Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

I never felt the void of a parent.


So today marks ten years without my dad. I’m feeling okay. I went through the worst of it early this morning. Much like every year, I woke up in the middle of the night – right around the time my mom woke us up to let us know what happened. I had my usual flashbacks of utter disbelief… literally asking my mom if she was kidding. I thought about the last time I saw my dad – just hours before he passed away. About how he was “completely fine”… we were supposed to pick him up & bring him home the morning he passed away. To be honest, ten years doesn’t feel much different than year 3, 5 or 8. It doesn’t feel monumental like most people think it does. What I’m dreading is year 13… the year where the number of years I lived without him surpasses the number of years I lived with him.

I had no idea what to write today. To be honest, work has been crazy and I haven’t had time to write much in the past two weeks. However, during lunch, I came across this video. I had to watch it in parts to keep myself from sobbing at my desk. Within this video lies my biggest fear – the father/daughter wedding dance. It has always haunted me… I’ve always been afraid that when this time comes, I’ll be met with grief during such a happy occasion… and that just didn’t feel right. Upon watching this, and the bride sob at her own wedding, I finally realized it’s okay. It’s okay to miss someone. Even amidst happiness, it’s okay to break down.

The second thing that really got me about this video was how different men in her life danced with her… it wasn’t just her grandpa… or brother… or uncle… there were so many men who were now the father figure in her life. I get that. I understand. Gina Loring says it best in her poem, “You Move Me” when she says, “You see, we of the fatherless tribe love men differently.” I thought about my own life & the people who really stepped up when my family needed it.

To be honest, while I have always missed my dad, I never felt the void of a parent. Yes, I hold such high respect for my mother for being a single parent and I understand how hard it must have been for her. However, I never felt like I only had one parent. Aside from the cliché empty chair at the table or seat in the audience, I never felt like I didn’t have a father anymore. So many people joined hands to make sure I never felt the void of a second parent. Don’t get the wrong idea… it wasn’t that I didn’t miss my dad – I missed (and still miss) him terribly… I just never felt like I didn’t have a second person there for me. My village didn’t allow for that to happen.

The second we found out about my father’s death, my best friend’s mom was there. She watched Oprah at 3am with me when the rest of my family went to identify the body. By 7am, my family friends were over with breakfast. At 8, my cousins were laying in my bed chatting with me. At noon, we had a house full of people – neighbors, family, friends… just sitting there to chat with us or doing anything around the house that needed to be done. In the afternoon my cousins took me shopping for funeral clothes and at 3pm my sister and I took a nap. It didn’t stop after the services.

My best friend’s dad would pick me up after school and drive me to cheerleading practice. My 8th grade teacher opened her door during lunch when I was upset. My priest returned the check my family gave to the church for religion classes and my uncle made sure our family always had flashlights. Food came in for months after the services and my aunts took my brother and I holiday shopping so we could get something nice for my mom. My mom’s coworkers took care of her at work and my family friends let me sleepover to give my mom a break. My coaches made sure I still had my goals in sight and my teachers understood when projects were a little late. My voice teacher taught me how to heal through music, my choreographer through dance, my English teacher through poetry and my Healing Hearts crew taught me how to laugh and still be a teenager through it all.

The support still hasn’t stopped… my uncles always make sure that I’m doing well when I come home to visit and fill my mom’s car with gas when she’s not looking. Each summer, when I am in Cooperstown with my Fieldstone Farm Family (who loved him as much as we did), I’m able to talk not only about the best memories of my dad but how hard it hurt when we lost him. My dad’s oldest brother always makes time to call to check-in on my mom & reminisce with her. My nephew always asks about him when he’s with us and allows me to remember him through great and hilarious stories. I don’t think I can drink a bottle of red wine without thinking about the time he got my cousin drunk after her dad passed away.

Every single year my village grows… my newly found Second City family provides the funny I missed after he was gone, my Chicago friends let me talk about the type of person he was and my teachers & coaches challenge and push me to reach my goals just like he would have. Ten years later and people are still there… most without even realizing it.

Yes, it really sucked to lose my dad… and I’m always going to have my days when I flashback and grieve. But today I am choosing to be grateful for my ever-growing village. I am eternally grateful.