Morgan the Writer

Recently our two granddaughters spent the afternoon with their grandmother for what is known in our family as “Gramma Day.” It’s a casual weekly get together time after school with “just the girls,” as the girls themselves like to remind me. Their afternoon with my wife, Betty Ann, almost always concludes with a meal that the girls enjoy at our house before Grampa, that’s me, takes them home in time to get ready for school the next day.

Morgan the Writer

Morgan, as a seven year-old first grader, loves to read and just lately has discovered the art and satisfaction of writing stories. This particular day she was walking around the house with her little spiral notebook and had it sitting near her plate as we all ate supper. As I was about to leave the table and begin clearing plates, Morgan said, “Grampy, can you sit with me? I want to write another story.”

Just how much my granddaughter has ever paid attention to the fact that I too love words and stories, I cannot say for sure. But all that mattered Morgan's storywhen Morgan asked me to sit with her is that my answer needed to be yes and it needed to be right then. And there we sat, at the dining room table, notebook out, pencil in hand and one little thinker with the eraser on her cheek and staring at the ceiling waiting for the words to come.

One word to another

I knew this stance, this feeling, instantly. And as one word and then another came I watched her facial features change as her eyes lit up and her pencil found the paper. There is a kind of certainty, of absoluteness, in watching young writers press their words upon a page with so much force that dents in the page that follows. And for Morgan on this day the story was about her life and world, of family and home and their dog named Bella.

Drawing of Morgan's dog BellaAnd what was my role and what did I have to offer? Mainly presence, encouragement and most importantly to stay out of the way as the writer shaped her words and the story took its shape. Every few moments Morgan had the word and not the spelling. I watched her pause, sometimes caring to correct and sometimes not. Been there, done that,” I said only to myself. Knowing that nuggets of inspiration travel at the speed of light and as quickly disappear, I watched, silently, as Morgan harnessed all that came from a place that any writer knows and from feel, to think, Morgan got it down on paper.

Morgan the Writer
Morgan the writer

That’s how pages fill and spill onto the next. Age doesn’t matter. “My story’s going to be two pages long this time, Grampa,” she said. And so it was to the very last sentence and conclusion, in big bold letters that read, “The end.”

Text and images by K. Lee

I am rich, very rich, in daughters

I am rich, very rich, in daughters.
Betty Ann, Jen, Amy and Rebecca
I am rich, very rich, in daughters

Each child, all three and all girls came into our lives at intervals back in the 1970’s. So as I reflect upon the joys, mysteries and occasional challenges of being a dad, my memories span decades and over time have woven into a vibrant tapestry that is still being shaped today. Time, as we know, has a way of smoothing out the scariest and most difficult moments of parenting. Yet whether it was illness, injury, emotional hurts or those fright-filled forty-five seconds when a daughter went missing at the mall, as a dad I have been blessed to parent alongside a terrific woman and wife for the past forty-four years. I am convinced beyond doubt that parenting in partnership in every way has made me a better father and a dad to our girls. For sure, I am rich, very rich, in daughters.

As a dad and being a parent to adult children is in itself a peculiar and marvelous kind of relationship. One minute I find myself remembering the child who once mastered the playground and the next moment my daughter, now in her mid-thirties is detailing her upcoming trip abroad with her work.  There are subtle moments, too, when as dad, my role is to listen, support, sometimes suggest, comfort or simply be present non-verbally to any one of our daughters should the need arise. And there are times, to my amazement actually, when they as full-fledged adults, are in so many words, or by their actions, are letting me know that I should be listening to them and accepting their advice. I may not always agree with their message to me but I know that I love them more deeply for it.

I especially cherish three major life events with each of my daughters. And it is one that very few fathers have the opportunity to experience. All three are married now, and because I am a Friends Minister, each daughter and the men they were engaged to asked me to officiate at their wedding. Their mom, not me, walked each daughter down the aisle. As a dad to this day, the memories and feelings I had upon each daughter’s wedding day, from the honor of hearing the weight of their vows recited to solemnizing their union and pronouncing them married one to the other, is a gift that gladdens my heart every day.

They sneaked in on little ships one day
I am rich, very rich, in daughters.
Joshua’s day-old feet

Then the years came when that blessing and gift grew by two, then three and four and now, like wildfire into five and then six new lives. Count them! Six glorious little lives all their own called grandchildren. They sneaked in on little ships one day when I was busy doing something else that seemed important.

