Women of Beverly

Today I spent time looking at the Women of Beverly. I’ll bet the first thing this brings to mind is those “real housewives” of Beverly Hills, California. But no, I haven’t been binge watching the popular TV show about the ups and downs of the rich and (now) famous. The Women of Beverly I encountered are psychologists and police officers, nurses and yoga instructors. What do they have in common? They are the backbone of their community.

The Backbone of Community

Beverly is one of those neighborhoods that values community. On a warm September day, you will see moms on the block keeping tabs on kids playing on the front sidewalk – not just their own kids but the neighbors kids, too. While they’re at it, they may borrow a cup of sugar or share the latest news with the older couple next door.

Beverly has an arts center where families gather. Kids take painting classes and perform in theater camps. Adults attend films and dance performances. Today there was a photography show.

Raising Them Up

The idea started with Diego Martirena, a ten-year resident of Beverly, a photographer and the father of three girls. Martirena is a community enthusiast. And, yet, he realized, he knew very little about the people who made Beverly such a vital place to raise his daughters. He decided to find out.

He spread the word, calling for nominations from the community itself. The result is a show of 42 photographs which together give a window into what — or rather, who — makes the community so vibrant. As Martirena says, “There are a lot of women in this neighborhood doing great things. I don’t know if a lot of people know about it… I started to realize, these women could have an influence on the younger generation.”

Household Names

Yes, indeed. I’m sure many of us, including our kids, can tell you who the Housewives of Beverly Hills are. Even more can tell you about Brad and Angelina or Beyonce. This is all fine and good.

But what about the neighbor who organizes a walk for breast cancer or works for a non-profit to provide clothing for families in need or raises money for the local soccer team. Or any of the many other works that make our communities good places to live. What if we talk about these folks, make them household names alongside the celebs. Appreciate the vibrant people in our own backyard. Now that is truly something to talk about.

Share about the people who form the backbone of your community!

Growing up in a Post 9/11 World

Today we have been remembering the victims of the most devastating attack on American soil in our nation’s history. Radio programs, newspapers, and television shows have been filled with people sharing memories of that day: some share memories of their loved ones who died that morning; others recount the mundane details of what they were doing at the time the planes hit. But many Americans have no memories whatsoever of September 11, 2001.

1 in 5 Americans Were Born After 9/11

One in five Americans alive today was not born when the attacks occurred. For many of them, the facts are a little hazy. And they have questions. Others may have a firm grasp of the facts but don’t feel the emotional impact of something they did not live through. As we get further and further out from the event, there will be more and more people who were not born yet in September 2011. How then do we preserve a collective memory of this tragedy? And how do we draw upon it to make a better future?

Teaching the Facts

For years after 2001, schools shied away from teaching about 9/11. But more recently, teachers have been assigning books that deal with this history and they are using the facts of 9/11 to engage their classes around questions that have relevance today. Those of us who are older sometimes forget that many young people have never known a world where they do not have to take off their shoes in security lines. More darkly, they have never known a world without war or terrorism. And they have questions about how we got to this point.

They look to the adults around them to provide context. Why were we attacked? Who attacked us? What is radical Islam? How does that differ from mainstream Islam? How does the Patriot Act square with the constitution’s protection of our civil liberties? Only through helping our youth grapple with these issues can we pass along to them the knowledge they will need to make good decisions about the world they live in.

Teaching the Emotional Implications

And what about the emotional aspect? Many teens say they understand the facts of 9/11 but don’t feel emotional about it. They don’t feel the fear of watching the towers go down, of being attacked on our own soil. Yet even if they don’t directly feel the connection, they are living right now through the continuing fear that stems from that event.

By engaging teens around the emotions of 9/11, we can help them to understand the country’s current deep divisions that are based on this fear. By providing the context and connection, we give our youth the tools to address our current problems in a positive way.

Share your ideas for teaching about 9/11

Soaking Up the Last Days of Summer

The days are getting shorter…I sigh. Highs in the 70s are making a reappearance. But there are still these beautiful warm sunny days and clear balmy starry nights when life just floats. And I’m soaking up every last one.

So here’s an ode to summer nights, penned by Carl Sandberg.

BEND low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Cherish each and every moment ☺

Share your favorite poems of summer!

The Nest is Empty – Now What?

This is for all you parents out there whose baby is going off to college.

The Parenting Life

Some or all of this may sound familiar:

You gave up alcohol for 9 months during which time the smell of onions sent you rushing to the bathroom to puke. Or you could barely make it out of bed in the morning. And your stomach continued to grow until you couldn’t tie your own shoes.

