I settled on the screened porch to the honking of geese overhead, a whole gaggle, rowdy in the early morning haze of an August sky.
A reminder that summer is drawing closer to its end.
A rustling of leaves at the tree line joined in, a breeze taking flight, joining the uprising… protesting or promoting the closing of the season?
The ensuing rustle, a bit like rain, a bit like the street sweeper that climbs the hill in front of our house collecting grass clippings on summer mornings, leaf droppings in fall.
Collecting fallen reaped things.
Even in this season of plenty — even now — autumn is drawing nigh.
Nobody says that anymore, have you noticed?
Not the autumn part, though that too… that beautiful word, losing ground to the curt simplicity of Fall… but the growing nigh part?
Just poets. Maybe. Rarely.
Those of us who want to hold onto the nostalgia of old words wheezing their last, along with the weedy wistfulness of summertime.
Both futile undertakings.
Still. They’re not dead yet.
Not the words, as long as we’re willing to sit with them a while in their magic, and not the summer, while we’re willing to sit with her a while in her moment.
Summer’s ripe and blowsy, beautifully overgrown, gorgeous and gone-too-soon moment.
Today, I will seize her like a ripe tomato – bright and round and shining with the taste of sunshine.
Today, I will fill my soul with her,
Much like the hummingbird, flitting about to show me he’s here before perching, iridescent, on the red roost against the blue backdrop of the swimming pool.
He surveys his domain and drinks himself giddy.
While directly below, a bee ambles its way from leggy petunia to leggy petunia gathering nectar to make honey while the sun shines warm.
A pool float drifts aimlessly in the remnants of the breeze, gone as fast as it came. Gone as fast as summer.
It’s the first week of August
Heat shimmers off asphalt
Tomatoes wither on the vine
And in fields everywhere —
In small towns and big cities alike —
Players are planting their cleats in the turf
And sewing reps for the upcoming season
And coaches are planting kernels of wisdom
Pouring their heads and hearts
Into the storehouses of our future
So that soon
Footballs with hang times
As high as the mercury
Will tee off and inkblot the sun
In half-second oval eclipses
To kickoff the season that eclipses our seasons.
When Friday Nights light up the sky
On lines of scrimmages
Turf pellets scattering like buckshot
Behind the blazing feet of the skills fleet
While the quarterback searches for split-second targets
and sheets of sweat slick everyone’s neck
and the drumlines roll
and the symbols clash
and the whistles keen
and the fans all dream
Of cooler nights
As they wait for the relief of
Under velvet twilights;
Where fans collect
The first two quarters
Hair and skin draped in soggy blankets of sweat
While moths bash their bodies in cataclysmic ballets
beneath blazing stadium lights
and starlings and swallows
scoop them like popcorn from the sky
While actual popcorn
clutched in white paper bags
perfumes the air below
Butter dripping off dipping fingers
As the dew point drops to
collected condensation, while the crowd’s conversation
turns to playoff runs, and championship sights
and cooler, so much cooler nights.
And the coaches in the locker rooms
Adjust and turn
And the players in the position groups
Listen and learn
grow and glean kernels of wisdom
in victory and defeat
in the season that eclipses our seasons.
Picture this… Mothers and Daughters
Their procreative powers celebrated and valued
Their minds and voices, acknowledged and revered
— whether child-bearing, child-rearing, bread-winning, globe-setting or game-changing.
Women, not relegated to house and home, but women, free to regulate themselves.
Free to roam.
It could happen. It still could.
Picture so many women, Mothers and Daughters,
set to tell their stories. Mothers and Daughters
with stories like mine and hers and theirs.
Stories ready to be sung out, loud and proud.
Ready to upset the maelstrom of men and their spheres of control,
their spears of control,
Women set to tell their stories unhobbled by laws, unhanged with stigma, unsacrificed on altars, no longer denigrated and diminished.
Picture Mothers and Daughters unlabeled.
