Roots and Wings

A few days ago, a man walked into my house.

He was driving my son’s car, wearing my son’s clothes. He even called me mom. But I’d never seen this man before.

He bore a faint resemblance to the son I dropped off at college a few months ago. But so much about him was different that I had to pause to take it all in.

He stood taller. His voice seemed deeper. He moved with a new confidence. He spoke of things I knew nothing of. He introduced me to a friend I had never met. He told me of travels and new experiences.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office.

I watched him interact patiently with his little brother, the one who had been such a nuisance a short time ago. I heard him talk with his older brother, the chasm between them in the past gone.

I whispered to myself, “Roots and wings.”

And I stood there, rapt in the warm breeze created by his flight.

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The Inbox

I pulled the box down from the shelf carefully, not wanting to spill its contents. Although not fragile, the things inside still regarded as some of my most cherished possessions.

I carefully removed the lid and gently touched the envelope on top. Despite being yellowed with age I immediately recognized my Aunt Tillie’s beautiful handwriting. “My Dearest Lisha,” the letter began, and in it she reminisced about the letters we had exchanged, how they began with large, block print of my childhood and continued without interruption until the most recent envelope arrived – with my wedding invitation.

letters 2

There were letters from my cousin Karen in Mississippi, and from my friend April, with whom I spent countless summer days. There were cards and notes from the students I shared a summer semester with in Quebec, and volumes from my sweet friend Jane that spanned years.

There were a few letters dated 1972, from my sister’s husband, who was serving in Vietnam. He reminded me to “stay sweet,” and “write him often, because my letters meant a lot” to him. His obviously meant a great deal to me, too.

They were all special, because I had kept every one of them.

There was a group tied with a ribbon, written by a guy I met in college who had joined the Army, and spent summers away at training. Some sweet, some funny – one entire postcard filled with fish puns was my favorite.

I wondered for a moment why I had kept them. Surely at the time I didn’t have the foresight to know I’d treasure them one day. There had to have been something in me, even at that age that understood the power of words.

boxI thought about the lost art of letter-writing, and how my children will never have a box of letters on colorful stationary, written in beautiful script. They each have a few from me, written on special occasions or as part of a retreat. But this kind of box, my original inbox, is a thing of the past.

When I was twelve, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Without hesitation, I answered. “A writer.”

I guess I didn’t realize I already was.

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My “So Wrong” Moment at the Wal-Mart

Hey y’all! Today I’m hanging out over at Renee Schuls-Jacobson‘s blog, sharing a story about a really embarrassing moment. It’s not the usual stuff you read over here, it’s a funny story that includes a Wal-Mart parking lot, a guy pleasuring himself, and a police officer. (Now you’re curious, aren’t you?).

So CLICK HERE to hop on over and read about my So Wrong experience. And show Renee some blog love while you’re there. She’s good people. :-)

20130913-141023.jpg

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Good riddance.

The morning started like every other school day. Except this one was different. This was the day he was leaving.

As I went through the motions of getting my youngest son ready for his school day, I was preparing myself for my middle son to leave for college.

Amid the hustle of making breakfast and double-checking backpacks, I was trying to think of the little things Slick still needed to pack, and all the things I wanted to tell him. Time did not permit, however, and we hustled out the door.

But there was still so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him to keep breakfast food in his room, because he likes to sleep til the absolute last minute. But there was no time.

We drove the little dude to school, with dad following in my packed SUV. Mr. Wonderful let me ride with him, allowing me to squeeze in the last few precious hours. After dropping his brother off, we rendezvoused for breakfast.

Once we got settled my husband asked, “What Shakespeare play had that dad who gave the good advice to his son? ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be…’”

“Hamlet,” Slick replied.

Then he looked across the table with a smirk and said, “Dad, don’t be a Polonius.”

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans. (Source: theoldglobe.org)

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans.
(Source: theoldglobe.org)

His father smiled back in silent agreement.

But there was still so much more I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him that I’d packed all the medicine he’d need if he got sick, and that his insurance card was in his wallet. And that if he needed anything, he had my credit card.

Instead we chatted about the campus, and its proximity to the beach. Then we got back in the cars and headed east.

For the next few hours, Slick and I chatted about many things. Some profound, some mundane. Some practical, some superfluous.

But there was still much more I wanted to say.

