The First Tooth

Posted on | February 23, 2016 | No Comments

Last night, J and I together managed to pull his very first loose tooth out of his mouth.

He was so excited, all bright eyed and gap toothed and telling me he wasn’t sure he’d get to sleep because he couldn’t wait to see if the Tooth Fairy would come.

He was overjoyed.

And I? I tucked my hair down around my eyes and wept secretly, hidden in the corner of the room as he crowed and grinned his way to bed. Because I remembered all too well the day that tooth had arrived, in the reddened and raw gums of my baby. I remembered all too well the joy and excitement I’d felt when I ran my index finger across his little mouth and felt the tender whiteness of a brand new tooth.

My God, it wasn’t that long ago, I’d swear it.

It can’t have been so long ago that diapers were changed and lullabies were sung. Not so long since I carried him close to my chest, his warm head tucked into the curve of my neck as we walked and bounced and swayed our way through the evenings.

Those nights, those seemingly endless nights, when I ached to sleep and he cried, desperate in my ear and in my mind. Even when he was fast asleep, I heard him, remembering he was there… knowing at any moment he would need me again. He needs me much less often now.

We tucked the little tooth, that sweet reminder of my baby, into the soft white pocket of a pillow and buttoned it closed. He climbed into bed and closed his eyes tight, hoping he wouldn’t be disappointed… hoping the Tooth Fairy would whisk in during the night and buy his tiny tooth right out from under me.

Later, much later, I climbed into my own bed, cheeks still damp, eyes still misty. Somewhere, the Tooth Fairy was flying away, clutching the first of many delicate white, achingly sweet, enameled tear drops of childhood.

But here, in the quiet of my bedroom, I was cradling memories, rocking them gently and tucking them tight in the folds of my heart where the rest of my baby still lives.

The Long Road to Home

Posted on | February 22, 2016 | No Comments

Last weekend, we left the comfort and safety of home to drive the long road up to my old stomping grounds in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My sister and her family live in the area, and we had tickets to some pretty amazing Tar Heel games, so it was a trip I’d looked forward to for some time: four days of Carolina sunshine, strolls through campus, the obligatory drink on Franklin Street, and even time with family.

Who says you can’t go home again, right?

Only… as I discovered poignantly, you sort of can’t. At least not to the home you remember. At least not to the person you were when that was your home.

As I walked along the brick pathways and heard the loud music bouncing out of the fraternity houses along Columbia street, I realized that I am not the girl I was when I last walked these steps. And I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t make me a little teary-eyed, in the same way I choke up a bit when four year old choirs sing. It seems the years are catching up with me.

This fall is my twenty year high school reunion, which means that as of August, it will be twenty years since I was a cropped hair, dewy skinned freshman coasting the stairwells of Hinton James dorm. It’s been twenty years since we hung “Funeral Crossing” signs up and down our hall and held a dour-faced funeral for a suite mate’s fish before ceremoniously flushing him down the toilet. It’s been twenty years since I went to bed after watching a scary movie only to find a friend hiding in my dorm room closet wearing a monster mask. It’s been twenty years since I last threw my arms over my head and danced with abandon alongside the girls of Floor Seven to eighties music blaring from a stereo placed strategically in an open window.

I don’t often realize it’s been so long. I don’t often understand that I’m not that girl, who danced into the wee hours of the morning and laughed with eighteen year old abandon. I don’t often realize that my bikini days are over, or that even if they weren’t, this body is more lined and creased and aged than I sometimes believe. I forget that when I let my hair down, it is often dry and brittle, less lovely and free than it used to be. Much like the rest of me.

And when I do remember, when the truth rushes in that I am not the me I was, I find that I don’t want to embrace it, the way I feel I should. Rather than hold my head high and love the me I am, I want to throw it all away to be her again… the young, carefree, wanderlust youth who believed all people were good, that death, disease, and heartache would always pass her (and her loved ones) by, that any problem could be solved with a cold beer and good Michael Jackson album.

