Monday, February 28, 2011

To the Greats

Today, we lost one of the greats. After 84 beautiful years filled with love, adventure, laughter, and energy, Matt's grandmother, my kids' Grandma Great, left this world for an even more amazing experience. It goes without saying that her physical presence in all of our lives will be earnestly missed. Our hearts weep for her passing, but we all know that such sorrow is earthly in nature. We miss her because we know the love that she provided and the happiness that she brought to us won't be tangible in the way that we are capable of understanding. But, with a little personal meditation, we can relish in all of the impressions that she made upon our lives and see that she lives on in the impact of her existence.

In these past few years, the cliche "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all" has become so real for me. We are so fortunate to know the love of our family and friends, but the ultimate paradox of having that love is in the losing it. The more love there is, the harder it hurts when it seems to say goodbye. And, so, when there is so much love that our hearts fill with joy when we have it, our hearts must certainly break when it is gone. When my own precious grandmother could no longer sustain her body, my heart broke into a million pieces at her passing. Nearly two years later, I still struggle with putting those pieces back together, but I try to find comfort in the memory of her, and I know that a great deal of the life I now lead is furnished by the life that she lead on earth. So, I try to come to terms with that sadness by realizing that she does live on... in the hearts of those she loved... she is part of who we are, physically and emotionally and spiritually.
For Grandma Great, this is absolutely the case as well. I told her the day before she passed away how grateful I am to her for helping to create half of my family. If not for her gift of life, my mother-in-law would not be, my husband would not be, and my children most certainly would not be. For this, I am eternally indebted to her honor.
Throughout the history of man and woman, people have been seeking out the truth to understanding the human condition. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discern what our purposes are here on earth, only to die never realizing the answers to what they put so much of their energy into figuring out. In all honesty, I spend a lot of my time pondering this very topic, and it has driven me mad on more than one occasion. I am, after all, a rather neurotic woman who has an indelible need to understand and control all aspects of my life. It's nearly ridiculous at times. But, sometimes I can look at my kids, study the beauty in nature, examine the love in my life, and find a sense of peace. I can see that figuring everything out is nearly impossible, and I think about the lives of those who've passed through my own life. I consider the love and kindness and generosity that they bestowed. And while my heart aches at their absence, I feel the legacies of their lives, and I know that my own life has been enhanced from those legacies.
In these moments, I think I can kind of figure out what exactly is the purpose of life. I think it is to know as much love as you can. To know as much happiness as you can. And I know that the only way that you can create that for yourself is to create that for other people. That's what my grandmother and Grandma Great did. They wanted so much for their families and they made so many sacrifices to ensure that those whom they loved were loved and blessed. Truly, they are some of the greats. Hopefully we can learn from them and grow from them and honor them by walking in their footsteps. Hopefully. So, here's to the greats. May you rest in peace.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's because you love me.

So, I've noticed that most of my posts on here have been about my Ella, and I have pretty much neglected to say so much about my Summit. You guys might think that he's the mute, spurned, red-headed stepchild who lives under the stairway and whom we push food to under the door once a day. Well, he's not. I promise.

I guess it's true that the second does get kind of left behind in some ways. When I was pregnant with him, I didn't check Baby Center every day like I did for Ella to see how he was developing, and I occasionally drank coffee and ate deli meat when he was living inside of me. When he was born, we were ecstatic to meet our little man, but the number of pictures that we took decreased. Our photos for Ella were stored by month for her first 2 years, and we have tens of thousands of her first moments. Summit's first photos are stored by seasons, and we have just hundreds for each month. Rather than following all of the rules to a T for the little fella, we were sort of lax. I let him sleep in bed with us. We put rice cereal in his milk at 3 months. I didn't use Dreft for his laundry as long as I did for his sister. Sorry, Summit.

But, he's just fine now. He's awesome. I suppose that I was far more relaxed the second time around, and I am pretty sure that rubbed off on his personality. Or maybe it's just in his nature to be mellow. He never really has been a complainer. Even when he was first born, he didn't cry, and I swear that when he first saw us in the delivery room he smiled at us. I swear it. Summit's a go-with-the-flow kind of dude. And he's super happy. Nothing really seems to bother him... well, as long as he's got Jurassic Park in the bathtub at all times. He was truly one of the sweetest babies I've ever met and he's still just as sweet at 3 years of age. He loves to snuggle (nuggle) and read books and give kisses. And he's so grateful for everything that people do for him. He thanks me when I start his bath or lay out his vitamins. When he's sick, he acknowledges his appreciation of the medicine that we give him. Every morning, after I make his bed, he gives me a great big hug and says, "Tank you so so much for cleaning my room up, Mommy." And my heart melts.

