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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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Old Times Here shouldn’t be Forgotten: But they shouldn’t be Celebrated Either

I spent the good part of my week trying to decide how I feel about the proposed removal of confederate monuments.  I was raised under their shadow, and they were touted as the good old days, back when modern day inconveniences and turmoil didn’t exist.  An impressionist painting of perfection.

I grew up in a small Southern town. It had giant magnolias, columned front porches, and an annual spring pilgrimage where visitors toured antebellum houses amidst blooming azaeleas and sweeping hoop skirts.

It was all nostalgia and watercolor sunsets and giant oak silhouettes. It was the land of cotton where old times are not forgotten. I was a ten-year-old with a mad crush on Scarlett O’Hara, and it all looked so pretty to me. It felt pretty to me. It was pretty perfect to me.

Frankly, my dear, I was wrong as fuck.

‘cuz it ain’t just whistling dixie we’re talking about here, folks.

It’s hate wrapped up in a pretty plantation package with a taffeta bow. And yes, people love to paint that heritage and history soft-focus picture of the gallant South. Love to talk about those good old days of prosperity and tobacco and cotton fields as far as the eye can see. To look back to the days of fine gentlemen in gray who knew how to act like fine gentlemen and lovely ladies in lace who knew how to act like lovely ladies.

But the problem with soft focus is, it’s fuzzy, y’all. The clarity’s not there. Sure, it shows the barbecue parties at Twelve Oaks and grand, double staircases. It shows the gallant young men marching their way into battle to defend their women and their land. It shows the rolling, red clay hills newly plowed with cash crops aplenty.  It shows all that highly-touted history and heritage.

Which is why they demand that these statues remain. They want to honor these outstanding generals who fought to protect the South’s genteel way of life. That genteel, civilized way of life where the fuzzy brush strokes sweep right past the whipping of the field hands and the raping of the house slaves and the selling of “darkie” children for the price of a spirited roan stallion. Where infant slave children were used as gator bait. Where an entire population (or at least those who survived) was raped, broken, beaten, maimed, and sold like chattel

Yet they continue their chant of history and heritage. Not hate. Never hate.

It’s history, yes. But it is also totally and absolutely hate.

So I say take them down. Take down all the Robert E Lees and Stonewall Jacksons, the Nathan Bedford Forrests and the Jefferson Davises. Put them in a museum somewhere.

They need to exist. They do. Because they need to remind us to never repeat such a heinous system of government again. Because that’s what it was: heinous.

Take them out of our town squares. Out of our city centers. Definitely out of our hearts.

Put in their place empathy, compassion, love.

And then put yourself in the place of descendants of slaves. Imagine yourself in their shoes, with whole histories of manacled and murdered ancestors lost and forgotten beneath that marbled pedestal of pride and privilege.

Imagine yourself a descendant of an untraceable ancestry, split, broken, drawn and quartered at the whim of the white man– husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, infants, siblings all lost. Where are the monuments to them? To their sacrifice? For sacrificed, they were — readily and continuously to maintain that sweet southern way of life.

No, the only monuments their descendants will see in nearly every southern square around, all honor the men who led the campaign to maintain the status quo — the dismemberment and death of their people.

If you still think those statues should remain where they are, I am ashamed to call you my neighbor. And you should be ashamed of yourself, too. It’s disgraceful.

And the South has seen enough disgrace. It disgraced itself when it seceded from the union. It disgraced itself with its Jim Crow laws. It disgraced itself with the incorporation of rebel flags into state flags.

For the love of all that is holy, let’s do something right this time around. Take the damn things down and put them somewhere where we’ll remember not to celebrate them, where we’ll remember that all that is gone with the wind needs to STAY gone with the wind.

 

 

 

Sunday Night Baking for our Inside Linebacker Boys

This week, the 2017 football season officially kicks off. And that means that from here on out, on any given Sunday, you’ll find me in my kitchen baking up treats for my husband’s players.

He coaches inside linebackers – those middle of the defense playmakers, ever ready and willing to bounce blockers, blitz quarterbacks and tackle large quantities of fullbacks and fudge brownies.

And I love baking these boys some sweets as much if not more than they love eating them. Baking is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. For me, it’s a form of love. I bake for people I admire and respect, and I bake for people I appreciate. And I always, always bake for people I love: my children, my friends, and now, Cartersville’s inside linebackers.

