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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.

Expectations Make a Good Team into a Great One

Every summer, prior to season kickoff, the football team sets goals. Sets expectations. What they want and need to accomplish if they are to have a winning season.

Expectations, when met, make a good team into a great one.

The reason I’m wrangling this metaphor is because I just read a post from a football wife asking for some support and advice. Her husband has been gone all summer — from sunup till way-past sundown every day, and the season has yet to begin. This wife is feeling neglected and alone. She needed a sounding board and some legitimate suggestions on how to broach the subject with her husband. She got both from most. But not from all. From one wife, she got something else entirely.

One wife of a football coach told another wife of a football coach to have zero expectations and then she won’t be disappointed.

And that rankles me, y’all. Bad.

It gets me all sorts of riled up. Blood-pressure-through-the-roof, expletive-laden, all sorts of riled up. Because what did she really just tell that wife?

She told her that she comes last. That she doesn’t deserve her man’s love, respect, or time. That her needs aren’t important. Quite simply, that she’s not important.

She regurgitated the debilitating dogma that society has fed women since forever: Support your man. Hold down the fort. Love and look after him when he’s around. Miss him when he’s gone. And expect nothing in return. Then… if you get more than that… well… go you!

Now, if y’all know me, you know my history, and you know exactly how I feel when somebody tells a woman she shouldn’t have expectations. You can pretty much guess what came out of my mouth. And it wasn’t pretty. (But it was pretty French.)

As women, we deserve more. As wives… in a marriage… a partnership… a team, if you will… we absolutely deserve more.

Women are so much more than helpmate and safe harbor. We are so much more than simple cisterns to be filled with our man’s hopes, desires, and offspring — contrary to centuries of saying otherwise.

Women have voices and women have value.

And as partners in our marriages we should have expectations. And those expectations should be met. Even in a football marriage. Especially in a football marriage.

Both of you want to win — at football and at marriage. If you didn’t, neither one of you would have gotten involved with either marriage or football. (And tell the truth, football wives, you knew what you were getting into when you married him. Well, for the most part you knew.) And because you both willingly signed up for this crazy life, you’re both now shouldering an insane amount of responsibility.

He’s shouldering the needs of a full squad of teenaged boys with all their adolescent edges and angst. And he’s balancing the demands of a season-full of practice and bus and meal and game schedules. Plus carrying the ungodly stress of parental and community politics. And he doesn’t come home until he’s put it all to bed. Well after dark. Till the field house is quiet and calm. Deceptively so. The weight of it all can be unbearable.

And you’re balancing and carrying and shouldering, too. Everything else. Jobs, hearth, home, kids. All the study and practice and play and bath and story and bed times. Plus the ungodly stress of all the tantrums and fistfights and set-it-all-right politics. And he doesn’t come home until you’ve put it all to bed. Well after dark. Till the house is quiet and calm. Deceptively so. The weight of it all can be unbearable.

It’s easy to get resentful. On both sides. Because from each respective side, it appears the other has it easier. Well, guess what? Neither has it easy.

To keep our marriage healthy and happy, my guy and I BOTH have expectations. As we should.

Mine are simple, but effective: Communication and Kisses.

Communication is my bread and butter. It sustains me. Before the day begins, we have breakfast. Together. Always. It’s my special 20 minutes of “Just Us” time while the boys are still in bed. Cereal, coffee and simple chit-chat — my fuel for the day.

Then he sends me little texts as power snacks all day long. And for lunch, sweet love notes on my sandwich bag. He makes all the lunches — it’s just one way he helps lighten my load. That plus laundry — preloaded in a delay cycle a couple times a week. (I hit the jackpot with my coach. He exceeds my expectations. Constantly.)

And then there’s the kisses. Lots and lots of kisses. At wake up. Before leaving for work. With emojis on the phone. And real ones when he gets home. Always before games. And always after games.

Always and forever, lots and lots of kisses. Without them, I more-than-sort- of-self-destruct. It’s well documented. So he gives me plenty.

Plenty of communication and kisses. It’s on the game plan.

And as for his expectations, they’re a whole lot of the same — especially, believe it or not, the communication part. Because if I don’t tell him when something’s bothering me or something’s not working, he’ll spend all sorts of time he doesn’t have trying to fix it — totally blind. And that’s not fair to either one of us.

