I'm a mother of twin toddlers and two adult daughters. My dad says I ran the engine and the caboose on grandchildren, but I'm having a really hard time driving the potty train. (They always told me boys were harder!) I am passionate about family, football, politics, and good books, and I'm liable to blog about any one of them on any given week.
I recently discovered a little demon that had hidden itself away in my cells, quietly waiting for the perfect time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on my heart. It birthed itself during a quick, two-hour road trip a couple months back.
I thought that demon was long dead… thought nothing I heard about my past could do much damage anymore. I was wrong. Turns out, the demon wasn’t dead, just dormant. And turns out, it could still do a helluvalot of damage.
Ever since, I’ve been working my way through a very hard memory…
Memories. They’re never photographic and never completely accurate. They’re fuzzy and fragmented and colored by our own personal perceptions and perspectives.
This one, I kept buried for a long time. But it bubbled and bloomed under the surface. Time softened it… but in a furry, moldy, sordid, slimy sort of way. But the time has come for it to be dug up. Time to bring it into the light, dry it out, turn it to dust, and blow it away.
And y’all, I’m not talking metaphorical demons here. I was a sixteen-year-old junior when I was told I was demon-possessed.
Now I was a far-from-perfect child. I had a major crush on the butterscotch boy next door; I was writing mysteries with teenage girls with plunging necklines and music minister murderers; and I was failing my Algebra II class. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t demon-possessed. At least, not until that night.
I recall standing in a marble entryway with a bathrobe on my lanky frame and a chip on my shoulder. To my right was a still life painting of cream roses in a shadowy vase. To my left were double oak doors, locked. Before me, my accuser, arms crossed, eyes blazing, telling me the devil was in me. Telling me I was going straight to hell.
That night, a pervasive demon of fear and self-loathing tangled itself up with my youthful defiance and climbed through the dilated pores of my freshly showered skin. To avoid my accuser’s red glare, I focused on the still life instead — the gold ochre roses captured in a burnished vase. Crashing waves of Prussian Blue smashed mercilessly into and around them. Petals broken and fallen. Plunged into oily darkness.
My accuser would remember the scene differently, I’m sure. Would remember the wayward daughter with the rebellious streak and the raging desire. The girl consumed by fire. The girl caught up in the ways of the world. The world caught up in the girl. She needed purging in the worst sort of way.
Funny thing about memories… two people remembering the same incident can have two entirely different accounts of what happened. And it doesn’t make either account less true.
With really difficult memories, the differences and disparities reveal the differences and despair in each individual. And each of us felt them… profoundly.
The facts are straightforward; the truth is not.
The fact is my parents were doing what they absolutely thought best. The fact is they did their best to raise me. The fact is they knew the world to be a dangerous place. The fact is they submerged all of us in strict doctrine and stern dogma to save us.
And the fact is I was a far-from perfect child. I was headstrong and fighting for my life. I did my best to escape them and the cult of domesticity they were raising me in. And I did. I escaped with my newly-planted demons of fear and self-loathing, with an ample serving of defiance, and I went to live with my guardian angel grandmother.
They did their best. And so did I. Those are the facts.
But the truth belongs to each individual — and we are all colored by our pasts. By our truths. And our demons. Even my father.
He confessed to me on that two-hour drive how sorry he was that he sent me to live with my grandmother.
… he was sorry for burdening her heart at her advanced age with a rebellious teenage girl.
Shame and guilt overwhelmed me. That demon of tangled up fear and self-loathing, tinged with teenage defiance tore through my gut in a blaze of ungodly glory. And it refuses to leave.
But then today I found some hope. I read a chapter from Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human, called, “Rewrite Your Story: Memory Lost and Found.” It focuses on facing and excising your demons. Denouncing them as liars.
I took it as a sign. Especially after I soon found this little gem: “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”
So I decided to write out my memory and sing out my sorrow. This demon is no longer allowed to hang out as a devil inside.
So I hope someone out there is listening. I want to be absolved. I need to be absolved. And I want to help absolve others. Because Toni Morrison, the greatest writer of our time, once said something I believe in wholeheartedly: The function of freedom is to free someone else.
I kept her quote taped to my writing desk for years. And now I keep it stapled in my soul.
