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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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two-fingers-on-the-second-hand years old

Tate and Parker are “two-fingers-on-the-second-hand years old!”

Seven. They turned seven on Saturday.

It didn’t feel like that big a deal until I realized I’m almost 55. With seven year-olds.

And it still didn’t feel like that big a deal until after I spent the weekend at a water park. Two days. At a water park. With twin seven year-olds. At almost 55. Surrounded by 20- and 30-something-year-old parents. And did I mention the water park.

And it STILL didn’t feel like that big a deal, even though I was there with my own 30-something daughters while we all ran after their seven-year-old brothers along with my three grandchildren — two of whom are younger than their uncles by 18 months and 3 years, respectively. At a water park: wave pool, lazy river (hardly!),speed-racing slides, hurl-you-ass-backward slides. At 55. (Almost.) Whew.

You know when it felt like a big deal? When Parker told me proudly that he’s now “two fingers on the second hand years-old.” Now THAT’S a big deal. That feels huge. I’m not really sure why.

Where has the time gone?

Wasn’t it just yesterday they scrambled their way out of my belly six weeks early, looking all the world like the most photogenic naked mole rats on the planet, rocking skull caps and feeding tubes? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was a sleep-deprived milk machine, twins hanging off my body, growing faster than mushrooms from middle-of-the-night, near-constant feedings?

Feels like yesterday. As in, I’m still feeling the exhaustion 7 years later. I’m feeling every minute of it. And the water park added to my exhaustion. But it also added to my joy. Because despite the tiredness delivered daily, the twins delivered seven years ago this weekend deliver joy to me in abundance. Daily. Nightly. Yearly. Eternally.

I love seeing them laugh and explore the world around them. I love seeing them grow their way into individuality. They’ve evolved from wrinkly rodents to fiercely independent fellas full of piss and passion. Parker loves Italian sports cars, Trevor Lawrence, and jotting notes in small spiral notepads at bedtime. Tate loves mermaids, Billie Eilish tunes, and every Magic Treehouse plotline ever written.

Despite their vast differences, they have shared passions too. Like their endless supplies of poop jokes, their newfound love of water parks, their long-standing love for their big sisters and their Daddy.

And me. I am blessed with their sweet love too. And their shitty punch lines. Thank God they don’t use THAT word — yet. Though Mike assures me that will arrive in good time too. Just like they arrived — all in good time.

In God’s time.

He knew what he was doing when He blessed me with twin boys at 48. He has faith that I have what it takes, even if my nearly 55-year-old body doesn’t think I do. Even when the energy and patience is siphoned down to the very dregs, He always makes sure more is delivered by way of hugs and snuggles and smiles and joy. He refills the cisterns of my soul with their love so I can handle it all.

All the water parks and sleepless nights.

All the never-ending potty humor.

All the homework and horseplay.

The skinned knees and sibling rivalry.

The fidgeting and farting.

The saltiness and sass (both mermaid AND smart mouth varieties).

With all the things.

Times two. (Pretty sure its way more than doubled. Pretty sure its all the things SQUARED.)

Still, their snuggles and joy are squared too. And that sustains me. Their love (and God’s faithfulness) keeps me keeping up with them. Me and my almost fifty-five-year-old mother’s body and them and their just-turned seven-year-old boy ones — we can do this hard thing.

We can do all the hard things.

my heart is a nesting doll and she’s at its core

She’d come to Oak Ridge to welcome me. Me… the rebel teen and recent cult outcast. She smelled of cigarettes and metallic fizz. (No doubt there was a 2 liter bottle of Tab between her knees.) We were sitting on my grandmother’s concrete stoop, a kitten named Pony between us. The sun warmed our shoulders as she poured her heart into mine.

This woman smelling of tobacco and Tab soda was my Aunt Ann, and this was the most time I’d ever spent with her. How had I lived so long without truly knowing her?

She was a wizard of warmth and wisdom. It rose from her being in whispers, soothing and soft and slowly sifting into you, until you also felt wise and warm just from being near her.

We talked for hours that early May day, pink primroses nodding their heads as whipped cream clouds floated overhead, and my love for her and the entire Peters clan settled like seeds in my soul.

I’d always been a part of them, but now I was deep in the midst of them. Transplanted, grafted to their stalk by coming to live with their matriarch — our matriarch — my grandmother. And I was all in.

