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.
My valentines and I went to Waffle House for our special dinner this weekend. I’d seen something on social media about how Waffle Houses everywhere were taking reservations and dimming the lights on Valentine’s Day.
Well, it turns out it wasn’t Waffle Houses everywhere, and it wasn’t necessarily the romantic experience I’d dreamed up. This particular one refused to do the whole reservations thing.
There was no romantic music. No flowers. No candlelight…
But candlelight would’ve been wasted anyways. Because it was broad daylight for our dining experience at 4:30 in the afternoon. The sun was so high in the sky the waitress even raised the sunshades — which gave us a fine view of the carwash across the highway.
And there we sat in the stark reality of our twelve-year relationship — eating short order food at octogenarian hours with kindergarten boys flanking us as they fought over booth or counter service.
They were whiney. I was worn out (from a frenzied half-day full of student excuses about how their essays didn’t print and their late grades shouldn’t count…)
The students lost. And the counter won. Only because I was tired of listening to them. (All of them) Plus the counter was closest. And the waitress was eyeballing us warily, with weary shoulders begging us to make a flipping decision.
So I did.
We sat, Boy… Mom… Boy… Dad… and random-teenaged-towhead-with-his-red-MAGA-hat. Nothing says romance more than MAGA. He was by himself. I rest my case.
The MAGA minor left pretty quickly (not long after Mike sat next to him) and soon it was just Mike and me and the boys. They were in solid kindergarten form, chatting about number patterns and bald eagles and whether or not electronics come from nature and how God is probably a boy because it sounds like a Boy Name.
With our food order delivered, and the restaurant clearly between shifts and empty, save us, all three employees took a break. They sat at the counter adjacent to ours, to play on their phones and eat their eggs and ketchup.
As we sat at the counter, dipping toast in sunny eggs and stirring butter into creamy grits, the boys chattered away and the Waffle House crew cut up in a short-order family sort of way. All was cozy and smelled like hash browns.
And then our waitress opened a video on her phone that shouted, “Hey, you old BITCH!” super loud, and she turned about as splotchy as her short-order cook’s ketchup-clad eggs and begged our forgiveness and we all laughed and laughed about it.
Our boys joined in… without having a clue what they were laughing about. They’d been too busy telling us how penguins camouflage themselves.
“We’re school teachers,” Mike told our horrified waitress. “We hear it all the time.”
“Just now, today,” I reassured — because I’m certain somebody with printer issues and a late grade called me that today.
And then our waitress asked my husband about the football team and her — and our — favorite Clemson Tiger, and told us all about how she waits on his family often and how humble and kind they all are. Then she asked me about the boys and if they were indeed twins and if so, were they identical.
And then I looked out the window and saw a woman — with a bouquet of roses riding shotgun in her sedan and strapped in with a seat belt — talking illegally on her phone while blowing smoke out her cracked window. And as the smoke evaporated into the fly-away spit from the carwash across the way, tiny fluorescent rainbows glinted in the motes of the late afternoon sun.
And I realized how perfect this little Valentine dinner was… a perfect little metaphor of our marriage. Rainbows and roses in the distance, full plates in front of us. And love and laughter all around.
Our marriage is cozy and smells more like coffee and kindergarten carnage, than hash browns, but I am one blessed woman. Married to a man who knows I love syrupy sweet on my waffles, not on overly-expensive grand romantic gestures. (That’s why he proposed to my dog the same time he proposed to me…)
Yes, I am one blessed woman.
Now if all the MAGA hats would just leave, all would be right with the world.
See this beautiful boy living his best life, loving his mermaid pajamas and Elsa dresses? Little girls play dress up and nobody bats an eye. Little boys, and the world starts flapping its lips.
This Friday was pajama day at school and my beautiful, joyful youngest twin had been planning for the event for a couple weeks. He wanted to wear his mermaid pajamas.
His father and I were a bit nervous. We know how people can be. Despite momentous gains in how society treats differences, we knew that this particular form of different is still subject to so much ridicule and contempt.
