Parenting with Ambiguity, Or I Might Have Messed Up Today–Still Not Sure

Despite this week having a lot of hard bits in it, we had a major win for the Zoo Crew.  Cooter, who two years ago was in first grade and barely able to read Old Hat, New Hat, finished the fourth Harry Potter book.  All 752 pages.  He’s been working away at it for a while, but has really been intent on finishing it for the past ten days or so.  To the point where I find him curled up with the book on a couch or bed or floor when he should be doing his math or spelling or science, and I can’t find him.

He was so excited when he finished the last chapter yesterday.

So was I.

Just typing that he read that whole book brought the realization home–he really has learned to read.  And read well.

I am so thankful I cannot even fully express it in words.

Not all the day to dailies of parenting are like that though.  A clear-cut win or failure.  So many of my parenting moments are cloudy–I’m not sure where they fall until much later, if ever.

Like today.

One of our deals about Cooter reading the Harry Potter books has been that once he reads the book he can watch the corresponding movie.  That has gone well until this one, which is the first one rated PG-13.

Still, I was open to trying it with the crew.  Our Princess has read all of the books multiple times, and she has been waiting patiently to watch the movies after her brother finishes the books.  She has been a great encourager and cheerleader for her brother.  I am proud of her for that.  She so could have put on the pressure and made it a miserable experience for him.

I told my littles this morning that if they helped get the house in order, they could watch the movie this evening with their big sister home from college.  They were excited and eager to do so.

Until they forgot.

I was out running errands, having left them with instructions of what I expected them to do.  I even went so far as to say no electronics (aka “Minecraft”) until after I got back and approved the jobs they’d done.


So imagine my surprise (read: disappointment) when I came in and discovered that not only had they not finished their tasks, they were on their devices, having misinformed their sister of what their instructions had been.

Not cool.  Not cool at all.

So I now share my room with two devices which won’t see the light of day or my littles’ hands anytime soon.

Off they went.  Before lunch was ready and after–picking up, putting away, sorting, and tidying up.  Their “messes” had grown legs and traveled into more rooms than their own, so they had quite a bit to do.

From time to time or twelve, they lost their focus and started playing Legos or trying to put together their Halloween costumes or re-read the favorite parts of a book or two.

*sigh*  The struggle is real.  Focus is a lost art.

Mid-afternoon one of our Princess’ friends came over and asked if she could play.  This sweet friend came to the door with her infectious smile and bubbling over with stories from her day.  She is adorable and pretty much an answer to prayers.  She is a good friend to my middle child, and I’m thankful for her.  Princess came rushing to the door and begging me first with her eyes and then her words, “Please.  PLEASE?”

The weather here has been a mess the past several days.  Rainy, misty, and finally a little cooler to go with it yesterday and today.  It seemed rather nice, if not still a little damp out, this afternoon.  I KNOW my children need to run around and play outside and get fresh air, something they haven’t really been able to do the past few days.  Still, I wondered what kind of precedent I was setting by letting her go play when all of her picking up wasn’t done.

I let her go.

And I let Cooter go out and play too.

Their smiles and the laughter and the sounds of children’s imaginations coming up with all kinds of storylines to play out was music to my ears.  Which was good because what my eyes saw that was undone in this house was not making me very happy.

I called my two back in at supper.  I knew we were about to board the struggle bus, as I was going to have to dole out the consequences.  No movie tonight.  They hadn’t upheld their part of the bargain.  Instead of focusing and getting the odd jobs and picking up that I’d given them to do before watching the movie, they had dilly-dallied much of the day.  And then this afternoon and evening, they chose to continue playing outside instead of finishing their work.  I had even reminded them of the consequences if they kept playing.

But here’s where my heart was torn. They had chosen to PLAY OUTSIDE with their friends instead of coming in and doing what they needed to do to be able to watch the movie.

I have to say, that despite the untidy house, I’m kind of pleased that they chose outside and relationships over watching a movie.  Not happy about the house, but definitely pleased that they chose as they did.

Which doesn’t even make much sense, does it?

Well, the mess will still be here tomorrow, and I will supervise a little closer so they will stay focused.  I hope.  Together we will get it done.  And one day, probably not tomorrow, they will get to watch the movie.  And it will be spectacular.  But tonight what I’m celebrating is my children’s priorities.  Skewed as this may sound, I give thanks that they chose their friends over a movie.

And you know what else?  They didn’t really sound off much when I laid down the law and said “no” to the movie.  After the initial thirty-second pout by Cooter, they ate their supper talking about what they’d been playing with their friends and who said what, and it was wonderful.

Relationships.  People.  Every single time.

(and the house–I know.  But we will get to that tomorrow.)

I know that today wasn’t my shining moment as a parent, because I’m still confused if I handled things as I should have.  Perhaps I should have kept them locked inside until all the chores were done.  I don’t know.  Somehow it just felt wrong in that moment.

And goodness knows they sure fell asleep fast and well tonight, from all that playing and adventuring.

