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How to pack for college... and the rest of your life

Published: Jupiter Courier - August 2015

The school bell is about to ring and while mothers of preteen students are busy filling backpacks with notebooks, pencils, markers and assorted necessities, mothers of college-aged girls are also preparing to pack bags. For parents of young women heading off to schools of higher education the sight of suitcases in the hallway can be traumatic. Yes, tuition is a frightening reality—one that could play havoc with your savings account for many years. Eventually though, the bills will be paid and your daughters will begin earning their own way in the world. That’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, there is another frightening reality—one which many parents refuse to accept—mothers, in particular. Whenever I speak to individuals and groups about the need for all women regardless of their age to take responsibility for their own safety, it is inevitably the mothers of daughters in the last years of high school or about to enter college who balk at the suggestion. They seem to resent being advised that their daughters need to be careful about the who, where and how of enjoying themselves. As the mother of a rape survivor, I wish I had known eight years ago the things I know now.

Taking responsibility does not mean denying oneself a good time. It doesn’t mean you cannot party with your friends or drink or dress provocatively. It does, however, mean that the good times will not be marred by painful memories in years to come

If I had a penny (even as worthless as pennies have become) for every time I’ve heard “rite of passage,” I would be very wealthy. I always think that people are confusing “rite” with “right” because although you do have the right to go, dress and behave as your choose, the rite that you may be participating in could be rape. Here is where I get the most flack. Invariably, there will be one mother who will spout the feminist line about how what you wear has no correlation to rape… and that is true to a certain degree. Rapists aren’t necessarily drawn to sexy attire unless that attire will make it hard for the intended victim to get away. Just try running in five inch heels. See how far you get. Consider that being unconscious in a pool of vomit, whether wearing a designer dress or a suit of armor, is not only unattractive, it’s also an open invitation to every pervert lurking nearby.

College is a transitional period for all students. Both males and females get their first taste of freedom and, more often than not, they are unprepared for the dangers inherent in the absence of parental supervision. Despite what some factions would like you to believe, not all men are potential rapists. However, there are rapists in college just as there are everywhere in life. Date rape is a controversial subject which I will not address here. My comments are generalizations meant to keep all women safe throughout their lives.

No woman deserves to be raped. Choosing to go naked through the streets does not qualify a female as being rape worthy. Nothing a woman does… no manner of behavior… justifies abuse. However, if you are going to dress provocatively, if you are going to drink to excess, if you are going to habituate areas that are less than safe, you had best be aware that the fact that you don't deserve to be raped means nothing to a rapist.

Women should able to do as they please without fear of assault, but we don't exist between the pages of a story book where the princess lives happily ever after. This is real life and here the princess can wake up brutally beaten—if she is lucky enough to wake up at all. Why? Because she chose to protect herself with rhetoric rather than reason.

Don’t be a victim. Don’t allow your daughters to be victims. Talk to your children about the danger in acting irresponsibly. Mottos and slogans can’t save your life, but here’s one that might detour you and your family out of harm’s way: “Think before you drink.” Let’s make that motto even simpler—“Just think.” And don’t expect someone else to protect you. That’s your job.

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On hallowed ground

Published: Jupiter Courier - Memorial Day 2015

President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Observed on the last Monday in May, it is a time for the living to pay homage to those who gave their lives so that we and the oppressed people of the world can remain free from tyranny.

Honoring our deceased veterans has been a tradition since 1868 when Union General John A. Logan declared “Decoration Day” an occasion to place flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers. It is estimated that 625,000 Americans died over differing views on slavery, trade tariffs, and states’ rights. The Civil War holds the ignominious record of the highest number of casualties in one confrontation and is the most costly engagement America has ever fought. As staggering as those statistics are, the total number of men and women who have given their lives in all wars - foreign and domestic - is well over one million. Surely, one day a year is not enough to give tribute to our fallen soldiers. We must do more.

When my son was in high school in the 1990s, I was a very involved parent, often supervising events on campus and serving as a chaperone for local and out-of-state trips. I vividly remember traveling to Boston for a debate tournament at Harvard University. The trip included some sightseeing, including a walk along the Freedom Trail. The students were all excited to visit historic landmarks highlighting Boston’s role in the American Revolution. They seemed to appreciate the sacrifices made so that they could enjoy the lifestyles they usually took for granted. We were proud parents… all except one father who appeared troubled. Upon questioning, he revealed that, while watching the mini-series The Blue and the Grey, his daughter, a senior, had asked him what the movie was about. His answer, “The Civil War” had elicited the response, “What war is that?”

