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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Seize the Sunsets: A Candy Corn Devotional

I have an extreme addiction to a colorful seasonal confection that is notoriously divisive amongst households and classrooms and office buildings the world over. And its name is candy corn.

As far as I’m concerned, it is manna from heaven. It is the food of the gods. It is a candy and a vegetable – and that makes it the perfect food!

And while I know it’s not technically produce, I do know that it has honey in it. And honey comes from plants – excreted through the saliva of bees I guess, but still. If it comes from a plant, it’s a vegetable.

Plus honey is referenced in the bible  — 26 times to be exact – and in a good way (not like salt, which is a punishment for people who look backwards when they aren’t supposed to), but in a nourishment for the Israelites who kept looking forward in faith and physicality for forty years in the wilderness kind of way.

Plus, it’s TRI-colored for heaven’s sake — it is a THREE COLORS IN ONE confection (a holy trinity, folks).

And if you’re still not convinced… candy corn is fat free! What could possibly be more divine?

So yes, by golly, candy corn is godly. I am a true believer. And I faithfully try to convert others every year.  But some of you doubters still remain, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I think it’s the way you were raised…

Now me, I grew up an absolute devotee. My mom exposed me early and annually to its righteousness. She would place giant kaleidoscopic bowls of candy corn around the house every autumn, which I would kneel before the minute I walked in the door from school. I couldn’t get enough. My soul hungered for it. It was like eating fistfuls of sunsets. Sweet, sugary sunsets. I recall many an October afternoon basking in the warm glow of a candy corn devotional.

Being exposed so thoroughly and at such an early age has served me well. But it also made me a bit naive. Little did I know not everyone shares my passion. Not everyone worships on the shrine of those trinitarian sunsets.

Candy corn definitely has its detractors — and super vocal ones, at that.

I learned this the hard way my second year of teaching. I thought I’d proselytize to the masses during a review game. The reward would be righteous, I promised. So my students put everything they had into the review. They jostled for the lead with gusto, hungry for a taste of the grail. But when I pulled out the first single-serving cellophane bag for the winner and tossed it his way, all hell broke loose.

You would’ve thought I’d just thrown him a bagful of boogers. Or ear wax — which is what he said it tasted like as he slung it back at me in disgust.

Ungrateful infidel.

Apparently, he’s not the only one. I polled this year’s students and they were drastically divided. Half would kill for it, the other would rather die than eat it.

And I’m always amazed by the look — the look from nonbelievers when I offer up these kernels of truth and light. The wrinkled noses, the abject disgust, the ready dismissal.

They are blasphemers, the whole lot. Because even if you don’t believe candy corn is divine, it is pure sacrilege to turn down a communion so sacred and scarce and being offered up so selflessly. Because candy corn is hardly something I readily part withal.  It is a true personal sacrifice.

So don’t turn it down. That’s just rude.

My girls know better. They were raised right. And this fall season, my boys are being initiated into the faith. The ritual of edification is short, yet satisfying. Simply nibble one honeyed hue at a time: first the tip – just to see what it tastes like – then proceed to the sleek middle orange, and finally the wide yellow base. Repeat until satisfied.

And listen, I tell them. Listen real close and you can hear each kernel of truth whispering its legacy in a low incantation: “Carpe… Carpe Diem, boys. Seize the sunsets.” Because you never know when you won’t get another.

Well, you do. After Thanksgiving, they’re gone.

So carpe’ diem, boys. Carpe’ dem sunsets!

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Coaching Wives and The Metaphor and Metamorphosis of the Grind

This one’s for all the football coach’s wives out there raising young children on your own for roughly one-half of every calendar year. We go through some crazy mental and physical demands in our football life. We know and understand the legendary football grind, just like our husbands and their players do. It’s a different sort of grind, but then again, it’s the exact same too.

The grind is both metaphor and metamorphosis. It involves the forging and grinding of iron to steel.  And that process demands four key qualities: hardness, strength, flexibility and balance.

And so it goes with football. Luckily though, what it demands from us all (players, coaches, families), it also gives back to us, tenfold. So keep the faith, coaching wives,  particularly those of you with young children. Having little ones at home makes the grind that much harder — I’m not gonna lie. I’ve lived through that intense heat – with twins (have mercy!). And I’m still in that brimstone today — because they’re only three years old this season.

But I’m also living proof that you can make it through. Deep inside you, you have what it takes to survive the grind of the season. And the next. And the next. And so on. Because yes, football demands hardness and strength and flexibility and balance, but it also gives you hardness and strength and flexibility and balance. So you can do this hard thing.

With regard to the hardness of it all… That first season with our twin boys (they were only four months when August rolled around) felt impossibly hard – like running-a-ten-week-marathon-with-whining-crying-cranky-infants-dangling-off-my-breasts hard. But I got through it. Notice I didn’t say I triumphed. Because I didn’t. It was far from a winning season for me. I felt like I was losing at motherhood and at life every single day. I cried. Every. Single. Day. I remember setting up camp on our king-sized mattress on Sunday afternoons when Mike headed out for meetings – wagon-loads of diapers and wipes for the babies and Kleenex and chocolate for me — and I wouldn’t budge from that spot till he got back home six to eight hours later. I was in total defense mode.

Now, four seasons later, the hardness is still there— again, not gonna lie. But it’s only like running-a-ten-week-plus-playoffs-we-hope-marathon-of-whining-crying-cranky-toddlers-hanging-off-my-hips hard. And I can honestly say I haven’t had a single, solitary mattress camp, so I really have come a long way. Moral of this story: if I can do this hard thing — with twin boys and lots of chocolate—  you can too.

