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Our Postmodern Family

Our Real Modern Family

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven.  My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right.  I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat.  And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again.  This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family.  Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.

Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia.  I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.

Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.

Family X-Mas 2014

 

 

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Why I’m Afraid of the Dark: True Southern Gothic

The summer solstice is here. That means summertime. Where the days are long and the nights are sticky. Pools and fireworks and barbecued weenies. Mermaid days. Firefly nights.

I love me some summer. Always have. As a teacher, I love them even more than ever. They are my chance to relax and recover. They are unbelievably important to my state of mind.

But I remember one summer way back when that totally wracked my state of mind. It was the summer that ended my childhood. It was the summer before my sixth-grade year. It was the summer I heard demons in my living room. It was the summer I learned we were moving to a giant metropolis and leaving my friends and fun and beloved frog pond far behind. It was the summer of my fall.

Up until then I’d been knobby-kneed, sun kissed, and barefoot. I had three sisters, a new baby brother, and more than a mild addiction to lime Kool Aid. I wore my hair long and tangled and crunchy with chlorine. I loved horses and roller skates and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I knew nothing about life but what my small little patch of Yoknapatawpha had taught me: kudzu and snake skins and sandy creek beds; frog ponds and field corn and honeysuckle vines. My own little Garden of Eden postage stamp.

My friends and I – a neighborhood pack of elementary school vagabonds — roamed the backroads and the brambles in search of the most perfect summer. And we damned near found it amidst a syrup of sweat and random scents: deadheaded marigolds, sunbaked magnolia blossoms, warm pine needles, maypops cracked wide open on hot asphalt, and truckloads of mosquito spray, which we rode our bikes behind like we were soaring through clouds in fighter jets.  Those are the smells I remember from that summer. It was a summer full to the brim. Mosquitoes and memories multiplying under a speckled canopy of freckles and stars.

And then came the demons.

It wasn’t what you would think. It wasn’t howling and hissing and holy water sizzling on flesh. I saw that sort of thing later, in some Hollywood versions of possession. No, this to me was, and still is, far scarier. Because it happened. To me. In real life. And it was nothing like in the movies.

It happened in a run-of-the-mill southern den, amid a velveteen sofa, a couple of flame-stitched wingbacks, and a good many, good-intentioned, God-fearing people. There was a laying-on of hands, a cacophony of tongue-speaking… and hissing. I remember harsh, guttural hissings. Lots of repetitive phrases, lots of In the Name of the Lords and Get behind me, Satans.

This is not something your average eleven-year-old should be exposed to. Just saying.

It left me terrified of the dark to this day.

It happened in our living room during a cell meeting – the little home prayer groups that were sprouting up all around our neck of the southeast back then. Led by people dissatisfied with the ways of organized religion. Rather ironic, considering they organized their own, new brand of religion, which ended up leaving me terrified of any and all organized religion.

It was just a small gathering of people I’d grown up around. And they were there, in our living room, worshipping God in the way they thought best. Lots of singing, praying, lifting of hands, and speaking in tongues. I was used to it.

Until it took that turn. That devilish turn. I remember – or maybe I invented — a smile. The biggest smile you ever did see on the biggest, best man I ever knew. A great, big-bellied, big-hearted man with a great big watermelon smile. Only this smile wasn’t his smile. It was creepy and folded in. Like a jack-o-lantern two weeks too old.

As dozens of men surrounded the smile, and dozens of women prayed fervently, that smile broke my innocence. And I can never go back.

To this day, I can’t watch possession movies. I just can’t. Give me all the Criminal Minds and Law & Orders and Sherlocks you’ve got. I lap them up — my adult version of lime Kool-Aid. I am more than mildly addicted. But possession flicks? Nope. Not happening.

And whenever I wake at 3:00 AM – the witching hour, the devil’s hour — I shiver and slide over closer to my sleeping husband, terrified of the knowledge I absorbed way back then.

It can’t be undone. It can’t be dismissed.

Were the demons real? Who knows? I was told once that I was possessed, too. I was pretty sure I wasn’t. Still, it was scary as all get out to be told that. And to witness all that I witnessed. For there were far more exorcisms than just the one.

And this summer, I’ve been revisiting that time — working on a novel that integrates some of those same situations and the ensuing darkness that enveloped me.

It all began with a grinning demon. And it all ended with a damsel in distress.

It took her years to escape. She’s still working on it, actually.

