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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

I Choose a Kaleidoscope of Beauty and Light

Kaleidoscopes. Remember them? Those geometric spinning fragments posing in rapidly shifting flash points of coordinated color and chaos?

Sliced beauty with sharp, precise edges. Jangled and jarred gemstones, clicking into view.

Suddenly you see…

Jewels tumbling from a pirate’s upturned chest.

Dragon’s scales shifting in flight.

A flamenco dancer’s swirling skirt.

A Spanish shawl.

A thousand butterflies having sex.

A million flowers spilling seeds.

Blood blooms. Light bursts. Magic is born.

All at the flick of a wrist.

It all feels slightly pornographic and oh-so-beautiful.

I can’t help but be reminded of life. The creation of life, sure, in the flick of the wrist, the spilling of blood and seed, absolutely. As the cylinder twists in the slimmest of fractions, new magic appears. in glorious technicolor.

But also in the biting, sharp edges, cutting almost constantly, spinning almost endlessly, into gravity-defying, rotating cartwheels of color.

We can choose to see life as broken shards of complete calamity and chaos in ever-widening, gravity-grinding, beyond-our-control tumbling. Nothing more than flotsam and jetsam crashing inside an unrelenting tidal wave. (It certainly felt like it this week, what with all the stomach bugs and travel woes and deep-seated cavities of the physical and metaphorical kind.)

Or we can choose to see ourselves and our lives as prisms of dancing light, beautiful and gleaming, made all the more so when we’re bumping and rolling up against other jangled and jagged prisms. Again, slightly pornographic, but I didn’t mean for it to be this time. Or maybe I did. Because that’s for sure beautiful, too. And the absolute quintessence of life.

For me, I choose prisms of dancing light.

I like to see us all as slivers of sapphire and ruby, gold and obsidian, emerald and opal and more. Succulent suds of shimmer and shine, made exquisite when randomly and richly tossed by the universe into predestined patterns, made richer with family and friends and even complete strangers knocking up against us in richly syncopated design.

Our lives are what we (and our maker, with a flick of the wrist) makes them. You see what you choose to see. You be who you choose to be.

Tumbling jewels, coupling butterflies, phosphorous flotsam.

You decide.

Me? I choose gemstones and swallowtails, tumbling and tossed. In this randomly rotating gyre, my kaleidoscope blooms beauty and light.

5 Books Our Five-Year-Olds Love

I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.

Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.

For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.

Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:

#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak

I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!

This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.

Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.

#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell

This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.

Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.

When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.

#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner

Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.

Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.

Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.

#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere

If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.

They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”

This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.

#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal

The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.

Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).

If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.

“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”

Talk about raising good humans…

She’ll Cry, then She’ll Cuss, then She’ll Get on With It

So I’m sitting here right now, doing my best not to cry. (And failing.) I seem to have stacked a whole lot more on my plate than usual.

Of course, it’s football season… and I’m used to the stress and demands our family’s football life takes on my schedule and my sanity.

But now I’ve added little league flag football for the boys, with twice-weekly practice. (So we don’t get home until 7 PM. And the boys have to be cooked for and fed and homework completed and bathed and read to and in bed by 8.)

And then there’s the online gifted certification that I’ve committed myself to for the next four semesters. And my desire to fit in some exercise and blogging. And to get my hair done occasionally. And to have time with Mike.

And teach. And plan lessons. And grade 185 students’ assignments — times 2 or 3 on any given week. Oh, and be a club sponsor.

And be a person who listens. Who hears. Who cares. Who helps. A good mother. A good wife. A good daughter. A good teacher. A good friend. In other words, a good person.

And to fit sleep in there somewhere.

So I’m trying not to panic. And I’m failing at that too. I feel like I’m failing at all the things. All of them.

And I was sailing along doing just fine… or at least I thought I was, until I got an email this morning telling me that the group I thought I was a part of in my mandatory gifted cert Group Component had made a mistake, and I wasn’t actually in the group after all.

I feel like the last kid picked for dodge ball.

But here’s the thing about me. I’m really good at dodging. I would dodge the hell out of group work and do it all on my own, if given the chance. I hate group work. It was the bane of my existence as a student, both in high school and in college, and now here it is, the bane of my existence as an educator.

I’m a perfectionist and an introvert and group work is some sort of tenth circle of hell Dante never dreamed up because it’s simply too diabolical. That one was left to the higher education tour guides of hell.

