My girls

My area is finally experiencing some rain after months of dry, cracked days. Our yard is brown and our town was under a drought advisory (which would've meant no fall bonfires). But the skies opened up and we've had steady rain since Monday.

My girls have enjoyed the cool, wet weather. Of course, when Bella really enjoys something, she goes all out. I'm talking Buzz pajamas in a neighbor's puddle and then later sneaking out to ride her bike in her undies. Side note: We need better locks.

And, surprisingly, she's not the only one of my girls who enjoys a good rainfall. Lulu2 and Maisy (and Fancy, though she still won't come near me) have a great time frolicking and foraging in the rain.

Or maybe we're just all giddy that the super-hot summer is finally over. Bring on fall!

***This post is part of Wordful Wednesday.***

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On ballet

Remember my delicate flower?

Yeah. That was lesson one. Lessons two and three weren't quite as productive. She asked me to leave her for lesson two and did a great job. For ten whole minutes. Then she laid on the floor and refused to participate.

For lesson three, I decided that having me there would make a difference. And it did, for 20 out of the 45 minutes we were there. Under my gaze (which alternated between The Look and exaggerated encouragement), she tip toed and chassed and butterfly flapped like a reluctant pro.

But for the other 25 minutes, she lolled on her belly, played pretend on the ballet barre, stood with her arms crossed, ran back and forth across the studio, refused to step on anything but green blocks, had 510 drinks from the water fountain, poked at the other girls, and picked her nose. And if either her instructor or I came near her, she'd run and screech.

It was a pretty phenomenal display of immaturity. Like, text book.

And so our days of ballet are finished for now. Just like when I paid $50 for Javi to have swim lessons at age 3 and he shivered and cried on the side of the pool, Bella just isn't ready to jump into the world of ballet. And I'd much rather sit at home in my pajamas instead of sweating it out in the dance studio or listening to the exorcism in the back seat.

But tell me why after she stopped crying and screaming "my ballet class!" in the car on the way home, she giggled and said, "How 'bout we do some shemnatsticks now?"

And I'm actually considering it.

***This post is part of the 30-minute blog challenge.***

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QOTD: Thankful

Her moon face close to mine
whispering or yelling or demanding attention
at all hours of my days:

It's mornin' time, mama. Wake up!
Peel dis owange wight now, mama!
Wanna pway pwinces in my woom?
Whew, mama, yo breaf is stinky!
I'm pwayin songs on my china!
Grass monkey monkey, that funny monkey
I am not poopin' in my panties
Yets snuggle up, mama. Okay, mama?
Uh oh. Yook what Javi did!
You watchin' me wock out, mama?

I am so thankful for my girl,
She's so uniquely and achingly herself
and yet she illuminates and articulates  
me in ways I'm still learning.
I need this proof of belonging
all the days of my life.

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Now, not later

Sometimes the most important things get the least of my attention -- and it took a translucent bottom-feeder combined with this week's episode of Parenthood to reveal that nugget of wisdom to me.

We've been through several fish in the past few months, but only a little ghost shrimp could survive the missed feedings and infrequent tank cleanings. I fed him when I remembered to feed him -- while searching for earphones so Javi can listen to the iPod in the house, before crawling into bed after gathering with my family at my aunt's house, two days later on our way out the door to her burial -- and it was usually as a side note to something else.

Never in the past week or so did I actually stop to peer into the tank to observe the water level and quality and ensure that the little guy was still hanging in there. When I finally bent to take stock of the fish tank, I immediately spotted a lump of brownish-gray matter caught in the leaves of an artificial, orange bush. There, decomposing in the murky water, was our now-dead ghost shrimp.

I'd neglected him like I've neglected so many other important things. You know, such as my marriage and my extended family and my day job -- things that should get the full brunt of my attention and the complete span of my focus, but don't. For various reasons. The kids, the household responsibilities, the social calendar, the volunteer obligations, the sidework obligations, and the things I'm not proud of (ehem, a slam-full dvr schedule and the tendency to get lost in Facebook and texts).

I couldn't help but draw a parallel to Parenthood's alterna-Bravermans Suze and Phil Lessing, who we learn are separating under the strain of raising their son, Noel, who has Asperger's syndrome. Phil claims that Suze's entire world revolves around Noel, which pushes her marital relationship so far off the back burner that it's hit the floor. Suze, the overwhelmed and trying-to-control-the-variables mom, seems a lot like me ... right down to her belief that Phil simply refuses to understand and have compassion for all that she must hold together.

Our son doesn't have Asperger's, but his ADHD does require my analysis and patience and work and juggling and attention. I don't spend nearly the same amount of time working on my marriage as I do working on my child -- despite knowing that, statistically, marriages in families with a special needs child are highly likely to end in divorce. I allow my side projects and my volunteer choices and so much else come first.