This weekend, I tried to remember what it felt and tasted like to be eighteen with the world spread out before my feet. This weekend, I walked in the footsteps of a younger me and desperately tried to scratch and claw my way back to that person I was twenty years ago. Instead, this weekend I found that I am older and not always wiser and certainly not able to dance into the night without needing to sleep for days and perhaps, you know, see a chiropractor and a podiatrist to get back in working order.  This past weekend I tried desperately to go home again.

But alas, now it is Monday, and I find that I am still thirty-eight with an aching back and sore feet and now with a dull ache deep in the pit of my soul where the memories ripped fresh the old, familiar sores.

 

The Curse of Being a Working (Outside the home) Mom

Posted on | February 16, 2016 | 3 Comments

When J was little, I thought I was busy.

I was always running after him, cleaning up messes, watching for ninja attacks from every blindside. It felt like the world was out to hurt him and I was his only ally. Anything could be dangerous to a toddler… they’re like tiny trouble magnets. I swear at one point J had the impressive ability to choke on plain yogurt.

But as busy as I thought we both were then is NOTHING compared to the busy that comes with kindergarten and after school activities.

I always thought I wanted an active kid. One who is just involved in every aspect of life: art, drama, sports, music… you name it. So I was happy when he expressed interest at a young age in T-ball and then soccer. We could handle that. They were Spring and Fall, and sure it could be a little busy, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Then cue the interest in violin. And basketball. And tennis.

And now I have this little boy who does 8am music lessons and 5pm tennis lessons and 5:30 basketball/soccer/baseball/whatever else sport gets created between now and next season. I swear my kid would play quidditch if he could figure out how to ride my kitchen broom.

I don’t remember feeling this busy when I was kid.

I remember having a lot of… you know… PLAY time. Time to run around my back yard and build fairy houses with my sister. Time to swing as high as possible then launch out of the swing set and hope to land away from the pine trees. Time to just be… a kid. Maybe it’s because I got off a school bus at 4pm every day and had an older sister and backdoor neighbor “brother” who would meet me in the back yard to plot and plan the afternoon’s activities. Maybe it’s because I had a parent who stayed home, who had after school snacks waiting for dirty fingers to grab on their way outside.

Not for the first time, I worry that my son is missing out on so much “Kid Time” because of the structure of our daily lives. There’s really no alternative. Banks and I work. We aren’t exactly the sort of people who can afford a nanny five days a week, and besides… if we did, odds are J would just watch TV or build legos all afternoon. I don’t foresee a time when he will just willingly wander into the yard to play alone… although he will dribble a basketball in lazy circles around our patio for a good ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

I don’t want to over structure his life.

I want to leave time for building imaginary forts and attacking imaginary monsters.

But where is that time? Is it tucked in between the 6:15pm arrival at home and the 7:30 bedtime? Is it hiding during the ten minute evening shower or the thirty minute dinner? Is it giving up the tennis or soccer or basketball or baseball? Is it telling him “no, you can’t play that sport because you need to play outside for an hour. By yourself.” Is it finding a house with a backdoor neighbor the same age?

Where do YOU find the time? Because I’m running out of options. And I worry that I’m buying into the over-scheduled kid because I’ve lost all better ideas.

It’s About More than Gun Control

Posted on | February 3, 2016 | 3 Comments

Yesterday, I left work early to pick up my son.

Normally, I let him stay until 6 because he’s playing tennis and he loves it, but yesterday it was raining and I was a little scared and a lot sad because of news that had flashed up on my computer screen.

Just down the road from Mercer University, my law school alma mater, at a well-traveled convenience store, a young man… a basketball player at Mercer… was gunned down at four o’clock in the afternoon.

Four o’clock. In the afternoon.

Not in the wee hours of the morning.

Not somewhere he shouldn’t have been.

Just at a gas station down the road from his school.

