The Smoking Phone: Cell Phone Usage at School for Kids.

“Want to know the cigarette of this generation? Odds are you’re already holding it in your hand.” Only months after moving to the Bay Area from the Midwest I attended a conference that made a lasting impression on me. I remembering shifting in my seat a bit, looking down at my smart phone and slipping into my purse. That was 3 years ago. It seemed like a long time before I would even have to think about my own children wanting a cell phone of their own.

I remember how much my husband had to convince me to switch from my Blackberry to an iPhone. “Let technology work for you, not the other way around.” Smart advice from a guy who’s career is just that; Technology. I also remember the first time I bought a cell phone; I was in my mid 20’s. There were no unlimited plans, let alone data plans. The girl who, from the age of 19 years old, drove a 1965 fastback, tossed caution to the wind as she crossed state lines with only a full tank of gas and twenty bucks in her pocket for day trips to Michigan suddenly felt like cell phone ownership was a responsible thing to do as “an adult.” You know, for safety in case my car broke down, I was in an accident or was lost.

So I understand why parents who own smart phones would want to give their children a smart phone. It feels like the responsible thing to do as parents. After all, we want our kids to be safe. We want to be able to check in with them instantly and for them to be able to reach us anywhere. That’s where we aren’t on the same page with understanding how we view phones and how our kids view phones. One day while picking my two elementary kids from school my oldest kid asked:

Mommy when am I going to get a smartphone?

Me: (insert laughter here)…Why do you want a smartphone?

My then 4th grader: Other kids have one and it would be fun to play games.

Me: When you do get a phone…a very long time from now…it will be just like my first phone I bought on my own in my early 20’s. You will be able to make phone calls with it and receive phone calls. 

My then 2nd grader bellowed from the backseat: Well WHY would anyone want a phone for THAT?

It is pretty to clear to see that my understanding of what a cell phone is used for is vastly different from what my elementary aged children perceive it to be. A New York Times article, When to Buy Your Kids a Phone, by Stephanie Olsen states that parents typically buy cell phones for their kids safety. However,  “most parents want to give a cellphone to keep them safe, but ignore what the great majority of uses that kids are using cell phones for” (Wired Safety, 2016) –Like addictive behavior, cyberbullying, sexting, cheating in class and for older teenagers distracted driving.

Smartphones are popping up in the hands of children earlier and earlier on school campuses. What promoted the discussion of my elementary aged kids with me in the car was that they saw kids at school with cell phones. Like parents, “most schools allow students to have cell phones for safety– a reaction to the Littleton, Colorado High School shooting incident of 1999.” (Earl, 2012). My concern surrounds the idea of children being allowed to use their smartphones while school is in session, the behaviors that enables in the elementary and middle school years along with the risk it brings for safety.

Benjamin Herold discusses just that in his article in which he highlights thoughts that principals have in regard to the worries about children’s safety in addition to “potential landmines for school leaders themselves.” (Harold, 2017) As a BBC investigation found, there is good cause to be concerned over the safety of our children. School children were using an APP called Periscope, which allows users to broadcast live from anywhere-  including classrooms. Viewers send in questions and comments- some of which are not so innocent.

It’s important to have conversations with your child (even if they don’t have a cell phone) about navigating safely online, the intentions of phone usage, the responsibility that comes with having a smartphones (some are legal ramifications), phone etiquette, what cyberbullying is and how to get help if it happens to them. I’m not going to dabble in the debate as to when children should have a smartphone as that really is a personal parenting decision. No one wants to be judged as a parent for buying their kid a phone, just as much as they don’t want to be judged for waiting to give them one.

Regardless, this is an issue that impacts us all. Our newsfeed is lined with stories of kids being cyber bullied and examples of how that spills over into the hallways of our school campuses involving suicides as young as 12. The pressure to respond to texts, monitor email, scroll through social media platforms, impress and gain acceptance with a “like” is real.  How does that impact your work day, let alone your child’s day at school? Why do kids even need to have their phones on them at school? What if, similar to when you visit the Senate Gallery at the U.S. Capitol, students had to check in their phones in the office or with their teacher at the beginning of the day?