So what’s a girl to do?

Well experts tell the simpletons like myself to cultivate an ability to say NO. To prioritize my life, cafeteria style, and learn to pass rather than heap the items onto my plate.

But the thing is… my life itself isn’t a turn at the buffet. It IS the buffet. A great, big, delectable buffet — with a small side of broccoli group work that I have on the table, whether I like it or not.

All the things on my buffet are all the things I need to live this great big life of mine. All the things. Even the broccoli. And not a one is too small to pass up. (Especially not the hair appointment… I think it’s the only thing I truly do that is selfish.)

So what is this girl to do? This girl is gonna cry. Just for a hot second. And then she’s gonna cuss the tiniest of blue streaks, to let some of the steam escape, lest she explode like the Coke Zero can in the center console of her van in the 97 degree heat this past Thursday.

Because the pressure is great. But so is her work ethic. She’s not gonna explode. And she’s not gonna implode.

She’s gonna tackle one mountainous molehill at a time. Starting with an email to find a new group for this mother-effing group work due in two hard, hellish weeks…

Why Teachers Shouldn’t Wait Until Christmas to Smile

A lot of things have changed in my seventeen years of teaching.

Back when I first began, I was told, “Don’t smile until Christmas,” by almost everybody around me: education professors, veteran teachers, administrators. Everybody.

Thankfully, that has changed. Now teachers are encouraged to build relationships of trust and respect with our students. And that is a very positive change.

Not all of the changes have been for the better, though.

Some things, once rare, have become commonplace: like social media bullying and the threat of school shootings. Some things are nearly brand new: like vape juuls and dab pens. And some things are the new normal: like lockdown drills and smart phone distractions.

School shootings are a profoundly American tragedy, and one I’ve addressed before. In my years of teaching, they’ve become so ubiquitous that society seems to be jaded about them. This breaks my heart.

Smart phones didn’t exist seventeen years ago, but they’re everywhere now — along with rapidly multiplying smart watches. And with them, social media is a near-constant source of distraction (and contention) in the classroom. This likewise makes me super sad.

Kids would much rather check the stories on Snapchat than read the stories in English class. Instagram features and filters are much more compelling to them than mathematical fractals and fractions. Even in athletics, they’d sometimes rather tweet than compete.

Teachers get paid to teach… but very often, we feel like we do anything and everything BUT teach. Our classrooms have become lessons in covert operations.

Juuls and dab pens are everywhere — but kids are experts at hiding them. Hoodies and rubber bands have become suspect. Kids wear rubber bands around their wrist sleeves so they can hide juuls and take hits. They wear hoodies tight round their faces so they can exhale into their shirts.

I’ve seen vapor clouds disappear above students’ heads, but been unable to locate the source. I’ve seen discarded cartridges magically appear in my corners.

We play detective every day, trying to figure out which kid was the source of the sickeningly sweet odor infiltrating our room; which kid has red eyes from allergies, which kid has red eyes from THC; which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s texting, and which kid is staring at his crotch because he’s bored. (We get it all, almost every day.)

And you might think juuls and dab pens are more dangerous than smart phones, but experts argue they are all equally hazardous. I would agree.

Adolescent drug use, depression, and suicide is on the rise — and a huge contributing factor is social media and the pressures that come with it. Kids buy what social media is selling, which is almost always half-truths and lies.

Teens see the highlight reels of celebrities and idols and believe the image portrayed is reality. And then there’s also the bullies and predators out there, pressuring kids into sexting and nude pics — and the ensuing threats and belittling if they don’t… and the degrading and shame if they do.

Almost every aspect of social media leaves our kids feeling like they are not rich enough or smart enough or pretty enough or blond enough or athletic enough or cool enough… that they quite simply are not, nor will ever be, ENOUGH.

There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve found suicidal thoughts embedded in student essays. Social media is feeding insecurity and depression and kids are seeking escape through drugs and suicide.

Yes, teaching has gotten noticeably harder in the last seventeen years.

Before, I was told not to smile until Christmas. Now I’m told to smile and greet my students outside the classroom every day. To give high fives and side hugs. To genuinely care about my students and make sure they know I do.

These days, our district (and district all over our nation) are encouraging teachers to build relationships with students.

