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Too young to be old

Posted on March 10, 2013 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I'm young enough that I can still count the wrinkles and gray hairs but old enough that my era as a full-time mom has come to an end. The nest is empty. I can sit around and cry, or I can decide where to go from here.

I've been fortunate to accomplish most things I've set out to accomplish in my life. I've been leader of my high school flag team, a college cheerleader, a professional cheerleader, a college graduate, a masters graduate, Miss Oklahoma, talent winner and Top 10 finalist at Miss America, a professional singer, a professional emcee, a television news reporter, a television news anchor, a business life has been full.

But if I'm honest, all I really ever wanted and needed to be was a mom. I wanted to have babies and love them and cherish them and be a positive force in their lives and the world they would impact. I got to do that for too short a time. Because of divorce and vastly contraditory parenting styles, I wound up having an empty nest a lot sooner than I had planned.

Today it's too late to go back to the things I gave up to be a mom, and it's too soon to retire to a nursing home rocking chair with my knitting needles and basket of yarn. My husband says I'm too hot to be an old lady.

So I look at people who have reinvented themselves and flown out of the empty nest. My big sister is my greatest example. Jan Marler Morrill used to be the shrinking violet sister who carried my evening gowns when I was performing in pageants. After her Big Star sister brought down the house, Jan would dutifully go to the dressing room to clean up my mess and pack my gowns, hair spray and makeup. She spent her life in the background, taking care of everyone else. It must have been hard when that role came to an end.

Jan could be in a rocking chair somewhere (her nest has been empty for many years), but she never sits still long enough to rock. She's a newly-published author who gives lectures and who every once in a while paints a painting or runs in a marathon or goes on an international vacation or whatever she feels like doing.

I'm sure Jan at some point reached a crossroads where she wondered if her best years were behind her. When you've effectively reached the end of the only life you've ever imagined, it's time to start imaging a new life. That's where I am today.

I've been everything I've ever wanted to be. Now I just need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Because I'm too young to be old.

Think I'm turning Japanese

Posted on March 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Once when I was competing in a pageant on my journey to the title of Miss Oklahoma, an interview judge asked me what I thought at the time was an odd and inappropriate question: "How do you feel about being half Japanese?" I'm pretty sure I looked at her as though she had just vomited on my $1,500 suit.

"Well, because I have always been half Japanese, I really have nothing else to which I can compare being half Japanese," I said out loud, while silently I said, "How does it feel to be an idiot?" (That was the way I thought back then.)

Through the years since my pageant days, and especially after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that virtually destroyed the birthplaces of my grandparents, I understand the profundity of the judge's question from so many years ago.

My mother is Japanese - born in Sacramento, California to Yoiko of Fukushima, Japan and Fukumatsu of Sendai, Japan. She was the youngest of nine children and the family's great hope for being an Americanized Japanese. She is the only member of her family to speak with no trace of an accent because of all of the voice and diction lessons she took as a child.

Day after day was a dichotomy of training in traditional Japanese ceremonial fare: tea ceremonies; Odori and Hanayagi dancing; Koto (stringed instrument) lessons; while at the same time she took American vocal performance lessons from some of the top voice coaches in California. Her mother, the grandmother I never met, expected young Miyoko to excel in every lesson. "Good enough" was not in the Sasaki family's vocabulary.

What does it mean to be half Japanese? I realize now that it means my siblings and I are expected to strive for excellence; to cling to our Japanese culture while excelling at skills that make us uniquely American.

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the world has seen a Japanese society reeling with grace from what should be considered the worst disaster in that proud nation's history. But it's not. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were arguably just as devastating and the Japanese recovered from those manmade tragedies with the same grace and honor. In those tragedies, they also actively practiced forgiveness.

My mother recently took my sisters and me to Hiroshima. We toured the bombing museum and "ground zero" with eerie, conflicting feelings of pride, awe and shame. At first I was afraid of how a group of Americans would be treated while touring around this hallowed ground, once decimated by U.S. bombers. But we only experienced kindness, sincerity and gracious hospitality from the people of Japan.


