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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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Blended families

Stitching Together the Constellation of Us

I’ve focused on a lot of topics in my blog over the past year – twindom, football, politics, family, and school — but one topic I’ve never really discussed at length is the extreme distances that were overcome in order for me, a small town girl living in a lonely world and Mike, a city boy born and raised in south Detroit to become what we are today: a crazy, chaotic well-blended postmodern family, complete with toddler twin boys, grown adult daughters, a couple of grandkids (with another on the way) and an arthritic dachshund.

allofus

Now our love story is far from typical. But then again, it’s also classic. And I think you could even argue it’s entirely commonplace. I guess it’s a little of everything all rolled into one.

And it was definitely written in the stars. Stars in alignment long before we knew one another. Stars that were galaxies and galaxies apart. Stars scattered like fairytale breadcrumbs, like metaphysical connect-the-dots, like paint-by-numbers serendipity. Stars patterned by God and physics and football to bring the two of us together.

Mike grew up in the frozen tundra of pure Michigan. A place of legends. A place of snow and ice and everything nice. I remember the first time I ever visited. It was the holidays. There would be snow. On Christmas. It was gonna be epic. And then I landed. “Welcome to Detroit,” the pilot announced. “The temperature is currently zero degrees, and there’s a wind chill of negative fourteen.”  Hmmph. Maybe not so epic after all.

And me, I grew up in a hotbed of humidity, where we steam your dumplings and sauce your giblets. Where it’s too hot for Satan – which is the real reason we’re known as the bible belt. Where swamp ass ain’t just a condition, it’s a way of life.  Mike came here for the football — the second reason this is known as God’s country.

So, yes. There were some miles between us to overcome. But that was nothing the universe couldn’t handle. But then, there were also the years…

You see, my husband and I are eleven-and-a-half years apart — and not in the traditional, socially-acceptable, romantic Hollywood couple sense because… well, I’m the older one.

Did you hear that? The tires screeching? The record scratching? The world’s axis grinding to a halt?

Yeah, me neither. But I did worry about that in the beginning, when we first started dating. I was totally stressed out that I was upsetting the natural order of things and that the world would suddenly stop spinning and people would start staring. And pointing. And judging.

And believe it or not, even though I write a blog that encourages me and you and  everyone else I know to stand up against injustices and double-standards, encourages us all to go against the grain, to be individuals, to be rebels, and lovers, and fighters, I’m still an incredibly private and sensitive person who has deep-seated insecurities. It’s really easy to be brave when hiding behind a computer screen in the privacy of my own home. It’s another thing entirely when I can see and hear people talking smack about me. And I know for a fact that we got some of that in the beginning of our relationship.

Now I told you our love is the trifecta of contradictions – it’s atypical, classic, and commonplace all at the same time. And since I’ve explored the major atypical bits, let me jump ahead to the commonplace…

We met in THE most common of places: work. And after half a semester of lunches ‘round the teachers’ work room table, I invited him to my Christmas shindig.

Now let me say right up front, there were no, as in absolutely ZERO, ulterior motives behind the invite. He simply ate with my crew at lunch –and since I’d invited all the rest, it would’ve been downright rude not to invite him. Besides, he’s hysterically inappropriate, and every party needs a heaping helping of that. Plus vodka. It needs that, too.

So he came to my party. He brought the jaeger. I supplied the potato juice. Things progressed quickly. It was a match made in heaven – truly an orbital realignment of stellar properties from the very first kiss.

Yeah, that kiss threw me ass-over-tea-kettle right from the get-go. But I was also really, really terrified to let it show.  I was forty-one, after all, and he was two weeks shy of thirty.

I got a lot of cougar jokes. (I know you were wondering.) I got bookoodles of cougar jokes. They cut me. Every time. I would shrug them off, trying hard to deflect the pain with a joke or a giggle, but they knocked chink after chink into my relatively flimsy confidence.

And I also had concerned and loyal friends who worried about me. Worried a lot. It’ll never last, they said. Your heart will be broken, they said. Watch out, they said.

And to be perfectly honest, I was afraid they were right. I did my research. I tried to find couples who matched our gender/age ratio who were actually going the distance. I found a few celebrity prototypes: Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins; Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon. They gave me hope. They boosted my confidence. But then, over the course of Mike’s and my relationship, those rare and beautiful unicorns crumbled under the weight of Father Time’s death march. Both couples separated and divorced.

So I feel a bit like we are in unchartered, unsanctioned waters. Even to this day my insecurities get me at times. Twelve is a lot of years, David.

But then I think about the classic nature of our love and how it is made of far sterner stuff than time. It is made of two hearts beating to the syncopation of the stars that stitch up the constellation of us. They blaze and gleam in the wink of his eye, the flicker in my pulse, the flash of his smile, the flare in my chest, the heat in his soul and my answering own.

Our love is dense and wide and galactically strong. It is timeless.

us

When Worlds Collide: Tales of Food, Fun and a Beach Family Vacay

I just returned from the most amazing three-day getaway. No, I wasn’t sipping cocktails at a beach resort in Bali while toasting the love of my life at sunset. Nor was I ziplining through Costa Rica, wind whizzing off my helmet as I shot over a rainforest canopy. Ditto on shopping it up on Rodeo Drive or spinning a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo.

