It Takes A Village

close up of teenage girl
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Fit pitching seems to run in my family. If you’re not sure what that means, it refers to over the top defiant behavior by a child between the ages of two and five. My eldest daughter was quite adept at creating embarrassing scenes both at home and in public. One summer she wore fur lined reindeer slippers everywhere because she refused to put any other type of shoe on her feet. Not even two of us were able to hog tie her so that we might force a more appropriate type of footwear onto her tiny feet. I used to marvel at her strength and wonder if perhaps I had given birth to a superhero. I finally gave up deciding that once her little toes got sweaty enough she would surely eschew the footwear designed in Norway for harshly cold winters. With a mind of her own that is evident to this very day she persisted, and I endured shaming looks and unwanted advice wherever I went.

My niece was not to be outdone. She is the child of an Anglo father and an Asian mother, a beautiful girl who very much resembles my eldest, but has definite Asian features. My mother, my more grown up and matured daughter, this niece and I were once on a shopping adventure together. My niece was still a toddler, but with three of us to help keep her happy we were certain that there would be no problems. I don’t recall what set her off, but something did and she began carrying on like a demon possessed. Her cries and screams became exponentially more insistent with each passing second until my mom wisely decided that we had no recourse but to leave the shopping behind and get her home for a nap. My niece had other ideas and resisted our efforts to move from the spot where she was entertaining a crowd of critics with reproving faces. Picking her up was a bust because she wiggled from our grasp each time we tried that maneuver. When we attempted to get her to walk she lay down on the ground challenging us to drag her if we wished to move forward. Somehow we ultimately got her to the car but not without worrying that we were going to end up in jail for kidnapping as she yelled, “You’re not my Mama! You’re not my Mama! Go away!”

My eldest grandson was not to be outdone by the ladies in the family. On one particular outing he repeated his mother’s propensity for footwear after he saw a pair of very expensive tennis shoes that he wanted to take home. When we denied his request he went into an act of rebellion that outdid anything I had ever seen. It got so bad that I actually whispered to my daughter that I would spring for the shoes if she didn’t mind. Thankfully she stood firm because she was a good mother, insisting that he had to learn that we would not be moved by a tantrum. Having grown weak as a grandmother I wasn’t as sure of her reasoning in that moment, but I ultimately felt proud of her strength of character.

The good news is that all three of these children turned out to be quite remarkable. They did exceedingly well in school and were often complimented by their teachers and other adults for being exemplary young people. My daughter graduated from the University of Texas with a business degree and now balances an accounting job with caring for a household of four young men. My niece is a Pediatrician and works at Texas Children’s Hospital while mothering three boys of her own. My grandson was an honors graduate of his high school and is studying at Texas A&M University and serving as head coach of his neighborhood swim team. All three outgrew the behaviors that had once made them appear to strangers as spawn of the devil.

I have more often than not found that very inquisitive children sometimes become intractable, especially when they are tired. They want to freely explore the world and learn for themselves without barriers. Since we adults have to guide and protect them we sometimes have to inhibit their native curiosities and desires for their own good. We find ourselves locked in a battle of wills that is exhausting and might even make us look bad to passersby.

I feel great compassion for a parent who is attempting to deal with an angry child. Sometimes the struggle becomes so public because the little one does not care that he/she is creating a disturbance. It is apparent that the adult is doing everything possible to quell the situation all to no avail. I always want to help but know that my interference will undoubtedly make things worse. All I can do is quietly send signals of support to the harried adult.

There is a hilarious video circulating on Facebook in which a quite funny woman tackles the issue that mom’s everywhere have endured. She vividly describes the scene of a mother dealing with an uncooperative child in a public place. She wonders why there always seems to be someone in the crowd who signals unrelenting disapproval for the mama, even though we all know that sometimes these things happen. She notes that our inconvenience is temporary while the parent will continue dealing with the problem at home. She wonders why we can’t all be more supportive, especially given that this is supposed to be the era of solidarity with our sisters from all over the world.

In the age of Pantsuit Nation women are doing their utmost to break glass ceilings and join one another in #MeToo moments. Why can’t we also demonstrate a bit of understanding and compassion for anyone who is dealing with a difficult toddler moment? Why do we so often become judgmental rather than helpful, when anyone who has been a parent honestly knows that there are many times when we feel totally inept and defeated by the tiny creatures that we are working so hard to raise.

