Save the Children

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When my mother was only three or four years old her mother had a mental breakdown. The full details of the event are sketchy, but the certainty of what happened to my mom is very clear. The little tyke loved her mama and felt safe with her. When medical personal came to the house, restrained her mother, and then drove away in an ambulance the child that my mother was felt confused and betrayed. This event had a lasting impact on her that was so traumatic that it haunted her the rest of her life. She often spoke of the disdain that she felt for her father whom she held responsible for what she viewed as the imprisonment of her mom. She insisted that her mother had been a good woman who did not deserve the horrific treatment that befell her. Unlike her older siblings she was never able to accept that her mama had been very sick and in need of treatment. She had been so very young when she was torn from her mother’s loving care that it impacted the very essence of her thinking. The scars left by the separation never healed.

My youngest daughter endured a similar situation that was less dramatic but nonetheless frightening to her. When she was not yet three years old my husband contracted a fungal disease that required hospitalization and a long regimen of chemotherapy. Our family was thrown into a kind of chaotic state when we learned that the disease was often fatal. We spent months in a new routine of hospital visits and uncertainty. Years later my girl endured a bought with severe anxiety and depression. Her psychiatrist asked what had occurred at around the age of three that had seemingly caused the her to have an enduring sense of uncertainty and fear. He noted that something had so affected my daughter that she had buried deep seated emotions that were finally coming to the surface and causing her despondency. It was shocking to learn that something that had happened more than a decade earlier that was seemingly resolved had such a profound affect.

Young children see and hear and feel far more than we sometimes know. They are aware of what is happening around them to a larger extent than we imagine, but they do not always have the capacity to interpret the interchanges with their environment, particularly when the security represented by a parent is taken from them. They are unable to fully express the need for the warmth and love of a mother or father that is so essential to their healthy development. It is critical that they have all of their most basic needs addressed, and there is generally no better person to do that for them than a parent who genuinely cares for them. So much of the basic personality is formed during early childhood and every event plays an important role in development. As children we all cling to our parents and look to them to supply our most essential needs. When that relationship is suddenly severed children lose all sense of safety. Unless they are carefully counseled and loved the event will have a lifelong impact.

My father died when I was eight years old. People often marvel that my memories of the days following his death are so crystal clear. I am able to vividly recall people, conversations, the weather, and most of all my own jumbled feelings. I was far more aware of what was happening that the adults around me ever imagined. That being said, without the maturity of adulthood I am certain that I often misinterpreted my situation, and not in a good way. I became a fearful child, someone unwilling to take risks. I was afraid of people and life. It would take me twenty or more years to overcome the shock and awe of the sudden loss of someone that I so loved, and I became a somewhat neurotic and sad little girl. It was only through my study of childhood development and my association with truly caring people that I was able to eventually lay all of the demons that had so haunted me to rest.

For these reasons I am both appalled and concerned for the welfare of immigrant children who are currently being separated from their parents. I realize that we have laws, and the adults who come here illegally are breaking them. In that regard there are many needed discussions regarding the issues, but it seems certain to me that taking children away while their parents are being processed is deeply wrong. The consequences of such inhumane decisions will impact these little ones for decades. The trauma that our government is inflicting on them is morally untenable, as anyone familiar with children understands. In spite of efforts to provide food, beds, education, games and other such amenities to care for them the one thing that the little ones require is missing. They must have their parents to feel secure. What we are doing is so egregious that we simply cannot justify the actions with by quoting laws or even the Bible. We must know that we are bending the truth and God’s word when we attempt to do such things.

I love my country and believe in its innate goodness. It has of late been overtaken by an incivility that is toxic. There seems to be an attitude that winning is more important than being just. The good people in our midst are being pushed aside by bullies, and the ideals of honor and respect are all too often being eschewed by those who insist on all or nothing in their political dealings. As citizens we must join together in the common cause of decency, following the lead of heroes the world over who insist on standing for what is right rather than what will make them popular. We must end the ugliness by demonstrating our best natures. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country. We can no longer allow tactics that so scorch the earth. If we don’t save the children of the world regardless of the circumstances we are doomed to a dark future. Our best hope is in finding our natural goodness again and doing what we know to be right.

