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.
The change of the speed of light causes a change in the direction of the light. And that causes… well, beauty… soul-seizing, earth-dazzling beauty.
Technically, it’s called refraction, but I prefer “Bent Light.” Refraction sounds so… stuffy. And Bent Light is anything but stuffy. It’s atmospheric poetry and brushstrokes in pastels and crayola colors. It’s sunrise and sunset and rainbow. It’s the Northern and the Southern lights. It’s all of God’s Grandeur on display.
And I, too, have recently changed speeds and directions. And I have found that my regular shiny self has definitely been bent. In fact, I am one giant cluster of Bent With A Capital B.
I’m bent at the shoulders and knees… I’m praying. A lot.
You see, I can’t seem to do it all. I can’t seem to stay caught up. Not anywhere close to caught up. My to do list stretches off into the horizon and mocks me if I dare try to cross a single thing off it. So I’m left with bent knees and distant goals.
Which leaves me frustrated. (A lot.) And impatient. (A lot.) And absolutely exhausted. (All. The. Lots.)
But then tonight, when I sat down to write about all my doubts, all my dismay, I got distracted. I got distracted from my hard-angles and angsts by the notifications from the Instagram pic I took of a sunrise this week.
A jell-o sky sunrise.
And that jell-o sky sunrise got me to thinking… thinking about the beauty of light on its knees. If light didn’t take a knee, we would never have color. We would never have promise.
God gave mankind His promise by way of the rainbow. The promise that storms would pass and the world would be profitable again. Not stale. Not flat. Not weary. (To combine some flood narrative with some Hamlet.) The world was given depth and beauty through light on bended knee.
And let me tell you… these past few weeks, I’ve been up close and personal with some stale and flat. I’ve felt the unprofitable. And OH, how wooly (“That’s weary, Nobody gets wooly. Women get weary” — to combine some Hamlet and some Bull Durham.) But anyway…
Lord, how I’ve struggled. But in those struggles, I’ve seen the most deliciously decadent sunrises — sensory feasts for my near-starving soul. I’ve seen them nearly every morning.
I’ve seen plum sorbet daybreaks and bright jell-o skies. I’ve seen peach parfait cloud stacks and strawberry-syrup haze.
And I’m reminded that while my life might be hard right now… and my shoulders and knees may be bent way more than usual… that is a far cry from a bad thing.
I needed to be humbled. I needed to shake things up, to be shaken, to be bent.
Because, as Gerard Manley Hopkins so eloquently wrote, “the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Yes, bent light makes metaphysical masterpieces. And bent knees make metaphysical masterpieces, too.
I can’t wait to see what beautiful things are created from my soul on bended knee.
Yesterday morning, I woke up at 3:15 AM to the frantic noises of my aging Dachshund grappling to free herself from the sliver of empty space between mattress and footboard. She had slid there at some point in the night. Slipped into a dark, cruel void while dreaming of far better things. And she found herself dog-paddling for her life in tight, terrifying circumstances.
Seems to be an appropriate metaphor of my life right now. I’ve been dreaming of better things, too. Bright. Big. Beautiful. Things.
And many of them have become a reality.
In the past five years I’ve become a born-again mother, a newborn blogger, and (this year) a reincarnated teacher.
The dreams are beautiful. And real. And the reality is hard — still beautiful, mind you, but hard. Hard as calculus equations on an English major. Meaning, it can be done. But it requires a whole lot of concentration and a whole lot of help. And I find myself in short supply of both.
I’m kind of grappling out in the darkness right now, dog-paddling for my life in tight and terrifying circumstances.
I’ll start with the born-again motherhood part.
There’s probably a reason a woman’s eggs age. God knows how much energy it takes to chase after kids. Especially boys. Twin boys. They take, like, megatons of energy. Like nuclear-power-plant-on-the-sun tons of energy. Energy I may have had thirty years ago (although honestly, I kind of doubt it), but still, energy that’s in decidedly short supply now.
My energy looks more like the 40-watt lightbulb at the end of a basement pull-switch. And the boys’ energy — well, it’s accelerating somewhere close to the speed of light. So they run roughshod over me. A lot. And they fling fisticuffs behind me. A lot. And they make messes all around me. A lot. The possibilities and prepositions are endless.
And then there’s the newborn blogger part.
