Tag Archives: childhood

Goodbye, old friend.

The other night I was giving my husband The Gift of Sleep.

My friend Katy taught me about The Gift of Sleep. See, sleep is important. So important that if you love someone, you will let him sleep when he really needs it.  My husband really needed it the other night–as evidenced by the fact that he went into our bedroom and fell asleep by 7:30 PM. So I gave him The Gift of Sleep. I let him be. And the dogs and I slept in the guest room (because Penny and Bonnie Ray always sleep in whatever room I’m in–regardless of size). He had a great night of sleep all stretched out across our king-sized bed. 

In the guest room, I climbed into the bed that was mine before I married–so basically, I don’t hate it.  Smaller, it still has the fabulous high thread count sheets I indulged in as  a single woman.  The guest room also has the TV that was my bedroom TV pre-marriage. Actually, it has the 13-inch tube TV that I have had since somewhere around 1991. I know that it’s allegedly bad to have a TV in your bedroom. Supposedly, it actually disrupts your sleep.  But anyone who knows me knows I have the worst time with sleep anyway. And having the TV on is actual a part of my sleep ritual. It has been. Since 1991.


Here’s the thing:  that little 13-inch TV got me through adolescence. And high school. And college. And young adulthood.  My husband does not understand my relationship with television. Never will. But TV has always been my friend. Like the books I read on the floor of my closet. Like movies. Because TV is an escape from reality. And when I was younger, it was often my only escape from reality (i.e. complete chaos, utter madness). And so, I would be up all night as a pre-teen and teen, watching My Three Sons, and Dobie Gillis, and The Patty Duke Show on my little 13-inch TV. That TV drowned out everything else. It kept me company. It distracted me. It let me escape–even if only in 30-minute chunks when I should have been sleeping (but couldn’t).

But now, thanks to the digital age, my little friend is obsolete. As of this year, all I can get is snow (which always freaks me out. Because Poltergeist!) Worry not–I dragged my laptop in there and streamed Netflix while my husband enjoyed The Gift of Sleep). But still. It’s not the same.  After 23 years, it’s just not the same. After 23 years, it’s time to say goodbye.

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Is this wrong? Yes.

So today on my ride into work, there was a discussion on the radio about this letter a teacher in NY sent home with her pre-K students.  The question offered to listeners/callers was this: “Is this wrong?”  The answer is yes.

The letter in question attempted to address the personal hygiene (or lack thereof) of children in the class. Here is a photo of the letter:smelly letter

If I were a parent who received this letter, I would write a letter back, and it would look something like this:

Dear Teacher,

I am writing this letter to inform you that you have failed–both as a teacher and a human being.  Allow me to explain why using a traditional scale: U = Unacceptable; NI = Needs Improvement; A = Acceptable; E = Exceeds. I have organized this from least important to most important for your benefit.

Professionalism: U

Did you hand write this with a marker and mimeograph it down the hall? How am I supposed to take you seriously? My (hypothetical) 4-year-old can use an iPad. You can’t use a computer? It’s 2013; if you’d like me to read something, type it up, print it out, and then send it me. I refuse to read scribble from anyone other than my child who just learned to spell his name.

Grammar: U

Unkept? You’re talking about my child, not my lawn. The word you’re looking for is unkempt. Also, you use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it’s used to combine two independent clauses. You missed two of those. And one more–please proofread and edit before you send me or my child anything else. I really don’t want him picking up bad writing habits. (FYI: If you’d typed your document in Microsoft Word, spell and grammar checker would have helped you with your struggles to appropriately use Standard American English.) Also, periods. Enough said.

Communication: U

Did you really need to send this out to everyone (Consider reading my post on Bcc and Reply All and apply to this situation if you have the critical thinking skills to do so, which based on this evidence, I doubt.)? Don’t you think it might have been more effective to have targeted your message to a specific audience?  And is a generic handwritten letter really your best device for getting your message across? A more appropriate method of communicating to parents of children you think stink would have been a personal phone call. Furthermore, watch your language! “Enough said?” Really? Your tone is…self righteous and arrogant and…all around negative. It’s like you were hoping to start a fight, not resolve an actual problem. Also, for the record, despite the all-caps title, this is not actually an urgent notice. An urgent notice (!!!) would be something like, “There’s black mold and asbestos in our classroom, please only send your child to school tomorrow if he has a Hazmat suit!” An offense to your olfactory perception is not urgent.

Empathy: U

Empathy, since you seem to have none, is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s (like a 3-year-old’s) shoes and understand how they likely feel and then behave accordingly. Did you even stop for a second to consider how these supposedly dirty and stinky kids might feel upon discovering that their teacher doesn’t even want to be near them? Or how their parents might feel upon receiving your letter? You should know this, but I’ll go ahead and make sure it’s clear: sometimes people do the best they can with limited resources. I read that 30% of the population in your area lives below the poverty line. Maybe they’re doing the best they can. You should at least consider the possibility.

