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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Leaving Woodland: A Love Story

Here we are in the middle-most parts of May in the middle-most parts of spring. It is a full, sticky, sweet time of year.

And all is ripe with the world.

The air gets juicier by the day. Skin slicks with it and hair clumps in it. Honeybees swim through it, On the back deck, wasps suck its dampness from the floor joists. Dollops of Queen Anne’s Lace float at the roadside. A foamy fog fills the deepest morning fields.

For teachers and students, this time of year is even fuller, stickier, and sweeter. School is ending — and with that end comes exam marathons and grading marathons and all sorts of end-of-year obligations. But it also means that in just a few short days, all the challenges and hurdles of the past year can be put away. In just a few short days, the pool-sides and vacays will soon be underway.

But as I give my last two days’ worth of exams for this school year, the sweet milk of concord is tinged just a tad with bittersweet.

Because in four days’ time, I will walk out the front doors of Woodland and leave behind the school I have called home from the beginnings to the middle-most part of my teaching career. And that makes my heart trip just a beat.

I have loved Woodland High School. And oh, how I love it still!

I love the building – the red-bricked, columned, porticoed beauty of its structure. It is a beautiful and storied institution. And the view from its hilltop — Lord, have mercy! I remember the first day I walked into Woodland as a teacher.

I came in through the back doors of D-Hall at sunrise and turned back to take in the view. And what I saw… well, I’m pretty sure the mouths of angels dropped open to belt out some heavenly chords in my ear.

The football stadium is there in the back, and the home stands are carved into the rocky clay hillside. Gazing onto that field, with Ladd’s Mountain jutting to the north and the Etowah River snaking off toward the east — it was magical.

And I love the student body – the tough and tender teenaged population. I’ve taught so many beautiful students with so many powerful stories.

And as a teacher of students and stories, these sixteen years have been all about the stories. Not the stories I’ve shown them — the literature of canon and curriculum, but the stories they’ve shown me — the literature of their hearts. Their stories will never leave me.

There’s the rapper who mixed beats in his basement and hid battle-scars in his bravado. And the cowboy who wrote poetry, rode bulls and broke bones.

There’s the brooding brunette who pierced her tongue with a paper clip while I was absent one day so her parents would see all her pain. And the energetic junior who sang gospel music every seventh period — and one Friday brought a frozen snake to school in his backpack.

There’s the baller who crushed statistics and opponents on the field while the world had its way with him back home. And the crooner too shy to speak up in class, but who belted it out on the stage like a boss.

There’s the bruised, uncertain sophomore who slipped me a note at the end of class to tell me that what had happened in the book we were reading had happened to her in her uncle’s back room. And the brilliant, confident valedictorian with the bird feathers in her hair and the big dreams in her head.

There’s the ukulele-playing philosopher. And the soft-spoken thespian. And the bright, bubbly philanthropist.  And the legally-blind visionary.

And so very many, many more…

And they’ve all had a story to teach me. And I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to laugh, how to cry, how to absorb, how to digest, how to digress, how to hold in, and hold on, and let go.

They’ve given and shown me so much. About them, about myself, and what teaching is all about. And it’s all about them. Always.

And in showing me who they are, they have shown me who I am.

And now, in this middle-most part of May in the middle-most part of spring, in the middle-most part of my career, I’m leaving Woodland And it is hard. And the closer I get to next Wednesday, the more frightened I become.

But I feel the pull of a new season – a swirling purple hurricane season. A season of new students and new family members and new stories all hang on the cusp of the solstice of summer. And all is ripe with the world.

I will always love Woodland. I met my husband here. My best friends all teach here. My favorite students in the world all went to school here. And so did my daughters.

It is truly full and sticky and a tad bit bittersweet here in the middle-most parts of this May.

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There are Three of Us in This Marriage: Confessions of a Football Wife

There are three of us in my marriage. I knew I’d be sharing my husband when I married him. And I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

I get jealous sometimes. (Who am I kidding? I get jealous a lot.)

Because the third member is demanding and competitive and physical and fast. Oh, and hot — incredibly, extraordinarily HOT. And then there’s all the penetration. So much penetration. (For this one, it’s all about the grind!)

And I can’t compete with that. (Well, I could, but it’s not really me. I’m the quiet, reserved one in this marriage.)

So I support. And watch. And cheer him on. And I’ve been told that’s hot too. ;b

You see, my husband is a high school football coach, and he’s been married to the game for a really, really, long time. They were a thing long before he and I were a thing. And when we started dating, I had to come to terms with the rules of engagement.

But lucky for me, I love the game, too. I had worshiped it from afar nearly my entire life. I was drawn to its passion and intensity. And then I got incredibly lucky and was able to merge the two loves of my life in holy matrimony. And we’ve been happily married for the last six years. And I love it, I really, really do.

But like I said, sometimes I get jealous.

Football has its way with my husband six nights a week, five months out of every year — plus summers and even a couple of weeks in May. It steals a lot of his time… our time.

That means I don’t get many candlelit dinners and date nights in the fall. (Who am I kidding? As a family with twin boys, we don’t get many of those ANY season — but definitely not during football season.)

Needless to say, because of its unforgiving nature, football can be a homewrecker if you aren’t careful. So you have to be vigilant. And creative. And snag time whenever and wherever you can.

