With the onslaught of articles on the perils of helicopter parenting, including this piece, and concerns that this will leave our children unable to forge on in the face of adversity, I was inspired to witness such strength and courage this past summer at the Bat Mitvah of a dear friend’s daughter. The world is a difficult place now. It seems there’s tragedy and unrest everywhere we turn, so to see this burst of sunlight, a young woman who gave me such perspective, was truly a privilege. I discussed the experience in this article that I wrote for The Huffington Post. As we go through our days, trying to maintain our sense of optimism and positive outlook, I think we could all do well to take a little of Mia’s spirit with us. I hope you enjoy the piece!
As a journalist, I’m constantly observing the world around me, curious about what makes people tick. A never-ending source of fascination for me, as I’m sure it is for many people, is the factors driving longevity. People are living longer than ever. But what’s the recipe for a long life that’s filled with happiness? Research has shown that a big driver is social connections. Those who have meaningful relationships as they age tend to live longer, healthier lives. I was able to see this first-hand as I reported this Wall Street Journal piece on men finding friends after 50. This is an age when male friendships tend to wither while women’s continue to grow stronger. But boomers, never hesitant to act proactively for the sake of their own contentment, are actively joining groups to seek out male companionship. The results are particularly satisfying. It’s clear, based on those I interviewed, that these relationships have enhanced their qualify of life while promoting both physical and intellectual engagement.
My freelance articles are the result of my developing a story idea and selling it to an editor or I’m assigned a story topic. I rarely turn down a story that an editor asks for, as the task of selling a piece is daunting. I spend much time in the sales and marketing venue and often am unable to convince editors to assign stories that I think are perfect. Two weeks ago, I was contacted by an editor of a new website. And she had a compelling story to assign. She wanted me to write an article providing advice for parents who want to forge the most positive relationships with their child’s teacher from the start. How can parents stay involved, yet not seem like they’re in helicopter mode? What situations do require intervention? What do teachers need most from parents in the way of support that leads to the best educational experience for their child? The result was this article, Best Parent/Teacher Relationships. The teachers I interviewed were grateful for the opportunity to share not only horror stories of what happens when parents overstep the appropriate boundaries, but also ways for them to intervene most helpfully. The takeaway: empower your children to advocate for themselves. In this era of many parents who probe every aspect of their children’s lives and often intervene to rescue them, it’s a valuable message.
This past weekend, the City of Ann Arbor was flooded, yet again. Coverage in the local paper, The Ann Arbor News, included an article featuring photos from readers of the damage the water extracted. A synagogue was among the flood’s victims. Another piece showed fraternity brothers frolicking in the rain. This increasing rainfall doesn’t surprise city and county regulators, who say that climate change will ensure more storms in the coming years. Their concerns have made them modern day Noahs, and led to tough standards for stormwater control for those embarking on building and renovation in Ann Arbor. But I was surprised to learn that the city’s largest landowner, the University of Michigan, isn’t subject to those standards. As a public University, it only needs to meet state requirements, which are far less stringent. As it embarks on extensive building around campus, the University has exceeded the state standards in some instances, but city and county officials say it doesn’t come close to meeting what the city and county require. I was able to probe this situation in-depth in this article I wrote for The Ann Arbor Observer. It was fascinating to learn how the University operates so independently of the town in which it is located. As the city and county fear major damage from upcoming storms, that’s caused significant “town/gown” tensions. And it’s raised questions about the role the University plays in addressing environmental concerns. I appreciated having the chance to explore this important issue and hope to continue tracking the developments in this area.
Here are the links I included, in case you can’t access them via the hyperlink:
The wonderful New York Times article by Silas House, “The Growing Generational Divide” so eloquently discussed what I agree is one of the elements lacking in so many young people today: their connection with older family members. He argues that young people know the intricacies of celebrities’ lives more than they understand their own family histories. Next week, I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis for the unveiling of my beloved aunt’s tombstone. The unveiling is a Jewish ceremony that occurs within a year of a person’s death. As I read this piece, memories of casual Sundays spent with my aunt came flooding back. She and her family moved to Minneapolis when I was just 10, but any time she visited, she and my father’s other sister would take the stage. The two women were the funniest I’ve ever met, and we would spend hours listening to them weave true-life tales, amusing anecdotes that they told with great expression. There were no soccer games or music classes to rush to; everyone in my family would linger over a brunch of bagels and kugel and be truly entertained. My interest in telling peoples’ stories — albeit in writing — in many ways was rooted in my love of hearing their recollections. One of the best summers of my life was when I was 15 and traveled to Los Angeles and spent three weeks with my grandmother. Though many teens would not relish this type of experience, I loved it. We stayed up late playing the card game, War, while she gossiped about the family’s secrets. There was plenty of family history to discuss, as my grandfather was the oldest of 11, 10 boys and the youngest a girl. A great listener, my grandmother was often the confidante for many of her sister-in-laws. I was fascinated by the stories she would tell, some slightly scandalous, about the back stories of her many relatives. It was better than any television drama. My grandmother was crazy about me and I could do no wrong in her eyes. A children’s writer, she was a voracious reader — she bragged that she had read every book in the library of the town where she grew up — smart, affectionate and kind and truly one of the best companions I ever had. I still remember her cackling laugh and her homemade blintzes. And I cherish the time we had together.
When I visit my mother in the Detroit suburbs, I’m always touched to walk into a delicatessen and see throngs of grandparents with their grandchildren, catching up on the week’s events. When I sent one of my children to camp one year, there were as many grandparents as parents giving the overnight campers bear hugs and sending them off on the bus. These children have had a great gift, with extended family being so much a part of their lives.