What it Takes to Be a Football Family

It is mid-June. Summer hasn’t even officially begun– the solstice hits this week – but already the father of my children is helmet-deep in football camp and has been for nearly a month.

I am married to a high school football coach. My twin toddlers have a high school football coach for a dad. He is one heck of a father, one heck of a husband, and one heck of a coach. And as another season grinds its way into gear, I’ve been thinking a lot about how football and being a football family demand a lot of similar physical and emotional commitments.

Football, and being a football family, takes teamwork. And luckily, my husband and I make a damn good team. In his football job on game nights, my husband is up in the booth — away from the field, but very much in on the action. His daddy job at home is not that much different. He’s not on the field (football keeps him away from home most days until just before the boys’ bedtime and sometimes not even then), but he’s very much in on the action. He monitors, helps make adjustments, keeps me motivated, and provides endless emotional support. There’s no way I could run this program without him.

Football, and being a football family, takes hard work and dedication. The two of us have accentuated the importance of routine and fundamentals with our twins from the get-go. Nap times and dinner times and screen times and bedtimes are established and rarely vary. The boys know and understand our expectations, which provides me immeasurable advantage when I’m putting them through their paces alone at home during the season. They are disciplined and –for the most part – dedicated to the routine. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong in an instant. Blitzes can still blindside me. Take downs can occur. Turnovers can and do happen. But discipline and vision can shift that momentum right back to the proper side again, just like in football.

Which brings me to how football, and being a football family, requires a solid game plan. Without one, your team will rarely be victorious. And even if you do have one in place, you won’t always get the W. Still, it is pure insanity to play ball without one. Since most of our family’s day-to-day offense is on this mama’s shoulders during season, our schemes must be solid and darn-near foolproof. I’ve come to rely on zone blocking and a solid running game. There’s no time for huddle (and no one around to huddle with even if there were time). Now most days, everything goes according to plan. But regardless of the amount of reps and hands-on instruction you’ve given, execution is rarely without flaws. Balls get dropped. Occasionally a player goes down. Penalties are accrued. Mama’s nerves get sacked. And that’s where my coaching husband and father to my children excels most.

I’m talking motivation, here. Because football, and being a football family, requires motivation. Twins can make life crazy. And when you’re going it alone for the vast majority of the season, you need both inner and outer motivation. With husband in my corner, I have the outside motivation covered. He knows how to give just the right pep talk to pull me back into the game, more energized and ready to succeed than before. But for those times when he’s not available for consult – those times when I have to get up, dust myself off and execute the game plan without anyone else around to bounce off ideas, I have to dig deep and rely on those hard-and-fast fundamentals. I have to trust the vision, to do what we do, run what we run, and believe in our teamwork and tenacity. We’ve tried to plan for every possible scenario, to account for every gap, and to have the flexibility to take what comes at us and roll with it.

Yes, football and being a football family requires physical demands and emotional commitments from everyone involved. And not everyone is cut out for it. There are so many lonely dinners and difficult bath times. There are so many rushed labor-day cookouts and daddy-less trick-or-treats. There are so many tears from kids who miss their daddies — and occasionally from mamas missing them too. Because there may not be crying in baseball, but believe me, there is crying in football. A lot of crying.

But most of those tears are the good kind. The happy kind. The proud kind. The kind you blink away as your boys run to the fence to give Daddy a kiss during summer practice. The kind that sting your eyes with pride as you and your boys rush the field for a hug and kiss after the game. The kind you shed after your husband reads you a text sent from a player who just secured a D-1 scholarship. The kind that run down your cheeks and off your chin after a championship run that ends in success.

The kind that unexpectedly well up when you think about how much you love your football husband, your football family, and your football life – your hard, hectic, wild and way-harder-than-you-ever-thought-possible football life.

The Seven Sisters: The Good, The Bad, and The Family

There’s a star cluster called the Pleiades — also known as the Seven Sisters — that has always intrigued me. Could be because family is so integral to who I am. And sisterhood. And the night sky… If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you understand these things.

Anyway, this past weekend was one of mythical proportions. It was filled with love, laughter, outlandish games, vodka sodas, wine tastings, bawdy tales, and seven women of similar genetics and vastly different personalities, whom I herein christen The Seven Sisters (Sadly, we were missing an eighth among us. If she’d been there, we would’ve rewritten legend.) Now we may not all be sisters, but we are all a sisterhood, and we are definitely family.