But we also knew that our boy’s face absolutely transforms when he wears what he loves. And he loves the clothes society says should only be worn by girls.
But y’all… these clothes make him so incredibly happy. You’ve never seen such joy. Most days he comes home from school and immediately sheds his “boy” clothes to put on the “girl” ones. He spins and twirls and the stars align.
But to the outside world, we knew his love of pretty things could be criticized. And it was.
Why does it matter?
His father and I refuse to hide his light under a bushel. We refuse to dampen his joy. We refuse to tell him he can’t be who he wants to be. Which is happy and proud.
But Friday, he came home from school far from happy and proud. He came home shamed and ridiculed. For wearing mermaid pajamas.
They are CLOTHES, for goodness sakes. They just cover our nakedness. It’s what clothes are designed to do.
And who ever created the rule that boys can’t wear sparkles and sequins and things that spark light and joy anyway? Name them.
And don’t tell me it was God. God gave us beauty in every form. (And this boy of mine, he loves to revel in beauty of the uncommon form, for boys, anyway.)
But if you tell me it stems from religion, I’ll believe you. But tell me where in the bible it says boys can’t wear dresses? Pretty sure Jesus wore one, by the way.
This boy of ours loves satin and tulle and unicorn costumes.
And why shouldn’t he?
Boys in Scotland wear kilts. Christ wore skirts. Why can’t boys in Georgia wear mermaid tails?
After all, they all do the same job. They all cover our nakedness… the shadow left behind by original sin. Human nature — and its capacity for cruelty — that’s the sin. That’s the shame.
Not the clothes. Let him wear the clothes that cover his nakedness AND spark his joy.
Do you ever feel ugly and unseen? Like despite all your best efforts and your showing up to the dance without fail, all prepped and prissy, you still somehow blend into the cinderblock gym wall?
I’ve been battling with that lately. I put in the work, I give it my all, I practice and polish and pirouette in what I think is on par with the rest of the partygoers, and still nobody calls my name.
Despite my best efforts, nobody gets me.
I’m awkward maybe? A little off the current beat. Half a step ahead? Behind?
Am I not authentic enough? Is that what it is? Am I unapproachable? Do I appear fake? or overdone? shallow?
Are my curls too tight? Do they get lost in the whirling nonsense of it all? Never-ending loops of purple prose that make folks feel queasy and upended?
Or am I too straightforward? Too stark? Do I cut to the chase too quickly. Nobody’s ready for that revelation. It’s too sharp. The razor-like edges cutting at the truth they hold cushioned in their souls with such reverence.
That’s never popular, I know — to challenge somebody’s security. To show them an abyss where fear and pain are always lurking a scant foot away and maybe prompt them to leave their religion or stay with the beast in the ballgown.
It’s never too popular to pull alarms when all anybody really wants to do is just dance.
Or maybe it’s because I speak with too much color? Swear too much? Too often? Take things in vain that they feel I shouldn’t?
Or is it more that I’m one of those people impossible to follow? Who stutters and stalls or rambles my way into slippery little sidesteps of fluid nothingness? So I’m absolutely zero fun to follow.
Do I question too much? Too many things? Am I too challenging? Am I ruffling too many feathers? Stirring up too much shibboleth? It’s kind of something I tend to do.
Yeah, I tend to pour it on too thick. I fail to blend my blush.
Oh, honestly, I really don’t know what it is about me. But I do know I don’t like the feeling. Of no-one making eye contact. Of no one acknowledging I exist. Of feeling like the girl shoved over there in the corner — the one everybody knows really wants to be a part of it all. They all know she really has something to say, but everybody also thinks what she’s got to say isn’t what anybody really wants to hear because it’s going to be one of two things — an uncomfortable truth or some sort of sentimental bullshit.
That’s where I’m at, and that’s what I’m feeling lately. And I somehow have to get through it. I have to find some strength and some faith in myself and who I am and what I’m doing. I have to believe that I am good enough to be here. I am not somebody to ignore.
