Six ways to 65 years; Relationship Advice from a Platinum Couple

Grandparents' wedding picture

At my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary party, my new fiancé, Mac gave an impromptu toast to the happy couple.  Fifteen years later, we never imagined we would once again be celebrating with Joe and Dot for their 65th anniversary.  Last month, we were lucky enough to do just that.

My grandparents are part of The Greatest Generation.

He, a World War II Navy veteran saw The Battle of Normandy in the Atlantic, Okinawa in the Pacific, and lost his parents and almost his own life in a tragic accident all before the age of twenty-one.  A devoted husband and well-meaning father with a strong work ethic who can fix anything, Joe greets life with a smile.  My grandfather is a youthful, spirited song and dance man, musician and opera lover who has serenaded and entertained generations of children.

She, a family and community matriarch who experienced divorce, fierce sibling rivalry, and an alcoholic, estranged father during her youth is a compassionate but no nonsense lady with strong opinions who keeps emotions close to the vest.  A church elder, domestic financier, caregiver, therapist, hostess, Frank Sinatra enthusiast and rabble rouser, Dot has raised, fed, housed, guided and knit elaborate sweaters for generations of children.

Joe and Dot are salt of the earth folk who grew up only a few miles from each other.  They met at work after the war, fell in love and married in four short months.  In their hometown, they raised three children in a modest, two-family house where they still live today.  Now in their late eighties, while the rest of us are busy reading up on which way to lean, they are quietly leaning on each other; much more now it seems than days long ago.

Grandparents 65th anniversary picture

And so with sixty-five years of couple hood under their belt, I asked my grandparents to share six pieces of relationship advice, one for each decade of marriage.  Here is what they had to say:

  1. Have your own friends, take time to socialize individually with them, and be supportive when your partner does as well.  Trust each other; jealousy is not love.
  1. Swallow your pride.  Even when you know you’re in the right; let your partner think he is the right one every now and again.
  1. Let the person who is committed to and better at saving money be in charge of the finances.  Then try and save as much as you can.
  1. Life is a bowl of cherries; some picks are sweet, others rotten.  Always try to keep a cool, level head when snacking.
  1. Sing to your child if you have one, especially as he awakes in the morning.  If singing isn’t for you, create a daily ritual; he will always remember it.  And when your child does something wrong, don’t always tell your partner.  Sometimes too many cooks in the kitchen complicate things.  Work it out one on one with your kid; he’ll remember that too.
  1. At the day’s end, take time to decompress and give your partner time to do the same.  Be thoughtful and aide the process; have a cocktail ready for her when she gets home from work.

6 ½.   Follow your heart, stand by your love, and keep promises to each other.  If you have second thoughts or believe you can’t keep your word, don’t get married.

As the eldest grandchild who lived with them until I was five and then again at twenty-two with countless visits in between and thereafter, I had a ringside seat to much of Joe and Dot’s relationship.  My take away from watching them?

Flirt, dance, sit outside, visit, celebrate, play cards, laugh, argue, reconcile.  Life is a fast and fleeting ride so keep the relationship as interesting as you collectively see fit and be sure to have a good time.

Couple hood is complicated work; everybody has their stuff and it’s not all moonlight and canoes.  But if you go by Joe and Dot, trust, compromise, balance, communication, support, love, honesty, commitment, cocktails and a song go a long way.

Gram and Pop dancing

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse; A Survivor’s Synopsis

The word Empower in magazine letters on a notice board

Child sexual abuse is pervasive in our society; it knows no race, religion, gender, or economic status.  It has impacted generations of children; stripped them of their innocence and burdened them with trauma that can last a lifetime.

Since posting A Great Hill, I have had several adults share their survival story with me, have listened to enough friends express worry when weirdos try to groom or build unhealthy relationships with their children, and have heard one too many accounts from those who know of a predator in the family but feel paralyzed that I felt it was high time as a survivor, parent, and educator I weigh in on this uncomfortable but necessary topic.

According to the article in Baby & Blog, 6 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse, “It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. To put this in perspective, it means in a classroom of 25 High School Seniors, 3 of the girls and 2 of the boys will have likely been sexually abused.”  But because sexual abuse is often hidden, I wouldn’t be surprised if these statistics are low.

