A Star in the Dark

This past May was a time of celebrating, remembering, and just a few tears–happy tears. My oldest graduated from my alma mater and now hers, Wesleyan College.  The graduating seniors voted for two parents to speak at the Baccalaureate service.  It was a great honor to be one of the two chosen.  As I told the seniors that night, the only thing better than being a Wesleyanne has been being a Wesleyanne’s mama.  

Tomorrow my oldest starts her newest journey–the first day of classes in law school.  My sisters at Wesleyan also begin the new school year, so I thought I’d share my dreams for them that I first shared on May 12th.  I wish them all the best–my daughter, my sisters, and all those beautiful young people starting a new year of learning.  I hope they all will remember the beauty of their light, freely share it, and often remind others of their beautiful light.  

We need each other y’all.  Now more than ever.  Love to all.  

 

Hello to all of our friends and family here tonight, and an especially warm welcome to my sisters in the Class of 2017. Thank you for the honor of being here to share with you this evening.
I’m going to start with a line from a song you’ve maybe heard a few times during your time at Wesleyan—
“…..a star in the dark is thy glorious past…..”

You. All of you. Did you know? From the moment you took your first breath, your light has been shining. This world is better and brighter because you are here. Each and every one of you.

I recently saw something on Facebook that one of your sisters shared. It had a picture of two pink sparkly eggs just like these, and it said,
“me vs. you bc we both cuties who don’t tear other women down.”
Yes. That. Each and every one of you is a pink sparkly egg, and your light is important.

Don’t let anyone let you feel like it isn’t either—whether you are graduating with a 4.0 or 2.7. Whether you’ve garnered many awards during your time at Wesleyan or none, whether you know exactly where you will be on Monday or in August or if you have no idea what is ahead for you—your light is still beautiful. As is yours and yours and yours. And it is so very needed. The most precious thing about light is that it doesn’t diminish when shared with others. And when we stand together, it shines even brighter. That’s what it means to be a Wesleyanne. That’s what the sisterhood is about. And it doesn’t end either, y’all. My sisters from the classes of 1987-1993 have continued to be a strong presence in my life, even more so in the past few years. We had a saying back when I was here, “Sisters in spirit stay sisters forever.” And after all these years, I’m adding another line, “Sisters in spirit stay stronger together.”

As you go forth from tonight and tomorrow, I want you to take three things with you.

Your light. Share it. Use it to shine in the darkest places, and become a safe place for others. And if you find yourself needing a safe place, look to your sisters. Even those you may not have met yet. Find me. Love on each other and lift each other up like the pink sparkly eggs you all are.

I want you to take with you gratitude. My first birthday after my Daddy died in 2011 was the last one I’d have with my Mama. And she gave me this gratitude journal. I didn’t get it. I was still very much grieving and I knew she wasn’t in the best of health. A gratitude journal? Really? It was while she was sick in the hospital that I found myself getting it—grasping a bit of this gratitude thing. I began to notice little things—a cup of coffee at just the right time, the gentle nature of a caring nurse, my phone that I could use to research things—things and people to be grateful for. And it was because of the light of those around me that I could see it. My friend Ashley, the Baddest Mother Ever, and a sister of yours as well, often uses the hashtag #saythankyouhere.  So number two, my sisters, is gratitude. Practice it often. Say thank you as much as you can. Let folks know when you appreciate them.

This past week I found myself out with my Auburn, my daughter who is my sister, just the two of us, and we were laughing our way through the Walmart. At one point, when we were giving each other a hard time, like we do, I said to her, “I don’t know why you do me like that, I’ve always been good to you.” She laughed and said, “Well, there was that one time…..”

Y’all, there will always be that one time. Or two or three. This is not a world of absolutes. Success is not a run of no failures or mistakes. There will always be that one time. Or two or ten. (I did pretty good in college but there was that one time…..we do not talk about Calculus II…..ahem) But neither is anything or anyone all bad. Someone might be grating on your last nerve, but as time passes, I’m betting you will wind up saying, “Well, except for that one time…..” Look for those times, okay? Look for every opportunity to find that one time when their light shines, even just a little.

I wish you all the best. I know most of you are probably ready to go. I was not. I had no clue what I was going to be doing, and life is turning out okay. (Well, there was that one time…..) As you finish packing up and saying goodbyes and heading out on your next adventure, remember to take your light and refuel it with laughter, good friends, and all the things that tan your soul. Offer grace every chance you can and offer the comfort and compassion to others that you learned here from each other. And finally, remind folks all around you that they too are pink sparkly eggs. And y’all—look in the mirror and tell her too. She might really need to hear that.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants. On the shoulders of the ones who stood at that same marker you just gathered around and the ones before who attended school there. You saw many of them Alumnae Weekend—all of us crazy old ladies. You are standing on the shoulders of your professors and the staff who supported, challenged, and encouraged you the past few years. Look around you—you are standing on the shoulders of the ones here—friends and family who love and cherish you—your biggest cheerleaders. And you are standing on the shoulders of the ones who aren’t here—the Caps and Maemaes and Papas and Ollies and Denises and Rev. Hurdles and grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers. Their light shines on through you.

My sisters, a star in the dark is your glorious past. But now you are all blazing comets, leaving a brilliant, beautiful trail behind you. Soar on and leave love and laughter and pink sparkles in your wake. Best wishes and happy everyday!

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The One About the Finger Injury, Birthing Goats, and Green Yarn

My Cousin is one of the most fascinating and beautiful folks I know.

Wait.  Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

So Saturday night, after a lovely afternoon of painting and then a massive trip to the grocery store, I came home to unload and start supper.  I wasn’t doing the best I could do, and I cut my finger.  No blame anywhere except myself.  I was tired, I wasn’t paying attention and slice–right through my left ring finger on the side up near the nail.

Bleeding. For days.

Okay.  I exaggerate.  Slightly.

It bled for an hour.  Which can seem like an eternity when it’s your blood.  I put ice and pressure on it and every single time I checked it, it started right back to flowing forth.