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The Cries Of A Child

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I recently had a very long day. I had arisen early and prepared for a series of appointments which literally spanned the hours from nine in the morning to six in the evening. After completing all of my duties I picked up my husband and the two of us hit the gym around seven. We finished our workouts about an hour and a half later and only then began to think about having dinner. I instinctively understood that it was a bad idea to eat at such a late hour, but it had been one of those days in which I had moved from one thing to another without a moment to even think of nutrition. Since the YMCA that we use is across from a grocery store I suggested that we find one of their prepared meals to heat at home rather than opting for fast food. It would be a quick and preferable alternative to undoing our attempts at a healthy lifestyle and would cost less as well. It seemed to be a grand idea.

The section containing what we wanted was located near the front of the store and we quickly found choices of seafood and chicken coupled with fresh vegetables that ranged from four hundred to five hundred calories. We made our selections and headed for the checkout which wasn’t particularly crowded because by then the clock was ticking toward nine. As we were waiting behind a young couple buying ice cream and a number of items that we have chosen to eliminate from our diet I heard the screams and cries of a small child.

I glanced over to see a father attempting to control a little boy who had obviously reached his limit of navigating happily through his own long day. I felt for the father who was doing his best to console his son, but as a mom I knew that the youngster was simply exhausted and ready for bed. The frazzled dad didn’t appear to be in much better shape. I imagined that both of them had been blowing and going all day long and that the child had been the first to hit the wall. I thought of how tired I was and remembered the times when I would work all day outside of the home and be making last minute runs to the store to purchase items that we had to have for the following day. I just wanted to go hug the little boy and tell the man that things would be better and that he would one day be able to laugh about such incidents. Still, I worried about our often relentlessly fast paced and demanding society and wondered what it is actually doing to all of us.

I’m retired now, so one really rough day of obligations isn’t that tough on me. I am able to sleep in after challenging schedules, but that wasn’t always the case. My work hours were often erratic and almost always long. I recall so many times when I reached home after nine or ten at night hoping that my family’s needs had been sufficiently met. Routines were difficult to create because we each had such divergent schedules. There were times when we literally felt like strangers passing one another in the night. As a teacher I had to attend meetings, conferences, trainings, performances, and field trips. Those demands only increased once I became an administrator. I assumed the role of caring not only for my students, but also for my teachers. All too often my own family had to take a back seat, and to this very day I worry that I may have neglected them a bit more than I should have, even though they appeared to be quite resilient.

My husband too had to work strange hours from time to time. My dear mother and mother-in-law often covered for us when our obligations coincided and our girls were going to be home alone. I know that I missed some important moments with them, and even though they were safe and sound the guilt that I felt was far greater than I might have wanted to admit at the time. I have often wondered if we as a society have created an unhealthy new world order with our two parent careers, or if our children are actually okay with just rolling with the whatever happens. After all, the only reality that they know is the one that we as parents create for them. They do not experience the same type of steadfast routine that I did when I was growing up. The world is different for them and they seem to have adapted, but when I see a youngster like that little boy crying from sheer exhaustion, I wonder how many times I too pushed my children to the brink. I think about how I might have done things differently or at least a bit better.

Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs that there is. In today’s world many adults are raising children all alone. They don’t enjoy the benefits that I had of extended family members filling the gaps. I can only imagine the tough choices that they must continually make as they balance work and home obligations. Most organizations don’t take too kindly to absences even when they are supposedly allowed. Shirking overtime demands is a quick way of losing momentum in climbing the career ladder. Those who defiantly insist on working only the minimally required amount of time are in danger of receiving lukewarm appraisals and of being thought to be lazy. The tension between work and home is real and both men and women feel the push and pull. It’s tough to be all things to all people, and yet we seem oblivious to the toll it is taking on all of us. We just keep moving day after day like drones on a conveyor belt, hoping that one day there will be some rest.

There was a time when workers generally had a more carefully constructed schedule that allowed them to arrive home each evening at a fairly consistent time. If they worked long enough for the same company they would accrue as many as six weeks of vacation time and their bank of sick days would steadily grow. Jobs were fairly plentiful and raises and bonuses were an expected part of the packages. Many organizations provided generous pensions and health insurance benefits. One by one many of those things have gone the way of the buggy whip. A single worker today often fulfills the duties that might have required multiple individuals in an earlier era. Employment opportunities are more difficult to find and once someone lands a job he/she is expected to demonstrate utmost loyalty and dedication to the cause. It’s a dog eat dog environment that is putting new stresses on individuals and their families.