All of those sound amazing, mind you, but they just didn’t fit into my three-day time limit, and they most certainly did not fit into my nine-family-members-on-a-tiny-budget demands.

So we opted for toting chairs and coolers and cranky forty-pound toddlers over a hot, shelly beach on Tybee Island, Georgia. Instead of Bloody Mary’s we nursed bloody shins, and pop knots on foreheads, and giant welts of salt water contact dermatitis.

The weather was as challenging as our toddler’s demands, pummeling us with low-pressure systems and high humidity levels that delivered thunderstorms and kinky-banged selfies, afternoons in crowded hotel rooms, and the untimely death of a freshly-purchased beach canopy.

 

 

Luckily, the wildlife we encountered was more docile than the weather, the toddlers, or my hair. We saw pelicans skimming the ocean surface, dolphins flipping in the surf, and tiny alligators in penned-in ponds. And there were gnats. Lots and lots of gnats.

We stayed at the only beach-access hotel on Tybee, in a couple of spongy rooms with high-powered microwaves and low-functioning refrigerators. There was also a melt-as-you-ride elevator up to our third floor accommodations. Tate was obsessed with this magical box of sweat and steel and asked to ride it at least eighty-nine times in any given sixty seconds. Kid you not. He may grow up to be a world-renowned lift engineer for the planet’s seediest dives.

But back to the hotel appliances… they got quite the work out, thanks to our limited budget and kitchen space. I had meticulously planned our dine-in menu to include pop tarts, variety pack snack chips, bananas, and seedy blackberry jam and peanut butter masterpieces in smooshed-up and travel-twisted Sara Lee sandwich bread. There was even that one night when we got super fancy with a brick of Velveeta, a can of Rotel tomatoes, and some complimentary paper cups — turning highly processed food products into individual queso dips, served alongside Kroger Hint o’ Lime tortilla chips. We were so big time.

Now don’t let me steer you wrong — it wasn’t all bargain-fare bon apetit. We did splurge our final night there on snow crab and boil ‘n peel shrimp at a legendary local joint (where we fed the aforementioned gators from cane poles wielding weird little particle board pellets). While a monsoon raged outside, we dined in style amidst twinkly lights and ceiling-mounted fans, causing our hair to shine and billow like Beyonce (and me to grace random stranger’s plated shellfish with strands of frizzy, highighted DNA).  Now the food was truly delicious (no hair in our dishes, and those corn cobs — Lawsy!), but I must tell you, our hotel room sandwiches came in a very close second. Nothing quite compares to a straight-from-the-beach-and-half-starved fistful of PB&J for customer satisfaction.

 

 

Much to this mama’s dismay, my family lives worlds apart these days, in both distance and dynamics. We reside in three different geographical states along with vast and varied mental states — from big and bodacious to quiet and contemplative, from tightly strung  to perpetually unwound (yeah, that would be me) — but when our worlds collide, beautiful things happen. Love and laughter and renewed life to sustain us all (and especially this mama) until our next go round.

I came away with so many big memories from our little weekend, but some of my favorites include: Bentley and Tate riding the waves for hours like fledgling sea turtles; Boop and Parker waging water gun wars at poolside; Mike and Bradley marching on their futile but fabulous mission to rescue our tortured, cartwheeling beach canopy; and Caitlin’s, Bray’s and my giggles during our impromptu girls’ night, complete with rocking chairs and red wine in clear plastic cups (imminently classier than red solos), the youngest amongst us sipping Sprite through her head gear (upping our classy quotient by about a gazillion).

 

 

Our weather may have been temperamental – right along with our toddlers– but we still had the most glorious time (and one glorious sunset before all the rain, which Caitlin captured beautifully between sea oats and sand). I can’t tell you how good this trip was for my soul.

Now before I go, I want to leave you with some final foodie fodder: Huey’s beignets in Savannah our last morning there. It may have been drizzling rain, but it was also drizzling praline sauce atop powdered clouds of breakfast transcendence.

 

 

So if you’re feeling a bit distant from the people you love the most in the whole wide world and you live in our neck of the woods, take a little three-day vacay to Tybee Island, the tiny little beach with the big heart just outside the sweet southern city of Savannah.

Do it for the family, do it for the fun, do it for the food. Just do it. No matter what. (And do it for Huey’s. No matter what.)

 

 

 

 

#SoulfoodSeoulfood

Our dishwasher has the longest cycle of any machine I’ve ever encountered. An elephant’s menstrual cycle is only slightly longer. It runs for 2 hours and 83 minutes.(The dishwasher, not the elephant.) Not kidding here. It seems unheard of. I’ve never been around one as dedicated and hard working. What makes this so incredibly irritating is that we can’t run the dishwasher unless the boys are asleep or absentee because they like to push buttons. All buttons. The ice and water buttons on the fridge (we had to put it on lock-down mode– I didn’t even know a fridge had such a thing!), the buttons on the oven, the buttons on the remote control, the buttons on their parents (every damn day), the buttons on their parents’ cell phones… the list goes on and on. You name it, they push it. So if we run the dishwasher while they’re awake, inevitably it gets stopped somewhere, mid-cycle. And they’re so stealthy about it that we never see or hear them do it.

