Primary school drop off was a ghost town on Friday morning. So was the toilet paper aisle.
But I would rather the ghost towns be in driveways and aisle-ways than in the hallways of our homes and the alleyways of our hearts.
These are scary times. Every day we hear of more infections, more hospitalizations. The friend two doors down, the principal one county over, the young mother with two sweet littles. The dozens waiting confirmation. The hundreds hosting symptoms.
Every time we check our social media — which is all we can do since this social distancing has been implemented — we see more scary things. Read more scary things.
But perhaps the scariest of all is the vicious political finger-pointing. This virus is targeting us all. Let’s not target each other.
In the past, I’ve been the first to rail against the machine and wag my finger and tongue. But right now, the most important thing for us to do is find our humanity and discard our hate.
We need to band together on our bandwidths, not launch hatred from our laptops.
Italy should be a lesson to us all. How to quarantine, yes. But also, how to love. How to carry on loving one another despite social distancing. In Italy, they’re singing from balconies. Serenading from rooftops.
And we… we can do the same. From our keyboards.
Spread kindness and love via laptop and phone. Share all the puppy pics, the family snapshots, the prayers, the love. Whisper sweet nothings into your friends’ and loved ones’ virtual ears.
Because right now, they are far from nothing. Right now, they’re everything. Because we are running woefully low on Sweetness right now.
My oldest twin boy, five days from six years old, whispered the sweetest little nothing-that’s-everything into my ear yesterday morning.
You said it Parker. And I agree.
Let’s water everyone’s eyes with beautiful things. All the kind, sweet, joyful, loving, prayerful, beautiful things.
All kids ask where babies come from at some point or another. Mine asked this week. Specifically, they wanted to know how they got inside my belly.
I can’t use the old standby I gave the girls at their age… the simplified, poetic generalization about lady parts like flowers and male parts like hummingbirds and springtime pollination.
That whole symbolic sex talk won’t work again this time… because my two sets of children were born twenty-four years apart. And the second set were conceived using no sex whatsoever. Symbolic or otherwise.
Poetic sex is far easier to comprehend than the clinical origins of our twin boys. Instead of birds and flowers, there were needles and meds, and online egg shopping, and paper cups and porn (so I guess there was sex, after all) and petri dishes and plastic tubing.
But there are poetic elements to their story — like how they were conceived in a sterile laboratory. So, irony.
And then there’s the same poetic prelude of how when a mommy and daddy love each other VERY much… (but here’s where it diverges)… they sometimes go shopping for eggs.
So here, boys, is your IVF origin story…
Once upon a time, there was a mother — a mother more autumn than springtime — with older eggs, eggs tired and twisted with age. They were a wee bit too old to hatch more little ones.
But she really wanted siblings for her daughters and progeny for their padre.
She loved her grown girls very, very much. They brought her joy and chaos and laughter and love. And she loved her husband very, very much. He brought her joy and chaos and laughter and love. And she wanted to share more joy and chaos and laughter and love with the world.
She wanted sweet little hands nestled tight in her own once more. And against her cheeks, more soft fuzzy heads of dusk and dandelion fluff.
But those exhausted eggs of hers just didn’t know how to hatch more fuzzy noggins. So she and her mate travelled to a place where workers knew how to coax caviar from crotchety cackle farts. Only this time, they were told, it just couldn’t be done. Her eggs were too ancient. Too cranky. Too tired.
But there are other ways to get babies in your belly, the workers told them.
You can shop for new eggs — perfectly chosen by you and perfectly prepped by us. We have a baby-mixing kitchen, where we blend your new eggs and you bake them up in your belly. It’ll take a little while, though. What do you say?
Well, we said yes. And the eggs we selected did too. (It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things don’t mix up quite right and nobody really knows why. And sometimes fuzzy little noggins don’t hatch from perfectly picked and prepped eggs.)
But these did. Through science and love and magic and miracle.
And six years ago, this month, two leggy lads with fuzzy noggins broke out of my belly and into the light. They said yes. And so did the universe.
And they’ve been spreading joy and chaos ever since.
