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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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mother’s love

Where Did I Go?

Where did the mama go who laughed and sang and read stories and played with her children?

Where did the mama go who had patience and a smile and the ability to let all the demands of the world melt away and focus only on her precious pint-size people?

Where did the mama go who could create one-of-a-kind birthday parties and scavenger hunts and toilet-paper-cardboard-exoskeletons-with-pipe-cleaner-antennas?

Where did the mama go who volunteered as room mom and decorated cupcakes like coral reefs and had seventeen girls sleepover in the living room in a snowstorm?

Somewhere along the way, she got more than a little bit lost. She’s a quarter century older than she was with her girls. And her patience and reserves aren’t what they used to be.

She’s vanished, and I really need to find her again. I miss her.

Not only do I miss her readiness to drop it all and be present in the moment… I miss the fact that there aren’t so many moments left for her to squander. And squandering precious moments is one of my biggest worries. I have no time to waste. There’s so much that has to be done…

… between parenting and teaching and grading and gifted cert classes and football and laundry and trying to find time to write because it’s the only bit of something I actually do for myself…. it leaves very little time for fun and games. And I don’t like that about myself. I’m way too serious these days.

The Joker would not approve. And I don’t think my boys do either.

But all the things are pulling at all my moments. And the only common denominator besides parenting between when my girls were little and now my boys are little is the laundry. Everything else didn’t exist.

And neither did the Me who is Mama now.

I am the new version. And new versions aren’t always what people want. It’s not what I want.

Take the new and improved Butterfingers candy bar. Nobody wants them. Everybody loves the classic. Supposedly there’ll be more cocoa and milk and no more hydrogenated oils. It’s all about quality. But nobody is happy about it.

My new and not-so-improved motherhood — nobody wants t it either. There’s definitely more worry lines and deadlines and no more happy-go-lucky moods. It’s all about quantity. And nobody is happy about it.

I scramble to make everything fit. I cram and pack the moments full. Too full. Till everything bursts from the pressure. Me. The boys. Mike. All of us.

How can I fix this? How can I do better? Explode less, love more? Dear Lord, I wish I knew. I’m at a loss. I’m losing daily.

With the girls, I was a stay-at-home mama with time on my side. Neither is true now. What is still true is I love my kids — grown and growing — with all my heart, and I love being a mom, and I want to be a good one.

So how can I pack more into each moment without packing more into each moment? I’ve got to figure it out. How to do what I’ve been doing without doing what I’ve been doing. It is a paradox so simple and so hard. And I don’t have the answers.

Motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always. Especially right now. The boys have hit a tough age. Somebody said the other day they love the five-year-old boy year, and I almost choked on my incredulity.

This Five-Year-Old Boy Year has been flipping HARD. A lot of it has to do with how there’s TWO of them and all. And there’s kindergarten. And homework. And they’re playing flag football. On weeknights. So they’re getting to bed late. Plus, they’re growing like gangbusters and burning through all their fuel and they’re HANGRY as H-E-double-hockey-sticks.

Have mercy! — which is what I need.

And what they need. And I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but they deserve it. So I’m going to find the solution to the paradox. I’m going to pack more moments full of my boys’ big brown eyes and wide open smiles and kind, generous hearts. Even if it means squandering the moments of all the other things.

Because motherhood demands sacrifice. And motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always.

Nothing is more important than my children’s emotional and physical well-being. All four of them.

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.

Tom Brady and Her Baby GOATs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am the Tom Brady of motherhood.

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


Struggling Is Not Failing: New Life and the Worries Born With It

I love seeing new things – things I’ve never seen before.

A few years back, I saw my first fox. She was making her way across the neighborhood green space under cover of darkness, but the streetlights revealed her unmistakable fiery fur and trotting stride. She was beautiful.

I was in awe.

And then yesterday, I saw my first great-nephew. He was lying sweetly in a nest of swaddling blankets, tiny paper finger and toenails topping long, fragile fingers and long, slender feet. He is beautiful.

And I am in awe.

He came early. Seven weeks early. And his mama suffered. She was put on hospital bed rest and then filled with the fumes of a hazy, magnesium hell to battle the preeclampsia ravaging her body.