I have such high hopes for my little blog. She’s like my third toddler… I love her, and I’m so proud of her, and I want people to love her. But she also requires a ton of time and energy — time and energy currently directed at my boys and my students. So she settles herself across the tightly strung stretch of my very last nerve and periodically pinches it.
“Hey! Remember me? Don’t you love me anymore??? Feed me!”
So I stress out and lash out and try to paddle faster… typing aimlessly into the dark, cold, bitter abyss.
And finally, there’s the reincarnated teacher part. The part where I’m reborn in a new school after leaving a building where half my teaching career was spent — a school where everybody knew my name. A sitcom theme song kind of place. (Cheers to friends and family and feeling at home!)
And right about now… after a month in my new place, I’m not gonna lie… I miss the camaraderie of my old school. I miss knowing the routines, and knowing the staff, and knowing the culture. But mostly, I think I miss knowing who I can let my hair down with. Knowing who I can be my best sarcastic, gritty, authentic self with.
So instead, I’ve been building the units and planning the periods and grading the essays and faking-it-till-I’m-making-it… paddling as fast as humanly possible.
But I still feel lost. I still feel alone. I still feel trapped in a tight little space between mattress and mayhem.
And I can’t help thinking about the Corleone family “going to the mattresses” to ride out their mob wars. Holed up in apartments, twenty beds lined floorboard to floorboard, sleeping en masse for protection. Caught between mattress and mayhem.
That is totally me right now. Except not en masse. I’m flying solo. Being swallowed whole. While paddling as fast as I can. Up hill. In the dark. Through the swirling abyss.
But I can do the hard things. I will do all the hard things — Mother twins. Pen blogs. Teach teens. Despite the abyss. Because of the abyss.
Because if there’s one good thing about an existential crisis, it’s that you learn you’ve gotta keep paddling. Harder. Faster. Longer.
Because if you stop, it’ll get you for sure. But if you don’t, a higher power will hear you. A higher power will come to your rescue. Will scoop you up by your ribcage, calm your frenzied, feverish heart, and set you back down again. Close to, but not inside of, that deep dark abyss.
Somewhere between mattress and mayhem is salvation. Just keep paddling.
Our football program is a storied one. Giants have grown from our gridiron. Heroes have hailed from our hashmarks. Our Friday Night Lights have incubated some of the Greatest Of All Time. There is one GOAT, though, that stands above all others.
This past Friday night, my twin boys and I were in the field house when HE walked in — larger than life and with a twinkle in his eye.
Now my boys are incredibly shy — hiding behind my legs or climbing daddy’s shoulders around most people — but not around this hero. They’ll line up for some knuckles or a quick hug Every Single Time.
No, I’m not talking Trevor — although he was there on Friday night too, and just as genuine and gracious as ever.
But nope — I’m talking E. The man. The myth. The legend.
His given name is Edgar Moore, but his fans — his generations and generations of fans — they all know him by a single letter. A single vowel. “E.”
Now “E,” the Letter, is the most influential in the English language. The Silent E has transformative powers, working in concert with consonants to turn soft vowels into hard ones.
“E,” the Legend, is likewise influential. Far from silent, he cheers and cajoles, working in concert with coaches to turn soft players into hard ones. And he takes his job VERY seriously — and we’re not simply talking Friday nights in the fall. E is there with the team sweating it out at every summer workout and every fall practice.
And he’s been doing it for over thirty years. Over the past three decades, on any given Autumn afternoon, E has been spotted making his way across busy Church Street from the local Burger King, where he has a job (of 28 years), to the field house, where he has a calling (of 33 years… and counting).
E has been a part of every championship season the Canes have had — and he has the four state rings to prove it. (Plus three more in baseball). He’s worked with three head coaches and hundreds if not thousands of players. As a matter of fact, four of the coaches on staff wore purple jerseys back in the day, and E was their manager then.
And E is their manager now.
But his role with Cartersville Football goes way beyond Manager.
E is Encourager and Nurturer and Motivator and Dancer (has he got the sideline moves!) and even (most surprising of all to those not in the inner circle), Odds-maker. His skill for predicting game outcomes is uncanny. His track-record is mind-blowing. Vegas should be so lucky as to have an E in their corner.
And we here at Cartersville– we know how extremely lucky we are to have him in ours.
E is a blessing to every member of our football community — coaches, players, families, and fans. We all know his name. We all sing his praises. We all know his worth — Priceless.
