Friday, November 4, 2016
Now I have to admit, that most of me was immediately prepared to like Rob for the simple reason that he was WILLING to listen, wanted to meet and found time so that we could do so right away. It was a particularly different sensation having someone who could potentially be our county's new family court judge have the innate wisdom to hear from a constituent hopefully so that he could tuck the stories figuratively into his briefcase and carry the lessons learned into the court with him.
However, I will also admit, that there was a little part of me that firmly remained a cynic, deeply entrenched in the mire of bad memories. And so, I may have also had a teeny tiny notion that speaking with Rob would prove that cynic correct somehow; that perhaps he'd be less than genuine, less than a listener, and I guess...more of the same.
But here's the thing, the thing I need you all to know especially if you are of voting age and live in Warren County NY, Rob Smith put that itty bitty cynical part of me at ease within the first 10 minutes of our conversation. And while I won't go into the stories I shared, I will share with you what I learned about Rob that makes me absolutely certain that he is the right choice on Tuesday.
First and foremost, Rob let me talk. And while I talked he listened. The consummate communicator, he was engaged. He asked questions. He gathered data. He wanted clarifications and (I know you won't believe this) but when he didn't know something, he actually said it. I kid you not. (Think of it, a politician who speaks the truth about himself!) I have to say that his demeanor and the engagement he showed really and truly surprised me. Perhaps it is because of this specific and volatile election cycle, but his ability to give audience to and try and learn from the tragic consequences that came from my family's experiences in the judicial system seems singularly rare.
Secondly, Rob Smith wants to be family court judge so he can...wait for it...help families. Now if that seems like a given to you, think again. Like any other career, there is a hierarchy in the judicial world where the position of family court judge is at the bottom and for many is often looked upon as a first "stepping stone" in order to climb the judicial ladder. And while other judges or candidates may have aspirations or even have past campaigns to join the ranks of more prestigious judicial positions, Rob is on the record and told me personally today that being family court judge is what he is aspiring to be--period--end of story. He doesn't want any other position, saying, "I am 48 years old. I know who I am and what I stand for. I have always wanted to be able to help children and families and this is the ultimate way to do that." And you know what? I believed him. I believed him when he said that the position of family court judge would have his full attention and dedication. It wasn't just a plausible declaration, it was clear that he was he was absolute in this resolution. And honestly, isn't that what you'd want if you ever found yourself or you child in his court; someone dedicated to his role as an adjudicator, taking seriously and finding importance in his role of protecting children in a life-long way?
Another reason Rob has my vote is because it was quite obvious to me after over an hour and a half of intense conversation, that Rob is a man who knows how important it is to see each family and each child as complex entities who'd therefore (of course) need complex approaches to problem solving. I can't tell you how very impressed I was when I shared with Rob my feelings of the court's inability to deviate from some invisible procedural box of steps (for lack of a better phrase) when he answered that as a judge, he knows that he'd need to ferret out the question "why is this happening to this family? to this child?" He said that it'd be an absolute necessity to be devoted to putting together all the pieces from all sides in order to have the most complete picture he could have for each one of his cases. And, shocks of all shocks, do that work BEFORE any court time took place. (Ok...that was the cynic in me. I'll try to keep her from popping up too often.) Being sure to do his due diligence in this way, Rob ensures us all that his decisions would be based on what was best for each individual family instead of a cookie cutter response. Essentially, reconstructing the past in order to make the best decisions for the future of the family before him. His response, I have to tell you, was nothing short of marvelous to this cynical mom.
Towards the end of our conversation, I spoke to Rob about the work I have been doing over the years to try and change the system. From speaking with elected officials to becoming a mental health advocate to creating a show to help end mental illness's stigma, I shared with Rob how very often I felt as if it wasn't enough. Despite tireless work for the last three years, I had not moved the needle enough for my liking. The system was still the system--systemic in its failure. I confided in him that I never wanted another mother to ever go through what I had gone through but that sometimes seemed so very out of reach. That's when Rob said the thing that solidified my vote. He said, "Sometimes, it takes a strong judge to stand up in order to make a statement on what is needed to make the world better." And I have to tell you all, I believe Rob just may be the guy to do that.
