Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What I Really Want to Say About the Virginia Gun Rally

This past Monday, I was in Richmond, Virginia for the huge and controversial “Gun Rally.” (It was actually “Lobby Day,” but I won’t get into semantics.)

If you’ve been following me, you know I quit my “real” job in October to have more time for my dream job as an outdoors/firearms writer. It’s a pretty cool gig, I’m not going to lie. Low stress, high reward. Sometimes clients pay me for range time or send me cool products like high-end FFP scopes, chronographs, and cutting-edge ammunition. (Have I mentioned I love my job?)

I was planning to head to Richmond to support the rights of my family, friends, and hunting buddies in Virginia, no matter what. However, I pitched an article idea about covering the Richmond rally to one of my regular clients. They thought it was awesome, so they basically paid me to go to Richmond and write about it.

As a bonus, I got to claim travel expenses as a tax deduction. And although TAXATION IS THEFT, I might as well claim what I can and keep myself out of jail.

However, there was one small caveat to what seemed like the perfect arrangement.

“Alice, can you keep it as non-controversial as possible? We have customers that support both sides of the aisle, and we don’t want to alienate anyone. Can you make it compelling without lambasting any political party too badly? Okay. Thanks.”

Here is the article I came up with, taking major pains not to include pictures with too many Trump flags, leaving out the life-size guillotine, and sticking to non-controversial facts.

 First-Hand Account of the Virginia Second Amendment Rally

I understand that publishing a non-controversial article makes good business sense. However, sometimes it also makes for mediocre content. This article is definitely not my best work.

After submitting the article, I still felt kind of antsy and grumpy, like someone should throw me a Snickers bar from a safe distance.

I think it’s because holding back controversial viewpoints is not my forte. And while I appreciate the paycheck and the tax deduction (TAXATION IS THEFT!), there was still a story inside me, and it was fighting to get out.

So here are some of the things I really wanted to say.

First, Governor Northam sucks and so does the mainstream media. Not that most people don’t already know that, but I needed to get it off my chest.

Leading up to the event, all Northam and the media could talk about was danger and violence and racists and white nationalists.

Law-abiding gun owners, myself included,  are tired of being lumped in with these radical groups.

I’m pretty sure these guys in particular are pretty tired of the racist/white nationalist label.

Lo and behold, all the predicted danger of white nationalism was a ruse. There were no swastikas, or Neo-Nazis, or skinheads despite what this guy tweeted.
(I also have problems with his “minor gun control legislation” comment. It is anything but minor, but that’s probably a subject for another day.)

I challenged someone spreading this rumor on Facebook to show me some proof. They couldn’t provide any.

And we all know if there had been one lonely guy with a swastika, he would have become the media’s poster child for the rally. That I haven’t seen a single swastika image out of the Richmond rally makes me pretty confident there were no swastikas there.

If there were white supremacists in Richmond, they were keeping it on the down-low, choosing not to use Lobby Day as a platform for spreading their brand of hate.

There were also no waving Confederate battle flags. This one surprised me just a little. It is the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia after all, and Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. Sorry Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, you’ve been caught in an outright lie (or at least an extreme  exaggeration).

I did see one guy wearing a Confederate flag patch (among many others) on his jacket and one Confederate flag sticker on the stock of a rifle. I saw no one brazenly waving what many consider a “banner of hate.”

So much for Richmond turning into Charlottesville 2.0. Even though media personalities and alarmist politicians could not stop comparing the two for weeks leading up to the event.

What I did see were tons of Gadsden flags, which seems appropriate for protesting the potential loss of Constitutional rights.

There were also a ton of Virginia flags. Also highly appropriate considering the location and the seal’s declaration of “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” Thus Always to Tyrants.

And yes, there were some Betsy Ross flags (which are apparently offensive now) and Trump 2020 flags (I know. You’re triggered).  But I also saw a rainbow flag and, my personal favorite, the flag of Hong Kong.

It’s only fair. They’re carrying ours.
Despite the apparent absence of white supremacists, there were highly visible representatives from minority groups, including Democrats for Guns, the LGBTQ community, Black Guns Matter, and Hispanic gun groups. There were throngs of women open carrying, declaring they would not become victims, refusing to relinquish their right to protect themselves.

As my favorite meme of the day quips, “Worst White Supremacist Rally Ever!”

I’m still reeling from the experience. I almost backed out of my plans to attend due to the prevailing rumors of violence. But I am so glad I didn’t. It was definitely one of the best displays of freedom, friendliness, and personal responsibility I've ever seen.

However, slipping back into my normal routine on Tuesday morning was a little shocking. What I was reading from some people on the internet was not what I experienced in person.

My social media feeds were packed with posts claiming that Richmond had been “invaded by armed racists.” That the city had been “held captive by an occupying militia.” One “friend” even claimed we couldn’t call the event “peaceful” or “non-violent” because the “threat of violence was everywhere.”

Hold up! That last one may be right.

But that was kind of the point, Dear Internet “Friend.”

Yes, it was a peaceful display by normal, hard-working Americans attempting to protect their Second Amendment rights by using their First Amendment rights.

But it was also more than that.

It was also a chance to demonstrate the fact that general, law-abiding citizens control more firepower than sweet Governor “Blackface” Northam could muster, even in a state of emergency.

Before you start calling me delusional, consider these numbers.

  • The Virginia National Guard has 7,500 members.
  • The Richmond Police Department employs 760 police officers.
  • The Virginia State Police force has approximately 2118 troopers and special agents.

Reports on rally attendance vary, but there were at least 22,000 people there. Most of them were armed. Some of them heavily.

Even on a freezing Monday morning, after some major scaremongering that kept plenty of concerned patriots away from Richmond, Northam’s forces were completely outnumbered. And that’s if every police officer and weekend warrior at his disposal showed up willing to confront their friends and neighbors. (He certainly can’t ask local sheriffs to help him out. They are largely responsible for leading Virginia's 2A Sanctuary movement, bless their freedom-loving souls).

On a national level, private citizens own more than 400 million firearms. That’s one hundred times the amount all four branches of the United States military combined has at their disposal. I’m just pointing out that civilians have access to some pretty respectable firepower.

Yes, I know that Bubba’s AR-15 is no match for the prowess of the greatest military force in the world. But I’m going to remind you here that a bunch of guys in flip-flops and hand-me-down Russian AKs have been befuddling that same world power for decades now.

Now, to all the whiny, latte-sipping, skinny jeans-wearing scoffers that ask, “Why do they have to bring their rifles? That’s just over the top.”

Yes, Brandon. It is over the top. That’s the point.

Go ahead and make fun of that sea of Carhartt and camo that flooded the streets of Richmond on Monday. But you completely missed the message, which is a boisterous “We Will Not Comply!”