With regard to the strength of it all… For players, strength is built in the weight room and on the field; for coaches, in the war room and on the sidelines; and for wives of young children, it’s built at the dinner table, the bathtub, and the bedside. Alone. Just you and your young charges. And the strength is not merely physical – although toting slippery twin toddlers in and out of a soapy tub most definitely builds muscle tone. It is also strength of character. As your youngsters throw attitude and tantrums and Spaghettios, the strength it takes to shoulder the load all by your lonesome feels ungainly. But it can be done. Yes, you may lose your temper — and occasionally your mind — but it can be done.

There will be fumbles and flags along the way, but you’ll get stronger and more resilient. You’ll get better at defending your end zone, running pass interference, recovering fumbles and most importantly, executing your game plan. Because the best defense is a good offense. And after that first season of pure defense, you can finally start generating an offense. And while sometimes your schemes will fail, many days you’ll find yourself ahead. Each season, you’ll get stronger. Remember that old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? It’s true. You are strong. You are Wonder Woman in training.

And Wonder Woman is nothing if not flexible — that third quality of the grind. She defies the laws of physics in gravity-cheating twists and turns (and bustier), along with acrobatic sword play. I wish I could say I’m as flexible as she is. But I can say I’m getting better.

Now that first season with twins, flexibility was my biggest weakness. If Mike said he’d be home at 7:30, by golly, he’d better be home by 7:30. My blood pressure exploded otherwise. And seeing how often his deadlines came and went without him walking through the door, it’s a wonder this woman didn’t stroke out (see what I did there?😀) I was bitter and exhausted and alone. The boys’ bellies hardened with colic every night at 7, and my heart hardened with rancor at the exact same instant. Once Mike finally came in, I fell apart.

Flexibility is hard to find when you’re in such a fragile, brittle state. And some of you are there right now… and I feel your pain. But it does get better. Your kids won’t stay that age forever. They grow and so do you. Your exhaustion subsides and your hard nose softens. You allow yourself to relax, and eventually you find you can stretch into a season routine that fits you best.  It’ll never be effortless; it’ll never be comfortable – the grind is never comfortable — but you’ll be flexible enough for it to fit without too much pain.

Which brings me to balance – the final quality, and a tough one at that. Wives carry a lot of weight during season. And sometimes we need to redistribute the burden so we can keep moving forward – or at least stay upright. And that’s not always possible to do on our own.  But the thing about football is, it’s a team sport. Nobody goes through the grind alone. Nobody. Otherwise, no one would make it through. You need teammates. You need people blocking for you, running interference for you, and occasionally carrying the ball for you. Because even the strongest and hardest and most flexible among us can’t carry the weight all by ourselves. Part of being balanced is knowing how much weight you can take on without toppling. So when that load gets too heavy, find a teammate to help. Find a friend, a family member, another football wife.

Now it’s kind of hypocritical for me to tell you all to ask for help when I’m the absolute world’s worst at doing it myself. I don’t ask. I’m too proud — which just plain makes me stupid. Don’t be me.

Luckily, I have family and friends and the most amazing group of coaching wives on my team. They yank me out of rotation when I’m just about ready to fall over, and they save the game every time. My mother and my best friend are my biggest backups. I remember that first season and months and months of no sleep – as in twin-boys-up-fourteen-times-a-night-for-over-a-year no sleep. But they tag teamed, took a night shift, and put me on the bench. It was a game changer — a grind changer, if you will.

These days, my mom comes once a week to play with the boys and give me some air. And the coach’s wives and I meet up at the practice field on Wednesday afternoons to share stories and laughter and the occasional lament. It helps us remember we’re all in this together – this team sport of football with its legendary grind.

So when searching for a way to balance the overwhelming weight of the season, find someone who’ll help you redistribute the load — if only for a little while. It’s not quitting. It’s resting. It’s all part of the game.

Yes, this one goes out to all the coaches’ wives as we forge our way through the second half of our season. Uncover the hardness, the strength, the flexibility, and the balance within your soul. You’ve got it in there. I know you do. The grind is both a metaphor and a metamorphosis. Turn your iron resolve into steel. You’ve got this.

 

 

 

 

What the Ronald McDonald House Means to our Family

I’ve tried on at least three different occasions to write about the Ronald McDonald House and what it means to our family– specifically the one in Chattanooga across from Erlanger Hospital – and each time, words  have failed me. I’m trying one more time…

The birth of our twins was a chaotic, emotionally-fueled time in our lives. Our boys were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and we found our heads full to overflowing with medical details and our hearts bruised to bursting with love and fear for our boys. We spent the vast majority of our waking hours swimming in an exhausted state through the dim and beeping expanse of the NICU. There were scrubbing stations and hand sanitizers and security procedures and crib after crib of sick babies to navigate just to reach our own babes. And then once there, there were machines and syringes and tubes and wires to navigate before we could ever hold them. And holding them was our life raft. Holding them calmed the seas of frustration and fear and soothed us all.

But if holding the boys was our life raft, the Ronald McDonald House was our rescue ship. Because on the fourth day, I was discharged from the hospital – and the boys were not. And we were going to be separated – and I really didn’t think I could weather that emotional storm.

But then the house named after the clown that sponsors the largest fast food chain in the entirety of the universe opened its doors to us. Seems crazy when you think about it that way. But I’m telling you right now, it is far from a joke. It is the real deal. It is the best of what humanity can do for its own.

The Ronald McDonald House is the place where parents of children hospitalized and far from home are given shelter and support and a place to eat and sleep and cry and pray and struggle through the days and weeks and sometimes months of helpless and hopeless feelings without having to feel homeless too.

