They say we die twice — once when our bodies give out, and again the last time our name is spoken aloud.
My high school English teacher was the first woman I had ever heard go by the title “Ms.” I was a high school freshman in 1979, in a small mill town in southern Maine. Ms. Sullivan was tall, angular, smart, independent, kind of cranky, and gave no f$&ks — I loved her.
I think we all giggled about the term “Ms.” when we were arrived from Junior High. And here I am, all these years later, remembering and writing about her. And yes, I said her name aloud as I wrote.
Several months ago I went searching for her contact information so I could thank her for being a thought leader to me. I’ve been a marching activist for 30 years, with her to thank. I learned that she was active in the state teachers’ union, and that she did some community service related to her love of literature. I also learned another thing.
I was too late.
I would love to have asked her the back story about her early adoption of “Ms.”
Who do you hold in high esteem?
A mentor? Grandparent? Chill and steady Uncle Bill, who taught you to parallel park? A moms night out “colleague” who has been listening, laughing, and struggling along beside you for the last 8 years?
Want a gift of honor to commemorate a loved one and their impact on you? I have just the thing! Gather some folks to discuss a great photo that captures your feelings. It might be the person, the school, that old Plymouth that . Uncle Bill taught you to park. We’ll meet online to discuss it, and I’ll add your comments to a glossy keepsake photo print. Examples and details are HERE.
Or spend time getting to know your elders with this FREE list of 5 prompts to help the conversation flow. It’s a great way to bond, re-bond, or hold space for someone as they remember. If you use the questions, I’d love to know how it goes!
“Once upon a time there was a farm girl — the youngest of six kids. She was shy and thought she was ugly. She had some very glamorous older sisters and some very rowdy older brothers. They all lived in Aroostook County, Maine.
Imagine rural Northern Maine farm country in the 1920s — all hands on deck to harvest potatoes for 6 weeks in the fall — schools closed, housewives left their homes. Every man, woman, and child headed to the fields.
Long days were spent bent over, digging potatoes out of the earth by hand.
Generation after generation.
Paid by the barrel.
The girl did, too. For those 4 to 8 weeks, she traded her smart dresses for a black-and-red wool plaid coat, heavy pants, work boots, and gloves. Up to fourteen hours a day. Most workers ate hearty picnic lunches in the dirt fields. Some farms fed their workers huge hot lunches at midday.
One day a tall dark stranger (okay, there were no strangers in the small farm town) — a tall dark older boy noticed her and asked her on a date — and she said yes!
For their first date, Percy flew her over those potato fields in a post office airplane! According to the Smithsonian Institution web site, the US Postal Service took over air mail services from the Army in 1918. The promise of the mail drove decisions to light landing strips, push for electric beacons, and floodlight tall buildings. If the planes couldn’t fly at night, the mail didn’t actually move any faster than by land. The airmail pilots were considered a “suicide club” and we can only imagine what Sybil might have thought of all of this!
Nobody really remembers how soon after that first date it was that they married. They did not “live happily ever after” — nobody does! Haha. But they had a family of their own and a farm of their own — where Sybil fed the farmhands enormous 4-course meals at noon — and they did good works in their community. ”
This is a bedtime story I told my kids, and after its first telling, they were shocked that the story was about their own family! Thirty years ago I gave my beloved grandparents one of those “grandparent books.” They filled it out and I thanked them. I looked it over and was delighted, then put it on a shelf. They were both gone by the time I read the four lines about their first date, and I have so many questions!
Family history gives kids a foothold in history. Kids see their role within a larger context, and learn the value of their actions and contributions. It humanizes the players, too, to trace the path to the present. The gruff terse one, and the doting, perhaps nervous one. Our kids won’t know about any of that, its importance to us, or what their elders were like as people — unless we tell them.
Pass your stories along with FREE prompts to talk about over dinner. And consider capturing your family history. It is SO MUCH FUN to get together to discuss a photo like the potato-picking one above! Once the conversation starts, everyone remembers more. It’s all here: http://bit.ly/2h3aYmX
Family history makes your family stronger. But what’s IN family histories these days might not be what you’re thinking…
I’m talking to moms about family history, and uncovering with some regularity moms’ desires for their kids to know who they were before becoming parents!
