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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Our Postmodern Family

Our Real Modern Family

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven.  My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right.  I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat.  And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again.  This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family.  Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.

Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia.  I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.

Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.

Family X-Mas 2014

 

 

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Getting Real: it’s not pretty, but it’s pretty perfect

I’m on a life-long journey to become my most authentic self. To become Real. To become a Velveteen Woman. If you haven’t read the Velveteen Rabbit story, do it. Now. You’ll cry. You’ll thank me.

Anyways… it’s a tough job. Some days I just feel way too torn and tattered to keep going. I just plain feel broken. Like I’ve been steamrolled by the planet. My bones are weary and my mind is pressed flat. But I guess that’s just part of the process.

Because becoming real isn’t pretty. Becoming authentic is a far cry from being perfect.

According to the Skin Horse in the classic tale, “It takes a long time to become real… it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

So, surely I’m getting Real close. I’m fifty plus — and have been for a couple of years now — and far from “carefully kept.”

I’m loved on and jumped on and tackled and tortured on a daily basis by rambunctious twin boys with a lotta Big Love. Every. Single. Day. I also feel every knock and nick my two adult daughters receive out in the world on their own authentic journeys to become Real. Even. More-so than my own. When your babies hurt, you hurt, no matter their age.

Then there’s the fact that I’m an English teacher drowning in the 365 days of May, the 184 students on her rosters, and the endless trials and tribulations of teenaged hearts I bear witness to. Plus I’m a football wife in the midst of Spring Ball. 

So no, not carefully kept.

My joints are definitely loose. My appearance is just-this-side of shabby. My eyes haven’t dropped out yet, but they’re most definitely drooping… And I’m pretty certain this month knocked off any sharp edges I still managed to have left. Since I’ve only had one broken bone so far (knock on wood), I’m fairly certain I don’t break too easily.

Back in the day, when I was a mother fresh off the shelves, I used to have glossy hair and firm skin and stuffing in most of the right places. I had muscles and stamina for days.

But motherhood four times around has done some work on my lovely lady lumps. I wouldn’t go so far as the Bob Segar song and claim my “points were way up firm and high,” but they definitely weren’t stretched and deflated to the point of flapping in a brisk wind if they aren’t strapped in properly.  Four years of breastfeeding takes its toll.

nursing

And so do three pregnancies – especially one with twins.  My skin is puckered and striped and dimpled.  I’ve been pulled and torn and redistributed.  And even stitched back together. My belly bears a nice, six-inch seam where the good doctors scooped out two premature babes in my first and only C-section at age forty-seven. At that age, the elastin in the skin isn’t quite what it used to be.

So my stuffing has fallen and nestled into soft, comfy pooches in inconvenient and unattractive places. Add to that, my saggy hindquarters, and I’m just a soft, comfy lap of lady lumps.

34weeks

Along with my belly seam, I also bear a dog-legged scar across my right paw from when I broke my distal radius while putting away, of all things, laundry.

I had a choice while falling willy-nilly over a twin who found his way underfoot: twist to the side and sacrifice my wrist or stay on course and sacrifice my youngest. Since Tate is a relatively important component of our family unit and my right hand is my dominant and most-used portion of my body, it was quite the quandary.  In the split second decision, Tate won and my wrist lost. Badly. Between fracture and surgery, it was a five-month loss. If I’d chosen Tate, I bet he would’ve bounced back in two, tops.

dogearedscar

So my body has been sacrificed — and often — upon the altar of motherhood. 

But the sacrifice isn’t limited to my body. My mind has paid a tremendous price, too.  I’m not nearly as quick-witted as I once was. It’s a spongey mass of mire, sucking and slurping and slowing me down. I think the majority of decay occurred during the sixteen months of sleeplessness Mike and I endured after the boys’ birth. Regardless, my electrodes just don’t fire as fast as they once did.

And then there’s my nerves… what’s left of them. The boys careen off them like the ropes at WrestleMania, brawling over virtually anything — markers, play doh, DVDs, cayenne pepper (wtf?) — and my nerves are left mangled in the hot, red dust.

