The Sign on the Path Oft Taken

First, this is not a political post or commentary.  That would be breaking one of my Daddy’s major rules for life–do not talk about politics in general company.  If you know me at all, you know I try not to ever disappoint my Daddy–or my Mama for that matter–even still.  I try to give them no cause to come back and give me a talking to.

Second, there is some language coming up.  I warn you in case you might have littles close by while you’re reading.  My apologies in advance.

Monday afternoon Cooter and I were riding up the interstate as we do several times a week–this time for his drama program.  Roles for the spring show were going to be announced, and between being excited about that and talking about his birthday coming up very soon, we were in high spirits.

As we got close to our exit, we saw the sign…..the sign that for many years has made clear that this business didn’t support our previous President but does support our current one.  It’s not an electronic sign, but the kind you have to put the letters up manually, so each message tends to stay a while.  There was a new one up on Monday.

I haven’t really had a problem with their political messages.  It’s their sign, their business, their right to put up their message.  Folks can choose not to read if they don’t agree, just as I do with social media posts that don’t geehaw with my way of thinking.

But Monday.  Monday.

Cooter saw it first.  And the question he asked drew my attention to it just before we passed it.

What.  On.  Earth.

Surely not.

“Mama, what does ‘MF’er’ mean?”

Y’all.

I did not want to have to talk to my 11 year old about that.  NOT AT ALL.  I’m not even sure I’d like to talk with my 23 year old about it.  Yep.  I just thought about it.  I would not.

After a quick glance at the sign which said, “Re-elect the @*’er 2020,” and a deep breath, I explained to him that it stood for a very ugly term and he wasn’t to ever use it.

He got it.

“Oh.”  He paused, as I turned on my turn signal for our exit.  “But Mama, they really should not, I mean SHOULD NOT have that on the sign!  I mean, that’s ugly.  What if a small child read that?”

Bless.  He has no idea that in my heart, he’ll always be my small child.

He paused again.  “I think we should sue them!”

(Sometimes I think having a sister in law school has him a little lawsuit happy.)

We talked about how suing them wasn’t feasible or likely to do any good.  “But can you tell them it’s not nice? That they shouldn’t put that up there?”

And so it was that I found myself on the phone today.  We double checked the name of the business on our way yesterday, because just as a I can quote you a commercial but not remember what the product was, I have passed by this place for years, but couldn’t remember what the business was called.

It turns out they have a few locations in our state, and the one closest to us is not the headquarters.  When a man answered the phone at the headquarters, I told him the location I was calling about.  Yes, they are all owned by the same person.

Our conversation started off nice enough.  Then I explained.

“I’m calling you because the language used on the sign at your location close to us is inappropriate and offensive.  I have no problem with the political commentary on the sign over the years, but if they were trying to win me over to their way of thinking, that would lose me right there.  I hate that I had to explain to my 11 year old what that term is and how ugly it is.  Even my child recognized that it is inappropriate and asked me to call you and tell you it’s ugly and ask you to take it down because he’s worried about small children reading it.  A child knows it’s wrong, but an adult–I assume it was an adult who put the message up–doesn’t?”

There was a pause. I wondered if maybe they hadn’t been aware. And then–

“Well–“he seemed to be shuffling a bit–“an adult said it first.”

Y’all.  *wide eyed stare*

I nearly choked on my indignation and disbelief.  An adult said it first?  I’m sorry, what?!?

I gathered my senses enough to reply.  “But don’t we teach our children that we don’t repeat everything we hear?  To discern right from wrong for themselves?  This is wrong.”

He sighed and said he’d share it with the owner.  I asked to speak to the owner and was told he was out to lunch, but that he’d give him my message.

And so that was that.

My heart was heavy and I had a bad taste in my mouth.  This is what is wrong with our world today.

My Mama raised us on several basic principles, but the top two were the Golden Rule–“Do unto others as you’d have done unto you,” and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I might have those in reverse order, as there was many a time one of the four of us would use as an excuse for some wrongdoing, “But he did it first…..” “But she was the one who…..” “and then he…..” “she said…..”

My Mama didn’t play that.  Ever.

I can almost see my Mama’s eyes rolling at the man’s response today.  Maybe because I saw my own in the mirror after I ended the call, and I look more like her everyday.  (I was hiding in my room for the call, as one does when privacy in a house full of folks is needed.)  Or maybe it’s because I know, I KNOW, she’d have had something to say about that excuse–“But an adult said it first.”

I can also hear my Mama, “well if an adult jumped off the bridge, would you?”

No ma’am.  NO MA’AM.

