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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Our Postmodern Family

Our Real Modern Family

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven.  My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right.  I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat.  And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again.  This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family.  Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.

Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia.  I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.

Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.

Family X-Mas 2014

 

 

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Game-Winning Tooth Down: The Signs and Sacrifices of Football

Now, I’m not superstitious. As Michael Scott says, “I’m just a little stitious.” Signs are my big thing. I see them everywhere.

Some people roll their eyes at me, but me, I’m a believer. And Friday, all the signs pointed toward a big win for our Canes. All because Parker lost his first tooth. On the football field. That’s a significant milestone met on a significant influence in our family’s lives. No way I was missing that sign.

It all went down during a Cartersville Primary School pep rally. The Senior football players, cheerleaders, and band spent their first and second periods playing with the littlest Canes, fostering that Hurricane heritage of family and pride we love so much. Our community is something special, for sure.

Parker no doubt got so caught up in spending time with his favorite football players that he didn’t even notice his tooth — the wiggly worm on a line one he’d been so proud of — slipped from that line during some random scuffle. Never to be seen again.

At some point, Partker noticed he’d “scratched his lip” and went to tell the teacher his mouth was bleeding. That’s when the discovery was made. Try as they might, nobody could find that tooth. Nobody. It was a little tribute offered up to the football gods, I guess. And I was all about it.

He left it all on the field, just like the big boys were going to do that night. But more on that in a minute…

After a little trip to the nurse for a tooth fairy necklace — where an explanatory note instead of an incisor was gently tucked inside — Parker was sent on his way. When I picked him up that afternoon, he proudly displayed the necklace and the gap along his gums.

Cue game night and the toughest game of our Canes’ season to date: Cartersville vs Sandy Creek. Both teams were undefeated and several “experts” picked against us for an upset.

Not so the football gods. And not so, our fellas.

Our coaches put one particularly cocky pair of internet know-it-alls on permanent loop in the locker room and our boys fed off it. “Sandy Creek by 30,” said the naysayers. “Bank on it,” they barked.

Our boys are Hurricanes. Hurricanes are fueled by atmospheric conditions. We grew stronger and harder with each successive loop. The players sucked those words into their storm force and rolled with it. Their vision was clear. Their eye on the prize.

Out above the gridiron, the sky was brandishing a hurricane warning in purple and pink, with a hint of gold. Purple and gold are our school colors and Friday was our annual Pink-Out night. I could clearly read my second sign of the day.

The football gods were smiling in our favor. They appreciated the physical sacrifice of our players and coaches up to this point (along with my son’s physical offering that morning).

photo cred: Melissa Moore

Now it wasn’t an easy battle, especially in the beginning. Talk about a back-and-forth shootout! But our storm surge is nothing, if not driven and complex. Halfway through the second quarter, the Canes took what would become a strong and decisive lead.

Never underestimate the power and focus of a Hurricane.

So this past Friday was one for the memory and record books. Parker lost his first tooth at five years old out on the football field, and the Purple Hurricanes won their 56th consecutive regular season game.

Post Traumatic Faith Disorder

PTFD. Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not.

But I know it’s a real thing for me. I suffer from it. I suffer through it. Every day.

And in no way am I trying to compare myself to those individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have served our country or survived a violent crime or a natural disaster. No way whatsoever. The fear they suffered… the fear they still suffer… the demons triggered… the hell they went through… I ache for them.

I know mine is no where near the same.

But I do have extreme fear and irrational anger and horrific flashbacks. And I live in the South. In the Bible Belt. Where faith is everywhere and gets tossed around like holy confetti.

And for a person like me… it’s terrifying.

PTFD. I hate it. I hate that I can’t walk into a sanctuary without feeling a visceral ache in my solar plexus. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took the boys to cotillion this summer in the basement of a church and I fought back demons the entire orientation.