We’ve tried for four days to run our dishwasher. Four. But, sadly, because we are the parents of twins who have decided that sleeping is overrated and shouldn’t necessarily be applicable to them  – well one twin in particular these days — we continuously forget to run said dish washer because our minds are M.I.A. So we currently have no dishes in our cabinets. None. Every dinner, salad, and dessert plate – even every coffee saucer (because we ate breakfast off of those this morning) — is dirty and festering in its own detritus waiting for us to run the load. And we just can’t seem to manage it.

Which makes the task at hand – preparing our New Year’s Day feast – rather difficult. I’ve been closely examining the contents of the dishwasher – sniffing glasses and squinting at fork tines – to determine whether or not I need to take forensic countermeasures with a brillo pad and hot water. I decided it was easier to just pull out the Vodka and pour myself a drink and let the alcohol kill the germs. Besides, I hadn’t properly rung in the New Year yet. Mike and I fell asleep last night before 10:30. Tate and his propensity for middle-of-the-night wake-up calls are beginning to take their toll.

But let’s talk about New Year’s Day in the South. It’s a beautiful conglomeration of country fare: black-eyed peas and collard greens, buttermilk cornbread and sweet tea. And I do it all. Well, except for the sweet tea. I told you already, I’m not a tea-totaler 😉 And I may be Southern, but I’m not Southern Baptist. So I threw back a couple of vodka tonics while I cranked up my veggies because I like my potatoes fermented. Not mashed. And not fried.

But it’s not all peas and greens and potato juice at our table on New Year’s Day. Remember, we’re a mixed marriage, so we’ve got ourselves a mixed menu.  Mike contributes his cultural heritage, too.  He makes his family’s duk guk. It sounds incredibly wrong — like something feculent at the bottom of a millpond. But it tastes incredibly right — like seventh heaven in a soup bowl, complete with seaweed and rice cakes. It’s my second-favorite thing my husband does for me… but I digress.

seoulfood

Now the boys won’t eat any of the above-mentioned goodness. And it’s not that they are the kind of kids who will only eat chicken nuggets and French fries (although they love those too.) They’ve been raised on multicultural menus their entire two-and-a-half years on this planet. Their favorite foods are Korean curry and chicken n dumplings. Sadly, though, they draw the line on vegetables of almost any variety, so beans and greens are entirely out of the question. And it saddens me, but while my mom and Mike and I feasted on soul food and Seoul food, the boys feasted on Cheez-its and the bacon reserved for crumbling atop the collards. Oh, and some random bites of cornbread. If tonight’s any indicator, I won’t be winning any mother of the year awards in 2017.

But I am winning. Even when I fail.

Even when the boys have minor (and major) meltdowns in Aisle 3 of the new Kroger — and then again in Aisles 8 and 12. (Which happened today while we were shopping for our duk guk and greens, by the way.) Even then, I am still winning. Because I have been given the opportunity to mother four exquisite, perfectly imperfect children who show me the secrets of the universe every single time that they smile. They bring me a joy that cannot be described nor contained.

So, yes, I am winning. Even when I fail. Even when I have minor (and major) meltdowns because I feel like I am inadequate. Like Mike deserves someone better. Someone younger and more energetic and maybe even more Asian who can truly appreciate his passion for all things Ramen and Star Wars and technological. Even then, I am still winning. Because when he wraps me in a big, warm hug and looks me squarely in the eyes, I know I am right where I belong. He is my destiny and I am his. Star Wars fanatic or not.seoultrain

Yes, I am winning. Even when I fail. Even when I have minor (and major) meltdowns because I feel like I can never be all that I should be as a teacher for my students. Hell, if I can’t even remember to run my own dishwasher, how in the blankety-blank am I supposed to properly impart kernels of truth and wisdom to the young minds of Bartow County? But I am still winning. Because even though I teach them about life and literature, they teach me so much more. About life and about living it. The wisdom of American youth should never be underestimated.

Yes, I am winning.

By the way, my first favorite thing my husband does for me is his curry. His thick, brown, spicy, Korean curry.  Happy New Year, ya filthy animals.

 

My Baby Girl: a Golden, Gleaming Mommy Goddess

This weekend, we celebrated my grandson Bentley’s first birthday. I can’t really believe it’s already been a year since I spent three days in labor and delivery helping Boop stay as calm and as comfortable as possible after eight, yes EIGHT, epidurals failed to give her an iota of relief. There is nothing that can knock a mother’s heart around her chest like a rickety roller coaster ride more than seeing her own child struggling through the frighteningly fragile, yet tenacious and powerful process of giving birth. Bethany is a true warrior, and so is her little lad, Bentley — otherwise known as Nana’s Little Acorn.  They weathered an incredibly long and arduous journey.

