My son is 6 years old now. Everyday when we leave school, we have to walk about a block to our car. Once we say our good-byes to the crossing guard, my boy takes off. First, he slides his hand away from mine. His chubby fingers brush against the tips of my fingers. Then, he runs with verve down the sidewalk. Sometimes, he looks like one of those men in jogging suits in the 1980s who would speed walk with weights in their hands. Other times, he is actually skipping. Once in a while he looks like an Olympian racing to the finish line.
He always looks back for a second or two. But then he just keeps going. I fall into a panic replete with heart palpations and nausea. I fear he’s going to run into the oncoming traffic on one of the busiest streets in our town, which is really a city now. He never does. I think, “This is it. The fun is over. He doesn’t want me anymore.”
Giving Him His Voice
Ours is a unique situation. For starters, my boy did not speak until he was 4. Tirelessly, we worked on communicating. Along the way, we made up our own language. I knew he wanted to sleep when he gently played with my hair. When he wanted some love, he would speak to my husband and me with his eyes. And when he could not get us to understand what he so desperately wanted to communicate, we would experience the. end. of. the. world. A full-fledged tantrum would ensue. (The photo above came after one of those.)
The point is in those first years he needed me a little extra. No one else could really understand him. It became my mission to get him to speak. His teachers probably did the heavy lifting, but I reinforced everything at home. We would snuggle over a book. In the mornings before school, we would pour over worksheets from his speech therapist. Every syllable was a celebration. Now, no one would know he ever had a delay. His teachers even forget. They tell me no matter where they put my boy on the carpet during circle time, he finds a friend with whom to talk. Ours has been a revolution.
Then, there’s the other reason that makes us different from the rest of the world. I’m his Italian mamma. Being an Italian mamma implies so much, most of all that I can’t just let go. Italian mammas and their sons have a bond like few others. I mean they’ve written songs about it. It’s the stuff of legend. I’m pretty sure they’ve also written psychological case studies on it. But I don’t want to go there.
One of Those Moms
While I’ve railed against becoming one of those Italian mammas, who wants to keep him just for herself, I can’t help wanting to keep him little. I want him to still hug me in his sleep, curl up in my lap, sing off key with me. I am not ready for him to stop twirling my hair with his fingers when he’s tired or taking my hand just because. I once said the sweetest pain was the weight of my then 3-year-old son sleeping on my chest. I want more weight on my chest. Every time he rolls up into a ball and lays all 45 pounds of himself right on me, my heart swells just a little. When he runs out the school doors and jumps into my arms and says, “I missed you all day, Mamma,” I squeeze him just a little harder. The truth is I’m not ready to let him fly.
A New Beginning
But kindergarten is forcing me to let go. It’s not my choice. He is deciding to take flight. More and more he is telling me it’s time. “I can do it myself,” he’ll say. He doesn’t need me to speak for him anymore. As his fingers slip away from mine on that sidewalk every afternoon, we get closer and closer to this thing we have ending. I can cry about it. My heart may ache. Nostalgia for the days of holding a chubby, cooing, cute-as-a-button baby boy in my arms is setting in. But there’s nothing I can do about it. For my boy is growing up. And I have to give him his wings.
How ironic that today, Oct. 11, is the International Day of the Girl. This annual event is meant to bring attention to women’s issues and help women find their voices to lead the charge. In the days leading up to this day, Americans have once again had to face up to powerful men mistreating women. Actually, “mistreatment” is an overwhelming understatement.
This time the story was about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is caught on tape admitting to sexual assault. In addition, he has had numerous famous Hollywood actresses, staff, and others accuse him of sexual harassment and even rape. His disgusting behavior was a joke in Hollywood for years, and no one stood up for these women. Even the Manhattan district attorney and New York Police Department appear to have given him a pass.
Same Old Story
In the last year, we’ve seen this same story play out with numerous other wildly successful men, including Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes. People get on TV and express outrage. They defend women with their words. Commentators applaud them and insist this is a turning point in history. Women are finally getting the respect they deserve.
But are we? For starters, where were these people when the abuse was actually happening? None of them knew? It’s suspect. Did any of them speak up to defend these women then? These same people continue to elect men – to the presidency no less – who allegedly abuse women. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have done this by voting for Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Apparently, we can be bipartisan.
Women still earn less than men. We are not well represented in the halls of government. None of us have been elected president. The government just took away our easier access to birth control. It’s trying to take away other forms of women’s health care. We say we appreciate and respect mothers, but we don’t pay attention to anything they need. Child care costs are astronomical, and maternity leave might exist on paper but not necessarily in reality. I could go on. The bottom line is we all have blood on our hands.
See the Women All Around You
As I age, I’ve noticed that the real problem is no one hears or even sees the women all around them. Open your eyes to the invisible woman. She might be sitting right beside you. Somewhere along the way, the world decided it didn’t care what she had to say. No one gave credence to what she wanted to be. Everyone ignored her opinions, desires, and even needs. Worst of all, some of the vile among us took advantage of her vulnerability. They abused her or at least showed apathy in the face of her plight. Now, she speaks but no words come out. She is me. She is you. She is every woman.
