Facing giants {a series on motherhood & empty nest}

Aug

17

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 in Aging, Empty Nest, Family, Health, Inspiring, Life Philosophy, Memoir, Mom stuff, Parenting, Personal | 13 comments

Facing giants {a series on motherhood & empty nest}

i. I’ve been pulling this Band-aid off for so long, I’ve become accustomed to the sting. It still hurts but the pain is a dull one just below the surface. Until it isn’t. But then once it’s off, that means the healing has taken place and the wound is restored to health. Isn’t that the way it goes? Last Wednesday we took our youngest to college, to the big university that happens also to be in my hometown. Athens, Georgia was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s – living in Five Points was a citified Mayberry – but I went away to school and never returned except to visit. Reasons are many, mostly tied to job, but I’ve arrived at a definitive peace with my hometown, and it feels so good to be there now, like all the unpredictability, challenge, and change over the last four years was leading to this: setting the stage for my baby to go to college in a familiar-to-me place. Home. Through him, in an odd sense, I’m able to be at home when I go home. Family is still there – family has always been there – but I think I appreciate being closer in proximity in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. So we moved my boy in to the 9th floor of a 960-student high-rise, and we left him and a chunk of my heart right there on Baxter Drive, 1.4 miles from the apartment we were living in when Mama died, down the road from my high school and middle school and around the corner from Barrow Elementary….within a few minutes and miles of where I spent my entire first 18 years. It’s easy to drift into memories – they’re a flood – but I’m anchoring myself to today. We came home to begin a new season, and lordy, our house was screaming quiet. And here’s the thing, a good thing for you to file away if you’re years from where I am:  You can “prepare” for Empty Nest all you want, you can steady your heart for the letting go, and you can even believe it’s good, well done, that this is what your parenting goal has been; but that doesn’t insulate you from the impact of this major change.  So…I’ve given myself permission to feel it.   Thursday, my husband went to work like normal, and I went to work like normal. No, not normal, I threw myself into my work and barely stopped all day. Not to eat or use the bathroom, just go go go so I wouldn’t have to listen to the damned silence. But then late in the day I had a conversation with a work colleague and she asked about taking Stephen to UGA the day before…and I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t speak. And she spoke simple, liberating words over me, He’s your baby. This IS a big deal. It’s okay to be sad. Which of course made me cry, which of course made me feel better. Sometimes tears are a means of escape for all the feelings pounding your heart.   I AM a half-full glass girl. I DO see silver linings in stormy clouds. But sometimes it’s fine, even better, and certainly more honest, to absorb the impact of life and to recoil; eventually...

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Tears, Technology and Halcyon Days

Aug

06

Posted by on Aug 6, 2015 in Memoir, Nostalgia, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized | 9 comments