Yes, football and marriage are team sports. And for the team to get stronger and for the game to go well, each member needs their expectations set and then met. That’s what makes a good team into a great one.

And everybody wins. Everybody.

A Parable of Three Fated Sisters

Memory. Charity. Promise. Three women. Three beautiful sisters with three beautiful names.

But the beauty stops where the limitations began. Imparted by their forefathers… Remember your place. Nurture others. Earn your reward.

And so it began.

Memory lived her life in the past– a far-from-accurate, completely-black-and-white past, shaded by perceptions and surroundings. What he wanted. How he felt. Where he’d been. Had she done it right? It all dictated how she lived her present and looked to her future. All from the past. Memory just couldn’t live in the moment. Her moment.

Then there was Charity. She gave herself away. All of her self. To everyone. Her family, her friends, her lover, her home, her job. Until there was nothing left of her but a shell of a woman with a beautiful, empty name. A Charity case.

And finally, there was Promise. Her strength lay in her looking to the future — and overlooking the past and present. Ignoring any injustice. Keeping her eye on the prize. Always waiting on the earned reward of being the dutiful, obedient woman. Waiting for her destiny to unfold. Always waiting. A Promise yet to be found.

Three sisters. Their lives short-changed by society’s pigeon holes: Remember your place; Nurture; Obey. And all that is good and holy will surely come to you.

Bull shit.

Don’t be kept in a cage of society’s invention. Lift up your heads, sisters. Climb out of your relegated roles.

Don’t give yourself away — Charity begins at home. Use your past to build your present. Use your Memory to make your mark. Bring your Promise to fruition by building it — not waiting on it.

Ignore what the world wants you to be, Sisters, and be who YOU want to be.

Cockadoodle Carnage and Bathtub Baptism

I was baptized in a bathtub. The exact same tub that housed the sinewy corpses of dozens of elderly, free-range chickens just one week before.

By this time, our family had moved into a new house in a decent neighborhood — nary a naked hippy or homeless grad student to be found. Plenty of drunks though. It was the era of the cocktail hour, after all.

Ours was a yellow split level, with redwood deck and screened porch and a crawl space just big enough to lock away our Llewellyn Setter, Belle — the second-best quail dog who ever did live. When she wasn’t in heat.

When she was in heat, she was an infernal creature chained inside the crawl space, where she commenced to fumigate the entire house with ripe, gamey smells that drove my mama half-crazy. No amount of Spic and Span could rid the house of that stench.

But back to the cockadoodle carnage and bathtub baptism…

Daddy decided one day that poultry production would be an economic way to feed his evangelical, not-a-cult-yet, bible-study group. That, and he could trade rough-hewn fence posts for a couple hundred Plymouth Rock hens, so why not?

As a newly-ordained shepherd in the Discipleship Movement of the 70s, he took his duties seriously. And one of those duties was to provide for his flock. We had a newly-planted victory garden with acres of okra and peas. And now we had chickens.

Let me tell ya, physicists have no business playing farmer. And in this tale, there are TWO physicists… my dad and his fellow Ole Miss faculty member, Dan. (We’ll call him Dan because he was a no-nonsense Yankee with clipped vowels from Michigan State, so Boaz or Silas as a scriptural pseudonym just never would fit.) So, Dan it is.

Now this was a cockamamie scheme (wink, wink) from the get go, for all sorts of reasons. First off, these were some tough old birds — Methuselah-old in chicken years. To say they were ready for the Purina pet food factory would NOT be an exaggeration. That, plus the fact Daddy didn’t have the proper equipment to butcher and clean poultry were just two reasons.

But a man who understood alpha particles and chaos theory wasn’t gonna let a bunch of chickens get the best of him. So he gathered up his meagre-but-eager flock of neophytes and in no time, they’d assembled a paltry little poultry production line:

  • machete
  • canning pots
  • table for plucking
  • buck knife
  • bathtub

The carnage began in the backyard. It was like Salome and John the Baptist out there — chickens losing heads right and left — with a particularly large and gregarious gentleman wielding the machete. We’ll call him Rufus because, well, he had red hair and lived in a trailer park, so it suits him. That, plus he’s the hunter who taught Daddy to pop off quail heads and feed them to Belle as her point-and-retrieve reward. (The ensuing belches rivaled Hell’s sulfurous fumes.) If a red-haired, trailer-park-living, bird-dog loving southern man ain’t tailor-made for the name Rufus, I don’t know who is.

