A Message to My Classmates 25 Years After High School

There were 273 of us. It was 1994, and there were 273 of us wearing the same caps and gowns, sitting in the same folding chairs on the same green grass under a blue sky in the same beloved football stadium. There were 273 of us with our own unique talents and ambitious dreams, our own secret fears and diverse perceptions of what our high school experience had been. We were an eclectic bunch, divided by interests and abilities and circumstances.

But for a sunny day in June of 1994, we were one.

When a classmate asked me to write something in honor of our 25th class reunion (which is impossible, frankly, because we can’t be old enough for this), I struggled to find the words to share. How do you speak on behalf of 273 people, many of whom you haven’t seen for, well, 25 years? How do you speak on behalf of the ones whom we’ve lost? What do you say to the classmates whom you never personally knew? To the classmates who are bursting with excitement to reconnect this summer? To the classmates who have never considered attending a reunion at all? I hoped that the words would come. So I waited. And they finally did.

Here is what I want to say to you, my classmate from MHS: You aren’t the same person you were in 1994.

I realize this isn’t an earth shattering revelation if you are the slightest bit self-aware, but in a world that teaches us that living equals running at full speed from sun up ‘til sun down, I’m asking you to slow down and reflect for just a minute.  Who were you when you stepped onto that football field twenty-five years ago? And who are you when you look into the mirror today?

I’m going to guess that you are wiser. I’m going to guess that you are much more aware of the world beyond 208 Davis Avenue. I’m going to guess that you are more knowledgeable, more open minded, more compassionate, and maybe even (a little) more mature. You are, in many ways, an entirely different version of yourself.

And that is fascinating. And also really, really cool.

Let me give you an example.

In 1994, I was voted “Most Studious” by my classmates. (Yeah, you voted on that, remember?) Those votes were based on my grades and… well… really, that’s probably all. Maybe my work ethic was noticed by a few people, but mostly my grades sealed the deal. At the time, it was affirming; I mean, I did spend a lot of time studying. But as time has passed and I have occasionally remembered that recognition, it sometimes feels like a sharp stick poking at my insecurities. In 1994, as teenagers escaping the confines of high school, there was an assumption that being “studious” would lead to being “successful.” And success in high school meant something REALLY BIG AND WONDERFULLY EXCITING. Success was glittery and attention grabbing. It was flashing lights. It was prestigious colleges. It was big checks and huge houses. It was power, status, and control, the kinds of things that make other people jealous.

And I’m here to tell you that I’ve achieved exactly none of those things. Not one of them.

To my classmates in 1994, those teenagers sitting in that football stadium, that would probably mean that I am dreadfully unsuccessful.

Except that my idea of what “successful” means has changed dramatically with 25 years of life under my belt. And I’m guessing yours has, as well.

Because you aren’t the same person you were in 1994.

So how has my perspective of success transformed?  If you work hard to provide for your needs and the needs of your family, you are successful, in my book. If you sacrifice your time, energy, and resources to somehow serve others within your community, that is success, for sure. If you are trusted and respected by the people who know you  – that is success! And if you are striving every day to overcome the mistakes that you made in the past and create a better life – you are truly SUCCESSFUL, my friend.

Success doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did in 1994. Those grades were important, but they weren’t quite as important as I thought they were at the time. (But let’s not tell my kids that I said this until after they graduate, okay? What is said at the 25 year reunion stays at the 25 year reunion…)

When we were in high school and our circumstances seemed overwhelming, our problems often sounded something like this:

• Should I try to meet curfew, drive around a while longer, or see who’s parked at
Burger King?
• What color spray paint would really pop on the rock?
• Who am I asking to Homecoming, and how am I going to pay for the tickets?
• If I get a job, can I still play sports and finish my math homework for Mr. Miller? And if
I can’t, would I rather have money or repeat math class?
• If I can’t balance the equations on Mr. Luthy’s chemistry test tomorrow, will there be
trouble in River City?
• How fast am I going to drive back to school to avoid a tardy after open lunch?
• What’s the recipe for the glue that holds the toilet paper in the chicken wire at float
building?
• Garth Brooks or Nirvana?

But in 2019, life looks a little different for most of us. Some of us faced some seriously tough times in high school; let’s acknowledge that up front. But MOST of us have experienced so much more than we could have possibly imagined since we wore those caps and gowns 25 years ago. There have been spectacular moments. The highs have been higher than we ever dreamed. And the lows… Well, those have been brutal in ways that most of us couldn’t have predicted at 17 or 18 years old.

When you sat in study hall with Ms. Livingston and daydreamed about the future instead of studying, you couldn’t have known if you would meet your soul mate in college or marry your high school sweetheart or decide to live the single life or survive a difficult divorce or elope to Las Vegas. When your mind drifted between CPR drills with Mrs. Meeks or Mr. Burke, you had no idea if you would struggle to start a family or adopt your babies or choose not to have children or raise a bigger family than you ever expected. When your mind wandered during gym with Mr. and Mrs. Pape, you couldn’t have predicted if you would experience the heartbreaking loss of a sibling or a child or a parent or a spouse before our 25th reunion. When you dressed in a sparkly prom dress or a sharp tuxedo, you had no clue if you would move to five different states, commit to a life in the military, open your own business, struggle to pay the bills, change careers after 40, follow your creative passions, travel the world, fight depression or anxiety, care for an ailing parent, watch a newborn enter the world, or hear a frightening diagnosis. You didn’t know if your own kids would wear a Marietta Tigers jersey or if your teenagers would bleed something other than orange and black.

Collectively, so many things have happened to bring us joy, and so many things have happened to bring us pain, and now, after 25 more years of being human, we have so much more in common – we are so much more alike – than we were when we were handed those diplomas in 1994.

When reunions approach, there are some common refrains among people who aren’t quite sure about revisiting the past.

“I don’t keep in touch with anyone from high school anyway.”
“I haven’t accomplished as much as I thought I would by now.”
“High school wasn’t the best time for me. Why would I go back?”
“People will expect me to be something that I’m not.”
“I have a lot of regrets from back then.”
“So much has happened. Those people wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m not the same person that I was in 1994.”

You know… You’re right about the last one.

You aren’t the same person, and neither is anybody else.

The cliques, the ridiculous ways we divided ourselves up to sooth our insecurities, well, that’s so 1994.

In 2019, we are a diverse group of people with a deeper, richer understanding of who we are and what it means to be a human. We are a group of people with something else in common, too: We all searched for our identities in the same halls in the same upside down high school in the same wooded ravine in the same small town that has always taken pride in its roots. We all walked the same brick streets. We all skipped rocks into the same two rivers. And even though we have ended up all over the world, we all share memories of one special place that nourished our angst-ridden teenage souls.

Hail our Alma Mater.

Marietta High.