I am rich, very rich, in daughters.
The crew: Kevin Owen, Maddie, Josh, Zach and Morgan

I am not sure how this all happened. There’s no manual, no playbook, nothing on being grampy, just unwritten expectations that come without words or fanfare. Each of them, Kevin, Madison, Owen, Joshua, Zachary and Morgan, just moved in to the middle of who I am, set sail and changed whatever course I thought I was on forever.

Sometimes I look at each of them and say nothing. I just look at them, these little relatives, and I wonder about the joys and storms each will face as their lives unfold into tomorrow. Already each owns real estate within my heart. Each makes me laugh, love, play and worry in ways I have not known before. It brings me back to the hours when I first became a father all those years ago, wondering how I would measure up, not just as a father, but as a dad.

I am rich, very rich, in daughters.
My better half, Betty Ann!

These days whenever one of our granddaughters greets me, she always says “Hello grandfather.”  To the rest, I am grampa or grampy. To my daughters I am forever their dad which is a title I will never relinquish. And to myself, when I scan the room with my whole family sitting about, I am husband, father, dad and grandfather on every day. But on this Father’s Day, I am filled with joy and with a prayer of very deep gratitude for what has become a family complete.

Text and photos by K.Lee

What am I waiting for?

What am I waiting for? I ask myself this question about six times a day. I think that I’m waiting for divine intervention or for the phone to ring or for Google to send me a map to follow. What am I waiting for?

How about you? What are you waiting for? I’ll bet that you didn’t know that you were actually waiting for something until I asked, did you? Me either, until this darn question arrived in my inbox. That’s the way it is with questions. They’re sneaky. Continue reading “What am I waiting for?”

Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando

Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando.

I have had the privilege of working with children, teens and their parents for nearly four decades within various programs and agencies. For three decades I was employed in the public sector as a youth advocate providing counseling, support groups and crisis response as needed to children of all ages. As a Quaker and Friends Minister, this same work began before and continues still, providing pastoral care and outreach to people within and beyond my wider faith community.

Personally, it always saddens me to know that I needed to “update” the content of this article with each new tragic event over the years, from Columbine, Virginia Tech,  San Bernardino, to the lingering horrors of Newtown, just to name a few. And now, following the mass murders at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida on Sunday, June 12, our nation is reeling once again.

Following  such tragedies, especially when the sheer magnitude of the crime grips our collective conscience nation-wide, I update and repost what I know about methods of helping young people cope with parents and others who work with youth and offer some approaches to the typical concerns that we all have for our children. Hopefully, what follows below will prove helpful.

Parents:  Honor the emotions and real questions that come from your children, and resist saying or telling them more than they have asked about or what they may need to know or need to hear right now. It’s important to be honest with answers, especially with older elementary aged children, but don’t go overboard. When beginning a conversation, “zipper questions,” such as, “so what do you know,” or, “what have you heard,” and “what are your thoughts” are good places to start.

These days many of us, children and adults alike, silently worry about being caught in a public place when a shooting or mass tragedy takes place. Such thinking, sadly, has become instilled in our collective psyche, awareness and oftentimes fear. Our children feel this too, and at times will talk about it openly. As a parent, if you sense that your child has a heightened awareness and fear of something happening at their school, at a camp or other recreational venue that they frequent, it’s best to offer some assurance as needed. In the event that your child expresses fear of something happening at school, I believe that it is helpful to continue to affirm what we know as a statistical fact, that schools as a whole are safer than many if not every other place, and that your child will be taken care of and kept safe by the adults in their respective schools. To say anything less only instills fear, uncertainty and worry that does not add to their safety or emotional well-being.

Monitor media INTAKE

Monitoring media intake by children after a mass shooting is especially important. Most experts recommend not allowing children to watch any of the video coverage of the tragedy at all, but to choose a good time that works for your family to encourage a quiet discussion about what your kids may know already, and what may be on their minds, etc.

We too, as adults, benefit by apportioning  our own exposure to the endless videos and first-person accounts on TV, on our phones and other devices where social media may be exploding with not only news in real-time, but with personal and politically based reactions that frequently neither adds knowledge nor promotes healing. Doing so, by osmosis can help our children, too. Print media is often a better place to get the facts without the ever-present hype and drama that TV inherently provides.

While young ears are listening, I suggest that now is not the time to engage in outspoken dialog with other adults about the pros, cons and political ramifications of gun control and gun violence, where God was, or wasn’t, our security in other public places and the psychological profiling of “could-be” offenders, all of which is swirling about on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets at this time. There will be plenty of time for those important discussions in the weeks and months ahead minus the understandable raw emotions and frequent speculation of presumed facts we all feel at the moment.