It was the best, most glorious thing that ever happened to me. I think that’s why my core aches so when I lose one.

When my grandmother died, a sore rose on my chest, directly above where my heart sits. It wept and ached, a simmering wound that lasted for months. Eventually, it faded, but the pruning scar still shimmers silver in the right light.

And then when my father died — before we knew he’d passed — my heart bled into a backache that bloomed the night it happened and didn’t subside until we found him the next day.

And now Ann. My precious, beloved, my dearest Aunt Ann.

Yesterday morning out of nowhere, while baking up banana bread for my boys, that familiar bruised heartache unfolded itself beneath my left shoulder and I knew it was the day. The day I would lose her.

And it was. And my body suffered with hers until she breathed her labored last. The ache in my shoulder subsided, but the ache in my heart will go on forever.

My grafting was so complete on that early May day in the twilight of my 16th year, that I am destined to feel every growing pain, from new blossom to withered vine, on our family’s tree. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My heart is a nesting doll. There is an ee cummings poem that holds special import in my life and speaks to the love I have for this family I’ve been so firmly grafted to.

i carry your heart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

I Wish You a Merry, Mid Century Modern, Swivel-Chaired Christmas

peterschristmasThat old holiday standby – “I’ll be Home for Christmas” — there’s a reason it’s a favorite. Nearly all of us yearn for those Christmas card kinda holidays — those Currier & Ives, picture perfect Christmases from our childhoods. The ones with lights twinkling, presents waiting, family hugging, baking, laughing, snuggling. Those are the ones we remember with fondness.

And as we get older, those kinds get harder and harder to recreate. In part, it’s because families get scattered to the four winds and coming home for the holidays takes a major Christmas miracle.

Take my family, for instance. I have a sibling in Phoenix, a daughter in Dallas, another in Knoxville, aunts and uncles scattered across the Southeast, in-laws in Detroit, and grandparents in Heaven. Only one of the afore-mentioned family members is home  – and it’s the first time for her in five years. So yes, distance makes family reunions impossible.

But I also think it’s because those past Christmases probably weren’t as consummately classic as our memories tend to make them. Pretty sure my grandmother’s house was more Clark Griswold than Norman Rockwell. Regardless, it is what I miss the most at Christmas.

There were uncles and cousins times twenty. There was turkey and stuffing and more. You want jingle and nog? We had plenty, but who cares? No big deal, we had more….

I wanna be back where my people are…

I wanna see, wanna see them dancing – my uncle the hambone, my Grandma the Charleston — while cousin Teresa pounds out carols on the old, rattletrap pump organ and the rest of us cousins twirl endlessly on the mid century modern swivel chair with winged backrest and threadbare upholstery.

This chair was an arm-less dame with a generous lap and endless patience, and we stacked ourselves up and spun round and round till our stomachs – or a cousin — flipped. And then we started all over again.

And while we tripped the chair fantastic, an ancient miniature schnauzer with rotting teeth nibbled hard boiled eggs at the fireplace hearth, and our aunts and mothers baked up a holiday feast worthy of Rockwell legend.

And when we  finally all sat down to eat – all those Southeast-scattered aunts and uncles, and the entire eight cousins, along with the dog, and the grandest dame of them all, our Charleston-dancing, snuff-sniffing, Melungeon-made matriarch — the table absolutely did NOT look like that iconic Saturday Evening Post holiday spread. There was no silver service, no matching white china, no apron-wearing, gray-haired grandparents delivering the glistening turkey to the masses. (My grandfather died when I was scarcely two, and my grandma never basted a butterball in her life – not to mention her hair was a deeply dyed, bitumen-black bob.)

No, our table looked more like the Grinch-down-in-Whoville’s final dinner scene. Our spread was scattered across a hodge podge of card tables and end tables linked together in a rickety centipede’s spine. No turned-mahogany matched seating for us. Instead we all bellied up to the banquet in random ladder-back and fold up and no-backed seating and heaped up our plates with turkey and pork tenderloin and cranberries and asparagus casserole and stuffing and dressing for miles.

Elbows rode tables, laughter rode faces, and our family spun straw into gold.

I miss those days and those sounds and those people so, so much.