I always loved my mother-in-law because whenever either of my daughters behaved badly in front of her she would smile impishly and suggest that maybe they had taken after her. She would then recall multiple stories that her elegant mother had told her about her own childhood missteps. One involved a scene in front of a downtown department store which became so heated that her mother had to give her a little swat on the fanny to get her back in line. When my mother-in-law shouted that her mother was embarrassing her the reply from her mom was, “If you embarrass me, I will embarrass you.” My mother-in-law repeated this tale rather proudly as if it conveyed the strength and conviction of her mother that she believe inspired her to become a great woman in her own right.

Next time you see a parent dealing with a seemingly bratty child, try not to judge. Instead send a vibe that let’s the weary individual know that everything will one day be amazingly good if they just hang in there and do what is right. Show that we are all in this parenting thing together. Hillary was right. It takes a village.


Our Foundation


It’s the day after Mother’s Day and I find myself thinking about what it means to be a mom. I learned all that I needed to know from my mama who was exceptionally good at the task. I always marvel at the fact that she somehow managed to raise three children each of whom is totally different from the others. She allowed us to be ourselves and ultimately it made us into very happy adults. She loved and guided us, teaching us right from wrong, but then let us develop our own passions. She parented us all alone because our father had died when we were eight, five and three respectively.

A truly good mother like her is able to provide everything that children need, but it is a challenging  job that requires full time devotion, and my mom was always ready to give us her all. She admittedly spoiled us but only with love, not things. We appreciated her, but nonetheless I don’t think that we ever really knew how important she was to us until she had died Now we remember all of the little things that she did that once seemed so insignificant. In fact I find myself calling upon her wisdom and generous spirit more and more as time goes by.

My mother-in-law was another model of motherhood who was only able to bear a single child which was quite dangerous for her. She had a congenital heart defect that doctors felt would shorten her life, and so when she became pregnant they were certain that having a baby would kill her. Not to be bullied into terminating the pregnancy, she insisted on taking the risk. The delivery was complex but ultimately successful, and one of the proudest moments of her life. After my husband was born she the proceeded to love him so much that she turned him into one of the sweetest people to ever walk the earth. Her parenting style proved that some good things are never too much.

I was a young mother who still resembled a child when I first became a mom. I made the kind of mistakes that come from immaturity, but I know without reservation that my girls were the most wonderful gift that I had ever received. I literally thought about them almost every waking moment. More than anything I wanted them to grow to be great women like their grandmothers, and my dreams have very much come true. They are not just good moms. They are extraordinary.

Mothers are the foundation of society, the first teachers of the young. They quietly sacrifice for their children, rarely drawing attention to the many things that they do. They awake in the middle of the night to feed a hungry infant or to console a feverish body. They juggle routines and schedules to get their little ones to lessons and activities. They slowly help them to develop their talents and interests, sometimes adjusting their budgets to provide opportunities for their hard work to take hold. Their own responsibilities and worries grow, but they rarely share the concerns and stresses that rattle around in their heads. The children’s joys are their joys, just as the pain becomes theirs as well.

Sometimes we grow up and look back at photographs of our mothers and marvel at how lovely they were before we were born. We forget that they were once young themselves, dreaming of lives that may or may not have turned out the way they had imagined. We find ourselves one day looking at their graying hair and wrinkled skin and we remember when they ran and played with us. We think of those times when they tucked us into bed, or just smiled at us from across a room. They seemed to love us for no particular reason, but simply because we existed. We gained and lost friends, but our moms were ever faithful, ready to hug and comfort us even without being asked, even when we had ignored them or hurt their feelings.

Moms come in so many different versions. Like snowflakes no two are exactly the same and yet they are all similar. Some moms carry us in their wombs, and others choose us when we have no other place to go, loving us as much as they would have if we were their very own. Some moms dedicate themselves to the home and others balance their care of us with careers. All of them are beautiful.

This past weekend I attended a lovely graduation party for one of my former students. She spoke to us about the things that her mother had done to help her to earn her degree. There were nights when she was up in the middle of the night studying, nearly exhausted. Her mom would arise from her own sleep and bring coffee and encouragement. When she was frustrated her mother would cheer her onward. The young woman believes that her achievement is just as much her mother’s as her own. She understands that without the sacrifices that her mom made her great day might never have come. She rightly credited both of her parents for the wondrous things they had done from the time that she was born, and realizes that they will continue to walk beside her in her journey through life.