And then there’s my marriage.

No, I’m not about to rage against the institution, to lament on the lameness of my mate. Far from it. My marriage is what saves me. My husband… he’s my Wonder Wall. He’s my calm. My eye in the hurricane.  

I don’t know what I would do without him. He picks up my stuffing. He tucks it back in. He shoulders my shortcomings and he shelters my babes — all four of them.

It’s fitting that he’s a Purple Hurricane coach. He knows the ins and outs of my storms and he weathers them with grace. And he keeps me from falling apart at my already weakened seams.

These days, I shed hair and tears and sleep and health and sanity until I’m as limp and floppy as the Velveteen Rabbit. But it’s all good. 

Because I’m becoming Real. And it’s not pretty. My boobs aren’t pert. My ass hangs low and it wobbles to and fro.

But I am truly loved. By five of the most amazing humans in this amazing world. 

And I’m loved by the Creator of our Universe. I am snuggled and sheltered, and sometimes weathered and wizened — all in the name wisdom and growth.

And while that may knock me about a bit, by golly, I’m becoming authentic. And that’s a beautiful thing.

So all of you struggling women out there… getting your edges knocked off and your stuffing pulled out. Keep on keeping on. You’re exhausted. I know. I get it.

But I see you. I feel you. You are velveteen. And as Barbara Kingsolver says, “We can do this hard thing.”

We can do this hard and beautiful, and oh-so-very Real thing.

Moving Mountains and Stringing Pearls

I was listening to a country song yesterday (Yes, country. I’m that far gone.) — and I heard a lyric that resonated with me. “If I need a mountain moved, I move it myself.”

That’s me to a Grand Teton.

And it’s not because I’m afraid people will think I’m weak. Nor is it that I think I can do everything all by myself… far from it. I am definitely not the sharpest shovel in the shed, or the most diverse and multi-purposed, either.

It’s just I don’t want to be a bother. It’s how I was raised.

Chalk it up to Puritan work ethic… or cult indoctrination… but I feel like if I can’t get it all done, then I’m inadequate and unworthy of help. So most days, I just feel it all crumbling around me. Nevertheless, I carry on.

But I am in absolute awe of — and even a little bit alarmed for — people who actually do ask for help. They’re far braver than me. And have a much stronger sense of self-worth.

Because they expect people to help carry the load. They expect people to care.

And it’s not like I’m surrounded by people who DON’T care. I’m not. Far from it. As a matter of fact, I have the most amazing friends and family. I am unbelievably blessed. They would be more-than-willing to help me move my Himalayan hurdles, if they only knew about my Himalayan hurdles.

But I tend not to tell them. Because I was also raised to be invisible.

And asking for help puts you right out there in the spotlight.

So I don’t.

But I watch the ones who are out there in the spotlight, bathed in self-confidence, and I long to be more like them.

They’re all so warm and golden, so on-fire with self-love. Like they really believe the world is their oyster and that people will stumble all over themselves to help them string up its pearl and lay it ’round their neck.

And the world is. And the people do.

Meanwhile I carry on, flattened by Everest crumbling over the top me.

Anybody else struggle with that? And is it primarily a female thing? Or a Heather Candela thing?

Or are there men out there who have trouble asking for help, too?

Because my husband doesn’t have trouble. He knows his limits and he knows his worth. And he compromises neither when he asks for help. (I mean, who wouldn’t go above and beyond for such a tall mug of salted caramel macchiato? He’s delicious.)

I admire him so much, and I want to be like him so much — but I’m distinctly lacking in both salt and caramel. (Although I am tall. So I do have that.)

I have tried my best to raise my daughters to be more like those warm and golden souls of this world and NOT like their mother.

I’ve tried to raise them to have a strong sense of self. To be empowered and intelligent. To be willing and willful. To have servants’ hearts — ready to give assistance when needed — but also to have a queen’s spirit and know their value. I want them to never settle for less than they deserve and to know they are always worthy of somebody else’s effort and attention. Always.