I hate that if somebody sends me a text asking me what they can specifically put on their prayer list for me this week my pulse surges and I kind of want to vomit.

I hate that if a friend writes a bible study, I can’t read it. I want to. I really, really do. I’ll read anything else. But not that. I can’t. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too likely to have my scars crack open and flood my brain with darkness.

When folks invite me to church, I know they’re being kind. I know they’re being genuine. I believe they are true believers. I believe they aren’t trying to control me. Or convert me. (Maybe.)

I know these things. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach. I still feel queasy and manipulated. It comes from early and aggressive brainwashing. And it has ruined me for life.

I’m a believer. I am. But I am not a believer in organized religion. It won’t get its talons in me ever again. I’ve been eviscerated once. It won’t happen again. I’ve seen the corruption of power. Or the power of corruption. I don’t know which I believe it was… or is. But I believe it’s not for me.

It was rammed down my throat and up my innards until I was raw and wracked and ruined for all eternity.

There’s a John Donne poem, “Batter my Heart, Three-Person’d God” that I first encountered in college. It’s all about being ravished by God — being bent and broken and overthrown completely by the Holy Trinity. And that’s all well and good.

But when you’ve been overthrown and ravished by unholy persons of God, bent and broken and burned by an unholy tribe of them, then that’s another thing entirely.

Now I’ve entered church sanctuaries in the years since my escape. Of my own free will. But I have to be the one who initiates it. Who opens myself up to the possibility. But I taste fear and shame every time. And I never last long.

I read a book a few years back… A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an incredibly dense and discerning book about (among other things) a man who was sexually abused in the most brutal and blasphemous ways as a child — and then again as a young adult. Anyone he loved and trusted in his youth raped and assaulted him. His body and brain were bludgeoned by something meant to be so sweet and sacred.

From there on out, he could never have sex again. He tried. He found love. He loved deeply. Profoundly. But he couldn’t have sex. The trauma was too deep. Too damaging.

I can relate. But in terms of organized religion. A church building. A sanctuary (oh, the irony is not lost on this English major), I just can’t do it.

I know Love. I know Christ. But that building… that congregation… that coming together as one.

Nope. Not for me.

So if you’re one of my good friends, my dearly beloved and oh-so-very-dear friends — I love and treasure and value you so very, very much. I do. So please understand if I don’t respond to your prayer request request or I don’t read your parable or I don’t… well, I just don’t.

Even though I really, really, really, REALLY want to be able to — please don’t take it personally. Please.

It’s Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. It’s self-preservation. And it’s the devil.

Autumn: the season of change and new beginnings

It is autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar tells us. My car thermometer, on the other hand, says it is 93 degrees at 6:30 pm. We’ve had more than eighty days of 90+ temperatures in North Georgia this year. Enough is enough already! But supposedly it’s autumn, and that means it’s officially my favorite season.

tateandpumpkin

I love fall for so many reasons. For pumpkin patches and apple orchards, for candy corn and nutmeg and cloves, for gemstone leaves and front porch scarecrows. Albert Camus proclaimed autumn “a second spring, when every leaf’s a flower.” And I tend to agree. I mostly love fall because it symbolizes new beginnings in all sorts of ways for my family: a new school year, a new football season.  Fall is my absolute favorite!

tateandcowboyhat

Fall is the season of new school years: new faces, new potential, new energy, new passion. And even though we’ve already been in school for over seven weeks (this is the South, after all – we go back before the sunburns have even had a chance to peel), we still call this fall semester, and we’re still feeling fresh (sort of) when the autumnal equinox officially strikes. I have one-hundred- eighty sophomore students sitting in my seats and eager to learn (sort of). And while the challenges are great and the resources are slim, I still have a tremendous reservoir of love for my students and passion for my subject. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season of football, the game that seasons our family with a long, strong, complicated marinade. It is flavored with dynamic combinations, unexpected ingredients, raw emotions and daring outcomes — all served up on a spiral slice to robust and critical crowds. It is the sport that leaves me absolutely spellbound and absolutely spent… a complete and utter glutton for the punishment and pain, the pleasure and pride that makes up the season. As a football family, we wouldn’t want it any other way. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season for late afternoon drives in the countryside. Living in the country gives the boys and me ample opportunity to witness the glory that is fall: golden soybean fields, corn crops with buzz cuts, and barnyard nurseries – the farm animals are having their fall babies!

