What does it take to groom a new generation of model citizens? Written by Hannah Black. Photos by Kelli Boyd and Christine Hall.
Working and studying full-time is a challenge. Between my job, my professors and my internship at this magazine, sometimes I feel like I have six bosses. And please, don’t get me started on the woes of single life. But add a 7-year-old boy with the energy of a college football team to the mix and I’m surprised I haven’t checked into Georgia Regional.
With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day on the horizon, we Savannah magazine mamas got to thinking about parenting. How do we and other local parents raise happy, healthy Savannahians? Does it really matter that our children only eat Cheerios and Cheez-Its? (I mean, as long as they’re eating, right?) And what does the phrase “family values” really mean?
We asked local photographers Kelli Boyd and Christine Hall to share their favorite moments from years of portraiture. Then we got the behind-the-scenes stories from the parents themselves. Along the way, I learned a thing or two about what the city has to offer its children—and made a few new friends in the process.
“An afternoon boat ride is a family favorite,” Jessica Roberts observes. “And we try to spend as much time as possible with our children, instilling core values with regard to God, family and the community.”
This family closeness is contagious, it seems.
“While looking at our wedding photo, Slaton was upset that he wasn’t there with us to celebrate our wedding,” Jessica recalls. “He has asked us to get married again so he could come.”
“Family values are a combination of religion, love and togetherness,” Grace observes. “Sunday night dinners with the entire family are a tradition that we hope our child will carry on. With a large family, it can be crazy at times, but it’s always a wonderful way to start the week!”
Though little Leila is still young, she knows how to be heard above the fray.
“Leila isn’t ‘talking’ at seven months,” Grace laughs. “She has, however, mastered a fake cough if she feels like we should be paying closer attention to her.”
So what does it take to raise a good Savannahian?
“A love of God, a love of the water and a unique Southern style.”
“My mom used to tell me that there isn’t a manual on how to raise children,” recalls Paige Cook, mother of Will and Carson. “As a child, I would always roll my eyes at her. Now I know exactly what she meant. We just do the best we can and instill in them the moral values we believe are important.”
Paige discourages lip-smacking and negative talk at the dinner table. She and her husband, Chris, have taken classes on the appropriate uses and safety measures for technology. And she makes sure to lie down with the kids each evening to talk through the day.
“To raise a good Savannahian, you must teach them to be personable, well-mannered and a true lover of the water,” she observes. “My husband has done such a great job of teaching the boys the proper ways to hunt and fish—and, most important, to drive a boat.”
“The most important thing we have to teach our child is to be confident and have a strong sense of self,” says Jillian. “We want to teach him to respect others as well as himself.”
That respect extends to the Savannah community at large.
“He’s discovering new things every day and our city is a great place to explore,” observes Jillian, who cites “Forsyth Park and the fabulous squares” as her favorite places to hang out as a family.
“We want our son to grow up with a balance of respect and pride for the city’s long-standing traditions and culture—embracing its evolution without losing the character of Savannah itself.”
For the Tosons, evolution is an important part of appreciation.
“We’ll explain that social issues exist here but we, as individuals and as a family, have the ability to change things with simple actions and thoughts.”
Books are another part of that plan.
“Reading aloud is a family tradition that promotes togetherness and allows us to slow down and interact.”
“I express the beauty and strength in being ethnically and racially different,” says Viviana, the mother of Michael, 14, Kevin, 11, and Isabella, 6.
It’s a lesson she continues at the dinner table.
“I emphasize that food is a part of being culturally educated and insist on everyone trying what is being served. I hope to teach my kids empathy, and that they will carry on Latin traditions.”
When it comes to parenting, Kristin Peters likes to keep things casual.
“However, we do not allow potty talk at the dinner table or for the television to be on. Our children must stay seated until they are finished eating, and they must try at least one bite of everything.”
Rules aside, for Kristin, husband Chris, and children Walker and Kate, family values are about “honesty, kindness and quality family time. Our favorite way to unwind is to spend the day on the boat together, and we love to take the kids out to Wassaw Island.”
Two years ago, Kim Iocovozzi’s family gave her a Christine Hall photo shoot as a Christmas gift.
“It’s almost impossible to get us all together at the same time, so this was very special to me,” recalls Kim, who has put plenty of thought into raising good Savannahians.
“Instead of explaining social issues to my children, I think it’s more important to actually engage them,” she observes. “To help my children understand diversity and social issues in Savannah, I sent them to public school. There, they befriended children of many social and economic backgrounds, and this made them well-rounded adults.”
Who says you have to compromise? When it comes to parenting a finicky child, Adrienne Lino puts her foot down.
“We’ve never been the parents to make special meals for each person eating,” she explains. “We make dinner and that’s what you have or you don’t eat.”
This approach comes in handy at the extended family’s monthly group birthday parties, a tradition Adrienne hopes Jackson will pass on to his children.
She also stresses kindness.
“I want to teach him to treat people equally no matter the circumstance,” she muses, “to always treat a lady with the same respect he would give his mother. And he’ll have to learn that people make mistakes and you should always grant forgiveness.”
“It’s so important to teach your children to like and respect themselves, to accept disappointment and move on, and to cook,” observes Tyler Rominger, mother of Porter and Evangeline. “I think kids need to learn to be self-sufficient.”
