December 2, 2015

Don't Cry Kitty: Mommy Will Read to You

In my baby book my mom wrote: "A book worm--she loved all books. At 2 years her favorites were Dumbo, Children's Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland. Was always eager for Cinderella, Goldilocks, etc." Under my favorite books, she listed Daddy's and Uncle George's yearbook, Mother Goose, all magazines, ABC book. Later I wrote in Nancy Drew. My obsession with my dad's yearbook indicated that I was fascinated by family history and dynamics from infancy.

My parents read to us every single night. They tended to pick books of interest to the older children, so the younger ones were exposed to Winnie the Pooh, Children's Garden of Verse, Treasure Island, The Jungle Books, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Wind in the Willows, at an early age. On their first visit to Anne, my oldest, in the hospital the day she was born, my mom and dad bought three picture books.

My mom and dad were consummate book worms. Our local library was a tiny volunteer operation in an old church. They took us to the Hempstead Library, three miles away. We were each allowed to take out as many books as we could carry; once I managed 20. As a librarian, I am upset by parents who restrict their kids to two or three books, especially when they ask me to back them up their restrictions. I smile apologetically at the parents and tell the kid that the library limit is 25:) . My first library card seemed magical. I vividly remember my awe when I realized I now had a passport to the universe.Wherever I have been in the world, libraries are my home, my church. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."

I have always been grateful that we did not have a television set until I was 14. John and I experimented with throwing out our television when Anne was 4 and maintained our resolve for for five years. Rose, who never watched TV until she was 5, is the most voracious reader and writer.

My sister-in-law once paid me the supreme compliment: "Your idea of domesticity is putting your books in alphabetical order." Reading always took precedence over housework. I have always found time to read at least 4 or 5 books a week. Admittedly my speed is much better than my retention. I can enjoy the same mysteries twice.

My family believes this picture of 3-year-old Carolyn, taken in 1985, is our cutest. Carolyn's kitten-holding technique was not optimal. She assured me she could talk to animals, and I absolutely believed her. What living creature could resist her? Her sisters were in their Madonna phase. Carolyn loved to dance around with her grandma's rosary beads around her neck, telling everyone she was a material girl.

Reading to toddlers and preschoolers is one of life's supreme pleasures. It is the natural follow-up to breastfeeding. Preschoolers who are read to realize that reading aloud is a wonderful way to nurture someone. I recall my daughter Rose's saying to her doll, "Don't cry baby. Mommy will read to you." I always read aloud to the older girls when I was nursing the baby.

Preschoolers can enjoy chapter books. Michelle insisted on our reading The Wind in the Willows to her three separate times when she was 4. Beverly Cleary's Ramona books are perfect for 4's and 5's because she is 4 in the first one. Ramona was Carolyn's ego ideal. Don't stop reading to your children when they learn to read. Continue to read chapter books, books beyond their ability to read themselves. We never lose our love for being read to. Check out the thousands of books on tape and CD at your local library. If your library doesn't have the title you want, they can usually get it from another library.

I babysat for the same family from age 11 to 18; the kids were 2 and 6 when I started. By the time I graduated from college, Marion, the oldest, could babysit her brother by herself. I always read to them. About 10 years ago, I discovered a novel written by Marion. I was thrilled, look her up, and we write to each other sporadically. I loved to imagine that all those hundreds of books I had read to Marion and her brother helped influence her to become a writer.

My oldest daughter Anne loved the Curious George books. She loved them so much that both my parents and John and I gave her the same giant Curious George for her second Christmas. She grew up to be a curious Anne. She spent her 20s and early 30s working around the world in 75 world cities, living in Kosovo, Niger, and Rwanda.I recall George wound up with his head in the toilet.

When Anne was a teenager, we often seemed to communicate best by leaving books for each other on the radiator next to the toilet. No matter how conflicted our relationship became, we both enjoyed the same books. As a teen librarian, I discovered that throwing books on the floor by the teen's feet was the most promising way to recommend them.

