My Daughter is…

My daughter is taking a college-level history course. It is a course designed for students to take while still in high school, before college, and they receive college credit. It is tough. Even for this ol’ bird.

Her dad and I are helping her through this very difficult class. I have to admit, even as a two-year college graduate, this mofo is HARD! And my daughter is just a freshman. Most of her peers in class are sophomores. In HIGH SCHOOL! (FYI: She’s supposed to be an 8th grader this year as well. Ack!)

I just want to say, I did not encourage her to take it. She picked it. We were all unaware of how challenging this class would be.

She thought about dropping the first week. But we encouraged her to keep going. I told her if it got worse, I would request a transfer.

“Please, though, just try to stick it out for a semester. Don’t give up just yet. You’re capable of doing the work, but how willing are you to try?”

Gosh. How many times do I need to ask myself that question? A lot. And I’m 44.

This is her hardest class. Truth of the matter, Lilli has never been challenged like this. School comes easy.

My daughter is a genius. I say that with a lump in my throat for many reasons. It’s hard to say out loud because people either think you’re bragging or lying. But she is, in fact, a genius. And I’m so thankful and proud. And so undeserving of such a gracious, talented, intelligent young lady.


This is definitely not a brag and I’ll tell you why. I am not a genius. Her father is not a genius. We are just as surprised as anyone! This has very little to do with us. This is not a reflection of our achievement. I deserve and take no credit for her accomplishments. I’m just so thankful.

We are reasonably intelligent people in some areas, but we have very little to do IMO with whether or not her brain has the capacity to house such complex thinking. Genetics may play some factor. Environment, okay. Good parenting (most of the time), good teachers (all of the time!), good school districts (thank God). But I truly believe that God has blessed her with this magnificent brain. It’s beyond what I’ve seen in most other human beings. Maturity is one big asset she has. Caring is another.

I’m just freaking lucky to be here on the sidelines. Cheering her on.


She was identified in Kindergarten as gifted after only one month of school. Her teachers in preschool had their suspicions, but after attending a pre-K summer program at public school, administrators told us the teacher would identify her. So we waited. Said no more about it. And her teacher was blown away.

She was tested and accepted for the SAGE program. Unusual to be identified and recommended in Kindergarten, administrators said. She attended the 1-day a week gifted program through her school.

Then, in 3rd grade, her gifted teacher recommended excelling. It was an exhilarating surprise. We learned early on in this school district, let the teachers recommend what’s best for your child. And they did. By the end of 3rd-grade year, we were approved to move forward. (They have to meet the requirements of Missouri state to excel.) We all wanted Lilli to skip, but it was ultimately up to her. She took the challenge knowing she’d have our support.

We spent that summer between 3rd and 5th preparing to supplement her 4th grade loss (recommended by her teachers, lots of recommendations! lol). It was an exciting summer filled with Mark Twain, Missouri history, short and long division! I’ll never forget spending warm afternoons on the bed reading Tom Sawyer with her. I was lucky enough to be her teacher for just a short while.

So, we skip 4th grade altogether and landed in 5th. She had so much fun; met a new best friend, met a very special boy, and enjoyed her final year of elementary school–one year early. She joined National Elementary Honor Society. She came in second in the spelling bee against children a year older than her. 5th grade was a challenge, but something she willingly embraced and handled with grace. Pretty smooth sailing.

But this? This history class. Sigh. This is the first time Lilli has had her feet held over the fire. She was/is struggling. But this morning?

She had a very difficult assignment this Labor Day weekend. She had 4 pages of notes to take, 5 pages of notes to rewrite by hand because the teacher won’t accept typed notes (Lil prefers typing to forcible penmanship lol), ~10-question quiz from the book, and ~30 vocabulary flashcards to make. And this is just for history. And the questions from the book would make any college freshman quiver in their penny loafers, let alone a high school freshman, OK? I even struggled with the questions.

