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.
I believe parenting and teaching are the two hardest jobs in the world. And when you happen to do both, the hardness is compounded. Because you want so much for your kids. All of them.
I want to see my physician daughter, who has spent the past 17 of her 35 years learning each cell in the human body and how cancer attacks it, and then learning every conceivable way to excise and eradicate that cancer — I want to see her accepted as the exceptional surgeon she is, accomplished and pedigreed and equal to any male physician she meets in the OR or on the interview trail. I’m ready to see her heal her patients of the most pernicious of cancers while shattering glass ceilings in the most prestigious of institutions. She’s in an uphill battle, but she is a capable and tireless fighter. She’s got this.
And I want to see my second born — my hard-headed, hard-loving daughter with a work ethic and people skills that absolutely can’t be taught — I want her to keep embracing her destiny and side-stepping the naysayers. She has worked her way from sandwich maker to grocery teller to medical receptionist to dental office manager. College is not for everyone and she proves every day that a sharp mind, heaping helping of initiative, and an open heart are the key ingredients for a successful life, not some framed piece of paper from a university. I want her to know how proud of her I am, and I want the world to know how amazing and brilliant she is.
I want my eldest second-grade twin — the one with amber hair and almond eyes who wants to play quarterback, but is built like a D-lineman; who worries about his intelligence because of a score on some blasted gifted criteria test, but reads chapter books and spouts Titanic facts like a documentary — I want him to understand that he is smart and tender and tough and totally and always enough. (Oh, and that defense wins championships.) I want him to know he has a heartbreaking smile, an intuitive kindness, and a sarcastic wit that cannot be bought, but sure can win folks over. And I want him to know there’s nothing he can’t accomplish if he sets his heart and mind to it.
And I want my youngest twin, the one who worries about who he is and what he loves because society is so eager to judge him for it – I want him to know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made according to God’s pattern. And by golly, the pattern God cut for him is on a bright, bold, beautiful cloth. This kid loves long, curly hair, turquoise sequins, sassy mermaids, and ballet, tap, and jazz. And all those things are not, nor have ever, been wrong. And if anybody says otherwise, then they are the ones who are wrong. He shines in every way possible – mind, body, soul, AND clothing. His future is as bright as the sequins and glitter he embraces. And Satan, if you have anything to say about it by loading the mouths of minions with ridicule– STEP ASIDE. We don’t need you or your lies in our lives.
And I want the 165 students I teach to likewise be loved and appreciated for who they are and the potential they hold. All of them, of course, but especially my marginalized students – the ones who have so few supporters in their corners. And there are so many of them – marginalized students and corners they’re crammed into. So many who are judged and bullied and ostracized and hated even, all because they look different or think differently or sing different tunes than everyone else. To these children I say – you be you. And I will love you and accept you and celebrate you and stand with you and fight for you. You have an advocate in me. Because red, yellow, black, white or rainbow-colored, you are all precious in my sight. And in God’s.
What I ultimately want for all my children is to accept and see, not reject and judge. God has granted all of us gifts and all of us grace — and we need to use and embrace our gifts and model and share His grace. It’s that simple.
I’ve done a lot of things later than other people. Went back to school at 32. Began teaching at 35. Had twin boys at 48. Finished my first novel at 55.
Some people say age is just a number. Some people call me crazy. I would agree with ALL those people. Age is just a number and I think I’m insane.
There’s a reason folks have kids when they’re in their 20s and 30s. Kids run you ragged (and in your earlier decades you have more energy to run before you find yourself ragged).
Our family is currently in the raggedy-ass stage. From football to basketball to soccer and theater and dance… we’re coming undone.
And then there’s that teaching gig I have.
Because there’s also a reason teachers retire at 52. Students. So. Many. Students. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I really, really do. But finding grace and patience for 160-plus 18-year-olds shuffling their way through senioritis in the last semester of the school year is almost more than a body can take.
Thank God Spring Break is arriving soon.
And then there’s that writing gig I have. If you can call it a gig. It’s more of a goal. A long shot. But I’m the queen of long shots. Everything I do is a Hail Mary.