If you are an MHS classmate (or anyone else) who is visiting the blog for the first time, WELCOME! Please check out old posts, find Still Chasing Fireflies on Facebook, and sign up on this page to receive emails of new posts.  Thank you so much for reconnecting!  HUGE THANKS to Missy Pracht for asking me to write something and to MHS alum Melinda Patterson Crone for sharing her beautiful photograph!

~Mary Ann

Why I Took an Unusually Hard Stance on Gillette’s New Ad

 

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*Note: This is a challenging post, both to write and to read.  I hope it will bring something new to the conversations you are already having.  Please be prepared for crude language in the first section.

 

I. You Park Like a C***

Let me tell you a story.

Several months ago, a friend of mine shuffled her two young children into a local restaurant to celebrate her daughter’s soccer season with the team. The families laughed. They shared stories. They ate tacos. It was a happy occasion, a short reprieve from the stresses of school and of life. When the event drew to a close and my friend returned to her minivan with her kids, she noticed that a folded piece of paper had been slipped onto her windshield. Maybe one of their soccer friends had forgotten to tell her something, she thought. When she unfolded the scrap of paper, she found this message, scrawled in pencil: You park like a cunt. Her mood quickly shifted. She surveyed the area to see if someone was watching her, to make sure that they were safe. She loaded her kids into the car and headed home, but she was rattled to her core. Who does something like that?

Later that evening, I saw that she had posted about her experience on a private Facebook page for people who live in or around her community. She had included a photograph of the note – the visual evoked a powerful emotional response – and wrote a heartfelt message that our community can do better. The note on her minivan was alarming and unacceptable, but it had prompted a valuable conversation about kindness and respect with her family, and she hoped that sharing this story would remind other local families to have this conversation, too.

Her post had generated an unusually high number of responses.  I was proud of the way we rally around one another to defend what is right. I was proud of us, proud that her message had garnered so much support from the community.

Except it hadn’t.

At first, the comments were kind and appropriate: “I’m so sorry this happened to you” and “This is totally unacceptable” and “We don’t want this kind of behavior in our community.” A doctor who works at a local hospital noted that she had seen people in the ER who had been shot in similar situations; there is danger in treating people this way. Some empathized, imagining how they would feel if their teenage daughters or their wives or their mothers had found notes like this on their cars. But it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn on my friend, who had RECEIVED the vulgar note. First, people justified the note: “I would like to see a picture of how badly you parked.” “How bad do you have to park to get a note like that?” Then people blamed her for being afraid or offended: “It’s just words. What’s the big deal?” “Words don’t mean anything.” “Why are you letting this bother you?” Then people questioned her parenting: “What kind of mother would let her kids read a note like that?”  The downward spiral continued.  At one point in a comment thread, a woman actually said something to the effect of “I hope her daughter gets your daughter’s spot on the soccer team.”

ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?

This conversation happened on a private Facebook page for people who live in or near one of the most affluent, highly educated cities in the state of Ohio. And there was only one appropriate response to a person (male or female) leaving that note in those words on a family minivan for any reason: “That never should have happened.”

If we cannot agree on that, can we agree on ANYTHING?

II. Razor Burn

I am eating my cereal and catching up on the morning news on the Today Show. They share a new Gillette ad that is generating some buzz. After airing the ad, the newscasters raise their eyebrows and nod approvingly. I, too, feel a warm glow inside from the positive message. This is huge, I think to myself between bites of toasted oats and dried berries. We are – WITH INTENTION – showing boys like my own sons what behaviors are unacceptable (the beginning of the commercial) and what behaviors are acceptable (the end of the commercial) in a society where the messages we have been sending them have been horribly blurry. I see a beautiful depiction of masculinity, with Terry Crews, the picture of traditional masculinity with his physical strength and confidence, as the ambassador of male kindness and accountability, as well. I see the message that masculinity is being kind and strong and confident and courageous and respectful and responsible and brave. There are MANY, MANY challenging political and social issues with valid arguments that I understand on both sides, but this commercial is something we can all agree on. RIGHT?

The next day, the media is flooded with pictures of men across America throwing their shaving cream in the trashcan.

Is this really happening?

III. The Dukes of Hazzard

Americans are skilled at avoidance and deflection. We are trained to avoid and deflect at a young age, and the skills are honed and reinforced as we watch celebrities and politicians and public relations machines dance around the truth on a daily basis. We suspend our disbelief and accept the Photoshopped images and the “reality” television shows as authentic. We ignore biases and learn from social media that the image we convey is far more important than what is REAL.

Avoidance and deflection are our natural human reaction when faced with the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. This is true of all of us, myself included.  The number on the scale this winter makes me uncomfortable, so I’ve implemented a solution. Am I exercising more? No. Am I eating more carrots? Nope, I am not. My solution is easier and should work until June: I’M AVOIDING THE MIRROR. I’m wearing extra layers to hide things and avoiding that mirror like the plague.

Looking in the mirror ruins the fun of eating mac and cheese, and the truth is that I’m not quite willing to give that up yet.

Acknowledging that the Gillette ad is amazing ruins something, too. It ruins the peace of mind that comes from a belief that we are ONLY responsible for our own behavior, and whatever anybody else does, well, that’s not our business.

The Gillette commercial is also a mirror that is forcing men to strip off the protective layers that we’ve ALL built up by adulthood and take a cold, hard look at an uncomfortable reality: the way we’ve been doing things hasn’t been perfect. It has been flawed. We’ve made some mistakes. And maybe this is a reason why some really fantastic guys I know are feeling uncomfortable. Part of toxic masculinity is the belief that admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness. It’s a fear that a flaw is the equivalent of a failure, that an error is not a chance for growth but a white flag of defeat. We’ve taught our boys not to compromise. We’ve taught our boys that if you don’t win, you lose. In fact, we’ve DEPENDED ON MEN to be firm and tough and stoic and to pretend to be fearless. And that’s kind of exactly what this commercial is trying to say – GUYS, you don’t have to live by those stupid rules any longer.

My two sons and I recently stumbled across an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. It wasn’t long into the storyline when a dashing Bo Duke blindsided an unwitting girl with a kiss as she turned around. She was surprised. So was I. I paused the show. “Wow. So…. maybe that was acceptable in the eighties? I don’t remember? But you understand that surprising an unsuspecting girl with a kiss like that is not okay, right? It’s completely disrespectful.” We resumed the show, and soon Daisy Duke was wearing even less than her famous Daisy Dukes. She stood in the middle of a country road wearing a tiny bikini to tempt some guys to pull over in order to help her cousins, who, of course, drive a car painted to look like the Confederate flag. Yikes. I had more explaining to do than I expected.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

This is what we forty-year-old adults were raised on, you guys. These are the attitudes and behaviors that were normalized for us as kids. We tend to remember a lot of not-so-great things fondly if they are threads in the quilt of our formative years. But the messaging wasn’t all good.