We have a new matriarch now. And the eight cousins have doubled and quadrupled and scattered to horizons far, far away. And not a one of us is getting any younger. And some of us are nearly as old as our bitumen-bobbed matriarch was way back in those Christmases past.

Which means not many of us are able to gather round rickety card table banquets to rehash the hilarity. But I can still hold out hope. Hope that some time, very, very soon, we can get all the extended Peters back together once again to recapture the merry, mid- century modern, swivel-chaired holidays of our youth.

That is tops – absolute tops — on my grown-up Christmas list.

(Perhaps a Christmas in July this year, Santa? Whaddaya say?)

 

 

 

Layer Cakes and Legends: My Apocryphal Appalachian Roots

Today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted in roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it reminded me of my grandmother.

Not because she used to bake blackberry jam cake. (She didn’t.) Nor because she loved to bake at all. (She didn’t.) There was only one cake she ever made, and she made it every fall for Thanksgiving — a German Chocolate Layer Cake, triple-stacked to heaven and beyond. It defied natural laws.

Baking my own triple layer cake this morning somehow conjured up my grandmother’s spirit. Out of nowhere, a warm fragrant memory slipped in — a peppery whiff of Scotch snuff amid baking layers — and I was instantly transported back. Back into the warm half-circle spotlight of her bifocals, where she peered up at me with love and adoration… and then demanded I write down a select few of her stories.

Yup. Demanded. And Grandma always gets her way — even from beyond the grave. (Compromise was never her middle name.)

And she really was quite the storyteller — I like to think that’s where I get my passion for words — and her tales were always tall. As impossibly tall as her German Chocolate Layer Cake.  She told some doozies, but there was always truth in the pudding, er, batter… batter thick and sweet and loaded with flavor.

Her stories infused every room in her small house. They found you in every corner. You couldn’t escape them. Through the darkness of night, she was sitting on your mattress while you slept, telling you a story.  Through the closed bathroom door, you were sitting on the toilet while you shat, she was telling you a story. No exaggeration.

Her stories were a never-ending narrative. I’d heard them a thousand times. I thought I could recite them backwards. They were a constant. Like a beating heart. Always there. Always.

Until they weren’t.

I took them for granted. I tuned them out. I never wrote them down. I really wish I’d recorded them, old cassette ribbon winding like stretched caramel from one receptacle to another to help me transcribe her words from one era into another, today. Alas, I did not.

But this past summer, my family celebrated her oldest son — my Uncle Pal’s — 80th birthday. My two aunts and my father were there, too, rounding out her initial genetic contribution to this world.

The four sat atop a green, overstuffed sofa and held court, flipping through old pictures and regaling the second and third generations with Grandma’s tales of our Appalachian roots.

peters

Most of the stories I recalled immediately… their familiar cadence returning to me like skip rope chants learned in my childhood:

My grandma the buxom beauty — her breasts swelling so large when she contracted mumps at twelve that they never returned to what she considered a respectable size. She and her sister Margaret would mash them tightly in scarves, trying to achieve the ideal body image of her age — flat-chested flapper girl — to no avail.

grandma

My grandma the axe murderer — her one and only victim, a Harley Hog my dad bought knowing she hated them. Her brother had almost died on one; her son would not have the same opportunity. The Hog died instead, a quick, violent death from hatchet-strike to the fuel tank. Dad wept as his full-fendered baby girl bled out in front of him… the original chopped Harley.

My grandma, the exile — sent in her early twenties to country music legend Mama Maybelle Carter’s house, her childhood friend and neighbor. My great grandfather sent her away to keep the clambering boys away from the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in five Virginia counties. (Humility was also not her middle name.) Grandma spent an entire summer dancing the Charleston, little June Carter running between her flashing legs while Mama Maybelle scratched her guitar.

IMG_1149

Keeping Grandma away from the boys worked for a while, but she finally managed to run off and marry the love of her life at the ripe old age of 25 — an old maid by Appalachian standards. Grandpa was years younger than she was, also unheard of in that time period.  (I guess I get that from her, too.)

My aunts and uncle also told us a few tales I’d maybe heard, but had long since forgotten.

Like the seven-foot tall distant relative named Pleasant who was so small when he was born they could fit his head in a tea cup, and who slept in a Singer sewing machine drawer next to his parents’ bed. Pleasant grew up to be large and in charge, and was famous for once throwing a man out a second-story speak easy.