Sure the message was delivered peacefully, responsibly, and without incident. But it was also made while showcasing a tiny fraction of the hardware capacity free citizens have at their disposal.

Just enough to hopefully make Governor Northam, Virginia Democrats, and definitely whiny, latte-sipping Brandon, a little uncomfortable.

That is the whole point of the Second Amendment. It isn't about deer hunting (although venison is certainly a tasty side benefit).

If the government wants to deprive citizens of their god-given rights, the Second Amendment ensures power-hungry politicians will have to work really hard to take them. Richmond was simply a reminder. Let's call it a peaceful threat of violence, shall we.

Sometimes the threat of violence is more productive than actual violence. Let's hope that's the case this time around.

One last thought...

On Monday, I got to be part of a diverse group of polite, friendly, well-behaved individuals, all  unified by the common cause of liberty. It is an experience I will cherish

I often tell people, “I am a proud gun owner.”

The behavior of my fellow gun owners in Richmond makes me even prouder to be part of this inclusive group.

Rally participants even cleaned up after the crowd, going so far as to scrape discarded “Guns Save Lives” stickers off the Richmond pavement. Capital Square and surrounding streets were actually left cleaner than they were before the rally began. That’s something that can’t be said about some other groups that protest for the sake of protesting.

Thanks for keeping it classy, guys.

After the Richmond Rally...

After the Women's March....

I know which group I would rather be associated with.

Besides, I look better in camo than I would in one of those pink things with ears.

"But women have a right to walk down the street alone at night without being afraid."

Honey, you're absolutely right. That's why I carry a Glock.

Which also happens to be why I was in Richmond on Monday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Why We Cling to Our Guns

I grew up in Virginia, running barefoot through salt marshes and pine straw, the Virginia dirt caked so thick on my rough heels that it surely soaked through to circulate in my blood.

Though I’ve lived in North Carolina for more than 25 years, I still consider the Old Dominion home. My mama and most of my family lives there. Generations of Joneses and Handles and Perrys have shed their blood, sweat, and tears on that soil, proud to call themselves Virginians. That kind of family history weaves its way into your DNA, becomes part of the fabric of your identity.

So, I still consider myself a proud Virginian.

I’ve watched what’s happening now, just above the North Carolina state line, with trepidation.  In the recent November election, Democrats secured a majority in the State Senate and the House of Delegates. The Governor’s Office (good old blackface Northam), Lieutenant Governor’s Office (Justin “Sexual Assault Scandal” Fairfax) and the Attorney General’s Office were already controlled by Democrats.

Democrats now think they have carte blanche to hack away at the Constitution. Since the November election, 142 bills have been set to hit the Virginia State House and Senate during the upcoming January session. Many of those bills contain some of the most restrictive gun laws to ever be bandied about in any State legislature (at least in the United States).

There are a bunch, but you should definitely check out HB 4021HB 4006, and SB 64.

In response, average Virginia citizens are understandably outraged. The proposed laws would make tens of thousands of legal gun owners felons overnight. And when Governor Northam was recently asked about confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens, he responded, “that’s something I’m working [on] with our secretary of public safety.”

But Virginia citizens are yelling a resounding “Hell, no!”

Currently, 39 Virginia counties, 2 independent cities, and 2 towns have adopted Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions. This means these communities will not expend resources or endanger their law enforcement officers to enforce gun control measures that violate the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

And if you think this is just a small flash in the pan, here is a picture from just outside one of the meetings in a small, mostly rural, Virginia county.

These people won't sit quietly by while their governor tries to confiscate weapons they've owned legally for years, some of which were passed down to them as children.

I’ve been posting information about the 2A Sanctuary resolutions on some of my social media platforms. In response, someone asked me, “Why do you people insist on clinging to your guns?”

First, by using the term “you people” I can already tell you aren’t willing to listen. That’s a form of othering. It is textbook tribalism and dehumanization. We aren’t any different from you. We pay our bills, sweep our floors, and send our kids to school.

Regardless of how similar we are, I don’t expect you to fully understand. You haven’t had the same experiences I’ve had. You didn’t grow up in the same culture. I could talk until I’m blue in the face (or my hands curl up with chronic carpal tunnel from typing) about rights and tradition, personal protection and insurance against a tyrannical government, but you aren’t going to hear me.

I can shout “Shall not be infringed!” until the proverbial cows come home, and it won’t make one bit of difference to someone like you.

But it sucks to be misunderstood, to be categorized as somehow violent because I “cling” to my guns.

Even though I do.

But I have plenty of reasons to cling.

Here is just one small story to maybe help anyone who is still listening to understand. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My Daddy purchased a semi-automatic Remington .30-06 from J.C. Penney the same year I was born. Knowing how tough my family had it financially, this was a big purchase, and one that wasn’t taken lightly

That rifle was Daddy’s pride and joy. He carried it with him to hunt whitetails in the Virginia mountains for over 40 years, and he killed more deer with it than he could count.

He let me hold that rifle for the first time while he field dressed a big doe on Thanksgiving morning, a doe that would feed our family for most of the coming winter. I knew he was giving me a big responsibility, entrusting me with one of his most prized possessions. It felt like he had laid the whole world in my hands.

I also toted that rifle slung across my right shoulder (my own hung from the left) while he dragged that deer over rough terrain. It seemed like at least 10 miles to the gravel road where he had left the truck. It was hours after dark before we finally made it to the road, Daddy’s headlamp the only visible light other than the stars overhead.

But we came out too low, in a bottom, staring straight up at the road some 20 feet above us.

Daddy shined his light up that steep embankment, and sighed. Then he started hauling that deer behind him, sliding backwards through the dead fall leaves more than he managed to climb up.

“Alice! Hike up there and see if you can flag somebody down to help us!”

But I was only about 13, weighed all of 80 pounds soaking wet, and was weighed down by my gigantic hunting boots and two firearms that were getting heavier by the minute.

I tried anyway. I wedged myself behind trees where the dirt and leaves wouldn’t fall away so quickly. Then I would grab the next tree and haul myself up to that one. Daddy continued to shout at me even as he tried to haul that big doe behind him.

“Watch out for the scope, dammit!”

“Don’t beat up my gun!”

“I told you to be careful!”

After about an hour of straight uphill climbing and falling, we finally made it to the road. I sat on the deer while Daddy fetched the truck, both of us soaked head to toe in sweat despite the freezing temperature. No one ever stopped to help us.

I followed behind my Daddy, that rifle slung across his back, for more than 20 hunting seasons. He once handed it to me loaded when a bunch of strange men pulled up to our remote mountain campsite around midnight. Before he went out to see what they wanted, he said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t shoot me.”