I might never know if any of my decisions were right, wrong, or otherwise.  All I can do, in the words of my Mama, “is the best I can with what I have in that moment.”

And that was today.

May we all choose people over the other stuff in this life.  Every single time.

Love to all.

Because Young People

Yesterday when we were at the “Bats and Bees: Friends Not Foes” workshop, I was so encouraged.

Because young people.

There were three high school students helping with the program.  At first I thought they were just there to help that day, but it turns out they were part of the planning too.  Those three young women were there–fully present, engaged, and involved.

And it was such a wonderful thing to see.  They did not sit in a corner on their phones, waiting to be asked to do something.  They went where the children went, they talked and interacted with the little ones, and were an asset to the program.  And when they saw something that needed doing, they got up and did it.  Without being asked.

I very nearly swooned.  Not even joking.

Two of them sat with me as we tried to put the butterfly/Dalek project together in preparation for the children making them.  They were really into it, trying to see how it would best work and determined to make it work.  We talked about their school and their future plans.  They have some good ones, and I was even more impressed.

Later on when the other children were outside playing in the bouncy house, one little one, maybe four years old, came inside.  She had on the sweetest little pink dress with a gauzy skirt, reminiscent of a ballerina.  She had come in because she “didn’t want to keep getting dirty and sweaty.”  Oh my land, baby girl, I hear you.  The humidity yesterday was ridiculous.

One of the teenagers picked her up and said, “That’s okay, you can stay in here with us.  Isn’t that right?”

I walked over and said, “Of course.  What a sweet dress.  I can understand not wanting to get all messed up.”  The little girl smiled.  “What a pretty smile on a pretty girl.”

The teenager smiled too.  “She is pretty.  And strong too.  Show her your muscles.”  And the little one held up her arm and flexed and grinned even bigger.

Teenager.  For the win.

I don’t know if this is something they are teaching these young women or if it is something instilled in her by her family or by her own values, but I am LOVING that she acknowledged the child’s beauty and immediately added words about strength.

I got schooled.

As in I was reminded that it is so important to focus on more than just looks when giving praises.  Which I knew.  But I don’t always put into action.  I love the example this amazing teenager gave of the perfect way to segue into what counts so much.  I even used this later myself yesterday.  Because, you know, I wanted to be like her.

Smart.  And beautiful.  And wise beyond her years.

Tonight I’m thankful for the young women I had the privilege of meeting and seeing in action.  They are only tenth graders, and already they seem to have it all together.  In six or seven years when they get out of college and head to grad school or to full-time careers, they are going to do change this world for the better in big ways.  And small.  Because all the ways matter.

May we all strive to follow their example of being present, being involved, and finding the important things to praise and encourage.

Love to all.

“This Is Not Your Week”

So my friend who isn’t Shirley found out there was going to be a conflict on the day of our daughters’ dance recital.  Her son, who plays baseball, had a tournament scheduled for that same day.  Smack dab in the middle of the recital time.  For those of you who have children or know children or were a child, you can imagine how hard this is for a parent.  How do you choose which one to attend?  How do you make sure the other child gets where he or she needs to be?  How do you keep everyone fairly happy, feeling loved, and still stay sane?

It’s hard.

And all of these things and the logistics for the day were running through my friend’s head when she first told me about the conflict two weeks out.  The girls had a makeup dance class two days later.  As we sat down to visit, she told me, “Yeah, this girl at work asked me if I’d figured out what we’re going to do on that Saturday.  I just put my hand up and told her, ‘Nope.  Stop.  This is not your week.'”

If y’all could have seen the determination on her face–I laughed of course, as did she.  She pointed out she had a whole lot of other things on her plate before she could even begin thinking about the following weekend and its conflicts.  So she refused to worry about something that far out.

Good for her.

And, as it turned out, the tournament was cancelled, and all of the worrying that didn’t happen (and the little that did) would have been for naught.

Good for you, Shirley.  You kept breathing.

Tonight I’m thankful for this wise and witty friend of mine who keeps me laughing and inspires me and teaches me a lot about peace.  And about letting things roll off my back.  She’s good at the whole peace thing–despite all that life throws at her. (Which is a lot.)  And I think the key to that peace might just be the fact that she prioritizes and has good boundaries.  She’s not going to let that ol’ devil Anxiety steal her revival.  She is smiling just about all of the time.  Really smiling.

I want some of that.

May we all learn how to throw up our hands and tell the worrying and all the stressing out over things, “This is not your week.”  So many times I have worried over things and situations that never came to fruition.  May we all learn to let that go, and in doing that, may our hearts be lighter and our smiles a little brighter.

Go tell whatever’s worrying your future, “This is not your week.”  You’ve got better things think about.

Love to all.

Have or Make, that is the question

I stopped giving my Daddy my number one reason why something wasn’t done many years ago.

I used to say, “Oh I didn’t have enough time.”

Never one to let us be less than we could become, he started challenging me the minute I became old enough to understand what he was talking about.

“Didn’t have the time or didn’t MAKE the time?  Because there’s a difference.”