And I whole-heartedly believe in the restorative power of family; and for me, that means our sisterhood. Not because I am a man-hater. Far from it. But it’s because we are a family of women: strong, capable, salty, sanguine women.

You see, for a very long while, girls were the only gestational products in our ironically-named Peters clan. I grew up with a matriarchal grandmother, dozens of aunts and girl cousins, even loads of female pets. The guys (not counting the ones who married in) came along much later. Every male in the second (and even third) generation was born the baby of the family, so I (and my sisters and cousins) was raised in an estrogen-fueled ecosystem. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We are a dame gang — and damn glad of it, I might add. We are the bomb dot compadres of family. All our lives, we’ve laughed hysterically till we cried, and we’ve cried hysterically till we laughed. We know each other inside and out. The good, the bad, and the bawdy – especially the bawdy.

So this earthy Pleiades flew in from our respective spots in the universe and descended on Dallas using a birthday as an excuse for a mini reunion. We partied it up in grand style. We drank champagne; ate cake (three kinds); lounged by the pool; sucked helium out of latex balloons; crowded into cars like keystone cops; hunkered down in an office and yelled surprise; got hushed in a spa whirlpool for laughing too hard; snuck into wedding venues to ogle expensive floral arrangements; played crazy games involving vulgar phrases on our tongues, plastic speculums in our mouths, and ball sacks dangling between our ankles. We lost necklaces and pants and occasionally our tempers in the chaos. But mostly we laughed. Long and hard – fine characteristics for Peters.

seven sisters2

Now we women can be catty. We can be snippy and selfish and hangry – Lord, can we get hangry! But we can also be supportive and nurturing and full of love and gratitude. This weekend, we seven sisters were all the afore-mentioned things. But mostly, we were supportive. We, nurtured, we loved… and we laughed. Boy, did we laugh.

And boy, did we need it. Laughter cuts through the hardness of life — the anger, resentment, jealousy, exhaustion, drudgery and darkness — all those heavy things we carry around with us that seem to collect like soot and dim our destiny. Next thing you know we’re coated and coalescing in a grimy mess of negative space.

But in our family laughter is never far away, always ready to rattle our ribcages and rinse our souls. It is the best and cheapest cleanser out there. And our dame gang is really good at it — especially the bawdy kind. We may be women, but we balk at being ladies.

It seems that this weekend our deepest belly laughs came in the form of dietary distress:

We laughed about a certain dairy and gluten allergy among us, that left all of us in an up close and personal haze of malodorous funk.

Then we jumped to the story of how a certain beloved someone in our crew once threw up in our hometown historic district – amongst the verbenas and verandahs — after consuming twelve too many White Russians. (I gest. It was only nine.)

Then the conversation took a darkish, (dungish, if you will) turn and brought us to that time when one-who-shall-remain-nameless left a trail of poo up a driveway and down an entryway like violently digested breadcrumbs in a Hansel and Gretel horror tale.

And then, right in keeping with our theme, I managed to wander into a restroom where I discovered, in the swankiest of five-star locales, a toilet splashed in frankly impossible places with diarrhea. It was a veritable Jackson Pollock marble and fecal matterpiece. We laughed about it till tears ran down our legs.

Yes, this weekend we shared some crazy shit (ahem), but we also shared some sacred secrets, too. Things near and dear to our hearts and our souls: priorities and pursuits; insecurities and angsts, triumphs and trials.

We were there for one another. We supported, counseled, distracted, and drank. (Some of us more than others.) And along the way we saw each other’s dark and blotchy and bitchy and brave sides. And we saw that they look pretty much like our own.

This weekend we shared it all. And we will continue to share it all. The good, the bad and the ugly. Because we are women, and we are family.

We are The Seven Sisters and that’s just kind of what we do.

P.S. We also discovered along the way that we’re all genetically modified fools for ugly hot guys – men who are not classically handsome, but good God almighty, are they sexy. Humphrey Bogart is the eternal king of Ugly Hot Guys, but several of us have placed Benedict Cumberbatch at a place of honor at his round table.

 

 

I Won’t Sit Still and Blog Pretty

One year ago, today, I published a blog for the first time. Yesterday, I was told I should be quiet for the first time (with regard to my blogging, anyway…)

Inevitably when I write about something hard – whether it’s the death of innocent children or the dearth of wisdom in the White House – someone disagrees. Someone challenges my voice.