That was the closest that rifle ever came to being an assault weapon, although it falls in that category under Governor Northam’s proposed legislation. Those men knew I had that weapon, and maybe for that reason alone, I never had to use it.

Years later, my oldest son would hike with us in the mountains, that same rifle hanging on Daddy’s shoulder.

Daddy died in 2017, the day before the last day of the hunting season. He suffered a heart attack while trying to catch some hunting dogs that were running hot on a deer trail. He died in the hospital two days later.

I had the privilege of being with him when he took his last breath. My mom and my youngest three children were there, too. But my oldest son, Daniel, didn’t make it in time. The Army dragged its feet a little too long on approving his emergency leave, and I had to break the news to him over the phone.

When the Army finally let him go, Daniel rushed through icy snow from Fort Bragg to Hampton, Virginia, so he could be with the rest of the family. After hugging each of us, he quietly went to the spare bedroom, slid the gun case out from under the bed, and put that .30-06 to his shoulder. He placed his cheek tenderly against the stock, and my tough Army soldier cried big fat tears all over that cedar-stained wood.

It was the closest he could get to hugging his grandfather good-bye.

This year, I was lucky enough to watch my younger son, Silas, shoot a buck with his grandfather’s rifle. It was an amazing 125 yard shot. Free-standing. No rest. His cheek pressed against the same cedar-stained stock my Daddy’s had rested against so many times over the years. One shot dropped that buck like a sack of potatoes. It was a thing of beauty.

If you come from a hunting family, those firearms are more than firearms. Each represents a thousand tiny memories. You're damn right we cling to our guns.

Hunting is also tradition and it’s family, and as anyone who hunts knows, it’s also spiritual. You can’t spend hours in the woods without feeling the divine. And our guns symbolize all those things and more.

I know I don’t live in Virginia.

Besides, we lost all Daddy’s guns in a tragic boating accident some time ago. I hear there’s a bunch of that going around.

But even if I did live in Virginia and that rifle was still mine…I would never in a million years hand it over to Governor Northam.

His hands aren’t fit to touch it.

And I know that the news media and politicians in Virginia claim these county meetings are nothing more than a symbolic gesture. They insist that citizens are only posturing and aren’t at all serious.

But I know better. You don’t just hand over precious family memories to the government so they can crush them down, melt them, and turn them into scrap metal.

I promise you, this is the hill “you people” are willing to die on. But as long as they have their firearms, maybe they won’t have to.

Sic semper tyrannis.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Better at Being Me

I haven’t written here in a while.

(Thank you to the handful of people who have messaged me to make sure I’m okay and to say you miss me. I promise to show up more.)

It’s not that I haven’t been writing, however. I’ve actually been writing a lot. Just not here. I’ve jumped with both feet into the world of freelancing. People are actually willing to pay real money for my words.

I know! I was shocked, too!

In fact, this writing gig pays well enough that I’m now doing it full time.

Last Friday, I said good-bye to what many people have considered my “real” job.

On the Square has been like a second family (although a highly dysfunctional one). I’ve been there for almost a decade, and I am eternally grateful to Stephen and Inez for letting me be a small part of something really awesome. Working at this restaurant opened up a whole new world of food and wine I never would have experienced otherwise. Where else would this redneck Southern girl have had the chance to try foie gras and uni (that’s fattened goose liver and sea urchin for the unrefined) or sip Bordeaux that cost more than her first car? (But just the one sip that was left in the bottle... and only after the customers left.)

There is no argument the experiences of wine and food are things I will never forget. However, the restaurant business isn’t all exotic eats and interesting spirits. Working in customer service will slowly suck the life from your soul.

It is draining to witness the worst of human behavior shift after shift.

It is draining to be grabbed, pushed, pulled, and even slapped while you smile and pacify and pretend that all's right with the world.

It is draining to have rich male customers proposition you right in front of their wives.

It is draining to overhear a prominent lawyer brag about shooting people with a pellet gun on the other side of the Princeville bridge. Just to see them dive in the ditches. Just for fun. But only in his younger years.

It is draining when someone calls your black male co-worker “Kunte Kinte.” To his face. Because he thinks it's funny and he can.

It is draining to listen to drunk men claim women are only good for sexual pleasure.

It is draining to deal with customers who complain about poor service, especially when you’re doing everything you possibly can. Like when those customers just watched EMS attend someone who suffered a heart attack in the dining room.

“Gee, Karen! I don’t know why your wine glass is empty. Maybe it's because I didn’t want to step over the elderly gentleman fighting for his life on the floor.”

The ugliness of humanity often dresses itself up and heads out for a nice dinner.

And while most customers are happy, polite, and pleasant (special shout-out to Frank and Dana!), it is the rough ones that stick with you long after you clock out and head home.

Each night before my shift started, I would grab a styrofoam cup and fill it with ice and water (or Coke if I needed caffeination. Which was often). On any given night, there would be half a dozen styrofoam cups in the server station, all lined up like soldiers, conveniently placed for the staff to grab quick sips between taking orders, silvering tables, and running food.

Most of those cups would have scribbled names or initials on the side, so we could easily tell them apart in the rush and bustle of trying to make people happy.

No one wants to accidentally take a swig of unsweet tea when they are expecting something else. Actually, I don’t know why anyone would want to take a swig of unsweet tea.

Every night I worked, I wrote a different name on my cup. Some nights I would be Helen or Jessica or Kristen. Some weekends I followed a theme. I might masquerade as dead queens of England and be Anne, Mary, and Catherine. Other times I would scrawl a string of literary heroines and be Hermione, Katniss, and Jean Lousie for the weekend. I was never the same person twice.

It started as a joke. One night, I was serving a large group of old women (probably about 20 of them) with perfectly coiffed hair, all carrying garish handbags and wafting floral perfume. The group consisted of members of the local Garden Club and their guests, all in town to learn how to properly trim their hydrangeas and complain about their neighbor’s yards.

The woman in charge of the event  approached me with special instructions concerning their bill, time constraints, drinks and appetizers, etc. I filled her in on how I would take orders and split the ticket. I told her not to worry about anything, that I would make sure they enjoyed their outing.

At the end of our conversation, she smiled. ”I know you’re going to take great care of us. What’s your name?”

I smiled and told her, “Alice.”

She immediately turned to the group of women and introduced me, ”All right, Ladies. This is Jennifer. She’s going to be taking care of us this evening.”

I didn’t correct her, because it wasn’t worth it. It was much easier to just be Jennifer, especially if that’s who she wanted me to be. Most customers don’t care one iota about who is serving them, so long as their drinks are cold and their food is hot. Most look right through us as if we are completely invisible. They don’t realize we have homes and families and lives outside of pouring wine and properly placing their bread plates. They don’t understand how we smile and act like they are the most important people in the world, even when we have sick children at home... or our father died just last week.