Because in a world full of school shootings and school bullying, teen depression, smart phone distractions, vape pens, and drug abuse, kids are not getting a whole lot of positive messages or interactions with anyone anymore — peers or adults. 

Because for some of our students, the smiles and greetings and side hugs we give are the only real human connection they make on any given day.

Sometimes our classroom is the only place where kids’ voices are used and actually heard. The only place where kids are given attention and affirmation. The only place where kids feel safe and secure and at home.

Some kids get nurtured at home. Some don’t. Some kids have the tools they need to navigate this increasingly treacherous world. Some don’t. Our job is to make sure all kids do. Teachers don’t just teach the Three R’s anymore.

The most important job we have as teachers now is to demonstrate love, compassion, and positive interaction. To teach community. To model the best of what humanity can be.

I’ve never been a teacher who didn’t smile till Christmas. Never. It wasn’t in my nature.

And while I’m glad that particular rule is no longer the norm, it makes me sad that changing times are what finally made the institution that is education see that students really do need and deserve smiles… long before Christmas.

Yes, there have been many changes over my seventeen years of teaching, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love teaching students. I really do. I still find it the most rewarding thing I can do with my life, besides motherhood.

But for me, teaching and motherhood are the perfect pairing. They go together like tacos and Tuesdays, cookies and milk, bacon and anything.

… like smiles in the classroom.

Walnuts, Wonders, and Collywobbles

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I defy logic. I defy all explanation. I am one of the wonders. I shouldn’t have been able to have these boys. I’m a challenge to the balance. I know that. I knew it all along. But when our maternal fetal specialist agreed to take our case pro bono because our lovely Georgia governor played dirty with our insurance, I learned just how unique I was. Modern medicine was eager to use me as a case study. I was a Wonder with a capital W. Without my fertility specialist extraordinaire and my maternal fetal specialist with angel wings and a big check book, without my ever-steady and supportive ob/gyn, I wouldn’t have these boys. I completely get it.

But it’s not just medicine that brought my winsome sprouts to my womb and formed them into into flesh and blood and spirited magic. There is so much more to it than that. Prayer played a tremendous part. And Grace. And finally Fortune, that most fickle of Ladies. She decided to be kind. For whatever reason, the Universe decided to bestow two breathtaking blessings upon Mike and me. And I cannot be thankful enough. Ever. And so I’m giving my testimony for others. Sharing our recipe for success. Hoping that someone, somewhere along with way, will benefit from our story.

I know that my age was against me. VERY against me. Especially when I would read all of the unhappy IVF stories of women my age. I quit reading them, actually. I eliminated all negative energy from my life. That was ingredient Number 1. Only positivity and sunshine.

I began listening to Natalie Merchant’s song, “Wonder,” some lines of which I alluded to earlier. Now if you don’t know it, Google it. Get on YouTube and listen to it. It is powerful stuff. Words are powerful potion. My father taught me about self-fulfilling prophecy and about spoken blessings. He’s quite the preacher type. He’s also a physicist. He’s kinda weird. He’s an oxymoron. He’s Sheldon Cooper on scripturoids. But he always, always, ALWAYS has believed in the power of prayer and the spoken word. So I accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative.

Speaking of the power of the word, if you haven’t read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Ingredients 2 and 3), read them. Out loud. And believe. They both discuss the power of the Universe and Her generous nature, Her willingness to grant your heart’s desire. You just have to say it. See it. Believe it. Write it. And wait for it to be delivered.

Now of course it’s not that simple. There is hard work involved. You have to dig. And keep digging. And the digging is physical, which is hard, full of medicines and injections and time and doctors visits and uncomfortable procedures, and it is also mental. The ups and downs of infertility is an ordeal no one who hasn’t experienced it can ever possibly imagine.

But you know what else? It is one that SO MANY of us share. It is a taboo subject that most are afraid of, or ashamed of, or too private to talk about. I was amazed at how many couples I knew presented themselves as IVF patients once I came out about our journey. Infertility sufferers are everywhere, yet it is still such a lonely, isolating experience.

So Coelho nails it. The mental digging is the hardest. But he explains that just when you are ready to quit, when the digging has gotten darn-near impossible. When the clay and rock are so incredibly rigid and unyielding and your body is bone-weary and your soul is sucker-punched, just KEEP digging. Because the Universe is about to deliver. It’s like the transitioning stage in labor. It feels like you’ve accomplished nothing at all, but your bundles of blessings are about to present themselves, to crown in all of their wondrous beauty.

