Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teens, texting and driving

The other day in response to my blog on irresponsible cyclists, Karende wrote in and mentioned a mom who refuses to insist that her child wear a helmet because he'd simply take it off the second he's out of her sight. It made me wonder how that mom is going to cope if ever tragedy strikes and her son suffers a massive head injury.

It also reminded me of two other issues, the most topical of which is teens who insist on text messaging while driving. Many of you may have seen the Dr. Phil episode a few months back in which a mom came on the show with her teenage daughter who insists that she has the skill and attentiveness to do both. Mom worried this wasn't the case.

However, and this is a big one, Mom absolutely refused to do what she had to do to make sure her daughter and others on the road remained safe. While many of us at home and in the studio audience looked on in absolute bewilderment, the mother sat through a tape of the simulation they'd done with her daughter who was driving and texting . . . and running into practically everything on the simulated "road." Ms. Teenager claimed it was an unfair test.

Dr. Phil then had on a young man who'd hit and killed a cyclist because he was texting and driving. He told how devastating this had been for him and his family, the guilt and remorse he felt about what had happened. Ms. Teenager seemed to find his story very sad, but was unmoved about the need to change her own behavior.

At that point, Mom was told she simply had to take the cell phone away from the girl until she could be trusted to be more responsible. Mom said, "Well, I'll do it if I have to." Which part of this did she not understand? Her child was not going to change her behavior without direct parental intervention. The mom's obvious lack of conviction suggested that Ms. Teenager is most likely still on the road, convinced of her immortality and as irresponsible as ever.

Years ago -- and this is my second instance of a lack of parental determination -- I heard parent after parent declare war on TV advertising on children's shows because those ads put them in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to their child. Oh, sweet heaven, isn't that a parent's job? Just because the little one demands a particular toy or a particular brand of cereal doesn't mean he or she has to have it. In fact, if there's a tantrum involved, I'd say that's the perfect time to declare that whatever they're after is off-limits indefinitely.

Admittedly, I don't have my own children, so some of these hard calls have not been mine to make. I do, however, have a very strong belief that it's up to the adults to be adults and make the decisions that will keep their children safe, teach them responsibility, and then see to it that the rules are followed. Is that easy? No. Is it the parent's job. You bet.

When did parents decide it was more important to be a best friend than a mom or dad? I'm sure over the years, I was unhappy with quite a few decisions my parents made, but you better believe I abided by them or suffered the consequences. Those rules helped me, I hope, to become a concerned, caring, responsible adult, instead of the kind of self-indulgent, irresponsible young people that turn up from time to time in today's difficult world. These days with so many things that can steer teens down the wrong path, rules and follow-up are more important than ever. Leniency isn't doing a teen -- or younger child, for that matter -- any favors. And if tragedy strikes, no parent should have to live with that kind of regret. They need to know they did everything humanly possible to prevent it.

If you've seen examples of this and would like to share them, click on the comments icon below. Or if you disagree, share that as well. If your child's favorite argument is that this or that friend is doing it, how do you reply? I'd love to hear from you.

And if you have another topic you'd like to suggest or would like to write a guest blog about a hot topic that you and your friends are talking about, please email me directly at Sherryl703@gmail.com.

Sherryl Woods

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cycling safely

Okay, please forgive me, but I'm going to take a break from writing about wonderfully brave cancer survivors this morning to rant about something else entirely...irresponsible cyclists.

Every single morning when I leave my home to join friends for breakfast, I encounter packs of men (and the occasional woman) cycling together. These are the folks for whom climbing onto a bicycle is a serious sport, or at the very least serious exercise. They're also adults. They should know better. Sometimes as I drive along there will be two or three cyclists riding in a row in the designated bicycle lane, but more often there are a half-dozen and sometimes many more stretched across the road.

Now two of my friends -- one of them a triathlete, who might be found in one of those packs at least back home in England -- love to remind me that bicycles are vehicles. They are entitled to use the road. But, based on what I've read of the traffic laws, that means they are also to abide by the same laws that apply to cars.

Not these folks. They go through red lights, they weave between cars, they're certainly not going the speed limit. But what makes me craziest is that they don't use even halfway decent common sense when riding.

