It’s Thanksgiving week — a week for gratitude and gatherings, and in our house, a week of five family events full of food. Five. And of those five, three are packed to overflowing with our football family.
And for that, I am so very thankful.
#1– because I love them.
And #2– because that means we’re still in the playoffs — Round 3, the quarterfinals.
Today, we hosted a roster-load of boys for lunch after practice — my husband’s position players and the ones I’ve taught in my classroom. It’s becoming a Thanksgiving tradition.
My heart bursts with love and pride for these boys and the program that guides and goads them through the myriad sacrifices football demands. These boys are called to this sport. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t do it. It’s just too tough, too grueling.
But these players have embraced the grind. And I’m thankful they have because they make my life so much fuller and richer as a result.
Pouring some love into them by way of lasagna is my attempt to give back to these hard-working, hard-fighting boys. They’re honestly some of my favorite humans in all the world.
Some are dark-skinned and some are light-skinned, some are freckled and some are fair. Some have mullets, others buzz cuts; some have high fades, others ‘fros.
A few drive pickups, a couple, clunkers, a good many catch rides from the rest. They are random parts offense, mostly-parts defense, and a couple parts playing both ways.
They come from all walks of life and from all parts of town… and they’ve all taken up residence in my heart.
Today, this mixed crew of kiddos sang karaoke in our basement, shot some really bad pool, played backyard football, and consumed three entire lasagnas, six loaves of garlic bread, four dozen chocolate chip cookies, a pan-and-a-half of red velvet brownies, and 64 bottled waters. Oh, and two —count them, TWO — ate some salad. (Their mothers are insanely proud right now.)
These boys have big appetites and big dreams.
And I see every last one of them scoring those dreams. I really do. Because they work harder at life than I ever dreamed of working at their age.
They’re something special. Like, really special.
And there’s nothing more satisfying for me as a mom, teacher, and coach’s wife than seeing a bunch of really big boys I love dearly fill up their plates and fill up their bellies.
Today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted in roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it reminded me of my grandmother.
Not because she used to bake blackberry jam cake. (She didn’t.) Nor because she loved to bake at all. (She didn’t.) There was only one cake she ever made, and she made it every fall for Thanksgiving — a German Chocolate Layer Cake, triple-stacked to heaven and beyond. It defied natural laws.
Baking my own triple layer cake this morning somehow conjured up my grandmother’s spirit. Out of nowhere, a warm fragrant memory slipped in — a peppery whiff of Scotch snuff amid baking layers — and I was instantly transported back. Back into the warm half-circle spotlight of her bifocals, where she peered up at me with love and adoration… and then demanded I write down a select few of her stories.
Yup. Demanded. And Grandma always gets her way — even from beyond the grave. (Compromise was never her middle name.)
And she really was quite the storyteller — I like to think that’s where I get my passion for words — and her tales were always tall. As impossibly tall as her German Chocolate Layer Cake. She told some doozies, but there was always truth in the pudding, er, batter… batter thick and sweet and loaded with flavor.
Her stories infused every room in her small house. They found you in every corner. You couldn’t escape them. Through the darkness of night, she was sitting on your mattress while you slept, telling you a story. Through the closed bathroom door, you were sitting on the toilet while you shat, she was telling you a story. No exaggeration.
Her stories were a never-ending narrative. I’d heard them a thousand times. I thought I could recite them backwards. They were a constant. Like a beating heart. Always there. Always.
Until they weren’t.
I took them for granted. I tuned them out. I never wrote them down. I really wish I’d recorded them, old cassette ribbon winding like stretched caramel from one receptacle to another to help me transcribe her words from one era into another, today. Alas, I did not.
But this past summer, my family celebrated her oldest son — my Uncle Pal’s — 80th birthday. My two aunts and my father were there, too, rounding out her initial genetic contribution to this world.
The four sat atop a green, overstuffed sofa and held court, flipping through old pictures and regaling the second and third generations with Grandma’s tales of our Appalachian roots.
Most of the stories I recalled immediately… their familiar cadence returning to me like skip rope chants learned in my childhood:
My grandma the buxom beauty — her breasts swelling so large when she contracted mumps at twelve that they never returned to what she considered a respectable size. She and her sister Margaret would mash them tightly in scarves, trying to achieve the ideal body image of her age — flat-chested flapper girl — to no avail.
