The Sounds of Silence

My family has been tiptoeing around
a bomb. It's 11 years old
with a short fuse.

It's a noisy thing. It's screaming
and slamming and rage rage rage,
his chair scraping across the floor
as he's sent away to solitude,
the jangle-whoosh-whisper of a belt
being whipped out of pant loops
(a threat that looms without striking),
his sister's wails when he snaps.

The noise scrambles up my brain,
sends my nerves to the surface
of my skin, leaves me lurching
in the dark for compassion, restraint.
It gets trapped inside me until
I'm vibrating with white-hot frustration,
my throat craving the cleansing scream.

This is not how I'll live,
not the childhood I'll give them.
So I listen to my heart,
give him the space and silence
to defuse, to regroup, to relax.

I give him hours of silence
that are loud with quiet sounds:
His pencil against paper, the sharp
intake of breath when he spies
a grosbeak or a blue jay
at the bird feeder, the excitement
of an afternoon that's only his.

But the silence is loaded with
worry, too. I listen to it,
note its shape, memorize its cadence.
I pray the balance can last.

But this is just our start:
listening to and honoring what's broken,
and giving each other (and ourselves)
the space and time to heal.

Today's post is part of Six Word Fridays and Five-for-Five. The topic is "Listening."

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The Luxury Of Aging

My age is showing.

Silvery gray hair taking over my temples, aches and pains when I sit in one position for too long, the complete inability to down shot after shot and still function the next day... It's all gone gone gone, left in the hazy memory of my youth.

Some days I feel wise and experienced; others I'm fumbling toward decrepitude and decay.

But I never doubt for a second that I'll wake up tomorrow and the day after and the day after. Older, grayer, more dismayed at teen culture than the day before, more accepting of myself as time marches on.

There are people in my life who don't have that luxury.

My son has been terrorizing his little sister. I sat him down in a quiet moment today and told him my story. I shared with him that I wasted my childhood fighting with my sisters, with that sister in particular, and that I regret it every single day of my life.

As an adult, when her life is a struggle and she can take nothing for granted, I understand that she was a gift given to me when I was just four years old. But then? She was a brat, a nuisance, the kid who stole all the attention, who I thought had an easy ride.

We're both older now, and she's older than we ever thought she'd be. Yet I rarely see her age written across her expression or her attitude. She's forever hopeful, forever determined, forever young.

And so my age is showing. Time marches on and the gray strands will soon outnumber the brown and I'll eventually need to turn the music down in the car and I won't understand what the youngsters are talking about.

And I am so unbelievably grateful. (But, Lord, please let her ever remain by my side.)

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Capturing A Moment

I am always and forever behind her, catching up. I am begging, negotiating. Hold on, let me take just one picture.

But she's gone, arms and legs propelling her forward, eyes set on some distant there, hair flying and curling in the wind of her own motion. She is whirling ever away.

Just one. Promise. You can show me your sass. And she stops, a little girl with all power.

One hand flies to her suddenly jutting hip, her head tilts, her eyes slant and she is 5, 10, 15 standing outside the movie theatre with a gaggle of other naively confident girls learning to push their breasts out while sucking in their bellies.

But now, this tick-tock moment, she is just a little girl in rain boots and too many necklaces and an umbrella though there's no rain. She is 5, 3, 1 toddling away from me to cruise from surface to surface, exploring a world she doesn't know can be dangerous.

The shutter clicks. The stasis falls away and she's off again. Singing and twirling on a trajectory that moves her firmly toward a future this moment can't begin to capture.

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Two barbecue sandwiches and a Tiki Barber jersey?
Living the dream!
My son has big dreams. Though he can't figure out how to entertain himself for the one hour in the afternoon between getting home and me ending my work day, he has a full plan for his eventual profession.

Actually, Javi has a full plan and six back-up plans. The main career goal? Playing in the NFL, of course.

When visiting my sister in the hospital this weekend, he and I had lots of one-on-one time in the car and walking back and forth to the parking deck. He chose to fill it -- all of it -- with reminders of his inevitable success.

Javi: One day you're going to like watching football.

Me: No I won't.

J: Oh yes you will.

Me: Seriously. I have no interest, and haven't had any interest in 35 years.

J: You'll love it when I'm playing. You won't be able to stop yourself.

He had me on that one. Both his charming belief in himself and how he smiled and winked when he said the words. I started liking it just a tad right then.

But then later it was pouring rain and I didn't want him to walk with me to the car. I wanted to leave him in the hospital lobby, thus avoiding his meltdown when he got wet and had to be uncomfortable for the ride home. But he's impulsive and immature. He'd be ripe for the picking for any pedophile (yes, I watch a lot of Criminal Minds).

And so I had a fast and furious talk with him to ensure he'd still be where I left him after parking the car and sprinting back in the downpour.

Me: You sit in that chair and you don't get up. Not for anyone. I don't care if the person is wearing scrubs or if someone says "Your Mom said to come with me" or the person looks like a police officer. You don't move, do you understand?