Back in the kitchen, Daddy baptized the newly-headless chickens in 20-qt speckled enamel pots chock full of rapidly boiling water. (He was always looking to dunk somebody, so this was great practice.) The birds got two minutes each, just prior to plucking. No more. No less. Too long, boiled flesh. Too less, torn breasts.

The plucking came next. In the hallway. With a dagger. (Not really. I just couldn’t pass on the Clue allusion …). But it really did happen in the hallway, only with bare hands.

It was a sticky, heinous job. Rufus (after making mincemeat of the machete business) and Dan-the-physics-man found themselves covered top to toe in soaking-wet, blue and black and white and silver feathers. They looked like fish with fluffy scales. Or Harpies.

Harpies are typically half-bird, half-female creatures, but travel back to Oxford in the summer of ’76 and you’ll find two of the male variety, squatting over a table, fingers puckered from plucking, lashes dripping with downy detritus — one well over six feet; the other, not-so-much.

Last on the production line, the newly-naked corpses were tossed upstairs to the bathroom, where they lost their innards and feet at the hands of Hiram — a former Vietnam chopper pilot. Entrails were dropped in orange paint buckets, birds in the ice-filled tub.

Where they were left in waiting on the womenfolk.

The women were charged with dissection — 200 cadavers at ten pieces each. No small undertaking. Even with steel buck knifes. And once the dismemberment was final, the job was far from over.

Those chickens had come to a sticky end. And my mother soon found herself in the STICKIEST of situations.

Here’s a little-known chicken butchering fact (at least for physicists-turned farmers): If the fatty scent glands of a chicken aren’t excised properly, they leech a stinky, oily grease.

And these weren’t. So these did. All over Mama’s gold fiberglass tub/shower combo…

The clean-up was monumental. Exxon Valdiz monumental. No way Dawn Dishwashing Liquid was taking that grease out of her way. It stucketh to that tub closer than a brother.

Second little-known chicken butchering fact: fatty scent glands are the mark of Cain. They are made of impenetrable stuff.

My mama scrubbed her fingers raw. That grease still probably lingers to this day, haunting all past, present and future tenants.

Which brings us to our baptism side of the story on a Saturday evening a week or so later… when this narrator was washed in the blood of the lamb — and the oil of the fatty scent glands of two-hundred plymouth rock poultry.

I had just walked down the aisle as a junior bridesmaid and is a day that will forever live in fondness and infamy.

For the wedding, I wore a dotted swiss, lemon yellow dress with square neck and white rick rack. The collar just highlighted the tiny raised mole above my right breast — along with my burgeoning need for a training bra.

Those sprouting acorn-sized lumps must’ve constituted an emergency. That, plus the strawberry lip gloss the bride smeared across my mouth like a Sodomite stain…

Whatever the prompting, I found myself sitting in a tub full of water in a scooter skirt and tank, Daddy praying fervently over my soul.

I’m sure I looked wild-eyed and mortified.

I’d attended baptisms before, but never my own. And always at the riverside. Never tub-side. Where was the murky water? The threat of cottonmouth nests? The promise of fried chicken and RC Cola after? This felt all wrong.

Rufus, Hiram, and Dan made it the requisite Two-or-Three-Or-More-Are-Gathered-in-my-Name official. They sang a slightly off-tune “Let’s Go Down to the River to Pray,” which calmed me. A little.

Until Daddy dunked me.

At ten, I was a long-legged filly (maybe another reason Daddy decided he could tary not one second more), so I’m not entirely certain my knobby knees made it under. Which is worrisome. Because it’s total dunk or no deal in Daddy’s nondenominational eyes. On sprinkle or pour, he casts aspersions.

But my noggin knocked fiberglass, of this I know. So here’s hoping it stuck.

I know the grease from the 200 fatty scent glands of the Plymouth Rock hens stuck. My hair had enough oil to light the lamps of the ten virgins in the parable for perpetuity.

I was one prepared virgin, at least. I know this much is true…

(And as for those chickens… chewy and tough as Methuselah’s boots. All Mama could do was grind them down to chicken salad — with a wallop of Duke’s mayonnaise and a half-a-patch of dill weed, you could still taste those fatty scent glands.)

My kind of Sexy

…is a summertime morning striptease. (It’s not what you think. Tell my husband not to get too excited.)