Tears, Technology and Halcyon Days

 Take a minute to subscribe? (Thank you!)    I’m not a cry-er.   I chalk it up to using a lot of my Lifetime Tear Quota when my mom died the spring of ’72 and my beloved grandmother the summer after. Nothing hurts more than losing the ones you love most. Scraping my little girl’s heart something fierce, both left me with a decades-long oozing wound. Recovery comes slowly, and even if they fade to silver, scars remain. Though no one else can see them, you know they’re there. While I used to find not crying as some indicator of strength or emotional stability, I don’t so much these days. Sometimes I even find myself envying those for whom tears fall easily. With age, my tears have gotten conspicuously louder and I’m more attuned to the sorts of things that manage to siphon these tiny, magical waters from my eyes. Tears speak volumes if we’re listening.   Hallmark commercials are notorious for yanking heartstrings but it was a surprise when a granola bar commercial made me cry. Watch — Nature Valley asked the same question of three generations, “What did you like to do for fun as a kid?” It was all well and good when the over-40 set answered the question – blueberry picking, gardening, sledding, fishing, baseball, fort building, going door-to-door to find friends – and then it panned to a series of today’s kids… It wasn’t just their answers that bothered me; it was their enthusiasm, the way their faces illuminated when they spoke. Watching videos, gaming, texting — each child was passionate in answering. The admitted to spending hours…days…committed to their “play.” It made me sad-sick. I thought about my own childhood, what I did for fun– Visits with my cousins in small-town, Georgia, where we’d play Kick the Can with neighbors until the moon was high in the sky, dirt bike rides without helmets where you may not have gotten burned but you could feel the heat of the motor, playing Mumblety Peg and shooting firecrackers and swimming in the Blue Hole–knives and matches for heaven’s sake. Amazingly, we never were injured. Playing board games, building card houses and dining room forts, dress-up and make-believe, lemonade stands, water balloon fights, riding bikes and walking to 5 Points to buy a chocolate cone at Hodgson’s Drugs…. Reading behind the wing chair in our living room, sitting wrapped in a blanket by the heater vent, bowl of chocolate ice cream in one hand and Nancy Drew in the other. Or that time it snowed then iced then snowed again, and no one had power for days, and we became prowling wolves, somehow still finding our people. Boredom was a gift, a birthplace for imagination.   What a disservice to our children, that they never have to be bored. And it’s not that I’m judging kids for their choices; it’s a by-product of our culture.  Following a path of least resistance is human nature. Even as a mama, when I was desperate for a break, I’d pop in a Barney video to babysit. It concerns me for our collective future, mine and yours and ours, that we medicate on technology, how we suckle the internet like a babe to mother’s milk. We’re tempted to point at the addictions because we’re blind or maybe just numb to our own. We settle for imaginary friends on Facebook. We crumble under the...

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A Secret to Lifelong Marriage

Jul

08

Posted by on Jul 8, 2015 in (in)courage, Faith, Family, Marriage, Memoir, Uncategorized | 1 comment

A Secret to Lifelong Marriage

  We didn’t talk for two days after I wrote about him. Them. It wasn’t because he wouldn’t but because he couldn’t. “I know it’s all true because I’ve lived it,” he quivers, “but it’s still hard to believe when you see it in writing.” My words are mirror to their lives, an undistorted reflection of what I’ve observed for over 30 years. At 75, he and his bride still hold hands. At times I’ve seen them look at each other, grins telling secrets, eyes sizzling. Their son ignored it because – gross – but I thought it was…kind of amazing. Marriage is a hard thing, and untended, it will cool.  I want heat. Even the most blistering of fires will eventually dwindle to ash if not fed.  Give me flames. When I wrote about my father-in-law, apparently I poked a bear. Not a mean, grumpy grizzly but more along the lines of Pooh–not exactly a willy, nilly, silly old bear, but sweet nevertheless. With all manner of deference, he suggested a different title (his, based on a poem he penned 25 years ago, is better) and that I might want to rethink my choice of words in one spot (because I “might present myself better”), so I did. And then he reminded me of the secret to their 54-year marriage lest there was any doubt, to make certain I understood. “People want to know how we’re still so in love, how we have such a good marriage,” he begins. And the next thing he says is the kind of thing pulls taut your attention… “Having a good marriage doesn’t have anything to do with trying to have a good marriage…”   A simple truth that doesn’t begin to be easy. Please, please click to continue reading A Secret to Marriage for Life at...

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Listen

Jul

04

Posted by on Jul 4, 2015 in Aging, Family, Home, Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized | 5 comments

Listen

In the distance I hear a rooster. He’s persistent, this one, afraid we didn’t hear him the first time. He repeats his song–a cockle, an alarm, a lament. It’s midday and he’s waking no one. The air conditioner just cut on. I’m sitting by the return and its breathy strum is the most familiar white noise of the South. What they did before this blessed invention was to fan a lot and sweat a lot, and it’s a reason to thank God with all manner of enthusiasm for a man-made thing. A wind chime signals the softest of breezes but the purple martin’s cacophony is annoying to me. They try too hard to make their presence known, all that swooping and swirling and spinning in circles. What is it they’re after? They remind me of people I know, and it hurt more than a little to realize they remind me of myself at times. Music is playing somewhere outside where the men are working, our men. Two husbands–a son and a father shoulder to shoulder. They’re getting things done that have been languishing, waiting. I suppose for such a time as this. It’s not so much work as it is….investment. Love. Treasured moments. We’re sitting at the kitchen table and she’s handwriting recipes. The famous ones, at least to our family, and maybe to the lucky ones on the receiving end of her gift through all these years. Our playlist is quiet but there’s noise inside my head. So much. I long to hear what’s inside hers. I hadn’t noticed when she started getting quieter. The ice maker just emptied into the freezer bin. The back door squawked open and when he walked by her, he stole a kiss. And somewhere along the way the rooster stopped crowing.   * * * Inspired, in part, by Emily Freeman’s new book, Simply Tuesday. Reading brings with it a call to settle into small moments…like this...

