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postmodernfamilyblog

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

 

 

Featured post

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

Spring Ball: Football and its Families Prepare for The Grind

footballfellas

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and humid, and husky with the promise of rain. Clouds stack on the horizon and flit fast across fields, green and fresh and striped with the first mow of the season – along with the first paint. Spring Ball has arrived.

It’s a time of anticipation and adjustment – for a team and its coaches and their families, as well. The melanin and muscle and mercury are rising — the summer’s preparing to grind. And so are the coaches’ wives.

Spring ball is a time to stretch out those long-dormant football legs. To remember the rigor, to shift and rebalance the weight, to recondition the brain and the body for the upcoming football season.

As the coaches tweak their playbooks, the wives tweak their mindsets. As the depth charts take shape on their husband’s clipboards, the duty rosters get shifted at home. Laundry loads double with work clothes plus practice gear. The cooking and dishes all rest upon her. Then there’s bath time and story time and bedtime and more.

The job of a coach’s wife is demanding. She one platoons their home life: scrambling and blocking and taking heat in the pocket; rushing and tackling and offering up pass protection where needed. Running offense AND defense is a fine balance. Maintaining that balance requires strength and focus, and passion and love – not just for her husband and family, but also for the game. Without passion and love of the game, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

And the job of a coach is demanding. It brings long hours, low pay, and high turnover. The weight of responsibility brings bags to his eyes and weights to his shoulders. He juggles politics from parents, school systems and fans. He demands excellence from his players, and in return the fans demand excellence from him. Stress levels rise. Maintaining the balance requires strength and focus, and also passion and love – not just for the game, but for his wife and family. Without passion and love for his family, resentment can take hold. Not everyone’s cut out for the job.

Strength and Focus; Passion and Love. Without them, football will defeat you. When things get heavy (which they always do in the grind) the weight can get one-sided. It can topple you. You have to find balance. Strength and focus on one side, passion and love on the other. And then you have to maintain it.

Football families redistribute their balance in the spring. We put our bodies and our minds through the paces. We tweak our playbooks and our attitudes. As the mercury rises, our muscle memory takes over and we find ourselves ready.  Ready for the grind.

It is May in Georgia. The days lean toward summer, growing warm and humid and husky with the promise of a football reign. Spring Ball is here.

 

 

Fertility Godmothers: Egg Donors (and Surrogates)

Some people claim the good old days are long gone. I call Bull Shenanigans. According to those folks, people used to be more trustworthy, more helpful, and more neighborly. You could “always depend on the kindness of strangers,” to borrow a Tennessee Williams’ quote. And speaking of borrowing, if your hens weren’t laying and you wanted to bake a cake, you simply garnered a couple of eggs from a buddy down the block. And if you needed some assistance — raising your barn or raising your kids — someone always came through.

Now I haven’t raised any barns recently, but I am raising twin boys – which takes a hell of a lot more strength and manpower, let me tell you – and folks always seem to come to the rescue. Take this past Sunday afternoon. We were at a local burger joint when one of the boys, who was curled up on my lap feeling crummy, managed to knock over my drink, giving both of us an ice bath. Before I could even react, a mother at the next table jumped to the rescue, swabbing us with napkins and then going for reinforcements when it became obvious we would need a warehouse-full. So don’t tell me chivalry is dead.

And while people have performed random acts of kindness since time immemorial, only in this day and age have those acts been granted an international day all their own. But kindness is not relegated to a single day. You constantly hear and read about layaway Santas, drive thru do-gooders, and animal shelter altruists.

What really elevates this era from the ones that came before it, though, is that the whole neighborly trait of lending a cup of this or a couple of that when you’re in need has moved beyond simple, farm-variety produce. In this beautiful, postmodern world, you can borrow eggs to bake up a cake or you can borrow eggs to bake up a baby. Seems to me that’s taking the whole “kindness of strangers” notion and knocking it up (you see what I did there?) a notch.

