Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters


mother and grandmother

The Blinking Light of Fairy Heights: Shine a Life on Faye

Today, I sit quietly at my desk, the fog rolling off the river and into the leyland cypresses that stand as sentinels at the far reaches of our lot, and I ponder who to write about, which woman to celebrate first in my Shine A Life series. The fog attempts to blot the sun this morning, but it still manages to glow from behind the wet, winding gauze. I know it will burn through soon and shine its warmth again. And I am struck by the parallels to one who has steadily been a warm and guiding soul in my life, and how she, too, is currently struggling in the gray, suffocating gauze of grief.

I have known her since I was six, or somewhere thereabouts. She has seen me at my best, and she’s seen me at my worst. She has known me from the sandy creek-beds and maypop fields of Mississippi to the concrete gutters and asphalt acres of Texas. And though we haven’t seen each other in years, she knows me now, through the blue and white posts and profiles of Facebook.

And those blue and white posts are what have me thinking about her today. Particularly the profile pic of her with her husband and their only son in his Air Force dress blues. Because this week, she lays that Air Force Academy graduate and pilot-hero son to rest.

I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I know his mother well. And his mother’s eyes are there in his portraits, along with her aquiline nose, and the way his smile lifts his cheeks (and everyone who catches it) in glowing and genuine warmth.

This woman, this beautiful mother of four, and grandmother of four, and mentor to me and thousands of others has unknowingly nudged her way into my heart and my blog today.

I remember when I first met Faye (for that is her name, and it means any number of things, from fairy to loyalty to believe — and she thoroughly embodies all three), she was working toward her PhD at Ole Miss: a tall glass of milk with coal-colored hair and chicory-root eyes. She amazed my six-year-old self because she studied novels in her graduate classes. I never knew you could study novels. Physics, yes. My dad and my uncles did that. But novels? Rooting around in prose like an archaeologist in soil – unearthing various and sundry truths and philosophies and polishing them up for the world to see? This was mind-altering stuff.

Plus, she and her roommate were the first women that I, as a youngster, had ever known who lived independently. This was equally mind-altering.

I remember their apartment building. It was at the top of a wicked-steep, small-town hill – perhaps the steepest in our little university town. Our nursery school, The Busy Bee, was at the bottom of that hill, and at the top — just outside the paved entrance to her apartment building — perched a blinking caution light.

Funny, I didn’t remember that blinking light until just now. And simply writing about it reminds me of perhaps the most famous light in all of literature: the mystical, green light of Gatsby fame, symbol of promise and potential and the great chase of gargantuan dreams.

But this light on Faye’s hill was a blinking yellow — a signal to slow down because there, at the apex of the hill was a blind drive. It served as a reminder to look out for others after that long, precipitous climb to the top.

To me, it is a symbolic reminder of how Faye has lived her life.  After long, difficult climbs, she has reached so many celebratory pinnacles in her lifetime. She acquired that PhD. She’s been an educator. Now she’s a school board trustee. She’s also a regional director of United Way. But most importantly of all, she is a wife and mother and grandmother and mentor.

She is loved, and she is revered because people have been her life work — not titles, not accolades, not money, not prestige — not any of the things Gatsby pursued while chasing his elusive green light across the bay.

Faye has dedicated her life predominantly to children – her own, and her community’s. And I see myself as one of them. She will never understand the impact she had upon me as a six-year-old girl, nor as a sixteen-year-old, not even as one nearing sixty (ok, I’ve still got a few years till then, but you get the point…)

In this world made up of the fast and furious pursuit of things, it’s a rare thing to find a blinking yellow light. I will forever more think of them as Fairy lights, after my beautiful friend Faye. They symbolize wisdom and love — the two things of value in this green glass goblin world of greed. They will remind me to pause and always make room for others. Because when all else slips away under cover of fog and darkness, Wisdom and Love remain. And the greatest of these is Love.