And I know that’s the nature of communication. People will inevitably disagree with you. And they have that right. That doesn’t mean I still don’t have the right to explore my thoughts and opinions and to voice them.

I write this blog for myself. It is therapeutic. It is cathartic and healthy. It is a way for me to use my voice. Because there was a time – for a very long time, actually — when my voice was silent. It was too squashed and maimed to be used.

It took a long time to build up my vocal chords, so to speak. So much so, that now, when I say something that I feel is important and needs to be said – and it strikes chords or nerves in others — I don’t know how to react; how to respond. If it is acknowledgement, I feel embarrassment. I was taught to be a wallflower. To blend into the background.

And if it is a challenge, I shut down. My brain immediately crackles and hums with the static and white noise of learned ignorance. I was taught that my thoughts weren’t thoughts. They were emotions. I was a hormone-fueled woman driven by emotions; I was unbalanced. And because of that unbalance, I should just still and look pretty. Don’t stand up, don’t speak out, I was warned.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was famously silenced on the Senate floor this year. At her workplace, where she rolls up her sleeves with nineteen other women and eighty men who were elected to ensure that all of America’s diverse voices are heard. Ironic, don’t you think?

But Senator Warren doesn’t play nice when the patriarchy puffs its chest. She has fight in her. She breathes fire. And if they try to snuff it out, she just flares up somewhere else. So when they silenced her on the Senate floor, she took it outside. (Isn’t that what men do when they get pissed and want to fight? They take it outside? Isn’t that the euphemism?) Well, Elizabeth Warren got pissed, was determined to fight, and took it outside. She fought the establishment. She fought the patriarchy. Even when she was warned (as the majority leader so infamously stated), nevertheless, she persisted.

Today is my one year blogging anniversary and I, likewise, will persist. This blog helps me. It helps me process my opinions into words on a page. Words that help me stay the course and press forward. Words that help me work through my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. And as I write out those words I edit and edit and edit. I am as careful and calculated as a baker.  I sift and weigh and measure and adjust – until I’m confident that what I’m saying is what I truly want to say. What I truly believe. And that it is as palatable as I can possibly make it – even though I know it’s not going to suit everybody’s taste.

Now I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t bother me when someone criticizes. Nor will I say that it doesn’t feel good when people approve. It feels nice to have my opinions acknowledged. my passions and feelings accepted. (Yes, I voice those, too – because I have learned emotions do not make me a weak, hormonally-imbalanced woman; my emotions do not invalidate my opinions). But I do not blog for the “likes” or the comments, or to try to “go viral.” If that were the case, I would be failing miserably because I am a far cry from viral, let me tell you. I have no cult following – or really much of any following. But none of that matters to me.

What matters is that I have a voice. And I have the right for that voice to be heard. And I do my utmost not to offend people. I really do. (Remember that baker’s analogy?) I have been rash at times, though. I admit it. Particularly in the days following the election. Several of those blogs may have cost me a friendship or two. And I wish that were not the case.

But that still won’t change how I think, and why I think, and the fact that, yes — in spite of all attempts to program me otherwise — I think. And believe me, I think long and hard about what I’m going to say on my blog. Because voice is powerful stuff. We all know the pen is mightier than the sword. So I try really hard not to wound.

There’s a poem by Eavan Boland I love called, “It’s a Woman’s World.” It fights female stereotypes in many clever and determined ways. And it argues that “as far as history goes, [women] were never on the scene of the crime.” We’ve never held the sword. As a result, “no page scores the low music of our outrage.” Boland goes on to argue, however, that despite the attempts to conquer and control our tongues, we women are fire-eaters. Our mouths are burning plumes, and we will be heard.

Elizabeth Warren is certainly a fire eater, a flame thrower. She knows the fight will be hard. She admits “there’s going to be a lot that we will lose. But I guarantee, the one thing we will not lose, we will not lose our voices.”

I believe we all have been given gifts from God, gifts we are programmed from the depths of our genetic markers to use, regardless of our upbringings and hardships. I believe mine is my voice. And although mine is not necessarily an audible one, it is a voice meant to be heard. And I will project it through written word.

I will not lose my voice ever again.