When an article about just that was posted by someone on a local Facebook community group that I follow, I was surprised to read two comments by teachers in middle school. The article stated, “In a survey conducted in 2001, no school banned mobiles. By 2007, this had risen to 50%, and by 2012 some 98% of schools either did not allow phones on school premises or required them to be handed in at the beginning of the day.” (Doward, 2015) One teacher replied,  “Schools have so much more to worry about than policing your child’s cell phone usage. Sorry but, no.” Another teacher chimed in, “And then when one goes missing or ends up dropped with a cracked screen, who is responsible? Sorry but I’m not going to take a kids phone from them and end up liable for damage.” I’m not sure worrying about who is liable for a broken or missing phone should be our first concern. As a parent, who values my partnership with every single one of my children’s teachers, I’m more concerned about unnecessary distractions in addition to what parties are held liable for when students use their smartphones during school and take inappropriate photos or videos of other students and not only share them, but post them online.

English teacher Steve Gardiner shared, “After 38 years of teaching, this seems to be the most distracting thing I have seen.” (Gardiner, 2016) He goes on to state that, “In much of the same way a chemical dependency controls an addicts life, my students’ cellphones control their lives.” What does it say for kids who already get upset with the idea of having their phone usage restricted or told to put their phone away in class? “We found that the impact of banning phones for these students was the equivalent to an additional hour a week in school or to increasing the school year by five days.” (Kottasova, 2015) As Districts struggle to fit more class time into the calendar year to better prepare our children for the future, perhaps looking at making technology work for us, means also knowing when it is not working for our benefit.

This isn’t about a BAN, but rather adults modeling behaviors as Digital Mentors to help children navigate technology and the behaviors it enables. While we embrace technology and find ways to connect to our children about it, we have no plans of purchasing a smart phone for our children any time soon. While no age suits all children, we’ve been open and upfront to our children about needs verses wants. To someone who commented to me earlier, “Sometimes phones are useful in class because kids can research on them.” —Do they not have computers to do that? That’s how we research at home… What’s your school District Cell Phone Usage Policy? For the record, my now Middle Schooler, without a doubt assured me that this will not be a popular post and to expect a lot of upset comments.

For more tips, thoughts and speaking opportunities look for future posts related to this topic or reach out to me directly. 

Girls Count

The day after my sons promotion to middle school I received a reminder that not every child has access to an education. Many of those that aren’t in school are girls. I read something back in college in one of my core classes about how if you educate a girl, you in turn educate a family. By educating a girl, you often break the cycle of poverty. By educating a girl, you lift her up to opportunities.

“The world will never realize 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realise their full potential. When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.” UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon 

I’m not sure why, but the handful of people in my life that have been catalyst for change and empowerment have actually been males:

  • From my husband who encouraged me to finish my degree (backing me by supporting me emotionally, academically and financially) as a new mother. The endless homework, meeting for group projects and commuting to campus meant a lot of time away from him and the kids. He balanced a full time job and two boys never once making me feel guilty, but only a proud partner. He also fully supports my choice to work inside or out of our home.
  • My male college professor and mentor who reminded me and encouraged me to make use of the talents I have. He embraced the “different” ways I approached projects and celebrated my achievements.  He nudged me to find my voice again not only for myself but others.
  • My Dad who would pass by the hospital where I was born with me in the car and every.single.time. say, “There’s where the first female president was born- if she chooses to be.”
  • In addition to a few male friends, a theatre director and dance teacher- again, all males, that had such a strong belief in me and my abilities in addition to sticking up for me at times. To this day, I know they played a big part in who I am.

I wish there were more women I could recall stories of support and encouragement from. As a mother who is rearing two boys, I know the important task I have at hand. I cannot merely rear my boys by enrolling them in good schools and give them access to experiences that shape them. I must also rear them to identify when their female counter parts may need someone to be their advocate, remind them of their worth after this society tries to knock them down and help them find their footing at the table. While leaning in is great, far too many women aren’t even in the position to lean-in. Nor do they have the education, financial security and privilege to do so. That’s where education and our boys that grow up to be men come into play.