Anxiety Girl came and sat down on the couch with me where I sat trying to stop the bleeding and keep my finger elevated.  She shook her head at me, and then she whispered, “So you think this could finally be IT?  I mean, that’s a lot of blood coming out of there.  You might even need stitches.  You probably are feeling a bit woozy, light-headed, huh?”

And you know what?  She was RIGHT.  I was feeling dizzy.  Just how much blood had I lost? Could you lose too much blood through a finger cut?

I finally did what I’ve done for close to three years now.

Without my Mama to talk me down and tell me what to do, I called my Cousin, because she’s all about the healing.  She knows all the things.  When she didn’t answer, I called my Aunt.  Because she knows just how many “poor babies” I need in any given situation, and she has met Anxiety Girl, and she is all about the healing things too.

We assessed the situation and realized that while I didn’t have the perfect remedies here, I did have a *fingers crossed* suitable substitute.  At least until I could talk to my Cousin.  So I applied the cream I had here and covered it with a bandaid and thought all the positive thoughts.

Okay, mostly positive thoughts.  I was still worried.  A bit.

Okay, a lot.

But that Anxiety Girl–she’s a persistent one.  It’s hard to shake her.

It was then that my Cousin called back.

She said the cream could maybe help, but that applying cayenne pepper to the cut would stop the bleeding very quickly.  “It will sting,” she said. “But it will do the job.”

Well, doing the job was what I was worried about.  Stinging I figured I could handle.  I was raised with that one bottle of Mercurochrome at my Granny’s, so I know stinging.

Aub stood by with the bottle of cayenne pepper, a little too eager for my comfort level, but she insisted she was only trying to help.  I unwrapped the bandage and lo and behold–no blood!

Hallelujah.  That cayenne pepper is so good it worked metaphysically.

My Cousin and I celebrated over the phone, and I thanked her.  She is such a blessing to all of us, and I hope she knows that.  As we talked, she apologized for not getting the call when I first tried to call her.  She had been out checking her very pregnant Mama Goat.  She said it looked like it could be another little bit before Mama gives birth.  She just hopes the birth won’t happen on one of these nights with the lows in the 20’s.

My mouth dropped open.  “You are one of the most fascinating creatures God ever created,” I told her, and I meant every word.  She is.  And she’s funny and clever and kind too.

She and I are each working on a temperature blanket for 2016.  We will crochet a Granny stripe each day with the color based on the high temperature of the day.  We planned out our original colors, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like the true green with the other colors we chose.  I stayed up late into the night worrying over it a couple of nights ago.

My Cousin stays up late worrying over birthing goats.

Ahem.

I owe her this.

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An epilogue to the story:

Due to all the injuries, both real and imagined, that happen around here and with our neighborfriends, we were nearly out of bandaids here at the house. This sent me into mini-panic mode Saturday night, as I knew I needed a band-aid to hold my wound together–at least until it started healing on its own.

The next morning Aub and I went to the Getting Place, and I went straight to the bandage section.  I found all kinds of neat things to wrap around my wound–er, ahem, I mean–cut.  As Justin Case handed me several different packages including finger “covers,” Aub shook her head and said, “Mama!  You’re going to wind up spending $100 on band-aids and bandages.”  She sounded more than a little exasperated and very near to being fully incensed.

I held my finger up high for any and all around to see, and I announced a little louder than usual, “I have injured my finger.  Do not judge.”  And I added a pack of Star Wars band-aids to my cart for good measure.

Because Star Wars.  And if you have to wear them, why not wear ones that are cool and make you happy?

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I hurt my lil’ ol’ finger, y’all.  

Tonight I’m thankful for the ones who are here who take my calls.  Or call me back.  Either way.  The ones who put up with my silly woes and worries and help me heal.  Not just my finger, but my heart and soul–the little bits of me that miss the way my Mama would tell me in that way she had that “it will either get better or it will get worse–and then you’ll know.”  She usually followed up that statement with words that let me know she fully expected “it”–whatever it was–would get better.  Just give it time.

Wishing you all folks in your posse who love you and have all the best healing powers.  And I wish you matching yarn and plenty of band-aids–whatever your favorites are.  Because sometimes it’s the little things that ease your spirit.

Love to all.

***oh and I’m thankful I didn’t have to actually use the cayenne pepper this time around***  But NOW I know…..

 

 

 

 

A Legacy of Loving

Thursday evening as we pulled into the middle school parking lot, arriving for the littles’ gymnastic recital, Cooter piped up from the backseat, “I wish Maemae weren’t dead.”

Oh my heart.  Bless him.  Me too, baby boy.  Me too.

I’m not sure what prompted him to feel that, but maybe it’s because she was there for his very first gymnastics recital in 2012.  Maybe he was seeing her walking down that sidewalk with us after it was all over, her face beaming and telling him how wonderful he was–I know that memory kept playing over and over in my heart as we drove in and parked.

His sister agreed with him.  My Mama had a special gift of making the one she was talking to feel extra special.  Valued. Loved.  Wanted.  A treasure indeed.  And she never accepted you putting yourself or anyone else down.  Not ever.

She also told me when I needed to get off my pity pot.  But that’s a story for another night.

So this is for my children–the ones she loved, the ones she said made her life “grand”–

Maemae loved you.  She still loves you.  You never failed to put a smile on her face and a song in her heart.  She wanted you since the moment she found out you were on your way.  And she never stopped wanting you–as her grandchild, in her home, sitting next to her, in her heart.

She never stopped, and she sure shooting hasn’t stopped now.

There are going to be these moments in your life when the pain of her being gone is going to be a little harder than normal, like these past few days–special events, moments that make you think of her, or sometimes, for no reason at all.

And here’s what I want you to remember.

Maemae left you a legacy.  A legacy of love.  She loved you so strongly that when you sit and think about her and all you did together, I hope it puts a smile on your face.  Because you never failed to put one on hers.