Rob Smith, my sweet friends and readers, has all the qualities that I could ever ask for in a family court judge; a man who isn't afraid to do what's needed, a human whose wise enough to do what's best for individual families, and do it in a dedicated manner. Really what else is there? I hope that you'll consider voting for him on Tuesday. Our families, our children depend on it.
Saturday, October 8, 2016
Unless you are living under a rock, you know that these vile words were spoken by Donald Trump 11 years ago while discussing his prowess as a "star" and a sort of "privilege" that it brought. To Trump, apparently his star status meant that he could sexually assault women and get away with it.
The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as
"any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient."
And so, of course, touting that you are going to grab a woman's "pussy" fits that definition. Plain and simple, Donald Trump was musing about assaulting a woman as easily and matter-of-factly as speaking about the weather.
Yet, today I couldn't help but notice that some people, both men and women, argued that this comment was simply bathroom humor, or locker room talk. One man actually used the words, "an ill-advised comment". Honestly, who'd ADVISE someone to say something like that? No one sane-- that's who.
I consider myself a strong woman. But, my reaction to this has been so completely visceral. When I first relayed the story to my husband of what Trump had said, I found myself choking back tears. I shook. I wrung my hands. It was clear, it was unhinging me.
So to keep me from going crazy over the sheer idiocy of these so-called humans who excuse those flagrantly disgusting comments, I looked to the strong women in my life. I found refuge in personal friends who stood in solidarity with women like me who refuse to be relegated to mere sexual objects. One woman, my beloved friend and brilliant writer, Amy Ferris, urged us to share our own stories of sexual assault. She said,
share your story. share the one when you were groped. when you were assaulted. when you were sexually abused. when you were violated. when you said no over & over & over and you were NOT heard. share the story when you were called ugly, fat, disgusting. share your story."
As I read those words, I realized that part of my strong reaction to Trump's misogyny is my own experience with sexual assault. I have my own story...stories actually...that Trump's comments have brought back to the surface, to the front of my mind. And perhaps the way to rid myself of them once and for all is to share them...finally share them...so that they become part of the collective outrage that will once and for all shut down Donald Trump. And so, today I share my stories of assault. And I urge you to do the same.
The first encounter I had with sexual assault began when I was 14 years old. I had a paper route that consisted of 90 houses in my own neighborhood. There was a man who lived just down the street from my house who'd wait for me on his front porch at 5:30 am to get his paper. At first, I enjoyed seeing him. He was jovial and seemed genuinely happy to see me. I'd throw him the paper and he'd make a joke and I'd smile and go on my way. One day, he was at the end of his sidewalk where it met the curb instead of sitting on the stoop. I approached him and said hello. He held out his arms and said, "Can I get a hug from my favorite girl?" And before I knew it, he grabbed me in a bear hug and pressed himself to me. He held on tightly and my arms were pinned to my side. I could feel his erection against my leg, although I am not sure at the time I really knew what it was.
When he let go, I was uncomfortable and moved on quickly, but I remember chastising myself for feeling that way. By the end of my route, I had talked myself out of any bad feeling and carried on with my day. The next morning, he was waiting again. I instantly felt intense fearful adrenaline pump through me. I tried to think quickly, but my legs kept taking me toward him. On this morning, he didn't ask. He grabbed me and kissed me square on the mouth. It was my first kiss...and it was horrible.
I immediately went home. I woke my father. I begged him to come with me on the rest of my route. I told him about the man at the end of the street. I cried from fear and shame. He wouldn't come. He told me to just finish the route. I was on my own.
From that day on, I changed my paper route daily trying to outsmart the predator. I asked a friend to join me and many days he did. I did all the other streets before his so that it perhaps got too late for him to wait. I'd wake up early to try and finish before he ever woke up. I was a paper girl for four more years and had to plan daily to outsmart him. If I saw him waiting, I wouldn't deliver to his house. I'd be fined for "forgetting" weekly by the newspaper company. But even then, I knew that I had to save myself.
How many of us told and weren't believed? I am here to say "I believe you."
