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Are you “just a mom”?

Come on over to Families in the Loop where I’ve got a post up about the identity crisis of being a mother. Talk to me about whether you’ve ever introduced yourself as “just a mom.”

How about we stand up and proudly own that title and all that entails, huh?

Click here to view my post.

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Kakuma

The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight

pealing, appealing,

across the sea.

I cannot go; I am not free

bound here in ministry.

 

Silence and sanctuary are calling tonight

softly, in stage whispers my soul cannot snub.

Slumbering amidst the restless din

I dream of holy hush and polished pews.

 

I yearn for my holy Father tonight

His presence palpable in the nave

I pine for Bibles with broken spines

spaces where I know God to be.

 

I rest, cradled in faith tonight

for the bells call but do not toll.

Grace covers; my debts are paid.

All is well with my soul.


This was a surprise prompt from Write on Edge:  Add 100 words of fiction (any genre) to the following first line:

“The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight.”

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Sandblasted

Her steps echo on the slate walk.

She turns; searching, but cannot see the others;

the veritable ghost-army keeping pace.

A whisper of perfume

The familiar oak a skeleton in the yard.

Smells of the past and of a storm yet to come.

 

Memories hits with the open door

and she

falls

down

a rabbit hole,

through the glass of the grandfather clock

its hands spinning backward.

She’s caught – captive in a sandstorm.

There is no shielding herself from the barrage:

– should’ve

– could’ve

– what if?

– why?

 

Flayed raw by the storm, old scars tear open.

She reaches for an anchor, but finds only the hard curves of an hourglass

nipping, shaping, crushing.

No! she thinks. Not here. I don’t fit here anymore!

The glass is strong, unyielding beneath her fists.

 

She weeps, trapped, until she remembers.

Let it go.

Her hands are clenched,

crushing sand to her raw palms.

Let it go.

Slowly, painfully, she uncurls each finger and lets the sand blow away.

 

Standing on the porch, she turns her back on the open door,

clatters down the stairs

suddenly clear;

lighter than when she came up the walk.

She’s remembered: the past is a foreign country:

she cannot live there.

 

Poetry inspired by the Write on Edge prompt: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953).

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Trespassing

Trespassing-watermarked

Wrapping myself in a towel, I get out of the shower and listen. It’s the habit of a mother, the automatic check for voices, for sounds of play.

There is only silence.

This cannot be good.

I pad down the hall to her room, where I see no children, but I hear voices, murmurs. Giggling.

Treading softly, I circle the room until I see the lower half of my son sticking out from under the bed. He’s on his tummy, with his legs crossed up in the air behind him. Relaxed. Happy.

Under the bed?

Voices again, and I realize she’s completely under the bed, and they’re just having a chat. Under the bed.

For the I don’t know how many-ith time, I marvel at this relationship.

Come here, my other half, let’s chat in the dark. A hideout under the bed? Why not? It’s perfect! Now, I have so many things to tell you, so get comfortable….

I watch and try to make sense of their conversation until a water droplet slides down my neck and I realize I’ve been standing there in a towel for how long?

My daughter is still not visible; she’s all the way under the bed, obscured by a bedskirt and a pile of pink duvet. That’s her. Never one to go halfway on anything. My son is half under and half out, yet fully immersed in their private world. I am trespassing when I finally clear my throat and ask, “So how often do you two have important chats under the bed, exactly?”

After a pause and a giggle, two heads pop out from under the box-springs, photo negatives of each other. Light and dark. Boy and girl. Fireworks and calm.

“Not that often,” he answers, flashing his jack-o-lantern grin.

And just like that, they’re gone.

Back into their private world.

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Shifting sands

shifting-sands-final

 

My words have not been here as frequently as they once were, and I want you to know that it’s not because I’ve stopped writing them, but because the ground has become less certain, and I’m trying to find my footing on shifting sands.

This problem is hardly unique to me, but I’ve taken a bit of a break to wrestle internally with the dilemma of how to write memoir on a blog, especially when that memoir is so often about my children or issues stemming from parenting my children. You see, I harbor this delusion that it’s possible to write while protecting my children’s privacy as they grow older.

