It has arrived

It is here. I have been dreading it for 10 years, but it is here. Puberty has arrived in the Derr household.

I have two much younger sisters who I watched go through their pubescent years, but this is different. My child is a boy. I am in very strange territory.

Now, you may be saying, “Christina, you have a younger brother, you know what pubescent boys are like.”

I do have a younger brother, but he is only four years younger than me. I was a teenager myself when he went through it. I could not see past the end of my own nose. I remember we fought, a lot. And then once he got through it we became the best of friends and have been ever since. I don’t remember much else.

No, this is different. I am in charge this time. I am the one, along with his dad, guiding him through the minefield we call adolescence.

The mood swings, oh sweet lord, the mood swings.

The backtalk.

The know-it-all attitude.

The acne.

The body odor, and the resistance to remedy the body odor.

The eating for four.

Having to buy new clothes every three months because he’s out grown his, again.

The uncomfortable questions about changing bodies.

All of this, I can handle. No sweat.

What can’t I handle?

The girls.

We won’t even touch on the fact that when I was 10 years old, boys were still pretty gross. I would have never thought about “liking” a boy at 10 years old. Not to sound too much like the get-off-my-lawn lady, but kids are different today.

Let me walk you through the last three days, to give you some appreciation for what I mean.

Wednesday Evening: My son gets a phone call on his cell phone. He decides he needs to take this important phone call outside, away from Mama’s ears. Being, you know, not an idiot, red flags and sirens are going off immediately. I follow him outside, and ask who exactly it is that he is talking to. He tells me the name of a girl who I do not know. I remind him that my rules are that he cannot talk on the phone with anyone I do not know and ask that he hang up. He politely tells Miss Thing that he cannot talk right now and hangs up. I tell him he can text her my number to give to her parents, and once I talk to them he *might* be allowed to talk to her. After the usual “I am your mother, and what I say goes, and no, you cannot make your own decisions until you are 18 and paying your own bills” talk, I look down at my son’s phone and Miss Thing is calling again. My son was very clear that he could not talk, but Miss Thing did not seem to care. She continues to call and call. Finally I tell him to answer it and remind her that she can give his mother’s number to her parents, otherwise he cannot talk. I hear her questioning my rules and why I need to talk to her parents.

See, forever I thought I would be what I believed to be a rational, reasonable mother when we reached this stage. I remember how frustrating it was to have parents always ruining my fun, and I vowed to not be that way with my son. So, maybe I am an idiot.

Thursday Evening: We are sitting at my sister’s choir concert and Miss Thing calls my son 19 times. NINE-TEEN times. I am just glaring at him with the mom look. And he knows. He knows Mom is not happy. We get out to the car and I calmly explain that anyone who calls 19 times after being asked not to is not someone he wants to have in his life. I also explain that having friends who cannot, or choose not to respect his mother is setting himself up for a world of hurt. He tells me that he is going to just block her number.

At this point I am feeling so proud of my parental abilities. I did not even have to suggest that he block her number. I am thinking, “Look at me, I have done such a good job. I am raising this smart, sweet boy who loves and respects his mom, and is making such good choices.” Again, maybe I am an idiot.

Friday Evening: My son is gone to his dad’s for the weekend. I get a call on my cell phone from a number I do not recognize. Thinking that the call may be work related, I answer. It is Miss Thing. Miss Thing wants to know just why I need to talk to her parents. Why I have these rules. Why? She wants to know why. I explain those are just the rules I have for my son. Not only that, but I want to talk to her parents to make sure that my son would not be breaking any of their rules by talking to her. The little girl tells me that she has no one that will talk to me. Her mom is never home, her dad is in jail, and her grandma told her to sit down and leave her alone when she asked her grandma to call me.

I have never felt like a bigger idiot. Do not get me wrong, I do not like the idea of this girl questioning my authority and hounding my son like she is his wife, but this girl is obviously in need of some attention. Now I find myself torn between my sympathies for this little girl, and my instincts to protect my son from people who I see as a potential bad influence.

All I can say is please pray for us.

Pray for my son to continue to make good choices.

Pray for me that I do not lose my sanity over the next few years.

Pray for my son’s father, grandfathers, and uncles whose advice will be invaluable to both of us.

Pray for my friends that are mothers of sons who’ve already gone through this stage, and whose advice I will be seeking around the clock.

And, lastly, pray for all of the Miss Things and little girls out there who will cross my son’s path while struggling to find their own way through this trying stage of their lives.


13 Years

It only took 13 years.

13 years ago I was sitting in an AP US History class listening to our teacher go over our performance as a class on a paper he had just graded.