I’m trying to do the same with my sons. And maybe it’ll be easier with them. Maybe girls struggle more with the mountains they haul. I don’t know. This is unchartered terrain for me.

What I do know is that I want all my children to be able to move mountains AND string pearls.

It must be the most amazing feeling.

Thoughts and Prayers: Same Song, Millionth Verse

Help me, Lord, to find what I am supposed to write today… A day after yet another school tragedy. More headlines. More pics of moms in panic. In mourning.  Of dads in agony. More stories of teachers and students feeling abject horror. More stories of students who made it talking about students who didn’t. More stories.

But not stories. All true. I wish they weren’t. I wish they were made up. I wish I were merely watching a Shakespearean tragedy. But alas, I’m not.

And how do I find the words to make sense of these real-world tragedies? To find words? To unearth them? To polish them and use them? To help myself through these dark times, these hellish realities?  To help me make some sort of sense of it all? To make sense of a world that steals sons? And daughters? And hearts? And grinds them into mincemeat to serve up on little slices of computer screens and news headlines…

And now snaps. On Snapchat. Snap-shots of horror and fear. Screaming and gunshots. Panic and pain. All of these things are too horrible to fathom. To absorb. To digest. I am… overwhelmed. And inept. Is there anything that can be done? Anything?

Quesions. More questions. And no answers. Only words. And words are not answers. Words don’t do much. Words are those old standbys. They are hashtags. #ThoughtsandPrayers. Affections, not action. I can polish them up all I want, they ultimately do nothing.

It is Action we need, not Words. Not Thoughts. We have active shooters in our schools killing kids. Many, many kids. And educators. And the wrong sorts of people are the only ones acting.

No, I take that back. The rest of us are acting, too.

We are all playing a role. We have taken on the role of Hamlet — the great procrastinator. The tragic hero who unpacks his heart with words. Who delays and delays and delays until it is way too late. Until there is so much death and destruction that the entire kingdom has tumbled into the hands of the enemy.

Apparently, that is the role we are all willing to play –the politicians and public alike.

And there are so many ghosts telling us to do something. So many. In hallways and classrooms and media centers and cafeterias and restrooms. Begging us to avenge their murders most foul with action.

But still, we wait… while noble hearts crack. And cease. While tragedy becomes commonplace.

So, no. I don’t need to find the words to make sense of this anymore. None of us do. Instead, we need to DO SOMETHING. We need to stop the bleeding.  And stop the madness. And stop the death…

To do or not to do.  That is the question.

And I don’t want to hear that now is not the time…  that the wounds are too fresh.

But in this, at least, Shakespeare’s words are right… It needs to happen now “while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance on plots and errors should happen.

Take up the bodies. Such a sight as this becomes the [battle]field, but here shows much amiss.”

Let’s find a way to be the change.

#DoSomethingAboutAllTheTragedyAlready

Spring Ball: Football and its Families Prepare for The Grind

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of rain. Clouds stack on the horizon and flit fast across fields, green and fresh and striped with the first mow of the season – along with the first paint. Spring Ball has arrived.

It’s a time of anticipation and adjustment – for a team and its coaches and their families, as well. The melanin and muscle and mercury are rising — the summer’s preparing to grind. And so are the coaches’ wives.

Spring ball is a time to stretch out those long-dormant football legs. To remember the rigor, to shift and rebalance the weight, to recondition the brain and the body for the upcoming football season.

As the coaches tweak their playbooks, the wives tweak their mindsets. As the depth charts take shape on their husband’s clipboards, the duty rosters get shifted at home. Laundry loads double with work clothes, plus practice gear. The cooking and dishes all rest upon her. Then there’s bath time and story time and bedtime and more.

