Oct 26

What a chilling and sinister warning from Ray Bradbury…and a fitting one as we head into Halloween week. No matter how old I get, and perhaps this is true for some of you as well, as Halloween night approaches, the wind seems to whisper just a bit more, the clouds and tree branches take on strange shapes at sunset and as darkness falls, and the moon, regardless of the phase it’s in might glow just a bit more brightly. All too soon, the jack o lanterns will disappear from windows and doorsteps, replaced by the warm, welcoming glow of Christmas lights but for the next six days—the beauty of the outdoors takes on an orange tinted, spectral glow as we draw closer to All Hallow’s Eve. 

Bradbury’s beautiful prose is taken from one of his most celebrated novels and the “Autumn People” he refers to are a band of supernatural traveling carnival workers, bent on collecting the souls of townspeople in one of those Any town, U.S. A.  settings some American authors are so famous for. His Autumn People, led by Mr. Dark are physical presences within the town and for those who have read the novel,  you know we wait until almost the final pages to see if good will triumph over the evil that has settled onto the town.

Sadly, while Bradbury can banish his creations at the end of his novel, the intangible hand of the these “autumn people” hovers over lives in many different ways. Not live, menacing monsters who lurk in quiet doorways, ready to provide a jump scare to children and adults,  but rather the presence of all that we’d like to removed from our society- inequality, injustice, hatred, intolerance, discrimination, violence, disease, war and havoc—these are the autumn people that haunt our news headlines, our social media feeds, and at times may even touch our personal lives. Sowers of disharmony and discord, intent on causing chaos and calamity, we cannot always identify these specters when we are within their presence.  And yet, as Bradbury says “they frenzy forth”, spilling their hate the world over and we well should “beware of them”.

Both in the novel and in our lives, the only way to overcome the dreaded presence of the Autumn People is with unity, happiness, peace and love. Perhaps it is no wonder that as our Halloween season comes to an end, it is followed by the season of thanks and giving, and the season of goodwill toward man.  For we can, as a school community, as a state, as a country and as a world, rise against the tide of hatred and intolerance, whenever it washes ashore as long as we remember always two essential things:

There is more that unites us than divides us.

And

We are all created in the image and likeness of God. 

Happy Halloween, 2020! 

October 19

For as long as I have been Head of School at Saint Dominic Academy, we’ve partnered each October with Women Rising; a Jersey City community organization that works to help women and children who are victims of abuse. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I always felt it was important to take time away from our classes for one day, and hold an assembly which outlines clearly to our young ladies how teen dating violence can, if not stopped, lead to a pattern of suffering life – long abuse. This October, although Women Rising cannot join us in person for a school wide assembly, they agreed to prepare a presentation for all of our young ladies, and together we coordinated with our Religion, English and Health Departments to have Ms. Pawka, (Health) work with Ms. Armea (Campus Minister) and Mrs. Herrera (Religion Dept) to share and discuss this presentation with all of our young ladies during this upcoming week in October. I cannot thank all of these teachers enough, and my thanks to everyone at Women Rising and especially Margaret Abrams, our contact there, for putting all of this together in virtual form. We are happy to share it here today. 

In New Jersey alone, we have these truly terrible statistics, compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN NEW JERSEY

• There were 65,060 domestic violence offenses reported by the police in 2019

• Overall, females were victims in 75 percent of all domestic violence offenses.

• Domestic violence offenses arising from a dating relationship accounted for 14 percent of the state total.

• 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

• On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines receive approximately 21,000 calls, approximately 15 calls every minute.

• Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

• 72% of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these crimes are female.

Statistics and data can overwhelm us at times, especially for those of us (myself included) who are not mathematically inclined. I can look at these numbers above, as can every single young lady at Saint Dominic Academy, and see that these numbers are awful and far too high. However, sometimes I think we really only come to understand just how big a concern this is for women when we have it touch our lives personally in some way. 

While I would of course hope and pray that there is not one young woman walking the halls at Saint Dominic Academy who has had this affect her life in some way, the numbers show otherwise—that one in every four girls who say hello to me each morning will have this specter’s shadow fall over them; at least once.  And what the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy don’t know, what the faculty and staff don’t know, and what the overall SDA community did not know before reading this blog is that every time they cross the path of their Head of School, they are crossing the path of someone who falls into that 1 in 4 statistic…and it began in high school. 