My heart breaks that this is what we’ve come to.  We respond, we retaliate, we follow blindly behind others–whether it be responding with inappropriate comments because someone said it first or participating in illegal or harmful activities because someone else was doing it first.

If someone else doing it first makes things justifiable, we are headed towards a whole lot worse world of hurt than we are in now.  Please, y’all, please–will you help me spread the word that taking the high road, the one oft less travelled, is best? (I know it’s hard–I struggle myself at times.)  Not responding in kind when hurtful words are spoken, not taking a sip or a puff when underage drinking or illegal drugs are present, not following along just because “everyone else is doing it.”  Can we please encourage and support each other to be stronger and better than that? Can we please break this vicious cycle before it breaks us?

Cooter was pleased I’d made the call.  Unfortunately he thought that would fix it, so he was very disappointed when we passed by tonight and the sign with its ugly combination of letters was still there.  “I hate that sign,” he mumbled, almost under his breath.

Oh buddy, I know.  I hate it too, and all that it represents–a world where tit for tat is okay.

But I hope that he never stops speaking up and out for what he sees is right and just and true.

Tonight I leave you with the wish below.  For you, for me, for Cooter, for the folks who made the decision to put those words on that business sign, and for all who feel the brokenness  in this world.  PEACE.  Love to all.

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Art by macon.ink Instagram @macon.ink

 

TRASH

New Year’s Eve. 2018.

So much to think about and ponder upon and yet, I remember the old wives’ tale about sweeping. Don’t sweep on New Year’s Day or you’ll sweep someone out of your life. I don’t want to review memories and stories and sweep them back into my memories. And so I find myself not wanting to become all maudlin and auld lang syne-ish. I’d like tomorrow to be just another day, albeit wonderful as I will be surrounded by many of my favorite people, and make the best of it and try to leave the world a little better place at sunset than I found it at sunrise–just as I hope to do for the other 364 days of 2019.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

My Mama sang these words out more days than not, challenging us to find joy in each day and not take a single one for granted. She especially loved to remind us of this when we got down in the dumps.

With four children born in a nine year period, there were a lot of those days when at least one person needed that reminder.

So as I wish you all a Happy New Year, I offer you Mama’s greeting–Happy Everyday! And in keeping with my New Year’s Eve tradition, I share with you my Word for 2019.

TRASH

When I realized this morning what today is, I realized I hadn’t chosen a word yet, and I even thought about not choosing one. It was then that the word TRASH came to me.

Ummm, say what?

I wondered if it was an acronym for something that I was supposed to learn from. Truth…..Trust…..Respect…..ummmm, I don’t know. That didn’t feel right.

I thought about the literal trash that we put out by the curb every week and how it gets picked up by people who are too often under appreciated and who show up. We don’t always notice that they show up, but we sure do if they miss us, don’t we? I want to be present and notice the folks who show up. I don’t want to take them for granted. I also want to be that person who shows up for other folks.  For the big things and the small and all those in between.

I thought about the “trash pandas.” We have quite a few around here, as we live backed up to woods. One might say, and I have, that we invaded their home. We have some who come up and snack on this or that and they seem to think cat food is some kind of fine dining. Over this holiday season, the littles and I have had a basket of water, Gatorade, seasonal snack cakes, and chips in a basket for the people who deliver packages over the year. (The world’s best elves I call them.)  One night when I was locking up rather late, I noticed the basket was still on the porch. I saw two empty plastic cellophane wrappers on the porch next to the basket. I immediately just KNEW what had happened. Some little trash panda/raccoon had come up and discovered our little treasure trove and rushed back to invite a friend to join her. And together they’d shared a little joy…..and a lot of sugar.

I want to be like that little trash panda. I want to go and find someone to share in the treasures I come across. Joy multiplied, sorrows divided–that was something else my Mama talked about a lot. And y’all knows there’s a lot of joy in some Little Debbies and Oatmeal Pies.

I thought about the trash we come across in our day to dailies–and how important it is to make sure we put it in the trash can and get rid of it. Sitting something to the side with the intention to get rid of it can create quite the mess. Every night my Mama bagged up the bag from the small trash can under the kitchen sink and toted it to the bin outside. She was always wary of the critters (ants) that might come in after it if she didn’t. Not taking out the trash just created more trouble to deal with. In the days to come I want to remember to make the effort and take the steps to get rid of refuse when I come across it–let it go. Get rid of the trash. From within and without. Everything in its place and trash out the door and out of my heart.