So there it is. There’s the story of how you boys got in my belly.
No birds, no bees, no storks, no cabbage patch. But plenty of poetry, nonetheless.
My valentines and I went to Waffle House for our special dinner this weekend. I’d seen something on social media about how Waffle Houses everywhere were taking reservations and dimming the lights on Valentine’s Day.
Well, it turns out it wasn’t Waffle Houses everywhere, and it wasn’t necessarily the romantic experience I’d dreamed up. This particular one refused to do the whole reservations thing.
There was no romantic music. No flowers. No candlelight…
But candlelight would’ve been wasted anyways. Because it was broad daylight for our dining experience at 4:30 in the afternoon. The sun was so high in the sky the waitress even raised the sunshades — which gave us a fine view of the carwash across the highway.
And there we sat in the stark reality of our twelve-year relationship — eating short order food at octogenarian hours with kindergarten boys flanking us as they fought over booth or counter service.
They were whiney. I was worn out (from a frenzied half-day full of student excuses about how their essays didn’t print and their late grades shouldn’t count…)
The students lost. And the counter won. Only because I was tired of listening to them. (All of them) Plus the counter was closest. And the waitress was eyeballing us warily, with weary shoulders begging us to make a flipping decision.
So I did.
We sat, Boy… Mom… Boy… Dad… and random-teenaged-towhead-with-his-red-MAGA-hat. Nothing says romance more than MAGA. He was by himself. I rest my case.
The MAGA minor left pretty quickly (not long after Mike sat next to him) and soon it was just Mike and me and the boys. They were in solid kindergarten form, chatting about number patterns and bald eagles and whether or not electronics come from nature and how God is probably a boy because it sounds like a Boy Name.
With our food order delivered, and the restaurant clearly between shifts and empty, save us, all three employees took a break. They sat at the counter adjacent to ours, to play on their phones and eat their eggs and ketchup.
As we sat at the counter, dipping toast in sunny eggs and stirring butter into creamy grits, the boys chattered away and the Waffle House crew cut up in a short-order family sort of way. All was cozy and smelled like hash browns.
And then our waitress opened a video on her phone that shouted, “Hey, you old BITCH!” super loud, and she turned about as splotchy as her short-order cook’s ketchup-clad eggs and begged our forgiveness and we all laughed and laughed about it.
Our boys joined in… without having a clue what they were laughing about. They’d been too busy telling us how penguins camouflage themselves.
“We’re school teachers,” Mike told our horrified waitress. “We hear it all the time.”
“Just now, today,” I reassured — because I’m certain somebody with printer issues and a late grade called me that today.
And then our waitress asked my husband about the football team and her — and our — favorite Clemson Tiger, and told us all about how she waits on his family often and how humble and kind they all are. Then she asked me about the boys and if they were indeed twins and if so, were they identical.
And then I looked out the window and saw a woman — with a bouquet of roses riding shotgun in her sedan and strapped in with a seat belt — talking illegally on her phone while blowing smoke out her cracked window. And as the smoke evaporated into the fly-away spit from the carwash across the way, tiny fluorescent rainbows glinted in the motes of the late afternoon sun.
And I realized how perfect this little Valentine dinner was… a perfect little metaphor of our marriage. Rainbows and roses in the distance, full plates in front of us. And love and laughter all around.
Our marriage is cozy and smells more like coffee and kindergarten carnage, than hash browns, but I am one blessed woman. Married to a man who knows I love syrupy sweet on my waffles, not on overly-expensive grand romantic gestures. (That’s why he proposed to my dog the same time he proposed to me…)
Yes, I am one blessed woman.
Now if all the MAGA hats would just leave, all would be right with the world.
See this beautiful boy living his best life, loving his mermaid pajamas and Elsa dresses? Little girls play dress up and nobody bats an eye. Little boys, and the world starts flapping its lips.
This Friday was pajama day at school and my beautiful, joyful youngest twin had been planning for the event for a couple weeks. He wanted to wear his mermaid pajamas.
His father and I were a bit nervous. We know how people can be. Despite momentous gains in how society treats differences, we knew that this particular form of different is still subject to so much ridicule and contempt.