Then you gave up alcohol for several more months while you nursed this cherubic being (we tend to blot out from our memories or even remember with a wry smile the nights of screaming infants and croupy coughs).

And then there was this wonderful blur of romping, reading, laughing, and hugs. Followed by play dates and soccer games and less frequent hugs (at least in public). Followed by computers and texting which didn’t directly involve you but you had this feeling of well-being just being there. And then the pride at good grades, profound thoughts, thoughtful and generous acts coming from this kid who might even be taller than you are.

Going, Going, Gone…

And in a week or two, they will be gone. Off to college. For some, it may be within driving distance. For others, the whole country may lie between you and your college child.

How do you feel? Sad? Anxious? Wondering what you will do with all that time you have been spending with them?

Now What?

I’ve been through it and reached the other side. So here are a few things that surprised me in my journey getting from there to here:

  • Before my baby left for college, I thought the fact that she would no longer be around the house would be the big, overwhelming feeling. It turned out that what colored my mood most was whether she was happy. My emotional radar was on high alert during every phone call. More often than not, especially during those first few weeks, she gushed about her roommates and the parties and the sport she was playing. I came away from hearing her happiness with a feeling of satisfaction much like I felt when she was home.
  • There were times when she hit bumps in the road. At first, I had a powerful urge to storm onto campus and set things right. (I am happy to say, I refrained.) But I found as time went on that she handled the bumps just fine without me. And that was a RELIEF! Which made me feel good about myself as a mom, too.
  • And what was I doing back at the ranch? Yes, there were times when I walked past her bedroom and teared up. But I also began to spend more adult time with my partner and my friends. I tackled the ten books on my nightstand. I actually took advantage of the fact that I live a few blocks from a big beautiful lake with paths specifically for biking and walking. When I was tired or just tired of being busy, I could spend weekend mornings in bed with a cup of coffee and a croissant. And when I felt like an impromptu cocktail with a friend, I was fancy free.

The parts of me that are not “mom” started getting more time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t thrill every time my college kid and I had a visit. Or that I didn’t ache when it was time to say goodbye again. But it does mean that life back home was not so bad.

So chin up. And carpe diem!

Share your empty nest experiences!

Bribes for Reading?

When my kids were little, they loved to read. Well…when they were very little they loved to be read to. And, later they loved reading on their own. But one daughter went through a struggle in the transition. The process of learning to read was hard work. During that period, the fun of reading waned and she shied away from it.

So what do you do if your child avoids reading?

Are bribes helpful?

An article in last week’s New York Times poses this question. In particular, it looks at the pros and cons of bribing your kid to read. On the plus side, if you ply your child with money, new toys or some other material item on their wish list, they will have incentive to read. Research shows that, in the short term, this can be effective. But on the negative side, research also shows that as soon as the incentive stops, the reading stops. And because reading is now tied in your child’s mind with “payment” it is seen as work, not fun.

Another Approach

There is another path. This is what some call non-material incentives. Such as…?

Well, one is to tie reading into special family time. Maybe a weekly trip to the library with a parent or special caregiver. Or, for those who have siblings, a special one-on-one time with a parent cozied up around a book. For those who are at the learning-to-read stage, this loving support can get them over the hump. And celebrate big time when they finally make it through that first book on their own!

Another idea is to make reading part of a group social activity. Maybe help your child form a book club, complete with cookies and milk. Or start a family contest to read the most books – the winner gets admiration, no material reward needed.

Encouraging Reading for Life

When my kids became teenagers, the number of demands on their time increased dramatically. High school homework, extracurricular activities, social events, and the demands of social media. At this point, I did add a material incentive — something I continue to give them to this day, even though they are grown. Every Christmas, I choose a new book for each of them, carefully picking out stories tailored to their individual interests and styles. This summer, I took a short vacation trip with my daughter – the one who had to work at learning to read so many years ago. We sat around the pool reading and discussing our books together. The joy of reading!

Share your thoughts on encouraging kids to read.

What is this thing called Civics?

And then there were two…candidates for the presidency, that is. The 90-day race is on. Our lives will be filled with opportunities for discussion of the issues. There will be debates, TV commercials, town hall meetings, news articles, and tweets. These are all fodder for dinner table discussions, water cooler gossip, and schoolyard shouting matches. But there is also the opportunity for so much more. There is an opportunity to teach and learn about all things civics.

What Exactly is Civics?

So what is civics, anyway? The Merriam-Webster definition is a good one, I think: “The study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how the government works.”