As I was thinking on this word, I Googled the definition. And this is what I found.

trash
/traSH/
noun
1.NORTH AMERICAN
discarded matter; refuse.
synonyms: garbage, refuse, waste, litter, junk, debris, detritus, rubbish
“the subway entrance was blocked with trash”

verb
verb: trash; 3rd person present: trashes; past tense: trashed; past participle: trashed; gerund or present participle: trashing
1.INFORMAL•NORTH AMERICAN
damage or wreck.
“my apartment’s been totally trashed”
synonyms: wreck, ruin, destroy, wreak havoc on, devastate; More
2.strip (sugar cane) of its outer leaves to ripen it faster.

I read along thinking yeah, yeah, yeah, no surprises here until I came to the second definition of trash as a verb. “Strip of its outer leaves to ripen it faster.”

Yes.

I want to strip those outer toughened layers, let go of the mask that hides authenticity, and leave myself opening to ripening, blossoming, and growing.

I am not sure why this word came to mind this morning. Maybe it was because I was out walking Miss Sophie and appreciating and breathing in the beauty of the morning and breathing out a quiet amen. Maybe it was because I was listening or because I had let go of the pressure of figuring out a word.

Whatever the reason, this is my word. It’s the word I need for the coming days. It’s the word I need for living and letting go.

And I thought I’d share it just in case you need it too.

Love to all. Don’t forget to put out the trash.

And as my Mama said, happy everyday!

raccoon in trash can

Photo by Steve from washington, dc, usa [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Lessons in Trusting From an Eleven Year Old

Cooter was sick with his standard Sunday evening 12 hour stomach thing two weeks ago.  I don’t call it a proper bug, because there’s never any rhyme or reason to it.  He doesn’t run fever or have any other symptoms.  Just every so often–occasionally–he will have stomach trouble to the point of vomiting a few times.  Most always on a Sunday evening.  We will stay up late watching his go to “sick” movie (the original Batman), and then once he’s able to, he will make the call on whether he will go to bed or sleep on the couch, and whether or not he prefers me to be close by for the rest of the night.

This last time, I was anxious that he feel better quickly.  If it ran typically, he’d be fine before morning, and we really needed for him to be.  He has drama on Mondays, and he really, really doesn’t need to miss any rehearsals if he can at all help it.  I’m old school, so if I had any doubts about him being well, he wouldn’t be going.  That night I kept asking him if he felt okay.  He did but then a second wave hit.  I decided to try an oil I have that is suppose to help with stomach upset, so I applied it topically.

Things had settled a little, and then he told me that he thought he’d be okay if he didn’t have to keep smelling that smell–that it was really bothering his stomach.  Interesting.  Well, nothing for it but to try to gently wash it off.

He said that helped.

The next morning–as per usual–he woke up asking for his oyster crackers.  And then real food.  He was hungry.  And he kept it down.  And he ate more and was his old self.  Just like all the other times.

Wow.  It never ceases to amaze me how quickly his body turns around from whatever THAT was.

I was talking with him that night after drama.  He was glad to feel better and more than happy that I agreed we wouldn’t use the oil for him again.  He said that trying to stop the throwing up was not working.  “See, Mama,” he said in that voice he uses when he is imparting the greatest of wisdom to his old Mama, “I just have to trust the process.  If I’m sick and throwing up, that means I need to do that.  Get the bad stuff out.  Mama.  Trust the process.”  

A lot of the time I can see Mama in my middle child, our Princess.  But in that moment, I could see and hear Mama in my little guy’s words and expression.  He knows how much I worry when he’s sick, but he’s fine because he “trusts the process.”  And in telling me to do it, well, that’s just like my Mama.  Trying to calm me and bring me peace in the midst of chaos.

Trust the process.

That’s so hard to do sometimes, isn’t it?  Because it requires letting go.  Letting go of trying to “fix” things or cure them or even just guiding how it goes.  Being a “scriptwriter” for my own life from way back, this is really hard.

But I look at that peace on my little guy’s face and he’s just taking it in stride.  I’m sick, okay, let me do what I have to do to get better.  

Trust the process.

Trust it in the midst of a new friendship.  Trust the other person.  Give them a chance.  Trust in the middle of planning a huge project. Trust that it will all come together.  Trust in the making of a long journey.  Trust that we will get there, or wherever we get, it will be okay.

It sort of goes hand in hand with what Mama often said, “Do your very best.  Be your best self.”

Because if you do those things, then trust the process, there is a peace in that that calls out to my soul.  I want that.  I need it.