Unlabeled as virgins, ladies, cock-teases, cougars, sluts, spinsters, trophy wives, whores, hags. Frigid or loose. Nasty or pure.
Unlabeled. Unhysterical, Unfat, Unskinny, Unugly, Unhot.
Unused and Unabused.
But no longer UnSung. Singing so many stories.
It could happen. It will.
That’s where me and my kind come in. The writers, the poets, the instigators.
We play a fundamental role in the histories of Her Stories.
We keep the home fires burning,
Fostering and fueling far more than fires in hearths.
Feeding fires in hearts.
Encouraging stargazing, fire eating, and drops of Jupiter in our hair.
It’s in our dna, and has been, since the wheel first whetted the knife. Caves first oxidized hands.
And we’ll keep doing it until the reach of our arms and the span of our hips, and the stride of our steps no longer fits the limits of their boxes.
Until our potential is so great, vibrates so powerfully, wells and swells so phenomenally, that their spheres all burst and new worlds are all birthed, new galaxies unfold…
And we all find a place.
Our place –
– for ourselves and our daughters.
I know about stolen rights. I lived them. I write about them. I just completed a novel composed of situations and scenarios from my life when I was deeply entombed in a cult that allowed me no voice and no rights. No anything except somebody else’s opinions and beliefs and actions forced inside me over and over and over.
Not rape, no. Not in a sexual sense. But yes, in a sex sense. Not in a violent sense, no. But yes, in a violated sense.
My bodily autonomy violated every hour of every day. My mind infringed upon. Hobbled. My brain and opinions gutter-stomped in the hopes that all I could regurgitate was an amalgamation of what they were putting inside me. Subservience. Shame. The sin-fueled inheritance of Eve.
I escaped and never looked back. No, not true. I did look back – I do look back. And I thank my lucky stars I escaped. And I write my testimony so others won’t have to live it.
Only sometimes I wonder if any of it makes any difference anyway. Because everywhere around me I see intense brainwashing. Beliefs so warped and controlled that I don’t know if anything that is said, if anything that is done, if anything that is witnessed and testified to and documented makes any sort of difference anyways.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop. That doesn’t mean I won’t do my utmost to part the veil and bring light to the darkness of what I’ve seen happen to women when they are abused and ignored and labeled and sacrificed.
Because women will be sacrificed. They will die. Because doctors – doctors who know and understand the risks are being hobbled too. Their voices are being stolen too. They are unable to sound an alarm loud enough to save the victims. So women will die. And babies will die. They will be brought into this world only to suffer and die. Or to suffer through a broken system that will not save them. Because people who know and understand cannot shout it loud enough to be heard. People will be – are being – entombed. Figuratively and literally.
It’s not just about what you think it’s all about. And while it’s already ugly, it’s gonna get so much uglier. I wish you would believe me.
Because I know.
I haven’t written about the tragedy of Uvalde until now. My heart was too broken, too numb.
Our whole country is that way right now: broken and numb, standing in the rubble of two separate sides: those who haven’t yet been touched by gun violence and those of us who have.
Me, I sit on a screened porch surrounded by the symphony of bird song, while four states away, an entire town howls in anger and grief, their elementary school still roped in crime scene tape.
Two separate sides.
One week ago, 19 children were still alive, dressing for church or playing with siblings or sleeping-in beneath security blankets with soft pillows for their heads. And now… now their heads rest on morgue trays, their parents sleepless. Medicated. Mourning. Desperate with grief.
Their siblings and friends are hollow and haunted.
Their teachers are dead. Families, broken. A husband’s heart cracked open so wide, it spilled him over to the other side. Broken beyond repair.
Me… my children have just climbed from bed, eager for Sunday pancakes. We celebrated a dance recital last night; graduation ceremonies last week, Memorial Day festivities tomorrow.
Two separate sides.
Me, too numb to write, taking time to sort through my thoughts and breathe. While the children of Uvalde had no time to think. No more time to breathe.
