Going to conferences always brings out my deeply hidden insecurities. On any typical day I am a fairly confident person. I work hard. I try to be nice to people. Life is generally good. But in the weeks leading up to any conference I’m a little shaky. I start obsessing about clothing (which I never do). I worry about meaningless stuff. My head gets the best of me.
Leading up to Mom 2.0 my mental firestorm always goes on overload. There are a few reasons why. To start with I really respect the people who attend. I read their words and listen to their podcasts and marvel at their Instagram feeds. I just sink into thinking, I’m unworthy. Oh course I’m worthy. We all are. But that doesn’t stop my inner critic from spewing belittling thoughts late at night.
The second and equally plaguing problem heading into Mom 2.0 is I really care about promoting my book. It took 20 years to learn enough to write it, and it’s my book baby. I want to tell everyone about it. But that’s the problem. It’s really hard to tell people about your book. It’s awkward. I’m awkward.
Lastly, there is always a time when it feels like everyone else has someone to go to the _______ (fill in the blank big event) and I don’t. Sure, I could ask to join someone. But that sometimes feels like offering to feed the bears. It could go really well or you could get mauled.
Still, excitedly, I drove to the conference, held this year in the lovely Langham Pasadena (thanks for the pens). The conference didn’t disappoint. I called my husband a few times, and he would say I was giddy. I met incredibly nice and interesting people. I presented on a panel with women I didn’t know, and it all worked perfectly. I went in determined to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I did. But the problem with leaving the comfort zone is that it’s uncomfortable there.
So when I went home and started thinking about all I said and did. I became mortified. I obsessed just like I did before the conference but this time I had actual experiences to harp on. Like the time I horrendously whipped out my book to give to a person I admire. Ugh, sorry. Or the time I tried to tell someone their Dove hair looked great but my compliment came off all wrong. Sorry, again. I could go on and on. I somehow was turning a great experience into middle school.
Before I sunk too deep into my breakdown, I flipped through my little notebook and remembered my two biggest takeaways from the conference. I replayed Brené Brown’s inspiring words: Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. I would never talk to someone the way my mind was talking to me. The other advice that really hit home was from Katherine Wintsch. In her Slay Like A Mother presentation she told us to stay in the present, “right here, right now.” And just like Brené Brown she told us to acknowledge the voice and then direct it to a friend.
If my friend told me all the crap I was telling myself, here’s what I would say:
You are being ridiculous. Even if you embarrassed yourself, who cares.
If you feel so badly asking for someone to help you out then offer to help someone else.
Give yourself a break.
All of the sudden I became the friend I needed. I started to return to my conference high shedding that awful critic. I incorporated what I just learned. And that’s what conferences are all about. It’s growth in ways you didn’t even know you needed.
Being a working mother these days is often about finding your inner voice and silencing the real or imagined chatter. I am so thankful to be able to have these learning experiences. Professionally, I prioritized my work and found the direction I needed. Personally, I picked up a new tool to fight my worst inner voice and a way to be a better me. Thank you Mom 2.0 for all of this.
On a side note: What makes me feel better about asking for help is also giving it. Here is what I have to share. If you are interested, message me on Facebook @thefamilycoach or send me an email here.
- 1-page book review request sheet
- Sample successful pitch letters
- My book proposal for a nonfiction book
- Ask me to do a book review for your book baby
Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
I’ve been watching the Parkland survivor advocates feeling simultaneously in awe of their courage and fearful for their futures. I am absolutely astonished at their strength, power and passion. They have been able to achieve what many exceptionally accomplished adults have not. They have advanced the discussion on gun control, and they deserve our never-ending gratitude. Yes, we owe them for what they are trying to do for our children and country. But we also owe them for the potential damage they are unknowingly inflicting upon themselves.
Emma González, the face of the movement, is barely a day into adulthood. She believes she can change the world, and she’s certainly putting in her effort. But at 18, she doesn’t know about the pain of banging your head against the wall trying to help people understand why they should collectively care. She doesn’t know that she just lost her last bit of privacy, and that her life will never go as she originally planned. She doesn’t know how PTSD may affect her in the future or even what the effects will be of having lived through a mass shooting and watching friends die. She hasn’t had a second of time to grieve. As a social worker and parent I can’t help but worry about what the recent fame and opportunity is costing her and her friends.
