I have three nephews, sons of my brother and sister-in-law. Two of the boys visited here with their parents this New Year’s. My other nephew never got to visit. He only lived nine days.
Today, Spenser would have been nine years old, had he made it. But, he was born way too early, weighed less than two pounds. It’s a miracle he held out more than a week in the NICU before he died in his parents’ loving arms.
This year, Spenser’s passing has hit me harder than it has in other recent years. Perhaps it is because I now have a little boy of my own, who I am getting to know, who arguably looks more like my eldest nephew (Spenser’s blood brother) than he looks like his own sister, in coloring at least. All day today, I looked at my son and thought of the little boy who did not get to join us for this life. I know my brother and sister-in-law look at their boys all the time and remember the third, and imagine what life would be like if he was here, too.
They started a non-profit organization, Spenser’s Hope, that raises awareness and money for research on pre-term labor. They tried to turn their loss into something that could at least help others.
My family did the same when my dad had heart surgery ten years ago. We wrote a book about it, about the emotions of it, for a family. It’s a good book, it can help people. And it has been sitting on the shelf, so to speak, for several years, waiting for us to do a final edit and self-publish it, as has been our plan, so it can at least get into the hands of people who can use it.
This book, as Spenser’s Hope, is not about anything but supporting those who will go through what we did. It’s not about anything but taking a harrowing experience we had and turning it into something we can learn from. The manuscript is on my desk now. My family has passed it to me this year to do the final edit and ready it for publication. To complete the project. I’m posting this so I hold myself accountable for it, so I motivate to do it this summer alongside other projects and daily life as a parent of two little ones.
My family has taught me some great lessons about success. One lesson is that we face the hard stuff, we don’t sweep it under the rug. We don’t just put on a happy face and buck up, but we don’t just sit there and wallow either. We stop, and we acknowledge what is painful, what is meaningful, what is moving us. This is not always neat or easy, definitely not always pretty, but I am proud of this legacy, and I hope to pass it on.
Another lesson is that what gives us the most satisfaction in life are not always the things that give us the most accolades, the biggest paychecks, or the gold stars. Success, my family shows me, is living inside of the real stuff of life, the relationships and how we affect one another.
Each year on Spenser’s birthday, my brother and his family have a celebration, they choose together something they think a boy that age would enjoy. Each year on my dad’s heart surgery date, I know that he takes stock of all that he has experienced in his “borrowed time,” as he calls it. Spenser’s Hope reminds us. I hope I will get this book done to remind us, too.
A legacy of success — not of fame or financial gain — but of living each day looking for ways to be real, to make a difference, and to remember what we have lost and gained.
Which, always, always, comes down to the people we hold closest to our hearts.
Happy Birthday, sweet angel Spenser. Until we meet again…
I was talking to a mom in the park last week as we waited for our daughters in their 45-minute art class. Having found out a bit about my background and my husband’s, the kind woman was sincerely asking me what to do about the fact that her four-year-old was “having trouble with the numbers 10 through 20.” She was asking me how my daughter’s drawings are (“chicken scratch, but she is having fun, so who cares?” I said), and if she can write her name yet (no). This mother was clearly seriously worried about whether her daughter was “behind.” She is FOUR. I asked her, “Where’s the race? And what’s at the end?” I asked if her child was happy. I asked how she defines success.
A few days later, my husband tells me that he (with several other San Diego County Teachers of the Year) is helping to arrange a screening in San Diego of a new film called Race to Nowhere. It is pretty much exactly everything Having Enough is about and why I started this blog three years ago, citing the same books, pumping the same critical message: We must redefine success! We are driving ourselves into the ground! We are losing our kids to an unrealistic, unhealthy cultural standard! From what I can see, this film asks the same questions of its audience as I asked the fellow mom at the park. Hallelujah!
Mother-filmmaker Vicki Abeles saw her own kids caught up in the stressed-out culture of achievement, and decided to do something about it. I can’t wait to see her film, Race to Nowhere (even though she totally beat me to it! you go, sister!) — I hope everyone in America gets a chance to see it!
As a voice says in the movie’s trailer, “to change, we must all change together.”
In fifteen minutes, we are turning out the lights.
Because the Earth needs us to!
Sorry I didn’t post this video sooner.