She was struggling to finish her homework yesterday. The kid was not slacking. Granted she could have worked over several days to make sure she was finished, but what kid does that? For that matter, what adult does that?? LOL She worked from after lunch until sundown. We took a short break for outdoor beach time (best homework break ever, for anyone!), but that did her a world of good.

By bedtime, she was exhausted (and happy) and we agreed, best to hit the hay and wake up early to finish. It was a risk, but we helped her square away the meat of her answers before creeping to the sheets. In the morning, she would be able to flesh those answers out. And boy did she!

The answers she gave blew me away. I was gobsmacked at her very fleshy answers. If I were her teacher, my mouth would be agape. I never gave an answer that good in any of my classes, high school or college.

I knew she was capable of doing the work. And she did it. We have encouraged her like never before. We have held her up, held those feet over the fire (even when it hurt) and expressed our frustration and disappointment in her lack of motivation (even when it hurt all of us). But she has triumphed in this. In this little (huge) weekend assignment, she has dazzled me, Dad and hopefully her teacher.

Way to go, Lil. So proud. Your answers were thoughtful, intelligent, amazing. You will go far in whatever you choose.

I like you. Even if you weren’t my daughter, I would want to know you. It’s just less creepy this way, getting to be your mom, when I want to give you a hug! LOL Thanks for trying! That’s your success, not giving up even when you wanted to.

My daughter is…truly awesome.
Gifted writer (already). Beautiful dreamer. Great, big, sensitive heart-listener. Risk taker. Feelings feeler. Brave, courageous, gorgeous.


It is a blessing to like and respect your children.
It is more likely that you will like and respect your children
when you like and respect your children. 😉
Right??

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Dumb Baby

This handsome little boy. This boy being my father.

dad

My grandmother used to tell the story:

One day, just after she gave birth to one of my uncles, she caught my father in the nursery by the crib. She paused and listened just outside the door.

“You big, dumb, fat, stupid baby.”

So antagonistic toward a little baby. That baby had it coming, I tell ya!

LOL This story tickles me to no end. But it’s a little scary! My father and his brothers had a rocky relationship from the start. But boys will be boys, right?

My mom tells me that she used to find my sister hitting me when I was just a baby. I don’t remember it. I was too young. But it explains a lot!

babytina-couch.jpg
How could you hit this adorable face??

Why do siblings automatically feel competitive and angry toward each other? I never felt hostile towards my sister. Not until she would attack me. Unprovoked!

“Mom! She hit me!!” I would scream.

Or just retaliate and knock her block off. Sometimes verbally, sometimes physically, she picked at me. It was on like Donkey Kong if she ever touched me.

I remember she pushed me down the stairs one day. Almost broke my neck. Definitely sprained my toe! I let her have it for that. And we never fought again. But I moved out of the house soon after.

I’m so glad I never have to live that way again. I don’t know about most people, but my experience with brothers and sisters is the pits.

I don’t think it has to be this way. Parents play an important role in sibling relationships. Kids are naturally at odds with one another, out of the womb. The 2nd oldest story of the bible is about how brother killed brother. Competing for resources, love and attention is understandably the impetus for sibling rivalry. But parents set the tone. Parents can teach the children to love, behave and share.

Otherwise, it’s every dumb baby for himself.

Schpider!

spiderDon’t look, Dad!
It’s a terrible sight!
If you can’t see him,
It’ll save you a fright.

I’ll protect you.
Don’t worry now.
I can tame spiders.
Mom taught me how.


Lilli and Dad at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2009. She was 6. We were being goofy and I thought this would be a funny picture for my black and white film photography class.

Candid

Can I just say, this is one of my most favorite candid shots of my family?

guy and lilli.jpg

Shot on film. Developed in the lab as an exposure test. Scanned in.