So just like the good books commanded, we said it, we believed it, we wrote it down, complete with baby names (names, incidentally, which are now the middle names of both boys ). We visualized. We saw our sticky beans steeping in the placental gravy of the Universe’s Grace. We believed we would stay pregnant, even through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and the fortnight I slept with ice packs on my chest because it felt like the boys were splitting my sternum like a Butterball turkey’s wishbone.

Beyond saying and believing, Mike and I also played an active part in our process. We researched a ton, which included watching IVF home videos of couples who had been through this process before. (You would be amazed at how many of those there are online.) We watched those who had succeeded and we watched those who had failed and then succeeded. We searched for any and every kernal of wisdom and homeopathic hocus pocus, which leads me to Ingredient #4: pineapple core (yes, CORE) and raw walnuts.

I ate them every single day without fail for two weeks after embryo transfer to assist with implantation. The core was a bit gritty and fibrous and pulpy, but not as bad as you would think. And besides, I would’ve eaten an entire pineapple, in all of its sharp and spiney glory, if I thought it would help in our quest for the elusive sticky beans.

Coming home from the clinic on our transfer day, Mike and I implemented Ingredient 5, a tradition that carried me and our embryos through that most terrifying of times for all fertility patients: the first trimester. We listened to two very, very (have I said VERY?) uplifting and prophetic songs: Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder,” which referenced earlier, and Elton John’s, “You’ll be Blessed.” Google that one too. Right now.

These two songs became the soundtrack of our conception and gestation. I listened and sang along to them religiously every day. Every. Single. Solitary. Morning. Without fail. My power songs. Through them, Fate smiled at Destiny. Through them, the Universe laughed as she came to my cradle and laughed as my body she lifted and laughed as she filled me with her bountiful blessings. With a little help from these songs, and With love, with patience, and with faith. I made my way, and continue to make my way through this miraculous journey.

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The final ingredient is absolutely NOTHING like the aforementioned ingredients. It was nothing I planned or researched or manufactured. It was completely unpredicted and unrehearsed and (thankfully) unrepeated and something I would’ve preferred had happened in a bit more private of a manner, but the Universe works in mysterious ways…

Ingredient # 6: the Collywobbles. Such a fun, playful, Roald Dahl kind of word for one of the most UNfun, UNplayful conditions known to man: intestinal distress. The night before our two little baby buds would be siphoned from a petri dish and shot through my cervix with a straw, I had an up close and personal experience with the Collywobbles. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. But I have no doubt in my mind that not only was it God trying to acclimate me to the shit storms to come (twins are nothing, if not collywobbles times two), but I also maintain that it was an integral (and embarrassing) part of our recipe for in vitro success. Doctors prescribe enemas for all manner of procedures. It just so happens that this particular order was placed by the Heavens. Now, my girls will tell you I just don’t ever discuss poop. Ever. But in keeping with the nature of my blog to give honest, heartfelt information about our journey and our family, I guess I have contracted myself into spilling all… kind of like that midsummer night’s eve three years ago.

So before getting down and dirty, allow me to set the stage as prettily as possible: Daytime was dripping into dusk and it was hothouse humid — typical August fare for Georgia. Mike was away at football and wouldn’t be home until late — again, typical August fare for a Georgia football wife.

I was at the park across from our neighborhood, the chattering rise and fall of cicada song pacing my run. Butterfly bushes lined part of my path and I was pushing myself hard. I knew that the following morning Mike and I would drive to the perimeter for transfer and I would be taking it easy for at least the next nine months. I was taking no chances. I didn’t care that my doctor had told me I couldn’t sneeze, poop, fart, laugh, hiccup or jiggle those embryos out, I was going to be as safe and sedentary as possible.

