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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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When your Son Loves Princesses and your Society Wants him to Love Trucks

I have a son who loves princesses. Elsa is his all-time favorite, but he has a warm spot for Belle and Moana too. He wraps his small, three-year-old frame in his winter-white fleece blanket – the one he’s had from infancy, and says: “Look at me, Mama. I’m Elsa. I’m different.”

And what he means is, he’s not the Elsa with the purple cape from the beginning of the movie. Instead he’s the Elsa who has run away and morphed into her snow-and-ice gown. He’s Elsa after her sister Anna says, “Elsa, you’ve changed. You’re different.”

Yes, Elsa is different. And so is my little one. They are both different from what society expects of them.

And my heart swells with pride at his imagination and passion — and swells with the weight of worry and fear. As he twirls around in his soft, fuzzy make-believe world singing “Let it Go,” scorpions flick poisonous daggers deep in my gut.

He is so perfect and so passionate. And so perfectly poised for persecution.

And people will surely persecute him. They will be cruel. I know it will come. I know someone will laugh at him – and soon – for his adoration of Elsa and her beautiful snow-and-ice gown, a gown he begs for every time we go down the Disney aisle at Target.

And every time he asks, I am cautious and uncertain about how to reply. I don’t want to encourage him because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. But I don’t want to discourage him either — because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. Either decision ends in pain.

I’ve seen people I’m close to embrace their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of society’s narrow-minded expectations. And I’ve seen people I’m close to reject their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of their own fear and self-loathing. So what do I say to him?

So much pain – and certain pain no matter how I respond — all because society has created tiny, rigid little ideas about round holes and square pegs. Round holes are supposed to love glitter and tutus. Square pegs are supposed to love gearshifts and choo-choos. That’s the deal. That’s the rule.

And it’s ironic, really, because society is always throwing around clichés that encourage individuals to be…individuals:

Be Yourself. Express Yourself. Listen to Your Inner Voice. Break the Mold. Embrace your Differences. Be Confident. Be Courageous. Be True to Who You Are.

But the clichés are lies. All lies. Society only approves of you being you if you properly align with the gearshift and choo-choo, glitter and tutu gender agendas.

Being yourself can be hard – especially if you are a little boy who doesn’t like what society says you should like. Little girls who like to play ball and climb trees don’t get judged as harshly. (No, that comes later. The walls and glass ceilings and double-standards and bitch labels come quickly, but not yet.) When they’re little, they’re allowed, encouraged even. Being a tomboy is socially acceptable.

The same cannot be said for little boys. There is no equivalent of tomboy for a little boy who likes “girl” things — nothing positive, anyway. Society doesn’t like it when little boys like princesses and the color pink.

And somebody has already been making my son question his preferences. I don’t know who, but I know it has happened. In the last couple of months, he’s asked me on multiple occasions… “Mommy, are pink and purple girl colors?”

And each time, the question has made me cringe. “No. Boys can wear pink and purple too. Anybody who wants to can wear pink and purple. Daddy’s football team wears purple, right? And they’re all boys.”

And he nods at me and says, “Yes, anybody can wear pink and purple.”

And I hug him tight and wish I could stop the world from barging in on this boy and his favorite things.

“I’m Elsa and I’m different,” he says again, spinning in his winter-white fleece blanket.

I think about his “different” Elsa – the Elsa who is forced to run from society because her true self was covered and masked and contained until she – and everyone she loved — was almost destroyed when it finally broke free.

I refuse to let that happen to my sweet, innocent, passionate son. If he loves princesses, and the color pink, and Peppa Pig’s playhouse, and Strawberry Shortcake, and Barbie – and he does, he loves them all — then by golly, I will not tell him that he shouldn’t. I will not batten down his feelings beneath metaphorical gloves and deny him access to his true self.

Ultimately, this decision will hurt us both. His innocence will be shattered one day, and when that happens, my mother’s heart will be shattered too. But I believe it will hurt far less than teaching him to hate who he is and how he feels.