Keep in mind, I'm on the road at 6:30 a.m. It's still dark, at least at this time of the year. Some of these riders are wearing dark clothing and have no lights on themselves or their bikes. If they don't like the pace of the cyclist ahead of them, they will happily swerve into the next lane to pass, never mind that a car that could crush them might be about to pass in that lane.

There has also been a huge amount of contruction on this route in recent months, which has narrowed it to one lane in each direction. Rather than making their turn before they get to the contruction and avoiding it, they insist on riding the same route, which has early morning rush hour traffic backing up behind them.

And forget them stopping behind a school bus like the rest of us. They just ride on by. Given the human nature of the kids who are running from every direction to try to catch that bus, one of these days that's going to have a disastrous outcome.

So here's my plea this morning. If you have children who ride their bikes to school or around the neighborhood, make sure they have helmets, lights on their bikes and wear light-colored clothing, if out after dark. And make absolutely certain they understand the rules for riding on the road. And if you or anyone you know is an avid cyclist, please remember that you may be 100 percent entitled to your part of the road, but cars, SUVs and trucks are bigger than you are. Years ago, I heard a saying that applies: He was right, dead right as he sped along, but he's just as dead now as if he'd been wrong. Make sure that everyone you love is not only right, but smart and safe.

And if you have something to add to this discussion, click on the comment link below. If you have another hot topic about which you'd like to blog, please email me directly. We're having trouble with the link on the right, so send your suggestions to me at Sherryl703@gmail.com. That's now set up just to receive emails from this blog or from my website, www.sherrylwoods.com. We'll see if this system works until we can get the other one corrected.

Sherryl Woods

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Honoring more courageous women...

The other day I began introducing you to the stories of women who've faced the battle with breast cancer with courage, dignity and strength. Their names were submitted to me as part of a contest on my website (www.sherrylwoods.com) which promises a $100 donation to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation each month in honor of a survivor or in memory of a loved one who has lost this difficult battle.

Before I share some more of these wonderful and inspirational anecdotes, I'd like to share one of my own. Shortly after my arrival in Miami more than 30 years ago, I went to work as a television critic for The Miami News. One of my dearest friends there, Marilyn Moore, was soon to be diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time she and her husband had five small children -- including TWO sets of twin boys. During her recuperation from surgery, I spent a lot of time in their home. I discovered that the kids would eat almost anything except my one attempt at moussaka. They didn't like the "meat," which in fact was eggplant.

At any rate, during those long months, only once did I ever hear Marilyn complain and even that was in the form of a joke...made on the day after she woke up from her mastectomy. From then on, through chemo and radiation, she was totally focused on living a long and full life. If she had any kind of scan, she believed with everything in her that the results would be okay.

And for many years, they were. Sadly, though, the cancer did return and this time she lost the battle, but she did it with such grace and dignity that I will never forget it. Until the very end, when she could no longer deny the inevitable, her outlook remained positive. In some ways, I think that made losing her all the harder, because the rest of us honestly believed that she would win the fight one more time.

So I add her name to the list of women nominated by so many of you during my contest. Here are just a few more of their stories.

Debbie writes of her cousin Mary, who lost her battle in 1982 and adds, "We've come so far since then."

Lee Anne nominated her youngest sister "who was in stage three breast cancer when she was diagnosed in July 2004. On December 15, 2007 I had the pleasure of watching Lou dance with her son, Joe, at his wedding. Survival is real, but we can never stop fighting for those who don't make it."

And Michelle, who was diagnosed herself at the age of 33 and who is now a survivor of 10 years, shares the story of her mother. "In May 2006 she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time we were preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise together to The British Isles. It was a sad time for all the family. We canceled our cruise so she could receive the treatment she needed ASAP. She was graceful and courageous during her chemotherapy and radiation therapy in addition to all the complications that arose from her illness. Her only regret during that summer was her inability to have her annual "Joy-a-thon." For a week she has all 11 grandchildren at her house . . . And all the parents get a break for a week from the kids as well. She is a giving mother, best friends with her grandchildren and is an all-round wonderful woman."

A five year survivor tells of her own fight and her greatest fear. "My husband of 33 years helped me through surgery, chemo and radiation. He himself was trying to recover from a work injury that took his left foot. We worked together to help each other through the hard times. Two years ago on Labor Day weekend, he died...I worry about what I will do if I ever get it again and I am trying to do what I can to prevent it."