Today, I share my memory, my song, and my freedom. And I beg you to share yours too.
Share your truth and be saved from the devils breeding somewhere deep in the darkness of your past.
I have an extreme addiction to a colorful seasonal confection that is notoriously divisive in households and classrooms and office buildings the world over. And its name is candy corn.
As far as I’m concerned, it is manna from heaven. It is the food of the gods. It is a candy and a vegetable – and that makes it the perfect food!
And while I know it’s not technically produce, I do know that it has honey in it. And honey comes from plants – excreted through the saliva of bees, but still. If it comes from a plant, it’s a vegetable.
Plus honey is referenced in the bible — 26 times to be exact – and in a good way (not like salt, which is a punishment for people who look backwards when they aren’t supposed to), but in a nourishment for the Israelites who kept looking forward in faith and physicality for forty years in the wilderness kind of way.
Plus, it’s TRI-colored for heaven’s sake — it is a THREE COLORS IN ONE confection (a holy trinity, folks).
And if you’re still not convinced… candy corn is fat free! What could possibly be more divine?
So yes, by golly, candy corn is godly. I am a true believer. And I faithfully try to convert others every year. But some of you doubters still remain, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I think it’s the way you were raised…
Now me, I grew up an absolute devotee. My mom exposed me early and annually to its righteousness. She would place giant kaleidoscopic bowls of candy corn around the house every autumn, which I would kneel before the minute I walked in the door from school. I couldn’t get enough. My soul hungered for it. It was like eating fistfuls of sunsets. Sweet, sugary sunsets. I recall many an October afternoon basking in the warm glow of a candy corn devotional.
Being exposed so thoroughly and at such an early age has served me well. But it also made me a bit naive. Little did I know not everyone shares my passion. Not everyone worships on the shrine of those trinitarian sunsets.
Candy corn definitely has its detractors — and super vocal ones, at that.
I learned this the hard way my second year of teaching. I thought I’d proselytize to the masses during a review game. The reward would be righteous, I promised. So my students put everything they had into the review. They jostled for the lead with gusto, hungry for a taste of the grail. But when I pulled out the first single-serving cellophane bag for the winner and tossed it his way, all hell broke loose.
You would’ve thought I’d just thrown him a bagful of boogers. Or ear wax — which is what he said it tasted like as he slung it back at me in disgust.
Apparently, he’s not the only one. I polled this year’s students and they were drastically divided. Half would kill for it, the other would rather die than eat it.
And I’m always amazed by the look — the look from nonbelievers when I offer up these kernels of truth and light. The wrinkled noses, the abject disgust, the ready dismissal.
They are blasphemers, the whole lot. Because even if you don’t believe candy corn is divine, it is pure sacrilege to turn down a communion so sacred and scarce and being offered up so selflessly. Because candy corn is hardly something I readily part withal. It is a true personal sacrifice.
So don’t turn it down. That’s just rude.
My girls know better. They were raised right. And this fall season, my boys are being initiated into the faith. The ritual of edification is short, yet satisfying. Simply nibble one honeyed hue at a time: first the tip – just to see what it feels like (pure heaven) – then proceed to the sleek middle orange, and finally the wide yellow base. Repeat until satisfied.
And listen, I tell them. Listen real close and you can hear each kernel of truth whispering its legacy in a low incantation: “Carpe… Carpe Diem, boys. Seize the sunsets.” Because you never know when you won’t get another.
Kaleidoscopes. Remember them? Those geometric spinning fragments posing in rapidly shifting flash points of coordinated color and chaos?
Sliced beauty with sharp, precise edges. Jangled and jarred gemstones, clicking into view.
Suddenly you see…
Jewels tumbling from a pirate’s upturned chest.
Dragon’s scales shifting in flight.
A flamenco dancer’s swirling skirt.
A Spanish shawl.
A thousand butterflies having sex.
A million flowers spilling seeds.
Blood blooms. Light bursts. Magic is born.
All at the flick of a wrist.
It all feels slightly pornographic and oh-so-beautiful.
I can’t help but be reminded of life. The creation of life, sure, in the flick of the wrist, the spilling of blood and seed, absolutely. As the cylinder twists in the slimmest of fractions, new magic appears. in glorious technicolor.