 

 

 

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

Boy Parts: A Map for Boy Moms (Since We’re Strangers in a Strange Land)

I was a Girl Mom for a lot of years before I became a Boy Mom – and a Twin Boy Mom at that! And while I had a lot more energy and a tad fewer aches and pains (and facial grooves) as a mom thirty years ago, I also had a lot fewer surprises. After all, the girls’ anatomy was my anatomy. But boys… well, boys are different. And while we all know that, if you’ve never had or been around baby boys, you really have NO IDEA. So many times, I find myself completely lost –even with all those mom years under my belt. Thirty is a lot of years, David (my apologies to Love Actually), but boy-oh-boy, I find I’m completely ill-prepared for this journey. Boy motherhood is so entirely different. The climate’s different and the topography is different. And while I’ve barely breached its borders (I’m a mere three years in) I will try to chart the geographical features I’ve encountered thus far to help any new boy moms out there…

Of course, some things about the realm of boys are just plain legendary — things that everyone knows and expects. Like the unpredictable showers that drench mama’s belly or daddy’s shirtfront at the first available opportunity and then regularly for the next six months or so. It just happens. You’ve heard about them and you try to prepare. You cover the spigot whenever possible, yet you still find yourself soaked on random occasions.

You also know boys tend to manhandle their man handle. Like constantly — lest it get lost; or stolen; or some other unlikely calamity occur that all men, from one to one hundred, seem to universally fear. I learned this from watching baseball and Al Bundy and basically observing all the men in the history of my life.

But there have been other geographical idiosyncrasies involving male nether regions that have totally taken this mama by surprise. Starting with the ultrasound — which is when I discovered we were having turtles. No, I take that back. For two weeks, we thought we were having a turtle and a hamburger. But then, turtles won out. For those of you unaccustomed to sonogram speak, turtles are boys (little heads poking out of little shells) and hamburgers are girls (single patty sandwiched between a bun). In all honesty, this Girl Mom had never heard hamburger OR turtle talk. Again, thirty IS a lot of years, David. Ultrasounds were barely on the horizon, back then. So all that was news to me.

And speaking of turtles – sometimes they are shy and sometimes they really stick their necks out. As in baby erections. Grown men, sure, but infants?!?  Yes, infants. It certainly surprised this mama – and a lot more mamas out there too, I’m sure. (And if we’re being honest here, probably even some daddies.) Turns out baby boys stand at attention a lot — usually when their bladders are full — but not always. It’s just biology at work. And that biology certainly gets a work out. My eldest often exclaims, “It’s too big! It’s too big!” I’m sure he’ll outgrow that phrase.

So yes, boy topography is in a constant state of flux. But there is a landscape choice that must be made when a baby boy is born. I’m talking circumcision here — smooth or rugged terrain — and for such a thin layer of skin, parents better be thick-skinned about their decision. Because someone out there will object, no matter which way you go. People are passionate about the subject. Pros and cons are argued vehemently on both sides. Ultimately, I left it up to their daddy. I figured he had the equipment, and I didn’t.

Is there pain involved in the procedure? Absolutely. The boys swelled and turned red; they cried during and after the surgery (which is what it is – a minor one, but still), and they were fussy for several days after. It was traumatic for all of us. The boys suffered physically. Mike and I, psychologically. We felt guilty and wondered if we’d done the right thing. Is there risk? Negligible, but yes — experts say less than 1% chance of complication. Since the boys were in the NICU, they weren’t circumcised until after they were discharged (at eleven days), a fact which points toward greater risk amongst preemies who are already facing unique hurdles. Other arguments for and against involve UTIs, STDs, penile cancers and psychological effects. Statistics are skewed one way or the other, depending on the stance. Our boys seem well adjusted. Like I said before, the only thing they’ve ever said about their penises — “It’s too big!” Imagine if they had that hair’s-breadth of a foreskin to top it off!

Now I have discovered one similarity about the lands down under with regard to both sexes: the flora and fauna can quickly become unbalanced. Yeast covers girl and boy parts with equal abandon. It is the kudzu of the bacteria world. And antibiotics are the good-intentioned gardening clubs that unleash havoc on every regional ditch and telephone pole.  Now I knew girls were prone. Crevices and divides are prime soil for antibiotic-fueled mayhem. But boys? Boys have jutting promontories– I thought they would be immune. Boy, was I wrong. While it’s true they don’t have those same moist nooks and crannies, their twigs and berries can still turn to cranberry chutney the minute Augmentin arrives on scene.