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The Essence of Love || When Love is a Pie

Jun

21

Posted by on Jun 21, 2015 in Aging, Faith, Family, Marriage, Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized | 9 comments

The Essence of Love || When Love is a Pie

  I don’t remember so much meeting him that first time, I remember meeting her.   She was standing, arms crossed, in their garage, awaiting her oldest son’s arrival home with his new girl. I was stunned when I laid eyes on her. Their resemblance was so remarkable I could have plucked her out of a crowd a thousand strong. It was the eyes, the same ones I was coming to love in her son. Envy-blue and brilliant. She welcomed me like she already loved me. That weekend is a blur, save for first and last things–initial impressions and Sunday lunch. Of course she used her fine china. She and I were the only girls at their dining room table that day; we were circled by the love of her life and the loves of their lives–a mess of boys four strong. I think the china and crystal and silver met her need for a little civility. Hers had not been a childhood of indulgence. She appreciated nice things because they were rare and special, not because she was entitled or spoiled. Quite the contrary. Sarah would come to teach me many things over the ensuing 30 years, so it just makes sense she’d start at our beginning. Use your nice things or what’s the point of having them? China isn’t made to sit in a box; it’s a precious thing that reminds us that any moment around a table is sacred and cause for celebration. She regarded lifestyle over lecture, and lessons were learned by osmosis. We’d eventually spend a lot of time in her kitchen, so it was perfectly natural for me to become a sponge absorbing everything there was to soak up. Serving others was as natural to her as breathing. She had been saved by grace and her focus was as outward as anyone I’ve ever met. I’m sitting here trying to think of a time she was self-serving and I can’t. Unless you count how “one” she was with her husband – she was always about serving him – so maybe in a convoluted sense, she was a little self-serving after all. Sarah managed to be about taking care of others without ever playing the martyr card, with never a complaint. There was no obvious sense of obligation or responsibility in her motives, just simple acts of service birthed in love. As if that were a small thing. It wasn’t obvious when things changed. Subtleties are best noticed in hindsight.   One time we were talking and I must’ve been going on about how sweet she was, how she never seemed to do anything “bad.” Or maybe our conversation was about my propensity to use colorful language at times but that I had never heard a profane word come out of her mouth. Whatever the context, she laughed and told me a friend had once said, “Sarah wouldn’t call it ‘s—‘ if she stepped in it,” and I thought, “Ah ha! There’s one!” Might’ve been the only. Sarah is beautiful and if you met her today, you’d never guess she’s 75. Her black hair is finally graying but those steely blue eyes still sparkle; that was literally what I told her a few weeks ago – Your eyes are sparkly!  In the midst of so much change, I’m thankful that hasn’t; on most days, anyway. Tommy cooks for them now. After over 50 years as the head chef, Sarah...