Candles ready here on the left coast, USA…
So I heard a statistic on NPR yesterday that gave me hope — and that tells me two things: 1) we can consciously change culture, and 2) our culture is having some success in moving things in the right direction.
Here’s the news:
University of Michigan social psychologist Lloyd Johnston runs an ongoing study that tracks the behavior of children between the ages of 13 and 18. He says that in 1996, 21 percent of eighth-graders were smoking. By 2009, that had dropped by nearly 70 percent, down to 6.5 percent currently smoking.
Johnston says the change was driven in part by prices and taxes on cigarettes. But he also points to successful public health messages that convinced kids that smoking was dangerous, not glamorous. “Today, we see three-quarters of teens say that they would prefer to date somebody that doesn’t smoke. So, what used to be suggested as increasing your attractiveness to the opposite gender, today does exactly the opposite.”
The story discussed how they could use this knowledge to fight childhood obesity. Absolutely. I say that cultural change is completely possible if enough people put their true intentions behind making it happen. Now, if you know the academic theories of mass communication (such as “two-step flow”), you could argue that the change did not come directly from the public health messages per se, but from people agreeing with the messages and convincing other people to believe them as well. It was more than a marketing campaign or a tax that got that many kids believing that smoking is not a habit worth having. It was a combination of factors for sure, but the upshot is that a true shift in consciousness has occurred among our nation’s youth.
When I hear about shifts in consciousness like this, I get energized. I get excited. Because it validates what I believe — we can create a better world for future generations. We can recover from our mistakes of the past. We can go forward and create a world as we believe it can be, and not just sit back and say the world just is as it is and we can’t do a thing about it.
Some may call it unreasonable to think we can change the mighty tides pulling us into the messy swamps of consumerism, materialism, ultra-competitiveness, entitlement, ignorance, pessimism… I think we can — so call me unreasonable. As George Bernard Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Or woman, right?
There’s a lot of depressing news out there these days. But today I’m focusing on this kernel of good news. Our kids are getting smarter, healthier, wiser. Our future is getting brighter. One shift at a time…
Forgive me, I haven’t been blogging lately! I plead two kids under age five.
Thanks to Amy for this two-minute video and for giving me something worthwhile to post tonight. Just a little inspiration — and a fun feat of wordsmithing — for a Wednesday evening in March…
More soon, spring break ahead…
So we got the CD of Carol King’s Really Rosie from the library today. I had been singing the alligator alphabet song on it to my daughter, so I wanted her to hear it. I was kind of giddy when we checked it out, just feeling right back in the groove of my 70’s bellbottom childhood. This CD and Free to Be… You and Me (which I wrote about in the book Mama, PhD) are probably the two that most define the first ten years of my life in my own memory banks.
I popped Really Rosie in when we got in the car, and was amazed how the words flowed back to me. As we listened and drove, I was hit with a most vivid memory. I was in first grade. Our school was doing the musical of Really Rosie, and I know there was buzz about me getting a good part — I have no idea which, but I remember the vibe. There was a “teacher’s pet” kind of thing going on from some other kids toward me, and I was feeling uncomfortable. I did know every word and every inflection of the show, and I probably could’ve gotten a lead part, even at that age. If I hadn’t thrown the audition. My first audition.
The memory causes that little stab above the belly button, as I recall the music room, and our beauitful teacher Mrs. Enzmann playing her piano and cueing me. I remember knowing every word, knowing how to deliver the lines, I had done it in my room a thousand times — but instead acting as if I did not remember. I remember the quizzical look on Mrs. Enzmann’s face, her black-lashed eyes widening — perhaps I was not such a good actress, acting like I could not act. I remember shrugging. I got a part in the alligator alphabet chorus. And each night at home, after watching most of rehearsal, I recited every line of Rosie’s and everyone’s, and sang every song.
I was six. And I was afraid of claiming my own success. There were peers — at six — who did not want me to succeed. And I let their attitudes keep me from shining. This is the same year I cried about getting one answer wrong on a worksheet. I was so filled with a desire to learn, to feel good about myself, to succeed. But I did not know how to proceed, whether I wanted to be smart or cool, or that I could be both. I did not know that real friends always cheer you on.