In an essay for Harper’s Bazaar, González laments: “I’m 18 years old, Cuban and bisexual. I’m so indecisive that I can’t pick a favorite color, and I’m allergic to 12 things. I draw, paint, crochet, sew, embroider—anything productive I can do with my hands while watching Netflix. But none of this matters anymore.” Right now her life is all about gun control. At the same time, she is still developing her identity of who she is and who she wants to be. She still naively thinks everything will return to normal as soon as the adults wake up and change the laws. She writes, “We want to fix this problem so it doesn’t occur again, but mostly we want people to forget about us once this is over. We want to go back to our lives and live them to the fullest in respect for the dead”
An icon at 18, González has a verified Twitter account followed by 1.4 million. Emma and her friends don’t know what twitter trolls can do. Unfortunately, they are getting a crash course. Just yesterday a doctored animated video made the rounds on social media. It featured González ripping up a copy of the constitution. The name calling can be venomous by the anonymous. However, loads of people have no problem attaching their names to vicious hate speech. Take Leslie Gibson, former candidate for the Maine house and a man who called González a “skinhead lesbian” on Twitter. That’s one of the nicer comments I read.
Being an advocate and activist has a price, and Emma González and the other young people fronting this movement will pay it for us. It may take years but the price will come. I worry about anxiety and depression. I worry about PTSD and suicidal ideation. I worry about social isolation and credible threats to their safety. I worry about the toll of prolonged anger without outlets and something positive to balance it. These worries aren’t hyperbole or dramatic exaggeration. It’s the sad reality of being a nationally-recognized activist.
A recent article in the New York Times chronicled the pain and suffering of young people who were suddenly thrown into the activist rolls. Due to various causes, five people from the Black Lives Matter movement have died in just the last two years. The kids from Parkland are already receiving death threats. González reported on 60 Minutes that she fears bombs being thrown through their office windows. This weight would be extremely difficult for an adult to handle, let alone adolescents. There is a lot of sacrifice and suffering that accompanies anyone shouting for change in the public eye. But the effects are more intense when the advocates are still coming of age.
It remains unclear how the #NeverAgain movement will affect Emma González and her peers from Parkland. They are doing a service for their country, and they should be recognized as such. I just hope the price tag for their effort isn’t irreparable damage.
Sometimes a small change can make a massive difference. Today I found out my school district changed it’s dress code policy. What might look like minor language alterations actually add up to a huge development.
Last year my 13-year-old daughter was objectified, mortified and singled out due to her size (tall) and gender. First we were told girls couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys can’t control themselves. Then various school administrators gave my daughter two dress code violations stating that her shorts were too short. Frustrated and embarrassed by what she had to wear the rest of the day my daughter wrote an email to the principal expressing her thoughts on the dress code. The principal wrote back that it was out of her hands as she was just following district policy (LAME).
I was livid and fed up with the policy and its implementation. I wrote a tongue in cheek letter to the principal inviting her to take my daughter shopping. The letter struck a chord, for better or worse, with so many. I received hundreds of notes from women and girls thanking me for expressing their frustration. I also received loads of well-meaning folks telling me I was raising a slut and a snowflake. Everyone is entitled to their opinion although I respectfully disagreed.
The dress code singles out girls. Although tall and overweight girls are disproportionately more likely to be cited. The not-so-subtle message of the dress code is that girls’ bodies are a distraction and girls need to be responsible for making boys comfortable. In the age of #MeToo it is clear that we need to be sending different messages to both the boys and the girls.
This year my daughter entered high school where miraculously the dress code isn’t enforced much. Life went on. However, I just spotted an understated post on the middle school Facebook page that simply says, “Dress Code approved 1/16/2018.” I clicked on the link and immediately smiled from ear to ear.
The new dress code states that kids must wear a shirt, pant, shorts or a skirt, and shoes. No one can wear clothing with profanity, violent images, any illegal item or hate speech. That’s pretty much it.
The best part of the new policy actually doesn’t relate to the dress code, but to how it can be enforced. School staff may NOT publicly call out a student for attire. Staff may NOT require students to bend, kneel or measure skirts or straps. And most important, school staff may NOT accuse students of distracting other students with their clothing. When I read that part I became teary from I place I didn’t know was still hurting. This is a huge advancement and a win for all the kids in the district.
I don’t think my letters to and about the principal had any influence over this policy. But I do think that our collective voice across the country is being heard. This policy shift may seem small and insignificant. But right now I feel hopeful, and that’s not nothing.
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I’m so sick of writing useless commentaries on how parents can talk to their kids about the latest episode of senseless violence. At this point, when there’s a shooting (at school or in a church or at a concert), there are no good ways to talk to kids.
Could this happen at our school? Yes
Am I safe? Not exactly.
Should I be scared? Kind of.
