Guest columnist Melanie Ross Levin: How Sports Saved Me

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Melanie Ross Levin lives in Washington, D.C., with her 2-year-old daughter, Elliana, and husband, Seth. An advocate for women’s rights and equality, she currently serves as Senior Outreach Manager at the National Women’s Law Center, where she focuses on education, employment, and family economic security issues.

Dear Elliana,

By 6th grade I was the tallest girl in the school, and by 8th grade the third tallest person, including the boys. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was one lanky middle-schooler. And while that may seem cool to a two-year-old, it was uncool in middle school. I was trying to fit in, make friends and just be like everyone else.

Then sports came to my rescue. My long frame became an asset, and I learned to embrace who I was. I could shoot a basketball over the heads of snotty boys, run faster than the preppy girls and turn teammates into lifelong friends. Sports injected me with something I needed: self-confidence.

In high school, just about everyone, especially the boys, caught up to my height, lessening my natural advantage. So I just kept practicing and improving. But I realized sports was no longer just about me. I committed to being part of the field hockey team for four years. Eventually I became co-captain. That enabled me to learn leadership:

 

Winning was fun, of course, but as it turned out, losing taught me perseverance. I accepted defeat with dignity and immediately refocused for the next game. I developed resilience and, with it, some measure of character.

 

Now I have a confession to make. I want you to get all the benefits from sports that I received growing up. Now, as your mama, I know I’m supposed to expose you to a lot of activities and let you choose your passion. Or at least that’s what the books and blogs tell me to do. But I really hope you end up loving sports.

 

Why? Well, to be selfish for a moment, I want to go to games and cheer you on from the sidelines and be “that parent” – the one with the orange slices who volunteers to coach. I want to take a ton of pictures, just as I already do, and celebrate your successes and comfort you when you lose. Plus, I’m unable to resist a bunch of little kids swarming around a soccer ball – it’s too cute.

 

But the biggest reason I want you to play sports is this: Maybe sports will benefit you as sports benefitted me. Maybe you, too, will come away self-confident, resilient, your character strengthened, a leader.


Fortunately, you’ll have lots of opportunities to experience sports in and out of school – in large part due to pioneering women’s sports figures who championed Title IX. Before, Title IX schools could discriminate against women in a number of ways, including on the playing field. That’s just wrong, and your mama is going to fight to continue to keep the law strong.

Maybe tonight you and I should take out a ball and practice some kicking and throwing. It’s never too soon to take that first step.

Seth_levin
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Guest columnist Nina Mohadjer: The Curse – And Blessing – Of the Teenage Girl

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Nina Mohadjer lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut with her two teenage daughters, Lili, 17, and Yasmin, 16. She is the author of “This Mother’s Life, an account of a year in her life as a multicultural mother and professional woman. Born in Iran, she was raised in Germany and has lived in the U.S. since 1993. Nina, who is French-Persian speaks five languages, has practiced law and has an MBA. For more details, see http://www.ninamohadjer.com/.

 

Dear Lili and Yasmin,

   Today I told Yasmin to clean up her things. Just the look on your face was worth millions: raised eyebrow, smirky stubborn expression, half a grin. Okay at least you didn’t scream at me. Then I told you to pull down your shirt. Who invented those mid-riff-showing tops anyway? And what’s with the low-cut necklines? All of your assets are hanging out. I still can’t believe that you two have boobs, which is a concern of mine. Of course, you, my rebellious girl, didn’t give me the silent treatment; you started yelling as if you were practicing an aria for the next opera.

   “Why are you examining my body?” you snapped. “You have the dirtiest mind. Why are you looking at my belly anyway? Are you trying to tell me that I’m fat?”

   I had no chance to respond as the accusations flew at me without pause.

   When I’m in front of you, Lili and Yasmin, I have to act the tough but loving mother. But when you, Lili, behave like this, it truly breaks my heart. I feel fragile. As I’m looking at the screaming creature before me, I have flashbacks to your baby years. Sure, you screamed at that time, but only because you had no other method of communication. But then you would calm down when I held you and rubbed your back. I just imagine holding you and Yasmin now and rubbing your back while you are screaming.

   Bad idea, right?

   Sometimes I think you might act like this because you are bicultural and stand out. I’m trying to teach you the value of your heritage, but maybe you two get completely mixed up. I mean when I was growing up, I had no idea to which group I belonged. Maybe you are going through the same dilemma.

   I mean that as a teen you are stuck between childhood and adulthood, and when you add in that you are French-Persian, you have four quarters to configure into your whole. My parents used the “good Persian girl” slogan on me, always telling me about expectations a Persian girl from a good Persian family had to live up to; but that image has no relevance to you. Through the Internet, you know about the rest of the world and, in a way, it makes all the differences between teenagers smaller.

   I always ask myself, and now I am asking you, my girls, “What happens when kids become teenagers?”