Two separate sides.
Our country is cracked wide open and on two separate sides.
The side horrified and outraged about innocent lives lost, and the side horrified and outraged about potential rights lost.
Our country is broken – cracked down the middle.
The horror! the outrage! — when the deaths of 19 fourth graders and 2 dedicated teachers can trigger a rally cry to save guns instead of children.
Oh, how broken and numb, we truly are.
I believe parenting and teaching are the two hardest jobs in the world. And when you happen to do both, the hardness is compounded. Because you want so much for your kids. All of them.
I want to see my physician daughter, who has spent the past 17 of her 35 years learning each cell in the human body and how cancer attacks it, and then learning every conceivable way to excise and eradicate that cancer — I want to see her accepted as the exceptional surgeon she is, accomplished and pedigreed and equal to any male physician she meets in the OR or on the interview trail. I’m ready to see her heal her patients of the most pernicious of cancers while shattering glass ceilings in the most prestigious of institutions. She’s in an uphill battle, but she is a capable and tireless fighter. She’s got this.
And I want to see my second born — my hard-headed, hard-loving daughter with a work ethic and people skills that absolutely can’t be taught — I want her to keep embracing her destiny and side-stepping the naysayers. She has worked her way from sandwich maker to grocery teller to medical receptionist to dental office manager. College is not for everyone and she proves every day that a sharp mind, heaping helping of initiative, and an open heart are the key ingredients for a successful life, not some framed piece of paper from a university. I want her to know how proud of her I am, and I want the world to know how amazing and brilliant she is.
I want my eldest second-grade twin — the one with amber hair and almond eyes who wants to play quarterback, but is built like a D-lineman; who worries about his intelligence because of a score on some blasted gifted criteria test, but reads chapter books and spouts Titanic facts like a documentary — I want him to understand that he is smart and tender and tough and totally and always enough. (Oh, and that defense wins championships.) I want him to know he has a heartbreaking smile, an intuitive kindness, and a sarcastic wit that cannot be bought, but sure can win folks over. And I want him to know there’s nothing he can’t accomplish if he sets his heart and mind to it.
And I want my youngest twin, the one who worries about who he is and what he loves because society is so eager to judge him for it – I want him to know that he is fearfully and wonderfully made according to God’s pattern. And by golly, the pattern God cut for him is on a bright, bold, beautiful cloth. This kid loves long, curly hair, turquoise sequins, sassy mermaids, and ballet, tap, and jazz. And all those things are not, nor have ever, been wrong. And if anybody says otherwise, then they are the ones who are wrong. He shines in every way possible – mind, body, soul, AND clothing. His future is as bright as the sequins and glitter he embraces. And Satan, if you have anything to say about it by loading the mouths of minions with ridicule– STEP ASIDE. We don’t need you or your lies in our lives.
And I want the 165 students I teach to likewise be loved and appreciated for who they are and the potential they hold. All of them, of course, but especially my marginalized students – the ones who have so few supporters in their corners. And there are so many of them – marginalized students and corners they’re crammed into. So many who are judged and bullied and ostracized and hated even, all because they look different or think differently or sing different tunes than everyone else. To these children I say – you be you. And I will love you and accept you and celebrate you and stand with you and fight for you. You have an advocate in me. Because red, yellow, black, white or rainbow-colored, you are all precious in my sight. And in God’s.
What I ultimately want for all my children is to accept and see, not reject and judge. God has granted all of us gifts and all of us grace — and we need to use and embrace our gifts and model and share His grace. It’s that simple.
And that hard.
I’ve done a lot of things later than other people. Went back to school at 32. Began teaching at 35. Had twin boys at 48. Finished my first novel at 55.
Some people say age is just a number. Some people call me crazy. I would agree with ALL those people. Age is just a number and I think I’m insane.