Child sexual abuse is about power.  Child molesters feel powerful when they exploit and take advantage of children.  If we tip the scales and take away their power, then perhaps we can stop the abuse.

How do we do that?  Empower the children.  Empower ourselves.

Empower the Children

“The fight against child molesters begins by teaching the children.” – Norman E. Friedman

When Norman Friedman, a veteran mental health professional, educator, and author of Inoculating Your Children against Sexual Abuse; what every parent should know! made this statement during a lecture I thought, “Duh; that makes perfect sense.”

Based on Mr. Friedman’s years of experience working with the predator population, he concluded that one cannot cure a child molester.  Therefore, the most effective thing we can do is empower children about their bodies and rights, and create an environment where they feel confident communicating with a trusted adult.

No Touch Zone.

First, teach them that everyone has a No Touch Zone.  This zone is not limited to the child’s private parts.  Friedman’s book clearly outlines his reasoning and definition of the area and offers a noninvasive, appropriate, step by step approach to help trusted adults teach children about body parts, body rights, and what to say if a person attempts to court, solicit, or make them feel uncomfortable.

No Secrets.        

“We don’t have secrets in our house; we have surprises,” is a phrase we adopted in our home thanks to Friedman.

Secret is a word we innocently use with children.  However, a molester’s efforts to create an inappropriate relationship with a child often includes secret keeping.  Friedman suggests that if we stop using the term, a child will quickly recognize when it’s out of place and subsequently say something to that person as well as his trusted adult.

Having a No Secrets policy in a family encourages open communication.  Once a child feels confident that he can speak freely, we need to make sure we’re listening.

Listen.

It is important we make it a priority to send verbal and nonverbal cues that convey to our children we are available; always, whenever, and no matter what.  Listening and responding respectfully to both the good and bad things that are on their mind builds trust, offers reassurance that we care, and confirms that what they say is meaningful.

Young people exposed to life is tough and keep it in the family attitudes and who hear messages that it’s their job to be responsible for adult feelings and needs add up to one thing in a child’s mind; why bother talking, no one is listening.

Listening to our children is critical, but believing is lasting.

Believe.

When a child confides that someone approached him in an uncomfortable way, it might be easier to swallow the shock and impossibility of it all by downplaying the incident, particularly if it’s someone familiar.

But we need to take their words seriously.

Regardless of how the information made us feel or who the party was; that child felt violated on some level and had the courage to speak up.  That means we need to find a way to help him feel safe again as well as confront the party in question.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an adult recount their abuse experience and share how he had the courage to tell a trusted loved one only to be brushed off, ignored, told he was wrong or the cause of it.

Can you imagine being that little boy who was brave enough to say something, not believed, and then continually abused?  The thought of it breaks my heart.

Empower Ourselves

It’s not enough to empower our children.  We trusted adults have to get in on the act too.

Go with your gut.

A friend felt conflicted about telling the creepy old guy who lives on her street to take a hike when he wanted to play basketball with her eight year old son.  She felt bad for the lonely, old man even though her gut told her that his request was odd.  Confronting him would be impolite, so she protected her son by making excuses when the child continued to ask if he could play with the neighbor.

She ultimately followed her gut and took action.

To her son she said, “In many ways, he’s like a stranger to us.  We know him but we really don’t.”

And to the man, “Come on.  You know grownups don’t play with kids.”

After that, creepy old guy left my friend’s son alone.

Advocate at all costs.

If you know someone in your family has a history of abusing others and you suspect that the person is being inappropriate with a child even if it isn’t your child, call him out on it.  If that’s too scary, anonymously call Child Protective Services.

It is not enough for us to avoid an abuser in the family because it is very likely he is out in the world hurting someone else’s children.  So for the sake of that little boy and girl, their innocence, emotional health, and future please be strong; take a stand.

Here’s the deal; we can’t wait for predators to rehabilitate or the laws to punish them accordingly.  And since the majority of molesters are not strangers, they will continue to live in our communities, interact with children, and be part of our families.

I’m sorry if this frightens you, but it’s true.

So empower your children.  If a predator tries to court a child equip with the right tools, he’ll realize that he doesn’t stand a chance and will back off.

