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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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“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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NICU Memories and Musings: a hellish ride in the holiest of holies

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – a clinical cocoon of a womb for babies born too soon or too hard. For some families, it is a beautiful place. A site of unmatched miracles and grace. For others, it is a heartbreaking place. A place of pain and unconscionable loss. For all, it is a place that houses love and fear and absolute out of control situations and emotions. It is a place both holy and hellish, where innocence is taken to either heal or to die.  It is a hellish ride through the holiest of holies.

The first time I entered the NICU to see my twin boys, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know what I’d see. Had no idea how I’d feel once I did see them. Suffice it to say, the experience was overwhelming. I vomited. Partly from the anesthesia after-effects, but largely due to the emotions that surged through me. A storm surge of terror coupled with love. My boys were so tiny, so fragile. There were tubes and monitors and beeping machines everywhere.

After that initial chaos, I calmed down. I collected myself. It was then I registered my surroundings. Everything was hushed and dimly lit and deceptively serene, considering the delicate nature of the patients and their varied conditions. But definitely hushed and dimly lit.

It felt like a church. But holier.

Holier because it was full to bursting with innocence. Six rooms, called pods, full to bursting with pure, unblemished innocence.  Innocence in birthday suits, tanning under lights, innocence bundled up to the eyeballs like cotton-swaddled ninjas, Innocence helmeted in CPAP masks and Velcro. Innocence with solitary, glowing pulse ox ruby slippers – and parents promising “There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…so let’s get there.”

Now we were unbelievably fortunate. Our boys were born at 34 weeks 5 days.  Preemies, yes. With battles, yes. But their battles were a far-cry from the wars that were being waged around them by their 24, 25, 26 week counterparts. Preemies crippled and broken and fragile and fierce.

Preemies fight hard. Famously so. They never cease to amaze the doctors and nurses and their parents. They are bony and brittle, but Lord have mercy, how they fight. They have butterfly wings for skin; they are thin and veined; there is tape pulling at their newness and needles piercing their perfection. Their surface is marred to save their soul.  And goodness, how that soul fights.

Saving innocent souls. So not like church, after all.

But then, like church, the NICU is full to bursting with prayer. Prayer of all kinds. Prayer, well-practiced and well-formed, or haltingly hesitant. Prayer, desperately flung like a Hail Mary, last ditch effort to bargain for what feels like the impossible. But with God and love and miracles made all-the-more-routine through modern medicine, those Hail Mary’s are caught more than they’re dropped. All types of prayer form on the lips of preemie parents. We were no exception. We prayed, often. For our sons and for all of those preemies around them.

There are miracles in the NICU every day. More than one a day, 365 days a year. Against seemingly insurmountable odds. These smallest of warriors fight. They are so much stronger than their parents. The parents crack. We cry, we rant, we bargain and beg and rage and plead and cave. But these wee ones… they fight. Hard. And often – quite often – most often – 98-percent-of-the-time often — they win. So there are many, many, many miracles in the NICU.

And there is communion in the NICU. Hunger and thirst satisfied on a physical, spiritual, and emotional level. Flesh made perfect through the transformative powers of maternal biochemistry. Doctors and nurses encourage preemie moms to breastfeed — because in the NICU, breast milk is not just nutrition; it is medicine. With this most perfect food comes antibodies, anti-inflammatories, and other nutrients (like fatty acids, digestible proteins and stem cells) that can help power these infants through the gauntlet of bacteria and viruses that lay in wait. A mother’s body responds to any hostile environment around her infant, and adjusts her milk accordingly.

Breastfeeding my boys helped transform not just them, but me.The roller coaster of hormones and emotions that always comes with the postpartum experience was a hundred times harder and rougher with the NICU included in the mix.  I was an absolute mess. I was stressed and depressed and fatigued. But the skin-to-skin bonding I felt through nursing helped ease my anxiety and exhaustion. Nursing my boys calmed my core and centered my soul solely on them: the smell of their skin, the tickle of their breath, the warmth of their weight. Their most perfect food was my most perfect therapy.

And Mike got in on the skin-to-skin communion, too, through kangaroo care. Watching him wrap his wide, warm arms around our tiny guys, seeing them snuggled safe against his chest, I saw him change. I saw  his hard edges soften; his tough-guy exterior melt away. He was instantly putty in their pouty-lipped presence.

The NICU is a hellish place. It is hard and draining and demanding. It left Mike and me feeling defeated 90% of the time our boys were there. It was a place that tested our endurance and our strength — and fortunate for our family, we were only there for 6 days for one boy and 9 days for the second. What we went through was nothing compared to what some preemies and their parents go through. NICUs are hellish places full of unfathomable hurdles. But 98% of the time, they become miraculous places full of undeniable grace.

But what NICUs are most full of is babies — very, very special babies. Babies who fight like the dickens for their chance at life. This month, the March of Dimes campaign reminds our family of that distant battle we once waged and prompts us to give what we can to help current and future little ones — and the medical professionals who look after them– bring that miracle percentage up to 100%.If you can, won’t you please consider giving, too?nicuboys

 

 

 

C-Section Realities and Naked Mole Rats: the Birth of our Beautiful Twins

I was always jealous of those moms who had scheduled C-sections. They were always perfectly primped in their post-delivery pics. That was going to be me this time around. My hair and makeup spot on. No sweaty curls, no petechiae in the whites of my eyes and the flesh of my neck like I had with the girls — when I pushed so hard that tiny blood vessels burst all over my head. I looked like a voodoo doll’s target. The boys were going to be C-section babes at 37 weeks.  And I was going to be a glamour shot, post op, cover girl.

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Yeah, that didn’t happen.