Summer mornings are my favorite. Especially ones like today. Do-nothing mornings — where I can sit and watch the fog drift in wisps on the silvery light — moth-wings light, lamb’s wool light, low-slung and easy.

I love to watch the sky unwind those ribbons of lambs-wool light, to slowly unwrap the earth — a long, sensual striptease revealing round, lush tree tops, and soft, dripping foliage.

The katydids swell with approval, the birds erupt in chorus, a woodpecker pulses the beat.

Somewhere amid the clover, a bee, slow from his overindulgence on nectar the night before, treads water in the liquid air. Not quite ready to start his day, not quite ready to get busy.

I get it. It’s so easy to overindulge in the potent nectar of these perfect summer days. The sun is long and tempting, and nature bursts free of her seams. She is hot and completely undone.

Gardens grow blousy with feverish growth and roadsides explode, keeping pace.

And we, as humans, we just want to imbibe. There is just so much fun to be had. Trails. Rivers. Beaches. Pools. Family. Friendship. Fireworks. Fun.

Like the wings of the hummingbirds at my feeder, summer is a blur of glittering seconds, so fast you can only see where it’s been, rarely standing still to see the up-close-and-perfect detail.

We cram action, hummingbird style, into layers and layers of summertime fun. Time is a frenzy most days.

But this morning I’m taking it slow. Because slow is my kind of sexy.

My boys — they get bored. All three of them. They like action. They like fun. And to them, sitting still and soaking it all in is a far cry from fun. So they’ve gathered up their things and taken off to the pool.

But me, I’m saddled up in this morning, eager to sit for a spell. Literally. Waiting for a spell. For creativity to light, to take up my fingers, to tickle my keyboard, and to unchain my mind.

And it takes awhile. The words appear slow, a tantalizing striptease.

Tendrils of misty promise, backlit by vision, fuzzy and opaque, flit about, flirting with my senses. Then, slivers of clarity — a single word, tweaked and pulled to a taut, perfect pearl. More coaxing ensues, until finally, big, rounded handfuls of glittering splendor are revealed. Eager and pliable. Hot and ready to couple and link.

It takes time to tease words into the light –to convince them to unveil their secrets and put themselves on full display.

And time is a frenzy most days.

But today, even the hummingbirds have slowed their windspeed. They defy their nature and perch at the feeder. Drinking deeply. Soaking in the sweet syrup of summertime.

It is — or was — a beautiful, do-nothing morning, succulent and ripe, and ready to open, to yield her secrets beneath my eager persistence.

But now. Now our time together is done. The show is over. Life demands my attention more than my words.

But as always, I’m left yearning for more. And that is my kind of sexy.

A Juxtaposed American Tragedy: Hope and Salvation, Denial and Death

They lay there together among the weeds and reeds. One barefoot, the other shod. One grown-up, the other child. A father and daughter. Floating loosely face down upon the shore of hope and salvation. Denied.

The flotsam and jetsam of political power play.

In a land that espouses Christianity, no Christian charity was to be found.

***

This past week, my family travelled north in a Ford f150 with brand new tires and wifi adaptor to keep two easily-bored boys from being easily bored. We fled the heat and humidity of the South for a week, on a quest for tall bluegrass and frozen custard.

This past year, another family travelled north. On bare feet and a diehard determination to keep a two-year-old daughter alive. They fled the abject poverty and gang violence of a civil war, on a quest for hope and salvation.

Two journeys northward. One for reunion. One for asylum.

Two families. One American. One Salvadoran.

Two realities: Hope and Salvation. Denial and death.

***

I live an amazing life. My husband and I discussed it just this past week as we were driving the long road home from up north. We had endured some hardships and misery along the way, thanks to short tempers and weak wifi, and we were trying to remind ourselves how truly blessed we are:

We have a safe, secure home, beautiful children, wonderful jobs, good health, plenty of food, a decently stable political climate — as stable as a country being led by an angry, ego-fueled, unintelligent, power-hungry, despot-leaning POTUS can possibly be — but still, stable enough that I’m not swimming for my life, my children clinging to my back as terror consumes us.

I try to imagine what that would be like, strapping my child to my back, wrapped in the fragile cocoon of a wet t-shirt, certain-death lying below us in the water and below us to the South.

I try to imagine risking everything for a chance to give my children safety and food and a decently-stable political climate. I try to imagine having none of these things. Having nothing but my children.