And finally, the most recent frontier I’m encountering in boy country involves the perils of potty-training. The girls were relative quick studies, conquering toilet training around 2 years without fanfare, a mere bump in their journey toward self-government. The boys on the other hand… They were 3 in March and we’re not there yet. One is making strides – at his own glacial pace (kinda synonymous with those harbinger turtles — slow and steady wins the race). The other boy, though, is completely uninterested. Diapers have served him well thus far, and he absolutely refuses to be a slave to that strange spigot standing at attention. And who am I to argue with that? Soon enough, he’ll learn what his bodily urges mean. So I’m cool with him staying in diapers a while longer. I know he’ll eventually cross that border into big boy underwear. And then, before too long, big boy bodies will arrive with big boy erections. And I would like to think that neither boy will ever be slave to those.

pottytraining

But then, I’m a stranger in a strange land. What do I know? I pray, though, that with my husband’s assistance and experience, and my attentions and persistence, our boys will grow to be conscientious and confident and in control – of their parts, their desires, and their lives.

That is my goal as a mom of girls now raising boys: that both sets of my children are fully in control of their bodies, their desires, their lives.

Because in that regard, there should be no difference.

bothmom

One Tired Teacher: Musings on the Month of May

Sure, May is synonymous with springtime and sunshine and proverbial flowers. It’s pastel and playful, complete with a cute, little pint-sized name. But for teachers, it is the longest, bleakest month of them all. To quote Shakespeare, now is the winter of our discontent. We face piles of grading, like snow drifts on desktops; raging storms of icy emails from disgruntled parents; cold, impersonal duty rosters updated daily; swirling storms of state-mandated achievement tests raining graphite-filled bubbles; glassy-eyed stares from students whose minds have long gone dormant. That clatter you hear off in the distance? That’s the avalanche-rumblings of a top-heavy to do list burying a teacher alive.desk

For my school, this is our last week with students. My patience is thin and my energy is low. Nope. Let me clarify. My patience isn’t simply worn thin, it’s as holy as the jeans the kids wear these days. Or their tired homework excuses. Or Jason Vorhees’ hockey mask.

Take for example, the disrespectful sophomore and her twelve-girl posse of pajama-clad renegades this morning while I was on Hall Monitor Duty. She and her crew were ready for a face off. Over pajamas. (Walmart memes seem to legitimize bad choices for immature minds everywhere.) Now I’m here to tell ya — don’t wrangle with a teacher wearing her end-of-year patience on her face like a hockey mask. Back away. Back the puck away. Needless to say, when the fracas cleared, the nightie brigade had received eight long hours in an ISS cubicle – the school system’s version of a penalty box.

As for my low energy level – let’s just say it has officially sagged lower than half the male population’s pants in our classrooms. Which reveals a lot (about my energy and their boxer shorts.) Those pants hang in gravity-defying fashion and have way more tenacity than I do these days. What’s left of my energy has pooled around my feet, hobbling me with malaise. It won’t circulate through my central nervous system, no matter how much black coffee or green veggies I ingest. It sits there, giving me just enough ballast to keep me upright – kind of like one of those weighted punching bags we all had as kids. You know, the Bozo kind. Which is pretty much what teachers become during the last two weeks of school: weighted, air-filled clown dolls. We bob back up as each new final-days left-hook makes contact:

Fourteenth three-hour standardized test in a two-week period — POW!

Multiple students with multiple missing assignments begging for extra credit —BAM!

34 bodies in 92-degree heat with 80 percent humidity and 0 air conditioning —THWAP!

4 copy jams in 3.2 minutes — WHAM!

Numerous lost planning periods with no time to grade, or copy, or pee (pee in your shoe, it adds ballast) — WHOMP!

Post-planning calendar with an all-day professional development on my birthday (BYOB: Bring Your Own Ballpoint) – BOOM!

Most days I’m mostly dazed by the hits. Occasionally, I’m aggravated. Some days I’m beyond aggravated. Today. Is. One. Of. Those. Days.

I simply must vent. In surgery, it would be called drilling burr holes. They do it to relieve pressure beneath the surface — so you don’t die. This month, the pressure’s been building with each successive sucker punch. So this blog entry is my specialized air drill — so I don’t die. And no one else does either.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still love teaching. From August through April, it’s a great gig. And the summers are fabulous. It’s May that I have issues with. In May, the darker side of education rears its ugly head: the politics of testing. Testing rules with a heavy fist, and plays on a teacher’s fears and exhaustion. Are they ready? Am I ready? Did I do enough? Did they do enough? Do they know enough? Do I? Did I read the instructions carefully enough? Did they listen carefully enough? Are their bubbles completely and carefully filled in? Are my thought bubbles completely and carefully concealed? (Because if my poker face isn’t on… Whew!)

