December 28, 2013

I Can Deliver That.

The coming New Year's been tapping my shoulder, pulling on my blouse and prattling and tattling at me like the people with whom I live as soon as foot number two crosses the threshold of our house.

My response to the New Year is much like the one I give to those two people:  I swat and whisper at it Okay, okaaaay...Let me get my feet under me and then I can pay attention to you. I just need one moment. Just one. Please.

That was pretty much last year's response to the incoming year too.

In all rights, I owe an apology to 2013. Poor thing, it's been waiting for me to get my act together, develop some sense of clarity and attend to its needs like I promised way back in late Aught '12, but that still hasn't happened. I'm sorry, Outgoing Year, I really am.

So, to the New Year:
I feel you there with your tapping, pulling, prattling, tattling and pushing me to attend to your needs. I understand you think you need some goals or resolutions; and I get it, I really do. But if you'd just talk to any of the New Years prior, you would've heard that those resolutions and promises were futile to begin with.

Just go a little over a decade back and consult with 2000. It would give you a wink and nudge as it told you something about my big ol' decision to savor my freedom and travel when and where I wanted. To be the girl with the maxi-coat and matching cap that I'd fling in the air while some nondescript vanilla singer crooned:
You're gonna' make it after aa-aal...
Then it would giggle and say I started out really well...until I met the guy who would eventually become my husband. So much for freedom. Or travel. Or cap-flinging.

Then go on, skip ahead a little. Chat with 2003. It would out and out guffaw at my resolve to preserve my identity as a person. Not as my barely-month-old kid's mother. Not as my husband's wife, but as a person who had friends and an active nightlife before those two arrived on the scene.
It'd barely be able to talk through the laughs about how this resolve had me working full-time, making dinner soon as I walked in the door, WHILE attending to the baby AND THEN visiting my friend for weekly hangouts.

...and that's when 2004 would jump in and tell you how exhaustion made me throw in the towel on the preservation schmservation strategy after three short months and turned me into the person who swaps out work clothes for pajamas once I'm done with after-work dinner duty.
Occasional texts, Facebook messages and the all too rare lunch with friends would be enough to preserve relationships and whatever was left of the non-wife-non-mom part of me.

Neither 2011 nor 2012 would have much to report on resolutions, except they'd unanimously agree that I'm a dazed and crazy person by the end of December who cares more about sleep and quiet than I do planning for the next year.

Which brings me back to you, 2014:
Please expect a less than earth-shattering-breakthrough-aha-moment year from me. I promise -- nay, I resolve -- to deliver exactly that.

...and at least you'll be able to tell 2015 that I made a resolution and stuck to it.

December 22, 2013

Peace Among the Broken Pieces

The easy way. The path of least resistance.

Admittedly, it's my route of preference. Conflict? Confrontation? Any sense of discomfort, and I'll go over the hills and through the woods and three times around grandmother's house to avoid it.

Especially at this time of year, the easy thing is kvetching about the endless running, the needle on the scale that threatens to inch ever forward, the expectations put upon us by our kids, our significant others and ourselves. Not to mention the music. Which I did. Right here. In this post.

But sometimes you have to dig and do the hard work. The antithesis of the easy way. I mean get dirt under your fingernails to find the joy -- even in the holiday music, since most of it beckons us to joy, happiness and peace.

Peace in the midst of reality.

For me, that reality is having terminal illness and death in some shape or form breathing down my back and lurking around every corner. Too many people in my circle will have one less person at their holiday table this season. Some exits were expected and others were sudden -- and tragically -- self-inflicted.

Now, where do you find peace in all of that?

Given that backdrop, I don't find peace in the Noels and Gloria in Excelsis Deos, to be honest.
I don't find peace in there's a reason for everything.
I certainly don't find peace in You'll never be given more than you can bear, because between you and me: I've got a seriously low threshold for pain or any kind of discomfort. (see paragraph 2)

What I find peace in is that God is sovereign and knowing that He's God and I'm not. That sometimes I won't find the answers on this side of Heaven. I find peace in knowing that He's holding my hand -- or at least holding onto my wrist the way my mom used to when we'd cross a street together to make sure that if I let go, there'd be no way I was getting out of her grasp and into oncoming traffic.

So to balance out my easy route of tongue-in-cheek Christmas song kvetching, this is the song that moves and touches me.

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men...

...and in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,...

...Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

You see, peace on earth doesn't always mean that everything's perfect, each seat filled and a hearty God Bless Us, Every One.

It means finding peace among the broken pieces despite the empty chair.

And for the most part, I have. 

So it's my prayer that everyone finds that same peace. Especially at this time of year.

December 16, 2013

What 6 Christmas Songs Got Wrong

After Thanksgiving, a birthday party last week, another birthday party this week and Christmas coming up next week, I am officially overwhelmed. It'd take more time than I have to explain what yet needs to be done and if you're like me, you're probably overwhelmed and don't have the time nor inclination to read it all anyway.

But even with an overflowing plate, I still love the Christmas season -- from setting up the Christmas tree that we got two weeks ago and decorated only yesterday, to lighting bayberry scented candles, to every Rankin & Bass Christmas Special, and the music.

Oh, the music. Songs have a way of putting you in the Christmas spirit, warming your heart and next thing you know, you're hugging a stranger in the elevator. Okay, um...maybe that's just me.

But alas, all songs are not created equal; and the following Christmas songs inspire and awaken anything but peace on earth and goodwill to men.

1. Christmas Shoes: This song makes my hair hurt.
How are we not supposed to be creeped out by a kid's quest for money to buy new shoes for his terminally ill mom because I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight.
And then the sad, creepy story is tied up in a "that's what Christmas is all about" bow.
Really? Christmas is all about begging for money? And shoes? And death?
I guess Matthew, Mark, Luke and John left those parts out.

2. Little Drummer Boy: Melodious enough, but...
I remember ushering my daughter into this world. The doc told me it'd be just a few more pushes and "oh by the way, do you mind if these interns observe the final few pushes?" I unsquinted my eyes to see about fifty bright and shiny twenty-somethings in the doorway peering intently past the stirrups at my lady parts. I cared, but I was in no position (literally and figuratively) to care.
That's why I'm not buying the Mary smiled at me part.
No Little Drummer Boy, she wasn't smiling at you. You were banging on a drum. In a barn. With animals. Where she had just had delivered a baby. Without an epidural. Did I mention the barn and animals part? Mary was just too tired to say "Little boy how did you get in here; and Joseph, why are you letting this kid continue his rum-pum-pum-pumming when it's keeping me awake."

3. Feliz Navidad: This gem causes involuntary muscle tics.
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.
Don't just wanna do it Jose. Please, for the love of Pete, stop wanna-ing to do it. Go ahead, dive in and just wish it already! And I'm a little slow here, so wish me in Spanish or wish me in English, but not both because my mind can't work that quickly.

4. Wonderful Christmastime: The Facebook humble brag of songs.
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime!
Sir Paul McCartney's Christmastime is so wonderful, he just can't help flaunting it in the faces of everyone, including those whose mood isn't up or who isn't here tonight.
Well, you know what Sir Paul: you're a bazillionaire, you're a Beatle, Her Royal Majesty -- Her Royal Majesty for heaven's sake -- has knighted you. If you aren't having a wonderful Christmastime, then there's something wrong with you.
Just enjoy it already and put lid on the saccharine for a second or two or three or four. Or more.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: What you don't want kids to learn about operating in this world.
Yes, kids if you're different, count on getting incessantly teased and excluded. Unless...just unless you've got something that people (or reindeer and Santa) want. Then you'll be invited to save the day by the very people (or reindeer and Santa) who discriminated against you to begin with.
Once you stuff down your feelings and swallow trauma so you can save the day, you'll be invited to play games, and everyone will love you.
So kids, if you're getting picked on, just remember: acceptance and love is just a catastrophe away.