Don’t skate your eyes around so you don’t have to see me.
Look at me. I am here and I am a force to be reckoned with.
This dance is my destiny. I am here by choice.
And I am dancing a brilliant and beautiful number that nobody even knew existed.
So I will just keep on dancing like no ones watching. Because right now, no one is.
But I’ll keep my pockets full of proses, dancing in the dark where you think you don’t have to see. Where you watch me with sidelong glances while I prove you wrong and pull my weighted words out into the light you try so hard to deny me.
I am here. And one day you will hear me. See me. Dance with me.
Last night, while sorting through pictures of my childhood, I unearthed poison in page form. Correspondence from the Fellowship to my father.
It showed the control and manipulation of its people, from head to body, and brought it all up to brush against my brain like flickering tongues of the past — making me shiver; making me sick.
“The wife is a reflection of her husband’s glory.”
She’s a reflection. Not a reality.
Phrases diminishing womankind to image, not substance, were everywhere. And even then, only if the woman’s married. If not, she’s nothing at all.
According to the Fellowship, as that reflection of my husband, everything I do and say should be to glorify him. And in so doing, my service to him reflects his service to God.
I see this as nothing more than How to Control and Cower your Girl. Misogyny in a nut sack 101.
I went on to read the following: “Wives can bless or hinder.”
(With the fellowship, the onus was always on the woman.)
It drones on. “As the body is responsible to the head in all matters, even so a wife should respond to her husband, fulfilling his desire.”
I was to serve without thought. I was to be all action. Fulfilling his desire. After all, isn’t that what we were created for? Cisterns to be filled by him.
Brains were unnecessary and even repellent in the Fellowship. Definitely damning. Just look at what Eve caused when she thought for herself…
The “head to body” analogy didn’t stop at husband and wife, though. As husband is to wife, so is pastor to congregation.
They demanded servant’s hearts from all.
And what of it, some may say? Isn’t that what should be expected of God’s people? Scripture says so.
And on paper, it looks okay. “Our service should be proportionate to the degree of honor that we have for one another.”
Problem was, Fellowship servitude was one-sided. Congregation to leadership. Wife to husband. Never reciprocated. Indentured servitude. We had no identity, no rights, our thoughts were dismantled and destroyed. We were the body, moving according to the head’s desires.
Serve or sever. That’s the point I was at. So I severed ties and left those snakes with their fangs and their poison far behind.
Or so I thought.
The brood of vipers I uncovered last night in my basement are still dangerous. Like a head poised to strike after the body has been hacked from the source, fangs still present, puncture still potent, poison still a threat.
All those words unearthed have left me reeling with nausea and insecurity.
Reading them, I see the shadowy ghosts of my past reflected in the present day. All around me are charismatic outreaches pulling children into their frenzy. I see seemingly sane adults lining up to follow snake-oil salesmen with thick orange scales.
That’s how it all began way back when, in my painstaking past.
A servants’ heart with no semblance of sense is a recipe for dictatorship.
Trust nothing that tells you to follow blindly. Trust no one who demands you serve without question.
I refuse to subjugate myself ever again. I will enter into partnerships willingly. But I will never, ever enter into subjugation again. Ever.
I am not a mirror. I am a person — an individual with hopes and dreams and desires of my own.
As a wife, I can bless or hinder? I have so many problems with that statement. So I reject it in its entirety.
As a woman, I bless myself by using the brains the Good Lord gave me to break free from any hint of hindrance through diseased dogma.
I was five, streamers on my handlebars and butterscotch tangles on my head the first time I remember failing my father. Wanting attention. Costing him time.
I remember the feel of the wind, slippery as I sailed after him and his friend on bikes of their own. Beneath me, the gravel road blurred to a caramel river – frothy with speed.
They were thirty feet or so in front of me, My mother, standing on the concrete slab of our front porch, watched knowingly, my baby sister Jo Jo straddling her hips, blond curls licking her scalp like pale flames. She was the most beautiful toddler I’ve ever seen.