I remember it like yesterday. He stopped critiquing us as a class, looked at me, and said, “Christina, you are a good writer. I have read a lot of papers in my day, and you are a good writer. You tend to go off on tangents sometimes, but you are a good writer.”

I did not believe him.

I do not know if, like I still have the tendency to do, I just refused to accept a compliment, but I did not take it seriously.

A year later I was in college. I graduated from high school at 16, so to say my freshman year of college was intimidating is an understatement.

I was in an honors program, and our semester project was to design, build, and dedicate a war memorial. Part of that assignment was to write a dedication speech. I did it, and I did it to the best of my ability, but I did not think that out of all of my classmates mine stood a chance of being chosen for the dedication. It was.

I did not believe them.

The thought of giving a speech at such a big event, in front of hundreds of people, was so terrifying that I did not give a second thought to the idea that my old history teacher may have been right.

At one point I went to the program director and tried to talk him out of letting me, or anyone else, give my speech. I was convinced there was no possibility that mine was the best. He said, “Christina, if you think we gave you this because we like you more than everyone else, you are wrong. We like you, but we chose what we thought was the best speech. Honestly, your stage presence worries us a little, but your speech was just that good. We had to give it to you.”

I did not believe him.

After I had my son, and my grandpa’s health became so that he could not travel any longer, a lot of our conversations took place via letters and e-mails.

One of the last letters I got from him said in the last paragraph, “Tina, I have noticed you write very well. Very well. You should try writing more.”

I did not believe him.

This man was my hero in every sense of the word. He is responsible for what little confidence I have in any of my own abilities, and yet, it went over my head.

Tomorrow marks six weeks of working at my first professional writing job. A job I thought I had no chance at landing. A job, I thought, even once I was hired, that I would crash and burn at.

The voices of those three men were in my head when I finally worked up the nerve to send in my resume.

Now, do not be mistaken…

I still go off on tangents.

I still cannot take a compliment.

I still find myself fighting the urge to go talk myself out of an assignment because I just know someone else can do it better.

And lord help us all if they ever ask me to speak publicly. I still have zero stage presence.

But now there are new names to add to the list of people who have told me, that yes, I can do this. I can be a writer.

People, who almost on a daily basis, whether they do it on purpose or not, help me find just a little bit more confidence.

Here is to hoping it does not take another 13 years before I believe them.

Perplexing Beginnings

One thing I have learned from genealogical research is that there is no one alive who can’t find both pride and bewilderment in their roots. For me I have to go back three-four generations before I get to ancestors in born in the nineteenth century. Some branches I’ve traced back to the thirteenth century which adds up to a lot of ancestors. In my case they’re as diverse as this country itself.

I’ve written previously about the diversity of my heritage, and the pride I have in it. I have European ancestors, African ancestors, Asian ancestors, and Native American ancestors. While that is true, I also have a son who has light blonde hair, bright blue eyes and creamy white skin, but on his maternal side he can find roots in every corner of the globe. Honestly, his appearance is not much different from mine at his age, yet my genes tell a completely different story.

My maternal grandmother was a beautiful, black woman. There are many other (and much better) ways to describe her, and she was certainly defined by far more than the color of her skin, but that fact is undeniable. She was beautiful. She was Black. She was a woman.

Joan Marie Russell (7)
My grandmother, Joan Marie Russell Oldfield at age 17 in 1955.

I never knew her. I wished that I had been able to know her, but she died when I was 5 1/2 months old at the age of 49 in 1987. I never really knew my grandfather, either, but I at least was able to meet him and have conversations with him. I did not have that privilege with her. Everything I know about her comes from my mother and the research I’ve done on her and her family. There is no doubt that my grandmother was one of my mother’s heroes. Learning the details of my grandmother’s life, she’s become one of my heroes as well. The things she endured, many that had nothing to do with her race, make my troubles look like a walk in the park in comparison.

She was born in 1938 to Antonia Camille Glaudin and Charles Robert Roussell (the spelling of her maiden name was changed later in life). The couple lived in New Orleans at the time with their first child, a son, Robert. Antonia was herself no stranger to tragedy. She lost several siblings to varies ailments as a child, lost her mother at the age of 10, and lived in the segregated South as a woman of color.

Antonia Camille Glaudini (3)
Antonia Camille Glaudin Roussell in the 1940s

Antonia Camille Glaudin was born in 1901 to Vincent Nicholas Glaudin and Camille Remy in New Orleans. She was one of the younger Glaudin siblings. Her mother, Camille, died in 1911 at the age of 39 from kidney disease, just four months after the birth of Antonia’s youngest sibling.

Camille Remy
Camille Remy Glaudin in 1899 at the age of 28.