And since Spring Ball just ended for us after a hot and heavy ten days of full contact, Mike and I will be making the most of it for the next two weeks (before summer workouts begin…).

We’ll be eating cozy dinners together — as we referee our forty-pound, twin four-year-old boys while they fight over parental time and attention. Having Daddy home to help share the love (and war) every night is a blessing that I relish while it lasts. And while that may not sound very sexy to you, it is more than a tad bit sexy to me.

And we’ll be spending a lot of time in bubble baths — wrestling those forty-pound twin four-year-olds into and out of the water. Having Daddy home to help snag the slippery little suckers and wrangle them into pajamas every night is a blessing that I cherish while it lasts.  And while that may not sound sexy to you, it is mega-sexy to me.

And we’ll be snuggling up on the couch – with two forty-pound four-year-olds in our laps demanding four stories, complete with sound effects and occasional hand motions. Having Daddy there to read while I administer asthma and allergy meds every night is a blessing I treasure while it lasts. And while that might not sound sexy to you, it is super sexy to me.

And we’ll be giving and receiving a whole lot of loving in bed – as we tuck those two forty-pound four-year-old boys of ours beneath the covers and sing them lullabies. Having Daddy there to give real-life kisses instead of surrogate ones every night is a blessing I hold dear while it lasts. And while that might not sound sexy to you, it is uber-sexy to me.

And we’ll be taking a couple of vacations – family ones — and by family vacations, I mean our little family will be visiting our larger, extended family (including the boys’ big sisters) during the dead weeks between now and the start of football season.Having Daddy there to help contain and entertain twin preschoolers on incredibly long and arduous cross-country road trips to see the people we love most in the world may not sound very sexy to you, but I find it sexy as hell. (Well, the travel will be hell, but my husband — he’s sexy.)

Now don’t get me wrong. My coaching husband and I do have some time to celebrate US with just the two of us. We do. We make time. And sometimes it’s as simple as popcorn in bed while we catch up on our crime dramas and each other. But we do manage to squeeze in the occasional candle-lit date night, too. We even have one planned for tonight. Mike set it up and surprised me with it.

And I think that’s ANYBODY’S definition of sexy.

Yes, there are three of us in this relationship (not to mention a couple of forty-pound preschool boys). And sometimes it feels like football gets more time and attention and energy than the boys and I ever do. It is definitely demanding. And physical. And competitive. And passionate. But boy, is it HOT.

Football – and my coaching husband – they’re HOT.

So, it’s always worth the work. It’s always worth the grind. As a matter of fact, it’s all about the grind. And that, my friends, is sexy.

What it Takes to be a Teacher: The Real Three Rs of Education

Being a teacher is not what most people think it is. Heck, it’s not even what most teaching candidates think it is. You enter the profession wide-eyed and full of faith. You believe in your abilities; you believe in yourself. You will illuminate the beauty of literature, the power of mathematics, the wisdom of history, the magic of science. You imagine your students to be eager little vessels waiting patiently to be filled with your brilliance. You are ready to teach. They are ready to learn.

But here’s what you yourself learn — really, really quickly…

Only a select few of your students are eager little vessels thirsty for knowledge. They are the few and the far between. And when you actually get some of those few and far between students in your classroom, it feels amazing. They are driven and focused and quick little studies, and you find yourself thinking you are an amazing teacher.

But here’s the facts of the matter: you’re not amazing; they are. They are amazing. And it has nothing to do with you. Not really. Teaching a subject to eager students is not teaching. Nope. That’s merely taking a hungry kid to a buffet and watching her eat. You didn’t even make the food. You just led her to it. Deflate your Promethean ego and focus on the facts.

If you got into education to teach your subject and strut your stuff, you need to get out. Like yesterday. Most students are not impressed with YOU. They don’t give a darn about your subject or how many degrees or dogs or daughters you have. Many are only impressed with their friends, their text messages, their social media, their music, their video games, their sports, and their phones. (Oh, Lord how they love their phones.)

And for some of them, they focus on these things because they are fundamental to who they think they are: young and popular and primed for greatness. Their worlds are on fire with passion and drama and hunger and thirst. And you? You are merely a blip on their radar, keeping them from the joys that await them when they leave school. They love their lives, not class.

But for others, they focus on these things because they are distractions from who they think they are: ugly and empty and profoundly worthless. Their worlds are burning down from passion and drama and hunger and thirst. And you are merely a blip on their radar, keeping them from the jabs that await them when they leave school. They loathe their lives and they loathe class.

This last group is by far the hardest to teach. They lash out. They cuss you out. They cut their eyes at you. They cut your class. They sleep or snark or throw middle fingers in the air. They throw insults and elbows. They are hard to manage, hard to guide, hard to instruct, hard to teach, hard to love.

But they need you the most. They need you to teach them. Not your subject. Them.

And to do it right, you’ve got to get invested. Be invested. And stay invested. Know who they are. Know who you’re working with. And what they’re working with. I promise you, you’ll be shocked.

I’ve had students who were being abused, physically or sexually or both. I’ve had students riding the wreckage of dirty divorces. I’ve had students whose parents were in prison or in rehab or in coffins. I’ve had students who lived in children’s shelters, on friends’ sofas, on Adderall and antidepressants. I’ve had students whose mothers fed them cocaine and methamphetamines in utero. I’ve had students whose fathers fed them knuckle sandwiches and nightmares in their homes last night.

