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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Cuddles and Comfort; Sandpaper and Salt

Two friends. Two distinctly different personalities. Both now gone. Gone way, way, way too soon.

The first was full of cuddles and comfort — the human equivalent of gingerbread and coffee. She warmed and invigorated. She sweetened a room. Her cheeks were sprinkled in cinnamon. Her voice was warm molasses. And when she laughed, your moods floated like cream in her wake.

The second was sandpaper and salt — all quick, gritty wit and billy goat gruff. She flashed lightning one minute and sunshine the next. She could be a tough nut to crack, but once you broke through, she loved you for life. And you were a better person for that love.

Both women — larger-than-life itself — now gone from this lifetime.

It’s always such a jarring, jagged feeling, knowing someone has been pulled from the world, leaving snagged roots and empty spaces — in this case, big, buxom empty expanses where bright patterned tunics and laughter once rang.

How can the world simply keep spinning? How do we just adjust to their absence?

And it seems like sacrilege to ask such questions as a mere friend. A friend. When we know others have been so much more enormously — monumentally –impacted by their loss. Children and parents. Spouses and siblings.

My bruises, though they feel deep, are nothing compared to the trauma in those lives. To the violent rifts and vast voids and crushing avalanches of raw emotion they know and feel.

I’ve started to write about my first friend half a dozen times since her death, but I kept stopping. It didn’t feel right.

And how could it?

Because it was all so wrong. So very, very wrong. My friends had families. Children. Grandchildren. Parents. They were loved. They were needed.

And somehow or other, some force or other chose not to take that into account.

And it infuriates me. And devastates me.

But that’s the nature of time, isn’t it? She’s a bitch. Or is Time a HE? Father Time, isn’t it? Of the infuriating, devastating, abusive variety.

Never asking permission. Doing with us as he will. Sketching lines, loosening skins, brittling bones and dry-rotting joints. And stealing friends. And former students. Time is a crook and a thief.

And he steals more and more from us as the years whiz past.

They say death happens in threes. But it seems in the past few months there have been many, many more than that. Friends have lost fathers. Mothers have lost sons. Families have lost matriarchs.

But I guess that’s the nature of the game. And as we get older, death increases exponentially. And none of us escapes the endgame. And eventually, if you’re the last one standing, then… you’re the last one standing.

And that’s hardly a good thing. I definitely don’t want to be the last one standing.

But I do want to stand a whole lot longer. My two friends who recently left this world — they weren’t a whole lot older than me.

I would appreciate it if Father Time would simply sling me more etched lines and loose skin and spare me a lot more life. Because my boys and my girls and my grandkids and my husband… we’ve got more we want to accomplish. We aren’t finished yet. Not by a long shot.

But then, neither were my friends and their families.

Every morning and night, I drive by one of their houses. There’s a light shining on the front porch, as if waiting for her return.

The primroses that pepper the front lawn of her house in the spring are nowhere to be found in this cold winter chill. The trellis, just visible in the backyard sits sparse and bleak in its grief.

But soon, nature will replenish herself. That’s simply her nature. Always resurrecting.

But the inhumanity of humanity is: we don’t. At least not in our original form. But if you’re a believer, there are options out there…

Some people believe in transmigration of souls — from one body to the next. Or others believe in a spirit realm where our loved ones may watch over us as angels. Still others believe in an afterlife where we will all meet up again in mansions and on streets made of gold.

All of these beliefs are the spiritual equivalent of cuddles and comfort amid the sandpaper and salt, the pain and the tears, of this life.

Cuddles and comfort. Sandpaper and Salt. That’s what life — and the afterlife — is made of.



Home Place

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

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

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

She’s got train tracks whipstitched across her landscape.

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

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

She’s got bakeries, bistros and bars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her people became my people.

And so did her transplants. 

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

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

Yes, this place is my home place. 

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

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

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.

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie, 2018

I love gingerbread. And hot buttered rum. And the Elf on the Shelf. And the Nutcracker ballet. And Christmas lights. And Christmas ornaments. And A Christmas Story. And THE Christmas Story. And… did I mention gingerbread?

I am a holiday junkie. I mean, I absolutely crave all things Christmas. Alas, I married a man who does not. He does crave egg nog — so there’s that. But I think that’s it for his tolerance of the season. He tolerates me, too — although he does roll his eyes at all my holiday hoopla. In his defense, I may have been known to overdo it just a tad. Clark W. Griswold and Martha Stewart are my inspirations.