So on this hot, humid, hellhound of an August night, I decided to get my last run in and work out all of my remaining anxieties. When, much to my surprise and chagrin, on the far side of the baseball fields, in a No Man’s Land of summer perennials and the boys of summer charging their grounders and snagging fly balls– I was struck with a vicious and violent blitzkrieg. My stomach flipped and dropped. I broke out in cold sweats. My core cramped. My vision blurred. I was a half a mile from home. And I was in trouble. To call it intestinal distress would be an understatement. And to call it collywobbles seems way too pretty. And it was NOT pretty. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but think about that horribly humiliating scene in Bridesmaids and be jealous because Maya Rudolph at least had a huge tent of a wedding dress to hide her shame. All I could do was break out in spontaneous prayer. Sincere prayer. Bona fide, true blue, unpretentious prayer. There’s no prayer more down to earth than a “please don’t let me crap myself in public“ prayer. And as I prayed, I shuffled. A hearty knees together, buttocks clenched shuffle. A get-your-Flintstone-feet-in-gear shuffle. And I am here to tell you that bona fide prayer and heartfelt hustle will get you far. It’ll get you darn near half a mile. Close, but no latrine. I made it to our driveway, and I am forever thankful for that small blessing.

And then then floodgates of Heaven opened and the rest is a poorly digested visual. I don’t know if it was nerves, a beastly bug, or the reheated half of a Reuben sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs I had for dinner, but I was dealt a savage– and I believe an extremely fortuitous, hand. I thoroughly believe the Universe decreed that I have a completely pristine vessel in which to implant my little lads. I’m convinced that in our parenting game of chance and childbirth, my royal flush didn’t beat a full house, it helped make one. (Sorry, terrible pun.)

Anyways… that is our sticky beans recipe. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Note I didn’t say THE recipe for success. Everyone’s recipe will different. And the climate and the conditions and the Universe all have a mighty say in how and when and where the blessings will be rewarded. Some beans will be organic and simply made, with no assistance whatsoever. Others will need chemical intervention, like ours did. And still others will be harvested elsewhere and then supplied. But know that if you want it deeply enough, badly enough, heartily enough, your own little peas will be delivered unto you. Thus sayeth the Universe. So dig deep.

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Kids Hate Language Arts. Can Reading and Writing be Resuscitated?

I have a passion for teaching English to high schoolers. A passion for seeing kids learn, seeing kids’ faces light up with understanding and excitement. Sadly, I see that light diminishing more with each passing year.

This week begins my 18th year of teaching English to secondary students. And every year, fewer and fewer students love to read. Heck, let’s get rid of the phrase “love to” and state the facts: Every year, fewer and fewer students read. Anything.

Or I guess I should qualify that statement — kids do read a little. And by a little, I mean memes. They’ll read something if it’s shorter than a sentence. And is paired with an image.

And they write that way too. Sentences are overrated. They want fragments, abbreviations, and emojis. That’s how kids communicate these days.

Which means my subject matter — literature and composition — is rapidly dying. It’s very nearly dead — and almost universally despised by my students. So I have a hard task in front of me, trying to save something most kids would love to see buried and gone.

On the first day of school, they are always so happy to brag to me about how much they hate English class. How they don’t read and they don’t want to. They once read a book in 7th grade, they’ll tell me when pressed, about some boy and a plane that crashed. “Hatchet?” I ask. “Yeah, that’s it,” they say. It’s the only book they’ve ever read. “Nothing since?” I whimper. They laugh. “Nope.” And my heart sinks. Every time.

How can I resuscitate a skill that far gone? Something that breathed — once — three years back and then flatlined, never to even be mourned?

We are in the era of smart phones and laptops. Kids don’t even watch television anymore. They watch their portable screens. And mostly quick, entertaining segments on YouTube. If it’s not quick, they won’t usually give it their time. And if it doesn’t grab their attention in the first 30 seconds, they’re hitting the search bar looking for something else.

Kids’ attention spans are jaded and fading. They want new, new, new and fast, fast, fast. And reading meets none of those requirements; writing, even less.

How do I, as an educator, compete in this fast and furious climate and culture?

Sometimes I worry that it’s just too late. That I simply don’t have the ability to raise Literacy from the dead. Indeed, the prognosis is bleak.

Case in point: my students from last year. I love them dearly, and I really believed that together, we’d made all sorts of progress. Now, I knew they weren’t out randomly picking up books instead of their iPhones, but I still thought I’d made some sort of impact. I thought they’d at least enjoyed the literature we read together.

But then I had a group of kids tell me a couple weeks back how much they hated To Kill a Mockingbird. Hated it.

And I wanted to cry. I failed them miserably. And I deceived myself in the process.

How can I remedy my failure? How can I bring the joy of reading and the art of writing back from the brink of death? Or is it already too late?