 

And something about this tragedy, this particular horrendous and horrifying act, struck me deep in my soul, the way tragedies only hit those of us who are parents… Or those of us who love deeply, carefully, whole-soul-edly and yes, often carelessly about others. This was someone’s baby. This was someone’s pride and joy; a young man on the cusp of a business degree from a great university. And someone shot him in broad daylight. Right there, around the block from the school where he lived and studied and played basketball. In broad daylight.jibri

I don’t know what it takes to make a person kill. I don’t understand the need to carry a gun and wave it around in a gas station parking lot. I don’t have the ability to empathize with a man or woman who needs to shoot to feel strong. But I know that there are too many lives lost because of those people… the people who are taught that being strong can only be achieved through making others fear you. There are people who are taught that the world is kill or be killed. There are children growing up in “homes” where they are shown through actions and words that he who shoots first lives longest.

And it is those broken and scarred people who robbed my little town, my little community, of a young man who could have done great things.

But what’s the answer? What is it we’re supposed to do as a town or city or state or nation, to work towards achieving a better balance… a better sense of self for these kids who are taught to kill? What is it we can do? Because I don’t believe that passing laws for gun control is the only answer. It has to start before the moment an individual who wants to kill is standing in line for a gun. It has to start at the moment a child learns that killing is somehow okay. It has to start in the dark corners of a toddler’s bedroom when he hears his father beating his mother within an inch of her life. It has to start on the street corner where a ten year old sees his beloved older brother lift the front of a t-shirt and slide a gun in the top of his pants. It has to start before the sixteen year old picks up his own gun and decides to teach his own lesson to a girl who broke his heart, or a guy who shamed him in gym.

And mostly, it has to start with taking responsibility.

Because I am responsible for the young man who shot Jibri Bryan. I am responsible for the community that raised him, that failed him, that taught him this was the answer to whatever problem he thought he was solving. I am responsible for letting that young man down.

We all are.

Because every time we turn a blind eye, every time we call a young black man a “thug,” every time we refer to “those people” when we talk about the community where most of these acts of violence originate… we are perpetuating the myth that this is how it has to be. That this is just what happens in areas of town we don’t visit, in places we’re afraid to go.

But this is not how it has to be.

Because this is not how I want my son to grow up, in a community that turns a blind eye to a portion of its population that is literally screaming for help.

I am responsible for the young man who shot Jibri Bryan because I am part of the community that created him. I am part of the world that says “you can’t be any better,” “you’re someone who won’t succeed,” and “you’re someone I won’t hire.”

And I’m tired of being a part of that community. It’s time we… all of us… make a change, internally, on how we view people, how we treat people, how we encourage people to become strong, happy, wonderful members of society.

It’s not about gun control.

It’s about so very much more.

Best of Friends

Posted on | January 12, 2016 | No Comments

Mornings are hectic in our house.

Banks works an hour away so he has to get up earlier than he’d like and of course getting a six year old dressed and ready is like herding cats. Sometimes I feel like my life during the week is just me, spinning in circles, holding a mug of coffee and hoping for the best.

This morning started like pretty much any other. J got up and moseyed through getting dressed, I threw on clothes that mostly matched, and Banks was up and in the shower by 6:30. I started to go through the motions for breakfast and packing J’s lunch but somehow I ended up back in the bedroom, slowly brushing my hair as though it would suddenly wake me up and I’d be ready to face the working world. I was tired. I was cranky because it’s only Tuesday. I wasn’t feeling the whole “Go go go” thing that was Monday through Friday living. I was complaining about how rough things are… how busy we are… how much we have on our collective plates, and Banks was getting dressed.

Somehow my complaining switched gears to talking about a friend of mine who recently got married. She’d been calling a lot to try and do dinner and I’d been trying to find time in our schedule to make that work, and moaning and groaning about how busy I am and how hard life in general just IS sometimes. And that’s when Banks dropped one of those gems that just hits you right in the center and leaves you smiling for at least a day and a half.

“I feel sorry for her, though, because… you know… I don’t think her and her husband are like us.”

“Like us how?” I asked, still distractedly and semi-angrily brushing my hair.

“You know… they aren’t best friends like us.”