So, yes, the dark forces conspire against us in the month of May. As teachers, whether we’re Star Wars fans or not, we NEED the fourth to be with us — and the other 30 days, too. It is the longest, bleakest month of them all. We are road-weary and knocked about. We have short fuses, blown gaskets, and dried up fuel tanks. That’s not the air conditioning we feel, wafting toward us in stale puffs. That’s the dying breath of another school year meeting its necessary (and long-drawn-out) end. And we teachers, we’re hanging on like rusty bumpers in a demolition derby…

Until that final bell rings, those graduation caps get tossed, those end of year check offs find initials. Then is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer…

And I sleep for the first 48 hours… if the universe (and twin sons) shine favorably upon my weary soul.

tiredmommy

 

Being Authentic — in Life and in Writing (oh, and excising big, hairy, tooth-filled teratomas)

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that.

In another swipe, I spy with my little eye…Matthew Stafford’s lake house, complete with soaring eagle and cute little size zero cheerleader wife. A wife who is two months (nay not so much, not two) months postpartum with twins. Twins. Me, I have twins. And a lake in my backyard — a muddy, shitty one (they’re dredging our septic tank). And I am my coaching husband’s greatest cheerleader…  But as far as being a size zero… try multiplying that times … wait, it doesn’t work that way. Or… YES, yes it does. Do that! And then, lookie there: I AM a size zero cheerleader wife who’s three years (yea, quite so much, quite three) YEARS postpartum with twins. And with a (muddy, shitty) backyard lake. No eagle, though. Although we do have crows nesting in our gas-powered grill. So there’s that.

And then I swipe again, straight into an Anne Lamott essay or a Mary Oliver poem. And holy shit. They are profound and powerful and absolutely perfect. And I am far from that. And so are my words. Some days I think I am profound and powerful and perfect. I think I’ve written something I can feel good about. But then I see Anne Lamott on my newsfeed, her careening pinball prose depicting the messiness of life and the tender mercies we can find within all that mess…

It reminds me, believe it or not, of the teratoma my eldest daughter removed a few weeks back – a tumor full of tissue and organ components, and even teeth and hair. The excision of something profoundly messy and twisted and ugly – and the healing that came after. That’s how Annie Lamott writes. I want to write like that. I want to excise teratomas. I want to tackle the hairy and the messy, the stuff with the teeth and the brains. But I don’t know that I’m skilled enough to do that.

So I scroll some more. And there I see Mary Oliver’s handiwork. And I realize her poems are the exact opposite of Annie Lamott’s prose –they are quiet and they are calculated. They are hushed. But then again, they are exactly the same, too. Because beneath her pen, nature’s truths are untangled, separated — carefully and deftly — into thin slices of ink and placed under a microscope. Where she leaves them for me to analyze, to interpret, to explore. Her teratomas are cut down to size. But they’re still full of the messy stuff. And the hairy stuff with teeth. They bubble and swim beneath the scrutiny.

She has a poem called “Sometimes.” It is beautiful. And still. And liquid. And hairy and wet and tangled. And one of the stanzas gives me hope. Helps cure my cancerous self-doubt.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.

No, it’s NOT possible to be original. Not in anything. Not in motherhood, not in life, not in writing… not even in teratoma surgery. Those suckers may be weird, but they aren’t that uncommon.

No you can’t be original. But you can be authentic. You can be true to yourself. It’s true, I’m no Fixer Upper goddess, or a size zero NFL wife with twin daughters. Nor am I a progressive and unorthodox, recovering addict writer with self-deprecating humor and dreadlocks. Or a hushed and reverent nature poet with a Pulitzer Prize in my back pocket.

But I am me. I am Heather Candela — décor-loving, size 8 writer and teacher and coach’s wife with twin sons and adult daughters. And I WILL untangle the complexities of life in my writing. I will tackle the beautiful and the shiny and silver, but I will also tackle the hairy, the stuff with teeth and brains. I will excise teratomas. At least the metaphorical ones. I’ll leave the real ones to my daughter.

I will pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it.

authentic

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