Social Responsibility: U

Look, if some of the children in class are really a health and safety concern, you might consider that the appropriate action to take is reporting a case of possible neglect. Sending a letter like this home to an abusive and neglectful parent could actually make things worse for the child in question.  If you are that concerned, call DSS and let them know.  Had someone done that for my foster kids, they would have been removed from their abusive home years before they were. Speak up–you may be the only voice those children have, so instead of marginalizing (and dare I suggest bullying) them, be an advocate for them. Be a friend to them. Be a role model. It’s your responsibility as a teacher and a human being.

Enough has not been said here, but I feel like this might be a good starting point. I encourage you to reflect on your behavior, consider the ways in which you may have better addressed this issue, and make a commitment to do better in the future. Accept that this was a BIG mistake and make a plan to better yourself. In short, take this as a a teachable moment. Learn. Grow. And then maybe you’ll be able to rise from Unacceptable to Exceeds (or at least Acceptable).  Let me know if I can help.


Parent of (a hypothetical) child in your class.

PS: Finally, please sign below indicating you have read this report in its entirety and understand its contents.


(Bad Teacher)

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The Children of Addicts

Over the last few weeks I have been reminded again and again of this truth: when your parent(s) is (are) addict(s), it affects your whole life. Forever. In all kinds of ways. In ways you may not even realize. It affects how you see yourself and how you view the world and other people.

In her ground-breaking (1983) work, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Dr. Jan Woititz outlined the characteristics typical of ACOAs. And 30 years later, her assessment still holds up. If you grew up with an addict and haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

Children of addicts grow up in the midst of confusion, chaos, and complete dysfunction. Their childhood is marked by instability, insecurity, and uncertainty. And the consequences of that kind of childhood are far-reaching: even when they grow into adulthood, children of addicts struggle on a day-to-day basis to overcome the obstacles set up by their own parents–to live lives of normalcy…even when they’re just guessing at what normal is.

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Will You Tell Your Story?

Over lunch yesterday, my in-laws were asking about my book (since I got outed last week).  And as I explained to them my project, My MIL, asked “Will you tell your story?”

Answer: Yes, probably.

The follow-up question from FIL was, “Will you use your own name?”

These are actually both difficult questions to answer, and I’ve been grappling with them and have thus tabled them for later. (Because we all know difficult things get easier later, right?)

I expect to share my story; I always have intended to eventually. But it’s not an easy story to tell—if I tell it all. But it’s no more difficult than the stories of the people I’m interviewing. And if they can do it, so can I.  And I’ll do it for the same reason they’ve agreed to: If my story can help encourage, motivate, or in some way inspire one person, it’s worth it.

As for using my own name, there are a couple of problems I can foresee: 1) the people involved in my story and 2) my career. The people who are a part of my story are still alive and kicking somewhere. And they’re the kind of people who wouldn’t appreciate me revealing things that were kept secret for so long.  Not only would they deny the roles they played, but also they’re the kind of people who would find a way to exact revenge.  And they’re the kind of people who know how to inflict pain—emotional, psychological, physical (It’s why I cut such people out of my life). So it’s a big risk to use my name (I’m actually a little afraid there might be reprecussions from this post–although I’m not yet naming names).

My career: my career is currently in flux (but that’s another post entirely). But there are aspects to my story that, if shared, would open me up to workplace discrimination that could stall out my career (if that’s not what already happened). I could find my professional success in jeopardy. There are other parts of my story to which a huge stigma is attached and there are parts of which I am not proud—parts that are embarrassing at best and devastating at worst.

It’s not like I haven’t told parts of my story before. But I usually stick to the ones that, in retrospect, are humorous. Removed from the situation by years, I can laugh at such stories, and sometimes I can even be thankful for the valuable lessons they taught me—being homeless for 3 months, discovering an empty bank account, having my identity stolen. (Those don’t sound funny? Clearly, you haven’t heard me tell them.)

But there are lots of unfunny parts, too—parts that no matter how much time passes will never be humorous and from which I will never fully recover.  When the past is ugly, it’s hard to turn around and look back at it. But it’s also incredibly important because the past shapes the present—and the future.  I am who I am today because of my past. Unlike many people in similar situations, I found my way. I learned many valuable lessons—about myself, about life—along the way. And that’s why it’s important to share my story—it’s why it’s important we all do.


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Reel Success

I’ve always said that I learned some of my most valuable life lessons courtesy of television and movies. When I was a kid, I would ride my bike to the movie rental store to pick out some videotapes to watch after dark. I wasn’t one of those weird pasty kids who stayed inside all day in front of the TV: I rode my bike all around town during the day–to the community pool, the ball fields, friends’ houses, the park, the public library, or just around the neighborhoods near my house. But in the evening or on rainy days, I watched movies–all kinds of movies.

For years now, I’ve been wanting to teach a class that would allow me to share with students my love of movies and the lessons they have to teach us. A most of you know, my research and study over the last 8 years has focused on student success. This summer I will finally be designing that course, a course that blends my love of movies with what has become my area of expertise, a course called “Reel Success.”