Yessir, you’d be correct about that.  There sure is.

The past couple of weeks have gone by in a whirlwind.  I have a few things to get done by a certain day, and I’m feeling stretched a bit thin more often than not.  I found myself about to say the wrong thing in conversation with a friend the other day.

I was about to say, “I didn’t have time to get such and such done.”

And I sensed Daddy waiting, patiently, to see what I would actually say.

I was truthful.

“I didn’t make the time to do it.”

Truth.  Uncomfortable.  But truth all the same.

What we do with our time in a lot of life has to do with our priorities.  I have a crocheting project I’d like to finish.  And as someone shared on Pinterest, “Crochet does come before Housework in the dictionary.”  But I can’t say I don’t have enough time–not when I spend time on Facebook and Pinterest and piddling around with this and that.

A new month.  Lots to get done over the next few weeks.  I’m trying to maximize my time during my littles’ summer break from school.  It’s my goal to do more about making time for things.  Prioritizing.  And doing.

It’s funny how I still hear my Daddy’s voice even though I last heard it out loud two and a half years ago.  Giving thanks for having a wise Daddy who never failed to call me out in the hopes of making me a better person.

Love to all.

From one of my favorite artists and storytellers, Brian Andreas of StoryPeople:

“Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life.”–Brian Andreas, StoryPeople

“The will to make it so”

A year or two ago someone who knew we were helping serve at the Sunday night suppers for folks in need asked me, “Yeah, so all those folks y’all are feeding–they are all either drug addicts or alcoholics, right?”

Ummm, no.  No more than all of us with houses are NOT addicts or alcoholics.  Not everyone.  Not all.

I didn’t say it exactly like that, but I did tell him that if I were on the streets day in and day out, I’d have to be on drugs or drinking just to cope.  I don’t think I could get through the fear and uncertainty and hard things that happen without some kind of mind altering substance.  I just don’t.

Today at our Sister Circle we had a new sisterfriend join us.  I remember her from the Sunday night suppers, but this is the first time I’ve seen her since then.  She said she’s been around there a lot, so I guess we’ve just been passing each other.  I invited her to join our group, and she did.

Once again our sisterfriends who have been coming for a while were gracious and patient listeners.  Once again we heard stories about how often it is one’s own family who can be the most hurtful.  Once again, the tears and the unknowns and the sense of being overwhelmed.  And once again, I got mad.

This young woman is on the streets.  She was kicked out of the last place she was staying.  The reasons don’t matter and I’m not sure how true they were anyway.  Suffice to say, it’s going down to at least 30 tonight and one more soul is on the streets.  One of my sisters.

Breaks my heart.

She’s tried the local shelter.  There are no spaces available.  She told the story of a night they put her out at 11 p.m. because her urine test showed drug use.  She had admitted it upon admission earlier that evening.  Said she’d been clean for a day or two, but it was still showing up in her system.  I asked her if Rehab was a possibility.  She said she’d tried to go last night.  She wants to be clean.  She wants to be off the streets.  She’s scared and it showed.  Her only family said no, you can’t come here–maybe because of her prior drug use.  She shrugged and said she didn’t know for sure.  She was tearful.  As we continued our conversation in the group, she put her head down on the table and fell asleep.  Bless her.  It was warm and it was safe.  Two things I take for granted just about every single night.  But not this one.

It doesn’t make sense.  The shelter is full, but even if it’s not, you have to be sober to be there?  To get sober, most of the people I know need help–they need rehab.  But rehab’s full.  So there’s no way to get off the streets?  A young woman who is at risk for so much to happen?  And there are church buildings, God’s houses, sitting empty all over town.

Oh me.  I can hardly believe what we are doing to each other.

And today there was more that didn’t make sense.

Yesterday World Vision made an announcement. They are changing their employment policy.  Because they employ folks from all different Christian backgrounds and because some denominations have begun sanctioning same-sex marriages in the past few years, they decided to defer to the authority of the churches and allow Christians in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.  No other changes to their otherwise fairly rigid code of morality for their employees. That’s it.

I’m not opening up a discussion about same-sex marriages here.  My Daddy raised me that you don’t discuss religion or politics with folks, and I’m already really close to stepping over the line, so we’re going to leave that subject for another day.

Here’s where I am headed with this.

Do you know about World Vision?  I knew in general, but not the particulars.

Here’s just a small bit from their website.

Our Impact

Poverty is complex, and so are our solutions.

With 44,000 staff members worldwide, we bring sponsors and donors alongside children and communities in nearly 100 countries. The map below shows our work across issues — from health to disaster response — integrating lasting solutions to the root causes of poverty and sharing God’s hope for a brighter future. And we stretched donations with grants and corporate gifts-in-kind to make every dollar donated achieve $1.15 in impact.

Here’s another number to throw at y’all.

4.3 million–the number of children World Vision has who are benefitting from the sponsorship program.  These children come from all over the world in 1,650 communities.


That’s some serious impact right there.  4.3 million children whose lives are affected by this program.  This program which states:

Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness.