I also heard about an ancestor who, at 98-years young, could stand and do a somersault in the air. Backwards. That’s a back tuck, by the way. Cheerleaders drool for that kind of skill. He could do it at 98. Unfortunately, no one remembered his name.

But a whole lot of other names were remembered in my uncle’s living room this past July — names summoned from my grandmother’s looping cursive, scrawled in her black-papered memory book. Names like Viney and Velma, Tom and Tate, Willie and Chapman, and Emmy and Spencer, and Pleasant, of course. (I kind of wish I could have another kid, simply so I could name him or her Pleasant. No, scratch that. I’ll leave that up to my girls…)

Those names, written in Grandma’s looping penmanship, lassoed us all and pulled us back — back to our childhoods and beyond. Back to the crags and coal of the Virginia mountains. Back to the looping, sprawling deep-settled roots of our family tree.

The tree itself juts high and strong these days, with limbs spread far and wide. From London to Phoenix, her descendants are scattered like leaves in haphazard drifts of color and contrast in a beautiful, autumnal haze. We, indeed, have a glorious family tree. And her stories — our stories — deserve to be told.

* * *

Yes, today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted with roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it conjured my grandma, who channelled my fingers and hijacked my blog  — to write about an Appalachian beauty with a penchant for layer cake and a story or two thousand to tell.

My guess is, she isn’t quite done with me yet.

Snake Handling: wrestling with memoir

Growing up, I caught snakes in my backyard with kitchen tongs and fearless ignorance. All sorts of snakes, mostly random garden snakes — usually black racers.

My sisters and I would keep them a day or two in a laundry hamper on the screened porch, “tag” them (writing their names on their cold-blooded bodies in hot pink nail polish), and then release them back to the wild. We probably did irreparable damage — to their scales and psyche. I meant no harm. I thought I was Jack Hanna.

Once I came face to face with a cottonmouth. I was close enough to see the whites of his tonsils. To feel my heartbeat in my own set of tonsils. It was terrifying. And exhilerating. I was a fool, but also fairly fearless. And definitely naive.

And then there were the all the spiders. The black widows beneath the crawl space — red hourglass floating in the wide expanse of black belly, hypnotic with danger and beauty. The secretary spider in the window of the garden shed, weaving her Charlotte-style salutations and leaving me wide-eyed with wonder and respect. The wolf spiders in the pine straw, crab spiders in the peonies, tiny jumping spiders on the sidewalk.

Some creepy-crawlies were venomous. Others not. All were fascinating.

I’ll never forget a rat snake we found out in the gulley behind our backyard. I used Childcraft’s Magic of Words to name her Theodora Dean, meaning “Gift of God from the Valley.” I thought I was brilliant.

And I’m pretty sure that is the point in my life where my snake-infested early childhood and my love affair with words collided.

Besides that name dictionary inside the pages of that Childcraft yearbook, there was an abbreviated version of Beowulf — featuring a child-friendly translation of the battle with Grendel.

Grendel was a hideous creature who slithered and slunk. And killed. Beowulf was a long-haired hero who battled monsters with bare-hands. And won.

Which is kind of what I’m attempting to do with my writing. I’m crawling into the darkness and slime of my past — doing battle with all those snakes and spiders — some harmless, some deadly.

And like Beowulf, I plan on winning. With bare-handed skills.

Unlike Beowulf, I’m not trying to kill my past. I’m just trying to expose it and diminish its danger. Because it was definitely dangerous.

Good thing I was fairly fearless.

And ignorant.

I didn’t know at the time how dangerous those slippery-tongued serpents and flame-bellied spiders out to seize my soul from the hotel podium could be.

Or maybe I did.

Even today, rereading some of my journal entries, I can feel the fear of my sixteen-year-old self. I knew what those bearded elders were spewing and spinning wasn’t Christ’s love; it was paranoia and hate. It was exclusion and isolation. It was slick and poisonous and contagious as hell. Friends around me were dropping like flies.

But even back then, at the tender age of sixteen, with no one in my corner, I knew the only weapon I had against their wickedness was words.