My second encounter with sexual assault and harassment lasted for years but began when I was a junior in high school. I was a basketball cheerleader and one night, right before the game, I realized that I forgot my kick pants. Needing them for obvious reasons, a friend drove me home. I dashed into my house and into my first floor bedroom where, not pulling the shade, I pulled on the kick pants and dashed back out to the idling car and the awaiting friend. When he turned the headlights on in the car, there, at the end of my driveway, peering into my bedroom window was a father of a high school classmate. I screamed and bolted back into my house where I told my father who followed me back outside. There, across the street from my house, the father of my high school classmate was getting back into his blue pick up truck. My father asked politely if he could help him. The man said no and drove away. My father told me that it was fine and to go to the game.
There, sitting in the front row of the bleachers at the basketball game, was the man...who just minutes before was peeping into my bedroom window. He was leering at me from under his bushy brows. Eyes piercing through me. And I was truly terrified. I stopped sleeping well that night and for many nights after that, thinking about how very easily my first floor bedroom window could be broken, wondering how many times he had peered into my window that I didn't know about, embarrassed and ashamed of myself for leaving the shade up so many times. Luckily, shortly after, I was able to move to an upstairs bedroom, but the man continued to haunt me. He once peered into a boyfriend's living room window while we were lying on his floor. He attended all of my high school events; concerts, football games, basketball games, and shows staring at me menacingly. This man and his x ray eyes made me feel exposed and thoroughly alone. Leaving those events I felt a terror like no other terror nip at my heels until I was safely in a car or behind my home's locked door.
Do you feel alone because of a sexually harassing encounter? You are not. I am here. I know how you feel. I stand with you.
My third encounter with sexual assault came during my senior year of college as a student teacher. I was fortunate (I thought) to be placed in a highly respected large district where my cooperating teacher was writing a teaching book for the well-respected publisher, Heinemann. My experience was a dream and on the last day, at the urging of my college, I went to the principal's office to thank him for his school's hospitality. I had never met him, never saw him, never had a conversation with him before that day, that moment. I went in to the main office. I brought a bagel and cream cheese platter for the secretaries and for him. He greeted me sweetly and invited me into his office. I followed willingly and smiled as he shut the thick wooden door. Before I knew it, and seemingly in one giant step, he had advanced toward me, grabbed me and shoved his tongue down my throat, fiercely exploring my mouth for what seemed to be eons. He finally let me go, walked to his door, opened it, winked, and thanked me for coming. I walked into my cooperating teacher's classroom with wobbly legs I was sure would not hold me and relayed what had just happened. Instead of supporting me, reassuring me, standing up for me, she and another teacher glowered down at me. They furrowed their brows and asked what I did to encourage him. Had I met with him in private before? Didn't I tell him no? They punctuated all of this with a final statement of how I'd never get a job if I spread nasty lies like that. And turning from me, they walked out of the classroom and began to whisper with other teachers out in the hall. I remember feeling so incredibly dirty. Dirty and ashamed. I wandered through the rest of the day in a daze cold with fear that the principal would walk through the classroom door and want more. I went home to shower. But there was no amount of scrubbing that would wash off the filth of shame that permeated my skin.
Do you feel ashamed because of your own experiences with sexual assault? Did others accuse you? Did they say it was your fault? I am here to say that it is never the woman's fault. Never. No matter what. You are innocent. It shouldn't have happened. That is the only truth you need.
Sadly, there are other moments of sexual assault, other horrible moments that have seared themselves into the fiber of me And maybe someday, I will share them as well. But as I finish this post, I am horribly aware that my stories, the ones shared and not shared, are nothing compared to other stories that other women carry with them. And it hurts me, every bit of me, to think of the weight they must have pulling them down because I know that my own small examples felt so very heavy.
But, my wise friend, Amy, was right. Sharing them, sharing my stories have somehow lightened that load. Especially knowing, that my stories will now mingle and connect with other stories, that will hopefully liberate other women to share their stories of assault so that soon the din of our voices will drown out the misogynistic voice of Donald Trump and silence him forever.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Betty Fisher lived 90 years. Almost, 91. She didn't win any accolades or awards. She didn't seek the lime light. She didn't need anything as fleeting as commendations. And for that reason, you probably didn't know her. You've probably never heard of her. You most likely hadn't a chance to shake her gentle hand.