But also in the biting, sharp edges, cutting almost constantly, spinning almost endlessly, into gravity-defying, rotating cartwheels of color.
We can choose to see life as broken shards of complete calamity and chaos in ever-widening, gravity-grinding, beyond-our-control tumbling. Nothing more than flotsam and jetsam crashing inside an unrelenting tidal wave. (It certainly felt like it this week, what with all the stomach bugs and travel woes and deep-seated cavities of the physical and metaphorical kind.)
Or we can choose to see ourselves and our lives as prisms of dancing light, beautiful and gleaming, made all the more so when we’re bumping and rolling up against other jangled and jagged prisms. Again, slightly pornographic, but I didn’t mean for it to be this time. Or maybe I did. Because that’s for sure beautiful, too. And the absolute quintessence of life.
For me, I choose prisms of dancing light.
I like to see us all as slivers of sapphire and ruby, gold and obsidian, emerald and opal and more. Succulent suds of shimmer and shine, made exquisite when randomly and richly tossed by the universe into predestined patterns, made richer with family and friends and even complete strangers knocking up against us in richly syncopated design.
Our lives are what we (and our maker, with a flick of the wrist) makes them. You see what you choose to see. You be who you choose to be.
I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.
Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.
For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.
Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:
#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak
I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!
This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.
Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.
#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell
This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.
Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.”
When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.
#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner
Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.
Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.
Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.
#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere
If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.
They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”
This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.
#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal
The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.
Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).
If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.
“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”
So I’m sitting here right now, doing my best not to cry. (And failing.) I seem to have stacked a whole lot more on my plate than usual.
Of course, it’s football season… and I’m used to the stress and demands our family’s football life takes on my schedule and my sanity.
But now I’ve added little league flag football for the boys, with twice-weekly practice. (So we don’t get home until 7 PM. And the boys have to be cooked for and fed and homework completed and bathed and read to and in bed by 8.)
And then there’s the online gifted certification that I’ve committed myself to for the next four semesters. And my desire to fit in some exercise and blogging. And to get my hair done occasionally. And to have time with Mike.
And teach. And plan lessons. And grade 185 students’ assignments — times 2 or 3 on any given week. Oh, and be a club sponsor.
And be a person who listens. Who hears. Who cares. Who helps. A good mother. A good wife. A good daughter. A good teacher. A good friend. In other words, a good person.
And to fit sleep in there somewhere.
So I’m trying not to panic. And I’m failing at that too. I feel like I’m failing at all the things. All of them.
And I was sailing along doing just fine… or at least I thought I was, until I got an email this morning telling me that the group I thought I was a part of in my mandatory gifted cert Group Component had made a mistake, and I wasn’t actually in the group after all.
I feel like the last kid picked for dodge ball.
But here’s the thing about me. I’m really good at dodging. I would dodge the hell out of group work and do it all on my own, if given the chance. I hate group work. It was the bane of my existence as a student, both in high school and in college, and now here it is, the bane of my existence as an educator.
I’m a perfectionist and an introvert and group work is some sort of tenth circle of hell Dante never dreamed up because it’s simply too diabolical. That one was left to the higher education tour guides of hell.
So what’s a girl to do?
Well experts tell the simpletons like myself to cultivate an ability to say NO. To prioritize my life, cafeteria style, and learn to pass rather than heap the items onto my plate.
But the thing is… my life itself isn’t a turn at the buffet. It IS the buffet. A great, big, delectable buffet — with a small side of broccoli group work that I have on the table, whether I like it or not.
All the things on my buffet are all the things I need to live this great big life of mine. All the things. Even the broccoli. And not a one is too small to pass up. (Especially not the hair appointment… I think it’s the only thing I truly do that is selfish.)
So what is this girl to do? This girl is gonna cry. Just for a hot second. And then she’s gonna cuss the tiniest of blue streaks, to let some of the steam escape, lest she explode like the Coke Zero can in the center console of her van in the 97 degree heat this past Thursday.
Because the pressure is great. But so is her work ethic. She’s not gonna explode. And she’s not gonna implode.
She’s gonna tackle one mountainous molehill at a time. Starting with an email to find a new group for this mother-effing group work due in two hard, hellish weeks…
A lot of things have changed in my seventeen years of teaching.