Like every generation before us, we have some knots from our childhood to unravel.

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IV. Complicit

It’s hard to look at the people we love, the shows we love, the music we love, the movies we love, the commercials we love, the entertainment we love and realize that all of it is flawed. No one and nothing is perfect. It’s hard to look in the mirror and realize that we, too, are flawed people, that we may have somehow contributed to somebody else’s pain, that we need to change – in significant ways or in small ones. We don’t want to be considered complicit.

We now know that for many, many years the Catholic church harbored a problem of priests abusing children in the church. We also know that the vast majority of Catholic priests are selfless, generous, faithful people – yet the credibility of ALL of the priests took a serious hit when the stories of abuse came to light. And there’s a reason.

According to reports, time and time again the “good” priests chose NOT to address the behavior of the “bad” priests. They were afraid that the unacceptable behavior of one priest, if publicized, would reflect poorly on the church as a whole, so they ignored it. But by ignoring the abuse to protect the whole, THEY BECAME COMPLICIT. If they had not turned a blind eye, if they had forced the guilty priests to be accountable right away, then the good guys would have looked like good guys. In fact, they would have been MORE than innocent. They would have been heroic.

But in so many cases, that is not what happened. By protecting the group rather than contributing to positive change, the priests who were NOT engaging in abuse became tarnished themselves. They tried to separate themselves from the problem, but they became part of the problem.

This is why it is so important for men to support an ad like Gillette’s. Sometimes, there isn’t really a middle ground to stand on. When there is a societal problem and you are made aware of it, you must choose to become part of the problem or part of the solution. You choose to become complicit or heroic.

The commercial is unfair, some people say, because it puts all of the responsibility on men. Don’t women need to be part of the conversation, too? YES. YES, THEY DO. But change happens when people WITHIN a particular group begin TO PUT PRESSURE ON THEIR OWN. Women ALREADY aren’t laughing at blatantly inappropriate comments about other women. Men will stop making those comments when THE OTHER MEN AROUND THE TABLE or THE OTHER MEN ON THE GOLF COURSE or THE OTHER MEN IN THE BOARDROOM stop laughing. That is when those comments will die.

Old habits die hard. But old habits CAN die.

When the bystanders stop resuscitating them.

V. The Playground

It was a beautiful summer day. The sky was clear, a brilliant shade of blue. I was taping clues for a scavenger hunt onto objects around the playground at a local park for a back-to-school party with some friends. I noticed that a few little boys were following, tearing the slips of paper down behind me. I politely asked them to stop and retraced my path, taping the clues back where they belonged. Within minutes, the boys had torn them down again. I kindly tried to negotiate; if you will leave these notes alone for twenty minutes, then we will make sure that you can do the scavenger hunt yourselves in a little while. That will be fun for you. That didn’t work, either. So, while the playground thieves’ mothers chatted away at a picnic table nearby, we assigned parents from our party to stand beside every clue until the game had concluded.

At this point, I was livid, so when one of the same boys walked up behind my son, who was playing soccer with his friends, and spit on the back of his neck in my view, my head nearly exploded. I approached the mothers of the boys and explained what I had just witnessed, adding that it was extremely disrespectful for one of the boys to spit on my son after we had treated them kindly despite their repeated attempts to destroy our game.

The spitter’s mother was indifferent.  She shrugged. “They are just kids,” she said. They finished packing their things and walked away.

My heart was heavy with both anger and sadness. What are the chances that this little boy, the one who spit on my son and was expected to take no responsibility for his behavior, will grow up to become a kind, respectful, accountable young man who respects women, or any authority at all? If that incident is representative of his upbringing, the chances are very, very low.

Some people are perpetuating the myth that an attack on “toxic masculinity” is an attack on masculinity in general – that being critical of “toxic masculinity” is being critical of manhood itself. That argument has proven to be a surprisingly effective deflection, but it’s NOT THE TRUTH. Aside from some extremists on the fringes, no one is saying that being physically strong, muscular, and athletic is toxic. No one is saying that being competitive, hardworking, and assertive is toxic. No one is saying that protecting others by being a police officer, a firefighter, or a soldier is toxic. That is not toxic masculinity – so just stop spreading that nonsense. The reality is that even though we have MILLIONS of amazing and wonderful men in our country who are tough and strong and brave, we also have a serious problem with men involved in gun violence, domestic violence, and drugs. We have a serious problem with men who will not seek help for mental health concerns, men who weren’t taught to deal with stress and emotions, and men who are not financially or emotionally supporting their children. That stuff – it’s toxic. And it’s not just a toxic pill that those guys swallow. It’s a toxic gas that drifts through the air, exposing families and communities to the ill effects.

The truth is that we women, like the mom at the park, contribute to toxic masculinity by the things that we say, the behaviors we allow, and the entertainment that we provide for our sons. And, guys, we know that toxic femininity is a thing, too. It’s only fair that we also call out our own. Victoria’s Secret models aren’t doing women any favors. We do need to hold other women accountable for choices that negatively influence the beliefs of our daughters and our sons, and we need to stop defending women whose behaviors contribute to the objectification of women.

But accepting some responsibility on our end doesn’t let guys off the hook. Those boys on the playground needed mothers who would instill empathy and accountability. But they also clearly needed some solid male role models who would influence them positively and who would encourage the other men around them to have a positive influence, too. Maybe there will be another man who will make the difference – a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a religious leader, a friend. Maybe.

Somebody has to teach boys like them how to be masculine without being toxic.

And the more pressure that men are putting on one another to be better, the more secure and confident all of our boys will become.

VI. The Wrong Side of History

This week as our nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many students across America will read two important historical texts. The first text, “A Call for Unity,” is a plea written by eight white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. In the text, the clergymen ask civil rights activists to stop demonstrating in their city. The gist of their letter is this: Although we do not support hate, your demonstrations are disrupting our peace, so we think you should be patient and give the court more time to work this out. In so many words, the clergymen said we aren’t against you, but we aren’t going to help you, either. They were trying to walk a very fine line between not quite being racist and not quite NOT being racist, if such a line exists.

The second text is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brilliant and much more famous response, his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he effectively tears down every part of the clergymen’s plea, revealing the hypocrisy of their stance.

Those eight clergymen probably did many wonderful things while serving their parishioners throughout their careers. But the only reason anyone is talking about them in 2019 is because they signed their names to the wrong side of history. Their public plea for the “outsiders” to go away and for the insiders to be patient was supposed to deter the civil rights protests, but instead their words confirmed the NEED for demonstrations. Their letter was like a flashing neon sign that said, “WE STILL DON’T GET IT!” In fact, the only positive aspect of what the clergymen wrote is that it prompted Dr. King’s incredible response, paving the way for events that would prove other men heroic and would eventually change the face of our nation in tremendous ways.