I got the call on a Thursday night. I was just sitting down to dinner with the boys and Mike’s parents when Boop explained that she was going to be admitted for preeclampsia and that the docs would be inducing labor in the next day or so.  As you can imagine, there were several incredible stressors within this single phone call.

#1: Boop had preeclampsia.  I had just gone through it myself the year before. I knew how very dangerous the condition can be to both mother and baby. Bethany was having extreme headaches and swelling. Her blood pressure was up and her urine was throwing protein. Bentley would need to be delivered no later than the weekend.

#2: Nana’s little acorn was to arrive nearly six weeks early. Again, I had just been through that scenario a little over a year before. Luckily, Boop and Bentley had reached the 34-week gestation marker, so we knew he likely wouldn’t need any oxygen, but he would need practice eating (preemie boys are notoriously lazy feeders) and maintain his body temp. I knew there was a probable two week stay in the NICU in store for my Bentley and an unavoidable hornet’s nest of raw, stinging emotions ready to take up residence in Boop’s chest – a chest that would already be crowded with the honeycombed sweetness of milk from her mammary glands. There was an emotional perfect storm circulating just off the horizon.

And #3: The call was on Thursday night – in football season. That meant the next night was a Friday. Friday Night Lights Frenzy.  And no mama. Shit. What would I do with the boys? Double shit. But as fortune would have it, my in-laws were here when I got the call so I had extra hands on deck. Friday night would’ve been a near-impossibility if not for his mom and for my ever-dedicated and most beauteous best friend. Of all the besties in the world, my Queenie is nonpareil.  There’s a vocab word for ya. I would say look it up, but there’s no need because I’m telling you that the definition is: Tammy Bramblett Queen, the incomparable, generous-hearted best friend of Heather Peters Candela. Between my mother-in-law and my bestie my boys were fed and nurtured and entertained on a very busy and very stressful Friday night. So that was one less thing I had to worry about.

And finally #4: Weaning the boys. Not only has it been a year since my sweet little Acorn came into this world, it has also been a year since I last breastfed the boys.  I pumped until February of this year, but it was a year ago in October that I physically nursed them for the very last time — in the English department storage closet on Friday afternoon before I headed up to Knoxville.  Mike had brought them by for that express purpose. He knew how hard it was going to be on me. I wasn’t ready, but I knew that being gone for at least three days would as good as wean them, and it would be downright cruel to start them back up again, only to wean them all over again later.  So there, surrounded by a bevy of beloved classic literature, I breastfed them one final time. One final time, I felt the tingly, pinching ants of letdown. One final time I felt the sweet pull of milk filling their bellies. One final time I felt the flush and bloom of sweat on their necks as they grew warm and content. It’s funny, but just before they emptied my breasts entirely, they began to play patty cake — something they’d never done before. They clapped and clapped, Parker’s right hand pressing Tate’s left, a nipple clenched in each of their smiles, as if applauding this passing of a milestone — this one step closer to being grown. I won’t say I didn’t cry.

Exit to Knoxville: The next three days were a wild and whirling pain-fest of Pitocin and pointless epidurals. Poor Bethany! She’s just one of those individuals whose body just doesn’t chemically interact an epidural. In eight attempts, the block was never more than patchy and poor, at best, so my poor baby girl felt a whole lot of agony (remind me to tell you a little story about Bethany and the “agony” in a bit) for a whole lot of hours. As in, thirty-two. Active labor hours. With no epidural. That’s super very much a lot, thank you very much.

Boop progressed super slowly, stalling out at 4 centimeters dilation and staying there for over 24 hours. The Pitocin pumped and pressured and prodded and her uterus clenched and cranked and contracted, but her cervix was noncompliant. The nurses and docs tried some tricks to help her along, from a foley bulb catheter to a birthing ball. Neither contraption worked. She lived in raw, primal, animal pain for well over a day. I used to boast that I was in labor with Caitlin for twenty-six hours with no epidural, but those bragging days are gone. Boop’s got me beat, let me tell ya. She is the grand champion of marathon labor. My baby girl is one tough mother.

But tough as she is, Sunday afternoon around 4:00 found Boop begging for a c section. Hell, we were all begging for a c section — her best friend Maggie, her cousin Lauren, her man Bradley, even her big sis the surgeon (who felt helpless and far-far away — 843 miles away, to be exact) — we were all begging for a c section. Boop was writhing in pain and wrung the F out. Her energy was gone. Her enthusiasm was gone. Her patience was gone. There’s only so much that ice chips, cheerleading, small talk and back rubs can do to keep you going when it’s day three and you haven’t eaten or slept and the waves of pain are smashing your body like a… like a… like a squirrel in agony.

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So now for that “agony” story I promised you… Bethany was around four and the cutest, wide-eyed, hat-wearing, little fart blossom (my Grandmother’s favorite term of endearment) on the planet.  We were a block or so away from picking up Caitlin from school when we rounded a curve and came upon a squirrel that had just been hit by a car. It was thrashing around in the throes of anguish when Bethany saw it and gasped, “Oh, no!”

“Bless its little heart,” I said. “The poor thing is in agony.”

“What’s ‘n agony?” she asked.