My oldest sister recently taught me about the Japanese philosophy of Gaman, or patience, endurance, perseverance. I never even thought about it, but my mother--in her Americanized way--drilled the concept into our psyches throughout our lives. I looked upon terms such as, "fight fire with water," "be kind to people on your way up the ladder because you never know who you will meet on your way back down," "let it roll off your back" as signs of weakness - not strength. But she was trying to teach me gaman - to endure hardships with grace. God bless her, for mixed with my Japanese blood is the blood of American revolutionaries, Irish rebels and Scottish warriors. While I will always peservere, I'm not always one to persevere with grace. Her little Japanese heart must break every time I take on a new battle.

So what does it mean to be half Japanese? I realize now that it means I am privileged to carry the wisdom and goodness of generations of a proud culture that actively practices gaman. I watch with great sadness and pride as the Japanese people -- my people -- gracefully recover from this most horrific of disasters. I've also learned I don't always know everything and I probably owe a certain pageant judge a long overdue apology.

Bullying: One victim, many players

Posted on March 21, 2011 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Most of us have seen the compelling video of the obnoxious dancing bully taking pot shots at the overweight victim who finally has his fill and body slams the little punk. Here's a personal admission: I was proud of 16-year-old Casey Heynes, who said he had been bullied all of his life, for standing up to not only the bully in his face, but all of the bullies surrounding and watching the fight. He may have been suspended for defending himself, but he would have been king of the house when he got home if he were my child.

I have taught my own children, "You better not ever start a fight, but you are absolutely allowed to finish one."

In a world where news anchors give enticing warnings about the graphic nature of upcoming video, then proceed to run the video repeatedly for as long as possible, we've likely seen every possible follow-up to the story. Most interesting to me is the bullying "expert" who gives advice to bullying victims who aren't watching.

"You should walk away [while you're being punched in the face] and go tell a trusted adult," said the "expert" to her nonexistent audience.

Many parents will tell you, telling a trusted adult only works when the adult can actually be trusted to appropriately handle bullying. If the adult ignores the bullying victim or - worse yet - brings the victim and bully into an office for a "peer mediation," bullying activity will likely escalate and cause the bully to seek reinforcements from the anti-snitch crowd.

What I have not seen in the aftermath of the infamous bullying video is an analysis of all the other ways this bullying incident might have been stopped and all of the other students who should have been harshly disciplined for taking part. It's easy to focus on the two boys at the center of the video where all the action is happening, but bullying does not occur in a vacuum. Successful bullying require an audience, and the innocent bystanders are necessary players in the bullying melee.

Starting with the two girls who stood there laughing when the boy with the camera and Little Dancing Bully Dude first approached Casey: What could they have done, besides giggle and move to a spot where they would have a better vantage point? Bystanders who do nothing are, in my opinion, just as culpable as the bully. Children who know they are expected to be ethical and moral leaders would intervene before the violence escalates. They learn to be moral and ethical leaders in the home--from parents who will not accept behaviors that demean others.

And the punk with the camera who plays lookout and says, "Keep recording. Look, who's that in the background?" Did he get suspended? Did his mother blister his behind when he got home? Or did he brag about it and show off the tape to all of his friends with absolutely no punishment meted out on the homefront? If kids like that had vigilant parents who stepped in when they heard their children laughing at the expense of others, Little Dancing Bully Dude wouldn't have the audience he needs to pick on kids like Casey.

What about the second bully--the bystander who approached Casey after he body slammed Little Dancing Bully Dude? First he stood by and watched his little buddy bully Casey, then he tried to step in to carry the bullying mantle. I hope his parents had a stern talk with him when they saw the video just about everyone in the world has now seen.

The only child who acted with any integrity and courage was the girl who stopped the would-be bully from going after Casey. She should be held up as an example in the campaign to fight bullying. Every parent should show their children her brave, righteous actions.

Walking up on the scuffle between Casey and Little Dancing Bully Dude, she said, "Come on, guys, you need to...," in an attempt to diffuse the situation. When the second bully started to follow Casey, she stepped between them, held up her hands and said, "I think you need to back off and leave him."

IT ONLY TOOK ONE GIRL whose gut told her what she was seeing was wrong. Were it not for her courage and integrity, I believe the bullying mantle would have been passed to the second boy. Hers is the behavior that needs to be trumpeted; not that of the bully or the victim, but of the bystanders who have the power to stop bullying now.