I never wrote “Alice” on my cup because it was easier to pretend to be someone else. It hurts less when someone treats you like you aren’t really a person. Someone whose ass can be grabbed when the customer had too much to drink. Someone who can be cussed out because a salad was too small or the steak too rare. Someone they can write bad Yelp reviews about if my smile isn’t wide enough or doesn’t quite reach my eyes.

If I wasn’t Alice, it didn’t matter as much. Then, if they snapped their fingers at me or slapped my hand as I reached for a near-empty glass, they weren’t demeaning me. It was just Jennifer. Or Melissa. Or Julie. Or whichever name was written on my cup that night.

The moral of the story here is treat your servers better. Although it’s easy to look right through them, they are actually human beings with lives and families, hurt and heartache, hopes and dreams.

And now I am following mine.

If you’re interested, you can keep up with my writing at Just a heads up, as a professional writer, I specialize in shooting, hunting, and outdoor skills. Which is a far cry different from expensive wine, proper serving etiquette, and smiling when you don’t feel like it.

I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s mine.

This cup has my name on it, and the tea is most definitely sweet.

I’m really much better at being me. Much better than I am at pretending to be someone else.
I got the corner office!
(And the cup has my name on it.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Tracing Family Lines

When I was a child, family ties were murky. On random holidays, we would gather in some cousin’s yard in a loose flock. The adults would drink too much beer and the kids would run in circles, weaving in and out of tall bodies, tagging each other with reaching fingers.

It wasn’t important how we were related. We answered our elders with the obligatory Southern “ma’am” and “sir.” We called everyone older than us “uncle” or “aunt,” though they were much more likely to be our first cousins once removed.

It was only confusing in school, where classmates with small families don’t struggle to understand the concept of aunts and uncles. With a vast sea of local relatives, it was difficult for my young mind to grasp that your aunt was only the sister of your mother or father. In my world, she could just as easily be my grandmother’s first cousin. Family ties were foggy like that.

I started researching my family history in 2012. A friend had informed me that was offering a 30-day free trial. He had traced his family tree back to English royalty.

With a simple 30-day free trial.

What did I have to lose?

The better questions was: What did I have to gain?

I dove into the Jones line first, hoping to find a great-grandfather who abandoned his family in 1931. The man had disappeared like a vapor. No census records. No death certificate. It was like he walked off the edge of the world, leaving behind three children and a disgruntled wife. It’s hard to chase a ghost. I’ve often joked that maybe my great-grandmother buried him in the backyard. Weirder things have happened.

Thirty days isn’t long enough to trace centuries of relatives. What was supposed to be a little month-long project of curiosity instead turned into crazed obsession. I purchased an ancestry membership, got lost in census records, dug into family trees. In that first furious foray into family lineage, I discovered a link to British baronets, my grandparents’ marriage certificate, and my great-grandmother’s birth mother.

But when I emerged with birth records and passenger lists, the sweat of battle still glistening on my brow, I realized my efforts were largely unappreciated. Having expected glory and praise (or at least a modest pat on the back) from my relatives, I was disappointed to find that nobody seemed to care.

I announced we were descended from the Bickley Baronets on social media, tagging aunts and cousins with the amusing (if not earth-shattering) news. While I grasped the triumph of this discovery firmly in my hand, waving it like a victory banner, not one person so much as “liked” my discovery. When I told my dad, he grunted and turned up the volume on the television. Reruns of Gunsmoke were apparently more interesting to him than family history. I couldn’t relate.

My grandmother was worse. When I informed her I had found her grandmother, she was mildly interested. But only until I unraveled the story for her as I sat cross-legged on her living room floor. A precious family story had been passed down, one of how an infant (who would become my great-grandmother) was pried from the stiff dead arms of her intellectually disabled mother. But I had found her mother on the 1920 census, alive and well and working as an office clerk in Maryland. This piece of evidence would suggest she was neither dead nor intellectually disabled when my great-grandmother was adopted.

My grandmother drew her lips into a thin hard line, and shaking her head slightly, said one cold word.


I had been shut down but not entirely demoralized.

Instead of giving up, I buried into birth records and death certificates like a mole, digging in the dark, keeping to myself. It really didn’t matter if anyone acknowledged what I was doing. I  needed to trace the intricate lace of my family lines. I was driven to understand how I came by the DNA that gave me blue eyes, long fingers, and wide feet. Why could I roll my tongue and carry a tune? Could my great-grandfather? What about his mother?

It was an impulse to know myself by knowing them, though they had been reduced to nothing more than names on ancient documents or etched in marble headstones.

But genealogy is hard work. It will unravel your insides and leave you with more questions than it answers. There are probably things you don’t want to know, like how my mother had an aunt and uncle who died of neglect and malnutrition when they were just babies. Research will leave you mourning people you never met. Blood is thicker than water.

Two years ago, my children gifted me with a DNA test for Mother’s Day. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it put an end to the family stories of Cherokee blood. I am boringly European, although my family is anything but boring. That DNA test revealed more family evidence, proving that Maryland clerk was in fact my grandmother’s grandmother. DNA doesn’t lie.

Now I find myself sorting through hundreds of DNA matches, relatives I’ve never met, names and faces of strangers. Deciphering relations is like ciphering impossible math problems.

If my mother and your father were half second cousins, what does that make us?

DNA results have left me more confused. I am less sure of who I am, and I didn’t think that was possible. There were Earth-shattering surprises. The kind that makes the family tapestry seem to unravel at the edges.

I am still the kid weaving her way through a crowd of relatives, wondering which are uncles and which are cousins. Reaching out to tag them with fingers.

“Tell me your story.”

“I thought I knew who you were.”

I thought I knew who I was. But DNA and marriage records and death certificates just muddy the water. It swirls around until I’m lost again.

If I stare at those connecting family lines long enough, the Henrys and Oscars and Catherines that dot the generations swirl in a muck until they run together, forming a blur that sometimes has my father’s eyes.

That blur is me.

I’m still trying to bring myself into focus.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Boys Will Be Boys - Why Masculinity Is Actually Heroic Not Toxic

Raising boys is not for the faint of heart.
I am the mother of two boys. The two of them are responsible for every single gray hair I have on my head. For those with no experience raising little ones, boys are generally loud and rambunctious. Like most young boys, mine toppled Christmas trees, wrestled in the dirt, and repeatedly tried to jump from the top of the playground slide. (Not the tame little toddler slide, either, but the giant, twisting one that the Parks and Rec department finally removed because it was dangerously tall. That thing was like 20 feet high and little boys kept trying to jump off it. )

My boys were wild. They ran with sticks. They tried to ride the dog. They would take running leaps down the hallway stairs. They rode bikes with no hands. They literally climbed the walls of my house like miniature versions of Spider-Man.