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The Summer Everything Changes || Thoughts on Empty Nest

Jun

11

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 in Faith, Family, Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized | 21 comments

The Summer Everything Changes || Thoughts on Empty Nest

Friends keep asking me how I’m doing. It’s an understandable question, I suppose, given this is the summer Everything Changes. And maybe I’m misreading all those furrowed brows and sympathetic nods, but I’d swear it seems like they imagine me to be curled into the fetal position when I’m home alone, quivering in the corner of my closet sucking my thumb. Except I’m not. I’m fan.tas.tic. My oldest graduated college a month ago; my youngest graduated from high school two weeks later. My husband and I are official Empty Nesters but we won’t feel its full impact until my daughter heads west for a two-year Fellows Program in September and my son leaves for his freshman year in college. Then, their absence will fill canyons. Would you like to know why I’m doing so well? * * * Because this is the way things ought to be. Really, it’s that simple. For 18 years a parent is obligated and privileged to steward their children’s lives. We’re on 24 hours a day for about 6,570 days, give or take. We teach and train and guide and direct and coach and carry and challenge and charge and request and command and demand. Just when you have a grasp of one season, things change. Imperceptibly sometimes, when you don’t even see it coming. Other times it’s a sledgehammer to the head…or worse, heart. One summer you’re slathering them in sunscreen, the next you’ll be handing them the bottle to do it themselves…and the next you won’t even have to remind them. That one lesson they learned the hard way was a grand teacher–who knew you could get sunburned there? Physical needs in those early years gradually inch toward emotional demand. When my youngest was born, the oldest of my three was just four. It was exhausting. I remember some days feeling like the breath of life was sucked out of me. Babies are a sweet sort of dementor* who’ll drain every drop of energy you’ve got. You wonder how in the world people with “more children” can do it; more children is just one more than you have. Children are handed a set of keys as they learn to read; and once they start reading to learn, you’ll thrill when they open new doors. You’ll hold your breath when they master two wheels, but the first time they drive off in four, you might stop breathing altogether. The hurt you feel with each skinned knee and stubbed toe will give way to an inextinguishable ache when feelings are wounded. Mamas become bears when injustice knocks.   The days are long, so very long. But then one day, they’re not.  * * * I started praying for my children before they were born, and I suppose that will never stop. They sure give you plenty of reasons. I had a rude awakening when my oldest was eight, when a friend made a declaration that rattled my soul on his son’s 10th birthday– “I’ve already had him longer than I will.” It took a few seconds to absorb what he meant, but once I understood, I hated the thought. But it was transformative in my parenting in a good sense, a means of preparing me for where I am now. It takes about this long to get ready, but I’m not sure you ever truly are. But, like I said, this is the way things...

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Mama’s Way (15 Things To Teach Your Children)

May

05

Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Life Philosophy, Memoir, Mom stuff, Mothers and daughters, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized | 3 comments

Mama’s Way (15 Things To Teach Your Children)

  To say this is a big month for me is to call Everest a molehill. My first born will graduate college and my last born will bid adieu to high school.   I’m fine, really…. Introspective. Contemplative. Prayer-filled. But good. This season has me missing my parents something awful, wishing so badly they were here to celebrate with us. Daddy at least got to meet and spend time with his grands; but maybe because Mother’s Day is coming up, I’m lamenting not having more time with Mama. If given three wishes, my first would be to have time with my her, to talk as adults and friends and for Mama to meet my babies and husband. To honor her memory and celebrate her legacy, today I’m sharing the text for my Listen to Your Mother reading. It’s a lovely thing to hear, but quite another to read. I suppose this is mostly for me but I hope it will bless and encourage you, too. Motherhood extends the special privilege of shaping lives, impacting the future and changing the world.   Mama had just nine years to teach me everything she knew about being a mother.  Thing is, I don’t think she realized she was teaching any more than I understood I was learning. Like when I would sit on the floor next to her bed and she would dream out loud with me.  She told me I was going to be Miss America 1984.  I believed her.  My older sister would win first, and when I was crowned two years later, we’d be the first sisters ever to share the title. This was back in the early 70s before Disney princesses were born and when beauty pageants were the end-all, be-all for every little girl. This was mama’s way of teaching me my own daughter would need to be told she was talented and beautiful and of immeasurable value; that part of my role would be to encourage her,  to believe in her,and to help her see in herself what was yet to be seen.  In those bedside chats she taught me to be present and positive and to mine deep potential and possibilities. Or the time she explained the birds and the bees. Now remember, this was a thousand years ago when TV couples had just been allowed to be seen sharing the same bed, and today’s PG-rated movies would have been slapped with an R. My little eight-year-old mind couldn’t wrap itself around how THAT could go THERE and WHY IN THE WORLD anyone would want it to. Naturally, I had a lot of questions. Probably regretting her decision to make sure it was she who first taught us about sex, the conversation abruptly ended when, exasperated, she declared, “I am not going to sit here and draw pictures!” This was mama’s way of teaching me it is a parent’s privilege and responsibility to initiate important conversations, even if they can get a little uncomfortable; and there are just some things a child needs to hear from her parent first, before the world gets a hold of them and tells a distorted version of a beautiful truth. And then there was the way she’d respond when we’d ask, “What’s for dinner?”  Now, it’s important for you to know before...