Yet my children themselves make it so difficult. Older tends to equal funnier, and I want to tell stories about the things they do and the problems they face, but I’m reluctant to write about their lives as much now that they’re in school. Things that happened when they were infants and toddlers were wonderful and hysterical and sometimes sad, but ultimately relatable to anyone who’s been a parent. It was ubiquitous humor. Now, they’re old enough that their problems and issues are their own, and I want to give them their privacy. (Online, anyway. I’ll be snooping through their rooms and reading any and all texts and emails until they leave the house.)

As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve realized that though I have many stories, they’re not all mine to tell, no matter how much I’d like to have you pull up a chair and listen. None of us can write in a vacuum. All of my stories belong to me, yes, but they belong to other people, too. People who may remember them for different reasons, or differently all together. People who may not wish that the stories be told.

My children aren’t old enough yet to give me informed consent about whether certain of their stories should be told. I’ve only just begun to educate them about the permanence of the Internet and their online footprints.

There is no easy answer.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have recently decided to stop blogging, or are seriously considering it. It’s rare that a week goes by without hearing of another blogger saying goodbye.

I can understand why.

It’s exhausting, this writing in public thing, putting your thoughts out there for critique. Even if you begin with skin as thick as leather, other people’s opinions of your writing, and by extension, you, will start to have an effect. Discomfort squeezes in the cracks of your carefully crafted writer veneer, because writing memoir is a vulnerable business.

That said, I’m not going anywhere. Nor will I stop writing about my children entirely. Rather, I will consider carefully what I do choose to write, and pray that I choose the path that will one day make them happy to read my words.

As I watch the sand shift, I hope to find the the best way to shepherd my family in love and the best place to plant my words so that they’ll stand tall.

Happy New Year to all!

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The world ended. Blame Florida State.

For those of you out there who are not Clemson fans, I’m going to let you in on a not-so-little-secret. They’re passionate about football. Passionate in a college version of Packers fans kind of way.

I married into this strange cult of orange, so I am uniquely situated to report the events of yesterday.

News flash:  the world ended last night when Florida State absolutely killed Clemson, at home, in Death Valley, 51-14. We’re talking apocalypse. Grown men crying. Cats and dogs, living together (particularly apropos, as Bill Murray did the Gameday picks).

This was a huge game for Clemson. ESPN’s College Gameday was there, as was most of South Carolina and a good portion of North Carolina. Mark and a friend left here at noon for a game with an 8:22 kickoff. One of my friends was out there at 6:30 a.m.

As Mark so delicately put it when he got home from the game at 2:00 this morning, “They didn’t even bother to use Vaseline.”

I awoke to the sight of my dear husband curled up, covers pulled to his chin, face pale in a manner that usually signals dire illness.

“Honey! Are you sick? You look like you’ve got the flu!”

“I’m fine,” he muttered.

“Oh,” I said, relieved. “You realize it’s just football, right?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Five minutes later, he threw back the covers.

“That’s it. I can’t think about it any more. I’ve got to do something.”

Since then, he’s done laundry, pruned the Carolina jessamine with great vigor (really, I hope there’s some left), cleaned out his car, replaced the filters in the HVAC system, and made a trip to Home Depot.

I hope he mourns this much when I die.

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The ebb and flow

The playground air is foggy with pollen and clouds of dust from the touch football game that is played every day, giving grass seed no hope of reaching for the sky. The kids’ white uniform shirts are uniformly smudged and dirty, and I can almost hear twenty mothers reminding themselves to add bleach to the grocery list.

My daughter runs up, delighted, flushed, and sweaty from digging for buried unicorn eggs. Dirt speckles her nose and blends with her freckles, giving me a glimpse of her face at sixteen. I hug her tight, inhale the earthy scent of her ponytail, and tell her, “I love you.”

Near the bars, my son is being either hugged or heimliched by a pigtailed blonde girl in a navy jumper. She lets go and he springs away into a game of tag.

My friend Susannah and I talk, easy conversation that flows along on the swirling currents of playground games and children’s shouts.

Then the words from the next bench drift down to us.

“I mean, what is twerking, anyway? I’m going to have to Google it.” She begins tapping on an iPhone, and before I mean to move, I’m on my feet.