So I explained to my precocious girl that it was in extreme pain and suffering. As we pulled up to the pickup line at the school, I finished with…  “so that little squirrel was in agony.”

“Oh, it WAS a squirrel?” she squawked in confusion, “I thought you said it was an agony!”

Fast forward to twenty some odd years later, and I’m at Bethany’s bedside as she writhes around in an agony that I’m fairly certain was closely akin to that of the pitiful little squirrel back on Mission Road so many years ago.  I wanted her out of her misery, and I was steeling myself to do battle with her obstetrician when the charge nurse offered to do one last check…

And… a 6! She’d progressed to a 6! Finally her cervix and her uterus started working together! An hour after that, she was an 8  — and within thirty minutes after that, it was time to push.  Hallelujah and cut the cord! Well, we delivered the baby first, of course…

Somehow Boop mustered the energy to push and push hard.  I took one of her shoulders and Bradley took the other. We counted off each push – cheering her on toward that bloody, brazen end zone. The little guy came out like all babies do, covered in birth juice and clotted cream and truly, truly scrumptious.  He bore one battle wound from his epic birth journey: a tiny cut on his nose from the monitor leads.

Bentley carries that hairline scar across his nose to this day… along with all of our hearts (from mine, to his Aunt Cay Cay’s in the Big D, to his little uncles Parker and Tate, eighteen months his seniors), he carries all of our hearts wrapped tight around his little finger. Because he is the most beautifully perfect little Acorn you ever did see.  He has green glass eyes and an open, hearty smile. He’s his mama’s perfect clone. Her spittin’ image; her carbon copy.

And Bethany is the most beautiful mama I ever did see.  She was born for motherhood. She is breathlessly incandescent. She is luminous. She glows. She has always been a bright and beautiful light in this world, but now her light is softer, warmer, deeper, more soulful. She radiates maternal perfection.  I’d like to say she’s the spittin’ image of me as a mother, but that would be a lie.  She’s got me beat. She is a master of maternal prowess. My baby girl is one tough mother.

My Man Mountain

I’m pretty sure I’ve celebrated everybody in our patchwork of a postcolonial family in my blog now except for one key and vitally important piece. Without him, we wouldn’t be postcolonial at all. Without him, our family quilt would be fairly uniform in color and personality (though far from dull because it would be all Southern and Southerners are anything but dull.  We keep a lot of crazy in our closet and we take it out and parade it around with pride on special occasions, like trips to Kroger or booster club meetings, but still…) Without him, we wouldn’t have our usually sweet and sometimes sour toddler twin dumplings. So today, I’m turning the spotlight on the one person who gives our family the diversity and exoticism of the far East and the Up North. The person who gives me, personally, the courage and the determination to keep travelling along this steep and thorny path through life and twindom: my husband, Mike. He is my inspiration, my strength, my champion, my love. He has no idea how many times his random texts, his smile and his sweet notes in my lunch bag keep me going on a daily basis.

manmountain

Mike is a giant of a man. He is what the Lilliputians would call a Man Mountain; a Colossus.  He is a mountainous, six foot, three-hundred-pound colossus of an Asian man. Now I know the juxtaposition of giant and Asian may seem like an oxymoron — face it, when you think Asian, you think smart and small, maybe with black-rimmed glasses and awesome, enviable hair. And I’m not saying Mike’s not smart (because he is – wickedly so), but he’s definitely not small (he gets that from his Italian side), he doesn’t wear glasses, and his hair is shaved off weekly until he’s totally and completely bald.  So he’s my favorite paradox — my bald, giant Asian man.  And he is a giant in so many ways beyond just his size – from his generosity to his sense of humor, from his drive and dedication, to his capacity for love.

I’ll start with Mike’s generosity – which is ginormous. He’s like a bald, slant-eyed Santa Claus. He showers me with the sweetest of surprises — little things that mean so much, like buckets of real movie theater popcorn, Reese’s Pieces, and bottles of wine because he knows they’re my favorite combos or big surprises that are just the epitome of perfect, like the flock of flamingos on my fiftieth because he knows I have an unhealthy obsession with pink plastic yard art. And the presents don’t stop with me.  The boys get little special somethings for no particular reason quite often too. Most recently, Tate got a B-I-N-G-O book (his new favorite nursery rhyme) and for Parker, a monster truck school bus (his new favorite vehicle).

flamingoflock

Mike’s sense of humor is boundless – and I do mean boundless.  As in, there are no boundaries.  His languages are English, sarcasm and sexual innuendo. His wit is quick and acerbic and his wordplay is bawdy. He’s a veritable Italian-Korean Chaucer – able to twist innocent statements into double entendre in seconds flat. “That’s what she said,” is still his favorite go-to phrase and he’s always willing to throw in a couple of “deez nuts” for good measure, but he’s definitely not limited to the tried and true. And he picks on anyone and everyone equally, himself included — particularly when it comes to Asian stereotypes. (Just take a look at his celebrity look-alike facebook profile) And the boys don’t escape his jokes either —  as is evidenced in THEIR celebrity look-alikes…

asianwrestler

Now as far as his drive and dedication, it is unmatched — whether it’s in marriage, football, or fatherhood. Mike juggles more than his fair share in all three of these roles trying to be a successful and dutiful husband, coach, and dad. And he succeeds at all three.  On any given day during the season he makes lunches, does laundry, teaches six classes, studies film, grades players, runs schemes, attends practice, washes dishes, and finally, loves on the boys and then me – even if it’s just for a few quick minutes (That’s what she said….) I am truly in awe of his drive, his dedication, and his dexterity (TWSS).