Antonia’s father,Vincent was born in 1869. The second of two sons and third of four children born to Maurice (born St. Meurice) Nicholas Glaudin and Louisa Pinta. I do not know, nor have I ever met anyone who knew Vincent personally. The only things I know about him come from what I have researched. He was a man of mixed heritage himself (listed as “mulatto” on multiple censuses and colored on many vital statistic documents). He worked as a drayman and grew up just a few blocks from the French Quarter of New Orleans. One colorful anecdote about him is that in 1891 he and his older brother Maurice  Jr. were arrested after an altercation at the dedication of a church in New Orleans. During this altercation, the man that he and his brother were arguing with opened fire and hit four people in the crowd.

Vincent’s father, Maurice, was a Confederate Civil War veteran. This is an interesting fact to me. Although he was freeman, he was a man of color. Nonetheless, he volunteered for service in the Civil War on the Confederate side. He was an Ordnance Sergeant in the 1st Regiment, Native Guards, Louisiana Militia. His unit was disbanded when the Louisiana legislature passed a law restricting the militia to “ white males capable of bearing arms…” in 1862. Maurice was born to Jean (later John) Nicolas Glaudin and Bonne Marguerite Bonseigneur in 1838. Maurice’s father Jean was a tobacconist in New Orleans.

Jean Nicholas Glaudin
Newspaper advertisement of Jean (John) Glaudin’s tobacco shop which was located just a block west of the French Quarter.

According to all records, Jean Glaudin was a man of color. Listed as either negro, mulatto, or colored on every document I have found. Which makes the newspaper advertisement where he asks for help locating his missing slave extremely confusing to me.

Jean Nicholas Glaudin 2
Newspaper advertisement from Jean Glaudin offering a reward for his missing slave.

I try to remind myself that it was a different time. I try to remind myself that southern Whites were not the only people to own slaves. However, it doesn’t matter how much I attempt to adjust my perspective. It doesn’t matter how much I attempt to put myself in a different frame of reference. I do not understand how a human being could believe that they had the right to own another. Many white people believed the theory that they were superior to black people, and therefore had the right to own them as property. Jean could not use this theory. Jean was a man of color. He could not say I am white and therefore superior to you and you can legally and morally be my property. So what was his reasoning? Obviously slaves were an instrument of profit. Holding slaves was also legal. Maybe that was enough. We will never know. I will never know.

Some may ask “What does it matter?”. Valid question. I don’t know anyone who knew Jean or his slave, Robert. I will never in this lifetime know anyone who knew them. That doesn’t change the fact that Jean Nicolas Glaudin was a slave holder and was my great-great-great-great grandfather. That doesn’t change the fact that his own children, including his own sons who attempted to fight for the Confederate cause, experienced racial discrimination. There are many other (and likely better) ways to describe him, and he was certainly defined by far more than the color of his skin, but that fact is undeniable. He was my great-great-great-great grandfather. He was black. He was a slave holder.

Jean could not have imagined that 76 years after his death his great-great granddaughter would be born a Black child subject to segregation and Jim Crow laws in the same city in which he was a slave holder. Jean could not have dreamed that over 170 years after he asked for help in the return of his “property” that his white great-great-great-great granddaughter would be staring at his plea in wonder.

Maybe, Just Maybe.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop viewing our society as black vs. white, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop viewing our society as conservative vs. liberal, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop viewing our society as Muslim vs. Christian, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop viewing our society as straight vs. gay, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we start viewing each other as someone’s brother, someone’s wife, someone’s father, someone’s daughter, someone’s uncle, someone’s niece, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we start treating everyone, from friends to family to co-workers to strangers, how we’d want to be treated, this will stop.

Maybe, just maybe, if we start focusing more on the humanity inherent in all of us than on who does and doesn’t fall in line with our ideological spectrum, this will stop.

Until then, don’t expect it to.

Until we can see each other as true equals, until we can realize we are all human, we are all doing the best we can, and we are all on this short ride of life together, this won’t stop.

Until we stop isolating ourselves in our own little groups of people who think exactly like we do, this won’t stop.

Until we stop seeing sinister motives in every action we disagree with, or don’t understand, this won’t stop.

Until we stop identifying ourselves more by who we voted for than by how much we help, this won’t stop.

Until we choose love above all with our words and actions, this won’t stop.

Until we realize that we are all the problem, and that we are all the solution, this won’t stop.

Start today, this minute. Love more. Respect more. Listen more. Help more. If we don’t, and soon, we are leaving a terrible mess behind that our children may not be able to clean up.