I mean, what’s not to love? What’s not to respect? They work hard and they play hard. They take their knocks and they get back up again. They understand discipline and commitment better than men quadruple their age. They are well-studied and they are selfless. And I figure baking up something special on a Sunday afternoon is the least I can do to let these young men know how much I appreciate what they do for their teammates and for their coaches.

It’s a tradition I began last year when my husband joined a team more focused on family than any we’ve ever been a part of.  We are a community and my baked goods are my attempt at communion – at feeding their souls with foods consecrated by love.

This coaching crew is qualified in so many different areas, but I must say that one of their finest talents is building relationships with the young men who risk limb and ligaments for a ballgame.

A ballgame, yes — but it’s so much more than a ballgame, as well. It helps these young men realize the importance of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone is an integral part of the team. They work hard. Together. They grow strong. Together. If they win, they do it together. If they lose, they do it together. They are a team.

The offense doesn’t win without the defense. The defense doesn’t score without the offense – well, sometimes they do, but that’s beside the point. The point is, they are all needed: the quarterback, the h-back, the receivers, the linemen, the corners, the linebackers, the nose guard, the kickers. They are all part of the team. Without each one of these positions, the game would flounder and fail. It would be nothing but a muddled up mosh pit of egos stomping their feet and flailing their arms, and ramming and jamming at one another — with absolutely no point and no progress.

Kind of like the world was this weekend. A world full of egos. Look at me! See me! I matter! No one else matters but me!

It’s becoming abundantly clear that there are vast numbers of people out in this world who know nothing about hard work, toughness, sacrifice and teamwork.

Life is a contact sport. It is hard. It is tough. And it requires sacrifice and teamwork and love.

But the greatest of these is love.

And that’s what I admire most about these Cartersville coaches and their football philosophy: the love they give their players. And they’re not afraid to show it. I’ve seen it from the stands, and I’ve seen it in the field house. I’ve seen it at practice, and I’ve seen it in games. They love their players. A lot.

And to quote a little Seuss, unless someone like them cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.

I’m starting to think the world needs more football. And a whole lot more coaches like Canes coaches.

 

Football Gives me All the Feels: Confessions of a Coach’s Wife

It’s the beginning of the football season once again, and there’s not too much I can say about the football life of a football wife that I haven’t said before.

You already know I love it. And you already know it makes me crazy. Some days I can’t sing its praises enough. Others, I want to wring its disembodied little intangible neck. It robs me of time and it showers me with blessings.

It is a paradox of ginormous proportions.

This past Sunday morning I sat on my back porch, the silken and slippery humid air settling and sliding off my limbs, making everything feel slow and sweet simply because it was Sunday morning.  You know, all easy like.

So I breathed in the easy. I breathed in the sweet, succulent calm, and I held it deep down in core of my soul.  And there it remains. My future calm in the storm of the impending football season.

Wordsworth was fueled by powerful emotions recollected in tranquility. Me, I’m fueled by the opposite: tranquility recollected during powerful emotions. Because starting tomorrow, and for the next five months, my life will be FILLED with powerful emotions. Wave after wave of powerful emotions. No doubt about it.

Starting with love. I’ve always had a hard, strong love for the game. It began in middle school, when I fell hard for the Dallas Cowboys of my youth and the TCU Horned Frogs of my hometown. This was no puppy love. It was true and it was deep and it was eternal.

And with that love comes butterflies – a tickling, nervous anticipation every, single game night. When I see those stadium lights, haloed in the gloaming, sparkling with the wings of a thousand frenzied moths, saluted by the cheers of a thousand frenzied fans, my belly goes downright giddy.

But along with all the love comes intense jealousy — jealousy of the time it steals away from our family, the demands it puts on the man we love most. It keeps him from us for most of the week and it keeps him from most of what our family holds most sacred: meal times and bath times and story times and bed.

He came home late the other night – for the third time this week — calves flecked with paint from lining the field. It was well past the boys’ bedtime. They had missed him. Again. And they had said so. Again. Several times. And it’s only the first week of many, many weeks we will miss him this season.

So yeah, I get jealous sometimes — of the time that it takes. And sometimes it makes me sad. And sometimes it makes me mad. Like that other night, when Mike came home late, all paint-flecked calves and sweat-stained shirt and flat-out worn-out…

But when I saw him, a calm settled over me, my Sunday Morning Calm. I remembered. I remembered that this is my love — this man and this sport. This is my life and this is my destiny — a destiny written long ago, in the helmeted stars of America’s team.

Yep, football makes me crazy. And happy. And angry. And happy. And jealous. And happy. And frantic. And happy. And, well, you name it, I feel it. All the feels. The great, big, powerful feels. Except for sorry. Football never makes me feel sorry.