Because there’s simply no CANES without our Not-So-Silent E.
I love seeing new things – things I’ve never seen before.
A few years back, I saw my first fox. She was making her way across the neighborhood green space under cover of darkness, but the streetlights revealed her unmistakable fiery fur and trotting stride. She was beautiful.
I was in awe.
And then yesterday, I saw my first great-nephew. He was lying sweetly in a nest of swaddling blankets, tiny paper finger and toenails topping long, fragile fingers and long, slender feet. He is beautiful.
And I am in awe.
He came early. Seven weeks early. And his mama suffered. She was put on hospital bed rest and then filled with the fumes of a hazy, magnesium hell to battle the preeclampsia ravaging her body.
It was not fun. Nor was it effective. He “broke” her belly (as my sons say) via C-section the very next day. At 33 weeks.
But he is 33 weeks of pure perfection. Surprisingly alert, his eyes dance inside a noggin tiny enough to fit in a teacup, his elfin features glow beneath a widow’s peak of dark, twiggy hair.
This newborn child is beautiful. And so is his newborn mother.
She is pure perfection. Her eyes smile through the pain of incision, through the fog of postpartum, her freckled features deceptively serene beneath her halo of glossy, dark hair.
Because she is the perfect newborn mother — full of self-doubt, full of concern, full of fear.
She worries about milk supply and let down. She worries about milestones to be met and schedules to be set. She worries about bonding time and spending time with her twiggy little nestling when she’s discharged and he’s left behind in the NICU.
She worries about nurturing him and guiding him and loving him well enough to one day set him loose in this big, scary world with all the tools and confidence he needs to flourish.
She has so many worries. But those worries make her the perfect mother. Because that’s what good mothers do. They worry. And I would worry if she weren’t.
Really good mothers strive to always do the right things — the best things — for their little ones, no matter how big they get. No matter how old.
But good mothers never do ALL the right things; they never do ALL the best things. Because mothers – even the really good ones like my niece – they’re only human. So they struggle.
But just because you are struggling doesn’t mean you are failing.
I saw that on a meme just yesterday and it spoke volumes to me as a mother, as a wife, as a writer, as a teacher.
Because just like my niece, I am struggling.
Because another new thing I saw this week was a brand new classroom — in a brand new school system. And it has left me full of self-doubt and fear and concern. I am full of worries.
I worry about school supplies and letting people down. I worry about the schedule to be set and the milestones to be met. I worry about bonding time with my students and spending time with my twins.
I worry about nurturing them and guiding them and loving them all well enough to one day let them loose in this big, scary world with all the tools and confidence they need to flourish.
I want to do all the right things, all the best things. And I know I won’t do all the right things all the time. I won’t always do the best things. I have so many worries. But hopefully those worries make me a good teacher.
I struggled a lot last week. My niece struggled a lot last week. But we both have to remember that struggling doesn’t mean we are failing. Humans struggle — we’ve been doing it since the Garden of Eden. We trip. We fall. We get back up again. We persevere. We triumph. We excel.
It’s all about the perseverance. And Grace.
Because thanks to the grace of God, if our intentions are pure, and our efforts are hard, and our passions are strong, we will not fail. Struggle, yes. Fail, no. We can do this hard thing.
So Lauren, you and me — and all the mothers and teachers and humans out there — we can all do this hard thing. By the grace of God.
It’s a daunting challenge, joining a new coaching family. There’s a whole lot of feeling your way around and searching for a niche.
It’s an uncomfortable place to be and can feel incredibly isolating – especially if you don’t have biological family close by to help with the kids and the nerves and the insecurities. Because there are ALWAYS insecurities when you’re with a new team. Always.
In the beginning, you usually feel more apart from than a part of a new football program.
I vividly recall two lonely seasons not long ago where I was completely apart from the other coaches’ wives. It was just me and my twin babies, a stroller loaded with a pantry full of snacks, and a haunting suspicion that in the whole grand scheme of things, no one on staff besides my very own coach gave a darn about whether or not we were ok.
Every Friday night, I hunkered down in the far corner of an end zone because we couldn’t navigate the stadium risers on our own (and no one ever offered to help). So we dodged band instruments and blazing-fast receivers. And we stood apart and alone.
One of my favorite social media hash tags is #footballisfamily. Sadly, there was no family on that football team.