The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies are about to meet. On the agenda: the 130 million girls not in school.  Speak up and add your name to tell our leaders that this is not acceptable.

Wanda’s Story: Part 3/3



In 1991, when my Mom was 46 years old, my Dad (who was self employed) paid $50,000 to Rush Hospital in Chicago in order to get my Mom admitted for a procedure in the hospital. Doctors told my mother that a bone marrow transplant would give her a fighting chance against metastatic breast cancer. Although we had insurance coverage, our insurance company considered a bone marrow transplant “experimental.” Experimental meant that the insurance company wasn’t going to pay for it.

Prior to this, my Mom had a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatment. After the bone marrow transplant, three tumors would develop on her brain in which she would then endure radiation treatments. The total bill for all of my Mom’s treatments and stay was well over $300,000. With tears in her eyes, she told my Dad, “Bill, if I live and we have to live in a box on the street, what good is that?”

After 2 year battle with metastatic breast cancer my Mom died at 47 years old; I was 17 years old. Immediately after, our health insurance company raised my Dad’s premium to $600.00 a month. He had no choice but to drop our coverage. I saw bills continue to roll in from my Mom’s treatment along with late notices to pay the mortgage. My Dad managed to hold on to the house. We ate a lot of frozen waffles.

Not having health insurance wouldn’t only have an effect on my health then, but in the future. I remember being sick but not wanting to worry my Dad. I knew we simply didn’t have money to spend at the doctor because we were no longer insured. “A partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act could cost up to 13 million children to lose their health coverage.” When doctors and dentists tell me now that I have a very high threshold for pain, I know where that developed from.

Despite having access to healthcare from insurance now, I drove myself to the emergency room when I needed my appendix out (I didn’t want to wake my kids and thought I just had the flu). I was in labor with my first child for 2 1/2 days refusing any drugs because it wasn’t “that bad yet.” I’m also the one who finally went in to the doctor after my whole cheek swelled up from a tooth that needed a root canal. The dentist said the tooth was actually loose because the inflammation was pushing the tooth out. I’m not sure I was born with a high threshold for pain, but rather, it was a learned behavior.

According to the Congressional Budget Office report, enacting the American Health Care Act means that, “In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.” No one should ever be in jeopardy of losing their house over medical bills. No one should have to think they are a financial burden on their spouse or partner because they get sick. No child should be worried to tell their parent they are sick. No parent should have to worry about their child getting sick because they can’t afford to get them the care need. No one should have to think because they have had an illness in the past or in their family history that an insurance company can refuse to cover them.

Where is our line in the sand that We the People no longer allow politicians to cross? Prior to this election, I use to think that covering pre-existing conditions, access to health for all and caring for vulnerable populations was something we held together strong on. We’ve made a few gains in the 25 years that my Mom died. By the House passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repeals major parts of ObamaCare, the estimate premium surcharge for a 40 year old diagnosed with the cancer my Mom died from tops the list: $142,650 more for patients with metastatic cancer. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Wanda’s Story: Part 2/3


On a vacation in Florida, in December of 1990, my Mom was unusually tired. (This may have also been the year my cousins and I were kicked out of Grandma’s house. Doesn’t every family have a story like that?) We’d return home and she’d make an appointment to go to the doctor. Through a breast examination, her doctor would feel a lump. She was referred to a specialist and shortly after a biopsy would be preformed. We would learn her lump was malignant and had spread to several lymph nodes.

When my Mom woke up from surgery, she told me she fell asleep thinking of me singing on stage, “Hooray for Hollywood.” The series of events in my Mother’s next chapter wouldn’t be anything to sing about. There is nothing glamorous or pretty about what breast cancer does to a person physically, mentally…and how it attempts to claim your spirit (including those around you). Some things are a blur. I was 15 when this all began. Through the eyes of that girl, I’m going to do the best I can to recall my Mother’s story.