One thing I love about it is it challenges us to understand a lot more than just the election and role of the President. It relates to understanding and having a say about senators and judges, representatives on both the federal and local levels. It also calls upon us to understand the numerous issues that our government tackles for us.

The other thing I love about this definition is that it is about our responsibilities as well as our entitlements. “Rights” and “Duties” operate hand in hand.

Our Civic Rights and Duties

So what are these rights and duties? There are many specifics, of course. But I would say at least these two things: (1) the right and duty to vote and (2) the right and duty to get the facts that prepare you to make an “informed” vote.

That’s where the debate parties and the dinner table conversations come in. But a lot of this may go over kids’ heads. Or may not be in a format that appeals to them.

Civics for Kids

Enter iCivics – a GREAT website for kids (quite frankly, I am enjoying it as an adult!) It’s loaded with games that give kids the chance to think about and role play how governing is done. Argue one side of a case (you choose which side) about matters related to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Take a turn running each of the three branches of government. Strategize how to use your country’s resources in the international community – will your people be better protected through war or peace? And so much more.

Share your thoughts on teaching civics.

One Great Reason to Read

A short blog post today.

I’ve had my nose in a book a lot lately. Sound solitary? Actually, I’ve gotten to know a lot of new people. And I’ve had catch up sessions with old buds. I’ve followed the adventures of a black soldier of the French Revolution (The Black Count), the journey of a poor British girl in World War II London (The War That Saved My Life), the efforts of Jamestown settlers to avoid starvation in seventeenth century Virginia (A People’s History of the United States), and the latest trials and successes of my favorite movie stars (courtesy of People Magazine). I would never have the chance to know these people face to face. They are either long gone, never really existed outside the author’s mind, or don’t run in my circles (perhaps you might say I am unlikely to run in theirs). But through reading, they are part of my world and they enrich my life.

C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Of course, there are other reasons to read, too. But that sure is a good one.

What’s in your book bag?!

Champions: Nature or Nurture?

Yesterday was a good day. Serena Williams won her 7th Wimbledon singles title. It was also her 22nd Majors title tying her with Steffi Graf for most wins in the “Open Era” (translation: since 1968) of tennis. A few hours later, Serena teamed up with her sister Venus to win their 6th Wimbledon’s women’s doubles title.

Nature or Nurture?

Two sisters. Both great at tennis. So what are the ingredients of this success? Is it nature or is it nurture? Do the sisters have cream-of-the-crop genes? Or has their life experience shaped their greatness?

Certainly the girls started young. The story I’ve heard is that their dad was TV-channel-flipping one night and happened upon the winner’s ceremony of a tennis match. When he saw the amount of money awarded to the winner for four day’s work he decided upon careers in tennis for his children. He poured over instructive books and videos on tennis and began to train Venus and Serena almost as soon as they could walk. Flash forward 35 years and his girls are the best of the best.

So did Mr. Williams have some sort of crystal ball about his daughters’ talent? Or did he, himself, have an incredible coaching talent? Or did a bunch of factors come together in just the right way? Nature or nurture?

The Answer Is…

I don’t have a pizzazzy answer but it is a satisfying one, I think. Just last year the results of a study conducted over a five year period in countries around the world concluded…it’s both. Nature AND nurture. And, guess what? It’s pretty much a tie in terms of what impacts us most.

The study itself is pretty interesting. It compiled 2,748 studies of identical twins and looked at more than 17,000 traits. Some physical traits were more the result of genetics – such as having a cleft lip (98% heritable). Bipolar disorder was found to be 70% genetics.. But on average, 49% is genetics, 51% is environment.

Nurture: The Williams Way

Back to the Williams sisters. Genetics blessed them with strong, agile bodies. Their environment did the rest. Here are some things I’ve read about them:

  • Daily two-hour practices for the pre-schoolers instilled discipline
  • Training on tennis courts in impoverished, gang-ridden Compton, under a hail of insults from passersby taught them to be tough in the face of criticism
  • Protection from local gang members who surrounded the courts to fend off those that might hurt the girls taught them community pride and loyalty
  • The Williams family lived by the old adage “blood is thicker than water” providing family support through good times and bad

Nurture: Your Way

Many of us pour our hopes into our children the same way Richard Williams did. This doesn’t mean they will all be champions (or make lots of money!). But as confirmed by the recent study, the environment we provide has tremendous impact on our children: who they are and what they become. A lot of it is up to us — to provide love, discipline, encouragement, grit, creativity, intellectual thinking, and all the other things we value and hope for in our children. We parents and caretakers have both a powerful responsibility and a great opportunity. That is good news indeed.