In fact, he makes my heart melt all the time. It's amazing how much a little boy can steal a mama's heart, and stolen mine Summit has. The other day I asked him how I got so lucky to have him as my little guy, and he told me, "It's because you love me." Overwhelmed with emotion from these simple words, I started crying, so he asked, "What's wrong, Mommy," started patting my head and going, "Shh. Shh. Shh. It's awight. It's awight." I mean, really? How does he know? How does he know to be so gentle and loving? But, seriously, he ALWAYS is. And in these moments, I can't imagine him ever growing up and leaving me. I can't imagine him ever getting into a car with wild teenage boys or going on dates with girls. I can't imagine sending him to kindergarten...or college for that matter. I can't imagine sharing that love with anyone. That must be one of the hardest things for mothers of little boys to do: to let them go. I don't think I'll ever be prepared for that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let your inner Barbra Streisand shine.

My Ella was born with a flair for the dramatic. For the first two hours after she came out of me she screamed her little head off (and scared the bejesus out of laboring mothers throughout the labor and delivery floor). At first, we didn't think it was going to end. When she was a baby, we called her the Crib Hornet, because she would get so mad... if her diaper wasn't changed correctly or if she didn't get her food promptly or if she didn't get to hear her music machine right away... that her face would turn bright red and she would just cry and cry. And as she grew into her toddler years, she would throw the most amazing temper tantrums if things didn't happen just so. Don't get me wrong, my Ella has always been a happy little love. She wasn't always angry, but when she got out of sorts, she acted like the world had come to an end. We, of course, felt sorry for her hurt feelings, but got quite a kick out of seeing such a small being get so pissed off. We used to call her Barbra Streisand for putting on such a show for everyone to see. She's a natural at getting into character.
And she's been a door-slammer since she was about 3. If she didn't get her way, she'd run to her room and slam the door. Not enough broccoli... in the bedroom, slam the door. A page torn out of her coloring book? Door slam. Summit touched her Barbies = door slam. (Granted, as soon as he didn't wear a diaper anymore, he didn't touch them appropriately, but whatever.) The door slam is usually accompanied with a flop on the bed and a wailing so loud that fire trucks can't hear their own sirens. She likes to do this right.beside.the.door just to make sure we can hear just how devastated she is. Now I know to tell Barbra to get away from the door if she's gonna bawl so flipping emphatically.
Since she's been old enough to play dress up, My Ella has been most excited with pretending to get married. At our house, we have tons of dress-up clothes to suit any of her fancies, but at my parents' house, they were a little slack on stocking up in the pretend clothes. Because of this, Ella has always rummaged in my mom's lingerie drawer (yeah, I know; it creeps me out, too) for the most divine and sparkly ensembles (ewww to the ewww, again). She doesn't do it so much anymore, but each time, she would put on something white and find my wedding shoes and veil and make my dad (Popi to her) "marry" her. Carrying a bouquet of fake roses, they would walk down the "aisle" in my parents' living room and vow to love each other always. (For Christmas when she turned 4, my dad got her a play wedding dress complete with a veil and white heels so that he didn't have to see her in my mom's own dress-up clothes anymore.)

When she learned that she loved to hear herself sing, she developed the sweetest voice for delivering a fierce bravado in all of her songs. She still does it, like she's channeling an opera singer that she may have been in a past life. And she loves music. Unfortunately for us, she digs Top 40 hits, and any time we get in the car, we have to listen to the popular musicians: Pink, Lady Gaga (don't judge), Kelly Clarkson, Natalie Imbruglia, Miley Cyrus... you catch my drift. At home, she'll put her Barbra Streisand personality on  and go into her bedroom, turn on 104.7, and sing along with her favorite girls with a ferocity that I didn't know existed in a child her age. Judging by the loudness of her voice, I doubt she knows that we can hear her. And she makes up her own songs. Most of them deal with love and life and love and friends and love and love. Yeah, at 6 years of age she's already in love with the idea of love. I would guess that she's one of those hopeless romantic types.
In school this year, her teacher, Mr. Schiesser, likes to put on readers' theater to get the kids to read with inflection and understand the meanings of the words that they read. Ella, of course, LOVES this, and she practices at home with the script whenever she gets a chance. She practices with her books that we read together each night before we go to bed, too. Right now, she's into a book from the library, Snow White: A Graphic Novel. It's a comic strip take on the Brother's Grimm classic, and she gets so excited to read the characters' lines in the different voices that she thinks they would use. And she's quite good at it. I'm impressed every single night. Because we've been reading it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for a month. I'm sure it's due back at the library, but she refuses to relinquish it. She loves the dramatic nature of it. Barbra Streisand loves it.