And I have no idea if my son will continue to feel this way as he grows up. I don’t know if he will grow to be a teenager who loves princesses or a man who loves princesses… but if he does that’s all right. And if he doesn’t, that’s all right too. Only our all-loving God knows that truth. But right now, my son does love princesses and he does love pink. And it (and he) is perfectly all right.

I love my son. And I truly believe that the only thing that can stop hate, is love. And to do that, we have to love ourselves first. So there is my answer. That is how I must answer my son when he tells me he wants an Elsa gown for Christmas. I must tell him, “All right.” I must tell him – and show him – that this is all right. That he is all right. That he is better than all right.

He is different. Elsa would be proud.

Play-Doh and the Sweet Breath of God: Why we are Born to Create

Thanksgiving gave me license to continual Christmas carols. I listen to them on my daily commutes to anywhere and everywhere. And I’ve heard “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” probably a dozen times so far, which got me thinking about my very own favorites and how I’ve written about quite a few of them in recent weeks: candy corn, hay bales, football, and family – always family. Today will be no exception.

Today I write about one of the most nostalgic of all my faves: Play-Doh. My boys have developed a passion for the stuff, and I must confess mine has been thoroughly rekindled. They’ve been huddled around the coffee table  rolling and pressing and nudging their sweet imaginations to life. And watching them – and playing with my own slyly pilfered wedge – has made me attempt to put into words just exactly why I love the colorful clay.

At first, I thought maybe it was Play-Doh’s brilliant technicolor – grown even brighter over the years (now in neons!) — that makes me love it so. When you crack open a canister, the brightest and best of the color wheel shimmer with promise. Who can resist chunks of rainbows at your fingertips just hankering for some handling?

Or maybe it’s Play-Doh’s smell – so indefinable and so distinct. When I tried to write about the scent, I was stumped. It is impossible. I even searched the web for help. Some sources say it’s a combo of warm vanilla and wheat. But that’s not quite it. It is far more mysterious and compelling — so compelling that according to my research, perfume companies have attempted (unsuccessfully) to bottle it.

But Play-Doh isn’t just about the smell – which is why I think no perfumery will ever succeed at corking its nostalgia. I think it is the brightness of its colors, plus the warmth of its smells, and ultimately, the feel of Play-Doh that gives us ALL THE FEELS. Those three things together are what send us with dizzying speed back to the innocence and endless potential of childhood.

Play-Doh is imagination in its purest physical form. It is a tactile myth-maker. In toddler hands, fantastical creatures are fused out of colorful, naked nothingness. What could possibly  be better?

Some would argue blocks. Or LEGOS. Me, I would say… meh. Blocks are cool, I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing: hard angles and static substance. You can create with them, sure, but you are limited in your design.

Same with LEGOS. Plus, LEGOS inflict pain. In irresponsible hands, they can damn near kill. I was a victim this past week when I unwittingly stepped on one with my slick-soled dress shoes and found myself skating wildly across the hardwood floors before falling headlong into a viper’s nest of them. One punctured the palm of my right hand, and my right shin bears the pock-y bruises of another three.

If Play-Doh is imagination in its purest form, I truly believe LEGOS are imaginiation in its evilest. They are the pimply scales of Satan’s backside.

But back to Play-Doh. Clay is the ultimate in terms of creativity. Think back to your Bible. It states that Adam and Eve were formed of dust and water and the breath of God.

Ah, there you have it. Play-Doh is God’s chosen medium. And that secret ingredient we’ve been searching for… it’s not vanilla or warm wheat or the nostalgia of childhood, after-all. Play-Doh smells like the sweet breath of God.

Play-Doh is the height of creative purity… and I think we should all rekindle our passion for the stuff.

Now, I’m not suggesting you run out to Target and snag a couple dozen canisters off the endcaps – although that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. No, what I’m saying is that we should approach each new day like it is a nice, bright, spotless container of Play-Doh. Crack it open and smell God in its glorious technicolor.

Seize each day, tug it — slow and weighty with potential — out of its column and into the palms of your eager hands. Feel the cool denseness just waiting to warm to your touch. That’s life – begging you to mold of it what you will.