Do you ever go back and read your favorite children's books? At any age, it is illuminating to try to find out what books you wanted read to you again and again. I remember Anne's calling me from college, thrilled that she had made a new friend who loved the same children's books. After my dad died, I was delighted to discover that rereading the books he read to us brought him back.
I lust for a software program that enables you to feed in all your children's favorite books and then spits out an analysis of their character and advice on what battles are worth fighting. When asked to recommend books for children in the library, I usually talk to the kid for few minutes, figure out what daughter, brother, niece, nephew, cousin, friend she reminds me of, and recommend that child's favorite book. This absolutely intuitive technique works well.

As a child I adored all the Oz books. I spent a great deal of time pretending I was Glinda the Good. I frequently wear a pin with red shoes, celebrating Dorothy's magic red slippers. Nancy Drew, girl detective, was my other favorite. Starting when we were 7, my best friend and I used to walk 2 miles to discover the Nancy Drew books selling for ten cents at the Salvation Army.
My only essential plastic is my library card.

December 1, 2015

Growing Up with Five Brothers

My dad was an actuary; my mom was a housewife who became a history teacher and activist after I left home. I have 5 brothers, 18 months, 3 years, 7 years, 11 years, and 13 years younger. All married relatively young; one brother divorced and remarried. They have 6, 0, 2, 1, and 2 children respectively. Two are grandpas, one with 8 grandkids, the other with 2. There is a lawyer, a chemistry professor, a teacher, a nurse, and an accountant. They live in Maine, upstate NY, North Carolina, Westchester NY, and Long Island NY.

When I took care  of my toddler grandson Michael three days a week, I  recaptured many memories of my brothers as small boys. Growing up, I was extremely close to my brothers; we spent most of our free time together. We loved the beach, ice skating, roller skating, tree climbing, summer vacations, backyard baseball, touch football, and badminton. We played endless ping pong and knock hockey games, card games, Monopoly, and Scrabble. We had the biggest backyard on the block, and our house was always the neighborhood hangout. We had a basketball hoop attached to the garage that was in use day and night. There were no girls on the block, so I always played with the guys. I was passionately interested in baseball, and my brothers used to challenge their friends to ask me a baseball question I couldn't answer. since I had memorized the baseball rule book.

Looking back, the siblings might have relied on each other too much. Joe, Andrew, and I were not very social; each of us had one best friend and two good ones. We never hung out with a group of peers. We always had each other to play with, argue with, compete with. We always defended our siblings against our parents and against neighborhood bullies. Except for Bob (the 4th child), we never dated in high school.

Rationality, intellect, and academic achievement were the family values, and we all honored them. Competitiveness was subtly encouraged even though my mother would occasionally inveigh against it half-heartedly. Sarcasm and teasing were prevalent; the victim was expected to take the joke. Excessive emotion was scorned; I cried alone in my room. I still find it absolutely humiliating to cry in public and feel critical of women who do. Except for my parents' deaths, I have virtually no members of my brother's crying past 3 or 4. The possibility of my dad's crying was unimaginable. My mother, who had 5 brothers too, always choked back her tears.

We ere encouraged to rejoice in how different we were from most people in our working-class suburban town. We were the intellectuals. When working summers as mail carriers, Joe and Andrew reported that no other families seem to subscribe to the same magazines me read. My dad strongly encouraged us to think for ourselves and not care what other people (except each other) thought. He pointed that the most people were too preoccupied with their own problems to think much about you. My brothers might not be much use for discussing emotional issues, but for intellectually stimulating, challenging conversations, they are terrific.

My brothers can see each other for the first time in 6 months and spend the evening discussing politics, not their personal lives. My brothers insist that they don't have to talk to their siblings frequently to stay close. Each is certain he would come through in a crisis, and their track record is good.
We all seem very interested in what the others are doing, but as long as my mom was alive, my brothers would ask my mom instead of calling their brothers. Now I have moved in that family switchboard role.