I know for a fact I can’t do it on my own. It’s impossible. Trauma surgeons have whole teams working in conjunction to keep their patients alive. From paramedics to ER docs to nurses to lab techs to anesthetists to surgical residents and attendings, everybody does their part, separately and together, to keep the patient from multiple system failure. Resuscitating literacy can’t all ride on me.

And it can’t all wait till it gets to me either. Fifteen years without a heart for reading is probably too late. Sure, I might find a feeble pulse in a couple of kids and nurture it back into a steady beat, but saving 2 kids out of 185 is not enough.

Nope, it’s got to be more and it’s got to begin sooner. It needs to begin at home. With parents and their babies.

Parents, read to your children. Read to them early — as newborns, even. It’s never too soon, I promise. Read them Goodnight, Moon. Read them The Grouchy Ladybug. Read them Green Eggs and Ham. And sing to them, too. Sing nursery rhymes. Sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, sing The Wheels on the Bus. Heck, sing Baby Shark, if you dare.

But read to them, and sing to them, and foster in them the love of language.

Then, we teachers will keep it going — from preschool all the way through senior year and beyond. Together, we can foster lifelong readers and writers… and excellent communicators. This world needs these skills. Desperately.

It’s never too soon, but it can be too late.

Eggs

Cackling farts — from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. And I certainly love me some vulgarity. Anyone who knows me knows my propensity for my favorite four-letter acronym – one I’m trying to curb since I’ve got these two impressionable young lads soaking in vocabulary like spaghetti sauce (or pureed prunes, or masticated teddy grahams, or you name it) on your favorite silk blouse (but I’ll save the stain stories for another blog). Still, “cackling farts” is simply the grossest, funniest, most colorful, obscene, and obscure term for EGGS I ever did hear. And this post is dedicated to them.

Eggs. Such simple things, it would seem. But simple, or not, as humans, we are fascinated by them. We eat them for breakfast in numerous ways, from the simply scrambled or over-easy, to the fancy-schmancy eggs benedict or quiche. And the recipes go on and on…

We’ve also built idioms around them. Some to reflect personality: “you’re a tough egg to crack” or he’s a “good egg” or a “bad egg.” Others reflect embarrassment: you can have “egg on your face” or we’ll tell someone to “go suck an egg.” We can use them in terms of monetary metaphors: we build “nest eggs” or search for “the goose that laid the golden egg” or we’re cautioned not to “put all our eggs in one basket.”

Naturally, if there are idioms about eggs, there are bound to be books about eggs. Some of the greatest literature features them. From Gulliver’s Travels to The Handmaid’s Tale to “Green Eggs and Ham,” we celebrate and admonish, using the Egg.

So eggs are far more complicated than the chalky-white ovals of serene, life-giving perfection they might seem. They house SO MUCH POTENTIAL. In the afore-mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrator proclaims, “I think that this is what God must look like: an egg.” And then later, “If I have an egg, what more can I want?”

Interestingly enough, this novel is about infertility. An entire nation that has fallen on post-nuclear sterility. The narrator may or may not be infertile. She has one daughter. She, nor the reader, knows for certain if she can get pregnant again.

And just like Offred, six years ago, I myself didn’t know if I would be able to carry children again.

We had an appointment with our fertility specialist, Dr. Mark Perloe, at Shady Gove Fertility in Atlant. (I can’t sing his praises highly enough!!! If you are contemplating IVF or if you are struggling with infertility of any sort, go see HIM.) Anyway, at that very first meeting, Dr. Perloe informed us that a woman over 40 had nearly zero chance of getting pregnant with her own eggs, and that we would need to use a donor.

My eggs were past their expiration date.

Now, you know what? I knew that already. Of course I did. I’m an educated woman. I do my research. I knew it going in. Still, his words stung just a bit. Just for a second. Not, though, for the reason you are probably thinking (the use of donor eggs).

NOPE, it was the Advanced Maternal Age phrase he used. AMA, a three-letter acronym that isn’t nearly as fun as my favorite four-letter one, and a label that would go into my charts and follow me to delivery. I still feel twenty-two, after all. As Jimmy Buffet says, “I’m growing older, but not up…”

“Donor eggs,” though — I was already familiar with and prepared for that phrase. We were given a password and the privacy of our home to view the donor profiles and search for our potential anonymous Wonder Woman — a super hero of the highest magnitude. I am forever and ever in her debt.