Now, however, thanks to the grace of God, my personal little football family has found itself in the midst of a football program that is all about family. There is true connectivity and support amongst the coaches’ wives on our current team. There are welcome notes and survival baskets at the beginning of the season. There are group texts for reminders and updates throughout the fall. There are generous hugs and helping hands in the stands on Friday nights. And there are potluck dinners and hearty conversations in the field house after games.
This is what the hash tag #footballisfamily should be about.
So I’m writing this blog — not for the new wife, but for the established wives in your football family.
I’m writing this as a gentle reminder that all of us have been there. We’ve all been the New Wife — the one no one knows. And sadly, some of us have even been the New Wife that no one ever knows… the one that no one ever reaches out to before the transient nature of the football life has its way with us, and we move on to our next location and our next potential football family.
So I’m writing as a reminder that football SHOULD be family.
Don’t be the wife who never reaches out to welcome the new member. Don’t be the one who assumes someone else will do it — somebody else will check up on her because you, you with the twin toddlers and the teaching job and gazillion essays to grade and gazillion students to nurture and never-ending dishes and laundry and dusting to do (well, you get the picture), you are helmet-deep in The Grind and you just can’t do a single thing more.
Ah, The Grind – the world-famous Football Grind.
It weeds out the unworthy. It leaves the weak in the dust. It measures mental and physical toughness and true character. It ensures that when you’ve given it your all, there’s still more of you to give – to your team. Because football is not a solo sport.
For any team to be successful, it is well understood that every single member must fully embrace The Grind.
And we wives are no exception. We have to be tough and driven and full of desire. And we must always be willing to push through the fatigue and give just a little bit more – for our football family – at home and in the home stands (and away ones, for that matter).
So push through your fatigue, coaches’ wives. Find your reserves and be the New Wife’s Left Tackle. Cover her blind side. Show her the ropes. Send her the welcomes and the updates and the encouragement. Help her wrangle her nerves and her kids in this brand new stadium.
Give her love and support and encouragement and bathroom breaks. (Nobody ever thinks of the bathroom breaks.) Help her become a part of the team.
I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I also know (I’ve learned the hard way) that I have the freedom to decide for myself what I like and what I think and what I do.
I’ve written before about the Toni Morrison quote that compels me to write: “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
Well, yesterday, while thumbing through social media, I came across a blog that slung me so far backwards that the bars of my prison-house were very nearly reinstated. It damn near set me back decades.
And that blog proved to me that I’m not done yet. That I need to keep fighting. To truly free myself from the side-effects of my childhood and to help free others still struggling behind the iron shackles of dogmatic religion. Not faith. Religion.
The blog was a recent post from The Transformed Wife. The title is menacing enough to me — the word “transformed” implying that the author was forced to undergo a dramatic, life-altering change to fit into the unforgiving mold of Wife.
But then there’s the title of her Monday blog: “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos.” As if women should be driven and controlled by men’s desires. Our minds, our lives, our bodies. Controlled. By men.
Ugh. The title was frightening, but I kept reading.
The entire intent of the blog is to caution women about everything from advanced education to independent living and thought. She strongly suggests in the second paragraph that women be wary of attending university lest they learn to be “independent, loud, and immodest instead of having meek and quiet spirits.”
Are you kidding me?!?
My skin flinched; my lips curled; my eyes rolled. I was sucker-punched backward to my broken and bridled teen years, where I had this exact bullshit horsewhipped into my soul.
I still suffer from the aftermath. I am meek and quiet – at least in person. This computer screen gives me confidence and a voice. But in person, I tend to shy away when conversations heat up. Or when I do speak up, if somebody pushes back hard enough, I back down. I shut down. I was conditioned to avoid confrontation, to keep my head down, and to NEVER contradict a man.
And it pisses me the hell off. (I was also taught never to cuss. That it’s not ladylike. But I’m making pretty good progress there…)
I was also conditioned to believe my sole purpose in life was to submit myself to men and to fear my own thoughts and actions – a notion the author goes on to address: “The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.”
My father’s church did not approve of women attending college either, despite Dad hailing from a family full of advanced degrees. (He and his brother have PhDs; his sisters have a Master’s and an MD.)
But no college degrees were in my future — only apprenticeship under some elder’s wife where I would learn “biblical womanhood” and how “to serve others” and “live in submission” to my husband.
That was my destiny.