And to prove that friends can be there despite separation and the passage of time, Jane writes, "I would like to honor Margarita. She was my best friend when I was living in Arizona. Her daughter and my daughter were good friends. My youngest is named after her daughter. She has had to go through chemo twice now. She was ready to give up when her daughter came up pregnant and it gave her the will to go on. I faced my own scare this year and she was there to encourage me via email in my struggle while I waited on results."

If you're waiting for biopsy results or other medical test results, I wish you the kind of friendships that make the wait easier. And in a few days, I'll share more stories about other courageous women and the friends and family who want to honor them.

Sherryl Woods

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Honoring courageous women...

The battle against breast cancer is, in many ways, a lonely one. Only the person who faces the diagnosis must summon the courage to go through treatment, setbacks and challenges. But for the very lucky ones, there is a whole army of supporters there to walk with them, to offer encouragement and prayers and daily acts of kindness.

Never was this more evident to me than when I began to read through some of the entries to a contest on my website. Last month (and again this month and in February) I've offered a $100 donation to Susan G. Komen For the Cure in honor of a survivor or in memory of a loved one who lost the fight against breast cancer. Though there was only one randomly-selected winner from the hundreds entered, there were too many heartfelt comments to be ignored.

So, today and over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'd like to share some of the stories submitted. Even in a very few words, people were able to convey so much about their heartache, their sense of loss and their respect for those they wished to honor. For me, they're a testament to the powerful bonds between women and to the strength of those who've waged this battle. I'll use only first names here in the interest of privacy, but to all of you who entered I thank you for telling me about these wonderful people.

P.J., for example, wrote about her cousin Janet who "passed away from COPD in September. Janet fought many health obstacles throughout her 83 years. In 1980's she fought and survived breast cancer. She was a survivor in more ways than anyone will ever know. I still miss her..."

Sandra wrote of Nancy, "my best friend, who at 38 years old, lost her battle to cancer."

Another wrote, "I am a breast cancer survivor, but I would like to honor a very dear friend who died of breast cancer four years ago. (Frances) was a brave and loving woman. She changed many lives through her battle, including mine. I could not have dealt with the knowledge that I had breast cancer if it hadn't been for the strength and courage Frances possessed."

Kandi tells of "Freda, my brave friend, who is currently battling breast cancer. She uses her great sense of humor and the love of her large family -- sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and, of course, her devoted husband -- to optimistically face her greatest fight."

A daughter, Carmen, writes of her mother, Gladys, "She was my mother, my guardian, my best friend. It's been ten years but sometimes I still reach to give her a call. I have a really good friend who has had a reccurence, another who just got diagnosed and another who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It's a horrible disease. Here's to a cure!"

Another Sandra asked to honor two people. "First, my grandmother Alice. Although she's been gone many years now and she did not pass away because of the cancer, she's the first and so far only one in our family that has gone through it. She had a mastectomy and lived a long life afterwards, passing away in 1987, nearly 20 years after her triumph over the cancer. Second is my long-time friend, Mary...She was diagnosed approximately 10 years ago, so she's well past the five-year stage. She is now married and going strong. Another triumphant story!"

This is just the beginning. I hope the stories will touch you. There are many more to come. And in the meantime, if you didn't enter last month's contest and have someone you'd like honored with a donation to the Susan G. Komen foundation, please go to www.sherrylwoods.com and click on "Contest." There's also information there on how you can make your own contribution, no matter how large or small, to aid in this fight that affects us all -- whether we've faced the diagnosis ourselves or dealt with its effects on a friend or loved one. Banding together, there's nothing women can't do, including curing this terrible disease.

Sherryl Woods

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Friday, January 11, 2008

We have a winner!!!

A few weeks ago in the blog that asked "Where's the Starbucks?" and compared small town versus big city living, our guest blogger offered a prize to the writer of the best response. The comment by Karende has been chosen. We all loved her story about things being delivered in the wilds of Alaska.

So, Karende, please contact me via email at saw1122@aol.com (NOT via this blog) with your contact information, so we can get your prize to you. And many thanks to all of you who commented on that topic. It's been our liveliest discussion yet. If you didn't comment before, feel free to do so now.

