experienced first, sometimes for only an instant. Feelings that typically precede anger include fear, distress, disappointment, embarrassment, guilt, inadequacy, insecurity, or even fatigue or hunger. The common factor shared by these emotions is the sense of vulnerability they produce. Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable, so we revert to anger because we feel more powerful. Therefore, anger arises from a sense of deficiency, surfacing when we are operating from a real or perceived deficit. The deficit may exist in any number of areas from time, knowledge, ability, or confidence, to appreciation or love. Anger is the mask of certainty we put on in the midst of a crisis of self doubt.
Sometimes anger becomes so automatic, it appears to be instantaneous, seemingly bypassing the original emotion altogether. Like any habit, it becomes an unconscious choice, but a choice nevertheless. As a defense mechanism, anger protects us from feelings we would rather deny. It prevents us from taking responsibility for and dealing with our true feelings, allowing us to direct the energy from those uncomfortable feelings outward, against others. We transfer the responsibility for our anger to the other person or group and justify our actions with the self-serving logic that since it’s their fault we are angry, they deserve whatever we dish out.
As a destructive force, anger erodes relationships and precludes change. Conversation, sabotaged by anger, quickly deteriorates into insults, accusations, and threats, lending to hostility – even violence. Words spoken and measures taken in anger eventually lead to regret, in the presence of a healthy conscience. Wisdom would encourage us to examine the question, “Why are we so angry?,” prior to opening our mouth or taking action. Advice worthy of deliberation considering it only takes a ‘d’ to turn anger into danger.