How can you expect these kids to give a damn about Shakespeare and sonnets? And honestly — they can’t. Not yet. Not without trust. Not without security. Not without understanding. Not without love. Not even if you make it all relevant to them, to their lives, to their situations, to their struggles. Not even then. Not yet.

So you have to show them trust and security and understanding and love. You have to show them these things and be these things for your students. All of them. Even the hard ones. Especially the hard ones.

That’s the fundamentals of teaching that I don’t think a college classroom can teach you. But your own classroom absolutely will – if you’re willing to learn. If you’re willing to let your students teach you what they need. Until you’re willing to learn that, you are no Teacher. Books don’t teach you how to do that. Teaching teaches you that. And you can’t Teach until you can Do.

There’s an old Stevie Smith poem called “Not Waving but Drowning.” The first stanza ends like this:

I was much further out than you thought,

And not waving but drowning.

I use these two lines as my reminder to never get jaded, to never forget that just because my feelings get hurt and my ego gets bruised when a student shuns me or shouts at me or skulks around the corner and skips my class, that it’s not all about me. My bruises are nothing like his. My battles are nothing like hers.

My job is to hear and see my students. Not the cussing, not the insults, not the disrespect —  I hear and see that just fine – but my students and their struggles. For while it’s all too easy to misinterpret their actions, most of those really, hard students (not all, but most) are not waving, but drowning. They aren’t being bad kids, they’re being lost kids — little, lost, overwhelmed, under-loved kids. That’s what I need to see and hear.

Drowning people panic and they can quickly pull you under, too. They don’t even understand what they’re doing. They just want out of the deep water and they’ll hurt anyone who comes close. They lash out as a defense. They writhe and flail and try to climb on top of you. They try to pull you down.

And there are some days your drowning students will get you down. You will feel underwater yourself. You will feel like you just can’t do it anymore. You just want to let go. To swim away. To let them fail. To let it be somebody else’s problem.

But don’t let go. Regroup and regrip and keep throwing out those life lines.

Show them they are worth saving from the flood of violence and hunger and abuse and pain and powerlessness that overwhelms them. Show them that they do not deserve to drown. They are not disposable.

They are valuable.

They matter more than the subject matter. More than Shakespeare and sonnets. More than state mandates and standardized tests. Teach them — not the subject, not the test — teach them.

When they learn that they matter, only then can they learn the subject matter. But be prepared to rinse and repeat — a lot. Like a whole, whole lot.

Don’t get frustrated when they don’t trust themselves enough yet. Don’t get frustrated when they don’t trust you enough yet. Remember who you’re working with. Remember what they’re working with. They will need lots of recognition, lots of reinforcement, lots of repetition. Until they absorb it. Until they understand that they are valuable and they matter.

Recognition. Reinforcement. Repetition. — The Real Three Rs of Education.

 

Fashion Blogger meet Frazzled Mama

Perusing my newest Southern Living, I am reminded of the fact that I am truly no fashion icon. Not saying that SL is a homebody’s version of Vogue – but it’s kinda my homebody’s version of Vogue.

I don’t subscribe to fashion magazines. I don’t follow fashion blogs or Insta-celebrities. Occasionally I overhear fashion advice from my students.

Yesterday, they were talking about slouchy separates. I was all in. Slouchy is my second language – spoken every single weekend till Monday at sunrise.

At least, I was all in until I heard someone say — “Just pair ‘em with a scarf and block heels” – and then I was all out.

My version of slouchy separates includes an old pair of sweats and an oversized tee. Block heels? More like bare feet. And the only scarf I’ll do is of the verb-variety — over a huge plate of pancakes and bacon. My twins are my only accessories and I wear them everywhere. That’s why weekends are my days to decompress – not impress.

I come from a long line of well-dressed women. They are immaculate. All day. Every day. My baby sis does black tie as a career choice; my second-born sister wears heels for a quick trip to the refrigerator; and my mom only recently purchased her first pair of sneakers. Kid you not.

I love them. I admire them. I could never be them.

They are fashion goddesses. Me? If I were a goddess, I would be Antipodes. As in, the exact opposite of them.

Now, I do know how to put myself together when occasion calls for it. I’ve rented the runway once or twice. And I’m all about the messy bun. And I even do my brows and toes, although not at a salon. I do them the old-fashioned way – which I guess is far from fashion-forward. But it’s frugal.

And living on two teachers’ salaries, I need to be frugal, not on fleek. All my extra cash goes toward clothing our 4-yr-old twin boys. They need new digs every coupla months — and even with Kohl’s cash, that’s a whole lotta pennies. So waxing and pedis are pretty much outa my fashion budget.

But what started me on this whole rant is my Southern Living magazine. It arrived in the mail yesterday. SL has been modernizing itself as of late and now includes a page or two on fashion bloggers from the South and their glamour go-to’s. The one this time around is a petite little blonde with dangly blue earrings from Georgia. She’s a teacher and blogger, so naturally I took notice.

But those dangly-blue earrings make me immediately suspect she’s nothing like me. There’s no way in dangly-blue-earring hell she’s a mother. If she is, she’s into body mutilation because those earrings are an invitation to pull. I would end up with ear lobes like serpents’ tongues.