 

Choice Cuts in Education: Discrimination is Alive and Well in the State of Georgia

In the state of Georgia, discrimination is alive and well and driving our school systems. And it’s not what you think.  Schools don’t discriminate against students based upon race, creed, color, economic status, or national origin. But they do, however, quite openly discriminate based upon course load.

You see, Friday afternoon, I opened an email from the State Department of Education and what I read blew my mind and hurt my Humanities heart. I am outraged and appalled.

The email states, and I quote, “In the past, funding has been provided by the legislature Tfor one AP exam for all low-income students enrolled in Georgia public schools.  Recent legislation redirected this funding to support only STEM related AP exams for all students regardless of economic status.  Hopefully, this notice will provide time for you and your administrators to explore other funding sources to support your non-STEM, low-income AP student exams.”

Wait, what?  “Recent legislation redirected […] funding to support only STEM related AP exams[…] regardless of economic status?” Excuse me?

I had to read the email twice. And then I had to seek confirmation from my principal to make sure I was indeed seeing what I was pretty damn certain I was seeing? Because it seemed impossible. Impossible to believe that our state would take away funding from our worthiest and neediest students. Students who have been diligently bettering themselves, year after year, through education. Students who have been climbing their way out of the darkness of poverty by taking challenging AP classes (and yes, many of these students take STEM classes, but not all) just to have the final rung on their ladder toward success removed: the ability to test, receive college credit, and get out of the vicious cycle.

And just what is so special about STEM anyway, that it supersedes all other course work? STEM — that educational juggernaut that harnesses the four horsemen of accomplishment: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. Those subject areas that in recent years equate to the Holy Grail of education, warranting such teacher and student incentives as signing bonuses, higher salaries, excess funding, partnerships, scholarships and now, apparently, AP exam exemption status.

Believe it or not, high levels of rigor exist outside STEM classrooms, ladies and gentlemen: critical thinking skills, advanced problem solving, the ability to gather and evaluate evidence, interpret and apply that evidence. These skills occur in other subject areas, too.

Yes, STEM is vital. I get it. It drives innovation and industry and helps keep the United States at the top of the global leaders. But STEM is not the only thing that keeps us there.

The Humanities and the Arts teach us what it means to be global citizens. Courses in history, literature, music, philosophy, language, rhetoric, and art provide instruction in civility, altruism, ethics, reflection, adaptability, etc. They strengthen our ability to communicate – with ourselves and with other nations. They keep us balanced. Without these valuable tools, we quite likely would become a nation fueled by xenophobia and driven entirely by rationality.

And what could possibly be wrong with a nation that looks out for its own best interest, driven entirely by the bottom line, you ask? A lot.

Read Jonathan Swift and you’ll find some answers. He warned us over and over of the harm that can befall mankind if we only use the rational parts of our brains.  Read “A Modest Proposal,” where he pens a brilliant, satiric remedy for an over-populated Ireland by suggesting the Irish Catholics breed children (something they are already so naturally good at) for the soup pot and barbecue joint and monetary gain. Completely rational and cost-effective, mind you.

Read Gulliver’s Travels. Within its pages, there are multiple accounts of societies driven by — and completely destroyed by – the pursuit of science and technology and ice-cold rationality.

Read: it’s fundamental — and as a humanities course, it’s a dying skill.

Not all of us are STEM people, nor should we be.

And I’m not a STEM hater. Far from it. Some of my best friends are STEM people. So is my daddy. Hell, so is my daughter. But I’m here to tell you we need balance. Humanities and the Arts deserve a place at the table too, folks.

And, to bring it all back to Advanced Placement, where my argument began, our state legislature and DOE have taken Humanities and the Arts off the table for our economically disadvantaged students. They will be force-fed STEM or they will not eat. And that is wrong.

These exams are not cheap ($93 each), and while there are reduced costs in place for students who qualify through the Free and Reduced Lunch program, the biggest incentive – one free exam for each economically disadvantaged student testing – is no longer available thanks to our state’s new STEM reallocation.

I’m sorry, but STEM is not the Be-All and End-All of education. It should not be funded at the expense of other disciplines. Nor at the expense of our economically disadvantaged students.