As I drove up the hill to our house today, my daughter humming along with Carole King from the backseat, I wondered how I could help her feel confident in claiming her successes, in being smart and cool, and in not caring about those people who will discourage her. I wondered why I did not have the courage that day. I wondered how I could give it to her.
I am looking to our Parenting on Track program for some answers, as Courage is one of the four “crucial C’s” we are working on with our kids. I am also looking inside of myself. I will continue, every day, to seek ways to tell and show my kids that they never need to throw the audition for anyone else’s benefit. And if they do, well, I guess we will learn from it. I sure did, at least there is a happy ending there. I never threw another audition, and got to play Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown by sixth grade. I was still called teacher’s pet then. But at least I got to sing the songs on stage instead of in my room.
The most ironic part of this story? Here are the lyrics to the main song of the show — the show for which I threw my first audition and did not let my light shine — the message King was sending to kids was just the opposite…
I’m really Rosie
And I’m Rosie Real
You better believe me
I’m a great big deal!
I’m a star from afar
Off the golden coast
Beat the drum! Make that toast!
To Rosie the Most!
I can sing
Tea for Two and Two for Tea
I can act
To be or not to be
I can tap
Across the Tappan Zee
Hey, can’t you see?
I’m terrific at everything!
No star shines so bright as me–Rosie!
I’m Really Rosie
I’m Rosie Real
I’m Really Rosie
My friend gave me a great gift today. She knows who she is. She said something to me in a way I don’t think anyone ever has.
You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been told that I am “oversensitive.” I get it. I am highly emotional. I cannot stand seeing any living thing in pain. I cannot watch a scene on film or television that is violent, or else I have nightmares for weeks. I get my feelings hurt by things others would not even hear. I worry about that one person who may be left out in any situation, I want to be sure no one is hurting or feeling alienated (apparently I started doing this in preschool). I tend to shut down in loud places with sensory overload. You get the picture, the list goes on.
So, I’ve always received the message that it is in my best interest to “toughen up.” Always thought that was what I am supposed to do. “Don’t let it bother you.” “Oh, relax.” “What’s the big deal?” Toughen up. And I’ve tried to, with not much, perhaps just a smidgen of, success.
I said to my friend yesterday, after a conversation in which someone I don’t know very well said something I felt was particularly insensitive about a choice my husband and I have made, “I guess I am just learning to have a tougher skin when people say things like that.” Her response? I will quote her flawless wisdom exactly (I really hope she doesn’t mind, as it is for the good of the world that I put this out there):
“You will find no comfort in defenses or toughness. You will find comfort and solace and peace and healing and understanding by staying vulnerable and open. No one will attack you. And if they do, it is but mist. Stay Open. Your kids need you open.”
Oh, the relief I felt in those words, the validation, the YES. The: THIS is what I’ve always known but never could quite articulate with confidence, or never had articulated to me. She also said, and this is a paraphrase: if you put up your dukes or stiffen up, you will get knocked down. If you remain soft and flowing, no one can push you over, you just keep moving. Again, I know this, I believe this, but somehow having her say it to me just put it all into perspective today.
What if everyone in the world was actually emotionally open? What if we had not been taught to toughen up, shut down, fight back, criticize others, and turn off our sensitivities — but instead were taught to open up and embrace those sensitivities, and use them as a gauge and a guide in being with one another, and to see them as a gift? What if we traded our closed-minded judgements for open-minded listening — so that we actually took in what others’ did and said in the most sensitive of ways, rather than with defenses heightened, or wall built? Do you think the world would be different? That there would be less prejudice, less divorce, less war? I wonder.
It’s messier when you take it all in, feel it all, tune in to it all. I imagine it could be easier to be tough and unflappable. I imagine it could be easier to sit comfortably believing that your judgements protect you, rather than practicing detaching from those judgements, as in Buddhism, which I’ve also tried with a smidgen more success. But perhaps in the long run it is not easier to be tough. It still takes energy, and then the energy must release somewhere, at some point — that can’t be good.
I know one thing: I felt like a success today because someone validated who I am, in a way that our culture often does not. I felt like a success because I was heard and seen and appreciated for a trait I’ve been criticized for by others. And I also know that I feel like a success when I can validate others in this deep and meaningful way.
Think about it. Maybe you could give someone this kind of a gift today. Maybe you could give it to yourself. How? Stop toughening up. Remain open. And see what happens.