And before I knew it, we arrived at campus. We unloaded the car and unpacked his things. We discussed the importance of organization when mom wasn’t there to find things. We talked about the dynamics of living with a roommate. Not ready to separate, we went shopping for snacks and drinks and breakfast foods, and notebooks and pens and extension cords. We had lunch and laughed when he spilled ketchup on his shorts – and I wished I’d bought that stain remover thing I’d seen in Target. Then I remembered doing laundry with Mr. Wonderful in college, and smiled. He’d figure it out. And he’ll have the time of his life doing so.

We returned to the dorm and I felt a quiet satisfaction, knowing he was ready.

It was time for me to go.

Quickly, before he had a chance to see me cry.

I told him again how much I loved him, and how proud I was of the man he had become. And even though there was so much more I wanted to say, I simply said goodbye.

Good riddance, son.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLOkbW9yCI
(Click the link, it all makes sense when you do.)

 

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August 27, 2013 · 11:50 am

Becoming brave

Stevie Nicks was right. Time really does make you bolder.

Folks who know me now have a hard time comprehending that there was a time when I wouldn’t stand up for myself. Because these days you pretty much know where you stand with me. But it was not always the case.

It may be hard to believe that there was a time in my life when the mere thought of standing up for myself made me tremble in paralyzing fear. But there was. This fear permeated all aspects of my life: school, relationships, jobs. I did not express myself. I did not challenge. I did not speak up. I was the most non-confrontational person on the planet.

Growing up, I was the good girl. The one who complied with all instructions, usually with a smile. I sought validation from others in everything I did, as if the approval of others was the only way I could be happy. My parents didn’t push me, it was just the way I was wired. A perfectionist from birth.

The thought of speaking up to a stranger in a grocery store would have me abandoning my shopping cart and digging for my car keys. The notion of defending myself in the workplace made me want to quit my job.  I was a pushover.

Beginning my adult life as an Officer’s Wife didn’t help. As a matter of fact, upon arrival at his duty station two days after we were married, I was handed a copy of a book called Mrs. Lieutenant, a social guide to being an Army officer’s wife. More etiquette and expectations. I did exactly what that book said I was supposed to. I dressed the way it suggested. I learned the proper greetings and attended the social events. I served my husband, the community, and the Army with a smile.

When my children were born, the pattern continued. Every teacher knew she could count on me, because I never said “no.” Even when I should have.

I seemed to disappear behind this person who couldn’t speak up.

But somewhere along the way the need to serve myself surfaced. And I found my voice.

I learned that speaking up for myself wasn’t a selfish act. I learned that disagreeing wasn’t a sign of disrespect. The change began.

Then I got a cancer diagnosis. And I cared a little less about pleasing others.

Then Hurricane Katrina shook my world. And standing up for myself became necessary for survival.

Then my mother died. And I learned that our legacy outlives us.

Then my husband spent a year in Iraq. And being strong was all I had left.

Then I learned to be brave.

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Seeking Absolution

PREFACE:  For the last few days, the events of Paula Deen’s life have become a national debate. A debate about language and behavior. A debate about racism.

Now, I’m not really a big fan of Ms. Deen’s. Although I’m a life-long Southerner, her drawl is a bit much for me to take in large doses. And most of my cooking follows a healthier path, so I don’t seek out many of her recipes or watch her shows. But I know who she is, and the level of her popularity.

And I’m not here to make excuses for her or her behavior, or to discuss it in great deal. Some of the incidents in the news are decades old, some current. You can Google it yourself if you’d like to find out the details. But if you’ve read this far you know the gist: she has acknowledged that she used the N-word in the past, and that she had a concept of a Plantation-style wedding with African-American men as servers a few years ago. She has been labeled a racist for these actions.

Before I go any further, I’d like to set a few ground rules for this discussion:

1)      I am about to bare a few things from deep in my soul. Some are painful. Be respectful.

2)      Some of you will judge me. So be it. But if you wish to disagree, do so respectfully.

Here goes.

I was born and raised in the South. My husband and I lived outside of Louisiana for the first four years we were married, and other than that time, south Louisiana has always been my home.

I was born in 1963, during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement in America. The culture that existed then seems unfathomable by today’s standards. While I have no personal recollections of segregated schools or drinking fountains, their stories were part of my childhood. My mother did an excellent job of instilling in us values of tolerance, love, and respect for all people. But she did so in the midst of a culture that was not yet ready to change, so her words were not the only messages I received.

Image source: media.wcu.edu

Image source: media.wcu.edu

In the South where I grew up, the N-word was used. By some, it was used indiscriminately. By others, its use was rationalized by context. But I heard it often.

