Longwood… “The Farm”… Chi… Joanie on the… Sigma Kappa…

I LOVE SOCIAL NETWORKING!!! I just spent a few minutes perusing my Facebook friends and found some folks that I haven’t seen (although I’ve certainly thought about them) in 25+ years!  I see them exactly as they were, I remember their voices, and I can’t begin to tell you how much the flood of memories is making me smile.  I remember all the fun we had and the trouble we got in (or almost got in).  With every new face I came across there was another flood of new pictures in my mind.  So I want to say “Thank you!” to all those who were part of my journey then and now (via flashback)!

It reminds me of a posting I read recently about the red thread.  I’ve included it at the end. Longwood was just a College then, not a University – hell, it was hardly co-ed.  I went to Longwood, by default, because my mother and I couldn’t agree on my options.  But my time there was, without a doubt, perhaps the greatest gift ever.  The women of Longwood taught me about life, friendships, love, facing challenges, fun, PRIDE, and oh the list goes on… I believe that the red thread took me there and for that I am forever thankful.  And to those who handled my thread at one time or another, thank you.  And if you ever need me, just let me know.  The thread holds fast.

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle,
but it will never break.”

Can we talk?

As of today I am beginning my vacation.  I will probably show up again later in the week, but I wanted to clear my head and get in the right frame of mind.  I’m really fortunate to love my job… I mean I LOVE my job! And right now there are a plethera of exciting opportunities ahead for my programs.  We’ve completed our strategic plan and are now about the business of implementing it.  The excitement means that my head is spinning with ideas and details and the “To Do” list is causing my notepad to run dangerously low on space. I’m really excited about the break, but I will also be excited to get moving when I return.  Rest assured, I am clear that I am in a unique position – I really do love my job, even the bad days.

In order to really clear my head I need to share (and then purge from my vacation mind) some information I came across yesterday while wrapping up at work. It has left me perplexed. Actually, it pissed me off.  Now, I can hate the war and love the warriors, so please don’t take this as an affront to those who are doing all that we have asked them to in crazy times of unrest.  That’s not my point.  Here’s what got me.  I received a fax that addressed sexual assault in the military.  It said enough to actually make me go to the website right after seeing it.  www.ablackrose.org   Did you know that 1 in 3 women in the military will experience sexual assault or harrassment (as opposed to 1 in 6 in civilian life)?  That is CRAZY!  But what is more crazy are the stats (videos included on the home page, scroll down) and response of the military leaders and systems to this craziness! I was quickly reminded of a bumper sticker I have seen many times: “If you are not outraged, you aren’t paying attention”.  Every time I think about it I just get pissed off all over again… I am aware that the military has published new protocols for victims that are designed to make the reporting, and subsequent healing process, more sensitive and intentional.  And the direct service personnel that I have worked with are exceptional, but to say that the military’s response, as it relates to perpetrators, lacks luster appears to be a grossly overstated.  When does that stop? Who’s accountable?

This was the first I had heard of the Black Rose initiative.  I am very familiar with the Red Flag Campaign that was created by Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (http://www.vsdvalliance.org) and is now being replicated on college campuses across the country.  Both of these initiatives are designed to increase awareness but use of the Red Flag Campaign is a prevention strategy.  The domestic violence counterpart to Black Rose is the Silent Witness initiative.  In both cases, the experiences of victims are memorialized by providing a visual reference to demonstrate prevalence.   VSDVAA also has a display known as “The Art of Surviving.” This amazingly powerful display includes the artwork of sexual assault survivors.  Using various and sundry media, survivors tell their own stories. 

… and justice for all… where is it?

Sisters – I smile because you’re my sister… I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it!

I hope that when I finish with this they will all still be speaking to me.  You see, I have 3 sisters – one of each!  The oldest, Kathy, is 9 years older than I and with both of our birth parents now deceased we are orphans.   The youngest, my half-sister Marti, is 16 years younger than I, but at times she is the wisest of all.  Kathy, Marti, and I shared Sweetpea as our father.  My step-sister Natalie and I are the middle children (although at one point she was the eldest and I was the baby)! It is probably safe to say that in the scheme of things we were fairly classic middle children – we were the wild ones.  Marti and Natalie have the same mom – and I have the best stepmother ever.  