Parents, be the "trusted adult" in your children's lives. Teach them to stop the bully now; for if they don't, they may one day find themselves as the lone victim in a coliseum of inert innocent bystanders.

Raising the perfect child

Posted on March 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Raising the perfect child

(July 19, 2008)

I have two teenagers and a prepubescent boy (who would die a million deaths if he knew I just called him that on the worldwide web). Throughout their lives I have tried to teach them right from wrong. I have introduced them to that still, small voice of their conscience for those inevitable times they are faced with a decision between what's right, and what feels right. I have taught them to recognize and accept the natural consequences of those times they make the wrong choice.

Take the time my oldest son was just beginning to wear big-boy pants. It was a hot summer day and he was learning to swim with arm floaties. We cautioned him regularly about not getting into the water without his water wings. He knew the rules.

He also knew Batman had superhuman powers.

We had all just gotten out of the swimming pool, pulled off the water wings and dried off for the day. I left my teenage niece and nephew with my little ones while I ran upstairs to get some drinks.

I wasn't gone three minutes when I heard my nephew shouting for me from the pool area. Just as I got to the stairs of the deck, I saw my niece pulling my son from the bottom of the deep end to the edge of the pool. I bolted down the stairs as she shoved my tiny boy into the hands of my nephew, who was standing on the deck.

I was gripped with terror at the thought of losing one of my precious angels. I dropped to the deck beside him and held his little floatie-less body. Thankfully, he was choking and coughing, wiping the water and tears from his eyes.

"What were you doing?!" I screamed. "Mommy told you never to get in the water without your floaties!"

"But Mommy..." he said, sobbing.

I interrupted, demanding to know what compelled him to go against what he knew was the cardinal water rule. "You know you're not supposed to swim without Mommy or Daddy in the water with you!"

"But Mommy," he tried again, "I was wearing my Batman big-boy pants."

Even though his parents had taught him right from wrong, somehow Batman had convinced him we might not know everything. He caved to peer pressure from the caped crusader.

It would not be the last time.

Well-meaning parents do our best to help our children to discover the internal compass that will direct them to the right paths in life. Even the children of well-meaning parents occasionally stray from the right path. When (not if, when) it happens, we expect them to accept the natural consequences, pick themselves up and put themselves back on the right track.

But what about when they make poor choices while they're at school?

As a parent, I want to know that their teachers and principals have the same beliefs and expectations that I have. While I will protect my children to the death, I also want them to be held accountable for their actions. If they get caught doing something inappropriate at school, they first fear my wrath, then they fear the school's actions. They also know if they were truly wrong, they will endure whatever disciplinary action the school deems appropriate. I will not bail them out.

That being said, if one of my children were ever referred to an alternative school for disciplinary reasons, I hope I would teach them that their predicament is a natural consequence of their poor choice. I would talk to them every day about their experience at the school, what they learned about their choices and how they would choose differently the next time.

My children know they can tell me just about anything without fear I will overreact. They know from experience that I will listen to what they have to say if they present their case calmly, without exaggeration. If they tell me they are being treated poorly or unfairly, I ask them for the specific incidents or words that led them to that conclusion. I ask them to explain the specific circumstances that preceded the unfair or inappropriate incidents. Either I help them to understand the other party's possible point of view, or I ask them if they would like for me to intervene. Most of the time the discussion alone is enough to help them see things more clearly. Other times they decide they know how to take care of it themselves. Rarely, they will allow me to get involved.

Those who know I'm coming to them on my child's behalf better understand I'm not coming for platitudes from some lackey. I want solutions from someone who is qualified to give me solutions. I want to be able to go back to my children and assure them they will face their consequences in a fair and appropriate manner.

My children must be able to trust that I will do whatever I can to help them live up to my expectations of them; whether at home or at school. They also must be able to trust that my expectations are born of my undying faith in their goodness. They trust that while peers may come and go, their parents love and accept them forever.

Batman is perhaps the world's most magnificent superhero with the utmost standards of right and wrong, but my son doesn't trust him anymore.