 

 

 

 

A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Human Lives: Woodland High School vs GDOT

Woodland High School is located on a thoroughfare that is in the process of being widened into a four-lane bypass, complete with 44-foot median and 55 mph speed limit.  We have 1500 students at our school: young adults full of hope and promise. They are our future. They are our present. They are their parents’ everything. Every year 1/3 of these students will be driving to and from school. 100% of these students are young and inexperienced drivers. Science tells us their frontal lobes will not fully mature until they are 25. They do not necessarily understand their own mortality. Young people are risk takers. They have been so since time immemorial.

Driving this bypass will be tractor trailers – 80,000 pounds of engine and steel barreling toward society’s most vulnerable drivers. Drivers notorious for making errors in calculation and errors in judgment. One need only check insurance rates and accident statistics to understand the risks that are anticipated and documented amongst this demographic. An average of nine teens (ages 16-20) are killed in automobile accidents  daily. Yet the Georgia DOT refuses to acknowledge the elevated risk of serious injury or death for our Woodland students.

For two years – ever since our Central Office learned of the plans to widen Old Alabama Road – we have requested a traffic signal be installed at our school out of concern for our young students. For two years, they have denied us. They argue that traffic lights are expensive and that the traffic and accident studies do not warrant such an expense.

Are you telling me that the lives of young sixteen and seventeen-year old adolescents are not worth $120,000 – the estimated cost of said light? According to internet sources, that would equate to .007% of the 2017 GA DOT budget. Now, I’m certainly no math teacher, I’m one of those English types, but I did consult one, and I’m here to tell you, that’s nothing more than a drop in the ocean for them. If you ripped a sheet of paper into 1000 pieces, it would be seven of those tiny bits. But it’s a mega big deal for us. It’s life and death.

I teach approximately 180 high school students every school year. And I’m here to tell you that every single one of these students is irreplaceable. Every single one of them enriches my life. Every single one of them will impact the world. Their value is impossible to calculate. I will tell you this: $120,000 doesn’t come close.

As teachers, we have been chosen. We are following our calling – to save the lives of children through education. We have vowed to give them the tools they need to secure their futures, to fulfill their destinies. We become teachers because we believe in the value and potential of every child. We are passionate about saving students from all sorts of situations detrimental to their lives: self doubt, self harm, harsh environments, poverty cycles, apathy, violence, etc. Rest assured, as teachers we will fight to save our students from this danger as well.  Educators do not give up.

Every year, each of us takes students under our wings, students whom we adopt as our “special projects.” Oftentimes, these are children whom others around them have deemed lost causes, who need more of our time and attention because they just don’t understand the good they can accomplish in the world, the value that they possess.

This traffic light has now become the “special project” of every educator at Woodland High School. Others may see it as a lost cause. Others may have written it off as unwarranted or argue (under all sorts of semantics and statistical mumbo jumbo) that the benefit of saving one human life is not worth the cost. As educators, however, we are not giving up. Our students matter. We invest blood, sweat, tears and love into these children so they can have a bright future. We refuse to see that future snuffed out in the blink of an eye because the Georgia Department of Transportation refuses to invest $120,000 in the lives of Bartow County’s children.

Please help us in our fight. Contact gwaldrop@dot.ga.gov and voice your concerns. Please.

All Aboard the Potty Train!

We just sent both boys off to daycare in big boy undies. Both of them! One sporting Captain America because we haven’t found Iron Man briefs yet, (so to him they’re the next best thing), and the other guy in day-old, slightly used Superman ones because he has OCD tendencies (and that makes them the only thing. Please don’t judge me.)

Now in case you haven’t figured it out, it’s been ALL ABOARD the potty express this weekend in the Candela household. It’s proved a cruel and rickety ride– and I’m still not positive we’ve reached our destination, but we’re getting close.

This morning, we tossed the engineer’s cap to the boys’ long-suffering and sweet-natured day care instructors, along with additional supplies: some stickers, a couple of magic bracelets, and plenty of extra underwear, which I pray they won’t need because no matter how many channel locks and sleeper holds they employ, they will NOT be getting additional briefs on our youngest boy. Truth. I apologize in advance. We clearly owe their teachers some Martin’s chicken biscuits (for those of you not from around here, they are our breakfast equivalent of an In N Out burger. Although these women actually deserve a bottle of private-select, high-quality bourbon — but I believe that’s frowned upon by the State Department.)

Now I feel I need to clarify just a bit before proceeding further. Parker has been out of diapers for the entire summer. He’s been chugging along like a champ, except for one thing (um.. actually two — number two — to be exact). So that was our goal for him: to go number two in the toilet. Tate, on the other hand, has refused to get on board all summer long — like adamantly — so we knew it was going to be a wild ride.