6. We Need A Little Christmas
We need a little Christmas right this very minute!
Not this very minute, we don't. I've got a week of things to do and two days in which to do it.

Which is exactly why this post is ending here.

So, whatever songs you love or find cringe-worthy, I hope this will be a very Merry Christmas for you and the ones you love.
The tree we've had for two weeks and
decorated only yesterday

By the way, if you're feeling overwhelmed because things aren't going along as planned, read this post from Red's Wrap. I guarantee that it'll give you a new perspective.

December 8, 2013

What the Little Line Couldn't Predict

The little blue (or was it pink) line inched across the tiny screen on the stick. That stick. The plastic stick sold by the drug store that tells you whether you'll be taking another person home in around nine months to live with you for the next eighteen years or so.

I saw the line and walked away. Maybe it was a fluke.

Came back in ten minutes. Still there.

Yep. I was gonna have a baby. I don't say the politically correct We were gonna have a baby, because while We would be parents, only my part of We would host the cause of the little blue (or pink) line. Feed it. Expand as it expanded and ultimately usher it into this world.

The line was a surprise and I sat and thought...and panicked. The reality of knowing that I could barely go through three months straight of not locking myself out of the house, much less be in charge of another human's formative years of emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual welfare hit me. Hard.

Fine, I'd have a  vodka seltzer to calm my nerves. Oh wait: I'm hosting that little line now. No vodka seltzer. Fine, I'd just have a smoke. That little line can't even roll a window down for air in there. No smoke. At least a cup of coffee? Nope. The little line probably wouldn't like caffeine either.

While Jamie was ecstatic and friends and family absolutely bubbled over with joy over this addition, I silently panicked behind the facade of a smile for months throughout the ultrasounds, the heartbeats, the kicks...and even the ushering into this world.

The nurse asked if I wanted a mirror in those final moments, and I thought Why do I need a mirror? It's not like I'm reapplying lipstick right now. Seriously, that's what I thought and then it dawned on me: a mirror to watch the ushering. thank you very much. I had seen plenty -- far too much -- in those classes where they show the films where no one wears clothes or shaves any of things that oughta be shaved and moans and groans and cries until the ushering is complete.

The little line was a person -- a girl, when in fact, I had been thinking for the past seven months that she was a boy. And then, just like that, I was face-to-face with the little line. I rifled through my mental rolodex because she looked so familiar. Maybe it was in her brow, how her nose was so strong and how she looked so serious and was so silent -- unlike the usual newborn howling shown in those films from those classes with the hairy moaners.

I think she was sizing me up as much as I was trying to figure out from where I knew her when it hit me: she had my mom's face, her nose, demeanor -- even at a few hours old.

I'd like to say that all the panicking ceased at that magical moment, but that'd be a lie. I still panic about being woefully unprepared and unqualified for another person's psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being; and I still lock myself out of the house from time to time.

But eleven years and a couple of days later, she's turned Jamie and I into less selfish, more loving, and better people than we could've ever been without her.

...and that's something a little line (blue or pink) could never have predicted.

November 3, 2013

They'll Remember

I can't remember it.

It's in addition to packing and taking lunch instead of buying the over-priced-over-greasy-over-daily-caloric-intake quick lunch. Which is also in addition to remembering to sign Georgia's homework assignment book before we leave for the morning. And that's on top of remembering to remind her to take the envelope with the signed class trip permission slip inside. Oh, and the bottle of water. I've slacked off in drinking water lately, so I definitely have to remember that.

But I can't remember The Other Thing.

The Other Thing that doesn't have to be at my fingertips, but it'd be nice if it were at least in reaching distance of my mind's eye.

Can you remember it? You know, that Other Thing.
Or maybe it was a feeling...or a time.

Like the time when you broke out into a run, and I mean a full-fledged-out-and-out Run. Not because you were pushing yourself. Not because you were proving something to anyone. But you ran because you felt like it. Because it gave your body pure joy. That Other Thing.

Or maybe it was the time in your backyard. You spun around and around and around, arms to the side, not giving a second thought to letting them yield to centripetal force. Oh sure, you heard your mom say "You should stop because you're gonna get sick." Maybe you even got dizzy and even lost your lunch like your mom said -- but the spinning, the world whirring around you in blurred, blended colors once you stopped -- felt awesome.

It's funny: I can remember Georgia's Other Thing clear as day, but I just can't remember mine. It was Monday, May 26, 2002 and she was six months old and discovering her "singing voice." Jamie and I had the day off and Georgia? Well, Georgia needed a nap and so did we, but she wasn't having any parts of it.

That kid "sang" in her crib for around twenty-five minutes. Not crying. Not fussing. Singing. Climbing up and down, down and up the scales. Testing whether she was an alto, or a first soprano or a second soprano with breathy "Aaaahhhs" and "Laaaahs" and giggles sprinkled in between. The thought of her Other Thing makes me smile just writing about it.

And I hope she can remember it.

So now there's this little tap dancer whose recital video has gone viral. Some people love her performance because it's just out and out adorable. Other people like it because in her, they see their own goofy kids being goofy kids. Yet others see a Miniature Feminista who says Damned the bland routine, I've got my own strut, and it's peppered with sass and panache.

I think all of that's true, and I love it. Truly. But the dancing, pulling grins in the faces of the confused-stick-to-the-books kids on either side of her, sassing up the routine, lip-syncing the tune as if she's lived the song's lyrics....well, it jogged my memory. You know: the memory I wished was within reach of my mind's eye. It remembered The Other Thing and this was it. It wasn't about hamming it up. It wasn't about soaking up the audience's laughs or applause (although those came naturally). It was about the pure joy of the thing.

And I hope that little tap dancer, like my Georgie-girl, can remember it. If not ten or twenty years from now, then at least when forty-something brings all of life's distractions, worries (real and imagined) and wars (with people who put the fun in dysfunctional and with self) and anxieties and all of the stuff that stuffs down The Other Thing and keeps a person from retrieving it when they need to smile.

Then again, if they can't remember at least they'll be able to pull up a blog like this one or a video and maybe it'll jog their memories.

And they'll remember. Like I just did.

October 20, 2013

Nutella, Puh-leez.

Advertisements would have us believe a lot of things.

That potty training will be a fun experience for parents and kids alike if we use technology to do it. If you've potty trained a child -- or even a puppy -- there's no app, tablet, laptop or gadget that can make it fun.
Yeah. An iPad on a potty chair. Fun for everyone!
That we'll have wrinkle-free radiant faces after a few applications of the right lotions and potions. Listen, you can butter up your face in every kind of oil, spackle and even acid, but wrinkles will forever be there. Don't ask how I know that.
Yeah. Not.
Of course, there's more. Achieving a lean, hard-bodied physique after just sprinkling magic fairy dust on food without exercise or change in diet. Irresistible magnetism to the opposite sex because of wearing the right scent, driving the right car or even drinking the right top shelf vodka.