It was not fun. Nor was it effective. He “broke” her belly (as my sons say) via C-section the very next day. At 33 weeks.

But he is 33 weeks of pure perfection. Surprisingly alert, his eyes dance inside a noggin tiny enough to fit in a teacup, his elfin features glow beneath a widow’s peak of dark, twiggy hair.

This newborn child is beautiful. And so is his newborn mother.

She is pure perfection. Her eyes smile through the pain of incision, through the fog of postpartum, her freckled features deceptively serene beneath her halo of glossy, dark hair.

Because she is the perfect newborn mother — full of self-doubt, full of concern, full of fear.

She worries about milk supply and let down. She worries about milestones to be met and schedules to be set. She worries about bonding time and spending time with her twiggy little nestling when she’s discharged and he’s left behind in the NICU.

She worries about nurturing him and guiding him and loving him well enough to one day set him loose in this big, scary world with all the tools and confidence he needs to flourish.

She has so many worries. But those worries make her the perfect mother. Because that’s what good mothers do. They worry. And I would worry if she weren’t.

Really good mothers strive to always do the right things — the best things — for their little ones, no matter how big they get. No matter how old.

But good mothers never do ALL the right things; they never do ALL the best things.  Because mothers – even the really good ones like my niece – they’re only human. So they struggle.

But just because you are struggling doesn’t mean you are failing.

I saw that on a meme just yesterday and it spoke volumes to me as a mother, as a wife, as a writer, as a teacher.

Because just like my niece, I am struggling.

Because another new thing I saw this week was a brand new classroom — in a brand new school system. And it has left me full of self-doubt and fear and concern. I am full of worries.

I worry about school supplies and letting people down. I worry about the schedule to be set and the milestones to be met. I worry about bonding time with my students and spending time with my twins.

I worry about nurturing them and guiding them and loving them all well enough to one day let them loose in this big, scary world with  all the tools and confidence they need to flourish.

I want to do all the right things, all the best things. And I know I won’t do all the right things all the time. I won’t always do the best things. I have so many worries. But hopefully those worries make me a good teacher.

I struggled a lot last week. My niece struggled a lot last week. But we both have to remember that struggling doesn’t mean we are failing. Humans struggle — we’ve been doing it since the Garden of Eden. We trip. We fall. We get back up again. We persevere. We triumph. We excel.

It’s all about the perseverance. And Grace.

Because thanks to the grace of God, if our intentions are pure, and our efforts are hard, and our passions are strong, we will not fail. Struggle, yes. Fail, no. We can do this hard thing.

So Lauren, you and me — and all the mothers and teachers and humans out there — we can all do this hard thing. By the grace of God.

I am in awe.

 

 

 

The Metaphysical Majesty and Miracle of Mother’s Love

Last weekend, I attended a wedding full to overflowing with beauty and light and joy and love.

The ceremony was at the top of a rolling Georgia hill just west of Atlanta. Below us, a sweeping expanse of warm wheat fields and rough gravel drives. Above us, a decoupaged sky of chipped gray flakes and tissue paper clouds.  To the side, a small, serene lake. Behind and to the right, a riotous bank of hot pink azaleas. If they’d been gold – and sunflowers – I would’ve sworn we’d been painted into a Van Gogh landscape.

The wedding guests were a celebration of all ethnicities and ages, vocations, and persuasions. Smiles rode faces of chocolate and cream, honey and peach, almond, and espresso.

We were delicious.

And colorful.

And so was our clothing.

We women wore bold patterns and vibrant hues, shoulders bare or swathed in netting or lace or even a random fur stole. Legs were hidden or revealed beneath hemlines full and frothy or sequined and straight.

The men sported less color, wearing standard suits and the occasional tux – save their ties of jewel-toned silk, glittering festively at their necks and chests.

We perched ourselves on the traditional white folding chairs of an outdoor wedding, beneath the swirling pewter sky, and waited for the procession to begin. But then the rain set in.