There have been 18 school shootings in just the first 45 days of 2018. Death or injury occurred at seven shootings and attempted or completed suicide happened at two. So, are my kids safe from gun violence? I don’t really think so. Are yours? No, they aren’t either.
I can’t explain to my kids that some people value their right to own guns, any kind of gun, over the safety of our citizen. I can’t explain this because I can hardly believe it. It hurts to much to imagine. But it’s true. Some people want fewer restrictions. They want to be able to bring guns across state lines and into cities. They aren’t interested in waiting periods or background checks. They want to be able to buy any gun that has ever been manufactured for any reason.
I can’t explain to my kids that words written in 1791 are the reason we have to have “active shooter” drills at school. There is no way to discuss this issue with kids because they ask the obvious questions, and I don’t have good answers.
Why does someone need a gun that can fire so many bullets? Ummmm….
How come nothing has changed since so many were murdered in Sandy Hook? Ummmm…..
I can’t explain to my kids that politicians make the big decisions but those decisions are clouded by a competing interest. People in politics have to run for office, and that’s expensive. I can’t explain that the people we elect are beholden to the people or entities who help pay the costs of running for office. There is no good way to explain this without shouting and ripping my hair out.
The moral compass of this country is buried, and there are no comforting answers for children. Sometimes I want to pretend that nothing happened to spare my kids. But I can’t do that either. They’ll end up hearing about it from their friends on the bus or even during a commercial during Jeopardy. We can’t shield children now from being killed or being frightened by it either.
I want to believe that change can happen, and there is a tipping point on the horizon. But more and more every day I feel like I’m living in a dystopian novel. Except this is reality. It’s really happening that time and time again not one change happens after a tragedy. An armed security guard at my children’s schools will not stop a gunman from shooting up kids on the playground or the outdoor cafeteria. More guns won’t make anyone safer.
So, how should we explain this shooting and the next and the next? We can’t because there are no words to explain all of this. What we can do is listen to their fears and express our own sadness. We can tell them that there is still hope, and there are ways to fix this problem. Tell them how important voting is and why. Tell children that in the face of a scary situation they should rise up. Be a good friend. Care for their community. Do what we can to help all people in this country to live better healthier more productive lives. Tell your kids you love them. That’s really all we can say.
Over winter break a child at my daughter’s school died by suicide. Grief counseling was offered.
Within one month on January 22, 2018 a girl was found dead in a nearby park by suicide. She was 13.
Only five days later a child in another nearby town died by suicide. His final notes to family, friends and his school were made public. The principal made a plea to parents to change that was widely promoted on social media.
Within nine days of the last local suicide we received news that yet another young man from my daughter’s school took his life.
That’s four local suicides within six weeks. Any loss of life is a tragedy. But when there are multiple suicides in a close vicinity within a short period of time it’s known as a cluster. And clusters among teens are particularly dangerous because they often produce the spread of suicide. There is a very delicate balance that is needed to honor the person who was lost and provide the family support. Communities need to be extremely mindful that doing so can often be in direct opposition of what is needed to control the cluster, namely, not romanticizing the child, glorifying the death or sensationalizing the situation.
Grief counselors are always on hand to offer support after a school death. That’s the first point the principal puts out there to allay fears of kids suffering from the trauma of losing a friend. But that is clearly not nearly enough.
Last year when 13 Reasons Why was released nearly every school was prompted to talk about suicide. Some schools advised parents to tell their kids to avoid watching the show. I advised something different. Other schools did a suicide awareness programs. But again, none of it is enough. Parents, teachers, school districts, colleges and society at large need to make vital changes to make sure kids have a chance to enjoy their childhoods and make it to adulthood.
Here’s what we need to do individually and collectively to keep our kids from thinking suicide is a viable option to end their problems:
Parents and schools must stop putting ever-present pressure on kids to succeed at all costs. The societal emphasis on college and getting into the absolute best one as a vital means to life success and happiness is incredibly misguided and untrue. Heavy course loads with multiple AP classes and hours of homework all while also doing extra-curricular sports, tutoring, chores, and volunteering is killing our kids (literally and figuratively). Meanwhile, mental illness concerns are skyrocketing among teens and college kids. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, I don’t care where my kids go to college or even if they go. I know that is easier said than done but saying it brings it closer to reality. What’s more important is for my kids to find a way to make a living doing something they enjoy. My kids know this clearly. Do yours?
Schools need to stop sending grades to parents on a daily basis. It takes the ownership away from kids and further gives parents one more avenue to overreach into their children’s lives. It adds emphasis on the importance of every minute assignment and almost begs parents to discuss each grade with their kids. In response kids start worrying intensely about disappointing their parents. Many a childhood suicide can be traced to children anxious that one mistake will so heavily upset their parents that they view death as a preferable outcome. Take that in for a second.