I have to admit to being overjoyed that I’m now retired, but I can’t just rest on my laurels. I actually worry about today’s workers as I see them struggling to keep pace and still maintain their own health and happiness. I wonder if it will ever be possible to slow things down once again as I think of a time and a promise that our inventiveness would one day create a world in which we would get things done in a shorter work day that would provide us more time to enjoy ourselves. Instead we have just decreased the need for workers and increased the demands on those lucky enough to land the jobs. There seems to be no end to the demands that we place on employees and I fear that many of the ills that we see in our society are incubated in such an environment. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way we do things. The cries of our children are telling us that something is wrong. Surely we can do better.

Love Honor Cherish

15975072_10211601975865667_328586816067567646_oParenting is one of the most difficult tasks that we humans attempt to master. It pains us to see our children hurting, but we know that we will never be able to completely eliminate struggles from their lives, so we teach then how to effectively deal with both trials and tribulations. We hope that our foundation will help them when we launch them into the adult world. Mostly we pray that they will know how to surround themselves with good people who love and care about them as they begin their independent journeys without us. So it was with my two girls.

Like any other parent I did my best and hoped with all of my heart that my efforts would be enough. My eldest Maryellen had always made me proud, and she appeared to have a good head on her shoulders as she left our home to become educated by others at the University of Texas in Austin. There were some shaky moments in her early days there when I received phone calls and heard the strains of uncertainty in her voice, but she managed to make it through the rough patches and secured a place for herself among friends both new and old. Along the way she met a young man named Scott through the encouragement of one of her more gregarious friends.

At first Maryellen was tentative about being more than just a good pal to Scott, but before long she was drawn to his good nature and his intellect and they began to date. Her face would light up whenever she spoke of him and I could tell that her relationship with him was far more special than any that she had ever experienced. He had a way of understanding her and treating her as an equal that pleased her. Even his gifts to her at Christmastime were astutely thoughtful and romantic. I found myself believing that she had found the man of her dreams and when I finally met him I was pleased to sense that he was a truly good person who respected and cherished her as much as I did.

Maryellen and Scott enjoyed a delightful courtship at the university, peppered with serious study sessions and fun times with a group of remarkable friends. They cheered the Longhorns at football and basketball games and enjoyed the same music and movies. Mostly they talked and realized how neatly their hopes and dreams meshed with one another. They fell in love.

I was quite pleased when they announced that they were engaged. They were both mature and thoughtful individuals who had transitioned well into adulthood. They both were within striking distance of earning degrees in the respected fields of business and engineering. Their futures were promising and together they were certain to be a power couple, but more importantly they shared values that would help them to build a life of love and devotion.

Twenty five years ago today they exchanged their vows at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. It was a beautiful service shared with a crowd of friends and relatives. Maryellen glowed with the flush of love and anticipation and Scott had “the look” in his eyes that assured me that he would be forever faithful and loving to my daughter. Our family priest John Perusina said the mass and Scott’s Lutheran minister assisted with the proceedings. The bridesmaids wore blue and one of Maryellen’s childhood friends sang Sunrise, Sunset like an angel, making everyone in attendance cry as we recalled how quickly the years had gone by since the bride and groom had been children. It was a gloriously happy day that bode well for the future.

Maryellen and Scott moved to Beaumont after a memorable honeymoon in Yosemite National Park, yet another idea of Scott’s that was so perfectly suited to Maryellen. They set up housekeeping in a cute apartment and began their careers. It was a fun time and it was wonderful to see how happy they were and how well things were going for them.

Eventually Scott received an offer that he couldn’t refuse from a firm in Indiana and so the two of them were on the move. They purchased a lovely house in Lafayette and began to explore the midwest during their free time. They were only two hours away from Chicago and so that exciting city became a frequent destination. It was a time filled with new adventures and new confidence for them when all of us realized that they had indeed become a powerful team.