I like to think of the IVF process as a pantry to pregnancy revolution (rather like the farm to table one in food). And I guess that makes our boys a sort of revisited and reinvented version of the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa classic:

Take a cuppa sperm, well beaten 😊 and a coupla eggs, borrowed.

Mix well.

Marinate 5 days. Transfer resulting coupla embryos to clinically preheated oven.

Bake 9 months, and… VOILA!

birthboys2

Now, I don’t want to mislead you — IVF isn’t that simple. And it certainly isn’t as failproof as the time-honored Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cobbler recipe. It takes a carefully calibrated oven and experts who’ve undergone years of rigorous training to ensure just the right amount of salts, sugars, amino acids and proteins are in place during prep and baking.

Nor do I mean to make light of infertility or the expensive and excruciating journey that comes with it, a journey that is so full of loneliness and uncertainty. There are no guarantees. But there are options. If your fertility quest is hitting roadblock after roadblock, please remember that there are generous strangers out there — fertility godmothers if you will – ready to lend their eggs or even their wombs (one of my former students has offered her uterus as a surrogate on two separate occasions) for struggling couples.

Three years ago, I was able to bake up some babies with a fertility godmother’s healthy, young eggs, my husband’s sweet sauce, and my own reconstituted oven. The effect of one anonymous stranger’s generosity and the amount of gratitude in our hearts for her sacrifice  is impossible to put into words. She made our dreams come true.

I believe in the magic of kindness and the kindness of strangers. Put those two things together and miracles occur. Living, breathing, Cuppa Coupla Coupla miracles. If the glory days are in the past, then the hallelujah days are in the present. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Amen and pass the cobbler.

 

goldenembryos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to My Windy City Whirlwind Tour and My Perfect World Back Home

I just returned from a weekend get-a-way to Chicago. Me. Leaving twin toddler threenagers and a curmudgeonly dachshund with spiteful shit tendencies at home with my husband. What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking my sis and I hadn’t had a girls’ trip in over ten years. I was thinking I was in dire need of some breathing space, a massage therapist’s table, and a cocktail or two on a rooftop bar.

chicagorooftop

And I was thinking I was leaving my boys with their father. A father who is no rock star. Or bionic man. Or superhuman specimen. Although I tend to think so. Nope, he is a dad. But not JUST a dad – for there is no such thing. There are wonderful dads — capable, organized, efficient, loving co-parents. And there are terrible dads – disconnected, disinterested, uninspired biological sperm donors. And there are all those who dot the continuum from wonderful to terrible and back again. The same goes with moms. But my boys’ father – he sits at the very top end of that number line. He is a wonderfully capable, organized, efficient, and loving co-parent. So, guess what?

I had an absolute blast. I didn’t worry. I didn’t fret. I didn’t leave frozen meals in the fridge and emergency contacts on the counter. I didn’t call him every three minutes to make sure he knew not to forget sunscreen or to give them too many sweets or too much screen time. I knew that he had it all covered: the Friday school routine, the Saturday morning pancakes and the Sunday Frozen film fest. I knew he could sail smoothly — well, maybe not smoothly (there’s no smooth sailing with twin boys) — but he could at least sail confidently through all the random tantrums, dirty diapers, snotty noses, and snotty attitudes that our darling twosome could serve up. And they can certainly serve up a lot. But he had it. Asthma regimen – no problem. Bedtime and bath – no sweat. Stealthy wiener dog thievery and rapidly-scarfed-down happy meal nuggets – well, that may have ruffled his sails for a second, but still. He had it.

And like I said, I had a blast. My sis and I were ready to cut loose. We crammed as much into three days as humanly possible. The first night housed a gala – complete with hair and makeup and champagne on serving trays. And dancing. Lots and lots of dancing.

chicagogala

The next morning held a detoxification massage (not that we had any need for a detox). But let me take a small second to tell you about this massage. I’ve had rubdowns (not like my sister, mind you She’s had basically every make and model from Swedish to Shiatsu) but both of us would argue that no massage compares to this massage. It’s like being melted down and remolded out of myrtle and cypress and juniper berries.  It is seventh heaven on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Chicago. Go there. Yesterday.