Teach kids that perfect is a fallacy and even the idea of striving to be at least closer to perfection should not be the goal. Parents say they don’t expect their kids to be perfect. But their actions convey a different message. Just watch the sidelines of any youth sporting event. Parents tend to provide an endless stream of advice on how to play and improve the game or performance. There is absolutely no fun in that. Children often continue to play to please their parents (and because it looks good on college applications) or they drop out. Either way, the message is clear: be better, do better. When kids come home with a 95 many parents ask (sometimes even jokingly), “What happened to the other 5 points?” Stop doing that.
Schools need crisis intervention plans as well as prophylactic plans for addressing suicide. Playing catch up offering suicide hotlines and providing grief counselors is not enough. School and communities need to know how to respond if and when a suicide occurs. Days after a recent suicide a well-meaning coach published the suicide letters on his blog. He was asking for parents to read the letters and think about how to make changes to support children better. He too was grieving. But what he didn’t know was that those letters would also be seen by young people. They would be confusing to read and incredibly thought provoking. And worst of all, highly inflammatory in terms of glorifying suicide. I’m deeply saddened but not at all surprised that another suicide happened days later. At this point I only know there is a correlation between these two events, not causation. But training and research make me fear that sharing those letters did more harm than good. Information disseminated on a regular basis to parents, kids and teachers about teenage suicide, why it happens, how to prevent it and how to handle it if it does occur it would prevent some mishandling and minimize the risk of a cluster forming.
Parents need to make the assumption their kids are exposed to drugs, alcohol, vaping, sex, porn, violence, social isolation, bullying and much more. Social media, cell phones, access to the internet and the 24-hour news cycle have taken away parents’ ability to shield their children from information that may be harmful. Kids don’t always possess the maturity to handle what they are exposed to. Often even the most conscientious parents have no clue what is going on for kids behind closed doors and on disappearing snapchats. Make a point of talking to kids regularly (weekly) about important issues even if you think it doesn’t affect your kids. Talk to your kids even if they don’t talk back. Talk in the car, over dinner or at night with the lights out before bed. Text these conversations if that’s the only way. Have the conversations before you think you have to. Your kids are going through so much more than you think. Get in there and help them.
Love your kid no matter what. That sounds obvious but it needs to be said. Love your kid despite his F on the important science test. Love you kid although she was caught smoking pot in the bathroom. Love your kid even though she is gay or lesbian or trans or not even sure. Love your kid when you find out she’s been promiscuous and might be pregnant. Don’t just say it. Show your kids that you may not love their actions but you love them. Show them that they should not fear a nuclear meltdown if they tell you bad news. Make sure they know that there is nothing that they should view as the end of the world. Tell them and show them with your action.
Learn more about suicide and how to prevent it at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
HEXBUG VEX Robotics Catapult
$19.99 on Amazon (on sale for $12.79 right now)
My son, Emmett, likes to build. We recently learned about a new line of toys from HEXBUG (yes, same company who makes those awesome crawling little robot bugs) called VEX Robotics. Sure, robotics are all the craze right now. But there’s a place for the VEX products. Here’s why.
As a parent, there are several things I appreciate about the VEX line. To start, VEX allows kids to experiment with robotics without breaking the bank. It’s frustrating how expensive some of the robotics toys can be. Many families are just priced out. But the VEX products are generally between the $12 – $20 range. There’s a big bang for the buck here. Kids have to use their brains to build it. And unlike other building toys, once it is put together, kids can still play with it. The VEX robotics products don’t just sit on a shelf and collect dust. They continues to provide a fun activity long after the initial fun of constructing is gone.
Emmett and some of his friends build the Catapult, the Zip Flyer and the Crossfire Airplane Launcher. They were all great. The Zip Flyer is great for younger kids (8+). The Catapult and the Crossfire are recommended for 14+ but my son is 11 and built them both without assist. The only downside to any of the toys is that the balls for the Catapult are easily lost. That’s due to no fault of HEXBUG but still it’s a minor issue. Luckily, they supply extra balls there are some to spare.
When you start building any of the VEX toys I like how you don’t really know how it is all going to come together. You don’t know how it’s going to work. Then when you are building it you learn how each machine will work. After you build it I liked how there are a lot of different things that can be done with it. You can launch it at different levels. So you can choose the distance which is fun. The Catapult was the most complicated one to build of the VEX toys we tried. I would say that a kid needs to be a little experienced at building before trying the catapult. The Zip Flyer would be better for younger kids.