But she also left you a legacy of loving.  She spent years and years building relationships with people who loved her back and who now love you.  Because you are hers and because you are pretty amazing people all on your own.  Look around at who is there when you have special events.  Look at who answers the phone when you have something to share.  Look at who blesses your heart when times are hard.  Look at who comes and moves you out of your dorm room or listens to you play piano over the phone or on a video.  Look at who listens to your stories and plays with you.  Look at who comments on your posts or sits and makes you laugh.  Look at Who. Shows. Up.

You were loved.  And you still are.

None of those who are here loving you now could replace her, and none of them want to.  But what they can do and WANT TO DO is love you and celebrate you and bring you comfort when you are sad.  And remind you that you are a treasure.

How lucky we are that Maemae was so good at loving people that she left us with all of these folks who love us too!

Our Princess’ dance teacher retired last year.  She returned this afternoon to watch “her girls” perform in their recital.  It was a loving gesture, and the girls were so excited to see her and for her to see what they have learned in a year’s time.

As she and I stood backstage watching them perform, it struck me how fortunate we are that Miss B did such a wonderful job of loving and teaching our girls.  These girls love her and were sad when she decided to retire, but because she passed the love of dancing along to them, they had what they needed to continue with dance when she wasn’t there.

See, if she had empowered them only to love her, none of them would have returned.  What a selfless gift she gave them when she made it bigger than her…..these girls’ love of dance is her legacy.

Maemae was like that with love.  She loved us fiercely and taught us to do the same, but instead of always wanting all that love for herself, she taught us to send it flowing outward to others and others and more others.  It didn’t stop with her, and because of how she loved, it never will.

That is her legacy.

Tonight I am thankful for women who teach and love in such a way that their absence doesn’t stop all the good things they have taught us.  I give thanks that my children remember and miss their Maemae, but even more I am thankful for those who continue to love them in the here and now.  I know she would be the last one wanting them sad on special days like these, and I love her so much for building relationships that feed our souls and warm our hearts and celebrate alongside us.  I don’t know what I would do without those smiling faces in the audience, those loving voices on the phone, the laughter and the willingness to step in and help.  I don’t know what I would do without those who show up.

And I’m thankful I don’t have to.

May we all love and teach the ones around us such that we don’t have to be around for the words and lessons to still matter and guide their hearts.

Love to all.

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cast of stones

there are times
on this journey
when the path is covered with brambles
and the way is almost indiscernible

this is when I miss your voice the most
and the wisdom
you shared as easily as the
stories from days gone by
and sometimes they were the same

you seemed so assured
of right and wrong
and yet I wonder if it was
always so clear to you

because frankly, the mud confuses me
and I’ve lost sight of the tracks you left
in the midst of it
I cannot read the compass you gave me
in this unchartered territory

and the Light you were as you showed me the way
seems a little dimmer right now
as time passes and the memories fade
and stories wander off on their own
with no one to tell them

and so I sit here
all alone
on the side of the trail
I can hear the people moving along at their busy pace
to and fro

listening to the buzz of their words
none of it really making any sense to me

I shiver in the darkness
hiding in the shadows
unable to go on
perhaps I will just stay here forever
as though I am broken
and have been given a cast of stones

with a heart too heavy to go on

The Best Day Ever

Today.

Another year passes.

And our Princess is ten years old.

And so I ask what every parent asks, “Where does the time go?”

Last year I shared the story of her arrival in this wonderful world she loves so much.  Tonight I’m thinking of another birthday, when she turned seven three years ago.

My Daddy had been fighting his Giant, lymphoma, for almost three years.  On our Princess’ birthday we took some lunch and snacks over to Mama and Daddy’s house to have a party and spend the day with them.  The Fella was not home so we had no reason to rush back.

Daddy had not been doing well the few days before the 16th.  And on the day itself I don’t know that he was awake or alert at all.  Despite that we had a lovely and fairly quiet day with Mama, who staged her traditional “treasure hunt” for finding the birthday gift.  Our girl was thrilled as she went from room to room, sounding out the words in the clues that Mama had so carefully printed in extra large and all capital letters.  And when she made it to the big room and looked inside the side table cabinet, what she saw had her squealing and putting her hands over her mouth in joy.  A Barbie Jeep!  And it was pink.  Perfect.  Maemae had outdone herself in the midst of all that was falling apart in our world.

Against what I wanted to do, which was stay there and never leave, I decided to head home, feed my crew some supper, feed the critters, and then head back to spend the night with Mama and Daddy.  Our precious Hospice nursefriend had told us the day before that it probably wouldn’t be much longer.

As we went in the living room where Daddy’s hospital bed was, he was still resting, seemingly asleep, but I wanted the children to tell him “‘bye” as we usually did.  We walked in, and our Princess was beaming from ear to ear.  “Oh Cap!  Thank you thank you thank you for the Barbie jeep!!!!! I absolutely LOVE it.  It’s so awesome and my dolls fit in it and I love sitting them in it and driving it around.  Oh Cap it’s just awesome!  Thank you so much.  This has been the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!”

As she told her Cap all about the day and how much she loved him and appreciated his thoughtfulness, tears came to my eyes.  I am not worthy of this child, this ray of sunshine in our lives, who finds so much joy in just about everything and almost everywhere.  She’s not perfect, I won’t kid anyone about that–just this evening she was scrapping with her brother *sigh*, but when it comes to giving thanks in all things and loving on folks, somehow I think she might just be a step or two ahead of me.  I know the Creator must be really pleased with this one, and I am flabbergasted that I was chosen to be her Mama.  Again, not worthy.

Little did any of us know as she stood there, with light shining from her so brightly I could all but see the glow, that her Cap, my Daddy, had less than a day left here with us.   And still, through it all, my girl was shining.  Sad and heartbroken but still such a light for us in those dark days.

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A game of chase and hide and seek was also a part of the fun this afternoon.

This spot warms my heart.....and my toes.

This spot warms my heart…..and my toes.  As do the folks who sat around it with us.

