Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

I will not Hush My Mouth

To the person who dressed me down today for my dissatisfaction with and absolute disgust of the current POTUS:

Whew! I’m glad you got that off your chest. I wouldn’t want to cause you any pain by perhaps encouraging you to try to see the other side of things. The side that isn’t white and male and in control of policies and procedures and pretty much anything and everything you ever take for granted because you resemble that establishment.

You see, I’ll respect that man when he respects my gender. He shows me no respect so why should I give him mine?  Oh, that’s right, he thinks because he’s big and powerful and rich he can just take it. Grab me by the pussy and demand it.

And let’s talk a bit more about respect, shall we? I believe he shows absolutely no respect for the office of the presidency.. He parades himself around like he’s the cat that swallowed the canary. And we the people are the canary. He is dangerous. Deadly, even. I respect the danger he represents. I do respect that.

You say I should remain quiet. I should not voice my opinion. The way I see it, that is exactly the way Hitler grew into the powerful monster that he became. By spreading his “Fake News” and terrorizing anyone who spoke out against him. Too many kept their mouths closed until it was way, way, too late. I will not stay silent.

I owe him no loyalty. I am not a sworn member of the military. I have the ability to speak against him in public if I so choose. It is my right. And as I see it, it is my responsibility. I hail from a place of extreme oppression. A place where men told me when to be seen and when to be heard and how to behave. Where education was wasted on women because our place was barefoot in the kitchen with a baby in the oven and a roast on the stovetop. And I’ll be damned if I’m going back to that place.

You worry about my students. You worry that by speaking my mind I am teaching young minds to disrespect authority. Here’s the thing. First off, I don’t prosthelytize in my classroom, if that’s what you’re implying.  I don’t talk politics in my classroom – or at least not partisan politics. I remain neutral when it comes to right vs left, republican vs democrat. But we do look at all sides. We deal with a lot of themes in the novels that we explore – themes related to man’s inhumanity toward man: prejudice and hate and dominance and greed and violence and bitterness and war. A lot of these naturally lend themselves to discussions about the political climate of our world, of our nation. But I do my absolute best to speak for both sides. And in the South, most kids hear nothing but one side. They know that side well. I encourage them to do research, to educate themselves, to question everything and then decide for themselves what they think and believe. Not their parents. Not their teachers. Not their preachers. Not their classmates. Themselves. THAT is what education is for: building critical thinking skills.

As far as friending my students on Facebook, that’s pretty much frowned upon in this profession of mine and it doesn’t happen — nor would it if it could. That’s just weird and that’s just wrong. But when my students have graduated, when they are ADULTS then they can friend request me. Not before then. And just like you, they can block me if they don’t like what I have to say. Or they can choose to engage. Or they can choose to scroll right on past. You say as a teacher I hold sway and influence over young minds. I hope that is true. I hope my influence is in showing them how to think — not WHAT to think, HOW to think. How to research and analyze, explore and question, sift and weigh all the options.  If I ever try to tell them WHAT to think, then I have crossed a line. I have become my own worst enemy. I have become HIM.

I love my students dearly. I only want the very best for them. And them using their minds to form their opinions, rather than having opinions spoon-fed to them by the establishment is ultimately what is best for them. That is not teaching them to disrespect authority. That is teaching them to think for themselves. The two are not synonymous.

Yes, sometimes my emotions get the better of me on Facebook. Sometimes I react to the man in the oval office’s tantrums or his 3 A.M. rants or his pompous, smug face or his endless strings of lies. And you’ve got me thinking… Yes, you speak the truth. I guess when I react to him, when I vent on social media, I am mirroring his small-mindedness. That is shameful and it discredits me and I need to do better. So for that, I appreciate the note. I appreciate the heads up. I will try to do better.

But as for my speaking out against him — as for my statements and beliefs about the sorry excuse for a president we have in the oval office, that will not stop. I realize my opinions are not to your liking. I get that. I am not, however, sorry for them.