And I let them.

Attempting to rein in their excessive energy was futile. So, I let them run and climb and jump off things, constantly testing their courage and their physical boundaries.

I let them be boys.

And when my boys came to me with dirty faces and scraped knees I often uttered this horrific, four-word phrase:

“Boys will be boys.”

I know the Karens and Jennifers of the world, with their self-righteous views of what constitutes civilized behavior, are out there clutching their pearls and gasping in horror, but it’s true. I totally, 100 percent, unapologetically let my boys behave like boys.

I get it. “Boys will be boys” has often been a poor excuse for bad behavior. From bar fights to sexual assault, the bad behavior of some men has been swept aside, trivialized, and normalized as just something that is part of their nature. Something they can’t control. Boys will be boys.

However, typical male behavior isn’t all bad, and we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Even if that baby does have a Y chromosome and a penis.

Boys do have a natural tendency to be adventurous and active, to be risk takers and push limits. But it isn’t “uncivilized.” In fact, it is those very traits that created civilization in the first place.

If you’ve ever watched baby animals play, you’ve seen them actively working to hone skills they will need to be successful adults. The lion cub that pins his sibling to the ground is practicing how to make dinner. Twin fawns playing chase are practicing how to not become dinner.

Human boys are doing the same thing. They are perfecting the skills they need to be men.

Physical activity strengthens muscle and develops physical coordination. Taking risks helps develop courage in the face of fear. And even that aggression, when properly channeled, cultivates ambition and determination, not to mention the skills needed to defend themselves and their loved ones.

Lately, masculinity is being painted with broad negative brush strokes. The narrative is that masculinity is “toxic,” ultimately responsible for the ills of society, from wars to rape to a lack of seat space on public transit.

It has become popular opinion that limiting masculine behaviors, including rough and tumble boyhood play, is the answer to all Society’s problems. If men would just be less manly, the world would be a better place.


Masculinity isn’t intrinsically toxic. In spite of Gillette commercials and the new feminist diatribe, manhood is not dangerous or destructive to society. Yes, there are men who are those things. However, it isn’t because they are too masculine. Whether its pathology or poor home training, that causes individuals to be destructive, we can’t blame manhood for the deadly actions of a few.

Whenever there is danger, it is men who rush in. With strong muscles and brave hearts, they put aside concerns for their own well-being. They rush toward fires, and raging flood waters, and the sound of gunshots to save the weak and the innocent. The masculine traits of assertiveness, strength, aggression, dominance, and control save lives and prevent tragedy every single day of the year.

We can’t argue with hard facts and statistics. Most violent acts are committed by men. But so are most acts of valor and bravery. Masculinity isn't inherently toxic. Rather, it is virtuous and courageous. Masculinity isn't misogyny and homophobia, posturing and compensation. Masculinity is action and strength and bravery. It is using inherent power, not to harm, but to serve and protect.

There is an alarming trend in this country to emasculate our boys. Participation in once popular contact sports has seen a rapid decline. From 2009 to 2014, student participation in wrestling fell by 41.9%, while the number of kids playing tackle football decreased by almost 18%. While it may be mothers and school officials who are concerned about danger and injury that have spawned this decline, it could be a serious detriment to our young boys. This could be the beginning of generations of men who lack strength, physical skill, and a competitive edge.

Our public schools are formatted in ways that favor the learning style of girls while neglecting the way boys typically learn. In recent years, learning has become more language-based and less hands on. Recess has been shortened or altogether banned. We are expecting our boys to sit still and be quiet for longer and longer stretches of time. In short, we expect them to learn and behave like little girls. And when they can’t, we medicate them.

But boys like to be rough. They like to take things apart, climb to the top of the monkey bars, and roll in the dirt. It is in their nature. That is what we mean when we say, “Boys will be boys.”

If we constantly tell them that their very real needs to move and be physical and take risks are “bad”, Society is going to be in big trouble. When we convince men that their natural masculine inclinations are negative, we destroy masculinity as a whole. The good parts of masculinity far outweigh the negative, even if those aren’t the ones that make the evening news.

Men are pretty freakin’ awesome. We should be acknowledging that instead of tearing down boys, expecting them to behave like girls, and telling them that masculinity is toxic. As a modern Society, we cannot afford to eradicate masculinity.

If we destroy masculinity, who will rush in to save the suffering? Who will brave danger to help the innocent? Without aggression, courage, strength, and action we will be a society without heroes.

When all the heroes are gone, we’ll be left with a bunch of demure guys in skinny jeans, albeit with perfectly trimmed beards (thanks Gillette!). Those “men” will be too concerned with offending someone to take risks or speak their mind. They will lack the drive and courage to change the world. They will be too afraid of their “toxic masculinity” to pick up a suffering woman and carry her to safety.

After all, it is really hard to rush into a burning building or a dangerous war zone in skin tight jeans, especially when you’re concerned about spilling your latte...or breaking a nail.

Gillette did get one thing right in their new commercial.

The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.

Rather than making them feel guilty or inadequate for being intrinsically strong, strapping, and male, we should let them know it is okay to be men.

Heck. Maybe we should even encourage it.

(AFP/Getty Images)


(David J. Phillip/AP)

(Getty Images)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Always Leave A Place Better Than You Found It

As a kid, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time hunting with my dad. Because Daddy wasn’t a private landowner, our hunting trips were spent hiking through state game lands, national forests, and other tracts of public property.

Often while we were hiking over rough terrain, either following crude trails or striking our own, Daddy would bend down to fetch some piece of garbage that wasn’t his own. Candy wrappers, beer bottles, soda cans, plastic baggies, were all fair game. He would pick them up, stuff them in his pack, and tote them out of the woods for proper disposal later.

“Always leave a place better than you found it.”

That was his only explanation. Few things irritated Daddy more than careless, inconsiderate hunters. Littering the natural landscape was one of his big pet peeves.

I must have heard this statement dozens of times over the years, a mantra carved into the crevices of my brain matter through repetition and respect.

I learned this principle following in my Daddy’s footsteps, my hiking boots literally stepping into the prints left by his. I still follow in Daddy’s footsteps, even though his boots are empty now. I always try to leave a place better than I found it.

Last week, my oldest daughter was stopped in a small town restaurant by two local women. The three of them chatted politely, mostly about my daughter’s first semester at UNC and her future plans. As always, Hannah was articulate and polite, answering questions with confidence and appropriate enthusiasm.