This week is the hardest week that I hope Faye will ever have to endure. It will be a wickedly steep, achingly-hard climb for her. I can’t even imagine the pain, the cracking of all the what-ifs and why-Gods inside her chest. Her baby boy, one of her brightest, most perfect contributions to this world, has gone on to fly with the angels. And not a one of us knows what to say or do to help.

But I pray she feels all the hearts she has touched along the way as we send our sincerest outpourings of love and prayers from every corner of the world. I am confident in saying thousands are standing still with her in spirit during this, a mother’s darkest hour, as she celebrates the life of her beautiful boy, gone way too soon.




A Woman More Precious than Pearls

I’ve told y’all before how my grandmother saved me.  She pulled me from the belly of the whale and brought me into light and love.  Well, today I’m here to tell you that Parker and Tate’s grandmother has saved me, too.  I’m starting to think that when a woman becomes a grandmother, some sort of transformative power – some mysterious, ministering pearl — gets planted into the center of her soul and settles, multiplies. And waits.

From the instant that the boys were pulled from my ginormous belly, my mother Rosalee, (hereafter, GiGi), has been a Godsend — an absolute blessing in grandmotherly garb. (Well, not really. She hardly owns anything grandmotherly. She is quite fond of leopard prints, fast cars, and shoe sales.) But she is a Godsend. That much is true.


The one thing that all twin parents told us from the get go – and that we, as twin parents, tell all new twin parents we know – is that you can never have enough help.  (Remember my favorite proverb, one is one and two is ten?)

And my mom, without fail, has always been willing to lend a hand with our proverbial ten. She has driven one hour, one way, every single week for the last two-and-a-half years.  (Math’s not my strong suit, but that translates to a helluva lot of travel time, people.)

In the beginning, during the insane sixteen months of scant sleep and even scanter sanity, she arrived at our doorstep twice a week, often bringing food and always staying overnight.

I recall a couple of critical nights when she and my sweet Bestie came and took the night shift so that Mike and I could get a little shut-eye. Now that the boys are a little more self-reliant (and finally sound sleepers), she’s weaned it down to once a week — though she always still stays the night. And the boys and I adore her for it. Especially during football season. She brings calm and conversation and highly capable assistance to our lonely nights without Daddy. Her sacrifices do not go unnoticed.


So let me tell you a little about our GiGi. She has a blonde bob that she sweeps to the side, a speedy, sleek convertible for country roads, and — at last count — eleven themed Christmas trees. She’s quite the eclectic personality.

She hails from the backwoods South of cotton and coal mines, loves Broadway musicals, and interior design.  She drinks sprite mimosas (who needs champagne?) and can move massive furniture single-handed up flights of staircases where most men would require assistance.

It is from GiGi that I get my cooking skills, my temperament (easy-going, most days), and my fight (we can smolder, unchecked, for days until something sparks us and then we can burn down a whole forest).

And if I’m tossing around tree metaphors here, then she’s bound to be a bonsai – well-coiffed and quite compact. That’s one thing I don’t get from my mama…

The boys ADORE their GiGi. She makes their toast with honey, she gives great snuggles and second helpings, and, in keeping with Parker’s obsession over motorized vehicles, she has gadgets and gizmos aplenty. She’s got go karts and golf carts galore. You want automobiles? She’s got twenty (no, not really, but she does have a few in her stable). She’s our pint-sized GiGi in leopard print and convertible ride.

Sadly, during football season, we don’t make it to her place often.  The only day we have with Daddy is Saturday, so we tend to stick close to home and him.  But that doesn’t stop GiGi from coming to us.

This week she arrived for Trick or Treating – and we absolutely couldn’t have done it without her.  And that’s no lie – that’s not even an exaggeration. Daddy had football, and Mommy had a strict moral code.  You simply do not go door to door and collect candy if you don’t also hand out candy at your own front door. It’s a weird little ethical idiosyncrasy of mine. There are too many takers in this world, and a definite shortage of givers. So, as for me and mine, we will do our best to balance out the universe, one snack-size Snickers at a time.