I shoot for the moon. I go long. I have twin babies at 48. I finish writing books I began 20 years earlier at 55.
When I say I go long, I’m not kidding. My days begin at 5:30 AM and nearly every single second of every single one of them is devoted to tending twins and teaching students and doing laundry and cooking dinners and grading essays and loving the most wonderful and supportive husband this world could possibly comprehend. He keeps me sane.
He keeps me sane so I can then go edit my story in the small spaces in between the chaos. The smallest margins imaginable. But then, that’s where Hail Marys thrive. In the impossible spaces. The thinnest of margins.
Where my nerves and energy and patience live too.
But then, so do the miracles. That’s where they’ve been made manifest — in the impossible margins. Fueled by love and faith. So much love and faith.
Like this book of mine. All 400 pages of it. Made in the spaces between. The spaces I’m still using to whittle it down to perfection so its ready for an agent and the world. Ready to toss it out there into infinity.
I’m going long. May it find a place to land inside those thin, impossible – oh so possible! – margins. Because I may be insane, but I’m also blessed. With miracles.
We’re pencil nubs. Burned-out candles. Overdrawn bank accounts.
We’re teachers… with nigh-on nothing left to give. Out of ideas, resources, energy… everything.
Without those, we can no longer engage or awaken — and without engagement, without awakenings, we can no longer educate and inspire.
Our effectiveness is gone. And we don’t know why… although we have our suspicions.
Is the pandemic to blame — with its ensuing lethargy? Or the parents and their increasing laxity? Or the powers-that-be and their never-ending lists of demands and all-consuming blame?
So many obstacles are stacked against us and our backs are against the wall.
And we’re tired.
Tired of juggling classes and assignments and grading and meetings and all the rest of all the things. Tired of doing our jobs and then our colleagues jobs, too, because there aren’t enough subs. Because teachers are sick — or their kids are sick. Or they’re sick to exhaustion and need more than a single night’s sleep to recover.
We aren’t recovering.
We’re doing too much and carrying too much and caring too much.
Because that’s what we do. We care. We’re empaths. It’s the nature of our job.
We feel for our students. We ache for our students, who also are suffering under the weight of all the things. Pandemic and parental struggles. Poverty and violence and loss. So much more than ever before.
And so our students aren’t keeping up — not with assignments or attendance or… anything. And it falls on us to keep up with it all. And it’s impossible.
But we try. We keep smiling. And doing. Carving out kindnesses from our very souls because all the other cupboards are bare… scraping our hearts and sharing the scraps with our depleted, dejected students.
We fake it, trying to make it. But at some point — and soon — nothing will be made… no progress; no achievement; no benchmark of understanding. No eye contact, even.
We already aren’t seen by anyone. Not the students. Not the parents. Not by the public or the politicians. We’re heaped under the avalanche of everyone else’s agendas and told to stay strong.
Stay? That ship sailed a long, long time ago.
So I guess we stay… what? Weak? Exhausted? Underwater. Under-seen. Undervalued. Under pressure.
The pressures of trickledown education.
Where we’re crumbling beneath the weight of doing it all, but are we accomplishing anything?
It doesn’t feel like it.
And something’s gotta give.
And it can’t just keep being us. We’re “give” out.
My Advance Comp students have been writing counter-narrative poems this week — poems about how they are so much more than what people judge them and stereotype them as. I wrote one right along with them — one that if you know me, you know I feel quite passionate about…
“I Am not JUST a Woman”
I do have all the girl parts and love to play the girl parts – fix my hair, wear my makeup, get dressed up to go out on the weekends,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I do know my way around a kitchen, and I love to don my apron and bake up batch after batch of cookies,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I do love my children, and being pregnant were some of the most fulfilling and awe-inspiring times of my life,
and I do love to kick off my shoes go barefoot through the clover and feel the chill of the hardwood floors on the soles of my feet,
but I am not JUST a woman.
