Dear 2021: A Letter

Dear 2021,

Maybe your mama didn’t teach you any better, but, generally speaking, when you know you are spending your very last day here on earth with somebody, you try to make that last day a good one.  

Instead, on your last day, you slipped out the door with our beloved Betty White, just weeks before her 100th birthday, and you put a hard stop to our fun when you left covid, like a flaming bag of dog poo, on our doorstep.  And just like the dog poo prank, it wasn’t funny – although I do imagine that you are lurking behind our shrubbery, laughing hysterically at the mayhem you created until the very end.

What I want to say, 2021, is “Don’t let the screen door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.”  And that makes me think about the screen door at my Aunt Mary Alice’s  house, a house perched high at the top of a steep gravel hill.   According to my memory, that door always swung shut with a whoosh and a clap that would startle you if you weren’t quite ready for it.

And that, 2021, reminds me how you stole my Aunt Mary Alice (also known as Aunt Mary Blueberry) from her family during your winter, knowing that so many who loved her wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye.  I hate you for that, 2021.  I really do.

But here’s the deal, 2021: Some wonderful things have also happened recently, and it seems unfair to deny you some credit where credit is due.  

For a few challenging years, I was lost at sea, rewriting my dreams on a slate that was washed clean in a storm.  After some tossing and turning in the waves, after patching up my boat and charting a new course, your winds finally pushed my sails to the shore where I belonged.  I landed at a middle school, where kids who are floundering somewhere between the shallows and deeper waters need a boost to keep their heads above the water. Their legs need to grow just a little bit longer before their feet will find firm ground.

This has been both intensely demanding and incredibly rewarding, and I’m grateful for both the work and the growth it provides.

So 2021, you were terrible. And you were awesome.  

And that is something I have learned from you, something that I knew but didn’t REALLY know until you laid it out on a charcuterie board. (I mean, that would be very 2021, wouldn’t it?) 

Your lesson is as clear to me as the gorgeous water in Destin last July:

WE LIVE IN THE MIDDLE, in the tension of the “in between,” in the gray zone where it is possible for two conflicting ideas to be true.  Where there are sparks flying and there is friction.  

2021, you showed us that we live in that shifting space right in the middle of the tug of war.

Somewhere between what is actually true and what we WANT to be true.  

Between loving people and being disappointed by them.  

Between our desire to trust and our instinctual skepticism.  

Between our spirituality and our humanity.  

Between our need for caution and our desire for adventure.  

Between individualism and community.  

Between silence and a soapbox.

Between loyalty and logic.  

Most of the time, this tension is just the whir of a box fan that’s tucked into a corner, a soft buzzing in the background that you notice, and also you don’t.  But 2021, you turned up the fan dial, AND you left the prank on our porches, and when the *#$% hits the fan… well, now THAT level of tension becomes hard to ignore.  

You were a year of grief, and a year of new beginnings, 2021.  You challenged me.  You left me wondering – where do we find a comfortable place to curl up in the tension between celebration and suffering?  Between recovery and grief?  And is it wise or is it naive to feel grateful even in the midst of terrible heartache and loss?

I’m still sorting it out, 2021.  And I’m starting to believe that joy and suffering are not two ends of a continuum but more like two sides of the same coin, always present in the same room.  Maybe they aren’t competing for dominance.  Maybe there is a time and a place for each of them – or even both of them – and maybe we need to accept that they are realities rather than fighting against suffering so, so, so, so hard.

What if experiencing loss and disappointment doesn’t have to ruin the party?  What if experiencing loss and disappointment makes the cake taste just a little bit sweeter?  

So, 2021, you made us ask the hard questions, like how can a year be both terrible and wonderful, both painful and full of joy, both costly and rewarding?  How can one day taste like cough medicine and the next like honey?  Is something wrong with our tastebuds?

You taught us that IT’S COMPLICATED.

And we live in the middle of wishing it were easy and knowing it is hard.  

You were both the guest we were excited to welcome and the visitor who, as Ben Franklin described, was starting to smell like a dead fish.  But even though you were challenging, even though you didn’t erase covid and quarantines the way I had hoped, I am grateful for the new opportunities you revealed to me and my sons, one of whom is preparing to graduate.  I am thankful for a gorgeous beach, for good health, for an abundance of food, for family, for purpose, for Lola (our dog), and for friendships, new and old.  I am thankful for nature and for introspection. I am thankful to have seen people below the surface in 2021, to have seen what pours out of them when the fire is hot and the pot boils over, to know people more fully, even when that is difficult.  I am thankful to have learned more about myself, my thoughts preserved in writing, like frogs in jars of formaldehyde, waiting to be dissected.

So, 2021, good riddance.  

And, also, thank you.  

I loved you, and I hated you.  And  that’s okay.  

I learned that from you, actually.  

That’s just how it is when you live in the middle.