In a similar way, the shaving cream in the trashcan last week had the opposite effect of the intent; when men reacted so harshly to a commercial that promotes positive male role models, the images of brand new razors thrown into the garbage screamed “Maybe I have the exact problem that throwing away this razor is supposed to prove that I don’t have.”

I wonder if those eight white clergymen in Birmingham, with the blessing of hindsight, would recognize that by asking the demonstrators to stop rather than joining them in the streets they were complicit in the injustices in Birmingham. I wonder if they would be embarrassed that by trying not to get involved, they actually WERE involved, and their complacence hurt people.

I wonder if the letter they wrote to their community and their place in history might have been different if they could go back in time.

I wonder if they would have been brave enough to join the protests instead of criticizing them.

I wonder if they would have been heroes.

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Slow Down and Celebrate in 2019!

Today I want to talk about Kohls. You know – Kohls – the department store that lures you back after Christmas with Kohls cash that expires faster than milk left in a hot car in July. Who knew a quick trip to Kohls on Saturday would make me rethink my new year’s resolutions for 2019?

No, I’m not adding a resolution to spend more time banking that Kohls cash in the new year, although I’m pretty sure I would enjoy that resolution more than sweating profusely with Jillian Michaels or eating more leafy greens and quinoa.

On Saturday, I was enjoying some rare, quiet “mom time,” just minding my own business and scanning the sparse shelves of Christmas leftovers at Kohls in the hopes of finding the deal of the century, when a voice on the loudspeaker interrupted the music. The voice spoke in some kind of secret Kohls code that only Kohls employees understand, so it seemed a little unfair to broadcast the message to us shoppers anyway, like when a parent starts spelling out words to exclude their children from a conversation they are having right in front of them: “You know, I thought we might go to the P-A-R-K or the Z-O-O this afternoon, but now I’m too tired, so that’s not happening.” Just like the kids, you know you’re missing something.

I will be the first to admit that I have NO idea what kind of reward system Kohls has for their employees, and I will also be the first to admit that I returned something during that visit a few days after Christmas  and this Kohls was running like a well-oiled machine. Really, it was impressive. I didn’t understand much of the Kohls jargon in the announcement, but here’s the gist of what I could translate, with the name changed to protect the employee’s identity, and also because I don’t remember her actual name at all: “Congratulations to Kohls associate Angela who met the goal of 10! (Insert some words and numbers I didn’t understand here.) You did some great work at your job today! You are awesome!” And I thought to myself, “Kohls, that is SO NICE! I mean, I don’t understand exactly what Angela did, but giving her recognition is a wonderful thing to do – because we all know that the people who work the hardest and for the lowest pay are often the least recognized in our messed up society. Kudos to Kohls!”

But then, before the voice had even paused to take a breath, it said: “New goal: 15.”

Ugh. Poor Angela.

Basically, Angela was commended for approximately point five seconds. Then she was told that the “great thing” that she just did wasn’t really that great after all. And if she could do that, then she can do MORE. And more and more and more and more. And that great thing she did? Well, that’s old news BECAUSE WE HAVE TO CONSTANTLY TRY TO PROVE THAT WE ARE MORE THAN THE LAST GREAT THING THAT WE DID.

Now, I’m not bashing Kohls here. I love that place, and I have no idea how this announcement fits into their overall employee growth plan, and, as I said, their processes were operating seamlessly that day. I’m just making an observation that I think is worth considering as we move into a new year and spend too much time this week making lists of all of the ways we are not measuring up. Not measuring up to our own extreme standards. Not measuring up to the imaginary bar set by people who put on a good show whenever they are in public. Really, have you EVER felt like you truly measured up to the expectations that you have set, EVER in your entire life?

I’m also not opposed to setting goals; in fact, I’m setting some new goals this week myself. But maybe, just maybe, we need to celebrate what Angela, who just worked her tail off in the retail industry during what had to be the month from H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS, accomplished for more than a freaking hot second. And maybe, just maybe, before you think about all the ways you need to improve, you need to make a list of everything that you did REALLY, REALLY WELL in 2018.

Because here’s the thing – unless you actually sat on your couch eating Doritos and binge watching Netflix FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR, you did some stuff that’s worth applauding. And for every “failure” that is now being converted into a new year’s resolution, there is the TRUTH that you invested that time into something else – something that may have been equally or even MORE important. For example, I can beat myself up because my blog was woefully neglected in 2018, or I can acknowledge that I invested a lot of the time that I could have been writing in being the BEST MOM that I could be throughout that year. Sure, my parenting is probably one mistake after another, but I made a conscious decision to focus more time on my family, and I should not regret that for one stinking minute. In fact, I would like to invite Angela over so that the two of us can actually celebrate what we have ACCOMPLISHED this year before someone else tells us that whatever we’ve done – no matter how many hours I spent advising my high schooler and sitting on uncomfortable bleachers and no matter how many rude customers Angela addressed with a smile – it wasn’t enough.

So here’s to 2019. Sure I’m setting some goals for myself, and maybe you need to set a few, too, because growth can be good. Stretch your mind. Take care of your body. Work on your relationships. Show love to your very own self. Find inner peace. But FIRST take some time to consider what you did really well in 2018, and throw some confetti around or something.

GIVE YOURSELF SOME CREDIT. Maybe that list of what you did WELL will explain why something else fell through the cracks, and maybe you will see that this was perfectly okay. Maybe adding more to your list of expectations in 2019 isn’t going to make YOU the best YOU that you can be. Maybe just trying to be the best at the things you are already doing or even simplifying what you expect from yourself is the first step to improving your life in the coming year.

And Kohls, maybe just ask Angela to keep on doing an excellent job of serving your customers like she did when she reached 10 (whatever that means). Maybe set a goal, and then, oh, I don’t know, let your employees ENJOY THE SATISFACTION OF REACHING IT for more than a single second. Maybe we all need to resolve to spend just a little more time celebrating our accomplishments than logging our “failures,” which maybe weren’t really failures after all.

Happy 2019!

**Hey, friends!  Yeah, I know, the blog has seemed like an orphan as of late.  But mama is back!  Here’s the even better news . . . I HAVE been posting, but those posts have been on Facebook on the Still Chasing Fireflies page.  Some of my essays (like this one) that would have been blog posts before are now on Facebook because posting there is faster, starts more conversation with our Fireflies community, and gets shared more often with others.  If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies on Facebook, please “like” the page so you don’t miss any posts that might speak to you, and more will be posted here on the blog soon!  Thanks, friends!     ~Mary Ann

 

How the Smallest House Taught Me the Biggest Lessons

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“I really have to go, Mom.  Like, NOW,” my son said from behind the bathroom door of my parents’ home.