October Seventeenth

October 17th will always be the day that I lost my grandfather. From 3:45 p.m. on June 12th, 1987 until 4:45 a.m on October 17th, 2011 my grandfather and I were together on this earth. I was blessed to have him in my life for 24 years, 4 months, 4 days and 13 hours.

I was born in the town where he was the Fire Chief. Funny story is that there was a fire station in McAllen nearing completion in early June 1987. He told the contractor he didn’t want him to bring him the keys on a Friday. As soon as Grandpa received the keys he’d have to staff and open the station. What did the contractor do? Finish the station and hand him the keys on a Friday afternoon…it just happened to be the Friday I was born. June 12th, 1987. There is a fire station in McAllen with a dedication plaque showing it was opened the exact day I was born. I was born at McAllen Medical Center, the same hospital in which he’d take his last breath. He is buried next to his parents, paternal grandparents and great-grandmother in McAllen.

My brother John, me, my sister Katie and Grandpa.
Me in Grandpa’s dress uniform and my sister Katie looking on.
Grandpa and me hanging out in a fire truck


Grandpa was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on February 10th, 1942, the only son and oldest child of Everts Burl Derr and Lille Elizabeth Lang. The hospital he was born in and house that he came home to are both still standing. His dad would go on to serve in the Navy in World War II (Four of Grandpa’s uncles also served, the first to enlisted was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. He was on the USS Nevada during the attack.). At some point the family moved to Pharr, Texas where many of the Derr’s already resided. Grandpa graduated from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School in 1960 and began his studies at Pan American University (later renamed University of Texas Pan Am). He met my grandmother and married her in 1963 and my dad, their only child together, was born in 1964 in Edinburg, Texas. Grandpa joined the fire service in 1965, quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to chief in 1976, which he would remain until his retirement in 2000. During his tenure he would also teach at the state fire academy in College Station and the national fire academy in Virginia. He originally aspired to join the Air Force, but an accident, during which he lost his index finger, at his father’s cabinetry shop prevented that.

Grandpa at around age 18. Anyone who knows my brother John can see the striking resemblance.
Grandpa at around age 18. Anyone who knows my brother John can see the striking resemblance.

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood involved my grandfather. We would go to the Derr family reunions every year. We always saw him for Christmas. He’d visit pretty much anytime he was traveling for work. I remember he’d take us to museums, air shows (Grandpa really loved airplanes), all kinds of places. But some of the best memories came from just spending time with him. Whether at his home or ours. His home is the only house that was the same from the time I was born until the day he passed away. We moved a lot when I was a kid, my grandmother moved, but Grandpa always lived in the same house in McAllen. I still know his home phone number by heart. I will probably be able to find that house without the help of map for the rest of my life.

Me and Grandpa on one of his visits.
Me and Grandpa on one of his visits.

I loved him very much and miss him everyday still. There are many dates that have meaning for me. February 10th, February 21st, February 25th, February 26th, March 11th, March 18th, May 7th, June 6th, August 12th, September 11th, November 2nd, November 30th, December 29th…but October 17th…that will always be the day I stop and remember Grandpa and all of the good he brought into my life. October 17th, 2011 will always be the first day that only one of us remained physically on this earth, though he will always be here spiritually, at least I know he will until my final day.

Welcome to the 3rd Grade, Grayson.

Today you’re officially a 3rd grader. You were a bundle of nerves (even if you hid it from me) and a ball of excitement when you left this morning. You told me that you are big boy and didn’t need me to walk into class, and even though that was hard for me because in my mind you’re still a little boy, I dropped you off and let you venture into school all on your own. Today you’ll make new friends and reunite with old ones. You’ll begin to get to know your teacher. You will learn what your daily routine will be like over the next nine months.

Today I’m officially the mom of a 3rd grader. I was a bundle of nerves (even though I hid it from you) and a ball of excitement when you left this morning. I watched you get out of the car independent as can be. I saw how much you wanted to prove to me that you are a “grown up” now and watched you walk toward the school door. I saw how, even though you wanted to prove your maturity, you came back to the car window because you were unsure of where to go after breakfast.  Today I’ll think about the friends you are making, I’l will think about how your teacher will handle your little quirks. I’ll think about how you’re navigating your day. I’ll be relieved to not be asked for 2 meals and 2 snacks before 11 am, but will worry about you being hungry between breakfast and lunch. I’ll be thankful for the quiet, but will miss you not being here to hug and tell you I love you anytime I want. There will be several times that I stop myself from e-mailing your teacher to check on you, saving us both embarrassment of a helicopter mom.