It is a sanctuary. There are warm beds and warm dinners and warm showers. And there is privacy. Privacy to pray or cry or both – in a small chapel or a serenity garden or on a soft, comfortable mattress in the quiet, comfortable guest rooms.

And there are supplies — toiletries and snacks and various and sundry necessities that help families get through the toughest of times when they don’t have the time to think about such things, much less shop for them. It is all available and there for the parents.

And all for the whopping cost of $10 a day — if your family can afford it. But absolutely no family is ever turned away. Ever. The RMH philosophy is that sick children need their parents and no parent should worry about daily needs if a child’s health is at stake. They also know and understand that young patients have far better medical outcomes if their parents are near. I, for one, agree for a couple of reasons.

Beyond the obvious — that we wanted desperately to be close to our babies — we also needed to be close. Because a mega-majorly important part of our boys’ treatment plan was breast milk — that thick, nutrient-and-calorie-and-immunity-rich mama medicine was just what the doctor ordered. And being just down the hill from the hospital (we’ll talk about that hill in a minute), made it so much easier to keep my milk supply in fresh and steady supply —  as opposed to being shuttled over an hour away in an ice-packed cooler from back home in Georgia. So in the cozy comfort of our private guest room — complete with an extra queen bed for my mom and Mike’s parents (who provided endless hours of assistance and support), I pumped and Mike delivered (up that aforementioned hill) – like clockwork every three-and-a-half hours every night for almost a full week. Until Parker was discharged at nine days old.

But back to that infamous hill; that doozy of a mother of a hill; that steeply slanted, sidewalk-striped gauntlet-of- medieval-proportions hill. It was torturous to say the least. But Mike navigated it like a knight in shining Under Armor — or a milk man — a gallant, modern-day milk man. He toted bag after bag of freshly-pumped breast milk up that hill. He even pushed the milk maker up the hill in a wheelchair on more than one occasion (since I’d had a c-section and wasn’t supposed to climb anything). Good thing he pushed linemen around in college because I was definitely a heavy load – a heavy, post-partum-post-twins kind of load.

And speaking of heavy loads, everything about that time in our lives was heavy. Our hearts, our hurdles, our hospital bills… but the Ronald McDonald House lightened our burdens on so many levels, and we can never repay the kindnesses heaped upon us while there.

But we try. It has become our charity of choice. We’ve written checks, we’ve sprinkled change in drive thru boxes, and we’ve ordered the annual Ronald McDonald House Christmas ornament with our boys’ names inscribed. Every single year. I want to give more. To do more. I wish there were one closer to us.

Mostly, I would love to help cook warm meals for families  — because that was perhaps the most comforting of all the blessings RMH bestowed upon us: those hearty, healthy meals. I recall tuna noodle casseroles and giant pots of southern green beans, big, baked lasagnas and fresh garden salads. Meals were prepared nightly by sorority houses and church groups, fraternity brothers and book clubs. Those meals were nourishment not only to our bodies, but our boys’ bodies, as well. Generous, kindhearted strangers cooked up the very best suppers that helped me cook up the very best sustenance for my newborn twins. I can never thank any of them enough.

The Ronald McDonald charities really do provide boundless blessings for families of sick children all over the world. They certainly kept us afloat during that most precious and precarious time in our lives. I cannot say enough positive things about them. Please consider throwing a little change their way in the drive thru of your local McDonald’s. Or volunteering at one of their local chapters. Or ordering one of their lovely ornaments. Or writing a big check. Please.

Families of sick children everywhere thank you.

Stitching Together the Constellation of Us

I’ve focused on a lot of topics in my blog over the past year – twindom, football, politics, family, and school — but one topic I’ve never really discussed at length is the extreme distances that were overcome in order for me, a small town girl living in a lonely world and Mike, a city boy born and raised in south Detroit to become what we are today: a crazy, chaotic well-blended postmodern family, complete with toddler twin boys, grown adult daughters, a couple of grandkids (with another on the way) and an arthritic dachshund.

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Now our love story is far from typical. But then again, it’s also classic. And I think you could even argue it’s entirely commonplace. I guess it’s a little of everything all rolled into one.

And it was definitely written in the stars. Stars in alignment long before we knew one another. Stars that were galaxies and galaxies apart. Stars scattered like fairytale breadcrumbs, like metaphysical connect-the-dots, like paint-by-numbers serendipity. Stars patterned by God and physics and football to bring the two of us together.

Mike grew up in the frozen tundra of pure Michigan. A place of legends. A place of snow and ice and everything nice. I remember the first time I ever visited. It was the holidays. There would be snow. On Christmas. It was gonna be epic. And then I landed. “Welcome to Detroit,” the pilot announced. “The temperature is currently zero degrees, and there’s a wind chill of negative fourteen.”  Hmmph. Maybe not so epic after all.

And me, I grew up in a hotbed of humidity, where we steam your dumplings and sauce your giblets. Where it’s too hot for Satan – which is the real reason we’re known as the bible belt. Where swamp ass ain’t just a condition, it’s a way of life.  Mike came here for the football — the second reason this is known as God’s country.

So, yes. There were some miles between us to overcome. But that was nothing the universe couldn’t handle. But then, there were also the years…

You see, my husband and I are eleven-and-a-half years apart — and not in the traditional, socially-acceptable, romantic Hollywood couple sense because… well, I’m the older one.

Did you hear that? The tires screeching? The record scratching? The world’s axis grinding to a halt?

Yeah, me neither. But I did worry about that in the beginning, when we first started dating. I was totally stressed out that I was upsetting the natural order of things and that the world would suddenly stop spinning and people would start staring. And pointing. And judging.