Back when I first began, I was told, “Don’t smile until Christmas,” by almost everybody around me: education professors, veteran teachers, administrators. Everybody.
Thankfully, that has changed. Now teachers are encouraged to build relationships of trust and respect with our students. And that is a very positive change.
Not all of the changes have been for the better, though.
Some things, once rare, have become commonplace: like social media bullying and the threat of school shootings. Some things are nearly brand new: like vape juuls and dab pens. And some things are the new normal: like lockdown drills and smart phone distractions.
School shootings are a profoundly American tragedy, and one I’ve addressed before. In my years of teaching, they’ve become so ubiquitous that society seems to be jaded about them. This breaks my heart.
Smart phones didn’t exist seventeen years ago, but they’re everywhere now — along with rapidly multiplying smart watches. And with them, social media is a near-constant source of distraction (and contention) in the classroom. This likewise makes me super sad.
Kids would much rather check the stories on Snapchat than read the stories in English class. Instagram features and filters are much more compelling to them than mathematical fractals and fractions. Even in athletics, they’d sometimes rather tweet than compete.
Teachers get paid to teach… but very often, we feel like we do anything and everything BUT teach. Our classrooms have become lessons in covert operations.
Juuls and dab pens are everywhere — but kids are experts at hiding them. Hoodies and rubber bands have become suspect. Kids wear rubber bands around their wrist sleeves so they can hide juuls and take hits. They wear hoodies tight round their faces so they can exhale into their shirts.
I’ve seen vapor clouds disappear above students’ heads, but been unable to locate the source. I’ve seen discarded cartridges magically appear in my corners.
We play detective every day, trying to figure out which kid was the source of the sickeningly sweet odor infiltrating our room; which kid has red eyes from allergies, which kid has red eyes from THC; which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s texting, and which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s bored. (We get it all, almost every day.)
And you might think juuls and dab pens are more dangerous than smart phones, but experts argue they are all equally hazardous. I would agree.
Adolescent drug use, depression, and suicide is on the rise — and a huge contributing factor is social media and the pressures that come with it. Kids buy what social media is selling, which is almost always half-truths and lies.
Teens see the highlight reels of celebrities and idols and believe the image portrayed is reality. And then there’s also the bullies and predators out there, pressuring kids into sexting and nude pics — and the ensuing threats and belittling if they don’t… and the degrading and shame if they do.
Almost every aspect of social media leaves our kids feeling like they are not rich enough or smart enough or pretty enough or blond enough or athletic enough or cool enough… that they quite simply are not, nor will ever be, ENOUGH.
There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve found suicidal thoughts embedded in student essays. Social media is feeding insecurity and depression and kids are seeking escape through drugs and suicide.
Yes, teaching has gotten noticeably harder in the last seventeen years.
Before, I was told not to smile until Christmas. Now I’m told to smile and greet my students outside the classroom every day. To give high fives and side hugs. To genuinely care about my students and make sure they know I do.
These days, our district (and district all over our nation) are encouraging teachers to build relationships with students.
Because in a world full of school shootings and school bullying, teen depression, smart phone distractions, vape pens, and drug abuse, kids are not getting a whole lot of positive messages or interactions with anyone anymore — peers or adults.
Because for some of our students, the smiles and greetings and side hugs we give are the only real human connection they make on any given day.
Sometimes our classroom is the only place where kids’ voices are used and actually heard. The only place where kids are given attention and affirmation. The only place where kids feel safe and secure and at home.
Some kids get nurtured at home. Some don’t. Some kids have the tools they need to navigate this increasingly treacherous world. Some don’t. Our job is to make sure all kids do. Teachers don’t just teach the Three R’s anymore.
The most important job we have as teachers now is to demonstrate love, compassion, and positive interaction. To teach community. To model the best of what humanity can be.
I’ve never been a teacher who didn’t smile till Christmas. Never. It wasn’t in my nature.
And while I’m glad that particular rule is no longer the norm, it makes me sad that changing times are what finally made the institution that is education see that students really do need and deserve smiles… long before Christmas.
Yes, there have been many changes over my seventeen years of teaching, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love teaching students. I really do. I still find it the most rewarding thing I can do with my life, besides motherhood.