The job of a coach’s wife is demanding. She one platoons their home life: scrambling and blocking and taking heat in the pocket; rushing and tackling and offering up pass protection where needed. Running offense AND defense is a fine balance. Maintaining that balance requires strength and focus, and passion and love – not just for her husband and family, but also for the game. Without passion and love of the game, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

And the job of a coach is demanding. It brings long hours, low pay, and high turnover. The weight of responsibility brings bags to his eyes and weights to his shoulders. He juggles politics from parents, school systems and fans. He demands excellence from his players, and in return the fans demand excellence from him. Stress levels rise. Maintaining the balance requires strength and focus, and also passion and love – not just for the game, but for his wife and family. Without passion and love for his family, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

Strength and Focus; Passion and Love. Without them, football will defeat you. When things get heavy (which they always do) the weight can get one-sided. It can topple you. You have to find balance. Strength and focus on one side, passion and love on the other. And then you have to maintain it.

Football families redistribute their balance in the spring. We put our bodies and our minds through the paces. We tweak our playbooks and our attitudes. As the mercury rises, our muscle memory takes over and we find ourselves ready.  Ready for the grind.

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and husky with the promise of a football reign. Spring Ball is here.

My students are young and ignorant. And alive. Notes after our lockdown…

I experienced my first school lockdown today. A real one. Not a drill. The adrenaline surge has left me in a puddle of exhaustion.

The announcement came in the middle of sixth period, just after final lunch had been released. We were in journalism class in the computer lab when we heard, “Code Red.”

Students looked up, eyes wide. “Is this real?” they asked.

We had always been warned if there was a drill about to take place. “Turn off your monitors and get in the corner,” I said.

And they did. Twenty-one kids, sitting knees to chest, huddling under a giant window, blinds closed above them, cinder block walls at their back, silent. And there we sat in the dark. Feeling unbelievably vulnerable.

It was the only place out of view from the door — a door with a window and no blinds, no posters, no covering whatsoever.

From our corner, I looked around… noticed backpacks. Took a risk and stepped into the open to slide them out of view. If somebody saw them through that door window, they would know we were there. I contemplated how best to upend tables and block that door… and its bare, vertical window. A window a full-sized person could walk straight through.

Did I mention we felt vulnerable?

But we also felt prepared. We knew what to do. We’d had dry runs before. So we did it.

They stayed calm. I stayed calm.

But of course, my mind flew to the anniversaries of recent history. Visions surged in time with my pulse.

Bloody students tumbling out windows at Columbine.

Twisted concrete and metal and a day care in rubble in Oklahoma City.

A religious zealout, a dusty compound, the dense smoke of Waco.

An April birthday as a target date. Hitler. And unhappily my grandmother’s.

So I never forget.

Yes, I was more than a little terrified. We heard helicopters. Administrators with radios. Each other’s heartbeats.

Until our principal came on and said we would remain in a soft lockdown, and that we should resume teaching.

My kids went silently back to their desks. No one was allowed to leave. There would be no class change. No check outs. No work-release.

For approximately an hour, we sheltered in place. Until we received an all-clear.

I’m mush. I’m exhausted. I’m completely spent.

My students, though — they went right back to their daily lives. They went right back to laughing and completing study guides and making weekend plans. To being kids.

And I’m glad. I’m glad they don’t truly understand the weight of the hostile world that is riding roughshod on my adult heart right now. I’m glad they are still young and ignorant enough to be young and ignorant.

Reality can come later for them. Like it couldn’t for Columbine’s kids. Like it couldn’t for Newtown’s kids. Like it couldn’t for Parkland’s. Like it couldn’t for so many, many, many other kids. Twenty years’ worth of senseless tragedies. Twenty years’ worth of lives and innocence. Lost.

Our students are so, so fortunate to remain young and ignorant. And alive.

The end of school is not always a happy occasion…

We are six weeks away from the end of the school year. Six weeks away from summer. Six weeks away from unlimited sunshine and freedom. A week ago, I could hardly wait.

But then, my principal said something in a faculty meeting that really hit me. Hard.