Tonight at dinner, I made my Ella her favorite meal: my special homemade chili (it's the bomb, for sure, people), and she was raving about how good it was. "Ohhhh, Mommy, you make the best chili in the whole entire world. Ohhh, thank you so so so much. I can't believe how awesome it is!" And while I know it rocks, it's not that show-stopping, but her performance was, so I told her, "You know, you really should join the drama club some day, Ella. You really gotta let your inner Barbra Streisand shine." I'm pretty sure she's well on her way; she's been practicing for the past 6 and a half years.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Here's to being late.

We are a family who is nearly always late. No matter what the scenario... from a wedding to a funeral to school to work to dinner to shopping... something inevitably happens when we are trying to get out of the door and into the car that delays our forward motion. A football coach would hate us for this. We would get so many delay of game penalties that we would make the Gamecocks look good. (This is in no way a slight to my beloved Gamecocks.) Every morning when Matt and Ella are heading out the door for school, someone forgets a bookbag or a shoe or a wallet or breakfast.When we leave to go on trips, we load ourselves into the car at least 5 times. The front door is locked and unlocked and locked again repeatedly. You could tell me that we just need to get up and get going earlier. You could tell me that we need to be more efficient with our time. You could tell me that we need to be more prepared. You may be correct in all of these regards, but, I promise you that there have many been times when we've been up early, efficient, and prepared, and still we were late.

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready for work, I found myself sitting on the toilet and brushing my teeth at the same time. Hey. Judge me if you must, but at least I wasn't going number 2. As usual, I was running out of time to get ready. I can't help it; being late is something that seems to be ingrained into my DNA. I can't escape it. I would venture to guess that it's genetic. I have several fond memories of going to church on Sunday mornings when my family was the very last to arrive. And by arrive, I mean bustling in a good 10 minutes after the service had started. If anyone knows Southern Baptist churches, they know that the only rows open for 5 people to sit together 10 minutes after church starts are at the front of the congregation. (Let's be honest... the preacher can't see you doodling and playing tic tac toe through his rantings of hellfire and damnation way at the back. Hopefully, God can't either.)For these churches, the early bird gets the back row.  So, there would we be... the band of late, merry Satterfields with Kent and John Wesley punching each other and me adjusting the quickly thrown on tights out of the seat of my drawers, being ushered down the center aisle to the front by my nervous, red-faced mother and my dad, who was just happy that we made it to church at all. It sucked for us kids, because that meant we had to act like we were actually listening to what the preacher was saying (or pontificating or guilt-tripping... what's the difference with Southern Baptist preachers anyway?).
And I've never been one for early rising. Morning awakenings and me are like oil and water. I'd much rather stay up until the morning comes than to get up in the middle of it. When I was in high school, my mom would come into my room, open up the shades, and sing, "Rise and shine, doodlebug." Ugggg. Just typing that makes me cringe. I would beg, plead, sell my soul for her to just shut the freaking blinds and go away. There were days where I would sleep in my clothes so that all I had to do was brush my teeth and wash my face before getting in the car to go to school.
Now, I find my Ella following in my same footsteps. Girlfriend does NOT like to wake up in the morning. She has always been a late sleeper; at 8 weeks of age she would sleep from 11 at night until 9 in the morning. (People with kids know that this is pretty damn good for a little baby to do.) If she had her way now, her sleep patterns would be the same, so waking up at 6.30 am for school is definitely not her cup of tea. She drags herself out of bed and sits on the toilet for a good 5 minutes (not doing anything, just staring blankly into the dark morning). Then she dresses herself in the outfit I laid for her the night before and s.l.o.w.l.y. makes her way to the kitchen table for breakfast where she s.l.o.w.l.y. eats her food. And she's not super nice at this time, either. She often yells at her brother to stop stealing her vitamins (he's a weird one) or snaps at me when I tell her to hurry up. By this time, her daddy is ready, and she still hasn't brushed her teeth or hair or gotten her socks and shoes on or her bookbag or anything. Eventually, she does make it, but I would bet a million bucks that they are never early to school.

No, people, we aren't an early bunch. We aren't the early birds getting the first worm. The meaning of this old English proverb is that good preparation and effort bring success. And in all my years (24, right? ha!) I've never really had a problem with it. I've caught plenty of metaphorical worms (get your minds out of the gutters, people) and gotten along alright. We've been prepared and put in lots of effort and found success in our own time. So, here's to being late. May we all sleep well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Farther From Familiar

With all of the crazy, scary things that can happen each and every day, I often find myself reflecting back to different times in my life that have brought me to where I am today. Frequently, I am drawn to memories of when I moved west of South Carolina. And when I recall that part of my life, I usually wonder what the hell I was thinking. What the hell were my parents thinking, letting me peace out in such a manner? I will NEVER let my kids do that. NEVER.