And empower yourself.  Let those who are inappropriate with children know that we trusted adults are paying attention.

Power stripped.  Scales tipped.  Game over.

Additional resources

Good Touch Bad Touch school program

Stop it Now

A Great Hill

Sharing resolutions and lesson learned from a personal experience with the hope that it might one day help someone.

Sharing resolutions and lesson learned from a personal experience with the hope that it might one day help someone.

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Nelson Mandela.

Eleven years ago today, I climbed a great hill.

Sitting in the mall parking lot in the passenger’s seat of my mother’s white Oldsmobile, I told her the family secret that I had harbored for over twenty years; that her then husband of twenty five years sexually abused me as a child.

When the words finally came out, my body decompressed like a flattened tire.  I thought I was done, fixed, as if sharing this piece of information would easily mend everything and solve all problems.  That New Year’s Eve morning I stood at the top of my great hill expecting to see a welcoming horizon.  And at first, I did.  But understanding that I couldn’t stand in one spot forever, I continued on my way.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I was born into a generation of women and men who, when experience trauma, are often encouraged to talk about it and seek help.  I eventually had someone to tell and immediately had someone who believed me.  I had the guidance of a talented, dedicated professional who worked tirelessly to give me the tools I needed to work through the rises and falls.  And I have a husband who has supported me every step of the way.  Even the bad guy went to jail for a short time.

These fortunate circumstances coupled with determination to live clean, if you will, helped me to move forward.   As a result, I have been able to scale more overgrown, rocky, and unmarked hills than I thought existed.  And although I couldn’t reach the top every time, I’m content with where I ended up.

However, one of many things I’ve learned in the last ten years is that there are consequences to pursuing one’s truth.  Expecting people to reflect, discuss, and perhaps change is a tall order.  Maintaining thin relationships, living in a box, and avoiding issues are seemingly much easier paths to take.

So why rock the boat?  Because as I started to value myself, I realized that regardless of what I was going to get back, I had to let people know where I was coming from.  Several times I’ve been pleasantly surprised; other times, not so much.  I’ve had family members haul off like a Real Housewife of New Jersey, friends just throw in the towel, and to mourn relationships of key people who weren’t able to meet me half way.  It’s unfortunate and sad but as my grandfather says, “That’s the way it goes.”

I’ve often wondered if it is worth some of this residual agida to continue my version of clean living.  It may sound reminiscent of a Kelly Clarkson song, but for someone who lived the first third of her life putting up walls, keeping things surface, and feeding the elephants in the room, I intend to spend the next two thirds of it living the most honest, genuine, meaningful, loving, and forthright way that I can.  For myself, loved ones, husband and most importantly our children; this I resolve to do.

As we welcome a new year, I wish you a year filled with health, truth, cleanliness, and the courage to climb.

College & Career Readiness: The Fancy People vs. The Leaf Pile

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The table of contents of the Common Core Learning Standards has the words “College and Career Readiness” written so often that it’s no wonder the public tone surrounding this latest round of educational reform is one of anxiety, concern, and contempt.

From the father of a five-year old who supports the Common Core’s goal to make students competitive in a global environment and believes educators only started questioning tests when they became tied to job performance to the well meaning mommies who vent through social media about their child’s school experience as well as the image conscious, high performing school district superintendent who misrepresents that his administration only had four months to prepare for these changes, communities are wrapped up in the notion that the Common Core is the primary determinant of a child’s success.

Now, in theory, I agree with the idea of a common educational standard.  As a former commercial banker turned fourth grade teacher turned nursery school teacher and mother of elementary as well as preschool aged children, I welcome the idea of an educator generated, developmentally appropriate uniform set of learning standards that applies to all students regardless of the state in which they live.  So at the very least, if a child moved, he could enter a new classroom on par with his classmates.

Unfortunately, we’re not quite there.  After reading the documents and listening to teachers who are active in the classroom, it’s clear that, like in the past, the majority of requirements are still developmentally inappropriate.  Plus I’m hard pressed to believe that they are truly teacher generated.  Furthermore, the related tests are unnecessarily hard, even when compared with the tests created in conjunction with No Child Left Behind, which were rigorous in our state and also, by the way, questioned by teachers at the time.