Me, I was a twisted mass of hair and tenacity, determined to get to my father. And he was determined to out-pedal me. To leave me to my mama’s devices.
“Wait, Daddy! Wait!” I’m certain I screamed, swallowing chunks of sticky summer sky as my legs spun faster and faster and I fell farther and farther behind.
This five-year-old me – she always wanted her father to see her. To know her. To care.
This was two years before I messed up and bought three bags of chips at the local horse show instead of two because I didn’t know what “a couple” meant. I’m pretty sure that was the beginning of my hatred and fear of numbers. It was still two years away from when I would learn to be wary about whether or not what I was doing was pleasing to my father and to the Lord.
But I was still five. And still naïve. And I wanted to ride bikes with my dad.
So my knees pumped beneath my scooter-skirt and my heart pumped beneath my tank top, and I flew as fast as I could across that gravel road perched atop my little banana seat.
I had missed him at my piano recital — the one where I was awarded a superlative and a tiny rose quartz necklace. The first necklace I ever owned.
The polished little pendant about the size of a jellybean — swirls of white cream curling in its strawberry depths — hung at the hollow of my collar bone. My favorite thing to do was to pull the chain up to the triangular divot beneath my nose and mouth and let the stone ride there where I could feel the cool smooth weight of it, like something waiting to be said.
I knew that feeling. Seems I was always waiting my turn to speak.
Anyways, I had missed him at my piano recital. I wasn’t going to miss him that night.
So I whizzed and wound my way after them. Until my tires hit an exposed pipe and swiveled off their trajectory. Until my world went topsy-turvy. Until sky and street cartwheeled all over me.
I don’t know what stung worse. The gravel bulldozing my flesh, or the rejection bulldozing my heart. He had turned away. That fast. That soon.
He came back. He did. But the damage was already done.
My rose quartz necklace was lost. Maybe then. Maybe soon after. I’m not sure. I do know its imprint remains. A cooled reminder of things waiting to be said.
The weight and wait has been too heavy for too long.
Growing up, I caught snakes in my backyard with kitchen tongs and fearless ignorance. All sorts of snakes, mostly random garden snakes — usually black racers.
My sisters and I would keep them a day or two in a laundry hamper on the screened porch, “tag” them (writing their names on their cold-blooded bodies in hot pink nail polish), and then release them back to the wild. We probably did irreparable damage — to their scales and psyche. I meant no harm. I thought I was Jack Hanna.
Once I came face to face with a cottonmouth. I was close enough to see the whites of his tonsils. To feel my heartbeat in my own set of tonsils. It was terrifying. And exhilerating. I was a fool, but also fairly fearless. And definitely naive.
And then there were the all the spiders. The black widows beneath the crawl space — red hourglass floating in the wide expanse of black belly, hypnotic with danger and beauty. The secretary spider in the window of the garden shed, weaving her Charlotte-style salutations and leaving me wide-eyed with wonder and respect. The wolf spiders in the pine straw, crab spiders in the peonies, tiny jumping spiders on the sidewalk.
Some creepy-crawlies were venomous. Others not. All were fascinating.
I’ll never forget a rat snake we found out in the gulley behind our backyard. I used Childcraft’s Magic of Words to name her Theodora Dean, meaning “Gift of God from the Valley.” I thought I was brilliant.
And I’m pretty sure that is the point in my life where my snake-infested early childhood and my love affair with words collided.
Besides that name dictionary inside the pages of that Childcraft yearbook, there was an abbreviated version of Beowulf — featuring a child-friendly translation of the battle with Grendel.
Grendel was a hideous creature who slithered and slunk. And killed. Beowulf was a long-haired hero who battled monsters with bare-hands. And won.
Which is kind of what I’m attempting to do with my writing. I’m crawling into the darkness and slime of my past — doing battle with all those snakes and spiders — some harmless, some deadly.
And like Beowulf, I plan on winning. With bare-handed skills.