We pass a menagerie of livestock on our way home from school every weekday, and I swear, almost any given pasture on almost any given day has a new baby to ogle. Parker and Tate providing me with a running commentary of each fascinating new discovery. We pass a horse farm, a multitude of cow pastures, and even a field full of mama sheep and their newborn lambs. I bet there’s a dozen in that pen — little, bleary clouds scattered sleepily across the grass and under the pines. My breath catches at the sight of them every single time.

And fall is the season for hay bales. I’m here to say that I never knew how compelling hay bales could be until I had twin boys with a hearty devotion to tractors. There’s been a steady harvest in recent weeks. From one field to the next, the same scene has run its course and the boys never tire of talking about them. I dread the day when all of the hay bales are gone. It will be a dark day, indeed.

Fall is the season of long and languid afternoon sun, a sun that leans low to blind drivers and irritate my twins on rides home, a sun that creeps deep inside living room floors to butter bare toes, a sun that catches dust and pollen dancing in its rays for an undeniable reminder of allergy season – as if we needed reminding. The boys’ noses have had snail trails from nostril to lip for weeks now.

Fall is the season of baking treats and making memories. I used to spend hours in the kitchen when the girls were little, crafting fall festival Cake Walk prizes and bake sale bounty.  Baking makes me dizzily, freakishly happy. It’s my mother’s fault. She baked a lot when I was a kid, her hair, frosted with highlights (and probably splatters of buttercream frosting, as well), pulled back from her beaming, beautiful face. The world felt warm and wonderful and safe and sound in the sanctity of her kitchen — and I guess somewhere along the way, happiness, beauty, warmth and womanhood all got tangled up with baking for me. So now when I bake, I feel like I’m Wonder Woman on a mission to cure what ails the world, one bundt cake at a time.

 

I made some banana bread last week, which went with Mike to the football war room, where the guys spend hours working on this week’s game plan. I hope it gave them a little lift in the midst of the Sunday grind. The process of making it and the comforting scent of it gave me one, for sure. 

Fall is the season of my grandson Bentley’s birth. The little acorn is a fall fledgling with gangly limbs and translucent skin, who shimmers like wheat fields in the sun when he smiles, and his eyes are brighter than crisp autumn skies. So thanks to Bentley Boo, fall is my favorite!

Finally, fall is the season of change. Colors change, temperatures change, grades and teachers and wardrobes and weather… they all change. And in this hate-filled political climate, I pray that Camus is right. That autumn is a second spring – a season of new beginnings – an opportunity for rebirth. May it baptize us all under the shower of leaves, washing us clean of this long, hot, angry summer of hate and intolerance.

Let clarity and love, humanity and grace shine on us all. May we all feel welcomed and valued, respected and protected in this rapidly unfurling season of change.

 

Giving Love and Giving Purpose: Teaching Humans, not Humanities

In the last two days, I’ve attended three staff trainings that have rattled my teacher’s heart. Human trafficking, suicide prevention, and educating students of childhood trauma. Next week, I’ll sit through some drug awareness training.

The world of public education has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not because the world has changed that much, but because education has quit burying it’s head in the sand.

Used to be, we’d pretend problems like this didn’t exist. Or that they happened in other places. Not our town, not our school, not our student body.

Well, it’s high time we quit saving face and save some lives instead.

