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 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.
…The fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out – and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling. — Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel’s haunting memoir Night holds a dire warning for us all, particularly in this time of increased nationalism and white supremacist tendencies.
In this time when children are being separated from their parents (shoelaces removed from tiny feet lest they contemplate suicide).
In this time when children are being held political hostage for selfish gain.
In this time when the nation is being separated by “us and them” (and I’m talking political parties here, not “legal” and “illegal” adjectives).
In this time where so many of us are still smiling – cheering even – at the fascist tendencies of this administration.
This morning I saw a South Texas minister, who when asked what he thought about the situation, stated: “I have to put my faith in the government because they are ministers of God’s righteousness.”
Not gonna lie, I threw up a little bit in my mouth. The gore rose. And so did the anger. Because, good golly, this is NOT what Jesus would do.
He would NEVER allow little children to suffer. Never. When he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” He did NOT condone their suffering. That’s simply not what that verse means.
And when He said, “Whatever you do for the least of these you do unto me,” he rebuked callousness and bullying and condoned compassion and charity. I have no doubt in my mind that crating innocent children inside holding facilities away from their parents is NOT what Jesus would do.
And when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples,” He showed His followers how to live faithfully and righteously. Juxtapose that last commandment with the minister’s statement – “I have to have faith in the government because they are ministers of God’s righteousness.” Ugh. This is NOT what Jesus would do!
And then, there’s this piece of scripture– famously known for being the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
This verse – along with so many others – shows us Jesus’s compassion and sorrow. He empathized with humanity. That’s what makes His story, our story. “For God so LOVED the world that he gave his only begotten son…” And because of LOVE that son was willing to sacrifice himself for all of us. Because of LOVE.
Jesus wept in the Gospel of John, and I have no doubt that that is what Jesus would do NOW.
Because Jesus loves us ALL — Red and Yellow, Black and White — we are all precious in his sight. Even the immigrants on our border states.
The followers of Christ are meant to live as Christlike as humanly possible. To live according to His laws. To love according to His teachings. To try to always do what Jesus would do. And this zero tolerance policy is NOT what Jesus would do.
Where is the compassion of Christ when border patrol seizes babies and jokes that their wails are “a chorus” without “a conductor?” Where is the compassion of Christ here?
Where is the compassion of Christ when we see a president – a president who can stop this sorrow in an instant with a single phone call – blame past administrations for the heinous policy that he and Jeff Sessions whipped up in April? (Quit the blame game and FIX the suffering.) Where is the compassion of Christ here?
Perhaps one of the most horrific and blasphemous quotes I have seen to date– one that is the antithesis of the compassion of Christ – the antithesis of what Jesus would do — involved a webcast evangelist who proclaimed these immigrants “unclean.”
Unclean– a word reserved in the Old Testament for people and things deemed unsuitable for worshipping God: imperfect sacrifices; women after childbirth (and the babies too) and during menstruation; lepers; animals with cloven hooves or bottom feeders.
Note that it is an Old Testament term and presumably obsolete once Christ came on the scene… as is evidenced by Peter the disciple in the New Testament Book of Acts.
Peter recognized that Jesus wanted no man called unclean, and Peter particularly referenced the Gentiles. And guess what? The vast amount of individuals in this United States are considered Gentiles because technically anyone not Jewish is a Gentile. So Christ gave Gentiles grace.
But we Gentiles are not showing grace in return.
We are locking up immigrants on our Southern border as if they are unclean. As if they are lepers; bottom feeders; cloven-hooved devils. Unclean and unfit for sacrifice. But sacrifice they have become – on the idolatrous altar of nationalism.
Jesus accepts all – Jew and Gentile alike. This zero tolerance policy is most definitely NOT what Jesus would do.
And then today I learned a new term –Tender Age Shelters — shelters designed for babies and toddlers.
Shelters designed for children my sons’ ages (and younger). The age where they won’t let me out of their sight for me to go pee or fold the laundry. The age where if they don’t know where I am, they immediately grow anxious and fearful. The age where I hear cries of “Mama! Mama!” four hundred times a day. The age where if I don’t answer right away, they resort to tears and then hysterics. The age where they follow me around like an umbilical cord is still attached – and honestly, the age where it hasn’t been that long since it actually was.