It’s fun to play catch with the Catapult or to try shooting it at a target. I would recommend all of the VEX products and specifically the catapult.
Overall Recommendation: Great toy at a great price point.
Disclosure: These products was provided for free. However, these reviews are our own and reflect our true feelings on these products. Some links may be affiliates.
My son, Emmett, absolutely loves anything remote controlled. He loved little RC cars, and now he loves drones. Over the years we have been through many. That’s because most of them last a few days to weeks. Inevitably, the propellers twist or there’s a mysterious controller disconnection or the frames break from impact. It’s always frustrating and disappointing, especially because drones don’t come cheap.
I visited a toy show a few months ago and discovered the best line of drones for kids I have ever seen. I was excited to get one home and have Emmett test it out. The nice ladies representing the drones told me it was extremely hearty, built to last. I was skeptical but hopeful.
Well, the drones completely live up to the hype. I’ll let Emmett do the reviewing. But from a parent’s perspective, I’d buy this drone for every kid on my list. It’s fun, has the coolest design and can withstand more than its fair share of crashes. Emmett reviews the Drone Force Angler Attack and Vulture Strike below. For me the clear winner is the Angler. It’s nearly twice the price but it’s uniqueness makes it worth the price. If it’s out of the budget, Emmett loves the Vulture Strike, maybe more than the Angler.
Drone Force Angler Attack-2.4Ghz Illuminated Indoor/Outdoor Drone Helicopter Toy
$72 on Amazon, 8+
This drone looks amazing, like a crazy real angler fish. Probably the best looking drone I’ve ever seen. The drone has very good control, and if it was my first drone it would be easy to learn to fly. It’s not super challenging. There are lights all over the drone and are easy to put on and off. They are really cool. The battery charges quickly and lasts for a long time. It’s very stable when it’s flying and super durable. The propellers aren’t going to hit anything. They are well protected. When it flies at night it’s so fun. It looks like a scary angler fish when it lights up. The controller has big and easy to use buttons.
Overall recommendation: If you are looking for a drone I would definitely get the Angler Attack Drone.
Drone Force Vulture Strike-2.4Ghz Indoor/Outdoor Drone Helicopter Toy with Missile Launcher Feature
$37 on Amazon, 8+
The Vulture Strike is a little faster than the Angler Attack drone. It looks like a bird which is cool. It can do tricks like flips. This drone is also very protected and can be flown inside and outdoors. The Vulture Strike has a target light that is projected so you know where to aim. It can shoot two plastic missiles (It comes with four in case you lose any). The missiles don’t go very far but they are extremely fun to shoot. The controls and the stability is similar to the Angler Attack. It’s very stable and easy to control. It’s slightly harder to fly than the Angler Attack. I would probably recommend this drone for a kid who has flown a drone before. The flight range is 150 feet, just like the Angler Attack.
Overall Recommendation: For someone who has already flown a drown I would absolutely recommend this drone.
Disclosure: These products was provided for free. However, these reviews are our own and reflect our true feelings on these products. Some links may be affiliates.
Children don’t misbehave because it’s educational or enlightening.
They don’t misbehave because they’re sick or twisted.
Nope, children misbehave for one simple reason—it works.
From yelling and negotiating to farting and pinching, acting like a terror pays huge dividends. Crying, whining and complaining all give kids more of what they want, like an ice cream, more PlayStation time, extra bedtime stories or even just attention. Those same menacing behaviors also help kids avoid the things don’t want. Like baths. And vegetables.
Want to reinforce awful behavior? Merely respond with attention, discipline or just give in and you are guaranteed to see a repeat performance. Even a lecture supplies a child enough attention and power to aggravate a parent. Seeing a frazzled parent can be just as motivating as an extra cookie. Behavior that is reinforced is likely to be repeated because children have learned they are highly effective.
So if discipline and lectures result in increased awfulness, what’s a parent to do? Well, it turns out selectively ignoring these troublesome behaviors will show your children that their behavior is no longer effective. The best way to combat whining and tantrums and negotiating is to ignore it all. As soon as your child stops the behavior, immediately reengage.
Here is a list of the behaviors you should ignore to actually improve behavior. Happy ignoring!
Whining/ Complaining: We all know those children who complain about everything. Their dinner is too hot or cold. The line for ice cream is too long. They are too tired to walk Fluffy or do their math homework. The list of complaints never ends. These children complain because they have learned that complaining often helps them avoid unpleasant tasks. It also surely results in loads of attention. Even though it’s exasperating, ignore all complaining.