We tell our daughters to be strong. We emblazon “Girl Boss” across their chest. We host days such as this to empower our girls. But we fail to tell them the basics about what that really means and how challenging the struggle will actually be. The era of Mad Men never ended. The men just hid their behaviors and forced the women into secret shame.
Where It All Begins
Last weekend I was with my cousins’ children. Three of them are young women in their senior year of high school. We are sending them off to college in less than a year. It has me thinking about the turning points in a woman’s life, beginning with high school graduation.
I attended the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. more than 20 years ago now. Early on in my time there I recognized that the road for women was still steep and blocked at many turns. One of the first assignments I had for the college newspaper was to cover the annual Take Back the Night rally. This is when young women – and a few progressive men – march through the streets to draw attention to women’s issues. Specifically, they want to call out the domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and rape that is still too pervasive in our culture. Those marches usually take place around this time of year.
When I Started to Disappear
On that fateful night in 1996, I listened to the stories of young women who experienced violence and rape. And I learned of the infamous shoe trees that lined a street of fraternity houses. The women said the shoes represented every time two fraternity brothers had sex with the same woman. The accusation lit a fire on campus that lasted pretty much the entire four years I studied there.
Men insisted the women were hysterical, even if some of them admitted the true meaning of the shoes. In continuing to report on the fraternities on campus, I experienced the intimidation of some of the fraternities firsthand. Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity met me at their door for an interview. They were certain to position themselves on the top of the steps and left me beneath them on a lower step. They were always in a group of two or three whenever they talked to me. They kept their arms folded and stood up to block my view and keep me beneath them.
You Can’t Knock Us Down
Already much larger than I was, the men seemed like giants. And then they would respond to my questions by accusing me of being the problem. They told me to stop writing about this. After all, the media is to blame for the fact that they reportedly had rigged their bedroom doors, so women who walked in could not get out.
At the time, regardless of the numerous violations against the fraternity and the fact that the university no longer recognized it as a formal group, the national office of SAE continued to support the young men. These are adults, who oversee the individual chapters. And they would not listen to young women or other adults running the George Washington University.
Back then, Bill Clinton was in the White House just a few blocks from our campus. He was taking advantage of his position of power to have sex with a young intern, not much older than I was. Soon, my friends and I with brown hair would be photographed on the off chance that one of us was Monica Lewinsky whenever we went to the Watergate to get groceries. For my internship, I had to stand in a line at a bookstore for hours to pick up the The Starr Report filled with sensational details of the President’s sexual affair. I began to lose faith.
How I Vanished
For years, I believed in the power of the pen. I thought uncovering these ugly truths would bring about change. That was more than 20 years ago. Nothing has changed. In fact, it might have gotten worse. In college, I started to morph into a ghost. You could still see me, but I was starting to disappear. As my heart grew, my voice became smaller. Fewer people paid attention to my words. I wasn’t used to it.
Then, I wed an Italian, who I love deeply. We have a relationship based on mutual respect. He loves me, too. We support each other’s pursuits, including career. But you have to compromise in a relationship. Unfortunately, the Italian-American culture is still imperfect. It’s a battle of the sexes in some instances. Once I put on a wedding ring, even fewer people cared what I had to say. What was left of my apparition was becoming fainter.
Motherhood As Silencer
Once I gave birth to a child – a miracle and perhaps the greatest physical feat anyone can accomplish – I completely disappeared once and for all. What’s crazier is that’s about the time your words come into focus. It’s the sweet spot when you understand the struggle of your mother and her mother and her mother. It’s the moment when your purpose becomes so significant that you almost can’t bear the weight on your shoulders. Becoming a mother is when you feel compelled to lift up your voice and shove it out into the world. After all, nothing you’ve said or done up to this point has mattered so much.
It’s About to Get Noisy Up in Here
So, I spoke. I yelled. But all anyone heard was the muffled mutterings of a mother. Who cares what she thinks anyway? Yet, we are listening to disgusting men who put their hands on women without permission and hide behind their money and so-called achievements. We allow them to walk free after they perpetrated despicable crimes. They took away the sense of security and perhaps even the confidence of young women. Still, we put them in charge of our lives. We allow them to lead our children, our country.
We listened as President Donald Trump suggested he could grab a woman’s privates simply because he was rich and famous. It was the height of arrogance and inequality. Yet, we made him our President. Clearly, we still don’t even consider what mom thinks. She remains invisible. Oops, it looks like I’m speaking up again. I’M SCREAMING, IN FACT. Are you finally willing to listen?