And speaking of the Four Seasons Chicago – they know how to pamper an exhausted twin mom/end-of-the-year schoolteacher and her kid sister who has her own special set of challenges and fatigues. We were spoiled senseless. We consumed flatbread sculptures, ate hand-rolled truffles, drank gingerbread tea, sipped three-olive martinis, slept on marshmallow mattresses and consumed room service before a window that reigns supreme o’er the Windy City. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.

Nor can I thank my sister enough. She is my mirror twin, separated by four years. We are opposites. I am quiet, she is… not. She brings light and laughter everywhere she goes. When she turns it up, the world dances to her energy. I tend to sit back in the shadows. I enjoy naps and home. But last weekend, she plugged me into her electrical current and we bathed in the bright lights of the big city. We took a river tour and learned about the history and skyline. We had guitar solos played for us at Buddy Guy’s. And we rubbed shoulders with giants – literally. The Celtics were staying at our hotel and we bumped into their seven-foot-tall frames and their family members at every turn. I am now rooting unabashedly for Boston in the post-season because of the cutest three-year-old daughter of Jay Crowder and his beautiful wife. They shared their enthusiasm for Disney and her daddy as we sipped our gingerbread tea.

 

And finally, I can’t thank my husband and boys enough.  They hung back here in the big city of Euharlee eating the unexceptional provisions of a middle-class pantry and the Big Arches drive thru, while I gallivanted around Chi-town consuming deep dish pizza and five-star cuisine. My fellas are the ones who truly spoil me rotten. They shower me with love, and with hugs and kisses, and with the occasional bodily fluids (different fluids from different fellas ;b), and their love outshines all the fine-dining and relaxing massages and super shiny skylines in the world.

I thank them super very much a lot for loving me enough to let me leave them for a weekend. Especially to Mike. He handled everything with the dexterity and talent of a dad — a capable, organized, efficient, loving (and might I add, sarcastic — see above spa-parody pic) co-parent. And while the Four Seasons was leaving perfectly molded mints beside my meticulously fluffed and feathered guest bed, my dachshund was leaving perfectly pinched turds beneath Mike’s and my comfortably rumpled marriage bed. And yes, Mike handled that, too. I most humbly thank him for loving me enough to handle even that. He is way too good to me.

 

Clean Feet and Wet Hands: Toddler Compliments and Superhuman Husbands

feet

“Your feet are very clean now, Mommy,” Tate announced this morning as I slipped him into his seersucker shorts – the ones with the cute little sailboats.

“Um… thank you?”

“Yeah, they are VERY clean now!”

Hmmm. Confusion danced across my brain. I may not always get my hair brushed until past noon on the weekends, and I’ve been known to go to school wearing cheerios on my shoulder and toothpaste on my slacks — thanks to hugs from a couple of twin toddler boys — but I’m fairly certain I always manage to bathe.

As I slipped him into his shirt, he continued, “And your hands are very wet.”

Nope. Pretty sure my hands were dry as dust. I know because they were craving my Bath & Body Works hand cream – the cream I apply the minute the boys head off to school with their Daddy. If I put it on before they left, they would want some. And it’s not that I mind if they smell like French lavender and honey and all things yummy. It’s really not. Shoot, right now, Tate parades around the house telling me he’s Elsa and wearing a blanket for a ballgown while singing her signature song. So, no, it’s not that it’s too feminine for them (I don’t even know what that means), it’s just that it’s too expensive.

That darn hand cream costs a teacher’s penny – which is far more precious and valuable than a pretty penny, let me tell ya. Teacher’s pennies are delved out once a month ‘round these parts, and I try to make certain my lotion makes it through at least six of those once-a-month paychecks.

So, no, the boys get their generic brand baby lotion, and I horde the B&BW for myself.

“Tatebug, my hands are not wet. Cold maybe, but not wet.”

“No, they’re wet mama. You said they’re wet.”