When I finished a semester-long Outward Bound course in Texas, Mexico, Minnesota, and Ontario, I came back to South Carolina without any desire to remain; I was bored as soon as I stepped off the plane. These were the early days of the internet, and I used this new technology to look for odd-jobs in interesting places. So, like any completely carefree 20-year-old, I found a job in the desert in Utah. And, I waited until my parents were in Connecticut to tell them that I was buying a plane ticket to Vegas and a bus ticket which would take me from Vegas to a truck stop in Green River Utah where someone from the resort where I found a job would pick me up and transport me 2 hours deeper into nowhere. Hmmmm. And they let me.

My plane was to fly out the day after they got back from New England. My mom helped me fit all of my earthly belongings into 3 suitcases and one large carry-on. She dressed me up in a goofy Talbots dress (her favorite store...or at least it used to be. Thank goodness I got her to change her ways), because everyone who's headed for a truck stop has to look like they're going to church on Easter Sunday. I wouldn't dare think of offending the cashiers in regular shorts and a t-shirt. My parents took me to the airport, begged me not to go to the state where I would inevitably be abducted by mormons (or aliens... what's the difference, really?), cried, and sent me on my way. And I was ready to go.

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Vegas, I felt a warm rush of dry, desert air greet me. Bright flashing lights and the clanging of slot machines took over my senses. I hurried to the shuttle that would take me to the Greyhound station just off the Strip. Why, you may ask, did I have to take a bus to my new home? Well, that's because there is NOTHING there. The closest grocery store was 3 hours away in Moab. Hell, the bus wouldn't even take me out there. The only air transport out there was directed to a dirt landing strip, and I wasn't so interested in risking my life in that manner just yet.
The shuttle courteously dropped me off a good 2 blocks from the station, which sucked, because I had 3 large suitcases and a carry-on to lug down the flipping sidewalk. Great. It didn't help that I had a scummy, creepy bum offering to "help" me with my bags. No matter how many times I declined his offer, he wouldn't quit following me. Damn Talbots dress. Evidently, I had a sign over me as bright as the one over the Palms Casino flashing "THIS GIRL IS ALL ALONE AND FAR AWAY FROM HOME. COME FREAK HER OUT." When I finally got to the Greyhound Station (mind you, I had never taken a bus before) I learned a lesson about who takes buses in Vegas. And they ain't pretty, folks. It was stinky in there. And hot. Single mothers with 5 or 6 dirty kids. Skinny, teethless men with raunchy looks on their faces, and food stains on the fronts of their pit-stained shirts. I imagine that jails out there look similar to this place.

I had a 6-hour wait before my ride was to depart, so I stowed my stuff in a locker, and, with the bum still in tow, I called my mom to let her know I had made it safely to my first destination. (These were still the days of pay phones, and I couldn't help but think it was funny that the phone kept cutting out. This will come back to haunt me one day, I am sure.) With my free time, I made a break from the homeless man and ventured onto the Strip for some sight-seeing. It was amazing, but since I wasn't 21, and since I didn't dare use my fake ID, I couldn't partake in the fun. I had some pizza and wandered in and out of the casinos, entranced by all of the old people throwing their money into the slot machines, holding onto their oxygen tanks, smoking cigarettes, and wearing shirts that said "Spending My Kids' Inheritance." After getting my fill of the midgets and showgirls walking around on stilts, I mozied on back to the station.

Boarding the bus was wild. By this time, it was dark out, probably around 9 in the evening, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I REALLY didn't want to have to share a row with ANYONE on the bus. For obvious reasons. And I didn't want to sit close to the back where the toilets were. For obvious reasons. So, I waited until all of the illegals had settled in with the rest of their family reunions before selecting a seat near the middle. As soon as everyone had taken their places, 2 border patrol agents wielding badges and guns got on the bus. What. The. Hell. They went up and down aisles checking IDs and bags.  Fortunately, they were looking for a couple of people smuggling vegetables from Mexico. Or so I heard someone say. Or so I told myself. When all of the riffraff had been removed from our luxury ride, the bus pulled out of the station.
After a few hours of sleep, I once again became the object of some odd man's interest, and he chatted me up off and on for the next 5 hours. Jeez. "Can't a girl catch a break?" I kept thinking. But, he was friendly enough, and before I got off the bus in Green River, he left me with a dime to call home (last I checked, it was 25 cents, buddy) and some Fig Newtons.