But it will be ok.  I promise.  Veteran educators will tell you that there have always been evolving standards, requirements, pedagogy, and new ways to assess teacher performance.  In the twelve years that I’ve been in education, all or part of our state’s standards and the related tests has already changed three times.

Strong teachers with thoughtful and consistent administrations who put children first will carefully plan and adapt their curriculum as necessary to accommodate change and continue to work tirelessly to give students what they need regardless of how these changes may affect their jobs.  Furthermore, professionals dedicated to educating children will communicate to them that The Fancy People tests, as my former students and I affectionately called them, are a snapshot in time; a moment that does not define who they are, determine whether or not they go to college, or have any bearing on their level of success as adults.  Most importantly, these people will continue to encourage children instead to get wrapped up in simple school global readiness tasks like building a leaf pile.  Let me explain.

Earlier this month, Bubbe our socially sensitive, creatively thoughtful, and independent minded child enthusiastically chatted me up on the walk home from school about such an endeavor.  What started as a solo project soon turned into an effort of about thirteen kids strong.  First, a girl, he didn’t know impressively initiated a conversation and asked to play.  As their leaf pile grew, it caught the attention of another classmate who is known to be an interrupter of sorts with a thin verbal filter.  Then a third friend joined; a sweet, atypically developing child who had confidently constructed with Bubbe in the past.  The kids were having fun when a conflict ensued.

“What a stupid pile!” a boy yelled, jumping into the leaves without asking.

“Hey!  That’s not nice,” the group said.  “The pile’s not done.  And you have to ask first.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry,” he said.  “Can I help too?”

The group quickly forgave him.  “Sure you can.”

When the pile jumping got old, the Interrupter came up with an idea.  “Let’s make a leaf water slide!” he said.  Together, the group transferred the leaves to the playground slide.  They first tested the leaves alone; then the kids took turns sliding with them and into a pile at the bottom.  Recognizing the fun, a bunch of football and soccer players stopped their game and joined in.

What did Bubbe’s teacher and the recess aides do?  They watched knowingly and lovingly.  And as they blew the whistle to line up, the gaggle had one final leaf fight, threw the leaves in the air and yelled, “It’s Fall time!”

As far as I’m concerned, that experience prepared those children for college and careers in a global, competitive environment better than all the Fancy People standards and tests combined.  Twenty minutes of leaf play taught them to lead, initiate, share, imagine, invent, create, communicate, collaborate, take risks, play a part, make mistakes, forgive, be forgiven, and get along with different kinds of people.

Think about it.  Aren’t these the most useful and lasting determinants for success?  Aren’t these the skills we adults look for when hiring someone?  And aren’t these the traits we want in a classmate and coworker? 

So to the school official who feels pressured, the father who is hell bent on preparing his five-year old for our competitive world, and the worried mommies, please remember that stress breeds stress.  Tests and standards will become a distant memory.  Playing in the leaves with friends at recess will not.

But The Fancy People are at it again.  So what do you do?

First, read the Common Core Standards, at least for your child’s grade level, understand who crafted them, and learn more about the current College Board President’s role.

Two, advocate: positively, proactively, and collectively.  Sit down with your principal, superintendent, curriculum coordinator, and Board of Education representatives.  Find out their long term education plan, ask about curriculum adaptations, adoptions and timing, understand their philosophy about teaching children, and while you’re at it, inquire about how the current reform relates to funding sources and state mandates.

And finally, do the most essential thing we can do to prepare our children for the real world; get wrapped up with them…in the leaves.

Common Core Standards

Education Advocacy and Reform

Local Efforts

Discomfort

Discomfort

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GRAND PRIZE WINNER: BUILD CREATIVE WRITING IDEAS’ 2014 1,000 PROMPTS, 1,000 DOLLARS WRITING CONTEST

Discomfort is good. At least that’s what I told myself before stepping into my first CrossFit onramp.

After a year of prodding by a neighbor, feeling the need to get fit before forty, and a whole lot of self talk, I mustered up my courage and scheduled an appointment with the owner of our local affiliate. The CrossFit sounded like my kind of workout; stripped down, personalized, guided and quick.