So the lined paper of my journal absorbed what my heart poured into it. Torn, conflicted — knowing the danger of the poison inside me — I cloistered myself within its pages and allowed myself to feel the deep, insistent syphoning off of poison and emotion. It was the only place I could allow myself to purge it all.

The cool paper accepted me unconditionally. All the passion; all the poison. Recorded there. Preserved there. Honored there. Kept there to this day. A repository of life fluids. A hidden quiver. A womb of contention. An apple of discord.

As my hemorrhaging heart spilled into it, ripening more with each passing day, the pages performed their magic. They took each pounding pulse beat, each dangerous insubordination and drained it quietly into its depths. My secret embalming tool. My monument to life. A record of my heartbeat. To prove I once lived if I never made it out alive.

But I did. Those words kept me alive as the serpents and spiders coiled ever-tighter around me.

And those words give me strength today. To tackle my past. To record it. To tag it and release it into the wild. So others know and recognize the danger.

Faith isn’t dangerous. But fanaticism is.

Looking back, my anger is gone. Now, I turn an observant eye to the stains of my childhood spilled on the pages of a yellowed notebook. They are mere bruises now. Mellowed. But I can still feel the hectic red flush of their decades-old fever when I poke around.

So I poke and prod and prepare to record all the species of spiders and snakes from my past.

I may do damage — to their scales and their psyche. And this time, I do mean harm.

Because right now I see a similar, serpent-friendly climate out there in this world. I see a lot of people searching for something. And a whole lot of serpents ready to prey on their insecurities.

I see a whole lot of snake-handling going on. And that terrifies me.

Because on more than one instance, I came face to face with cottonmouths. I could see the whites of their tonsils, and I could feel my heartbeat in my own tonsils — and in theirs — when I recognized them. I wrote about it to save my life.

And I will write about it still to save someone else. Because the function of freedom is to free someone else.

Faith isn’t dangerous. But fanaticism is.

It’s time to make the pancakes: the flapjack physics of writing and life

The best pancakes are never the first off the griddle. I’ve learned that over the years.

So I’m learning to be patient.

The first pancakes are always slightly anemic. They never turn that golden brown of restaurant adds and Coppertone babies. The oil is too bubbly. Too prevalent. Too… much.

So it has to cook off a bit — get absorbed by those first flimsy efforts. Kind of like teenaged skin. It needs a lot of blotting — and some time.

Time and practice. That’s what I’m learning. It’s like that in pancakes. In writing. And In life. And I’m hoping all the practice is beginning to pay off.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on writing lately. Some are rereads — like Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Some are brand new, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human.

They’re all teaching me some bits about writing, but lots more about myself. How I tend to strive for perfection when I really should just strive to get it all onto the skillet. Perfectionism isn’t possible. And anyway, as Annie Lamott says,

Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground — you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.

So I’ll make a mess while building my batter. I’ll add in. Mix up. Pour out. Spill a bit. Flip too early.

Some sentences are destined to collapse onto themselves — it’s inevitable a few will flounder and fold. Let ’em. Clean up the mess later.

And I know those initial pancakes will be a bit pale and doughy or haphazardly layered. That’s fodder for the second draft. The next go round always gets better.

My life has been like that too. My early years were on the whiter shade of pale. Limp and slightly unbaked. Potential, but nowhere close to perfection.

Now I’m living my best, well-burnished life.

My writing is slowly sizzling its way toward buttery golden goodness, too. It’s losing its doughy center; it’s crisping and finding its edges. All with a little help from some master chefs, a whole lotta help from a well-seasoned skillet, and lots and lots of doughy first drafts.

So today (and every day), I’m assembling ingredients, mixing the batter and getting on with it. Mistakes will be made.

Always.

But it’s time to make the pancakes.

Of Carols and Cookies and Christmastime Craziness

Christmas is my favorite. I love spending the hustle and bustle of the holidays with family. Even when it gets hectic and stressful (and with my crew, it’s guaranteed) there’s nothing that fills my soul more than copping a squat on the living room floor because every chair and sofa space is packed to the gills with girls (and the random trapped husband) and listening to the jabberwocky of a room full of relatives.

I come from a big family of women. A bodacious beehive of queen bees. So when we get together, we get loud. And we do goofy things.