So GiGi gave out candy, while the boys and I traipsed our street… eventually. But first we had to get the boys to wear their costumes — and we had a slight problem. Parker was supposed to be a firetruck, and Tate was supposed to be an Itsy Bitsy Spider (handpicked by them, mind you, from the Pottery Barn catalogue). But apparently it’s not just communism that only works on paper. Add costumes to that list.  Tate had a meltdown – a full-blown, chubby-cheeked, toddler Chernobyl. He wanted to wear the firetruck, too.


Now I blame myself. I really should’ve known better. Truly. No matter what we do, Mike and I always, always, always buy two of the same thing, which doesn’t stop the boys from fighting, but still… But this time, just this once, I thought it would be different.

Which was simply stupid of me because I also should’ve known that when it comes to any sort of “different” duds the boys don’t adjust well — Tate in particular.  He has a hint of his father’s OCD in him.

For instance, during Cartersville’s Homecoming week about a month ago, the boys’ day care mapped out a fun-filled week of spirit days. Monday brought us silly sock day – so seemingly fun and harmless, yes?

“That’s a negative, ghost rider. The pattern [was too] full.”

Because, apparently in my obsessively compulsive Tate Bug’s mind, funky, mismatched, divergently-patterned socks is just way too excessive for his sensibilities. There was absolutely no way he was wearing one olive green dinosaur sock and one bright orange monster sock. Not with a sweet plaid button up and khaki shorts, thank you very much.

It took chocolate chip cookies for breakfast and a subtle sleight of feet to get them on unnoticed.  Then came Hat Day, not nearly as psychologically damaging as silly socks, but again, not well received.  And then came total anarchy with Pajama Day. It nearly did us all in – and not for the reason you’re thinking. This time, they both EMBRACED the concept. Like totally and completely. Because Minion PJs should be worn to school each and every day. Forever and Ever. Amen.


So our recent track record with strange and unusual attire has not been stellar. And to be perfectly honest, this time I don’t think it was that Tate necessarily wanted to wear the firetruck so much as he didn’t want to slip the spider’s large, dark, fuzzy cephalothorax over his head. I think he’s a wee bit claustrophobic. Convinced that fear was the problem, GiGi and I tried getting Tate to step into his costume… and it was still a no-go.

But then I got to thinking – the boys probably didn’t understand what Halloween really involves — the seemingly endless supply of sweets, as well as the sweet freedom of walking smack down the center of the street.  I mean, when does a toddler ever get that privilege?

Therefore, GiGi and I, along with the ready and willing assistance of brother Parker, modeled some serious Trick or Treating skills, complete with ringing of doorbell and distribution of suckers. It took no time at all before Tate was fully ensconced in spider finery and ready for the open road — which in all honestly, probably held greater sway than the candy treats in the whole scenario…

So that makes TWO ways the boys and I couldn’t have done Halloween without GiGi. She distributed candy to the masses – and I mean MASSES of little ghouls and goblins– AND she helped us navigate the treacherous landscape of weird wardrobe angst.


My little costumed adventurers only trekked to eight neighbor’s houses before we set our sights toward home. The houses are far apart on our street, and the boys had plodded purposefully to each one with confidence, only to find themselves speechless and shy at the doorway. I had managed to coax a fist-muffled “Trick or Treat” out of both boys every time, but still, eight was plenty.

As we made our way through the hordes, Parker and Tate spied GiGi distributing treats amidst a crowd of kiddos in costume. They instantly picked up speed, their plastic pumpkins practically careening off felted kneecaps and showering the street with treats.

“I found you, GiGi! I found you, GiGi!” — as if she were a long lost treasure, and they alone understood her import. But that is not true.

I, too, understand her import.  I truly, truly do. For she is far more precious than pearls. And boy does she have them — pearls of wisdom and truth and love and hope and energy and time and joy and peace… they pour out of her. She has shared those pearls with us so very generously and so very faithfully for the past two-and-a-half years. GiGi’s worth simply cannot be measured. And my humble thanks can never be payment enough. But still, I offer them up in this month of Thanksgiving.

Thank you.

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.


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.

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