She reminded us that graduation is approaching. And while graduation generally means the culmination of over a decade of hard work, it also generally means the culmination of childhood.

And some students are not ready for adulthood.

And some students have already had far too much adulthood. And they long for a return to their schooldays. And to innocence lost.

And believe me, there has been so much innocence lost.

I’ve taught a lot of students in my eighteen years as an educator. All teenagers, but ultimately, all still children. Children who deal with standard kid things. Like puppy love and shoe-envy and math allergies.

And, sadly, children who deal with standard adult things. Like work and money-troubles and death and pregnancy.

And tragically, children who deal with things no child OR adult should ever deal with. Things like rape and sex trafficking and addiction and suicide.

Teach for a year. Teach for a month. Teach for a day — And you will start to understand the obstacles and downright darkness surrounding some of our most vulnerable and precious of resources: our children. And the numbers are far greater than you can imagine.

I’ve taught students — children — who have been raped.

Children raped by strangers. Children raped by friends. Children raped at parties. Children raped at home. Children raped by fathers.

Children whose mothers sold their child’s virginity for a $100 meth fix.

Children coping with the trauma and shame of rape, plus the trauma and shame of family serving time for avenging that rape.

I’ve taught students — children — engaged to be married to high school sweethearts. And insanely happy about it. At sixteen. Seventeen. And I’ve taught students betrothed to men they didn’t know back in a home country they scarcely remembered. And insanely hopeless about it. At sixteen. Seventeen.

I’ve had students addicted to smart phones, to video games, to porn, to substances.

I’ve had students high in my classroom. Glassy-eyed and giggly. Or cracked out and twitchy, picking endlessly at arms, at scalps, at cheeks, at skin rupturing, crusting, rupturing again.

I’ve had students who are pregnant. I’ve had students who’ve had abortions.

I’ve had students who sleep around. Students who sleep on mattresses in kitchens, who sleep on blankets in closets, who sleep on sofas, on floorboards, in backseats

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they work all night in a factory to put food on the table for siblings.

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they stay up all night playing Fortnite to escape the reality of abuse.

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they stay up all night playing Fortnite because there is no one home to tell them to go to bed.

I’ve taught homeless students. Homeless students living with friends. Homeless students living in shelters. Homeless students living in cars.

I’ve taught hungry students. Hungry students with nothing at home to eat. Hungry students on free-and-reduced breakfast and lunch service. Hungry students who go home on Friday afternoons with backpacks full of ready-serve dinners and snacks. Full backpacks; far-from-enough.

And I’ve taught hungry students whose parents won’t fill out the paperwork. Hungry children who go home on Friday afternoons with nothing at home to sustain them at all. Not food. Not love.

I’ve taught children who’ve eaten friends’ leftover pizza and bread crusts, proffered snacks from my emergency stash, restaurant refuse, their parents’ prescription pills.

I’ve had students have meltdowns, have seizures, have medical emergencies. I’ve had students who’ve overdosed.

I’ve had students who made it. And I’ve had students who didn’t.

I’ve had students who’ve died in car accidents. I’ve had students who’ve died by suicide.

I’ve had students lose parents to cancer, to violence, to addictions.

I’ve had students whose moms are in prison for child endangerment. I’ve had students whose fathers are regularly subpoenaed for child support.

I’ve had students whose grandparents are raising them. Whose foster families are raising them. Whose siblings are raising them. Who are raising themselves.

I’ve taught students who dropped out. I’ve taught students who stayed in — but failed grades repeatedly. Not because they were incapable, but because they were in chaos.

Because school is their sanctuary. Because the classroom is their cocoon. Because at school there are adults who care. There are classmates. There is structure. There is connection.

And outside there is only darkness.

There is so much darkness in this world. So much heartache. My students’ hearts have broken a hundred-thousand times.

My own heart has broken a hundred-thousand times.

Yes, summer is coming. Graduation is coming.

But as you and your loved ones celebrate accomplishments and rites of passages and bright, shiny futures, please remember that the same cannot be said of everyone.

