Who’s on Your Board?

20180716_172758At the Creative Problem Solving Institute I’ve attended for the past two years, one of the tools to inspire new thinking about a challenge is to imagine how someone else would solve it. A set of BrainNoodling cards I purchased promotes this idea; it contains 40 cards featuring different people whose lives and values prompt questions for you to apply to your life, like this one on Mother Teresa.

I’m taking this idea and appointing myself a Board of Directors. (Yes, I know it’s mid-July, and this activity seems better suited for the start of the year, but as someone in education, summer is when I hit the reset button, so July ’18 – July ’19 it is. Plus, this is my board, and I can appoint them when I wish.)

Apparently, this concept of a personal board of directors is not original. Forbes talked about it in February, though theirs is more reality-based than mine. They suggest you pick people you have regular contact with, people who check off different criteria such as one in your field, someone who can introduce you to others, one who will critique you, etc. I think it’s great advice, and maybe someday I will take it.

But for my first Board of Directors, I’ve picked people whose lives can inform and inspire my specific goals for the next 12 months. Though it would be phenomenal if I could, I will not physically meet with them for regular check-ins; out of the 6 people on my board, 3 are dead, and 4 of them wouldn’t even know who I am.

Instead, it’s up to me to remind myself of their purpose and, if all goes well, my board members will guide me with their spirits. In no particular order, here’s who I’ve picked and why:


P!nk, for her body positivity, down to Earth parenting/marriage views, commitment to artistry and creativity, and for her athleticism.

My dad, for always wanting what’s best for me, for our shared values, for his fatherly wisdom, and for his undying (ha!) support.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her inclusive concept of feminism, her dedication to her craft, and for her reminders to reject (and not write) the “single story.”

Brené Brown, for her urging to choose courage over comfort, her guidance on bravery and necessary conversations, her love of research, and for her belief in creativity and vulnerability.

Mamie Till, for her strength and ability to channel her grief for good, her faith and devotion to her son, and for championing Civil Rights and challenging the status quo with grace and tenacity.

Donald Murray, for his generosity, his reminders to write a line a day, and for his dedication to his family.

My list of runners-up for future consideration is long, but these are the people who can best challenge me and cheer me on to reach my current goals.

I think this is a worthy exercise, but even if you don’t do it to the extent I am, I’m curious: If you were to appoint your own Board of Directors, who would be on it and why?

This Is…Me?

I’ve written a few blog posts on Dead Dad Day, and they serve as textual time capsules that remind me where I was, literally and metaphorically, on those anniversaries.

On the first anniversary, I was writing my comps for my doctoral program.

When we were honoring my dad’s memory at our family dinner on the third anniversary, we heard the news that Whitney Houston died. (People were shocked, but losing a 59-year old parent suddenly tends to make you impervious to premature deaths of troubled celebrities.)

But when I think back to this year’s 9th anniversary, I will remember Jack’s death.

Yes, my father’s name was Tom, but Jack Pearson is the patriarch in the popular show This Is Us.

If you’re not familiar with it, This Is Us tells the story of a fictional family across decades with the use of flashbacks (and, recently, one flash-forward). We’ve known from early in the first season that Jack died sometime between the kids’ teenage years and their adulthood. (Warning: The rest of this post contains references to the last two episodes.)

This show has been on the air for a year and a half, yet the writers chose THIS WEEK to tell us exactly how Jack died and what his kids and widow do on his anniversary. Then, two days after this special post-Super Bowl show, we got an episode on his funeral.

Many people refer to the show as a tear-jerker, but I haven’t needed the tissues until these episodes. It was a bit too real, especially so close to Dead Dad Day. I’m cool with art imitating life, but not necessarily my life, and certainly not this week.

This Is Us felt like This Is Me.

Jack dies of a cardiac arrest. My father did, too. (Jack’s was due to a fire; my dad’s was due to type 1 diabetes.)

His widow Rebecca sees him dead on the bed in the ER. Been there, done that!

In the funeral episode, Rebecca is stoic, the pillar of strength she feels she needs to be for her 17-year old triplets (er, kind of…it’s complicated). Before the funeral, I had a chat with my father’s open casket that helped me deliver his eulogy without losing my composure.

These episodes were especially emotional because I had the enormous good fortune 20180210_214854of having a Jack Pearson dad. He painted my face as Raggedy Ann for my second Halloween. He came to my loooong gymnastics meets and dance recitals and softball games. He took me on my college visits. He was a hands-on father who remembered the things that mattered to me.


From flashbacks in the funeral episode, I was also reminded of some of the harder parenting moments from my teen years. Jack didn’t love Alanis Morisette like his daughter Kate did. My senior year of high school, I wrote the lyrics to one of Morisette’s songs on my paper-bag book cover. Imagine my embarrassment when I took the book out in class and saw that my father had written a response: “These lyrics aren’t appropriate for high school. Perhaps next year.” GULP.

Toward the end of the funeral episode, after spreading some of Jack’s ashes at a sentimental location, Rebecca tells the ethereal Jack, “I promise you, we’re gonna be okay.”

We know from watching the 2017 version of the family, almost 20 years after Jack’s death, that this proves true. They’re all a little broken in some places, but the brokenness is what makes them interesting.

And they’re okay. When you have a Jack Pearson, or a Tom Pesola, for a dad, you know you’re gonna be okay.

Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)


There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.