I heard it from authority figures, public officials, friends of my parents, and even occasionally from my parents. Although in later life they understood the impact and forbade the word in our home, there was a time when it was part of the vernacular.

For anyone who grew up in the South during this time to say otherwise would be a lie.

So what I’m about to say is hard. Because it is painful for me, and painful for others.

I’ve used the N-word.

It was so long ago I can barely even conjure up a sentence where I might have said it. And I probably looked around to make sure no one who “might take offense” was within earshot. I would liken its use then (at least in my world) to the use of the word “gay” now. At the time it seemed harmless enough.

Dear God, I was wrong.

The journey to teach me how wrong would take many years, and take me out of my comfortable space. It would take me to a place filled with people from all across the world.

When we got married, my Mr. Wonderful was then Lt. Wonderful, an officer in the U.S. Army. The day after our wedding we left for his next duty station. It was the first time either of us had left Louisiana for anything other than recreational travel.

If you’ve ever lived in a military town (especially prior to the 1990s), you know that the military was decades ahead of the general population of the U.S. when it came to diversity. Interracial and multicultural marriages were commonplace. And the bonds in a military community are strong. So we made friendships that weren’t like the ones we left behind in Louisiana.

There was one family with whom we grew extremely close while we lived there, an interracial family with two children at the time. The husbands worked together, and we often saw each other socially. I would describe them as the “best friends” we had there.

It was their son (who was about five years old at the time) that shifted my paradigm. I was at their house one day when he asked me a question that would change my life.

“If you and Mr. Wonderful have a baby, will it be brown or white?”

I sat quietly for a moment to think about this answer. Since his mom looked a lot like me, it made sense to him that I could have a baby that looked like him.

This perfect child did not understand the concept of race. He did not see that things were a certain way BECAUSE of one’s race, or IN SPITE OF one’s race. He saw things WITHOUT REGARD FOR race.

I finally answered, explaining that since his mother was white and his father was brown that their children could be either. But since both of us were white, that our babies would be white. He seemed satisfied with the answer.

But I was changed forever.

Shortly after that experience, I was gathered in the lunch room at work. The conversation rambled over a few subjects. And I dropped the word. I used it as an adjective, to describe something that was beneath me. I remember being a little tentative, since I hadn’t known these people very long. As it slipped out of my mouth I looked at the next table, at the expressionless face of the bi-racial woman enjoying her lunch. And I was ashamed.

I didn’t have the courage to get up and apologize. I just sat there, wanting the earth to open up and swallow me so I didn’t have to face myself.

Later that day, she strolled by my desk as she usually did to chat about something. I don’t remember what we talked about. All I wanted was her forgiveness. But it was never spoken of between us, and I don’t really know why. In hindsight there are a couple of possibilities. Perhaps she didn’t hear me. Perhaps she did, but chose to take the high road and say nothing to me. Perhaps she was so desensitized by it that it rolled right off. I’ll never know. I do know she gave me a gift that day. Through her grace, I was changed.

And since that day, the N-word is unequivocally forbidden in my world. If it’s spoken in my presence, my objection is immediately noted. I do not tolerate it in music. I don’t believe it’s appropriate in any setting.

I made a decision to break from this shameful part of our history and my past.

I made a decision not to sit passively while this particular manifestation of racism is displayed.

I have raised my children in a home where this shameful part of our culture is not tolerated.

And that must be the lesson of the Paula Deen scandal. People, there’s still much work to be done. I was a perfect example of socialized racism. But I changed.

I am grateful to the people in my life (like the father of that little boy) who engaged in meaningful dialogue about race with me. I am grateful for those I now call “friends,” who in another time or place in my life might not have been. I am grateful I changed.

But somewhere out there are people who were present when those words came out of my mouth many years ago. Nothing I can say or do now can change that. All that is left for me is to seek absolution.

I only hope I can be judged by the content of my character now. Not the words that came out of my mouth 35 years ago.

______________________________________________ 

I welcome your thoughts on this subject.But remember the rule: BE RESPECTFUL.

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The New Normal

For everything there is a season.

And every season ends.

Giving us a new beginning.

All this philosophizing is my way of revealing something kind of big. Big to me, at least.

I’ve gone back to work. Five days a week. In shoes and business attire. (Cue sad music.)