This nation gives us all the freedom to speak. When we stop speaking, we run the risk of turning into an oppressive, dogmatic dictatorship, much like the one in which I was raised. A place where only those in power have any say whatsoever. Where individuals become slaves to the whims and whips of an elite few. A few who believe they are the chosen ones. (Chosen ones as in belief in manifest destiny and God-ordained right and all that jazz and bullshit, not general election chosen one, btw. I can see you jumping all over on that term…)

No, I do not believe in people who believe they are the chosen ones. That’s just entirely too dangerous for my liking. And for the rest of my life, I will fight and I will speak out and I will not ever give up. I’ve been silenced before. But like I said in that blog I wrote back in November of 2016, I’ll be damned before I go back to that hell again.

Thanks for hearing me out…


Birthday Cakes: a simple symbol for the complex, multi-layered loves of your life

In our house, birthdays are a big deal. And birthday cakes are a big part of that big deal. They are something to be thought long and hard over and then hand-crafted with lots and lots of love — and labor. If it doesn’t take hours and hours to craft that magical milestone confection topped with icing and flames and dripping wax, then you need to seriously reevaluate your relationship. Somebody doesn’t love you enough. Or you don’t love them enough. That’s my theory. (Not really… well, maybe really.)

A good solid relationship demands at least three hours of dedicated, uninterrupted baking. That’s the birthday cake rule of thumb. At least in my house.

It began when I was little. My mom is the master of birthday cakes from scratch: castle cakes with turrets and flags, yellow layer cakes with pink frosting and roses, maple pecan pound cakes…

I kept the tradition going when my girls were little. I wanted to give them some sort of celebration worthy of the love they had given me — and the cakes my mom had always made.  So I went all out when planning their birthdays. They had themed parties with dozens of attendees. We hosted murder mysteries, scavenger hunts, plundering pirate feasts, and ginormous movie premiers. I planned for months and baked in marathons. Their cakes were always homemade and, though hardly Pinterest-worthy, were fueled and filled with love.

Then came the boys… the twins. And the birthday-cake-stakes were multiplied – and way more than simply times two. These boys have been challenging for a number of reasons — the first being, there were two of them. At once. And they never slept. And did I mention there were two of them. At once…

But, then, to add insult to injury, when their first birthday rolled around, I had to come up with a way to bake up a super-scrumptious birthday cake worth all the love and laughter and sleepless nights the boys had brought into my life. And all without dairy — with nary a milk protein to be found!

Holy Mother of Ganache!

Bake a cake without cream? without chocolate? without butter? These are the key ingredients and foundations of layer cakes and healthy relationships the world over… They are the flutter in the belly, the dilation in the pupil, the surge in the heartstrings. They are the LOOK and TASTE and LANGUAGE of love — of deep, abiding love.

The way I figured it, a cake without dairy would be flat and leave you feeling unfulfilled. Like a song without accompaniment — no guitar, no piano, not even a tambourine. (I must confess this was prior to my exposure to the pure, acapella sounds of Pentatonix. I was so, so very naïve – about music and about cakes… You see, really good cakes – and really good music – CAN be made without the traditional accompaniments.)

…because I found a cake that is moist and dense and decadent and CHOCOLATE with absolutely, positively NO dairy ingredients. Instead, it uses almond milk and coconut oil and applesauce and cocoa and coffee. And witchcraft. Sweet, sweet sacharine sorcery. It is the best damn chocolate cake I’ve ever made. Or ever had. And from now until eternity, it is the only chocolate cake I will ever, ever make again.

Amen and pass the birthday candles.

So yes, the boys presented me with a birthday cake challenge, but I’m here to say my biggest, ongoing challenge has to do with my nay-saying, anti-birthday-establishment husband.

Somehow, I married a man who hates birthdays. No. Worse. He doesn’t hate them. At least there’s passion in hate. No, he just doesn’t care about birthdays. He proclaims, year after year, that “a birthday is just another day.”  He doesn’t want to be fussed over. He doesn’t want to be baked for.

Oh, the blasphemy! Oh, the shame!!!

A birthday is NOT just another day. A birthday is YOUR day (unless you’re a twin. The twins share their special day – which is kind of a crime, if you think about it. But then, so were those sixteen sleepless months they gave me, so I guess that’s the cross they must bear…)

But your birthday is YOUR special day. You get the birthday song sung to you. (Yes, I know it’s tedious and tired and half the people who sing it can’t quite hit those high notes – me included –  but still, we squawk it out just for you. So just relish in the disjangled cacophony of it all.)