The age where they fear strangers. They hide from them behind my hips… hips designed to carry them in utero and then out in this universe until they can care for themselves without me. I am their security. I am their sanctuary.
I can’t imagine the panic in their souls if something like this was happening to them. Their hearts would be shattered. And so would their psyches. Experts have stated that this kind of abuse can do irreparable damage to a developing mind and body.
And I can’t imagine the panic inside a parent’s soul to face a choice like they have faced. To stay in their homeland where there is nothing – nothing but hunger and poverty and crime and violence, a bleak and bitter existence – or to take a calculated risk and seek a better future for their family. I just can’t imagine such a choice.
And yes, these parents are making an illegal choice– but it is difficult and darn near impossible to navigate the treacherous red tape of legal entry, and THAT is what we should be focusing on here – instead of breaking apart families and building up walls.
These parents are seeking asylum. Much like those who accept Christ seek asylum in His love. Jesus has an open-door policy. He accepts everyone. And he commands that we do, too. He asks that we show hospitality to strangers who seek asylum, “for some have entertained angels unaware.”
I shudder at the thought of what we have done to these strangers in a strange land.
Angels are agents, attendants, messengers of God. And our message in reply has been heard loud and clear all around the world…
Lord have mercy on our souls — mercy far greater than the mercy we are showing these tender children and their tender parents.
This mama right here finally put these boys right here in Big Boy Beds.
They are only four years and four months old. I feel like we’re ahead of the curve… in some alternate universe. Then again, maybe not.
But don’t judge.
Keeping our twins in cribs this long has been self-preservation. There are two of them, after all, and they didn’t sleep – not truly, madly, deeply SLEEP for anything longer than two hour snatches — until 16 months.
So once they started, there was absolutely positively no way we were switching things up anytime soon. But now I guess, we’re past anytime soon. And now, I guess, it’s time.
But they are temperamental, routine-oriented little buggers. Well one is. Parker is easy-peasy — at least when it comes to his big boy bed. (As is evidenced below…)
But Tatebug… not so much.
As is evidenced by the fact that he was having NONE OF IT when it came time to crawl between the sheets of his new, big boy bed. As in, NONE OF IT.
As in, he wanted his other bed back.
That’s what he said.
Over and over and over again, while sitting crisscross-applesauce half-way in and half-way out his teepee. (Which is ironic, really, because he’s never half-way about anything. He knows exactly what he wants at all times.)
And this boy wanted NONE OF IT. (As is evidenced below…)
Instead, he wanted his beloved star-splattered crib sheet back. The sheet he’d had since infancy. The one where he’d trace those silver and gold and navy and red stars with his pudgy fingers while singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at eighteen months after waking from a full night’s sleep and feeling great because… WHO KNEW a body needed sustained periods of sleep?!? Valuable lessons were learned atop those stars. And he wanted them back!
This new bed has new stars (we had predicted this outrage and tried our best to circumvent it, but we couldn’t find the same colors…) and he was having NONE OF IT.
And he wanted his “soft pillows all around” (bumper pads, people — bumper pads), he wanted those back — the ones that helped cushion his flailing, sleep-tossed body from one wood-slatted side of his crib to the other. And now what was in their place – a wall! Are you kidding? That wall isn’t soft. And where are the sweet-and-sour greasy smudges from all the salty cry-it-out tears and sweaty corkscrew curls, and tiny, slobbering teething fingers?
This bed has none of that. And he was having NONE OF IT.
And he wanted “THAT BALL BLANKET OFF!” (A tasteful and pricey quilt purchased at Pottery Barn Kids when the boys were nine months old for an incredible steal). He wanted it OFF.
Helpful parenting tip here folks… don’t buy your kids their toddler bedding while they’re still babies, no matter how high the discount and how hard the desire. You don’t know what your kids will prefer once they develop a personalities of their own… and they will develop their own personalities. Their own Big personalities. Huge, even. And this boy… he does NOT like all those balls and bats and helmets and pendants. He likes princesses. And mermaids. And princess mermaids.