And believe it or not, even though I write a blog that encourages me and you and  everyone else I know to stand up against injustices and double-standards, encourages us all to go against the grain, to be individuals, to be rebels, and lovers, and fighters, I’m still an incredibly private and sensitive person who has deep-seated insecurities. It’s really easy to be brave when hiding behind a computer screen in the privacy of my own home. It’s another thing entirely when I can see and hear people talking smack about me. And I know for a fact that we got some of that in the beginning of our relationship.

Now I told you our love is the trifecta of contradictions – it’s atypical, classic, and commonplace all at the same time. And since I’ve explored the major atypical bits, let me jump ahead to the commonplace…

We met in THE most common of places: work. And after half a semester of lunches ‘round the teachers’ work room table, I invited him to my Christmas shindig.

Now let me say right up front, there were no, as in absolutely ZERO, ulterior motives behind the invite. He simply ate with my crew at lunch –and since I’d invited all the rest, it would’ve been downright rude not to invite him. Besides, he’s hysterically inappropriate, and every party needs a heaping helping of that. Plus vodka. It needs that, too.

So he came to my party. He brought the jaeger. I supplied the potato juice. Things progressed quickly. It was a match made in heaven – truly an orbital realignment of stellar properties from the very first kiss.

Yeah, that kiss threw me ass-over-tea-kettle right from the get-go. But I was also really, really terrified to let it show.  I was forty-one, after all, and he was two weeks shy of thirty.

I got a lot of cougar jokes. (I know you were wondering.) I got bookoodles of cougar jokes. They cut me. Every time. I would shrug them off, trying hard to deflect the pain with a joke or a giggle, but they knocked chink after chink into my relatively flimsy confidence.

And I also had concerned and loyal friends who worried about me. Worried a lot. It’ll never last, they said. Your heart will be broken, they said. Watch out, they said.

And to be perfectly honest, I was afraid they were right. I did my research. I tried to find couples who matched our gender/age ratio who were actually going the distance. I found a few celebrity prototypes: Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins; Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon. They gave me hope. They boosted my confidence. But then, over the course of Mike’s and my relationship, those rare and beautiful unicorns crumbled under the weight of Father Time’s death march. Both couples separated and divorced.

So I feel a bit like we are in unchartered, unsanctioned waters. Even to this day my insecurities get me at times. Twelve is a lot of years, David.

But then I think about the classic nature of our love and how it is made of far sterner stuff than time. It is made of two hearts beating to the syncopation of the stars that stitch up the constellation of us. They blaze and gleam in the wink of his eye, the flicker in my pulse, the flash of his smile, the flare in my chest, the heat in his soul and my answering own.

Our love is dense and wide and galactically strong. It is timeless.

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Our Hard, Hellish Journey through the Place Where Miracles Mature, the NICU

We got pregnant four years ago via IVF. We used donor eggs, fresh and locally sourced. I guess our pregnancy mirrored the current foodie trend, although it wasn’t quite farm to table. More like follicle to petri dish to uterus, with a five-day incubation in between.

You see, I was too old to supply eggs of my own. I was two months shy of forty-seven when we began the process, and I was forty-eight when I had the boys. Everything in between went smoothly enough (relatively speaking), from embryo transfer to the thirty-fourth week. But that’s when things took a rapid tumble downhill. That’s when my “Advanced Maternal” body declared mutiny on the whole pregnancy thing by throwing some protein in my urine and slinging my blood pressure into the stratosphere.

I don’t remember a whole lot between then and the two days it took to bring the boys into the world because magnesium was introduced to my blood stream (Which is the Devil. Magnesium is the Devil). I recall a little ambulance ride up over the state line where our maternal/fetal specialist practiced. I recall fainting while lying flat on my back. I recall oxygen masks and my 300-pound husband tightly poured into the wrong size scrubs. I recall (fuzzily) my twenty-four-year-old baby girl sleeping on an orange couch in the corner of my hospital room with the cushions piled over her head. I vaguely recall talking to my eldest baby girl via FaceTime and her double and triple checking what actions the doctors and nurses were taking. And I remember kissing the boys on their wet little heads before they were wheeled away into the NICU. That’s pretty much all I remember about those couple of days.

Now we were extremely lucky with our boys. Thirty-four weeks is a solid gestation time for preemies. Hearts and lungs are developed and strong. Immune systems are decent. The only real issues we had to face were body temperature maintenance and feeding challenges. Boys are notoriously lazy eaters (you would never know it now), and because of that, Tate and Parker spent six days and nine days in the NICU, respectively.

For those of you unaware, September is NICU awareness month. That’s why I am revisiting one of the most difficult times in our lives. NICUs are hard places, one of the hardest places on this earth. Babies should never have to suffer. Innocence should know no pain. Innocence should know no struggle.

I think that’s why NICU families will always have a tender place in my heart. I don’t know if there is any situation quite like a NICU stay. Think about it – here you are, in what is supposed to be one of the most magical and perfect times of your life – the birth of your child. It’s the moment you and your spouse have prepared for since you first peed on the stick and got the news. And then something goes wrong. Sometimes horribly wrong. There is nothing quite like that kind of an emotional hijack.

And Mike and I had it relatively easy, all things considered. (Although at the time, it felt anything but.) Nine days in the NICU would be a Godsend for some preemie parents.  We were surrounded by cribs housing babies who had been there for months and months, parents loyally by their side. Babies who had undergone surgery after surgery. Babies whose cribs were peppered with personal items from home. Or worse. Babies who had been there for months and months with no personal items and no family members to be found. Crack babies. Unwanted babies. The world can be a cruel place for some of the most amazingly beautiful miracles ever made.

