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This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s “This I Believe” with Gail Collins

Gail was born in Virginia, but attended high school and college in Arizona. Gail has lived in many places in the in the world, still the mountains of Flagstaff, where she was a student at Northern Arizona University, remain special. That is also the place Gail chose to grow roots. Gail is a writer. She’s penned a book with more in the works plus numerous magazine and newspaper articles, but she says her greatest accomplishment is her family…specifically her four children.


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When Gail was fourteen, her parents moved the family (Gail and three younger brothers) from the east coast to Glendale, Arizona. This is where she attended high school, and it’s where she met the man who would become her husband and the father of her four children. Gail’s husband is an executive with an oil company, and they’ve lived in many places in the world including Norway, Scotland, Nigeria and Houston…three times. During their time in Africa, Gail and her husband purchased a home in the mountains of Flagstaff, and it’s the place they return to for summers and holidays to host family gatherings.

While there, Gail puts her writing skills to good use. She writes for Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine penning articles about travel, health and art. She also writes for Flagstaff’s local newspaper, The Arizona Daily Sun. Gail also has a website where much of her work can be seen.

Gail’s next project is a young adult novel based on the true experiences of her parents during World War II. They are European. Her mother is from Germany’s Black Forest, and her father hails from a lower class London neighborhood. Gail says they were children on opposite sides of a war who were shaped by a conflict they had nothing to do with. They simply fell victim to the ever-present danger that comes when war became personal, on their individual home fronts. It’s a project she’s wanted to do for a long time and is now finally prepared to proceed.

Children are hugely important to Gail, which is why she co-wrote and edited a charity book in Nigeria. From the simple idea to write a book of personal stories, a foundation with international sponsorship has grown. Sales of the book, Nigerian Gems: Expatriate Tales of Adventure, have funded the building of a school and outbuildings, supplied curriculum and teacher salaries and much more. The book’s success—now in its fourth printing—has reached out to four other local schools in need to ensure that children are offered hope through an education.

Gail’s dearest love is her family which she considers her greatest accomplishment. She’s been married for 28 years and has four children…three sons and a daughter. Her youngest is a senior in high school, so all the children will soon be out on their own. That’s what Gail calls “the best case scenario” referring to the reality of children moving out on their own. Gail says, despite it being sad, it’s the natural cycle. She says kids are supposed to leave their parents to assume their own life, and if that happens successfully, it’s the “best case scenario.”

That’s also the focus of Gail’s essay for This I Believe in which she describes her greatest work…raising four wonderful children.

Here’s Gail Collins with her essay forKUHF’s This I Believe.
“I believe that raising children is the best work I’ve ever done.

I’ve been a fundraising events coordinator. I’ve co-written a book whose sales sponsor children’s education in Nigeria. I’ve even taught birthing couples to bring their own legacy safely into this world. Still, mothering my four children to be morally-equipped, contributing beings that will replace me on this planet is my enduring pledge to it.

The hard part? Letting them go.

As parents, we pack their cars. We stand and wave until they’re out of sight. And in time, we watch them make their lives with other people. At such a time, joy should reign—and does because we love them—but we can also ache.

I had such a day…a week…no, a month before I surrendered my oldest son to another woman in marriage. I found it wrenching, even though earnest love is what parents pray for their children.

Our son and his bride live in Florida, and we don’t. So on their first Thanksgiving, my husband and I visited them. I smiled, noticing their freshly painted apartment as we scooted metal chairs up to a folding table. I thought back to our first place with its brown shag carpeting, and my eyes brimmed.

I longed to apologize to my mother for striding away on my wedding day without a backward glance. And so often since then. I see now devoted mothers just smile with wet eyes, so no one is the wiser.

At the holiday’s end, I said goodbye to my son, as I’ll continue to do for the rest of my life. I looked into this tall man’s gold-flecked eyes and was as filled with wonder as the day I birthed him. I touched the hair escaping his collared shirt and with a sudden thrill, announced to him and every passerby, “I made you! You are one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

It’s hard to explain such vain pleasure, except to another parent.

We champion our child’s graduation from reading about dinosaurs to waxing cynical about politics. But their joining us as contemporaries is the double-kiss hello and goodbye. They become an entry in our address book instead of puffing a sleeping breath on our face as we steal one more kiss. I know why parents cry at airports and celebrations, because that’s my job now. And I comprehend their longing for their children to create a tender being, to begin the cycle anew…

My son is finishing his doctorate, studying climate change over eons. See what I started? Yet, I believe raising a child one day would be his best work.”