My aunt died on Sunday -- and it'd been months since I last saw her. My aunt who was a grandmother to me, who was my Papa's favorite sister, and who wasn't that much older than my mother and her siblings. I have a lifetime of memories with her, but I hadn't wrapped my arms around her in too long. And suddenly, she's gone.

And so is the shrimp. But my marriage is here and it's strong. My jobs, often done hurriedly and at the last minute, are here. My family -- the many cousins and aunts and uncles -- are here. For now. The time to invest in them, to enrich and revel in them, is now. Now while we're here together. Now while our hearts are open and able to receive the gifts we have to offer.

I don't want to wake up one day as Suze or Phil Lessing, wondering when the last door closed and why I didn't hear it, so full of regret that I can't stand the sight of myself. It has to be now. Because later isn't guaranteed. Not for any of us.

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Sounds of family

There's not much to be happy about when you have to bury the woman who treated you -- loved you -- like a grandchild. But if you knew my Aunt Runt, you knew she loved to laugh and she loved to dance to some old time music.

And so after the funeral and burial yesterday, that's what we did. We sat and laughed and danced and sang as her son, grandson, and nephew played. The house felt full with her memory, yet so empty without her presence. I imagine she had to shake her head when Bella stood to dance and Ethan clapped in time to the music.

The laughter came in staccato bursts whenever anyone repeated stories about Aunt Runt -- especially in conjunction with her husband, my Uncle Reuben (who is a legend in and of himself). But Runt wasn't the only one who was with us. So was my Papa and my Uncle Tom and Aunt Dot. All the brothers and sisters who shaped and made Runt who she was -- the baby, the tough ol' broad.

And at the end of the day, there was Uncle Fred. Representing for the brothers in black nylon knee socks and a cap popped up on his head. He could've been my Papa standing there (though Papa's hat was usually blue). 

Looking at him made my heart ache ... in a really good way. Death is a reminder of what you can never have again, but it's also a wake up call to love the hell out of what you do have while you have it. I'm listening.

***This post is part of Wordful Wednesday***

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On loss

In memory, she sits vibrant and proud on the black leather couch
once fresh with sharp angles, now soft and cracked and worn
from years spent cradling the bodies of brothers, sisters, babies --
a boisterous and bold arc of family and friends.

Her laughter, raspy from the merciless march of time and loss,
was a beacon rising like flame. She was a burst of light
that settled around and inside me with the comfort of home
and belonging and roots that reached into my soul.

She loved with ripe ferocity, rich and ready to fight
for those she called her own, whether by blood or history.
And she was loved, intensely, infinitely, with the full weight
of the lives she touched without judgment or ridicule.

Yet, she is stronger than memory, more powerful than death.
She shall never be lost to the warm embrace of flesh or story.
As I bask in feeling of those enduring notes of sound, I know --
she is mine and I am hers, forever.

May you rest in peace, Aunt Runt (b. Wilda Mae). Your devotion to family and acceptance of all of us just the way we are over the past 76 years has shaped us all in ways we cannot fully explain. My heart is yours forever.

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Lunch box battles

My son hates having to bring his lunch to school. Rather than spend $2.10 every day and allow him to eat junk that he doesn't even like (and then throw half of that lunch away), I pack him a main course he'll enjoy, a fruit or veggie side, and some kind of cracker or chip.

But his acceptance that his life is a home-packed lunch isn't our biggest problem. The real challenge is getting that home-packed lunch to school where it belongs. You know it's bad when the school receptionist recognizes your call pulling up to the school and is already laughing by the time you open the doors.

He has forgotten his lunch at least 3 times a week since school started in late August. That's a lot of forgotten lunches! So I told him yesterday that if he forgot to take his lunch one more time, I'd spank him. We usually don't use spankings as a behavior deterrent because they don't work for him, but I was hopeful that the fear of it would help him establish the habit. Also, I was slightly at the end of my rope.

Guess what? I opened the refrigerator this morning to pour some half-n-half into my coffee and there was his freaking lunch box. I debated. Let him starve through lunch. Make him eat the cheese sandwich the school cafeteria gives kids who don't have lunch money. Lecture him in front of his classmates. Spank him right there. (Again, dangling right off the end of the rope. Hello overkill ... it's just lunch.)

I didn't do any of those things. I carted his lunch to school and plotted what I would do when he got home. I decided that 9 year old is old enough to be an active participant in memory strategies and that we would work together to create a system that would help him remember that lunch.

When he got him, he was immediately apologetic. I told him to create a list of ideas for remembering the lunchbox, and that if his list wasn't really thoughtful, the spanking would happen. This is what I got:
Apoligy to Mom

I'm sorry that I forgot my lunchbox today. I wasn't paying attention to the time after I brushed my teeth. Then I saw it was 7:08. After that, my stomach starting hurting, then I started to hasten to get ready. But I was in such a hurry that I forgot about my lunchbox. I'm very sorry. I have made a list of ways to remember my lunchbox. Will you forgive me? I used one of my vocabulary words in this letter so it wouldn't be so boring. Did you see I learned how to spell it?

