Parts Unknown

Ode to Old Tom Joad, my son


All alone
In parts unknown
Smoke billows from the fire
I lay my head
The ground my bed
Rock pillows and quilted briar

Look for me
I’m hard to see
Nothing but a ghost
I’m all around
Spirit unbound
On my way to heaven almost

One more thing
My last hymn to sing
“I’ll fly away…” from here
Don’t forget
I have no regret
Remember and I’ll be near

Too strong to kill
Tougher than will
You cannot snuff this fire
Noble and fierce
My heart will pierce
The darkness that makes Devil a liar


I love you, my boy. You’re my blood.

Advertisements

hold the door open for grace

i thought i shared this already. this is from 2015, originally.


i was being the door lady at Lilli’s school this morning and a car pulled up with two kids and one irate mom. i opened the door as the van pulled up to the curb. one child got out of the back and another opened the door to the passenger side front. she didn’t get out. her mother was mad. frustrated. high-pitched. irritated. annoyed. yelling.

u could tell she felt disrespected and very taken aback. did she have a right to feel that way? who knows? maybe. probably. maybe not. maybe she’s on her period, maybe she’s super demanding, maybe nothing anybody ever does pleases her and she’s just a high-riding bitch. maybe her daughter said something really nasty to her right before she opened the door and the mother had a legitimate beef with her evil, rotten spawn of a demon child.

maybe not.

i don’t really know either one of the people i’m describing. my limited experience with this family is that the daughter was gossiping and picking on my daughter at the beginning of the school year. in choir, the girl started a rumor that Lilli was a terrible singer and that she was single-handedly ruining the choir. i’m not exaggerating this rumor. that’s what was said. funny. because Lilli just made honor choir after auditioning for only a few moments. she thought she messed up and wanted to try again. the choir teacher said, “No need. You did just fine. I gave you a 5 out of 5.” not bragging, but i don’t think she’s ruining the choir.

so this is the girl who said bad things about my kid. she purposefully tried to hurt my daughter.

do i dislike her? no. she’s just a kid. and whatever behavior she learned is directly the responsibility of her parents. do i hold a grudge against this kid? no. she’s just a kid. i’m a xian and were supposed to forgive and forget. was i wary of this kid? yeah. i felt nervous for MY kid. mama bear has her claws out. at least.

today though. today. i had deep compassion for this kid. i am this kid. she’s tall, overweight, bully-ish and uncomfortable in most situations. she doesn’t feel like she fits in and so…lashes out. her parent is riding her and she has a bad attitude. she’s probably been pushed around by parents, other kids and other adults. i was this poor kid.

and i’m the mother. ready to be offended. i don’t yell at my kid, but i sure as shit harp on my husband. i don’t wanna be the crazy lady yelling in the car in front of everyone. but i do often feel disrespected. i wish to GOD i was not so easily offended/hurt/angered/tempted. i am an easy target for Satan when it comes to my pride. so i am the daughter. i am the mother. i am the embarrassing sideshow in front of the school. so what did i do?

i recognized my own failure in these actions. i identified with these people and i gave them grace in my heart. if not a verbal acknowledgement…a mental pass at their behavior. because so often i make constant judgments about people’s ridiculous behavior and i cut them down in my mind. kill someone in your mind with words, might as well kill them IRL. that’s what the bible says.

BUT! this morning. i made a change. i prayed for them! i prayed for them on the spot because i don’t want to be judged when i find myself in the same situation. i said, “Good morning!” with a smile to the girl who hurt my daughter. and i prayed all over her as she walked by. she doesn’t deserve it, but neither do i. and i prayed for the mom to wake up, get right, calm down and have a good day. praying that for myself too. amazing things to learn when holding the door for people and volunteering ur time at school. little lessons in the smallest examples of service. it’s humbling to have to hold the door for someone the world would tell you to hate. try washing their feet.

Ma

Ma.
Such safety in that slang.
For namer and named.
Grace spoken, bread broken.
Taken for granted that wishes are granted.
Amen.

Mother.
What chemicals are released in your brain?
Been there since your birth.
Summed up all her worth.
In a word.
Mom.

She.
What has she done?
What has she left?
What did she conquer to make your paths straight?
Cannot separate word from feeling.
Mama.

Her.
Her desires and feelings and thoughts and love
Have all been poured out over you.
Not one single second since you arrived
Has she considered not caring, not fighting, not existing for you.
Thank you, Ma.