J: Yes. (Said in a bored voice)

Me: Even if it's a kid who looks super cool and says he has something really awesome to show you and you should just go with him for a minute and your mom will never know. You don't go. If it's that cool, just wait a few minutes cause I'll be there as quickly as I can and we'll look at it together. Okay?

J: Yes. (Said in an exasperated voice)

Me: Are you listening? Because someone could try to take you. And if they take you, something terrible could happen to you.

J: Don't worry, mom. If I let someone kidnap me or kill me, I won't get to have my NFL career. I don't want to miss that! My NFL career is gonna be awesome, especially with me being as awesome as I am.

What do you even say to that? May his words be a mantra that gets him where he wants to be. (I don't know where his sense of self came from, but I wish I could bottle it.)

Oh, and his black-up plans? If the NFL doesn't pan out (like it won't?!), he's okay with being an MBA player (see: self-esteem, above), an architect, an engineer, a writer, an art teacher, or a chocolatier.

Big dreams, this one.

What dreams have your kiddos voiced lately?

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The Shift

The subtle shift started a few months ago. Fewer words written from someone else, more words spoken and plans made for myself.

Work. The ultimate four letter word. For years I've lamented that my type of work -- freelance writing -- means no free weekends, no free vacations, no down time spent any way I choose. For me, there's a deadline around every corner and you never say no to an opportunity for more of them.

My inner voice says be lucky you have these contracts at all. It tells me you're lucky and that the work won't always be there. It warns me don't burn bridges and say yes to anything that pays.

But there's a smaller voice that spoke up firmly and confidently those months ago. It said not all paychecks are the same. Not every offer is worth the money it brings through the door. Charge more, accept less, do only what makes you happy.

Cue the earth-shattering breakthrough moment.

Yes. My experience and skills are valuable, especially in a world where content is king and the message must be packaged in a way that motivates those who receive it.

All those words are fancy talk for what I'm seeing in my life: People will pay when present your product as valuable.


I have clients instead of contracts. I spend less time writing articles and more time coaching people into identifying their business goals and coaxing out the way they'll connect with consumers. The end product is still content, but it has a face and it brings a relationship.

Fulfillment in a totally new way that allows me to leave my house and leave my computer behind, that leads to happier children, a more connected marriage, and the time to be creative.

Change is afoot, and I am soaking it in.

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A Year Later

On April 16, 2011, Sanford NC, my city, was struck by an EF3 tornado.

For weeks after that day, my family and I didn't have much family time except for a quick meal together at the soup kitchen I helped run or small talk as we sat together in the back of a fellowship hall putting together hygiene kits to distribute to workers and displaced families.

Thanks to a leap day, April 16 is today. However, for me, it was yesterday. 365 days from The Tornado that destroyed a neighborhood one mile from my house, knocked out our power for three days, and sent us on a month-long journey toward giving people a hot meal, whether they had a roof over their heads or not. That tornado also sent me and a few others on a road trip to deliver relief supplies to other tornado-stricken states.

A year ago, I didn't know that my heart could hold so many people inside it. As someone who doesn't hug, I didn't know that I could open my arms to a stranger as family and comfort someone who really just needed a good cry.

I suppose I just didn't know who I was inside until it didn't matter who I was outside. My town, my people, needed hands willing to work and hearts the refused to quit. I gave that, alongside other people who could've been anybody. Hands and hearts.

And so yesterday, a year later, I wanted to show my gratitude for that experience by being two hands and one heart again. This time, rather than giving them to my community, I kept them for my family -- the three people who made it possible for me to pitch in this time last year.

We took the kids strawberry picking at a farm that was nearly destroyed by the tornado last year. We took a picnic blanket to the park and I lavished 100 percent of my attention on the three people who make my world go 'round.

Then we came home and made a delicious dinner that included something special for each of us. We invited a special friend who I met during the relief effort last year to share it with us, and during the meal we talked about all the things we're grateful for.

It was quiet and rich and blue skied and beautiful. When so much of my time -- the family's time -- is focused on others, it felt right to spend that time focused on ourselves.

A year later, I am changed but the same. More, I am so unbelievably thankful that I'm here and that they're here and that we are able to spend this day together.

My heart goes out to the families who no longer have that luxury or who woke up yesterday morning to the kind of random destruction only a tornado can bring.

May they have a gorgeous and humble one year later.

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Spring Break

We're mired in the throes of Spring Break -- which means going to bed a bit later, sleeping in a bit later, snacking instead of regular meal times, and other pseudo-summer activities.

(Side note: Back when I lived in Boston, in the heady days of my youth, Spring Break carried a completely different connotation. Boys without shirts, thumping bass, girls with batting eye lashes and flirty smiles. It was Spring Break everywhere we went. Sigh. To be young again!)

Ehem, but these days, Spring Break does have a little something in common with the good ol' days as the littlest of our lot runs around in the least amount of clothing she can get away with. Whether it's helping her dad with his at-home PT exercises or feeding Fancy Chicken, clothing is down to the bare minimum.

What does Spring Break look like in your neck of the woods?

