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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I Need a Fricking Chicken Brake

Dear Darlings,

I've done this twice before so it really shouldn't be that big of a deal, but it is! She's my sweet baby girl, and now she's learning to drive. I have to say, she's pretty good at it. She can drive in straight lines, change lanes, use her turn signals and can almost park...she needs to pull all the way through to get my boat into a spot properly, but she can do it without parking like a jerk. So you would think this would truly be no big deal for me, but ~ really it is.


The one thing she does that has me cringing in my seat, grabbing the overhead strap and white-knuckling my way through a trip with her is the fact that she goes waaaaaaay too fast. She has an overly-strong attachment to the gas pedal, and she downright hates the brakes. She has always loved the feel of wind blowing through her hair when we're screaming down the highway with the windows down and the music cranked. She's the only one who will indulge me in this little joy of mine. It messes up Lucas' hair, and it's too loud for both Stan and Zach. So she's used to going fast, wind rushing through the car and the tunes pumping, but that's with me behind the wheel. She doesn't have the skill set to be able to do any or all of that at the same time, but she thinks she the gas pedal downs down, the speed goes up and the brakes are rarely applied in a timely manner (but, thankfully, the music is off).

The mantra I have beating out through my heart and in to her head to her is "Gotta slow down, Claire Bear...Gotta slow down, Claire Bear...Gotta slow down, Claire Bear." But gawd, do I need a fricking chicken brake because my words are not really working, and so it has me wondering if my mantra has turned into a metaphor. Is it that she's really going too fast or is it that she's growing up too fast? Is her speed a factor, or is it that I'm afraid we're racing toward some hazy finish-line she sees, and I don't? The one where she's off on her own, traveling the highways of life with the windows down, the music cranked and me in another car trailing slowly behind her.

I always thought the last kiddo would be the easiest, but it's not ~ and it never has been. Sending her off to kindergarten, brought as many tears to my eyes as it did with the boys. She was the one who sobbed hysterically at the thought of leaving elementary school and going on to middle school, which was never the case with her brothers ~ they both did celebratory moving-on dances before the seats of their elementary school desks had a chance to cool. Taking her to high school orientation last year was harder than it was with the boys probably because I now know how quickly these years fly by and are an absolute blur. Sooooo...I most definitely need a fricking chicken brake, because I really need her to slow down!

Oh, for the love of my children...


Friday, August 19, 2016

Two Years Ago

Dear Rat Mamas and Dads,

Two years ago I stood in your shoes. My son was about to become part of something much bigger and far harder than I ever envisioned for him. Two years ago right now, my oldest child was going off to a school where he was going to be shaped and recreated in ways I never imagined...I don't think he even really understood the magnitude of what he was about to undergo. Two years ago I wrote a blog entitled What I Gained. I added it below for the sake of ease. I hope it gives you some measure of peace as you think about tomorrow, the matriculation book and the intensity of what your sons and daughters will be enduring as they Meet Their Cadre and begin their adventure as rats at VMI.
This is a picture Zach's rat class which was in last year's calendar. He's the fourth one on the right.

Two years ago we left our son, Zach, with his company as he marched toward Barracks. We didn't stick around to hear the clanging of the gates as they locked the rats inside, nor did we stick around to hear the yelling of the cadre. We just had to trust in Zach and the system at VMI. 

What I Gained

It seems this year has been a year of losses for me. It seems I've been writing about heart wrenching/heart breaking bits and pieces of my life for the past eight months. From my dad's heart attacks, to his strokes and his death, to watching Zach graduate from high school and get ready to leave our nest, this year has proven to be a year of losses and "losses," but today I want to tell you about what I gained.

Today, we dropped Zach off at Virginia Military Institute. 

Last night was a night of revelry and tears. We spent the night with one of Zach's best friends and his parents at their house in Lexington, Virginia, who graciously invited us to stay so we could all have a relaxed morning getting our incoming cadets matriculated. As we celebrated them and shed our tears, Zach asked me to promise not to cry in front of him today. I told him I'd try my hardest.

Today, I kept my word. I didn't shed one tear he could see. And today I was rewarded for my strength. Today, I got to see Zach do exactly what he wanted to do with smile on his face (albeit with nerves jangling and a pit in the bottom of his stomach). He joined the corps of cadets at VMI as a rat.

Today, I was rewarded with a big hug and a photo op as Zach prepared to sign the matriculation book.

I was rewarded with his smiles, hugs and sweetness. And I was rewarded well for keeping my emotions in check. But today wasn't about being rewarded. Today was really about what I gained.

Today, I gained a son who is turning into a man. My man-child faded from view a little, which made  me a little sad, but the man I know he will become came bursting forth and made me smile with unbridled pride. 