“Pretty sure I didn’t.” Why was I arguing with a newly-turned three-year-old? A three-year-old who can throw a tantrum the way Tom Brady can throw a football – a fast and furious spiral into his opponents’ worst nightmare. Just ask the Falcons. What was I thinking?

And that’s when my husband stepped in for the game-saving interception: “It’s because you painted your nails.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “Wait, what? My nails aren’t wet. That was Saturday.”

“Right. Saturday. But remember when you told the boys you couldn’t pick them up or play ball with them because your nails were wet?”

“Yeah…”

He continued to fill in the holes of my faulty reasoning skills, “Tate thinks the polish on your nails means your hands are wet. And your feet are clean. Not just clean, VERY clean. It’s a toddler compliment. Say thank you.”

“Thank you.”

“Make my feet clean,” Tate demanded as I wrestled his foot into a shoe.

“Maybe tonight,” I mumbled.  I’m not scared of painting my son’s toenails red if he wants. That doesn’t scare me.

But there are two frightful things about this exchange that I would like to point out…

  1. The boys are three years old and have never seen their mother’s nails painted. In three years’ time. I used to get manicures regularly.  That’s just sad. And it speaks volumes about my life with twin boys. AND
  2. My husband can follow the derailed, runaway train of thought of a three-year-old boy. That’s either a sign of permanent brain damage brought on by three long years of sleep deprivation or of super-human strength. I don’t know which.

But I’m going with the latter.  My husband is superhuman, which is a good thing because he’s going it alone with the twin tornadoes this weekend while I head to Chicago for some sister time with my little.

Like I said, he’s a superhero.

superhero

Donald the POTUS: faithfully executing the office of the president

I just saw an article that I felt certain was satire.  It simply had to be. One worthy of SNL or “The Onion” notoriety. But no, it was no joke. It was the Real Deal. A sad, ironic dick move by the Trump White House kind of deal. But what should the public (or public television) expect from the twisted, perverted Art of the Deal master himself?

His White House, in all its rank insensitivity — or blatant ignorance (or both) has asked Sesame Street characters to appear at the annual White House Egg Roll — in keeping with previous years when Big Bird and Elmo and other beloved Sesame Street characters have been in attendance. It should be an appearance they relish… interacting with the children who adore them and learn so much from their counting and alphabet skits, their sing-a-longs, and their sensitive, educational interactions with every type of people from every walk of life.  Why, then, does this story smack of irony?

Could it be because the Trump White House asked the darling Muppets of PBS fame… as in public television… as in the network that falls under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting… as in one of those Endowment for the Arts recipients which Trump has argued should no longer receive federal funding… Because who needs public television?

Well, apparently Donald J. Trump, the orange, tiny-handed, strangely Muppet-like president himself needs public television. At least for the weekend — to do his bidding and render up services, like so many others he has callously bagged and then tossed aside.

So, hey, Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster… all you others with your necks currently stretched precariously thin awaiting the government gallows… would you mind climbing down for a second or two to help out your bloody executioner? He needs you to win over the crowds. It’s a great photo op. For him. Not you. You have marginal worth and are expendable. But he — he could really use you to help him with the rolling of the eggs. Then he’ll get back to the rolling of your heads.

Now according to PBS, they have agreed to send a Muppet. But only one. Only one will be appearing at the 138th egg roll. In previous years, many, many more have been. So. Who will it be?

I sincerely hope it’s Oscar the Grouch. Oh, please, please, PLEASE be Oscar the Grouch – the grumpy self-righteous guy who collects garbage and rages against humanity. Why, pray tell, would I want such an unsavory character lording over the White House and influencing easily manipulated, immature minds? Why, indeed, would any of us?

. . .

Oh, so you see it too… The fact that Oscar the Grouch is the puppet version of the newly elected puppet version of a POTUS.  Think about it. Oscar behaves (and even once looked, as I shall soon reveal) just like the current president.