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Heart-shaped :: A Valentine’s Day Feature at {in}courage

Feb

14

Posted by on Feb 14, 2015 in (in)courage, Faith, Family, Family Traditions, Memoir, Mom stuff, Mothers and daughters, Personal, Valentine Tea, Valentine's Day | 1 comment

Heart-shaped :: A Valentine’s Day Feature at {in}courage

Valentine’s Day isn’t about romance or passion to me. Instead, it’s a blur of fizzy affections tethered first to grade school then later to a woman of valor. I grew up in a Mayberry-esque town before the internet or big box craft stores were born. They were halcyon days, when a teacher would hand out construction paper, scissors, glitter and glue, then light a creative match and set our imaginations on fire. We’d transform our cereal or shoe boxes into treasure boxes. Then, we’d snake up and down the rows of desks, slipping our Valentines into bedazzled boxes, eager to sift and analyze our own. Simpler times. When I got older there was a season when Valentine’s Day took on a shroud of romance, but even when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I never liked the idea of a retail-imposed, gift-giving mandate. Except that one time in college, under Valentine’s Day pressure but totally broke he came up with my favorite gift of all time — that was true love. [linebreak] When my firstborn was three years old, Valentine’s Day changed. It happened when my mother-in-lawlove (MIL) asked if we could have a Valentine Tea. My husband is one of four boys and my in-laws had been waiting for a granddaughter for almost 30 years. They had ideas. Our mother-daughter tea evolved over time. Initially I hosted the tea. Our menu: heart-shaped PB&Js, strawberry Jello Jigglers, and Valentine M&Ms. For the moms: chicken salad and strawberry cream puffs. In those early years we’d make a craft, plus a card for the dads, and read a special book. Our Valentine Tea Party became a much-anticipated annual event growing larger each year. When it outgrew our dining room, I raised the white flag. That was the year we moved it to my mother-in-law’s house and it became a family event — the four girl cousins inviting their very best friend (and her mom), my sisters-in-law, my MIL and her best friend. We’d sit around the dining room table for hours, three generations at school in a sacred space, no one in a hurry to leave. Three constants remained over the 16 years we hosted our Valentine Tea: a darling invitation, Noni’s famous butter mints and surcies for the girls and their mamas. When we had our Valentine Tea in 2012 — a little late because it was the year I was living abroad — I had no idea it would be our last…. * * * Please click to continue reading Heart-shaped over at incourage,a very special personal...

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The sweet reminder

Jan

30

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Family, Kids, Memoir, Mom stuff, Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized | 3 comments

