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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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Being Authentic — in Life and in Writing (oh, and excising big, hairy, tooth-filled teratomas)

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that.

In another swipe, I spy with my little eye…Matthew Stafford’s lake house, complete with soaring eagle and cute little size zero cheerleader wife. A wife who is two months (nay not so much, not two) months postpartum with twins. Twins. Me, I have twins. And a lake in my backyard — a muddy, shitty one (they’re dredging our septic tank). And I am my coaching husband’s greatest cheerleader…  But as far as being a size zero… try multiplying that times … wait, it doesn’t work that way. Or… YES, yes it does. Do that! And then, lookie there: I AM a size zero cheerleader wife who’s three years (yea, quite so much, quite three) YEARS postpartum with twins. And with a (muddy, shitty) backyard lake. No eagle, though. Although we do have crows nesting in our gas-powered grill. So there’s that.

And then I swipe again, straight into an Anne Lamott essay or a Mary Oliver poem. And holy shit. They are profound and powerful and absolutely perfect. And I am far from that. And so are my words. Some days I think I am profound and powerful and perfect. I think I’ve written something I can feel good about. But then I see Anne Lamott on my newsfeed, her careening pinball prose depicting the messiness of life and the tender mercies we can find within all that mess…

It reminds me, believe it or not, of the teratoma my eldest daughter removed a few weeks back – a tumor full of tissue and organ components, and even teeth and hair. The excision of something profoundly messy and twisted and ugly – and the healing that came after. That’s how Annie Lamott writes. I want to write like that. I want to excise teratomas. I want to tackle the hairy and the messy, the stuff with the teeth and the brains. But I don’t know that I’m skilled enough to do that.

So I scroll some more. And there I see Mary Oliver’s handiwork. And I realize her poems are the exact opposite of Annie Lamott’s prose –they are quiet and they are calculated. They are hushed. But then again, they are exactly the same, too. Because beneath her pen, nature’s truths are untangled, separated — carefully and deftly — into thin slices of ink and placed under a microscope. Where she leaves them for me to analyze, to interpret, to explore. Her teratomas are cut down to size. But they’re still full of the messy stuff. And the hairy stuff with teeth. They bubble and swim beneath the scrutiny.

She has a poem called “Sometimes.” It is beautiful. And still. And liquid. And hairy and wet and tangled. And one of the stanzas gives me hope. Helps cure my cancerous self-doubt.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.

No, it’s NOT possible to be original. Not in anything. Not in motherhood, not in life, not in writing… not even in teratoma surgery. Those suckers may be weird, but they aren’t that uncommon.

No you can’t be original. But you can be authentic. You can be true to yourself. It’s true, I’m no Fixer Upper goddess, or a size zero NFL wife with twin daughters. Nor am I a progressive and unorthodox, recovering addict writer with self-deprecating humor and dreadlocks. Or a hushed and reverent nature poet with a Pulitzer Prize in my back pocket.

But I am me. I am Heather Candela — décor-loving, size 8 writer and teacher and coach’s wife with twin sons and adult daughters. And I WILL untangle the complexities of life in my writing. I will tackle the beautiful and the shiny and silver, but I will also tackle the hairy, the stuff with teeth and brains. I will excise teratomas. At least the metaphorical ones. I’ll leave the real ones to my daughter.

I will pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it.

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A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

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Home Place

Coal towns and college towns and asphalt-paved-metropolis towns: they’ve all been my hometown at one point or another in my life. I’ve run through sprinklers in them all. I’ve collected fireflies and friendships in them all.

But Cartersville, she’s special. She’s the town I raised my girls in. She’s the town I’m raising my boys in.

She’s more than just a hometown. She’s a bodacious grand dame, with personality for days. 

She’s got train tracks whipstitched across her landscape.

She’s got deep front porches and old oak trees, wax leaf magnolias and homespun hospitality. 

She’s got a bridge straddling a waistband full of historic buildings and an underbelly freckled in trendy boutiques. 

She’s got bakeries, bistros and bars.

Her skirts are a checkered hodgepodge of farmland and fields: soy beans and corn fields, cotton and sunflower, and don’t forget the baseball and football fields. She has all the fields.

A river runs through her, mountains ruffle her petticoats, and she’s got steeples sitting way up firm and high.

I love her so much. And I’m not the only one. New residents spill in from other cities, from other states, drawn to her charisma and charm. Growth is every which way you look…

Neighborhoods are blooming in former cow pastures and sod farms. School systems overflow their classrooms. Streets burst at their white-lined, yellow-dotted seams. True to her river roots, she collects rich new sediment daily.

Yes, she’s a big-boned, bodacious grand dame grown a bit blowsy in the infrastructure department, but oh, that personality!

She is my absolute favorite place. But she’s more than that. This little place… she’s my Home Place. 