For her daughters, Tyler has one simple rule: “Never, ever chase a boy. Ever.”
Married to a native Savannahian, Tyler leaves some of the instruction up to her husband, McLeod.
“He remembers running around Tomochichi’s rock when he was little, so he loves taking the girls there,” Tyler replies. “Apparently you run around this rock chanting something?* Then he is supposed to answer? They think it’s great.”
“I’m not from here,” she shrugs, “I don’t really get it.”
*According to a local legend, if you run around the Yamacraw chief’s monument and ask, “Tomochichi, Tomochichi, where are you?” you will hear the rock reply, “Nowhere,” because his bones have been scattered and lost.
Meredith and Andy Dyer have their hands full with four children under the age of 6, so the occasional electronic distraction is a yes, not a no-no.
“At this point in our lives, especially since the birth of our twins, pretty much anything goes if it will make the older children sit at the table and eat their dinner!” Meredith laughs. “I’m a fairly liberal parent when it comes to technology.”
All the same, she draws the line at gaming systems.
“I don’t want them getting ‘hooked.’ They need to go outside and run and play.”
When they do, Meredith sets a few basic limits on her children’s attire.
“I don’t like little boys—or men for that matter—in tank tops or jorts,” she chuckles. “And for Mary Walton, where do I start? Short shorts, anything with writing across the bottom and anything with too much glitter. A little glitter goes a long way, in my opinion.”
Compassion is the virtue Meredith most wants to encourage in her children, but her Mother’s Day wish is simple.
“I’d love to get away with Andy,” she confesses. “Life has been crazy since the twins were born and we haven’t had many date nights.”
“I mostly find myself saying, ‘Use your napkin, not your shirt,’” jokes Winslett Watson, but her real lessons go far deeper than that. “We will try to raise our boys to be men of character: the sort of men we respect when we meet them in our daily life. We want them to enjoy long meaningful friendships, to live with purpose and passion.”
When it comes to raising a good Savannahian, Winslett, the mother of Whit, 9, and Haddon, 10, says it’s all about balance.
“We want to instill in our boys an appreciation for our Southern roots and traditions and, at the same time, raise them to be advocates of progress.”
For Mother’s Day, she’s looking forward to “breakfast in bed, followed by snuggles and a boat trip to a barrier island.”
“We are always playing—trying to make Kam smile,” laughs Danielle.
This new mother is still inventing family traditions, but she already has her sights set on raising a Savannah gentleman. To make that happen, she has a few simple rules in mind.
“No television or toys at the dinner table,” she lists. “No hats indoors. Being a gentleman is about good manners and treating others with respect.”
For now, though, most of her family time is spent in outdoor activities, exposing Kam to the wonders of life in the Garden.
“Forsyth Park is our favorite spot to play, and the Burnside River holds so many fabulous memories for our family. We love long walks together and plan to take advantage of all of the water-related activities Savannah has to offer.”
Outings are an important part of the Greco household.
“Sloan is a big animal lover, so we often go to Oatland Island, her favorite place,” says Lindsay. “And it doesn’t get much better than going the Crab Shack to feed some alligators.”
Other than an appreciation for the natural world, Lindsay believes “impeccable manners, a quick wit and compassion for others” are what it takes to raise a good Savannahian.
“‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are paramount in our home,” she declares.
And young Sloan’s sense of humor is blooming early.
“When we gave her a watch, I asked her for the time. Without hesitation, she looked at her wrist and said, ‘Time for you to give me some candy.’”
Of course, compassion is the most important virtue in this history-haunted city.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of discrimination in our home,” Lindsay emphasizes. “We stress the importance of compassion and acceptance regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation. We hope that our children will speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.”
“I could go on and on,” laughs Helen as she begins to list the family traditions she hopes her children will carry on. “Chili and carols on the 23rd of December with the Threlkeld side of the family. Easter egg hunts at Wild Acres with the Williams side of the family. Fourth of July and fireworks at Tybee with their grandparents.”
And then there are the traditions of hard work, civic duty and kindness, which Helen counts as family values.
“I just hope that I can give my children an inkling of what my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles have taught me.”
Watching our children make mistakes can be hard, but Helen knows that sometimes it’s the only way.
“You have to give your kids the skills to deal with life lessons, no matter how hard it is to take a back seat as a parent. They may not make the right decisions at first, but they will learn.”
“The parks downtown are a definite favorite,” laughs Lindsay Thompson, as her two children play in a Savannah square. “Selfishly, I hope they carry on the tradition of living in Savannah. And no blue and orange! Georgia fans will understand.” Of course, the kids are developing their own sartorial opinions.
“Just the other day, they told me they’re glad I don’t wear mom jeans.”
As for me, I want my son to know that, contrary to popular opinion, chivalry is not dead. I want him to know that opening doors for ladies and pulling out their seats for them are the actions of a real man.
In my house, I don’t allow electronics at the table. I tell Darius that the great super heroes ate all the things he doesn’t like in order to grow big and strong. It only works 50 percent of the time, but at least it gets him eating his vegetables.
Above all, I want to teach him that life may throw every obstacle in his way, but—no matter what—he can’t give up. Regardless of skin color or social status, everyone puts their pants on the same way.
That’s advice any Savannahian worth his sea salt can live by.