The bus dropped me off at the truck stop at about 4 in the morning, and I bid farewell to my Fig Newton friend. And as soon as I got off, I was ready to get back on the bus. Truck drivers at any time of day are scary, but right before the sun makes an appearance, they are down right spoooooky. I parked myself in a corner of the waiting area and built a fort with my bags. That didn't really help, and before I knew it, some burly, hairy, greasy dude was offering me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drop everything and cruise up and down the West Coast with him and his pitbull. "No thanks," I told him. "My ride is on the way."
After several hours passed, I determined, that my ride, in fact, was NOT on the way. I called the woman who had hired me, Coy Lynn, and asked her when I could expect someone to rescue me from the hell that is a truck stop in Green River, Utah, and she surprisingly said, "Ohhhhh. I thought you were coming tomorrow. I'll send someone right now. They'll be there in a couple of hours." Thanks, lady. Way to be on top of your game.

Finally, finally, Security Ed showed up in a Bullfrog Resort and Marina courtesy shuttle. Finally. He was an affable guy who had grown up in Utah in a mormon family. He loved the desert, and he was excited to introduce me to what I came to know as one of the most awe-inspiring, breath-taking places in the world. And so he drove me even farther away from everything that was familiar to me. For all I knew, he could have abducted me into a mormon clan, but I didn't care about anything except getting out of that truck stop.
The ride out to Lake Powell was amazing. Truly, there is no place on earth like the Painted Desert. When we arrived at my final destination, I knew that it was all worth it. But I will NEVER EVER let my kids do that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

so she'll sleep with us.

i should have known that this would happen. i should have known that as soon as i said how much i was loving my life, how much i was enjoying just living, reality would come crashing down and my serene time floating around in the clouds would explode into chaos. and so it has. i was living on the brink anyways, i suppose. i was expecting this, though i didn't know how or when or where. the doctors said it might, would, could happen again. and damn if it didn't.

it started last summer. two days after her 6th birthday. two months after she learned to ride her bike without training wheels. two weeks after she graduated from kindergarten. six years and two days after she graced the world with her sweet presence. and it was so scary.
i had been upstairs planning a playdate for the following day. i had just put her to her books and sang her songs. only a half hour had passed when matt called for me to come help with ella as she had gotten sick in bed. so we put her in the shower. and then. and then. and then. staring to the left. clenching her teeth. not responding. slow breathing. we got her out of the shower. called 911. "send an ambulance." called my parents. "come now." neighbor comes outside. "please watch summit. he's asleep." heart pounding. so scared. finally, the emt arrived and rushed her out to the ambulance. "she's seizing," was all he said. oh jesus.

on the ride, he couldn't get it to stop. it had been over an hour. he told the driver to hurry up. please hurry up. let me drive. someone help her. help me.

got to the children's hospital. doctors rushed to her. nurses ushered us into a waiting room. there's no waiting. only worrying. they should be called worrying rooms. shaking. shaking shaking. pacing. pacing. pacing. i needed to see her. "i was there when she came into this world. if she's leaving while i'm still here, then i will be there with her," i said. but they wouldn't let me in the room. doctors kept coming to give us updates and ask questions. must check for this. must check for that. rule out tumor. rule out meningitis. rule out encephilitis. rule out. rule out. rule out. they intubated her to help her breathe. finally. it stopped.

"you can see her now," they said. and there she was. my sun-kissed little girl who had only hours before been swimming, playing, reading. they had to cut off her yellow satin nightgown. she was unconscious. sedated. with a breathing tube down her throat, coming out of her mouth. i could see where tears had been rolling out of her eyes as she laid on her back. and there i was. stunned, sobbing, terrified, sick, heartbroken, numb and in excruciating pain at the same time. it hurt to breathe. it hurt to walk. it hurt to sit. it hurt to be. why. why. why?

they took her for a ct scan. took us to pediatric icu waiting room. put her in picu. put us in a conference room with the doctors. no large mass. next: eeg. tomorrow: mri. bloodwork. spinal tap. all to figure out what it wasn't. and everything came back normal. there were no answers.

she was in the picu for three nights. we kept vigil at her side constantly. day and night. night and day. we just sang her songs and brushed her hair and held her hands. they took out the breathing tube after two nights, mostly because she was pissed that it was in, and they couldn't keep her sedated enough to keep her hands from pulling it out. that's my girl. the doctors were pleased with her determination, and happy that there was no damage to her brain for having had a seizure for so long. but she was scared when she woke up. she didn't understand why she was there. and she cried and cried and cried. eventually, she was moved to a "regular" room for two nights. and then they let us go home.

when we went for a follow-up neurologist visit a week later, the eeg showed no signs of seizure activity. her doctor said that he couldn't give us definitive answers. that she could have another seizure. "most likely, this is a part of how her brain is developing," he said. he told us what to do if it happened and gave us a prescription for diastat.

and so we waited. she slept with us for a couple of months afterwards. and we returned to our routines. and we grew comfortable being in our lives again. but i have always known that it may happen again. it's been there. lurking. waiting for us to have our guards down.