The Ischia Italy earthquake struck Aug. 21 and registered a magnitude of 4.0. Many of the residents of the island (which is the home of my ancestors and husband and where I live during the summer) describe a loud noise that sounded like a bomb. Seismologists on various Italian news programs explained that this is common when an earthquake hits a volcanic territory. Indeed, Ischia is a volcano.
Damage Was Limited to One Town
After the loud noise, the earth shook and the electricity went out briefly. Many of the people in Barano say they didn’t even realize anything – let alone an earthquake – had just happened. However, the town of Casamicciola faced more serious damage. The natives say that Casamicciola, which is a port town where tourists often arrive, is more vulnerable to earthquakes than the rest of the island.
Some homes collapsed in Casamicciola. Others experienced damage that rendered them inhabitable for the time being. Lacco Ameno and Forio, two other towns, also experienced some damage but it was minor in comparison to Casamicciola. In the aftermath, 2,600 people were left without homes in Ischia. Still, outside of Casamicciola there is little evidence an earthquake ever hit. Life carries on as usual.
A Miraculous Rescue
News that three brothers, ages 11, 7, and 7 months, were stuck under the rubble of their home devastated everyone. The oldest boy had put them under a mattress, and they were able to communicate with the rescue workers the entire time, which lasted through the night and into the next day.
Rescue workers successfully pulled out 7-month-old Pasquale first. Next, came 7-year-old Mattia and 11-year-old Ciro, who was hailed a hero by news outlets for quick thinking that saved his brothers and him. You can view the emotional rescue of the baby on YouTube.
Two Women Lost Their Lives
Tragically, the earthquake did result in the deaths of two people. One woman was outside the church, where she had just worshipped. The quake hit and the church bell fell and killed her. Another succumbed to the rubble in Casamicciola.
Authorities are investigating to determine if the houses in Casamicciola collapsed because they were not properly built. In other words, they want to make sure builders obtained the proper permits and completed construction up to code for protection against earthquakes. Because the 4.0 magnitude was not as big as other quakes, authorities are raising suspicion. The people of Ischia are railing against these accusations.
Asking for Support
Anyone who wants to help the people of Ischia with the rebuilding efforts in Casamicciola can donate to this gofundme page. (I personally can vouch for Dario Pinto, the person who started this fund. He is a family friend and native of Ischia.) In addition, you can visit the beautiful island of Ischia. Many tourists fled in the wake of the earthquake. Others canceled upcoming reservations.
While I understand the tourist’s concerns, I also feel for the people of Ischia. This is their busy season; if no one comes now, they lose serious income. An island reliant on tourism, many of the natives only have six months of secure work. Those who really want to support Ischia amid this tragedy should spend their vacation money there.
In addition, the overwhelming majority of the island is functioning as usual. The damage was limited to one small hamlet of the island. There have been no aftershocks. Natives are making swift, energetic campaigns on social media to demonstrate the sun is still shining. The beach is still welcoming. And you should join in the fun.
Island life stands still. The ocean waves crash onto the shore. It renders everything else – perhaps, most of all, the people – motionless. The scalding sun beats down on them like the rhythm of a Metallica drum. So, the cool waters lure them like the sirens of Greek mythology. When they have had their fill and they return to the shore, they sleep. It’s a deep rest brought on by the soothing lullaby that is the sea.
Visions of floating green hills and crisp blue skies visit their dreams. When they awake, they are met with a pink and orange sunset, the type you’d imagine described in a romance novel. The perfume of roses and bougainvillea hangs in the air. Indeed, you don’t have to stop to smell flowers. They hit you right in the face. They’re intoxicating. As day turns to evening the breeze forces the beach babes to cover their bronzed, oiled skin. But a bit of beach remains in their locks well into the night. Any suitors who approach will surely take it all in. More intoxication.
Crazy Time on the Island
Night and day, it all runs together. Visitors lured by the island’s charms find they sleep until noon, eat dinner at 10 at night, and frolic well past dawn. While that may seem like madness under normal circumstances, it perfectly suits them on the island. When the sun rises and they still find themselves on the main drag, steps away from the beach, they think nothing of it. It’s as though this happens all the time. No matter they stole a kiss from someone they barely know. Or danced on a pole. Or went topless on the beach. The heat, the surf, the endless beauty all around them make it natural and therefore acceptable.
For the tourist, this is fine and well. What happens on the island is the stuff of a locked journal. It’s an adventure to be cherished but not oft repeated or discussed. For the native, the island’s charms, which bring them livelihood, could very well kill them. Where the tourist welcomes lazy days and wild nights, the native must avoid both. Yet, the scent of the sea, tremendous heat, and unavoidable tan flesh has the power of hypnosis. If they are not careful, they can be dragged into an eternal spring break. Responsibility be damned.
Even if they manage to unwind themselves from the tentacles of the island, the stillness can get them. Or at least it’s a murderer of their ambitions. Those who stay, perhaps find comfort in the known. A few rise above on the home shores and find success running a restaurant or hotels or stores or entertainment venues. Or they become professionals, the type of people every society needs. There’s definitely a simplicity to island life, and the appeal is easy to understand. It’s that sense of security that keeps college grads behind the bar serving drinks and 50-year-old sons clutched in mamma’s arms.