Yesterday, I learned from a social worker about girls from our school. Girls who sat in our seats, walked in our halls, and cried in our stalls. Girls who were sold by their mothers, raped by their fathers, enslaved by their friends. Girls who got in debt with their drug dealers and got in bed with strangers. Girls who went to school all day every day, then went home to be raped all night every night by multiple men.

The stories rattled me. My stomach hurt.

The second social worker of the day then told us about the suicide statistics in our community. Our school system is definitely no stranger to suicide. The last couple of years alone, we’ve lost students and former students. But the epidemic is far from over. We heard about high schoolers, middle schoolers, elementary and even primary-aged schoolers battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts.

The stories rattled me. My heart hurt.

And then today, I attended a conference led by Mississippi teacher Donna Porter and her former student (and gang leader), DJ Batiste. They spoke on creating a culture and climate in the classroom to best serve students who have survived childhood trauma. Trauma like gang violence, child abuse, rape, suicidal thoughts, parental addictions, extreme poverty… to name a few.

There’s a lot of heavy words surrounding these kids molded from trauma, but the word I need to focus on is SERVE.

As a teacher, I have been called to serve kids. I believe it with all my heart. All kids. Even the hard kids. Especially the hard kids. Because nobody else is.

We are their last resort.

But everything about these hard kids is… Hard. They push. They challenge. They try. They drain. They do all the things. All of them. To you.

Because they’re good at it and they know it. They don’t think they can do much of anything else in life, but they know they’re good at that.

So they push you, challenge you, try you, drain you.

But the message today was, never let ’em see you sweat. Instead let them see you care. Find a way to diffuse them and enthuse them. Give them purpose, give them power, give them love.

I have always tried to give my students love. Always. And when they are hard to love, I work even harder than they are to find a way.

But I never thought of giving them purpose and power. At least not beyond giving them an education. Education brings purpose and power, right? That’s what I always assumed. I assumed wrong.

I learned today, that for these kids Reputation is far more important than Education. They would rather buck up and be abrasive than be vulnerable and be saved — even though they want to be saved. They really, really do.

So I’ve got to make a paradigm shift. In them, yes. But also in me.

I’ve got to check my ego and remember it’s not all about me. In fact, with these kids of trauma, it’s got nothing to do with me at all… and everything to do with them. They are hurting. And they need someone to show them there’s hope out there. Hope beyond the hurt. Hope in spite of the hurt.

And I’m not going to get there by teaching them sonnets and syntax. I’m only going to get there by showing them they matter; they have purpose. By teaching the human. Not the subject.

And I need to shift another way, too. Inside our classroom. (Not my classroom, which is how, I have to confess, I’ve always thought of it, but OUR classroom.) And I can make it ours by something as simple as creating jobs. Creating roles for my students. Things like taking attendance, leading the warm up, closing the lesson. Jobs that will take some responsibility off me, and give my students some purpose. A way to take ownership.

Elementary teachers do it all the time. They have line leaders and door holders and electricity technicians. But high school teachers? I hadn’t seen it in action in all my years of teaching.

But it makes sense. Giving students like these — students with no control over their home-life, their pasts, or their present situation — giving them some power, no matter how small, can be incredibly meaningful and incredibly magical.

Honoring students with purpose. Giving students power. It can turn a life around. Truly. So their paradigm shifts. So Education becomes more important than Reputation.

I learned a lot today about guiding students with love and honoring students with purpose. Giving honor, not rewards, brings value and hope into these kids’ lives, DJ explained. “Don’t give students something they can touch. Give them something they can feel.’

My heart rattled one more time. This time, it was my paradigm shifting.

I’m ready.

Friday Nights, Fertility Treatments, & God’s Perfect Timing

Six years ago last week, Mike and I announced we were pregnant with twins. It was football season, and it was an IVF pregnancy. We’d been practicing safe shots at halftime in random field houses and between parked buses for half the regular season. It was not an easy place to be, but it was definitely a blessed place to be, so we savored and celebrated each and every needle poke in my hindquarters.