Now if I’m to paint an accurate picture here, Mike’s enormous characteristics are not necessarily limited to merely the positive. He has other larger than life traits, too, like an iron will and a stubborn streak rivaled only by my own. At times, the two of us can reach stalemates that dynamite could scarcely rattle. Usually they’re over dumb shit — like who picks dinner (we both tend to defer to the other – over and over and over) or most recently, over who actually despises Trump more. Oh, and Mike has a super sharp temper that flashes in thunderous rages. It is very rarely seen and never shown toward me or the boys. It usually involves DIY home projects. (If he’s wielding a hammer or a saw, I’m leaving before he finds his frustration threshold. He’s been known to punch walls and put holes in sheetrock.) The only other occasions (besides football) where I’ve seen his fiery temper unleashed is when someone threatens his loved ones. Then, as Mr. T used to say, “I pity the fool…

Which brings me to his enormous capacity for love. Mike is fueled by a love more intense, more protective, more genuine, more burning than any love I’ve ever known. He has taught me what love truly is and what love really means. I believe it now when I see that familiar Corinthians’ passage: love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Because Mike is all of these things for me and for mine.  He is my three-hundred-pound Asian teddy bear. And he’s also my giant, three-hundred-pound Asian enigma — a puzzle of mammoth proportions…

Because he picked me. Me.

He never should have. I am his exact opposite. I’m an eighties girl; he’s a nineties guy. I’m laidback; he’s got OCD.  I played piano. He played football. I was a book nerd. He was a meathead. His family is quiet and reserved. Mine is loud and ballsy. But we did have one thing going for us: some lyrics from a Journey song. Ten years ago, I was just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world and he was a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.  And the two of us refused to stop believing.

Just yesterday, I discovered a new song with new lyrics that express exactly how I have felt about my mountainous, six foot, three-hundred-pound colossus of an Asian man from the first kiss, Christmas break ten years ago, to right now, this very second:

You still make me nervous when you walk in the room
Them butterflies they come alive when I’m next to you
Over and over the only truth
Everything comes back to you

I love you, Mike Candela.

manandwife

Slimes and Smells and Streptococcus

Never leave a hot dog on the stovetop to ferment in its own juices for three days. Never. The scum that accumulates on the surface of the water is nothing compared with the slime that surrounds its circumference upon extracting it. Not kidding, here. I made the mistake of taking it out of the pot with my bare hand and the slime slipped over it like a mucous-y, amorphous blob. It just kept sliding and slipping until it nearly covered my  wrist. So much slime for such a small, seemingly innocuous hot dog. Mike almost threw up. It was like something out of Ghostbusters or Nickelodeon. But it was nothing — I say nothing — compared with the slime that has sluiced from the boys’ noses this week. I wish I’d thought of bottling it up and sending it to Universal Studios to lend some authenticity to the Kids’ Choice Awards this spring.

It all began on Monday — doesn’t it always? The boys had slept terribly, if you could even call it sleep. There’d been multiple coughing fits and periodic wailing virtually all night long. There’s this feeling I get deep in my mommy marrow when I hear my babies – any of them, whether it’s my girls in their twenties or the boys in their twos — cough that raw, rattily cough. It’s a maternal, visceral reflex – like someone has taken a potato peeler to my womb and is shaving off slender curls of it while I’m simultaneously plunging from a tremendous height. That’s what it feels like — except worse. Because I would rather have someone scrape my uterus with a peeler while simultaneously freefalling than to hear that cough coming from any one of my babies’ chests. Needless to say, Monday morning, even before my alarm went off at 5:30, I decided that I was taking the day off and taking them to the doctor. I figured it would be ear infections – our old, familiar foe.

taterecliner

Now taking a day as a teacher – particularly a teacher in Bartow County – is no easy feat. The first order of business is finding a sub, and finding a sub in our district is akin to unearthing the Holy Grail in the kitchens of Hell. The task has not always been so daunting… Our county used to subscribe to a computerized system that allowed teacher to post their needs online and allow open and able substitute teachers to log in and select a job at will. That was long before systematic budget cuts and various and dubious central office expenditures. Now, we must call subs ourselves – from an alphabetical sub list that also includes interspersed but clearly-marked food nutrition subs in the mix… and let’s just say, woe to the unwitting teacher who accidently calls and wakes a food nutrition individual at 5:30 in the morning for a CLASSROOM position… Now procuring a sub wouldn’t nearly be as Sisyphean a task if the subs were allowed to work more than three days a week in our county. You see, if a sub works more than three days a week, our school system would then be required to provide benefits. (Heaven forbid! and Thanks, Obama.) So the subs naturally work for other systems when they can, and only take Bartow jobs when the pickin’ is slim. And apparently the pickin’s were bountiful this past Monday morning because I called close to forty phone numbers before I found a taker – almost an hour later. But at least I had a sub – and a work comrade, who just so happens to be my best friend and department chair, willing to leap tall buildings and run copies and keep an eye on my classes. So I had that going for me…

Now chalk it up to Monday morning and being sleep deprived, or to just plain old twinility (the disease I contracted immediately upon turning fifty with twin toddlers), but when Mike asked if he should call in late and give me some help getting the boys to the doc’s I said, “Honey, they’re two-and-a-half now. Surely they will walk themselves into the doctor’s office these days. It’s no big deal. We’ll be fine.”