Long ago and far away now, but still not ever a topic I revel in discussing, it happened to me. And because, at that time, there was not such an emphasis on how teen violence could lead into a pattern of abusive relationships—it went on far longer than it ever should have, and for certain, it has cast a long shadow over my life.  It is my hope, that in sharing this part of my history with the young women of Saint Dominic Academy, in showing them just how close they can be to the 1 out of 4 number, they will work to make wise choices…when they are dating as teens and when they choose a partner as adult women. 

Let us all, each of us as strong women, work to make sure that the future of New Jersey, America and the world over, becomes a future where these statistics are erased, where women are safe at all times, and where domestic abuse becomes just another part of history that we are less than proud of as a country.

Teen Dating Violence

October 12

If you told me I would be spending the Saturday morning of Columbus Day weekend, after the longest first month of school in the history of the world, sewing cloth voodoo dolls onto a child’s black robe and top hat, I would have said you were losing your mind. And yet, guess what I just finished doing? One hour, at least ten needle pricks in my index finger, a few re-threadings of the needle, and presto! Because when the store doesn’t have the “perfect” voodoo witch costume, the one that meets all the specifications laid out by your nine year old daughter, it’s “mom to the rescue.”  This week, it’s fake dolls from Michael’s being sewn on a costume. Last week, it was a white pumpkin carved with a ghost face for a movie party with a friend, and who knows what it will be next week.  What I do know is this, whatever it is, if I can make it happen, then I’ll put down the laundry and the bills and the lesson plans, and stay up late after night meetings, or get up early before work starts and make it happen. Why? Because, as we all know, that’s what mom’s do.

I tell this story this weekend because in a non COVID – 19 world,  this is the week I’d be sitting down to plan what to say at the annual SDA Mother Daughter Brunch. And although we cannot gather together this fall and pray and celebrate as we’d like to do, that does not mean I’m passing up the opportunity to remind all of the young ladies at SDA just how much they should appreciate their mothers. Far too often, we take our parents, both of them, for granted and it’s almost par for the course when it comes to teenage daughters and their moms. I well remember—although it’s long ago that I was a teenager myself, I can call to mind pretty quickly just how much I took my mom for granted—a mistake I’d never make today.  Here I am all proud because I managed to sew some dolls on a hat. My mom, who was a school administrator as well, somehow found the time to make three Halloween costumes each year—homemade head to toe,  decorate the house, get dinner on the table each night, help with homework, do her own work, and together with my dad, throw a party each and every October. (She made her and my dad’s costumes too!) 

Young ladies of SDA, take a moment as you read this and think—think back to when you were four or five years old.  What did your mom do for you in October to make Halloween magically fun for you? ( Mine made me a Princess Leia costume!)  Or think back to when you were in the school play as a child…who helped you learn your lines? Who sat there with a huge bouquet of flowers even if you were playing “orphan # 3” in Annie Jr?  Who drove you to ballet class, to soccer practice, to Rag Shop (remember those stores Moms?) at 6:00pm on a Sunday night to get what you needed for a school project?  Who helped you sell Girl Scout Cookies or patched up your skinned knees after your first Pee-Wee basketball game?  As you’re reading this…I’m certain a thousand images of all the things your mom (and your dad too of course…but I talk about Dads in January!) did for you growing up….things that you probably won’t fully appreciate it until you have a child of your own.

Being a mother means several important things:

Sleepless nights are worth it if you’re losing sleep to do something to make your daughter smile.

You worry no matter how young or old your daughter is—when she’s not under your roof, part of your heart isn’t either.

The phases“ you’re the worst mom ever”, “everybody else’s mom let’s them…”,how come you can’t be more like _____’s mom” will roll right off your back when they are uttered, and within a few years…will wash off your heart as well. You know your daughter doesn’t really mean it. 

You’ll wear the same: coat, sneakers, cocktail dress, whatever for years if it means your little girl can have the dress, sneakers, purse, whatever that she’s been dreaming of all year long.

The saddest Christmas morning is the one where there’s no wrapped doll under the tree—because it means your daughter is growing up! ( thankfully I haven’t hit this milestone yet)

Most of all, being a mother  means loving unconditionally, from the moment you are placed in your mom’s arms onward, you become her “one true thing” and she’ll do anything to make your life as wonderful as she can.  If we were at La Reggia together, by now, I’d be crying, your moms would be crying and many of you, although you’d say otherwise, might have a slight mist of tears in your eyes as well.  

