Faces from the Past
Ten years ago, writing had taken a back seat in my life. My big-eyed toddler was pretty much the center of my universe, save for a few steady freelance writing assignments and sporadic work on a college degree. When I was asked by Tina Schwab Grenis, an editor of the Syracuse New Times, if I was interested in contributing to a new parenting magazine she was launching, I thought, “What could be better than combining my love of writing with my current interest with all things ‘Mommy’? I’m in!”
Fast-forward 10 years. My husband and I now have two sons, and the toddler is on the verge of teenhood. I no longer need the practical advice that new parents crave; potty training and teething are long behind me. Today’s concerns are more complex and unsettling: stuff like cyber dangers and puberty. Family Times’ first editor has moved on and the magazine is now on Facebook, but its mission has remained intact.
As my sons have grown, my interests as a reader have changed, and my approach to writing on parenting issues has changed, too. In the old issues of the magazine, there are stories on breastfeeding, childcare and birthing options. But even when I was a new mother, I was particularly interested in the emotions that motivate people who comprise our “village” of Central New York—those who interact with children and families as caregivers, service providers and educators. Those stories are the ones I remember today.
Many of my contributions to Family Times have been profiles—close looks at the lives of parents or people who affect CNY families in profound ways. I’m still astonished by some of the everyday heroes I’ve written about in my decade writing for the magazine, people like Everett and Barbara Wood, the LaFayette couple who had been foster parents to 139 children when I interviewed them in 2008. Or Laura Harting, a counselor with Hospice of Central New York, who works with children grieving the loss of family members. In 2004, I profiled Patti Collier, a county health nurse who made house calls. Another person who struck me was Joe McCarthy, a grandfather who rang the bell for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign for nearly 50 years, when I wrote about him in 2006.
Other people have impressed me with their talent, like the youthful powerhouses who won the Syracuse Area Live Theatre Youth (SALTY) Awards, the exuberant adult performers John Ferrara and Joe Davoli, and the amazingly focused high school musicians who comprised the Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestra, which I covered in 2009.
Sometimes my assignments have led me to explore serious issues and the people behind them. In 2007, Family Times was among the first local publications to address, in detail, the facts and controversy surrounding the vaccine for the human papillomavirus, or HPV. But what readers told me they appreciated most was the parental perspective in the story, such as how did parents feel about confronting the concept of their children’s future sexual activity and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Family Times is the stories I’ve been able to write on education issues. (I have since attended workshops, undergone testing and become certified as a teaching assistant, and I now work in various schools throughout Onondaga County.) Two of my feature stories, “The ABCs of Kindergarten” (2009) and “The Middle Years” (2007), the latter concerning the academic and emotional challenges of middle school, were among my most challenging because, as a parent, I felt a particularly huge responsibility to provide our readers with timely, useful and accurate information.
I’ve also explored other interests in the magazine. I’ll take any opportunity to write about books, literacy, or kids and the arts. A piece on building a child’s home library—published in 2004—is still one of my favorites. Interviews with authors Charles Smith Jr. and Laurie Halse Anderson convinced me that sometimes true talent prevails. And I’ve proudly written not one but two articles for the magazine about New York state apples.
Time moves fast when you see it through the growth of your children. Similarly, looking through back issues of Family Times has me wondering how the decade slipped by so quickly. I often wish that my brief intrusion into some of these lives didn’t end with the deadline, or the publication of the next issue.
Then again, sometimes it’s better not to know those next chapters. In 2002, Family Times’ first year, I interviewed a young mother with a son just a bit younger than my own. With the help of a county-sponsored program, she was making strides toward reclaiming her life after an extended period of crime and incarceration.
During our lengthy talks, she and I bonded over our fears and excitement about raising toddlers. But she was a little uncomfortable with the attention once her story was published. Over the years, I often wondered about the young woman and her adorable little boy. Had she succeeded in avoiding the pitfalls and temptations? Was her son as happy and healthy as my own? Had this mother attained the sense of self-worth she had sought?
As I did some research for this essay, I found the unfortunate answers to those questions—in a police blotter listing.
I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember what my first story for Family Times was. But my absolute favorite is in the October 2010 issue, when the two young people who call me “Mom” graced the cover. Parenthood changes each of us in ways we never quite expect or fully understand. But I like to think that in some small way, Family Times can remind us that at least we are not alone. And some days, that’s more than enough.
Tammy DiDomenico, with her sons, Joseph and Nathan, after the photo shoot for the October 2010 issue (pictured above). She lives in DeWitt with her family.