Like gather up all the hats and scarves in the house and go caroling… whether the neighbors are amenable or not. And a good many may not have been. They either weren’t home or they hid from the colorfully clad mishmash of merrymakers on their front lawns. I know I would have — at least until I heard the first few notes of a christmas song. Then I would’ve thrown my doors open wide.

“Everybody loves Christmas carols. Santa, especially,” Tate says. And he’s right. Or at least everybody in my family, plus Santa. That’s why we go caroling and harass the neighbors.

And I’m thinking that must not be something normal people do because I can honestly say I’ve never had somebody ring my doorbell just so they can belt out “O Holy Night” in a light drizzle. But we do. And we did.

This past week, I was talking to family and friends about some of their favorite Christmas memories and traditions.

One friend made peanut butter balls with her mom every year, to pass out to all male relatives over 21. She didn’t know why they had to be 21 and male. It was just tradition.

But tradition’s like that. The method to the madness is often lost in the translation, but the joy translates, regardless. Bringing so much joy to the world.

My sister and her family whip up their annual joy with homemade five-star meals for Christmas dinner. Beef Wellington is her son’s favorite — and he himself is a mini master chef, baking up the most glorious, puff-pastried, steak-filled centerpiece of a Christmas feast you ever did see.

From five-star to the star of Bethlehem, my husband’s favorite tradition was attending midnight mass and singing “Silent Night,” the melody lifting the congregation in the most sacred of stillness.

Another friend of mine talked about how her family never had much growing up, but they always had Christmas. She remembers one year where her father sold his truck so they would have gifts under the tree. She wonders to this day how he made it to work the coming year.

My girls and I, we always made Christmas cookies. The boys and I have added gingerbread to the memory mix. This weekend was a cluttered cluster of memories in the making. Chilled dough. Dusted rolling pin. Cookie cutters and powdered sugar. Red, green, blue food coloring. Blue and green and white crystal sprinkles.

Cheeks and fingers were stained and there’s sanding sugar scattered clear to the floor joists, I’m sure. The kitchen is a wreck, but the cookies and houses are a wonder. They aren’t pretty, but they’re pretty delicious. And so are the memories.

And then there are my memories of Christmases past — my cousin at the pump organ, clomping out “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the rest of us singing along. My aunts and mother in the kitchen scraping a year’s worth of hamburger grease off the stovetop and cabinets so they could cook up the roast beast. (Grandma lived on fried patties 364 days out of the year.)

My uncles and father gathered ’round the coffee table sketching out physics problems, each bringing their gifts to the table, in a pedagogical parody of the three wise men.

And finally, there’s my grandmother in her recliner, beaming through her bifocals and bragging on her grandchildren to anybody and everybody she could capture in her thick-rimmed line of sight. The lights from the Christmas tree reflected brightly in her split lenses, turning her chocolate brown eyes into a kaleidoscope of green and amber and red and royal blue.

Somewhere behind me stands her Christmas tree, the beginning of my fascination with Christmas trees, its branches dripping in silver tinsel and Shiny Brite ornaments. I wish I knew where those ornaments were today.

My mother further fueled my passion for Christmas trees. She has eight. Yes. Eight. Most of them, themed. One is a nutcracker tree. Another is chockfull of Wizard of Oz ornaments. A third houses all the homemade ones we four kiddos created from decades of Christmases past. Then there’s the bird tree in the bathroom and the tabletop tree in the bedroom. It’s a habit. And it’s genetic.

But my habit is sort of under control. I only have two — one full of collectible blown glass; the second, full of felted ones, less fragile, more fun.

Yes, Christmas is my favorite.

I love the memories made and the memories in the making. I love the family, the fun, and the frenzy — every last fiber of frenzy. My husband — not so much. He prefers to maintain every last fiber of sanity. But then, he’s all”Silent Night,” Bing Crosby style, and I’m all Mannheim Steamroller “Carol of the Bells.”

But maybe he’ll keep me anyways. Because he was my absolute best Christmas gift of all time, thirteen years ago this past weekend.

Yep, Christmas is my favorite.

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.

Autumn: the season of change and new beginnings

It is autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar tells us. My car thermometer, on the other hand, says it is 93 degrees at 6:30 pm. We’ve had more than eighty days of 90+ temperatures in North Georgia this year. Enough is enough already! But supposedly it’s autumn, and that means it’s officially my favorite season.