List to help me not forget my LB:
1) Write it on a sticky note
2) Write it on dry erase board
3) When getting milk out in the morning go ahead and put it in bookbag
4) Make it then put 2 ice packs in LB, then put in bookbag
5) Before getting dressed, take it out.
6) Draw arrows lead to the fridge and put a sign that says "open" on it.
7) Wear PJs that have a shirt pocket and put a note inside it and write on a sticky to check the note in my pocket.
8) I am sure there are more ways but my brain just can't think of them. I'm trying really hard.
I still have no idea how to solve this problem (and, no, I won't be putting his lunchbox in his bookbag for him. That's part of his morning responsibilities and he needs to do it). Perhaps I'll spend the evening drawing arrows.

But guess who didn't get a spanking. ;)

Updated: The child remembered his lunch box this morning thanks to a sticky note on the front door (left by me). He did not, however, remember to get his milk from the freezer. Apparently the sticky note on his lunch box wasn't enough. We may move back to juice since he'll drink it warm ... Ah, parenthood.

Today is the last day of ADHD Awareness Week. I thought this was a fitting anecdote to show both the struggles (forgetfulness, frustration, food) and the fun (creativity, out-of-the-box thinking) that comes part and parcel with the disorder.

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Lessons in Parenthood

Every Tuesday night at 10 pm I settle in with a bowl of popcorn and a big glass of ice water for my television therapy. Rather than pay big bucks for psychoanalysis or to work through my marital grievances, I watch Parenthood on NBC. Somehow, I always feel more understood by 11 pm.

This week’s season premiere was perfectly timed. I was feeling overwhelmed with three freelance jobs, two volunteer positions, a company that’s based on volunteer work, children in two different activities, five blogs, and a husband who seems more and more resentful that my time is stretched so thin. Does anyone else’s chest feel tight all of a sudden?

But then here’s this scripted drama that’s so smartly written and that covers so many of my bases. Throughout the episode, the family patriarch says over and over again to the family matriarch, “I hear you and I see you,” as they have learned in marriage counseling. It’s creepy ... until it sinks in. And suddenly the theme emerges from every story told in the hour — and every part of our personal lives.

The son-in-law who finally breaks after his wife’s father continually treats him like an ineffectual and inexperienced moron. The sister who has to fight for the credit she deserves when her idea for a new shoe product is pitched by her brother. The father who has to scramble to prove his dedication to his company under the harsh glare of a demanding boss. The daughter learning to drive as her mother screams from the passenger seat.

And the storyline closest to my heart: The child with autism who melts down in the most heart wrenching way (complete with screeching and flying limbs and screaming with eyes shut) when his carefully laid plans for a sleepover are ruined. Oh, Max. You have my heart, buddy.

For each storyline, the closure comes not from the characters suddenly getting their way. Life doesn’t work like that. The closure is a result of the person on the other end — the father-in-law, the brother, the boss, the occupational therapist — saying in loud and clear voices I hear you and I see you. You exist. Your feelings are valid. You have every right to be upset and you’re right, this sucks.

This is a life lesson for me, for all of us. Rather than act out or shut down when the world starts spinning out of control and we feel like collateral damage, how about we just stop and give ourselves or our loved ones the same verbal massage that Max gets: “I know you’re upset. You have every right to be; it’s not fair. I know you’re upset because I’m upset, too. But this isn’t going to help. Let’s make another plan.”

I know. I hear you. I see you. We’ll get through this. Together.

I don’t have to feel stressed out and alienated. Neither does my husband. Instead, we can take the time to see each other. We can step back and find compassion for each other’s individual struggles. And then we can create a plan that works better. And we can do it together.


Do you watch Parenthood? Is there another television program that works as therapy for you? What lessons have you learned about yourself or your life by watching?

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The big game

Football is an event in the south that's unparalleled. Growing up with a single mother, I escaped football for most of my life. But I'm a football mom now and I rang a cowbell at my son's first game. A cow bell for the Cowboys.

I may just enjoy this phase.

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A milestone (in photos)

You don't know how it'll feel until the day arrives. Your only daughter's first day of ballet class. The soft pink leotard and (too expensive) ballet shoes and hair pulled into a bun. The serious face concentrating on getting right amidst seven other baby ballerinas.

My heart is full.

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The questions he asks

I used to spend long hours wondering and worrying about how Javi's adoption will affect him. Is he happy? Are we doing a good job? Is his life better than it would've been? Will we have the answers he needs when he finds the questions to ask? That last one kept me up at night.