So the strips in exposure are from trying different levels in the developing lab, to get the right one, under the direction of my Photography 101 professor. (I had just returned to school for the second time to get my two-year graphic design degree) I never developed a final exposure, so all I had was this one. But it’s my favorite. The looks on their faces are precious. The almost-smiles break my heart.

This was Fall 2009, so Lilli was just 6 years old, Kindergarten. So adorable. Her face is just one big piece of cutie pie. Most of the time, I would just ask for a kiss because I couldn’t resist those soft, suede-y cheeks. She looks like a French child from a black and white independent film. Zut alors! Those bangs!

So glad I caught this moment on film. And I kind of like the strips.

This could be an ad for Nikon with the bag in the background! LOL Live free and Nikon!

And Guy! You’re so handsome! Sacre bleu!

Black Stove, Purple Lamp

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


We are standing in the living room. We are moving our belongings out of the house because my parents are fighting again. My brother is now married and lives in a nearby town with his wife. He is helping us move.

My father confronts my brother in the living room with a baseball bat and threatens to hurt each of us if we do not leave the house immediately.
My father swings the bat to show his intention. Lands a blow on the free-standing wood-burning stove. He leaves quite a dent in the black sheet metal exterior. A dent that will live with us for all time.
He then swings again to assert his presence and smashes my mother’s favorite lamp. It was a beautiful purple lamp. Two lights, beautiful hand-painted designs on the glass shades and delicate gold filigree edging. Gone with one blow.
He smashes the lamp, I imagine, to see the pained look of surprise on her face. He wants to see her hurt.

Tiny little shards embedded in the carpet. Gouges torn in the wood of the end table. Hearts shattered at the violence, but not for things. Splinters of feelings scattered and strewn.


This would not be the last time I would see this house. It should have been.
The house is gone now. Swallowed up in time. Rotted with weather and neglect and turmoil. But it housed our violent, chaotic family for nearly 20 years. It existed and so did we. A new house stands in its place.
So long now. But the violence persists in my mind.
Sometimes, I wish my mind or memories would rot, but they are rock solid. The negativity built on unshaken cliffs of time-battered trauma.

Memories can be swept away like sand on the shore, but this bedrock is immovable. Formed in liquid lava and cooled to stone for all time.


We moved back very soon after this incident. Perhaps 1-2 months later. We left several times, but never for very long. Unfortunately.

’66 Chevelle

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense.


I am 14 or 15 years old. Saturday morning. I’m lying down, but awake. I am in my bedroom with the door closed. There is one loud voice and one scared voice in the next room.
“Where is she?”
He is choking my sister. He is pulling her hair. He is threatening her. He is hurting my sister because my mother isn’t there to hurt.
He leaves her bedroom. I stop moving, thinking, inhaling in the hope that I will not be next. Not quickly enough, I hear the back door bang.
I hear my sister stir. I hear her muffled, wet breaths. She is crying.
I hear my father opening the hood of my sister’s car, the car that she shares with my mother.


’66 Chevelle Malibu. The one with the rusted-out hole in the floor board. The one with white paint and blue vinyl seats. The one with jagged rear window posts that cut your hand when you’re not careful. The one that an old lady drove to church and the store and only had several thousand miles when we bought it almost 20 years after it was made. The classic. The sweet-ass sportster. The muscle car from Malibu. The one that will take a beating.


I look out the window of my bedroom and see my father ripping wires out of the engine. He slams the hood closed and now takes a hammer he must have grabbed on the way out. He pounds the metal repeatedly with quick, powerful blasts and leaves at least two dozen or more marks.
These are not dings. These are not dimples. These are deep, hate-filled holes.
“Get out of here.”
My sister calls my brother and we leave. We wait at the end of our driveway for my brother to pick us up. We don’t speak to one another. I am powerless to change what is happening. I can only follow, obey and relinquish any hope of being normal.


Every time I tell this story, it makes me afraid all over again. But. I lived. So I am thankful for this story. It reminds me that I can survive. And that I never have to live that way again.