 

This birthday weekend has been a busy one and filled with things I hoped would bring her joy.  And each time I was not disappointed.  Whether it was a surprise trip for doll shopping or having tea or her big sister coming home to celebrate, she was so enthusiastic and joyful about it all.  And when we sat around the fire (very possibly my new favorite place, y’all) this evening with folks she loves so much, she couldn’t stop smiling.  After a rousing game of monkey in the middle with Cuz’n, Shaker, and her siblings, with Miss Sophie in the middle, she said, “My face hurts from smiling so much.”

Oh baby.  I hope your face hurts a lot in this life.

I came across these words a couple of days ago, and they make me think of our Princess.  Again, I know she’s not perfect, but what she does have is infectious.  And Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson was speaking to my child’s heart, as she is doing just that.

 

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 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Because tonight, just before heading to bed, she hugged me again, and said, “Oh Mama, this has been the best birthday ever!”  And I have no doubt in my mind that she meant every word of that.

She picked out the candles and decorated her own cake just like she wanted it.  With way more than ten candles.....and that's absolutely okay.

She picked out the candles and decorated her own cake just like she wanted it. With way more than ten candles…..and that’s absolutely okay.

Tonight I’m thankful for folks who make their lives interruptible to make sure our girl had a happy day.  I’m thankful for fire pits and hot dogs and roasting sticks and family traditions.  For ten-year old girls, especially this one, who still love dolls, I’m very grateful.  For big sisters and little brothers who are too excited to wait to give their gifts and for girls not quite so little anymore who want to decorate their own cakes, my heart beats in a thankful tune.  Most of all, for the gift of this precious child whose name aptly means “happy or joyful,” I give a heartfelt and humble thanks.  Thank you for this gift, this precious child, who opens my eyes to what gratitude really looks like.  She reminds me so much of her Maemae when it comes to that.

Wishing you all a day of wonderful surprises and joy-filled moments.  Still celebrating…..

Love to all.

 

First Day of School

Do you remember them as fondly as I do?

The first day of school each year?

Oh, the smells of new notebooks and pencils and books.  The untouched notebook, still brand-spanking new.  The quiet hush of the early morning, rising before the sun.  We never got up that early during the summer.  Well rarely anyway.  Breakfast on the table, Mama standing in the kitchen.  Daddy sitting at the end of the table, reading a bit of the paper and finishing his morning bowl of cereal or slab of pound cake with peanut butter or big ol’ bowl of grits.   Waiting to drive us to our respective schools.  Hugs from Mama, wishes for a most excellent day, instructions to be our very best selves, packed bookbags and lunchboxes and out the door.

New schedules.  Homeroom teachers.  Fingers crossed we’d be in the same classes with our best friends.  My least favorite year was the one where we stayed in the same room all day and the teachers changed rooms.  I found out then how important it was for me to be able to visualize the classroom to remember assignments.  It didn’t work so well that year, with everything in the same room.  I don’t know what kind of experiment that was, but I’m thinking the teachers probably weren’t too crazy about it either.  It was only that one year we did that. I can understand why.

Four years ago we made the decision to homeschool our Princess.  After lots of talk and thoughts and meditating on it, Aub came to me two days before public school was set to start and said she’d made up her mind.  She wanted to be homeschooled too.  Wow.  Okay.  Monday found us at the school withdrawing her from the school system, and Tuesday found me handing her a stack of books, saying “Read.”  For some reason I had it in my head we needed to follow the public school schedule.  As curriculum was ordered and we waited, she read and read.  And then we began in earnest.  It was a good choice for us.  If for no other reason (though there were many), it gave us freedom.  Just a few weeks after we started our homeschooling, Daddy went into the hospital and didn’t come out for six weeks.  The year he was diagnosed with lymphoma.  We were able to throw books in the car and go.  I’m so thankful for that.

That FIRST first day of homeschooling though?  I had no clue.  I was winging it.  Fortunately Kindergarten and 8th grade are not easy to mess up.  But still, that first morning I was a little nervous.  I pulled out the parachute I’d gotten, and we played games to start our day before we dug into our new texts and reading material.  I think back to those parachute games and see how far we’ve come.

Oh we have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.  Little by little.  Year by year.

Getting all of our books together for tomorrow.

Getting all of our books together for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is our first day of school around here.  Early?  Yes.  Crazy early?  Possibly.  But here’s the thing.  One year I was so overwhelmed with schooling and everything else that I didn’t get to really enjoy December, the festivities, and all that is beautiful in that season.  I didn’t get to ponder Advent and anticipate Christmas.  It was all a blur.  Each year since, I’ve had as my goal to be able to take off most or all of December from our diehard lesson plans.  (We never really put the learning down, but it’s nice when we have the opportunity to relax a bit.)  So once more, I’m attempting it.  We’ll see how it goes.

And so.  Tomorrow.

Making my plans ahead.  Wonder how long that will last.

Making my plans ahead. My attempt to be organized.  Wonder how long that will last.

 

Tonight I’ve been going through my materials, resources, and books once more.  I’m excited.  For the first time, I’m pulling things from different curriculums and putting together my own plans.  It was somewhat inspired by our trip to the Mouse House and travelling around the world, all in one afternoon.  So this will be something of an “Around the World in 180 Days,” I suppose.  For whatever reason we’re starting with Australia.  I have books that describe the lives of children in different countries.  We will have passports and look at maps and prepare foods from different cultures.  Our science studies will revolve around the wildlife of the different countries and continents.  We are starting with some Australian “bush music” and some aboriginal art.  I have stories from Australia for us to read aloud, in addition to our reading “Swiss Family Robinson” together.  Oh, it’s just too much fun.  Especially now that they are both reading.  I think my college sophomore may even enjoy being with us the next few weeks as we travel and learn.

What’s that?  Math?  What are we doing about that?