I've decided that Nutella should be added to the list too. No, not because of claims that the product was advertised as a healthy breakfast spread. And seriously, did anyone think it was even remotely healthy after that first spoonful? (Because I've -- um...known people who've eaten it by the spoonful. Yeah. Known people.)

No, Nutella, we knew those were lies. What we can't get over is the TV spot. You know, the one set in the kitchen of some middle class family during the middle of a busy morning. And the mom's in the middle of it all.

She's got at least a hundred children hovering around the kitchen counter. They're hungry, and the mom calmly gives everyone their fix of Nutella slathered on toast, crackers -- maybe even an old shoe. 

That would've been fine, but these thousands of children aren't satisfied with their fix. No, they want more and they're all asking for things. At the same time. One wants to know the capitol of West Virginia. Unflapped, the mom answers.

Another can't find something and asks the mom. She pulls whatever the lost item is out of thin air or it could've been out of her bra. All I know is by then I'm so nervous for her, I just want to scream at the millions of kids in her kitchen to just SHUT UP AND PROBLEM-SOLVE, PEOPLE. But yet this woman continues to dole out the Nutella spread on cardboard with a Stepford Wives grin on her face.

Then finally, she's sending off the trillions of children on their ways with kisses for all.

The last to leave is her husband. Where the bleep has he been all this time, anyway? She kisses him as he exits, of course hands him some Nutella-covered food product. 

But then, just like their bajillions of children, the husband remembers that he too has forgotten something. Enter Nutella Super Mom to the rescue: she reaches into some invisible orifice and poof! She dangles the keys he's forgotten!

They exchange Ward and June Cleaver laughs and he goes off to work wherever Nutella-Eating-Conveniently-Absent-Until-They-Need-Something-Husbands work as the mom
waves goodbye.

And we're to believe that? All of that? Seriously?

Nutella, puh-leez.

October 14, 2013

You're Black, He's White. Stop Caring and Move Forward.

"I'm Black, He's White - Who Cares" so goes the title of an excellent piece featured on Literally, Darling. But the point the writer makes is that the Who in the title is acutally Her. She cares.

More specifically, she's scared. Primarily for her future children - whether they be bi-racial or black. In a way, her fear is justified based on her past experiences -- not being "black enough" for black folk, or confusing to white folk, or having her coupledom visually and verbally demeaned -- none of which is out of the ordinary for any black or brown person or mismatched couple in our pre and even post racial society.

Listen, Jazmine (that's her name): I feel your pain, Girly. But allow this black wife who's married to a white guy and who's also a mom to a biracial kid, and most importantly who's twenty-plus-years your senior, to pass on some unsolicited words of wisdom.

It's in the rear-view mirror, and you're not backing up. Look ahead and keep moving. Sweetie, I remember being ostracized by the black kids in the elementary grades through high school because I was an "Oreo" (black on the outside, white on the inside). I've received my share of "compliments" from white people who have said (in genuine kindness) that I didn't act/sound/talk "white." Surprising? At times. Exasperating? Always. But you move on. You move beyond it and flourish in the places where you allow your talent to take you.

God knows people can be idiots, that's why He makes kids resilient.
A six year old girl was riding her bicycle, looping around her block again and again, when a car slowed. Not stopped, just slowed down enough for the teenaged boys inside to yell Nigger at the little girl. It was her first introduction to that word and how some of God's children can act like real idiots.

That six year old was me, Jazmine. As a mom, I think of how it must have ripped my mom apart when I burst through the front door, winded and frightened from what should have been just another loop around our block.

She didn't want that for me because she had probably been through it too.

But here's the key: my mom had been through it...and came out on the other side. So did I.
Now, do I want my daughter to experience anything remotely like that?

Of course not. But until all of God's children start acting like all of God's children, there's a likelihood that my daughter may face some sort of ugliness too. But she'll get through it. Maybe a little wounded. But smarter, stronger and wiser. Through it.

The 99% Rule is in effect when you're married. Meaning that 99% of the time, race won't be an issue when you've pledged that grave and somber oath in front of God and everybody to stay with someone until one of you keels over. Let's see, you're twenty-one now, so the "until one of you keels over" part takes the two of you through menopause, possibly erectile dysfunction, most likely shingles (if you believe those scary commercials), dentures, gray hair, sagginess and bagginess...Not thinking about race now, are you?

In the thirteen years we've been together, and eleven of them married, race has only been the source of an argument intense conversation once. And even then, race -- or in this case, ethnicity was only the by-product and not the crux of the argument intense conversation. It was about hair. Hair. My husband just could not wrap his head around why a trip to the salon would take three hours. I'd be under the dryer and/or in any stage of conditioning and/or having the naps smoothed out to combable when he'd annoy call/text me with "HOW MUCH LONGER? THIS IS RIDICULOUS." So I had to educate him. Very loudly.

Okay wait:

Actually race came up again, this time more directly. And it wasn't an argument or intense conversation. We were watching that movie about the guy who lived with grizzly bears in Alaska. The guy was like fifty feet away from this killing-machine-of-a-bear, cooing at it and calling it pet names. I looked at my betrothed and said:

"Um...I don't wanna get all racial or anything, but that's Your People right there. My People aren't trying to get eaten by bears."

He agreed.

The bigger point here, Jazmine, is that throughout your married life, race is completely and totally dead last on the challenges you'll experience as a couple. Have I been angry enough to shake my beloved until his teeth rattled? Definitely. Were any of those instances related to race?
They were all related to him being....well, him. And I'm quite certain the times he's wanted to reciprocate said teeth rattling with me had everything to do with me being...well, me.
Not a race.
Not an ethnicity.
Just me.

Just us.
Just stupid people outside and inside of our neighborhoods who we can't control.

Jazmine-honey, the world can be scary, but don't let that stop you from moving forward, and realizing that you and any of your future kids are more resilient than you think

...and before you know it, you can look forward to keeling over side-by-side with the right guy for you.
Okay, well maybe not the keeling over part, but you get the picture.

October 13, 2013

The Intersection of Grace and Sympathy

Iron sharpens iron. Or rather, good writers make the rest of us better. In that vein, the following is written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge for a 33-word piece inspired by the Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil."
Related: thanks, Red's Wrap for being the iron that sharpens iron.

October 8, 2013

Six in the Morning

It’s 6:00am and I’m awake. The sun and moon are in a battle to see whose light will win the morning. Through slats in the bedroom blinds, I peer out to see the cold, navy hue the battle has cast over our tiny yard.

It’s the same every morning when I should be up, not just awake. The sun and moon battling. The sun always winning out in the end. Me being awake, but not up; knowing the extra thirty minutes means the difference between leaving with or without makeup, stress versus ease in wrangling my daughter out the door and on the road to school.

Still, I stay awake, but not up.

A half hour later, I’m up…and like someone fired a starter pistol near my ear, I’m washing myself, double-checking with her about lunch, knee pads, gym clothes, does the dog have fresh water – and where is the dog anyway?

Then we’re leaving and I remember my rings – the one of promise, the one that sealed the deal and the one that reminds me that I’m a mom. Where are they? The starter pistol rings in my ear again and I decide my ring fingers will have to broadcast Un-Promised-To, Unmarried, Unmothering for today.