We still influence each other tremendously. We very much want our siblings' approval. Andrew, the chemistry professor, has been very opinionated about the college and career choices of his nieces and nephews. I have been amused and touched by how each of my brothers checked out my daughters' prospective husbands. We freely borrow each other's expertise. I was worried that the family would scatter after my mom died, but we all have attended the second generation's numerous weddings and sibling milestone birthday parties.

There is now a younger generation; three of us are thriving as grandparents. My parents would have 3 great grandchildren, with 3 more on the way. Everyone adores the babies and showers them with attention and love.

We have always had a strong family identity--intelligent, independent, well-educated, critical, autonomous. Marrying a gorgeous bimbo was not an option for my brothers. When we get together, we all have a good time. We have the same sense of humor, vote for the same candidates, enjoy the same movies. We all take pride in the academic and career success of the second generation. I am aware to what extent this pride in intellectual achievement is a defense against social insecurity and sets us apart from other people. Thankfully, our children have not inherited that limitation.

Having 5 younger brothers has probably shaped me more than any other single influence. I like and sometimes actually understand men and invariably defend them to women. I loathe men-bashing. Until I became a mother, I was far more comfortable in a group of men than a group of women. I enjoyed being the only girl in my political science classes at Fordham, while I was miserable in a girls' Catholic college in freshman year.

I did not consciously want sons. I always told people my 4 girls were my reward for 5 brothers. I always wanted a sister and am sometimes envious of my daughters' closeness. But I love taking care of a grandson and talking to little boys in the playground.

October 29, 2015

Annie the Seer and Her Tiger

My just 6-year-old granddaughter spent the last two years in Paris. Her French is so fluent the French thought she was one of them. She played the scarecrow in her  kindergarten's incredible production of the Wizard of Oz. She recently saw Annie and was asking how she could star in a movie. She was thrilled when I told her people all over the world could see this video.

In Paris she learned the power she possesses as a brilliant, beautiful woman. I am newly single at 70 for the first time since I met my first husband at 20, never having had a real boyfriend. I am learning confidence from Annie.

I  have no idea who gave me the Tarot Cards, but obviously I was just keeping them for Annie.

October 14, 2015

1971, Age 25, Doubts about Feminism

 I was very active in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although I described myself as a radical feminist, I always had misgivings. I explore them in this unedited journal entry from October 1971. Talking about a 20-hour work week seems preposterous now, but it seemed a realistic goal once upon a time in the 1970's.

Are men necessarily the enemies? Adopting that logic, couldn't women be categorized as the enemies? Must there be an enemy? Must the movement have a scapegoat? There is a danger of generalizing for all women from a few women’s (typical, atypical) experience with men. Perhaps many men are baffled rather than hostile. They have been socialized to believe the myths, so they do believe them. Why does the movement assume that their motives are vicious?

Perhaps the myths are harsher than the realities. Individual women are treated better and respected more than social mythology about women dictates. The movement shouldn't present what seems to be a fatal choice: true autonomy or loving, intimate relationships with men. If all men are despaired of, shouldn’t most women be despaired of? Have women tried hard enough to explain themselves? Or would they rather renounce men than fight through to an accommodation?

The movement stresses relationships with women because they are easier (at least for many women). There is no need to confront the enemy directly. Women often have bravely attacked men in coffee klatches, but they then have gone along with their own men, having worked out some of their hostilities with other women. I don't understand; because of my five brothers, I have never had any trouble confronting men.

At times Women's Liberation is vulgarly careerist. There is very little speculation on changing the nature of work. There is no recognition that women’s jobs, not men’s jobs, may be the desirable jobs of the future. Many dominant economic values are accepted. A job’s value is measured by its pay or its status. There is total denial that raising young children is a uniquely demanding job, calling forth an infinite range of talents and imagination.

August 11, 2015

She Looks at Tempests and Was Never Shaken

My daughter, the writer, paid tribute to my mom the week she died in April 2004. I cannot possibly paint such a vivid portrait of Grandma Mary, so I won't even try.