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I love fall for so many reasons. For pumpkin patches and apple orchards, for candy corn and nutmeg and cloves, for gemstone leaves and front porch scarecrows. Albert Camus proclaimed autumn “a second spring, when every leaf’s a flower.” And I tend to agree. I mostly love fall because it symbolizes new beginnings in all sorts of ways for my family: a new school year, a new football season.  Fall is my absolute favorite!

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Fall is the season of new school years: new faces, new potential, new energy, new passion. And even though we’ve already been in school for over seven weeks (this is the South, after all – we go back before the sunburns have even had a chance to peel), we still call this fall semester, and we’re still feeling fresh (sort of) when the autumnal equinox officially strikes. I have one-hundred- eighty sophomore students sitting in my seats and eager to learn (sort of). And while the challenges are great and the resources are slim, I still have a tremendous reservoir of love for my students and passion for my subject. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season of football, the game that seasons our family with a long, strong, complicated marinade. It is flavored with dynamic combinations, unexpected ingredients, raw emotions and daring outcomes — all served up on a spiral slice to robust and critical crowds. It is the sport that leaves me absolutely spellbound and absolutely spent… a complete and utter glutton for the punishment and pain, the pleasure and pride that makes up the season. As a football family, we wouldn’t want it any other way. So fall is my favorite!

And fall is the season for late afternoon drives in the countryside. Living in the country gives the boys and me ample opportunity to witness the glory that is fall: golden soybean fields, corn crops with buzz cuts, and barnyard nurseries – the farm animals are having their fall babies!

We pass a menagerie of livestock on our way home from school every weekday, and I swear, almost any given pasture on almost any given day has a new baby to ogle. Parker and Tate providing me with a running commentary of each fascinating new discovery. We pass a horse farm, a multitude of cow pastures, and even a field full of mama sheep and their newborn lambs. I bet there’s a dozen in that pen — little, bleary clouds scattered sleepily across the grass and under the pines. My breath catches at the sight of them every single time.

And fall is the season for hay bales. I’m here to say that I never knew how compelling hay bales could be until I had twin boys with a hearty devotion to tractors. There’s been a steady harvest in recent weeks. From one field to the next, the same scene has run its course and the boys never tire of talking about them. I dread the day when all of the hay bales are gone. It will be a dark day, indeed.

Fall is the season of long and languid afternoon sun, a sun that leans low to blind drivers and irritate my twins on rides home, a sun that creeps deep inside living room floors to butter bare toes, a sun that catches dust and pollen dancing in its rays for an undeniable reminder of allergy season – as if we needed reminding. The boys’ noses have had snail trails from nostril to lip for weeks now.

Fall is the season of baking treats and making memories. I used to spend hours in the kitchen when the girls were little, crafting fall festival Cake Walk prizes and bake sale bounty.  Baking makes me dizzily, freakishly happy. It’s my mother’s fault. She baked a lot when I was a kid, her hair, frosted with highlights (and probably splatters of buttercream frosting, as well), pulled back from her beaming, beautiful face. The world felt warm and wonderful and safe and sound in the sanctity of her kitchen — and I guess somewhere along the way, happiness, beauty, warmth and womanhood all got tangled up with baking for me. So now when I bake, I feel like I’m Wonder Woman on a mission to cure what ails the world, one bundt cake at a time.

 

I made some banana bread last week, which went with Mike to the football war room, where the guys spend hours working on this week’s game plan. I hope it gave them a little lift in the midst of the Sunday grind. The process of making it and the comforting scent of it gave me one, for sure. 

Fall is the season of my grandson Bentley’s birth. The little acorn is a fall fledgling with gangly limbs and translucent skin, who shimmers like wheat fields in the sun when he smiles, and his eyes are brighter than crisp autumn skies. So thanks to Bentley Boo, fall is my favorite!

Finally, fall is the season of change. Colors change, temperatures change, grades and teachers and wardrobes and weather… they all change. And in this hate-filled political climate, I pray that Camus is right. That autumn is a second spring – a season of new beginnings – an opportunity for rebirth. May it baptize us all under the shower of leaves, washing us clean of this long, hot, angry summer of hate and intolerance.

Let clarity and love, humanity and grace shine on us all. May we all feel welcomed and valued, respected and protected in this rapidly unfurling season of change.

 

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