In the Little Pond
Of course, the smallness of the place keeps everyone contained. They are confined to the labels they long ago inadvertently agreed to don. And they are kept at a distance from the outside world. It is feet they must walk and not miles. So, they play their roles. Some play them well. In fact, many find contentment in this smaller life on an island. Others remain like stiff sand sculptures unable to break free, suffocating. What is ironic is also sad; the very beauty of the island, what draws visitors to it, is the poison that can keep some of the natives from ever moving.
Nonetheless, every now and then, the sun peeks out from the trees. The crashing waves wakes up the mind and stirs the soul. That’s when the native fights the heat and pushes the stillness. And that little world spins and spins. Then, something remarkable happens. There is movement, there is life, even for the original dwellers. Finally, tourist and native alike get to reap the rewards.
Throughout season 2 of Gomorrah, fans have seen Gennaro’s efforts to become a mob boss. He was willing to work with his father, Don Pietro, at first. Surely, father and son would have sought to avenge Imma’s death at the hands of Ciro. Right? Well, not exactly. Don Pietro repeatedly rejected Gennaro. He blamed him for Ciro’s ability to form the Alliance. Worse, he gave him no credit for creating criminal connections with those in Honduras, who provide them with the drugs to sell. Granted, this is not the kind of stuff that would make a normal parent proud. But Don Pietro is a mob boss. Gennaro wrote him off after numerous attempts to win him over.
Ciro and Gennaro Are Linked for Life
During the season, we saw the rivalry between Ciro and Gennaro play out. They both had the chance to kill the other in season 2, and neither went through with it. Then, they realized that they could make more money and keep the police away without stepping on one another. It worked for a short time. When Don Pietro starts messing with the Alliance to try win back his old life, Ciro and Gennaro are drawn together. We saw them meeting every once in a while. Each time, Ciro tried to convince Gennaro to work against his father. Ciro told Gennaro the poison of this situation is eating you alive. Those words were more important than you might have realized. The season finale reunited them in an unexpected way.
Death Is Still All Around
The season finale opens with Lelluccio, Scianel’s son, opining on how Ciro is a traitor. All the while, he’s snorting cocaine. Next thing you know, he and his henchmen take bullets through the window. They were all dead in a flash. Ciro and his young daughter Maria Rita are still in their house. But they are mostly locked in.
He has security guards and three cars taking her to school every day. Don Pietro starts earning more money now that he’s getting more people to join his squad. And he has eliminated everyone else. But one problem remains – Ciro. He tells Malamore to destroy him. Meanwhile, Patrizia is always present.
Instead of killing Ciro, Don Pietro has Malamore kill Maria Rita. It’s dramatic. They shoot up the cars as she heads to school. You think she might get away with her driver. But Malamore rams into the car with his vehicle, hops out, kisses the crucifix around his neck, and shoots the little girl in the backseat. At least he looked pained when doing it. I have to admit, so far, that was the hardest scene to watch.
Ciro attends Maria Rita’s burial alone with his security guards. Then, he heads to the roof. The guards come in and see his apartment in complete disarray. They run to the roof and find Ciro at the edge. He tells them he is setting them all free. He directs them to split the money in the safe between themselves and to go away. He stays on the roof.
Even if these mob bosses have lots of people around them doing whatever they say, they end up alone. On the other hand, Gennaro has family. When we last saw him he was getting married to Azzurra. Many wondered why he and his bride never showed up to the reception. They were off having dinner. Meanwhile, her father got arrested at the party sans couple. Gennaro was testing his new wife. It reminded me of how his father explained the recognition that Imma would always be loyal to him.
Turns out Gennaro’s antics at the wedding had greater significance. In this episode he visits his father-in-law in jail. Dad says the newlyweds offended him by not showing up to the reception. Gennaro responds, “I don’t want to share Azzurra with anyone.” The father then implies Gennaro was the snitch. Back at home Azzurra comes to the same conclusion. Indeed, Gennaro tells her, “Your father was making me a minority partner and that made me mad. You and I have to be in charge of our own destiny.” She agrees and reminds him that she’s betraying her own blood for him.
After Don Pietro has Maria Rita killed, Don Pietro has fireworks go off. Literally. It was sick. Gennaro tells him that no one will let him get away with killing a child. He seems to be angry about it. His father says that Ciro killed “my Imma, who was my whole life.” Patrizia is standing there to hear it. Don Pietro shuns Gennaro again when he insists on getting paid for the drugs he’s delivering to his dad’s men. Don Pietro tells him, “You are the son of Pietro Savastano and nothing more.” Gennaro leaves. The chances of reconciliation seem slim.