She died today leaving behind 10 sons, (yes, I said 10), a husband of 70 years, (yes I said 70), and countless grand children and great grand children and daughters-in-law of which I was one. And for some reason, I have been compelled, since I found out, to tell you all about her. It seems necessary somehow, to tell you about this woman who lived quietly but in a way that we all need to hear about so that we can learn from her, understand her...celebrate her. So without further delay, I'd like to introduce you all to my mother-in-law, Betty Fisher, on the day of her death.
Betty Fisher had ten boys, raised ten boys, loved all ten boys. And she did it at a full height of 5 feet and about 98 pounds soaking wet. But despite her small stature, she was absolutely gigantic in the eyes of those who were lucky enough to love her and be loved by her. She and the light of her presence filled a room and filled our heart and souls. The love she gave was even grander, larger, bigger and there wasn't a space in the world big enough to contain it all.
She loved red. Oh, how she loved red. At family functions, in order to find her, I would scan the room looking for that ruby color she'd always don in the form of a sweater or fleece. I swear she must have owned every darn red top that was ever sold in JC Penneys, Sears or Kohls. Every darn one. And who could blame her? Red is the color of happiness and vibrancy. It was so entirely fitting that it was her color. So entirely fitting.
Even though everyone called her "Betty" her real name was Rose Elizabeth Fisher. And true to her name, she adored roses. Her prize bushes greeted all who came to the front door and she'd light right up at a gas station bouquet. It was the simple things for her...Hope there's roses in heaven.
She made a mean ketchup goulash. She could put on a dinner for 50 as easily and as welcoming as an intimate dinner with family. She taught me how to make a turkey and I could never match her amazing apple pie. Cooking was one of the ways she showed her love. Her cuisine was the ultimate comfort food.
Betty never missed a birthday. And I mean NO ONE'S. It didn't matter how large her family grew, she always acknowledged you on the day you were born. She may send a card, but most of the time, she'd invite you down for a dinner or weekend breakfast. No matter how much her arthritis bothered her, no matter how tired she was or how old she grew, she and her sweet husband Ed would insist on bringing me to my favorite restaurant, The Harvest, for my birthday where her eyes would light up when they set down the blooming onion in front of us. Those birthday celebrations made me feel special. And truly isn't that what we all want? To know that we mattered to someone. Betty made sure I knew that. She made sure that everyone she loved knew that.
She was steadfast and loyal. Her love was utterly unconditional. There wasn't a thing that one of her sons or her daughters-in-law or her grandchildren could do that would stop her from loving them. Not one damn thing. She took pride in this, a fierce pride.
To be more specific, Betty loved me. She loved me. And there wasn't a thing that I had done in the past or that I could do in the future that would change that. And for me, that was the thing....I have never been loved that way. Not ever. It wasn't until I stood in the presence of Betty Fisher did I even know that I was worthy of that kind of love. She loved me. All of me. All of the family-shunning-introverted-overthinking-me. She did. Just as she loved her whole family. The unconditional adoration that she gave from her heart contributed to healing such deep wounds of shame and feeling of being not good enough. And what's more she scoffed at those who didn't love me that way. I will never ever ever forget that life-changing moment when bewildered and wounded by a fierce familial rejection she took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, "I just don't understand them. Logan, they don't know what they're missing. They just don't know what they're missing."
My beloved Betty loved her God just as much as she loved her boys. And let's be honest with 10 sons, she needed her God. I am not quite sure how one could put one foot in front of the other with a family as big as hers without the soothing idea that God was in charge. And what a soldier for him she was. She and my father-in-law woke up every morning and said the rosary together. And then they'd open a notebook that held the names of those they prayed special prayers for. My youngest son, Gannan was one of them. Right up until her last week, she'd bring communion to shut-ins, attend mass several times per week and sing his praises daily, hourly, by the second.