But for me, teaching and motherhood are the perfect pairing. They go together like tacos and Tuesdays, cookies and milk, bacon and anything.
I defy logic. I defy all explanation. I am one of the wonders. I shouldn’t have been able to have these boys. I’m a challenge to the balance. I know that. I knew it all along. But when our maternal fetal specialist agreed to take our case pro bono because our lovely Georgia governor played dirty with our insurance, I learned just how unique I was. Modern medicine was eager to use me as a case study. I was a Wonder with a capital W. Without my fertility specialist extraordinaire and my maternal fetal specialist with angel wings and a big check book, without my ever-steady and supportive ob/gyn, I wouldn’t have these boys. I completely get it.
But it’s not just medicine that brought my winsome sprouts to my womb and formed them into into flesh and blood and spirited magic. There is so much more to it than that. Prayer played a tremendous part. And Grace. And finally Fortune, that most fickle of Ladies. She decided to be kind. For whatever reason, the Universe decided to bestow two breathtaking blessings upon Mike and me. And I cannot be thankful enough. Ever. And so I’m giving my testimony for others. Sharing our recipe for success. Hoping that someone, somewhere along with way, will benefit from our story.
I know that my age was against me. VERY against me. Especially when I would read all of the unhappy IVF stories of women my age. I quit reading them, actually. I eliminated all negative energy from my life. That was ingredient Number 1. Only positivity and sunshine.
I began listening to Natalie Merchant’s song, “Wonder,” some lines of which I alluded to earlier. Now if you don’t know it, Google it. Get on YouTube and listen to it. It is powerful stuff. Words are powerful potion. My father taught me about self-fulfilling prophecy and about spoken blessings. He’s quite the preacher type. He’s also a physicist. He’s kinda weird. He’s an oxymoron. He’s Sheldon Cooper on scripturoids. But he always, always, ALWAYS has believed in the power of prayer and the spoken word. So I accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative.
Speaking of the power of the word, if you haven’t read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Ingredients 2 and 3), read them. Out loud. And believe. They both discuss the power of the Universe and Her generous nature, Her willingness to grant your heart’s desire. You just have to say it. See it. Believe it. Write it. And wait for it to be delivered.
Now of course it’s not that simple. There is hard work involved. You have to dig. And keep digging. And the digging is physical, which is hard, full of medicines and injections and time and doctors visits and uncomfortable procedures, and it is also mental. The ups and downs of infertility is an ordeal no one who hasn’t experienced it can ever possibly imagine.
But you know what else? It is one that SO MANY of us share. It is a taboo subject that most are afraid of, or ashamed of, or too private to talk about. I was amazed at how many couples I knew presented themselves as IVF patients once I came out about our journey. Infertility sufferers are everywhere, yet it is still such a lonely, isolating experience.
So Coelho nails it. The mental digging is the hardest. But he explains that just when you are ready to quit, when the digging has gotten darn-near impossible. When the clay and rock are so incredibly rigid and unyielding and your body is bone-weary and your soul is sucker-punched, just KEEP digging. Because the Universe is about to deliver. It’s like the transitioning stage in labor. It feels like you’ve accomplished nothing at all, but your bundles of blessings are about to present themselves, to crown in all of their wondrous beauty.
So just like the good books commanded, we said it, we believed it, we wrote it down, complete with baby names (names, incidentally, which are now the middle names of both boys ). We visualized. We saw our sticky beans steeping in the placental gravy of the Universe’s Grace. We believed we would stay pregnant, even through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and the fortnight I slept with ice packs on my chest because it felt like the boys were splitting my sternum like a Butterball turkey’s wishbone.
Beyond saying and believing, Mike and I also played an active part in our process. We researched a ton, which included watching IVF home videos of couples who had been through this process before. (You would be amazed at how many of those there are online.) We watched those who had succeeded and we watched those who had failed and then succeeded. We searched for any and every kernal of wisdom and homeopathic hocus pocus, which leads me to Ingredient #4: pineapple core (yes, CORE) and raw walnuts.
I ate them every single day without fail for two weeks after embryo transfer to assist with implantation. The core was a bit gritty and fibrous and pulpy, but not as bad as you would think. And besides, I would’ve eaten an entire pineapple, in all of its sharp and spiney glory, if I thought it would help in our quest for the elusive sticky beans.