We weren’t always such a foursome.  But now that we are it is pretty damned awesome!  We do have a blast and when we get everybody’s families together it is sort of a cross between Steel Magnolias, Yours Mine & Ours, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and The Big Chill!  From time to time you might throw in a bit of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, after all, we are all GRITS at heart!  We are a study in southern culture, generation and agism, family dynamics, relationships, personalities, parenthood, child development, etc.  But be forewarned, if you try to mess with us you will likely see some reruns of The A-Team (but we’ll call it the “L” Team since Sweetpea Lee provided the oportunity we have to be who we are). 

I was going to share some of our stories, but I couldn’t decide which ones.  I will tell you, though, that I have had great pleasure reminiscing about them and have been doing a lot of laughing out loud.  I think I will just choose one from time to time and share them in smaller doses.  You don’t know it now, but you will appreciate that approach. 

I think that what I want to say most at this point is that I am reminded almost daily how I am blessed beyond belief to have my sisters.  In recent months I have found myself in a number of discussions where “siblings/families” became a big part of the conversations.  I have been surprised and dismayed at the number of families who have at least one example of in-fighting that has resulted in long term feuding and total disconnection. The surity with which they speak  about the feuds yet to unfold and the dismal outcomes they anticipate really saddens me.  I really can’t participate in those discussions – only listen. The discussions hang with me for a bit and then I find myself just smiling. I am not smiling because of their misfortune; I’m smiling because thinking about my sisters (most of the time) helps to keep my blood pressure in check and assures me that all is right (or will be) with my world.    

Whether we are loving or fighting, just like for me with Sweetpea, I know that it is all good in the end and that we will always be sisters.  Our blended families are a force!  SO, to Kathy (Meryl), Natalie (Reba), and Marti (Michelle P)… I smile because you are my sisters… and… I laugh because there is nothing you can do about it.  OH, and I think that Kathy Najimy will play me when the casting is done.  I’ll be working on the movie rights and leaking out some of the previews in stories to come.  Thank you my sisters!

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that each of us has partners who are perhaps the most suited (and sometimes the most tolerant) to be such.  But it is also fair game to say that one shouldn’t assume that our partners’ families are a less dysfunctional group than ours — we all have our stories — but we are all who we are because of the perfect storm that has brought us together.  Thunder and lightening be damned!  We are, indeed, a force!

Sweetpea – Happy Father’s Day

There is something to be said about being a Daddy’s Girl! And anyone who has ever felt this way knows exactly what that means. My daddy (though I pronounced it “diddy” which often came out more like “deity” with a southern drawl – go figure) just had a way with life. Don’t get me wrong, he was no saint, and I know it. But he was perfect for me. From the time I was a little child, I thought that I was the sun and the moon – so did each of my sisters, and all of us were right.

He just had a perspective on life that I believe contributed significantly to my own outlook. He found humor everywhere. He never met a stranger. He had tough expectations, but he never left me hanging without the tools to meet them. He found value in everybody and every situation. He genuinely cared about the wellbeing of everyone he encountered, as well as those he would never come across. If he had it, he gave it. If he knew it, he shared it. He was my worst critic and he was also my champion when I got in trouble, in either case always with unquestionable love.

He passed away 5 years ago and I miss him every day. I hear him in my thoughts and see him in my dreams. The “contract” we operated under was really very simple and worked in almost all situations. I knew it, even though it was never written down or discussed. If it had been written down it would have said: “1. I get to say/ask/confess whatever I want; 2. Sweetpea gets to say/ask/confess whatever he wants to about it; 3. Sweetpea gives me the choice to create whatever outcome works for me and he (does) say, “Whatever you work out, I will support it.” And he meant it. I think that was the birth of my critical thinking skills. He knew that he had guided me as best he could, that I valued his opinion, that I knew right from wrong, and good from bad. He was clear that if I was going to be the best I could be that I would have to know how to think through things – not from concern about what everybody else would think or do, but from a place of love and integrity. He understood that making choices in life would rarely satisfy everyone but that ultimately, for my own sake, they would have to satisfy me. There were no rose colored glasses and there were missed opportunities. I made some choices better than others and sometimes the outcomes were painful for more than just me. But NEVER did I have to worry that any of my choices/decisions would result in him pulling back on his love! The contract intact, I always knew that I had his love and support. Not a saint. And not a deity. Just Sweetpea!