I should’ve just said, “I can do this hard thing…”

Because hard it was. And do it, I did — extricating screaming twin toddlers, terrified of getting yet more shots from that pesky pediatrician, out of car seats and into the office building, all the while avoiding giant SUVs and juniper hedgerows. Each boy was saddled up on a love handle, and the diaper bag and my handbag were slung across my back. I looked like a pack mule from Nepal. Parker managed to stay in place as I trudged to the entrance, but Tate slid ever-so-slowly down my thigh until I barely had him off the ground, his arms straight above him, his legs kicking wildly as he shrieked like a child sacrifice. I’m sure the white-haired octogenarian who held the door for us thanked her lucky stars right then and there that she was past childbearing days as I bore my children past…

Once we were actually in the office, the clinginess ended (for a little while, anyway) once they spied the vast row of empty waiting room chairs lining the back wall. There must’ve been fifteen of the vinyl-clad things, just waiting for some lads like them. Like American Ninja Warrior wannabes, they promptly began inch-worming up and over one chair arm and under and through the next, giggling like the healthiest, happiest toddlers alive. Nary a cough could be heard. “Can’t you at least LOOK sick while you’re cavorting?” I pleaded.

docoffice

Now I’ve known our pediatrician since Caitlin was not even a year old. He treated both my girls until they were out of high school and well into college because they refused to see anyone else. He is a longtime friend and trusted advisor, and I prayed he would remember that I’m generally a smart and intuitive mother. That I’m not the mom who brings her utterly healthy and hyperactive tots to the doc for no good reason and who, therefore, in the most ultimate of ironies, exposes them to some serious seasonal scourge. Every mother’s maternal marrow is bound to be wrong every now and then, right? I just prayed he would remember that while examining my apparently healthy and histrionic twins.

We were only in the waiting room for a few minutes before we were called back. It’s amazing how quickly a toddler twosome can go from charged electrical currents to fixed static cling. They glued themselves to my calves tighter than the compression hose I’d worn while pregnant with them.

Dr. Payne smiled his hellos as he readied his stethoscope for the first squirming, screaming son in my arms. Between the two of us, we managed to pin him to the table so he could get a good listen and look. It was at that instant that not just one, but both boys decided to make the smelliest of deposits. The sound was raucous; the stench was hellacious. It was like I’d fed them both radioactive waste — radioactive waste simmered in cesspool broth. The whole room reeked of it. I swear, I could see the stench shimmering off their shorts. Dr. Payne just laughed it off and pressed on. I did notice he didn’t do any genitalia checks, this time around…

My fears and misgivings proved warranted. My maternal marrow rang true, once again. The boys’ strep tests (which I think they now hate more than the dreaded vaccination needle) came back positive. My diagnosis had been wrong, but my instincts were on point. Their diapers (which I was able to change between the actual swabbing for strep and the final results), came back to haunt me a few days later when I unearthed them from the diaper bag where they’d been festering and fermenting, forgotten, in the back of my van.

nebulizer

As I pen this post, my hair is greasy, my shirt is caked in snot smears and curry stains, and I’m in dire need of a shower. It’s been a long and exhausting week of sleepless nights, antibiotic-filled syringes, nebulizer treatments and forgotten hot dogs. But I learned two things about myself this week. Ok, maybe three. One: trust my instincts, no matter how hard my children try to prove me crazy. (I should never have doubted myself… I’ve already raised two girls who are quite skilled in coercion and diversionary tactics, after all.) And Two (and Three): hot dogs and dirty diapers do not resurrect well after three days and three nights of sitting in their own juices.

 

 

Black Eyes, Bow Ties, and Seersucker Smiles

This past week will get chalked up as one of the great ones. Some of its key features included seersucker suits, a gimpy crawl and gummy smile, a tremendous Canes’ victory, an enchanting wedding, and my girls cozied up on my couches. It was nothing short of perfection.