Coming home from the clinic on our transfer day, Mike and I implemented Ingredient 5, a tradition that carried me and our embryos through that most terrifying of times for all fertility patients: the first trimester. We listened to two very, very (have I said VERY?) uplifting and prophetic songs: Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder,” which referenced earlier, and Elton John’s, “You’ll be Blessed.” Google that one too. Right now.
These two songs became the soundtrack of our conception and gestation. I listened and sang along to them religiously every day. Every. Single. Solitary. Morning. Without fail. My power songs. Through them, Fate smiled at Destiny. Through them, the Universe laughed as she came to my cradle and laughed as my body she lifted and laughed as she filled me with her bountiful blessings. With a little help from these songs, and With love, with patience, and with faith. I made my way, and continue to make my way through this miraculous journey.
The final ingredient is absolutely NOTHING like the aforementioned ingredients. It was nothing I planned or researched or manufactured. It was completely unpredicted and unrehearsed and (thankfully) unrepeated and something I would’ve preferred had happened in a bit more private of a manner, but the Universe works in mysterious ways…
Ingredient # 6: the Collywobbles. Such a fun, playful, Roald Dahl kind of word for one of the most UNfun, UNplayful conditions known to man: intestinal distress. The night before our two little baby buds would be siphoned from a petri dish and shot through my cervix with a straw, I had an up close and personal experience with the Collywobbles. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. But I have no doubt in my mind that not only was it God trying to acclimate me to the shit storms to come (twins are nothing, if not collywobbles times two), but I also maintain that it was an integral (and embarrassing) part of our recipe for in vitro success. Doctors prescribe enemas for all manner of procedures. It just so happens that this particular order was placed by the Heavens. Now, my girls will tell you I just don’t ever discuss poop. Ever. But in keeping with the nature of my blog to give honest, heartfelt information about our journey and our family, I guess I have contracted myself into spilling all… kind of like that midsummer night’s eve three years ago.
So before getting down and dirty, allow me to set the stage as prettily as possible: Daytime was dripping into dusk and it was hothouse humid — typical August fare for Georgia. Mike was away at football and wouldn’t be home until late — again, typical August fare for a Georgia football wife.
I was at the park across from our neighborhood, the chattering rise and fall of cicada song pacing my run. Butterfly bushes lined part of my path and I was pushing myself hard. I knew that the following morning Mike and I would drive to the perimeter for transfer and I would be taking it easy for at least the next nine months. I was taking no chances. I didn’t care that my doctor had told me I couldn’t sneeze, poop, fart, laugh, hiccup or jiggle those embryos out, I was going to be as safe and sedentary as possible.
So on this hot, humid, hellhound of an August night, I decided to get my last run in and work out all of my remaining anxieties. When, much to my surprise and chagrin, on the far side of the baseball fields, in a No Man’s Land of summer perennials and the boys of summer charging their grounders and snagging fly balls– I was struck with a vicious and violent blitzkrieg. My stomach flipped and dropped. I broke out in cold sweats. My core cramped. My vision blurred. I was a half a mile from home. And I was in trouble. To call it intestinal distress would be an understatement. And to call it collywobbles seems way too pretty. And it was NOT pretty. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but think about that horribly humiliating scene in Bridesmaids and be jealous because Maya Rudolph at least had a huge tent of a wedding dress to hide her shame. All I could do was break out in spontaneous prayer. Sincere prayer. Bona fide, true blue, unpretentious prayer. There’s no prayer more down to earth than a “please don’t let me crap myself in public“ prayer. And as I prayed, I shuffled. A hearty knees together, buttocks clenched shuffle. A get-your-Flintstone-feet-in-gear shuffle. And I am here to tell you that bona fide prayer and heartfelt hustle will get you far. It’ll get you darn near half a mile. Close, but no latrine. I made it to our driveway, and I am forever thankful for that small blessing.
And then then floodgates of Heaven opened and the rest is a poorly digested visual. I don’t know if it was nerves, a beastly bug, or the reheated half of a Reuben sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs I had for dinner, but I was dealt a savage– and I believe an extremely fortuitous, hand. I thoroughly believe the Universe decreed that I have a completely pristine vessel in which to implant my little lads. I’m convinced that in our parenting game of chance and childbirth, my royal flush didn’t beat a full house, it helped make one. (Sorry, terrible pun.)