But we also knew that our boy’s face absolutely transforms when he wears what he loves. And he loves the clothes society says should only be worn by girls.
But y’all… these clothes make him so incredibly happy. You’ve never seen such joy. Most days he comes home from school and immediately sheds his “boy” clothes to put on the “girl” ones. He spins and twirls and the stars align.
But to the outside world, we knew his love of pretty things could be criticized. And it was.
Why does it matter?
His father and I refuse to hide his light under a bushel. We refuse to dampen his joy. We refuse to tell him he can’t be who he wants to be. Which is happy and proud.
But Friday, he came home from school far from happy and proud. He came home shamed and ridiculed. For wearing mermaid pajamas.
They are CLOTHES, for goodness sakes. They just cover our nakedness. It’s what clothes are designed to do.
And who ever created the rule that boys can’t wear sparkles and sequins and things that spark light and joy anyway? Name them.
And don’t tell me it was God. God gave us beauty in every form. (And this boy of mine, he loves to revel in beauty of the uncommon form, for boys, anyway.)
But if you tell me it stems from religion, I’ll believe you. But tell me where in the bible it says boys can’t wear dresses? Pretty sure Jesus wore one, by the way.
This boy of ours loves satin and tulle and unicorn costumes.
And why shouldn’t he?
Boys in Scotland wear kilts. Christ wore skirts. Why can’t boys in Georgia wear mermaid tails?
After all, they all do the same job. They all cover our nakedness… the shadow left behind by original sin. Human nature — and its capacity for cruelty — that’s the sin. That’s the shame.
Not the clothes. Let him wear the clothes that cover his nakedness AND spark his joy.
Do you ever feel ugly and unseen? Like despite all your best efforts and your showing up to the dance without fail, all prepped and prissy, you still somehow blend into the cinderblock gym wall?
I’ve been battling with that lately. I put in the work, I give it my all, I practice and polish and pirouette in what I think is on par with the rest of the partygoers, and still nobody calls my name.
Despite my best efforts, nobody gets me.
I’m awkward maybe? A little off the current beat. Half a step ahead? Behind?
Am I not authentic enough? Is that what it is? Am I unapproachable? Do I appear fake? or overdone? shallow?
Are my curls too tight? Do they get lost in the whirling nonsense of it all? Never-ending loops of purple prose that make folks feel queasy and upended?
Or am I too straightforward? Too stark? Do I cut to the chase too quickly. Nobody’s ready for that revelation. It’s too sharp. The razor-like edges cutting at the truth they hold cushioned in their souls with such reverence.
That’s never popular, I know — to challenge somebody’s security. To show them an abyss where fear and pain are always lurking a scant foot away and maybe prompt them to leave their religion or stay with the beast in the ballgown.
It’s never too popular to pull alarms when all anybody really wants to do is just dance.
Or maybe it’s because I speak with too much color? Swear too much? Too often? Take things in vain that they feel I shouldn’t?
Or is it more that I’m one of those people impossible to follow? Who stutters and stalls or rambles my way into slippery little sidesteps of fluid nothingness? So I’m absolutely zero fun to follow.
Do I question too much? Too many things? Am I too challenging? Am I ruffling too many feathers? Stirring up too much shibboleth? It’s kind of something I tend to do.
Yeah, I tend to pour it on too thick. I fail to blend my blush.
Oh, honestly, I really don’t know what it is about me. But I do know I don’t like the feeling. Of no-one making eye contact. Of no one acknowledging I exist. Of feeling like the girl shoved over there in the corner — the one everybody knows really wants to be a part of it all. They all know she really has something to say, but everybody also thinks what she’s got to say isn’t what anybody really wants to hear because it’s going to be one of two things — an uncomfortable truth or some sort of sentimental bullshit.
That’s where I’m at, and that’s what I’m feeling lately. And I somehow have to get through it. I have to find some strength and some faith in myself and who I am and what I’m doing. I have to believe that I am good enough to be here. I am not somebody to ignore.
Don’t skate your eyes around so you don’t have to see me.