We sometimes forget how remarkable and demanding a job being a mom actually is. Sadly the day eventually comes when she is gone. Still her spirit somehow lives on inside our hearts. We see her in the things that we say and do. Her face in forever etched in our minds. We know that she is with us, guiding and consoling us through time and space.

God bless all of the mothers of the world and those who use their maternal instincts to help all children to grow in wisdom and grace.

Feeling Invisible


These days women are leaning in, speaking up, attempting to achieve a certain level of equality with their male counterparts. I listened to a group of them commenting on how often they feel invisible, and their discussion caught my attention because there have been so many times when I have felt as though I am not seen. I found myself wondering what the actual reason for this might be. It would be easy and tempting to assume that I am sometimes ignored because I am a woman, but the reality is no doubt more complex than that.

My husband often jokes that I sometimes just disappear when we are out and about. That happens mostly because he doesn’t hear me when I explain that I’m just going to run over to Aisle 9 to pick up something that we need. Some might think that he is just not paying attention to what I have to say, but I understand that he has a hearing problem and I have a very soft voice. To make him aware I have to almost yell, something that I really don’t like doing, and so my communications sometimes don’t get through. He ends up wandering around trying to find me and I get frustrated because he has left the spot where he was supposed to stay until I returned. I suppose that by now I would be better at making sure that he has internalized my comments before taking off, but I’m usually in a rush and make assumptions that lead to a game of hide and seek inside a store.

It might be argued by feminists and purveyors of women’s studies that the basic problem is that my husband just doesn’t hold my statements in enough regard to grasp the gist of them. Another commentary might be that I was schooled by society to be a proper woman by speaking in moderated tones. While these ideas have some merit, I happen to know that they are far from being totally accurate. It has only been in recent years when his hearing began to fail that my husband began to have difficulty comprehending my directives. Furthermore my cousins will tell you that I come from one of the loudest families on planet earth. My training should have lead me to voice myself in sounds that boom across a room. Instead I rebelled and chose to communicate less like a barker and a bit more like a reasoned and controlled arbiter.

Still, I wonder about myself because there have been numerous times when I literally wondered if I had indeed become invisible and just didn’t realize it. Quite often I am standing at a counter waiting for assistance and the clerks will wait on everyone around me but never get to me. Only when I assert myself and demand that I be noticed do I finally get the service that I need. Perhaps because my upbringing taught me to be polite and fair, I demure to those who are more pushy. I tend not to speak up for myself until I have finally had enough. Maybe this is a form of invisibility that limits the perception that people have of me. After all the squeaky wheel does tend to get the grease. Interestingly, however, I have a brother who behaves in the same manner that I do, so it’s difficult for me to assign my characteristics to some attempt by my mother to raise me to be more feminine.

In my work life I was never afraid to speak up whenever I believed that an injustice was happening. Most of the time my bosses appreciated by assertiveness and tapped me as a leader. Only twice was I pushed aside and ignored. Ironically my worst critic and tormentor was another woman who took my suggestions as personal criticism. She made my job so miserable that I eventually chose to leave. The other individual who felt threatened by my critiques was a very insecure man who was later fired. Sadly the comments that I had made to him might well have saved his job if only he had listened. Instead he made me feel utterly invisible, as though I was as worthless as a tiny mouse. Perhaps he simply did not understand that my purpose had been to make our organization stronger, not to tear him down.

I suspect that there are men who have felt invisible as well. In fact, it seems to me that arguments that generalize about anyone have little merit. For every male chauvinist pig that I have encountered I have known hundreds more men who treated me with respect. Attempting to use an anecdote to explain an entire society is particularly unscientific and even so called data can be misleading because it may not be taking all considerations into account.

I’ve certainly seen discrimination in it’s many forms and I do believe that it is real in particular circumstances, but I also think that we should not forget to celebrate the advances that women have made just in my lifetime. I have watched the evolution of opportunity for women grow ever wider, so that there is very little that they may not achieve. I’d hate to see us girls inhibit the boys in our quest for self actualization. We should be able to compete without tearing them down, remembering that we are bound to encounter troubles along the way with persons of any sex who have insecurities.

I intend to continue to be the same quiet person that I am. I like myself just that way. If my low key manner causes me to be invisible now and again I’ll just have to learn when I need to take charge of the situation. I don’t need to change my ways nor insist that the male half of the world change theirs. Instead the sensible thing seems to be to find ways to understand and respect one another. It’s not that difficult to be flexible and to adapt. That may be the quickest way to the top for anyone.