Little Girl

I have a little girl
Who lets me braid her hair
14 (not so little)
But still needs special care

I’m here to show her
How to be Wife and Mom
Or a single, strong-willed Woman
Who can diffuse any bomb

I still have the privilege
Of being asked for my advice
But she makes her own decisions
And can calculate the price

Above all that is important
Teaching reason along with choice
Will allow your child
To strengthen their own voice

If you simply teach a child
To obey without question
You won’t teach them how
To exercise discretion

Most of all
Give them information!
If they don’t have all the numbers
They can’t solve any equation

It might be embarrassing
To talk to them about sex
But would you rather some other person
Tackle something so complex

If you allow children to make mistakes
They learn the art of restoration
Nothing else can give them
Such a firmly-formed foundation

You have to be an example
Be honest about your struggles
They’ll learn when they witness
You conquering your own troubles

We’re not perfect
And neither are they
We should embrace that more
In the message we convey

There might come a day
When she won’t need me any more
But isn’t that the point
Of what Parents are put here for?

To raise a human
To be fully independent
Choosing to, not needing to,
Love you without resentment

 

 

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. πŸ˜‰
Right??

Tough Love

I hate being the Mom. Being the Mom sucks sometimes.

I love being the Friend. The Goof. The Lollipop Fairy. The Boo-boo Kisser. The Cheerleader. The Philosophy Teacher. But I hate being the Mom.

The Mom–defined as the Law Giver. The Layer Down of the Law. The Disciplinarian. The New Sheriff In Town. The Obliterator of Fun. The Queen of Rules.

When my child comes to me and has a problem, my first inclination is to care for her emotions. Natch. But when the behavior continues without benefit from a pep talk or correction, I have to buckle up and hunker down.

My child is an easy one. She’s open to correction, soft-hearted, fair-minded, vulnerable, caring and intentional. Except when she’s not.

And when she’s not? I’m at a loss.

Lately, she’s been resisting change and challenge. This is a normal sign of teenage growing pains. Right? The urge to resemble a couch. I should know, I was a teenager and very much resembled our living room sofa.

She’s almost 14 and showing all the signs of impending, hard-core teen-tric lethargy. It’s concerning. I’m worried about her slipping off into depression if we don’t combat her lack of motivation.

That was my problem. That is a problem of teens, IMO. My freshman year was my most vulnerable. I tried to commit suicide my freshman year because I felt so isolated. Living by rules, wanting independence. On the cusp of adulthood, but still a child. Wanting total acceptance from EVERYONE, including your parents, NO MATTER WHAT!

These unrealistic desires could make any person frustrated, confused and DEPRESSED! Not to mention dealing with complex societal and peer group issues with a not-fully-matured frontal lobe. Suffering from inexperience, lack of impulse and emotional control, and hormonal imbalance.

With my mental illness history, I feel justified in being, at the very least, concerned. And she herself said, without prompt from me, “I’m unmotivated.” That’s awesome self-reflection and honesty. Great sign for us as we tackle her dissatisfaction.

Honestly, she has no reason to be dissatisfied. She has a nice, cozy home. Food to eat. Clothes (nice clothes) on her back and a good school. She has all the conveniences of modern society. I take her to school and pick her up. I am here for her in the morning and when she gets home. She is emotionally supported. And by Dad as well. But dissatisfaction is lying just under the covers of her more-than-adequate, queen-sized, Princess-and-the-Pea mattress.

Why?

It also doesn’t seem to matter that I remind her of her blessings. Put her life into perspective, in sharp contrast to those who have very little and have no opportunity to receive an education or are shot trying to get one. That has no lasting effect. I realize in my attempt to give her the finer things, I have denied her appreciation and gratitude.

We as a society are suffering from the same plight. Teenage apathy. Things are so nice that we forget how lucky we are. We are so dissatisfied after achieving some degree of success that we have to buy a therapist to figure out why. I’ve realized this, but my daughter hasn’t achieved any level of enlightenment in regard to privilege. And even so, do we act any differently? Or do we still chase those materialistic dreams of apparent success?

In my own life, I have accepted the ups and downs of luxury and deprivation. Some days you will suffer and at other times you will have plenty. Days with money aren’t stress free. You have to manage that money. No one has a money tree in their backyard. Any amount of money requires management. It helps when there’s enough to manage. I will say that’s less stressful. But having enough is only slightly less nerve-racking.

I try to be thankful for whatever situation I find myself in and remind myself, no matter what, you’re still breathing. It helps when you’ve been near death to frame life in this way. But I don’t want my daughter to experience what I have to know her place and value and blessing. I want to spare her that. But am I denying her an education in the lesson of life if I try to shield her from any pain or suffering? I’m not sure.