And you get birthday cards and birthday presents. (Well, I may have forgotten to pick up a card this year – your 40th and one of the Big Ones — which probably means I’ve now got myself reserved seating on one of the deep-throated sectionals in the ninth circle of Hell reserved for the traitors of kin, but I DID get you a really, really nice, long-awaited birthday gift.)

But most of all, you get cake. BIRTHDAY cake. And I’m here to tell you I happily spent the majority of the morning hours toasting pecans and grating carrots and creaming butter and folding egg whites and spooning vanilla to create a veritable symphony of love and affection in the form of a three-layered confection made special just for you.

Because you see, you ARE a really big deal. And yes, I know you are a staggering six feet of pure, mountainous muscle and mixed genetics — a specimen of breathtaking beauty ( Don’t argue with me. You are.), but you are also a big deal for far more than your giant stature and gorgeous genetics. You have changed the course of my life for the better. You sent me spinning head-over-heels into a world full of football and do-it-all-over-again-motherhood, and a pure and perfect and birthday-cake-special kind of love.

So every January 7th, I bake up your favorite — carrot cake with toasted pecans and creamed cheese icing – in honor of all the hugs and kisses and laughter and toddler antics and frenzied football games and political discussions and passion and pure joy you give to me on a daily basis. A simple symbol of thanks for a complex, multi-layered love. Happy Birthday, handsome.


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…

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

That 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.

She was an armless dame with a generous lap and endless patience, this chair, 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?)





A Patchwork of Darkness and Light

I have some of the strongest memories locked inside my brain. Images, random and detailed, like a giant patchwork quilt of varied fabrics and disparate patterns all attached by the crazy-stitched thread of my life.

When I close my eyes, they appear. Without prompting and without warning. Some warm and welcome, others not.

Last night, a couple of sisters appeared from the deep recesses of repressed memories. I was sitting in the pew – if you can call aluminum-framed, hotel conference chairs with nubbed upholstery lined up hip to hip a pew –  but anyways, I was sitting in the pew behind them. Someone was preaching. Someone was always preaching. And I was trying to underline the scripture in the same, perfectly inked slices as the blond teenager on my right, whose family had followed us out to Texas from Mississippi.

I remember the first time I saw her – yet another random memory. I was in first grade; she was a bit older. Her hair, woven in two braids, the tips fringed and skipping across plaid-shirted shoulders as she herself skipped through the halls of the elementary school. She reminded me of a favorite character from a Disney adventure movie. I can’t remember who or what movie now. That memory is gone. But my girl, skipping with hay-colored hair woven in precise and pretty farmgirl plaits, was only missing a straw hat to make the allusion complete.

Anyway, this girl always underlined the scripture while the preacher – do you call him a preacher when everybody else calls him Brother, and nobody ever actually refers to him as reverend or minister or preacher (or anything, really, beyond Elder and Brother), and you find him repulsive and his eyes beady, and he licks his thin lips almost constantly leaving tiny beads of milky spittle in his meticulously trimmed beard and mustache– I don’t know… I don’t want to call him a preacher. But anyways, I tried my best to underline my bible in perfect inky slivers like my curly-headed blond neighbor. No longer braided.  Branded, though. She’d been branded. She was theirs.

But back to those sisters sitting in the pew in front of me — their heads full of curls as well. But those curls were tight-rolled – turned and twisted into spindles of cast iron Aqua Net sculptures. Sausage curls riding atop waves of cream satin dresses with puffy sleeves, wedged collars, and fabric buttons.  Whipped cream slaves to the Cult of Domesticity. Already. At ages 11 and 9.

And me, I was trying to copy, to imitate, to forge. To sell myself as authentic and stay off the radar of that preacher behind the pulpit — actually hotel podium turned pulpit. So I pressed my pen to the soft tissue of the Living Word and sliced.

Why do I remember these girls, so buttoned up and branded and boxed in? Why have their curls floated to the surface of my wacky, whip stitched brain?

I honestly have no idea.

Yesterday, it was sausage curls.

Today’s it’s sausage fingers… with scarred knuckles, sliced up with threaded white lines at the top center of his fist underscoring their importance. Their power. Their tenderness.

And tender, they are… to speak like Yoda. Like the Yoda he loves. He is hard and soft, this man with sausage fingers and hairline scars surfing the mountain ridge of his fisted knuckles.