I would face all obstacles to give my children hope and salvation. And this, at least, I can relate to.

I try again to imagine myself barefoot at the border after months and months of walking. If I were to go through the proper checkpoints my child will be put in a cage. Kept cold. Kept hungry. Kept from me. Perhaps forever. I have heard these stories.

I am hungry, tired, dirty, and homeless; my child is hungry, tired, dirty, and homeless. But we are together. It is all we have. That, plus hope for salvation.

So instead of entering at the checkpoints, I wade into the water. By entering, I long to wash away the hunger, the exhaustion, the dirt. I long for new life. A literal baptism. Salvation waits on the other side.

Only salvation does not come.

After all this father and child endured, the miles they travelled, the extreme hardships they endured, the monumental challenges they overcame… they were ultimately ill-equipped to survive the darkness they met at the border. The border they believed held salvation.

Instead of hope, they found horror; instead of mercy, they found death.

Theirs was no family vacation to the north. There’s was a sojourn into the dark and grainy soul of modern-day America.

***

Juxtaposition. Two opposite things, laying side by side, made more powerful by their contrast. The juxtaposition of this desperate father and child is a powerful one. It stirs anger in many of us. And action.

But will it stir enough of us? Will it spur enough of us? To take action. To write our legislators. To send supplies. To lend aid. To protest.

To fight for the souls of these desperate families.

To fight for the souls of ourselves.

Because we are currently hiding behind righteousness and rules, but we are wallowing in horror and hate.It is a powerful and profound contrast. And it demands action.

Do something about it.

***

One way to help is to help fund hygiene kits for those inside ICE custody. If you live in Georgia… The Georgia Alliance for Social Justice and El Refugio are sponsoring a month-long event called Ayudamos, translated: We help. For the next month all over Georgia, they are collecting clothing and basic toiletries, and creating hygiene kits for the people most affected by these cruel immigration policies. El Refugio provides support to men in ICE custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA and their families.

Here is a link to the Amazon Hygiene Kit Party Wish List…
https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/QMOME4W1GDTQ?ref_=wl_share

The Southern Gothic Cradle that Kick-Started a Cult

We didn’t have gypsies or midgets living next door to us. Seems that’s always major criteria for living a truly gothic southern childhood.

True Flannery style, though, we did have a bible salesman – my father — selling scripture to anyone he could hold captive. And there was a prosthetic, too. And leg braces, straight-up-Forrest-Gump style. And plenty of twisted scripture. 

Sometimes people with the best hearts can make the worst choices. I heard that line last night and I immediately thought of my father and the choices he made so long ago that sucked him, and us right along with him, into a spiritual cyclone of incredibly destructive dimensions.

Growing up, we lived in a brick ranch on a dirt road just off the Ole Miss campus. There was a carport off the kitchen, a horse shed out back, a fern gully due south, and blackberry brambles as far as the eye could see. Our neighbors consisted of a one-eyed drunk, a couple of naked hippies, a random homeless grad student, and lots and lots of snakes.  I’d say all that qualifies as a veritable cornucopia of southern gothic ingredients.

Technically speaking, the road we lived on was gravel, but I remember one spring it rained 92 out of the 90 days and the gravel all washed away. Front porch mudslides and a mudbound VW bus became our new normal. That season, we subsisted on hot pickled okra and well water until my mother hitched a ride to the local Jitney Jungle atop a backhoe for peanut butter and bananas. 

Now, I told you there’d be a prosthetic in this story, and I don’t lie. (I may embellish, but I never lie.) That drunk next door — the one over the gully and through the mud? He had a glass eye, and any given night, he’d wander up our way and knock on the carport door. If I answered, he’d knuckle his eye out, pop it in his mouth, and roll it around on his tongue like a jawbreaker. Then he’d spit it out and offer it up to me. I had wet-the-bed- night-terrors over it. 

Even though he probably died years ago, for anonymity purposes, I’ll call him Shine – if not for the prosthetic spit-shines, then for his moonshine pilgrimages. You see, Shine would show up looking for liquor or ladies, or both, almost every single night. It got to where Mama was afraid to answer her own door. 

If Daddy was home, he’d carpe the diem and minister to Shine’s soul. I think that’s where his passion for scripture truly set fire. My father was fairly lost himself at the time — his own father having recently passed — and I’ve heard an existential crisis like that makes a body vulnerable to cultish ways. 