In his article, House points out that we will have an onslaught of aging boomers in coming years. I will be one of them. I hope that, as our population ages, we’re able to maintain that connection with young people, and that they realize what a treasure it is to bond with their elderly relatives. Now that my father and his sisters are gone, I realize that more than ever.
Each spring, we’re bombarded with articles about the continually increasing selectivity of the nation’s top colleges. This held particular relevance for me this year. My baby, and third born, will be starting college in the fall. I’m thrilled that she got into a highly respected college, one that was her top choice. But I’m even happier that this process is over. The stress leading up to this decision weighed heavy on both my daughter and her parents. I believe strongly that your self worth should have nothing to do with the college you attend, but everywhere she would go her senior year, the inevitable question would surface: Where are you going to college? My daughter is happy she can now answer that, but even more, she is delighted that she can focus on the excitement of learning. She is hugely relieved that the rat race to getting into college has ended. As stressful as this has been for her, it doesn’t compare to the pressures that so many other high school students face, because of the incredible high school she has attended. I discussed this in my most recent Huffington Post blog:
As a journalist, I tend to shy away from taking strong positions on issues I cover, but there’s one belief I will share, since I feel so strongly about it: We need to put an end to the unnecessary and unhealthy emphasis on college admissions.
As a freelance journalist with more than enough work to keep me busy, it’s not unusual for me to produce roughly two to three articles a week, many representing significant time and effort. I feel very fortunate and am happy for the assignments, but this situation rarely offers me the time to step back and review some of the subjects I’ve covered and the implications of the developments in a particular area. So I was pleased to be contacted by Garrison Leykam, a radio host in Connecticut, who was interested in speaking about the way boomers are reinventing retirement. It’s a subject I’ve written about extensively, and I enjoyed the chance to look back on my previous articles and chat about the important ways that boomers are making their mark on this phase in their lives. You can catch the interview here.
Just slightly over 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having just turned 40, and then the mother of three children ages four, seven and 10, it would be an understatement to say this diagnosis rocked my world. At the time, I knew just a handful of women my age with breast cancer. Today, those numbers are swelling. And many, gripped with fear about the breast cancer returning, and eager to get it out of their body for good, are turning to radical treatment that, in many cases, won’t alter their survival rates. In an article I wrote for Glamour, I had the opportunity to delve into the reasons why many young women are opting for unilateral and bilateral mastectomies, removing their entire breast, when a less invasive lumpectomy followed by radiation would be just as effective. By speaking with women who chose this course and those who decided to get lumpectomies, I was able to better understand the factors motivating this very difficult, personal decision. In the end, every woman has to decide what’s best for her. There’s no doubt about it. Getting a breast cancer diagnosis is scary. But as we kick off breast cancer awareness month, I hope women will take the time to research the extensive studies and research on the most viable treatment options. I hope they’ll get a second opinion and connect with other breast cancer survivors to hear what worked for them, and what didn’t, so they’ll know all their possible options before heading into surgery. In tackling this disease, education is often the best weapon.
I’ve been spending some time covering the importance of purpose these past couple of months. It started with Vic Strecher’s book, On Purpose,
which documents his painful but ultimately fulfilling journey following the death of his daughter, and how his realization that having a purpose could help him to lead a healthier life. I wrote about Strecher for The Wall Street Journal. Then, my editor at Michigan Today asked me to write a piece on the same topic. Last week, I was approached by another editor about writing an article about the way that having a purpose can help those involved in the care of others to live healthier. The reaction to these pieces from readers sharing their stories of how purpose helped them to be happier was overwhelming. It lent even more support to the theory, now being proven out by a variety of studies, that when you have a meaningful purpose, one that is transcendent and not self-involved, you’re motivated to engage in behaviors that help you live longer. Strecher believes this is a far better model for health care. You won’t quit smoking if someone tells you that it could kill you. But you’re inclined to quit smoking, exercise, reduce stress and sleep better when you’re motivated by a greater focus, beyond yourself, one that ultimately helps others. With so many of us engaged in worry and ruminating about our own issues and often selfish endeavors, this seems to make sense in so many ways. It’s now spurring a rethinking of what we need to live a healthier, happier life, amidst the craziness of our fast-paced, technology-filled society. In the end, getting back to basics, and spending our time in the simplest of pursuits that contribute to making the world a better place, seems to hold significant merit. It certainly is some great food for thought.
Okay. A mother can brag, right? When my 16-year-old daughter and her co-editor approached me about the possibility of writing an editorial for a mainstream newspaper after the Dean of her school would not allow the school newspaper to publish stories where students revealed their struggles with depression, I thought it was a great idea. But I never envisioned that what transpired would have such a significant impact. The result of their efforts was this editorial that ran in The New York Times. The piece was the top third emailed article on The New York Timeswebsite of the day. It generated over 200 heart-wrenching, thought-provoking comments on all sides of the issue. The girls received numerous messages, as did I, from those who have struggled with depression all of their lives, thanking them for bringing this issue out of the closet. I’m of course proud of my daughter for having the courage to take on her school administration and speak out about an issue that she feels is so important. But I’m just as gratified that this has sparked such a significant discussion about how to address mental health. The girls articulated their reasons for writing the article in an interview that ran on National Public Radio Schools seem to be struggling on how to handle this situation. But one thing is clear: the answer is not to sweep depression under the rug and make people feel ashamed for their suffering. Let’s hope this article, which has inspired so many to speak up about depression, begins a crucial dialogue about how to help the many struggling teens, and to prevent the rash of suicides we’re seeing in young people.