Trying to write about it, though, has been anything but perfection. I’ve had massive writer’s block. I think it’s because I want my words to reflect exactly what the week meant to me… a great big sensory overload of love. I don’t want to sound sappy or saccharine, but it’s hard to avoid, particularly since Lauren’s wedding was as poetically perfect as her new husband’s name: Crimson Cloud. (If that name doesn’t smack of the sublime, I don’t know what does.) The venue was dappled and drowsy, the lake was lavender and languid, the couple was breathlessly beautiful. Of course, that’s if I write it the way Monet would’ve painted it — brush strokes dabbed in pastel snapshots …

springfedlake

But look closer… get rid of the soft focus and purple prose and zoom right in to find real life: all of the crazy, chaotic crap that never fails to occur when kith and kin come together. Yes, I had my girls and my boys at home under the same roof – a rare gift, indeed. But along with all the impeccable Instagram images that I’d like to post, came the inevitable awkward and angry and downright difficult moments (tears, tantrums, spills, spankings, bruises, breakage, user errors, and free-the-nipple campaigns) that make real life paradoxically miserable and magical. Face it, without life’s hiccups and misadventures, it would be a pretty boring ride…

I’ll start with Friday night. The girls are at rehearsal dinner, the boys are in bed, Mike is in Calhoun tending to a lovely and lopsided football game… and I’m alone with my newly delivered rent-the-runway dress. It’s perhaps the most ridiculously perfect sheath dress you ever did see – all veined in copper overlay like the throat of an exotic orchid. I’ve never rented the runway. This is a gamble. If it doesn’t work out, I have nothing to wear to tomorrow’s wedding. I slip the Marchesa masterpiece over my head. It’s a tad tricky maneuvering the shoulders, but nothing I can’t handle. It fits like a glove — like an embroidered, incandescent, extraordinarily expensive glove. But I am renting it for way cheap, so I’m golden… until I get down to the business of taking it off.

Um… not happening.

I’m a wedged bear in a great tightness, to quote the illustrious Winnie-the-Pooh. So I try another approach. And another. And I jiggle and jostle. And shimmy and shake. Until I eventually get it up over my head… where I become trapped — very much like Pooh-bear in rabbit’s hole. Or an infant giraffe stuck in the birth canal. Take your pick.

“Oh, bother,” I say. (No, not really. That’s the Pooh-Bear euphemism for what I really said.)

So now what? Whatever I do, I can’t rip this sucker. If I do, I owe hundreds of dollars. But if I stay like this, I will surely suffocate. Or lose a limb. At the very least, I’ll be sporting a Pooh-style smiley face on my ass in another six hours when my family gets home if I don’t get this remedied…

pooh-rear

What happens next, I’m not entirely sure. I may have blacked out, or I’m visited by the paranormal, or I drop weight… or some such. I do know that somehow I get out. As I hang my dress back on the hanger, thoroughly defeated and dress-less for the wedding, I discover that there, cleverly stitched into the back seam and mocking me, is an invisible zipper — perfectly visible if I hadn’t been so blinded by the sheer majesty of the Marchesa.

Cut to Saturday afternoon. I’m in my rented dress with the invisible zipper, looking every inch the rent-the-runway success story in the Marchesa and a pair of strappy heels that I will hate myself for in a few short hours. I manage to get my fellas to pose for a picture, begrudgingly – but it’s a good thing I have been persistent because it turns out to be the only photo with the boys that we take before Parker scores a raspberry to the forehead and a big, black shiner to the right eye.

family-wedding-pic  girlsandme

It happens as we load the boys into Mike’s truck. We are out of breath and damp and drippy from running around gathering various and sundry supplies for two growing twin boys with appetites and attention spans that are never satisfied. One second Parker is standing in front of his car seat, fire truck in hand, while Mike adjusts the air conditioning. The next second, he’s plunging two-and-a-half feet onto the driveway, his right temple kissing the concrete and his right eye smacking the fire engine. By the time we reach him, he is bloody and bruised, his eye swollen shut.

bow-tie-and-black-eye

“Oh, bother,” Mike says. 😉

“He looks remarkably good for being hit by a fire truck,” I say.

We throw together an ice pack and hit the road. Apparently this wedding is a black eye affair.

Pulling into the venue, we’re met with the most pristine setting for nuptials I ever did see: gently sloping lawns of clover and fescue, scattered snatches of cypress and willows, rough-hewn church pews, peeling cedar pergolas, and a spring-fed lake cradling a single, red canoe. Amidst all of this grandeur, our quirky crazy family cranking it up a notch with screwball snapshots and madcap memories: the quick neuro-check in the bride’s dressing room by big sissy the surgeon; the itsy bitsy spider serenade, mid-ceremony from the second pew by my baby boy; my baby girl in her maid-of-honor dress breastfeeding my grandson during dinner (which, I must say, filled this mama with pride and some other guests with anxiety); twirly dances in the twilight between biggest big sister and smallest baby brother; diaper changes by daddy on flatbed trucks sporting “Just Married” signs; sweet dandelion bouquets for mommy; and a right serious whip and nae nae by the bride and her attendants.

caitandtate  boopandbentley

So this week was an exercise in imperfect perfection. My niece got married, my girls were in town, and my boys wore their first seersucker. There was a spring fed lake, a single red canoe, a flawless bride, and one black eye. It was as imperfectly perfect as a Griswold family Christmas tree: kinda full, lotta sap. And that’s as it should be.

May we all live sappily ever after.

kissthegirl

Our Postmodern Family

Our Real Modern Family

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

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

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

Family X-Mas 2014

 

 

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