Today Betty Fisher died. That woman, the epitome of grace, the quintessential mother, the image of piety, humbleness and sacrifice left us here on Earth well-loved and full of memories that will keep her being alive for eons to come. And while I am not sure I have ever experienced a sadness this deep, it makes me smile to think of the kind of welcome she received when arriving in heaven. I am sure that this woman who lived without fanfare as an earthly being got a hero's welcome. And that God himself met her at the gate saying, "What a life you lead, Betty Fisher. Congratulations on a job well done. I am so proud of you. Now it's time to rest."
I will miss you beloved Betty. Rest easy.
Monday, August 1, 2016
“Karen!!!” I pounded on the door praying that at two AM she’d hear me. ”Karen!! Please help! Ila is blue!! Help!!”
To my relief, the door flew open. Karen grabbed my limp week old baby from my terrorized arms and administered CPR while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. I knew, somehow I just knew that Karen’s house, across the street from ours, was where to go that night. Not only did she have a medical background, she was strong. She was fiercely loving. She was loyal and friendly and welcoming and I knew that night that she’d help us no matter the time, no matter the request. And that is exactly what she did.
We were so fortunate that night to have Karen help us. So very lucky. “But for the grace of God go we…” So true huh? That phrase has plagued me this week. “But for the grace..." It applies to so many things in this world. So many horrors. But this week, I have been thinking about it in terms of the horrific boating accident that took place on our beloved Lake George. “But for the grace of God…”
That sweet little girl could have been my girl. She could have been yours. She could have been your best friend’s daughter. That grieving family could have mine. Could have been yours. Could have been all of us. It is a horrific scenario that my mind will only allow me to delve into in a surface way before panic sets in and I flail my hands to wipe away the nightmare. My heart, your hearts, our hearts break,of course they break, for the life cut short and the emptiness that that family will carry inside them for the rest of their years.
But that's not the only family who is grieving. There's at least five other families on the other side of this tragedy who are shocked and saddened, regretful and lost, and have a much different kind emptiness inside them. And I wish...I wish...we’d all be careful with our persecutions and shaming. With our public disgust and outcries.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that the stories out there point to seemingly callous decisions from the five in that boat that fateful night. And so, those five young adults will face the proper judicial prosecution and they will have to face the repercussions of a myriad of choices that they made that night. That is what our judicial system is for. That’s the way our society is set up. It will give all sides, all humans involved in this maelstrom, a chance to get it all out and for consequences to be doled out in the manner that the court sees fit. A court is allowed to judge. It is its job.
But are we? Who are we really to sit in judgment? Remember that phrase, “But for the grace of God…” I suppose it is human nature to have judgy thoughts about those who were in that boat. But alas, the things I have been reading, the conversations I’ve overheard aren’t just about the boat occupants. I have read scathing comments about the families of the five, about the parents, about the jobs that they did in their roles and the ineptitudes that they must have. And, well, I think it’s wrong. There I said it.
Instead of persecution, could we try and place ourselves in those parents’ shoes? Because here’s the thing--just like that sweet little girl could have been any of our children--those five young adults could be as well.
My children, your children, our children are not perfect and neither are any of us. I'd like to think that everyone of our kids would have responded differently than what seems to have happened on the lake that night. But I am convinced that we cannot be 100% sure of what might have happened if it were them. Dear readers, I have read too many rebukes of the parents and families over the past few days. Their children have free will and shame on us for assuming that we know ANYTHING about the kind of humans their parents are. Shame on us.
There are no straight lines in life. How lovely the world would be if all the intentions that parents have for their children were received and followed and experienced and NO ONE or NOTHING but the parents had an effect on the way our children think, act or speak. What a life. What a world. There’d be no mistakes small or large. Our kids would be perfect. Anyone have those kind of kids? Not me. Nope.
And perhaps that is where my fury for the judgment comes from. My son stole. My son is an addict. My son is in prison. And believe me, I didn’t need ANY help feeling the terrible horrible soul-sucking regret and self-hatred for the mistakes I made as his mom. But that didn’t stop my own mother from writing a scathing letter to my addict-son delineating all the things she imagined his awful mother did to him as if...as if the totality of his mistakes resided on my shoulders.