I knew her as my Grandma, and I knew her best when I was a kid or a teenager, and that seems to be the only way I can write about her. So, here is the best composite sketch I can come up with:
She enters the room, and calls out “greetings, greetings.” (Or, if it’s our house in Baldwin, she shakes her head, says “chaos, chaos,” and promptly misplaces her purse.)

She is always, always moving—that’s the first thing you have to know about her. This occasionally verges on the absurd--she used to do laps around McDonald’s by the side of the highway on long trips, and I remember Aunt Sue once whispering to me “right, no more coffee for you,” as Grandma completed her fourth circuit of the kitchen and stairs on a rainy day in New Woodstock. And when she breaks more bones in the course of a year than the typical casualty rate of a family ski trip, or you’re trying to pack up your college doom room, it’s downright unnerving.

But for the most part it’s a very good thing. I don’t know how many countries she went to, or how many lobbying trips to Washington D.C., but I remember our trip to France together, her descriptions of how Ted Kennedy’s new wife seemed to be doing him good, and which Congressmen were decent guys in spite of being Republicans. And I’ve more than lost count of the times she took my sisters and me to the pool, or the beach, or to visit one of our relatives. But I’ll never forget that the way back from Uncle Brian's house requires pulling into the Croton Library parking lot and doing a U turn. (At this point, of course, it’s partly because Uncle Brian refuses to tell us the alternate route.)

She also took us into New York City a lot, but the trip to Manhattan I remember the best was the least successful. I was in eighth or ninth grade, and Carolyn was in fourth or fifth. Grandma took the two of us and my sister’s best friend into New York for Carolyn’s birthday. We were going to Central Park and a museum, I think—I’m not sure because we never got there. Grandma’s route to New York was even more circuitous than the way home from Croton. The Long Island Railroad was too expensive, and parking in Manhattan was right out, so she would drive to a municipal parking lot in Queens where you could park all day for $2, and then walk ten minutes or so to the subway—I don’t remember which station, somewhere near the end of the E line.

This time, though, our meter was broken. I suggested we move to another space, but she was not willing to waste those quarters, so she wrote a note and taped it to the parking meter. Unfortunately, in the confusion, she left her car keys sitting on the driver’s seat—she realized this somewhere under the streets of Manhattan.

We turned around, and no one had broken the window or stolen the car. But here, I thought, was an object lesson for Grandma—moderation in all things, including frugality. She’d have to pay for a locksmith, which cost much more than the extra quarters or, God forbid, a train ticket.

She did no such thing. Instead she asked a rough looking young man on a nearby sidewalk to help her break into her car. He was happy to assist. When he could not get the door open, he called over a friend. Who said, after a few more unsuccessful attempts to pick the lock, that what they really needed was a crowbar, but since he didn’t have his around and Grandma was not crazy about that, they’d better ask another friend. Who said, and I quote, “what we really need is a Puerto Rican.”

I don’t know whether they found a Puerto Rican, and I don’t remember how long we stood there, Grandma smiling encouragingly and offering occasional advice, or how many neighborhood kids were debating the best way to break into a Toyota Camry by the end—it’s probably somewhat exaggerated in my memory. I can tell you that in the end, the simple yet elegant coat-hanger-through-the-window-to-pull-up-the-button-technique did the trick. The lock suffered some damage from the good Samaritans’ enthusiastic efforts, but you could get the door open more often than not. And from then on, we parked in the driveway of a high school friend of Grandma’s—10 minutes further away from a subway station even further down the E line, but $2.00 cheaper than the municipal lot and much less risk of a break in.

(As I was writing all of that, I realized---it’s not quite accurate to say she was always moving. I just remembered the nights in Henry Street when she would tuck us in, and tell us to lie still and imagine we were floating on a cloud. There were also her “yoga,” excuse me, ‘yoger” exercises. But if I ever want to finish this, I should move on, so….)

She was incredibly smart and incredibly interested in the world around her—whether it was the history of the China lobby or when any of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren would finally, in her words “find yourself a mate.”