Mary Ann

12 Meaningful Ways to Support Generous Businesses This Holiday Season

Fundraising. Ugh. It seems like a four-letter word to me – even though it has way more letters than that! Asking people for donations is pretty high on the list of things I LEAST like to do.

But the reality is that very few important get done without fundraising. That’s why, despite my distaste for it, I find myself doing it more than I want. If that has annoyed you, I’m sorry . . . But not really. 🙂

Most recently, I collected donations for a charitable auction to support the Activity Club at my kids’ high school. The Activity Club sponsors many meaningful programs, such as providing food and toiletries for high schoolers in need, connecting high school and elementary students through a mentoring program, providing scholarship opportunities for seniors, and coordinating an after-prom party and a Baccalaureate celebration in the spring.

Soliciting donations is never a fun pastime, but soliciting donations from businesses DURING A PANDEMIC is especially difficult. Many small businesses have struggled to stay afloat since Covid drastically altered shoppers’ budgets and routines. I expected that donations would be hard to get – and for good reason. But I was wrong! The generosity of the companies listed below was mind boggling, and most of them are small businesses. I can’t overstate my appreciation for their generosity, as well as my gratitude for the individuals who contributed, as well.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better about spending my money (and I probably spend a little extra) when I know the business profiting from my purchases has a spirit of generosity and a love of community. As you are Christmas shopping this season, please consider the ideas below and support these business owners, who have been generous even during a time of economic struggle. In addition, I hope these ideas motivate you to investigate more local businesses needing support in your own community!


1. Birch Bear Co.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you already know I’m a superfan of this company that started as a little t-shirt shop on Etsy and has now expanded to print t-shirts, sweatshirts, blankets, and more. I wear Birch Bear shirts often and have gifted them to my mom, my SIL, and my friends. The owner, Kayla, has become a friend, even though we have never met and we live a state apart. Most importantly, Kayla’s creations are THE BOMB. (I know that my slang is outdated, but if you were a teen in the 90’s, you still appreciate it. Don’t lie. ) Long story short: shop at Birch Bear Co. You won’t regret it. Customer service is top notch, and Birch Bear will even help you design what you need this holiday season.

Here are a few of the faves that I wear or have gifted, including the Still Chasing Fireflies design <3:

2. Just a Jar Design Press

You guys, Just a Jar Design Press is a quiet little shop in my hometown of Marietta, Ohio, and let me just say two things about this business. First, the owners Sara and Bobby Rosenstock are personable and kind. Second, this business has been flying under the radar for too many people for too long! Just a Jar Design Press produces woodcut and letter press posters, t-shirts, and greeting cards. Their prints are absolutely beautiful, and you can buy their greeting cards individually or in bulk. If you are buying mass-printed cards at the store, trust me – you need to STOP. 🙂 These cards are hand-pressed, and the artwork is beautiful. The cards themselves are a gift! This Marietta, Ohio shop is a gem, and, fortunately for all of us, Just a Jar’s talent is available online. I know from experience that their customer service is excellent and quick, as well. Check out these pictures from the Just a Jar Design Press website showing how one of my favorite cards is produced:

3. Patterson’s Farm

Patterson’s Farm is a successful small business owned by the ultimate “girl boss,” soap-artisan, and goat mama – Kathy Patterson. I will let Kathy speak for herself with this description from her website: “I milk my dairy goats every morning, and use that raw, fresh goats milk to make luxurious skin care products. The addition of goats milk to soap creates a bar that is truly a treat for your skin. Then, the art begins. Roses, swirls, hand piping, pour techniques, clays, micas, embedding, scent blending…this isn’t grandma’s soap!”  Patterson’s Farm is in Marietta, Ohio, but the products are available for online orders. In full disclosure, I put my Christmas order in on Saturday, and it was hard to stop putting things into my cart. Kathy is a Star Seller on Etsy with over a thousand five-star reviews and quick customer service. I can’t recommend one product because I have tried many and enjoyed them all! Her products make wonderful gifts, from a stocking stuffer to a beautifully packaged box of products!

4. Wit & Whimsy

Wit & Whimsy is another Marietta, Ohio, business with an online shop, AND it is one of my favorite shops on Front Street near the river. Wit & Whimsy sells “unique gifts and uncommon goods for your personal lifestyle.” Owner Laura Pytlik has such a kind and generous spirit; when I spoke to her, she was quick to talk about the artisans she works with rather than focusing on her own creations (like a skeleton-key necklace my mom bought me for Christmas) or her own lovely shop! Wit & Whimsy is the ultimate one-stop gift shop – clothing, jewelry, keychains, artwork, and so much more. Products are made in the United States, with many made by artists in Ohio and West Virginia (including Kathy Patterson above). You MUST check out what she is offering online, but please stop by the shop to see even more products when you have a chance to visit! Here are some of my favorites from the Wit & Whimsy website and blog:

5. Dad’s Primitive Workbench

Dad’s Primitive Workbench is another of my favorite shops in downtown Marietta. When I visited Dad’s Primitive Workbench recently, I was delighted to discover that it is owned by one of my former students, Charlie Clay! (I will share that fun story with you later!) Charlie’s business has expanded to include online shopping, with many pieces of boutique clothing available in his online store. Please check it out, but I truly hope you get to visit his store. Charlie’s brick-and-mortar location is packed with products – from clothing to jewelry to stickers to rustic decor to seasonal decorations to candles – all displayed just beautifully. I shared this store with some friends in August, and we left with a bag filled with boutique jeans, a bracelet, a fall wall hanging, and a pumpkin and floral accent. There is a lot of variety in this eclectic small business! I think this picture from the website illustrates just how cozy Dad’s Primitive Workbench is. Marietta peeps, GO TO THIS STORE before Christmas!

Photo from Dad’s Primitive Workbench website


6. Home Improvement Gift Card

If you live in northern Columbus, check out Holmes Lumber (a division of Carter Lumber) in Sunbury, but if you live somewhere else, consider buying a gift card from a home improvement store near you. During Covid quarantine, most of us grew tired of the painted walls we were staring at, but prices for home improvement have increased, and many people have been forced to tighten their budgets. A home improvement gift card may not seem like an exciting gift to give, but I’m betting that most of the adults in your life wouldn’t mind an excuse to make a trip to a home improvement store near you! Just make sure that the business you choose carries the types of products you think the recipient may want or need.

7. A Yard Card Greeting

Let’s be honest: Some people on your Christmas shopping list aren’t easy to buy for. Maybe they are grandparents who don’t want or need any more “stuff.” Or maybe they are kids who already seem to have ALL the things advertised on television. Why not think outside the box for loved ones who might appreciate something different? One unexpected option that will definitely bring a smile to their faces is a yard card, sometimes called a yard greeting! If you live in the northern Columbus, Ohio area, I recommend renting your greeting from Cardinal Yard Cards, a small business run by some student entrepreneurs. If you live elsewhere, know that yard sign businesses became especially popular during quarantine, so there is likely a yard sign business near you! We have both bought and received yard cards, and they have created special memories and neighborhood chatter, so consider sending a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” greeting. As Cardinal Yard Cards shares on their website, “We believe when you really want to say it, the best way is to display it!”

Photo from Cardinal Yard Cards website

8. A Cooking Lesson or A New Kitchen Gadget

Since my son is a senior in high school and I am a hot mess thinking about it, I’ve been intentional in planning an activity for us to enjoy together each month until his graduation. The time we have spent together each month has been priceless. I highly recommend considering gifts that are investments in your relationships rather than gifts that are investments in the things that will eventually decompose in a garbage dump. (Sorry, but I’m a realist!) For example, create a gift basket of ingredients, recipes, and kitchen gadgets, and plan a time to cook the meal together. Or sign up for a local cooking class to learn something new AND spend time with one another. In Marietta, I highly recommend visiting The Cook’s Shop.

A note about The Cook’s Shop . . . When I was soliciting donations, I expected small businesses to decline, especially during this period of financial recovery, but I was disheartened by businesses that wouldn’t respond to messages at all. The shining exception was Dagmar Kupsche from The Cook’s Shop, who sent a kind reply expressing regret that she could not help, while also mentioning that Covid had negatively impacted the business. I was impressed by her. If you live in Marietta, check out The Cook’s Shop’s unique kitchen items and please support them this Christmas!**

9. A Life Coaching Session

Adjusting to life during a pandemic has been difficult. The personal losses and increased isolation motivated many of us to evaluate the pace and the priorities of our lives. If you know someone who is interested in self-improvement, who wants to hit the “reset” button after the past 18 months, or who generally wants to live with more intention, a session with a life coach may be a perfect option. Why not contact a life coach in your area and pay for a session for your loved one as a gift? In northern Columbus, I recommend Lesley Cross at Bridges Counseling of Ohio. While Lesley is a licensed counselor, she is also a certified life coach who can offer coaching services to help someone reach a personal or professional goal. If you can help someone reach their full potential, there is truly no better gift than that!

10. Tickets to a Local Attraction

I’m not a gambler, but I’m willing to bet that your local community hosts interesting events that you haven’t even explored yet. We humans tend to overlook the engaging opportunities that are right under our noses while we wistfully fantasize about the excitement of someplace else. Do some research and discover what is available right around the corner. For example, does someone on your list love history? Consider buying them tickets to tour a local historical home or a museum. Many towns have quirky tours and landmarks to visit if you really explore. In my hometown of Marietta, Ohio, Ghost Tours are available through Hidden Marietta. That sounds like a fun evening to me! The Washington County Historical Society is also a generous source of local history in southeastern Ohio, but you can check out your own local historical society and your local visitor’s bureau to find more ideas tailored to wherever you live.