And this new bed has balls on it. And he was having NONE OF IT.
He did want his mermaid tail.
And his six Disney princesses.
And his two magic wands.
And his toddler-sized Elsa.
And his plush puppy named Spider.
And his plush spider named… I honestly have no idea.
And we accommodated as much as parentally possible. We slid all those princesses and the giant plastic Elsa doll and every other random demand from our pint-sized dictator between his sheets. And then we tried to slide him in there too.
But he wanted NONE OF IT.
So we resorted to bribery.
First, we proffered pink and red starbursts left over from the boys’ fourth birthday party in March — cavities be damned. But they were pink and red petrified bricks, so he wanted NONE OF IT.
And then we proceeded to promise a Target trip in the morning. (Target has recently surpassed elevators as my youngest son’s current fixation. There is a glittering Disney princess parade on aisle fifteen.)
The word “Target” is his new mantra – it sustains him from morning to night. For me, it is a continuous whining Drip. Drip. Drip. — effectively waterboarding this mama’s sanity straight into a shattered abyss.
But I was willing to sacrifice momentary mental health for a good night’s sleep.
But he was having NONE OF IT.
So then we tried the allure of Elsa sheets on the internet… or her snowflakes on the ceiling… or any damn thing he desired… if he would just climb into his mother fucking big boy bed.
But what he really wanted was NONE OF IT.
So finally, we physically put him in the fricking bed with the fricking balls and the fricking sixfold Disney princesses and told him to STAY THERE. And if he didn’t he risked Santa’s naughty list, and his cherished Target trips, and Grandma and Grandpa’s good graces.
And after an hour, he finally whimpered himself to sleep…
…only to awaken three hours later crying for his mama.
So his mama caved. And crawled in bed with him. And Elsa. And his bevy of tiara-clad Barbie dolls. And a puppy named spider and a spider named… who knows? And a couple of hard, plastic wands.
And I slept in the crack between mattress and wall and woke up with a crick in my neck — and a new, sweaty smudge on the wall because the boy wouldn’t let me turn on his ceiling fan. He wanted NONE OF IT.
And we’ll try it all over again tonight.
So wish me luck. And preserved sanity. Because this afternoon we head to Target after nap-time — if he sleeps for two hours with no one else in his bed. Well, no one else but Ariel and Anna and Elsa and Aurora and Mulan and Belle.
And I’m sure a new girl will join him tonight once our quest through Aisle Fifteen is done.
There have been two prominent suicides in the headlines this week – prominent because the names attached to them have been celebrities. The word prominent means important, so the word is problematic to me. Because, yes, their suicides are important – but it’s the lives behind the suicides — and all the others that have occurred this week, this year, this lifetime —that are truly important. And as a society, we have failed them all.
I have never had a Kate Spade bag – indeed, I’ve never spent more than several dozen dollars on my purses. I’m a schoolteacher, after all. I can’t afford that kind of luxury. I’ve been in one of her shops – an outlet shop at that – precisely one time. I really didn’t know that much about her… just about her bags. (Even in an outlet, those bags were way out of my league.)
Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand… I knew him well. Well enough to call him Tony… when I saw him… on TV. Which means, I guess I really didn’t know him at all, despite being a devoted follower. I adored his irreverence, his passion for the “F” word, his bawdy, unshaven charisma. He made me laugh; he made me want to try bone marrow (I will. It will still happen.); and he never made me feel out of his league.
Both these celebrities left young daughters behind. And that fact hit me really hard. Because while they are not as young as the Spade and Bourdain girls, I too have daughters And I love them so incredibly much. So much so that I would face demons and slay dragons if I had to in order to protect them.
But Spade and Bourdain faced dragons they couldn’t slay. They could no longer face their demons. And that tells me that the darkness they felt was way beyond anything I could ever possibly comprehend. And that terrifies me.
Because one of my beautiful daughters struggles with demons of her own.
She struggles with depression. She struggles valiantly. She struggles openly. Nevertheless, she struggles. And despite the national and international dialogue that has recently opened with regard to mental health, a stigma still exists. And so she struggles with stigma, too.