I can’t even imagine seeing the suffering day after day. I have no idea how the staff holds it together amongst that kind of injustice. My faith would waiver, I tell you. It would waiver big time. As it was, our babies were loved and they were relatively healthy and they were incredibly strong. All of those little warrior babies in the NICU are strong. Much stronger than the parents. Me, I was an absolute disaster.

Those nine NICU days, I felt like a giant, injured cuticle, stripped and torn, tender and exposed. I cried at the slightest provocation. When the elevator was too slow, I cried. When the hallway was too crowded, I cried. When I held the boys for the first time… I didn’t cry. I vomited — the anesthesia from the C-section. But that second time –oh, I cried.

I cried when I pumped for what felt like hours the very first time – my nipples stretched thin and angry and complaining like hell. I cried. And when all I got for my hard-fought labor was the tiniest, most miniscule amount of colostrum you ever did see, I cried. And when the nurse divided up that tiny little miniscule amount of colostrum and put it on two separate Q-tips and swished it around in the boys’ mouths, I cried.

When we bathed the boys for the first time, their wrinkly little alien bodies so slippery and small I feared they would slide right through my fingers, I cried. And when my milk came in and my chest rippled and ridged and cordoned itself off like a honeycomb, chamber after chamber flooded with liquid gold, I cried.

The worst, though, was if somebody was nice to me. If somebody smiled kindly at me, it was over. Or if I saw something beautiful. Like my boys. They did me in every time. But so did the long, sunny mural on the way to the NICU — a green and golden ant village, with ants sailing on leaf rafts, or ants raking their gardens, or ants swinging on tire swings or flying on butterflies. It was beautiful and whimsical and comforting. And it sent me into a bleary, teary, snot-filled mess every time Mike wheeled me down the hall.

And it wasn’t just me. This NICU time was also the first time I ever saw Mike cry. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s a meathead. And he’s a fixer. But this was something beyond his fixing abilities. This was all up to his boys — his tiny, fragile, five-pound boys. They had to decide when they would eat what they needed to eat – and on a consistent basis – to be allowed to go home.

I saw him break down for the very first time one morning at the breakfast table. His shoulders shuddered, his face folded under and crumpled, and there, above his cereal bowl at the Ronald McDonald House (I can’t EVEN tell you how much we owe to the Ronald McDonald House, but that’s another blog), he wept. And I cried. (Apparently there was another instance where he sneaked into the chapel across from our room and cried and cried and cried. I wasn’t there for that one. But I’m telling you, the NICU is hard on the strongest among us.)

Yes, the NICU is a hard, hard place, but the people there are far from hard. They are big-hearted and oh-so-capable. The nurses and doctors who work in a NICU are special people. They have to be, to work somewhere where innocent souls suffer so unjustly. To dedicate themselves to a life surrounded by the harsh realities of a cold universe…every single day… I don’t understand their endless capacity for TLC without frustration, but I am forever grateful for them.

Those nurses, especially, were our salvation. They instructed us, they comforted us, they listened to us. They rattled us sometimes. And sometimes they just made us mad.

I’ll never forget one NICU nurse in particular. I thought I hated her. I thought she was the worst one of the bunch. She was grouchy and my nerves were brittle, and I humbly admit I despised her. I thought she was so self-righteous. Turns out, she was just plain right.

That cranky, caustic nurse was actually an efficient, matter-of-fact caretaker who knew her stuff and took a no-nonsense approach to her little patients. She was the one who showed us the technique that finally got Parker to eat so we could take him home. She may have been cranky, but she was an absolute Christ figure. She sacrificed personality for patient progress, and she saved us from who knows how many more days in the NICU and how many more nights in the Ronald McDonald House. I will never forget her grumpy ass.

Yes, NICUs are hard places and special places. They are grueling. They grind parents down. But they lift babies up. They are a place of miracles, where miracles go after they are born, to heal up and head home – to their earthly home or their heavenly home.

NICUs may feel like they are Godforsaken places, where the innocent suffer without cause, but NICUs are far from Godforsaken. He puts His best angels there:  the gentlest, the ablest – and sometimes the crankiest angels there to do His work. They shelter those little miracles until they are ready for the world.

But sometimes the world is just not ready for some of them and they go back to Him. At least that’s what I have to tell myself. Otherwise I can’t. I just can’t.

Yes, NICUs are very hard places.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous… and Us: Celebrity Twin Parents vs Mike and Me

We’ve been trapped inside the house with cranky twin toddlers all day long, the rain pattering on our rooftop and the boys trampling on our nerves. Now honestly, it didn’t get truly unbearable until around six pm, when the name calling and sucker punching – and a whole lot of tattling – kicked into high gear.

I’m just thankful it’s so close to Christmas… relatively speaking. At least that’s what we’ve told the boys. Using the holly, jolly sleigh man as a serious threat is our only hope. Having access to the Big Man’s Nice and Naughty hotline is invaluable. I’m not ashamed. I’m desperate.

I wish I had a nanny. Instead of calling Santa, I would call her. Tag! You’re it!

And that got me thinking about the differences between Mike’s and my life as twin parents and let’s say… George and Amal Clooney’s, or Beyonce and Jay Z’s, or even Kelly and Mathew Stafford’s. And after a bit of research, I’ve learned that not all twin parents are created equal. Here are just a few of the ways our lifestyle doesn’t seem to measure up:

#1 On Instagram, I found a selfie video of Kelly Stafford and her QB husband Matthew driving down the freeway in their fully-loaded SUV after the press conference to announce his newly-signed $135 million contract. I’m sure those adorably precious identical twin girls, dressed in sparkly sequined tutus and Detroit blue bows were somewhere in the giant, leathered rear interior watching “Sofia the First” on a big screen TV.