And so we leave. Make-up-less, hair in rebellion, naked fingers and all; when upon unlocking the garage door after a five minute fight, I discover that the car's gone. Just a big empty space in its place...and I remember my husband took my car and I'm supposed to take his. Big truck. Big awkward truck.

We pile in and drive a few clips over the speed limit because the tardy bell's ringing louder than the starter pistol could ever fire. But now a school bus hems me in. Jackass, I mutter. My daughter turns a cold-unchirpy version of herself for the rest of the ride because I said The A Word. I apologize, we arrive at school and I push her out of the car well in advance of the tardy bell.

I leave her school, down the narrow one-way neighborhood street that's lined with trees. Their auburn leaves allow trickles of the sunlight -- the winner of this morning's battle -- to seep through. Driver-side doors open unexpectedly to the left and right, then hastily exchanged glares, then more Jackass muttering minus my daughter's disapproval. Finally three loops around the cold cement structure that leads to a resting stop for the big awkward truck, and I'm in the office.

In work mode. Piecing together a laptop and projector for a meeting. Hoping, praying that there's time for make-up...when my boss tells me I've set up equipment

Lucky fingers.
Today they'll live back in time when it was okay to just be awake and not up.

October 3, 2013

Late. Again.

There’s a reason this blog is called The Late Arrival.

A few weeks back, my daughter and I went to church. We were a few minutes, well…late. I felt weird stares; and indignantly, hurriedly, I plopped down anyway. Five minutes later, the pastor asked the congregation to rise for the prayer and dismissal.

See what I mean?

One late night, the call for writing submissions for the Type-A Parenting Conference’s We Still Blog Awards appeared on my Facebook feed. I clicked the link, read the prestigious bios of the people judging the pieces and figured Yeah right, like this’ll happen. Meh…what have I got to lose. At least I can say I tried. I pressed “Submit” and forgot about it.

Until nearly a month later on another late night. An email congratulated me on being one of ten finalists selected.

Oh no. Really? This is all kinds of wrong. This can’t be right. Could it? It was.

Then later I perused the blogs of the other finalists…and FREAKED. Their websites were beautiful, clean and professional. They were professionals – writers and published authors -- for crying out loud! They are who I want to be when and if I grow up someday.

They are: 
Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli
Nichole E. of Butterscotch Sundae
Cindy Reed of The Reedster Speaks
Christina McMenemy of A Mommy Story
Trey Burley of Daddy Mojo
Miranda Wicker of Finding Walden
Julia Roberts of Kidneys and Eyes
Tara Pohlkotte of The Pohlkotte Press
Lisa Allen of Back to Allen

Rather than chance Jamie and Georgia not handling things on their own (because of course everything will fall apart without me), I went to the conference for the day.
Just one day.
The last day.
As in the very last day of the conference.
As in my flight landed within hours of the final keynote.


When you’re perpetually late – especially in group settings -- you miss a lot of things. In this case it was the rich menu of presentations, seminars, speakers and even parties. I missed those things and wish I could turn the clock back so I could have arrived for the entire conference and applied new-found knowledge to this seedling of a blog.

Time-challenged people also miss things at gatherings like developing friendships, camaraderie, exchanged glances that cause spontaneous giggles, secret-telling and brain-sharing.

Listen, I’m a natural introvert, so I never miss missing this people/bonding stuff; I mean I’m not looking to make new friends.

But something about this conference and the whole vibe was different; and from my tardy perspective, the difference was the people -- including the finalists who had once intimidated me so.

We Still Blog Award Finalists

There was a feeling of openness, acceptance and support -- not just of me -- but also of my words. It was I had been there, known these people before.

So much so that this introvert even caught the conference close-out party...and even danced.
Post-Party Dancing Toes

I ended up walking away with the very things I was missing but never knew I was missing. At Type-A, they call it “finding your tribe” and I think I found my tribe... least some of them. There are more out there and I know it, and I’m going to find them at next year’s conference which I’ll be attending all three days, instead of as

The Late Arrival.

September 26, 2013

Red Light. Green Light.

Our five-minute-won’t-be-late-for-school-just-yet window was fast closing while I scrambled around the kitchen trying to remember whatever it was that I’d be sure to forget once we were on the road.

Soon, we were on the road. Or at least in the alley on our way to the road when I realized the road was being tarred. Tarred to the right. Road tarred to the left. I couldn’t take the turn I wanted in either direction, so we coasted down one alley and then the next and then the next looking for an open, untarred road.

Finally we made it to the thoroughfare and it was all smooth sailing until…

…the railroad crossing.

More precisely, the railroad crossing being crossed by a train two intersections ahead. I panicked slightly and dimmed the dashboard lights so Georgia couldn’t obsess about the clock ticking down the minutes to her being tardy.

Traffic had backed up from the railroad crossing intersection to ours, but I could see far enough ahead to tell that the train had passed through. Now, those cars waited for their red light to change green.

In the meantime, our red light blinked green. I did the math and figured by the time we reached the dreaded railroad intersection, that light would be green too!

Only no one moved. It was weird. The light was green as an Irish meadow and yet no one moved. Not even one horn honked. It seemed as if time was standing still, and a blanket of “Meh” had enveloped everyone.

Not caring how crazy I sounded, I started talking to the people in the cars that time forgot at the green light:
That’s not your red light!
Move forward!
Ever have something fall out of your mouth reflexively, and soon as it meets the air and gathers enough vibration to qualify as a sound and then words that you realize
the falling,
the vibration,
the sound
…was meant for you?

Listen, I’m a worrier -- a chronic worrier. I worry that a proposal will get turned down; then if it results in a grant, I worry that I won’t be able to meet expectations of writing another winning proposal. I worry that my daughter’s not involved in enough activities, then I worry that maybe she’s got too much on her plate. I worry about financial smooth-sailing; yet when things are relatively balanced, I worry that one or both of us will lose our jobs. I worry about how sad Charley-the-Shih-Tzu-Poo looks each day when we leave him home alone.

I worry.

So, as soon I heard myself say “That’s not your red light! Move forward!” I realized that message wasn’t so much for the stalled cars as it was for me:

Worrying about so much so often is about as logical as a line of cars sitting at a green light. It’s obeying a red light at an intersection that isn’t even mine in the first place. It blinds me to the green light that’s right in my face, stops forward motion
…and steals joy that the moment brings.

Guess it’s time to stop looking so far ahead and start paying closer attention to the signals right in front of my face, huh?

September 8, 2013

Beautiful. Ugliness. Both.

A bird's-eye view of the ocean, a blanket of blues and violet. Could be dawn, it could be sunset. There are no undertows, no threat of menacing aquatic life and tidal waves look like silent ripples in a pond. In the middle of it all is a tiny speck of white -- or maybe yellow. It's Diana Nyad somewhere in the in the sojourn of an over fifty-eight hour swim toward the Florida Keys.
Now zoom in. Further into the journey as she reaches her destination greeted by wading well wishers and you see her emerge from the waters swollen and dazed. This scene isn't as serene as the imagined one. In fact, there's even a trace of ugliness and gritty reality there, but within that scene, we're able to hear Diana reminding us to "Never give up" and that "You're never alone." That's something that can't be heard in the idyllic birds-eye view.

Everything's prettier from a distance, don't you think? Doesn't mean that the zoomed-in gritty version negates the beauty of the birds-eye view, it's still there.
It's just that beauty and ugly exist. Together.
That fact seems logical enough, but sometimes it seems as though we're only able to handle one concept or the other.