   I know I was a teenager once, but my parents are still alive, so I couldn’t have been that bad. Sometimes I truly wonder if I’ll survive your teenage years. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of you dearly, even though you each have such different personalities. But regardless of having the same parents, you have something else in common: Teenage life and hormonal roller-coasters.

   Trust me: one day when you have your own children, you will know what I mean. You will know how it feels to see your babies grow up in front of you. To give them wings to fly away while making sure they know the roots where they can always land.

Love,

Your Mamie

 

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Guest columnist Eliza Schleifstein: My Miracle Girls: Part 3

 

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Eliza Schleifstein lives with her husband Todd and daughters Darcy, 10, and Emily, 6, in Randolph, New Jersey. Still practicing public relations after all these years, but now as a freelancer, she works with advocacy groups and pharmaceutical clients to help raise awareness for disease categories and new treatments, but only when she is not playing chauffeur. Eliza has been writing letters to her children for them to read when they are older since Darcy was born in 2002. For more information about Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, please go to www.charcot-marie-tooth.org.

Dear Darcy and Emily,

   But I also want to share with both of you what it has taught me because the lessons are significant. This disease has made me not only a better parent but also a better person. It has taught me to let more stuff roll off of my back and avoid getting upset and to have patience. While I may still get frustrated when it takes you twice the amount of time to do your writing homework, I do a much better job each day of preventing it from showing.

   You have taught me to stop apologizing for what this disease does by never losing your cool when either of you miss the ball in soccer or softball. So you can’t run fast or catch a ball well when you play on the Rec Center Softball team and you are better goalies than forwards on the Rec Soccer team. While other parents may care, I don’t. It isn’t professional baseball or soccer. All I care about is that you’re having fun with your friends.

   As you both know, I have worked with disease advocacy groups for years to help raise awareness. I never truly understood the passion and commitment behind these advocacy groups until I had to advocate for you. Educating about a disease and fighting for research, accommodations and funding is much harder than promoting a product because it is personal and emotional. Just as we have always been your biggest advocates and fans, we recently got both of you classified under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

   Trust me, making the decision to petition for the 504s was hard for us to do, as we were reluctant to highlight the differences between either of you and your peers any more than we had to. Nonetheless, it was time to do so. As your teachers this past year, Mrs. Holmes, Miss Scillia and Mr. Dente (who adore both of you as much as we do) have said, no one would ever know that you have this disease unless they saw you run, try to catch a ball, handwrite or use scissors. However, even they were in full agreement with our decision.

   The 504 classification specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling. It also spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these individuals to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers and can never be rescinded like an individualized education plan (IEP). It will accompany you for the rest of your lives throughout your schooling and to the workplace.

   For you, Darcy, it meant that you could start using a keyboard in class and for testing immediately, which has made a huge difference in your work.

   We promise to keep being honest with you. There are no secrets about what the doctors are recommending and what the future may hold, and there never will be. You are as much members of the medical team that oversees your treatment decisions as we are. You have earned this right with your maturity and attitudes. I have never once heard either of you say “I hate myself because I can’t do this or I can’t do that.” Your attitudes have always been “Never say I can’t. Always say I’ll try.”

   You are both amazing girls. You have overcome so much in your 10 and 6 years. You are our inspiration for being better people and fighting to accomplish our own goals.

Love,

Mommy

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Guest columnist Eliza Schleifstein: My Miracle Girls: Part 2

 

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Eliza Schleifstein lives with her husband Todd and daughters Darcy, 10, and Emily, 6, in Randolph, New Jersey. Still practicing public relations after all these years, but now as a freelancer, she works with advocacy groups and pharmaceutical clients to help raise awareness for disease categories and new treatments, but only when she is not playing chauffeur. Eliza has been writing letters to her children for them to read when they are older since Darcy was born in 2002. For more information about Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, please go to www.charcot-marie-tooth.org.

Dear Darcy and Emily,

   Daddy and I then and there made a conscious decision that we would be completely honest with you both about how this disease would shape your lives. We know from the genetic markers that you have the most benign form and will never become wheelchair-bound or severely disabled, but you will have challenges as you go through life. There are many activities that your friends can do that you will have to go without doing, such as ice skating, Irish step class and wearing high heels, and we have never hidden that from you.

   I truly believe that this disease has made you both stronger children and will make you confident and compassionate adults. Both of you have an extraordinarily large capacity for compassion and love for anyone with any kind of struggle. You are like magnets for your peers having tough times because your personalities can make just about anyone smile and you always have words of encouragement. You never throw fits or get angry when Daddy and I tell you that either you cannot do an activity or that perhaps trying out for a travel sports team might be less than a good idea because the likelihood of your making it is slim to none because of your lack of coordination. You take every discussion about future surgery on your legs with a maturity and lack of fear that is unmatched by any children of your ages that I have ever seen.