I do get emotional sometimes. I cry at Publix commercials and when the guy gets the girl at the end of the film, and at some point (or twelve) in the classroom when I’m proud;
I get hormonal and hangry and chocolate and ice cream are my favorite go-to craving cures,
But I am not JUST a woman.
I might struggle to bench (just-barely) the bar; I might lose at arm-wrestling matches 10 out of 10 times, but don’t mistake me for weak and don’t mistake me for soft and don’t call me pushover and lady-part names.
I am not JUST a woman (and those parts are fiercer and stronger and more pain-tolerant and flexible than any part the opposing team has EVER possessed.)
I may be quiet, not speak very loud. I may be shy and not look you too long in the eyes. I may take care with just how I interact,
But I say what I mean and I mean what I say; I have opinions and a voice and I give both the light of day. I fight for my rights and for others each day, especially the ones whose lives get foul play.
I am not JUST a woman.
I’m a baker and scholar, a nurturer and warrior, outspoken and introverted, emotional and rational, I’m female and fierce.
I drive a minivan. And my kids crazy. The ones at home and the ones in my classroom.
I am quirky and classic, passionate and calm, powerful and tender, tough and tired.
I’m tired of seeing people labeled and dismissed for their skin and their clothes and their gender and their build and their address and their hair, their sexuality, their politics, their country of origin, their faith.
II am a human and a humanitarian.
I am so much more than the sum of my parts, and I am so much more than JUST a woman.
On Friday, I was struggling. I felt underwater. I felt frazzled. I was faking it till I could make it – like all teachers do sometimes. It’s the hardest tool of the skills set you need for the job.
And on Friday, I felt like I’d compartmentalized myself down to the point of fragmented, ineffectual bits.
And then these three beloved fellows stopped by during my lunch break. And they gave me bear hugs. And they told me about their lives. Their classes. Their girlfriends. Their dorm rooms and apartments. Their families. Their teammates. Their healing injuries.
And along the way, they healed my own injured self. The self that gets lost in the creases and cuts that all the compartmentalizing I do has incurred.
And they didn’t know it, but their smiles and their stories unfolded all the creases, and their huge hugs were a salve to all the cuts.
They helped me remember why I love my job and role as teacher and coach’s wife.
They helped me remember why I pour love and feed hearts (and bodies when I bake up their treats). All that love is never for naught.
It comes back to you. Three-fold. (And ten-fold and a hundred-fold and more.) Like when one of the guys who swept in on Friday to brighten my day, also came by for our boys’ basketball game to give THEM an extra lift too…
(I just wish I’d gotten a picture of the other guys on Friday, but these from this past fall will have to do.)
These pictures? These faces? These smiles? Our family is extended and varied and vast. And THIS is what makes teaching and the football life so wonderful.
Both my boys have long hair. One of them prefers things society has deemed “girl stuff.” Dance class, mermaids, colors like turquoise and pink.
And our boys aren’t ones to sit back and take it in stride when someone tells them they’re wrong. And believe you me, sometimes I wish they would because sometimes — okay, often — they’re wrong. And they’re definitely guilty of their fair share of sins, but long hair and pink preferences are not among them.
It seems recently a little girl at school has been telling them, “Boys can’t have long hair and boys can’t like girl things. It’s a sin. It’s in the bible.”
You know where she’s getting that — and it ain’t from the bible. Seems to me the only “sinners” here are the parents and preachers in the pulpits, arming young children with sharp, hateful stones to cast.
The boys have handled it well. Parker simply points out that “Jesus has long hair.”
To which this girl retorts, “No, he doesn’t. Jesus is a rule follower. He would never have long hair.”
Hmmm. Rule follower, eh? That one is open for interpretation — as are all these notions, I guess. Still… pretty sure the ultra-conservative view of what is Christ-like and what’s not (and what’s in the Bible and what’s not) seems skewed to fit a very narrow definition. And last I heard, Christ’s Love does anything but.
And then there’s the matter of Tate and his “girl” preferences. What does that even mean? Who says dance class and mermaids are only acceptable for the females of society?