Because for some, the end of school means no more breakfast or lunch. No more smiles and assurances. No more illusions of normalcy.

No more safety net.

No, the end of school is not always a happy occasion.

***

Please research how you can best help young people in need in your community, your church, your neighborhood. Volunteer. Be connected. Stay connected.

A Case of the Vapers (and other contagions sweeping teachers’ classrooms)

It’s a tough time to be a teacher.

We’re expected to captivate, motivate and differentiate, to remediate or accelerate, to teach students to calculate and communicate, to participate and cooperate, to formulate and postulate, to stay celibate and not procreate, and to ensure that every last one of them will graduate.

When it comes to “ates” we have a belly-full — including the hate thrown at us from seemingly every direction.

Legislators fight over whether or not we’re worth the most meager of pay raises. The Secretary of Education wants to cut billions from public school funding. The sons of world leaders call us losers. Parents bully and badger and question and condemn us.

Teachers are blamed if students fail at math, at manners, at life.

And for the most part, most of us can weather the demands piled upon us while still teaching with skill, enthusiasm, and grace.

But all of us still wonder, at times, if we have what it takes to meet the rapidly accelerating expectations.

And now, this year, a new challenge has emerged. One I’m not quite sure I know how to handle.

These days, teachers have a major case of The Vapers. Not to be confused with The Vapors (with an O), which was some crazy, female, hormone-fueled hysteria and hocus-pocus of the Victorian age, the current Vapers (with an E) is a crazy, female AND male, nicotine-fueled hysteria and smokus-pocus of the modern age.

The Vapers: teens who are vaping. And I’m sad to say we have ourselves an epidemic.

I’ve been a professional educator for the last 18 years, but until this year, I’d never had a case of The Vapers. This year, though, vaping is one of middle and high school’s major discipline and health concerns, and we teachers have had emails, training videos, and faculty meetings devoted to the topic. That’s how quickly the epidemic has grown.

Before those trainings, I had no idea that the sickeningly sweet smell that followed in the wake of students in stairwells and bathrooms and classrooms was the lingering scent from vape pens and juuls. I just knew I was getting lots of headaches from what I thought was bad teenage perfume. That is, until a student stopped me in the hall.

“You do know kids are vaping in your classroom, right?”

Wait. What?

Then she told me all the tricks. She explained that kids keep their hoodies pulled up over their mouths and around their ears, not because they’re cold from the drizzly, wettest season on record, but because they are taking hits of nicotine (or sometimes THC) bathed in sweet, glycerin-based liquids and then exhaling into their jackets.

And the cartridges are disguised as flash drives or writing utensils — making The Vapers really, really hard to catch. Despite the irony of them multiplying like cancer cells.

Here’s how hard they are to catch…

I personally witnessed a misty cloud dissipating above the head of a student at the back of my classroom. And I smelled the sickeningly-sweet odor I now knew was not bad teenage perfume.

So I promptly called an administrator.

But when the proper authorities searched the student, nothing was found. The Vaper either passed it off to somebody else or hid it in places admin wasn’t comfortable searching for fear of lawsuit.

Since then, I’ve found vape pens in my classroom, have had students caught vaping in bathrooms, and have had friends’ children serve detention for vaping.

I definitely feel out of my league on this one… I fear I’m about to succumb to a massive plague that may deplete the ranks of teachers everywhere. And it’s not just The Vapers. It’s the pressure from all angles that is getting to us: the legislators, the policies, the public, the parents, the drug paraphernalia. It’s all the demands. All of them.

But every morning I put on my game face… and I put on three bracelets. Three bracelets bearing messages to remind me of why I do this difficult and thankless job.

One says “Blessed” in braille.

One says, “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”

And one says, “I am not a Teacher, but an Awakener.”

They are my spiritual chain mail, girding my soul in positivity and light.

I say the phrases as I head out the door, ready to captivate, motivate and differentiate, to remediate or accelerate, to teach students to calculate and communicate, to participate and cooperate, to formulate and postulate, to stay celibate and not procreate, and do my absolute best to see every last one of them graduate.