Our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.

So now because of their new policy change, folks are, to quote my oldest, “losing their minds” and calling them out, threatening to and actually cancelling their sponsorships.  Of these sweet children.  Who have NOTHING do to with this at all.

Are you kidding me?

When all of this hit the fan yesterday, my oldest stepped up and let the world know that she thought this was ridiculous.  She wrote:

“It is so sad to me to watch people quit sponsoring children through World Vision because of their stance on same-sex marriage.  You’re going to end a relationship with a child in need because you disagree with a company?  Get your priorities straight.  Jesus said to love.  Through ending your sponsorship you are letting your prejudices overwhelm your calling to love.”

Yes.  Yes ma’am.  One of my prouder moments as a Mama.  I’m so thankful. She gets it.  Priorities–choose relationship above all else.   Her Maemae would be so proud.  Mama didn’t play when it came to children and taking care of them.  Daddy either.

My girl wrote me later today, very upset, and I wound up using the “I” word.  “Someone just commented that the kids sponsored through World Vision are going to hell because they hire gay employees.”  Her hurt and frustration was obvious.  Wanna get me upset?  Do something that I can’t make sense of for my children.  I told her I was sorry that there are idiots in the world.

And apparently Dr. Bill Cosby agrees.

Well enough of that attitude.  That just pours fuel on their fire, doesn’t it?

Still, I agree with the author of Rage Against the Minivan when she says:

 “If we want to serve people, we should not make distinctions about who we serve, and we should not deny those we serve out of disunity or division. It’s astounding to me that Christians would take food from starving children because a gay person might have helped in getting it there.”

This evening I was sitting in a little storefront near the railroad tracks.  I heard the train before I saw it.  It was LOUD.  Blowing its whistle for all it was worth.  It was working it.  And then I saw it.  I was expecting a long train with all that racket.  And instead?  Just an engine.  One.  All by itself.

But you know what?  The tracks didn’t pull up and go, “Nope, you’re not enough for us to stay here for.”  The rails still lowered.  Traffic still stopped.  And we all sure heard it.

The fact that it was only one really did not affect very much at all.

I’m mad.  I’m mad that a sisterfriend is on the streets tonight, scared and worried, because she’s caught between a rock and a hard place.  She must be clean to get a spot in one place, and to get clean she must go to Rehab, which is also full.  And so she will probably continue to use.  I am pretty sure I would as well.  There’s only so much you can close your eyes to and still be okay.

I’m mad that people are choosing to tell the world their indignation over another’s sexuality is more important than helping a child–a child they were already helping.  The child is suffering through no fault of his or her own–which is what the sponsorship was all about ending–the needless suffering.  Right back to square one.

But what my oldest is teaching me, and what that little train showed me this evening, is that even if I am the only one who feels this way, I have a voice.  I can speak up.  And I should.  Someone will hear.  I can start the ball rolling.  I can stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.  How can I choose to do otherwise?

And in the midst of all the controversy and bashing and fussing and pointing fingers, I can do what we were first called to do, what we were created to do.  I can love.  Love others, love those who are like me and those who are different.  Love those who agree with me and those who frustrate me to no end.  Love.

Tonight, as I remember not to take for granted a place to lay my head in out of  the cold, I also want to hold in my heart the words of World Vision–“the will to make it so.”

Changes are needed.  Love and understanding are needed more.  May we all be set afire with the “will to make it so.”  Even one little train car can stop traffic for a moment.  All by itself.

Amen.  Love to ALL.





BYOD… what?

We are headed into unchartered waters, and I’m not gonna lie.  I’m more than a little worried.

Recently I found out about a plan that has been integrated into the local school system.  BYOD.  Bring Your Own Device.  That means iPads, smartphones, laptops, e-readers, tablets–bring them all.  They are planning to incorporate these devices into all areas of study–Math, Science, English/Language Arts, Social Studies, and PE.  By the beginning of the last nine weeks of this school year, this program will have been implemented in all of the schools in this county.

That’s right. The devices that could have been confiscated or gotten you in trouble before–you’re not only allowed but encouraged to bring them.

Good gravy.

I have two major problems with this.

First of all, how many children in this community have their own electronic devices at their disposal?  How many families can afford to go out and buy some kind of device now that this has been brought into existence?  My favorite coffeehouse, Bare Bulb Coffee, has a program called Backpack Buddies.  This program, as described on their website:

Each week, we fill more than 60 backpacks with food to help children who rely on free meals at school make it through the weekend. You can volunteer to pack backpacks, deliver food, or simply drop a donation by the shop. We’re collecting: juice boxes, cheese and crackers,easy mac, granola bars, trail mix, fruit cups, and instant oatmeal. 

This is not the only program in our county helping children have enough to eat on the weekends.   And on breaks.  In a county where some of our children do not have enough to eat in their homes, we are going to encourage bringing in electronic devices for use in the classrooms?  No these are not being distributed.  In reading about the program, I did not see anything about there being devices available for loan in the classrooms for those who do not have them.