Unlike Beowulf, I’m not trying to kill my past. I’m just trying to expose it and diminish its danger. Because it was definitely dangerous.
Good thing I was fairly fearless.
I didn’t know at the time how dangerous those slippery-tongued serpents and flame-bellied spiders out to seize my soul from the hotel podium could be.
Or maybe I did.
Even today, rereading some of my journal entries, I can feel the fear of my sixteen-year-old self. I knew what those bearded elders were spewing and spinning wasn’t Christ’s love; it was paranoia and hate. It was exclusion and isolation. It was slick and poisonous and contagious as hell. Friends around me were dropping like flies.
But even back then, at the tender age of sixteen, with no one in my corner, I knew the only weapon I had against their wickedness was words.
So the lined paper of my journal absorbed what my heart poured into it. Torn, conflicted — knowing the danger of the poison inside me — I cloistered myself within its pages and allowed myself to feel the deep, insistent syphoning off of poison and emotion. It was the only place I could allow myself to purge it all.
The cool paper accepted me unconditionally. All the passion; all the poison. Recorded there. Preserved there. Honored there. Kept there to this day. A repository of life fluids. A hidden quiver. A womb of contention. An apple of discord.
As my hemorrhaging heart spilled into it, ripening more with each passing day, the pages performed their magic. They took each pounding pulse beat, each dangerous insubordination and drained it quietly into its depths. My secret embalming tool. My monument to life. A record of my heartbeat. To prove I once lived if I never made it out alive.
But I did. Those words kept me alive as the serpents and spiders coiled ever-tighter around me.
And those words give me strength today. To tackle my past. To record it. To tag it and release it into the wild. So others know and recognize the danger.
Faith isn’t dangerous. But fanaticism is.
Looking back, my anger is gone. Now, I turn an observant eye to the stains of my childhood spilled on the pages of a yellowed notebook. They are mere bruises now. Mellowed. But I can still feel the hectic red flush of their decades-old fever when I poke around.
So I poke and prod and prepare to record all the species of spiders and snakes from my past.
I may do damage — to their scales and their psyche. And this time, I do mean harm.
Because right now I see a similar, serpent-friendly climate out there in this world. I see a lot of people searching for something. And a whole lot of serpents ready to prey on their insecurities.
I see a whole lot of snake-handling going on. And that terrifies me.
Because on more than one instance, I came face to face with cottonmouths. I could see the whites of their tonsils, and I could feel my heartbeat in my own tonsils — and in theirs — when I recognized them. I wrote about it to save my life.
And I will write about it still to save someone else. Because the function of freedom is to free someone else.
The best pancakes are never the first off the griddle. I’ve learned that over the years.
So I’m learning to be patient.
The first pancakes are always slightly anemic. They never turn that golden brown of restaurant adds and Coppertone babies. The oil is too bubbly. Too prevalent. Too… much.
So it has to cook off a bit — get absorbed by those first flimsy efforts. Kind of like teenaged skin. It needs a lot of blotting — and some time.
Time and practice. That’s what I’m learning. It’s like that in pancakes. In writing. And In life. And I’m hoping all the practice is beginning to pay off.
I’ve been reading a lot of books on writing lately. Some are rereads — like Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Some are brand new, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human.
They’re all teaching me some bits about writing, but lots more about myself. How I tend to strive for perfection when I really should just strive to get it all onto the skillet. Perfectionism isn’t possible. And anyway, as Annie Lamott says,
Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground — you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.
So I’ll make a mess while building my batter. I’ll add in. Mix up. Pour out. Spill a bit. Flip too early.
Some sentences are destined to collapse onto themselves — it’s inevitable a few will flounder and fold. Let ’em. Clean up the mess later.
And I know those initial pancakes will be a bit pale and doughy or haphazardly layered. That’s fodder for the second draft. The next go round always gets better.
My life has been like that too. My early years were on the whiter shade of pale. Limp and slightly unbaked. Potential, but nowhere close to perfection.
Now I’m living my best, well-burnished life.