Resilience

I just read a blog that caused me to ask “Does having the where-with-all to be rersilient make it easier to be happy or vice versa?” What is the “it” that builds within each of us the ability to find happiness? Does happiness develop in our souls and bubble up or do we experience life with varying degrees of happiness and fill our souls with the outcome?

I think that maybe “it” is part choice, part nurture, part learned. I wish it was simpler. If it were, we would have an amazing prescription to give to children (and their parents) that would assure their capacity to be succesful, reach their personal potential. I may not have always made the best decisions in my life, and everything hasn’t always gone my way, but I believe that I am successful because I was told that I could be, given the modeling that demonstrated how it was accomplished, and because I believe in something larger than myself – and that things happen as they should, when they should, just not always on my time. I believe that what I release to the world is what I will receive in return. Am I basically happy and that gives me strength? Or does my resilience provide the strength to overcome adversity? Hmmm…

Our collective voices… would it look like an inverted bell curve?

I don’t always get so heady in my thoughts, but this one struck me with a “hmmm…” Of course it could have been the sound of the vacuum cleaner I was using at the time but I was thinking about my mother, my partner’s mother, a great aunt, and several others who had passed away. I caught myself chuckling at the one thing they all had in common – If they heard it in their heads then it was perfectly alright for it to also come out of their mouths – whenever, wherever. I know a number of women who live with dread anticipating each passing birthday. I am NOT one of those. I am looking at birthdays as though they are marks on the volume button of my stereo. With each turn my voice gets stronger and stronger. Gotta love getting older, but it has been a long road of learning. It was this that made me consider the bell curve. The bell curve is described as a visualization of “norming” trends. I considered how my mother, my partner’s mother, great aunt, and the others seemed to have found their voices with age. This led me to the inverted bell curve. Now I’m going to generalize a little here and speak in terms of the evolution of female voices, specifically. It is an interesting perspective to ponder (in my opinion)…

The birth of a baby is joyful but the proof of life is actually baby’s first scream which triggers an eruption of elation and energy all around. Uncontrolled outpouring of baby’s first expressions. It is a sign of health and strong lungs, as well as an entrance filled with no restrictive norms. It’s all about baby! The early years are spent helping them find their voice, anticipating every new sound, and encouraging them to use their words. We remind the little ones that if they don’t use their words nobody will know what they want or need. But at some point, we change the message to “children should be seen and not heard.” We stop living for every new utterance and start giving cues as to what their words should sound like (and let’s not forget… how often they should use them and how loud they shouldn’t be). The mixed messages just keep on coming. As they grow toward womanhood we we let them know how proud we are when they are recognized for their strength and courage… as long as it isn’t in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or in front of the wrong people (in our opinion). And while their psyche is incorporating all of this wisdom, we start introducing them to the concept of mediocre. Not intentionally, of course, but the message is still there. We teach the meaning of life as it relates to our success in relationships, friendships, marriage, motherhood, a “good” employee, etc… We push them to be smart (but not too smart), strong (but not too strong), ambitious (but, well, you get the picture), proud… “Be yourself!” How do they know which one?

Let’s be honest. I am not about blaming or crediting any one particular group or gender with how our paths have brought us to where we are. Societal and cultural norms, familial history, “the times,” etc. have contributed to where we are today. And although we like to credit our mothers with our challenges, all those who went before us were the products of those who went before them. I am just asking us to look at the future and change the norms we have learned to cling to. I am not suggesting that we should try to emulate the “normal” bell curve, but rather try to give our little girls a progressively rising line that extends far beyond the passing on of those wise and wonderful women who have gone before. If we can do this, they, too, will rise!