After their brief conversation, the two women commented about what how intelligent, confident,  friendly, ambitious, and well-mannered my daughter is.

“Yes. She’s nothing like her mother.”

Of course those words were never meant for my ears, but you have to be careful what you say in a small town. The walls have ears and secrets travel faster than green grass through a goose. And because those words were uttered in private, of course they got back around to me.

Now you might think hearing someone utter an insult to my character would get my panties in a wad, but you’d be wrong. I totally recognize the comment for what it is: a sincere compliment (although admittedly a backhanded one).

Of course my daughter is a better person than me. That was the point all along. The fact that these women could so clearly see that proves my success as a parent.

My daughter is smarter, kinder, and more driven than I have ever been, but that was all part of the plan. And if you think she’s awesome and amazing, you should meet the other three. Passionate, strong, motivated, brave. These are all words that could describe any one of my four kids. They are all better human beings than I will ever be.

Saying my daughter is NOTHING like me might be a bit of a stretch. She has lived with me for almost two decades, following round behind me or beside me for large portions of that time. We share strands of DNA. She once watched the world from my hip, ate my cooking, and listened to my singing. Surely that’s left a small imprint of me somewhere in her psyche.

However, I appreciate the acknowledgement that this fabulous person is better than me. I put an awful lot of time and effort into her raising. And I’m glad to have been successful.

I’m just following in my Daddy’s footsteps.

I’m just trying to leave this world better than I found it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Excuse Me, Ma'am? Could You Focus on the Important Things?

We're still bragging about this...
There's no way you're going to get our kids to stop saying, "ma'am."
I live in a small, rural county in eastern North Carolina. Tarboro is the county seat, and for most folks around here, it feels like the big city. Tarboro has  a McDonald’s and a Walmart, after all. (Although the Walmart isn’t the twenty-four hour kind. That place locks up at midnight. Unlike most places that can claim, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” Tarboro is altogether different. Here we say, “NOTHING happens after midnight.” Not a gosh darn thing. We pretty much roll up the streets after 10 pm.)

Heck, the local Piggly Wiggly (that’s the local grocery for those of y’all that ain’t from around here) doesn’t even unlock its doors on Sunday until after church service. True story.

Tarboro, NC is like a scene out of Mayberry. A small town with tree-lined streets and well-kept Victorian homes, Tarboro is smack dab in the middle of Edgecombe County, surrounded by sprawling fields full of cotton and tobacco.

While North Carolina isn’t exactly the “deep” South, we are firmly tucked inside the Bible Belt. Change comes slowly here. Just like our historic houses and monuments to the “Southern Cause,” the way we talk is an artifact from the past, and it’s not just our Southern drawls.

We hold tight to manners in much the same way we clutch our pearls and handkerchiefs, thinking the rest of the world is at least a smidgen barbaric. And most people think this is charming and quaint, like front-porch sitting, knowing your neighbors, the smell of magnolias, and Sunday dinner. It reminds people of gentler days when things were simpler and time moved at a slower pace.

This place is as Southern as they come. The main industry is agriculture, and families here can trace their last names back generations. Children here are weaned on sweet tea and cut their teeth on cornbread and homemade biscuits.

Just like in other places across the country, a child’s first word is liable to be “no.” Kids are amazingly similar no matter where you’re from.

However, around here that word is also likely to be followed by the word “ma’am,” lest there be a butt whooping and hell to pay.

As you can imagine, it was quite a surprise when our little Tarboro made the national news this week for this:

Elementary school children are no match for easily offended adults who wear imagined oppression like a badge of honor.

So, yeah. Tarboro, NC, hometown of good ol’ boys, makes national news because a teacher punished a fifth grader for calling her ma’am.

She might as well have cursed the sky for being blue.

The teacher claims to have repeatedly told the child to stop referring to her as ma’am. We don’t really know why... because privacy issues and educational politics. Perhaps she was upset this kid assumed her gender. How dare a 10 year-old attempt to dictate the gender identity of his teachers?

Or perhaps it was this teacher’s attempt to rip down the patriarchy, liberating women from archaic gender roles. Maybe this teacher is on a mission to destroy rules of decorum that limit ladies to nibbling cucumber sandwiches held daintily in white-gloved hands.

God help the poor guy who tries to hold the door for this one.

Ma’am isn’t a curse word. It shouldn’t be treated like hate speech. It isn’t meant to disparage or intimidate. It isn’t an insult to women everywhere. It’s just a way to show respect to your elders. It’s a way to be polite and civil. It’s one of the few things that separate us from the beasts. (You know? Those barbarians living above the Mason Dixon?)

Even if you think the term is incredibly outdated, you can’t easily unravel years of home-training.

Sorry, Lady (term loosely applied). You’ll have to try harder if you plan to make these kids woke. We resist change here like we resist Texas-style barbecue (is it really even barbecue?), unsweet tea (Or as we call it: nasty brown water), and low-carb diets (Bring on the biscuits and mashed taters!) And I promise that resistance isn’t all bad. It’s one of those things that makes this place homey and friendly and charming.

Sweetheart, if you’re going to make it in this town, you’re going to need to pick your battles. I promise this one isn’t worth it.

You’re a teacher, although arguably a pretty crappy one. I mean, you picked writing as a PUNISHMENT. There’s nothing like a teacher planting the notion in a young, fertile mind that writing is torture, a chore so tedious as to be reserved for mean-spirited discipline. Of course, this is punishment for only the most serious when you do what your parents tell you rather than what your teacher demands.

Bravo! Way to squash the next generation of Faulkners, Twains, and Dickinsons. (Those are famous American writers for those of you who may have received an Edgecombe County education.)

Why don’t you focus on basic literacy and math skills. I mean that’s your job. You weren’t hired to teach social justice, feminism, or progressive thought, no matter how noble those causes may be.

Edgecombe County has an abysmal graduation rate of 79 percent. Only 25 percent of the county’s students are proficient in reading. Only 27 percent are proficient in math. Why are you wasting your time trying to dismantle a student’s family values? (Here is a link for these stats. Just in case you want to tell me how awesome the schools are here.)

Honey, there are bigger catfish to fry (and serve up with a heapin’ side of collard greens and some fried okra.) Let’s start with the basics.

Anyone else suddenly hungry?

Is it just me?

I’m not saying you don’t have your work cut out for you. Educating kids is a tough, tough job.  Darlin’, there’s a heck of a lot of work to do. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to it… Ma’am.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Silent Sam and the Things That Never Change

Friday, we dropped my oldest daughter off at UNC Chapel Hill for her first year of college. I had put off thinking about it all summer, stuffing down emotions, procrastinating in my usual way, promising to deal with it later.