*sigh* You had to ask, didn’t you?  It’s not a favorite subject for either of my littles, especially not for our Princess.  But this is the year we are going to conquer that disdain and make it another subject we can’t wait to jump into.  I have some interesting books to start us out.  One thing I’ve learned in my years of homeschooling is if one curriculum isn’t working, there’s another one that will.  Ask questions, get samples, try try again.  Sister taught me that.  She believes in test runs and returning curriculum during the grace period if it doesn’t click.

So yes, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic. All covered.  And then the really fun stuff.  Travelling in our minds to places far away.  Nature studies.  Reading Shakespeare for the first time.  Oh I’ve got an ambitious year mapped out. The enthusiasm and excitement are almost palpable.

But then again, it’s just July.  I have a sneaking suspicion that when October rolls around, we might be dragging a bit.  (But wait, that’s Fair time–FIELD TRIP!)

Time for me to call it a night, y’all.  I have another first day of school to put in the books tomorrow.

Here’s to fresh beginnings and the excitement that comes with them.  Love to all.

 

Ecclesiastes and the Season I’m In Right Now

Ecclesiastes.

That’s what Mama would say about now.

And I’d nod my head and say, “Yes ma’am.  I know.  You’re right.”

It was her way of saying, “There’s a time and a place for everything.”

Referring to the verses from Ecclesiastes 3.  Mama loved that passage.  She even wrote it down on one of her recycled Mary Engelbreit calendar pages as a reminder to remember where I am–what season, what place.

Mama wrote this on the back of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper.  She handed it to me to remind me to read it.  I carry it with me in my wallet always.  I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me.  Thank you, Mama. <3

Mama wrote this on the back of her Mary Engelbreit Page a Day calendar pages she used for note paper. She handed it to me to remind me to read it. I carry it with me in my wallet always. I am finally starting to get what she was trying to tell me. Thank you, Mama. ❤

The season I have been in this week has been a busy one.  Saying goodbye to another family of neighborfriends.  This is the life in a military community.  Folks move into your neighborhoods, into your hearts, and then they must move on.

It’s been a week of endings.  The end of our year of dance and gymnastics for our Princess and Cooter.  And for me, who has usually been the one making the trek twice a week in my “taxi-mobile” to and from.  And for our family who has suffered through eating takeout on Tuesday nights (ha, who am I kidding–I can name at least four of the five who look forward to that night).  Yes, it’s been a good year.

Rocking the Ninja moves to the theme from Mission Impossible.

Rocking the Ninja moves to the theme from Mission Impossible.

Thursday evening, we attended their gymnastics program.  It was fabulous.  From listening to children singing along with the song that Princess’ class did their routine to–“The Best Day of My Life”–to watching Cooter and his male counterparts do a ninja-like routine to the theme from Mission Impossible–it was AWESOME.  Top it off with folks who know my children and love them anyway showing up to sit on the bleachers and clap and give hugs and high fives after. We giggled watching Princess walk across the gym on her tiptoes (it’s what she does) and nodded together that the song she performed to suits her well.  We watched in awe as Cooter did cartwheel after cartwheel. Well.  Just full to bustin’, y’all.  I can’t even put all that good stuff into words.  Except to say.  It was good.

The costume for my girl's dance recital.  Snazzy, right?  Even more so with the bowtie!

The costume for my girl’s dance recital. Snazzy, right? Even more so with the bowtie!

Last night was dress rehearsal for the dance recital.  As we got our Princess together–hair, makeup (oh my stars–only light stuff for our girl, I just can’t), and costume, we realized she did not have a bowtie.  Her costume was adorable.  All tux with bowtie look on top with red sparkly fabric–sharp and cute all at the same time.  But no bowtie?  Sigh.  Yeah.  Sounds about right.  I was convinced it had fallen into the abyss that is our laundry room–where I’d had it hanging waiting for the big day.  I spent a lot of time searching and digging to no avail.  Finally it was time to leave.  Well, it’s dress rehearsal for a reason.  I’d figure out something by recital time.

Which brings me to the season for today.  Today was the season for travelling across town to the craft store to search for black velvet ribbon so I could figure out how to make a bowtie. (I’m sure there’s an instructional video somewhere, right?) When that was a fail, I went to the party store, where “if we had them, they’d be right here.” *points* Well thanks.  I’ve enjoyed staring at this spot in your store where you have no bowties.  But it’s good to know where they would be, for, you know, the next time we misplace a bowtie.  Yes.

Thankful for my Fella's resourcefulness.  This bowtie looks great I think.

Thankful for my Fella’s resourcefulness. This bowtie looks great I think.

After a major shopping trip to the grocery store (on a Saturday morning, good gravy, why do I do this to myself?), I headed home to do what came next.  Figure out how to “make do.”  My Fella came to the rescue, with a black clip-on bowtie from his mess dress uniform.  Excellent.  It was black and from a distance, it looked no different from the others.  Three safety pins and voila!  Win.  Yes.  Hair.  Makeup.  Check.  And we were off.

I've been up and down the staircase in Porter Auditorium at my alma mater several times the past two days.  For those of you who KNOW, I was glad that this one I was only in once.

I’ve been up and down the staircase in Porter Auditorium at my alma mater several times the past two days. For those of you who KNOW, I was glad that this one I was only in once.

Today was also a season for revisiting my past.   Back home to Wesleyan.  The recital was on the stage that I walked across so many times, and now my oldest has too.   Such a precious thing to me.  I helped downstairs and backstage, something I have enjoyed doing each year.  I love the excitement in the air, the girls’ stomachs full of butterflies and hair full of hairspray.  They giggle and help each other straighten out skirts.  They share things forgotten and whisper encouraging words.  They talk a bit too loud in the stairwell and tap their shoes when they are supposed to be quiet, but I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.  Because I got at least four extra hugs from my Princess today–one from excitement, one just because, one when she heard who was in the audience, and one–“Thank you for being my Mama.”  Ahem.  Nothing to see here folks–keep on moving.  Just a Mama bawling her eyes out.  No big.