Let’s All Go To the Movies.

More from Vol. 2 of Present Tense


My mother and father have lost the will to parent. I am sitting in a dark movie theatre with Mom, Dad and my sister. I am five, almost six.
Alien.
Oh, God. That man’s face has just been attacked by an octopus egg.
Oh, God. The android’s head is decapitated from his body and milky fluid is shooting out from his neck.
I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered quickly to the lobby by my mother.

We lounge for about a minute.
“Ready to go back?”
Okay, there are no more bodiless robots. Popcorn.
I have to have my legs in my seat. I am sitting cross-legged. No aliens can possibly eat my dangling legs if they are safely tucked up, away from their snotty teeth.
Oh, God. There’s spaghetti exploding from that guy’s open stomach.
Oh, God. It’s a baby alien. I am screaming. I am crying. I am being ushered.
A minute.
“Ready to go back?”
My parents also let me watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Deliverance (ABC Presentation of the Week). Also, A Thief in the Night.
This 1972 (made before I was even born) Christian classic talks about end times. Christians are taken to heaven in the rapture and non-believers are left behind. Everyone has to take the 666-Mark of the Beast tattoo or they can’t buy eggs and butter. People who just want a little breakfast are arrested for trying to buy groceries, and a girl with a balloon gets beheaded on a guillotine. There’s a fun song at the end, too.
I wish we’d all been ready…

The synopsis of this movie may be slightly inaccurate. It’s what I remember and the impression that remains.


I lived through what seemed like a very real threat of nuclear annihilation during the height of the Cold War and was constantly worried about being microwaved to oblivion by a nuke. These movie nights and paranoid world destruction fantasies could be considered the bright, sunny moments of my childhood with an abusive father. My prayer, as I got older, became this:

If I have to die–God, just don’t let me die a virgin.

Piled

Tired, happy children
Piled on top of Pop.
Cuddled on his wrinkled clothes
Upon his lap they’d hop.

Relaxed and tousled jams,
Schlubby socks and drooping eyes.
From contented smiles and deep, sweet breaths
Happiness will rise.

Safe and sound for now,
However momentary.
We were once a family.
Photographic evidence unnecessary.

But helpful. 🙂


My dad and my two oldest siblings.

Making People

Each of these people
Were made by two parents.
Molded and shaped
By opinions, thoughts and variants.

These two people
Made four more humans.
They didn’t do it perfectly.
In fact, our family’s in ruins.

Their legacy was not premeditated.
Their good intentions paved the way,
To Hell and back and there again–
Four lanes without delay.

This kiss and marriage caught some place
Between Heaven and Hell.
A dark, rock-hard place between their love
Is where my childhood fell.

Like a photograph that floats down
Behind a dresser, trapped by wall.
Forgotten with time, buried by dust.
Neglected, unseen by all.

But.

Their love made me.
Shouldn’t I be thankful for this?
I couldn’t think of something more lovely
Than a passionate wedding kiss.

Thankful to be here. No matter what.

Wife

The clothes are washed.
The dishes are done.
Everything’s finished.
The course has been run.

To its bedtime,
I race the sun.
Hoping to remember,
“Leave nothing undone.”

But I fail.

I failed to love you
More than you deserve.
I failed to catch you
When you leapt off with nerve.

I failed to respond
With kindness and restraint.
I succeeded in failing
At withholding complaint.

I’m sorry.

It’s not a matter of racing to the end.
It’s not a matter of winning at life.
It is a matter of walking with purpose.
It is a matter of being a good wife.

I’m not a good wife to you
If I focus on all wrong you have wrought.
It would be better of me
To remember all good you have brought.

Thank you.

I struggle with fairness
And relinquishing grace.
I like to hold grudges,
Call attention to mistakes.

I’m trying so hard to be Perfect.
And I’ve missed the boat.
I should try harder to be Forgiving.
And erase the past someone else wrote.

I love you.