“I’m hurrying!”  I’m sure I snapped at him.  I didn’t want the warm embrace of the shower to end so soon.  And all of the sudden, I was fourteen again, telling my brother to get lost so that I could enjoy just a few moments of peace, all by myself, in the confines of our only bathroom.

I grew up in a small house.

My house was a really small house, especially by today’s standards. Seven rooms, no basement, one floor, and just one bathroom for the four of us to share. I remember when Doug Stone released the country song “Little Houses” in 1994, the fall after I graduated from high school. When he crooned about brushing one another while passing in the hall, he wasn’t kidding. The quarters were tight, and they grew even tighter as we grew bigger.

My friend up the street had a small house, as well, but she had a bedroom in the attic.  That meant that she had stairs.  I dreamt about having stairs.  Someday, I promised myself, I would have a house with stairs.  I don’t remember dreaming of a mansion, but I did fantasize about having a bathroom where I could shower without someone banging on the door.  And if I could have a basement where I could hide from a tornado, that would be okay, too.

Looking back with more wisdom and experience, I understand that our small house on a small street in a small town was just fine.  It was more than fine, actually.  It was always warm and it was always cozy.  It was never too small to welcome a guest who stopped by, and it was just the right size for a small dining room table where a nourishing meal was served every night.  The love in our house was condensed into such a small space that it hung thick in the air.  We breathed it.  We felt it on our skin.

So during a recent visit, as I finished my shower at my parents’ house while my son impatiently waited outside the door, it struck me that, while my own kids have stairs and a second shower and a finished basement, too, all of those things I had wanted as a child, maybe they are actually missing out.  Growing up in a small space shaped the person I am today, so here are a few of the biggest lessons I learned from the smallest house.

1. The world does not revolve around you.

For the most part, my kids don’t have to accommodate other people too much during their normal routine at home.  If they need to use the toilet, we have three.  If they need to shower, we have two.  If they need a sink where they can brush their teeth, we have options.  If they want to watch something on television, we have two comfortable living spaces where they can do just that.  And many kids today are living in homes much bigger and with many more televisions than ours.

Life isn’t like that in a small house.

In a small house, you learn to wait and you learn to hurry.  It doesn’t really matter how much you might enjoy pampering yourself a bit more or how hard your workday has been.  At the end of the day, you have three minutes to get clean, partly because you are just one link in the shower chain and partly because everyone wants some hot water.  Small houses don’t have huge hot water tanks.  Everything about small houses is, well, small.

When you have one bathroom, someone is always beating on the door.  Always.  And while it’s annoying when you are the occupant and someone is knocking, you have also been the person beating on the door – too many times to count.  So you learn to hurry in order to accommodate someone else, even if you do so with loud sighs and eye rolling, in the hopes that they will return the favor later in the week.

When you live in a small house, you never expect to watch what you want on TV, unless you just happen to get home from school before everyone else does, which did happen during middle school and was kind of amazing.  Then you can watch Santa Barbara, a soap opera that you probably shouldn’t be watching anyway, without anyone complaining.  But most of the time, watching TV in a small house is an exercise in compromise.  You learn to watch things like Jeopardy and Animal Planet and old sitcoms that everyone in the family can enjoy.  You also learn the importance of the win/win.  Yes, you are missing the shows that your friends are watching, but you aren’t being forced to watch football or He-Man or something else that your brother would choose, and that, my friends, is a WIN.  You become skilled at negotiations and learn to stand by your word – “You can play video games for one hour if I can watch Beverly Hills 90210 at 8.”  That’s a no brainer.  DEAL.

A college writing professor once asked me if my parents argued in front of me often while I was growing up.  They didn’t.  He explained his observation that students who are skilled in the art of argumentation were often raised in the midst of conflict.  Nope.  Not me.  I grew up in a small house.  I just learned to debate and negotiate so that I could watch what I wanted on TV.

2. Don’t want anyone to know about it? Then don’t do it.

It is very, very hard to have secrets in a small house.

In a small house, your family hears everything.  They observe what you are doing, see what you are watching, and hear what you are listening to.  If your friends come over, no one sends you to the basement and closes the door behind you because there is no basement.  Your bedroom is close to the living spaces in the house, and you may even share a bedroom with a sibling.  People can see into your room every time they walk to the restroom, and your drawers and closet space might even be used to store things that aren’t your own.  People are in your stuff and in your space all of the time.  But it’s okay.  You never get comfortable with privacy because you never have any.

This can keep you out of lots and lots of trouble.

Our kids today believe privacy is their right, and it’s no wonder that they feel this way.  They have their own rooms, their own phones, their own e-mail addresses.  Many have their own bathrooms, their own televisions, and their own gaming systems.  Sure, privacy is nice.  But privacy is also where, in many cases, we make mistakes that have the most serious consequences.  Sure, my friends and I could have gone to other people’s houses to hide from our parents, but that feeling of never having privacy just became a part of who I was.  I imagine that my small house saved me from making at least a few very poor decisions.

3. If you don’t plan ahead, you have no one to blame but yourself (even if you try to blame your brother).

Getting four people ready for anything in a small house requires military-level planning.  It is impossible for everyone to “pull it together” at the last minute when everything that everyone needs is located in one very small place.  The timing of showers has to be coordinated and supplies have to be distributed so that various tasks can be completed wherever a mirror can be found.  Extra time has to be factored in if the ladies are washing their hair or shaving their legs.  And inevitably someone will actually need to use the toilet somewhere along the line, which can completely derail the entire schedule.

In a small house, if you don’t plan ahead, you may be going to school without brushing your teeth.  Or going to work with wet hair.  Or showing up with your friends only to find that your brother’s friends have already claimed the living room.  Or trying to study while everyone else is enjoying dessert with guests and loudly reminiscing at the dinner table.  Or bringing a date over when your family is being completely embarrassing and there is nowhere to escape in the house.

Kids with big houses will never understand the strategic planning that takes place in small homes.

4. Most of what you think you need, you don’t need.

Now that I have a home of my own, I am AMAZED that two teenagers and two adults lived in my parents’ teeny house and never really “felt” how small it was.  I chalk this up to my mother’s skills and wisdom in managing our household.

My mom shopped from a list of what we needed, and I don’t remember ever buying much extra. If she didn’t have an immediate need for something AND know exactly where she could store it, she didn’t buy it. I can remember my mom declining invitations to go shopping, and this baffled me because shopping seemed fun. She said, “If I’m not going to buy anything, then why would I go there?” She didn’t get sucked into “window shopping” because “window shopping” usually becomes “actual shopping.” And I still fall for this ALL. THE. TIME.

I spend impulsively sometimes.  I buy things I don’t need sometimes.  I buy things that I can’t use now but hope to use later sometimes.  I can do this because I have a little extra room to store things, but extra space can encourage excess spending.  Small-house people can’t just buy more things.  They truly understand the difference between a need and a want.  They also know that buying one thing will probably require them to get rid of something else, and that trade-off often isn’t worth it.  The value of the things that they choose to save is very clear, and there is no need for extra gadgets when another simple tool will do the trick.