Anyways… that is our sticky beans recipe. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Note I didn’t say THE recipe for success. Everyone’s recipe will different. And the climate and the conditions and the Universe all have a mighty say in how and when and where the blessings will be rewarded. Some beans will be organic and simply made, with no assistance whatsoever. Others will need chemical intervention, like ours did. And still others will be harvested elsewhere and then supplied. But know that if you want it deeply enough, badly enough, heartily enough, your own little peas will be delivered unto you. Thus sayeth the Universe. So dig deep.
I have a passion for teaching English to high schoolers. A passion for seeing kids learn, seeing kids’ faces light up with understanding and excitement. Sadly, I see that light diminishing more with each passing year.
This week begins my 18th year of teaching English to secondary students. And every year, fewer and fewer students love to read. Heck, let’s get rid of the phrase “love to” and state the facts: Every year, fewer and fewer students read. Anything.
Or I guess I should qualify that statement — kids do read a little. And by a little, I mean memes. They’ll read something if it’s shorter than a sentence. And is paired with an image.
And they write that way too. Sentences are overrated. They want fragments, abbreviations, and emojis. That’s how kids communicate these days.
Which means my subject matter — literature and composition — is rapidly dying. It’s very nearly dead — and almost universally despised by my students. So I have a hard task in front of me, trying to save something most kids would love to see buried and gone.
On the first day of school, they are always so happy to brag to me about how much they hate English class. How they don’t read and they don’t want to. They once read a book in 7th grade, they’ll tell me when pressed, about some boy and a plane that crashed. “Hatchet?” I ask. “Yeah, that’s it,” they say. It’s the only book they’ve ever read. “Nothing since?” I whimper. They laugh. “Nope.” And my heart sinks. Every time.
How can I resuscitate a skill that far gone? Something that breathed — once — three years back and then flatlined, never to even be mourned?
We are in the era of smart phones and laptops. Kids don’t even watch television anymore. They watch their portable screens. And mostly quick, entertaining segments on YouTube. If it’s not quick, they won’t usually give it their time. And if it doesn’t grab their attention in the first 30 seconds, they’re hitting the search bar looking for something else.
Kids’ attention spans are jaded and fading. They want new, new, new and fast, fast, fast. And reading meets none of those requirements; writing, even less.
How do I, as an educator, compete in this fast and furious climate and culture?
Sometimes I worry that it’s just too late. That I simply don’t have the ability to raise Literacy from the dead. Indeed, the prognosis is bleak.
Case in point: my students from last year. I love them dearly, and I really believed that together, we’d made all sorts of progress. Now, I knew they weren’t out randomly picking up books instead of their iPhones, but I still thought I’d made some sort of impact. I thought they’d at least enjoyed the literature we read together.
But then I had a group of kids tell me a couple weeks back how much they hated To Kill a Mockingbird. Hated it.
And I wanted to cry. I failed them miserably. And I deceived myself in the process.
How can I remedy my failure? How can I bring the joy of reading and the art of writing back from the brink of death? Or is it already too late?
I know for a fact I can’t do it on my own. It’s impossible. Trauma surgeons have whole teams working in conjunction to keep their patients alive. From paramedics to ER docs to nurses to lab techs to anesthetists to surgical residents and attendings, everybody does their part, separately and together, to keep the patient from multiple system failure. Resuscitating literacy can’t all ride on me.
And it can’t all wait till it gets to me either. Fifteen years without a heart for reading is probably too late. Sure, I might find a feeble pulse in a couple of kids and nurture it back into a steady beat, but saving 2 kids out of 185 is not enough.
Nope, it’s got to be more and it’s got to begin sooner. It needs to begin at home. With parents and their babies.
Parents, read to your children. Read to them early — as newborns, even. It’s never too soon, I promise. Read them Goodnight, Moon. Read them The Grouchy Ladybug. Read them Green Eggs and Ham. And sing to them, too. Sing nursery rhymes. Sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, sing The Wheels on the Bus. Heck, sing Baby Shark, if you dare.
But read to them, and sing to them, and foster in them the love of language.