In a reaction to chemotherapy, her hair fell out. She went and was fitted for a wig, but she rarely wore it. She would wear a cloth bandanna most of the time unless she was going to a play of mine. Months after she died while I was cleaning the bathroom, I stumbled across it. I picked it up and smelled it. It still smelled like her. I remember sliding down on the wall to the bathroom floor hugging this little piece of cloth and rocking back and forth- just as she undoubtably rocked me so many times as a baby.

She would lose weight and muscle mass. She would complain that nothing tastes like food anymore. From my room, I would hear her vomit in the hallway bathroom. I’d sit on her bed and tell her all about my day at school and despite being tired, she’d never tire of listening.

After chemotherapy, my Mom wouldn’t be “cured.” The new x-ray of her chest revealed, what my Dad would describe to me as being, “tiny little seeds in her lungs.” Knowing what I know now, cure was the wrong expectation to have. Living in remission, would be more fitting. Not dying from complications of treatments is something I know now is also a factor for breast cancer patients. My parents were given three choices:

  • Continue chemotherapy
  • Walk off into the sunset and live the days you have left
  • Have a bone marrow transplant that would give you the best fighting chance

People would change…

My Uncle, who is also my Godfather, came over after she started treatments. One of the first things he did when he came in our house was accept a cup of coffee from my Mom. For the first time, he didn’t want anything. Maybe he didn’t want to trouble her. She shared with my Dad and I after he left that maybe he doesn’t know you can’t catch cancer through a coffee cup? Her best friend, my Godmother, would phase out of my Mom’s life after 20 years. Maybe she didn’t know how to deal with my Mom’s diagnoses, but it hurt my Mom. Especially being that my Mom said that she was a hypochondriac and she took time to listen to every concern she had. But now that my Mom was sick, it seemed like she no longer had time to talk.

Out of a loss, new friendships were gained…

Like my Mom’s friend Carol who she met during car shows with the ’55 Chevy. I can still hear the echo of my Mom’s laugh when she and Carol would chat. Like my Dad’s car friend who had a disabled daughter, Chrissy. At first, my Dad didn’t know him very well, but when he heard that my Mom needed people to get tested for a bone marrow transplant, he organized the entire thing and ensured she had a long line of people to be tested.

Vows were renewed…

Faith was a struggle. For my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary, for sickness and in health never meant more. My Mom became baptized and confirmed and insisted on getting married in “the eyes of God.” (That meant in a church.) She worried my Dad would be in eternity and she’d have no way to reach him if she died. Prior to the renewal of their marriage, the Priest that interviewed my parents asked some really questionable things. Like when he asked my Dad if she slept with pajamas on? The Priest told my parents that they had to sleep with a line (barricade) of pillows between them until they were “married.” My Dad told him, “We will not! My wife has cancer. I’m going to hold her and comfort her every single night.” That’s when my Dad made it clear that we should never let man’s law get in the way of God’s love.

Hospitals don’t sleep…

Neither do those that watch over their Mom/partner/kids/friends while they are in them. My Dad, brother, sister and I all took turns staying over night to watch over my Mom and be with her during the bone marrow transplant. My Dad stayed the majority of the days~ it was hard to keep him away. Even though she was so sick herself, I remember my Mom talking a lot about how sick a little girl on the same floor by the name of Mandy was.

The bone marrow transplant was a success…

Until it wasn’t. My Mom started walking uneven. She was having headaches. She went back to the hospital and had an MRI that revealed that she now had three tumors on her brain. The decision would be made that she would continue on with radiation treatments. She wanted to live long enough to see me graduate high school in June.

I did graduate from high school in June. She did not live to see me graduate. My mother died on January 23, 1992.

I keep her alive in my heart by talking about her…

At least that’s what I tell my kids about a woman who gave life to their mother. I hear her every time my youngest son laughs. I feel her every time my oldest son hugs me. I’ve educated them early on about eating with health in mind and carcinogens. They know they have a Grandma who died from breast cancer at age 47, an Aunt who died at age 47 (from an unrelated illness) and a Great Grandfather (my Mom’s Dad) who died at 47 from a heart attack. While I have a lot of time before it happens, I do plan on having a VERY special 48th birthday when the time comes.