Patrizia tells Don Pietro that Gennaro has grown into a man, and he should treat him that way. She also reminds him that she betrayed her siblings. She became his soldier. She was willing to die for him. And now she has even tried to be a good wife. But she wouldn’t compete with a ghost. Then, she storms off.
Later, you see Patrizia in a towel drying her hair. Don Pietro walks in. He tells her he is old, she is young. And that he is offering her a bad deal. But as long as he’s still walking, he says, it is because of her. Then, he hands her a ring to offer marriage. She kisses him. End scene.
Next, Don Pietro calls Gennaro and says he needs to talk to him in person where the white roses grow.
The Perfect Ending
Everything was leading up to these final moments of season 2. Don Pietro has Malamore and a driver bring him to Imma’s grave. There, he expresses his sorrow at her absence. He asks forgiveness of her for turning to Patrizia. He says he can’t stand to be alone anymore.
Meanwhile, Gennaro finds Ciro in the corner of the roof like a sick dog. Gennaro has a gun in his hand. You wonder if his father has convinced him to kill. Ciro says, “I wanted to turn the world upside down, but I failed.” Gennaro hands the gun to Ciro and says, “Now, you have one more thing to do.”
At the same time, Azzurra goes into labor. Gennaro is in the delivery room with his wife. Ciro shows up at Imma’s gravesite. Don Pietro says hello to him. Ciro, gun in hand, returns the greeting. Don Pietro says, “In the end, this is all there is.” Ciro agrees and shoots him in the head. Ciro walks away. Malamore and the other guy run to a dead Don Pietro. Gennaro’s son is born. The nurse asks what to call the baby. Gennaro answers, “Pietro. Pietro Savastano.”
Climate change recently took center stage. President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The U.S. joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not backing the accord. Trump was politically motivated to make this announcement. Staying in the agreement, in fact, would not have changed anything. After all, the agreement is non-binding; therefore, he could have stayed in but changed the commitments to which his predecessor had agreed without actually pulling out.
Nevertheless, the decision to leave has many wondering about what the U.S.’ role will be when it comes to saving our planet. Some people are wondering if any of this matters anyway. Believe me, I understand being more concerned about your own pocketbook. I have a kid. I’m in the same boat. I am up at nights wondering how I’m ever going to afford college and how the price of milk and bread can just keep creeping up, not to mention everything else for which I have to pay. But I also want Mother Earth to survive for my son and my descendants. Discover why parents should care about climate change:
Innovation and the Economy
Problems are solutions waiting to happen. And solutions are opportunities. Already, sustainable businesses, including clean energy, such as solar, wind, and nuclear power, are proving to be the future of business. In addition, the public has been increasingly demanding greener options. This might be why corporate giants, including Walt Disney World, General Electric, and even Exxon Mobil, were in favor of the accord. Parents should be encouraging their children to seek out innovative careers that have a promising future. While new technologies and habits are scary, they can also transform us. Follow the money. Who can argue with that?
The Rest of the World
I know what you’re going to say. America first, right? If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you? All kidding aside, jumping ship on the France accord means leaving behind our allies, and even a few of our enemies. For my entire life, the United States has served as the moral authority and leader of the free world. It has been that beacon on the hill. My relatives in Italy spoke of America as if it was everyone’s dream. Moving away from the rest of the world will have repercussions. Some of them we can’t anticipate now. All I know is that I’d much prefer my son live in the nation leading the world rather than the one hiding from it. This is not to mention the fact that if our competitors in other nations are pursuing innovation in the green space that we risk getting left behind of the future economy.
Clean air and water are necessary to our health. Failing to reduce our carbon footprint could have serious ramifications. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) bills climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Indeed, a WHO slide show describes the traumatic consequences of ignoring global warming.
“Without effective responses, climate change will compromise:
Water quality and quantity: Contributing to a doubling of people living in water-stressed basins by 2050.
Food security: In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture may halve by 2020.
Control of infectious disease: Increasing population at risk of malaria in Africa by 170 million by 2030, and at risk of dengue by 2 billion by 2080s.
Protection from disasters: Increasing exposure to coastal flooding by a factor of 10, and land area in extreme drought by a factor of 10-30.”-WHO, “Climate Change and Human Health”
The report goes on to explain that extreme weather itself can cause injuries and deaths. But it also describes how it could influence food sources, availability of natural resources and food, and the spread of malnutrition and diseases.
You think terrorism is bad now. Just wait until people don’t have enough to eat or drink, no clean water, and only damaged property. Survival of the fittest is a natural human reaction to such dire challenges. You can bet people will begin to fight for their survival and the survival of their children. It could quickly get ugly. Indeed, Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change “a national security threat.” You can learn more about the Defense Department’s position in a recent NPR interview with Brigadier General Gerald Galloway from the Center for Climate and Security. Do you want your children heading off to war? Or, worse, do you want desperation to drive people to attack them on their home soil?