For at least two solid weeks, when I'd wake up and click on the morning news, the breaking news headlines were about gun violence. Shootings. Multiple shootings. Everywhere and everyone, but mainly in economically struggling and minority neighborhoods. Each and every day.
The mayor talked about it.
The police chief and the mayor talked about it.
The police chief and the mayor and the governor talked about it.
Corporate CEOs, nonprofit execs, mental healthcare execs and gun rights advocates talked about it.

We were all talking about it.

The reality of human beings disregarding the lives of other human beings was everywhere. Depressing as it was, I think it was a good thing. We started feeling vulnerable. We started looking at each other as humans again and at least thinking about how, maybe -- just maybe --we really are connected regardless of social class, race or ethnicity. We even mourned each other's losses.

Then all the talking stopped, all the coverage stopped. But not because the shootings stopped.

It was the week of celebrating Harley-Davidson's one hundred tenth anniversary and because Milwaukee's the birthplace of all and everything Harley-Davidson related, the community welcomed Harley riders from all over the world who came to celebrate. It was the week to talk about how wonderful the community was, not gun violence. There was a lot of talk about how rich we are in our traditions and what a welcoming spirit we have.

We proved it too. Watering holes, restaurants and even churches plastered "Welcome Home Harley Riders" signs and spontaneous block parties broke out everywhere. Goodwill and brotherhood was contagious. Out-of-town and out-of-country visitors were on the news left and right, singing Milwaukee's praises in the dialects of their country of origin. All the Harley riders and their Milwaukee hosts might have even held hands and sang Kum Bah Yah around a campfire someplace. Don't get me wrong. My family enjoyed all the hoo-hah too, and Georgia and I even went to the grand parade to soak up the excitement.

But still. The wall-to-wall coverage. All Harley-Davidson celebrations, all the time, with the conspicuous absence of gun violence coverage. On every local news outlet.

Until the celebration was over. That's when the shootings -- at least coverage -- of the shootings resumed.

And I wondered why is it that we can't reconcile that we've got some very real, very tragic problems with gun violence and at the same time, acknowledge that we live in a wonderful welcoming place with rich traditions and where goodwill and brotherhood is contagious.

I don't know...I couldn't help but think that we sell ourselves short when we choose to focus solely on the idyllic. Sure, that birds-eye view keeps us safe from the menace of threats, and we're deafened to the sound of crashing dangerous waves...

...but it's only when we choose to also zoom in on the ugly grittiness of idyllic scenes are we close enough to hear desperate, hopeful reminders to "Never give up" and be reminded that we're not alone.
Because after all, beauty and ugly exist. Together.

August 8, 2013

Of Any Stripe or Hue

You ever read a headline even though you know the news is going to be bad? I did. The headline was “Many Americans Have No Friends Outside Their Race” based on results from an online poll administered in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: non-white people have a low percentage of close friends who are white, and white people have an even lower percentage of close friends who are non-white. The west coast is a little better in this regard than the rest of the country and the southern part of the country is worse. DUH.

I think the knee-jerk reaction to this is for people to mentally shuffle through their racial rolodex and start ticking off friends who don’t look like them. Heck, I did until I remembered that I’m married to a white guy. (he’s my husband so I guess he counts as a friend, right?)

But throw race out of the equation entirely, and you end up with a much bigger question:

Of the people we consider friends, do we consider any to be true, trusted close friends?
Even just one?

I’m talking about the kind of friend you don’t feel pressured to make the house “presentable for company” when she visits because you know she won’t think twice or get judgy around the dusty furniture and errant laundry.

Or the kind of friend who doesn't take offense when you find guffaw-inducing laughter in the foot injury that landed her in urgent care.

The friend with whom you can be truthful about the bleeping numbers the bleeping scale reads out when you step on it. You cry with her when she’s sad because her sadness is your sadness. She “remembers” long-gone loved ones to you; and when you don’t talk for a while because of the busyness of life, there’s no weirdness or petty-ness between the two of you. She’s the person you can just sit with without talking at all because when you’re with each other, it feels like home (and also because you both appreciate silence after all the talking that your kids and husbands do).

Her only expectation of you is to be you – not mom, wife, daughter or employee – just you. And that’s who you are with her.
That kind of friend.

Throughout the thirty-nine years we've known each other, I can’t remember a time when either of us has thought of the other as “my white friend” or “my black friend.” We just know that we’re friends and we can’t imagine going through this life without the other’s presence. 

Do I wish more people would diversify their friends? Yes. Do I regret reading the post behind today’s headline? Not really, because it got me thinking and reminded me that having true and close friends of any stripe or hue is a rarity and a blessing.

August 2, 2013

Crossing the Finish Line

Oh, I’ve done a couple of 5Ks and a mud run or two, but honestly: I don’t like running. What I do like is the feeling of “Wow I really can do this” when I run for a longer distance with each workout, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a race.

By now you’ve heard about the marine who fell back during a race to help a little boy who was struggling to finish running that same 5K. Just imagine it: the finish line tape in sight, sensing that you’re beating last year’s time, pulling ahead of the pack with your running buddies when you hear someone ask “Sir, would you please run with me?” It’s the right thing to do so you do it. And the marine did.

The story’s blown up on social media channels and nationwide newscasts, and the marine has received well deserved recognition for doing the right thing.

But what about the boy?

This kid could’ve asked the marine to carry him --  after all, marines are tough guys. That scene alone: the kid on the marine’s shoulders triumphantly crossing the finish line – talk about American as apple pie. It would’ve been a thing of beauty.

Or, he could’ve asked the marine to sit curbside with him until the boy’s family, who had gone on ahead, finished the race and found him. That would’ve made a nice picture of Americana too, I can just see the headline: “Tough Marine Shows His Tender Side.”

Both options are picture postcard perfect, but neither involves finishing the race, and finishing is what this kid wanted to do.

This boy, this little nine-year-old boy, didn’t want out. He knew he just needed someone alongside going step for step and encouraging to help him finish the race. So he did a courageous thing:

He asked.

He asked a complete stranger for that companionship and encouragement, opening himself up for rejection even as he was probably at the lowest point in his short nine years on earth.

And he didn't mince words: "Sir, would you please run with me?”

It’s a question I think many of us want to ask in the midst of whatever race we’re running, but can’t for whatever reason.

I’m convinced of it.

Over the past fifteen years alone, there have been four instances of suicide within my circle of colleagues and friends. When people are at that point, their mental illness gags “Please run with me” in the throat and the race ends too soon.

In this crappy economy, people are working two or three jobs and still can’t make ends meet. My guess is that we pass them every day on the street, or in our church, or in school or in the workplace, but they can’t eke out “Please run with me” because they’re too caught up in finishing the race with their pride intact.

Then there are The Moms. Made of steel but yet soft, bringing the bacon home, frying it up in a pan, omnipresent and forever on call. How many times are they – are WE – am I thinking “Please run with me” only to sweep the words into the corner along with the long-ignored dust bunnies.

The prophet Isaiah said “…a little child shall lead them” and I agree. This kid set the example for strength, humility and courage because that’s what it takes to ask. To risk rejection or perhaps even ridicule.

So in this age of personal branding, keeping up with the joneses and as many of us silently limp along, I hope and pray that when we need to, all of us can find the courage to ask:

“Will you please run with me?”