My grandma the axe murderer — her one and only victim, a Harley Hog my dad bought knowing she hated them. Her brother had almost died on one; her son would not have the same opportunity. The Hog died instead, a quick, violent death from hatchet-strike to the fuel tank. Dad wept as his full-fendered baby girl bled out in front of him… the original chopped Harley.
My grandma, the exile — sent in her early twenties to country music legend Mama Maybelle Carter’s house, her childhood friend and neighbor. My great grandfather sent her away to keep the clambering boys away from the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in five Virginia counties. (Humility was also not her middle name.) Grandma spent an entire summer dancing the Charleston, little June Carter running between her flashing legs while Mama Maybelle scratched her guitar.
Keeping Grandma away from the boys worked for a while, but she finally managed to run off and marry the love of her life at the ripe old age of 25 — an old maid by Appalachian standards. Grandpa was years younger than she was, also unheard of in that time period. (I guess I get that from her, too.)
My aunts and uncle also told us a few tales I’d maybe heard, but had long since forgotten.
Like the seven-foot tall distant relative named Pleasant who was so small when he was born they could fit his head in a tea cup, and who slept in a Singer sewing machine drawer next to his parents’ bed. Pleasant grew up to be large and in charge, and was famous for once throwing a man out a second-story speak easy.
I also heard about an ancestor who, at 98-years young, could stand and do a somersault in the air. Backwards. That’s a back tuck, by the way. Cheerleaders drool for that kind of skill. He could do it at 98. Unfortunately, no one remembered his name.
But a whole lot of other names were remembered in my uncle’s living room this past July — names summoned from my grandmother’s looping cursive, scrawled in her black-papered memory book. Names like Viney and Velma, Tom and Tate, Willie and Chapman, and Emmy and Spencer, and Pleasant, of course. (I kind of wish I could have another kid, simply so I could name him or her Pleasant. No, scratch that. I’ll leave that up to my girls…)
Those names, written in Grandma’s looping penmanship, lassoed us all and pulled us back — back to our childhoods and beyond. Back to the crags and coal of the Virginia mountains. Back to the looping, sprawling deep-settled roots of our family tree.
The tree itself juts high and strong these days, with limbs spread far and wide. From London to Phoenix, her descendants are scattered like leaves in haphazard drifts of color and contrast in a beautiful, autumnal haze. We, indeed, have a glorious family tree. And her stories — our stories — deserve to be told.
* * *
Yes, today I baked up a blackberry jam cake — a triple layer one, coated in caramel, and dusted with roasted pecans. And for some nutty reason, it conjured my grandma, who channelled my fingers and hijacked my blog — to write about an Appalachian beauty with a penchant for layer cake and a story or two thousand to tell.
Where did the mama go who laughed and sang and read stories and played with her children?
Where did the mama go who had patience and a smile and the ability to let all the demands of the world melt away and focus only on her precious pint-size people?
Where did the mama go who could create one-of-a-kind birthday parties and scavenger hunts and toilet-paper-cardboard-exoskeletons-with-pipe-cleaner-antennas?
Where did the mama go who volunteered as room mom and decorated cupcakes like coral reefs and had seventeen girls sleepover in the living room in a snowstorm?
Somewhere along the way, she got more than a little bit lost. She’s a quarter century older than she was with her girls. And her patience and reserves aren’t what they used to be.
She’s vanished, and I really need to find her again. I miss her.
Not only do I miss her readiness to drop it all and be present in the moment… I miss the fact that there aren’t so many moments left for her to squander. And squandering precious moments is one of my biggest worries. I have no time to waste. There’s so much that has to be done…
… between parenting and teaching and grading and gifted cert classes and football and laundry and trying to find time to write because it’s the only bit of something I actually do for myself…. it leaves very little time for fun and games. And I don’t like that about myself. I’m way too serious these days.
The Joker would not approve. And I don’t think my boys do either.
But all the things are pulling at all my moments. And the only common denominator besides parenting between when my girls were little and now my boys are little is the laundry. Everything else didn’t exist.
And neither did the Me who is Mama now.
I am the new version. And new versions aren’t always what people want. It’s not what I want.
Take the new and improved Butterfingers candy bar. Nobody wants them. Everybody loves the classic. Supposedly there’ll be more cocoa and milk and no more hydrogenated oils. It’s all about quality. But nobody is happy about it.