Here’s to a Shoeless, Full Moon & Spring Equinox, Twin Turtle Birthday

Five years ago today, I was having turtles. Shell and neck, times two. Twin boys. At 34 weeks. And 48 years old.

Five years ago, we were zooming up the interstate toward Chattanooga, anxious and uncomfortable. I was flat on my back on a stretcher in an ambulance, twins riding my bladder, magnesium surfing my bloodstream. NOT a pleasant combination.

My husband was following behind me in our newly-purchased Town&Country minivan.

I’d never ridden in an ambulance. I’d definitely never wanted to. My husband had never driven a minivan. He’d definitely never wanted to. But here we were.

I’d also never been a boy mom. Nor had I ever had a c-section. The whole Boy Mom thing, I wanted. The emergency c-section, not so much.

But five years ago today, the ambulance, the Boy Mom thing, and the c-section would soon be under my belt — right along with a six-inch serated scar.

Our little heroes on a half-shell were coming early. Born on the spring equinox. To a mother old enough to be their grandmother.

Five years ago today.

And it’s been a tough five years, I’ll grant you that. And I don’t rightly know if it’s because there’s two of them. Or because they’re boys. Or, again, because I’m old enough to be their grandmother.

I’m thinking it’s a combo of all three.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Unless you catch me at a weak moment — like 6:15 AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Because one of our turtles, he thinks sleeping-in is overrated.

So I might be willing to trade one of them for sleep.

But then, he climbs into bed between Mike and me, and he rubs my face and crinkles his nose and tells me he loves me.

And dad-gum-it, I have to forgive him.

After all, he forgives me every day. They both do. Every. Single. Day.

They forgive me for losing my temper over petty things like dropping gummy vitamins the same color as our throw rug onto the rug… EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.

They forgive me for not knowing the convoluted family trees of the humans and animals on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

They forgive me for feeding them grilled cheese sandwiches and Cheeto balls on weeknights far more often than the food pyramid or our pediatrician would recommend.

And they forgive me for not having the patience, energy, or pop culture knowledge of a mother half my age.

Turtles, I have discovered, are full of forgiveness.

And snuggles.

And the snuggles make all of it… every sticky, gummy-pressed-into-carpet morning, every stale sandwich-crust-slipped-under-coffee-table weeknight, every PBS-DisneyJr-rerun-filled weekend, every Saturday-morning-sunrise wake up… all completely worth it.

Yes, today is our boys’ fifth birthday. It’s the spring equinox. And it’s a full moon — a super moon.

Maybe that’s why I forgot the youngest turtle’s shoes this morning, not realizing it until the preK director pointed it out as he was unloading in the school drop-off line.

But he forgives me for that, too.

Yes, turtles are snuggly, forgiving little creatures. Happy 5th Birthday, fellas! Mama and Daddy love you SO MUCH!

My Aunts in Shining Armor

As I’ve been combing my recipes searching for something extra special to fix this weekend — just because — I’ve run across certain dishes that remind me of three extraordinary women in my life… women whose love and sacrifice have made me who I am today.

These women creatively acquired me through the bonds of blood and grit and good, old-fashioned love. These women took me in and made me their own. They taught me to know my potential and to believe in it. They taught me that women are strong. That women are powerful. That women are capable. They taught me that women have a voice and that we should use it. These women are my aunts — my three graces, my three fates, my three wise women. And the recipes that remind me of them are as deeply rich and provocative and inspirational as my aunts themselves…

First, there’s my Aunt Jan and her “Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie.” It’s the perfect blend of glistening, syrup-soaked berries steeped in puddles of juice under clouds of whipped cream.

I have no idea who Mrs. Norris is, but I’m here to tell you that this pie is my Aunt Jan in a pastry shell.  It perfectly parallels her zany, vibrant nature. She’s sweet and tart and sparkling with pizzazz. She’s never met a stranger and she’s never been ignored.