Meanwhile my hubby and I are rattling around in our tomato red minivan with the scratched side panels and DVD player that snags and stalls on pop-tart encrusted videos so often that we have to listen to the Frozen soundtrack on our phones instead, while the boys argue endlessly over which Elsa song they want to hear next. No press conference. No $135 million contract.

#2 I also found quite a bit of evidence that celebrities have drivers — drivers who deal with the traffic and road rage so they don’t have to. So they don’t have to go nutso over the John Deere tractor bumping twenty-two miles an hour down Main Street, or the “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers slapped proudly on every Toyota and Honda and Mercedes they pass on the way to the grocery. (Wait. Do they even go to the grocery store?) Meanwhile, celebs chilling in the back behind darkly-tinted windows sipping champagne — their twin tots tottering around the playroom back home with the nanny. (Ahem, see #4)

Me, I sort of have a driver – if you can count my husband, who drives the two percent of time he’s actually with our family and not at football practice (high school coach, not NFL player — hence, no driver), and only then if we’re feeling brave enough to drive to the grocery store with category 5 twin tornadoes riding dirty in the back. (Again, no nanny.) We’re about as effective at dodging “Clean up in Aisle 3” as Jay Z and Queen Bey are at dodging photogs.

#3 And speaking of paparazzi, I found photographic evidence of celebrity twin moms and dads on dates. Like real ones – not just over lunch during pre- and post-planning weeks (teacher life), which are probably two of the seven dates Mike and I have had the entire time the boys have been in existence. Beyonce and Jay Z went out on their first date just weeks after their twins were born.

We’ve been to the movies once in three-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, celebs are out making them. Like George and Amal Clooney spotted last week sailing the canals of Venice in a water taxi, wind blowing through her long, dark locks and ruffling his steely gray bangs. Amal, that seriously tall, thin glass of water with like zero ripples ANYWHERE, and George, cocksure and suave, hand resting on her waist (tiny waist, y’all, tiny) on the way to some film festival. Where were their precious new boy and girl twins? With the nanny, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, us — we’ve been to the movies once in three-and-a-half years. Did I mention that already?

#4 And since it keeps coming up, let’s talk about nannies. Celeb twin parents have nannies, y’all. Nannies who diaper the kids, and feed the kids, and clean up after the kids. Now nannies are not necessarily always a good thing. I did unearth quite a few Hollywood scandals involving nannies doing things with people other than the kids. So, no, I guess nannies are not always a good thing — a sure thing, apparently, but not a good thing. So I guess I’m okay with no nanny.

#5 Celebrity Twin Moms and Dads also dress up. And then they go to galas — to black tie events. (See George and Amal Clooney’s example.)

Us? We go to Prom. (Again, teacher life.) One time we went with the boys, so that one just doesn’t count. And then once I went solo thanks to explosive diarrhea twenty minutes before the sitter was scheduled to arrive. (I guess I should clarify — the boys, the boys developed explosive diarrhea twenty minutes before the sitter was scheduled to arrive.) But Mike and I did make it to Prom once… Just the two of us and five hundred sweating, hormone-juiced teenagers in tuxes and taffeta grinding all up one another and consuming large quantities of ranch dressing from the chicken finger buffet.

So not the same.

#6. I also learned during my research that celebrity twin parents have play money. Like, money they get to play with. Lots and lots of play money. They do things with their play money like sail the canals of Venice, or break the internet with their baby reveals in front of giant walls of roses, or throw it away on things like… brunch. Brunch. That made-up mealtime that combines breakfast and lunch and costs about as much as all three daily meals combined.

Yeah, their money’s not like the money we have. We have real money. Real money in mega-tiny doses that we throw away on things like day care and Big Boy Overnights (our term for Pull Ups, otherwise, the boys think they’re diapers and won’t put them on) and food.  Lots and lots of food. Our boys may be three-and-a-half, but they can put away a large pizza and a side of bread sticks almost entirely by themselves. I can’t even imagine what our food budget will be like when they’re teenagers playing football.  I think I’d best be finding another job. Teaching won’t pay the bills then. Won’t even come close.

Maybe I’ll become a driver of celebrities. I bet where they live, the odds of me getting road rage would be considerably diminished. I bet tractors and Trump bumper stickers are fewer and farther between. Then again, I bet traffic is worse. Cities tend to be like that. And most of those celebrities live in the big city. And I kind of like my quiet, southern town.

And I also kind of like my high school football coaching husband and my twin tornado toddlers. No, scratch that. I love them. Like big time. So I’m good with what we have. Our lifestyle may not measure up to those celebrities.We may not drive sleek SUVs, or have a buxom, blond nanny (thank God), or go to Venetian film festivals, and soon we may not be able to feed our growing boys on teacher salaries, but Mike and I are filthy rich in the things that count most: love and laughter and a close, personal friendship with Santa Claus.

 

 

My Experience with Undocumented Students: Why I Love our Dreamers

I’ll never forget my student who explained to me how he came to America for an education.  He raised his hand politely when we were discussing the negativity in our hallways following Trump’s election. He had overheard students chanting “Build that Wall.” He overheard students telling other students to go back where they came from. He overheard one student boldly hold up her head and explain that she wasn’t Mexican and she wasn’t illegal. My student walked quickly past. He was both.