My new and not-so-improved motherhood — nobody wants t it either. There’s definitely more worry lines and deadlines and no more happy-go-lucky moods. It’s all about quantity. And nobody is happy about it.
I scramble to make everything fit. I cram and pack the moments full. Too full. Till everything bursts from the pressure. Me. The boys. Mike. All of us.
How can I fix this? How can I do better? Explode less, love more? Dear Lord, I wish I knew. I’m at a loss. I’m losing daily.
With the girls, I was a stay-at-home mama with time on my side. Neither is true now. What is still true is I love my kids — grown and growing — with all my heart, and I love being a mom, and I want to be a good one.
So how can I pack more into each moment without packing more into each moment? I’ve got to figure it out. How to do what I’ve been doing without doing what I’ve been doing. It is a paradox so simple and so hard. And I don’t have the answers.
Motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always. Especially right now. The boys have hit a tough age. Somebody said the other day they love the five-year-old boy year, and I almost choked on my incredulity.
This Five-Year-Old Boy Year has been flipping HARD. A lot of it has to do with how there’s TWO of them and all. And there’s kindergarten. And homework. And they’re playing flag football. On weeknights. So they’re getting to bed late. Plus, they’re growing like gangbusters and burning through all their fuel and they’re HANGRY as H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
Have mercy! — which is what I need.
And what they need. And I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but they deserve it. So I’m going to find the solution to the paradox. I’m going to pack more moments full of my boys’ big brown eyes and wide open smiles and kind, generous hearts. Even if it means squandering the moments of all the other things.
Because motherhood demands sacrifice. And motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always.
Nothing is more important than my children’s emotional and physical well-being. All four of them.
Now, I’m not superstitious. As Michael Scott says, “I’m just a little stitious.” Signs are my big thing. I see them everywhere.
Some people roll their eyes at me, but me, I’m a believer. And Friday, all the signs pointed toward a big win for our Canes. All because Parker lost his first tooth. On the football field. That’s a significant milestone met on a significant influence in our family’s lives. No way I was missing that sign.
It all went down during a Cartersville Primary School pep rally. The Senior football players, cheerleaders, and band spent their first and second periods playing with the littlest Canes, fostering that Hurricane heritage of family and pride we love so much. Our community is something special, for sure.
Parker no doubt got so caught up in spending time with his favorite football players that he didn’t even notice his tooth — the wiggly worm on a line one he’d been so proud of — slipped from that line during some random scuffle. Never to be seen again.
At some point, Partker noticed he’d “scratched his lip” and went to tell the teacher his mouth was bleeding. That’s when the discovery was made. Try as they might, nobody could find that tooth. Nobody. It was a little tribute offered up to the football gods, I guess. And I was all about it.
He left it all on the field, just like the big boys were going to do that night. But more on that in a minute…
After a little trip to the nurse for a tooth fairy necklace — where an explanatory note instead of an incisor was gently tucked inside — Parker was sent on his way. When I picked him up that afternoon, he proudly displayed the necklace and the gap along his gums.
Cue game night and the toughest game of our Canes’ season to date: Cartersville vs Sandy Creek. Both teams were undefeated and several “experts” picked against us for an upset.
Not so the football gods. And not so, our fellas.
Our coaches put one particularly cocky pair of internet know-it-alls on permanent loop in the locker room and our boys fed off it. “Sandy Creek by 30,” said the naysayers. “Bank on it,” they barked.
Our boys are Hurricanes. Hurricanes are fueled by atmospheric conditions. We grew stronger and harder with each successive loop. The players sucked those words into their storm force and rolled with it. Their vision was clear. Their eye on the prize.
Out above the gridiron, the sky was brandishing a hurricane warning in purple and pink, with a hint of gold. Purple and gold are our school colors and Friday was our annual Pink-Out night. I could clearly read my second sign of the day.
The football gods were smiling in our favor. They appreciated the physical sacrifice of our players and coaches up to this point (along with my son’s physical offering that morning).
Now it wasn’t an easy battle, especially in the beginning. Talk about a back-and-forth shootout! But our storm surge is nothing, if not driven and complex. Halfway through the second quarter, the Canes took what would become a strong and decisive lead.
Never underestimate the power and focus of a Hurricane.
So this past Friday was one for the memory and record books. Parker lost his first tooth at five years old out on the football field, and the Purple Hurricanes won their 56th consecutive regular season game.