Clench it by the fistfuls, press it and knead it and watch it unearth new possibilities between your bare knuckles, under the whirls and ridges of your own, capable hands. From your design and God’s blessings, everything will roll and gather and slide into place. Embellish it with the scallops and curves and creases of your choosing.

Your masterpiece will form. Trust the process. Each new day brings a bright new color. Use them all.

And when troubles collect – which they will – in clumps and scales round your rings and in slivers gathered under nail beds, collect the shavings with a precise pivot of thumbnail and wrist, and move forward. But use what you’ve excised, use the residue of hardships and misfires, roll them between your forefinger and thumb, and build from them: lessons learned; lessons used.

But whatever you do, don’t seal yourself up in your bright, beautiful container — your mind a beautifully rounded cylinder of God particles — and squander your promise. God made you perfect, but He doesn’t want you to just sit there in your beautiful perfection. He wants you to use that potential — to mold glorious masterpieces out of your matter.

By merely sitting there  in your bright shiny container then you’re quite simply doing what that old Sunday School song tells you not to do: hiding your light under a bushel (to mix metaphors). You’ll end up all dried out and crusted over. You’ll be all musty and brittle. Don’t be brittle. Don’t be musty.

Be fresh and fun and follow the pathways of your passion. Follow your bliss. Allow the natural oils of your imagination and the natural pliability of your promise to shine forth in glorious, God-given splendor. You are the colorful clay and sweet breath of God. Go make something spectacular of yourself.

So there it is. There’s the reason I love Play-Doh so very, very much.

 

 

 

Christmas with Twin Toddlers: Building Memories, not Designer Trees

Our Christmas tree – the boys’ Christmas tree – hardly looks like an HGTV tree. Chip and Joanna would not approve. And I have to admit, I don’t rightly know that I do either. But I am letting it stand — As Is – a bead-dripping, ball-clumping conglomeration of toddler artistic interpretation and strategic disarray. I mean, it is an absolute cluster.

In the beginning, I tried to go behind and guide my boys toward proper ornament placement — to demonstrate scale and visual hierarchy, leading lines and symmetry — to advocate for the balance and brilliance of a beautifully appointed Christmas tree (or at least to show them empty branches begging for attention), but they would have none of it. They knew exactly where they wanted those twelve tangled strings of beads and precisely where to place that Santa head with the snowy, tousled beard — it catches on every pine needle and if you’re not careful he can wind up looking more like Marley’s Ghost than Jolly Old Saint Nick. (Ahem, they weren’t careful.)

Now if you know me and my love of Christmas Villages and my passion for perfectly placed blown glass ornaments collected over a lifetime, you know this has not been easy for me.  My fingers are just itching to get in there and tidy things up.

But I was cautioned by their dad that it doesn’t really matter if I like it or not: it’s their tree. And what matters is that they’re proud of it. Which they are. They have touched up and tweaked their masterpiece all day long.

Now our boys have distinct personalities – and they trimmed the tree with tactical procedures and divergent techniques entirely reflective of those distinct personalities.

Parker is our motion machine. He loves trucks and running – and he used both in his approach. He ran. Fast. From packing box to pre-lit bough. Laughing all the way. And the trucks, you ask? Well, when he wasn’t hauling ass, he was hauling ornaments in his green metal dump truck. At first, he hauled them the old-fashioned way – piled in its bed in a giant, glittering heap. But then he got a bit creative and hung them off the rear end like metallic ball fringe, Beep-Beep-Beeping as he backed it into place. He front-loaded the tree with about a dozen balls this way – some frosted, some glittered, some gleaming — all on the same two branches, reinforced with the cording from the lights.

Tate, our theatrical boy, well, his presentation was all splash and pizzazz (jazz hands may have been involved.) He danced to Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic as he worked, twisting and jiving all the while.  He flung crimson beads with gleeful abandon into the tree, preferring a vertical configuration to the more traditional horizontal swag. There they remain, dripping and pooling to the floor like a flapper’s beaded skirt tossed carelessly to the side after a long night at a speakeasy.