There’s a reason folks have kids when they’re in their 20s and 30s. Kids run you ragged (and in your earlier decades you have more energy to run before you find yourself ragged).
Our family is currently in the raggedy-ass stage. From football to basketball to soccer and theater and dance… we’re coming undone.
And then there’s that teaching gig I have.
Because there’s also a reason teachers retire at 52. Students. So. Many. Students. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I really, really do. But finding grace and patience for 160-plus 18-year-olds shuffling their way through senioritis in the last semester of the school year is almost more than a body can take.
Thank God Spring Break is arriving soon.
And then there’s that writing gig I have. If you can call it a gig. It’s more of a goal. A long shot. But I’m the queen of long shots. Everything I do is a Hail Mary.
I shoot for the moon. I go long. I have twin babies at 48. I finish writing books I began 20 years earlier at 55.
When I say I go long, I’m not kidding. My days begin at 5:30 AM and nearly every single second of every single one of them is devoted to tending twins and teaching students and doing laundry and cooking dinners and grading essays and loving the most wonderful and supportive husband this world could possibly comprehend. He keeps me sane.
He keeps me sane so I can then go edit my story in the small spaces in between the chaos. The smallest margins imaginable. But then, that’s where Hail Marys thrive. In the impossible spaces. The thinnest of margins.
Where my nerves and energy and patience live too.
But then, so do the miracles. That’s where they’ve been made manifest — in the impossible margins. Fueled by love and faith. So much love and faith.
Like this book of mine. All 400 pages of it. Made in the spaces between. The spaces I’m still using to whittle it down to perfection so its ready for an agent and the world. Ready to toss it out there into infinity.
I’m going long. May it find a place to land inside those thin, impossible – oh so possible! – margins. Because I may be insane, but I’m also blessed. With miracles.
We’re pencil nubs. Burned-out candles. Overdrawn bank accounts.
We’re teachers… with nigh-on nothing left to give. Out of ideas, resources, energy… everything.
Without those, we can no longer engage or awaken — and without engagement, without awakenings, we can no longer educate and inspire.
Our effectiveness is gone. And we don’t know why… although we have our suspicions.
Is the pandemic to blame — with its ensuing lethargy? Or the parents and their increasing laxity? Or the powers-that-be and their never-ending lists of demands and all-consuming blame?
So many obstacles are stacked against us and our backs are against the wall.
And we’re tired.
Tired of juggling classes and assignments and grading and meetings and all the rest of all the things. Tired of doing our jobs and then our colleagues jobs, too, because there aren’t enough subs. Because teachers are sick — or their kids are sick. Or they’re sick to exhaustion and need more than a single night’s sleep to recover.
We aren’t recovering.
We’re doing too much and carrying too much and caring too much.
Because that’s what we do. We care. We’re empaths. It’s the nature of our job.
We feel for our students. We ache for our students, who also are suffering under the weight of all the things. Pandemic and parental struggles. Poverty and violence and loss. So much more than ever before.
And so our students aren’t keeping up — not with assignments or attendance or… anything. And it falls on us to keep up with it all. And it’s impossible.
But we try. We keep smiling. And doing. Carving out kindnesses from our very souls because all the other cupboards are bare… scraping our hearts and sharing the scraps with our depleted, dejected students.
We fake it, trying to make it. But at some point — and soon — nothing will be made… no progress; no achievement; no benchmark of understanding. No eye contact, even.
We already aren’t seen by anyone. Not the students. Not the parents. Not by the public or the politicians. We’re heaped under the avalanche of everyone else’s agendas and told to stay strong.
Stay? That ship sailed a long, long time ago.
So I guess we stay… what? Weak? Exhausted? Underwater. Under-seen. Undervalued. Under pressure.
The pressures of trickledown education.
Where we’re crumbling beneath the weight of doing it all, but are we accomplishing anything?
It doesn’t feel like it.
And something’s gotta give.
And it can’t just keep being us. We’re “give” out.