Sometimes it’s hard to count the years…

but it’s easy to count the milestones since she’s been gone: Prom. High School Graduation. Engagement. Marriage. Pregnancy. Birth of Children. I remember thinking when I turned 34 years old how I’ve now lived 17 years without my Mom- that’s as many years as I knew her. I try to remind myself that I was lucky to have an active, loving Mom for 17 years. Some people have their Mom an entire life time but they fail to have a relationship like I had with my Mom.

I’m not a fan of pink ribbons…

My Mother is more than a statistic. Please don’t ever minimize her to a part of her anatomy by saying something like, “Save the Boobies.” She’s not represented in a pink trash can that is good for business. She did not die so CEO’s could line their pockets in profits from walks and runs for a “cure” while taking advantage of good hearted people that think they are helping. We’re all aware by now, aren’t we? My Mother could be your Mother, or your best friend, or your sister or your teacher…Or, maybe you.

Don’t give in to pink washing, instead demand we find ways to protect women and prevent further diagnoses. Please visit Breast Cancer Action to learn more about breast cancer and raise a little hell about it. #ThinkBeforeYouPink


Wanda’s Story: Part 1/3

For Mother’s Day, after my children were born, I use to write a letter in honor of my Mom which included showing appreciation for all of the mother’s of inspiration I knew. These were other Mom’s that either mothered me in some way or Mom’s that displayed some character toward me or my children that left my heart feeling full. This year, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to share my Mom’s story.


My Dad joked that he was going to be a priest before he met my Mom. She grew up in Kentucky on a tobacco field. One of 6 children, they looked forward going to church where they would get a treat; a fresh apple or orange. She only went to school to the 3rd grade because she had to stay home and look after her younger siblings. She would later go back to school to get a GED in her early 30’s. She wanted her kids to value education and felt like if she didn’t have her diploma, she would be a hypocrite.

My Mom left Kentucky at 16 years old and headed to Chicago alone because her step father was “bothering her.” She worked as a waitress, was married and gave birth to my sister at 18 years old. She was walking home from work on day when she saw her husband’s car outside of a local watering hole. She confronted him with a woman on his lap. He told her, “You better stop or I’ll go get my gun in the car.” She replied, “You may need it.” Needless to say, they divorced and my sister was 2 1/2 years old when my Dad met my Mom.

When my Dad proposed, she didn’t say yes right away because she was scared. She told my Dad that her first husband said he loved her too but was abusive. My Dad wore the engagement ring around his neck until she said yes. My Dad loved her so much, he had her first marriage annulled- direct from the Vatican, written in Latin. My Dad not only proudly took on the role of father for my sister, but they had another child who is 10 years older than me.

People commented to her about how “old” she was when she was pregnant with me. I suppose, compared to carrying her first two children, she was “older.” If you consider 30 to be old…or too old to have children. (I had my first child a week shy of 30.) My parents use to tell me I was their “Love Child” because they were so in love when they had me. Imagine their faces when I grew older and questioned them about the lyrics to the song “Love Child” by Diana Ross.

I recall my Mom briefly working in a photography studio. I’d run in and smell the processing chemicals, see the proofs at her desk and works in progress where she was touching photos up by hand. She always had her camera in hand taking photos of not only me, but my friends.

She was a baker that couldn’t be compared with. She was a gardener who delighted in roses and tulips. She had an open door policy for my friends and was often the one hosting the cast parties after shows. She would go to dance competition after competition and then come home and run lines with me and never complain.

She told me a lot of stories about things she did in hopes that I would learn from her mistakes instead of making my own. She never hit me or yelled at me. We never reached the stage of “teenage drama” that you’d see on the Lifetime Channel. Maybe it’s because she was sick when I was 15 and she died when I was 17? Did we just skip that stage or did we have bigger things to focus on like- breast cancer, treatment, dying?