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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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postmodernfamilyblog.wordpress.com

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.

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 were always 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 it’s 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.

Timothy in a Tailspin: Here’s to Women’s Voices

I am surrounded by strong women. Strong, powerful, intelligent women.

Women who teach me to believe in myself. Women who teach me to trust my soul, my strength, my intuition, my intelligence. They teach me that my voice matters. And so does my mind.

They teach me, daily, the value of women. Our worth.

And I feel so bad for the women in this world who do not have women who tell them their true worth. Instead, they have women surrounding them who tell them yes, they’re strong, but their place is in the shadows. Beneath their husbands. Playing supporting roles. That that is their true strength and value.

Ugh.

Women sabotaging women. Sabotaging their own sex. It makes me crazy.

Just this morning, I was pummeled with social media posts telling me just that. Telling me that my voice doesn’t matter as much as my husband’s voice. Or really, any man’s voice.

I read one today — a letter that’s gone “viral” (it’s a virus, alright) — about how these days are surely the end of days because women are trying to be men. Because they want voices. And careers. And equal partnerships. And respect. And — dammit –authority. They want authority.

Hold up. Wait a minute.

First off, I’m not trying to be a man. I like my female parts just fine, thank you. More than just fine. I love being a woman. I have never, ever wanted to be a man. I don’t want their parts. I just want their rights.

And I want to have a voice that isn’t labeled “harsh” or “shrill” when I demand respect and equality.

Another post told me that every man wants to hear “I Trust You” when it comes to making decisions for their family. That he is the proper head of the household.

Aw, hell no.

I came from that sort of past. And yeah, that’s not happening again. Sorry, Mike. I love you, and I DO trust you. But that doesn’t mean I’m relinquishing my voice. Never. Ever. Never Ever Again.

I’m so tired of the patriarchy — especially the patriarchy that is being spoon-fed to women by women — little kernels of sage advice dropped onto newsfeeds through conservative memes and blogs. Sugarcoated with scripture.

I come from a place where scripture was used to dominate women. A place where the Books of Timothy were celebrated — books where the apostle Paul demands that women dress modestly. Where they’re told to be quiet and submissive. Where they’re denied authority over men. Where they’re blamed for introducing sin into the world. And where they’re told they can only be saved through childbearing.

My gorge rises.

So much so that when I was pregnant with the twins, I dreamed of naming a daughter Timothy. The irony and sacrilege thrilled me. I was finally ready to challenge the bearded patriarchy of my past. And the female fundamentalists of my present.

And then I learned that I was having two boys. And there was no way I was saddling one of them with the name. That would not have been ironical. It would have been pathological.

So instead, I decided to tackle Timothy and it’s patriarchy with my voice, my opinions, my blog. One comment after another. One written word after another.

And with my actions. And with my clothing. One ostentatious action and garment at a time.

And with one vote for female authority at a time.

And as far as women being saved through childbearing, that might very well be true. Because I have raised brave, strong, outspoken women. And they are unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes of both sexes in this world.

And I’m raising brave, strong, outspoken men this very moment. And they will likewise be unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes.

And there are hundreds of thousands more of us women — raising brave, strong, outspoken children ready to send Timothy into a tailspin.

Because we’re over being told our voices are harsh and that they don’t matter as much as the next guy’s. We’re over it.

Take that, Timothy.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air, then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

My Aunt Nancy

I remember playing lawn darts with her in my grandparent’s side yard, the sharp steel tips twisting through the steamy summer air then plunging into Tennessee soil. Afterward, we sat in webbed and woven green lawn chairs, cooling our bare feet in the dew-slicked clover as fireflies flickered beneath the oaks. And I remember Nancy and my mother laughing their throaty laughs deep into the nighttime, retelling family histories.

But that’s not my first memory of Nancy. My first memories involve a sky-high, jet-black beehive, bright crimson pantsuits, and white platform heels. Nancy was a beauty, like she’d stepped straight out of the pages of a Sears catalog — my backwoods version of glamour and fashion. The catalog, not Nancy. She was a beauty, whether backwoods or big city.

But her beauty was nothing compared to her brains. She worked her way up the twisted ladder of government contracting inside the top-secret national labs of East Tennessee.

She was a strong, brilliant woman, my Aunt Nancy, born in a time when women who were strong and brilliant didn’t necessarily advertise the fact. Nancy, though, never hid her light under a bushel.

Everyone who knew her, easily recognized her smarts and savvy. She was a spitfire, unafraid to take on Principal Engineers or multibillion-dollar contracts, all with little more than a high school diploma and heaping supply of gumption at her disposal.

That intelligence and tenacity makes her battle with Lewy Body Dementia that much crueler.

Lewy Body Dementia. Prior to Nancy’s diagnosis, I had never heard of it. Odds are you know little to nothing of it either.

Know this, though: it is brutal. It is the cruelest of the cruel diseases that ravage the brain. It takes the stolen language and lifetimes of Alzheimer’s and adds the bitter twist of Parkinson tremors and muscle cramps.

My Aunt Nancy passed away a week ago this past Sunday. She was my mother’s closest sister and my cousin Melanie’s last remaining parent.