The Christmas jonesing kicks into full gear on Thanksgiving night. That’s when I throw off all pretense of self-control and set my Christmas carol playlist on shuffle, where I keep it running loud and proud straight through New Year’s Eve. Carrie Underwood’s “O Holy Night” gets me all teary-eyed. Josh Groban’s “Ave Maria” makes me weep outright. But then, I run the entire emotional gamut. I get downright giddy over Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Julie Andrew’s “My Favorite Things,” too.

And speaking of MY favorite things, Christmas cards in the mailbox and my personalized, hand-knit stocking hanging on a peg on the fireplace are at the top of that list. As is gingerbread straight out of the oven. I know I’m repeating myself, but if I’m not mistaken, gingerbread was one of the precious gifts of the magi. There was gold, gingerbread and myrrh. Look it up 🙂 So it’s a seasonal necessity. (And a couple years back, my sister introduced me to a Williams Sonoma mix that is the absolute definition of comfort and joy. We feed each other’s addictions.)

So yes, I love gingerbread and Christmas carols, but I think my favorite Christmas accoutrements are the ornaments. I’ve collected them for years and years and years. People who know me know I take my ornament selection VERY seriously. I will search half a year to track down the perfect one for each special person in my life.

I’m an ornament snob, too, so that makes ornament purchasing even stickier. The medium doesn’t matter so much; the ornaments can be absolutely anything from anywhere. I’ve found designer blown glass Betty Boops, Pottery Barn bottle brush squirrels, and Australian handcrafted felt angels. My criteria is ambiguous and esoteric. I just know when I know. And sometimes it takes months and months of Etsy surfing and brick and mortar navigating to find each family member’s certain special something. That’s where my Martha Stewart OCD kicks in. I admit I have a problem. That’s the first step, right? Only I don’t want to be cured.

I love the freakishly sentimental feelings that Christmas stirs in me. I know I can be over-the-top in a way that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Especially for someone who is used to quiet, single day, perfunctory family dinners and gift card exchanges. But me, I thrive on the chaos of the season – the gazillion get togethers, the flurry of family obligations, the weeks’ worth of baking and wassailing and all-around merry making. I become a paradoxically highly-charged, gooey lump of blubbering happiness.

Because my absolute favorite thing about the holidays as a mother is being with my babies. All four of them.  And this year, as in the past few years since the girls have been full-grown and on their own, that can be tricky. And it can require some creative calendaring, and come-hell-or-highwater maneuvering, to make it happen.

This Christmas, thankfully, there are no epic road trips scheduled. This year my crew of kiddos gets to be together — at least for one day — on Christmas Eve. Plus, my baby sis is coming into town.

Unfortunately, there are many whom we won’t see this season… Mike’s folks and JoJo’s family and all sorts of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, but I will see all my babies and we’ll all be together, and for that I am eternally grateful. And it makes for a very merry me.

Tonight, we’re kicking this season off with a shindig of eggnog and cocoa, red wine and amaretto, and crazy-fun kith and kin. Tomorrow, will be calmer… with Mike lighting a fire so we can all settle in to watch The Polar Express.

And just before Josh Groban beings to sing “Believe”– when the unseen narrators says my favorite lines — I am guaranteed to get all sorts of misty-eyed. The line that speaks to the driving force beneath my unbridled Christmas cravings and addictions… 

“Seeing is believing… but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

Things like love.

Like the eye-rolling, eggnog-fueled love of a man who doesn’t get my holiday love affair, but still gets me. Who will drive to the ends of the earth – or at least the ends of the Southeast – to make my mama’s heart happy at Christmas time. Or at any time.

Like the fierce, full love of a mama for her babies. All of them. The ones full grown and on their own, and the ones still underfoot in footed pajamas.  A love that will always find a way – come hell or high water (have you SEEN how much it’s rained this year??? – to get to her offspring at Christmas time. Or any time.

And like the passionate love of a God who sent his only begotten son as a gift to the entire world at Christmas time. And all the time.

Yep. I am a Christmas Junkie. And I’m not giving it up anytime soon.

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

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

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

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

That was the talk. Those were the predictions. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Thanks and Giving Gifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are what I have to give.

I give my thanks, and I give my gifts.

 

I’m Done Trying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I do.

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

I will simply do my best.

 

Hungry for Postseason Ball

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

It is the season of gathering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, finally. Finally the game buzzer sounds.

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

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

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

(feature photo cred: Cathy Sharpe)

Hearts of Darkness: What has happened to our humanity?

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

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

What has happened to our humanity?

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

I guess we don’t anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have lost all semblance of humanity.

 

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