Luckily, I was rebellious. I was really good at being a thorn in the side and a fly in the ointment. And after a long, exhausting struggle I was finally deemed an unfit vessel for husband and church, and thrown out of the fold and into to my grandmother’s arms.
She was headstrong and rebellious, too. And she taught me to believe in myself. Or she tried. And so did my aunts and uncles.
I spent a single semester at UT in a dorm room under their generosity. But the brainwashing from all the biblical bludgeon-ings was too deepset. I clung to the notion that being in love and in a marriage and with child was my one true calling.
I still believe motherhood is one of my truest and strongest callings. I absolutely believe in love and marriage and children.
But I do not believe in submission and ignorance and mind-control. And I never will again.
The author also states the importance and value of having young women remain “under their father’s roof until they get married.”
One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never lived on my own as a young woman. I believe independent living is one of the most crucial life-skills a woman can glean. The ability to think for herself. Provide for herself. Trust in herself. To believe she is strong. And capable. And worthy.
I learned all of these things. But it took me a long time. I didn’t really absorb them until after I was divorced, when I struggled to survive on rice cakes and peanut butter and struggled to find my confidence and my voice. But survive I did. And more than that, I found my voice and I found my confidence (as confrontationally-challenged as it may be…).
But I am proud to say that both my girls gained independence and self-worth at a far younger age than I. They are strong, capable, autonomous women. One of my daughters, a surgeon with more advanced education than practically any person I know (and will continue her formal education for another four years), responded to the blog’s ridiculous restrictionswith the following:
Well, I’m probably the most in debt of any woman out there. And I’m a 31 year old non-virgin. With a tattoo. It seems, based on this grammatically horrifying piece, I’m undesirable. But my brain is worth more than the 300,00 dollars I’ve invested in it, and I will never waste my heart on a man who teaches me how to think or feel.
Well said, my girl. Bravo.
And my other daughter, in honor of International Emoji Day, promptly posted a green vomiting icon. My sentiments exactly, my girl.
So my freedom has resulted in the freedom of my girls. And I take great pride in that. But I’m not finished yet. There are still women out there who believe they can’t exist without the guidance of a man — someone who can translate life for them.
Because the part of the blog that rattled my soul and wrenched my girl parts the most was the sorrow the author felt for women who “have not read the Bible with their father or husband to explain it to them.”
To EXPLAINit to them?
What. The. Fuck.
What the ever-loving, mind-blowing Fuck?!? (Told you that bridle was gone. I’m the only one who controls my mouth now, thank you very much.)
Let me tell you about the husbands and fathers who “explained” scripture to me. They twisted it. They tortured it. They twisted and tortured scripture and they twisted and tortured me.
And it is taking me a lifetime to free myself from the dogma and the dictators. Don’t let me be you.
Don’t eat the bullshit. Don’t learn the helplessness. Don’t believe the lies.
You are worthy enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are important enough.
To think for yourself. To govern yourself. To believe in yourself. To educate yourself.
To love yourself.
So do it. Be it. Live it.
And then help someone else do it and be it and live it too. That’s the function. The function of freedom.
I’m not one of those people who loves a road trip – especially not a twelve-hour (without stops) one with four-year-olds. Twins. Twin sons. With more energy than all the suns in all the galaxies in all the universes.
Give me a plane and a peanut snack. That’s my preference… but we can’t afford four airline tickets. So drive, we must.
And this past week, my three fellas and I packed up the minivan and headed west. West to Dallas. To the Big D. And we did it up big. As in #DallasBIG (Is that still a thing? It was three years ago, when the boys were 8 months. They are much bigger now…)
We’ve made the trek a lot. The first time out, we flew — because they could fly free then.) But the first time we DROVE it, they were 18-months — and it took us just over 23 hours to get home. That was most definitely not a good time.
Our guys don’t sleep on the road – not then, and not now. Ok, maybe I lied just a bit. They have been known, on occasion, to take a thirty minute power nap…
So why in the world do we do it, you ask? Because their big sister lives and operates there. Literally. She’s a surgeon. So drive, we do. Every year.
This trip, however, was the first time it actually felt like a vacation. Because the boys are finally old enough to handle disruptions to naps and nightly schedules without major repercussions to every last one of us.
We pulled into the asphalt and glass metropolis on July 3rd, our minivan registering 109 degrees outside. That’s hot, y’all — even for Dallas standards.