PTFD. Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not.
But I know it’s a real thing for me. I suffer from it. I suffer through it. Every day.
And in no way am I trying to compare myself to those individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have served our country or survived a violent crime or a natural disaster. No way whatsoever. The fear they suffered… the fear they still suffer… the demons triggered… the hell they went through… I ache for them.
I know mine is no where near the same.
But I do have extreme fear and irrational anger and horrific flashbacks. And I live in the South. In the Bible Belt. Where faith is everywhere and gets tossed around like holy confetti.
And for a person like me… it’s terrifying.
PTFD. I hate it. I hate that I can’t walk into a sanctuary without feeling a visceral ache in my solar plexus. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took the boys to cotillion this summer in the basement of a church and I fought back demons the entire orientation.
I hate that if somebody sends me a text asking me what they can specifically put on their prayer list for me this week my pulse surges and I kind of want to vomit.
I hate that if a friend writes a bible study, I can’t read it. I want to. I really, really do. I’ll read anything else. But not that. I can’t. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too likely to have my scars crack open and flood my brain with darkness.
When folks invite me to church, I know they’re being kind. I know they’re being genuine. I believe they are true believers. I believe they aren’t trying to control me. Or convert me. (Maybe.)
I know these things. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach. I still feel queasy and manipulated. It comes from early and aggressive brainwashing. And it has ruined me for life.
I’m a believer. I am. But I am not a believer in organized religion. It won’t get its talons in me ever again. I’ve been eviscerated once. It won’t happen again. I’ve seen the corruption of power. Or the power of corruption. I don’t know which I believe it was… or is. But I believe it’s not for me.
It was rammed down my throat and up my innards until I was raw and wracked and ruined for all eternity.
There’s a John Donne poem, “Batter my Heart, Three-Person’d God” that I first encountered in college. It’s all about being ravished by God — being bent and broken and overthrown completely by the Holy Trinity. And that’s all well and good.
But when you’ve been overthrown and ravished by unholy persons of God, bent and broken and burned by an unholy tribe of them, then that’s another thing entirely.
Now I’ve entered church sanctuaries in the years since my escape. Of my own free will. But I have to be the one who initiates it. Who opens myself up to the possibility. But I taste fear and shame every time. And I never last long.
I read a book a few years back… A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an incredibly dense and discerning book about (among other things) a man who was sexually abused in the most brutal and blasphemous ways as a child — and then again as a young adult. Anyone he loved and trusted in his youth raped and assaulted him. His body and brain were bludgeoned by something meant to be so sweet and sacred.
From there on out, he could never have sex again. He tried. He found love. He loved deeply. Profoundly. But he couldn’t have sex. The trauma was too deep. Too damaging.
I can relate. But in terms of organized religion. A church building. A sanctuary (oh, the irony is not lost on this English major), I just can’t do it.
I know Love. I know Christ. But that building… that congregation… that coming together as one.
Nope. Not for me.
So if you’re one of my good friends, my dearly beloved and oh-so-very-dear friends — I love and treasure and value you so very, very much. I do. So please understand if I don’t respond to your prayer request request or I don’t read your parable or I don’t… well, I just don’t.
Even though I really, really, really, REALLY want to be able to — please don’t take it personally. Please.
It’s Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. It’s self-preservation. And it’s the devil.
It is autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar tells us. My car thermometer, on the other hand, says it is 93 degrees at 6:30 pm. We’ve had more than eighty days of 90+ temperatures in North Georgia this year. Enough is enough already! But supposedly it’s autumn, and that means it’s officially my favorite season.
I love fall for so many reasons. For pumpkin patches and apple orchards, for candy corn and nutmeg and cloves, for gemstone leaves and front porch scarecrows. Albert Camus proclaimed autumn “a second spring, when every leaf’s a flower.” And I tend to agree. I mostly love fall because it symbolizes new beginnings in all sorts of ways for my family: a new school year, a new football season. Fall is my absolute favorite!
Fall is the season of new school years: new faces, new potential, new energy, new passion. And even though we’ve already been in school for over seven weeks (this is the South, after all – we go back before the sunburns have even had a chance to peel), we still call this fall semester, and we’re still feeling fresh (sort of) when the autumnal equinox officially strikes. I have one-hundred- eighty sophomore students sitting in my seats and eager to learn (sort of). And while the challenges are great and the resources are slim, I still have a tremendous reservoir of love for my students and passion for my subject. So fall is my favorite!
