Sarah Smith Nessel — Birds of a feather are sometimes like a fish out of water

01/14/2014 5:11 PM

01/14/2014 5:11 PM

I’ll miss stories like Fred’s.

Fred, as you may be aware, is the swan with the oddly humble name whose presence in a Leawood subdivision has generated a neighborhood uproar.

It apparently doesn’t take much to generate uproars in neighborhoods like Tuscany Reserve, where Fred lives on a private pond and terrorizes children in his spare time.

Or maybe not. Fred’s supporters and detractors differ sharply on whether his actions represent offense or defense, given that there have been reports of children throwing rocks at him and bonking him with sticks.

The situation had been festering for years before a meeting was called to discuss Fred’s fate. As I write this, neighborhood residents are preparing to vote on whether to keep him around or relocate him. Offers of a good home are said to be rolling in.

We have a lot in common, Fred and I. It’s fair to say that at one point, neither of us imagined we’d ever find ourselves surrounded by subdivisions with aspirational European names and ornamental bodies of water. We each have vocal supporters and equally vocal detractors, and in swan years, I’ve been writing this column for roughly as long as Fred has been eliciting smiles and scowls at Tuscany Reserve.

Yes, Fred and I are a bit out of place. But as tempting as it is, neither of us can simply fly away — Fred has clipped wings, and I have obligations.

That hasn’t stopped people from trying to get rid of us, of course. In the two years since this column began, I’ve had more than a few offers of one-way tickets to Europe — where, I’m told, my socialist leanings will be more appreciated and I will not be able to continue my crusade to bring this nation down. Those e-mails were an interesting contrast with the equally frequent e-mails asking me to please consider running for office.

I’ll be a disappointment to everyone, I’m afraid: I won’t be showing up on a ballot or in an international departure terminal anytime soon. And after today, I won’t be showing up in this space anymore. I’ve decided to shift my focus, reorganize my life a bit and take on some new challenges, and something had to go.

I’ll miss this. My e-mail inbox these past couple of years has been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, not all of it good. I’ve found that people get strangely emotional about suburban lifestyle topics but are oddly detached about things like gun violence and urban poverty. Are we so sheltered that a column poking fun at designer handbags and luxury cars generates more passion than a column about hunger in our own backyard? Apparently, yes.

On the parenthood front, readers have told me that I am a model of motherhood, that my son is incredibly fortunate to have me and that if only more parents were like me and my husband, the world would be a much better place. I’ve also been told that parents like me are what’s wrong with America, and we shouldn’t even be allowed to keep our children. Those e-mails were in response to the same column.

To all those who have written me with kind words, thank you. And to those who have written tirades calling me names that cannot be repeated here, thank you, too. Columnists thrive on impassioned responses, whether positive or negative.

I especially appreciated the long and thoughtful criticisms. Those of you who made me consider a topic from a different angle have helped me grow as a person, and I appreciate that. Those of you whose criticisms were less thoughtful at least provided me with some humorous quotes to share with my husband. Though the feeling clearly is not mutual, I wish you well. And I do hope you get the caps-lock key unstuck.

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