And then there’s the white eyelet dress and wedged platform espadrilles she’s sporting. What mom in her right mind wears white eyelet and platform wedges? That’s just disaster at the design stage. There’s nothing but grape juice stains and high ankle sprains in her future. And she has compiled this ensemble for rambling ‘round the big city of Atlanta.

Me? I do weekend rambles around my ranch house looking for lost laundry, not little holes-in-the-wall (although we have those too). Or, if I’m really feeling frisky, we head out to the local Target. That’s our family’s version of a big city jaunt. Nope. No way she’s a mother.

But the finishing-touch is the crossbody fringed yellow bag worn like a Miss Universe pageant sash. The actual bag is barely the size of her left ass cheek. And I’m not talking a three-pregnancy-with-one-being-twins sized ass cheek — the kind that can clutch that lemon yellow crossbody bag in its Dunlap and hide it like a marshmallow Easter egg — I’m talking an unnaturally small, could-probably-still-buy-her-panties-in-a-Carter’s-toddler-girl-3-pack sized ass cheek.

That bag – and her behind – are way too little to be worried about fitting a travel bag of wet wipes and supplies of goldfish and gummy fruit chews and drink boxes and bribe-toys for her kids, plus a mama-size bottle a Motrin for herself in that bag. No way, no how.

That bag is my undoing. And not simply for its size, which is infinitesimal, but for the cost, which is astronomical. At least on my teacher’s salary.

$98??? For a handbag?

And I know that’s nothing in the grand scheme of handbag economics. Turn a couple of Southern Living pages and there’s a slew of Dooney & Bourke satchels for nigh-on $400. What the rucksack? I have NEVER understood paying a massive chunk of your hard-earned living wage on a pocketbook.

But this teacher and blogger, she’s game. But then, she obviously doesn’t have to spend her salary on a new set of toddler trappings (times two) every change of seasons. Or maybe she does… Maybe she is a mama. And maybe that mama manages to pay for her kids’ seasonal closet overhaul with something other than teacher pay.

Maybe her blog helps her live and dress this way. Maybe her blog is her cash cow. Maybe she’s making so much moolah off sponsors she can afford to replace eyelet dresses and ankle bones after a single showing. Or maybe she’s even got a nanny. So high ankle sprains and grape stains aren’t even on her radar because her kids aren’t either.

Maybe I’m doing it all wrong.

Maybe I should start a fashion blog. I’m sure there’s a market out there for moms who love slouchy separates and handbags from Goodwill.  Surely people out there want to know how to pair leggings with a messy bun and vintage bathrobe. (And by vintage, I mean threadbare from the era of twin toddlers — still underway — where distressed and aged is all the rage.)

So if you’re into utilitarian style… and “chunky” describes your midrift, not your cableknit… and you have toddlers instead of handbags hanging crosswise off your chest… and your earrings have been retired to the dark recesses of your closet and memory, I’m your gal.

Follow me.

Sponsor me.

Help me.

Now pardon me…  while I take a weekend ramble ‘round the Target toy aisle in my twin accessories.

A Wish is a Prayer Your Soul Makes

I love wishes. I’m a big believer. They are my favorite form of prayer — tiny little heart’s desires in a single sentence — sent out into the universe. They’re like a mantra. I wish the same one over and over until it is granted. And it very nearly always is.

And the universe gives so many occasions to speak our dreams and desires: on birthday candles and shooting stars, on eyelashes lost and pennies found, on coins in fountains, and wishbones in hand. They ride dandelion fluff and ladybug wings.

I learned their power and value way back when, on Sunday nights in front of the television while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Tinkerbell would wave her wand and Cinderella’s castle would erupt in festive fireworks and Disney’s tinkling instrumental theme song would whisper the power of wishes… Jiminy Cricket’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Snow White’s “I’m Wishing,” and Cinderella’s “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

I was indoctrinated at an early age. And then my wishes merged with the evangelical movement of my childhood, and I latched onto the promise of “ask and ye shall receive,” “seek and ye shall find.” And I found myself a believer.

And I decided, if a dream is a wish your heart makes, then a wish is a prayer your soul makes…

And ever since, I’ve sent so many wishes out into the universe – a series of one-sentence mantras repeated until they come true.

And they usually do.

Mike and I came true. And so did the boys. And my girls. And their blessings. So many blessings. So many wonderful wishes have come, and are coming, true.

Yes, my track record is solid… but not undefeated.

There have been wishes I’ve repeated like mantras for months. For years. And they never seem to materialize.

Sometimes I think wishes are only granted for the Disney-type-desires. The tiara and taffeta kinds of wishes, the happily-ever-after, against-all-odds-imprisonment-and-sorcery kinds of dreams. Things that end in freedom and love. In new lives and sweet loves and new babies and fresh starts.

But the ones reserved for sickness… or, more specifically, cancer… those seem not to take as well. Those seem not to get answered. And I don’t really understand why.

Cancer sucks. That’s the meme; that’s the hashtag; that’s the absolute truth.

It sucks.

And its cells keep stubbornly replicating harder and faster than my wishes on lashes and ladybugs can fly. And it sucks the joy and the freedom and the energy out of my friends.

Cancer is an angry, aggressive, harsh vacuum. A black hole that targets the gentlest and most generous amongst us. And so very often in my life, it’s targeted women. Women who have nurtured and loved and saved and sacrificed. Grandmothers, mothers, teachers, and friends. My grandmother, my best friend’s mother, my two dear teacher friends. They’ve all battled or are battling cancer.