After trying for over a year to get pregnant (and knowing at my age it was unlikely without intervention), we’d visited a fertility specialist earlier that spring. Naively, I’d thought we’d start the in-vitro process my next cycle. That way, if all went according to plan, we would be well past the exhaustion, hormone injections, and morning sickness of a first-trimester IVF pregnancy once football season began.

Boy, was I naive.

First off, I was 47. Which meant my cycle was far from predictable, even if it had all been up to me and my eggs… which it wasn’t.

My doc kindly informed me my eggs were dinosaurs and he didn’t do Jurassic fertility. So I would be using donor eggs… and an online site to find our match. Kind of like eHarmony, but for couples looking for open, available ovaries.

Second, IVF takes months to prep and plan for. Months. The game plan is exact and exacting, requiring lots of perfectly-orchestrated moving parts. Her ovaries, my uterus, Mike’s swimmers. This was a team effort. And there was no hurry-up offense.

The process was complicated, timely, expensive, and painstaking. But once we found our donor (anonymously), her ovaries were hyper-stimulated, my uterus was prepped, a couple balls were bobbled (wink wink), and… SCORE! (times two!)

And that’s when the really hard part began on my end. My rear end, that is.

We’re talking needles. Lots of them. And vaginal suppositories. And pills. And time. Lots and lots of time. It was quite the process. All in the midst of football season — our embryo transfer happened scrimmage week.

The nightly shots to my booty were a real pain in my end zone. There was a sharpie-circled bulls eye on each cheek, where Mike took aim. (He’d asked the nurse to draw them during week one, and he’d redraw them every couple days as they began to fade. He didn’t want to miss. My booty is plenty big. There’s no way he would’ve missed.) Those shots bruised and burned and gave me an itchy allergic reaction. My ass was hotter than an August-in-Georgia kickoff. And not in a good way.

And because I had to receive those shots as close to the same time every single night for ten weeks or so, they became an even bigger pain on Friday nights. So we arranged for them to fall between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. Because… halftime.

Away games were hard. At home, I got poked in the floor of my husband’s office on a jacket he chivalrously laid over the spongy, decades-old carpet. But away games…

Away games, Mike would scope out the joint, pregame, looking for a hopefully private (sometimes not-so-much) place for me to drop my drawers so he could thrust a needle into my angry, sharpie-circled buttocks.

I got poked on a striped sofa in an Athletic Director’s office.

I got poked in a dark hallway outside a gym within audible distance of the opposing team’s halftime harangue.

I got poked in the back of a Kia Soul, my legs at a cramped, contorted angle while a sweaty linebacker hunted for his mouth guard in the parking lot nearby. Thank God he knew nothing about the shenanigans a mere ten yards away…

I got poked in the arse so many times, and in so many weird and far-from-wonderful locations, that it’s easy to lose track.

I was a pincushion. But I was pregnant pincushion, so I wasn’t complaining.

Beyond the shots, were the oral medications and vaginal suppositories that turned my undies periwinkle if I forgot my pantie liners. Which I did. A lot. My mind was all floaty and fuzzy from the chemical cocktails doing their job.

There were some days when all of the hormones got to me and I cried. Who am I kidding? They got to me all the time. I cried all the cries, all the time.

I cried on touchdown runs. I cried on Publix commercials. I once cried when I cleaned the ceiling fan and clumpy caterpillars of dust dropped from the blades onto my freshly-washed duvet.

But I really, REALLY cried during the band’s playing of Amazing Grace after every home game. Because the reality of God’s gracious favor hit me like a hurricane every single time.

This pregnancy was happening. This was real. And this was all God. I couldn’t take credit. Nor could my husband or my good doctor.

God kept us pregnant through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and a fortnight of sleeping with ice packs on my chest when it felt like my little linemen were splitting my sternum like a wishbone formation.

So I cried all the cries all the time because I knew and believed in God’s perfect timing.