Home Place — a term used by my grandmother when speaking fondly of her childhood home in Appalachia — a place full of warmth and nostalgia, mists and mountains, kith and kin.  

Whether a physical home or home town, the term seemed to be interchangeable for her. And since I never had a static childhood house or hometown of my own (my papa was a rolling stone), I’ve adopted Cartersville as my Home Place.

Like I had any choice in the matter… she’s magnetic. She pulled me in long ago and held me tight, anchoring my roots deep inside her silty soil. Her salt-of-the-earth people with their hearty smiles and ready hugs made me one of their own and never looked back. And neither did I.

Her people became my people.

And so did her transplants. 

I owe the love of my life to an exotic hybrid set down within her fields of the carefully maintained, gridiron variety.  

And I owe my Boy Mom status to a full season of  careful and precise tending inside her field houses (I feel the need to clarify here… I’m talking painful IVF injections at halftime every Friday night for an entire fall, just so there’s no confusion :b)

Yes, this place is my home place. 

And no matter how far and wide I wander, when I round the top of that hill on East Main, and that steepled skyline swings into view, I get a peaceful easy feeling. 

I am back at my Home Place. And she is the best place I know.  

True Believers vs. Those of Little Faith: Our Team Can Do This Hard Thing!

This year, the doubters were many, the believers, few.

This year, our iconic program was supposed to find itself in transition. It was supposed to be our year to regroup and rebuild.  

This year, while our five-star phenom would be launching his meteoric rise into the ranks of college football legends, our home team would just have to relegate itself to mediocrity…

That was the talk. Those were the predictions. 

And thank Heaven, the football prophets only got it half right.

Trevor has done it. Through skill, dedication, humility and faith, he has taken his rightful place in the football firmament. He is an inspiration and absolutely worthy of celebrating, this hometown hero who cut his teeth on our home team’s gridiron. Trevor has done it, and we couldn’t be prouder!

And then there are our current Canes. They have done it, too! And we couldn’t be prouder of the football team everybody discounted. The feisty little engine that could, full of pluck and conviction, that nobody saw. That nobody had faith in. 

No, the nobodies didn’t… but the Somebodies did. The Somebodies saw. The Somebodies had faith.

Those Somebodies are the young players, full of scrap and vinegar, iron and might, willing to put it all on the scrimmage line and battle for their vision. 

They saw. They had the faith. Faith enough to run roughshod over the limits others tried to put on them. And they answered the naysayers and killjoys with action, not words:

With laser beams, pancake blocks, stiff arms, and jukes.
With forced fumbles, pick sixes, blitzes, and sacks.
With return yards and field position, field goals and PATs.

And the Somebodies are the coaches, full of wisdom and know-how, discipline and drive, who put their minds on overdrive and their loyalty into overtime for their vision.

They saw. They had the faith. Faith enough to scheme circles around the limits others tried to put on them, answering the naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words:

With spread formations, read options, slant routs, and screens.
With zones, crossers, fakes, pulls, and grind-it-out ball. 
With run defense, pass defense, zone defense too (Good Heavens, this DEFENSE!)

And those Somebodies are the coaches' families, full of passion for the game, love for their coach, and grit enough to handle the grind of daily life without a huge member of the family at home for a huge portion of the year -- all for the vision. They saw. They had the faith.

Faith enough to balance the insanity that is the football wife’s way of life far beyond the traditional limits most mortals could endure, answering the naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words:

With hurry-up dinners, game-time decisions, some stiff arms and jukes.
With bath zones and screen zones and quick bedtime reads.
With run defense, pass defense, zone defense, too. (Good Heavens, the DEFENSE!) 

And those Somebodies are the players' families, full of fire for their sons and their abilities, and full of trust in their sons' coaches and their abilities. They saw. They had faith, answering naysayers and killjoys with actions, not words.

With transportation to and from practices and games.
With reinforcement, not doubt, about play calls and techniques.
With love and encouragement to all members of the team.

These are the bodies — the Somebodies — who saw, who believed, who had the faith to find the magic to make the miracles of this season thus far.

And now we have one more hurdle to overcome, one more limit to surpass — and however many naysayers to prove wrong — through ACTIONS.

Let’s DO this hard thing, Canes! We have the faith! 

Giving Thanks and Giving Gifts

This time of year – this week in particular – is my favorite time of all.  When the warm hues of Thanksgiving, the ambers and pumpkins and wines of the fall, begin to fuse with the rubies and emeralds and bright whites of winter. This week, my two favorite holidays meet and marry.  This week, everywhere I look, whether store front or home front or big screen TV, I see Thanksgiving and Christmas mixing and mingling in wild, jovial abandon. It’s a riotous party of flavors and jingles, snow men and smoked turkeys.