We unloaded and headed out to explore, our first stop being quirky Deep Ellum — a district of warehouses converted to jazz clubs, dive bars, and tattoo parlors. We specifically went there to eat at a burger joint called Angry Dog and to find the giant American Flag mural nestled between side streets. (Which we did.)
… along with a myriad of additional murals and a very eclectic crowd. Deep Ellum is fun and feisty and definitely not G-rated after sundown. Get there early and then leave. We did.
The Fourth of July dawned bright and hot. Big Hot. #DallasBIG. So we spent a large part of it in Caitlin’s pool, pretending to be mermaids and sharks — before reenactingThe Napping House children’s book by Audrey Wood.
Tha Napping House
Afterwards, we headed to Plano for fireworks. (We had missed the Dallas ones on the third, opting to go to bed at 9:30 instead. It had been a long road trip, despite breaking it into two days.)
Turns out, Plano was the perfect place to watch fireworks. We sat atop a sweeping hill – a natural amphitheater – amid amber waves of prairie grass and multicultural waves of people. It was refreshing to see so many ethnicities atop quilts and soccer chairs under our star-spangled sky. It was as it should be.
On Thursday, we headed downtown in search of a shady playground so the boys could romp in relative safety from the heat. A friendly city employee took a break from his sweaty work of cleaning up the flotsam and jetsam of Fourth celebrations to direct us to Klyde Warren Park.
Talk about perfect and free and fun! There was a giant geometric jungle gym, a merry-go-round, and a tree house! But the biggest hit was the children’s water garden, complete with dancing fountains, wade pool, and winding river. The boys climbed and splashed for an hour-and-a-half (in shorts, not suits — we weren’t prepared) before heading to lunch.
And speaking of lunch, not a hundred feet from the children’s park is a food truck line up — an end-to-end smorgasbord of fusion and classic fare – if you’re into that sort of thing. Which we are.
On Friday, another hot one (“like seven inches from the midday sun”), we took the boys to the Dallas Zoo. Luckily there were misting stations and shade trees everywhere. The zoo knows how to keep its visitors semi-comfortable. And how squeeze every last dime from its patrons.
For example… there’s a carousel smack in the center of the entranceway. Your kids are gonna see it. And they’re gonna wanna ride it. At two bucks a head. And you get motion sickness just turning yours. And they’re too young to ride on their own. Awesome.
Still, it’s a good zoo, with several animals Zoo Atlanta doesn’t have, including penguins and cheetahs and bald eagles and hippos. (Alas, we never saw the hippos because the Dallas Zoo is HUGE. And did I mention HOT? But we did get a nice view of the cheetah.)
We also got up close and personal with some lions, thanks again to brilliant zoo marketing. The lions take their morning siesta in the shade of a giant picture window only accessible through the air-conditioned rapture and deep-fried bait of a restaurant called the Serengeti Grill. (Did I mention, Dallas is really good at marketing?) We escaped the certain fate of an $82 lunch tab by promising ice cream from the stand just outside.
Friday night, we met up with a friend of Caitlin’s at a place called Chicken Scratch. It. Was. Awesome. With plenty of sheet-metal siding, picket fences, and weedy raised gardens to make a small-town, southern girl feel right at home.
But when you order the Coconut Waffles and Chicken you realize you’re not in Kingston anymore. Holy died and gone to heaven, Batman! The syrup had some kick (Dallas is nothing if not HOT), and the chicken had some bliss, and by golly, I was in love.
And so were our boys. What kid doesn’t love chicken tenders? But then, Chicken Scratch is so kid-friendly in other ways, too. All the tables are moored in gravel and our boys loved bulldozing their palms through it. (One family I saw brought beach pails and sand shovels. Genius!) And tucked into a back corner, there was even an old-fashioned playground with monkey bars, chicken crates, and half-buried tires.
Our boys were filthy when we left, but they were also incredibly happy.
Our final stop before heading home was The Perot Museum, an architectural marvel with dinosaur and space exhibits, among others (eleven total). It was a great way to beat the heat.
The Perot Museum
They had a great time with the interactive displays. In one, they made dinosaurs dance by moving their own bodies (sort of like Nintendo’s Just Dance, but with a T-Rex), and in another, they flew like eagles (same sort of technology.).