For the last twenty years I’ve had the luxury of working part-time, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, and frankly, having time to myself. Now before you get an image of me eating bon bons and watching Oprah, let me backtrack. In that time I’ve had three kids, cared for ailing parents, managed our rental properties, run a business from home and kept up with my military husband, including a deployment. (There are no bon bons in my home and I’m not a fan of the Big O.)

But it was all done on our terms, and shoes were largely optional for most of it. It was a luxury we allowed ourselves, and our children and lifestyle were the beneficiaries.

Now, as we enter the next season – having two kids in college – that season is coming to an end.

So I find myself embarking on a new adventure. Trying to figure out how to continue doing all of the things that filled my days while managing a five-day-a-week commitment to an employer. Our tenants aren’t going away, and our elder care responsibilities have only changed a little. With two boys in college my laundry load should be lighter, and I won’t need as big a pot on the stove most days, but I’m wondering how that’s going to free up enough time for a job.

Are you ready to call the wh-ambulance for me yet?

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

I’m not really here to whine. (Well, maybe just a little.) But I am feeling the need to express just how terrified I am about the whole idea. The idea of failing.

Will I fail at the new job? There are technical aspects that I’ll have to learn. I’m starting to think of myself in the “old dog” category.  I don’t really want to learn how to use the new Tivo remote. So learning a new job where making a mistake costs people time and money is scaring the crap out of me.

Will I fail my kids? Will I have energy to help the Caboose with his homework? Will I have time to visit Slick at his new college out of state? Will I be able to help the Trailblazer settle in to his new house this fall?

Will I fail as a wife? Will I have time to fulfill my “wifely” duties? (Cooking Italian food, not the other thing.)

Perhaps I’ll just have to practice what I preach, and let myself off the hook for all of that, and remember why I’m going back to work. So my kids can have the futures we want for them.

The new normal will mean the house won’t be as tidy. But I already have a philosophy about that. I’ll just need to employ it. My garden won’t be as green. Not a tragedy. My youngest son, who’ll be the only kid left at home come August will have to become more responsible and independent. But it’s time for that anyway.

So it turns out it’s not really a big deal after all. Just a new season of my life.

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Discovering his genius

Since my son’s diagnosis with multiple learning disabilities* four years ago, we have been on quite a roller coaster.

He is severely dyslexic. His ability to comprehend written words is practically non-existent. Oh, he can read. He can make the sounds in his mind or aloud. But his brain processes that information differently, making him unable to remember what he read when he’s finished.

So he learns differently than most people. He remembers by hearing. He masters by doing.

But despite this (or perhaps because of it?) he’s a bright kid, with a great vocabulary and a freakish memory. And while I have no doubt he will be a productive member of society someday, the challenge at hand is getting him out of 7th grade.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

When frustration hits us, we talk openly about his differences. He knows he has a “learning” challenge, not a “knowing” challenge. What’s different for him is the way he learns, not the amount he is capable of learning. And once he masters something he owns it in a way that a neuro-typical learner does not.

He knows his genius is in there.

But it’s hard for the rest of the world to see it. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to see.

Last night, for the first time, I really, really saw it. So  indulge me while I share.

He’s working on a computer assignment for school, and using a program to develop a computer animation. (His school is very tech-advanced.) After school, I heard him on the phone. I stuck my head in to see what was going on, and I saw him with his iPhone propped up facing his computer screen. He was explaining to a classmate how to do the assignment while showing the steps via Face Time. I recognized the classmate’s voice, and I was stunned. He was helping one of the “smart kids” do his homework.

A couple of hours later, I heard him discussing it again. Once more I stood quietly and listened. This time he was explaining the steps to the process in a linear manner – something he has NEVER been able to do. You know, first you do step 1, then step 2, and so on.

This ability – processing information in a logical, sequential manner – is one of the hardest things for a dyslexic to do. (To understand this better, click this LINK. This is the best explanation of how a dyslexic brain processes information that I’ve ever seen.)

The woman in the video is Diana Vogel, The Kid Whisperer from Australia. The first time I saw it I was finally able to understand how this seemingly disorganized brain had an ABILITY, not a disability. That BECAUSE of the way it worked, not in spite of the way it worked, he would be able to accomplish great things. That this challenge was a K-12 problem, not a life-long problem. That my vision of him was accurate, not just a mother’s dream.

In the video linked above, Vogel confirms my theory. “This [dyslexic] brain, if we can get it through school, has the ability to shape and change our world. Whereas this [normal] brain, while also having the ability to shape and change our world, has been trained to only look at the information that was demanded, and not all the information that it contains.”