Best friends. Two words that sort of warmed me from the toes up. You know… the one you’re supposed to marry? The one that makes you laugh until you almost wet your pants but also is the first person you call when you just want to curl up in a ball and cry. The friend that is always there, always tells you the truth even or especially when you don’t want to hear it. My best friend.

How did I get this lucky? What did I do to deserve finding this guy… this one person who is all those things wrapped into one, plus also so much more?

I looked at him for a moment and realized he didn’t think he said anything profound. It was a given to him. It was who we are. We’re best friends. We’re partners. We’re husband and wife. It wasn’t a “deep thought” to him… it was just true.

I put down the brush and wrapped my arms around this man who absolutely and totally completes me and grinned.

“You’re right,” I smiled, giving him a light kiss. “Not everyone is as lucky as us.”

And suddenly, happily, this whole life thing seems infinitely brighter.

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Why yes, we are rapping to 90s hiphop. Together. In formal wear.

Just Another Moment Longer

Posted on | January 7, 2016 | 4 Comments

I always make J hold my hand in parking lots. It just makes me feel safer. Usually he balks at it or gives me a look… but not this time. This time he slid his hand into mine without a single complaint.

Banks was a few steps ahead and we were all talking about who knows what, following him into Target where I picked up one of those red plastic baskets. We turned the corner down the first aisle, and my steps suddenly slowed. Banks plowed on ahead but I couldn’t speed up; something was weighing me down, or perhaps lifting me up. There, tucked forgotten in my hand, was the hand of my child. He was chattering about something, probably the game he was about to play in the electronics section, and hadn’t yet noticed that his hand was still tightly gripping mine.

Banks turned and started to tell us to pick up the pace, but his eyes met mine then trailed down to the twisted love knot of hands and he paused. He slowed his steps to match ours and looked at me over J’s head with a smile.

“It won’t be long,” he murmured, knowing without me saying that this moment would pass too quickly. Knowing as I did that in the swiftest matter of moments he’d be too big, too grown for holding my hand. Because it won’t be long, you know, these moments of childhood where I am his and he is mine? It won’t be nearly long enough.

I was reminded of the conversation I had with a friend as she battled for her life against the cancer that eventually won. She was angry, so angry, and sad… and she said to me that her  daughter was her whole world. Her whole damn world. And yet, at only almost three, there was no way her life would ever be shaped by her mother. Her little girl would grow and age and become the person she was meant to be and her mother, my friend, would be just a faded memory in a photo album, no one she ever really knew. It wasn’t long enough for them, those three short years.

But it never is.

I choked back the tears as J noticed he was still holding my hand and sheepishly pulled away.

I watched him run ahead to the video game and felt my shoulders curl with the weight of reality… the weight of understanding that, God willing, his whole life is before him and mine is not. Age tugged at the length of my spine until I felt that I would crumble with the knowledge that I am older than I often believe myself to be, and time is continuing to march its way across my body and mind.

We never really know, do we, how much time we have left? How much time the people we love have left. So we reach for tiny hands, we kiss the tops of foreheads, we yell “I love you” out the window of a moving car so it’s the last thing they hear us say.

Because there’s no telling how much time is left or how quickly it will evaporate into wisps of memories that will one day, all too soon, disappear.

So no matter how much longer I have to hold his hand in mine… it will never be long enough. I will always want one more moment… one more hug, one more kiss, one more squeeze of the hand… one more “I love you.” And I will write those moments down, over and over, creasing them into the folds of my heart so they are treasured and remembered for the special-ness they represents.

Even if it’s just a moment in Target, when a little boy forgets he’s “too big” to hold his mother’s hand.

Out like a Lamb

Posted on | January 5, 2016 | 1 Comment

When I sat down to write a recap post for last year, I didn’t really know where to start. In a lot of ways, it was a quiet year, and in a lot of ways it wasn’t. In many ways, it was a fantastic year, and in several ways it wasn’t. So my thoughts and words were all over the place, looking for something to tie them all together… something that could somehow help me make sense out of such an amazingly magical and sometimes heartbreaking year.