Rain on your wedding day is good luck — and as the forecast had called for no rain until way after midnight, this was a welcome harbinger, as far as I was concerned. It was only the first (and smallest of signs) that this was a marriage approved of in heaven.

Back in the lodge where the reception would take place — inside the room reserved for the bride and her attendants — Itoro was unphased. She was the calmest bride imaginable. No bridezilla, she. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen her ruffled. Ever.

She’s a med-peds physician who handles life-and-death emergencies with deftness and aplomb. Her smile is sheer sunshine. Her skin is warm gingerbread. And this day was fused with her sweetness and light. A little rain could never dampen it or her spirits. Besides, she reasoned, there was a perfectly good indoor alternative not thirty feet away…

But just as we were prepared to switch locations, the showers ended, the harpist rolled out her harp, and my sister and I pointed our camera phones to the clouds, where a brilliant diamond solitaire had burned through the metallic skies.

It was spectacular. It was magical. And (Good Lord!), it was so, so much more than that! And although we wouldn’t know it for a few minutes more, we were pointing our cameras at the metaphysical majesty and miracle of love. We discovered just how phenomenal as I was fumbling with my iPhone, inspecting the picture for Instagram.

That’s when I noticed it — a spec gleaming just right of center on the groom’s side of the lawn. I looked up and glanced in that direction. Was there foil or metal or something else reflecting the light?

Nothing. Was it dust on my lens maybe?

I wiped the lens clean and turned to my sister, “Look at this,” I pointed. “Is there one in your picture?”

There was. Even rounder and more luminescent than the image I had captured.

“What is that?” we both said at once.

Before describing what exactly it was we saw, let me move back in time for just a moment… to a point nearly nine years ago when the bride was a senior at UGA and lost her mother to breast cancer. They had been close. Closer than close. As you can imagine, it was a time of heartbreak, a time of tremendous difficulty. Yet, Itoro persevered.

Her mother had a doctorate in social work, and she became Itoro’s spiritual mentor. She inherited her desire to serve others, to touch their hearts and souls with wisdom and tenderness.

Itoro talked about that period of loss during her reception toast. She testified how God has never forsaken her, even in her darkest days. There, in her time of need, she explained, God sent her a series of mothers – not to replace her own (that could never happen), but to bring love and help soothe the empty ache she felt inside. She called the names of seven women in attendance, my sister and I among them, and asked us to stand.

I’m here to tell you — I may have cried. You know the kind of cry – the surprised, nose-clasped-in-your-hands, jaw-quivering type of cry. Itoro couldn’t have blessed me more. There’s no way.  And it was then I understood the magnitude of what Jo Jo and I had seen. And why.

So back to the lawn and the iPhones and the metaphysical majesty I referenced a bit back…

I have uploaded the image because you all need to see this to believe it. And even then, I will have Naysayers and Doubting Thomases.  But, please — Believe.

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Take a look at the beams of God-Love spilling out of the clouds and bathing the ceremony site in blessings. Note the light pooling on the surface of the lake. Note the shafts and pillars of peace flaring from the newly-parted heavens. See the glory of the fuzzy, new growth backlit on the lanky trees. And finally, there to the left of center in the mossy-brown nap of the lawn, note the orb. The shimmering, blue-green roundness of an angel orb. The metaphysical majesty and miracle of love. And not just any love. Maternal Love.

Don’t be ridiculous, you say. It is nothing more than burnished dust, pollen caught in sunlight, a spec on the lens.

And I say, look again. And hear me. That spec of dust on my lens, as you call it, is on TWO separate photos taken from TWO different cameras in TWO different locations taken at the exact same time. And those two different cameras were being held by two different women — women who love Itoro like one of their own. And I believe that her mother knows and understands our love for her daughter. And that is why she showed herself to us.

That is no dust spec. That is Itoro’s mother — arriving just in time for the ceremony to commence.

I explained that Jo Jo and I didn’t understand just how spectacular a phenomenon we had captured on camera until later, and that is quite true. We knew and understood at once what we had in our pics. But it wasn’t until I showed my husband and he suggested I scroll my Live Photo back to see for sure if what we were seeing was something more than simply refracted light that we truly understood.