The train rolled out at oh-eight-hundred Saturday morning, with a meticulously-plotted plan in place. We knew we needed strategies, tactical diversions, and lots and lots of patience. It commenced with the disposal of the one remaining unsoiled diaper. We made a great show of it, each boy grabbing a separate Velcro tag and marching it to the kitchen, where we threw away the last remaining vestige of their infancy. They laughed and laughed. And I may have shed a tiny – microscopic, really – tear. Diapers are a hassle and an expense. But they’re also the end of an era… But I digress.

The boys laughed and laughed. Until it wasn’t funny anymore. Until I pulled the wool from their eyes… ahem, diapers from their ass.

“Stand up, Bug. Let’s put on your new Spiderman underwear.”

“I want a diaper.”

“We don’t have anymore, remember? You’re a big boy.”

“I’m not a big boy. I’m a baby. I want my diaper.”

“No, let’s put these on. You love spiders.”

Tate may love spiders, but he does not love Spiderman underwear. What commenced was a tremendous thrashing about and flailing of limbs that left my extremities bruised and him bare assed in the floor howling at the inhumanity of it all.

The potty train had left the station. And then stalled immediately due to a tiny human lying prostrate on the track. For fifty-three minutes. Truth.

Parker, on the other hand, was all about it… until he had to poop.

“Mommy, get the diaper out of the garbage.”

“Not happening. It’s too messy. See?” I take him to the trashcan, where I had intentionally poured Mrs. Butterworth all over it, knowing full well that I would need the evidence to back me up later.

He tried a new tactic. “Let’s go to Target and get some more.”

“We can’t. Target is closed. It’s Saturday.” (Small white lie.) “Besides, we have this magic bracelet. (Big white lie) Let’s put it on instead and then go poo poo in the potty.”

Parker is the more easily manipulated of our two fellas, so his eyes instantly lit up. He proffered his arm and away he and daddy went.

At last! We were off and rolling! Until we weren’t. Another delay. Parker sat there, chugging away, but that sweet little engine just didn’t quite believe he could. Not even with his magic bracelet. So he didn’t.

Tate, meanwhile, finally got off the floor but refused to get into his tighty whities — which, truth be told, are a little loose for his small frame and actually multi-colored. For the remainder of the day, he rode the train naked and full steam ahead, pulling ferociously at his safety valve all the while. But he found success – and stickers on a chart each time.

But rather than using the cute, little, froggy urinal we purchased – complete with spinning tongue to inspire good aim – he used the bushes outside our front door.

As Saturday drew to a close the ride left all four of us completely pooped (although only two of us had actually done so), and with the soil in our front bed growing more acidic by the moment. The gardenias should love it.

Cue our Sunday morning departure. It was a good deal easier on all the passengers. Tate finally fed the frog and even managed to spin its tongue, although it might actually be a uvula… it looks kind of like a uvula. Regardless, he did it. (Although he still prefers the shrubbery.)

FullSizeRender (7)

And Parker finally conquered number two atop the toilet – the magic bracelet managing to wield its powers — and got tatted up as a reward. And Mike and I actually began to relax a bit and enjoy the ride.

Yes, the potty express is finally proceeding full steam ahead. And I’m praying that having handed over the controls to our sons’ ever-faithful teachers, the forward motion will continue. I pray that the air brake isn’t somehow inadvertently tripped in the chaos of centers and snack time. I’m not worried about Parker. He’s pretty much got this. But Tate, he worries me a bit.

Earlier, when I mentioned his OCD, it wasn’t for dramatic effect. He has definite tendencies. Tate won’t do anything until he’s confident he can succeed. And once he’s mastered something, he does it, ad nauseam. We’ve recorded hours of him singing Elsa’s theme song. He’s completed his favorite ABC puzzle approximately two hundred thousand times. (I exaggerate. Let’s say one hundred. Thousand.) Last week I told you about the elevator that we rode over and over and over and over again on vacation. And when we weren’t riding it, he was talking about riding it. And begging to ride it. And screaming to ride it.

So I feel like it’s kind of the same with the potty express. He feels fairly confident right now. At least about the first part (we’re working toward no. 2). For a while over the weekend, he wanted to pee every three minutes – and his body wouldn’t necessarily comply — which caused him to stress a wee bit (yes, pun intended). But now, he’s relaxed into an every-thirty-minutes-or-so pattern. (We have a plethora of stickers to prove it.)

