Meet The Baby’s Baby

Every day as we leave his school, Carlos asks to stop and see the babies. We stand in the doorway of the infants room and Miss Morgan lets Carlos say hello to the babies as they bounce in jumpers or wiggle around on the rug. He says, “Hey, BABY!” to each one until they smile at him.

Now he’s saying, “Hi, Baby!” to any baby we see in public. It’s kind of a big deal that he’s gone from being such a closed off loner of a kid to a kid who walks right up to strangers to say hello.

Carlos doesn’t like to take naps and he’s been having a hard time being still and quiet during nap time while the other kids rest…so I had a brilliant idea. This morning, he met his very own baby. He holds her carefully and helps find her pacifier when she’s misplaced it. She’s been dressed and undressed twenty times. Carlos and Vivi have spent all morning playing together with the baby’s baby.

mari2I knew this doll was “The One” when I saw that her name is Mariana. G’s sweet cousin and my college sister both share that name.

But….

I forgot that my son still has a bit of a “baby talk” thing going on when he tries to pronounce certain sounds. He can’t quite say “Mah-ree-ah-nah”

So….

Meet Mary-Wana. You know, like Mary + Juana.

Or marijuana.

I can’t wait until he takes her to school Monday and asks if he can have Mary Juana to keep him calm at nap time.

marijuana

In Baltimore, You Hear What You Expect to Hear

file541344101316The events unfolding in Baltimore–whether you call it a riot or an uprising–put me in mind of a lesson I learned in Baltimore eleven years ago on a broiling hot summer day when my heart and mind throbbed with fear.

There wasn’t much left of my rational brain at that point. Richard had been diagnosed with leukemia on June 30. He got blood and platelets the next day at the hospital where I work–just enough to get him healthy enough to fly. He took off that evening for Baltimore, for Johns Hopkins Hospital, where his treatment would begin as soon as possible.

I stayed behind for a couple of days to batten down the hatches and pack us both some clean underwear. I tied up loose ends at work, at home. I explained what was going on to everyone who needed to know, then I rushed north to Baltimore.

While Richard had been teaching at Loyola in Baltimore, I had fallen in love with the city. We rode water taxis across the Inner Harbor, dined along Second Street, walked the paths of Poe. So it wasn’t my first time in Baltimore by any means, but I didn’t know anything about the neighborhoods around Hopkins. Well, I knew one thing–“Don’t go there. It’s not safe.”

Rockwell House. My throat closes up just looking at the door.

Rockwell House. My throat closes up just looking at the door.

But now, in the world of leukemia, Johns Hopkins felt like an island of hope, the one place Richard might be safe again. His parents had booked us a small caregiver apartment at the Joanne Rockwell House, right on the edge of campus. Somewhere around Washington and Jefferson Streets. I tried to find it on a map this morning, but the building isn’t there anymore–replaced by newer digs.

A flight, a ride from BWI, dropping my things at Rockwell House, then hurrying to the hospital with my heart in my throat. Then the first slow hours of waiting in a room with Richard, the first few of the hundreds we would spend like that over the next 10 months. Waiting for a miracle in the worst neighborhood in Baltimore.

file000137091442On his advice, I left before sundown, so I could make it back to Rockwell House. Luckily, Richard’s mom had left some food in the minifridge. The only store visible from my window was a corner liquor store, plastered with booze posters.  A barren parking lot, owned by the hospital, gray buildings shuttered with plywood, and the liquor store. I felt like a traveler in a ship, looking out my porthole at a strange land.

Eight o’clock, nine o’clock. The summer sky grew dark. After so many days of panic and chaos, the time had come to be still. I stretched out on the narrow twin bed under the window and tried to let my brain and body catch up to each other.

Then just under the window, a few feet from my head, I heard several loud cracks. Someone shouted over the sound of POP POP POP POP from the parking lot below me.

This middle class white lady HIT THE FLOOR. With a quickness. I didn’t even watch The Wire at the time, but I knew what happened when you mixed a Baltimore liquor store, summer heat, darkness and shouting. I slithered across the floor then reached up to kill the overhead light. The cracking and shouting continued. I lay panting in fear on the linoleum floor and waited for the sounds of sirens. None came. I watched the window and waited for it to explode from a stray bullet.

Then a strange SCREEEEEEEECH cut the air, followed by more popping, but slower now. A green burst of light filled the window. I remember lying there on the floor and trying to make sense of it. Cop car lights aren’t green in Baltimore, are they?

In all the rushing to get to Richard, I had forgotten that day was the Fourth of July. And Americans shoot fireworks after dark on the Fourth of July. I eventually realized the sounds were firecrackers and bottle rockets and crawled up off the floor to watch out the window.

Those young men in the parking lot across from the liquor store that night were celebrating freedom the old-fashioned way–with some gunpowder and fire and laughter. An American tradition.

My tired brain, filled with fear and confusion, had heard gunfire and threats. That was what I expected to hear in that part of Baltimore.

So I ask you, when you watch the news, don’t just listen for what you expect to hear–look again.

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An Equation for Evolution, This Week At Least

25 + (20 – $5) + 20/20  = 500

Let’s start with 25…

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I’m in the lower left, grabbing my left boob in an archaic inside kind of joke thing that we did back in 1990.

I’m still processing everything that happened this weekend at my 25 year college reunion. One thing that has sat with me for days is the idea of evolution. A friend complimented how much I had “evolved” at one of our class parties. At first, I tried to turn it into a joke–like I was winning the tiny trophy for “Most Improved.” Then I corrected myself and accepted her gift of that word. She meant good things–how we navigate growing up successfully when we develop and diversify based on the things that happen to us. I have done that. We get our edges worn away and we figure out what works. Yep, done some of that, too. We keep moving and changing. We grow. So yeah, I guess I have evolved in the last 25 years.