Insincere crying: Parents should never ignore children who are in real pain or discomfort. But often children use crying for effect. A parent or babysitter or grandma feels badly the child is sad and rewards her with something wanted. Crying is used as a ploy. Ignore it!
Tantrums: Tantrums are an expression of frustration and anger. Kids are allowed to be mad. But when tantrums are reinforced with attention or compromises children use them more frequently and with greater intensity. Allow your child to feel angry but don’t give the tantrum any attention. When the child starts to quiet down, reengage him/her as soon as possible.
Statements meant to provoke: Children, especially teens, are masters are pushing Mom and Dad’s buttons. All they have to do is insult us, and we become a ticking time bomb. It feels impossible not to react. But reacting with anger is exactly what a child is trying to accomplish. And when we reply with a heated, “Don’t talk to me that way!” kids know the mission was accomplished.
Cursing: There are two kinds of cursing and parents should ignore them both—but for different reasons. Little kids who parrot curses they’ve heard have no idea what they are saying. But the reaction they get from parents makes saying those words exceptionally fun. The second kind of cursing is done by cranky teens trying to piss off their parents. When teens don’t get what they want they are angry and want their parents to be angry too. So they mutter off a, “F**k you, Mom.” Those words will certainly earn a fiery response from Mom. Score one for the angry teen. Any reaction from a parent only acts as encouragement for more cursing. When cursing elicits no response children find other more appropriate ways to express themselves. Ignore all cursing.
Negotiating: Most parents assume that compromising with their kids is a win for everyone. That’s completely wrong. Whenever parents negotiate they lose even if they win something. That’s because kids who negotiate learn to use the tactic for everything. Once parents make a declaration for what a child needs to do, they shouldn’t negotiate—ever. And they should ignore any of the child’s attempts to do so.
Anything annoying: Sometimes children are annoying (every honest parent knows this is true). They burp on purpose or continuously tap their pencils or fidget in their seat. They make repetitive noises and talk too loudly. They pick their noses and wipe boogers on us. If children are being annoying on purpose to get under their parent’s skin and a parent shows frustration, the child will only be more enticed to repeat the behavior. Save yourself. Don’t respond at all.
Mean comments: Just like a teen cursing, mean comments are meant to grab a parent’s attention. They are meant to hurt and provoke. When parents respond by showing hurt or anger the child is only encouraged to continue to use that behavior out of spite. So, just like when a child has a fowl mouth, ignore it.
To learn more about how and what you can ignore pick up a copy of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction.
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We all die from something. It’s a heart attack. A cancerous tumor. A car accident. Death may be sudden or drawn out after a long excruciating illness. At the end of every life, no matter how that end arrives, there is an infinitesimal moment of time that rests between death and life. It’s milliseconds before the last breath. It’s the final heartbeat.
Often, in that exact moment, we are alone. We die, and no one is there to bear witness, to give us permission, to tell us we were loved. There is no goodbye or last words. Death is usually a process one has to endure alone.
However, on rare occasions, one has the honor to be with someone as he dies. This week my mother and I attended to my step father, Rodney, as he moved through that time between life and death.
I met Rodney in 1987 when I was invited to meet a “friend” of my mother’s over dessert. A few days later I came home from school to find Rodney and my mother sitting on the living room couch. “Can we speak with you?”, she said. These are the words no teenager wants to hear. My mother asked me, in front of Rodney, if I minded if he moved in. Did I mind? Yes, of course I minded. Rodney was a stranger moving into our small two bedroom on East 72nd street. I said, “fine” and walked into my room and closed the door.
Over the course of the next 30 years I grew to love and understand Rodney. He started his tenure in our home as a stranger, but more like an alien. He had a heavy British accent. He sat around the house in dress slacks and a buttoned up oxford shirt just to read the newspaper. He wore shoes or slippers at all times, never letting his bare feet touch the floor. He used a fork and knife to eat everything. His laugh sounded like a near death experience. Anyone who has ever witnessed Rodney watching Jackie Mason knows what I mean.
If one could live solely on bacon and runny eggs, cookies, potato chips, chocolate and bread with gobs of butter, Rodney would have. That’s what he liked best and when my mother wasn’t around or looking, that’s exactly what he ate. He enjoyed heavy cream, Christmas pudding with brandy butter and foie gras. He loathed onions and garlic and knew without a doubt if they were used in any dish. Many, many, a meal was sent back in a restaurant due to an errant scallion.
Rodney believed every problem could at least be minimized by having a chocolate. Once when I received my first speeding ticket on my way home from college he offered me what he thought was a box of chocolates. The wrapped box he received as a gift had been in the freezer for no one knows how long. The chocolates turned out to be a picture frame. We had a laugh. I didn’t get my chocolate that time but it made me feel better all the same.