On a Wednesday afternoon three years ago today, I went in at 34 weeks for my prenatal specialist appointment. They took my blood pressure, did an ultrasound, and next thing I knew I was getting pumped full of magnesium and slung into an ambulance.

Let me tell you a little bit about the evil entity that is Magnesium. Not the magnesium you take as an over-the-counter supplement to prevent constipation or leg cramps. No, I mean Magnesium with a capital M, second cousin once removed from Beelzebub of the netherworld. It is given to women with preeclampsia as an emergency measure to prevent seizures when mom’s blood pressure gets too high, but it also has some nasty side effects. Like sending your BP plummeting so low you’re literally fainting while lying flat on your back. You feel heavy as lead… but MOLTEN lead. Because Mag is a stout, heavy devil that belches brimstone through an IV drip into your circulatory system, leaving you in a sulfurous state of confusion and heat. Sinners-in-the-Hands-of-an Angry-God confusion and heat. A great, fiery furnace of confusion and heat, flames and lava lapping at your body and soul for hours and hours. Hell hath no fury like a magnesium drip.

And it’s a hellish fury you tolerate because it’s saving you and your babies, but immediately after delivery, you beg, plead, bargain and bully to be taken off the drip. And if you’re lucky, really, really lucky – and really, really persuasive — your OB agrees.

Mine did. She probably regretted caving to my persuasive pressures because my feet continued to swell to the size of human lungs, and my blood pressure spiked, and my head pounded, and my vision sparked like Vulcan’s smithy. But she took pity on me nonetheless and yanked the mag bag.

But back to my first and only experience with a C-section and the delivery of our beautiful boy babies. My girls were born the traditional, squeeze and extrude through a narrow flesh funnel for hours and hours way, so I didn’t know what to expect. The OR was much smaller than I’d imagined. (They look so much larger on Grey’s Anatomy and House reruns.) And it was cold – ice cold. But that was a welcome respite from the MAG demon busily rafting rivers and tributaries of fire in my body. I also recall having a difficult time curling inward enough for the epidural because, let’s face it, YOU try curling your spine forward with double the fetuses and fluids in your frontal regions. NOT ideal.

I knew enough to expect a sterile sheet wall at my chin so I couldn’t see all the bloody shenanigans going on below my naval, but I didn’t expect my arms to be strapped, crucifixion-style, out to my side. To be perfectly honest, it made me feel a little out of control and vulnerable. (Like being paralyzed from the chest down and sliced hip to hip didn’t leave me vulnerable enough.) And I never expected to feel strange squeezing sensations coming from my lower extremities. When I asked the nurses about it, I was told I was wearing compression boots that were pumping my calves to prevent blood clots. Still, the ability to feel that regulated pressure and release was disconcerting. What if I felt the smooth blade of the scalpel slicing me open like a ripe cantaloupe?

I didn’t. But I did feel a whole lot of pulling and tugging and what felt like my uterus being stretched over the rim of the Grand Canyon. So much tugging. And I could hear a chorus of nurses and doctors, commanding and directing. And then, at 10:35 AM, the tiniest quivering wail rose over the sheet, and I heard Parker Isaac Candela singing heartily for his supper for the very first time, but certainly not the last.  My heart swelled to bursting at his voice. A voice that still trembles and purrs with sweetness to this day.

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One minute later, at 10:36 AM, Tate Michael Candela arrived. But this time, no song accompanied the entrance. Ironic, considering Tatebug sings constantly these days – a continuous refrain from sunrise to sundown: Itsy Bitsy Spider; Wheels on the Bus; If You’re Happy and You Know It… You name it, he sings it.

The NICU docs and nurses immediately shuffled Tate off to a corner of the OR and got to work. I couldn’t see a thing. All I could do was hear. And all I could hear was the sound of silence — for what felt like a millennium. It wasn’t though. Of that I’m sure. In a relatively short spell — one crammed with absolute horror and fear — the staff managed to coax and cajole his little lungs into song. His quivering wail joined his brother’s in a sudden, trembling hallelujah chorus, and Mike and I melted into a blubbering mass of unbridled relief and boundless love.

When they brought them round for me to kiss, they were beautiful. Beautiful, precious, tiny naked mole rats. Because honestly, that’s what all newborns look like, if we’re being perfectly honest. And that’s what got pulled out of my belly on March 20th, three year ago. Two of them. Only my naked mole rats had half-moon eyes. Beautiful, Korean, half-moon eyes. And Parker had lashes that fanned across his cheeks in the most magnificent display you ever did see. They still do, for that matter. And then there was Tate. Tate with the buttery-gold skin of an ancient temple Buddha. We oohed and aahed over his ancestral gift of a most-glorious skin tone. Come to find out, it wasn’t genetics. It was jaundice… But even after that bilirubin leveled out, he still possesses the most exquisite built-in tan you ever did see.Sadly, after planting a kiss on my long-lashed and beautifully-bronzed naked mole rats, they were whisked away to the NICU.

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Now the NICU was not in my birth plan. Not even close. I had anticipated a glamour-shots delivery, remember? And then a saccharine-sweet bonding period full of soft, fuzzy snapshots. Me snuggling our newborns while they mewed hungrily at my breasts.  Mike slumbering with them on his chest in our overstuffed, deep-seated rocker. That was my vision. That was my dream. Our reality was nothing like it. At all. There were no nursing newborns at my breasts and no happenstance naps with Daddy. Instead there were incubators and oxygen lines and feeding tubes and beeping monitors and carefully measured mills of breast milk in the tiniest bottles you ever did see.

But I’ll address the NICU and its roller coaster of events and emotions next time…

 

 

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