My mom also kept our house very tidy.  Although she treasures family heirlooms, she has always been able to “clean out” without getting too hung up on emotional connections to objects.  In a small house, there is just no space for clutter.  Everything has a place, and when things are out of place in a small home, you literally have to move them or step over them all the time.  You can’t stuff them in a closet or in the basement or in the “guest room.”  When you live in a small home, you learn to recognize the true value of the things that you have, to buy only what you need, and to respect your space by putting things away.

5. Get over it.

In a big house, people can hide from one another.  They can remain angry or sad or frustrated for a long time without really dealing with the problem at hand.  In a small house, you can’t do that.  You are going to be sitting directly across from the person who hurt your feelings at some point later that day.  There is really no place else for the two of you to go.

You are going to need that person to let you use the bathroom because there is only one.  You are going to eat at the same table because there is only one place to eat.  You are going to watch television together because your bedroom is boring and all of the entertainment is in one room.  You have to have hard conversations or your own life will be miserable.  You have to get over things and move on.

That’s not a bad life skill to learn.

I’m not saying that kids who grow up in big houses won’t learn these life lessons in other ways, but I do wonder if they will learn them the hard way, from people who don’t love them as much when they leave the safe boundaries of home.  And if they don’t learn to be humble, to compromise, to share openly, to manage their time and their space and their money, and to resolve conflicts as a natural part of sharing a home, I wonder how we should be fostering these skills and if a deficiency in them might impact their relationships and experiences in the future.

My mom was never one to listen to the radio much.  She had her Barry Manilow albums that we listened to instead.  But I remember that she loved the lyrics to Doug Stone’s song:

But you know, love grows best in little houses,
With fewer walls to separate,
Where you eat and sleep so close together.
You can’t help but communicate,
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss.
Love grows best, in houses just like this.

In reality, the most consequential lessons we learn are often from the little things – the close-up, intimate interactions with people that force us to change who we are, decide what we value, and reflect on how we respond to others.  Maybe more walls and more bathrooms and more TVs and more staircases are making our job as parents more difficult, forcing us to be more intentional about promoting certain values and skills.  I don’t know.  But I do know that tonight I will take a long, hot shower with no one banging on the door.  And, because of my childhood, I will appreciate every minute of it.

 

 

Doug Stone. “Little Houses.” Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, Sony Legacy, 1994

The Homework Assignment Your Kids Must Do This Summer

Awaiting

I have been teaching high school English Language Arts for over fourteen years now.  Throughout those years, I have assigned hundreds, maybe even a thousand, homework assignments to bright-eyed students who have stuffed the work into backpacks and recorded due dates in tattered planners.  I never thought to keep an ongoing record of how much work I have assigned over the years.  But I do have a fairly accurate idea of how many students have thanked me for giving them homework in high school.  That number is somewhere around, oh, I don’t know . . . Let’s just say it is a very, VERY low number.

And I get it.  Nobody likes homework, especially when the skills that are being practiced may not always seem relevant to a teenager’s life in the present.  Most sixteen-year-olds, even the most diligent and scholarly, would rather be sleeping, eating, or dating than writing a detailed literary analysis for me, and I understand this.  Plus, I live with my own tween/teen boys, and I am fully aware that we are all smarter as teenagers than we will be at any other point in our lives.

But some assignments are different, and I want to tell you about one of them.  I receive actual thank you notes from my students for assigning this senior citizen interview project.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  It is an incredible way for your child to disconnect from technology, practice face-to-face communication skills, and LEARN really important historical information.  It can strengthen family relationships and may even help students retain some academic skills over the summer.  Students of all ages can participate.  I encourage YOU to assign your own children or grandchildren this project over the summer months.

Now that I’ve gotten you really excited about this project, you may be expecting your kids to feel excited about this, too.  Maybe they will cheer and give you warm bear hugs when you tell them that you found this great summer homework idea on a random teacher’s blog on the Internet!  This is not going to happen.  My teacher experience tells me that your kids may make some unhappy grumbling sounds or mumble something indiscernible under their breath or roll their eyes.  Or maybe they will do all three while also shaking their heads as if you are a total disgrace to parents everywhere.  This is a perfectly normal reaction.  Do not surrender!  The “thank you” will come later.  I promise.

You won’t regret this.  Just trust me.  Or trust Adam, one of my amazing students:

Grandma Adam B

Or believe Amarah, another one of my incredible students:

My Grandmother by Amarah

I even completed this project myself after assigning it to my students several years ago.  I interviewed my own grandmother using the original assignment, which led me to continue calling her to ask her more questions that had not been on the list.  Eventually this morphed into a binder that included my grandmother’s answers, my family’s special personal memories, photos, and recipes compiled as a gift for my grandmother for Christmas.  I read through that book this morning while preparing this blog, and it remains one of my favorite gifts and keepsakes ever, especially now that my grandmother has passed.

Dear Grandma

So let’s get this homework assignment started!

Step 1:

Schedule a time for your children to interview a senior citizen.  I encourage my students to choose a family member if possible, but I know that this isn’t possible for everyone.  Interviewing an older friend or neighbor will also be very educational.  Older generations, like great-grandparents, have even more historical details to share, so do not overlook them when choosing someone to interview.

Your children should ask permission to interview this person, meet when it is convenient, and explain that the person is free to share as much or as little as she feels comfortable.  Audio or video recordings are wonderful keepsakes, but only if the senior citizen approves.  This year, a student submitted her interview as an audio recording instead of in writing.  I was going to ask her to transcribe it for me, but before I knew it I had listened to the full twenty-six minutes!  (I had over 100 to grade, so assessing audio recordings was not time efficient.)  Listening to her interact with her grandfather was incredibly engaging.  You could literally hear their admiration for and understanding of one another growing as they talked.

(Note: If your children see their grandparents often, they are likely to say that they already know their grandparents very well.  Ignore this.  I knew my grandmother well, but I did not know that she pole vaulted in high school!  My grandma did that?  NO WAY!  My students ALWAYS say they learned new information, even students who live with their grandparents.  Think about your normal conversations.  We typically don’t dig very deeply into personal details.)

Step 2

Choose questions.  I usually provide a list of questions for my students to pick from based on what they already know about their senior citizen.  For example, asking about how weddings and marriage have changed can spark a very interesting conversation with some interviewees, while that question might be too painful for others.  Help your children choose appropriate questions.  I’m adding extra questions here beyond what I use with my students so that you have plenty to choose from.

Encourage your children to ask follow-up questions or to ask for more explanation.  This is a great conversational skill to learn!

This list has been edited and revised multiple times since 2001, so I don’t recall which questions I created, which ones I added from other sources, and which ones were from the original assignment created by a teacher at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis North Carolina where I taught many years ago.