Tonight I am thankful for Team Zoo Crew–who pulled it together and got our littles where they were supposed to be this week, dressed and ready. Well mostly.  I am thankful for loving family who step outside their comfort zones and show up, which is one of the most precious things we can ever do for someone.  Ever.  I give thanks for dance teachers who brush off lost costume pieces, and say, “Don’t stress, if need be, get some black ribbon and tie in a bow and pin it on.  No one’s going to notice.”  Love that grace-filled woman.  I am thankful that she loves the hugs from my girl just about as much as I do.  And accepts them every time they are offered, which is often. I love that I have a ninja boy who rocked his performance and, with his one-toothed grin, told me he wants to do gymnastics again next year.  Thankful for his teacher who puts up with all those boys every week and says she enjoys it.  I’ll take it.

Our sweet dance school director encourages her students to let their true colors shine through always.  What a powerful song.

Our sweet dance school director encourages her students to let their true colors shine through always. What a powerful song.

It’s the big moments like these that I miss my Mama and Daddy even more than usual.  I remember with a warm heart the dance recital two years ago.  It was the first time I’d seen my Mama light up since my Daddy had died six months before.  She was beaming and couldn’t stop talking about all of the performances, but especially those of her grands.  And during both the gymnastics program and recital today, our dance studio director incorporated Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” It was played for the last dance today.  I’ve never heard this song before the way I did today.  Daddy really liked it.  I know because he asked me if Cyndi Lauper had gotten an award for it.  He only did that with songs he thought were really good.  So of course I thought of him.  But as I watched the final performance today from backstage, and I noticed the director/teacher guiding her students from off-stage, I saw she was mouthing the words.  Her face was lit up with something that had nothing to do with the stage lights.  I thought of Daddy and realized whatever she was hearing was what he heard too.  And then I heard the words differently myself.

So today was also a season of change.  Which I don’t do well.  But I’m trying.  Goodbyes, scheduled big events, heading up and down the massive staircases in Porter Auditorium several times with excited seven- to nine-year olds two days in a row, and missing my parents more than usual–it’s been a whirlwind.  But mostly a good one.  Yes, this season is a busy one.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world.

Love and a wishes for a good season to all.

 

some days

some days

it is incomprehensible

that life keeps going

that the world keeps turning

that laundry still piles up

family still needs to be fed

some days

it is beyond my ability

to do more than what absolutely has to be done

even now,

even still

after all this time

always

the missing and the hurting

it ebbs and flows

like joy and sorrow taking turns touching my toes

in the sand of this life

and neither will ever really go away

for without the one,

can there truly be knowledge of the other?

joy for the times that were

sorrow for the times that could never be

joy for the memories made

sorrow for the plans that never happened

in and out of my heart

the sights, sounds, and smell of you

yesterday I cried

when I smelled cinnamon baking

because it made me think of Christmas

when you were still here

and all was okay

contextually speaking, as we used to say

some days the laundry and the cooking

and the pots that need scrubbing

are why I rise and make the bed

and for the little ones of course

for the children they do not grieve as I do

they do not weep over lost moments

they sing songs and speak of you with a smile

and share what they have planned for when they see you again

as they are sure they will do

some days I give thanks for the things that need doing

they fill my mind and my hands

and my freezer and cake plates

some days when I am busy it is easier than

when I am not

but some days

some days

are not easy at all

you are loved and missed and given thanks for each day

love

 

 

Today a friend got the sad news surrounding the words “nothing else we can do” for her Daddy.  My heart aches for her.  Those words bring so much pain and worry and tears, and they require a paradigm shift.  I have friends who have stayed in the hospitals so much lately with those they love.  And I have heard of so many who are sick or grieving, here, right here in the midst of the beauty of the earth shaking off the slumber of winter, and as people call out to each other for the first time in weeks, “Alleluia!”  It is hard to fathom and wrap your brain around the idea that the whole world is not grieving with you.  That is where I have walked on more than one occasion.  It makes you want to cry out to everyone, “How are you still going and doing and functioning?”  Or it makes you want to crawl back in the bed and shut it all out.  I’ve been down both  of those paths.  This is for all of us who wonder why the earth doesn’t come to a screeching halt in its orbit when our worlds surely seem to be falling apart.  Love to all of you.

 

 

A Birthday, A Couch, and a Whole Lot of Love

We moved the brown couch in our house eight days ago.

Cap on the brown couch during one of Aub's photo shoots in 2003

Cap on the brown couch during one of Aub’s photo shoots in 2003

It’s known as “Cap’s couch.”  There are so many memories around that couch.  Mama and Daddy bought it years ago and put it in the “big room/playroom.”  The blue fold-out couch was already in there, so now they each had one.  They always said that the brown couch was to go to Auburn, my oldest, when the time came, because she had spent so much time on it.

And now it’s here.

Daddy reclining on his couch as Mama and Cooter show off his new skills of standing and walking.

Daddy reclining on his couch as Mama and Cooter show off his new skills of standing and walking.

And my girl continues to spend time on it.

Aub asleep on Cap's brown couch.  Under Cap's argyle blanket we made him.  The argyle was a thing between us.  A precious sight.

Aub asleep this morning on Cap’s brown couch. Under Cap’s argyle blanket we made him. The argyle was a thing between us. A precious sight.

Each night she’s been home from college since we moved it in, she has slept on her Cap’s couch.  She says it’s so we’ll all remember that it is really hers, but I know she knows I know what she’s not saying.

Got that?

We all miss them.  And today we are especially missing Daddy, Cap.  He would have been 71 today.

Daddy and our Princess on his birthday back in 2008.

Daddy and our Princess on his birthday back in 2008.  It was on Daddy’s birthday in 2004 that I called him from Japan, where the Fella was stationed, to tell him of this precious gift due in November–our Princess.  What a birthday gift!

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that.  Daddy never aged.  At least not until the lymphoma and the chemotherapy and radiation starting taking their toll.  He will forever, in my mind, be around 40–the age he was when I was in high school.  When he was calling out spelling words, helping me train for the state literary meet.  Helping me with trigonometry.  Teaching me to drive.  To pump gas.  Driving back to town to pick me up from work.  Listening to my stories of how my day had gone.  Watching football games and the summer Olympics with me.  Teaching me how to grow up and fly.