July 16, 2013

She's Right

Part of me has wanted to shut down all news over the past week and shield my ten-year-old from the coverage, while the other part wanted her to at least have a consciousness about it. Today, she asked about the verdict -- rather, she commented on what her understanding of all this has been.
“So…a lot of people are mad because they think Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because Trayvon is black.”
In that moment, I had to boil down, cut through the outrage, demonstrations, talking heads, blaming, claiming and tell her what I believed:
“Yeah. That’s true. But here’s what we have to remember: we can’t mind-read or heart-read. Only George knows why he did what he did and…”
She interrupted me “…and God. God knows why he did it.”
“Exactly.” I was frank with her “…but I just can’t imagine how Trayvon’s mom and dad feel. What a nightmare. I mean, their son is gone – he’s dead, honey. And George’s mom? To know that her son took someone else’s life…”
...and I trailed off thinking, wincing, mourning for parents who have had to bury their children and for mothers who have done everything they can to raise decent human beings but yet find themselves visiting a child in prison.

She broke my silent ruminations and said
“It’s tragic.”
She’s right.

June 24, 2013

A Buttery, Slippery Slope

It was the shot heard round the bundt pan: Paula Deen admitted to uttering the n-word...repeatedly. In the past. She issued one pathetic video recant (or so I've heard because it was taken down as quickly as it was posted), then was scheduled to issue another wanna-be mea culpa on The Today Show, but instead settled for a new Please-I-Got-Butter-In-My-Recipes-Don't-Y'all-Remember-How-Much-Y'all-Love-Butter apology video.

None worked and the Food Network summarily dismissed her and her buttery goodness by not renewing her contract.

Sorry, Paula. Yes, I said it: Sorry.

What hapeend to you is because you reflected your upbringing in the south during the days when people living south of the Mason Dixon Line regularly referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. Trouble is, somehow, someway, you just couldn't keep those words, that history and that slant from bubbling up out of you and into conversation.

Truthfully Paula, I'm not worried about you. You will ultimately be fine. Oh yes, your slip o' the attitude is causing some momentary unpleasantness, but it'll blow over. Just give it a minute. Soon another high profile person will commit a cultural faux pax, and the internet will be consumed with crucifying them; and that's when you can make a quiet comeback. Trust me.

What really concerns me is that you got the axe in the first place for admitting to telling a few off-color tastesless jokes, saying the n-word and having the craptacular idea of dressing folks up as slaves for an antebellum-themed event. The subject matter of the jokes, the ugliess of the word and the sheer stupidity of the event theme are all cringe-worthy.

But is it right to lose your job because of words and ideas? I just don't think so. No matter how inane.

Listen Paula, I'm not an alarmist nor am I a public figure, but your very public execution puts me ill at ease:
Will the internet village mob wielding pitchforks and torches who called for and joyfully received your head on a platter, one day come knocking on my door because I admitted to uttering unwise words or doing something(s) stupid in my blissfully ignorant youth, or espoused an unpopular concept or slant on a hot-button topic?
Will they come knocking at the door of my employer and demand my dismissal because of it? Will my employer go along with it to save the bottom line?
Or what about my pastor? What if he preaches about the Bible's slant on a social issue that doesn't align with "what everyone thinks?" Will the mob show up on my church's steps too and demand a public apology or a change in theology?
Understand Paula, the ethnic jokes you admitted to tittering about and telling: Dumb. About the n-word: Hate it. Hate that you used it. Hate that anyone uses it, including black people (who by the way need to stop it. Just stop it.) Oh, and the antebellum event theme you were musing over? You probably rethought it a couple days later and wondered if you had drunk too many mint julips to come up with that beauty.

I've been there. We all have, if we're being honest.

But all of us won't lose our jobs over long as this slippery slope we all seem to be on doesn't get any slipperier.

Pic from Mad Art Lab by Amy Davis Roth

June 6, 2013

Ask Me No Questions…No Really. Don’t.

Her head spun around once, then twice and upon the third rotation, she levitated. Her eyes, now radioactive green, met mine and she hissed “I already washed my hands for dinner!” With that, she began to happily chirp away about something funny that happened at school. It was as if the levitating, the hissing had never happened.

My daughter -- my sweet, happy-go-lucky baby girl was possessed.

By hormones.

As frustrating as it is for me, I’m careful not to give her the kookoo-for-cocoa-puffs side-eye, or be dismissive of the venom that might escape her lips because all too often, hormonal blame is the eraser of valid thoughts and feelings.

You know the excuses: “Oh, she’s just PMS-ing" or it’s “That Time of the Month” or "She’s Menopausal" or "She’s Perimenopausal.” Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. It's a diagnosis that negates whatever your complaint is no matter how valid.

Which is even more frustrating, because nine times out of ten you’re having an out-of-body experience even as you’re going off on what or whomever. You hear your own voice and you know you sound like a crazy person, but you also know that what you’re saying is the truth. Just kicked up a hormonal notch or two. Or three.

I’m also doing everything in my power to be patient, because even as she’s a newbie to the monthly hormonal madness, I’ve been in it for a long while with new elements being introduced with each passing year: acne; temperature swings that have me holding my head out the car window like a dog on a joy ride and the slow, sure, steady decline of my metabolism. So I’m reminded that I need to be extra patient with her changes even as I manage the havoc monthly biology wreaks on me.

Like the amplification of minor annoyances like questions. Simple questions. Simple questions from Jamie, in particular.

His questions are ordinary. Routine. They happen every day. All the time. Just like bleeping clockwork. Every day until death us do part or the apocalypse.

But I digress. [deep breath] They're questions like:
“Do we have hot dogs?”(as he’s standing in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator) My blood begins to simmer and I’m thinking Why are you asking me instead of looking? Time slows down and I see him blink once, twice -- wide-eyed like a five-year-old. Then I’m screaming on the inside: PROBLEM-SOLVE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! GRAB THE SHINY LONG THING ON THE BIG WHITE BOX RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, PULL ON IT AND LOOK INSIDE! YOU MAY HAVE TO LOOK UP, OR DOWN OR MAYBE EVEN SIDE TO SIDE, BUT LOOK FOR YOURSELF!!
Instead I say: You’ll have to check the fridge, hon.
When you're hormonal, another "routine" question feels like an anvil dropping on your toe:
“Mmmm…smells good. What’re we having? Noodles? Macaroni and cheese? Tuna casserole?” (as he’s looking at his filled dinner plate) Cue internal screaming: JUST EAT IT! ARE YOUR SENSES NOT WORKING?! CAN YOU OPERATE THAT PRONGY-FORKIE THING IN YOUR HAND OR SHOULD I FEED YOU?  Over stifled screaming, I eke out: It’s tuna casserole...darling.
A third question, no matter how innocent, is enough to drive you over the edge:
“Hey…what’s the weather supposed to be like tomorrow?”
After a few deep breaths, I advise: A little chilly so you’ll need to wear your sweatshirt…SWEETHEART.
Doesn’t matter that my teeth were ground down a little bit in the process, I had contained several potential hormone-driven, valid rants.

So in the case of our temporarily possessed girl, I understand. I sympathize with her – even if the object of irritation was me. She heard me tell her to wash her hands three times in a span of ten minutes and she had simply had enough. Hormones are new to her and she hasn’t mastered the art of internal screaming yet; hence the head-spinning, levitating and hissing. It was just the tween version of my hormone-driven internal tantrums.