Today I gained a little insight into what life is going to be like for Zach in the future. As we sat and listened to the speakers before all of the Rats were called to their companies, the President of the Class of 2015 said something to this effect, "You are now entering the toughest university in the nation." (Zach shuddered and leaned over to me saying, "I really have to pee now."God love him for his sense of humor.) He went on to say, "You all will rise to the challenges ahead of you and you will succeed. You are a reflection of your parents, and they have set you on a good path. When they see you next they will see changes in you. You will not have changed as a person. The person you were will still be there but your sterling qualities will become more apparent." I took those words to heart. I know Zach took them to heart too. Today I gained the knowledge that Zach will rise to the challenge and he will succeed. Today I also gained the insight that I'll rise to this challenge of letting our kids go, and I will succeed.

I've been rewarded a lot and gained even more, but there is one thing I gained today which is beyond priceless. As Zach marched off with his Brother Rats in Company H we stood on the sidelines and watched. He made sure to catch my eye and give me a wink and a smile. 

Today, I gained a son who understands what it means to not only be taken care of by your parents, but to take care of them as well. 

Oh, for the love of my children...

I do hope this has given you some comfort as you celebrate your last night together. And I promise when you see them at New Market they will be changed, and you will be proud. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

One Thing

Dear Darlings,

Have you ever had one of those moments when you knew, just knew, that the decision you were about to make was the absolute wrong one?

It was a hot summer night, and all I wanted to do was relax, have a glass of wine and watch some seriously mindless TV (the kids are re-watching The Office from start to finish and I got sucked into their binge, so it's completely, utterly mindless). The problem with my plan was that Claire needed to be picked up from volleyball tryouts at school. Zach offered to go in my place, and I was only too happy to accept.  All was well. I poured myself a glass of wine and prepared to sit back and relax. 


I couldn't relax. I knew she would be finding out if she made the team or not. I started pacing, second guessing my decision to have Zach pick her up. The mama needed to be there, of that I was absolutely certain. Either way...make the team or not. I needed to be the one to pick her up. I thanked Zach for his offer, and asked if he wanted to ride along. He deferred, but Lucas jumped at the chance to ride with me to their high school.

I pulled into the parking lot, with all of the other parents who were in the same boat as I was. Lucas' company was a welcome relief to the drudgery of waiting. We chatted, talking about school and how much he would miss it next year once he's outta there. And as our conversation progressed, I saw one mom and then another and another and another get out of their cars and head into the school. I knew we were all there for the same reason, picking up our girls from tryouts. I looked at Lucas and said, "Did I miss something? I don't think parents are supposed to go in. I didn't see anything about it. Claire didn't say anything. I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to go in. Should I go in? I really don't think I should! I think this is just for the girls. I think we're supposed to stay here and wait for them." Lucas assured me it was just for the girls. That parents aren't supposed to go in. Their daughters would be out soon enough. In my mind, I knew that was the case, but was glad to have Lucas back me up. So we sat.

And I said, "I may not have done everything perfectly, but I think that is one thing I've done right for you guys. I haven't been a helicopter. I've stood back and let you take control of what you've needed to." This was Claire's tryout. Not mine. I didn't need to insert myself into a situation that was hers to own. Lucas and I went on to talk about how many parents do such a disservice to their kids by trying to control, manage, shelter and thrust themselves into situations where they really don't belong. In my mind, and how Stan and I choose to parent, our kiddos have to take ownership of their lives. We are here to guide, advise, support, hug, love and propel them into a successful life. They can't do that if we are their constant crutch. 

It's one thing I think I've done right in parenting my three young adults. And I'm pretty dang proud of it. I have to say, I think my kiddos are pretty doggone happy with my hands' off approach as well. This, as always, I do for the love of my children...


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Just Do It!

Dear Darlings,

The sun beat down on us causing heat waves to appear like a mirage in the clay in front of me. I was standing in a puddle of sweat, with rivers running down the insides of my elbows. But my attention wasn't focused on how hot I was, nor the temperatures surrounding me. It was focused on the bright, fuzzy, yellow ball being hit back and forth. My racquet stood ready to take the next shot and the next and the next. Then all hell broke loose. Instead of my racquet taking the brunt of the impact from the ball, my face, or more specifically my eye, took the full force of my opponent's shot. It was a rocket, and all I remember is trying (unsuccessfully) out of duck out of the way. My visor flew back. My  sunglasses fell off, and I doubled over in excruciating pain. I was hit. Hard.