With Rodney came family we barely knew across an ocean. Over the years our families blended in unforeseen ways, and the word step felt less like an insult and more of a matter of order. When Rodney greeted you or said goodbye he planted a kiss on your cheek like it was going to be his last. He held your head with two hands and lingered with his lips pressed to your cheek. He did this to men and women, to the old and the children, to family and friends. It was his way of transmitting his love when there may not have been words for his affections.
Rodney was obsessed with cars, drivable as well as model ones. He drove like a maniac let loose from the Indy 500. Rodney spent hours wearing magnifying head gear hunched over his desk putting together remote-controlled models from hundreds of pieces. Painstakingly, he painted the cars to look exactly like their real counterparts. These cars were his prized possessions, and he barely shared them.
When my son, Emmett, was born my husband and I decided to give our boy the Hebrew name of Rodney’s father. This was a man I never met but it didn’t matter. The honor was for Rodney and so Emmett became known at his bris at Nissan Wolf (Wolf for Rodney’s dad). Rodney loved all of his grandchildren. But with Emmett he shared a love of birds, animals and nature.
This October, just before my Emmett’s 11th birthday, a box arrived. Rodney had meticulously packed up two of his special remote-controlled cars that he built decades ago and sent them to Emmett. This was a bittersweet gift. I knew Rodney was too sick to enjoy these cars, and yet, this was a gift of extreme love. We Facetimed with Rodney so he could tell Emmett how to set up his cars. Emmett immediately loved his gift as any 11-year-old boy would. But he didn’t know it would be the final one from this grandpa. Somehow, I did.
A few weeks later my mother texted. Rodney was in the hospital with pneumonia. They were moving house that same day. It was terrible timing, and she needed help. I texted, “I can come this weekend.” My mom texted back, “I wish you were here now.” So I booked the next redeye and arrived on Halloween. I unpacked my mother and Rodney’s house while my mom went back and forth to the hospital. One moment it seemed Rodney was doing a little bit better. The next he was slipping away.
After years of two kinds of cancer and a debilitating neck complication Rodney was weak. He had reached the limits of his will, and he made the decision that he no longer wanted to live. When I arrived at his bedside in the ICU Rodney was awake but worn out and in pain. Shortly after 8am on November 2nd Rodney said declaratively with full competence, “I want to die.” No more intervention. No more treatment. He told my mother he loved her as he always did. She told Rodney that she loved him. Not long after that Rodney slept, never to fully wake again.
By 12pm the Rabbi came to sing the Shema to Rodney and give him his last blessing. If a moment can be dreadfully sad and simultaneously comforting, this was it.
Just before 1pm Rodney’s daughter Louise called from England and spoke a loving last message to Rodney she composed with her sister, Victoria. We held the phone to his ear and although he was sleeping his brow moved. He heard the message, I’m sure of it.
At 1:30pm Rodney was settled into the hospice unit in the hospital. It was warm and peaceful in that room. All of the wires and tubes that monitored Rodney were removed. His horrific neck brace that pained my mother to see as much as Rodney to wear was discarded.
Rodney’s son-in law Jonathan sent a beautiful text message. My mother read it aloud to Rodney.
Rodney’s long lost but recently found daughter Jayne called and whispered yet another message in Rodney’s ear.
My mother and I told Rodney it was ok if he was ready. My mother said, “I love you darling. It’s ok to go.” She held his hand and gave him kisses.
He took a breath and then nothing. A moment hung in the air. Was it the last breath? But then Rodney breathed again. This happened several times. The nurse said this was the end. She left the room and closed the door silently leaving my mother and me with Rodney.
My mother whispered words to Rodney. I stood at her back.
We bore witness.
We gave him permission to end his own suffering.
We said I love you.
We said goodbye.
And then a breath. And then nothing.
The nurse confirmed that Rodney died. There was a peacefulness in that moment that was unexpected. Rodney’s death was dignified, on his own terms, painless, quick and with his beloved wife by his side. I don’t know that one could ask for more in that infinitesimal moment between life and death.
There’s a Jewish phrase people share when a loved one dies.
May his memory be a blessing.
I never understood that saying until recently. How could a memory of a loved one who died be a blessing? Wouldn’t it be better if that person was alive and not a memory? Wouldn’t that be the blessing?
Not always. Rodney was in a lot of pain. It would have been wonderful if he could live on with health and happiness. But that wasn’t his story. He lived a full life with love, family, good friends, adventure and passion. He made mistakes and had flaws. But in the final hours of his life, none of that mattered. He went in peace, and that was truly a blessing.