So, we may not be all together and it may be some time before the mothers and daughters of SDA can gather together and celebrate, but that does not mean you can’t take a moment today, to sit next to your  mom, put your arms around her and say…

Nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t ever have to say a word.  Know why? Because we moms already know and…we love you too. Missing all my SDA moms and daughters so much…and holding out hope that we can brunch together soon. 

October 5

We’ve made it to October…the time of year where pumpkins glow on doorsteps and many houses have cobwebs proudly displayed ( for a change—mine always seems to have them lurking). Skeletons and spiders adorn windows and doors and even the air feels a chill as the sun sets and night falls. October always brings with it a sense of mystery, a haunted wind and although this year has been like no other—there are some things about October that never change. 

While many TV channels and web based media sites take the month of October to focus on a somewhat supernatural line up of movies and shows, this year, the FX “regular” American Horror Story is missing from the fall viewing options. A favorite among many of the young ladies here at SDA, October was always a time when students would pop into my office to ask if I’d watched, what I thought about the season, et al. I miss that fun chit chat with the students who were devotees of the show—for the past several Octobers it was always nice to take a minute or two each Thursday to chat about the prior night’s episode. 

That made me wonder, how many of our students have tuned in to the “substitute” show from the creators of AHS—Ratched on Netflix. Featuring AHS icon Sarah Paulson in the title role, the show invents the fictional backstory to one of American culture’s most loathed villains; Nurse Mildred Ratched from Ken Kessy’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I am not certain how many of this current generation are familiar with the book or the iconic film starring Louise Fletcher and Jack Nicholson, but with all the hype Netflix has given this new imagining of its title character and all the push to have it fill in for AHS this October season, I’d think that many of our students have tuned in, for an episode or two.

I watched; although I was not ever a fan of the novel or the film and what struck me watching this time around was a fact more terrifying than all the blood and gore usually present in these stylistic horror shows. I did some reading and research after the third episode and was horrified to learn the following:

40,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States before the practice was halted.

Of that number, 75% of the procedures were performed on women. 

The United States performed more of these surgical procedures than any other country in the world. 

The controversial inventor of the lobotomy, Dr. Walter Freeman, received a Nobel Prize for his work on the procedure. While there have been calls for it to be taken away, it has not been rescinded. 

The practice began in the late 1930’s and although was banned in most countries by the end of the 1950’s, continued to be practiced in the United Sates until the 1970s. Additionally, there were a limited number performed in the United States as late as 1987. 

Among the most notable cases are:

Rose Williams, older sister of playwright Tennessee Williams; she was incapacitated for life. 

Eva Peron, First Lady of Argentina, to “ease anxiety” as she was dying from cancer. 

Rose Marie Kennedy, sister of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, at the age of 23. It was done by her father, without her mother’s knowledge. She was incapacitated for the rest of her life and it was a secret for many years. 

In this day and age, when we see so many notable women in the forefront of the medical arena, political arena, and we all strive to teach young women to express themselves, to speak up, to be open about their thoughts and feelings, to march to the beat of a different drummer, to spread new ideas and open people’s eyes to new points of view…it’s terrible to realize that less than a half a century ago, this barbaric procedure was being performed on women, mainly as a means to subdue them, in the guise of “easing their suffering” or “calming their nerves.” 

It’s a time period, not too far removed for many of us—and yet another instance of women’s voices being silenced and of statistic data showing that women were more often marked for this type of treatment than men. While, for those of my generation and back might naturally “see” Jack Nicholson when we think of a lobotomy procedure; in this instance and sadly in many more, we have to separate the fiction from the reality. While the face of the lobotomy in the world of film and media might be of the male patient suffering this wretched incapacitation at the hands of a vengeful female nurse…that was not the case for the women in America from the late 1930s into the 80’s. 

And while we can’t look to Netflix to correct the altered media perception of this procedure, at least their show might call upon people to do what I did, and become so put off by the concept that we look to learn the true facts behind the fiction. Once we see those facts, we can’t unsee them. 

Yet again, we are faced with the harsh reality that our voices as women have been silenced in this country for far longer than we often realize and that while we are lucky to now see more and more women in the public world stage, we have to remember always what a struggle it was for them to get there and how there needs to be more ongoing and outward support of female empowerment. We have to continually encourage young women to reach for their dreams and to truly embrace the mindset that they should never let anyone silence their voices.