That morning we packed the family car with everything she would need - at least a dozen pairs of shoes, a case of ramen, over-priced text books, strings of Christmas lights. There was only a small space left for her. She had to carry her potted cactus plants on her lap for the entire two-hour drive.

The weather was sunny. The temperature well into the mid-90s. It was hot work toting box after box up several flights of stairs to a tiny, drab dorm room where she will spend the next months. We lofted her bed, assembled a brand new futon, hung pictures.

It didn't take long for us all to get sweaty. It felt like labor. It made me remember another kind of labor, 36 hours of contractions to birth her.

Letting go of a child is hard work.

In my normal procrastinating way, I put off good-bye as long as possible, making her bed, unpacking her clothes. I actually unfolded, then carefully and deliberately refolded each piece before tucking it inside the dresser drawer. We bought sushi on Franklin Street, eating slowly, savoring each individual bite, dragging out dinner much longer than was necessary.

But you can't procrastinate forever, in spite of your best efforts. Good-bye was inevitable and the emotions came gurgling up from the place I had been stuffing them all summer long.

"I'm going to wait to have my emotional breakdown until I'm in the car," I told her.

"Me, too," she said throwing her arms around me as the tears started flowing. Hers first, then mine. Just like the day she was born.

And suddenly, in that moment, she wasn't the stunning and confident young woman I had lived with all summer. In her place was a toddler, the one who had held my neck with a death grip, clinging to me like a cuttlefish. She had super human strength, like her arms were made of suction cups, impossible to pry open.

I could have held her forever, but that isn't how things work.

The walk back to the car without her felt all wrong. In my heart, it still felt like I was walking away from that small, helpless toddler. How was I supposed to protect her from so far away?

My mothering instincts hadn't caught up to the fact that saber tooth tigers weren't lurking around every corner waiting to rip my baby to shreds. Although college might hold some danger, my rational brain knows she can handle it. She is a confident, mature, responsible young lady.

Children grow much faster than mothers are able to let go.

Monday night, she sent a message to the family chat. (Yes, we have an active family chat. I like to think that makes us the cool family.)

"Silent Sam is down! Protesters toppled the statue."

Silent Sam was an iconic Confederate monument on UNC's campus. The statue, an image of a Confederate soldier, had stirred up a lot of controversy in last year's Southern hysteria surrounding historic monuments.

We had passed him on our way to get sushi.

"I'm surprised nobody has torn him down yet," my daughter had commented.

All of us had known it was only a matter of time.

My husband quickly pulled up internet video footage of the mob shouting and kicking at the fallen statue.


"Where are you?" My thumbs could barely type the message.

In that brief terror-filled moment before she answered, I thought my child might be in danger. In that instant, it didn't matter the reason behind the mob's actions. It didn't matter if they were right or wrong. It didn't matter whether I agreed with their reasoning or their morality. It didn't matter if I understood their motivations or if their ideologies conformed with mine.

The only thing that mattered, the ONLY THING...

Was whether my child was safe.

"I'm in my room. It’s a bit scary, being this close to that. I’ve never been this close to this stuff before."

She grew up in a small, quiet, Southern town. The rowdiest people get is right before the threat of snow flurries, as everyone rushes the local Piggly Wiggly for bread and milk.

"Stay in your room," I typed back, thumbs still trembling.

Mothers spend 18 years in vain attempts to keep their children safe, only to send them out into the thick of things where they are anything but.

And she is in the thick of things. In the thick of thinking and social change and questioning everything. And for her it is exciting.

Silent Sam was not a real person, but a representation, a symbol of the more than one thousand UNC students who fought on both sides of the War Between the States.

I can't help but empathize with Silent Sam's mother, symbolic just like her son.

Each of those mothers, on both sides of the conflict, spent 18 years keeping their children safe only to send them out into the thick of things, where they were anything but.

I suppose everyone knew it was only a matter of time. Only a matter of time before things had to come crashing down.

They were mothers from small towns like mine, where people don't get particularly rowdy. Those mothers must have felt the strong arms of their children as they said good-bye. Those sweet mothers must have thought of the toddler grip those arms once held on their skirts, their hands, their heart. They remembered the feel of chubby arms wrapped around them.

Did those mothers wish they could hold that child just a little longer?

The reasons behind The War must not have mattered so much.  It couldn't have mattered whether it was right or wrong, whether she agreed with it or not. It must not have mattered whether she understood the motivations or if her ideologies conformed with what others considered "right."

The only thing that mattered was the safety of her child.


"Where are you?" she must have prayed each night.

Only some of those mothers never heard from their children again.

It is in a mother's nature to wish a safe and peaceful life for her children.

It is in a child's nature to make a difference, to change the world, to be right in the thick of things.

Time marches on.

Things change.

Some things never will.

Monday, August 13, 2018

I Wonder Why No One Comes to My Book Club

I don't understand why everyone stopped coming to my book club.

I have fabulous snacks. I provide a great spread of exotic cheese and scrumptious finger foods, tiny little shrimp puffs and the traditional Southern cheese straw. There are monogrammed cocktail napkins and enough chardonnay to appease the average middle-aged housewife.

But everyone has stopped coming.

When we were deciding which book to read, Sharon suggested we read Love in the Time of Cholera. While this is indeed a love story of astonishing power, I felt it might be above the group's reading and comprehension level. I didn't want the ladies to try anything too challenging, so I handed out Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks. That one is definitely within the group's abilities. Who cares if no one has any desire to read it?

Before we got started, I passed out highlighters, a vocabulary list, and a thick packet of worksheets. Some of it was busy work (there was at least one mind-numbing, time-sucking word search), but most of it was designed to prepare them for the all-powerful, super-important, state-mandated test.

I informed them the packet must be completed before the next meeting if they wanted a good grade. Don't make me call your mother to find out why you're being belligerent, Sharon.

At the start of the meeting, I passed out a quick vocabulary test. Then everyone wrote a short synopsis of what they had just read. I made several people read theirs in front of the group.

Then, I made sure to do most of the talking, lecturing at the front of the room. I asked mundane questions about character names and general action and setting. I made sure to call on the people who didn't raise their hands, putting them on the spot. Shame is a great motivator to participation.

I brought out the points I thought the students, er... I mean book club members should know.  I made sure each person viewed the book through my values and life experience, instead of filtering it through their own thoughts, values, and reality.

What do you mean you don't know, Sharon? Didn't you read the book? This question would be easy if you had done your homework. I'm so disappointed, Sharon. Can someone who actually read the book please answer the question for Sharon?

At the end of the "discussion," after I told them what the book was really about and made sure they knew exactly what to think, I passed out bubble sheets and number two pencils for the required content retention test. I made sure there was only one "right" answer to the test questions and the required three paragraph essay.