Many of us are starting families in our 30s and beyond — an age at which we’ve had full lives before becoming parents. And we want our kids to know about those parts of our lives.
While talking to a mom about what to capture in her upcoming oral history, we got on to mosh pits — you know, like you do. Later, I mentioned to my kids that I’d been in a mosh pit once at a Fugazi show while in grad school, and my kids (10 and 14) knew nothing about mosh pits, early alternative rock, or Fugazi. Why would they?
And I realized (again) that the 90s were a full generation ago, that alternative rock ain’t what it used to be, and that our kids won’t know about any of that, its importance to us, or what we are like as people — unless we tell them. That’s often the way with music history. Much like swing, punk, and disco, that early alternative rock marked a historical moment for a very specific group of young-ish people.
I’m learning that kids aren’t the only ones who feel stronger when they know their family history. Moms do, too! I’ve written before about The Path to the Present, and while one path may be a century old, there’s also lot to be said about the last several decades! It’s a lot to think about, but the most important part is to start… and you can do that tonight!
Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk for 5 nights about your generation and your parents’. Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!
I build family history projects — to memorialize and pay tribute to a loved one, to trace a path from sharecropping to the ivy leagues, to understand the family rascal — or whatever you’d like. To learn more about Capturing Family Oral History take a lookie over here.
I worked in academic archives for almost 20 years, and I know how the documents of history are collected. Mostly, “those four guys over there” decide that their work is important and they put it in boxes and give it to someone.
And those documents are how we write history.
If I sat down with you, and you told me about your history, and we talked about what the women in your family did, and you told me about how your mom made it through domestic violence, how your family came to this country via a different route than Ellis Island, what happened when there were no heirs to carry on the family name, or what the transition from farm to city was like in your family, that story would be unique. And it should be saved.
There are lots of paths to the present. And the only stories we can tell about our present and how we got here are the stories that “those four guys over there” decided that they wanted to save. You can certainly find musicians, or women, or even lefties that collaborate on growing a collection of papers. But the documents of history are only collected by, and saved at, large institutions — when someone does make an effort. Until now.
What I think is important is this: telling the stories of the real history, and what’s really happening on the ground — for two reasons. First, because it helps families feel grounded and kids feel confident to know their family narrative (stories of hardships, and the coping skills that got everyone through, are particularly strengthening). Second, because the story of history will never be thick enough.
To get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started. Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’. Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!
If you’d like to do more, I can walk you through it, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results. You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too! Read more about it here. Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com
Do your parents text you? They do? Then I was jealous of you: I imagine little notes, daily check-ins, a joke, sending them cute pictures of the kids all of the time…. Plus, no long calls, squeezing that flat cel phone between your shoulder and ear, getting your brain irradiated to greater or lesser degrees… My 14-year-old son joked that it’s like sending telegrams, morse code — or even smoke signals!
Anyway, neither of my parents have smart phones, and we don’t do any of that. I used to be jealous of you.
Then, I took a good look at this: my name, in my dad’s handwriting. Very distinctive. Every time I look at it, I remember: living with my Dad all summer — shopping lists on the fridge, notes to remind us what time the yellow school bus left for swimming lessons at the lake, things to do at work the next day (he was town manager of our wee Maine town), notes to himself about house projects he always had going — or about the businesses in development or currently underway.
I went everywhere with him: the dump, grocery store, (he taught me to jump up and click my heels in the air by practicing on a grocery cart!). We went to the hardware store with wooden floors and to the Red Barn antique shop, where we would stock up on puzzles to get through the winter. In winter we’d assemble puzzles and play cribbage, as he did growing up in northern Maine farm country.