Look at me. I am here and I am a force to be reckoned with.
This dance is my destiny. I am here by choice.
And I am dancing a brilliant and beautiful number that nobody even knew existed.
So I will just keep on dancing like no ones watching. Because right now, no one is.
But I’ll keep my pockets full of proses, dancing in the dark where you think you don’t have to see. Where you watch me with sidelong glances while I prove you wrong and pull my weighted words out into the light you try so hard to deny me.
I am here. And one day you will hear me. See me. Dance with me.
Last night, while sorting through pictures of my childhood, I unearthed poison in page form. Correspondence from the Fellowship to my father.
It showed the control and manipulation of its people, from head to body, and brought it all up to brush against my brain like flickering tongues of the past — making me shiver; making me sick.
“The wife is a reflection of her husband’s glory.”
She’s a reflection. Not a reality.
Phrases diminishing womankind to image, not substance, were everywhere. And even then, only if the woman’s married. If not, she’s nothing at all.
According to the Fellowship, as that reflection of my husband, everything I do and say should be to glorify him. And in so doing, my service to him reflects his service to God.
I see this as nothing more than How to Control and Cower your Girl. Misogyny in a nut sack 101.
I went on to read the following: “Wives can bless or hinder.”
(With the fellowship, the onus was always on the woman.)
It drones on. “As the body is responsible to the head in all matters, even so a wife should respond to her husband, fulfilling his desire.”
I was to serve without thought. I was to be all action. Fulfilling his desire. After all, isn’t that what we were created for? Cisterns to be filled by him.
Brains were unnecessary and even repellent in the Fellowship. Definitely damning. Just look at what Eve caused when she thought for herself…
The “head to body” analogy didn’t stop at husband and wife, though. As husband is to wife, so is pastor to congregation.
They demanded servant’s hearts from all.
And what of it, some may say? Isn’t that what should be expected of God’s people? Scripture says so.
And on paper, it looks okay. “Our service should be proportionate to the degree of honor that we have for one another.”
Problem was, Fellowship servitude was one-sided. Congregation to leadership. Wife to husband. Never reciprocated. Indentured servitude. We had no identity, no rights, our thoughts were dismantled and destroyed. We were the body, moving according to the head’s desires.
Serve or sever. That’s the point I was at. So I severed ties and left those snakes with their fangs and their poison far behind.
Or so I thought.
The brood of vipers I uncovered last night in my basement are still dangerous. Like a head poised to strike after the body has been hacked from the source, fangs still present, puncture still potent, poison still a threat.
All those words unearthed have left me reeling with nausea and insecurity.
Reading them, I see the shadowy ghosts of my past reflected in the present day. All around me are charismatic outreaches pulling children into their frenzy. I see seemingly sane adults lining up to follow snake-oil salesmen with thick orange scales.
That’s how it all began way back when, in my painstaking past.
A servants’ heart with no semblance of sense is a recipe for dictatorship.
Trust nothing that tells you to follow blindly. Trust no one who demands you serve without question.
I refuse to subjugate myself ever again. I will enter into partnerships willingly. But I will never, ever enter into subjugation again. Ever.
I am not a mirror. I am a person — an individual with hopes and dreams and desires of my own.
As a wife, I can bless or hinder? I have so many problems with that statement. So I reject it in its entirety.
As a woman, I bless myself by using the brains the Good Lord gave me to break free from any hint of hindrance through diseased dogma.
I was five, streamers on my handlebars and butterscotch tangles on my head the first time I remember failing my father. Wanting attention. Costing him time.
I remember the feel of the wind, slippery as I sailed after him and his friend on bikes of their own. Beneath me, the gravel road blurred to a caramel river – frothy with speed.
They were thirty feet or so in front of me, My mother, standing on the concrete slab of our front porch, watched knowingly, my baby sister Jo Jo straddling her hips, blond curls licking her scalp like pale flames. She was the most beautiful toddler I’ve ever seen.
Me, I was a twisted mass of hair and tenacity, determined to get to my father. And he was determined to out-pedal me. To leave me to my mama’s devices.