and so it did. sunday night. again. but not as bad and the medicine worked. she was at my parents' house for the night. i was on the phone with matt, who was in north carolina, when my mom called at 10.02. "mary, don't freak out, but ella's having a seizure." right. like i'm not gonna freak out. i woke up her brother and put him in the car. "what's wrong, mommy? is ella okay?" how did he know? i don't recall telling him that there was anything wrong with her. "i love her so so much, mommy," he said. "me, too, baby." we rushed to my parents', and she was coming out of it and she was dazed from the medicine. but she was okay. what a sense of relief. and we didn't have to go to the hospital. we just stayed home and went to the neurologist the next day. he told us that she seemed okay. we didn't need to put her on seizure medication. we don't need an eeg or an mri right now.
good. but, now we just wait and see. wait to see if it happens again. wait and see. wait and see. so until then, she'll just sleep with us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dear Grandma Great, Won't you be our Valentine?

Valentine's Day is about sharing our adoration of a special someone, yes, but also for showing our love for other people with whom we are close. Because I think that it's important that we honor those who have amazing impacts in our lives, I'd like to share some pictures of Matt's Grandma Kelley, or, as she is known to my children, Grandma Great. I remember when we told her we were having Ella, who would be her first great-grandchild, she stated that she wanted to be called Grandma Great, as that is what her mother was called by her great-grands. Since I have known her, she's had a spark in her eye, a spunk in her step, and an inspiring sense of self-confidence. (Seriously, the first time I met her at the age of 75, she took me on a hike up to what was at least a small mountain overlooking the Hudson River in New York. Seriously. I hope to be able to do that when I'm 68!) Over the years, I have had the pleasure of listening to her tell stories about her Irish family and the heritage that is a great part of who my husband is today. She loves her family deeply, and loves sports almost as much. She has always displayed a strong determination to live her life on her own terms, and for that I want to celebrate her on this day. So, here are some pictures of our Grandma Great. Thank you for all that you have done and all that you continue to do. We love you with all our hearts. You are our Valentine this year!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thank you, Widespread Panic.

Saturday morning was a blast, people, a real blast, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I had one of the best times listening to my favorite bands right in the comforts of my own living room.

That morning started off without my sweet husband as he is in Raleigh spending some important time with his family. So, as we were without our favorite breakfast cook, I had to step up to the plate. Now, I'll be honest here, mornings ain't my thang. I don't tend to get all excited about being up any time before 9:30, but there was work to be done, children to be fed. Matt is the parent who wakes up early with the kids on Saturdays to make blueberry pancakes and eggs and bacon while I try to lay in bed as late as I can. He's way better than me in this regard. But this morning was mine. On my menu? Breakfast casserole. (In all sincerity... I make a pretty mean breakfast casserole.) While I was cooking the sausage, I looked into the living room to see what the kids were doing, and I wasn't surprised to see them playing on those ridiculous DSi game things. I had been checking out Facebook on my iPad, which reminded me that I had missed out on some super-amazing shows in Athens for the band that may very well be responsible for the birth of my family: Widespread Panic.
Back in the day, before kids and early mornings, before responsibility and reality, we used to go see our beloved boys from Athens every chance we got. They were the ones who brought Matt and I together. When we met in Crested Butte, the end of the ski season was upon us, and the thing for locals to do was high-tail it out of town for the mud-ridden spring. So, we hopped in Matt's truck for a 2-month journey following Widespread Panic around the Southeast. We went from Alabama to South Carolina to Georgia to Florida to North Carolina (for Merlefest) to Tennessee. And we had the MOST fun. And we got to know each other. And we fell in love. Sigh.
Eleven years later, our opportunities for shaking what our mamas gave us have dwindled, but the love that we have for the Boys has not. So, on Saturday morning, rather than watching the kids grow into DSi-playing robots, I turned on a DVD from the Widespread fellas. And I showed my kids how awesome they are. And we had a Saturday morning dance partay!

My favorite part of The Earth Will Swallow You has to be the scene where John Bell and Mikey Houser are sitting on the front porch of the Panic house in Athens playing an acoustic version of "Driving Song." In one of the lines, JB sings, "An honest tune with a lingering lead has taken me this far." You know what, it's true. The honest tunes of Widespread Panic have taken me this far. If it wasn't for these boys and their music, I might not have had the life I do. I might not have gotten the chance to fall in love with my love, and if that didn't happen, I wouldn't have my two beautiful children. So, thank you, Widespread Panic.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Girl's First Dance

She was so excited to get her coolest clothes on: a pretty off-white cirian party dress from Ralph Lauren with a black cardigan, black leggings, and black UGG-like boots. Andy from they gym braided her hair in an adorable 'do. She was set. We were ready to go.
Ciaran Party Dress - Girls 2-6X -
Tonight I ventured into a whole new world with my Ella. When we entered the gymnasium of Nursery Road Elementary School, there were kids everywhere. Kids dancing, hilariously, awkwardly, groovily, and, sometimes, inappropriately, to their favorite Top 40 hits. And I kept thinking to myself, "It has begun. How did I get here... to this point in my life... where my baby girl, my baby butterbean, was joining these wild little grade school creatures in all of this madness?" But, there we were, and there was no turning back.