My writing is slowly sizzling its way toward buttery golden goodness, too. It’s losing its doughy center; it’s crisping and finding its edges. All with a little help from some master chefs, a whole lotta help from a well-seasoned skillet, and lots and lots of doughy first drafts.
So today (and every day), I’m assembling ingredients, mixing the batter and getting on with it. Mistakes will be made.
Christmas is my favorite. I love spending the hustle and bustle of the holidays with family. Even when it gets hectic and stressful (and with my crew, it’s guaranteed) there’s nothing that fills my soul more than copping a squat on the living room floor because every chair and sofa space is packed to the gills with girls (and the random trapped husband) and listening to the jabberwocky of a room full of relatives.
I come from a big family of women. A bodacious beehive of queen bees. So when we get together, we get loud. And we do goofy things.
Like gather up all the hats and scarves in the house and go caroling… whether the neighbors are amenable or not. And a good many may not have been. They either weren’t home or they hid from the colorfully clad mishmash of merrymakers on their front lawns. I know I would have — at least until I heard the first few notes of a christmas song. Then I would’ve thrown my doors open wide.
“Everybody loves Christmas carols. Santa, especially,” Tate says. And he’s right. Or at least everybody in my family, plus Santa. That’s why we go caroling and harass the neighbors.
And I’m thinking that must not be something normal people do because I can honestly say I’ve never had somebody ring my doorbell just so they can belt out “O Holy Night” in a light drizzle. But we do. And we did.
This past week, I was talking to family and friends about some of their favorite Christmas memories and traditions.
One friend made peanut butter balls with her mom every year, to pass out to all male relatives over 21. She didn’t know why they had to be 21 and male. It was just tradition.
But tradition’s like that. The method to the madness is often lost in the translation, but the joy translates, regardless. Bringing so much joy to the world.
My sister and her family whip up their annual joy with homemade five-star meals for Christmas dinner. Beef Wellington is her son’s favorite — and he himself is a mini master chef, baking up the most glorious, puff-pastried, steak-filled centerpiece of a Christmas feast you ever did see.
From five-star to the star of Bethlehem, my husband’s favorite tradition was attending midnight mass and singing “Silent Night,” the melody lifting the congregation in the most sacred of stillness.
Another friend of mine talked about how her family never had much growing up, but they always had Christmas. She remembers one year where her father sold his truck so they would have gifts under the tree. She wonders to this day how he made it to work the coming year.
My girls and I, we always made Christmas cookies. The boys and I have added gingerbread to the memory mix. This weekend was a cluttered cluster of memories in the making. Chilled dough. Dusted rolling pin. Cookie cutters and powdered sugar. Red, green, blue food coloring. Blue and green and white crystal sprinkles.
Cheeks and fingers were stained and there’s sanding sugar scattered clear to the floor joists, I’m sure. The kitchen is a wreck, but the cookies and houses are a wonder. They aren’t pretty, but they’re pretty delicious. And so are the memories.
And then there are my memories of Christmases past — my cousin at the pump organ, clomping out “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the rest of us singing along. My aunts and mother in the kitchen scraping a year’s worth of hamburger grease off the stovetop and cabinets so they could cook up the roast beast. (Grandma lived on fried patties 364 days out of the year.)
My uncles and father gathered ’round the coffee table sketching out physics problems, each bringing their gifts to the table, in a pedagogical parody of the three wise men.
And finally, there’s my grandmother in her recliner, beaming through her bifocals and bragging on her grandchildren to anybody and everybody she could capture in her thick-rimmed line of sight. The lights from the Christmas tree reflected brightly in her split lenses, turning her chocolate brown eyes into a kaleidoscope of green and amber and red and royal blue.
Somewhere behind me stands her Christmas tree, the beginning of my fascination with Christmas trees, its branches dripping in silver tinsel and Shiny Brite ornaments. I wish I knew where those ornaments were today.