It’s a Sunday again, and today Cooter was out with his best buddies building a fort with sticks and branches trimmed from the trees around their house.  It took them a while, but they built a magnificent fort, and then they proceeded to spend the afternoon on into the evening in it, telling stories, imagining adventures, and making the best of memories.  They took it one step at a time, did what came next, gave it their best efforts, and wound up with a great place to play.

If they’d worried about what kind of fort, or tried to count all the sticks and branches ahead of time, or worried about how it could be torn down before they were finished or how there could be critters living on the sticks or how someone might spill a Gatorade inside the fort (true story) and how that might delay their fun…..well, it could have been a long afternoon and made for some grumpy little guys.

Instead.  They formed an idea, did their best, and trusted the process.  In the end, their lives were all the better for it.

Okay, I know, it’s just a fort.  One that will most likely be fire pit fuel in the next few weeks.

But it’s a beautiful example of trusting the process.  And not nearly so…..ummm, disgusting….as the stomach trouble story.

This week I’m going to follow Cooter’s example and try trusting the process.  In my days, in my conversations, in my relationships.  I’m going to try giving it my best and then letting go.  I’m hoping I’ll have as big a smile as these guys did this afternoon, hanging out in the midst of broken branches and limbs that their trust and hard work turned into a pretty cool place to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Or a lifetime.

Love to all.

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One corner of this afternoon’s magnificent fort.

That thing you give others so freely

People.

This one is going to be short and sweet tonight.

 

You can only do the best you can do with what you have at the time.  

Don’t look back and question yourselves.  Don’t give yourself a hard time because, looking back, you can clearly see what you should have done.

I am putting these words on “paper” tonight because I’ve had to speak them to more than one of my sisterfriends this week.

Just as my Mama said them to me numerous times over the years.

She was all about doling out some grace, that one.

And more importantly, she was all about telling me to give myself some grace.  (And ironically, she didn’t cut me any slack or give me any grace when I wasn’t giving myself grace…..if you can follow that train of thought.)

Grace.  I know you can give it.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve been on the receiving end of it.  (Thank you for that, by the way.)

Now how about you give yourself some?

You did the best you could do at the time.

Yay, you!  Well done.

And so now, we move forward.  To tomorrow.

To do the best we can do with what we are given then.

Grace and much love to all.

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The Name He Gave Me

Apparently my name is hard to say.  Over the years it’s been mispronounced or misunderstood quite a few times.  (Somehow on more than one occasion, the person on the other end of the phone has thought I was saying “Pat.”  How you get Pat from Tara, I got no idea, but there it is.)

Perhaps the most distinctive memory I have of my name being mispronounced was when I was in the sixth grade.  There were a handful of us who went to a different class during fourth period, but when our teacher was out, we went back to the other classroom because they didn’t get a substitute teacher.  On this particular day, the teacher who wasn’t crazy about our presence in her classroom decided to make it a point to explain why my name should be pronounced TAR (rhymes with car) UH.  (“The R-uh controls the A.  Always.”)

Ummmm, not how I was raised, but whatever.  I wasn’t one to rock the boat at all, but I remember my good friend, tired of the whole thing, saying, “Mrs. M, Tara could write XYZ up on that board and tell us that’s her name and it’s pronounced Ta-ruh, and we’d have to say it that way.  Because it’s her name.”

I don’t remember the outcome of the day, probably because I was mortified, but I do remember feeling relieved that the day was over and thankful to my friend for speaking up on my behalf.

Cooter seems to struggle with the pronunciation himself, as he is stuck on a short “e” sound instead of short “a.”  But whatever, he gets the Mama part right, so it’s never really been an issue.

Or so I thought.  He informed me Monday that “since your name is too hard to say correctly, I’m going to call you Timothy.”

And so he did.

“Timothy, is this the right answer on this math problem?”

“Timothy, it’s not funny.”  (Because I was laughing and soon he was too.)  “Everything okay in there, Timothy?”

“I’m ready for lunch, Timothy.”

I think the real clincher was on Tuesday when, after we went to vote, he was telling his sister “NO” to all of the candidates she could think of to list.  “What?  Do you want President Obama to stay President another four years?”

“No, I don’t.”  He turned to me. “Timothy, the one thing I’ve learned in my life about politics is you can’t trust any of them.”

Oh me.

I suppose it will sound strange if we go out in public, and he calls for “Timothy” and I answer.  The thing is we have a lot of pet names in this family, and I kind of love that this is one he picked out all by himself for me.  He smiles when he says it–oh that smile–and he never says it in anger.

So yeah, I’m okay with that.