But here’s the thing, it just wasn’t true. While all mamas hold some responsibility to how their children are raised there are circumstances that we could never know about. Never. How dare we assume that we know all there is to know. Maybe one parent did a monumental job trying to keep her child on the straight and narrow while the other did all they could to sabotage that. Maybe the grandparents were absent. Maybe the child witnessed something that would change them forever. Maybe something happened to the child that was out of the parents control and that somehow caused them to step off a path of success. Maybe a child was brutally bullied. Maybe one was abused. The world is chock FULL of influences both bad and good. Is there ANY child who is immune to it all?
We don’t know. We will never know the why of that night. We will never know all the split paths that those humans took to get them to that fateful night. All I DO know is that because of that horrific boating accident there are so many many people in agony. How about instead of adding to it, we try and alleviate the suffering. Donate to the gymnastic fund started on behalf of that little girl. If you know one of the family members of the suspects, reach out and tell them that you are thinking about them. Don’t forget that those families are not in any way shape or form the totality of their children’s mistakes. There’s so much to them as there is with ANY human.
Almost seven years ago, I frantically banged on my neighbor, Karen’s, door in the middle of the night to ask her to help me save my daughter. Unfortunately, that Karen, the Karen that saved my daughter’s life, is also a parent to one of the young adults in the boat. But don’t you see? That isn’t ALL she is. She’s reliable. She’s warm. She’s fiercely loving and loyal. And she is responsible for saving my daughter’s life. Imagine if in my terror, she stood arms folded at the front door pointing her finger rolling her eyes making wild assumptions like, “Did you lay her on her stomach. What a horrible mom! Don’t you know about SIDS? You obviously didn’t do a good job!!” But she didn’t. She wouldn’t. She never judged. She just reached out and helped. Her judgment wouldn’t have saved Ila that day. Her willingness to help did.
And in the same way, our judgment will do nothing but add to the anguish of this devastating incident. So I for one have decided to be like my friend Karen in the midst of chaos. Tomorrow, my Ila, saved by Karen the mother of a boat occupant, will coincidentally have a playdate with the niece of another member of the boat that night. She knows that her friend’s family has gone through some kind of tragedy but we haven’t given her details. Tonight, when I put her to bed I asked if she had any questions she wanted to ask about the friend and what the family was going through. True to her nature, she lifted her head from the pillow and rested it on her hand and said, “No, Mommy. Because here’s the thing, I bet she still like to play dolls and so I am just going to forget about the other stuff and remember why I love her. My friend is still my friend even if her uncle made a mistake.”
How right you are, Ila. How right you are. So readers, it is my fervent hope, that starting now, if you have the urge to judge another about a situation you know little about you remember: "But for the grace of God go I.”
Monday, March 28, 2016
She'll smile when she's happy.
And only when she wants.
Won't do it to please you
So don't even try.
When it comes to clothes
She makes the rules.
Puppy pajama pants
Under a pink taffeta gown.
Her favorite heart tee
With high water leggings.
"It's my body."
She says with authority.
"My body. My rules."
She knows what she's doing in
She knows where she's going,
What she likes
What she doesn't.
She knows what she wants
And how it should be done.
That makes her
Like a boss.
Like a nag.
Her hair won't stay in place.
On a whisper breeze
Its silky strands
Cascade over her eyes.
But that's all right with her.
"My mama loves me
Messy hair and all!"
She's wary of strangers.
"Hello" is an lurking monster
And "goodbye" is an attack.
When someone new is around,
She'll purse her lips
To stop words from slipping.
For they are gifts
She doesn't give
To just anyone.
She loves her reflection
But hates her glasses.
She adores her dog
And tolerates the cat.
Her princess bike
Has been replaced with
A kick-ass skateboard,
And a determined spirit.
Her hands and knees
Are perpetually skinned.
Her tongue hangs out
Puddle jumping is her
And baths steal time
From her day.
She's a warrior.
With cookie sales.
And bullies with hugs.
Pack a punch
And your down for the count.
She's quite a gal,
But not society's girl.
put her in your
She might be small,
But I guarantee
she'll never fit.