“Wait, Daddy! Wait!” I’m certain I screamed, swallowing chunks of sticky summer sky as my legs spun faster and faster and I fell farther and farther behind.
This five-year-old me – she always wanted her father to see her. To know her. To care.
This was two years before I messed up and bought three bags of chips at the local horse show instead of two because I didn’t know what “a couple” meant. I’m pretty sure that was the beginning of my hatred and fear of numbers. It was still two years away from when I would learn to be wary about whether or not what I was doing was pleasing to my father and to the Lord.
But I was still five. And still naïve. And I wanted to ride bikes with my dad.
So my knees pumped beneath my scooter-skirt and my heart pumped beneath my tank top, and I flew as fast as I could across that gravel road perched atop my little banana seat.
I had missed him at my piano recital — the one where I was awarded a superlative and a tiny rose quartz necklace. The first necklace I ever owned.
The polished little pendant about the size of a jellybean — swirls of white cream curling in its strawberry depths — hung at the hollow of my collar bone. My favorite thing to do was to pull the chain up to the triangular divot beneath my nose and mouth and let the stone ride there where I could feel the cool smooth weight of it, like something waiting to be said.
I knew that feeling. Seems I was always waiting my turn to speak.
Anyways, I had missed him at my piano recital. I wasn’t going to miss him that night.
So I whizzed and wound my way after them. Until my tires hit an exposed pipe and swiveled off their trajectory. Until my world went topsy-turvy. Until sky and street cartwheeled all over me.
I don’t know what stung worse. The gravel bulldozing my flesh, or the rejection bulldozing my heart. He had turned away. That fast. That soon.
He came back. He did. But the damage was already done.
My rose quartz necklace was lost. Maybe then. Maybe soon after. I’m not sure. I do know its imprint remains. A cooled reminder of things waiting to be said.
The weight and wait has been too heavy for too long.
Growing up, I caught snakes in my backyard with kitchen tongs and fearless ignorance. All sorts of snakes, mostly random garden snakes — usually black racers.
My sisters and I would keep them a day or two in a laundry hamper on the screened porch, “tag” them (writing their names on their cold-blooded bodies in hot pink nail polish), and then release them back to the wild. We probably did irreparable damage — to their scales and psyche. I meant no harm. I thought I was Jack Hanna.
Once I came face to face with a cottonmouth. I was close enough to see the whites of his tonsils. To feel my heartbeat in my own set of tonsils. It was terrifying. And exhilerating. I was a fool, but also fairly fearless. And definitely naive.
And then there were the all the spiders. The black widows beneath the crawl space — red hourglass floating in the wide expanse of black belly, hypnotic with danger and beauty. The secretary spider in the window of the garden shed, weaving her Charlotte-style salutations and leaving me wide-eyed with wonder and respect. The wolf spiders in the pine straw, crab spiders in the peonies, tiny jumping spiders on the sidewalk.
Some creepy-crawlies were venomous. Others not. All were fascinating.
I’ll never forget a rat snake we found out in the gulley behind our backyard. I used Childcraft’s Magic of Words to name her Theodora Dean, meaning “Gift of God from the Valley.” I thought I was brilliant.
And I’m pretty sure that is the point in my life where my snake-infested early childhood and my love affair with words collided.
Besides that name dictionary inside the pages of that Childcraft yearbook, there was an abbreviated version of Beowulf — featuring a child-friendly translation of the battle with Grendel.
Grendel was a hideous creature who slithered and slunk. And killed. Beowulf was a long-haired hero who battled monsters with bare-hands. And won.
Which is kind of what I’m attempting to do with my writing. I’m crawling into the darkness and slime of my past — doing battle with all those snakes and spiders — some harmless, some deadly.
And like Beowulf, I plan on winning. With bare-handed skills.
Unlike Beowulf, I’m not trying to kill my past. I’m just trying to expose it and diminish its danger. Because it was definitely dangerous.
Good thing I was fairly fearless.
I didn’t know at the time how dangerous those slippery-tongued serpents and flame-bellied spiders out to seize my soul from the hotel podium could be.