My mother further fueled my passion for Christmas trees. She has eight. Yes. Eight. Most of them, themed. One is a nutcracker tree. Another is chockfull of Wizard of Oz ornaments. A third houses all the homemade ones we four kiddos created from decades of Christmases past. Then there’s the bird tree in the bathroom and the tabletop tree in the bedroom. It’s a habit. And it’s genetic.
But my habit is sort of under control. I only have two — one full of collectible blown glass; the second, full of felted ones, less fragile, more fun.
Yes, Christmas is my favorite.
I love the memories made and the memories in the making. I love the family, the fun, and the frenzy — every last fiber of frenzy. My husband — not so much. He prefers to maintain every last fiber of sanity. But then, he’s all”Silent Night,” Bing Crosby style, and I’m all Mannheim Steamroller “Carol of the Bells.”
But maybe he’ll keep me anyways. Because he was my absolute best Christmas gift of all time, thirteen years ago this past weekend.
Our football season ended Friday night with a loss in the quarterfinals — in the last minute and a half. It was a heartbreaker. But there are no losers on this team.
The seniors have a four year record of 52-3. That’s a heckuva lot of wins. But the real wins aren’t what’s translated in the record books. The real wins are what’s translated in the boys’ hearts.
And boy, do these players have heart.
The love they shared on the field Friday and on hudl messages and tweets — it showcases the love they have forged through the highs and lows of this and every season they’ve played together.
You hear a lot about how football hardens bodies and builds work ethic.
But football also softens hearts. And breaks them. And Friday night’s loss broke so many hearts, including mine.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Because hearts that soften and hearts that break are hearts that feel and hearts that connect. And to me, the most powerful part of football is how it takes individuals and makes them not just teammates — which you hear a lot about — but more importantly family.
And this team is truly a family.
And the men showing these boys how to harden those muscles and hone their work ethic are also the ones showing them how to soften their hearts — to let in their feelings and let out their emotions.
These coaches are not afraid to yell at their players. Not in the least. But they also aren’t afraid to say “I love you” to the boys — and mean it.
And this weekend, I heard a whole bunch of hurting coaches tell their hurting players “I love you.” And I saw a whole lot of hurting players tell each other “I love you.”
I saw a lot of players huddled up, shoulder pad to shoulder pad with tears bunched up in eyes and streaming down cheeks.
Tears over loss, but also tears over love.
These boys are becoming men. The best sort of men. The men who aren’t afraid to fight hard yes, but to love hard too. Men who can lead through both triumph and adversity. And Friday night, they triumphed through their adversity and led one another — and the rest of us — through the first stages of grief.
And while we all grieve over this loss, it was ultimately just a game that we lost. And we have so much to be thankful for. And so many harder things we could be grieving…
Last weekend, a football coach in Indiana passed away after suffering a stroke in a playoff game.
Coach Bowsman had coached in his community for 20 years. He was head coach for the past 16. Through two decades of love and sacrifice, he built a football family that is now mourning a deep, true, and profound loss.
And this past week, Coach Bowsman continued his life of sacrifice through organ donation. On Wednesday, his football family lined the hospital hallways for an Honor Walk as he traveled one last time from ICU to the OR. And over the weekend, his football community (and nearly the entire state) burned stadium lights in his honor as his family held services and laid his body to rest.
Football goes so much farther than a win/loss record or memories of the glory days.
Football leaves a lasting impact far greater than most can imagine until we see and hear stories like these.
Those of us fortunate enough to be in a football family, we feel the impact of football on our lives all the time… in the form of a hug in the hallway, or a greeting in a grocery store, in the graduation celebrations of a struggling student athlete, or a text from a former player about the birth of a baby or the death of a parent. And sometimes you get a message about the death of a football family member.
When you are football family, the impact rarely goes unfelt.
And while we feel all the literal wins and losses, it’s the wins and losses in LIFE we feel most profoundly.
Football itself is ultimately just a game. But the family it builds… that’s real. And that’s what makes the game so very special.
Photo Creds: Russell Andrews, Marion Mills Webb, Randy Parker & Natalie Perkins