Four years after they married their first child, Andrew, was born and our visits to Indiana became ever more frequent as we enjoyed visits with our grandchild. I always felt so intensely happy to see the relationship between Maryellen and Scott growing ever stronger and thus it would be as one year flowed into the next and three more children joined the family as they moved again to Beaumont and finally back to the Houston area.

Maryellen and Scott have been models of love and dedication. They are beloved pillars of of their community known for their dedication to being exceptional parents and generous neighbors. They inspire others with their devotion to each other and to their sons. Together they have weathered the rollercoaster ride that is life and managed to overcome every challenge that appeared on their horizon.

In a very troubled world where it almost seems old fashioned to hold tightly to values and traditions Maryellen and Scott Greene have proven that the power of love is still one of the most priceless treasures that any of us might possess. For twenty five years they have steadfastly honored one another and passed on their mutual love to their sons who are growing in the same wisdom and age and grace that they have so beautifully exhibited.

Somehow I am overwhelmed by the rapid passage of time. In my mind they are still the twenty something young adults with so much hope in their eyes and a whole lifetime ahead of them. They have done a remarkable job of cherishing the promise that they made on that day in the glow of tiny lights from the Christmas trees on the altar. They have fulfilled all of their vows and done the hard work of keeping the flame of their never ending love alive. It makes my heart burst with joy to know that they are such incredibly fine people.

Happy Twenty Fifth Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Greene. May you enjoy many more wonderful days together as you share a special love. You are a blessing to all of us.

Stayin Alive

article-2708593-04EAC45700000514-459_634x652-optimisedForty years ago the iconic movie Saturday Night Fever debuted and became not just a an instant hit, but a film classic. I was a twenty nine year old mom with two little girls and a sense that a lifetime of adventures lay ahead of me. I had matured beyond my years not just due to my parental responsibilities, but also because I had helped my mother through two difficult mental breakdowns and had watched helplessly as my husband endured chemotherapy to combat a life threatening disease. Still I was young at heart and ecstatic when my mother suggested that we go see the movie together. I knew that it was not the kind of fare that my husband would enjoy, so I was happy to have a companion with whom to share the enjoyment of escaping into a world of music and dance for a few hours.

Back then there were still several drive in movie venues in the Houston area and Mama thought that it would be fun to watch the flick in the comfort of her car. Just as she had done so many times when my brothers and I were children she created a bed for my girls in the back seat of her automobile and brought sandwiches, cold drinks and a huge bag of homemade popcorn for our dining pleasure. I loved that she was feeling so healthy that she was her old self, and I laugh now that it never occurred to either of us to consider that perhaps the content of the film might be a bit inappropriate for my underage children. We headed off with great anticipation, glad to be a group of girls out on the town.

As it happened we were all stunned by the movie. John Travolta amazed us with his dancing and the music from the Bee Gees and other disco groups of the era was incredible. We were even surprised by the actual quality of the story and the acting. My daughters who were then three and six years old never fell asleep, because they were as taken by the film as my mother and I were. I assumed that they were unable to understand the adult nuances of the plot and simply enjoyed the characters, the soundtrack and the display of talent. As for my mom and I, we were smitten and felt like a couple of giggly teenagers as we gushed about the film on our way home. Both of us had fallen for John Travolta in his white suit, and my mom who was a stunning dancer in her own right gave him a high grade for his artistry.

I suppose that I reverted to the silliness of a high school groupie when I recounted our evening to my husband. He sensed my excitement and because he has always been quite sensitive to my every need purchased several items related to the movie as Christmas gifts for me that year. Among them was the soundtrack album which I wore out with repeated playings. The girls and I danced our hearts out on many a day, pretending that we were boogying on a disco dance floor in a contest that we would surely win.

In addition to the music my man gave me the iconic poster of John Travolta dazzling the world in that gorgeous white suit in a dance pose that seemed to represent the disco era in all of its glory. I mounted the image inside my closet door and there it stood for decades making me smile every single time that I caught a glimpse of it. It made me love my husband even more because it was symbolic of his efforts to make me happy as much as possible. While I knew that he thought that my giddiness was silly, he enjoyed seeing me smile, and so he never once suggested that maybe it was time that I finally remove my remembrance of a movie that I truly loved.