His hands are mountains. And they live in my present, not my past, helping me hoist up the heaviness and fear and cover my naked vulnerability.

And its not the sausage curls or the stark lines etched in stony scripture or even the spittle-flecked beards themselves that upend my security blanket and leave me shivering and cold.  It’s the batting underneath it all – a woolly foundation of guilt sutured on with aged and brittle sanctimony. It snags when the memories slip for half-a-second, and then it unleashes its infection and stench.

But that’s where the man with mountains for hands — sliced and ridged and ready to rumble — comes in. He brings balance when the dark and twisty lines of metallic, make-shift church pews and underscored bible verses push their way back into my present.

It’s not that he saves me.  Not at all. I’ve learned in the past ten years – because this week marks ten years with him, ten years of finding balance and bravery – I’ve learned in these ten years, I’m no damsel in distress. Far from it.

I’m a woman with a weighty past, absolutely. With baggage that slides like sewage into the present and stinks it up for a bit, that’s for damn sure. But a damsel in distress? Nope.

Not this gal.

But I am somebody who now has a dedicated partner with hands like mountains who works with me to lift and redistribute the guilt and to wring out the sewage when it seeps out of my seams. Together, we clean it all up again. Because it’s a never-ending process, rinsing the demons out of the dark underbelly of my life.

But I don’t want to erase the darkness; I just want to keep it clean. Because that dark background is part of what makes my life so beautiful.

Without darkness, who could recognize the light?  Without hard, who could appreciate the soft?

And me and my guy, we clean up quite nicely, if I do say so myself…

When your Son Loves Princesses and your Society Wants him to Love Trucks

I have a son who loves princesses. Elsa is his all-time favorite, but he has a warm spot for Belle and Moana too. He wraps his small, three-year-old frame in his winter-white fleece blanket – the one he’s had from infancy, and says: “Look at me, Mama. I’m Elsa. I’m different.”

And what he means is, he’s not the Elsa with the purple cape from the beginning of the movie. Instead he’s the Elsa who has run away and morphed into her snow-and-ice gown. He’s Elsa after her sister Anna says, “Elsa, you’ve changed. You’re different.”

Yes, Elsa is different. And so is my little one. They are both different from what society expects of them.

And my heart swells with pride at his imagination and passion — and swells with the weight of worry and fear. As he twirls around in his soft, fuzzy make-believe world singing “Let it Go,” scorpions flick poisonous daggers deep in my gut.

He is so perfect and so passionate. And so perfectly poised for persecution.

And people will surely persecute him. They will be cruel. I know it will come. I know someone will laugh at him – and soon – for his adoration of Elsa and her beautiful snow-and-ice gown, a gown he begs for every time we go down the Disney aisle at Target.

And every time he asks, I am cautious and uncertain about how to reply. I don’t want to encourage him because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. But I don’t want to discourage him either — because I don’t want him to face a future filled with pain. Either decision ends in pain.

I’ve seen people I’m close to embrace their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of society’s narrow-minded expectations. And I’ve seen people I’m close to reject their differences and suffer horribly at the hands of their own fear and self-loathing. So what do I say to him?

So much pain – and certain pain no matter how I respond — all because society has created tiny, rigid little ideas about round holes and square pegs. Round holes are supposed to love glitter and tutus. Square pegs are supposed to love gearshifts and choo-choos. That’s the deal. That’s the rule.

And it’s ironic, really, because society is always throwing around clichés that encourage individuals to be…individuals:

Be Yourself. Express Yourself. Listen to Your Inner Voice. Break the Mold. Embrace your Differences. Be Confident. Be Courageous. Be True to Who You Are.

But the clichés are lies. All lies. Society only approves of you being you if you properly align with the gearshift and choo-choo, glitter and tutu gender agendas.

Being yourself can be hard – especially if you are a little boy who doesn’t like what society says you should like. Little girls who like to play ball and climb trees don’t get judged as harshly. (No, that comes later. The walls and glass ceilings and double-standards and bitch labels come quickly, but not yet.) When they’re little, they’re allowed, encouraged even. Being a tomboy is socially acceptable.

The same cannot be said for little boys. There is no equivalent of tomboy for a little boy who likes “girl” things — nothing positive, anyway. Society doesn’t like it when little boys like princesses and the color pink.