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In Response To The Eve Carson vs Trayvon Martin Argument

I try to keep my strongest opinions to myself, but white folks* are causing my blood pressure to rise thanks to their insistence on virtually fist pumping the air over the absolutely ridiculous Eve Carson blog post they are sharing on Facebook.

Surely you've seen it. It's the one my white friends* are touting as the correct explanation for why they are so upset about the outrage surrounding Trayvon Martin's murder. The post, and their response to it, is completely knee-jerk and has no parallel to reality. Yet it feels good to try to downplay what's real because reality is really sticky and gross.

Therefore, I furiously typed out this response in a Facebook comment, but realized it had no place there and brought it here instead. Read at your own risk:
Screaming that it's racist to demand Trayvon Martin's murderer face consequences for his actions and using a tragedy like Eve Carson's murder as your reasoning shows that you a) don't understand the point and b) don't want people talking about race in the United States.

The point: No one's angry because Zimmerman killed a black child (versus a white child). We're angry because he killed a child and walked away without any consequences. Argue that point. Explain how it'd be okay for anyone -- white or black -- to kill any child -- white or black -- and then go on home afterward.

Where Eve Carson fits in this story: Eve Carson's death was tragic and terrible. I remember people sitting riveted in front of their television screens, their eyes pouring tears, when updates on the murder investigation came one. There were candlelight vigils. A garden was named in her honor. She was awarded a posthumous degree and -- still today -- people feel so helpless and terrible that this beautiful young girl was gunned down.

Where Eve Carson does not fit in this story: No, there was no Million Eve Carson March. There didn't have to be. Her killers were tracked down within a week of her murder. They were not allowed to leave the scene of the crime until someone could prove she didn't deserve it. Police had to provide cover for them when they went to and from court because outraged people were prepared to gun those men down in the streets, just like they did Eve. Comparing the reaction to Carson's death to the reaction to Martin's death is apples to oranges.

Further, no one ever mentions the other promising young student gunned down by Demario Atwater, one of Carson's killers. Remember Abhijit Mahato? I wonder why no one is evoking his name to attack the outrage people are showing about how police have treated Trayvon's death. Hmm -- what could be different between Abhijit and Eve? There, my friends, is your apples to apples.

How about this. How about we stop using the tragic deaths of our children to justify this country's refusal to acknowledge where our system is broken? How about we stop saying one person's death is more or less tragic, more or less wrong, than someone else's?

Let's have a real conversation about guns, race, and corruption. Let's honor those children whose lives were taken too soon. Okay?
I should probably remove the white person talk because white folks are very sensitive, but in my experience, white people are yelling the loudest about how they're done hearing about Trayvon.

Why? Maybe they feel that they have to denounce that racism could exist because it could mean that they, too, are racist (even if they aren't). Maybe they fear if they admit that a little racism exists, they'll have to admit a lot of it exists (the "give 'em an inch" argument). Maybe it's that no one wants to accept that there may be an imbalance, because finding equilibrium could hurt those who are favored.

But it's ridiculous because Zimmerman isn't white and no one's saying white people are bad. Stop being so defensive and we'll all get much further in this world!

With that, I feel like at least I've said my piece somewhere and can now go back to talking about my kids. ;)

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Boy, You'll Be A Man Soon

It's hard to ignore your son is leaving childhood behind when you get his school portrait proofs the same day you post a photo of him holding his baby sister five years ago.

That baby face. Those tiny teeth. The sweet, open smile.

It's all gone, gone, gone. Our Javi is sprouting hair in places no one wants to talk about (or smell, as I have to tell him several times each day). He has his own key to the house and does his homework in his room all by himself.

He takes phone calls (none from girls ... yet) and will likely get a limited-plan cell phone in the next six months. He went on a tour of his middle school last week. Sixth grade ... just one summer away.

He's still our kid. He writes notes each day on his whiteboard, snuggles up with whichever parent has a free side (space is limited now that we've rescued a cat -- crazy, right?), and loves one-on-one time.

But he's driving top-speed, headlong into manhood.

I'm not ready.

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At Five

Five years ago, my body was beginning its slow crawl to pre-pregnancy and pre-birth functionality. My sweet, sweet girl was swaddled beside me, still exhausted from the 22 hours of labor she and I shared. Life was a haze of adrenaline slowly seeping away, my own exhaustion nibbling away at my energy.

Five years ago. This.

And today, five years later, a different kind of exhaustion. A different, unforeseen joy in watching that sweet, sweet girl bask in the attention she's always received. In hearing her thank the people in her life for their kindness and generosity. In feeling her strong hand in mine as we travel the long hours of each day together.

Five years later, that worn-out baby has become a child with an open heart and a spirit of generosity. Today's her big day, but her eyes got big and her smile got bright when she asked me if she could give her class a gift, too, and I said of course she could.

Five books, one for each year of her life. Five books that will remain in her preschool classroom long after Bella is gone. She was more excited to present those books to her teacher than she was to blow out her birthday candles.

That's the girl I've been given. Today, and all days, I am so blessed.

Happy birthday, Bella!

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