And fall is the season of football, the game that seasons our family with a long, strong, complicated marinade. It is flavored with dynamic combinations, unexpected ingredients, raw emotions and daring outcomes — all served up on a spiral slice to robust and critical crowds. It is the sport that leaves me absolutely spellbound and absolutely spent… a complete and utter glutton for the punishment and pain, the pleasure and pride that makes up the season. As a football family, we wouldn’t want it any other way. So fall is my favorite!
And fall is the season for late afternoon drives in the countryside. Living in the country gives the boys and me ample opportunity to witness the glory that is fall: golden soybean fields, corn crops with buzz cuts, and barnyard nurseries – the farm animals are having their fall babies!
We pass a menagerie of livestock on our way home from school every weekday, and I swear, almost any given pasture on almost any given day has a new baby to ogle. Parker and Tate providing me with a running commentary of each fascinating new discovery. We pass a horse farm, a multitude of cow pastures, and even a field full of mama sheep and their newborn lambs. I bet there’s a dozen in that pen — little, bleary clouds scattered sleepily across the grass and under the pines. My breath catches at the sight of them every single time.
And fall is the season for hay bales. I’m here to say that I never knew how compelling hay bales could be until I had twin boys with a hearty devotion to tractors. There’s been a steady harvest in recent weeks. From one field to the next, the same scene has run its course and the boys never tire of talking about them. I dread the day when all of the hay bales are gone. It will be a dark day, indeed.
Fall is the season of long and languid afternoon sun, a sun that leans low to blind drivers and irritate my twins on rides home, a sun that creeps deep inside living room floors to butter bare toes, a sun that catches dust and pollen dancing in its rays for an undeniable reminder of allergy season – as if we needed reminding. The boys’ noses have had snail trails from nostril to lip for weeks now.
Fall is the season of baking treats and making memories. I used to spend hours in the kitchen when the girls were little, crafting fall festival Cake Walk prizes and bake sale bounty. Baking makes me dizzily, freakishly happy. It’s my mother’s fault. She baked a lot when I was a kid, her hair, frosted with highlights (and probably splatters of buttercream frosting, as well), pulled back from her beaming, beautiful face. The world felt warm and wonderful and safe and sound in the sanctity of her kitchen — and I guess somewhere along the way, happiness, beauty, warmth and womanhood all got tangled up with baking for me. So now when I bake, I feel like I’m Wonder Woman on a mission to cure what ails the world, one bundt cake at a time.
I made some banana bread last week, which went with Mike to the football war room, where the guys spend hours working on this week’s game plan. I hope it gave them a little lift in the midst of the Sunday grind. The process of making it and the comforting scent of it gave me one, for sure.
Fall is the season of my grandson Bentley’s birth. The little acorn is a fall fledgling with gangly limbs and translucent skin, who shimmers like wheat fields in the sun when he smiles, and his eyes are brighter than crisp autumn skies. So thanks to Bentley Boo, fall is my favorite!
Finally, fall is the season of change. Colors change, temperatures change, grades and teachers and wardrobes and weather… they all change. And in this hate-filled political climate, I pray that Camus is right. That autumn is a second spring – a season of new beginnings – an opportunity for rebirth. May it baptize us all under the shower of leaves, washing us clean of this long, hot, angry summer of hate and intolerance.
Let clarity and love, humanity and grace shine on us all. May we all feel welcomed and valued, respected and protected in this rapidly unfurling season of change.
In the last two days, I’ve attended three staff trainings that have rattled my teacher’s heart. Human trafficking, suicide prevention, and educating students of childhood trauma. Next week, I’ll sit through some drug awareness training.
The world of public education has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not because the world has changed that much, but because education has quit burying it’s head in the sand.
Used to be, we’d pretend problems like this didn’t exist. Or that they happened in other places. Not our town, not our school, not our student body.
Well, it’s high time we quit saving face and save some lives instead.
Yesterday, I learned from a social worker about girls from our school. Girls who sat in our seats, walked in our halls, and cried in our stalls. Girls who were sold by their mothers, raped by their fathers, enslaved by their friends. Girls who got in debt with their drug dealers and got in bed with strangers. Girls who went to school all day every day, then went home to be raped all night every night by multiple men.