But as I thought back on the year, my mind kept circling around the concept of the Chinese New Year, which… of course… is not until February. I’ve never really put a lot of effort into knowing what makes each animal of the Chinese “zodiac” work or what each represents, except to know that I am, inexplicably, a Snake which seems infinitely wrong on multiple levels. 2015, in Chinese culture, was (and is, until February 20th) the year of the Sheep (or the goat, depending, but for my purposes, I choose Sheep.)

Doesn’t that just seem like an accurate way to knit together this year?  A sheep. A peaceful, slightly slow, fluffy bleat of a year, where everything sort of wove into perfection somewhere around November 21, when a certain Snake pulled on a white dress and swept her way down an aisle. A sheep.

Yes. 2015 was both a black and white sheep: the year where I lost my grandmother but gained my husband. A year where I learned that love is many things but above all else it is patient. And kind. 2015 was the year that I asked myself what it was… what it is… that I want out of all the years to come, and it was the year that I answered with a resounding yell that this… all of this… is what I want. This man. This son. This job. This city. This Me. It was the year that finally I sheared away the remnants of the life I thought I wanted before and stretched into the newness of my life now. It is the year that will forever be carved into my soul as the year I held my breath as death crept into a still room, the year I breathed deep the cool winds off the Seine, the year I laughed, breathless, in Barcelona, the year I shouted a “yes” into the thinness of air at the top of Montserrat.

And just like any good sheep, 2015 is now shorn and ready to regrow, rebirth, re-embrace what comes next in the world. Though there are still two more months ahead of weaving the wool of my world into something warm to carry me forward, I have to say that the odds are in my favor for 2016.

After all, 2016 is the year of the Monkey.

Dresses and Tuxes and Weddings, OH MY!

Posted on | December 11, 2015 | 7 Comments

I could tell you nothing went wrong.

I could sit here and spin a story of how everything went off without a hitch and the day and night of my wedding were absolutely how I imagined them. And it wouldn’t exactly be a lie. Of course, it wouldn’t exactly be the truth, either.

The truth is, almost nothing was the way I thought it would be.

But then… the truth, also, is that everything was just so much better.

Banks got emotional and recited his vows while staring down the minister. A button on the back of my dress kept popping open so even on the walk down the aisle, there was a little gap in the back of the gown. I never even noticed if the guitar player played the song I wanted to walk down the aisle to. The dance floor stayed covered with 2-10 year olds and I can’t remember if any of the rap songs we wanted were played.

And I danced. And laughed. And cried a few times. And everything, EVERYTHING, was so much better than I thought it would be. If you had whispered in my ear back in 2011 that in four short and long years, I would be right here… I never would have believed you. Because who could imagine that this was around the corner: this type of bliss; this type of love; this type of happiness.

J walked me down the aisle and danced the mother/son dance with me without any coaxing. Banks and I danced our first dance while belting out Tennessee Whiskey along with Chris Stapleton. Most of the wine and almost none of the beer was consumed. 12140944_10100271301841174_7739404018084454928_o-2

And at the end of the night, I was Mrs. Banks.

Mrs. Banks.

And everything was just absolutely perfect. 12356878_10100271584819084_9044375432190205214_o

Spooked.

Posted on | October 30, 2015 | No Comments

It’s almost Halloween, so it sort of feels appropriate that I’m spending the majority of my days scared out of my mind.

Of course, it’s not the witches and werewolves and vampires that are haunting my sleep… it’s the everyday reality of blending a family. I feel absolutely petrified, frozen in place, unable to even turn my head without the fear that something is going to creep around the corner and remind me that none of this easy. At all.

Banks moves in to the house where J and I live in only two weeks.

Banks officially becomes part of the family that J and I have created in only three weeks.

And I am one shaky breath away from a full and total collapse over all the potential pit falls and worrisome “what ifs” that come along with taking this step back into marriage.

Do I love him?

Yes.

Does he love me?

Yes.

Is that enough to make all this work?

Who. The. Hell. Knows.