This is the description:

Do you like movies? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t? Frank Capra called film “one of the three universal languages,” and he’s right: movies speak to us. They have a lot to teach us, and in this class, we’ll analyze the valuable life lessons shared with us through films from a variety of time periods and genres. Whether you like old movies or new, action flicks or romances, you’ll love this class, where we explore how we can move those lessons from reel to real to improve success in college and life.

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I think so, and I’m definitely excited about teaching it this fall. As I start selecting which movies we’ll watch (in full and in part), feel free to share with me which movies really spoke to you. I’d love to hear!


Filed under Higher Ed, Teaching & Learning

Good Catholic Girl

In honor of the new pope, I am going to tell you a good Catholic story from way back when I lived in Boston and still had “good Catholic” parents trying to raise me to be a “good Catholic girl.”

I was seven, which (in case you don’t know) is the official age at which one receives the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation—otherwise known as the First Confession and the First Holy Communion.

We spent a lot of time preparing for First Communion. I remember practicing my prayers every night—preparing for whatever penance the priest might require of me for my seven-year-old sins:

“Oh, my Father, I am heartily sorry for my sins with all my heart. In failing to do good and choosing to do wrong, I have sinned against thee who art so loving…”

“Our Father who art in Heaven…”

“Hail, Mary, Full of Grace! The Lord is with thee…”

“Glory be to the Father, the son, and the Holy Ghost…”

We had classes to prepare us for the big event. We practiced at Catholic school: walking up and down the aisle, receiving phony Eucharist. I remember having to make the very serious decision about whether to accept the Body of Christ traditionally by having the priest place the wafer directly on the tongue or being “modern” and accepting it by handing and putting it on my own tongue to dissolve (I chose the latter, a rebel at seven).

I spent a lot of time thinking about what sins I would confess to the priest. I was seven; it’s not like I had a lot to confess. Think back to that age: unless you were a sociopath, you weren’t really running around committing too many sins. I was pretty sure I’d confess to saying something mean to my sister because that likely happened—although I couldn’t recall the specifics. I had to ask if the priest would require detail (he wouldn’t).

The adults explained to us how the whole confession thing would go: line up, proceed down the aisle, wait your turn, examine your conscience the whole time. When it’s your turn, enter the confessional booth. The priest will be in the booth next door. We practiced in the empty booth: “Forgive me father for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I was mean to my sister.” But the imaginary priest didn’t say anything back.  The adults told us what he would say, though. They explained he would assign us penance for our sins. They gave us examples: 7 Hail Mary’s, 5 Our Fathers, 1 Glory Be, and of course the Act of Contrition. We’d leave the booth and hit our knees at the altar and pray for forgiveness. We’d do our penance. We practiced: “…with thy help, I firmly intend to sin no more and to keep away from all that leads me to sin…”. After this our souls would be clean, and we’d be ready to receive the Body of Christ. We practiced, holding our hands just right, pretending to put Styrofoam-like wafers on our tongues. We were reminded not to chew: “You wouldn’t chomp down on the leg of Jesus, would you?” (I’m still disturbed by that imagery)

And then we were ready.  On the big day, we arrived at church all dressed up—girls looking like little brides in frilly white dresses and veils. We marched down the aisle of the Church. I’m not gonna lie: seven-year-old me was nervous about tripping. I’ve always been a clutz.

Turns out I wasn’t the one to do something embarrassing.  That honor went to another little girl whose name, I think, was Kathleen (let’s just go with that). She was ahead of me in line for the confessional booth.  I was watching the other little boys and girls go in and come out, heading to the altar for their penance. I wondered what sins they’d committed. Then, little Kathleen went in. Hardly a second later there was a piercing scream, and she came tumbling out of the confessional, crying, and fell to the floor. That terrified everyone! I mean, what the heck happened to her in there? Was she possessed by a demon??

No, she was just a scared little girl.  If you’ve never been in an old-school confessional booth (I know a lot of time nowadays, people just sit down face-to-face with a priest), let me explain: There are two doors (ours had doors anyway; some have curtains), side-by-side. You walk in one side and shut the door behind you. It’s dark. And a little creepy, especially if you’re seven. Those suckers were built for privacy, so it’s really quiet. You can’t hear much from the outside. Which is also creepy, especially if you’re seven.  In the wall separating the two booths, there’s a screen. You can’t really see through it. The screen is protected by a little door. So when the little door opens from the priest’s side, you can start your confession. Through the screen. To the priest who you can’t see.

You know what’s really, really creepy to seven-year-old kids: disembodied voices. Which is what sent little Kathleen careening out of that booth as if the devil himself were on the other side.

I didn’t want to go in after that. But I did. It was creepy, but I didn’t scream. I think I confessed to telling a lie because that seemed like a good one. I was rewarded with absolution.  I did my penance. I earned a rosary and a prayer book, so I could continue being a good Catholic girl.


Filed under My Life