What I saw last night, the thing I’ve been waiting for years to see, was his genius beginning to appear.

Not long ago I wrote about my longing for the world to see my son the way I see him. Last night I got my first glimpse of it. And my heart soared.

A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DYSLEXIA AND FRACTURED THINKING:

For more information on non-linear thinking click HERE: http://www.akidjustlikeme.com/id79.htm

To see a video with dyslexic simulations:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZLFTW4OGY

*Their word, not mine. 

_____________________________________________

Do you have a story to share about someone who learns differently? Do you learn differently? Please share!

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Top 5 reasons NOT to donate to St. Baldrick’s

1. My tiny donation won’t make a difference.

2. They’ll never find a cure for cancer.

3. Those charities don’t give enough of the donations to the cause.

4. I won’t make a difference in the life of any one person.

5. It doesn’t really affect me.

-  -  -  -  -  - -  -  -  -  -  - -  -  -  -  -  - -  -  -  -  -  -

Do any of those sound familiar?

Here are a few facts:

st bald

1. Every dollar matters. I’m pretty sure no one reading this can donate a million dollars. But if everyone who reads this would share it with a few friends, and each one donated $2, we could put thousands of dollars in the hands of researchers in no time flat. (But just in case someone is reading this who can donate a million dollars, that would be really awesome!! In fact, if I can raise a million dollars I’ll shave my head, too!)

2. We can and will find cures. But it takes money.

3. Before getting involved with this event, I checked CharityNavigator.com, and was pleased with what I saw. I even pulled up a few other well-known charities for a comparison. Then I signed up. Click HERE to see their rating.

4. There are parents and children drawing hope every day from these fundraisers. I know, because Robot Boy’s mom is a friend of mine, and I see her getting more excited every day as this event approaches. She knows it’s making a difference.

5. I’ll be posting pics of the event, and I guarantee that seeing what hope and gratitude in action look like its going to make you feel good. And don’t we all like to feel good?

So…

Pay a visit to us over at Team Robot Boy’s Fundraising Page. We’re hoping to break our goal today, and are setting a stretch goal of DOUBLING it before the event Saturday! But we NEED you.

So click. And donate. It’ll feel good. And it’ll make a difference.

LINK TO TEAM ROBOT BOY’S FUNDRAISING PAGE.

And if you’d like to read more about Robot Boy, his Badass mom who’s going to let me shave her head Saturday, and St. Baldrick’s, grab a tissue and click HERE. You’ll be a better person for having done so.

 

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Bald Badass Moms and Little Robot Boys

By now you may have seen one. Those fundraisers where people get their heads shaved to raise money for a good cause. It makes for cute bits on the news, and everyone gets all excited when the participants are rubbing their newly-chromed domes.

This Saturday, I’m going to be a volunteer at one of these events. I’m going to show up, get my free t-shirt, and shave someone’s head! I’m a little excited about it, because it sounds like a fun event and the person whose head I’m going to shave is another blogger who turned into a real-life friend, and I’ll get to meet some other bloggers and maybe even get my picture in the paper.

This is the t-shirt she's going to wear after she gets her dome chromed!

This is the t-shirt she’s going to wear after she gets her dome chromed!

And when it’s over, I’ll head home to my husband and my kids. I’ll watch a little tv and probably have a glass of wine while I talk about my day. And I’ll think about that friend whose head I shaved.

Because she won’t be going home to relax with her family and have a glass of wine. She’s going home to resume her duties as caregiver for Robot Boy.

Her three-year old son—who has cancer.

Robot Boy after his tracheostomy and g-tube surgeries. Source: http://doodlesrobotboy.wordpress.com

Robot Boy after his tracheostomy and g-tube surgeries.                                     Source: http://doodlesrobotboy.wordpress.com

You can read a little bit about him and how he got the nickname Robot Boy here.

And about his mother’s thoughts on his last birthday here.

And if you’re not yet sobbing and need to read more, click this link and read the poem his mother wrote last summer. 

And then go look around. Think about the children in your life. If none of them has cancer, then you need to count yourself among the lucky ones. Then click the link below and make a donation to St. Baldrick’s via Team Robot Boy.

Link to Team Robot Boy’s Donation Page

st bald

Do it so more kids can grow up. Who knows, one of them may be the one who finds the cure. But only if they get to grow up.

  – - – - – - – - - – - – - – - - - – - – - – - - - – - – - – - - - – - – - – - -

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