When my man and I celebrated our anniversary the following year he even went so far as to present me with a lovely dress and a pair of shoes most suitable for a night at a discotheque, as well as a promise that he to take me dancing. This was the ultimate sacrifice on his part and a sign of his undying devotion to me, because everyone who has ever known him understands that he does not like to dance. I have often joked that he is almost perfect save for that one little glitch. The very idea that he was going to subject himself to a night of twirling me in rhythm to the music was stunning, but he indeed spent an entire evening making me incredibly happy as I imagined that he and I were the most striking couple on the floor. My purple dress and and new hairstyle were virtual clones of the outfit that Travolta’s partner wore in the film and my spouse was stunningly handsome. It was a night that I shall never forget.

Somehow the next forty years flew by. Drive in movies became as difficult to find as dinosaurs. My mom continued to endure peaks and valleys in her fight with mental illness. She and I and my daughters continued to dance to whatever the latest tunes happened to be. My husband reverted to his old ways and rarely tapped his feet again unless he heard the strains of a Michael Jackson tune. My children grew into lovely young women and there came a day when that old poster that still hung inside the closet had begun to dry rot. When I finally took it down it tore in so many places that I threw it away rather than attempting to salvage it. Nonetheless, I always remembered how much I had enjoyed Saturday Night Fever.

My youngest daughter laughs to think that my mother and I actually took her to see the movie when she was only three years old. It seems that she understood a great deal more than we had imagined, but it doesn’t appear to have harmed her in any way. Like me she recalls the dancing and the music so fondly and eventually she and I sat down with her daughter to relive the moment when we became so enchanted with the film long ago. We laughed at how we had missed the scene when John Travolta was preparing for his evening on the town. There he was in all of his glory blowing his hair dry while wearing nothing but a pair of black briefs. With the beauty of modern technology we were able to rewind the scene any time that we wished, and like adolescents we took full advantage of that feature while we laughed at our silliness and my granddaughter rolled her eyes.

Back in 1977, I had barely begun my lifetime of teaching. I had not even met so many of the people who would become my dear friends. I was exiting a dark and difficult time and had become far stronger than I had ever imagined I might be. My optimism was full blown in spite of the stops and starts that had changed the trajectory of my life. Saturday Night Fever gave me a moment when I did not need to feel so serious. It provided me with a memory of just how fun my mother actually was. It blunted that pain that I had so recently endured and helped me to realize that with a balance of work and play in my life I would be able to handle any challenge that came my way.

So much has changed in forty years but the essence of the human heart and its longings that the film portrayed so well is virtually the same. Each of us have dreams and experience love and joy along with tragedy. We find ways to heal and to move ever forward. If we can do so with a lilt in our steps and a little song inside our heads, we are all the better. It’s how we stay alive.

Love Differences

51Jt6-9T24L._SL500_AC_SS350_Being a parent is a task that is super charged with emotions. I recall one of the principals with whom I worked always telling us to remember that in most cases the parents of our students were sending us the best children that they had. What he meant by that statement was that they were working hard to do the right thing even if they sometimes made mistakes. He wanted us to be gentle and understanding with them because as a dad himself he understood how difficult parenting can be. Through the long days and nights of nurturing our offspring from infancy to adulthood we display our human frailties to them again and again. We pray that our moments of weakness will not harm their development, but rather that the strength of our love and good intentions will be the things that mold them into strong and confident individuals of  good character.

Our children are a puzzling combination of nature and nurture. Even members of the same family who have essentially been raised with identical routines and beliefs will turn out just a bit differently from one another. We sense that our little babies are born with particular traits and personalities that we attempt to cultivate to bring out their best. Some parents are masterful at helping their little ones to become happy and healthy and hard working adults. Others find themselves puzzled that their efforts sometimes seem to be riddled with problems and frustrations. The art of parenting is complicated when genetics leave our little ones with health problems and learning challenges. It’s so much easier when they appear to be little geniuses with pleasing personalities and incredible athletic abilities. We have all known such children and wondered what their parents may have done to create those incredible kids.

The truth is that many times even the moms and dads of seemingly perfect little babies have no idea why those children are so innately wonderful. I remember asking the mother of a particularly remarkable little girl to give me some parenting tips. Her surprising response was that she had six children and all but the sweet child that I knew had taxed her patience. Her conclusion was that her daughter was simply born the way she was. She insisted that she had done very little to produce such a lovey person. I have since seen a great deal of evidence that supports her theory, but I also realize that even the most potentially wonderful baby needs proper guidance to fully develop into an amazing adult.