Our family boarded this train with the intent of promoting confidence and independence (and a new school level – age 3-4 class) for our little lads. And thus far, it is working. But if our youngest has a set back, his OCD tendencies may take over. He already worries nonstop about “pee peeing on the floor at school.” He gave me a running catalog of classmates who have done so in the past. And if he does, he’s sure to internalize it as failure and our entire train could derail.

So I would appreciate any and all prayers for a successful third day aboard the Potty Express. We could use all the assistance we can get. And please, please… send prayers, not judgment. I know they’re almost three-and-a-half. I know they should’ve been potty trained a long time ago. But twins are a lot of work, David. Have mercy!

When Worlds Collide: Tales of Food, Fun and a Beach Family Vacay

I just returned from the most amazing three-day getaway. No, I wasn’t sipping cocktails at a beach resort in Bali while toasting the love of my life at sunset. Nor was I ziplining through Costa Rica, wind whizzing off my helmet as I shot over a rainforest canopy. Ditto on shopping it up on Rodeo Drive or spinning a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo.

All of those sound amazing, mind you, but they just didn’t fit into my three-day time limit, and they most certainly did not fit into my nine-family-members-on-a-tiny-budget demands.

So we opted for toting chairs and coolers and cranky forty-pound toddlers over a hot, shelly beach on Tybee Island, Georgia. Instead of Bloody Mary’s we nursed bloody shins, and pop knots on foreheads, and giant welts of salt water contact dermatitis.

The weather was as challenging as our toddler’s demands, pummeling us with low-pressure systems and high humidity levels that delivered thunderstorms and kinky-banged selfies, afternoons in crowded hotel rooms, and the untimely death of a freshly-purchased beach canopy.

 

 

Luckily, the wildlife we encountered was more docile than the weather, the toddlers, or my hair. We saw pelicans skimming the ocean surface, dolphins flipping in the surf, and tiny alligators in penned-in ponds. And there were gnats. Lots and lots of gnats.

We stayed at the only beach-access hotel on Tybee, in a couple of spongy rooms with high-powered microwaves and low-functioning refrigerators. There was also a melt-as-you-ride elevator up to our third floor accommodations. Tate was obsessed with this magical box of sweat and steel and asked to ride it at least eighty-nine times in any given sixty seconds. Kid you not. He may grow up to be a world-renowned lift engineer for the planet’s seediest dives.

But back to the hotel appliances… they got quite the work out, thanks to our limited budget and kitchen space. I had meticulously planned our dine-in menu to include pop tarts, variety pack snack chips, bananas, and seedy blackberry jam and peanut butter masterpieces in smooshed-up and travel-twisted Sara Lee sandwich bread. There was even that one night when we got super fancy with a brick of Velveeta, a can of Rotel tomatoes, and some complimentary paper cups — turning highly processed food products into individual queso dips, served alongside Kroger Hint o’ Lime tortilla chips. We were so big time.

Now don’t let me steer you wrong — it wasn’t all bargain-fare bon apetit. We did splurge our final night there on snow crab and boil ‘n peel shrimp at a legendary local joint (where we fed the aforementioned gators from cane poles wielding weird little particle board pellets). While a monsoon raged outside, we dined in style amidst twinkly lights and ceiling-mounted fans, causing our hair to shine and billow like Beyonce (and me to grace random stranger’s plated shellfish with strands of frizzy, highighted DNA).  Now the food was truly delicious (no hair in our dishes, and those corn cobs — Lawsy!), but I must tell you, our hotel room sandwiches came in a very close second. Nothing quite compares to a straight-from-the-beach-and-half-starved fistful of PB&J for customer satisfaction.

 

 

Much to this mama’s dismay, my family lives worlds apart these days, in both distance and dynamics. We reside in three different geographical states along with vast and varied mental states — from big and bodacious to quiet and contemplative, from tightly strung  to perpetually unwound (yeah, that would be me) — but when our worlds collide, beautiful things happen. Love and laughter and renewed life to sustain us all (and especially this mama) until our next go round.

I came away with so many big memories from our little weekend, but some of my favorites include: Bentley and Tate riding the waves for hours like fledgling sea turtles; Boop and Parker waging water gun wars at poolside; Mike and Bradley marching on their futile but fabulous mission to rescue our tortured, cartwheeling beach canopy; and Caitlin’s, Bray’s and my giggles during our impromptu girls’ night, complete with rocking chairs and red wine in clear plastic cups (imminently classier than red solos), the youngest amongst us sipping Sprite through her head gear (upping our classy quotient by about a gazillion).