Hormone-filled, yes. But still valid.

Any questions?

June 2, 2013

Cheerios and a Lesson from George Wallace

It was too early to head home on a much-too-rare date night when I espyed the bar a few blocks from our house that I had long been curious about. From the outside, you could tell the seating capacity inside was fifty at most, and the name spelled out in glowing blue and pink neon letters was one I couldn't pronounce. The most I knew was that it was a few blocks from the Serbian orthodox church and the Serbian meeting hall so it must have been Serbian. Didn't matter. It seemed like the kind of place where you walk in a stranger, but quickly make friends with the nieghborhood regulars and the friendly bartender who'd never forget your name or your drink after a first meeting. No frills, cheap drinks and probably a great jukebox with Patsy Cline and the Eagles in rotation.

I convinced Jamie as much. We parked and went in.

As expected, it was dark and cozy, and I immediately liked the place. Also as expected, it was a Serbian hangout. Handsome, dark swarthy people in soccer clothes, from leagues I guessed, were watching a soccer game. At least they were watching until they saw us. Because at that moment, everything stopped. I mean everything. The bar chatter switched from English to a native tongue. The fruit fllies buzzing around liqueur bottles stopped in mid-buzz. Competing soccer teams and spectators on the television's foreign cable network stopped. Everyone was staring. My "third eye" AKA my gut sensed it was "Fly in the Buttermilk Syndrome," meaning that being the only black person in a sea of non-black people earns extra and longer gazes than if I blended in. Jamie's never quite understood my third eye, but I don't expect him to. It's not part of his experience.

So when he leaned over and whispered "Hey...this is not cool, and it could get out of hand real fast. We need to leave. Now. " I realized it was more than my third eye and it was not about flies and buttermilk.

It was about us. More specifically, us being a mixed-race couple.

It was palpable. I've been in a lot of places where I'm that proverbial fly -- from towns in Northern Wisconsin where the population's so small there's no need for a stoplight, to parts of rural Alabama where houses lean on sticks for support, to quaint villages in Ireland -- and never had I ever felt in danger. Been given the double-take, yes, yet in this place -- this neighborhood bar less than a mile from our home where there were neighbors with whom I certainly had interacted at the grocer's, liquor store, gas station, drug store -- here in this place: I was scared. Then Jamie's voice -- strangely tinged with intimidation and fright -- echoed in my head; and I decided no. No, we weren't -- to use the vernacular -- going out like that. These folks were going to face -- and serve -- the very thing they didn't like. I told Jamie to chill out and find a table.

Grinning ear to ear, I gave an oblivious excuse-me to the two glaring patrons separating me from the bar. Once at the bar, I ordered in my best businesslike-teetering-on-snobby voice "I'd like a Stoli Raspberry with seltzer and my husband would like a bottle of Lite." And then topped it off with he sunniest "Thanks so much!" and a "This is for you" tip. I brought our drinks over to where Jamie was seated and said "We paid for these and we're going to enjoy them. Don't hurry. At all." We nursed the drinks...

...and then got the heck out of there. No use in temptimg fate.

Meh. Weird, but not suprising. Not everyone agrees in crossing racial lines and that's okay. That's their right, and it doesn't make them awful people. We all have our ideas about what's acceptable and what's not; and just because we don't see eye-to-eye doesn't make the person who disagrees terrible. Although I do believe that people who think along those lines limit their chances of meeting a BFF or Mister or Miss Right. But in the end, it's just a difference of opinion. Besides, if we'd paint people who are against biracial/multiracial unions with a broad brush of nazis, radical racists or any other label, wouldn't we be just as guilty as they are?

Now, what did bother me is that I probably had interactions with some of these folks -- after all, they were my neighbors. We're a community. Had they been thinking like they were acting that night all the years when they were scanning our groceries and checking our bags at the neighborhood store? Why didn't the glare and hostility come out then? Maybe because they weren't with others who thought the same? It's a mystery to me. And an usettling one.

Listen, I don't believe its an Us Against the World situation, nor is my third eye constantly on high alert because progress is being made every day. Even big companies like Cheerios are starting to catch up with the reality of bi-racial/multi-racial families. Just look at this commercial if you haven't already seen it. Mom who's white. Adorable kid who's bi-racial. Napping dad on the couch who's black (some things are the same regardless of color).

Adorable. Absolutely adorable.

Youtube posted the commercial and commentors praised Cheerios for reflecting another type of American family that's barely portrayed in media. I watched it in delight, and it was only then that I realized this is what I had wanted to see for so long: a family like ours being portrayed as everyday. Typical. Normal. Just a family with a snoozing dad and a precocious kid. Today, the Huffington Post broke the news that Youtube had to disable comments because with the praise came malicious, ugly, race-baiting sentiments.
About a hundred years ago, then Governor George Wallace proudly stated, "Segregation now, segregation tomorr-ah, segregation forever!" Kudos to that Dixiecrat Segregationist. Seriously: kudos and then some because old George owned what he said.

He was proud to be standing there on the dais spewing his brand of patriotism with cameras on him and everything.

But before he died, he apologized for his words and admitted he was wrong about segregation and the overall blacks-are-less-than-people thing.

I believe George was only able to take back his words and his viewpoint -- no matter how ugly, ignorant and stupid we think they are in retrospect -- because he stood behind them in the first place.

If he had hidden his words
behind a white sheet
or under a social media platform pseudonym
or in a neighborhood bar with his buddies,
would he ever have realized how wrong he was?

I don't think so.

So, my wish for the Youtube Cheerios haters and any neighbors who live with ugly thoughts under the cloak of a clique is not that they would change their minds and hearts, but that they would take a page from the late governor and own up to how they feel: use a real name in the comments section...or look me and my white husband and our beautiful intelligent kid in the eye the next time we see each other in passing and tell us our family's messed up because it's mixed up.

And then who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, they'll be able to make a change too...just like old George.