She was shy in the beginning. Nervous. With a flush-red face and grinning from ear to ear. Giggling. She was happy that her little brother was there at first, and she carried, dragged, and pulled Summit around the gymnasium like a security blanket, to take all eyes off of her. I thought she might pull his arm out of his socket, and I'm pretty sure that he was thinking the same thing. But before I knew it, her cardigan, boots, and socks were off, and she ditched her little brother for her friends and spent the night skipping wildly in circles around the pack of children who were shaking their groove thangs. (Which reminds me... she definintely has Matt's moves, so we MUST get her in dance lessons ASAP!) Really. It was so wonderful. I watched her morph from this timid little girl going to her very first school dance to this uninhibited, free-spirited social butterfly anxious to dance to each and every song that DJ threw down.

And it was soooo funny to watch these kids. I remember my own elementary school soirees. Back then, my dad was the PE teacher, and he put on all the dances. However, in those days the kids weren't so willing to show their stuff; there were more wall flowers than groove shakers, and the boys weren't so much smaller than the girls. But not here. Not this night. These kids were ready to take on the world. The oldest kids were 5th graders, and it was hilarious to see the "couples." In all my life, I will never forget this one "date" where the boy was this skinny little 50-pound-soaking-wet-4-foot-tall thing donning a lavender shirt with black dress pants pulled up to his chest, and his girl was no less than 100 pounds and 5 and a half feet tall, decked in a lovely white lace dress. They danced the night away, so calm and self-assured, which made me nervous when they tried to do the trust fall for each other. She could clearly have caught 10 of him, but when he went to catch her, I almost stepped in to stop the inevitable disaster. Fortunately, she must have been thinking the same thing, and she stopped herself before she gave him all of her weight. Though, bless his heart, he was totally prepared to show her how much she should trust him.

But it was the music that absolutely made me feel as old-fashioned as my parents. There were songs that I couldn't believe would be played at an elementary school dance. Like the one by know... the one where she sings about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack (Daniels) and staying up all night. Or the "Bottoms Up" song that goes: "Bottoms up, bottoms up, ey, what's in ya cup. Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough." WHAT?!?!!?!! I am going to hold on to the notion that these kids don't know what the lyrics mean, but come on.

Nevertheless, the night was a success, and my Ella got to dance "The Cupid Shuffle" beside her favorite boy, Jackson. He's a second-grader in her class (she's a first-grader, but she got placed in a blended first-second grade class this year). Jackson is a hot topic in our household. She claims to like the way he writes. "He's got really nice handwriting, Mommy, really," she likes to say. But, I know the look in her eye. She's got a crush. A sweet little grade-school crush. It was so adorable to see her watching where he was on the dance floor to make sure the cute little boy wearing the Boston Redsox baseball cap backwards was close by.
All I could do was sigh. Oh yes, I got to experience another first... the girl's first dance. However, in the future, she better choose a kid whose favorite team doesn't rival her daddy's Yankees.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Decisions. Decisions?

Life is about choices, so they say, and all the choices we make in life lead us in certain directions. This is how we got where we are. Because I really like where I am right now, I have no problem admitting that some - okay, many - of my decisions have been pretty bad ... fueled by selfish desires, sprinkled with an ignorant perspective, boxed in immaturity, and wrapped with insecurity. Sheesh. That sounds really bad when I read that last statement over. Oh well. (I always tell my students that in order to write productively, they have to make themselves vulnerable and be genuine. I can't go an be all hypocritical, can I?)

In these decisions, I've nearly burned some of  my favorite bridges beyond repair, and it would be dishonest of me to say that I have no regrets. However, I have to wonder that if my life wasn't laced with direction-changing poor choices, would I have ended up where I am today? Would I have had as many opportunities for growth and experiences for emotional and spiritual adventures? I'm gonna go with no. Maybe they should be given a new moniker: 'good bad decisions.' It's funny, because when we make crappy choices, the world feels like it's falling down around us. But after we look back on our life, years after the dust has all settled, we see that whatever it was, it wasn't the end of the world. And, hopefully, we've taken the opportunity to learn from being in that place of having done something stupid. If we haven't, then we suck.