And amidst all the colorful, flavorful, frantic confusion, amidst planning for the sweet potato soufflé and shrimp and grits dressing, the pomegranate punch and cranberry bliss bars, my feverish excitement grinds quickly to a stop as I catch my newsfeed…

There are so many sad songs, near and far, both local and global, all incredibly personal and profoundly painful. And the holidays make the pain that much greater, the suffering that much stronger. There are so many lonely and broken souls.

I want to wrap up the world in a great big mama hug and serve it shrimp and grits dressing and warm pecan pie. I want to give slippers and smooches and soft flannel sheets. I want to soothe the suffering and swaddle the sad.

But I can’t. I’m not big enough. And it wouldn’t be enough.

And I want to fight the world’s evils with a wooden paddle and some feisty written word. Take aim at the evils with spirit and spunk and a good dose of mama rage. I want to call out the injustices and eradicate intolerance. I want to convert the callous and shame the shameless.

But I can’t. I’m not big enough. And it wouldn’t be enough.

I feel like the grouchy ladybug. None of us is ever big enough. We are never big enough to end the world’s suffering. To take away the pain and the loneliness and the fear and the sadness.

But I can love. I can love on those closest to me.

I can pour love and prayer into them — into my family, my friends, my students, my husband’s players. I can love them, and I can pray for them.

And I know sending love and prayers has become much maligned in recent years…

But I believe in the power of love and prayer. They are gifts that can move mountains, mend fences, heal heartbreak and soothe souls. They are the tender mercies that speak to and comfort the weary.

And those, plus food, they are my gifts. They are my gold, my frankincense, and my myrrh.

They are what I have to give.

I give my thanks, and I give my gifts.

 

I’m Done Trying

I’m so far from perfect it’s scary. I do so many things so wrong. So many. All the time. But I try. I try so hard.

And you know what? Life doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if I try hard. It doesn’t.

It doesn’t care if I work impossibly hard on lesson plans and engaging students and smiling through frustration and praising through pain. It doesn’t care.

And it doesn’t care if I cough through a fortnight of dinnertimes and bath times and bedtimes and more, all while feeling like something a Hurricane dragged home. It doesn’t care.

And it doesn’t care if I try to plan for every possible scenario and every possible outcome, trying my utmost to please those I love most in the world. It doesn’t.

And it doesn’t care if I pen emotional blogs from my soul’s tender soft spot, crossing every heartstring and dotting every tear. It doesn’t.

Life doesn’t care if I work so hard and so fast my world spins out of control… and my coffee gets spilled and my eggs gets broken and my suede boots get rained on and my debit card gets lost and my signals get crossed and my calm gets shattered and my nerves get frazzled and my sanity goes missing.

Life doesn’t care if I work my axis plum off. It. Just. Doesn’t.

Life doesn’t give a damn if I try my absolute hardest because my try’s just not good enough. And my exhausted’s not good enough. And my sick and tired’s not good enough. But then, my well and wonderful’s not good enough either.

Nothing is ever good enough. So I’ve decided I will quit trying. Because life doesn’t give a damn anyway.

But I do.

And since Yoda says there is no try, only do… I will do. I will do my best every single day. And if I do that, I will feel secure, knowing there was nothing more I could have done.

I will simply do my best.

 

Hungry for Postseason Ball

The trees are shedding, the sod is crunchy, the air is crisp, sometimes cold.

It is the season of gathering.

Now through December — in communities small and large — folks will gather together in thanks and appreciation for all they’ve been given.

Hungry for the seasonal bounty of Thanksgiving, yes. But also for the seasonal bounty of football. For casseroles, cobblers, turkeys and trimmings. And for region champs, underdogs, tailgates and trophies.

The holidays and high school playoffs have arrived. The season of gathering is upon us.

Select stadiums, in rapidly diminishing quantities, are serving up well-seasoned teams in high-stakes games.  And the crowds gather…

They gather ’round brackets on web sites and print, plotting their next month of Friday Night Lights. Hungry.

They gather in field house conference room chairs, burning the midnight oil, HUDL screens and whiteboards at hand. Hungry.

They gather in position rooms watching their film, correcting, perfecting their skill sets each day. Hungry.

They gather on practice fields in cold gear and sleeves, sweating through fundys and scout team and reps. Hungry.

They gather in pass gate and ticket booth lines, wrapping ’round buildings and down city streets. Hungry.

They gather on bleachers in gloves, scarves, and hats, fueled with concessions and love for their team. Hungry.

They gather in student sections, dressed for a theme, painted and cheering, 12th man on each play. Hungry.

They gather in marching band sectional rows, percussion and woodwinds, plus brass and the guard. Hungry.

They gather for tumbling runs, pyramids, cheers, with megaphones, pompoms and sideline school spirit. Hungry.

They gather in tunnels, behind hand-painted signs, with big-game jerseys and game faces on. Hungry.

They gather on the fifty with officials in stripes, silver coin flipping through energized air. Hungry.