And somebody has already been making my son question his preferences. I don’t know who, but I know it has happened. In the last couple of months, he’s asked me on multiple occasions… “Mommy, are pink and purple girl colors?”

And each time, the question has made me cringe. “No. Boys can wear pink and purple too. Anybody who wants to can wear pink and purple. Daddy’s football team wears purple, right? And they’re all boys.”

And he nods at me and says, “Yes, anybody can wear pink and purple.”

And I hug him tight and wish I could stop the world from barging in on this boy and his favorite things.

“I’m Elsa and I’m different,” he says again, spinning in his winter-white fleece blanket.

I think about his “different” Elsa – the Elsa who is forced to run from society because her true self was covered and masked and contained until she – and everyone she loved — was almost destroyed when it finally broke free.

I refuse to let that happen to my sweet, innocent, passionate son. If he loves princesses, and the color pink, and Peppa Pig’s playhouse, and Strawberry Shortcake, and Barbie – and he does, he loves them all — then by golly, I will not tell him that he shouldn’t. I will not batten down his feelings beneath metaphorical gloves and deny him access to his true self.

Ultimately, this decision will hurt us both. His innocence will be shattered one day, and when that happens, my mother’s heart will be shattered too. But I believe it will hurt far less than teaching him to hate who he is and how he feels.

And I have no idea if my son will continue to feel this way as he grows up. I don’t know if he will grow to be a teenager who loves princesses or a man who loves princesses… but if he does that’s all right. And if he doesn’t, that’s all right too. Only our all-loving God knows that truth. But right now, my son does love princesses and he does love pink. And it (and he) is perfectly all right.

I love my son. And I truly believe that the only thing that can stop hate, is love. And to do that, we have to love ourselves first. So there is my answer. That is how I must answer my son when he tells me he wants an Elsa gown for Christmas. I must tell him, “All right.” I must tell him – and show him – that this is all right. That he is all right. That he is better than all right.

He is different. Elsa would be proud.

Play-Doh and the Sweet Breath of God: Why we are Born to Create

Thanksgiving gave me license to continual Christmas carols. I listen to them on my daily commutes to anywhere and everywhere. And I’ve heard “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” probably a dozen times so far, which got me thinking about my very own favorites and how I’ve written about quite a few of them in recent weeks: candy corn, hay bales, football, and family – always family. Today will be no exception.

Today I write about one of the most nostalgic of all my faves: Play-Doh. My boys have developed a passion for the stuff, and I must confess mine has been thoroughly rekindled. They’ve been huddled around the coffee table  rolling and pressing and nudging their sweet imaginations to life. And watching them – and playing with my own slyly pilfered wedge – has made me attempt to put into words just exactly why I love the colorful clay.

At first, I thought maybe it was Play-Doh’s brilliant technicolor – grown even brighter over the years (now in neons!) — that makes me love it so. When you crack open a canister, the brightest and best of the color wheel shimmer with promise. Who can resist chunks of rainbows at your fingertips just hankering for some handling?

Or maybe it’s Play-Doh’s smell – so indefinable and so distinct. When I tried to write about the scent, I was stumped. It is impossible. I even searched the web for help. Some sources say it’s a combo of warm vanilla and wheat. But that’s not quite it. It is far more mysterious and compelling — so compelling that according to my research, perfume companies have attempted (unsuccessfully) to bottle it.

But Play-Doh isn’t just about the smell – which is why I think no perfumery will ever succeed at corking its nostalgia. I think it is the brightness of its colors, plus the warmth of its smells, and ultimately, the feel of Play-Doh that gives us ALL THE FEELS. Those three things together are what send us with dizzying speed back to the innocence and endless potential of childhood.

Play-Doh is imagination in its purest physical form. It is a tactile myth-maker. In toddler hands, fantastical creatures are fused out of colorful, naked nothingness. What could possibly  be better?

Some would argue blocks. Or LEGOS. Me, I would say… meh. Blocks are cool, I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing: hard angles and static substance. You can create with them, sure, but you are limited in your design.

Same with LEGOS. Plus, LEGOS inflict pain. In irresponsible hands, they can damn near kill. I was a victim this past week when I unwittingly stepped on one with my slick-soled dress shoes and found myself skating wildly across the hardwood floors before falling headlong into a viper’s nest of them. One punctured the palm of my right hand, and my right shin bears the pock-y bruises of another three.