Because of the sheer number of lives lost in Orlando and with the knowledge that so many were young adults, Latino, and members of the LGBTQ community, the carnage has understandably gripped the hearts of people everywhere. It has also traumatized whole communities of people who have socially, politically and racially been discriminated against in the past. Parents of teens should especially check in with their sons and daughters, who verbally say little, but may be hurting inside for themselves or their friends.

It may be helpful for us, as adults and as parents to understand and expect that numbness, sadness, anger and fear will be present within ourselves and even our children. Making meaning of death is never easy, and making sense emotionally of such a horrific act, within our own selves, is nearly impossible. Finding ways to honor the lives and memories of those lost, even if by remaining aware of the funerals and prayer vigils in Orlando and elsewhere, can help, with time, to bring some sense of closure for us as parents and for our children. Everyone will hear about “how it all happened,” but parents can help their children who may be most affected to process too by sitting with them and explaining how theSupporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando .Man holding candle, How Prayer Can Help Orlando community as a whole comes together, grieves together, and honors and remembers the lives lost with funerals and memorial services.

Families connected to a faith community may find solace and comfort in both worship services and by the pastoral care that may be available through clergy and other faith leaders. This is an important resource not to be overlooked, which is available to both parents and children.

One of the challenging variables here is for children and teens riding the school bus to and from school for the first few days following a highly publicized tragedy. It is hard to know and impossible to control what other students might say that your child could overhear. It’s important for parents and after-school care providers to provide time and to listen closely and get a feel for how their child is doing upon arriving home after school.

Supporting Teens Specifically

Here’s what I’ve shared with many teens in the past on the heels of a national tragedy:

  1. Be gentle with yourself, this is hard stuff to make any sense of. Talk with your parents, a counselor in school, a teacher who you know that will listen and help.
  2. When horrible things like this happen, it can make you really sad, angry and sometimes scared too. These are all natural feelings. Journaling and writing poetry helps some teens. Doing artwork helps others. Consider listening to music that you find soothing, that helps you chill, seems to help many teens too.
  3. Be careful online. There are lots of people pushing their causes, their politics and their point of view right now on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. Some of these people are angry and many others have their facts wrong, too.
  4. Remember that when we discuss things like death and violence online that some other kids out there likely have lost loved ones too, and all this is really hard for them to handle. If you’re their friend, reach out to them privately and let them know you’re thinking about them. It really helps.
  5. It’s true; nothing can bring these people back. But what you can do is this: To honor the lives of those lost, consider doing something that helps others in your community. There are lots of ways to volunteer and help others, you just have to do it! It can help you to feel better too.
  6. Keep in your head that it’s never okay for anyone to think using guns to commit violence is okay. If you see or hear of anyone, anywhere “talking stupid” do yourself and the world a favor by telling an appropriate adult right away. It’s always import.
  7. Remember, talking with a parent, your parent, is still (usually!) the best thing you can do first. They’re old, they’ve been around for a while and believe it or not, talking with them can help you to deal with all this.

For all of us

In closing, I am reminded of the words of the late Fred Rogers, when asked how he could remain so positive and upbeat about the goodness in other people. He said that when bad things happen in the world, it’s important to remember also all the many good people who show up to help, to rescue, to protect who they can and to help the survivors to heal. That sounds like pretty good advice to me.

Resources to consider:

Below are a few good online resources that parents and others who work with young people might find useful to consider.

Mayo Clinic: Tips for talking with children and teens about mass shootings

American Psychological Association: Helping your children manage stress after a mass shooting.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Talking to children about the shooting.

Text and image by Kevin Lee

 

 

Trump Sump

Well, it has happened. Our schools and youth serving organizations have invested millions trying to teach our children to respect their peers and avoid using degrading and hurtful language in conversation. Yet in a matter of months, Republican Donald Trump, who is vying for the White House, has systematically sucked the moral code of common decency clear through the drain and into the sewer. Thus, this article’s name, Trump Sump, explores the negative impact that Mr. Trump’s statements and behaviors are having upon the youth in America.

Sadly, children are watching and learning

We know that the Trump phenomenon is unprecedented, and, according to some people, he’s very exciting, too. The sad news, however, is that our Donal Trump caricature graphic risethisday
children are watching…and learning from this, also. “Build the wall, build the wall!” That was a chant heard last month at a high school basketball game in Indiana from kids from a majority-white school playing a team from a predominately Latino community. The so-called “Trump effect” is now being played out in school yards across the country. Continue reading “Trump Sump”