Photo from Hidden Marietta website

11. A Gift Card OR a Meal Delivered from a Local Restaurant

Some of the best local eats are found in small, family-owned establishments. Before you buy a gift card to a chain restaurant that catches your eye in the grocery checkout line, consider stopping by a local small business and buying a gift card there instead. Even better, tell a mom or dad you love not to cook dinner one night during the busy holiday season and have dinner delivered to them, or pick it up and deliver it yourself. You are not only giving the gift of delicious food, but also the precious gift of TIME. In Marietta, Ohio, I recommend a gift card to Austyn’s, a long-time favorite that serves mouth-watering meals and is owned by a high school friend of mine. If you live in central Ohio, The Whitney House is always a special treat and is also owned by local friends. Last year, the boys and I started a new tradition of ordering from The Whitney House two nights before Christmas, and we are already looking forward to doing it again. Both Austyn’s and The Whitney House are beloved and generous within their local communities, and when you support one of them, you are supporting a local family and their local employees!

12. An Invitation to Get Coffee at a Local Coffee Shop

Instead of buying a gift card to the most famous coffee shop on the planet, buy a gift card to the local coffee shop down the street. Tuck it into a mug or an insulated cup with a note that says, “Let’s meet for coffee!” And THEN get a date on the calendar as soon as the gift is opened. Now you have gifted a friend some time away from home, free coffee or tea, and an opportunity to become even closer friends. Voila! It’s so simple! If you live in Marietta, Ohio, you can swing through the drive-thru at Stoked and then drink your coffee by the river or in your breakfast nook with a friend. Alternatively, the two of you could shop downtown and then enjoy the ambiance created by the old brick walls at Jeremiah’s Coffee Shop on Front Street. Both are local businesses that are managed with a spirit of generosity!

Christmas shopping is not only a way to show your love to friends and family, but also an opportunity to support small businesses all over the country, invest in family-owned businesses at the heart of your local community, and reward businesses big and small that are generous in giving back. Hopefully these ideas will spark your own creativity and inspire you to explore new ways to shop this Christmas season!

Happy holidays!

~Mary Ann

Losing Someone, One Memory at a Time

Last week, the world lost Willard Scott, a weather man and television personality best known for his sense of humor, his kind persona, and, of course, his Smucker’s jars. As I was watching the tributes after his death, it struck me just how strange it is that the people we love are here . . . and then they’re not. Just like that. In a matter of days, minutes, even seconds sometimes, everything changes.

The death of Willard Scott also got me thinking about one funny, friendly guy I knew very well. I knew him from watching him play with Matchbox cars on the floor with my children, his grandsons. I knew him from helping him collect quarters representing all fifty states and from listening to his detailed stories of growing up in the hills of West Virginia and serving in Vietnam. And, although his body failed quickly when he contracted Covid in the fall of 2020, I was reminded how Alzheimer’s disease had stolen him from us slowly over a decade, like a thief who empties your jewelry box by silently slinking off with one precious gold chain or gemstone at a time.

Until there is an empty box.

It takes you a while to notice that those precious things are missing when they are stolen so slowly. And once you do, it’s impossible to retrieve – or even fully understand – the extent of what you’ve lost.

Because it’s not just about the jewelry or the memories that are missing. It’s about the thief’s betrayal, the hurt, the anger. It’s the fact that an enemy has infiltrated your borders and you, always on guard, weren’t even aware of it.

Your safe zone is no longer predictable.

Your safe zone no longer feels safe.

I remember when we first noticed the repetition. The questions that were asked not long after they had been answered. The stories that, although they had always been favorites, now played in a loop in his dialogue. I remember the dread that we felt. Could it be? No, surely it wasn’t. Not him. Not now. Not yet.

Just look at him! He is healthy and strong!

I remember the sadness of his wife, my mother-in-law. The long, slow, painful grief. The mourning of each new task he could not do on his own. The physical and emotional exhaustion she felt when she knew that he needed her help but wanted desperately to maintain his sense of dignity and independence.

I remember the conversations about the car and his beloved old blue truck. Should he drive here? Should he drive there? Should he drive anywhere? How do we tell him that we are no longer comfortable with him driving his grandchildren? Who is going to tell the protector, the man who owns the keys, the guy who always sat in the driver’s seat, that he is going to ride shotgun from this day on?

I remember the time on vacation when I knew how much I didn’t know about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. When my mother-in-law had no choice but to send him into a men’s restroom alone because a grown adult man isn’t welcome in the women’s restroom. But he shouldn’t have been alone in there. We paced the sidewalk nervously until he returned to us safely, and I realized that this was just five minutes of the war that the two of them were battling every day. And my heart hurt deeply, knowing I felt only a fraction of her pain.