Then, we teachers will keep it going — from preschool all the way through senior year and beyond. Together, we can foster lifelong readers and writers… and excellent communicators. This world needs these skills. Desperately.
Cackling farts — from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. And I certainly love me some vulgarity. Anyone who knows me knows my propensity for my favorite four-letter acronym – one I’m trying to curb since I’ve got these two impressionable young lads soaking in vocabulary like spaghetti sauce (or pureed prunes, or masticated teddy grahams, or you name it) on your favorite silk blouse (but I’ll save the stain stories for another blog). Still, “cackling farts” is simply the grossest, funniest, most colorful, obscene, and obscure term for EGGS I ever did hear. And this post is dedicated to them.
Eggs. Such simple things, it would seem. But simple, or not, as humans, we are fascinated by them. We eat them for breakfast in numerous ways, from the simply scrambled or over-easy, to the fancy-schmancy eggs benedict or quiche. And the recipes go on and on…
We’ve also built idioms around them. Some to reflect personality: “you’re a tough egg to crack” or he’s a “good egg” or a “bad egg.” Others reflect embarrassment: you can have “egg on your face” or we’ll tell someone to “go suck an egg.” We can use them in terms of monetary metaphors: we build “nest eggs” or search for “the goose that laid the golden egg” or we’re cautioned not to “put all our eggs in one basket.”
Naturally, if there are idioms about eggs, there are bound to be books about eggs. Some of the greatest literature features them. From Gulliver’s Travels to The Handmaid’s Tale to “Green Eggs and Ham,” we celebrate and admonish, using the Egg.
So eggs are far more complicated than the chalky-white ovals of serene, life-giving perfection they might seem. They house SO MUCH POTENTIAL. In the afore-mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrator proclaims, “I think that this is what God must look like: an egg.” And then later, “If I have an egg, what more can I want?”
Interestingly enough, this novel is about infertility. An entire nation that has fallen on post-nuclear sterility. The narrator may or may not be infertile. She has one daughter. She, nor the reader, knows for certain if she can get pregnant again.
And just like Offred, six years ago, I myself didn’t know if I would be able to carry children again.
We had an appointment with our fertility specialist, Dr. Mark Perloe, at Shady Gove Fertility in Atlant. (I can’t sing his praises highly enough!!! If you are contemplating IVF or if you are struggling with infertility of any sort, go see HIM.) Anyway, at that very first meeting, Dr. Perloe informed us that a woman over 40 had nearly zero chance of getting pregnant with her own eggs, and that we would need to use a donor.
My eggs were past their expiration date.
Now, you know what? I knew that already. Of course I did. I’m an educated woman. I do my research. I knew it going in. Still, his words stung just a bit. Just for a second. Not, though, for the reason you are probably thinking (the use of donor eggs).
NOPE, it was the Advanced Maternal Age phrase he used. AMA, a three-letter acronym that isn’t nearly as fun as my favorite four-letter one, and a label that would go into my charts and follow me to delivery. I still feel twenty-two, after all. As Jimmy Buffet says, “I’m growing older, but not up…”
“Donor eggs,” though — I was already familiar with and prepared for that phrase. We were given a password and the privacy of our home to view the donor profiles and search for our potential anonymous Wonder Woman — a super hero of the highest magnitude. I am forever and ever in her debt.
It felt strange, perusing those profiles. A giddy, dizzy, feverish, frightening cyber-ride. We wanted someone as close to me as we could get. Not because we intended to hide the fact that we used donor eggs from the boys or anyone else, for that matter, it was just something we wanted.
We wanted someone who loves literature as much as me. Someone who excels in science like their big sister. Who swings a mean bat or tennis racket, like their other big sister. Who appreciates a mean game of football, like their dad. Oh, and we wanted height. A nice, tall drink of water. I’m 5’10 and so to combine that height with their daddy’s good genes, we’re hoping for a couple of defensive powerhouses one day.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen,” said the mighty Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And our decision, our selection, set the Universe in motion, her cogs and wheels, parts and plugs assembling the various and sundry pieces, the stardust and cackling farts, the wood glue and lacquer and metal most attractive that would spark our little fellas into being.
Her eggs. My basket. And a gaggle of Y chromosomes from Mike. Now of course, it wasn’t nearly that simple… but more on that next time.