May 12, 2013

The Post I've Feared Writing

In the few years under my belt as a hack writer, I’ve read a lot of posts from a lot of other bloggers, hoping to pick up on the things that make a piece great or gripping. This nonprofessional research has turned up one thing: honesty. Honesty, as in Are-you-sure-you-wanna-say-that-out-loud honesty. Yeah. That. The great pieces have always been from writers who speak from their hearts and say things that are ironically funny, sometimes painful, but always glaringly, transparently, and sometimes embarrassingly, true.
Bare. Truth. Transparency. That takes courage akin to walking on a frozen pond during the spring thaw.  Think about it: we’ve all got stories that could make us great writers – even the hacks like me, but it’s all a question of courage: what are we willing to share? Are we willing to bare some uncomfortable things?
In my case, it’s missing my mom. Oh, the coward in me will casually refer to losing her at a young age and wax philosophic about, or bring out the funny about her sayings, or admire her for being a great and wise woman.
But broach the pain of missing her, and of losing her? Well, that’s a lot. Too much.
I fear the three people who read my words will become depressed. After all, who wants to read a sad post when all they have to do for sad news is turn on the news, read AP’s Twitterfeed or open the first two pages of the local paper? I fear the three people reading my posts will flood me with referrals for bereavement counselors to help me deal with this loss. I fear the three people reading my posts will feel sorry for me.
And that’s not what I want. None of it. SeriouslyI’ve weathered the five stages of grief at least eight times and talked to professionals about it, and cried on more friends’ shoulders (and probably a few strangers) about it throughout the years than I’m willing to admit. So, I’m not stuck in the grief, but sometimes…just sometimes, it pops up and taps me on the shoulder to remind me that it’s here.
I guess I just miss my mom. Yep. At nearly forty-four years old, with a grown-up job and a mortgage and a husband, child and dog, something deep within this perimenopausal woman still. Wants. Her. Mama. And I guess the way in which death took her is still a tender spot – even twenty-five years later.
Cancer. She talked to me about it even before she was diagnosed. She just had a feeling. After a few weeks of just not feeling “right” she called me to her bedside. With a heavy sigh, she said “I think mom’s got cancer.” Just like that. Like, “Hey…I might be coming down with strep.” Naturally, wordlessly, silently – my tears started flowing. Realizing the weight of her words, she first tried her hand at bolstering my confidence while assuaging my fear: “Oh, Babygirl – no -- no tears. You’re my strong one. And besides..” now quoting the Bible “… all sickness isn’t unto death.” A week later she was admitted to the hospital, and the biopsy found what she had sensed all along: it was liver cancer. Beyond chemotherapy. The doctor sentenced her to seven months to a one year; and four weeks later, she was gone.
That hurt’s never scabbed over completely. But I’ve learned to look for the bright spots and cling on to them, because they are there. Couldn’t survive without them.
Like her honesty in talking about the unpleasant. She could’ve lied to spare my nineteen year old feelings, but would that have changed the size of and growth of the tumor and the inevitable truth? So now I’m a painfully truthful person. Probably to a fault. Ask me if that dress makes you look fat, and I will tell you “Yes, that dress makes you look fat” if it does. Not to be mean, but because even if I lie and say “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat,” the truth is that you still look fat in that dress. And you probably know it too, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked in the first place.
Throughout the four weeks as she grew sicker and more distant, I learned that sickness is personal in the truest sense of the word: My dad, my brothers and sister and I could hold her hand, talk to her, play tapes of music and church services, but in the end, it was just her and her sickness and impending death. So when my friends grieve, I don’t “comfort” them by saying their loved ones are in a better place, even though I know that’s the case. Because honestly – they aren’t crying for their loved ones. They’re crying for themselves. And I get it. Sometimes, there just aren’t any words: at that moment, they are alone in their grief walk. The best I can do is to be there, hold a hand and say “I’m sorry. I know it sucks, but I’m here.” 

When mom was in and out of coma, I learned about the mother and child bond. The only thing that could wake mom from her limbo into the briefest moment of clarity during her final days was me saying “Mama?” in my little girl voice. (And yes: once I realized that worked, I might have used it a time or two or three or four...or five or six or seven.)

That little girl voice? Mom snapping back from death’s door and responding with a “Yes, Babygirl?”
It was the Forever Bond between mother and child.
One that cancer or the threat of death couldn’t even break.

It's why that same bond crops up every now and then, and works its way into these posts sometimes.

Even when I fear it.

May 8, 2013

About a Chicken and 9 Absent Warnings

The rush of cold air and sticky summer heat created a thick fog as I opened the freezer door. It was someplace in the back. Forgotten and alone, but still usable: the whole chicken I planned on making for supper.

At a few months shy of turning twenty, this would be my first attempt making a “mom dinner” for the family since my mom’s death a few months back. She’d buy whole chickens – fryers – because they were cheap. This last lone fryer, a rock hard frozen bird, was one of her last purchases and my inheritance. I threw it in the sink and covered it in tepid water to defrost.

Some hours later, as I cut away the now defrosted chicken’s shrink-wrapped plastic shroud and gave it an icy cold kitchen faucet shower, I could feel something shaking around inside the cavity. Instantly, my mind’s eye pictured mom’s hands going inside the thing and pulling out tiny, mushy flesh-colored baggies before cutting up the bird for frying. With chin lifted skyward and mouth corners turned down, I gulped hard, stuck my hand in and felt around. I was Jack Horner without the plum. Inside were all kinds of chicken innards in those mushy little bags: giblets, liver, heart, maybe even a neck. It was like a biology experiment gone dreadfully wrong.

Then the cutting began.

The Kmart serrated freezer knife, a gift from Mother’s Day Past when we thought kitchen appliances made excellent Mother’s Day gifts, would serve the purpose. Where to start and how? The back? The thighs? Crosswise? Up & Down? I chose all of the above. The friction from every stroke was bone-chilling in its texture and sound effect.

How in heaven’s name did mom perform this butchery all those years? How did she do this hack job -- while simultaneously smiling, singing, and having conversations with everyone in the house, including the dog -- like it was a walk in the park? My fingers were numb from the cold, and chicken was flying every which way.

The kitchen was a salmonella farm.

Then I got ticked. Not In-Need-of-Bereavement-Therapy-Ticked, but ticked about the chicken, the innards, the butchery and the nerve of her leaving this chicken for me to deal with, without any kind of warning. A simple note like “Hey, I made this chicken dinner thing look a lot easier than it is” would’ve been nice.

Now, I know she didn’t specifically leave the chicken for me, but it did make me wonder – just for a fleeting moment – what else didn’t she warn me about? Like all fleeting thoughts, it went away and I baked the chicken.

Twenty-five years later, that fleeting thought comes back on an almost daily basis. But I don’t wonder about what her absent warnings would’ve been because they slap me upside the head all the time. Things like:
Warning #1: One day your booty will no longer be the “bubble butt” you were ashamed of in high school, but flat. As a pancake. You will want that bubble butt back, but it’ll be gone forever.
Warning #2: Current, popular music will confuse you. You’ll think that everything is garbage compared to the music of your youth. It will make you feel very old-fashioned.
Warning #3: Hearing the mere phrase “Night on the Town” will wear you out and you will opt for a Night on the Sofa instead. Related: If you do go out, you will steer clear of any bar, club or restaurant that is teeming with people.
Warning #4: The very things you love about your husband, Prince Charming, will also drive you nuts. Oh, they’re cute idiosyncrasies right now, but mark my words. But if you two make the vows, he’s yours for life and you are his. No givesy-backsies.
Warning #5: Your child will think you are totally and completely clueless about boys, dating, sex and will actually turn red if you and your husband so much as kiss in her presence.
Warning #6: Bathroom privacy will be a thing of the past. Whatever you’re doing, the husband, child and the dog will find an excuse to “keep you company” while you’re in there.
Warning #7: Your husband, child and dog will only respond to what you say the third time you say it. Get used to feeling like there’s an echo in your home.
Warning #8: Your tear ducts will operate independently of your free will. Tears will flow involuntarily at the thought of: happy news; tragic news; good weather; bad weather; babies of any kind (think puppies, kittens); other people’s kids’ accomplishments; your kid’s accomplishments…well, you get it. Just count on being a blubbery mess every now and then.
Warning #9
You can’t warn your child about everything you’ve learned in this lifetime about disappointment, misplaced priorities, knowing when to speak or be silent and the difference between lifelong friends and passing acquaintances. Sometimes, you’ll have to let her bump her head a time or two to learn her own lessons. Those bumps will hurt you more than they will hurt her, but she’ll be stronger and wiser because of them.
I guess mothers can’t post all the warnings kids will need or want. So in the meantime, I’ll stop wasting time lamenting my mom’s absent warnings...

…and make a chicken dinner for my family instead.