The stories rattled me. My stomach hurt.
The second social worker of the day then told us about the suicide statistics in our community. Our school system is definitely no stranger to suicide. The last couple of years alone, we’ve lost students and former students. But the epidemic is far from over. We heard about high schoolers, middle schoolers, elementary and even primary-aged schoolers battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
The stories rattled me. My heart hurt.
And then today, I attended a conference led by Mississippi teacher Donna Porter and her former student (and gang leader), DJ Batiste. They spoke on creating a culture and climate in the classroom to best serve students who have survived childhood trauma. Trauma like gang violence, child abuse, rape, suicidal thoughts, parental addictions, extreme poverty… to name a few.
There’s a lot of heavy words surrounding these kids molded from trauma, but the word I need to focus on is SERVE.
As a teacher, I have been called to serve kids. I believe it with all my heart. All kids. Even the hard kids. Especially the hard kids. Because nobody else is.
We are their last resort.
But everything about these hard kids is… Hard. They push. They challenge. They try. They drain. They do all the things. All of them. To you.
Because they’re good at it and they know it. They don’t think they can do much of anything else in life, but they know they’re good at that.
So they push you, challenge you, try you, drain you.
But the message today was, never let ’em see you sweat. Instead let them see you care. Find a way to diffuse them and enthuse them. Give them purpose, give them power, give them love.
I have always tried to give my students love. Always. And when they are hard to love, I work even harder than they are to find a way.
But I never thought of giving them purpose and power. At least not beyond giving them an education. Education brings purpose and power, right? That’s what I always assumed. I assumed wrong.
I learned today, that for these kids Reputation is far more important than Education. They would rather buck up and be abrasive than be vulnerable and be saved — even though they want to be saved. They really, really do.
So I’ve got to make a paradigm shift. In them, yes. But also in me.
I’ve got to check my ego and remember it’s not all about me. In fact, with these kids of trauma, it’s got nothing to do with me at all… and everything to do with them. They are hurting. And they need someone to show them there’s hope out there. Hope beyond the hurt. Hope in spite of the hurt.
And I’m not going to get there by teaching them sonnets and syntax. I’m only going to get there by showing them they matter; they have purpose. By teaching the human. Not the subject.
And I need to shift another way, too. Inside our classroom. (Not my classroom, which is how, I have to confess, I’ve always thought of it, but OUR classroom.) And I can make it ours by something as simple as creating jobs. Creating roles for my students. Things like taking attendance, leading the warm up, closing the lesson. Jobs that will take some responsibility off me, and give my students some purpose. A way to take ownership.
Elementary teachers do it all the time. They have line leaders and door holders and electricity technicians. But high school teachers? I hadn’t seen it in action in all my years of teaching.
But it makes sense. Giving students like these — students with no control over their home-life, their pasts, or their present situation — giving them some power, no matter how small, can be incredibly meaningful and incredibly magical.
Honoring students with purpose. Giving students power. It can turn a life around. Truly. So their paradigm shifts. So Education becomes more important than Reputation.
I learned a lot today about guiding students with love and honoring students with purpose. Giving honor, not rewards, brings value and hope into these kids’ lives, DJ explained. “Don’t give students something they can touch. Give them something they can feel.’
My heart rattled one more time. This time, it was my paradigm shifting.
Six years ago last week, Mike and I announced we were pregnant with twins. It was football season, and it was an IVF pregnancy. We’d been practicing safe shots at halftime in random field houses and between parked buses for half the regular season. It was not an easy place to be, but it was definitely a blessed place to be, so we savored and celebrated each and every needle poke in my hindquarters.
After trying for over a year to get pregnant (and knowing at my age it was unlikely without intervention), we’d visited a fertility specialist earlier that spring. Naively, I’d thought we’d start the in-vitro process my next cycle. That way, if all went according to plan, we would be well past the exhaustion, hormone injections, and morning sickness of a first-trimester IVF pregnancy once football season began.
Boy, was I naive.
First off, I was 47. Which meant my cycle was far from predictable, even if it had all been up to me and my eggs… which it wasn’t.
My doc kindly informed me my eggs were dinosaurs and he didn’t do Jurassic fertility. So I would be using donor eggs… and an online site to find our match. Kind of like eHarmony, but for couples looking for open, available ovaries.