Or maybe I did.
Even today, rereading some of my journal entries, I can feel the fear of my sixteen-year-old self. I knew what those bearded elders were spewing and spinning wasn’t Christ’s love; it was paranoia and hate. It was exclusion and isolation. It was slick and poisonous and contagious as hell. Friends around me were dropping like flies.
But even back then, at the tender age of sixteen, with no one in my corner, I knew the only weapon I had against their wickedness was words.
So the lined paper of my journal absorbed what my heart poured into it. Torn, conflicted — knowing the danger of the poison inside me — I cloistered myself within its pages and allowed myself to feel the deep, insistent syphoning off of poison and emotion. It was the only place I could allow myself to purge it all.
The cool paper accepted me unconditionally. All the passion; all the poison. Recorded there. Preserved there. Honored there. Kept there to this day. A repository of life fluids. A hidden quiver. A womb of contention. An apple of discord.
As my hemorrhaging heart spilled into it, ripening more with each passing day, the pages performed their magic. They took each pounding pulse beat, each dangerous insubordination and drained it quietly into its depths. My secret embalming tool. My monument to life. A record of my heartbeat. To prove I once lived if I never made it out alive.
But I did. Those words kept me alive as the serpents and spiders coiled ever-tighter around me.
And those words give me strength today. To tackle my past. To record it. To tag it and release it into the wild. So others know and recognize the danger.
Faith isn’t dangerous. But fanaticism is.
Looking back, my anger is gone. Now, I turn an observant eye to the stains of my childhood spilled on the pages of a yellowed notebook. They are mere bruises now. Mellowed. But I can still feel the hectic red flush of their decades-old fever when I poke around.
So I poke and prod and prepare to record all the species of spiders and snakes from my past.
I may do damage — to their scales and their psyche. And this time, I do mean harm.
Because right now I see a similar, serpent-friendly climate out there in this world. I see a lot of people searching for something. And a whole lot of serpents ready to prey on their insecurities.
I see a whole lot of snake-handling going on. And that terrifies me.
Because on more than one instance, I came face to face with cottonmouths. I could see the whites of their tonsils, and I could feel my heartbeat in my own tonsils — and in theirs — when I recognized them. I wrote about it to save my life.
And I will write about it still to save someone else. Because the function of freedom is to free someone else.
The best pancakes are never the first off the griddle. I’ve learned that over the years.
So I’m learning to be patient.
The first pancakes are always slightly anemic. They never turn that golden brown of restaurant adds and Coppertone babies. The oil is too bubbly. Too prevalent. Too… much.
So it has to cook off a bit — get absorbed by those first flimsy efforts. Kind of like teenaged skin. It needs a lot of blotting — and some time.
Time and practice. That’s what I’m learning. It’s like that in pancakes. In writing. And In life. And I’m hoping all the practice is beginning to pay off.
I’ve been reading a lot of books on writing lately. Some are rereads — like Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Some are brand new, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human.
They’re all teaching me some bits about writing, but lots more about myself. How I tend to strive for perfection when I really should just strive to get it all onto the skillet. Perfectionism isn’t possible. And anyway, as Annie Lamott says,
Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground — you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.
So I’ll make a mess while building my batter. I’ll add in. Mix up. Pour out. Spill a bit. Flip too early.
Some sentences are destined to collapse onto themselves — it’s inevitable a few will flounder and fold. Let ’em. Clean up the mess later.
And I know those initial pancakes will be a bit pale and doughy or haphazardly layered. That’s fodder for the second draft. The next go round always gets better.
My life has been like that too. My early years were on the whiter shade of pale. Limp and slightly unbaked. Potential, but nowhere close to perfection.
Now I’m living my best, well-burnished life.
My writing is slowly sizzling its way toward buttery golden goodness, too. It’s losing its doughy center; it’s crisping and finding its edges. All with a little help from some master chefs, a whole lotta help from a well-seasoned skillet, and lots and lots of doughy first drafts.
So today (and every day), I’m assembling ingredients, mixing the batter and getting on with it. Mistakes will be made.