I've never been punched in the face, so I have no frame of reference for a direct hit with a fist. But I can imagine it felt a lot like what I just experienced. And it hurt. Like a mother effer. As I stood, doubled over in pain, my first thoughts began to form. First, I knew I was going to be sporting a major shiner. It was going to be epic (in my mind anyway), and I was going to wear it like a badge of honor. I took a direct shot to the face in the middle of a tennis match. I lived to tell about it and I continued to play. But then my thoughts shifted. And I was worried. Or maybe sad. Maybe concerned. But definitely very upset. And then I got mad, because my next thought was, "Shit! I'm going to have a black eye, and people, albeit strangers, are going to wonder if I'm an abused wife." (Okay, maybe the word "albeit" didn't enter my head, but that's basically what I was thinking.) My partner, my opponents and the ladies on the court beside us all rushed to get ice for my eye, knowing a big, ginormous, massive black eye was in my future.

As I iced my face, my thoughts kept going back to the fact that people who don't know me were going to be questioning why my eye was black. And yes, I know they shouldn't matter. They're strangers, and I know the truth. But I was pissed thinking that anyone would ever think anything less than good thoughts about Stan. He's the most stand up guy I've ever met. He knows that I've survived many forms of abuse in my life. He knows they were all things I had no control over....they were instances that truly turned me into a survivor rather than a victim, and he stood next to me so many times holding my hand as I recounted the pain and sorrow. He was the one to comfort me and lift me up when my spirits were low. He was, and is, my rock. So I was pissed, thinking that anyone would have the opportunity to think anything but good thoughts about him. Because, while I may have suffered at the hands of others when I had no control, I can guarantee you that I would never, ever let myself be a victim of domestic violence. The first time an old boyfriend showed signs of being an abuser I left faster than you could say, "Bob's your uncle." I had control over that situation, and I had no intention of being abused by someone who claimed to love me, but really just wanted to control me. I had no intention of letting someone abuse me when I had control over the situation.

So, yes, I'm pissed. I'm furious thinking the door has been cracked open for others to think I'm an abused wife. My stress level has been at an all time high when I run my errands. I wish I had a head band with a big, bold sign saying, "I was hit by a tennis ball. HARD!" My eye is that bad.

But as I look at it a little more. I'm beginning to see more than just a black eye. I'm beginning to see a Nike Swoosh. And I realize I should be wearing it like a badge of honor. I shouldn't have to feel shame or anger. I know the dang truth. I was hit by a tennis ball. And I played right through the pain. I may not have won the match, but I earned my Nike Swoosh! I just DID IT!

So, my darlings, don't let what other people think of you get you down. Don't hang your head lower than a swamp monster when you know the truth of a story. Stand tall and proud, and just do it!


Friday, May 20, 2016

I can only hope

Dear Darlings,

Fluffy pillows surrounded me in my cool, dark room. The light from my bedside table was warm and soft, throwing just enough light for me to become fully engrossed in reading my book until a sound down the hall caught my attention. Her voice was firm and deep, resonating through the space separating our rooms. I could hear her enunciate each word with the grace of a seasoned speaker, but I couldn't tell exactly what she was saying. The conviction of her words drew me out of the comfort of my bed and the pull of the story that had engrossed my attention only moments before.

My bare feet padded quietly down the hallway overlooking our great room, threads of moonlight streaming in the windows and leading me to her door. I stood noiselessly outside, listening to what she was saying. Was she on a phone call? Did someone Skype her? Who was her audience? And then it hit me, she was practicing her monologue for her English class. I knocked softly on her half-open door and was granted entrance.

She was sitting at her desk with her hair tied up in her signature messy bun going over the words that weren't written by her, but were quickly becoming her own. She was practicing If I should have a daughter, by Sarah Kay. And she was doing it with a beauty only she could put into it. I asked her if I could hear it, from start to finish. Her reluctance was palpable. I had to cajole a little, beg a lot and barter some more before she finally acquiesced and agreed to leave the confines of her room and let me be her audience.

My feet skipped lightly back down the long hallway to my bedroom, and I dove for the bed in a heap of glee, looking so forward to hearing the words Sarah Kay wrote and my daughter borrowed. I've heard it delivered many times, but this time was different. This time, it was my daughter telling me what she wants for her future daughter. I wish I had prepared myself a little more for the enormity of what I was about to hear coming from my sweet girl, but I didn't. I was just so excited to be her audience. I snuggled back in the warm deep pillows of my bed, and listened to Claire's deep, assured voice begin to deliver her monologue. Tears stung my eyes as her passion shone through the words she so effortlessly delivered. The lightness and excitement I felt just a few minutes earlier was replaced by an emotion I couldn't name as the time, but soon figured out. much pride in my girl for wanting to deliver this monologue and wanting to name what she desires for her future daughter.