Second, IVF takes months to prep and plan for. Months. The game plan is exact and exacting, requiring lots of perfectly-orchestrated moving parts. Her ovaries, my uterus, Mike’s swimmers. This was a team effort. And there was no hurry-up offense.
The process was complicated, timely, expensive, and painstaking. But once we found our donor (anonymously), her ovaries were hyper-stimulated, my uterus was prepped, a couple balls were bobbled (wink wink), and… SCORE! (times two!)
And that’s when the really hard part began on my end. My rear end, that is.
We’re talking needles. Lots of them. And vaginal suppositories. And pills. And time. Lots and lots of time. It was quite the process. All in the midst of football season — our embryo transfer happened scrimmage week.
The nightly shots to my booty were a real pain in my end zone. There was a sharpie-circled bulls eye on each cheek, where Mike took aim. (He’d asked the nurse to draw them during week one, and he’d redraw them every couple days as they began to fade. He didn’t want to miss. My booty is plenty big. There’s no way he would’ve missed.) Those shots bruised and burned and gave me an itchy allergic reaction. My ass was hotter than an August-in-Georgia kickoff. And not in a good way.
And because I had to receive those shots as close to the same time every single night for ten weeks or so, they became an even bigger pain on Friday nights. So we arranged for them to fall between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. Because… halftime.
Away games were hard. At home, I got poked in the floor of my husband’s office on a jacket he chivalrously laid over the spongy, decades-old carpet. But away games…
Away games, Mike would scope out the joint, pregame, looking for a hopefully private (sometimes not-so-much) place for me to drop my drawers so he could thrust a needle into my angry, sharpie-circled buttocks.
I got poked on a striped sofa in an Athletic Director’s office.
I got poked in a dark hallway outside a gym within audible distance of the opposing team’s halftime harangue.
I got poked in the back of a Kia Soul, my legs at a cramped, contorted angle while a sweaty linebacker hunted for his mouth guard in the parking lot nearby. Thank God he knew nothing about the shenanigans a mere ten yards away…
I got poked in the arse so many times, and in so many weird and far-from-wonderful locations, that it’s easy to lose track.
I was a pincushion. But I was pregnant pincushion, so I wasn’t complaining.
Beyond the shots, were the oral medications and vaginal suppositories that turned my undies periwinkle if I forgot my pantie liners. Which I did. A lot. My mind was all floaty and fuzzy from the chemical cocktails doing their job.
There were some days when all of the hormones got to me and I cried. Who am I kidding? They got to me all the time. I cried all the cries, all the time.
I cried on touchdown runs. I cried on Publix commercials. I once cried when I cleaned the ceiling fan and clumpy caterpillars of dust dropped from the blades onto my freshly-washed duvet.
But I really, REALLY cried during the band’s playing of Amazing Grace after every home game. Because the reality of God’s gracious favor hit me like a hurricane every single time.
This pregnancy was happening. This was real. And this was all God. I couldn’t take credit. Nor could my husband or my good doctor.
God kept us pregnant through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and a fortnight of sleeping with ice packs on my chest when it felt like my little linemen were splitting my sternum like a wishbone formation.
So I cried all the cries all the time because I knew and believed in God’s perfect timing.
I was 41 when I met the most amazing football coach. I was 46 when that coach finally threw me a Hail Mary and asked me to be his wife. (But hey, God’s perfect timing…). I was 47 when my fertility team tenderly laid our two precious, perfect, 5-day blastocytes inside my uterus. And I was a monthish shy of 48 when those little linemen burst through my middle in an unplanned C-section just shy of 35 weeks gestation. Absolutely perfect.
So yes, I believe in God’s perfect timing.
Y’all, I am by no means trying to make light of infertility or the expensive and excruciating journey that comes with it — a journey so full of uncertainty and with absolutely no guarantees.
We were incredibly blessed to get pregnant on our first IVF round. Unbelievably blessed. The statistics were not in our favor.
Most women go through an average of 2.7 IVF cycles and experts recommend going through at least three cycles to increase you pregnancy chances. Even then, the success rates fall below 50%.
While the numbers may not sound promising, God’s faithfulness always does. And hearing other people’s stories about fertility treatments helps you feel less alone. Because this is a story so many of us share.
No, there are no guarantees. But there are options.