Now I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to witness the ravages of the disease at its end stage. But her daughter was. And her sister — my mother — was, too.

As the Lewy Body’s laid siege on her body, mom described Nancy’s week-long war against imminent death through a series of calls and texts. My aunt struggled valiantly, wanting just a few more days, a few more precious moments with those she loved best in the world. She fought longer and harder than most could have. And if her fight was brutal for me to read and hear about, I cannot imagine the agony of being there to witness it.

Cramps tore through her soft tissue, leaving arms, legs, neck rigid and wracked with pain. Melanie massaged her throat, coaxing her to swallow the morphine she syringed into Nancy’s cheek every fifteen minutes. It did little to nothing. Neither the massage nor the morphine. But Melanie persisted. And she held her in her arms and sang to her.

Daughter cradled mother — a poignant, painful role reversal.

I remember meeting my cousin Melanie as a baby the very first time. I was a lanky preteen and she was a pudgy one-year-old — looking all the world like the the Mattel Tender Love baby doll from my preschool days. Nancy had her dressed her like a little doll, too. A strawberry blond baby doll in bloomers and bib.

Now, my aunt was the one in diaper and bib, as her sister and daughter and grandchildren sang her favorite songs — little lullabies from all eras of her life — hoping to bring peace, hoping to bring comfort.

They also recounted beloved histories together — perhaps some of the ones I remember vaguely from that summer long ago in East Tennessee.

They cried, they laughed, they sang, they bonded.

The transition was hard, and the transition was beautiful. It was a painful, beautiful, powerful transition from this realm into the next.

And mom tells me Nancy looked young and beautiful again — back to the time before the Lewy’s Body Dementia wreaked its havoc. Back to those days of platform shoes and bright patterns. Back to those days of fierce tenacity and bold brilliance.

Back to the Nancy we all knew and loved. Ready for her close up.

Her up close and personal with God.

***

I saw a cardinal at my window this afternoon, sneaking a peek at my family through the glass. For me, it’s a sure sign — Nancy is back in her red pantsuit once again. Only this time, she’s got wings.

Tom Brady and Her Baby GOATs

I’m sitting on a couch in my basement watching my boys play. One almost-five-year-old son scrambles across the pool table, flinging balls into pockets with his bare hands and making crashing noises. His twin brother croons “Havana na-na-na” into a karaoke mic while pounding a keyboard and perfecting his KidzBop choreography.

Disney’s Ferdinand is playing on the big screen in the background.

I remember the picture book from my childhood, but this is the first time I’ve seen the movie. Ferdinand — a calf seemingly destined for bullfighting. His dad is a fighter. His peers, his friends, even his enemies — all fighters.

But Ferdinand? He doesn’t have a smidgeon of fight in him. Nope, he loves flowers and dancing and all things NOT bullfighting.

I can’t help but think of our twin boys. They were born into football. Their dad played and now coaches football. Their mom loves football. They are the genetic product of a football family. Football pretty much drives our lives.

One son wants to grow up and be a football player. He loves rough and tumble and tackle and touchdown.

And one son wants to grow up and be a one-man boy band. He loves singing and dancing and all things NOT football.

They are exact opposites, my twin boys, despite being sprinkled with the same genetic spices and baked up in the same uterus at the exact same time.

And this ain’t my first rodeo… or bullfight or stage production, or whatever metaphor we’re working with here. I have adult daughters. And they are, likewise, complete opposites.

One grew up to be a surgeon, and one grew up to be a mama. The surgeon, she wanted to be an astronaut at five years old. And the mama, well she wanted to be a mama.

So Lord knows childhood dreams can change at the drop of a hat — or helmet or mic or whatever. Or dreams can remain the same.

Me? I wanted to be a mystery writer as a kid. I wanted to be the next Agatha Christie. I wanted people to die with the scent of almonds on their breath and secrets clutched within their cold fists and storied bloodlines.

Instead, I grew up to be an English teacher and a blogger, the scent of peanut butter on my breath, and while nobody’s died yet, I do clutch a red pen in my cold fist and bleed all over student story lines.

So yes, things could change. Or they could remain the same.

But whichever direction my boys and their dreams go, I will be there to support them. I will be there to believe in them. And to tell them they can be and do whatever they believe they can be and do. Just like I did with my girls.

And I will hang out in their corners encouraging, supporting, and cheering them on. Just like I did — and still do — my girls.

I like to believe I’m a lot like Lupe, the calming goat in Ferdinand:the awkward, rough-around-the-edges, bearded, female life coach of the title character.

I’m definitely in my kids’ corners like Lupe was in Ferdinand’s corner. They’re my kids after all… and technically speaking, kids are baby goats. (Heck, one of my kids even has a beard. At. Five. Years. Old.)

And since Lupe’s my spirit animal… right down to my lack of orthodontia and fondness for bed-bug rhymes at tuck-in (although I don’t have a beard, thank God), I guess that makes me a goat.

But since I’m the age where most mothers have already retired to an empty nest, I guess that makes me not just ANY goat, but THE GOAT.

I am the Tom Brady of motherhood.

I even have my own little personal deflate-gate — lumpy rucksacks that breastfed four babies for a grand total of four years and now appear the worse for wear…


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