And every summer when I visit, we spend at least ONE night sitting at the kitchen table remembering together and reminding each other: when we had a concession stand at the local stock car racing track, when we got pulled over TWICE in a borrowed Cadillac on the way to my grandmother’s house. That time my car broke down in the Shaker Village (luckily they had a phone!); that time my car broke down and the store-owner wouldn’t let me make a toll call; that time when my car spun into a snowbank and I was closing my eyes to calm my nerves and didn’t see the skiers coming to bail me out — so when they knocked on my window we all screamed and scared each other to death!
Pa has a distinctive laugh, a low throaty chortle. Even if I felt confident that I could remember all the stories, I would only remember my side — not that he’d left a party HE was hosting to pick me up in that broken down car. Or that he’d had words with the shopkeeper. Or that he’d overheard skiers telling friends about stopping to help and getting scared out of their ski pants… And then there’s his laugh.
Recording is the answer.
My mother has a recording of HER mother from the early 1980s, and hearing Big Nanny’s voice, her tisk-tisk sound, her laugh… it’s soothing and exciting. I’m a cultural historian, and her voice is as important to me as hearing her words, hearing about her early childhood, and how far we’ve come as a family — and a nation — that nobody lives within FEET of the railroad tracks any more. The sound of her voice says as much as her words.
A preservation technology firm will preserve and make available my grandmother’s voice. And I suggest that we get to work on capturing YOUR Family Oral History while you can. I will walk you through the whole process, researching and sculpting the perfect interview questions, conducting the online meeting/s with up to four attendees from anywhere with online access, and ensuring that you have multiple, accessible copies of your results. You’ll know more about your family and yourself, and you’ll have another tool in your parenting toolbox, too! Read more about it here. Reach out to have a conversation about Capturing Oral Family History: Angela@AngelaLTodd.com
And to get started passing your family history to your own kids, I have a handy guide to get you started. Dinnertime Family History gives you five prompts to talk your way through the school week about your generation and your parents’. Get your free guide OVER HERE and start tonight!
And follow along on Facebook, where I’ll be posting a family history prompt every #ThrowbackThursday !
Wrinkly finger, toes. We are on vacation in Maine, spending our afternoons on the pond and our evenings playing cards. It is idyllic.
But Charlottesville has erupted with white nationalists. I do NOT want to talk about it; I don’t even want it to be true. But we must. We three gather on the sandbar and take a break from Marco Polo. “Do you know what white nationalists are?”
I try to explain what is happening..…who they are, what they are doing, who their targets are. I try to explain hate.
“Are you scared or worried?”
“That’s good, but that is also white privilege.”
We’ve talked before about sticking with your black friends when the authorities show up. Let’s talk about that again. It’s more urgent than ever. Your Puerto Rican friend, your black and biracial friends, Jewish kids, historically, Nazis hated Catholics too …almost everyone.
They see me cry a lot during these discussions, and they grow more somber. White privilege isn’t something to deny, feel guilty about, or ashamed of, I’m learning — in my 50s. Rather, let’s acknowledge it, talk about it, and use it for good. Stick with your friends, and stick up for your friends. What are you going to do with your white privilege to make the world better?
They are 10 and 14… They are wide-eyed. They shrug.
You’re going to stick with your friends. You’re going to look people in the eye and smile as you pass. You’ll greet and laugh and make small talk at the bus stop. You’ll stick with them, stick up for them — even in a kid-only situation.
I’m sure there’s more and we’ll cover it as I figure it out. If you don’t know where to start to talk to your kids, I recommend starting with books, and I have a short list HERE. With love, Angela.
I think it happens to everyone born oceanside after they move “away.”
The yearning. For a return, for the big expanse of perpetual motion that puts everything in perspective, for salt in the air and water. We cannot forget the ocean. We yearn to go back to it.
I mean, look at that. As a family and as a species, we come from that. How could I not miss it?
The first time I called a plumber to my house, I stuck close to his side. I tried to watch and learn and understand what was going on. At the end of our visit, he laughed and said, “you know, every time I meet someone from Maine, the first thing they do is tell me where they are from. Every single time!”
It’s a pride, an apology, an explanation.