Since the Vietnam era, war has become commonplace in our lives. Our men and women in uniform have been fighting on foreign soil for so long that we no longer stop to think about the danger they face every day. Where once we protested in the streets to bring our soldiers home, now few Americans blink an eye as statistics rolls across the bottom of their television screens announcing the names of those who have perished in battle. Unlike the father who was ashamed of his daughter’s question, my fear is that in years to come, children will no longer ask,  “What war is that?”

With each passing birthday, I have become more aware of my own mortality. I’ve often wondered who will remember me when I’m gone. My husband and I were blessed with a new grandson two years ago and we try to spend as much time with him as possible. When the inevitable happens, I want him to remember us… to know that we loved him and wanted only the best for him. Every Memorial Day, I think about the friends I lost in the Vietnam War… those young men who never had a chance to start a family. There are no children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to wave a flag in their honor… or are there? It is up to us to keep their memory alive. We may not know their names. We may not know their faces, but we do know what they sacrificed for us. If that isn’t the true meaning of family, I don’t know what is.

Let each and every one of us give true meaning to poet Thomas Campbell’s words by remembering our deceased veterans this Memorial Day. Let us pay tribute to those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the blessings and bounty of life in a country where freedom’s bell rings loud and clear. If we remember, perhaps the day will come when no new names will be engraved on headstones and monuments.

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To fear is human

A little over 18 months ago, just about every journalist of any renown wrote an article covering the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Most encouraged us to return to normal life which, in their opinion, would be a slap in the face to terrorists… a message that they cannot destroy our freedoms. Thomas L. Friedman wrote for the New York Times, “This is our house. We intend to relax here. And we are not afraid.” At the time the column was published, I remember saying to my husband that Friedman did Americans a disservice by suggesting that we embrace his mindset. Fear, when harnessed properly, can be an advantage.

Perhaps, the reason Mr. Friedman and I differ in our way of thinking lies in our definitions of the word fear. To me, fear is our inner warning system – gut instinct so to speak. It keeps us on our toes and heightens our senses. It protects us at times when we least expect to need protection. Fear also makes us deeply aware of the fragility of life. To quote Benjamin Disraeli, “Fear makes us feel our humanity.”

Is there anyone who does not remember the attack on the World Trade Center? Weren’t we all afraid then? Considering the increase in terror attacks around the world, I would suggest we should be afraid now.

Three days after 9/11, my husband and I set out on a cross country trip from Florida to California. All along the way, billboards hosted images of the American flag and slogans such as “United We Stand.”

No matter what road we traveled, cars whizzed by flying our symbol of liberty with pride from their antennae. Rear windshields and side windows sported decals of Old Glory. I was proud to be a passenger in one of those cars. We honked our horns to show solidarity. It felt good!

At each rest stop, restaurant and motel, people seemed friendlier than I remembered them on past trips. Where once no one looked behind them to see if a door needed to be held, now men, women and children were going out of their way to help one another. Smiles were bigger. “Good morning” greetings were louder. We were bound by tragedy and determined that nothing and no one would interfere with life as we knew it. Americans for America was the common thread that held us together.

Rather than heading straight for Los Angeles, we took a detour to Sedona, Arizona. I sat silently in a pew at the Chapel of the Holy Cross and stared out at the beautiful vista that is my country. I cried. Strangers rushed to give me tissues. Many hands were placed on my shoulders in understanding. I felt a surge of strength… the rebirth of faith… that America would be safe from further destruction because people would not forget.

Ninety days later, my husband and I made the exact same trip, but this time, everything was different. The billboards were rotting from the wind and the rain. Those flags flying from car antennae – they were tattered and torn if they remained at all. People no longer greeted each other or held a door or offered a helping hand. They had forgotten; the pressures of everyday life dulling the memory of the attack on home soil. This time when we stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, I cried for a very different reason.

Never would I advocate that we let fear of the past prevent us from making decisions that enhance our present and future. However, the past is like a box of crayons -- the application of its many colors gives depth to our vision of life and liberty. Those colors can only benefit us as we move into an uncertain future.

To ignore that fear has a place in our lives is to ignore that danger is all around us. Rather than professing that we are not afraid, let’s acknowledge that we are and rightly so. Then, let’s choose to temper our fear with the softer shades of awareness. Do not ignore fear because to do so would allow our enemies to sneak up from behind and color over our lives, our home, and our country with their own brand of crayons. The color they will use is the deepest, darkest black of death and destruction.

Published: Jupiter Courier - April 30, 2015

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