Back in my classroom, he felt safer. He felt braver. He explained to me and to his classmates that he had come from Mexico ten years prior with his father and his uncle while the rest of his family had stayed behind. He missed them all terribly, but the entire reason for coming to this country was so he could get a quality education. Back home, he explained, that was not possible. There were classrooms without electricity. There were schools without running water. If you wanted math skills beyond a fourth-grade level, he explained, you had to pay for private school. His family didn’t have that kind of money.

So he and his father and uncle came to America. He studied and he learned. He struggled – sometimes with the material, but most times with the hate. He just wanted people to understand.

He is one of the kindest-hearted, hardest-working students I’ve ever taught. He is exceptional, but he is not an exception. I’ve taught many students like him. Students who know and understand the value of education. Students who come to America to come to school, to sit quietly, to do their work, and to soak up any and all knowledge they possibly can. I wish I had more students like them. I would gladly fill my classroom with dozens of these young men and women. They know and understand what the world looks like without access to education.

It looks like poverty. It looks like violence. It looks like drug cartels and narcotic trafficking. It looks like where they came from. And they want change. For themselves, for their families, for their country.

So they work. Hard. They learn. Well. They are respectful and teachable, and tough. They don’t whine when they don’t get an A. They work harder. They come for tutoring. They ask for remediation. They never ask for a grade. They work for one.

The same can’t be said for perhaps seventy percent of my natural-born students. There has been a drastic shift in the mentality of parents and students in the United States in the seventeen years I’ve been a teacher. Parents call and email regularly these days with complaints. They aren’t happy with little Johnny or Jill’s grade They gripe and complain and bellyache that we aren’t fair, we’re too tough, we’re on power trips, we aren’t accommodating enough. Their children gripe and complain and bellyache, as well. Parental attitudes passed down like genetics, multiplying like a cancer.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of the American Dream has gotten soft and fuzzy. We used to have a Puritan work ethic, a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that built our nation into the powerhouse it used to be. These days, our work ethic is pitiful, not Puritan.  Folks seem to believe they can sleep walk through their lives and simply reap the benefits of being American: good education, good jobs, good pay, good living conditions.

I see it in my classroom every day. Kids who want everything handed to them: the notes, the answers, the grades.

And this lazy philosophy, this twisted version of the American Dream, is currently on display in our oval office: a spoiled rotten and ranting adult-sized child who’s never worked an honest day in his life and who finds fault in anyone and everyone but himself.

Our American Dream has mutated into an American Nightmare.

Yesterday, Trump destroyed the authentic dreams of thousands of young adults like my student, individuals who understand and embody the true nature and characteristics of the American Dream — hard work and sacrifice — better than most of their American counterparts. Their only fault is they aren’t American.

Then again, didn’t our forefathers house the exact same fault? Didn’t they arrive on America’s shores searching for a better life as strangers in a strange land?

The decision to end DACA has tremendous repercussions on honest, hard-working, deeply committed individuals who have the potential to improve the world in immeasurable quantities if only they are allowed access to the ways and means to do so: education.  Individuals like my precious student.

Which brings me back to those parental complaints a few paragraphs back, I tend to agree with them. We aren’t fair; we are on power trips; we are not nearly accommodating enough — to those who are willing to work for the American Dream and understand its potential the most: our young, undocumented immigrant students.

Contact your representatives. Let them know you stand with DACA and our undocumented immigrant students. Please.

When your Opponent Blusters and Blows, but you Have Promise on your Sideline

Sitting out on my back porch, typing my blog for the week, a hummingbird came to visit. He hovered just over my right shoulder, his wings humming frustration in my ears. You see, his feeder was empty – still is, actually. And he was voicing his frustration through whispers of angry, agitated air.

He was frustrated, but I was fascinated. His wings, soft and rumbly as a cat’s purr, a bumblebee’s snore, a raspberry buzzed on a baby’s round belly. A rainbow’s shimmer in his puffed, iridescent chest.

I could see him in the reflection of my laptop. His needle-thin beak turned slightly to the left, giving me the cold shoulder — but making absolutely certain I could see how pissed he was.

He hung there in my screen for maybe twenty seconds, stirring the air with his displeasure, amusing me with his antics, before buzzing away.

Our football team faced an equally pissed and impotent nuisance this week in a decades’ long, close-town rivalry game.

Like a hummingbird harangue, the opposing team raged against the machine that is our offense, making absolutely certain we could see how pissed they were. They hung on our screens all week long – stirring the air on Twitter with their hissy fits and buzzing barbs. They slung zingers and threatened with their stingers in a futile attempt to rattle our players and defame our team character.

Their social media predictions beg a communism analogy: looked good on a screen-shot; fell horribly flat in reality.

You see, after our lopsided victory last year, they were frustrated and fired up. We were just fired up.

Our boys used their frustrations as fodder. They may have come hungry, but we’re the ones who feasted.

There are several similarities between my little hummingbird’s attempt at scoring the sweet nectar of victory and our winged opponent’s.  Both vented their frustrations into the airwaves. Both were ultimately as nonthreatening as a bumblebee’s snore.

And both went home disappointed.

Oh, and one final similarity — that rainbow’s shimmer in my hummingbird’s puffed up, iridescent chest? Yeah, it was merely the shadowy reflection of the glorious harbinger of back-to-back victories that flared over our home stadium in the first quarter last night.

Rainbows symbolize promise. And this one was a double — two of them, people — stacked one atop the other. As in back to back.

They never even had a chance.