Last night, I showed her frustration on my part. I tried to be soft and kind, but I also let her know how frustrated I was. We try to be honest about our feelings. I let her know, “I’m trying here.” This was in response to her growing dissatisfaction with home, school, life in general. I could tell she was checking out. I could tell she was uncomfortable and uneasy. And she was. We are pretty in tune. Our whole family tends to wear our hearts..well, all over the outside, not just on the sleeve! LOL

I let her know, I’m trying to encourage. Prepare. Provide help-physical and mental. Shop for school supplies. Walk her into the office to learn about lockers. Pick up and drop off. Attend back-to-school nights. Be here physically while she’s adjusting. Help with homework. Communicate. Ask questions. Love. Listen. Linger. Snuggle up at night and let our hair down. Let go of the reins, at times. But doing all the right things doesn’t always leave her happy, well-adjusted or satisfied. That’s tough.

My happy, joyful, outgoing daughter has turned into the occasional emotional lump of tears. That makes me anxious, nervous, concerned. Frustrated.

I don’t want to guilt her. But I’m beginning to understand the power of wielding this device judiciously. Ugh. I hate that. But. A little frustration and letting her know how exasperated I might be? May be the only medicine. And it’s a jagged pill for her to swallow. But it’s also a tough pill to administer. You know the old saying, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Now I understand. Except my parents said that about spanking, not tough emotional love. LOL

Sometimes you wanna scoop your kids up. But sometimes scooping doesn’t work. Sometimes you have to be tough and show them, you got it pretty good, Kid. Appreciate it.

*Old man voice* “Back in my day, we rode a cow to school! And we liked it! Thankful to have a cow! And a school! And a butt made for cow-riding!”


NOTE: I did not ride a cow to school. But my mom did. LOL πŸ™‚


What I really want for her is to know God deeply. To rely on him. What I really want is to see her help and work hard and get dirty in the business of God service. I’m hoping after graduation, she and I could find an outreach to really help people. Maybe even overseas. But that scares me. Mission work. Would I be endangering her life with illness or violence?

The Bible says:
Romans 14:8
“for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

I have to trust that God will protect us if we are about his business. He has plans to prosper, not hurt. But she has to decide what’s right for her. I trust her in that. That is a good feeling! And I know, I never want to be separate from her. That much I know.

And I want her to decide what’s best. Not become what Mom wants, not just do what Mom says. I just want to be a good mom and support her in whatever she does, wherever she goes, whatever decisions she makes. She may want to be a full-blown NYC artist or LA Nintendo character designer or international aid worker. Or Floridian housewife. πŸ™‚ Whatever she does, she will change the world, offer kindness and show God through her spirit. That much I know.

I’m waiting patiently for her to make a decision about where she wants to go after school. It’s still 4 years away. Who knows where life will take us. Who knows what she will want in 4 years or what opportunities she will have. We have to be stable for the next 4 years to get to where God will have us. I think she deserves a 4-year period of stability to get through high school. To prepare her. To ride out this rough patch of frontal lobe and heart development! LOL

I’m ready for anything though. So is she. She has such a willing heart at times. She’s up for adventure, as I am, when we have each other to be brave. She’s my best friend. It took courage to get to Florida. Who knows what God wants for your life until you’re knee-deep in it, right?

After our come-to-Jesus moment last night, she had a pretty good morning. Praying that she has a great day. I pray that every day. But this morning I cringed at the thought of tough love after I dropped her off. But sometimes, it’s required.

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.

Vol. 2 (continued)

More from my second volume of Present Tense. These excerpts have not been published or seen. This is from the time I visited my dad in the hospital, just before he passed. He was very sick. End-stage cancer.


Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em


Lung cancer. He smoked for over 45 years. Sometimes 3 packs a day. Sometimes a pipe. Rarely marijuana.
He is laying in bed in a hospital room. I walk into the room with my mother and sister. He’s in a gown, head shaved and Sharpie marks on his scalp. That’s where they focus the radiation. That’s where the brain tumors are. There are several marks. There are other places in his body that have cancer. Leg. Stomach. Chest.
He’s uncomfortable. He starts to squirm. He rolls onto his stomach, props himself up on his elbows and knees. My mother rubs his back. She whispers softly in his ear. She looks scared. So does he. This is the most vulnerable, tender moment I have ever seen them share. The pain passes.
He looks at me and asks me to buy him a pack of cigarettes. He hands me several dollar bills. I agree.
Our philosophies were in agreement on this day and many to follow. The world is a brief, harsh place and you find pleasure where you can.
I was not going to deny a dying man his last want or need.
We are on our way to my grandmother’s funeral.