  • When and where were you born?  How did your parents choose your name?
  • What is your definition of a hero?  Who is someone you would consider a hero and why?
  • What major historical events have occurred in your lifetime?  How did they change the world?  How did they affect you personally?
  • What are the advantages of being a senior citizen?  What are the disadvantages?
  • What advice for living a good life would you give today’s teenage generation?  What would you warn me to stay away from?  What would you suggest I spend more time doing?
  • How do you feel about teenagers today?  What do you like and dislike about them as a group?
  • How do you see families changing in today’s society?  How do you feel about that?
  • Tell me about your own parents.  What impressed you about them?  How were they similar to and different from parents today?
  • If you could change one thing about society today, what would it be?  Why?
  • What are a few of the most memorable aspects of your childhood?
  • What was your favorite toy as a child?  Why?
  • Share a holiday memory from your childhood.
  • What kind of entertainment did you enjoy when you were a teenager?
  • What does being an American mean to you?  What is the greatest responsibility of being an American?  What is the greatest privilege?
  • How was your parents’ culture a part of your childhood?  Did you have any special traditions or recipes that were tied to your ancestry?  Did you share these with your children?
  • What are the most significant changes that you have seen in society throughout your lifetime?  Do you consider these changes to be positive or negative?
  • How has your own perspective on life changed since you were a teenager?  Why?
  • What was your wedding like?  How was it different from weddings today?  How long have you been married, and how old were you when you got married?
  • What advice would you give a couple that is just starting their marriage?
  • What advice would you give a teenager who is starting to date?
  • How much have prices changed since you were a teenager?  How much did a gallon of gas cost?  A new house?  A new car? A candy bar?  How much did your first job pay?
  • What is the one rule of life that you live by and that has guided your actions?  Why?
  • What is the best gift that you ever received?  Why is it memorable?
  • Describe any memories of wartime that you have.
  • How did you spend your free time when you were a child?  Do you think kids today are lucky or unlucky to have their own televisions, computers, and cell phones?
  • If you had a chance to do something that you have not yet done in life, what would it be?  Why?
  • How have schools and education changed since you were a child?
  • When you were a kid, who did you look up to?  Why?
  • What is something that you remember disagreeing with your parents about when you were young?  Looking back, who was “right”?
  • Tell me about a funny memory from your childhood.  Tell me about a happy memory.  Tell me about a sad memory.  Tell me about a time you were afraid.  Tell me about a time you felt proud.
  • Finish this sentence.  “Looking back, one thing I wish I had known as a young adult was . . . “
  • What advice do you have for someone facing a really hard time in life?  What has gotten you through your hardest times?
  • Are their any special heirlooms that are being passed down in our family?
  • Do you have a favorite song, book, meal, color, quotation, or religious verse?
  • You know me well.  What are your goals and wishes for my future?

Step 3

Preserve it.  Maybe your child could type the interview and share it with someone else who will appreciate it, if the interviewee doesn’t mind sharing.  Maybe your child could use the interview to write a special letter to the person who was interviewed.  As a teacher, I assign my students to write a reflection essay.  I don’t give them a specific topic because each student walks away from each interview with a different takeaway and a different emotional response.  However, students could be assigned to write about several lessons they learned or ways society has changed or answers that most surprised them.  Some students have also chosen to write beautiful poems inspired by their interviews as part of a creative writing project at the end of the year.

Step 4

Show gratitude.  I require my students to write a thank you note to the person who was interviewed, and I encourage them to share their final essay with that person, as well.  They typically walk away with a deeper appreciation for the person who was interviewed, so they are eager to share their thanks.  They sometimes write me a thank you note, as well!  (No more eye rolls!)

Friends, I am telling you that you will not regret sharing this homework assignment with your kids.  This year, one of my students worked so hard on her reflection essay that she revised it over and over again until she felt in her heart that it truly honored her grandmother.  Multiple students told me that they thought their grandparents really didn’t like teenagers or that they thought teenagers and senior citizens had little in common, but they discovered that their assumptions were completely wrong.  Many had no idea how much adversity the senior citizens they interviewed had overcome.

This assignment always reminds me that English Language Arts is a humanity, and that the humanities are important because they teach us how to be human.  Students have left my classroom as better writers and students have left my classroom as better editors and students have left my classroom with better test scores.  That is all very good.

But if students leave my classroom as better people, then maybe I have truly done the job that I’m supposed to do.

Awaiting

 

 

I Remember When the Lights Turned Black

Baby Carson

All day long, there was bleeding. The nurse smiled warmly whenever our eyes met. Her name was Mary. My name. The name of my aunts and my grandmother. She smiled, and I felt safe with her, but when she looked away from me, there was worry in the lines of her forehead. I noticed it. I noticed how her brows pulled together like magnets every time she examined me. I noticed that my nurses seemed more interested than the last time I stayed here, quietly fluttering in and out of the room like butterflies. I noticed, but I didn’t really care, because I was holding the tiny, warm ball of you in my arms.

Yes, I feel fine. Yes, I’m tired, but I didn’t sleep well last night. My body felt heavy, and I was uncomfortable, and maybe my chart mentions that I just gave birth to a child this morning. No, I really don’t need anything. Unless you can stretch time – can you do that? I only want more time today. Could you make this day the longest one? I need time to soak up every detail of these moments, to absorb them into my memory. Time to properly welcome this newest human to our family and our planet. Time for my skin to speak promises to him. Promises of safety and of love.

Yes, I can take a break, if you think I need to. Here, you take the baby. Yes, I can sit up straight and stand and walk to the restroom by myself, but thank you. I’ve done this before and everything was simple and maybe we’ll go home tomorrow. I have a new baby, and everything is good. It’s SO good. Really. I’m just fine.

Except – why is this room spinning? And everything inside of me just washed to the bottom. Where did the lines go? Where are all the corners? Walls or floors or ceilings, a blur of colors, and that loud sound, don’t you hear it? I need to lie down.

There. That’s better. I’m fine.

Please give me my baby.

That was the beginning of a very slow and a very fast day, a day that felt so long and so short and so high and so low and that almost ended in tragedy. But here’s what I want you to know, Son. Even if that day a dozen years ago had ended differently, even if I had been given only one day to know you, only one day to love you, even if I had held you close for just a single day, it would have been worth it. If I had lost all of the special moments we have shared since you were born (a painful thought that ripples through my heart like a shock), I would have no regrets.

Because . . . YOU.

I remember those hours, from the welcoming beams of dawn until the last gleams at dusk, so vividly. I remember your first cries and the warm wave of relief and the explosive joy that felt like tears when I first held you. I remember loving you all day long.  I remember the lights in my room suddenly turning black and I remember the quick strings of urgent words as we rushed into surgery through sleepy hospital halls and I remember the fear that smoldered in loving eyes and the heavy air that hovered low around my bed.