My heart breaks.  I think our priorities are skewed.  Here, yet once again, we are dividing ourselves into the haves and the have nots.  We are creating that “other” that Hugh Hollowell warned us against in his post I shared once before:  “What Folks Who Live Outside Do Not Need.”  We have the children who have their own devices and then there are the other children.  I cannot stand the thought of it.

There is a video of a child who has difficulty in communication using a tablet to improve communications.  It’s awesome.  If we need those in the classrooms for learning tools, then we as a community need to step up and somehow make sure that those are available for the children who need it.  School-owned and school-provided learning resources.  That’s it.  As for day to day use in a classroom, it frustrates me beyond belief to think of the children turning the pages in their textbooks trying not to catch the glances of the ones clicking on words and instructions on their devices.  It plain makes me mad.  But then I’m the parent who got a stomachache around Field Day time each year, worrying if all of the children were able to send in the money for their class’ Field Day t-shirt.

Mama’s rule of interaction with others #568.  “You share with everyone or you put it away.”  Rule #1.  “Don’t leave anyone out.”

My other problem with this plan is what our children will actually be learning.  A couple of the examples involved clicking on QR codes and receiving instructions… science, in PE.  Okay, so now we’re cutting back on interaction with the instructors.  Wow.

People are unlearning how to communicate with each other.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  I have great friends whom, unfortunately, much of our contact and communication is through messages–on Facebook or text messages.  E-mail is even becoming a less used option.  I’ll take this form of communication over none at all, but still.  Are we forgetting how to sit still and look at someone and carry on a conversation?  This is my fear.  I also worry that we are becoming desensitized.  It is very easy to “say” anything on social media without seeing the hurt in someone’s eyes.  Things communicated electronically can often be misinterpreted and promote misunderstandings by the truckload.  It’s one more mess waiting to happen.  Why are we contributing to this by encouraging less human interaction in the schools?  Our children, all of them, need to learn courtesy and kindness and compassion.  School, among other places, is a place to interact with others and practice those skills.  But not if we fill their hands with devices, so their focus is there, and they are looking away from those around them.  It’s just too much.

And now for the elephant in the living room.  Yes, I homeschool.  My oldest attended a private kindergarten, Department of Defense Schools, and public schools in this county before she asked to be homeschooled at the beginning of eighth grade.  I realize I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  However, my heart is breaking for those families that cannot afford to put a device in their child’s backpack and send them to school with it.  Many families have more than one child.  How do they decide who gets to take the device they have if they even have one?  I may not send my children to school in this county, but I do have a voice and I am concerned for those whose voices may not be heard, so I decided to share my thoughts.  One of my friends expressed her own concern about being able to afford a device, and it made me sad and mad.  I love her fiercely and her little guy too.  He deserves the same opportunities as every other child in that classroom.  I don’t like to think about this form of segregation.  Because that is what it comes down to.

They say they are working to ready these students, all of them K-12, for college, where devices are used on a regular basis and integrated into the coursework.   My oldest is in college,  and she does use her electronic device in her studies.  We discovered that e-books are a lot less expensive and she (unlike me) has no trouble studying from that format.  She uses the calculator on her phone, and she communicates with her classmates through text messages.  The professors relay information through e-mail.  All of this is wonderful.  But I can tell the school system one thing, college requires something else.  Being able to get along with others.  Working together.  Being a part of group work and teams.  And compassion.  Understanding.  Tolerance.  Kindness.  Respect.

And I’m afraid, dear BOE Powers That Be, there’s just no app for those things.

Weigh in:  What are your thoughts on BYOD? 

For more information about the BYOD plan, click here.

The Cup of Coffee

I didn’t want to write about this tonight.

Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it.  So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still).  I have other things to share.  80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?

But my heart says no.  Tomorrow those other stories will still be here.  This one has to be written.  Tonight.  So I can let it go.

And so I begin.

A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama.  There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her.  Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport.  All.  Day.  Long.  I understand, looking back at the big picture.  But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part.  They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS.  In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day.  I waved at my children from the window.  Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers.  He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually.  Physically she was still in a lot of pain.

Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon.  I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her.  I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go.  When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again.  I was told it would be okay.  (insert huge sigh of relief here)  They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out.  We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital.  The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back.  The woman sat in the back with her.  When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital.  I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment.  I heard Mama’s muffled voice.  I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay.  Anything else would have made me crazy.

Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup.  He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up.  The radio station blared music from a classic rock station.  Oh.  My.  Word.  When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating.  If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat.  LOUD.  He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.”  Umm.  Okay?  I mean, I guess he’s allowed.  I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.

We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247.  An interesting choice of route.  (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.)  When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation.  I can’t help it, it’s what I do.  (That, I got from my Mama.)

Somehow the subject of coffee came up.  I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.

“Um yeah, once,” he said.  “I don’t like all that fancy coffee.  I just like it simple.”

Okay. Strike two.

Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee.  But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?


We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time.  This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light.  Um, no I’m not kidding.