They gather with coaches for some last-minute love… some fist-bumping, chest-thumping last-minute love. Hungry.

And then, finally. Finally the game buzzer sounds.

And finally, the glittering helmets — the waxed fruit of autumn — spill onto the field into kickoff formation beneath the gleaming-hot Friday Night Lights and the crowd holds its collective breath. Hungry.

Yes, the holidays and playoffs have arrived. The season of gathering is upon us.

May the coin toss be ever in our favor. May we all stay healthy. And may we all stay Hungry.

(feature photo cred: Cathy Sharpe)

Hearts of Darkness: What has happened to our humanity?

I just read an article about an Idaho school whose teachers dressed up as Trump’s Border Wall. Another group from the same school dressed as Mexicans, complete with sombreros and mustaches and maracas.

As a citizen, my lip curled. As an educator, my gore rose. As a human, my wrath raged. This is totally and completely unacceptable.

What has happened to our humanity?

What has happened to us? The land of the free and the home of the brave? The land that welcomes the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

I guess we don’t anymore.

Trump is promising an executive order to abolish birthright citizenship. This president whose father was an immigrant. (Could he abolish his own citizenship, I wonder?) This president whose wife — actually TWO of his wives (Ivana and Melania) — are immigrants. (Could he likewise abolish Ivanka and Barron and Don Jr and Eric’s citizenships???)

The poetic justice just might be worth the insult to humanity!!!

But, no. No it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be worth the insult to humanity (tempting though it may be…) and it wouldn’t abolish their citizenship. Because let’s face it… they’re the immigrants and anchor babies of acceptable color. They aren’t Latino or Black or Middle Eastern.

And that’s what this “illegal alien” war he’s waging is really all about. Trump spouts his pie-in-the-sky Space Force rhetoric all the time; the reality and irony is his “space force” exists already — and is waging war right here on planet earth against “illegal aliens” whom he and his followers are all too ready to demonize. “Aliens” who are entirely human.

And those who side with Trump — they are not. They have lost all semblance of humanity.

Those teachers who dressed like Trump’s Wall…  those citizens turning a blind eye to the ongoing disaster of immigrant children separated from their parents at the border… those fellow Americans casting their ballots in the midterms because they don’t want minorities in their land or in their governing bodies…

They have lost all semblance of humanity.

 

My D-line Coaching Husband and his Boys

My husband is a big, burly, former D-line player and a big, burly, current D-line coach.

We have twin boys. Twin boys my husband waited thirty-six years to have. Twin boys whose genetics could prove the perfect combo to make him daddy to a couple of D-line players’ one day, too.

And I know my D-line coaching husband would love for his boys to follow in his shoulder pads and put their hand on the ground — along with a quarterback or two-hundred.

And it might happen. But then again, it might not. And we’re both okay with that. We encourage our boys to explore what they love and to follow their bliss.

And one of our son’s bliss involves football and trucks. He says he wants to drive a truck like daddy’s when he grows up and be “a coach” like daddy because he “loves to tackle.”  (He might be a wee bit confused.)

And the other one of our son’s bliss involves feathers and unicorns and everything Disney. He says he wants to be “Elsa” when he grows up because he “loves princesses.” (And some would say he is a wee bit confused.)

But I would never say that. And neither would his daddy.

So when Daddy takes our boys to Target after a particularly hectic week of football to spend their allowance and some time with them, one usually comes back with trucks and one usually comes back with princesses.

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And I love my big, burly D-line husband so incredibly much for this — for his ability to foster the joy and individuality of our two totally opposite twin boys.

And when Daddy takes the boys with him to Home Depot to pick up supplies for little projects around the house,  one is usually wearing his favorite blue boa and both are always wearing great, big smiles.

parker and tate

And I love my big, burly, D-line coaching husband so incredibly much for this — for his ability to walk proudly and without hesitation through the world’s most testosterone-laden chain store with our two totally opposite twin boys.

And when the boys pick out their Halloween costumes and one wants to be a police officer like his grandpa was in the military, and the other wants to be a unicorn like his imagination was in his wildest dreams, their daddy encourages them both with compliments and high fives.

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And I love my big, burly D-line coaching husband so incredibly much for this — for his unconditional love and affection for our two totally opposite twin boys.

Our boys are undeniably loved and undeniably fortunate. Both their parents encourage and support them and their choices, encourage and support them and their passions, encourage and support them and their personalities. Both of their parents encourage and support THEM — whether they fit our expectations — or society’s — or not.

Our hopes and dreams and prayers for our boys are that they be happy, secure, productive members of society, doing whatever it is they want to do and being whomever it is they want to be.

And my hopes and dreams and prayers for every child in every house in every neighborhood in every land is that they have a family — with or without a big, burly D-line coach  — who wishes the same for them.

That’s all.

Amen.

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