I remember the weeks when the care-taking was becoming too intense for one woman without a team of medical professionals down the hall. The choices. The love and the guilt and the grief.

The toll it took on a family.

I remember it all.

But I also remember what an amazing life my father-in-law had lived before Alzheimer’s, what a playful grandfather he was, and what a kind spirit he had. Alzheimer’s steals so much of the present and the future. But we are fortunate that, at least for the family of a person with Alzheimer’s, it cannot steal the past.

When my father-in-law, Keith, traded his shoes for metaphorical wings, our family was heartbroken, not only because of the physical loss of such a wonderful human, but also because we had a new enemy. Keith had died from Covid, and the entire world was on pause because of the virus. Vaccines weren’t yet available, travel was still discouraged, and large gatherings were prohibited. Around the same time that we lost my father-in-law, a friend had experienced multiple losses in her own family, so the prospect of inadvertently exposing grandma to Covid while grieving the loss of grandpa was just too much for me. Mourning together is supposed to be healing, but there was a reasonable risk before vaccinations that mourning together could have been deadly.

Even though I felt this was the right decision, I was sick with guilt. How could we honor the richness of a grandparent’s life and love without being with our family to grieve for him?

Alzheimer’s had stolen my father-in-law’s memory, but Covid wasn’t going to steal his legacy.

We were fortunate that our family made a special effort to live-stream the funeral service so that we could, at least, all be together in spirit. The boys and I devoted the rest of the day to remembering their “Pappy Ware” by doing things that reminded us of what he loved. It turned out to be really special, so let me share who he was with you through our plans that day.

One of Keith’s earliest jobs was in a bakery. He reveled in sharing those memories with us, describing how shiny and clean he would keep that place despite every surface being dusted with flour and sugar on the regular. I always imagined him smiling while he worked. And I imagined that it was really hot in there, but that it probably smelled delicious – you know, like warm donuts. We researched to find an old-fashioned donut shop like where he would have worked, and we landed on The Original Goodie Shop in Upper Arlington. We picked out our donuts together, ate them together, shared memories together.

Keith grew up in the country – and I mean IN THE COUNTRY, the kind of country where windy roads snake deep into the hollows and the mountains of West Virginia. Although he didn’t return there often, he weaved stories about his childhood there with his sisters and and his brothers, about times when he got himself into mischief, and about his mother teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I don’t remember all the details, but I recall one story about a little toy horse that he shared many times. He enjoyed hunting and watching shows about the outdoors. We felt like we needed to spend some time in the woods that day, so we visited Highbanks and took this beautiful photo on our drive. We agreed he would have liked it there.

After our donuts and some time in the woods, we joined our family for the funeral service. After the service, my boys released balloons in Keith’s honor, just like their cousins were doing 130 miles away.

Keith’s favorite cookies were oatmeal raisin. We thought a fun, meaningful way to share his love for others would be to bake his favorite cookies and then share them with some friends. So we did, and I used molasses in a recipe for the very first time. We packed them into baggies and small plastic containers and distributed them, explaining to friends that this was an extra special delivery. I have baked these once or twice since the day of Keith’s funeral, but it seems like there was an extra magical ingredient in them when we made them that particular day.

Of course, we looked through photographs, and we watched a video created from photos that everyone in the family had shared. Keith was a kind, loving grandpa with a gentle spirit and a strong bear hug. He especially enjoyed when the grandkids were young!

Many of my memories of Keith come from sitting around the table with his family. He always sat at the head of the table, and we all enjoyed many meals and holidays together. Keith enjoyed a down-home, comfort-food kind of meal. Although I don’t remember him eating lemon ice cream, he was always grateful for a lemon cookie or a lemon bar. We made a home cooked meal we thought he would enjoy, with a lemon dessert in his honor.

Christmas ornaments, to me, are little treasure chests bursting with memories. In my imagination, my kids will want my ornaments someday when I am gone, despite the fact that they are probably only worth some spare change at a yard sale. They know how much I love them. We added a special ornament to our tree in memory of their grandpa and his love of hunting and the outdoors.

I don’t know if my father-in-law ever watched Good Morning Vietnam or if he would even approve of it, but he served in Vietnam, and he talked about it a lot throughout his life, especially during his final years when his memory was constantly rewinding to his teens and twenties. Watching this seemed like a way to share a cultural touchstone with them while also helping them “see” a bit of his experiences. It wasn’t as engaging as I remembered, but I think it still mattered in the big picture of our day.

Throughout the day of the funeral, I shared pictures of our adventures with Carol, my boys’ grandma, so that she would know that we were honoring Keith’s life with her. At the end of the day, I felt like we had connected with his memory in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. In some ways, it felt MORE meaningful than the traditional ways that we mourn people. But we missed being with our people. We missed their hugs the most.

My incredibly generous friend in Marietta, Sarah Sauls, spearheaded a community memorial months later in honor of the lives lost during Covid. It was an opportunity to mourn and to gather. It was a chance to be present with Carol in the celebration of Keith’s life.