We don't learn unless we leave our comfort zones, and, man, have I left my comfort zone. But I really believe that in doing so, I have gotten to learn more about myself and the world around me... and maybe some of those bad decisions have pushed me to leave my comfort zone. Like when I made that decision to focus on funneling beer more than biology that freshman semester at College of Charleston. So, bad decision (funneling beer) = many hangovers = sleeping in = missed classes = really bad grade (also, about 20 pounds on my tail end). And too many semesters like that don't help in staying in school. Thank goodness for Outward Bound! See... bad decision (beer) = bad grades = semester in wilderness school. Now, some people might think that 3 months living under the stars and taking a shower once every 3 weeks sounds bad. I know this. But, I really enjoyed myself and WANTED to do Outward Bound. It was a great opportunity to learn about my strenghts and weaknesses, how to work in a group to survive in the middle of the great outdoors, how to love the earth, and how to be a better person. See... bad decision = opportunity for growth.
In my Ella's book, Zen Shorts, there is a parable about a man whose son buys a horse, and the people say "Oh, such good luck," but when the horse runs away, they name his new cirucumstances "bad luck." However, the horse returns, with 2 other wild horses, to which the people proclaim, "Oh, such good luck." And then the son's leg is broken trying to break the horses, and the people say, "Oh, such bad luck." But, when he can't be drafted to war because of the broken bone, they say, "Oh, such good luck." So which is it, right? Was it good luck to buy the horse in the first place? I guess we may never know, and the whole idea is rhetorical...


I think it's what we make out of it. I think that all of my decisions, good and bad, have led me to this place in my life. They would have had to have lead me to here. They would have had to have led me to my children. And for that, I am thankful for my choices. But if I didn't try to do better than I did before, I would suck, and knowing that I don't suck in this regard is pretty cool.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Here, bear, here.

Last August we took the kids to visit some of our favorite stomping grounds in Colorado. We were so excited for the trip... The summer had started off rather rocky when Ella got sick unexpectedly and had to be in the hospital for several days. We really wanted to take her to do something that she could remember the summer for other than those awful hospital experiences. Plus, there is no better place to be in the summer than high up in the Rocky Mountains. I promise, it is amazing.
After flying into Denver and picking up Carol and Steve's (Matt's aunt and uncle) car, we cruised out to Breckenridge, where Carol and Steve also have a condo. (I know. Could we be any luckier?) I'd like to say that the kids were more excited than Matt and me to be there, but that would be a lie. I just couldn't wait to introduce my babies to one of my most beloved states. We had talked up our visit from the moment the plane tickets were booked. I so looked forward to seeing the massive Rockies and smelling the spruce pine trees way up high in the mountains and my eyes getting lost in all of the stunning wildflowers that blanket the Colorado landscape in the summer.

Carol and Steve's condo is in a beautiful spot beside a lazy river filled with rocks of all colors, fish and ducks, and a multitude of beaver dams. Every evening at dusk, people who spend their summers in the condos venture out to the banks to see the beavers emerge from their homes in the little river. It's like the water animals salute the sun a goodnight all at once. Well, the kids thought that even the idea of a beaver living just outside the very condo they were sleeping in was super cool. So, we decided to ride that train and pique their interest in old Colorado from the wildlife vantage point.
We told them about the moose and the eagles, the prairie dogs and the chipmunks, the fox and the bighorn sheep, the mountain lions and the wolves. The biggest selling point? The bears. Now, I'm not gonna lie and pretend that I had ever seen all of this stuff when I lived in Crested Butte or from all of the visits I've made to the state. I mean, I have seen tons of prairie dogs and eagles and chipmunks and sheep, but never a lion or a wolf or a bear. (And if I had, I probably wouldn't have gone camping as much.) This time, though, it was like all of those animals were drawn to us.
Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was coincidence. Or maybe it was Summit, because this kid was on the lookout the whole time we were there. On our drive over Cottonwood Pass from Breckenridge to Crested Butte, we stopped at several scenic points along the way to go on  little hikes. At one spot beside a creek, we pulled out some peaches and blueberries to snack on. Ella and I were walking through the trees and looking for animal tracks and checking out the blackened marks on the spruce pine trees where there had been a short-lived forest fire (probably a controlled burn). All of a sudden, Summit walks past with a peach in one hand and a blueberry in the other calling out, "Here, bear, here" over and over again. When I asked what he was gonna do when his bear came up to him, he said, "I'm gonna give him this," and he held up the blueberry.

Luckily, we didn't see any bears at that stop, but as soon as we got back in the car, all the animals in Colorado must have started looking for us. We saw mule deer a couple minutes later. There was a big black bear on the base area of Mt. Crested Butte that night that I saw outside the restaurant where we ate. We spied a wolf going over another pass on the way back to Breck the next night. We saw fox, chipmunks, another bear in Frisco, bighorn sheep, and eagles. It was crazy. It was cool. And the kids still talk about it.