And my wishes all seem to fall flat. And make me question my faith.

Even my more traditional prayers –long and devout and completely dedicated to destroying the wide, gaping mouth-of-a-black-hole-on-Satan’s-backside that IS cancer — seem not to have the stamina to soar and succeed against this vile foe.

But there’s got to be a way to defeat it. There just has to be.

My physician daughter is currently doing cancer research. She is AIKA-deep in clinical trials and focus groups and data pulls and cross-discipline conferences. She is a part of an army of physicians all over the world who are currently spelunking Satan’s arsehole, searching for ways to destroy its ability to suck.

And I know this war has been waged for decades. But I know that we’ve got to be getting closer. We just have to be.

And then I think about all those wishes I’ve made. All the ones that HAVE come true. They’ve been positive ones. Focused on love and goals and abilities. They haven’t had any negative words, no Defeat or Destroy or Kill words. They house words like Help and Grow and Love and Learn.

And my evangelical childhood taught me that God helps those who help themselves.  And mankind is working hard to help themselves, my daughter included amongst them. We just need a little more time. Just a little more time to deactivate Satan’s anus, to ratchet down his rectum, to strip mine his sigmoid. To render his sphincter suction-less. The doctors are on this.

So I will refocus my prayers to positivity and light. If a dream is a wish your heart makes, and a wish is a prayer your soul makes, then I wish for Happily-Ever-Afters. No more “Defeat cancer” and “Destroy cancer.” Leave that to the doctors. Now my dandelion mantras and pennies-found prayers will be: “Help us find the way and the truth and the light. Help us find the cure.”

Over and over. And over. Amen.

 

The Metaphysical Majesty and Miracle of Mother’s Love

Last weekend, I attended a wedding full to overflowing with beauty and light and joy and love.

The ceremony was at the top of a rolling Georgia hill just west of Atlanta. Below us, a sweeping expanse of warm wheat fields and rough gravel drives. Above us, a decoupaged sky of chipped gray flakes and tissue paper clouds.  To the side, a small, serene lake. Behind and to the right, a riotous bank of hot pink azaleas. If they’d been gold – and sunflowers – I would’ve sworn we’d been painted into a Van Gogh landscape.

The wedding guests were a celebration of all ethnicities and ages, vocations, and persuasions. Smiles rode faces of chocolate and cream, honey and peach, almond, and espresso.

We were delicious.

And colorful.

And so was our clothing.

We women wore bold patterns and vibrant hues, shoulders bare or swathed in netting or lace or even a random fur stole. Legs were hidden or revealed beneath hemlines full and frothy or sequined and straight.

The men sported less color, wearing standard suits and the occasional tux – save their ties of jewel-toned silk, glittering festively at their necks and chests.

We perched ourselves on the traditional white folding chairs of an outdoor wedding, beneath the swirling pewter sky, and waited for the procession to begin. But then the rain set in.

Rain on your wedding day is good luck — and as the forecast had called for no rain until way after midnight, this was a welcome harbinger, as far as I was concerned. It was only the first (and smallest of signs) that this was a marriage approved of in heaven.

Back in the lodge where the reception would take place — inside the room reserved for the bride and her attendants — Itoro was unphased. She was the calmest bride imaginable. No bridezilla, she. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen her ruffled. Ever.

She’s a med-peds physician who handles life-and-death emergencies with deftness and aplomb. Her smile is sheer sunshine. Her skin is warm gingerbread. And this day was fused with her sweetness and light. A little rain could never dampen it or her spirits. Besides, she reasoned, there was a perfectly good indoor alternative not thirty feet away…

But just as we were prepared to switch locations, the showers ended, the harpist rolled out her harp, and my sister and I pointed our camera phones to the clouds, where a brilliant diamond solitaire had burned through the metallic skies.

It was spectacular. It was magical. And (Good Lord!), it was so, so much more than that! And although we wouldn’t know it for a few minutes more, we were pointing our cameras at the metaphysical majesty and miracle of love. We discovered just how phenomenal as I was fumbling with my iPhone, inspecting the picture for Instagram.

That’s when I noticed it — a spec gleaming just right of center on the groom’s side of the lawn. I looked up and glanced in that direction. Was there foil or metal or something else reflecting the light?

Nothing. Was it dust on my lens maybe?

I wiped the lens clean and turned to my sister, “Look at this,” I pointed. “Is there one in your picture?”

There was. Even rounder and more luminescent than the image I had captured.

“What is that?” we both said at once.

Before describing what exactly it was we saw, let me move back in time for just a moment… to a point nearly nine years ago when the bride was a senior at UGA and lost her mother to breast cancer. They had been close. Closer than close. As you can imagine, it was a time of heartbreak, a time of tremendous difficulty. Yet, Itoro persevered.

Her mother had a doctorate in social work, and she became Itoro’s spiritual mentor. She inherited her desire to serve others, to touch their hearts and souls with wisdom and tenderness.

Itoro talked about that period of loss during her reception toast. She testified how God has never forsaken her, even in her darkest days. There, in her time of need, she explained, God sent her a series of mothers – not to replace her own (that could never happen), but to bring love and help soothe the empty ache she felt inside. She called the names of seven women in attendance, my sister and I among them, and asked us to stand.