While their styles may be polar-opposite, both boys had one thing in common: they were all about that base, ‘bout that base, no treetop… So I had to take it upon myself to bedazzle our evergreen’s upper registers.  Her higher frequencies are arranged in a modest, classical tempo, her rhythm and chords carefully constructed to provide an aesthetically pleasing harmony. But she never takes herself too seriously —  I mean how, could she, when she resembles a Gatsby party-goer the morning after – un-gartered and unraveled and entirely unashamed.

Yes, our tree is a sight. She’s definitely not winning any Southern Living photo shoots, that’s for sure. But she IS winning big time in our boys’ hearts.

After all, we’re building memories here, not designer trees.

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Legends of the Fall and the Alchemy of Football

This weekend was a tough loss. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as invested in a group of players and coaches’ families like I have been with this group. And it’s been three years of continuous wins. Of glorious, riotous, practically-perfect wins. And Friday night hurt. And if it hurt me – a marginal member of a legendary football dynasty — I can’t imagine the pain of the players and coaches. Although I did bear witness to it. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you what I see and know about these boys and their leaders.

For the past two years, from the stands and practice fields, I’ve witnessed this team pour all of everything they have into the game, purifying their sweat and blood and spinning it into gold. And purple. Because these athletes are alchemists. They have transformed common elements of a typical Friday night under the lights into the stuff of legend. They are legend.

And I’m not talking individual legend – though we have that too. We have region and state and national legends among this team. But, no, I’m talking legends of discipline and legends of character. I’m talking quality of soul and purity of heart. They are good fellows, the whole lot.

They own and are the stuff of legends. And victory was theirs. For so many seasons

And then, last night, it all ended in seconds. And in silence.

And the loss was so sudden and so heavy and so hard.

And what I saw after, in the belly of a field house they’ve called home half a year every year for their high school careers – a field house witness to half-time harangues, post-game heroes, and now postseason heartache – was the purest pain I’ve ever borne witness to. Players wrapping themselves up in the arms of their football family for strength and support. Searching for a way to handle the hurt. To shoulder the hurt. To weather the hurt. Padded shoulder pressed to padded shoulder, coaches patting heads and rocking giant bodies while whispering words of comfort and wisdom… and love.

This team knows love. The fans love them. The community loves them. And we are all hurting with them.  But those coaches have a different love for their players — a love unfathomable to those of us who have never played the sport. But I see glimpses of it from the practice field and the sidelines and the field house. I see its power. I see how it builds confidence and character and futures.

Yes, these boys know love. And they know disciple and determination and how to win big. And now they know how to lose big.

And I know this loss – with its devastating, season-ending sting, a sting they will always feel somewhere deep in the marrow of their being –  will prove valuable to these players and their coaches alike.

Because football is truly an alchemist’s sport. And it gives players the skills to transform baser matters into gold – and this loss, this harshest of base matters, is their biggest challenge yet. But they have what it takes to sift and sort through the pain and then forge ahead into the brightest of bright, golden futures. They have the stuff. The stuff of legends.

Your fans are in awe of you, Hurricanes. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for showing us how you spin sweat, blood, and tears into purple and gold.

*Huge photo creds to Cathy Sharpe, Cartersville Purple Hurricanes sideline photographer for capturing this beautiful cover shot.

Friends & Family & Hay Bales

This time of year, three of my favorite things — football, teaching, and family – all make my world spin at dizzying speeds. And while I try valiantly to juggle all three, there are just some days – and weeks – where things get out of balance, and I must regroup. This was one of those weeks.

To calm the chaos, I found comfort and joy in a couple of shaggy-haired boys with sheepish grins, a movie mystery with really, good friends, and hay bales.

I’ll start with the hay bales. Yes, hay bales. They make me happy. They’re so simple. They’re so round. They’re so simply and perfectly round. And they smell so good. Like sunshine and fresh air. And they send tiny little flecks of their sunshine-smell up into the actual air, where they dance around in the actual sunlight like flying little flickering fairies of dusty hope. I love them. They make me sneeze, but oh, how I love them — big, round, sneezy blessings of promise and hope.