Regardless, there in our kitchen, my dad would fire up the Holy Spirit and force-feed scripture and coffee down Shine’s throat till he got a bellyful and went off in search of better spirits. 

Now Shine wasn’t the only strange and suspect man we’d find in our kitchen back then. The grad student Sellers (not sure if that was his first name or last, but I know he’s dead of suicide now, so I’ll name him) studied physics by day and lived in his car in our side yard by night. Every morning, he’d steal into our kitchen to swig milk straight out of the wax carton. 

I was a toddler then, in leg braces (didn’t I promise ya?). Dr. Stone told my folks I had some sort of rotational deformity, I think, so I wore the human equivalent of a leather and metal horse harness every night, and wasn’t allowed in the kitchen until my mother unshackled me every morning. The screws in the feet chewed up the linoleum, leaving Mama in a tizzy. 

So I’d watch Sellers quietly from the hallway as he unfolded the spout and chugged away. (I did a whole lot of watching back then and not a lot of talking. More on that in a moment.) Every single thing about Sellers was disheveled. His head, with its matted tufts of hair, his chest, with its pale, pudgy flesh, his Hanes briefs, with their drooping posterior.

He drove my mother crazy. But he was my father’s most faithful disciple — somehow fascinated with my Daddy’s frenzied spiritual awakenings. As far as my father was concerned, Sellers could do no wrong. 

Those naked hippies though — Dad made it pretty clear they could do no right. They lived on the other side of us from Shine.  Of all the neighbors, they scared me the least and Dad the most. 

To me, the most fascinating thing about them wasn’t their nakedness, but their giant outdoor waterbed. It sat about thirty feet from their back porch, hidden by jutting canna lilies with giant purple stalks and flaming red tips. The flowers sheltered the hippies from view when they laid naked in the sunshine. 

I watched them from a rusted-out Chevy perched among a mess of brambles at their tree line. A sapling had sprouted through the floorboards and crept through the passenger window. It housed a whole lot of spiders and an occasional garden snake. And me. From my vantage point, I pretended I was a member of the Swiss Family Robinson surveying the natives in their natural habitat.  

I don’t remember him much, just that he had long, lanky limbs and hair. But her, she was an Ole Miss beauty queen drop out with caramel skin and honey hair and (according to my father’s definition of hippies) a love of mind-altering substances. A few years later, she was involved in a terrible car crash that left her in a wheelchair the remainder of her days. 

She once gave me a Mrs. Beasley doll from Family Affair fame. It had a blue polka dot body, frizzy blond hair, and a non-functioning pull string. This Ole Miss Beauty Queen was probably twenty years my senior, but at four-years-old, she became my closest friend and the closest thing I will ever know to a goddess. Or a hippie, for that matter, I guess.

There were other people in my life in those early days, too. Every Wednesday night, Dad hosted prayer meetings in our living room where he strummed his guitar with a pick and sang Delta Dawn with my mother. I don’t remember much about the folks there. Just that they were mostly college kids who probably wanted an A in my father’s physics lab. 

My father often prophesied about the end of days and always shouted in tongues. There was also some laying-on of hands and some casting out of demons. It all fell just short of snake handling, though.

So, there you have it. The southern gothic roots that propogated my father’s crazy, cultish curiosity with off-the-grid faith. And it all stemmed from a good heart, recently broken by a father’s death.

Still, it was all a bit much for a toddler in leg braces to absorb. But absorb, I did. And like it or not, it proved good fodder for a future writer.

A Tired Teacher-Mom’s 8 Little Luxuries Essential to Summer Survival

Summertime is hard on this Teacher-Mom. All those social media pics of exuberant educators wearing their “Tag, Parents! You’re It!” t-shirts… yeah, they can BITE ME.

Because I’m a teacher AND a mother of five-year-old twins. So I’m ALWAYS it. Always. I leave the frying pan in May and submerge myself in the fire during June and July.

And I’m more than a little burned out.

While other teachers rest, recover, and recharge, I referee. Those twins of mine, they fight. Like every second of every waking hour. (Ok, slight exaggeration. They fight like every alternating second of every waking hour. The remaining seconds, they carpet bomb our living space.)

