Reflections From the Father Daughter Dance

This past Friday night, I had the chance to speak with the young ladies of Saint Dominic Academy and their fathers at our annual Father Daughter Dance.  It is one of my favorite events at SDA, because I get to bring a date- my father, Joseph Degnan.   He and I are always so happy to attend; to have a chance to have some time to spend together as father and daughter.  

At the start of the evening, I was given the chance to talk for a few minutes and I shared with the guests few brief snippets of my adult life with my dad. Every morning, from Monday to Friday, I hear the beep of my text messaging at 6:50am.  It’s my father; telling me the weather ( it’s icy, it’s breezy, it’s warm). This is not because I don’t have windows in my home, it’s because he tries to help me prepare for my day. Sometimes, when I come outside in the winter, my car is warmed up for me.  When I work late, he waits by his window (my parents live across the street) and walks me to the door so I am safe.

He checks my smoke detector batteries. Every Monday night, he beats me to taking out recycling and every Tuesday he beats me to taking out garbage. He put up my Christmas tree! If I put laundry in my washing machine in the am, by the time I get home from work it’s in the dryer. He reminds me to do my taxes. He reminds me to get my oil changed; in fact he takes the car for me to get it done.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to buy a car- I took care of it on my own, except of course he came to the dealership to make sure it was a good car before I took it off the lot. In the summer, I got a chance to buy Hamilton tickets while I was away on vacation. He lent me his credit card to snatch them up. (Of course, I paid him back ASAP! Cannot wait to go with Abby in August!) He drives Abby to school, he picks her up, and he never forgets to have her beloved Woody doll in the car!

This is life with my dad- a life full of daily and weekly support that I have to honestly admit unless I stop to think about it, I may take for granted at times.

And I said to the young women the night of the dance…We all take it for granted ladies, because our fathers have been supporting us since the moment we took our first breath in the world. They are our quiet care takers, the ones that help us grow up to be strong women.

For me, I would be lost without my dad’s daily presence in my life. He is the backbone that allows me to be the woman I am; the woman I hope inspires many of the young ladies I see every day at Saint Dominic Academy.  My father is truly a wonderful man .  And your fathers are truly wonderful m en.   They support you in a million different ways every single day- in ways you probably never even notice. I want to thank every father and father figure for all of the support you give these young women every single day.  And I want to thank my father for all he has done for me and for all he continues to do for me every day.

We are lucky women to be supported by such wonderful men!

iFriend or iFoe?

When I turned sixteen (many many years ago), I finally got my coveted phone!  It was black, the keys lit up green, and it was all mine!  Connected to the jack in my room, which my uncle installed,  it’s long black cord stretched all over my bedroom, allowing me to talk as I did homework at my desk, sat on my bed, or listened to music by the stereo. That phone and I were attached at the ear most nights from 7pm onward, much to the annoyance, I am sure of my parents.  I talked to friends, I talked to boys (from Prep of course), and then talked to my friends about what the boys said on the phone. The only time I pried my treasured black receiver away from my ear would be in the wee hours when one of my parents, awakening for one reason or another in the night, would pick up the upstairs phone and say “Sarah, hang up the phone NOW!” Some evenings, they had to do that three or four times before I finally gave in and went to sleep.

Flash forward to today, where I rarely talk on the phone for any personal reasons; perhaps I use my iPhone to set up a doctor’s appointment, to call Abigail out of school when she is sick, or to talk to my mom (Keep Calm and Call Mom…that’s always been my motto!)  More often than not, I text my family, my friends and even my dad and I would say the majority of time I spend actually talking on a phone is at my desk at work.  My landline at home has gone the way of the dinosaur, as have many of yours, I am sure, and the play phone that came with Abigail’s toy kitchen a few years ago, was a toy cell phone.

Most of you, I am sure, have guessed where I am headed with this; back when I was a teen and today, kids do spend a lot of time on the phone. The difference is in how that communication has changed in the past thirty plus years.  Recently, JANA Partners and CALSTRS sent an open letter to Apple INC, expressing concerns about iPhone and iPad use with children and teens. While they do recognize that using the devices do have some benefits, perhaps in schools and classroom settings, some of the information about extended use and higher rates of depression and suicide are quite alarming.  The letter stated that most children receive their first phone by age 10; so I have a few short years before this becomes my issue. For many of my readers, the concern is already yours, I am sure. How much tech time is too much?

In my house, it’s a half hour of iPad videos or games before bed on school nights; with internet locks on. On weekends, it might stretch to an hour. Now, she can use her iPad for learning games, for watching a movie, or for listening to music at other times, but I do try to limit the YouTube kids, Disney kids, etc to ½ hour a day.  Of course, that would not work in your houses.  But I think all of us, as parents, have to think about what would work? How do we limit screen time? What are the lasting effects of too much technology use?  

I encourage you today to take a few moments to read the Open Letter, of which the link is below and to talk to your daughter about what it says.  And if you make any headway, send me your tips before Abigail turns ten; I know I will need them!

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Cold weather, icy streets, grey snow piled up on sidewalks, slushy puddles, early sunsets – and even GROUNDHOG DAY is still a month away.  I am not certain about all of my readers, but from what I have observed here at SDA over the early days of January, it seems to me that many of our young ladies, and perhaps even some of our dedicated faculty, staff and administration are suffering from a case of the “Winter Blues.”