If Play-Doh is imagination in its purest form, I truly believe LEGOS are imaginiation in its evilest. They are the pimply scales of Satan’s backside.

But back to Play-Doh. Clay is the ultimate in terms of creativity. Think back to your Bible. It states that Adam and Eve were formed of dust and water and the breath of God.

Ah, there you have it. Play-Doh is God’s chosen medium. And that secret ingredient we’ve been searching for… it’s not vanilla or warm wheat or the nostalgia of childhood, after-all. Play-Doh smells like the sweet breath of God.

Play-Doh is the height of creative purity… and I think we should all rekindle our passion for the stuff.

Now, I’m not suggesting you run out to Target and snag a couple dozen canisters off the endcaps – although that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. No, what I’m saying is that we should approach each new day like it is a nice, bright, spotless container of Play-Doh. Crack it open and smell God in its glorious technicolor.

Seize each day, tug it — slow and weighty with potential — out of its column and into the palms of your eager hands. Feel the cool denseness just waiting to warm to your touch. That’s life – begging you to mold of it what you will.

Clench it by the fistfuls, press it and knead it and watch it unearth new possibilities between your bare knuckles, under the whirls and ridges of your own, capable hands. From your design and God’s blessings, everything will roll and gather and slide into place. Embellish it with the scallops and curves and creases of your choosing.

Your masterpiece will form. Trust the process. Each new day brings a bright new color. Use them all.

And when troubles collect – which they will – in clumps and scales round your rings and in slivers gathered under nail beds, collect the shavings with a precise pivot of thumbnail and wrist, and move forward. But use what you’ve excised, use the residue of hardships and misfires, roll them between your forefinger and thumb, and build from them: lessons learned; lessons used.

But whatever you do, don’t seal yourself up in your bright, beautiful container — your mind a beautifully rounded cylinder of God particles — and squander your promise. God made you perfect, but He doesn’t want you to just sit there in your beautiful perfection. He wants you to use that potential — to mold glorious masterpieces out of your matter.

By merely sitting there  in your bright shiny container then you’re quite simply doing what that old Sunday School song tells you not to do: hiding your light under a bushel (to mix metaphors). You’ll end up all dried out and crusted over. You’ll be all musty and brittle. Don’t be brittle. Don’t be musty.

Be fresh and fun and follow the pathways of your passion. Follow your bliss. Allow the natural oils of your imagination and the natural pliability of your promise to shine forth in glorious, God-given splendor. You are the colorful clay and sweet breath of God. Go make something spectacular of yourself.

So there it is. There’s the reason I love Play-Doh so very, very much.




Christmas with Twin Toddlers: Building Memories, not Designer Trees

Our Christmas tree – the boys’ Christmas tree – hardly looks like an HGTV tree. Chip and Joanna would not approve. And I have to admit, I don’t rightly know that I do either. But I am letting it stand — As Is – a bead-dripping, ball-clumping conglomeration of toddler artistic interpretation and strategic disarray. I mean, it is an absolute cluster.

In the beginning, I tried to go behind and guide my boys toward proper ornament placement — to demonstrate scale and visual hierarchy, leading lines and symmetry — to advocate for the balance and brilliance of a beautifully appointed Christmas tree (or at least to show them empty branches begging for attention), but they would have none of it. They knew exactly where they wanted those twelve tangled strings of beads and precisely where to place that Santa head with the snowy, tousled beard — it catches on every pine needle and if you’re not careful he can wind up looking more like Marley’s Ghost than Jolly Old Saint Nick. (Ahem, they weren’t careful.)

Now if you know me and my love of Christmas Villages and my passion for perfectly placed blown glass ornaments collected over a lifetime, you know this has not been easy for me.  My fingers are just itching to get in there and tidy things up.

But I was cautioned by their dad that it doesn’t really matter if I like it or not: it’s their tree. And what matters is that they’re proud of it. Which they are. They have touched up and tweaked their masterpiece all day long.

Now our boys have distinct personalities – and they trimmed the tree with tactical procedures and divergent techniques entirely reflective of those distinct personalities.