 

 

Teaching English Composition: The Delicate and Demanding Job of a Voice Midwife

On dark days, I wonder why I blog.  Why I put myself through the peeling back of layer after layer of tender, hidden embryonic self-truths, exposing the fresh new bits to a cold, fickle world…

And no matter how much I tell myself it doesn’t matter whether my musings are acknowledged and well-received, it does. It matters a lot. Because everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel valued and validated. And when it doesn’t happen, it brings on floods of insecurities and self-doubt. Especially after the painful process of self-revelation.

It makes me question why I blog about my life at all? What do I have of value to offer up to the world? I’m not young and good looking. I’m not rich and famous. I’m no makeup expert or flashy fashionista. And I’m certainly not a ninety-something grandma in tie dye lingerie smoking weed and dancing the Charleston to gangsta rap. So why do I even think I can compete in this world of crazy gimmicks and material world wisdom? What the hell do I think I’m doing, blogging about my stuff — my boring, middle-aged mother stuff, the stomach bugs and family vacays and potty-training-woe-is-me stuff.

And hitting these dark, despondent days of doubt – these total eclipses of confidence, if you will — makes me consider my students. Because my paying job is teaching high schoolers to find and use their voices through literature and composition – and I take my job very seriously. And they despise me for it – particularly the composition part. They act like I’m tearing out their fingernails with a pair of needle-nose pliers, followed by a chaser of hydrochloric acid.

If you want to know what the shrieks belched out from the bowels of hell sound like, step into my classroom the morning I announce an essay assignment. Lord, the bellyaching.

And I get it. I honestly do. If it’s done right, writing’s a painful process. I’ve felt the needle-nose pliers and hydrochloric acid many times. But it’s also enlightening (which is precisely why it’s so painful) for both the writer and the reader. The more you write, the more you know – not about the world (though that happens too) – but about yourself. Who you are. What makes you tick and why. All sorts of unacknowledged truths claw their way to the surface when you write. It’s like you’re giving birth to yourself. So of course, that’s gonna hurt. Like, a lot.

But pain is this generation’s enemy. They run from it. They prefer high GPAs with minimal effort and zero pain. And I’ve discovered that quite often, that’s what gets served up. They hold out their tray, they get their perfect little A.

(I once had an AP student brag to me that in an honors English class she never once turned in a weekly journal assignment — what should have totaled 16 zeros on her report card — yet she still walked away with a 100 in the class. And naturally she adored that teacher. Why wouldn’t she? An easy A equals a happy student, happy parents, and therein, happy teacher.)

And this scenario is not that uncommon, folks. Teachers are not making their students write. Why? No pain — and pain-free seems to be the way of the world right now. Consider all the scheduled C-sections with full makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. (I know, I know… there are necessary c sections, I’m not saying there aren’t – I had one with the boys this last time around, but so many are simply the easy way out…)

But I’m here to tell you there are no scheduled c sections in my English class. My students are going to birth their ideas one painful quote incorporation at a time. But I promise you, when it’s over and done, it will be worth it. Birthing a voice is a beautiful thing. A beautiful, gut-wrenching thing.

But when we as teachers don’t require our students to go through that painful birthing process – or if we do, but then we don’t acknowledge that fledgling voice with commentary, both critical and complimentary — then we are teaching them that their voices don’t matter.

And we are teaching them that they can do absolutely nothing and succeed at life.

And neither of these is true. And I honestly don’t know which lie is worse, but as a person who’s been denied a voice when I was exactly their age, I tend to think it’s the first. Voice matters, people.

Like I said, I know what it feels like to believe my voice doesn’t matter — to feel pointless and small and ready to quit. To feel powerless.

But I don’t quit when I start feeling small and weak and ineffective because I have enough willpower and confidence, and I have enough love of self and craft to overcome the doubt. I have age and wisdom on my side, brought about by teachers and loved ones who believed in me.

But our students seemingly have none of these.

Our job as educators is to empower. By not having students write — or by requiring they do and then not grading their work — we teachers are failing our students. If the essays aren’t being evaluated and validated – if they are not receiving written commentary, if the students themselves are not getting the time and attention and INSTRUCTION they so deserve (and so many are NOT), then what exactly are we teachers teaching them?

We are teaching our students that they are not worthy of confidence and self-respect and a future. And the saddest part about this situation to me is that our students are okay with that. Because it is easier.

Writing papers is hard work. Grading papers is hard work. Taking a student from point A to point Z in a semester is hard work. But guess what? Education and educating SHOULD both be hard work. It’s a job. So we need to do the hard thing to the best of our abilities. All of us. Teachers and students alike.

This year, due to unique and unavoidable circumstances, I face a teaching schedule unlike any I’ve ever held before. I am teaching two separate courses (nothing new there), with two high stakes exams tied to each course at semester end (that’s the big stressor, here).

I am a bit overwhelmed, to say the least. It would be really easy for me to say that there is just way too much grading involved and way too many students to accommodate. That this is only a temporary schedule, so I’m simply going to coast my way through it all. I’m just going to give it a lick and a promise, keep the parents off my back, keep the kids happy with completion grades, and chalk it all up to doing the best I can under the circumstances.

But I would be doing myself and my students a disservice. And I’m not ok with that.

Because while these kids would be happy with their easy As — and all the accolades and scholarships and privileges that come along with them — that sort of teaching philosophy also gives them little to no true skill sets, no true self-respect, and no true future. And I refuse to do that. To them or to me.

I have an incredibly tough year ahead of me. And so do my students. Because they will write. And I will grade that writing. That’s my job as an educator: I am a voice midwife. I coax, cajole, demand, deliver. They are birthing their voices, their identities. It’s not easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is. And they and their voices are worthwhile.

So pardon me while I pick myself up by my ballpoints and crank out some commentary on the pile of newborn essays just screaming for some attention.

 

 

 

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