Oh Daddy.

The last time we were together before the day our world fell apart and everything changed–first the seeking of a diagnosis and then the fighting the diagnosis–I sat next to my Daddy on that same couch.  I was showing him a book in the Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers catalog that I was thinking about getting my Fella for his birthday the next month.  Daddy looked and nodded, but now I suspect he was having vision problems even then.  I sat almost shoulder to shoulder with him.  I can’t say why, but that day things felt different.  I felt protective of him.  He’d been having some balance problems but all the doctors had written it off as other things.  Never anything so serious as lymphoma of the brain.

Well, that’s enough of that.

Today I baked a cake, and we took turns saying what we loved remembering about Cap.  Our Princess said she loved it when they flew a kite together at Blackberry Flats.  Aub said she liked that he taught her big words.  Cooter shrugged and said, “Everything.”  Yep.  I hear you, buddy.

My Daddy came across as the strong, silent type.  He was both of those things, but so much more.  He was more than his bearded look might suggest.  He was a wise man who was also intelligent and kind–not a combination you come across as much as you might think.  He was a good listener, and when he spoke, others listened.  When he retired, folks signed a card for him.  Several mentioned how much they would miss him listening and sharing his wisdom.  Amen, my friends.  Amen.

Daddy could be quiet and contemplative, but when he laughed his booming laugh, it seemed as though the whole house was shaking.  He could click his tongue and shake his head, very much like his Mama, and you just hoped you weren’t on the receiving end of that disappointment.   My Granddaddy used to say that when my Daddy pointed his finger at one of us, it was a MILE long.  It sure felt that way.  It seemed like he always had some cut or bruise on his hand or grease under his nails from working with his hands.  He loved to do that.  To create.  He inherited that from his grandfather and father, who were both talented carpenters.  He also created with words.  He wrote.  He read.  He observed.

Daddy was fascinated with the world.  But mostly with the little things that might be ignored by other folks.  He loved reading about science and philosophy and where the two meet.  Daddy loved children.  He loved talking with them and teaching them things.

Daddy loved wasps.

One summer he set up his video camera and recorded them.  For hours at the time.  He wanted to know the whats and whys of their actions.  The other day when Mess Cat and I were going through the video tapes at the house we found one marked “wasps.”  She sighed.  I laughed.  I love that about my Daddy.  After he got sick, the wasps practically took over his building out back.  I used to say that the ones he recorded thought they’d hit the big time and went back and told their family and friends to come and see.  I think Blackberry Flats was the “Hollywood” of the Wasp World.

A fascinating man who was fascinated with life.  He taught me to respect and tell the truth and take care of what we had.  And others.  Take care of others.  He once told me I didn’t need all the clothes I owned.  Just a couple of pairs of jeans and a few more shirts than that.  No need for all I had.  One day I hope I get to the point where I can pare it down to just that.  I’m afraid it won’t be anytime soon though.

Most of my happy memories with Daddy are from before his fight with the Giant began.  We had good times then too, it’s just that so much of that time we felt the weight of worry hanging over us, so it was hard to see past that.

An exception was when he came home after being away that first time for over a month.  He walked (!!!!!) through the back door on his own.  Slowly and steadily and by himself.  We had picked up pizza for their supper and driven over to meet them.  Leroy had driven Mama and Daddy home from Emory in Atlanta.  My children’s world had been turned upside down by the absence of their Maemae and Cap, but in that moment all was right again.  Cooter, a little over two and a half, was already digging into a slice of pizza.  He grinned so big with a mouthful and said, as though it were any normal day, “Hey Cap!”  Daddy stopped, reached out for the counter for support, smiled just as big and said, “Hey, Cooter.  How’re you doin’?”

Tears, y’all.  All was right again.  For a while.

My other precious memory is much later–almost two years later.  Daddy had become almost completely bedbound, partly due to the progression of the Giant and partly due to falling and breaking his hip months before.  He had been up in the wheelchair–maybe for an appointment at the Cancer Care Center?–and we were getting him back in the hospital bed in the living room.  Mama and I got him all the way back in bed and his head on the pillow.  As I was about to leave the room for a minute, he asked me if I could help him.

Oh Daddy, anything.

I leaned over so he could wrap his arms around my neck.  And I half lifted, half pulled him up higher in his bed, so he was in a better position.  Bless him, he couldn’t maneuver it very well himself anymore.  He lifted his head up off the bed enough for me to tuck his pillow back in place.  I asked him if that was better.

He closed his eyes and nodded.  I reached out and touched his shoulder.  Just as he had reached out and touched my toe after the birth of my first child seventeen years before.  No words were needed.

As I started to walk away, I heard him clear his throat.  I turned back.

“Thank you, Tara,” he said, barely above a whisper.

No, Daddy,  thank you.

Each day I left their house, as I said my farewells to my folks, I would go in wherever Daddy was, sitting at the table, reclining on the brown couch, sitting in his recliner, or finally, laying in the hospital bed, and I would say,

“Bye Daddy, see you later.  I love you.   Thanks for everything.”

I meant it then and I still do.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  Love you.  See you later.  Thanks.  For Everything.

This picture was taken 19 years ago when I was expecting the first grandbaby.  He took me almost every week to DQ to get an ice cream cone.  I miss him every day.

This picture was taken 19 years ago when I was expecting the first grandbaby. He took me almost every week to DQ to get an ice cream cone. I miss him every day.

February 10–Frozen in Time

I write tonight so tomorrow can be all about him.  All about what happened seven years ago.  Instead of the same night one year ago.

I write tonight because it was a Sunday, a beautiful Sunday in February that my Mama went on up to The House.  To see her dear grandmother whom she never stopped missing.  Her Aunts and others she loved.  And my Daddy, whom she had spent the previous fifteen months trying to learn to breathe without.  And she did it with love and faith and a grace that was second to none.  She was amazing.