We all die. And often there is pain. There are words unsaid. There are loose ends and unfinished business. When a memory becomes a blessing it means that one can move past the unsaid and the suffering. It means that the memory of a dead relative brings more joy and smiles than sadness. In Rodney’s case the time between the pain and the blessing of his memory seems incredibly short. Seeing him take his very last breath, knowing there was peace, comfort and love wipes away a great deal of pain.
May his memory be a blessing.
Thank you. It already is.
Harvey Weinstein & Donna Karan
Allegations of a long history of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein have recently come to light. Apparently, Weinstein uses power and potential opportunity to overpower women and have his way. He did this over and over again. Just ask Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino to name only a few. In an audio exposed by The New Yorker, Weinstein is heard pestering Italian model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, to come with him a day after fondling her breast. There is one section that pelted me like a tsunami. Here is the passage:
WEINSTEIN: Please. I’m not gonna do anything. I swear on my children. Please come in. On everything. I’m a famous guy.
GUTIERREZ: I’m, I’m feeling very uncomfortable right now.
WEINSTEIN: Please come in. And one minute. And if you wanna leave when the guy comes with my jacket, you can go.
GUTIERREZ: Why yesterday you touch my breast?
WEINSTEIN: Oh, please. I’m sorry. Just come on in. I’m used to that.
GUTIERREZ: You’re used to that?
Does that sound familiar? It should. Almost a year ago today Donald Trump was heard on an unearthed audio saying this to Billy Bush:
TRUMP: I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BUSH: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
What is strikingly similar about these audio clips is the idea that both powerful men reference being able to do what they want to women because they are famous. But it isn’t being famous that gives men this idea. How do I know this? Because nearly every woman I know has a story (if not many) of being kissed, groped, sexually harassed or raped against their wishes. Boys and men systematically learn that women are at their disposal. Sadly, so do the girls.
Last year my 13-year-old daughter was routinely subjected to unwanted criticism and sexualization of her body. Her gym teacher told the class and parents that girls in yoga pants were too arousing for the boys. If the boys were to get excited it could be embarrassing for the boys. Later in the year my daughter was dress coded twice for wearing shorts that were deemed inappropriate by the school administration. Because my daughter’s fingertips went below the hemline of the shorts she was considered a distraction. My daughter was made to change into boys gym shorts and sent back to class.
I can’t help but wonder what messages my daughter is internalizing. She was told in no uncertain terms that the boys are turned on by her, and it’s her responsibility to keep them under control. She was told that she’s a distraction just for showing her knees.
After the reports about Weinstein’s sexual harassment his friend Donna Karan, the women’s fashion designer, spoke out in his defense. In order to support Weinstein, Karan put the blame back on women in a familiar trope. Karan said, “How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” It can’t be Weinstein who is at fault. Again, women are responsible for controlling men’s urges. My first reaction was fierce distain at Karan for betraying the women assaulted. But I realize now she is a victim of the same messages my daughter is receiving.
As a parent, I want to teach my daughter the opposite of those messages. But I also feel an obligation to keep her safe. What if I don’t have her cover up and some man takes advantage of her? Am I being foolish and reckless? It feels impossible to build her self-esteem as a young woman and also talk to her about the sad realities of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, my daughter, and girls like her, cannot solve this problem just by speaking out or pushing back. Boys must be taught to combat those messages, too. Maybe if children learn a different trope they will not grow up to be perpetrators and victims. I have hope it’s possible. Here is what we all need to be teaching both girls and boys from a young age to combat systematic sexual harassment:
- A girl’s outfit does not imply any message about her desire for sexual contact. It doesn’t matter if a girl is walking down the street in a bra and underwear, she is not asking to be groped, touched or catcalled. End of story. Period.
- Girls do not have to put up with anything to get ahead. If someone tells you differently, speak up.
- Boys are accountable to control their own behavior. No girl is responsible for a male’s uncontrollable desire or behavior. It doesn’t matter what she wears. Refer back to #1.
- Girls do not have to “help” boys deal with an erection. Just because a boy is turned on doesn’t mean a girl must then do something with that erection.
- Sex is about relationships and mutual pleasure. Women are NOT put on this earth to service men. They are equals in the bedroom just as they are outside of it.
- No really means no. If a girl says, “No” then they mean that. Asking, pestering and bullying until you get a yes doesn’t take away that the girl said no. No, don’t show your penis. No, don’t send pictures of it. No, don’t ask repeatedly if girls are sure. They are sure when they say no the first time.