“I know. I feel so out of it,” says another woman on the bench.

“Seriously? Y’all don’t know what twerking is?” It pops out of my mouth. No filter.

“No,” says the first woman. “I’m looking it up.”

“Don’t bother,” I say. “It’s basically just rump-shaking. Like this.” Then I bend, put my hands on my knees, and commence shaking it like a Polaroid picture. Or that milkshake that brings the boys to the yard. At any rate, my humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps, they are a-jiggling.

“Oh. My. God,” she says, covering her mouth.

“I know,” I say, standing. “It’s pretty tacky. But that’s the tame version. If you’re Miley, you bend all the way over, like this.” I stretch my hands down, yoga-like, to my shins, and shake my buns. “Bonus points if you stick your tongue out.”

Standing up, I pause. “But her tongue is about the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. I just want her to roll the thing back up and stuff it.”

Reflecting later on their quickly hidden facial expressions, I think that perhaps this is why I have so few “appropriate” friends.

Eh. To hell with it. I find a mirror and work the twerk. The junk in my trunk is shaking, except these days I drive a minivan, and it doesn’t technically have a trunk, but that’s ok, because that means you can fit MORE junk in what isn’t technically the trunk. Then I burst into unexpected laughter at the girl in the mirror, for she is suddenly a girl, dancing as she did in the 90s in clubs with questionable music and ice luges.

Does anything ever really change?

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“Options”

“I brought you a present,” Mark says, as he sits down beside me on the sofa with a huge sheaf of papers.

“That looks delish,” I say. Then I glance at the papers and see the letterhead. My stomach twists. “Crap. Is that the new insurance stuff?”

“Yep.”

He settles in and begins to explain our options, showing me charts, numbers, options that don’t feel like choices, but prison sentences. My shoulders creep toward my ears and I twist the plush throw between my fingers, trying to block out the roar in my head.

I will not panic. I will not panic.

“So, either way, we end up paying a lot. It’s a wash, really. But if you fall in this certain zone, you’d do better to have chosen the first plan. There’s no way to predict it,” he says. His eyes have faint smudges underneath, and I feel guilty for the weight I place on him with all my medical needs.

“What about the prescription coverage? Is there anything about that?” I ask. He hands me a list of covered medications, saying, “They cover preventative medication and maintenance medications.”

And yet, none of mine are on the list. Who wants to prevent depression? Or anxiety? Or migraines? I need a Xanax, which makes me want to laugh hysterically in the true sense of the word “hysteria,” because of course, Xanax isn’t covered.

“It will be ok,” he says quietly. “We’ll have to pay a lot of money, but it will be ok.”

I take a deep breath and decide to believe him; to trust him. I’ve been doing it over ten years, and there’s no reason to stop now.

 

This post was written for Just Write. Just Write is an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments.

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Today, I’m In The Powder Room!

Today, you can find me at In The Powder Room, talking about my first time. Go on. Clickety click the link. You know you want to.

Read Me In the Powder Room!

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September

Every September I struggle with a feeling of unease; the very air smells wrong, warning of impending danger. My shoulder muscles tighten; my body remembers before my mind. It floats just out of reach, keeping my neck kinked and my mind unquiet, until Labor Day, when the memories flood in. My shoulders inch closer toward my ears as September 20 approaches. In September I exist in the halfway world of grief and memory, moving as if underwater, bracing for a hurricane as my friends soak up the last of the summer sun.

This September 20 will mark the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. Each year brings distance and hurts a little less, but with each year I’m more conscious of the distance and that makes his loss hurt more. As my children grow older, I catch glimpses of my father in my son’s sly grin and hysterical laugh, and imagine his response to the irresistible force that is my daughter.

Each September finds me in fierce debate. Should this be the year I finally get rid of his sweaters? Am I hurting myself by keeping them? I take them out of my closet, unfold them, and bury my face in their threads, one by one. I breathe in, searching for Dad in the red cashmere, then the navy cotton.

He’s gone.

But then I nuzzle the nubby knit of a brown sweater, and there, right in the center, is the faintest whiff of Dad.

Is this the year the sweater will lose that smell?

I don’t know, but for now I’ve folded it up and put it back in my closet anyway.

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