Then one chilly Thursday in March, I found myself in a yellow, industrial, concrete shell nestled behind an auto glass manufacturer and a door I wasn’t strong enough to open, with no heat, enjoying the odor from the neighboring sanitation department, surrounded by chalky poles, stacked weights, and clammy rubber desperately trying to hold a push up position.

An insightful, seemingly sensitive but stern coach who was guiding me through the session reached for AbMats to support the wide gap between the floor and my chest.

“She doesn’t need AbMats!” boomed the owner and head trainer.

“He seems to think I’m strong enough,” I thought. “Maybe this guy knows something I don’t.”

One push up. Not bad.

Two, eh.

Three. Not happening.

“Can I do them on my knees?” I asked the sensitive sergeant.

Before she could answer, the owner’s voice flew over my shoulder, reverberated off the concrete, and knocked me in the jaw. “This ain’t no New York Sports Club fairy princess class! No. You cannot do pushups on your knees.”

“Who does this guy glued to that swirly chair think he is; the burning bush?” Scared straight and getting the sense that he knew what he was doing, I kept my mouth shut and went back to work, AbMatless.

When my onramp was over, Sensitive Sergeant said, “You are a strong person. The only one getting in your way is you.”

The Burning Bush stood up, smiled earnestly, gave me a high five and said, “Excellent job for your first time.”

Their disciples, who cheered me on during the timed portion of my workout, came over and did the same. And when I hobbled out, my body feeling like a dented can of preserves, a golden goddess of a woman smiled and said, “No matter what, just keep coming.”

I heeded the advice, knowing discomfort was coming my way, but not realizing I was about to get more than I bargained for.

You see, as a teenager, I was the big boned girl who couldn’t climb the rope in gym, the non risk taking solid citizen who longed for validation, and the secretly shy, moderately social, but most certainly insecure person who soldiered through life alone, never getting too tight with anyone, especially a group of girlfriends. CrossFit resurfaced, challenged and then chipped away at each of those lingering childhood discomforts.

In CrossFit, egos are checked at door. Because the only way to get fit, fast, and strong in a place like this is to take risks, be vulnerable, put yourself out there, make mistakes, and trust your coaches and classmates. And for someone like me, that was slightly unsettling. But I did it anyway, and I started to get better.

Success is magical. Whether it’s running 400 meters without stopping, throwing a weight over your head, doing a pull up, getting a handstand, jumping rope like Rocky, or beating a personal best, it feels like you did as a kid learning to ride without training wheels or whistle for the first time. The emotion is pure, unbridled elation especially if you never imagined you’d be able to do it.

Gaining ground, being pushed to my physical and mental edge, and kindling that inner flame time and time again convinced me that I wasn’t as limited as I thought and encouraged me to draw on my strength consistently in and outside the gym. I got out of my own way; and eventually, climbed that rope.

However, the CrossFit picture isn’t always pretty. Things can and do get raw. But anytime I hit a wall, needed guidance, lost a skill, or had a bad day The Burning Bush, Sensitive Sergeant, and my fellow disciples had my back. For that designated hour, our job was to work together, help each other, cultivate community, and have good fun. In this place, you can’t help but feel validated and confident.

Sometimes, amid the blood and burpees, you also make a good friend. Mine was Sparta. She and I started CrossFit that same Spring. Because we had a similar schedule and were of similar ability level, we quickly became training partners. After a year of laughing, lunging, chatting and cleaning she asked me to join her team of lady friends for an upcoming mud run. She thought nothing of the gesture. It was a natural extension of our new friendship.

As the girl who always wished to be tight with a group of women, but usually found herself on the peripheral, Sparta’s thoughtfulness meant the world to me. A couple of mud runs with these ladies have come and gone since her invitation, and now it’s understood that whenever there’s an event; we’re a team.

And so I declare to you from the Plylo Box on which I jump; discomfort is in fact, good. Discomfort opens doors. It helps you grow. CrossFit just happened to be my cherry Kool-Aid.

Whatever your discomfort is

Tap into it, and find your flavor.

Then chalk up those hands,

Crank up the Katy Perry,

And get on it.

3, 2, 1…

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