We placed flowers in Keith’s honor into a wreath. Then the beautiful wreath, decorated with memories, was set afloat in the river.

It was a moving tribute.

We watched the flowers and the wreath float away from us, just as Keith’s memories had floated away over the past decade due to Alzheimer’s.

Next weekend, “Keith’s Squadron” will walk in southeastern Ohio to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. It is so special that the team, including my sister-in-law, nephews, and others we love, will walk in Keith’s honor this year. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that has likely touched us all in some way. The boys and I would love for you to help raise money for their grandpa’s team by clicking on this link. Please help. Maybe, just maybe, we can prevent future generations, including ourselves, from floating away, one memory at a time.

Lots of love to you all! Thanks for devoting a few minutes of your day to honor Keith, and thanks for supporting such an important cause if you can. Alzheimer’s is a horrible way to lose someone you love. ❤

Yep. Valentine’s Day is For You, Too.💕

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

This morning I decorated for Valentine’s, as I have since the boys were little chubby-cheeked bundles of energy who generally left me exhausted. Even though I was tired, I would stay up late and cut out hearts to make the morning special.

My oldest will be 17 in a couple of weeks, and he still smiled at the hearts taped all over the kitchen this morning. 💕

Throughout this week, I have enjoyed all the Valentine’s pics and especially the “how we met” challenges that have been shared. Love is such a wonderful thing! 💗 But I also want to give a shout out to the people who won’t get chocolates or roses or whatever special gifts are on the Valentine shelves this weekend. I want to remind you of a few important things that you already know – things that might get buried in your thoughts in February under a heaping pile of conversation hearts.

1. Love is not a finite resource. There is plenty to go around, and it does not end just because a loved one is not close. When someone passes away, their love stays with you, and it still envelopes you. It is with you, even in your pain and your grief.

2. When someone decides they don’t love you anymore, that HURTS REALLY BADLY – but there is no empty “love hole” inside of your heart. You are still loved so abundantly that the space fills right back up. Let yourself feel the fullness of the love around you. Let yourself treasure the love you DO have rather than dwelling on the love you don’t. Your heart is not compartmentalized. Love seeps into all the empty places if you allow it.

3. Our happiness is actually MORE connected to the love we GIVE than to the gifts we receive. Unlike love, time IS a finite resource. Will you be happier waiting for someone to love you or actively loving on other people with that time?

4. You are not “unwhole” if you don’t have someone to buy you flowers today. You are a complete person, and you can buy the flowers for yourself. And I don’t mean “you can buy them for yourself” as in “you are perfectly capable of going to the store.” I mean you can buy a GIFT and GIVE it – with love – to yourself. Treat yourself, think about yourself, and talk to yourself with love – the same way you would treat another person.

And, hey, an added bonus is that when you get to treat yourself, you always get what you want. 🤣 What I wanted last night was a heart-shaped pizza so that I didn’t have to cook dinner. 🍕❤️ And I got it. That is also a long-standing tradition that I share with my kids, and when they move out, I will continue it and share it with someone else. When life changes, you can still continue old traditions, or you can make new ones. It’s up to you!

There is such beauty in loving relationships that have stood the test of time. The effort and love that devoted couples give to overcome obstacles and sustain their marriages is truly heroic. Love is sometimes the hardest of work. This is not, in any way, a condemnation of Valentine’s Day.

But if a forever relationship is what you always wanted and, for whatever reason, your life did not pan out that way, it’s easy to scroll through the heart pics and spiral into a fantasy world where everyone lives in a gated community on a pink-and-red cloud, and you were never given the code.

That’s why it’s important to maintain some perspective. We’ve all watched enough Dateline to know that the perfection captured in a snapshot has probably been filtered or photoshopped, at the least.

Or buried in a hole in the backyard. 😳

Joking aside, the point is that relationships can be wonderful, and they can be terrible. Either way, they aren’t easy. Or perfect. Or the solution to every negative feeling or problem that we face.

I am thankful for Valentine’s Day and a celebration of a feeling (love), a choice (love), and an action (love) that makes the world a better place, starting in our very own homes. I don’t want to be sad today, and I don’t want you to be sad either! Don’t wait to receive love today… give it, instead!

And remember that life is a journey, riddled with unanticipated twists and unexpected turns that no level of planning can control sometimes. I truly cannot wait to see where my path is going, and maybe even whom I will meet, along the way!


**Hey, everyone! Thanks for continuing to hang out with me here on the rare occasion when I have time to write right now! A friend (thanks, Michelle S!) read this post on Facebook (Still Chasing Fireflies on FB) and suggested we think of Valentine’s Day less as a day ONLY for couples and more as Happy Love Day! I think that’s kinda awesome – because I have a lot of love for all of you!**

An Invisible Grief

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This morning I was struck by how heavy our feeds have been with the weight of grief and sadness in 2020. So many loved ones have experienced devastating losses. Social media has become a way for us to share a tiny piece of these heartaches, and I appreciate seeing all of the supportive messages, the warm embrace of friends, and the memories shared through heartwarming photographs.