I’m here to tell you — I may have cried. You know the kind of cry – the surprised, nose-clasped-in-your-hands, jaw-quivering type of cry. Itoro couldn’t have blessed me more. There’s no way.  And it was then I understood the magnitude of what Jo Jo and I had seen. And why.

So back to the lawn and the iPhones and the metaphysical majesty I referenced a bit back…

I have uploaded the image because you all need to see this to believe it. And even then, I will have Naysayers and Doubting Thomases.  But, please — Believe.

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Take a look at the beams of God-Love spilling out of the clouds and bathing the ceremony site in blessings. Note the light pooling on the surface of the lake. Note the shafts and pillars of peace flaring from the newly-parted heavens. See the glory of the fuzzy, new growth backlit on the lanky trees. And finally, there to the left of center in the mossy-brown nap of the lawn, note the orb. The shimmering, blue-green roundness of an angel orb. The metaphysical majesty and miracle of love. And not just any love. Maternal Love.

Don’t be ridiculous, you say. It is nothing more than burnished dust, pollen caught in sunlight, a spec on the lens.

And I say, look again. And hear me. That spec of dust on my lens, as you call it, is on TWO separate photos taken from TWO different cameras in TWO different locations taken at the exact same time. And those two different cameras were being held by two different women — women who love Itoro like one of their own. And I believe that her mother knows and understands our love for her daughter. And that is why she showed herself to us.

That is no dust spec. That is Itoro’s mother — arriving just in time for the ceremony to commence.

I explained that Jo Jo and I didn’t understand just how spectacular a phenomenon we had captured on camera until later, and that is quite true. We knew and understood at once what we had in our pics. But it wasn’t until I showed my husband and he suggested I scroll my Live Photo back to see for sure if what we were seeing was something more than simply refracted light that we truly understood.

And so, I did — but not until our drive home from the wedding. It was then that I opened my photos and revisited the shot.

And there, in the enclosed cabin of a Ford F150, as the forecasted rain finally had its way with us, tapping on the rooftop and the hood, that we finally witnessed the metaphysical majesty of maternal love in flight. She floats – and at times, jets – from the celestial window there in the clouds. We watch her hover, taking stock of the surroundings, the wedding guests, the rugged cross at the altar where her daughter will soon marry her love. And then we watch as she takes her rightful place as Mother of the Bride, settling on the top rung of the first chair of the first row of the bride’s side of the ceremony.

Behold, the metaphysical majesty of maternal love. I have uploaded the video — on a loop. Watch it over and over and over again. May this beautiful angel orb visiting her daughter on her Big Day bless you as much as it has blessed us.

 

 

The Travesty and Tragedy of IVF Clinic Negligence: The Impossibility of Justice

Babies. I don’t know that there is a subject that tweaks the heartstrings and fuzzes up the solar plexus quite like babies. Just the thought of tiny wriggling newborns gets us all giddy with promise and potential. We thrill to the touch of their tiny fingers and toes, their tufted, downy crowns, their milk-mottled necks. We cradle them in our arms; they cradle our legacy in their limbs.

Four years ago, this past week, Mike and I brought our own downy-crowned, milk-mottled newborns home from the NICU. And we’ve been caring for and corralling our twin bundles of rollicking, unequivocal energy and joy ever since.

We owe it all to the generosity of the universe — and a top-notch IVF team.

Because it was five years ago, this month, that Mike and I sat down to meet with our newly- acquired fertility specialist to learn all the ins and outs of “test tube” baby making: the belly and booty shots, the ovary stimulation, the egg extraction, the cup deposits, the petri dish insemination, the embryo transfer. All of it.

Talk about exciting.

And daunting.

Daunting because I was about to do from-scratch motherhood all over again at forty-seven. I’d already raised two daughters successfully into adulthood (no small task); yet here I was again, preparing myself mentally – and physically (hence the fertility specialist) — to bake up a couple more.

And daunting because the odds were not necessarily in our favor.

Now the first thing I recall about that initial meeting is the vast, heavy, wooden desktop in the doctor’s office. The surface of that desk seemed to me a small-scale representative of the hard, formidable expanse that must be crossed to make Mike’s and my dream of parenthood together come true.

But luckily, there on the other side sat Dr. Perloe himself – frothy white curls, cropped close, and eyes twinkling behind clear lenses. He instantly put us at ease.

But he didn’t mince words either, when he gave us the facts. The fact that my eggs were too old to consider for our IVF procedure. The fact that using a donor’s eggs could cost us as much as a compact car or a midsize sedan, depending. The fact that the procedure was no guarantee, but the odds were greatly increased if we followed his protocol precisely: multiple medical and psychological exams; donor candidate selection; numerous supplemental vitamins and hormones using ingestions, injections and suppositories; and time and patience — lots and lots of time and patience.

Our success depended on it. Our success demanded it.

We signed a contract to do our part. The contract also specified that our clinic would do its part.

We never considered otherwise. Events in the news this past month suggest perhaps we should have.

Thank heavens, Dr. Perloe and his staff are consummate professionals and we never had a need to worry. Mixing babies for couples with fertility issues goes beyond their life work. It is their passion. And they do it with compassion. And with contracts.

Those two qualifiers — compassion and contracts — ensure that they would never, ever risk a patient’s hard work, dedication, financial and emotional investment, and (most important of all), eggs or embryos. Never.