So while other educators are out there sipping their umbrella drinks with their toes in the water, having assemblies in the sand, I have a list of my own little luxuries I can turn to at home. With kids. Angry, destructive, torrential tornado kids.

#1: wearing a soft, fuzzy robe and sipping coffee out of a hand-turned pottery mug. Sure, the robe’s coffee-stained and the coffee’s cold and the people at the Dollar General give me funny looks when I run in for Uncrustables and wine, but still… it’s the little things.

Or #2: watching hummingbirds at my back deck as they flit around their feeder — and then promptly buzz the “F” off because the nectar is moldy and neglected. Because I ain’t got time to take care of birds AND twin boys. Who (did I mention) fight all the everlovinglivelongmotherflusteredday?

Which means I don’t get to read those awesome British mysteries I ordered from Amazon — my #3 — because ain’t nobody got time for that shit. Even if it is some high-quality, imported, upper-crust, manor house, tea cozy shit. So scratch that.

But I do make time for #4: deadheading my marigolds. Because who can resist that satisfying little POP they make? Like snapping the Achilles’ tendon on that simpering, know-it-all parent who sent you email after condescending email all school year long. It’s that sort of satisfying. So I definitely make time for that. It’s therapy.

And I always make time for #5: Parker’s passionate kisses, complete with exaggerated MUAH! at the end. He loves to latch onto my neck and swing his 52-pound body like a 52-pound wrecking ball, shattering my lumbar region in the process, but never failing to restore my joy.

And you know what DOESN’T spark joy in me right now? Cleaning my house. My twin tornadoes completely upend it in seconds anyway — the seconds they aren’t fighting. So instead, I present #6: Nap Time.

That whole newborn baby advice to “nap when they nap,” I’ve done it religiously every weekend and summer since they were born. It’s a trend that never goes out of fashion. It gives me peace of mind, which is far better than the piece of my mind I would give everybody else if I didn’t. And let’s face it, there’s just not a lot of those endangered pieces left to go around.

Sleep always brings me joy. Particularly when the boys sleep — which they didn’t really do for the first sixteen months of their lives.

Which leads me to #7: Tate’s bedtime, when we dance as he sings along to the Jewel lullabies he’s heard since he was six days old and straight out of the NICU. Hearing him warble his bubbly, half-yodel Jewel-tones while gazing lovingly into my eyes … I can ALWAYS make time for that.

And then, finally #8: my own bedtime, complete with a glass of red wine (or two), a bucket of theatre popcorn purchased that afternoon by my ever-accommodating husband (Did you know you can buy popcorn without buying a ticket???), and Dateline. Because after the sun (and sons) go down, I embody my newest favorite meme:

“Lady in the street, netflix, snacks and murder documentaries in the sheets.”

It ain’t a lie. And it keeps me alive. And semi-sane.

All of these little luxuries keep me alive and semi-sane.

This Girl Was Made for Defeating Cancer

It’s her destiny. From the third grade on, she knew she wanted to be a doctor. From the third year of medical school, she knew she wanted to be a surgeon. From the third year of residency, she knew she wanted to be a surgical oncologist.

Three years ago, Caitlin had some boots made. Special boots. Parkland Hospital and UTSouthwestern have a tradition. Third year surgery residents have boots made in San Angelo during a month-long rotation there. Then, during chief year, the surgeons have a group pic made on the helipad, all wearing their boots. That pic will happen this year, Caitlin’s official chief year.

Today, though, even bigger things happen. Today, my girl finds out where these boots will take her.

Today, her destiny unfurls in an email. Today, the place where her surgical skills will be honed to near perfection is finally known. Today, cancerous tumors in the bellies of thousands will find themselves inexorably drawn to the precise, take-no-prisoners edge of my daughter’s scalpel.

Today, cancer loses and Caitlin wins.

Three years ago, these chief boots were made for walking straight into the hallowed operating rooms of the greatest surgical oncology training hospital in the world.

MD Anderson, here she comes!!!

Depression Doesn’t Care: Success & Suicide, One Year Later

One year ago this week, there were two prominent suicides in the headlines – prominent because the names attached to them were celebrities. The word prominent means important, so the phrase is problematic to me. Because, it’s their lives that were truly important. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — and all the other lives that were lost this year, this lifetime to suicide —they have all been truly important. And as a society, we have failed them all.