He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking.  “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”

Okay.  We’ll take it.

When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face.  She was in pain and holding it in.  We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance.  It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening.  They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?”  But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room.  Bless all those poor sick souls.  They all looked miserable.  Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes.  We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor.  A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!).  Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed.  The two EMT’s were more gentle this time.  Mama couldn’t help it.  She moaned a little.  The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused.  He looked at Mama.  “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.”  He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.

The whole thing was very surreal.  Mama was literally slipped in through the back door.  She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later.  As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was.  And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one.  (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)

All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU).  It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive.  Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff.  It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that.  A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.

And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.

It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do.  Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again.  Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report.  Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper.  We all do it, right?  Take a moment before the next thing.

Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama.  The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list.  In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert.  Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.

It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things.  I’m surprised I didn’t say them.  But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter.  He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.

As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in.  I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home.  Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before.  So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing. 

For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction.  It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed.  If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude.  As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him.  One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night.  And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was.  Especially in the hospital.  She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life.  To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.

And maybe he got it.  I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening.  Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama.  And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.

A good lesson for us all to remember, I think.  Especially me.

Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard.  Amen. 


Stop Waiting on the Next Round of Normal

Tonight at Evening Prayer before the worship began folks were milling around and catching up with each other.  I love that part.  As I looked around the room, a beautiful young mother caught my eye.  She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her.  She reminded me of a young woman who came several months ago, who was pregnant and due any day.  But this woman could not be her–her little one was toddling all over the place.  Someone said the baby was fifteen months old.  Well, there you go, it couldn’t be the same person.  But still…..

I walked over to say hello and she rose from her seat with a smile so wide and genuine, my heart recognized her before I fully did.  It was the same woman.  Mind blown.  I had only met her once, and we had sat together during Evening Prayer one evening.  It HAD been fifteen months ago, yet my memory of her was so vivid, so clear–it seemed like there was no way it had been that long.

I am so thankful I was able to visit with her, albeit briefly, tonight.  Such a sweet soul.  Our seeing each other again reminded me of something that no matter how reminders I get, I seem to forget.

Time is fickle.  And deceptive.

It can seem like no time at all has passed and before you know it, the minutes turn into hours turn into weeks, then months, then years.  I know it’s been talked about way too much, and it’s very cliché, but time goes all too quickly.

I was just surprised that’s all.  I’ve been kidding myself into thinking I was trying to savor every moment.  Grief and the deaths of those you love can do that to you.  Makes you focus a little differently.  Makes you want to make sure nothing is taken for granted.  But eventually time starts slipping and the next thing you know it’s fifteen months later and you don’t know where it all went.  Way.  Too.  Fast.

Time by Cindy Cheney

Time by Cindy Cheney

Here’s the thing.  I’m always thinking about what I will do when “things settle down” or “get back to normal,” and I have put things on my to-do list to handle as time allows.  Fact: It’s not going to happen.  I have got to rearrange my priorities before time and the living of life take away opportunities I thought I would always have.  People get sick and may not be around forever, sisters move away, friends get full-time jobs and can’t get together anymore.  Assuming folks will be around for the next round of normal, whenever, whatever, often leads to heartbreak and regrets because it isn’t guaranteed.

A wise and fabulous friend of mine called and talked and listened, and we had the best visit on Friday.  She said that she felt I needed to do some “culling.”  Well, I look around this house, and I know it’s true (except for the books and the yarn stash–call me out on those and I will disown you).  But she interrupted me, “No, I don’t mean things.  I mean your time.  How busy you are.  You need to cull some of your activities, don’tcha think?”

It’s been on my mind all weekend, that maybe yes, I might need to do just that.  But tonight.  Realizing how fast time flies…..and seriously it does.  Fifteen months–poof–just gone.  I believe I need to cut back on some things so that I can take time for other things I’ve been putting off, thinking they could be done whenever.  It’s just not guaranteed, is it?

Tonight I give thanks for beautiful smiles that warm a heart, for fifteen month olds toddling around a worship service making everyone smile, for family that I can reach out and hug less than a half hour drive away, and for a wise friend who opened my eyes and said what my heart (and my body, let’s be honest) has been trying to tell me for quite a while.  And if you need to cull to make time for folks you love, come on, let’s do it together.  I don’t think we’ll regret it, do you?

Potlucks and Parties–Why They’re Not My Thing Anymore

I used to love buffets.  Oh, the awesome options!  I can remember the last one I went to.  I got collard greens and pot liquor and cornbread and not much else.  Seriously.  That’s not something I cook for myself very often, and I was in Heaven.

And don’t get me started on church or club or community potlucks.  LOVE. THEM.  Do we really ever have the pineapple casserole anywhere else?  Casseroles are the best.  When you see Ritz cracker topping you know you have arrived.  My Great Aunt used to add almond slivers to her casseroles, and that just hollered “classy” to us.

But that was B. F. A.

Before Food Allergies.