The procedure is risky enough as it is.

The IVF success rate for a woman over 40 is between 13-18%. A donor egg increases those chances to 35% per embryo. Transferring twin embryos gives slightly more favorable odds, procuring a 55-65% success rate that one embryo will take. With a chance for twins at 30-40%.

Now I’m no mathematician (far from it – despite being the daughter of a physicist), but I do understand that even when hedging my bets with donor eggs and a double-embryo transfer, there was absolutely no guarantee we would find success – especially on the first try.

But success, we found. On the very first cycle, too. And with both embryos.

It was an absolute miracle. Without a doubt.

But the miracle was brought to fruition through the hard work and dedication of our IVF team – the physicians, embryologists, nurses, technicians, and Mike and me. We were all in it together, working hard and following our contract to the letter. We dotted every egg and crossed every petri dish.

Again, I reiterate that the one thing that was never considered when we rolled the dice, said our Hail Marys, and took our gamble on IVF was that our clinic would be negligent.

But a month ago this week, a fertility clinic in Ohio was just that: grossly negligent. There were issues with a cryogenic tank that housed microscopic miracles, the frozen eggs and embryos of thousands of prospective parents. Somehow, the built-in failproof — the remote alarm system that would notify employees if temperatures began to climb — had been turned off.

As a result, that tank — a tank that housed a total of 4000 eggs and embryos– rose to temperatures that left all 4000 nonviable.  4000 hopes and dreams, 4000 Hail Mary passes, 4000 double or nothing bets, 4000 potential babies… all lost.

I’m up close and personal with the IVF process that these heartbroken families went through. I understand their hopes, their dreams, their financial and emotional investments. I understand their courage, their fear, their gamble.

But I am not up close and personal with their loss. The emotional cost is unfathomable. I can’t imagine it. I don’t even know where to begin. That reality is too harsh, too brutal, too gut-wrenching. There is too much frustration and betrayal and agony and pain for my mind to go there. It slams shut at the thought.

IVF is a wild, whirling roulette wheel. The odds are frightening. A world-class clinic makes the risk worth it. Still, it’s a scary bet.

Wannabe parents willingly take bold risks at steep odds because babies are the jackpot. Babies. Our tiny-fingered, downy-crowned, milk-mottled legacies. We will do almost anything humanly possible to bring them into this world.

These parents in Ohio did just that.

This clinic in Ohio did not.

This clinic was anything but. It is a tragedy and a travesty.

The harm done is irreparable. The resources lost are irreplaceable. The crime committed is unforgivable.

And as the lawsuits stack up, the cases are nearing class-action status. But how do you put a price on hearts broken? On families fractured before they’ve begun? On entire legacies lost?

How is justice ever to be found? How?

It can’t be done.

Mother-Daughter Dynamic Duo: Shine a Life on Cindy and Meghan

I have an artist friend. She is quiet and still as mountains in moonlight. She is layered in the wisdom of the natural world. Her soul ripples when you speak with her. She receives you. She hears you. Actively.

Her hair is scalloped shale, flecked with silver, and her cheekbones are high, whittled planes. She has deep-set eyes and a deep-seated soul.

And she fills this world with rich, buttery warmth.

I can’t even remember the first time I met her. I’ve known her for over half my life. But I do remember her impact on me. How I felt instantly calm and at home. How I didn’t need to fill any silences or put on any airs. Because she is peace. She is acceptance. She is serenity and space. I feel settled in her presence. And loved.

And I admire her for these ways and for so many more.

I admire her for the way she lives her life, loves her child, and lives her art. I don’t know if I know anyone else like her. I don’t see her often, but when I do, I am reminded of what I aspire to be.

She is my soul mentor. She is who I want to be when my soul grows up. And her name is Cindy.

Cindy makes jewelry – handcrafted pieces of spiritual energy. And when I wear her stuff, I can feel the pulse of the cosmos in concert with mine. And it is sheer magic.

And it makes me want to know what she knows. I want to know her secrets. How she lives her passion and creates her world. Because I want to do it, too. I want my art to reflect my spirit and to pulse in concert with the universe. I want to fill this world with buttery warmth.

That’s what I want for my art.

And the way she loves her child — with a fierce and gentle love that listens lightly or moves mountains. She is soft and hard and silence and storm. She is Mother Nature, and she can be unruffled or unleashed.

And this magic mama has wielded an incredibly accomplished daughter.

And I want that, too. That kind of motherhood. That kind of energy. That kind of quiet.

Let me tell you about her daughter — her quirky, cat-like, wisp of a daughter: She has the high cheekbones and deep soul of her mother, but she is absolutely her own woman. And her name is Meghan.

I had the distinct pleasure of being Meghan’s girl scout leader in elementary and middle school, and her Brit and AP Lit teacher in high school., but it is I who was led and I who was taught by this slip-wisp of wonder and whimsy.

She is an artist, too, but she writes. Oh, my, how she writes! Her words are whispers, powerful whispers, that float out and settle next to you on your couch, encouraging you to find the magic in the world — whether it is the vaulting landscape of a national park or the purring kitten at your elbow. She prompts you to feel and to hear and to see miracles in all their myriad forms.