This time of year, the landscape is trimmed with their texture– giant swells of them collect in the fields of my hometown like nub on sweaters, or they nudge up to the fence lines in scalloped hedgerows.

I get this calm in my soul when I see them. I can be totally caught up in the chaos of my day – the football frenzy and the toddler tornadoes and the holiday plans still not set – but when I pass by these laid-back haystacks I feel… better. It’s hard to explain.

In a world full of jagged edges and complexity, sometimes it’s just nice to see roundness and simplicity. They are gentle reminders that the storms of today will mellow into the golden grains of tomorrow. All shall be well. But they are also gentle reminders that time marches on and seasons change, and we should embrace the present, no matter the chaos that swirls around it.

I passed hay bale after serene hay bale on the way to the movies yesterday for the opening weekend of Murder on the Orient Express. I am an absolute sucker for some Dame Agatha and her mustachioed-marvel, Hercule Poirot (second only to Sherlock Holmes in my whodunit hero worship).

The movie was breathtakingly beautiful, with sweeping vistas of Balkan mountain ranges and Edwardian opulence. And Poirot and his little grey cells never disappoint. But it was the time spent with my besties that made it perfection.

If I love hay bales for their simplicity, I love detective movies for their ability to deconstruct complexity — to unravel chaos and lay it out in a seamless, satisfying denouement. Now I know the world isn’t so easily solved. I know that dangers and sickness and sorrow exist (my two besties have battled their fair share in the past year), and there’s not much that can be done to dismantle the darkness and wipe it all clean. But mystery movies with best friends certainly help sideline the darkness for a bit, and oh, how I love the distraction — big, surround-sound distraction with true-blue friends.

And then there’s my shaggy-haired rapscallions with sheepish grins — their hair a mixture of hay straw and loam, their faces a mixture of shimmer and shenanigans. They leave riptides of Legos and crushed Cheetos in their wake. But even through all the bruised heels and stained carpets, they bring me such joy — such breathtaking, heart-splitting joy. Today they’ve both cuddled me and clobbered me on more than one occasion. But oh, how I love them so! From the minute they were conceived — tiny little round he-bales of embryonic perfection – they’ve complicated everything. And they’ve simplified everything.

They add chaos to my world, and calm to my soul.

Yes, this week, the world has spun in super-duper, frenetically-fast fashion. There’ve been playoffs and family gatherings and end-of-course exams to plan for and prep. And I love it all. I really, really do. But I also feel jittery and disjointed at times. And that‘s where my friends and family and hay bales come in. They bring comfort and joy from the Heart Land.

comfortandjoy

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Ball of the Year: a Postseason Sing-Along

championshipprayer

It’s the most wonderful ball of the  year

With the brackets all forming

And top-seeds all donning their jerseys and gear

It’s the most wonderful ball of the year

 

It’s the most treacherous postseason ball

Proven dynasties going, some underdogs showing

With some bound to fall

It’s the most treacherous postseason ball

 

They’ll be one seeds for hosting

And die-hard fans boasting

And painted torsos for the teams

You’ll see hurry-up offenses,

stout, hard-nosed defenses,

coaching staff powerhouse schemes

 

It’s the most wonderful ball of the year

With those shotgun formations and smash mouth foundations

And Winners-Take-All

It’s the most wonderful ball of the year

 

There’ll be uprights for splitting

And ‘backers for hitting

and running backs rarin’ to go

There’ll be scary near-misses

And tales of the blitzes of

Quarterbacks taking a blow

 

It’s the battle to clench #1 time of year

There’ll be much missile-throwing

And scoreboards all glowing when trophies are near

It’s the battle toclench #1 time of year

 

There’ll be offense aggression

With deep penetration

From the gunslinger’s merciless blow

There’ll be defensive glories

And big tales and stories

Of championships seized from the foe!

 

It’s the most wonderful ball

Yes, the most wonderful ball

It’s the most wonderful ball of the year!