And so, I did — but not until our drive home from the wedding. It was then that I opened my photos and revisited the shot.

And there, in the enclosed cabin of a Ford F150, as the forecasted rain finally had its way with us, tapping on the rooftop and the hood, that we finally witnessed the metaphysical majesty of maternal love in flight. She floats – and at times, jets – from the celestial window there in the clouds. We watch her hover, taking stock of the surroundings, the wedding guests, the rugged cross at the altar where her daughter will soon marry her love. And then we watch as she takes her rightful place as Mother of the Bride, settling on the top rung of the first chair of the first row of the bride’s side of the ceremony.

Behold, the metaphysical majesty of maternal love. I have uploaded the video — on a loop. Watch it over and over and over again. May this beautiful angel orb visiting her daughter on her Big Day bless you as much as it has blessed us.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Simple Resolutions for a Stronger, Saner Me

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write for this week’s blog. Since it IS New Year’s Day, I feel like it should hold some sort of tremendous import or be full of proclamations and profound resolutions.

Problem is, I just don’t know what those might be. I’m totally fresh out of profound proclamations. To tell the truth, I’ve never really owned any.

I am a simple person with simple needs. And my resolutions are equally simple. Family comes first and foremost. Always.

Therefore, I vow to give more love and hugs and phone calls and prayers. Every day. Every single one. I’ve tried to do that this year. But sometimes I’ve failed.

Sometimes the days spin wildly out of control – much like twin toddler tantrums – doubling and flipping and following so closely one upon the other that I suddenly find myself on the other side of nightfall and realize I’ve failed. Failed to call my girls, to check on my grandson, to pray for my babies (all four) and the lives they are owning and embellishing. Failed to say “I love you” to my husband. Failed to lavish an ample number of hugs on my rapidly-growing little boys – and they need lots and lots of hugs. As many as I can give. Because hugs grow good humans. I’m convinced of it.

I need to do better.

And to do that, I need to take better care of myself – primarily my mental health, which takes a beating from full-time teaching and all-the-time mothering.

So, to maintain my sanity, I resolve to take more naps and wear more blue jeans. I believe fully and absolutely in the restorative power of both. Blue jeans and naps do a world of good! And in a world full of bad, I believe they could lead to a gentler, kinder (more comfortable and well-rested) universe.

I know how cranky I get in buttoned-down, up-tight clothing. My fuse is short when my fabric is inflexible. And when I’m sleep-deprived, heaven help! I become a ticking time-mom. 😜

Unfortunately, my work place believes in neither (naps or jeans) so I’ll just have to get as much of both in as I possibly can on my days off. But why does the school administration object so unreasonably to such reasonable stress relievers?

I think a nap class in the place of study hall could shoot our test scores through the moon. After all, it is scientifically proven that naps boost productivity and mental alertness. They also lower stress levels and improve overall mood. I’m here to say that high schoolers – and their teachers – could greatly benefit from post-lunch siestas. Although I guess I understand the objection to naps. Sort of.

But blue jeans?  Why, pray tell, are blue jeans so frowned upon in our establishment?  Do the powers-that-be really believe that students respond more favorably and focus more intently when the instructor is dressed professionally? How, pray tell, do tailored trousers and silk blouses translate into higher SATs and college admissions? I’d like to see a study on that hogwash.

Still… I don’t have an issue with Monday-through-Thursday compliance. But I do believe that casual Friday should be reinstated. (We used to have dress-down days at the end of each week, but then this year, that simple workplace perk went the way of the dinosaurs. Why, you ask?  I have no idea, I reply. I do, however, have lots and lots of anger and resentment…)

Oops… I seem to be digressing – and stressing –over a set of New Year’s resolutions that are meant to help alleviate my stress levels: more naps and blue jeans (at least on the weekends). Simple. Cheap. Effective.

So there you have them. My far-from-profound, hardly earth-shattering resolutions. Love more. Hug often. Call daily. Pray constantly. And nap and wear blue jeans every weekend and calendar break of 2018.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nap to take…

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are  tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.

But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.

It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.

And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

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.)

 

 

 

 

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