“I like what I like,” Tate defends.
“Good for you,” I say. It’s all just fun and games anyway… until somebody gets hurt.
Why should anybody get hurt? Toys should be toys. Not tools to separate and defame.
The boys are growing up (fast!) and for the first time, we’re including a chapter book on our list of snuggle-up, read-aloud Christmas books. It’s only been recently published, but it’s already a family favorite.
But first, the annual tried and trues:
If you love Christmas trees and love stories — especially the larger-than-life trees and love stories that come with Rockefeller Center during Yuletide, you’ll love Red and Lulu. It’s the picture book equivalent of a Hallmark movie, but with birds. And not just any birds — Cardinals, the most festive and Christmas-y birds of all.
The illustrations are as beautiful as the storyline. Red and Lulu live their best lives in a big, beautiful evergreen… until one day, when the tree is loaded up and transported to NYC, with Lulu still inside its branches. And so begins Red’s quest to find and reunite with his one true love.
The first time we read this book, I thought it was all sentimental fluff and stuff. The second time, though, it won me over. This story matters. When you have twin boys, accidents happen (hopefully not to cherished ornaments, but still).
In this cautionary tale, young Jack wants more and more and more festive decorations to attract Santa’s attention. But when he breaks an ornament he’s not supposed to touch — an ornament passed down from his mother’s grandmother — he learns that Christmas magic can’t mend everything, but it can definitely point you in the right direction.
Like I mentioned before, we’ve added our first chapter book to our family’s Christmas book tradition. We’ve been reading quite a few since January: three Harry Potters and the first four Chronicles of Narnia. (Side note, those Chronicles are getting a bit — dare I say it? — weak and boring. Not quite sure why they’re so highly recommended…)
But we are LOVING The Christmas Pig!! We bought a physical copy as well as an Audible download, so we’re listening AND reading along. (By the way, the Audible version comes with sound effects — a BIG PLUS in Parker’s opinion.)
The Christmas Pig features yet another Christmas quest — this one to find and rescue (yet another) Jack’s most-loved stuffed pig from the Land of the Lost and the soul-crushing monster known as Loser. Jack’s new “replacement pig” plays the part of his guide through this dark underworld.
Part Velveteen Rabbit, part Dante’s Inferno, this book is both simple and complex, and the young and old alike will enjoy it. Do yourself a favor and buy it AND the Audible version and enjoy some quality snuggles with your little ones every night between now and Christmas.
My dad died one year ago tonight. Every morning this month I’ve said things like…In two weeks, he wouldn’t be here anymore…. In 9 days, he would be gone….In one week exactly, he would leave this earth.
And now… In the next few minutes, he would fall to the floor in his basement, all alone, and wait for us to find him.
It’s surreal. And awful.
And my heart is broken. Everyday, it splinters more. Pieces spill like flint — hard, dry, bitter pieces that skitter and scrape across the hard ground. Everything’s harder now.
I miss him so much.
I miss his mineral blue eyes, clear as heaven at high noon. Eyes that twinkled when he told a story — and he was always telling a story. So I guess they were always twinkling. They twinkled extra hard when he laughed.
I miss that laugh— a unique, slow, sort-of-horsey “hyuh, hyuh, hyuh” found at the tail end of a joke. Usually his own. Jokes only some of us ever got. Not a lot of us. Mainly just the physics fellas in our family. (Although honestly, we have three physics fellas in our family, which probably constitutes a lot in the grand scheme of things.)
But now there’s one less. And he was the youngest of the bunch. The end of an era.
And now, at the end of this full year of him being gone, I’m missing him more than ever. And my body is physically sick from the grief. It’s rebelling. No way it’s already been a year. I haven’t had enough time to wrap my brain around this loss yet.
Time should’ve stopped. The world should’ve paid more attention. Stopped spinning. Quaked or something. Been picked up as far south as his namesake geophysics observatory down in Australia
When Randall Douglas Peters fell, the seismograph in his basement should’ve noted the magnitude of loss. Registered it on his data like it registered in my body.
Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite of all the holidays. I know the kids like Halloween and Christmas best. When you’re a kid nothing competes with candy and presents… but once we’ve outgrown our greedy seasons of childhood, we come to favor the holidays that focus on blessings and family. And for me, the one that takes the cake (or pie, I should say because… oh, the PIES that come with this one) is Thanksgiving.
But the cupboards are pretty bare when it comes to the family reading fodder.
It’s hard to find picture books devoted to Thanksgiving. So I had to include books that deal with fall weather, too. Which is okay, I guess, because fall weather is football weather, and that underscores yet another reason why this is my favorite holiday. If our blessings are abundant, each year our family is week-three deep in the playoffs. (Here’s hoping we’ll be counting that blessing this year!)
So this list begins with a book called Football with Dad. We received a copy as a gift a few years back by my dear friend and fellow coach’s wife, Kim.
It’s a Little Golden Book — so it wafts nostalgia the minute you crack the gilded cover. The storyline is exactly what you’d expect — a game of pickup football with a dad and his son, along with a few neighborhood kids (girls included — YAY). It celebrates family and tradition and football fundamentals, and we love it in our house. (Of course we do.)
Next up, is the childhood classic, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day. This is a great one to read the day before Thanksgiving, as it is set on a “Windsday.” Piglet and Pooh and all our Hundred-Acre friends are here — including the first appearance of everybody’s favorite bouncy, trouncy, spring-filled character, Tigger. The story involves coming together to celebrate — and even sacrifice for –our friends. What better story to read the day before Thanksgiving? You can find it in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh (which is what we have) or in a smaller book all its own.
There are two more books that focus on blustery days included in this list. The next up is also a Disney-sponsored picture book — one my mom gave the boys a couple years back. It’s Bruce’s Big Storm, and once again, there’s a bear and a storm, plus more gathering and celebrating and sacrifice. But this time the bear is an introvert surrounded by neighbors bound and determined to adopt him as their “den leader” (much to his [dis]pleasure.) As a fellow introvert, Bruce and I are kindred spirits. Sometimes in big get-togethers, I sit off in a corner and just absorb. It doesn’t mean I’m not having a great time; it just means I have to experience the shenanigans on my own terms. Just like Bruce.
Speaking of feeling overwhelmed (which we were, in case that wasn’t clear), Sweep, by Louise Greig, is a great book to read when you have kiddos struggling to learn to control BIG emotions inside little bodies. The entire book revolves around an onslaught of leaves, collecting and swallowing everything in its path. This becomes a clear metaphor (even for little kids to pick up on) about how a bad mood can seize control of us until we become buried alive under our dark, moldy thoughts. But this book reminds us to look up. To rise above our collection of negative thoughts and remember the beauty and love around us. It’s powerful for both Greig’s message and for the stunning illustrations provided by Julia Sarda.
Now if you love poetry like I love poetry, In November, by Cynthia Rylant, is the book for you to read out loud every single night to your littles. While not technically a book of poetry, the language is chockful of lyrical imagery that lights up your soul with all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of all the types of gathering, from harvests, to winter coats, to hibernation hovels, to logs for the fire, to spices for the pies, to generations of families. It’s all packed tight-to-bursting with beauty. Do yourself and your kiddos a favor and get this one.
And finally comes the Thanksgiving addition that we discovered just last year. Thanksgiving in the Woods, by Phyllis Alsdurf is also full of sensory details, traditions, and multi-generational gatherings. Only this time the scene is an outdoor gathering. It’s as if Emerson and Thoreau begat a little children’s book full of the magic and wonder of the woods. It even includes lines from a song the boys and I would sing and sway to at bedtime when they were babies — a Shaker hymn called “Simple Gifts.”
And honestly, isn’t that what Thanksgiving should be all about? Celebrating the simple blessings we so often take for granted?
And for us, a simple gift that holds a special place in our hearts is reading as a family every night. We’ve done it since the boys were first-hatched and we’ll carry on as long as we possibly can — till they fly the nest if they let us.