National Geographic provides a great overview of the history of global warming and what it actually means. It lays out just what kind of damage we have done. It also includes information on the reparations we’ve made. That’s right, there are a few. But we can do more. The most important reason parents should care about climate change is because your kids or grandkids or great grandkids could lose Earth all together. If not the entirety of Earth, they could still lose their little piece of it. Caring about climate change is caring about the future of your family. Period.
Non-school vacations, when parents take their children out of school to go on holiday, are stirring up controversy. The British Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the school that fined a father in the United Kingdom for taking his then 6-year-old daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. This case had people online, including the popular podcast Dis Unplugged, buzzing about whether it is all right for parents to take their kids out of school for a vacation.
Non-School Vacations Ruling Speaks to Bigger Problems
Even though the fine was small (about $180), the U.K. father wanted to make a point about the rights he has to parent his kid the way he wants. And ultimately he failed. Find out why you should side with dad in this case:
Parents Know Their Own Kids
This dad clearly felt his daughter could handle a week off from school. Some parents know their kid can’t miss the work and still keep up, so they do not take off unless the school is closed. While schools have good intentions and teachers can get to know their students fairly well, most parents know their own kids better. Ideally, the teachers and the parents are regularly communicating about what’s happening in school and at home, so that everyone can make more informed, customized decisions about each child’s education.
Grown-Ups Can Be Responsible
Unless they are abusing or neglecting their kids or acting immaturely or irresponsibly themselves, parents are adults capable of making responsible decisions. This father had not come up on charges of abuse or neglect. In fact, according to reports, his daughter had a 90+ attendance rate at school before and after the trip. Clearly, she and her parents were showing up, which demonstrates some responsibility.
Micro-Managing Parents Is Uncool
We joke about how in the 1970s our parents let us walk to the park by ourselves when we were in elementary school or how seat belts were optional, and we miraculously survived. Nowadays, we’ve gone to the complete opposite extreme. Now, we reprimand, fine, or even jail parents for allowing their kids an Oreo cookie at lunch, to walk anywhere by themselves until they are well into their teens, or take a vacation when school is open. Some of these changes are positive; seat belts and child safety seats are a great thing. But we’ve gone from one extreme to another. We need to find the sweet spot in the center. Let parents take that stick out of you know where and do their thing. An Oreo now and then won’t kill the kid and a modicum of independence might help us all.
Kids Should Be Kids
A teen who misses a week during junior year of high school, when the pressure is on to prepare for college admissions is one thing. A child in elementary school, especially in kindergarten or first grade, is another. Sure, school is always important. But soon enough kids will be growing up and getting jobs full of responsibility. Let them be kids while they’re kids. Life is too short to be a grown up from the start. Missing first grade should not be a life sentence to mediocrity. It should mean having to catch up on playing house and sounding out words. Of course, the amount of time one is absent should make a difference, too. A week is not three weeks, which is different and could require some sort of repercussions. Still, youth should be on the side of the dad and his daughter in this case.
The Vacation Might Be Better for Development Than School
This idea might be the most controversial opinion I’m sharing here. But I have found that when I can focus my attention solely on my child, he pays more attention, behaves better, and seems to feel more secure. Work and school get in the way of all that. On vacation, I can really place my energy on talking and bonding with my son. We’re both more relaxed than usual. Any chance we get to do that is fine by me. I’m not sure if he’s ever going to remember the algebra he will eventually learn, but I know he’ll remember our times at Disney World and in Italy forever. He is going to be this small for a short time, and it’s already flying by me. Kids who spend real quality time with their parents – eating at the dinner table, going on vacation – are less prone to peer pressure and, I would bet, do better in life.
My Child, My Choice
The bottom line is that this father should have had the right to make decisions about his daughter without interference from the government. While education is of the utmost importance, and I value teachers and all they do for us, in the end, my son is mine. He’s my responsibility. The same is true for this father and his daughter. As a result, we should all be able to make decisions we think are right for our children. Period.
My biggest challenge as a mother is to teach my son to be a good person. I look around me, and I see cheaters and liars running the world, bullies running the Internet, and soul-sucking institutions paying lip service to good behavior but demonstrating something else entirely. The hypocrisy is maddening. And it weighs on my heart. I don’t know how to save this sweet boy’s kindness for posterity.
But does it really have to be this complicated? Being a good person is simple when you think about it. You just have to do the right thing and black out the badness in the outer world. Etch what you believe on your kids’ hearts before you set them out into the world to face the wolves. The journey begins with you and the behavior you model. Discover how to be a good person in practice, not just in name:
Follow the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule has people treating others the way they would like to be treated. I think of it as the simplest explanation of how to show respect for those around you. If you don’t want someone calling you names, you don’t call him names. This rule expresses the very thing I am seeking to do – model the right kind of behavior.