My oldest daughter is a fifth year surgical resident in one of the most competitive, prestigious surgery programs in the nation. She is beautiful. She is bold. She is successful.
She is smart. She is kind. She is important.
And despite all of these things, she is struggling… with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of hopelessness. She feels incapable and unlovable in this harsh, often unforgiving world. Not all the time. But often. And all alone.
And even though I her see brilliance and worth – even though I know how far she is from inadequate and hopeless and incapable and unlovable, I can’t help her see it. Because when she is inside that darkness, when those demons are commanding her mind, she sees nothing else. And that terrifies me.
Being a surgical resident can be isolating and debilitating. These young doctors work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. The schedules, the expectations, the demands that are put upon them are unforgiving
And the stakes are so high. Life and death rest in their hands – literally. Surgery can be debilitating for both patient and surgeon. It can ruin lives and it can end lives — on both sides of the scalpel.
Surgical residents have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Competition within the field isolates individuals. Everyone is jostling for accolades, for fellowships, for attending acknowledgements, and for attending positions.
In no other place in her life has my girl ever felt so very disconnected.
And what makes her situation even more complex is the relationship she has with her occupation. Love-Hate would be an understatement. She loves her job. She feels tremendous pride in her program and her abilities. The operating room is her wheelhouse and her respite. She is cloistered there. Time stops there. Her destiny unfolds there. She feels no pain; only passion. She feels one with her mind and her body and soul. Her hands are trained; her skills are seamless; her mind is taut.
But when she steps away from the cocoon of that OR, all the demons are back at her door. Howling.
It’s comparable to an unhealthy, abusive relationship. It builds her up. It knocks her down. The highs are super high. The lows… indescribably low. And the constant push-pull of it all wreaks havoc on her mental health.
As a mother, this breaks my heart and causes me endless worry.
I know she struggles. But thankfully, her program knows it too. She has not kept it secret. She advocates for herself and for others who may be feeling the same.
She helps lead a wellness committee for fellow residents, working to promote healthy scheduling and healthy dialogue between administration and her peers.
She tutors adult GED students every Tuesday night at a local library, connecting with people outside the research lab and operating room, spreading love and hope even as she so often feels neither.
She is a member of a book club, connecting with colleagues both socially and cognitively on issues more abstract than tissue and tumor.
Most importantly, she has seen a counselor – a mental health provider who has given her tools and techniques to fight the good fight.
Yes, my daughter works hard to stave off the demons, to grapple the dragon, to defeat the disease. As a mother, I would fight it all for her if I could. But I cannot. It is all hers to slay.
And my daughter is capable. I know that. She is kind and loving and genuine-hearted. She is capable and strong and talented and tender.
I just pray every day that she sees it too. That she can see through the darkness.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain could not.
People with everything can find themselves feeling depleted and defeated. Suicide knows no demographic. It knows no bounds.
Talk to your loved ones. Acknowledge your loved ones. Make sure they know you see them and you get them. Love on your loved ones. And then make sure they get the help that they need.
Unfortunately, getting help isn’t easy. Because the help they need is usually not covered by health insurance. And that is absolutely unacceptable. And that is just one way society has failed those battling with depression and anxiety. And that refusal helps fuel the stigma.
The stigma that if you battle depression you are weak. If you suffer from anxiety you are not strong.
But the tide of public opinion continues to shift. We can help break down the stigma and shame — by sharing our stories.
This weekend, countless celebrities took to social media speaking out and recounting their own struggles, hoping to show others that they are not alone. There is strength in numbers. Help bring hope and recognition. Share your stories. Share your struggles. This blog is my attempt to help as well, small though my platform might be.
So to all you out there fighting the good fight and battling the dark beasts — keep fighting. Stay strong and stay brave.
My sister shared some wise words about bravery with me this weekend.Being brave is not what people think it is. People who are fearless are not brave. Its easy to battle something if there’s no fear involved. The truly brave individuals are those who are full of doubt and fear, but who battle through it anyway. That is the definition of bravery.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are important.
If you need someone to talk to — you don’t have to be suicidal to call — reach out. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 .