She also had the strongest faith of anyone I’ve ever known. Maybe it was that combination, that fierce intellect and that certain belief and trust in God, that made her so strong. Much more often than not her beliefs coincided with the Catholic Church, but when they differed she was not shy about saying so. On most of the many nights I slept over at the house on Henry Street, I wore a polyester blend, 1970s issue T-shirt that said in glittery bubble letters “When God Created Man, She Was Only Joking.” And I remember her telling me about sneaking in inclusive language to her frequent readings at St. Martha’s, much to the new parish priest’s chagrin.

And on the much more frequent occasions when her children and grandchildren did something she disapproved of—she let us know in no uncertain terms, but there was never a single moment’s doubt that she loved and accepted us anyway.

I’ll always think of her when I read these lines from Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet::
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

I know, it’s a love poem—and a truly bizarre choice for a description of one’s grandmother. But with apologies for the embarrassment this may cause certain unnamed relatives of mine--I defy you to find a better or funnier illustration of Shakespeare’s words than these pictures of Grandma Mary, Grandpa Joe, and their wayward offspring in 1974.

July 17, 2015

My Fearsome Foursome

My four daughters have turned out wonderfully--well educated, professionally successful, happily married. One is very well known. They are excellent mothers. Such a happy ending was not predictable during their childhood and teen years. I wonder what diagnosis they would earn now. When they were younger,  I worried that 2 were bipolar like me. One seemed like the spawn of Satan. not spawns of Satan, when they were younger.

Here were some diagnostic indicators. Obviously not all applied to all four daughters.
  • They were chronically late. No one could get off to school in the morning without substantial maternal help, usually involving cars. They never picked up their toys. I have stepped on 20,000 lego pieces in the dark. To this day I cannot walk across a dark room without my toes' going on alert.
  • Emma and a friend decorated their bedroom with a mixture of desitin and baby powder while their grandpa benignly looked on.
  • Emma painted her entire body purple when I was on the phone. To reach the places she did, she most have had help. 
  • Bedtime was a joke. A friend said you could call our house at any time of the night; someone was sure to be awake and delighted to talk to you about anything for as long as you needed.
  • They told their mommy " "I hate you" with not an ounce of guilt or remorse. When I asked Emma why she was acting like a devil child at age five, she explained "Mommy, I used all my goodness up in school." She now uses her goodness working for world peace.
  • Jane, the Writer absolutely refused to do the assigned kindergarten homework, writing sentences using a list of words. "Writers don't use other people's words." The teacher had no Astonishingly, shy Jane convinced the high school art teacher to allow her to skip classes and submit a portfolio. She argued that artists decide what art to make.  "Jane has such integrity," the teacher marveled.
  • They almost never lost power battles with their doormat mommy. Emma should have been born with a printout, "You will win exactly five battles with this child. Choose them carefully." I did win the important battles, but I only learned their importance by losing the rest. By the time her sisters came along I was so demoralized that I didn't fight battles that I could easily have won:)
  • At various ages the Writer melted down because the new washing machine wasn't blue; the pretty blue rental car had vanished; her aunt and uncle didn't have a second child her age; she was not attending a school that closed three years previously; there wasn't enough snow; election day would be a day before her 18th birthday four years from now. She was a lovely, sensitive child, eager to please when she wasn't battling the existential order of things. She is now a human rights lawyer and writer, heroically battling the existential order of things.
  • Michelle, the Scientist, only ran fevers, thereby missing school, on the three school days without the gifted program pullout. I conducted ad hoc home schooling for bored students who could cough convincingly.
  • Emma only pulled the hair and dumped sand over the heads of playmates whose mommies would reliably go round the twist. (She has traveled to over 85 countries, and has lived in Niger, Rwanda Kosovo, and France.) She ended her three-year sand eating on the day our pediatrician looked her in the eye and assured me that her sand-eating must account for her excellent health. For old-times sake, she would occasionally revert to the diet when babysat by a hysteric mommy. The mother of Emma's best friend confessed to me that she thought Emma would be in jail by the time she was 16.
  • At age 2 Michelle magic markered a $2000 painting. To be fthe air, artist was able to fix the picture.
  • At age 2 the same culprit at age two  destroyed another family's audiotapes of their kids when babies and toddlers. Their parents had misplaced the tapes.
  • Notice I omitted my baby Molly,  the CEO. The most mature, disguised as the youngest, was perfectly sane from birth and struggled valiantly to contain, organize, and direct her crazy family. This is a lifetime job. All my difficult communications with her sisters are best filtered through the CEO. Every teacher immediately noticed the difference. When Emma made then 24 year old Molly, her son's guardian, everyone applauded her wisdom. She has my power of attorney and is the executor of my will. She is the only family member authorized to communicate with my therapist and my lawyer.
  • Molly idolized Madonna when she was 3. She memorized all Madonna's songs, danced around with her grandma's rosary beads around her neck, proclaiming she was a material girl. If only You Tube had been around then!
Michelle Obama would be horrified. I questioned my sanity again and again throughout their childhoods. But I am very proud that I could cherish their intelligence, creativity, and individuality and was never tempted to drug their uniqueness, no matter how it disrupted our lives. They insisted they were going to emphasize order more and creativity less with their own kids:) I had anticipated much amusement watching them try. But in the last 8 years when 8 grandkids were born, I haven't seen any but halfhearted attempts.