She began her monologue..."If I should have a daughter, instead of 'Mom', she's gonna to call me Point B because that way, no matter what happens she can always find her way to me." As I sat listening to this very grown up version of a little girl I once knew, I could only sit back and hope that she knows how much chocolate and rain boots do truly work wonders to heal a wounded heart. I can only hope she knows sometimes Wonder Woman won't be there to rescue her, but that doesn't mean she has to wear the cape all by herself. I can only hope that she continues to live her life with the passion and love she has within her. I can only hope she never feels she has to apologize for letting her light shine on this whole wide world. But most of all, I can only hope she knows I will always be her point B.

Oh, for the love of my children...


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I Have No Words

Dear Darlings,

I sit here in my kitchen with my head throbbing. My neck muscles are tight and pinched, causing my eyes to squint and lose focus as I rotate my head from side to side trying with all of my might to release the knots at the base of my skull. It's not working. The knots seem to be growing tighter while my head sways back and forth and side to side.

Yesterday, a trepidatious voice asked me for advice. And for the first time ever I had no words of guidance to offer. What  kind of advice was sought is neither here nor there. The fact that I have no earthly idea how to help solve the problem is my dilemma, and it's causing my heart to fracture into a tiny million pieces.

It's one of those times when, as a mama, you truly 100% wish you had a magic bandaid to sweep away the pain, hurt, confusion, anger. But I don't. I don't have a magic band, nor do I have any magical words of wisdom. My heart constricts, wishing I had both of those things.

The one good thing to come out of this is knowing my advice is sought after, and that I am trusted.

In the world of raising our kiddos, I've tried my hardest to not judge, punitively punish, embarrass, shame or disregard feelings of any of them. My goal in this great, big world of parenting is to make sure any child who passes through our doors know they are loved and respected. My aspiration with my own kiddos is to ensure they grow up to be well-rounded, polite, thoughtful, kind, loving and successful human beings.

Will they make mistakes? Absolutely. Will there be errors in judgement? Without a doubt. Will they always listen to my advice? Definitely not. Will they have to accept the consequences when they screw up? You bet!

But will they talk to me when they need to? They just proved they will. Will they trust me to listen to what they have to say? I have to say, I think so.

I wish I could find the words of advice needed this time. Maybe then the throbbing in my temples would go away, and my neck muscles would relax. I only hope I'll find the words next time my advice is sought, because ... I'm beyond thankful to know there will be another time where they know they can come to me. I will listen with no judgement and no recriminations. I will try my hardest to find the words to guide them.


Oh, for the love of my children...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work...

Dear Darlings,

What's the one thing in life you really want to work to achieve? Money? Power? Fame?

For me, it's and love are my go to answers.

When I first started dating Stan so, So, SO many years ago, I was over-the-moon ecstatic at the prospect of becoming the "big sister" to his three younger brothers. I couldn't wait to be a part of a big family. It was like a dream come true.

Until it wasn't.

One day my vision of a big, happy family went so far south I thought I landed in Hell. No actually, it really was Hell. I was with Lucifer in the deep, dark depths of Hades, and I wasn't sure I could get out.

Let me try to explain...

You see, other sisters started coming on board making this family bigger and bigger. Heaven, I thought, was finally here. Except for one small of the new sisters and I had a colossal falling out. It was ugly with a capital U. I thought my dream of a big family full of love and laughter was gone forever.

Enter time and healing...

While it's true that time heals wounds, it doesn't fix them completely without work. A broken bone can't be re-set without working back into place, just like a heart slashed into a million pieces can't be put back together without work. The hurt in our family was once a massive, gaping wound festering with maggots and disease. There are scars, to be sure, but they are fading to a light, shimmery silver, instead of deep, angry reddish-purple. And they're growing dimmer because she and I decided to put in the work to make this family whole again. They are the battle scars to prove we made life and love and family our priority.

She and I had a lunch date recently, where honesty reigned supreme, and we put our cards (and our hearts) on the table. We talked through some of the hurt. We both took ownership of our emotions. We bonded over things no one outside of this crazy family would ever understand. And we joined forces with a vision for what we want this big, ol' family of ours to look like.

Was it easy to work at any of those things I mentioned above? Hell to the NO it wasn't easy (well, the bonding over crazy family things was easy), but it was beyond worth it. The evolution of our relationship is what family can truly be, if you want it enough...from battle-scarred relatives by marriage to trepidatious sisters to allies in this giant craziness of a family. She and I took a fractured relationship and we made it whole. When you can take shattered bits of heart and soul and carefully stitch them back together with love...that's family. And I am blessed to count her as not only a sister, but also as a friend.

So, my darlings, take stock of what it is that is important to you and resolve to work at it. If it's important to  you, the work is worth it.