Parker is our motion machine. He loves trucks and running – and he used both in his approach. He ran. Fast. From packing box to pre-lit bough. Laughing all the way. And the trucks, you ask? Well, when he wasn’t hauling ass, he was hauling ornaments in his green metal dump truck. At first, he hauled them the old-fashioned way – piled in its bed in a giant, glittering heap. But then he got a bit creative and hung them off the rear end like metallic ball fringe, Beep-Beep-Beeping as he backed it into place. He front-loaded the tree with about a dozen balls this way – some frosted, some glittered, some gleaming — all on the same two branches, reinforced with the cording from the lights.

Tate, our theatrical boy, well, his presentation was all splash and pizzazz (jazz hands may have been involved.) He danced to Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic as he worked, twisting and jiving all the while.  He flung crimson beads with gleeful abandon into the tree, preferring a vertical configuration to the more traditional horizontal swag. There they remain, dripping and pooling to the floor like a flapper’s beaded skirt tossed carelessly to the side after a long night at a speakeasy.

While their styles may be polar-opposite, both boys had one thing in common: they were all about that base, ‘bout that base, no treetop… So I had to take it upon myself to bedazzle our evergreen’s upper registers.  Her higher frequencies are arranged in a modest, classical tempo, her rhythm and chords carefully constructed to provide an aesthetically pleasing harmony. But she never takes herself too seriously —  I mean how, could she, when she resembles a Gatsby party-goer the morning after – un-gartered and unraveled and entirely unashamed.

Yes, our tree is a sight. She’s definitely not winning any Southern Living photo shoots, that’s for sure. But she IS winning big time in our boys’ hearts.

After all, we’re building memories here, not designer trees.

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Legends of the Fall and the Alchemy of Football

This weekend was a tough loss. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as invested in a group of players and coaches’ families like I have been with this group. And it’s been three years of continuous wins. Of glorious, riotous, practically-perfect wins. And Friday night hurt. And if it hurt me – a marginal member of a legendary football dynasty — I can’t imagine the pain of the players and coaches. Although I did bear witness to it. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you what I see and know about these boys and their leaders.

For the past two years, from the stands and practice fields, I’ve witnessed this team pour all of everything they have into the game, purifying their sweat and blood and spinning it into gold. And purple. Because these athletes are alchemists. They have transformed common elements of a typical Friday night under the lights into the stuff of legend. They are legend.

And I’m not talking individual legend – though we have that too. We have region and state and national legends among this team. But, no, I’m talking legends of discipline and legends of character. I’m talking quality of soul and purity of heart. They are good fellows, the whole lot.

They own and are the stuff of legends. And victory was theirs. For so many seasons

And then, last night, it all ended in seconds. And in silence.

And the loss was so sudden and so heavy and so hard.

And what I saw after, in the belly of a field house they’ve called home half a year every year for their high school careers – a field house witness to half-time harangues, post-game heroes, and now postseason heartache – was the purest pain I’ve ever borne witness to. Players wrapping themselves up in the arms of their football family for strength and support. Searching for a way to handle the hurt. To shoulder the hurt. To weather the hurt. Padded shoulder pressed to padded shoulder, coaches patting heads and rocking giant bodies while whispering words of comfort and wisdom… and love.

This team knows love. The fans love them. The community loves them. And we are all hurting with them.  But those coaches have a different love for their players — a love unfathomable to those of us who have never played the sport. But I see glimpses of it from the practice field and the sidelines and the field house. I see its power. I see how it builds confidence and character and futures.

Yes, these boys know love. And they know disciple and determination and how to win big. And now they know how to lose big.

And I know this loss – with its devastating, season-ending sting, a sting they will always feel somewhere deep in the marrow of their being –  will prove valuable to these players and their coaches alike.

Because football is truly an alchemist’s sport. And it gives players the skills to transform baser matters into gold – and this loss, this harshest of base matters, is their biggest challenge yet. But they have what it takes to sift and sort through the pain and then forge ahead into the brightest of bright, golden futures. They have the stuff. The stuff of legends.

Your fans are in awe of you, Hurricanes. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for showing us how you spin sweat, blood, and tears into purple and gold.

*Huge photo creds to Cathy Sharpe, Cartersville Purple Hurricanes sideline photographer for capturing this beautiful cover shot.

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