And speaking of winners and responses, the entries to last month's contest on my website were overwhelming. The prize was a $100 donation to the Susan G. Koman for the Cure organization in honor of a breast cancer survivor in your life or in memory of a loved one who lost that battle. One winner was chosen randomly, but the comments are so heartfelt and touching from other entries, that I'd like to share some of them here. Check back in the coming days for those.

And in the meantime, if you didn't enter last month's contest and you have someone you'd like honored or remembered, go to www.sherrylwoods.com and click on contest. We're offering the same prize again this month.

Be sure to stop back here to read about some remarkable women whose lives were cut short by breast cancer or who have waged valiant battles to beat this disease.

Sherryl Woods

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Raising teens in a "Juno" world

One of the most critically-acclaimed movies released during the holdiays has been a quirky little film called "Juno." I have to admit that I left the theater last week with a boatload of concerns about this movie and what it's saying to teen girls.

Since then, I've had several conversations about the movie, one of them with a mom who used the film as a talking point with her daughter. I've also read a piece in today's paper by syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman who refers to herself as a fuddy-duddy for her own reaction to "Juno" and other films which deal with unexpected pregnancies in a fairly cavalier manner. Frankly, I don't think she is.

For those of you who've not seen the film and don't keep track of such things, Juno is a very precocious teenager with a smart mouth and more self-possession than most college grads I've run across. Finding herself pregnant, she pretty much makes a unilateral decision to have her baby, find a couple desperate to have a child and allow them to adopt her baby. She finds them in a giveaway classified newspaper, which does suggest she's not quite as bright as we're otherwise led to believe.

She's lovingly supported through this crisis by her father and her stepmother. If a single one of them worries about the emotional toll of all this, it's given very short attention on screen.

As for the teen father, he's pretty much sidelined until after the delivery, when the much-relieved Juno turns the baby over to the chosen mom, whose husband has conveniently hit the road. Juno goes back to her boyfriend as if nothing much happened, they resume playing music together and life, presumably, goes on as if the entire pregnancy has been little more than a blip in their lives . . . or a "bump" as Hollywood is so fond of saying when stars' pregnancies start to show.

We are, as Ellen Goodman mentions, a long, long way from Dan Quayle's flap over a pregnant Murphy Brown.

I'm of two minds about all this. "Juno" and the recently-revealed pregnancy of teen star Jamie Lynn Spears can provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss the risks of premature sexual activity. It opens a door for discussions that are often uncomfortable and way too often delayed until it's too late, when kids have already gotten all their knowledge and values when it comes to sex from other sources. Anything that can make "the talk" easier and more timely is positive.

However, in the case of "Juno," which is rated PG-13, I worry that too many teen girls will see it on their own, that there will be no parental conversations about what it all means, and that they'll come away with the idea that an unplanned pregnancy while still in high school will be little more than a nine-month nuisance to be endured, with the resulting baby handed off without a second thought. We all know it doesn't work that way in real life.

For one thing, all parents are not as understanding and supportive as those in the film. Some might even push their teens into a marriage for which they're far from ready. In some cases, the reaction can be even harsher and more devastating. Even if that doesn't happen, having a baby and giving it up can take an emotional toll that lasts a lifetime. Despite increased sexual activity among young people at an earlier and earlier age, evidence of it -- a pregnancy -- can still turn a girl into a social outcast at an age when they're especially vulnerable. Not every teen has the self-esteem and support to weather the negative reactions of their peers . . . or their peers' parents.

As a writer of romance and women's fiction novels, I've been in the business of creating happy endings from very complex situations for my entire career. I hope, though, that I've never done that without dealing with all of the ramifications and powerful emotions involved. There's a huge difference, in my opinion, between finding happiness despite all of the complications and difficulties of a situation and glibly pretending that none of those difficulties exist. I prefer my happy endings with a dose of reality figured in.

If you've seen this movie, let us know your reaction. If you have a teenaged daughter, did you see it with her? Were you able to talk about it? Or if you've used other situations in the news, such as Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, to initiate a conversation with your kids, tells us about that too. I'd really like to know what you think about this.

Sherryl Woods

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