My friends laugh these days when I squeal, “I’m from New England” and pretend to be shocked by something. They don’t buy it any more; I’m reaching the crone years, after all. But there was a time when I needed that phrase! I swear I did, haha. It was a kind of shorthand.
Some may identify strongly with their ethnic or religious identity; I identify with my geographic region.
But with that constant yearning came its companion, constant fantasy about moving. I moved many times as a kid; I moved many times as an adult. We’ve moved several times as a family. And here’s the thing.
Moving with kids is overwhelming! My kids are anxious in opposite ways, so though I feel committed to holding space for them, and I ain’t afraid of calling in the pros, coralling all the belongings and emotions is not to be entered into lightly.
Our last move was particularly painful. A week prior to closing, our buyer’s financing fell through. We’d quit our jobs, we were packed, the kids were following along on the calendar, we had property in Maine picked out. It was rough! And then, about a month later, it happened again. Our second buyer backed out. But it was earlier in the process, so we weren’t all packed up and saying goodbye to our friends — again. Further complicating our process was the end of summer, and my promise to my kids that we wouldn’t make them move in the middle of the school year. So…
We abandoned the plan.
Hence the yearning. I’m working on minimizing that feeling with some distance learning from Buddhist psychologist Tara Brach. Yearning is a waste of the present. But the ocean is so strong! Who can conquer the ocean? And when the opportunity presents itself, I am ready.
I’m a recovering academic, so I have it all documented and organized. Even though my kids have had a few “dress rehearsals,” it’s still upheaval. Sensory kids need their upheaval managed and upheaval turns us all towards our sensory meltdown potential. I walk you through Breaking the News, getting them to help by signing their own Listing Agreement, Calendaring It Out with The Children so they know what to expect, and talking through the changes. If you’re planning a move, I’ve got your back! Check out the description of my Moving and Changing Schools Kit.
Kids who find out they have to move think first about their friends and their school and start to stress. I have a free guide that helps parents think through their schooling options. Armed with this 3-page guide, you’ll feel more equipped to take charge of the project and support them through their concerns. I would be glad for you to have it for free. Click here to have Finding A School That Fits delivered to your email inbox.
Everything goes more smoothly with a plan and support. I created this program to support you as you support them. See what I’m up to on my web site: AngelaLTodd.com
My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine. Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods. Children were to be seen and not heard. My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.
He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came. His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s. The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine. Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) had farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD. They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned. Ahem.
They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously. Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen and not heard. We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings. But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaking for or over my kids.
Big cultural changes happen quickly now, generation after generation. Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family.
What we learned about parenting, from our parents, is dated. Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and in the last decades they have multiplied, too. There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears. There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting. And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see.
Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study. New digital technologies mean we fly by the seats of our pants. There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.
But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — like we operate in a vacuum. The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.
We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we? How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced? I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.
But it’s true.
So when we need to course-correct in the funnerfamily, we get an outside contractor — a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports. Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game. Like we should have called in a pro six months ago! haha. But better late than never.
Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.” I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly. “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation. Bridging the gap requires outside resources! Haha…
My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself. I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING! Our kids need experts. I’d like to see our kids invited to speak, and I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.” We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak. Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.
I would love to hear about something you wish you had learned earlier, or could unlearn. Or that your parents had unlearned. Comment here, and let’s move forward together. ❤
I’ve written here before about the onus of healthy eating falling to moms. About moms feeling guilty. As things shift in larger culture, moms are telling me that they feel more “on the hook” than ever, and I feel it too.
Our grown up anxieties are spilling over onto our kids, and these days I don’t know how we’d ever completely exempt them from adult worries. Instead: I urge us to get our coping skills in place; feeling the feelings and making space for our kids to do the same.
I was on Facebook live recently, talking about holding space for our kids and I’d love you to check it out here.
Please don’t get distracted by the water I splashed on my shirt. Snort. #LetMomOffTheHook
My background is in cultural studies and women’s studies, and I have spent a lifetime tending to women’s changing roles in culture. Join me as I focus in on helping moms, particularly us moms of sensory kids. Come on over to AngelaLTodd on Facebook and follow along.