There’s no CURE for winter- we live in a region that experiences all four seasons and although each of them have their ups and downs, for me, no season is drearier than the time between New Year’s Day and the advent of Spring. Even snow days bring no real excitement, because I have no desire to either build a snowman or shovel snow.  For me, a perfect winter would begin with a light dusting of snow on Thanksgiving, sprinkle some beautiful flakes in purple twilight during the Advent season, gift us with a fluffy white Christmas, and then pack it in on New Year’s Eve!  Alas, since I do not live in Camelot where “winter is forbidden till December…” I, along with all of my fellow winter haters, have to suffer though these cold grey days before spring comes once again.

As an educator, and also as a parent, I am aware of the effects that weather can have on student performance and overall physical and mental health.  This is a tough time of year for many of our young ladies; sitting for midterm exams, waiting for college acceptances and financial aid awards, and just not being able to get out in the fresh air as often as they might like all add to the stress they already carry daily.  I did some reading online over the past few weeks, and found an excellent post from one Ms. Darcy Lawton, a LCSW who works in Battery Park City, NY.   This post on her site shared her six tips for beating the winter blues.  As I read it, I found myself embracing some of the ideas she put forth.

Today, I want to share the link with you and it is my hope that parents, SDA students, and even SDA alumnae find some helpful advice if any of you are struggling with the winter winds. I know I am, and I know this article helped me!

An Empowered Woman From a Galaxy Far, Far, Away…

The New Year began with a nasty bout of illness in my house. Abigail, who had the flu, curled up to watch all the Star Wars films. She wearily lifted her head from my lap to make this observation: “Leia can’t be a princess because she is a hero.”

Out of the mouths of babes…for decades society via film has demonstrated that a girl can be one (Katniss from Hunger Games) or the other ( Cinderella) but not both. However we at SDA know differently and work to emulate that mix of kindness and confidence for every young lady that passes thru the doors.

Last year, after Carrie Fisher’s death, I shared my feelings as to why she was so iconic to me as a young girl. As the anniversary of her death has just passed and her face appeared in a Star Wars film for the last time, I share again my thoughts from last January on this heroic, empowered princess…

When I was five years old, my parents took me to see Return of the Jedi  in the theater. It is the first movie I vividly remember going to see. If memory serves, they took me right after my kindergarten graduation. It was June of 1983, I was five years old and a true STAR WARS fanatic. My Halloween costume a year before had been Princess Leia; complete with the cinnamon bun hairstyle. Although the first movie came out the year I was born, I had been lucky enough, so I am told, to be taken to a re-release of it by my uncle when I was 4 years old.  My father remembers me telling my dolls “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” I am sure my brothers and cousins have fond memories of playing Star Wars outside when we had family get togethers. Two of my cousins, lucky guys, had light sabers that really lit up!  What a galaxy George Lucas and his cast created for all of us children back then!

Last Christmas, just a year ago, I took my daughter to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Together, we then watched the other Star Wars films on DVD. Just a week ago, she and I were driving to visit family, when I learned of the death of Carrie Fisher. Not one to become visibly upset over celebrity deaths, I did, once we reached our destination, give her some toys to play with and sit quietly for more than a few minutes in sadness and contemplation. For, if Han Solo was my very first crush, then Princess Leia was for certain, my very first heroine, role model and idol.

And so she was for many young women in the years spanning 1977 until today. She was an icon for girls; a truly empowered princess. She did not lay in a glass box, waiting for a prince to wake her. She did not need to talk to birds and deer, to sing by fountains or whistle while she worked. Not Leia; she did not wait for men to fight against the Empire; she joined the Rebellion, smuggled information at risk to her own life, and fought bravely for the cause. Later films had her not just fighting, but leading the Rebellion; mastering her own strength and standing equal to all the men who fought bravely against the Empire.  Never once was she portrayed as unequal to men by the filmmakers; not even when they dressed her in that gold bikini. She was wearing that very outfit when she took down Jabba the Hut! Her dialogue was as witty as any male characters, her bravery was as well known and her legacy in both that galaxy and in ours, has been  preserved for 40 years.

As an English teacher, I often look at fictional characters and who is chosen to portray them when they are onscreen. Carrie Fisher became Princess Leia; at 19 years old, she held her own with her male cast mates, the only woman of any significance in that first film and in those that followed. To step into that spotlight and become an icon at such a young age must have been truly overwhelming, a challenge that may have seemed, at times in her life, insurmountable.  Just as her onscreen persona was, Carrie Fisher was no wilting flower, but instead a vocal force, speaking out about mental illness and the struggles she managed to overcome to be successful. She continually sent the message that strength in life is always needed, recovery is ongoing, and that support is essential if we women are to not only survive, but thrive and become all we have ever dreamed of being.

At 19, I wonder if she dreamed that fans the world over would pay tribute to her on a cold December day. I wonder if she dreamed of being an on screen heroine for girls for years to come and an outspoken and impassioned advocate for mental health awareness. Or, at 19, was she just a young girl, filled with the same excitement and love for live that fills the hearts of teenage girls today, looking forward to what is over the horizon, or perhaps even in the next galaxy.

Our young ladies at SDA may not know for sure what the future holds; however, we teach them daily that no matter what lies in store for them, they are the heroines of their own life story, women who do not wait to be rescued, but who do the rescuing. Women who do not wait for men to lead the battles against the evils of the world, but who take on the  battles themselves, ready and willing to face new challenges. We create daily a group of empowered young heroines, who will inspire change, improve the world, and become icons themselves for the next generation of young women to emulate. As I mourn the loss of my childhood heroine, I take comfort in her words from The Force Awakens. Hope is not lost today…it is found. Wherever each of us women finds inspiration to empower us to succeed, we carry it with us and touch lives forever.