I imagined the questions: Why didn't they want me? What was wrong with me? I imagined how the adoption would skew our experience as parents and his as an adolescent/tween/teen/adult. But through it all, the questions and the worry were for the future. A day way off down the road when things would click for him and the dam would burst. What I didn't anticipate was that his questions would come in small, confused snippets scattered throughout our days.

Last week while loading the dishwasher, he turned to me and asked, "Why won't the police let my brothers come live with us?" I had to explain that his brothers live with their fathers. I expected the gut-punch follow-up to be Then why don't I live with my father? But it wasn't. He said simply and smartly, "I guess brothers don't have to live together."

It goes like that. We're doing the small things that comprise our days -- feeding the chickens, eating dinner, riding bikes, doling out punishments -- and up pipes the random question. Sometimes the question ties into what we're doing and sometimes it doesn't. Yesterday we discussed how we were raising our broilers for a corporation and Javi said, "Like how you're raising me for my biological parents." At the beach this weekend we were doing donuts in the golf cart and he yelled out, "If I fall out and die, you can adopt another son, but he can't have my room!"

His remarks rarely carry that weight, but they are a sharp reminder to me that adoption is shaping him right now. Not in some vague and amorphous someday, but right now in this gritty day-to-day of football practice and forgotten lunches and a sister who raids his room the minute he leaves the door open. Adoption is as much a presence in his mind as I am.

I know the questions will keep coming and that, eventually, they'll be the life-bombs I've always imagined. But for now I'm choosing not to fret and worry and overanalyze. When I'm watching a documentary about adoption and he asks, "How does one family get to have another family's kid? Like, aren't there rules so families can keep their kids?" I won't immediately launch in on his (our) story and will instead just answer the question.

That's the point, right? These are all just questions from a kid who has a lot of questions because, damn it, this is his life he's talking about. While my job is to love and nurture him, his job is question and test and explore -- especially when it comes to his very identity. And while I have the urge to turn every comment and question into a learning lesson, sometimes I just need to chill out.

So that is my plan. I will stop scripting my answers to questions he hasn't asked and be ready to provide thoughtful answers to the ones he does ask. I will be honest and focused on what is rather than what isn't. And when the time comes for the tough questions, I'll have a kid who trusts my answers (even if he doesn't like them).

Would you take the same approach? How do you tackle tough situations like adoption (or divorce or disability or unemployment, etc) with your children? Would you choose the "learning lesson" strategy or the "chill out strategy? Do tell!

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Priorities & Vacations

Back when I was working in travel writing, a source told me that 97 percent of online users are content consumers while only 3 percent are content creators. Only 3 percent. (How can that be possible when there are 88 million blogs?)

And therein lies today's dilemma. Am I a content consumer or a content creator? This past summer has been a constant struggle between wanting to blog my heart out and wanting to read my heart out. But I can't do both. So do I read (and comment -- that's the most time consuming, but I won't sacrifice it) until my eyeballs fall out if it means that I run out of "online time" without so much as a short blog post to show for it? Or do I post-post-post and let my already-too-full reader burst at the seams?

How about you? Do you create or consume?
While you're thinking about it, how about a few of my favorite vacation photos? It was wonderful to get away for five long days even if I did come back to a mountain of work.

Some great shots of our morning photoshoot. Yes, there was a wardrobe change!

This was the Year of the Boogie Board. Bella would get out as far as the breakers and then ride them in. She had to be forced to come in after hours of this. Javi loved it too, but Bella was the "afessiono" on the beach.

Bella no longer requires that anyone catch her when she jumps in the pool. In fact, she yelled at me in her fiercest Meanie Weenie voice to "stay right there, Mama! Don't come any closer!"

And here's my Mountain Man in all his sunburned glory. He refused to either wear a shirt or put on sunscreen. You can tell Javi has a mama who loves him by both his white skin and swimshirt. No sunburns for my kids!

And with that, I have created! I shall now work on consuming. Guess that tells you where my priorities are.

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Lost in time

We are going on vacation tomorrow (!!!) but that means this week I've been mired in deadlines and grocery shopping and meetings ... trying to squeeze my 6-day workweek into 4 measly days. I will be thankful for the extra labor come Saturday when I'm reading around on a golf cart and sitting under a beach umbrella.

But the past few days have held good, memorable times, too, though. Between apple picking, birthday parties, sleep overs, and pear and grape picking, we are worn out in a really good way. Also, I taught my daughter how to eat a muscadine.

Rip, suck, spit. Moments become memories,
a child transforms like the seasons --
life doesn't get better than this.


I imagine this weekend will bring us even more amazing memories and exhausted smiles. Enjoy the holiday weekend (and keep your fingers crossed for us down at Myrtle Beach during hurricane season)! Oh, and send my sister some good vibes since she'll be solely responsible for keeping our house (and chickens) safe this weekend.

***This post is part of Intentional Happiness, Six Word Fridays, and Feel Good Fridays.***

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