I joked around when Hillary Clinton was running for president, but I was earnest in my assessment of her campaign. She might have been a far more convincing candidate if she had taken some of my suggestions and those from her husband. Instead of bemoaning the inequities of being a woman, she should have celebrated that fact that she was running for the highest office in the land. Rather than pointing out the differences that seem to inhibit women she would have been better served to demonstrate her many strengths. She should have reached out to her detractors and those who felt that their lives had somehow been diminished by an ever changing world. She could have listened to their cries for help rather than calling them deplorable. I suspect that she lost not so much because she was a woman, but mostly because she made a large group of people feel invisible. She should have understood how awful that feels.

Until We Meet Again

pexels-photo-424517.jpegDear Lynda,

I remember the first time I met you as clearly as if it was just yesterday. I should have been excited about moving to a new house, but I wasn’t. I liked my neighborhood, my friends and my school, and I could not imagine being as happy in a new place. I rather grudgingly traveled with my parents to our home, and was quite pleasantly surprised when your family came across the street to welcome us as soon as we arrived. When your mom found out that I was in the same grade as you she immediately introduced us and the rest was so glorious! It almost seemed as though we had been destined to meet and become friends. To this very day I still tell people that you were my first best friend, and probably the most wonderful of the lot.

I was six going on seven and could not imagine anything more wonderful than those happy days that we shared riding our bicycles all over the neighborhood while singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of our lungs. We’d hang out in the woods across from the school and squeal with delight on the big tree swing that went over the bayou. Each afternoon we paused to watch The Mickey Mouse Club together and discussed the Mouseketeers and the stories of Spin and Marty as though they were our real friends. I so loved being with your big family and eating at the picnic table in your kitchen. I felt as though I was your sister and sometimes even wished that I actually was.

We told each other our secrets and shared both our fears and our dreams. I don’t believe that I have ever again felt so completely close to anyone as I did with you back then. I loved your grandmother as much as my own and I still laugh with amazement as I remember her bending over to place her palms flat on the floor. That was a wonderful trick in my mind that made her even more lovable than she already was.

We joined the Brownie scouts together and I recall a sad time when Mrs. Guidry, one of our leaders, died. Our mothers took us to the funeral home to pay our respects and there she was lying in the casket in a blue negligee. You and I thought that it was hilarious to see her that way, and we began giggling so much that we were unable to stop. I think that our mom’s were horrified by our behavior, but we were just two silly girls who had never seen someone reposed in death before. I suspect that our laughing was more of a nervous reaction than a sign of disrespect, and  were such pals that our brains seemed to be melded together. We thought alike on so many things.

When my family moved once again, this time to California, I was bereft. I could not even imagine being without you. My time so far away was truly terrible and I suppose that I pouted and carried on a bit too much, but it was so painful to leave the one person with whom I felt so happy and free. Those months away were some of the worst of my lifetime and I often prayed that we would somehow be united. Of course we did come back, but our situation became so very different. My father died and I was so confused. My mother thought it best that my brothers and I not have to endure his funeral and it was you who understood how much I needed to know how the ceremony had been. You went with your family and then so honestly gave me all of the details. I always felt that our bond was even more special after that because I knew how much you understood me.

Life has a way of bringing people together and then pulling them apart, and so it was with the two of us. Even though we moved back to the old neighborhood after Daddy’s death we were many blocks away from you and so our meetings became a bit rarer, but we still stayed in touch and I so enjoyed every single time that we were able to talk and just be together. We were always able to pick up as though it had only been five minutes since we parted.

We went to different high schools and became involved in our teenage worlds and saw less and less of each other, but our special bond never grew weak. We married and started families and spent wonderful times visiting and watching our children play together. You had become so incredibly beautiful and I often laughed inside when I remembered how you had once wondered if you would ever be as lovely as your mom. Our worlds seem to be so perfect, but then life took over and jerked us into reality. I became a caretaker for my mother as she struggled with mental illness and you assumed the role of single mother, caring for your three boys and working full time. The years raced by and it seemed as though perhaps our friendship would be just a very lovely memory, but somehow we managed to speak again and found that we still had that magical feeling of comfort when we are together.