Besides, I remember my Mama’s answer when someone asked about what her grandchildren called her–her grandmother name.  When they asked, she looked real thoughtful, smiled really big, and said, “You know, I really don’t care what they call me–as long as they call me.”

And so with that, I’ll be Timothy as long as Cooter wants me to be.

It’s growing on me.  Just like he did about nine years ago.  Right there in my heart.

Love to all.

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from Romeo and Juliet

 

 

A Chip Off the Old Mug

As I was cleaning up the kitchen after supper tonight, I was thinking about my chipped mug.  It’s one of my favorites.  Cooter used it, it was in the sink, my cast iron skilled slipped, and there you go.

The story of How My Mug Got Chipped.

But it’s one of my favorites so I am going to make it work for me.  Then I started thinking about the one that belonged to my Great Aunt.  Nothing fancy just elegant like she was, and so I wanted to have it.  Unfortunately someone put it in the microwave and it didn’t like it very much, so there’s a crack in it.

At the time, I was devastated.  That was one of those times when I could hear my Mama’s voice. “It’s a thing.  Things are replaceable.  People aren’t.”

She’s right.  But the mug wasn’t going to be easy to replace either so I put it on a shelf near the table where we eat because I can’t let go.  Not yet.

I started wondering (I think a lot when I do the dishes…..or I phone a friend, both things help me pass the time without really thinking about how much time I spend cleaning up after meals) if there was something wrong with me that I can get so sentimental OVER A MUG.  After coming to the clear conclusion that of course there is nothing wrong with that (ahem), I wondered if there’s something I could DO with these mugs.  I mean, the law of averages pretty much states that I will have more chipped mugs in my possession as the years go by.

Might as well be prepared.

After the kitchen was done (okay, mostly) I sat down and decided to click on Pinterest just, you know, to check and see if anyone had given any thought to my predicament.

ALL THE BROKEN MUG PROJECTS, Y’ALL.

I AM NOT CRAZY.  I AM NOT ALONE.

So many ideas of things to do with chipped or broken or without a handle mugs.  It was a bit overwhelming, a little out there, and very encouraging that I’m not the only one who can’t let go.

Because honestly, our mug collection can tell some stories, people.  And some of them are worth telling again.

Tonight I’m giving a shout out to Pinterest.  It’s another happy place for me.  I have even grown to appreciate that when I arrive, they have a whole new set of ideas for me to look at, based on what I’ve pinned before–“Picked for You.”  Well, aren’t you thoughtful?  Thank you, Pinterest.

As for the rest of you mug hoarders, much love.  I get it.  You are in good company.  Let’s sit and enjoy our coffee or tea together and share a toast to the mugs and the stories behind them.  (But let’s don’t clink them together, no need to go crazy and risk any more cracks and chips, y’all.)

Love to all.

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My poor “Thistle Farms” mug right after it was chipped before I washed it with my tears. Just kidding. I used a washrag. It’s all clean now. And sitting waiting to get the verdict on what comes next.

 

The Question She Always Asked

Tonight I’m sitting with my Mama, as I remember her and struggle to fully grasp how long it has been since I heard her voice aloud.

Three years.

And tonight as I am struggling to let some things go and not put back together pieces from some other things, I can hear her asking the question she always asked us.  Whether it was schoolwork or housework or outside chores or a project or apologizing for a wrongdoing, she would ask,

“Did you do your best?”  

If we were able to honestly answer “Yes ma’am,” grace abounded.  She was okay with almost anything as long as we had no kidding, no holds barred tried our very best.

Mama was all about doing the best we could do in any given situation.  It was something she taught us and expected.

Our best.

Some days that might still look pretty broken, but as long as we had “applied” ourselves (another turn of phrase she liked) and given it our “all,” Mama was pleased.  It might follow that we would still have some work to do towards a resolution, but still.  Our best was all she ever asked.

Not THE best.  Our best.

Tonight I needed that grace.  I’m thankful to Mama for reminding me of it.  I can’t fix all the things I want to.  I don’t have the time to make all the good things happen I’d like to make happen.  I was grumpy a few times today and wish I hadn’t been.  I didn’t get all the clothes folded that are on the couch.  There are a couple of dishes in the sink that will likely stay there until morning.   I cried twice today over things I can’t change.  I forgot to thank my neighbor for driving me this evening.

But I can say, pretty much, that overall, yes ma’am, I tried my best.  And when I came to that realization, I felt a weight lift.  (And I’m pretty sure I felt my Mama patting me on my back, but that’s another story.)  As long as we can end a day by saying we’ve done the best we could do with what we had in front of us–well, then, I’m calling that a win, how about y’all?

Love and grace to all.