Consider his character: He is disagreeable and argumentative and hates everything that is good and decent in life — and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He actively refuses to comply with rules and grumbles loudly when things don’t go his way. He is easily annoyed, but absolutely thrives on annoying others. He’s spiteful and casts blame whenever he’s in the hot seat — which he all the time. His reasoning is faulty, and he is unnaturally drawn to trash (consider his closest advisors). Finally, he is controlled by anger and a mysterious, behind-the-scenes puppeteer.

Add in the little-known fact that prior to his current mottled green manifestation, Oscar was once a dull, sickly orange, and you just can’t deny the similarities. (That color change, though, shows that Oscar the Grouch is capable of transformation, something of which I believe Donald the POTUS is incapable. Oscar can learn from his mistakes (even if grudgingly and only now and then…), but Donald the POTUS cannot.

And if all of the above still doesn’t convince you of their parallel personalities, consider the fact that twelve years ago, Sesame Street did a parody of Trump called Donald “Grump” about an angry, greedy son-of-a-beast who wants more, more, more — power and garbage.

donaldgrump

Now let’s talk garbage for a minute. Unlike Oscar the Grouch, Donald the POTUS is a bit unclear about what constitutes garbage and what doesn’t. What DOES NOT are arts and humanities programs such as PBS, NPR, poetry foundations, musical theater, and public libraries. Donald the POTUS is ready and willing to dispose of those. He’ll kick them soundly to the curb.

What DOES equate to garbage, though, are all the puffed and libertine bodies stinking up the Oval Office, piling up in the Cabinet, draped over the press secretary’s podium and filling  the “swamp” he promised so categorically to drain.

Now it is his job as president to faithfully execute the law – and indeed, we’ve seen him hacking away at it, doing his damnedest to destroy judicial checks and balances put in place by our founding fathers nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. He is also doing his damnedest to kill the arts, the environment, and the fundamental rights of millions of Americans. And the ignorant, unsuspecting masses are cheering him on.

Donald the POTUS also vowed to faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States. And he is doing that too, rapidly and methodically.  Soon he will have destroyed all that is good and sacred about that office.

So I am waiting with baited breath for Monday morning and the annual White House Egg Roll to see who PBS sends. Please let it be Oscar. Please! Of course, the irony would be lost on Donald. He would stare blankly at his Muppet doppleganger and completely miss the jab.

But the enlightened ones among us wouldn’t. We would know. And we would laugh bitterly. And on Monday morning, the day after Easter, at the tail-end of Passover, in this most blessed season of miracles, we would pray for a miracle for America.

We would pray for deliverance from the orange Muppet in president’s clothing that is systematically ruining our nation.

And hopefully our prayers would be answered.

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

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The Queen of All Besties

I have this Bestie… She’s the absolute best of the Besties. She’s the Louise to my Thelma. The Lucy to my Ethel. The Bert to my Ernie.  She completes me. Not in the Tom Cruise/Renee Zellweger kind of way. Tom Cruise makes me cringe and my Bestie LOVES, LOVES, LOVES Kenny Chesney. She never would’ve left him after a mere six months of marriage. She would’ve made that matrimony work, I’m certain. Nope. Definitely not Cruise and Zellweger kind of “completes me.” More like coconut and cream makes the complete and perfect pie kind of way (which just so happens to be her favorite). I’m the coconut. Flaky and scattered. She’s the cream. Flawless. Her skin is flawless. Her character is flawless. Her grammar is flawless. I’ve never seen her make a mistake. She is on point. She is on fleek. And SHE would never, ever, never ever use a cliché. She’s that flawless.

She is my better half. The Yin to my Yang, the sweet to my sour, the Felix to my Oscar. The Jesus to my John the Baptist. As in I’m the crazy one with the locusts’ legs snagged in my teeth and my hair all cattywampus. And she is perfection incarnate. Her hair is never out of place — could be because she shaved it when her mom was battling cancer – because she’s that flawless and that perfect. I’m telling you, she’s a saint. Her smile is beatific. It can work a room like an epiphany, showing everyone in it their worth and their potential. She sparks. She galvanizes. She emboldens. She is the Queen of Inspiration.