It felt strange, perusing those profiles. A giddy, dizzy, feverish, frightening cyber-ride. We wanted someone as close to me as we could get. Not because we intended to hide the fact that we used donor eggs from the boys or anyone else, for that matter, it was just something we wanted.

We wanted someone who loves literature as much as me. Someone who excels in science like their big sister. Who swings a mean bat or tennis racket, like their other big sister. Who appreciates a mean game of football, like their dad. Oh, and we wanted height. A nice, tall drink of water. I’m 5’10 and so to combine that height with their daddy’s good genes, we’re hoping for a couple of defensive powerhouses one day.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen,” said the mighty Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And our decision, our selection, set the Universe in motion, her cogs and wheels, parts and plugs assembling the various and sundry pieces, the stardust and cackling farts, the wood glue and lacquer and metal most attractive that would spark our little fellas into being.

Her eggs. My basket. And a gaggle of Y chromosomes from Mike. Now of course, it wasn’t nearly that simple… but more on that next time.

Banana Pudding and Red Bull

Yesterday was my last day of summer vacation before teacher pre-planning began. My last day to relax and recharge. And I did just that.

I finally used the massage gift certificate Mike got me for a Valentine’s Day gift. (What? I’m only five months late…)

The massage was marvelous. I don’t know what took me so long. Yes I do… TWINS. Still, it was well worth the wait.

To be honest, I was more than a little anxious about this appointment, though. For the first time ever, I had a male massage therapist. And considering you’re kind of naked and vulnerable on that table — along with the fact I was raised in a cult where skin is akin to original sin — this was a giant step outside my comfort zone.

His name was Wesley, I reasoned, as I settled beneath the sheets, candles flickering lazily and zen music playing softly. Wesley is such a non-assuming, more-than-slightly-Methodist name, so what’s to worry? That, plus the splashing water sounds and chirping birdcalls helped set my mind at ease.

Turns out, there was no need to worry, whatsoever. Wesley was a perfect gentleman and a perfect massage therapist. I was always appropriately sheeted or toweled and completely at ease (mostly).

I presented quite the challenge to poor little Methodist Wesley’s protestant work ethic. I had more knots in my back than a macrame hammock, and today I kind of feel like I got stretched taut between trees until the hammock unravelled. It’s all good, though, I told him to get them out. And he did. The knots screamed; I screamed. Eventually, they succumbed and I survived.

After the trauma, I relaxed into an awesome foot massage. Now, my favorite part of any massage is always the foot part of a massage. I love it more than warm banana pudding, and that’s saying a lot. Now some of you like cold banana pudding, and that’s saying a lot, too. Like how wrong you are, and how you probably like chardonnay (and even sugar in your cornbread, too). But, whatever. You’re wrong and foot massages are all that is right in this world.

But the surprising part of yesterday’s massage — the part I loved the absolute most — was a really weird technique I’d never encountered before. I’ll call it Red Bull…

So I was lying on my back, the sheet smooth once again — its myriad of origami massage pleats deconstructed — and the session complete. Or so I thought.

It was then Wesley returned to the crown of my head, placed both his hands, palms up, under my shoulders and slid them all the way down to my kidneys. It was weird and uncomfortable. Number one — because it felt like my back was straddling train tracks, and number two — because Wesley’s chin was directly above my face. I could feel his breath. It was awkward as fundamentalism.

But then he pulled his arms backward, lifting my body with his hands as he went. It was like sails being unfurled from somewhere spiny and cramped in my center, like wings being unwound. I was in metamorphosis, and it was marvelous.

I emerged from the spa yesterday afternoon like a newborn moth, all limp and relaxed and blinking blindly in the sun, every tendon and blood vessel traceable beneath translucent skin.

Red Bull. It gives you wings.

Go see Wesley and get your wings.

In my 50s with a far-from-empty nest

Being a mother of five-year-old twin boys at 53 is a whole nother level of tired. Like 4th-circle-of-eternal-boulder-pushing-with-Sisyphus-riding-piggy-back tired.

Some days I just don’t know where I’m going to get the energy.

The boys’ constant demand for attention is so… demanding. The endless bickering, boundless messes, bottomless hunger… it all saps my energy.