But I want to say something to you about invisible grief.

Please, please, please understand that this is not about me and my needs in 2020. My heart is at peace, and I am happy, and my family has always had a tremendous village around us. I recognize that my choice to be open and vulnerable in ways that most people won’t has opened doors to receiving love and to healing that have helped me so much. 💕 And I feel a responsibility to write, because I can, for the people who are hurting without being noticed.

There is a chance that someone you know is going through a divorce right now. There is a chance that this person is experiencing the intense pain and grief of a loss that they feel they cannot post about. There is a chance that this person is facing their first holiday without their spouse, without in-laws who are their family, without their normal traditions, or maybe even without their own kids. There is a chance that someone you know isn’t sure who they are supposed to be buying gifts for or who should be on their Christmas card this year. Just imagine how painful that is.

But they likely don’t feel that they can post about this. Maybe because they are protecting other people’s hearts. Or because they are worried about legalities. Or because they don’t want a friend of a friend to say that “it’s probably for the best” – or other comforting things that aren’t so comforting. Or because if they post memories or old pictures, people are going to gossip, and people are going to suggest that they need to move forward at a pace we don’t expect of people grieving other losses.

When I was growing up, well meaning people who believe divorce is too prevalent (and I agree that it is, but not for this reason) said things like “Divorces shouldn’t be so easy to get. That’s the problem these days – it’s just so easy.”

Let me assure you that no one who has actually experienced a divorce would ever say that.

Divorce was never the vision I had for my life and my family. I wish things had been different. However, I recognize that I am so fortunate, in some ways, in how my story has unfolded since then, in the strength of all of my relationships, and in the stability and outcomes we have carefully, painfully, and intentionally managed to create. This is not the norm for most families. I have a strong faith, the best friends, an incredible family, and open communication. But even with these things being true, divorce is still, by FAR, the most challenging thing I have ever experienced. I cannot begin to explain to you how difficult it is, on so many levels, even under the best worst circumstances.

It is so, so hard.

So please take a few minutes to reflect today. Maybe someone in your life isn’t “fine” right now. And maybe you didn’t realize how they are hurting because their pain isn’t socially acceptable to share on Facebook. Or maybe because they aren’t on social media at all, or because they needed a break from seeing all of the perfectly posed family pictures for a few months.

You can let them know that you see them – that their quiet pain is not invisible to you. You can say that you don’t know the full extent of what they are going through, but that you imagine it is difficult and painful, and that you care. You can remind them that they are doing a really good job of keeping all the plates spinning while working through some really hard things.

Who in your life is suffering this season in a way that will never be posted?

Love her.

Love him.

Please – love your friend who is sharing their hurt with you today.

But don’t forget to love the friend who isn’t. 💕

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Feeding the Ache: Twenty One Pilots and My Friend Pete Crozier

Hey, friends!  I’m trying something new today.  If you want to LISTEN to the post while you are doing something else, click on the video link below.  If not, just drop down and start reading!  Let me know if you appreciate the audio!  It feels a bit more like a podcast.  🙂

Read below or LISTEN here:

Let me start by saying this: This post is going to take some strange twists and turns, but just stick with me.  Primarily, I want to introduce you to my friend, Pete Crozier, an inspirational guy with an awesome cause that I think you will want to support.  But I really can’t do that until I tell you about the Twenty One Pilots concert I attended in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday for two reasons.

(1.) I can’t stop thinking about it.

(2.) I think I can pull these two things together.  (Let’s hope so, anyway!)

First, let’s talk about the concert.  You guys, it was AMAZING.  In a society where people cannot agree on ANYTHING and are offended by EVERYTHING, music still has the power to create a healthy sense of unity that I wasn’t sure was even possible anymore.  Add to that the astounding level of creative detail in both the production and the music itself and you have a memorable experience that I was lucky enough to share with my two sons.  Those boys waited patiently for months after receiving the tickets for Christmas.  It was their first concert –  and it set the bar very high for their future ticket purchases.

Here’s the deal – I have a bit of an obsession with insanely creative people.  I want to experience the way they think.  I want to look through the lens that shapes the way they see the world.  I want to understand their compulsion to MAKE something that MEANS something and then to SHARE that something with the world.  I want to know the catalysts that move them, the inherent need to tell a story, the emotional tumult that paralyzes most people but erupts from others into words and lyrics and melodies and art and dance and PURPOSE.

Obviously, this fascinates me.  Maybe a little bit TOO much.  But, really, isn’t it interesting?