And I remember the overwhelming peace, the comfort that embraced me. The quiet contentment in my mind. I remember that this normally anxious spirit was not afraid of what would happen despite an outcome that was still unclear.

What I remember most is that March 31 was one of the very best days of my life.

Because . . . YOU.

You were not a gift made for me, not someone to be owned, but a beautiful spirit entrusted to our care, to be loved and taught and shared with the world, and then returned to the God who designed you. I didn’t know, on that day, if I would see you in the morning, if you would ever really know who I had been.  But I have been given so many more days to enjoy you, and my heart swells with gratitude and with the hope of so many more.  Your light stood out in my darkness, and the little spirit that I welcomed grows bigger and brighter and bolder each year.

Love you always,

Mom

Mary Lou Retton, Commodore 64, and a Pack of Lucky Strikes

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I grew up in a house that was too small for secrets.  There were no secluded hiding spots or private spaces.  Time alone was so rare that it almost felt uncomfortable.  And even when you thought you were having a private conversation, someone was always within earshot.  Usually, that person was your little brother.

There wasn’t much the four of us didn’t know about each other.

So I was surprised when, on a crisp November day while my boys and I were visiting my parents, my dad revealed a treasure box that had been covertly concealed in a closet.  Even in our teeny tiny house, he’d kept a secret – a stash of yellowed newspapers and vintage magazines that he had squirreled away over the years for their historical or personal significance, including several Sports Illustrated magazines from my childhood.

You guys, MARY LOU RETTON.

My memories of the spring and summer of 1984 are limited.  I had just turned eight years old.  My second grade teacher had been creative and unconventional, and she would remain one of my favorites forever.  (She played the guitar, produced a play every season, and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  Standardized tests weren’t holding us hostage yet.)  I owned a Michael Jackson t-shirt that I vaguely remember wearing often.  Probably too often.  I honestly don’t remember much more that that.

But I DO remember watching Mary Lou Retton win gold in the summer Olympics, right here in America.  I remember seeing her on the Wheaties boxes at the store.  (She was the first woman on the front of the box, by the way.)  She was smiley and spunky, and she grew up just a couple of hours away from me, which in Appalachia means that you might as well be neighbors.  We claimed her, and she would become one of the most beloved athletes of all time.

So when my dad pulled out his treasures, I went straight for the Sports Illustrated dated August 13, 1984 to read the articles about Mary Lou.  But I didn’t even read them.  I still haven’t read them, actually.  (I’m so sorry, Mary Lou.  I will.  I promise!)  When I opened the cover and saw the first advertisement, I quickly became engrossed in what this relic from the past reveals about the American experience just a few decades ago.  Is this really what life was like when I was a child?  Whoa.  Apparently, growing up requires so much concentration that we don’t even notice the changes of life swirling around us.

It does surprise me how much some areas of our lives have been transformed.  And it’s equally amazing how much some things that need to change really haven’t changed so much at all.  See for yourself!  Check out this walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1984.

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The Marlboro Man was to 1984 what The Most Interesting Man in the World is to 2018.  He was cool.  He persuaded us to believe that indulging in unhealthy habits isn’t immature or irresponsible; it’s manly.  (We are all still recovering from the devastation this myth creates in our society…)  In the 80s, kids loved their candy cigarettes, and there were women who could not resist a man who smelled like a campfire and sounded like he was coughing up a lung.  But the Marlboro man wasn’t lonely in Sports Illustrated.  There were almost as many cigarette ads as articles.

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There was this one, which makes a pool party look like a lot more fun than smoking, but whatever.  I guess the ladies only came when they heard there would be cigarettes?

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And there was this guy.  He had no idea how to ride a motorcycle until he smoked a Kool.  I bet he didn’t have hair like that B.K. (Before Kool), either.  I might even consider smoking a Kool to grow thick hair and have deep thoughts like that . . .

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And there were these.  Hey, at least they are low tar.  A lot of tar sounds gross, but a little tar, well, that’s perfect.

You guys, there were SO MANY tobacco ads in this Sports Illustrated.

Interestingly, according to this article on nbcnews.com dated May 24, 2016, “roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked” about fifty years ago, down to around 15% today.  Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, sometimes government regulations imposed on profitable industries that care more about money than actual Americans can be the catalyst for significant and positive shifts in our society.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the statistics.

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Remember when Kmart was king of the department stores and Walmart was just invading the Midwest?  Really, did anyone who banked on the success of Velcro shoes get ahead?

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Yes, there was a time when everybody wanted a Commodore 64.  Who thought technology would expand beyond THIS?  Just look at those graphics!

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What?!?  AT&T made personal computers?  Based on the ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service I experienced with them recently, I’m not surprised they’ve experienced some failures.

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Even with the advancing technology, in the 1980s computers still seemed unnecessary to most of us.  As if every family would need its own computer!  Please!  That would be as crazy as having phones that weren’t attached to the wall!  Or computers that would fit in our pockets!  Just the idea was hilarious.  Electronic typewriters were the perfect middle ground for most of middle America.  We liked change.  But not THAT much change.

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Rolls of film?  My kids would have no idea what this even means . . .

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Friends, here’s a true story: I almost surrendered while trying to open a package of Tide pods yesterday to wash our clothes.  I’m not even joking.  The childproofing was so advanced and creative that it took me several minutes to figure it out.  In 2018, we live in our own personal prisons to keep our children safe.  But in 1984, I was eight years old, and I was sitting in the front seat, probably on my knees, without a safety belt.  Really, I might as well have been driving.  According to this ad, only 15% of Americans were buckling up in 1984, so I was in good company – and my parents were perfectly wonderful – and totally normal to allow this.  I remember people protesting when seatbelt laws were first introduced, but those regulations have saved a whole lot of lives.

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A few things I found in this SI issue did disturb me.  I’m not sure this ad campaign would fly today.  I’m pretty sure that secretaries have other things to type at work . . .

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And I’m confident that the photographers at the Olympics could have shared a more appropriate photo of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team than this.  REALLY?

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And I’d love to tell you that thirty years since this letter to the editor, at least one woman has qualified to officiate a regular season game for major league baseball, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.  It’s been THIRTY YEARS!

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And this guy wrote an editorial about how, in his opinion, Americans weren’t the most hospitable hosts of the Olympics because, well, maybe our culture is generally kind of selfish and maybe we think that America should always be the center of attention.  Maybe we weren’t as welcoming and open minded toward people from other countries in 1984 as we thought we were.

Whew.  Thank goodness those attitudes have changed, right?  (*sigh*)

So everything wasn’t perfect in 1984.  There were problems, some that we’ve almost extinguished and some that we have not.

But we did have Velcro shoes.

And Mary Lou Retton.

And that alone makes up for a lot.

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