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She has taught me how to teach. Without her, I wouldn’t be half the educator I am. She focuses me. She drives me. She writes my rubrics for me. You see, I have a very big weakness. I love ideas. I love concepts and creative outlets and projects that glitter and gleam. And she does too. She sees the big, conceptual picture, too — but she also sees the bottom line. She grounds me. Without her, I would be a nebulous cloud of creative ca-ca. But she reigns me in and funnels my creativity into legitimate, effective, measurable methods of teaching. She’s detail-oriented and fundamentals-focused and together, we plan and coordinate units like gangbusters.

Our classrooms are across the hall from each other and have been for the last thirteen years. Even though we are opposites, we have one common denominator: love for our students. We believe building relationships builds success. Learn your students – who they are, what makes them tick — and they’ll learn the curriculum. Stay motivated and they will too. And nothing motivates me more than my Bestie. She’s the Queen of the Go-Getters.

Without my Bestie, I would only be half the mother I am today. No lie. Like, literally half my children wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have married Mike and I wouldn’t have had my beautiful twin boys. She orchestrated that. She took it upon herself to caulk up my cracks and teach me to trust love again. She watched Mike and me chat over tuna fish sandwiches and kimchi in the break room at lunch and decided that my faulty connections and his crooked wires could be a thing. A real, bonafide, working thing — full of electricity and light.

You see, despite my dreamy, visionary nature, I never saw Mike’s and my potential. But my Bestie did. She saw a future in an instant – a jaeger-soaked, mistletoe-marked instant – and she pushed me toward my ultimate Carpe Diem. My moment of a lifetime that spun into a postmodern family of a lifetime. And what did I manage to do for her in return? On that most magical of semester-ending, happily-ever-after, holiday nights, what did I do for her? I got her drunk. Fall-over-the-sofa-in-a-riotous-splatter-of-giggles drunk. For the first time in her life drunk. Did I mention I’m the bad influence in this relationship? She comes out on the short end of our friendship stick every time. Still, she sticks with it (pun intended) because she’s the better person. I’m telling you, she’s absolutely perfect.

And without my Bestie, my life wouldn’t be half as amazing. It just wouldn’t. We share secrets and laughs… and the most ridiculous homecoming costumes in the history of the high school homecomings. There is nobody else on this earth who makes me act a fool quite like her. Nobody. Throughout our years in the hallowed halls of Woodland High, we have dressed as Gangsta rappers, Oompa Loompas, Lady Gaga, Hungry Hippos, dinosaurs, ninja turtles, the Kool Aid Man… I’ve even been the Wicked Queen to her Magic Mirror (I told you I was the bad influence…). We are the silliest and the stupidest and the absolute awesomest when we’re together. We go on road trips together and have girls’ nights together and sing karaoke and eat double doozies and watch football together.  We talk books and husbands and children and politics and obscenities together. Nobody can conjugate, triangulate and cross pollinate cuss words like we can. We are profanity in motion. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer would toast our talents. (My Bestie never cussed before me, either.  Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the worst influence of them all…

Now my Bestie has been there for me for such a long time. She was there to teach my daughters, and she was there to help me birth my boys. She has helped me solder my past and helped me forge my future. She has taught me to wield love every second of every minute of the present. She is perfection. I wish there were some way that I could pay her back for all her lessons, all the blessings she has shared. It is an impossible task.

But today, on my Bestie’s birthday – her first birthday without her beloved mother, the mother who granted her all her glorious ways of loving and teaching and sharing and laughing and being – I just want to tell her how very much I love and appreciate her. How much I know she’s hurting. How much I know she misses her mom. And how much I wish I could ease her pain.

To my Bestie: with your birth, your mom gave the world the kindest, warmest, most luminous and learned soul I’ve ever known. You brighten our planet with your smile and with your love. You do your mother proud with each soul that you touch. And you touch so many. Mine is simply one among them all. But you… you are one in a million. I love you, my Bestie, the Queen of my heart.

Happy Birthday.

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