June 17, 2015

"When I Whisper, Everyone Listens"

Machiavelli, the Whisperer

For years I thanked God that Michelle, my second daughter, was so much easier than her sister, two years older. . But she had carefully observed Anne and realized charm worked much better than confrontation. When asking for something, Michelle would preface it with so many appreciative compliments that I was eager to do what she asked.

Michelle was almost grown before I realized that she had gotten her way much more than Anne had. She is the ultimate iron fist in a velvet glove. I was in awe how she handled doctors and nurses whenever my mom was hospitalized.  Once, when her dad and I were squabbling, teenage Michelle suggested, "Mom, you should wear more perfume." 

My favorite Michelle story occurred when she had just turned 3. She fell in the playground and needed ten stitches in her head. The ER was a horror as I had to fight tooth and nail to stay with her. Right after the accident we went on vacation with my parents, my brother Joe, his wife, and their three kids from Kansas City. Michelle was very close to my parents and had no experience sharing them with anyone but Anne. Immediately upon arriving , my chatterbox ceased talking. After a day of absolute silence, she deigned to whisper, but only to me and my mom.

Her absolute command was terrifying. Even after she woke up from a nightmare, she remembered to whisper. When I was playing with her in the water, I could coax her to make sounds, but she refused to utter sounds that were words. I was frantic, convinced that her fall had caused brain damage or a lasting emotional trauma. Was she upset that I was pregnant with Rose?

When her grandma asked why she wouldn't talk, Michelle whispered. "With my cousins here, when I talk, nobody listens. But when I whisper, everyone listens." Her ingenious scheme worked wonders. Everyone spent the entire ten days trying to trick Michelle into talking. I had just gotten a tape recorder, and the impact of Michelle's silence is documented. The main topic of conversations recorded was the strange silence of a certain three year old. The minute Joe and his family drove away, Michelle started talking and has never stopped. 

Michelle told this story on her college applications. "It is rather funny to think that in my large family of overachievers, a three-year-old's decision not to speak in one of our fondest and most memorable stories. To this day, I cannot speak a word to my Uncle Joe without receiving the loud surprised reaction, "She talks." All colleges eagerly accepted her.

Have you ever tried not talking for an hour at an immediate family gathering of 11 people? 

June 10, 2015

Parental Anxiety and Children's Wings

 My mother's combination of fearlessness, faith in God, and experience with 5 younger brothers made her wonderful mother of 5 boys. She didn't worry; she didn't clip any wings. She didn't let little things like sons on the roof or a son out of touch hiking the Appalachian trail for months upset her.   Her shy, timid, anxious daughter was a mystery to my her.  I am a  lifelong worrier. From early childhood, I frequently told my parents, "I'm scared."