Because everything is frightening now. Everything is real and scary and rubbing raw the old but still so new skin that has grown in to cover my scars.

Will he love my son the way a father should?

Will he love a second child more?

Will J always feel like he’s an outsider to a family of three when there’s a new child in the picture? Will he feel unloved? Will he worry that he’s not enough for me? Will Banks do everything in his power to make J feel like he’s HIS child just as much as any natural born son or daughter?

I don’t know.

I hope so.

I think so.

But I don’t know.

And the worries and doubts and fears swirl around my head until I’m dizzy and nauseated with the overwhelming urge to run to somewhere where I can know that my child is safe and loved and protected.

But then I remember that this is life.

This messy, dirty, crazy, stupid, wonderful, uncertain path? This is my path. And Banks and I will do whatever we can to make this work.

Would it be easier to say “No?” To turn and run and continue to stitch closed the cocoon of love I have built around my child and I?

Maybe.

Would it be easier to walk away and try for the rest of my life to keep my son sheltered and away from the harsh realities of the world?

Maybe.

But would I be happy that way?

Long down the road, when J has packed away the small clothes and his room no longer boasts ninja turtles and picture books… who will I be then? Who will he be then? And will both or either of us be better or worse people because of having Banks in our lives until then?

I think the answer is better.

I think having Banks makes us better. He makes us stronger. He makes us trust and love and embrace what is outside this soft blanket of a life we’ve knit for ourselves.

And so I bat the fear away again, reminding myself that I can do this. That I will do this. That sometimes the best experiences in life are the ones that scare you the most.

“For” is a World Apart from “With”

Posted on | October 28, 2015 | No Comments

“All you ever do is clean,” he pouted from the living room sofa. “You NEVER spend time with me anymore.”

I was in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up from dinner. We’d been from school to karate to a frozen yogurt store and then home and had dinner and I was feeling burnt out and exhausted from all the things I was doing FOR him. Get up, get him dressed, get him to school, leave work to pick him up early, buy a new karate belt, sit through 30 minutes of karate, buy him frozen yogurt, cook him dinner, insist he finish his homework.

“My days are spent doing things for you,” I wanted to shout. “EVERYTHING I do is for you.”

I mean, hell, I don’t watch any shows that aren’t on Nickelodeon or Disney. I don’t listen to music that isn’t kid approved. I don’t even spend my evenings writing anymore because dammit every. last. thing. I. Do. Is. for. him.

But as I rounded the corner with those words on my lips, with those thoughts in my head, with that sheer annoyance in my eyes… I saw him. He was on the sofa with a quilt bunched around him. He was in his pajama bottoms with no shirt, his new favorite way to sleep, and he looked… little. Sometimes it seems I forget how little he really is.

He had a look of annoyance on his face, a look that said he was ready to counteract anything I said with an argument of his own. He was ready to give me a billion and one reasons why he was right and I was wrong… it was the same look I felt on my own face, the same look I felt in my own heart… and it stopped me cold.

In the floor, a lone tennis shoe lay on its side, velcro open and ready to snag. He’d strewn his clothes across the floor when he put on his pajamas, and his plate from dinner was still lying on the table beside him. The living room looked… lived in. I sighed inwardly. He needed to clean it all up. I needed him to clean it all up. Because living in a house that isn’t cluttered is important to me.

But is it important to him?

It was almost seven o’clock. Bedtime was just around the corner. And there he sat, suddenly small and full to the brim with missing me… even though I was right there.

Because even though I’d spent my day doing things for him, I hadn’t really done anything WITH him. And that’s a big difference… a HUGE difference. If I stopped and told him to clean up, he would do it. He would do it FOR me. And we’d continue to circle around each other, each of us doing for and neither of us doing with.

So I went to the bedroom and plugged in my phone, then left it there. I ignored the clutter for a while and just sat beside my son, letting him lean his head back against my chest as we watched a television show. Because even though it’s just television, it’s something we were doing together. Something we were doing with each other … not for each other.

And it seems like I’ve been forgetting the difference a lot lately.

 

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