While they themselves are unending bands of the stuff, bouncing and careening over any and all semblance of peace and order. And legos and play doh. And happy meal toys and wrappers. And the last remaining vestiges of nerves that make up my life.

I wonder… can I steal some of that energy? Harness it for the stamina I need to entertain these green goblins of go-gettedness for the next fourteen hours? The next fifteen years? Because I seem to have zero reserves of go-gettedness left. Zilch.

I don’t recall being anywhere near this kind of tired when my girls where little. But then again, I wasn’t anywhere near this kind of age when my girls were little. I was a young mom to young kids. Now I’m a — well, let’s just say an older mom to young kids.

Which makes my life way more than a wee-bit more exhausting. I would swear I’m anemic, but they’ve tested me for that.

Mercy. Most days I beg for mercy. And mercifully, most days, there’s the swimming pool.

Swimming is their favorite right now. They love to splash in the coolness, to feel the ripples across their shoulders, to dive beneath the surface and hear their warbling words come out in whomps that burst in bubbles above their drifting curls.

So I take them to the pool. For them — and for me. It gives them play. And it gives me peace.

It’s the easiest part of my day right now. Demands diminish in the calm, soft ripples of silver and blue. The boys splash and play like sweet little sprites, and I’m granted a blessed disconnect from the harshness of my real — and really hard — world. Until…

My goggles are slipping! I’m hungry! My noodle is missing! There’s a frog in the pool! Parker won’t talk to me! Tate broke my head! I’m hungry!!!

The whines cut the calm like a chainsaw, severing it into the bloody little jagged pieces of pandemonium that is my life.

And it dawns on me. I’m not anemic. I’m exsanguinated. There’s nothing left to bleed.

I saw a story the other day from the Wall Street Journal celebrating a slew of women in their fifties, empty-nesters with newfound freedom to fly the coop and reinvent themselves.

One woman picked up and moved to the crater of a volcano. Another biked across the United States in a peace sign pattern. A third went snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands. None though, said, “Hey, I’ll raise a second set of kids.” None.

Many women I know commented on the article, saying they’d had their children early, and now they were living their best lives.

Well… I had my children early. And I had my children late. My nest is ragged and worn, with a whole lotta years left to go.

Perhaps there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies after 40, much less 48.

And now, in my summer of 53, with school about to begin again, and Sisyphus and his boulder on my back, and my 5 year old twins in my nest, and me on my own for the next six months while my husband resumes his football duties — I refuse to believe I can’t still reinvent myself. In my fifties. With a far-from-empty nest.

I will work even harder to make this writing dream of mine come true.

I will continue to carve out words from the smallest slivers of time. I will keep stringing stolen seconds into sentences. I will keep climbing the steep and thorny path of progress while keeping my nestlings as content as two five-year-old boys can possibly be. Which isn’t very. And not often.

But I will not give in. Because inside the exhaustion of it all, there is also inspiration. And there is also breathtaking beauty.

This morning, my little goblins came creeping into my bedroom at Seven-Zero-Zero, as my oldest son says. (They are NOT allowed to leave their rooms until that six-five-nine has flipped. And they waste nary a second once it has.)

For a minute, I SO wanted to bark at them to go back where they came from and just let mama sleep.

But then, they are where they came from… curled up on my body like fiddlehead ferns, tentacles tracing my cheek, lips kissing my eyelids, chattering away like baby birds about their daddy and the swimming pool and the desperate need to water the garden before it rains. We have to GET UP… NOW. And how could I be mad at that?

They are where they came from, and they are where they belong. For this season. And for always.

And yes, there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies at fifty. But you know what? I’m not most women.

I can raise these boys with the grace and the grit they deserve. With the same grace and grit I raised my girls with. I will. They deserve no less.

And I can also write my memoirs and my musings and murder my little darlings (it’s a writing metaphor, please do not be alarmed…) with the grace and the grit that I deserve, too. I can and I will.

Because I’m not most women.

I had my children early, and I had my children late. My family is beautiful and messy and more-than-I-can-handle most Mondays and a whole lot of other days, too. But still… I am absolutely living my best life AND reinventing myself, too.

And while I’m not swimming with turtles off a Darwinian desert isle, it is still survival of the fittest in all its glory. It’s all fight AND all flight. And while most days I feel I’ve been exsanguinated, I’m not dead yet.

Have Mercy!

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