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are all tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are all tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but damn, it was so much more! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me every time: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love. But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction leaving them to care for younger siblings. We’re talking kids, here — mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree. It’s an impossible task. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used. And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

Pogonophobia: When you’re Allergic to Warm and Fuzzy

I have pogonophobia — the persistent, irrational fear of facial hair.  It is far from unwarranted, however, as you shall soon see…

The propensity of beards these days makes my skin cringe and my teeth crawl. Solid visual, and no lie.  It’s a systemic thing, beginning in the marrow of my memory board and sending out shock waves of revulsion to every fiber-optic channel of my being. My belly flips, my spine convulses, my shoulders pinch inward, and my lip curls upward. It’s a reflex — less gag and more fight-or-flight – and I don’t know that I’ll ever overcome it.

But through the years I’ve learned to control my freak-outs over facial hair with deep-breathing and soul-searching. — soul-searching of the men who wear them, not my own.

These days, many men see them as the ultimate form of manliness. For me, though, beards are the ultimate symbol of oppression — of misogyny at its highest order.

You see, I was raised surrounded by men with masterfully maintained beards, charcoal gray suits, and ties locked in place with gold bars. They wore their beards as mantels of old testament stewardship over me and all the other women in our fold. They were unshaven shepherds, and I was supposed to be a sheep – or at least a docile damsel, wallowing in gender apathy and waiting on a bearded knight in antiquated authority and dogma to lord over me.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

But lots of bearded bullying occurred. I remember one occasion in particular. There was a massive, dark study, a heavy oak desk, and many, many elders with dark, perfectly-trimmed facial hair. I don’t remember how many men. I know at least four. I also don’t recall the conversation. I deliberately locked myself up tight inside my chest wall — MY chest wall — no Adam’s rib to be found. These men had no right to spelunk around in my soul.

I do remember a phrase that echoed round and round that dimly lit, cavernous office… “We want change, not conformity.”

They would get neither.

I was supposed to be weak. And willing.

I was neither.

Back me into a corner and I become quite stubborn. That has never changed.

“Nevertheless she persisted” became my favorite rally cry from this past year. Why? Because that has been my philosophy for a long, long time.

Those men in their power suits and power beards tried in vain to squash my will. God may have given man freewill, but apparently that freewill did not extend to women. Not according to that bearded patriarchy.

Nevertheless, I persisted… and eventually broke free of their mutton-chopped mandates. And I will continue to persist. To rage against the wrongs still perpetuated toward my sex to this day.

No, I am not a fan of beards.

I am, however, a fan of many men who wear them. Like I explained before, I search the soul before dissing a beard-wearer. I may judge books by their cover, but I do crack them open and see if I’m wrong before writing them off completely. And I have found some very solid souls under bristly chins. I know several coaches who are mighty fine people. I know former students – some of my all-time favorites– who now wear whiskers. I’m not so irrational that I hate the fuzz AND the fellow. That fuzz tho…

Yes, beards are currently everywhere I turn: hipsters grow them as art forms, athletes as playoff totems, and celebrities as eye-catching photo ops. Even months are getting in on the action, with November dedicating its entirety to healthy beard cultivation.

So to all you beard-wearing boys of the world, I apologize for my visceral revulsion. I know that often times, you wear them simply because they are fun and antidisestablishmentarian. I know it’s often for the exact opposite of the oppression and hate for which I associate them. I know my fear is stupid. I know it is. But I just can’t quite get past it. It was a fear instilled long, long ago.

I just can’t become a fan.

 

 

It’s Rape, Not Romance: Legends of the Fall

I love the dark as pitch morning skies of autumn. Some can’t wait for daylight savings. Me, not so much. I love the cool, velvet air settling over my skin as I walk the boys out to their Daddy’s truck and load them up for day care. On the way back to the house, I glance up at the sky and find the dotted outline of the highly visible and celebrated constellation of the mythical hunter Orion striding confidently in the darkness.

I used to love me some Orion, beginning with a next-door neighbor crush long, long ago. This neighbor was the most golden of mortals with sun-kissed hair and stardust eyes. He drove a gold Trans Am and wore royal purple under the Friday night lights. Football or female, he caught nearly any prey he pursued. He was the stuff of legends, and his middle name was Orion.