   Darcy, people still talk about your determination to learn how to walk again after your bilateral heel cord-lengthening surgery. No one will forget when your nursery school teacher Morah Ronnie wheeled you into the room for your graduation with “Pomp and Circumstance” blaring. She expected to push you down the aisle in your wheelchair, but you stopped her at the doorway. You got out of that chair and walked down the aisle in your pink and purple casts, flat footed for the first time in your life, with your friends supporting you on each side. There was not a dry eye in the room. It was then that I knew that no matter how bad this disease got, it would never stop you.

P.S. – See part 3 tomorrow.

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Guest columnist Eliza Schleifstein: My Miracle Girls

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Eliza Schleifstein lives with her husband Todd and daughters Darcy, 10, and Emily, 6, in Randolph, New Jersey. Still practicing public relations after all these years, but now as a freelancer, she works with advocacy groups and pharmaceutical clients to help raise awareness for disease categories and new treatments, but only when she is not playing chauffeur. Eliza has been writing letters to her children for them to read when they are older since Darcy was born in 2002. For more information about Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, please go to www.charcot-marie-tooth.org.

Dear Darcy and Emily,

   I knew from the very beginning that while both of you looked on the outside like every other child; there was something different about both of you. While neither Daddy nor I is the most athletic of people, you walked late and could never run as fast as the other kids. Your hand-writing and scissor use was at a lower level than that of your classmates and were a topic of conversation from your first parent-teacher conferences in nursery school at age 2. Darcy’s toe-walking, as if she was always wearing six-inch stiletto heels, and Emily’s hip dysplasia were also big giveaways that something was different.

   The fact that you had these oddly shaped feet — known among the family as “the foot” — and walking issues were unsurprising, as all of your cousins had the same features. We were told by the family that everyone had the same characteristics and they would resolve themselves. What was the big surprise to Daddy and me was that it was a genetic disorder and degenerative. Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT) is an inherited disorder of nerves, or neuropathy, that takes different forms. Incurable, this disease is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders. CMT patients slowly lose normal use of their extremities at different degrees of severity, as the nerves degenerate and the muscles weaken because the myelin deteriorates and the muscles no longer receive signals. Though CMT has no effect on cognitive or organ function, it is one of the diseases covered by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

   As you both were told, nobody in the family talked about CMT, even though several members knew about it. It was a huge surprise to us to find out that they did know about it when we walked into a Passover Seder hours after seeing Dr. David Roye, Director, Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery, at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and who we now refer to as the miracle worker, and told everyone what we had learned. Some families whisper “cancer.” Our family whispered “CMT.”

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest columnist Lisa Sepulveda: Catching Lightning In A Bottle

 

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Lisa Sepulveda lives in Montebello, New York with her daughters Sara and Megan and her high school sweetheart, Andrew. She is president of global consumer marketing at the public relations agency Weber Shandwick.

Dear Sara and Megan,

“Tell me a story,” my teens still ask, on occasion. Luckily, I’ve kept journals for them since they made their debuts.

“The Sara Chronicles” took shape when the “Baby’s First Year” calendar was complete and I thought, Now what? How will I capture all of those amazing firsts and priceless declarations yet to come?

I’ve always yearned to have all of my questions answered, and treasure the stories of my early days. But my mom was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 17, and she lost her battle at the very young age of 41, when I was just 19. Being a typical teen and caring more about my next social plan, I had no idea then that I should have collected her stories, and before I knew it, it was too late. My darling father did the best he could to recount the memories of our lives together, but, in truth, no one tells a story quite like a mom. Moms share details, moms add color, moms give context. My mom told an amazing story.

 

My mother’s passing inspired me to capture the stories for Sara, now 16, and Megan, 15. And ironically, last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer on my 47th birthday. I battled the disease, received the necessary treatment, stayed on a positive course and am proud to say that I am just fine and more motivated than ever to collect these stories.

In my first entry in “The Sara Chronicles back in 1996,” I vowed to answer all of her questions, up until the point when I will no longer be here to help them stitch together their past. When Meg arrived on the scene in 1997, “Letters to Megan” sprung to life.

I’ve amassed three complete journals for each so far, all designed to help my daughters recall milestone moments (from winning a national dance competition to beating personal bests on the track), historical events in their lifetime (from the events surrounding 9/11 to Barack Obama’s election to president) and stories of their obsessions bordering on the ridiculous (the Sweet 16 in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the must-meet British boy band One Direction craze.)

I try to log entries as the “not to be missed moments” unfold. Almost always hand-written and often with watery eyes (mostly happy tears) I share the moments, with detail and emotion and imagine my mother telling me the stories of my childhood. Pictures illustrate the stories and often accompany my entries, all painting a picture of the past.

All the stories belonging to Sara and Megan are collected, captured and saved in a steel box for maximum protection, with an intended delivery on their 21st birthdays. With any luck, they’ll enjoy reading the stories as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

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