Help Those in Need
My son had delayed speech as many of you know. He goes to school with other children, who have all sorts of delays and abilities. Some of them have a harder time than others at school. So, once my son started speaking and seemed to be understanding me, we talked about what to do if one of his friends is crying or does not want to participate. Lo and behold, his speech therapist introduced similar discussion in some of her lessons, too. My son got the message because when a boy, who didn’t yet speak, cried hysterically on his first day of school, I watched my son hand him a pinecone he found on the ground and give him a hug. The boy stopped crying. Now, my son says you have to give someone a pinecone when he’s crying. Sounds good to me.
To Be a Good Person, Have a Good Heart
This tip is a bit more opaque than the others. Sometimes, we let anger fester, and it can bring us down. It colors how we see the world until all we see is gray. We lose optimism and experience paranoia. We become grouches. And we treat others poorly – or ignore them all together – with the excuse that the world is a miserable place. Becoming an angry bird in the face of opposition is not the answer. You have to make the effort to seek out the good among the bad, so that your heart remains. This is a much harder lesson to teach. The good news is that kids bounce back from hardship more easily than grown ups, and they have an unmatched innocence. So, it’s easier to keep their heart in check.
Love Your Neighbor
I hate to borrow from the 10 Commandments because being a good person should not have to be a religious pursuit. But this one is important. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors anymore. It’s amazing really. Much of today’s technology was meant to help people connect with those near and far with ease, and yet it has driven us further apart. You don’t have to be best friends with your neighbors but say, “Hi,” to them when you see them. Learn their names. Ask them how they are doing. Of course, respect their property. Talking to people promotes understanding and creates a sense of community. When you’re part of a community, you want to contribute to it.
Suffer A Little
You’re probably thinking this sounds out of sorts on this list. But many parents rush to solve every little problem their child faces. They never allow them to cry or experience a challenge. Believe me, I know how tough it is to watch your child suffer; my first instinct is always to run to his aid. But it does more harm than good. It’s a shot in the arm for the moment at hand. But later on, what will he do in the face of real adversity? When children grow up unable to cope with the hard times, they come to feel entitled to perfection, which of course does not exist. They may come to be arrogant or have unreal expectations about the relationships they have with real people. When you suffer a little, you become more empathetic to those around you, and you have a grasp on how to deal with those sour lemons that come your way.
Tell people the truth. Be transparent and open. When you have nothing to hide, you are more relaxed and more receptive to those around you. Honesty also helps your kids know where you stand, and they might be more likely to shun lying to you. If you’re never caught in a lie and show up when you say you will, you also will build trust, which is a great foundation for any relationship.
Work hard at whatever you do. Persevere. Pay your taxes. Volunteer for causes about which you care. Do right by your family. Spread the love. Be a responsible adult in your community, and your child will see what it means to give back and help the whole village grow. Granted, these lessons won’t be understood overnight. But being a good person takes a lifetime of effort, so you have plenty of time.
We stop hugging our children, especially our sons, after they grow up just a little bit. But we should hug them well into adulthood. Hugs are soothing, they bring everyone a little peace, and they have the power to make time stand still even if it’s just for a few seconds. Hugs are a way to demonstrate love. And love breeds love.
In the last week, we have been celebrating my father’s immigration from his native Ischia, Italy to these United States. Fifty-seven years ago he journeyed with his parents and his two sisters, who were not yet 21 to join his eldest brother, who had married an American to become a legal resident and later citizen and had called over his family.
At 13, my father was unfazed by the transformation his life was about to take. He always said he just went along with what his parents wished and assumed they knew what they were doing. It’s incredible when you think about it. Sure, for a 13 year old with his whole life ahead of him, change is natural. But my grandparents were in their 50s already and had never lived outside of that small island in Italy. They never heard English, never mind spoke it. And they left behind virtually all their family and friends.
My father would consider the true significance of this shift in but a moment on the ship as they turned into the New York harbor, and he and his father saw their new world for the first time. It was then that he saw her in the harbor. With torch held firmly in the air beckoning all to U.S. shores, Lady Liberty in that bold green of fading copper, stood tall with strength. When my Nonno Giovanni noticed her, he told my father that her presence proved that women “poteva commandare” in America, too. The year was 1960, and the tides were beginning to turn. Women and minorities were beginning to demand their place at the table. The movements were not lost on this immigrant coming in.
In Italy, my father chaperoned his sisters whenever they walked in the piazza and kicked the shins of young men who tried to talk to them for more than five minutes. None of my father’s siblings went beyond the fifth grade, and often the women were educated even less. My aunts were not allowed to get jobs as housekeepers or cooks in the hotels that were popping up in Ischia as it became a tourist mecca because my grandfather feared they would be labeled prostitutes. Here in America, things would be different for them, and so they would be different for the entire family.
That moment of reflection upon meeting the Statue and my grandfather’s interpretation remains one of my father’s first and brightest memories of his entrance into America. I’ve heard the story a million times, and I never tire of it. That moment in the harbor changed everything about the way my father, not to mention his father, saw the world. After graduating from an American high school and working for American companies before starting his own, my father and his family understood the importance of education and diversity.