From there, my fascination with Orion’s mythology grew, despite the numerous slanderous stories against him. His lore is peppered with sexual assault and harassment – from the violation of a vulnerable young princess to the rape of a chaste goddess and hunting partner. Still, I chose to focus on the legends that cast him in a kinder light, a star-crossed-lover light. He and Artemis were in love and her twin brother, Apollo, was jealous. The sex was consensual and her brother tricked her into killing Orion with a little target practice from a tremendous distance.

I chose the stories of romance over the stories of rape.

Enter Harvey Weinstein. The stuff of legends. A highly visible and mythical hunter striding confidently in the darkness amidst the stars of Hollywood.  Apparently, the rumors have been swirling around him for year. Rumors of sexual misconduct and worse. But he was big. He was powerful. He could make wannabes into stars.

Over the past few weeks, horrific accounts from young ingenues and established actors alike have been tumbling out of painful places and into the light: white bathrobes and expensive hotels; egregious propositions and loathsome acts; massages and masturbation and molestation and rape. All under the guise of normalcy.

It’s a tale as old as time, this raw abuse of power wielded over extreme vulnerability. And sadly, the victims are abused first by the aggressor and then by society. The two conspire to silence or ignore or brush aside the allegations, so the mighty hunter might continue to shine and seek new prey.

Society chooses romance over rape. Everybody loves it when a star is born. Nobody wants to know what happened behind the breakthrough. Nobody wants to know the dark bits behind the glitter and gold.

Think of all the powerful hunters in the past who’ve had allegations of sexual violations come to light, yet somehow remained the victor, starting with the leader of the most powerful nation in the world: Donald Trump. Society HEARD him brag about assaulting women, yet he was STILL elected president. All that glitters is definitely not gold there. It’s orange. And rotten to the core. But celebrated, nonetheless.

And there are so many others who have been accused — some still celebrated, others not so much — but all remain out of prison: Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Ben Roethlisberger. Roman Polanski. R. Kelly.

Harvey Weinstein is merely the latest of many high and mighty hunters. He should not get away with his crimes. None of them should. But if society doesn’t change its ways, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Yes, his name is mud. Yes, he’s been removed from the Academy. Woody Allen is still a member. So is Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby, for that matter… so maybe we’re finally taking a step in the right direction. But something tells me he’s just a sacrificial lamb. He’s being thrown out in disgrace so others might remain to hunt their prey in the glittering darkness of Hollywood desire.

Weinstein’s behavior was extreme, to be sure, but the #metoo social media firestorm has uncovered just how endemic sexual harassment and assault truly is. We all know those 1 in 4 numbers. But those numbers don’t include harassment. Add that to the mix, and the numbers run closer to 100 percent. That’s ridiculous. That’s bullshit. That’s patriarchy at its most vile.

Me? #MeToo. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been manhandled. I’ve said no. That no was ignored. I never considered it rape because we were romantically involved. I was taught to believe it’s only rape if it’s a stranger. It’s only rape if it hurts you physically. It’s only rape if it’s violent and vicious and you’re terrified for your life.

And yes, that is most definitely rape. But so is sex without consent. Period. That’s what I’ve read and heard. That’s what I know in my heart of hearts is true.

But even though I know that, sometimes I feel like maybe I’m just twisting things up. He was just drunk. And strong. And persistent. And sloppy. And on top of me. And I couldn’t get him off me.

But remember, I was taught its only rape if it’s violent and vicious and you’re terrified for your life. And while I was terrified, I never thought I might die. And I thought, this is normal. This sort of thing happens. I chose romance over rape.

In some lore, Orion was killed by a scorpion’s sting. And up there, in the night sky, he is constantly pursued by Scorpius. He can never rest, as Scorpius is forever on his trail and ready to strike again.

Those women (close to fifty and counting) violated by Weinstein, I see them all as scorpions. And they’ve caught that motherfucking predator. And every deadly sting is one more nail in his coffin.

No, not every story is romantic and not every superstar should be celebrated. Some should crash to the earth with a momentous and terrible force.

Fall, Harvey, fall.  And as for you, Orion, go join him in Hades.

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