Her essays and blogs are the metaphysical equivalent of condensed orange juice. They are small slices that encompass ALL the flavors, ALL the energy, ALL the power of living life to the fullest.

This mother/daughter duo are gypsies, unfettered and unphased by society’s demand for conformity. They dance down the path less chosen. In the moonlight. In the moment.

They’ve tapped into the inner sanctums of transcendental living, prophets of essence and art. One hikes through the world with a sleeping bag and journal. The other hunkers down with soft metals and gemstones. Both spin ordinary into extraordinary.

And both inspire me.

I don’t see either of them often, but when I do – at a summer concert down at the railroad tracks, at a little shop down under the bridge — I feel restored.

They are both my spiritual mentors. They are who I aspire to be.

(Visit Cindy’s Lunatique Whimsical Jewelry page on Facebook and find you some handcrafted pieces of spiritual energy to wear  ‘round your own neck and wrist!) 33B90F41-1181-4F76-8A3E-8EA5A907D689

Active Shooter: The Phrase That’s Getting Way Too Close for Comfort

Active shooter. I hear the phrase way, way too often.

My husband’s school had an active shooter drill yesterday. My daughter’s hospital had an armed gunman rob the cafeteria on Tuesday night.

And then last night, an active shooter killed himself and another, and injured a third in a UAB hospital on the second floor.

The second floor is the O.R.

Three of my daughter’s best friends and med school roommates just happen to be surgical residents at UAB: one, ortho; another, ENT; a third, neuro. All three perform procedures at that satellite hospital.

In the O.R.

The thing about surgical residents – and I guess all residents in nearly every medical program — is that the doctors rotate between a whole group of satellite hospitals, making it difficult for family and friends to keep up with which physical location a specific physician is at during any given month – or sometimes week or even day.

This UAB Highlands Hospital shooting left me and my own daughter very rattled. Very. We were both so worried for the three young doctors we know and adore. I can’t even imagine being the parent of one of them and not knowing if he or she were at that location that night. Especially because when surgeons are in the OR, they are cut off from all communication. Therefore, it might be hours before a mom would know if her child was safe or not. (The very reason I heard about the shooting was because the mom of one of Caitlin’s roommates posted a live update online, asking for prayers.)

So I prayed and texted and called and prayed some more. Until I heard back from my daughter who finally heard back from all her friends. Thankfully, each was safe and sound and at other locations.

Still.

There were other friends and families out there who learned that their loved ones were not okay. And that is absolutely not okay.

And the entire scenario played out like something out of Grey’s Anatomy. Very, very much like something Shonda Rhimes already wrote and produced years ago.

Only it happened last night. And it was real.

Real gunshots, real lockdown, real medical professionals shot – not just actors playing them on tv. There were even electrical outages. And emergency surgeries on the spot. With cell phones for light. Heroic measures were taken. Ortho surgeons performed trauma surgery. On the scene. Trauma surgeons tagged in.

This was the stuff of sound stage and scriptwriting, not real life.

But it was. It is.

This is the America of the twenty-first century. Where every day we hear more stories of gun violence in more and more places: schools, hospitals, offices, streets, restaurants, theaters, concerts, churches.

The locations vary, but the people and results are the same: disgruntled, mentally unstable individuals shooting bullets into people. People of all ages, all colors, all religions, all political views, all walks of life. People who support gun rights and people who support gun control. People who in minutes become victims, become patients, or worse, become bodies.

What will it take for us to finally DO something about all these victims, all these bodies, all this senseless death?

And I’m not one of those people who believe guns don’t have a place in America. I’m not one to demand guns be taken away.

But I do believe there should be limits to the number of weapons people have in their homes. And I do believe that all weapons (particularly hand guns) should be in gun safes. And I do believe those gun safes should be mandatory. And I do believe that the age limit for buying ANY gun should be raised to twenty-one. And I do believe there should be rigorous mental health screenings prior to the purchase of any guns. And I do believe that if a person exhibits risky behavior and unsound judgement (including drunk driving and aggravated assault arrests), that their mental health should be reevaluated.

What I do NOT believe is that we should add more guns. I do NOT think people should be allowed to stockpile weapons. I do NOT think we should arm teachers (I am a teacher, and in my expert opinion, I am here to say that would be a serious mistake.) I do NOT think we should arm churchgoers. Or allow guns in bars (heaven help!) or have open carry permits (that’s just inviting trouble!).

We do NOT need modern-era vigilantes who think they are gun experts because “I’ve been around them all my life” or because somebody has attended a three-hour gun safety course or because they’ve been offered paid incentive by the POTUS to carry a firearm. I don’t want any of these people in charge of my personal wellbeing. I do NOT believe that the answer is more guns.

All of what I’ve said makes sense to me, though I’m no expert on guns and gun violence. But I do know that if we keep staying the course, we will keep stacking the corpses.

Something’s gotta give here in these oh-so-un-United States. Here in the land of the free and the home of the semi-automatic weapon. Here in the land of the brave who hide behind gun barrels. Here in the land where we have more guns than citizens (and we’re losing more people every day, but don’t seem to be losing a single gun), something’s gotta give.

The UAB shooting really hit home for me last night.

It’s a terrifying time to be a mother.

It’s also a terrifying time to be a teacher. And a student. And a theater-goer. And a church member. And a shopper. And a jogger. And a… well, you get the picture.

It’s just a terrible time to be an American.

 

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