Over time I have come to believe that there are certain keys to good parenting that may not appear to be particularly difficult to enact, but in fact require a full time commitment. Foremost is the need to love a child for the person that he or she is, a willingness to be supportive rather than directive that is sometimes easier said than done. We each have preconceived notions about how we want our offspring to be based on our own preferences and dreams. If we have been studious and mathematical we may be disappointed when one of our children struggles with numbers. If our background includes success in athletics a child who is mediocre in such pursuits may baffle us. If we are outgoing we will be confused by a shy and awkward youngster. Our job as good parents is to patiently love our children and help them to develop the interests and traits that are most natural for them while also demonstrating how to cope with their struggles in other areas. We need to provide them with opportunities to explore, and when they stumble we need to be there to help them understand how to deal with mistakes. In other words we must allow them to find their own purposes in life and demonstrate that we are behind them all the way as long as what they are doing is not illegal or harmful.

I once worked with a woman whose children were identical twins insofar as appearance and DNA, but they were polar opposites in almost every other way. One was quiet, studious and talented in science and mathematics. He wanted to attend Rice University or MIT and spent his weekends closeted inside the house with close friends who bonded over experiments and research projects. His twin eschewed advanced classes in the STEM subjects and even had pronounced difficulties with mathematics. Nonetheless he was the class president, editor of the newspaper and a star athlete. He was popular and social. His weekends were spent performing community service and partying with friends. He was a bit unsure of where he wanted to attend college and what he wanted to choose as a major.

The boys’ mom was utterly delighted with both of her sons. She never compared them nor did she allow anyone else to do so. She bragged about her gifted sons even though their talents and academic successes were so very different. Eventually one of them became an engineer and the other works as a communications specialist at a nonprofit organization. They are still her two peas in a pod who are as different as night and day. She fairly beams when she speaks of them and continues to be their number one fan as they follow two very different paths in life.

My friend’s insistence on allowing her boys to become the adults that they were meant to be was not nearly as easy as just deciding to be there for them. She often spoke of teachers and even family members who would criticize her methods. She was told that the quiet twin needed to develop more social skills. She was warned that the twin who favored the arts and leadership roles might have difficulty earning a degree from a reputable university. She was thought by some to be too permissive and easygoing. She worried and sought counsel from those of us that she trusted while still maintaining her insistence that each young man would always know that her love was not predicated on pleasing her. She realized the importance of being an encourager and not a tyrant. She was a wonderfully understanding parent and when all was said and done her efforts resulted in helping two very fine young men to find both happiness and success.

It saddens me whenever I witness parents who literally inflict cruelty on their children by refusing to respect their choices. I recall a parent conference in which a father hurled insults at his son simply because the young man was quiet and awkward in his eyes. He called the boy “weird” and even said that he sometimes wondered if the two of them were actually related. He did all of this in front of the child, inflicting deep scars that would have a damaging effect. I have known gays whose families ostracized them. I have listened to them describe the pain of such rejection. I have sat with adults who recounted how inept they felt around parents who questioned their intelligence and viewed them as losers simply because they chose to pursue careers or life choices that family members considered to be inferior. I have observed emotionally abusive parents who demanded the right to be in charge even long after a son or daughter was living independently. I suspect that some of these adults have good intentions but their unwillingness to accept the differences in their children and see them as being flawed ruptures relationships and creates needless emotional distress for everyone.

Our children are delicate while also being strong. It is in our love and acceptance and support that we help them to become happy and productive adults. The rules and routines that we use as they are growing provide the structures within which they may safely grow and bloom in many different directions. As parents we have to know when to directly intercede and when to let them range freely. If we truly and unselfishly love them our instincts will tell us how to know the difference. We will learn to fully enjoy the beauty of their individuality and will watch as they take on the world in their own unique ways. It’s a rewarding process fraught with so many pitfalls. Just as we should be kind to them as they stumble and fall and succeed, so too must we feel good about our own efforts, knowing that we too will now and again falter. We’re all only human and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it is a truly beautiful aspect of who we are.