But our youngest twin’s favorite activity was riding the elevators (he’s obsessed — truly), and playing in the sand box in the downstairs children’s exhibit. Our oldest liked working the conveyor belt pulley and “driving” the stationary truck in the same children’s exhibit. (If you visit and have young kids, make sure you do the children’s exhibit last. One mother was openly lamenting her decision to enter the museum at that location. Her kid didn’t want to see anything else.
The tickets to the Perot Museum weren’t cheap, and it was very crowded (on a Saturday the week of the Fourth, what did we expect?), but it was loads of fun. Heading out, the boys begged to stay and keep playing in the outdoor music station.
We had a great time in Dallas. We did a whole lot in our five days – way more than we’ve ever done in the past — plus, I got to see my girl. That always makes the drive worth it, whether the boys nap or not. Or the drive takes takes twenty-three-and-a-half hours or sixteen with stops.
I’m actually kind of looking forward to what we can find and do on our next trip out. (Shh. Don’t tell Mike.)
Pretty sure I had a close encounter with a voodoo queen the other day. It was a dark and stormy day on a trail just off the shores of Allatoona.
But first let me explain that not a whole lot of things scare me. Only a couple of things, really — and they are pretty much the standard fare: I’m afraid of the dark – of the demons and monsters that can lurk in the closets, under the beds, and in the black and impenetrable air. And I’m terrified of mice – of the squealing, pink-nosed breeders of filth and disease.
The fear of the dark is a holdover from my childhood and those demons I saw cast out of my parents’ living room on a weekly basis. The mice – well, I’m pretty sure they’re a plague hangover from a former life in London during the Middle Ages. Both make complete and total sense. To me.
My husband, he’s afraid of clowns. Clowns. I don’t get it. They wear makeup and extravagant footwear, so honestly, what’s there to fear?
But millions of people on this planet do fear them. I think they’re impressive. They have mad skills. They can juggle. And craft squeaky balloon animals. And distract angry bulls — and that takes a heap of talent. I was married to a Taurus, and I never could master that skill.
Clowns get a bad rap. Sure, there’s John Wayne Gacy and Pennywise… and I guess they sort of ruined it for all the clowns. But honestly, between the two of them they were responsible for maybe fifty deaths… You’re much more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a clown.
Mice however, they carried the fleas that vomited the virus that cost the human race an estimated 100 million lives… That, my friends is a whole lot of scary. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And our boys are a little bit afraid of thunder — but I’m working on them. Thunder’s not scary, I tell them. It’s loud, but it can’t hurt you. It’s nothing more than sonic burps — atmospheric indigestion, if you will.
You might have the same if you deep-throated lightning. (Only I don’t tell them that part.) And because I have no desire to test that theory, I maintain a healthy distance from lightning.
But then, this past week, Mike and I were inadvertently caught in a lightning storm. We were hiking a favorite mountain trail when suddenly the sky darkened and we heard familiar rumblings.
At first I thought it was my stomach – or maybe Mike’s. (We’re currently on a quest for our missing summer bods and eating what feels like nothing but raw cucumbers while we search. Our stomachs have the habit of digesting their own linings in protest.)
But nope, turns out it was the sky. And she was craving a giant, hand-tossed peperoni pizza as much as I was. She was HANGRY and hurling lightning as a hunger strike.
So there we were. Out in nature. On a mountaintop. With wobbly, fatigued legs. And about a gazillion tall trees.
Now that’s scary.
We began high-tailing it down the trail, which had morphed into treacherous red slime, rain-slicked rock, and lightning bolts (lots and lots of lightning bolts), when what to our wondering eye should appear but a freakishly frightening silhouette. (Think Victor Frankenstein, Lake Geneva, and electric shock and you’ve got the picture.)
Only she was no creature. She was a dark and mysterious woman. And she stalked in beauty like the night.
She was regal and dressed all in black: black tights, black skirt, black-heeled boots, black blouse. And she bore in her gnarled and ancient hand a giant black umbrella.
I’m fairly certain she was a bona fide, conjure-crafting, card-carrying voodoo queen. Or a dark arts Mary Poppins. Or a figment of my overwrought, Romantic imagination.
Regardless, she was upon us in an instant, parting the sheets of rain as she defied the elements — climbing up the mountain that we were so eagerly vacating.
As lightning cracked once again, she flashed us a smile, revealing a glittering cavern of canines and incisors.