The sweet reminder

When things go according to the way they should, your children will leave you. It’s a sobering thought if you’re lightyears away from that day, but time can be a jerk, stretching days impossibly long but shriveling years tiny, so when the time comes you shake your head in disbelief wondering how in the world did you get from there to here. I know, it’s befuddling. Your home will grow quiet. Your days will find more hours. And nights will return to lovers who needn’t lock doors. Memories will surface through rose-colored glasses and you’ll forget all the mental weariness and physical exhaustion. You’ll romanticize what it means to be up all night with a sick baby, and having to read a dozen books before bed, and your kid praying for every person they’ve ever known just to stay up seconds longer. You’ll think it sweet, the constant wiping of noses and behinds and highchair trays covered in smashed banana and peas. You’ll forget about running out of wipes and the streaks of crusty dried snot on everything you own. You’ll only remember that kissing a boo boo brings healing and a Disney Band-aid brings happiness. On special occasions you’ll receive a call, unexpected but welcome from one of them. He or she will need to know things they know you know, and your spirit will strum joy and your heart will beat happy, answering each question with all the right answers. Families write stories, and sometimes a child needs help remembering earlier chapters their Mama wrote. It will be a call full of news and new things, and you’ll hear a tone so light and lovely it will quench a thirst you didn’t realize you had. Even mamas not prone to worry have a spot in their heart that never stops thinking about their children, willing and pleading and praying that all be well. We’d gladly take a bullet for our babies; but since that isn’t likely to happen, we just wish we could insulate them from any harm, every harm, because we know the world is full of ’em. We hear all the things our children tell us but the loudest are the ones spoken without words. And so you hang up the call happy and full, lips smacking their satisfaction when the phone rings again. There’s a problem. Keys locked in a car, at night, away from home, the spare long lost…and you’re hours away and can’t do a blasted thing. Sure, and thankfully, a roommate is on the way, but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration, so you do what you’re wired to do, the only thing you can do at a time like this, and offer the counsel of who to call and what to do next. The tremble in her voice breaks your heart the same way her skinned knees and hurt feelings did a thousand years ago. Then you realize the gift in all of it, that you’ve never stopped being her mama and sometimes you’re the only one who knows the things she needs to know or can fix a thing or at least make it better, and that sometimes kissing a boo boo looks like a phone glued to your wide open ear, listening for words spoken and not. Yes, your babies will one day leave you...

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The Apartment

Nov

20

Posted by on Nov 20, 2014 in Breast Cancer, Family, Memoir, Personal | 6 comments

The Apartment

It is one of my earliest memories, certainly the first one I learned on purpose. One-seventy-five-baxter-drive-apartment-J-seven-five-four-three-four-two-eight-one I say it now like I did back then, without a breath in between each word. That’s how I could remember it all from the time I was four. The hilled entrance was smaller than I remember. Shorter, too. In my little girl mind it was a mountain that took all day to climb, but in reality a hop, skip and jump will take you from top to bottom. Funny how perspective changes when you grow up. I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel going back. It’s not like I haven’t driven there before. But for some reason, Tuesday was different. We pulled up the hill and I recognized it immediately, mistakenly going too far to the right at first. I’m sure I thought it was farther because I was remembering it the way I imagined it over 40 years ago. I backed up our car and pulled right in front. “…and that window…” The lump in my throat stopped me from completing my narration of what I was seeing– That was the window I’d stand at looking out, waiting for Mama to get home. When she hurt so bad she couldn’t stand it, she’d drive to the hospital for a shot; thank God it was right up the street. Maybe that’s why we lived where we lived. I’ll never know. They didn’t have pain management like they do now, and I can only imagine how badly she must have hurt all the time. Five surgeries in barely five years, chemo and radiation, too, but the greatest ache knowing she was not going to see her babies grow up. I can barely stand to think about what she endured. Pure barbarism. Bastard cancer. I’d stand at our living room window, the same living room where I once caught my hair on fire playing with matches and candles – nobody ever found out, but I don’t see how you can miss the smell of burned hair…that faint scent still lingers. I’d stand at that window and wait for Mama to come back, hating to be left alone but understanding I didn’t have a choice. I knew our neighbors were just across the hall and my older sister and baby brother were there, but I still felt all alone. I wonder if anyone ever saw me from the street and wondered what that little girl was looking at. What she was looking for. So I take my husband and my youngest to see all the places I lived growing up, and seeing them all in a row like that, my husband said, “I don’t think I knew you lived so many places,” but I’m sure I took him decades ago. At least when we passed the entrance, I had to have mentioned it. I got out of the car and walked up to the door; there’s an outside entrance to four apartments inside – two ground floor, two above. I don’t necessarily recognize the inside, it’s a nondescript apartment door with a tacky scarecrow hanging on it, but the number is tattooed on my heart: J7. I look up the stairs to where Mr. and Mrs. Butts lived, they were kinda famous but they’re long gone now. To...

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