Almost six years ago to the day I watched my child have a reaction.  I did not have the epipen with me, which was the last time I put myself in that position.  It was terrifying.  She survived which I am thankful for with every breath I take.  I was aware of the potential allergy before that day, but I let my guard down.  No more.

Having a child with a food allergy has changed our lives.  I have become what some would probably call hypervigilant.  I am always looking for the threat.  The threat that could come from any direction–a playmate’s hand, a family member’s kiss, a dust of residue on a movie theater seat, a toy in a doctor’s office, from anyone and anywhere at any time.

Yeah, I’m that Mama.

I'm a label reader, looking for that allergen list or the information that is sometimes listed below, "Processed in a plant that also processes....." We stay away from those too.  Just in case.

I’m a label reader, looking for that allergen list or the information that is sometimes listed below that, “Processed in a plant that also processes…..” We stay away from those too. Just in case.

I haul a sheet with us when we go to the movies.  (I’ve found that a twin fitted works really well–covers everything without too much hanging off.  I might even try a crib sheet next time.)  I carry baby wipes.  Everywhere.  I burn up the internet on my phone checking allergen lists for restaurants.  I slide my glasses back and forth (can you say “need bifocals?”) and take three times as long to grocery shop, reading the allergen information on labels.   I insist that my child clean her hands all the time and I am constantly saying, “Please don’t touch everything or anything.”  We all call out when we see the foods that are off-limits. (Orange is the trigger color for danger.)  I find myself staring down other children when they come in with snacks at dance, at soccer games, or in church, assessing what they have and its potential for harm.  It’s all becoming second nature for me and mine, but I’m sure from the outside looking in we just seem odd.

We turn down invitations to events sometimes.  Other times we arrive with our own food in tow, right down to cupcakes in the cutest little cupcake containers ever made.  We refuse generously offered food samples and treats.  And suckers at the bank.  If I can’t read the label, y’all, I’m sorry it’s just not going to happen.  I love homemade goodies more than most, but I can’t risk cross-contamination.   So more than likely, we will pass.  No offense intended.

Mama's way of helping us remember.  It still does.

Mama’s way of helping us remember. It still does.

We’ve learned to carry around the epipen like lives depend on it, because well, they do.  There’s been so much stress over it being left at home or in the hot car in summer or cold one in winter that I am sure one day she will be talking about it on whatever show is the Oprah of her day.  Mama, always a problem solver, made us this tag to put in my car to remind us to take it with us or not leave it wherever we had gone.  Bless her.  It has helped more times than I can count.

I’ve read about children who have been bullied concerning their allergies.  Other children waving the allergen in front of them, suggesting they might touch them or otherwise expose them to it.  Stories like that break my heart.  And make me angry.  If that ever happened…..I would need bail money.  No doubt about it.  I’ve also heard numerous stories which did not have happy endings–it only took one cookie or one bite of something from a buffet.  These only serve to enforce my hypervigilance even more.

We’ve been fortunate on this journey.  First of all we live in a day and age of food labeling laws.  Thank you God and the FDA.  If she were alive a hundred years ago, well, I just don’t think she would be.  We have a beautiful family of people who get it and err to the side of caution.  They are not offended when I ask to read labels, and years ago the boiled peanuts and peanut butter bars and pecan goodies were left out of our family gatherings.  (Anyone from the South can appreciate that sacrifice.)  And I love them for it.  My Cousin discusses beforehand what’s she baking and bringing to the get-togethers.  Mess Cat has a special cabinet of snacks that are safe for us to have when we are over at her house.  We have friends who remember the allergies and offer information before I can ask.  We have precious friends who washed down their whole kitchen and offered to put the “offending” groceries in the trunk of their car while we were there.  That’s love right there.  (But not necessary, thank goodness.)  Today I was buying some vegetables at a locally owned market.  The man I spoke with called his supplier to confirm that they were indeed okay for me to serve my child.  Like the restaurant where they offer to cook her food separately from everything else, their “above and beyond” service was appreciated, and we will be back.

We are also lucky to have a great allergist who is on top of his game.  He has offered to test her in his office on things that I’m nervous about.  He even knew about the new epi-pens that talk to you.  That it just too cool.  He gets my paranoia and worry, and he is a calming force.  Something I need.

It’s taken time but I’m back to breathing.  I can remember a couple of times about three years ago when we went to a restaurant that I had checked out beforehand.  I told the server when ordering as I always do, “My child has a food allergy.  Just letting you know.”  No problem.  So we ate. And toward the end of the meal, my child would start acting differently, saying she didn’t feel good.  I would go into near panic, asking constantly, “Can you breathe?”  And we’d get through it.  I’m not even sure what was going on with either of us, but we now call those “melkdowns.”  And we don’t have them much anymore.  I’ve learned to swallow the panic and observe carefully and calmly and rationally:  she’s breathing, she’s fine, we’re okay.  Honestly?  I think it’s possible she was mirroring my panic and anxiety.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t expect people to cater to us or to feel uncomfortable carrying on as usual.  She is adapting quite well and understands when I tell her she can’t have this bubblegum or that ice cream bar.  We compensate for it later at home, and she gets it.  What I do hope is that people understand when I say no, or when I just can’t find it in me to come to this event or that party or this special occasion.  Sometimes it’s just more than I can handle or I feel like the risk might be more than I’m ready to take on.  It’s not that I don’t trust you.  It’s that I can’t trust anyone or anything–I have to question everything.  It’s my job.  To protect her first and foremost–that’s my top priority.  I don’t mean to offend or hurt feelings, it just is what it is.