Everyone who passed got to go to the kitchen for my fabulous snacks.

The members who didn't pass went to the living room for mandatory remediation to prepare for the retest. (That means you, Sharon. Are you even trying?).

Those who passed the retest only got half the snacks as those who passed on the first try. Those who didn't pass, well... they had to reread the book and repeat book club again next year.

And yet... not one single person appreciates my efforts. It's like they don't even enjoy reading.

Especially Sharon.

Weird, right?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What Happened to Summer Vacation?

It is a Tuesday morning. There are only a few short weeks of summer left before school starts. The weather is perfectly sunny today, although admittedly warm and humid. However, the neighborhood is eerily quiet.

I know there are children here. Sometimes I see them, although I only catch glimpses. I see the child across the street as he ambles from his mother's car to the front door every weekday evening. I see the window decals on my neighbors' minivans for the local school. Sometimes, during the school year, I might see a few of them waiting for the school bus to arrive. I know they are here, although I rarely see them, and when I do it is only short flashes of their presence.

This neighborhood silence frightens me. It's too quiet. As the long days of summer have been drifting by, I haven't seen the first gaggle of youngsters ride by on bicycles. I haven't seen them running past the house. I haven't heard the patter of sneakers on the sidewalk. I haven't caught sight of even a single child in the neighborhood park or roaming free in any public spaces.

They are here, but only behind closed doors.

It really isn't the silence that bothers me. It is knowing these neighborhood children are contained in structured, adult-led, indoor activities, constantly told what to do, how to act... what to think. Structured activities, while terribly convenient for busy working parents, are essentially the bane of childhood.

Overly nostalgic adults like me laud our own childhoods. Our pant suit-clad, stay-at-home mothers sent us outside so they could mop floors and watch their stories in peace. They didn't want to to see us until dinner time. My mother even told me once to "go play in traffic." With nothing better to do, we made friends, played games, and created our own adventures.

Gone are those days of barefoot abandon. There isn't the time nor the freedom for neighborhood play and backyard forts. Today, nearly every waking hour of the typical child's day is orchestrated by someone else.

Summers, evenings, and weekends, times that used to be sacred space for childhood play, have morphed into time for structured activities. Too often, when we actually witness kids playing in a park, they are garbed in matching uniforms and being instructed by adult coaches or counselors. They follow instructions, wait in orderly lines, and only play games with clear rules imposed by grown-ups.

There is little free time to explore the environment, to play with sticks, squish in mud, or lay in the grass and daydream. Today's children are exiled from nature, caged and cutoff from the natural world. Not only are they not allowed to play with the unfettered freedom of previous generations, they are also segregated from the "real world." The only social interactions they experience are with children their own age, the ones also caged in the same confining structure of modern American childhood, and even those interactions are limited to the rules and restrictions of the adult-imposed environment.

The landscape of childhood has changed drastically in just a few short decades. Today's children probably wouldn't know what to do if they weren't given clear directions (although I suspect it wouldn't take them long to figure things out). But the strict rules and ordered schedules modern children endure, would have drive me absolutely crazy as a child.

But maybe it is doing that to today's children as well.

Perhaps the carefully arranged schedules children are forced to keep are, in fact, driving them literally insane, or at the very least having a severe affect on their mental health.

Dr. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, asserts a causal link between the decline in childhood play and the marked increase in childhood psychopathy, including depression, anxiety, narcissism, and suicide. He had this to say in his 2011 article published in the American Journal of Play:

Play functions as the major mean by which children (1) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (2) learn howto make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (3) learn to regulate their emotions; (4) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (5) experience joy. 

Over the last century, Western Society has made amazing, almost miraculous advancements in medicine and technology. Quality of life has improved tremendously for large portions of the world's population. Our country has also made amazing progress in destroying old prejudices of race, sexual orientation, and gender. Today, life is undeniably easier than it was for even our recent ancestors.

However, if we measure progress based on happiness and mental health, we have actually been moving steadily backwards since the 1950s. Here are just a few examples:

  • Today, approximately 2.6 million American children have diagnosed anxiety and/or depression.
  • There are currently millions of U.S. kids on prescription medication for behavioral issues and depression.
  • According to a study published this May in Pediatrics, the number of kids hospitalized for thinking about or attempting suicide has more than doubled in less than 10 years. 

Anxiety and depression often correspond to the feeling that an individual lacks control of their own lives. People who believe they have power to change their circumstances and control their own fate are less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Children, especially those whose lives are an endless string of school, organized sports, and other planned activities, can easily feel like victims of circumstances beyond their control. These kids are  constantly being told where to go and what to do, when to eat and when to use the bathroom, when to sit and when to run. Even when they are allowed to run, they are told how far and how fast to do it. Even kids choose their own activities, they may still feel little control over how their time is spent since outside authorities are still decide how they will spend each individual minute in those activities.

Modern children have very little time for free play.

This is a serious issue.

Play deprivation can have far-reaching affects. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of the book, Balanced and Barefoot, describes the importance of childhood play and its impact on physical and emotional development.

“We are keeping [children] from attaining the very sensory input they need in order to grow into resilient and able-bodied people. They need to climb, jump, run through the woods, pick up sticks, jump in mud puddles, and fall and get hurt on occasion. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will help develop a healthy sensory system–foundational to learning and accomplishing many of life’s goals.”
Behind closed doors, in single file lines, herded from one organized activity to another, children are not given the freedom they need to develop and reach their full potential. Even when the activities are designed to give them a jump start on educational success, it may actually hinder that success. Many of the qualities that contribute to success in the adult world - like problem solving, creativity, cooperation, compromise, and a willingness to take calculated risks - are all developed on the playground, not the classroom or the sports field.

There are plenty of reasons for the lack of childhood activity in the typical American neighborhood. Working mothers, television and video games, academic pressure, fear of dangerous predators, and being reported to Child Protective Services are all factors keeping modern kids in carefully controlled and supervised environments.

It really doesn't matter why. The result is the same regardless of the reason - anxious, stressed-out kids who will grow up and struggle to find balance, motivation, and happiness. If they are never given the freedom to be well-adjusted children, they will never develop the skills necessary to be well-adjusted adults.

Children need the opportunity to grow outside of fences. They need to run too fast and be too loud. They need to scrape knees, play in the mud. They need to find their own cure for boredom and make up rules to their own games.

And that is why the neighborhood silence frightens me. I worry I won't get the chance to be the grumpy old woman who yells at the neighborhood kids to stop trampling her grass. I worry about what kinds of adults the neighborhood children I rarely see will become.

Is the world ready for what we're raising behind closed doors?

More importantly... will they be ready for the world?