I was in awe of her, and just the tiniest bit afraid. But mostly in awe. I’m pretty sure she had deep-throated lightning and lived to tell the tale.
In another instant, she was gone.
And us? We were gone too – down that mountain as fast as humanly possible.
There’s this weird feeling I get sometimes. Like someone has hit a tuning fork — but the tuning fork is my body. And it rings and vibrates. Like a silver spoon hitting chilled stainless. Like ice hitting back molars. Like wintergreen hitting my veins. And the one hitting the tuning fork is the universe. Is God, if you will.
I feel awake and alive and almost raw.
So I go to my computer and I dive into the current of serendipity’s stream. And I pay really careful attention.
Words swirl around me, boomerang back at me like white water rapids. They carry me, roll me, drive me forward. The universe is in charge, and I am on a wild ride. Where I’m going is out of my hands – but I know I’m on the right track.
So I swim. Hard. And fast. To stay inside that current. Not sink beneath it.
Because the universe has given me a gift — it has given me a path and a process. But it has expectations. It has demands. And those demands are rigorous. They are… well… demanding.
This current will take me to my goal, but only with a whole lot of work.
So work, I do. At first I’m cold and rusty, and my mind misfires. A lot. But I remind myself I’m trained for this. I can do this hard thing. I am prepared. And so I just keep kicking, doing my best to stay afloat and follow directions as the words swirl around me, bump up against me.
Inside the current, my mind warms, loosens — perhaps even unravels a bit – allowing flexibility and vision and a bit of slack to reel in the difficult bits, the hard bits. Of life. Particularly, my life. My past.
Because the hard and difficult bits require a whole lot of slack — lest I get too wound up, too tense, and then break the line and lose the way, the truth, and the life. My way. My truth. My life.
Barbara Kingsolver once stated that “memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.” And I totally get it — especially when the memory itself is incredibly complicated, when the truth you are recording — the twisted religion of your formative years — was itself a relative to truth, but not its twin. Maybe not even the same family… or neighborhood. But definitely the same region. My truth fits within the region — the southern region, that is.
The South — where truths become memories, loosely maintained, that become yarns, wildly spun, that become tales, twisty and gnarled. Where truths become monstrosities.
Here in the land of Faulkner and Flannery, we drill holes in mama’s coffin (and right on through to her face) so she can breathe in the hereafter. We have kinky morticians and corrupt bible salesmen and Presbyterian ax vigilantes. We have deaf mutes and hunchbacks and dwarves – oh my! All so we can safely unearth the darkened roots of our deep-seated insecurities.
Here in the South, we love a little batter on our vegetables and a little gothic on our histories. Sure, maybe raw is better for you – but they taste so much better in a solid bath of debauchery and a heavy dusting of sin. (Minimalist, we are not!)
It’s as much about embellishment as it is about fact here. We hide our tender bits inside hyperbole and the grotesque. The crazier the tale, the deeper the truth.
For me, swimming serendipity’s stream may begin with the exquisite chill of a spoon hitting stainless, but it never fails to dump me where stainless will always fall victim to stain: childhood and the fears and tears that form its fecund swamplands.
The water there is brackish and foul with trash and monsters. Monsters ready to be raised from the near-dead. Demons with watermelon rinds for smiles. Disciples with oily words and cardboard hearts.
I land there each and every time. And after I catch my breath and adjust to the temperature change, I dredge the swamp.
And as the silt and sludge swirls, I bring in my haul — words writhing and thick with hard muscle, slippery sinew, scaly gill. They emerge slowly, but in netfuls, tangled and twisted. Words glinting with a thousand splendid refractions, bending and contorting in the light. Piercing.
I capture them all by capturing my past. Finding the way and the truth from my life.
My biggest and most-tangled of truths thus far — a Pentecostal pastor’s circumcised daughter — flesh faulted and excised amid great ceremony and pain. She emerges from the darkness demanding her reckoning. She flips silver on my screen.
She is forged from the cold steel of serendipity’s stream, humming with the frequency of the tuning fork. The chill of wintergreen hangs in the air… along with the sweetness and rot of the swamp.
I gut her and clean her. I batter-dip her in admonition and intuition and the blood of the Lamb. I sear her on tongues of flame. I lay her on a slaw of shredded scripture. And I serve her up to the world.
+ + +
In the beginning was the word.
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us — howling to be heard. To be seen. To be known.