Even though I will worry about you, just like every other parent is worrying about their children, I know you will be fine. You are smart and kind. I know you think we drove away before I saw you hold the door open for some adults leaving the school this morning. You are growing up into a handsome young gentleman. Too fast. It seems like yesterday you were taking your first steps and today you bounded into 3rd grade all on your own. And it will seem like tomorrow when I’m sending you off to college.

“What Kind Of Day Has It Been”

Fellow The West Wing fans will recognize that as the title to the Season 1 finale. For those who haven’t seen the show, or don’t remember that episode, a quick summary is the president’s body man (personal assistant, basically) Charlie, a young black man who happens to be dating the President’s daughter, is the target of white supremacists who open gunfire on a crowd after a speaking engagement. Missing Charlie, they hit the President who suffers relatively minor injuries, and hit his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh, very nearly killing him.

The incident is referenced in different scenarios throughout the rest of the series. One in particular is an exchange between a young conservative lawyer the President is considering hiring, and Sam, a member of the senior staff. It went as follows:

Ainsley: You think because I don’t want to work here it’s because I can get a better gig on Geraldo? Gosh, let’s see if there could possibly be any other reason why I wouldn’t want to work in this White House? This White House that feels that government is better for children than parents are. That looks at forty years of degrading and humiliating free lunches handed out in a spectacularly failed effort to level the playing field and says, ‘Let’s try forty more.’ This White House that says of anyone that points that out to them, that they are cold and mean and racist, and then accuses Republicans of using the politics of fear. This White House that loves the Bill of Rights, all of them – except the second one.

Sam: This is the wrong place to talk about guns right now. I thought your column was idiotic.

Ainsley: Imagine my surprise.

Sam: But for a brilliant surgical team and two centimeters of a miracle, this guy (Josh) is dead right now. From bullets fired from a gun bought legally. They bought guns. They loaded them. They drove from Wheeling to Rosslyn. And until they pulled the trigger, they had yet to commit a crime. I am so off the charts tired of the gun lobby tossing around terms like “personal freedom” and nobody calling them on it. It’s not about personal freedom. And it certainly has nothing to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.

Ainsley:: Yes, they do. But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns.
You don’t like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South.

…and there you have it. Those last two statements sum up the problem with every gun control debate I have ever heard. It’s more about either side proving they’re “right” than about focusing on the best course of action. It’s more about either side scoring points with their respective bases than about finding solutions to gun violence. Both sides, both parties are guilty of this.

The right screams that the left is just trying to take away people’s rights and everyone’s guns so they can easily implement their “agenda” without fear of an armed rebellion. They claim only more guns are the solution and that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The left claim’s the right’s allegiance isn’t to the second amendment but only to being a puppet of the NRA and the culture of guns, and that they have blood on their hands. Neither side offers any sensible solution. Only more talking points, only more divisive rhetoric.

Yesterday we had another mass shooting in this country. In the words of Ainsley, imagine my surprise. Maybe that is what angers me most, that I’m no longer surprised. It happens with such frequency, how could we be surprised anymore? Elementary school children, people in their place of worship, members of our armed forces, just everyday citizens enjoying a movie theater or shopping mall, college students, the list of victims goes on and on. They span every race, gender, religion, age, political affiliation, and socioeconomic class. As does the list of perpetrators.

What is the solution or solutions? I truly believe the solution has to be multi-faceted. This isn’t just a gun problem. Nor is it only a mental health problem. Nor can it solely be blamed on a culture that enjoys violent themes in its entertainment. The right has a point that part of the issue lies with the people who commit these crimes, and their motivations. Whether it be hatred, mental illness, a thrust for violence or whatever else.  The left also has a point that accessibility is an issue. How do we solve this? I have no idea.

What I do know is my parents never had to have the conversations with me that I’ve had to have with my son. I never came home from kindergarten and told them about the drill we did to practice what to do in case someone invaded our school with a gun and opened fire. I never asked “Why would someone do that?”. I never had to say “Could that really happen, Mommy?” with a confused look on my face that fell somewhere between curiosity and fear. I never asked “What should I do, Mommy, should I run? Should I try to stop the bad guy? What if he shoots one of my friends, or my teacher?” They never had to respond by asking me to promise to do exactly what my teacher told me to and be as quiet as possible, while trying to conceal their own terror that this is a real possibility they needed to prepare me for. Don’t misunderstand, I think it is important and a great thing that my son’s school has a plan in place, a plan that they prepare for and practice. But it is a truly sobering moment when your six year old starts asking you why.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how as a country we collectively get over the political bullshit and for once make our leaders solve this problem. All I do know is, that while maybe completely unrealistic, I hope it happens before another life is lost. Since I know that is unlikely, I certainly hope it happens before my son is forced to have the same heart-wrenching conversation with his child.

Annoying the masses one post at a time.