In truth, I feel like these kind of people are MY kind of people.  I’m talking about people who have an incurable creative ache that can only be controlled through some sort of ACTION.  It’s a pain that drives some people to take REALLY BIG risks, not because they are braver or more confident than anybody else but because inaction is so uncomfortable that the discomfort of action is somehow a better option.

This is where great art comes from.  Maybe this is what allowed two young and extremely talented guys from Columbus, Ohio (Yes, they are hometown boys!) who were a bit outside the box, genre-less, and sometimes underestimated to think, Yeah, we should do this.  And even if we fail, it’s worth the risk and pain.  Maybe they even thought, We aren’t exactly comfortable doing this.  But we won’t be comfortable NOT doing it either.  They responded to the ache, and now millions of people benefit from that decision.

As people scurried to their cars under the night sky after the concert, a young man holding a box full of music approached concertgoers, saying, “We’re a local band like Twenty One Pilots trying to get off the ground.  Free CDs!”  I thought, Wow.  That kid is a risk-taker, handing his demos to people leaving the best concert that most of them have seen in their lives.  And he didn’t seem particularly brave.  Instead, he seemed like he had the ache, and, standing there in front of Nationwide Arena handing out free copies of his music, he was releasing his dream into the universe.  That is SCARY, you guys!  Because you can toss something around in your head for years, and as long as it stays within those boundaries, you cannot fail.  But once that dream leaves your heart and your mouth, it’s a whole different story.

And this leads me to my friend, Pete.  This is an honest blog, so I don’t want to mislead anyone.  Although I wish I were friends with Josh and Tyler of Twenty One Pilots (even though I was probably graduating from high school when they entered kindergarten), I do not know them.  And even though I describe Pete as my friend and I see him often in our community, we are just getting acquainted.  We know each other in a we-played-a-mean-game-of-Catchphrase-together-at-a-friend’s-New-Year’s-Eve-party kind of way.  We know each other because we both like to write and we share that on social media.  We know each other through mutual friends who are trusted and wonderful people, which tells me a lot about Pete and his wife Sarah’s character.  And we know each other because our sons are good friends.

And they are both named Gavin.

So we both have really good taste.  (Or maybe Sarah gets all of the credit for that one!)

In fact, here is a pic of them to prove this is real.  Meet the two Gavins.

Remember how I said that some people just can’t be comfortable NOT doing something when they have an ache to do it?  Well, one of those people is Pete, and he is on a truly awesome adventure right now called Fifty for Father.   On his website, Pete shares personal stories about the loss of his father and the diabetes diagnosis of his son – yes, my son’s friend, Gavin.

Here’s the thing that I love about Fifty for Father: Pete decided to DO SOMETHING rather than just THINK ABOUT IT.  He is currently on the last leg of his fundraising campaign that involves playing 50 rounds of golf in 50 states in 50 days.  That is a lot of driving, a lot of walking, and a lot of time away from the family that he loves.  Why would Pete do this?  Two reasons: to honor his father’s legacy and to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to honor his son.  His goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of his journey.  Today is day 37, and he has raised over $38,000 so far.  I know that meeting his goal in the next 13 days is of the utmost importance to him, and it is important to me because we love Pete’s family and his son Gavin and because juvenile diabetes has touched my extended family, as well.

If you are like me and want to track Pete’s travel and fundraising, you can check out this page with his stats.

I love what Pete is doing for a lot of reasons, but here is maybe the strongest one: Pete, like the kid handing out CDs after the concert, released his dream to the universe.  He accepted the risk and the discomfort.  He didn’t allow the thought to pinball around in his mind forever in order to keep it safe.  As a result, he has raised funds for JDRF, has almost traveled across the entire country (even hitting Alaska and Hawaii), and has shared and heard so many inspirational stories along the way.

I imagine how scary it might have felt the first time he put his IDEA into the WORDS that made it “real.”

But I’m so glad that he did.  I’m so thankful for his decision to respond to the ache and to accept the discomfort of risk – a risk that is paying off in a big way.

I don’t ask for a lot, but I am asking two things of you today.  First, if you know Josh and Tyler and you are inviting them over for dinner any time soon, PLEASE  invite me, as well, so that we can talk about metaphors and meaning and all of that English teacher/international rock star kind of stuff.  (Seriously, we have so much in common.)  And if you have a few minutes and a few dollars to spare, please check out Fifty for Father to see Pete’s posts and videos about his journey and to donate to JDRF to support the mission before his 50 day adventure ends very soon.

I’m sure that some of your families have been touched by diabetes, too.

Thanks everyone!

~Mary Ann

P.S.  Don’t keep incubating your dreams.  It’s time for them to hatch.  🙂

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.”


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


“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


**PLEASE NOTE: If you assign an interview during social distancing during the coronavirus threat, please update this assignment so that students complete the interview via PHONE, FACETIME, or SKYPE rather than meeting face-to-face.**

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.