I was 41 when I met the most amazing football coach. I was 46 when that coach finally threw me a Hail Mary and asked me to be his wife. (But hey, God’s perfect timing…). I was 47 when my fertility team tenderly laid our two precious, perfect, 5-day blastocytes inside my uterus. And I was a monthish shy of 48 when those little linemen burst through my middle in an unplanned C-section just shy of 35 weeks gestation. Absolutely perfect.

So yes, I believe in God’s perfect timing.

Y’all, I am by no means trying to make light of infertility or the expensive and excruciating journey that comes with it — a journey so full of uncertainty and with absolutely no guarantees.

We were incredibly blessed to get pregnant on our first IVF round. Unbelievably blessed. The statistics were not in our favor.

Most women go through an average of 2.7 IVF cycles and experts recommend going through at least three cycles to increase you pregnancy chances. Even then, the success rates fall below 50%.

While the numbers may not sound promising, God’s faithfulness always does. And hearing other people’s stories about fertility treatments helps you feel less alone. Because this is a story so many of us share.

No, there are no guarantees. But there are options.

There are so many generous strangers out there –fertility godmothers, is how I see them — working with God to lend their eggs or their wombs or to give their babies up for adoption. God works in mysterious and perfect ways. None of these journeys are easy. But nothing perfect ever is.

Your blessings may come differently, but they will come. Trust in God’s perfect timing

Fear and Self-Loathing in Lost Places

I recently discovered a little demon that had hidden itself away in my cells, quietly waiting for the perfect time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on my heart. It birthed itself during a quick, two-hour road trip a couple months back.

I thought that demon was long dead… thought nothing I heard about my past could do much damage anymore. I was wrong. Turns out, the demon wasn’t dead, just dormant. And turns out, it could still do a helluvalot of damage.

Ever since, I’ve been working my way through a very hard memory…

Memories. They’re never photographic and never completely accurate. They’re fuzzy and fragmented and colored by our own personal perceptions and perspectives.

This one, I kept buried for a long time. But it bubbled and bloomed under the surface. Time softened it… but in a furry, moldy, sordid, slimy sort of way. But the time has come for it to be dug up. Time to bring it into the light, dry it out, turn it to dust, and blow it away.

And y’all, I’m not talking metaphorical demons here. I was a sixteen-year-old junior when I was told I was demon-possessed.

Now I was a far-from-perfect child. I had a major crush on the butterscotch boy next door; I was writing mysteries with teenage girls with plunging necklines and music minister murderers; and I was failing my Algebra II class. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t demon-possessed. At least, not until that night.

I recall standing in a marble entryway with a bathrobe on my lanky frame and a chip on my shoulder. To my right was a still life painting of cream roses in a shadowy vase. To my left were double oak doors, locked. Before me, my accuser, arms crossed, eyes blazing, telling me the devil was in me. Telling me I was going straight to hell.

That night, a pervasive demon of fear and self-loathing tangled itself up with my youthful defiance and climbed through the dilated pores of my freshly showered skin. To avoid my accuser’s red glare, I focused on the still life instead — the gold ochre roses captured in a burnished vase. Crashing waves of Prussian Blue smashed mercilessly into and around them. Petals broken and fallen. Plunged into oily darkness.

My accuser would remember the scene differently, I’m sure. Would remember the wayward daughter with the rebellious streak and the raging desire. The girl consumed by fire. The girl caught up in the ways of the world. The world caught up in the girl. She needed purging in the worst sort of way.

Funny thing about memories… two people remembering the same incident can have two entirely different accounts of what happened. And it doesn’t make either account less true.

With really difficult memories, the differences and disparities reveal the differences and despair in each individual. And each of us felt them… profoundly.

The facts are straightforward; the truth is not.

The fact is my parents were doing what they absolutely thought best. The fact is they did their best to raise me. The fact is they knew the world to be a dangerous place. The fact is they submerged all of us in strict doctrine and stern dogma to save us.