She taught me to make this pie during what I call “The Summer of Grandma” – a two-month stint during which my cousins and Jan and I built pie after pie in a humid, east Tennessee kitchen trying anything and everything to get my grandmother to eat. She was slipping away from us, but she still had a hankering for sweetness.

And so we built pies. Pecan pie. And Chocolate pie. And Lemon Meringue — so high and coiffed that women in Texas could likely haul pictures to their hairdressers as inspiration. And finally, Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie – the Mother Superior of pies – just like Jan, our family matriarch after my grandmother passed away.

The baton was passed, and Jan became our pulse and our promise. She’s a talker and she’s a doer. If you want it coordinated and you want it done, call Jan. And she’s a lover. When she hugs you, you find yourself wrapped in clouds of pillow-y bosoms, which she inherited from my grandma (and which, I might add, skipped me in the gene pool). And you find yourself believing in rainbows and unicorns and holy grails.

Because Jan makes the impossible possible. She is quick-witted and confident, and she’s always been my biggest cheerleader. She pushed me and pulled me and pep-talked me into going back to school. Through her, I learned to trust in myself and the God-given gifts that she assured me I had and that I needed to hone.

Without Jan, I never would have trusted my mind or my voice. She taught me that what I think and feel matters. She pushed me to tell it like I see it and to hold strong to my principles. She made the impossible possible in me.

jan

Now, Jan’s twin sister Ann isn’t much of a baker. Instead, she sticks to main dishes, and she’s most famous for her tenderloins stuffed with apples and pecans and fragrant herbs – a savory, nourishing dish indicative of her steady, nurturing soul.

Ann and I have some sort of kindred connection. I felt it from the first time we ever sat down and REALLY talked – on my grandmother’s front steps after I was deposited there by a distant father in a diesel Isuzu and a feverish faith. Ann and I played with kittens and plotted the trajectory of my life on those semicircle steps beneath the crab-apple stone siding and cedar shingles of my grandmother’s house.

Ann embodies most closely who I truly am: intuitive and observant, reserved and resilient, capable and calm. Her eyes are still water on stone, are snow clouds at dusk – and when they meet mine, they see things. Things hidden in shame or for protection.

But with Ann, every trembling, buried burden or bruise is safe. It is better than safe – it is healed. Because she has a ministering nature that soothes and mends. It was her job. Literally. She is a retired ER doc, and I promise you, she did more than heal bodies in her years of service. She calmed hearts and settled souls – mine included. I wouldn’t be where I am today, without her.

annandpat2

And finally, there’s Pat, Ann’s wife, and my aunt by marriage. Pat is our family’s Tupelo honey. Her voice is southern nectar and so is her love. She never has a negative word to say to or about anyone. She sweetens the lives of all of us by spreading her joy and her sweet, sanguine good sense. Any recipe with honey, honey bun to  hotty toddy, reminds me of my beloved Pat. Lover of animals and humanitarian causes alike, she is generosity and goodness with a smile carved from moonstone and a heart made of gold.

My fondest memory of Pat is when several of us piled into a car to take a little trek over the mountains and through the woods– in a snow storm– to visit the Biltmore House. The roads grew slushy and slippery, and Pat’s mother, who was ailing at the time, grew car sick.

When we pulled to the side (more like slid to the side) of the interstate, her sweet, ailing mama proceeded to lose her dinner, right along with her upper teeth.  Pat sweetly swiveled her back into the backseat and then paddled through drifts of snowy vomit in search of the delinquent dentures.

That is Pat: unflappable, ever capable, and always willing to go the extra mile for family. She is as warm and soothing as  Tupelo honey. Her love glows deep and rich, and she moths us all to hearth and home with her warmth. She has always encouraged me to dream big and to reach high, but to never lose touch with my roots – because family feeds the soul.

And thanks to my family — and particularly my three incomparable and beautiful aunts — my heart is full to bursting and my cup runneth over.

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