I don’t know what the future holds.  No one can tell me why she has these allergies and no one knows if a cure will be found.  I hope with all my heart that they will find something so that I can send her off into the world one day and not worry every second she is away from me.  Until then, if I seem overprotective or if I turn down an invitation or gift of food, please understand and forgive me.  She is my gift from God, a treasure–and it’s all I know to do–to protect her and keep her safe, no matter what it takes.

My sweet friend shared this article with me.  The author does a beautiful job of sharing what it is like to have a child with food allergies.  Everything she says resonates with me–it’s all true.  It’s worth taking the time to read.

For more information about food allergies, please visit Food Allergy Research and Education

Full of Hope and Possibilities

Yesterday my BIL Leroy called and asked what I was up to.  “Cleaning up areas and stuff that no one will notice at all.  And it’s looking worse before it can possibly look better,” I sighed. Leroy replied, “Well as long as you notice that’s what counts, right?”


Still, it’d be nice if SOMEONE would say, oh wow, the way stuff’s not pouring out from under the desk–yeah that–that’s pretty awesome.

Not meant to be though.

So as I was wrangling dust bunnies big enough to choke a horse out from under my desk, I found this little guy.

Rescued this little guy from the attack of the dust bunnies under my desk

Rescued this little guy from the attack of the dust bunnies under my desk

He really doesn’t have much left in him, poor thing.  Once you start sharpening the labelled part, well, it’s getting close to time to start scrambling for a new pencil. It reminded me a of a boy I went to school with–we’ll call him Buck.  We were in school together all twelve years.  In the early years, we had all our classes together.  I remember him writing with pencils just like this one more often than not.  How he did it, I do not know.  But he did.

I thought about the short pencil, wondering if Buck always had to use the short ones or if it was his preference.  I knew children who often seemed to be short on school supplies.  At the time I took it for granted that I never lacked the pencils and notebooks and paper and other supplies required by my teachers. If I had to borrow paper or a pencil it was because of my lack of planning, not because we didn’t have it.   Today I realize that my parents made our education a priority, and though we didn’t have a lot of extras, they did make sure we had what we needed.

The end of summer meant picking up packs of paper and pencils.  I even remember the year I got to pick out a Trapper Keeper because it was there was a big sale at the KMart.  It had a horse on the cover.  I was on Cloud Nine.  Decisions were made about whether a new lunchbox or lunchbag was needed each year.  We made trips up to my aunt’s in Griffin, so Mama and my aunt could go to the Sock Shoppe.  New underwear and socks also marked the beginning of the school year, because well, you know.  No I’m not really sure, but why not?  It was as good a time as any, I guess. I loved the shopping trips because it meant playing with my cousins at the house while the shopping was done.  (And yes, I loved my new aforementioned items too.)

We got new bookbags as needed, but the one I remember most was one Mama sewed for me–two-tone blue denim with all kinds of pockets.  Mama did not find much pleasure in sewing but she was an excellent seamstress.  That bag held up for quite a while.

Today I am thankful for my parents who made choices that assured I was never without what I needed for my education.  That was a precious gift because I know there were times that were hard, and they had to cut corners.  I am lucky that I never had to worry about how I would get the posterboard for my projects or if I had enough notebook paper to finish the school year.

The public schools here start in the next couple of weeks.   After finding the pencil yesterday and thinking back over how fortunate I was, I have been thinking about the children who won’t have it so good.  Those who will start the school year without the things they need.  They start their year already two steps behind.  That breaks my heart–the children whose families are affected by the furloughs or whose breadwinners have lost their jobs or who are moving from place to place without a real place to call home.  We have the power to change at least this need for them.

Many stores have dropboxes for supplies that will be distributed to children in need.  Local programs that work with homeless families or spouse abuse shelters, Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Rescue Missions–all of these have children in their midst who could use a hand up as school starts.  If you were lucky enough to have what you needed or if you remember what it was like not to have those things readily available, and you are able to pick up a few extra things in the next couple of weeks, will you join me in helping change their future?  Let them know someone cares, and send them off on their big day with all the things they need.

Nothing opens up possibilities like a fresh box of crayons–so much one can create and do–so full of hope.  (And remember the boxes with the sharpener built in?  Fabulous!) Let’s show them they’re loved.  I know it’s a cliché, but these young people whom we have a chance to help today are our future. Let’s make it a bright and hopeful one.  We can do it.  One pack of paper or box of pencils at a time.

Full of hope and potential, just like the children who need our help.

Full of hope and potential, just like the children who need our help.