And the fact is I was a far-from perfect child. I was headstrong and fighting for my life. I did my best to escape them and the cult of domesticity they were raising me in. And I did. I escaped with my newly-planted demons of fear and self-loathing, with an ample serving of defiance, and I went to live with my guardian angel grandmother.

They did their best. And so did I. Those are the facts.

But the truth belongs to each individual — and we are all colored by our pasts. By our truths. And our demons. Even my father.

He confessed to me on that two-hour drive how sorry he was that he sent me to live with my grandmother.

… he was sorry for burdening her heart at her advanced age with a rebellious teenage girl.

Shame and guilt overwhelmed me. That demon of tangled up fear and self-loathing, tinged with teenage defiance tore through my gut in a blaze of ungodly glory. And it refuses to leave.

But then today I found some hope. I read a chapter from Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human, called, “Rewrite Your Story: Memory Lost and Found.” It focuses on facing and excising your demons. Denouncing them as liars.

I took it as a sign. Especially after I soon found this little gem: “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”

So I decided to write out my memory and sing out my sorrow. This demon is no longer allowed to hang out as a devil inside.

So I hope someone out there is listening. I want to be absolved. I need to be absolved. And I want to help absolve others. Because Toni Morrison, the greatest writer of our time, once said something I believe in wholeheartedly: The function of freedom is to free someone else.

I kept her quote taped to my writing desk for years. And now I keep it stapled in my soul.

Today, I share my memory, my song, and my freedom. And I beg you to share yours too.

Share your truth and be saved from the devils breeding somewhere deep in the darkness of your past.

Seize the Sunsets: A Candy Corn Devotional

I have an extreme addiction to a colorful seasonal confection that is notoriously divisive in households and classrooms and office buildings the world over. And its name is candy corn.

As far as I’m concerned, it is manna from heaven. It is the food of the gods. It is a candy and a vegetable – and that makes it the perfect food!

And while I know it’s not technically produce, I do know that it has honey in it. And honey comes from plants – excreted through the saliva of bees, but still. If it comes from a plant, it’s a vegetable.

Plus honey is referenced in the bible  — 26 times to be exact – and in a good way (not like salt, which is a punishment for people who look backwards when they aren’t supposed to), but in a nourishment for the Israelites who kept looking forward in faith and physicality for forty years in the wilderness kind of way.

Plus, it’s TRI-colored for heaven’s sake — it is a THREE COLORS IN ONE confection (a holy trinity, folks).

And if you’re still not convinced… candy corn is fat free! What could possibly be more divine?

So yes, by golly, candy corn is godly. I am a true believer. And I faithfully try to convert others every year.  But some of you doubters still remain, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I think it’s the way you were raised…

Now me, I grew up an absolute devotee. My mom exposed me early and annually to its righteousness. She would place giant kaleidoscopic bowls of candy corn around the house every autumn, which I would kneel before the minute I walked in the door from school. I couldn’t get enough. My soul hungered for it. It was like eating fistfuls of sunsets. Sweet, sugary sunsets. I recall many an October afternoon basking in the warm glow of a candy corn devotional.

Being exposed so thoroughly and at such an early age has served me well. But it also made me a bit naive. Little did I know not everyone shares my passion. Not everyone worships on the shrine of those trinitarian sunsets.

Candy corn definitely has its detractors — and super vocal ones, at that.

I learned this the hard way my second year of teaching. I thought I’d proselytize to the masses during a review game. The reward would be righteous, I promised. So my students put everything they had into the review. They jostled for the lead with gusto, hungry for a taste of the grail. But when I pulled out the first single-serving cellophane bag for the winner and tossed it his way, all hell broke loose.

You would’ve thought I’d just thrown him a bagful of boogers. Or ear wax — which is what he said it tasted like as he slung it back at me in disgust.