 

 

Our weather may have been temperamental – right along with our toddlers– but we still had the most glorious time (and one glorious sunset before all the rain, which Caitlin captured beautifully between sea oats and sand). I can’t tell you how good this trip was for my soul.

Now before I go, I want to leave you with some final foodie fodder: Huey’s beignets in Savannah our last morning there. It may have been drizzling rain, but it was also drizzling praline sauce atop powdered clouds of breakfast transcendence.

 

 

So if you’re feeling a bit distant from the people you love the most in the whole wide world and you live in our neck of the woods, take a little three-day vacay to Tybee Island, the tiny little beach with the big heart just outside the sweet southern city of Savannah.

Do it for the family, do it for the fun, do it for the food. Just do it. No matter what. (And do it for Huey’s. No matter what.)

 

 

 

 

The American Opioid Crisis: Why Parents of Even Young Children Should Stay Vigilant

My family and I (three toddlers, a preteen in braces, two adult daughters, two husbands and a too small budget) just got back from the beach for a quick weekend get-a-way.

While there, I stressed about all the normal things a mama worries about when taking her kiddos to the beach: sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, lightning strikes… and not necessarily in that order. All are typical mama bear worries. But I stayed close and vigilant, and I felt secure in the knowledge that I was taking all the proper precautions.

What I did not worry about was an opioid overdose.  I mean, why should I? My boys are three – hardly in the demographic danger zone. And my adult daughters do not use and never have.

Turns out, I should worry. An opioid overdose could pose a very real threat to all of us, despite none of us being addicts. I’m not talking drug abuse anyway. I’m talking overdose.

But just what does that differentiation matter, if none in my family is a user anyway?

Apparently, a lot. Because this morning I saw a story on the news about a 10-year old boy in Miami who died of a Fentanyl overdose on June 23rd. Yes, 10, and yes, Fentanyl.

And while there have been other stories seemingly like this one — of young children, toddlers and elementary aged — who have died of overdoses after accidentally ingesting controlled substances, those stories are usually followed up with accusations of parental drug abuse. And arrests. And pictures in case files of crack pipes and needles and mysterious powders on the premises.

This was not that kind of story.

This boy’s mother has not and will not be charged. His parents are completely innocent of all wrong doing. Their child  did nothing wrong. Did nothing risky. He had simply gone swimming and played in a neighborhood park.

Authorities believe he inadvertently came in contact with the highly-lethal Fentanyl either while visiting a neighborhood pool or afterwards on his walk home. It would’ve only taken a milligram or two sitting on a towel or park swing, which he then either absorbed or inhaled or ingested after unknowingly touching the synthetic substance.

This is horrifying on every level. Everyone knows toddlers and children everywhere touch anything and everything. And then their curious fingers wind up in their mouths way more often than any mother is comfortable admitting. But up until now, the fear has been strep or staph or the common cold on those doorknobs and monkey bars and tabletops. Not highly lethal doses of drugs. I can’t imagine that was ever a consideration. Up until now.

I watch the news. I’ve seen the stories. Our country is in a major opioid crisis. Deaths from overdose have risen 110% in some parts of our nation. Fentanyl is one of the reasons.

Now, I know first responders have to be cautious. I know they use gloves and carry Narcan. I know they are trained to spot the symptoms of overdose — in others and themselves, as they are at risk of coming into contact with the drug and its users every single day. Of course, they have to be super cautious.

But I never thought I had to. As long as I am careful about who comes into my house and whose house I let the boys into, I assumed we were all in the clear. Clearly, I’ve been wrong.

So what do I do now? How do I protect my children, all of us, from such a dangerous and almost invisible substance? Protect them from a drug that can kill in doses as incredibly small as grains of sand? From a drug that has no smell or taste? From a drug 100 times more potent than heroin? From a drug that can cause an overdose in mere minutes?

The stories and statistics send me into hyperventilation and hypervigilance. I already wipe down buggies at grocery stores and tables at restaurants. Now, I will be on the lookout for strange powders, I will carry wipes with me everywhere I go, and I will swab any and every available surface — whether it looks clear or not. Lysol stock will soar from my diligence.

And sadly, playgrounds and public toilets will receive my most earnest attentions. Addicts use these places. I’ve seen movies. And, if that weren’t enough, I’ve seen evidence that points to this reality.

While travelling this weekend, my husband and son were forced to use an Atlanta gas station restroom. Not necessarily our first choice, but when a newly potty-trained toddler tells you he has to go – you’d best proceed to the nearest available option. (We used the lawn of a small country church on the way home – much cleaner, and we knew God would understand.) But back to that city gas station — Security knocked on the door when Mike and Parker were in there for longer than the allotted two minutes posted on the door, revealing to me how very naïve I truly am, and how very dark our world truly is.