There are so many generous strangers out there –fertility godmothers, is how I see them — working with God to lend their eggs or their wombs or to give their babies up for adoption. God works in mysterious and perfect ways. None of these journeys are easy. But nothing perfect ever is.
Your blessings may come differently, but they will come. Trust in God’s perfect timing
I recently discovered a little demon that had hidden itself away in my cells, quietly waiting for the perfect time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on my heart. It birthed itself during a quick, two-hour road trip a couple months back.
I thought that demon was long dead… thought nothing I heard about my past could do much damage anymore. I was wrong. Turns out, the demon wasn’t dead, just dormant. And turns out, it could still do a helluvalot of damage.
Ever since, I’ve been working my way through a very hard memory…
Memories. They’re never photographic and never completely accurate. They’re fuzzy and fragmented and colored by our own personal perceptions and perspectives.
This one, I kept buried for a long time. But it bubbled and bloomed under the surface. Time softened it… but in a furry, moldy, sordid, slimy sort of way. But the time has come for it to be dug up. Time to bring it into the light, dry it out, turn it to dust, and blow it away.
And y’all, I’m not talking metaphorical demons here. I was a sixteen-year-old junior when I was told I was demon-possessed.
Now I was a far-from-perfect child. I had a major crush on the butterscotch boy next door; I was writing mysteries with teenage girls with plunging necklines and music minister murderers; and I was failing my Algebra II class. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t demon-possessed. At least, not until that night.
I recall standing in a marble entryway with a bathrobe on my lanky frame and a chip on my shoulder. To my right was a still life painting of cream roses in a shadowy vase. To my left were double oak doors, locked. Before me, my accuser, arms crossed, eyes blazing, telling me the devil was in me. Telling me I was going straight to hell.
That night, a pervasive demon of fear and self-loathing tangled itself up with my youthful defiance and climbed through the dilated pores of my freshly showered skin. To avoid my accuser’s red glare, I focused on the still life instead — the gold ochre roses captured in a burnished vase. Crashing waves of Prussian Blue smashed mercilessly into and around them. Petals broken and fallen. Plunged into oily darkness.
My accuser would remember the scene differently, I’m sure. Would remember the wayward daughter with the rebellious streak and the raging desire. The girl consumed by fire. The girl caught up in the ways of the world. The world caught up in the girl. She needed purging in the worst sort of way.
Funny thing about memories… two people remembering the same incident can have two entirely different accounts of what happened. And it doesn’t make either account less true.
With really difficult memories, the differences and disparities reveal the differences and despair in each individual. And each of us felt them… profoundly.
The facts are straightforward; the truth is not.
The fact is my parents were doing what they absolutely thought best. The fact is they did their best to raise me. The fact is they knew the world to be a dangerous place. The fact is they submerged all of us in strict doctrine and stern dogma to save us.
And the fact is I was a far-from perfect child. I was headstrong and fighting for my life. I did my best to escape them and the cult of domesticity they were raising me in. And I did. I escaped with my newly-planted demons of fear and self-loathing, with an ample serving of defiance, and I went to live with my guardian angel grandmother.
They did their best. And so did I. Those are the facts.
But the truth belongs to each individual — and we are all colored by our pasts. By our truths. And our demons. Even my father.
He confessed to me on that two-hour drive how sorry he was that he sent me to live with my grandmother.
… he was sorry for burdening her heart at her advanced age with a rebellious teenage girl.
Shame and guilt overwhelmed me. That demon of tangled up fear and self-loathing, tinged with teenage defiance tore through my gut in a blaze of ungodly glory. And it refuses to leave.
But then today I found some hope. I read a chapter from Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human, called, “Rewrite Your Story: Memory Lost and Found.” It focuses on facing and excising your demons. Denouncing them as liars.
I took it as a sign. Especially after I soon found this little gem: “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”
So I decided to write out my memory and sing out my sorrow. This demon is no longer allowed to hang out as a devil inside.
So I hope someone out there is listening. I want to be absolved. I need to be absolved. And I want to help absolve others. Because Toni Morrison, the greatest writer of our time, once said something I believe in wholeheartedly: The function of freedom is to free someone else.
I kept her quote taped to my writing desk for years. And now I keep it stapled in my soul.
Today, I share my memory, my song, and my freedom. And I beg you to share yours too.
Share your truth and be saved from the devils breeding somewhere deep in the darkness of your past.