We’ve seen and done so much since those carefree days when we were little girls. Both of us will be seventy by the end of this year. I can’t even imagine where the years have gone, but my childish belief that we would somehow stay close through the years wasn’t so silly after all. The months may stretch out between our meetings, and we may be in different cities, but we somehow find our way back to each other time and again. With each meeting we realize that there is something rather special about our relationship that will never change.

I will love you and cherish our remarkable friendship for all of the rest of my days. You are a part of my heart, of my life, and I am so thankful that I met you. So much of who I am today was born on those bicycle rides and in our oh so serious conversations. You are an angel who is always on my mind. In fact, yours is one of the few birthdays that I always remember. Each April 19, for more than sixty decades I have thought of you and hoped that you are doing well. Thank you for being the remarkably loving and inspiring person that you are. May we both look forward to many more opportunities to see each other and to enjoying so much more laughter. God bless and keep you until we meet again. Happy Birthday!

Letters To Elsie


A faulty hot water heater wreaked havoc in my home about a month ago. Several rooms were affected by the damage necessitating a general overhaul of many of my belongings. As I have moved things around to make room for the repairs I have used the opportunity to do a bit of spring cleaning and organizing. In the process I once again found a packet of letters that had been sitting untouched and unread in a cedar chest for many years. I came upon the missives when I was unable to move the chest to paint a room and replace the water logged carpet. I had to remove many of the items that I had stored inside compartment so that it moved more easily. That’s when I came upon those long forgotten correspondences.

They had been written to my husband’s aunt during and just after World War II. Aunt Elsie was originally from Great Britain but had moved to Houston from England in the early part of the twentieth century. She had kept in contact with relatives over time and even sent little care packages now and again. The notes that I found were striking in their honesty and the portrait of life in a war torn country. I realized that they told a tale of privation and uncertainty that continued well into the post war years. They were fascinating to say the least, and so for today here is one of them just as it was written so long ago.


Dear Elsie

You couldn’t have timed your letter and parcel better, for they arrived on Christmas Day. It is kind of you and we do appreciate it. We drank to your health with the tea and gave you good wishes when tasting the cake. It is ages since we had any currants, peel or almonds (we have had raisins, sultanas and other dried fruits) and so we appreciated the flavor very much. We do pretty well really but rationing does cramp one’s taste. Everyone is remarkably healthy and the children are wonderful so the diet must do us good.

I was interested to know about Wig’s visit. Olga does hope he is on his way home again. You will have all our news, I suppose. Well I got home from the nursing home on the day before Christmas Eve and I have a new daughter who is called Stella, so now I have a nice family, 2 boys and 2 girls. Beryl is delighted with her sister and just loves her. The boys too are very pleased with her so she is going to have a good time. I think 4 is a large number but 7 deserves a medal, although I believe Grandma N was a grandmother at the same age and she had 7 children.

One doesn’t know how long this war has lasted until one finds schoolboys in 1939 are married and in the Forces now. We have been free from raids and getting to think they were things of the past until the second night I was home when we had our first experience of flying bombs. I was glad I was home and not helplessly tied to bed. The lights do make a difference. Beryl and most other young children went to view the lights when they first came on. These children have never known anything but blackout and though the lights are dim it makes a great difference to see lights from houses and buses etc.

We are well except for slight colds but our weather is so variable and has been so wet since August that one can’t expect anything else. Mother is bit better but still has to take care.

I am glad to hear of Robert Q and that he is all right. What a big slice of these boys’ lives is being spent in strange places, and what hard times they are having.

Give my best wishes to all other members of the family for 1945. May it bring peace to the world though I am afraid the aftermath of the war will take more settling than the fighting has done.

My love to you all and again many thanks.

Yours affectionately


Edna was living in Cottingham at the time she wrote this letter. I was struck by the quietly resigned manner in which she spoke of the hardships that she and others so impacted by the war were experiencing. Hers is a tiny portrait of a time in history when all of Europe was struggling to carry on while life continued to play out with births, children and family traditions. She wants to be brave but her fears peek through the brave front that her words attempt to imply. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been. At the same time Elsie must have been beside herself with concern knowing that members of her British family were enduring so much hardship. Elsie’s brothers were doing their part as American troops, so she was no doubt worried about them as well. It was a time of uncertainty and sacrifice the world over and the letters that travelled across the ocean must have provided a kind of life line between loved ones. How admirable the everyday people had to be.