Because as a mother, if I see a father and his young son go into a restroom and take a little longer than what would be deemed normal, I think “mom-of-toddler” thoughts. I automatically assume that the poor dad is in there juggling britches and Mickey Mouse underpants and that toy dump truck the kid had with him, while helicoptering his tyke over the toilet seat away from the dangers of e coli bacteria. I do not think “security-guard-in-urban-setting” thoughts. I do not automatically assume that the grown-ass man in the toilet with the toddler is either: 1) up to no good with a sweet, little innocent, or 2)  he’s up to no good with a sweet little innocent in tow. Either way is horrific and apparently, a very real occurrence.

I guess there are a hell of a lot more things on this earth than are dreamt of in my rose-colored philosophy. So while I was vigilantly keeping an eye out for sharks, jellyfish, sunburn, drowning, strangers, and lightning strikes, I didn’t realize that there are potential dangers lurking out there far deadlier than sharks and far more random and lethal than lightning strikes.

But I will be taking proper precautions for those now, too.

And I will pray. A lot.

My Grandmother: 22 years after her death, she’s still guiding me

The sore bloomed like a rose, slightly left of center and fiery red, the day after my grandmother died — twenty-two years ago, this week. It arrived in direct contrast with the single, flawless white rose that bloomed outside her window the morning of her death.

grandma6

Its origins were mysterious. I had not injured myself. A bug did not bite me. It wasn’t a rash. No doctors were ever able diagnose its cause – or the effects it produced — a general malaise, low-grade fever, extreme thirst, and the haunting feeling that something simply wasn’t right that lasted for months.

It wept in itchy, angry scales of grief, a physical manifestation of an internal pain. And when it finally shed all its sugared petals, it left behind the palest primrose scar.

For a while, I could easily see it, shimmering just beneath the surface, pulsing with the pain of her loss, but also telling me she was there, she was with me.

Somewhere in the last two decades, as I learned to cope with my life without her, it slipped under the surface. Went dormant and invisible. I would search for it sometimes, run my fingertips over its resting place. Especially on those days when I most wished she were there to hold my hand. My wedding day. The morning of our first IVF appointment. The day we brought our boys home from the NICU.

I miss the light, mothy touch of her fingers. I miss her reassurance and her love. I miss the holidays at her house. Seeing her settled into her plush, padded lazy boy nest, blowsy with blankets and pillows, eyes and mouth animated with story after hyperbolic story. Tall tales of horses and hogs and uncles and cousins. Histories I should’ve recorded. Should’ve written down.

I should’ve done something.

Especially when she got sick. When she gave up her nest for a hospital bed in the back bedroom. When her face turned sallow as parchment. When her hair came out in fuzzy tufts on her pillow. When the mothy touch of those fingers took to frantically pinching pleats in the bedsheets. When my cousin and I spoon fed her cream of wheat three times a day because it was all she would eat.

Until she wouldn’t. Until she told us she’d had enough of that infernal cream of shit.

Why didn’t I record them then? I’ve forgotten the major details of most of her stories. I’ve failed her.

The scar surfaced again this weekend. It swam back to me on the anniversary of its original appearance.  It has to be a sign. And I believe in signs.

She’s made plenty of other appearances along the way, but it was always her scent that appeared. I would catch a whiff of her Tennessee scotch snuff and know she was there: in the elevator the day of our IVF transfer; in the centerpieces at our wedding (ok, I put her scent there on purpose, but she was there when she held back the rain – a halo of sun in the midst of a radar of storms); when Mike pushed my wheelchair through the halls of the hospital on our way to hold our boys for the first time. A sniff of snuff told me this is my path, this is my destiny. And it is beautiful.

Twenty-two years ago, this week, my grandmother made her way to heaven on the buoyant chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. My cousin Jenny and I knew it was time. We brought in the recorded piano music our cousin Teresa had given her years before and we pushed play. When the Canon came on, grandma quietly slid into the current and swam to the stars.

The doctors couldn’t diagnose the rose that bloomed on my chest over two decades ago this week. But e.e. cummings could. He diagnosed it in a prophetic poem in 1952:

Here is the deeper secret nobody knows

(the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry [her] heart (I carry it in my heart)

 And her heart has swum to the surface once more. She’s trying to tell me something. So I’m listening. I hope it’s her stories. I won’t fail her this time.

 

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