Ungrateful infidel.

Apparently, he’s not the only one. I polled this year’s students and they were drastically divided. Half would kill for it, the other would rather die than eat it.

And I’m always amazed by the look — the look from nonbelievers when I offer up these kernels of truth and light. The wrinkled noses, the abject disgust, the ready dismissal.

They are blasphemers, the whole lot. Because even if you don’t believe candy corn is divine, it is pure sacrilege to turn down a communion so sacred and scarce and being offered up so selflessly. Because candy corn is hardly something I readily part withal.  It is a true personal sacrifice.

So don’t turn it down. That’s just rude.

My girls know better. They were raised right. And this fall season, my boys are being initiated into the faith. The ritual of edification is short, yet satisfying. Simply nibble one honeyed hue at a time: first the tip – just to see what it feels like (pure heaven) – then proceed to the sleek middle orange, and finally the wide yellow base. Repeat until satisfied.

And listen, I tell them. Listen real close and you can hear each kernel of truth whispering its legacy in a low incantation: “Carpe… Carpe Diem, boys. Seize the sunsets.” Because you never know when you won’t get another.

Well, you do. After Thanksgiving, they’re gone.

So carpe’ diem, boys. Carpe’ dem sunsets!

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I Choose a Kaleidoscope of Beauty and Light

Kaleidoscopes. Remember them? Those geometric spinning fragments posing in rapidly shifting flash points of coordinated color and chaos?

Sliced beauty with sharp, precise edges. Jangled and jarred gemstones, clicking into view.

Suddenly you see…

Jewels tumbling from a pirate’s upturned chest.

Dragon’s scales shifting in flight.

A flamenco dancer’s swirling skirt.

A Spanish shawl.

A thousand butterflies having sex.

A million flowers spilling seeds.

Blood blooms. Light bursts. Magic is born.

All at the flick of a wrist.

It all feels slightly pornographic and oh-so-beautiful.

I can’t help but be reminded of life. The creation of life, sure, in the flick of the wrist, the spilling of blood and seed, absolutely. As the cylinder twists in the slimmest of fractions, new magic appears. in glorious technicolor.

But also in the biting, sharp edges, cutting almost constantly, spinning almost endlessly, into gravity-defying, rotating cartwheels of color.

We can choose to see life as broken shards of complete calamity and chaos in ever-widening, gravity-grinding, beyond-our-control tumbling. Nothing more than flotsam and jetsam crashing inside an unrelenting tidal wave. (It certainly felt like it this week, what with all the stomach bugs and travel woes and deep-seated cavities of the physical and metaphorical kind.)

Or we can choose to see ourselves and our lives as prisms of dancing light, beautiful and gleaming, made all the more so when we’re bumping and rolling up against other jangled and jagged prisms. Again, slightly pornographic, but I didn’t mean for it to be this time. Or maybe I did. Because that’s for sure beautiful, too. And the absolute quintessence of life.

For me, I choose prisms of dancing light.

I like to see us all as slivers of sapphire and ruby, gold and obsidian, emerald and opal and more. Succulent suds of shimmer and shine, made exquisite when randomly and richly tossed by the universe into predestined patterns, made richer with family and friends and even complete strangers knocking up against us in richly syncopated design.

Our lives are what we (and our maker, with a flick of the wrist) makes them. You see what you choose to see. You be who you choose to be.

Tumbling jewels, coupling butterflies, phosphorous flotsam.

You decide.

Me? I choose gemstones and swallowtails, tumbling and tossed. In this randomly rotating gyre, my kaleidoscope blooms beauty and light.

5 Books Our Five-Year-Olds Love

I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.

Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.

For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.

Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:

#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak

I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!

This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.

Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.

#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell

This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.

Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.

When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.

#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner

Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.

Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.

Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.

#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere

If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.

They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”

This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.

#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal

The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.

Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).

If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.

“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”

Talk about raising good humans…

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