Irony was not lost on my father in the last week as we savored his Americanness, his luck at being able to choose this country as his home, our home. He remembered his ability to get an education and earn a dollar here in a way he never could have in his native Italy. We recalled former President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in which he mentioned our people. “…the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.”
Yet, as we were celebrating all our fortune and that turning point with Lady Liberty, we gathered around the television and witnessed families separated by shores, and protesters asking for the same fulfillment of hopes, which we had been granted, at airports across our blessed nation. My father was shocked and forlorn but silent. His face told the entire story. When he saw the cover of that German news magazine depicting the aftermath of President Donald Trump beheading Lady Liberty flash across the screen all he said was, “That is so ugly. Turn it off.”
Alas, we can’t turn it off. This is happening. But the President is one man, and we are the people. I couldn’t help but find comfort in the words of Emma Lazarus, a Portuguese Sephardic Jewish refugee who wrote “The New Colossus,” the poem that now lies in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. We’ve brought just about every foreign friend or relative who visits to see the Lady and those words that captured the values of our America, of us. Every time I read it – no matter how many times I read it – I get those same chills. Those goosebumps are my gratitude, so I leave you with Lazarus’ summation for her words are more powerful than mine will ever be on this topic:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
As my son grew into a toddler, he showed interest in puzzles. He had delayed speech, and back then he never spoke a word while fiddling with the pieces. But I saw the wheels turning in his mind. Concentrating, he would struggle to figure out how to fill each hole in the puzzle. Each time that quizzical expression appeared on his face I was tempted to show him exactly where to put everything. Each time I resisted temptation to save the day.
Without realizing it, I was already beginning to take part in grit-style parenting, an old approach that is new again. Grit-style parenting refers to allowing children to face and grapple with failure. Some parenting experts are suggesting that this philosophy will be one of the big parenting trends of 2017.
“We want the best for our kids, and there’s been a generation shift that we clear the path before them—that we should instill in our kids the certainty that they’ll be the best at whatever they’re trying to achieve,” writes Carly Carioli, director of Content for Care.com, an organization dedicated to matching people with caregivers for children, pets, seniors, and their homes. “And there are times where that approach minimizes the inevitability of failure.”
For years now parents have been pushed into what some have described as coddling. The idea was that being helpful and providing positive reinforcement and, yes, those participant trophies was the best way to raise successful adults. But that’s not exactly realistic. And the backlash has been evident for some time now.
In 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison took to Instagram to announce he was going to have his sons return their participation trophies in protest of this idea that they were entitled to a reward for trying their best. While Carioli reminds that Harrison took some criticism for “being too harsh,” he also says that the sentiment resonated with many others. Indeed, the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction. Now, people are wondering out loud whether protecting kids from failure is actually a good idea.
What most grandparents will tell you is that they learned more from their mistakes than any handily won successes. If we keep removing challenges and obstacles for our children, how will they ever learn to deal with hardship? Won’t they just give up whenever things get too hard? Things are getting too hard. We can’t all just walk away. We have to prepare them. It’s our responsibility.
Indeed, Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, May 2016), has described her father’s unedited honesty as a motivator for her success. Her father would say she wasn’t a genius or she wasn’t a Picasso, and she would think, “I’ll show him,” she explains in the Guardian. It worked. Now, she is fleshing out a softer grit-style approach to parenting. Through her studies, she says being a role model is the cornerstone of this approach to raising kids.
“If you want to bring forth grit in your child, first ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals,” writes Duckworth in her book. “Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you. If the answer to the first question is ‘a great deal,’ and your answer to the second is ‘very likely’ you’re already parenting for grit.”
In addition to encouraging your children to follow your example, you can also help them study their passions. “It helps to find an activity they love, whether it’s playing a sport or learning a musical instrument,” writes Carioli. “Once you find that passion, help them to value practice. Nobody is a professional at the beginning of their learning curve, so you’re showing them that frustration is a part of learning something new, and the only way to get better is to work at it.”
Sharing your own stories of failure and opening the lines of communication are also helpful ways to introduce grit-style parenting to your family. This might take time. As I’ve mentioned, my son had speech delays. Sometimes, when he was first starting to speak, I would want to jump in and respond to questions for him or help him finish sentences. It was the worst thing I could do. He needed to find his voice. I needed to shut up. He needed to make mistakes and realize they would not cause the end of the world. When I finally zipped my mouth and let him go, I was better off and so was he.
Now, this is not to say that I want people to act as drill sergeants with their kids, nor do I want people to take this as an excuse to verbally or mentally abuse children. But a little grit-style parenting – laying off the participation trophies, actually allowing kids to experience healthy competition, letting them lose once in a while or work out a problem on their own – might not hurt. After all, grit is great, especially if you want to raise someone who can overcome whatever challenges are thrown at them.