I have never had a Kate Spade bag – indeed, I’ve never spent more than several dozen dollars on my purses. I’m a schoolteacher. I can’t afford that kind of luxury. I’ve been in one of her shops – an outlet shop at that – precisely one time. I really didn’t know that much about her… just about her bags. (Even in an outlet, those bags were way out of my league.)

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand… I knew him well. Well enough to call him Tony…  when I saw him… on TV. Which means, I guess I really didn’t know him at all, despite being a devoted follower. I adored his irreverence, his passion for the “F” word, his bawdy, unshaven charisma. He made me laugh; he made me want to try bone marrow (I will. It will still happen.); and he never made me feel out of his league.

Both these celebrities left young daughters behind. And that fact hit me really hard. Because while they are not as young as the Spade and Bourdain girls, I too have daughters And I love them so incredibly much. So much so that I would face demons and slay dragons if I had to in order to protect them.

But Spade and Bourdain faced dragons they couldn’t slay. They could no longer face their demons. And that tells me the darkness they felt was way beyond anything I could ever possibly comprehend. And that terrifies me.

Because one of my beautiful daughters struggles with demons of her own.

She struggles with depression. She struggles valiantly. She struggles openly. Nevertheless, she struggles. And despite the national and international dialogue that has recently opened with regard to mental health, a stigma still exists. And so she struggles with stigma, too.

My oldest daughter is a surgical resident in one of the most competitive, prestigious surgery programs in the nation. She has just finished interviewing for a fellowship in the most prestigious, competitive programs in the nation. Indeed in the world.

She is beautiful. She is bold. She is successful.

She is smart. She is kind. She is important.

And despite all of these things, she struggles… with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of hopelessness. She feels incapable and unlovable in this harsh, often unforgiving world. Not all the time. But often. And all alone.

And even though I her see brilliance and worth – even though I know how far she is from inadequate and hopeless and incapable and unlovable, I can’t help her see it. Because when she is inside that darkness, when those demons are commanding her mind, she sees nothing else. And that terrifies me.

Being a surgical resident can be isolating and debilitating. These young doctors work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. The schedules, the expectations, the demands that are put upon them are unforgiving

And the stakes are so high. Life and death rest in their hands – literally. Surgery can be debilitating for both patient and surgeon. It can ruin lives and it can end lives — on both sides of the scalpel.

Surgical residents have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Competition within the field isolates individuals. Everyone is jostling for accolades, for fellowships, for attending acknowledgements, and for attending positions.

In no other place in her life has my girl ever felt so very disconnected.

And what makes her situation even more complex is the relationship she has with her occupation. Love-Hate would be an understatement. She loves her job. She feels tremendous pride in her program and her abilities. The operating room is her wheelhouse and her respite. She is cloistered there. Time stops there. Her destiny unfolds there. She feels no pain; only passion. She feels one with her mind and her body and soul. Her hands are trained; her skills are seamless; her mind is taut.

But when she steps away from the cocoon of that OR, all the demons are back at her door. Howling.

It’s comparable to an unhealthy, abusive relationship. It builds her up. It knocks her down. The highs are super high. The lows… indescribably low. And the constant push-pull of it all wreaks havoc on her mental health.

As a mother, this breaks my heart and causes me endless worry.

I know she struggles. But thankfully, her program knows it too. She has not kept it secret. She advocates for herself and for others who may be feeling the same.

She helps lead a wellness committee for fellow residents, working to promote healthy scheduling and healthy dialogue between administration and her peers.

She tutors adult GED students every Tuesday night at a local library, connecting with people outside the research lab and operating room, spreading love and hope even as she so often feels neither.

She is a member of a book club, connecting with colleagues both socially and cognitively on issues more abstract than tissue and tumor.

Most importantly, she has seen a counselor – a mental health provider who has given her tools and techniques to fight the good fight.

Yes, my daughter works hard to stave off the demons, to grapple the dragon, to defeat the disease. As a mother, I would fight it all for her if I could. But I cannot. It is all hers to slay.

And my daughter is capable. I know that. She is kind and loving and genuine-hearted. She is capable and strong and talented and tender.

I just pray every day that she sees it too. That she can see through the darkness.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain could not.

People with everything can find themselves feeling depleted and defeated. Suicide knows no demographic. It knows no bounds.

Talk to your loved ones. Acknowledge your loved ones. Make sure they know you see them and you get them. Love on your loved ones. And then make sure they get the help that they need.

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