Share your stories of nature vs. nurture

Making A Difference: How Do You Tackle the Big Issues?

There’s Been Good

2016 has brought a lot of great things my way. All of my daughters graduated from school (one from college, two from graduate school). Those celebrations, along with graduations for extended family and friends, have given me a tangible sense of what it means to have a “social season.”

There’s Been Bad

2016 has also been deeply troubling. Violence in my city, my country, the world, continues on what seems to be an inexorable march. The core of my being is shouting, “Stop the madness!”

What Can We Do About It?

I think pretty much all of us feel that way. But the “how” is the hard part. A lot of people are reacting with a loud: “Let’s back up, let’s rewind!” For many, finding a safe space means retreating to be with people who think like them, look like them, have similar experience.

Does Running the Other Way Really Help?

That’s not an inexplicable or necessarily evil response. It is, at least in the short-term, simpler and more manageable. But as a solution, it has its own problems – economic, social, and otherwise. What at first might seem to lead to more stability is very likely to increase instability. In England, for example, just days after a vote to leave the European Union – at least in part based on a perception that this will increase stability – people are learning that they stand to lose significant financial benefits from the EU which may very well translate into lost jobs, a devalued currency, and a decreased ability to export goods beyond their tiny island borders.

What’s The Alternative?

What about the rest of us? What about those who want to take on the hard work of building a community that is inclusive and equitable in treatment of all who choose to live with us, that is diverse? How, exactly, do we go about this?

Martin Luther King once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” This really hits home. But the problems can seem so overwhelming that you don’t know where to begin. I have yet to see a manual with step-by-step instructions.

Do What You Know

I learned something, this week, from the approach of the painter, Grant Wood. He taught art students at the University of Iowa from 1934-1941. His students were grappling with the question: “How do I organize my talents to have an impact on the world?” Wood’s advice was simple: Choose painting, printmaking, sculpture, murals – any of these. But one message was the same for all: Draw upon what you know. And so from his students could come works about mothers and children, revolutionaries and aristocrats, farmers and factory workers. The collective body of artwork being created at that time had a profound impact on the world.

Draw upon what you know. That is how you can have the most impact. You don’t have to take on the whole problem (in fact, none of us can). Others whose experience is not the same as yours will fill your spaces. This is a great organizing principle, one that can soar in a diverse world.

Pass it on to your children.

Share your stories of tackling big issues

Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

It’s finally summer – Chicago temperatures are in the 90s. I took a walk along the lake yesterday and was swooning – not so much from the heat but more from the mouthwatering smell of barbecue wafting my way from picnics in the park. I expect more of the same today. With a special extra cause for celebration. It is Juneteenth.

What exactly are we celebrating?

What exactly are we celebrating? On this day – that is, June 19 – in 1865, a general of the Union army issued an order in Texas freeing the slaves.

What About the Emancipation Proclamation?

If you haven’t heard of Juneteenth before, you might be confused. What about the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued 2 years earlier? January 1, 1863, a famous and important date in its own right. On that day, President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in confederate states. It did not free slaves in slaveholding states of the Union (such as Maryland). But it did cover a lot of people.

News travels Slow

Theoretically, the Emancipation Proclamation should have freed slaves in Texas since that state was part of the Confederacy. But as long as the Confederate armies fought on, it wasn’t so easy for slaves to claim their freedom. Texas held on to its slaves.

What About Appomattox?

OK. But the war actually did end on April, 9, 1865 when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Well, news traveled slow back then. And, though the war officially ended in April, Texas Confederates were still fighting until early June.

Going National

So it makes sense that Texas celebrates Juneteenth. But why the rest of the country? Isn’t the Emancipation Proclamation or the official end of the war or the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, officially ending slavery throughout the United States – isn’t one of these a better official date for celebration?

Some have argued Yes for choosing one of the other days for official celebration. But through it all, black Texans held on to their celebration of Juneteenth. And as some began to move out of Texas, they carried the tradition across state lines. Then, flash forward to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 1968 to be exact. In June of that year, two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated, King’s followers converged on Washington DC for the Poor People’s March. On June 19 – Juneteenth — of that year, the march concluded and participants returned to their homes across America. They carried the celebration of Juneteenth back with them .

Now there is an official Juneteenth holiday in many states. And how do we celebrate? With summer fun: great music, great friends, and barbecue. Yum!

Share your stories of celebrating Juneteenth!