She wants tomorrow to be all about him.  I know that.  She loved my babies, and all of her grands, more than anything in this world.   That Sunday, one year ago, when I was going leave the hospital to meet my birthday boy and the family at the park for a half hour, leaving her and Mess Cat so I could wish him a happy birthday, I went over to her bed and said quietly, “Mama, the littles and Aub are coming up here.”  She immediately looked upset and shook her head no.  “No, Mama, we’re going to go to the park for a little while.  It will be fine.  They’re not coming to the room.  I’ll tell him you said Happy Birthday, okay?”  She nodded and tried to smile.  Okay.  Okay.

I left and when I came back, I knew things weren’t right.  I could tell she wasn’t doing well, and she was no longer alert.  In just that short of a time.  The tear in my heart began breaking even more.  Noooo.  It was too soon.  And yet her body had held off as long as it could. Twenty-five days in the hospital.  Twenty-four of them in the ICU.  Less than a week’s worth of being alert and awake during that time.  Twenty-four days in the same hospital where her grandson, my baby boy Cooter, was born six years before.

Six years apart.  Same building.  So much alike.

Both February 10 mornings I was awakened very early.  In 2007, I’d wakened to the contractions and the knowledge that a baby was coming soon.

In 2013, I gave up trying to sleep after a night of dozing in and out, getting up to stand by her bed and stare at the numbers on the machine, willing her blood pressure to come back up on its own following her third emergency surgery, performed just a few hours before.  I just knew if I stood vigil, it would help.  It would make her better.

One day I had my Fella by my side, grinning and excited about what was to come.

Another he asked to go see Mama while I sat in the car with the crew in the parking garage.  I don’t know if he knew he was going in to say goodbye.  I am so glad he asked, and he got to see her one more time.

Both days were filled with numbers and nurses, blood pressure checks and beeps–oh those infernal beeps that I can still hear in my sleep.  Both days we were blessed by people who were caring and attentive and concerned about the patient.  In one room, “It’s a boy!” was called out excitedly.  In another, “It’s time,” was whispered with resignation and sadness.  Both days found me greeting people who gathered in the room.  It was only in the expressions that the difference could be seen–those coming to welcome a new life, those coming to say goodbye and let go of one they so loved.

Both days I had to sign my name.

Oh dear God.  I had to sign my name.

The weight of signing one’s name to make a new life official and legal can feel momentous and very important. But the signing of one’s name to let your Mama go.  To say it’s time.  To give permission to give her peace and rest.  My hands shook, and I had to focus through the tears.  I never wanted to do that again.

Both days there were prayers said and voices raised in sharing stories and remembering.  Both days I held the hand of the one I loved.  One who would call me Mama, and the One whom I called Mama.  Both days I tried to freeze the moment, to remember what those hands looked like.  Both days I didn’t see how I could love the one I held more than I did in that moment.

Six years apart.  The joy and the sadness.  The laughter and the tears.

After Cooter was born, the nurse stopped my bed by a button on the wall, and I pressed a button.  Lovely music played all over the hospital.  The same sound I pointed out to Mama during her HospitalStay even when she wasn’t conscious.  “Mama, a new baby!  How sweet.”  After Mama passed over, there was no sound.  Nothing to mark the moment but a nod from the doctor’s assistant whom we had known most of our lives.  That nod and the tears that flowed without halting.

After Cooter was born, the nurses cleaned him and handed him over to me and the Fella.  My heart swelled with tenderness for this new little boy, my only baby boy, and I knew my life would never be the same.  After Mama passed, my heart was breaking into a million little pieces, but it still swelled with love for her.  This beautiful woman who gave me life.   And love.  So much love.  I took a washrag and wet it, and one last time, I washed her face.  Just as I had so many times during her HospitalStay, to comfort, to bring down her fever, to say “I love you.”  One last time.  And I knew my Life.  Would Never. Be.  The Same.

Tomorrow, Mama, tomorrow I will make it about celebrating this baby boy who has brought you and Daddy and all of us so much joy.  I give thanks for his life and am happy to be his Mama.  This one who loved to listen to you read but would hop up sometimes to finish playing with the cars on the floor next to you.  This one who loved your snacks and ice cream sandwiches.  This baby boy who decided very early he wanted to go with you and Daddy and his big sister, our Princess, on those Mondays after Stevi B’s lunches.  He didn’t want to miss a moment of the fun with y’all.  Tomorrow I will celebrate and take him on an adventure and fix him what he asks for to eat, and I will bake a cake or brownies or whatever he chooses to mark the occasion.  Just like you did for us.  I will cry as I remember the little baby he was and dream of the young man he will become.  I will hang on tight as I let him go.

But tonight, tonight is for you and me.  Tonight is about the tears and the heartache and the remembering a life well lived, a race well run, and a love that is stronger than death.  I know you are still with me.  I can feel your presence, and I know your love gives me strength to breathe and go on another day.  I know because I could not do this on my own.  I never could.

Not too long after Mama passed, I heard a song that I had heard many times, but it really hit me hard for the first time last year–“Over You” written by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, and sung by Miranda Lambert. They wrote it in memory of Blake’s brother who died when he was young.  The beginning lyrics:

Weatherman said it’s gonna snow
By now I should be used to the cold
Mid-February shouldn’t be so scary
It was only December
I still remember the presents, the tree, you and me

But you went away
How dare you?
I miss you
They say I’ll be OK
But I’m not going to ever get over you

Two days.  Six years apart.  Both so very precious and dear to me.  Both days about the sacred and holy and thin moments of our lives.  Both shaping who I am in this very moment.  Both days tugging on my heart with their whispered stories and memories and all who shared each journey with me.  With us.

Mama, I love you and I miss you, and I’m not ever going to get over you.

But yes ma’am, tomorrow will be about him.  And I’ll remind him how loved he is.  Just as you have all these years for us.  Thank you for that.  The love.

Always, T. Annie aka Sugar Tag