What my mom did effortlessly, I have had to struggle with every day of my 43  years as a mother. All my daugters are braver and more adventurous than I am. For the most part, my anxieties have not infected them. They respect my fears.  I have decided to concentrate my worries when their planes are in the air, not when they  are on the ground for days or years in Kosovo, Rwanda, Niger, Sydney, Shanghai, Istanbul, Sierra Leone, etc.They always call, email, or text when the plane lands, at any hour, in any part of the world. Flight Tracker is my best friend. 

My oldest daughter Emma has inherited her grandmother's bold fearlessness.

From my journals, 1974-1975
From the time Emma was 10 months old, I took her twice a day to Central Park, particularly one very large playground. Emma would casually wander off almost 100 yards away. As long as I was was close enough to meet her eyes and waved when she glanced at me, she seemed perfectly confident. One nightmarish day, she managed to slip out between the playground bars and head for Central Park West. I didn't know I could run so fast.

At 15 months Emma would go down slides and climb up jungle gyms that three year olds would avoid. By 2 she was so physically competent that I felt confident about sitting on a bench and watching from a distance as she clambered over a climbing structure designed for children 6 and up. She hardly ever cried if she fell down or bumped into something. Emma was happiest learning new physical feats. She loved the water; at age one she would fearlessly walk into the ocean and laugh if she were knocked down. She was physically fearless yet not particularly reckless except about things she could not possibly know about. She was always ahead of other kids in trying something new physically like walking up the slide backward.

Emma in Niger, 2000                                                                      
 One month ago, I sat in a grass hut in a small village in Niger called Koyetegui, and watched democracy in action, Nigerien style. The five members of the Bureau de Vote sat on overturned pestles normally used for pounding millet, and offered me a seat on a woven mat. And so I sat, as the sun set and the kerosene lantern was lit, and watched as the chickens were chased out of the hut and the entire village crowded into this cramped space to watch the solemn counting and recounting of the 132 votes that had been cast in this tiny district. When the vote counting was over and the report had been filled out and duly sealed with wax, I rode back to the regional capital of Dosso with the ballot box to turn in the election results. It was only the next day that I learned from my driver that the chief of the village had presented me with a gift of an enormous river squash. I spent the entire ride back to Niamey replaying the events of the past few months in my mind, wondering how I had ever gotten to be so lucky.

From applications to graduate schools in International Relations in 2000:
In three and a half years, I visited over 75 cities in 53 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In several countries–Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Nepal, Benin, Curacao–I was the first AIRINC representative to conduct a survey. I have had the opportunity to do amazing things in my life. I have seen some of the truly wondrous places in the world, from the Sahara desert, to Machu Picchu, to the Mekong River Delta. I have jumped out of a plane in Maine and been seventy feet underwater in the Caribbean. I have witnessed one of the poorest countries on earth usher in a new era of hope and democracy.

My post to a Salon Group, 2001:
My 28-year-old daughter has just accepted a summer internship in Rwanda. Seven years ago, a million people were killed in three months in the worst genocide since the Holocaust.  At Columbia she is specializing in human rights, transitional justice, and Africa. If she wasn't going to Rwanda, she would have gone to the Congo. I am fiercely proud of her. But I worry about how to handle my fears as she goes from one world flash point to the next. I want to support her, not burden her with my anxieties.


Emma, her husband, and their 2 kids are spending two years in Paris, so she can work for an international organization. Her 5 year old daughter, now fully fluent in French, has inherited her fearlessness. When Emma was pregnant, she fretted that she would not be able to handle an anxious daughter.

In many ways, I, an anxious mother, did better with my bold daughters than my bold mother did with her anxious daughter. I never forget her telling me, "You would be much happier if you were more like me."

Letting your fear of what could happen clip your children's wings  and undermine their confidence and autonomy endangers them most of all