+ 20

It’s been 20 years since I married Fartbuster, as of today. I wonder what it would be like to sit across a table from the me that was me 20 years ago and listen to her. At 26, I was excited to be getting married…FINALLY. wedding-407487_640I don’t think I ever took a moment to ask, “What’s in this for me?” All I wanted was To Be Married, so I married the person I loved at the time. I didn’t spend much time thinking about What I Wanted In a Partner. I thought that love was enough. I didn’t understand much about the other two things–honor and cherish. I didn’t consider whether he honored me and I figured he would learn to cherish me. I did love him. I think he loved me. But we were 26. How would I see that young woman–would I pity her, admire her innocence, or get fed up with an earful of her bullshit?

-$5

At the rehearsal dinner 20 years ago, I walked across the restaurant and knelt down beside our family friend, Wally. My mom snapped a photo as I handed Wally a crisp $5 bill. After a quick “Do you remember that time…,” Wally and I roared with laughter over something I had told him 6 years before.

The summer between my junior and senior years of college, my then boyfriend went on a long vacation with his family. I felt miserable and alone, and super jealous that he was cruising in Greece while I was working as a temp secretary in a credit office. My mom and I were over at Wally’s house for dinner one night and I kept moping and sighing and missing my beloved. There was a teensy bit of angsty wallowing going on.

Wally got sick of hearing it and told me to get over it, and knowing Wally’s acerbic tongue, it was along the lines of “Young love, my ass.” He and my mom laughed. I shouted, “Y’all think you know everything just because you’re older. I’ll have you know that I know myself and I love him and I will always love him!” Wally hooted and snapped, “I bet you FIVE DOLLARS that you don’t even know where that boy is five years from now.”

"Oh YEAH? We're young but we are IN LOVE."

“Oh YEAH? We’re may be young but we are IN LOVE.”

Wally was right. I had no idea where that boy had gotten to, and here I was marrying a different true love. So I paid him his five bucks.

(20/20)

Twenty twenty hindsight. I’ve acquired some of that over the years. That junior in college really did love her boyfriend with everything she had–but it didn’t last another year. And the young bride handed over $5 in recognition of what a wise old friend knew that she didn’t. The divorced woman at 31 learned the hard way that she should have asked some sharper questions before making those vows. The widow at 36 didn’t have anything to regret, but everything to lose. Now the mother at 46 looks back on them all with loving kindness.

Given the 20/20 nature of hindsight, I feel empathy for the me that was a few hours away from marrying Fartbuster twenty years ago. I’d give her a hug more than a talking to, because she was doing her best.

Evolving is about going THROUGH life experiences, not trying to skip them or stay safe or rush past. When life ends up teaching a tough lesson, my hope is that I will pack it up for the journey and keep moving.

MD39The-Best-Way-Out-Robert-Frost-Posters

=500

And this is the 500th post on Baddest Mother Ever. I’ve learned so much in this space and over these two years. To accept who I am now and accept that I was doing my best back then. To love, honor, and cherish MYSELF above all others, even the ones I love. May we all continue to evolve.

Telling Stories

speaking

Another reunion weekend at Wesleyan and this one was a Big One. Twenty five years since the class of 1990 graduated. My last year as Alumnae President. I’ve got so many stories to tell but I need time to sit still and think about them. These were my remarks to the Alumnae Association on Saturday morning:

After all the pomp and circumstance, it’s good to turn to our sisters and say, “Good morning!” And I add, “Welcome Home!” because Wesleyan is home for all of us gathered here.

I’m usually rather extemporanteous with my speeches–I wait to be inspired by something during the weekend, some idea that comes close to the explaining the love that we feel here when we all get together. But this weekend has been even more busy than usual. It’s my 25th reunion (insert very loud WOO-HOO AND WHEEEE here)…and we have been staying up very late telling stories.

Kym, who is one of the most beautiful, wise and generally brilliant people I know, told us of the anguish she felt as she learned to wait and to abide while her father died.

Ystoriesvette, who we haven’t seen for 25 years, told of the joy of finding work that she loves, that keeps her growing. She made us laugh with the story of her soulmate proposing on the brim of the Grand Canyon, even as a tour bus clapped and waited for her answer. We laughed with her, past midnight.

We all could relate when Natalie talked about working 50 hours a week at the bank, but running home on her lunch break to bake muffins for her son’s cross country team. So we told her, “Sweetie–they have bakeries. Get you some money from the bank and BUY muffins, then take a nap.”

Two a.m., and Natalie crows, “Ashley! Tell us about that time you knew your marriage to Fartbuster was over! The one with the ice!” So I did. I told them of the epic blowout in the middle of the Atlanta airport when I stood back and said, “I don’t want this anymore. This isn’t the life I want for myself.”

Three a.m. rolled around but we just couldn’t stop telling stories. And I hadn’t written a speech.

But Friday night, at the Celebration Concert, I heard something that made sense of this weekend, that summed up the joy I feel when my sisters and I are together. Two members of the Green Knight class of 1980 sang “For Good” from Wicked. If you know the story, Glinda and Elpheba are two young women who meet at school:

“It well may be

That we may never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part–

So much of me

Is made of what I learn from you

You’ll be with me

Like a handprint on my heart

And now whatever way our stories end

I know you have rewritten mine

By being my friend.”

We need a place to tell our stories, a safe circle of people who love us and laugh when we laugh and cry when we cry. I have that circle and I love you, every one of you. Thank you for rewriting my story.

PK90

Ten Signs I’ve Found the Right Biscuit Joint

  1. Got the last spot in the parking lot at 9:15 on a torrentially rainy Wednesday morning.
  2. The car next to me was a genuine farm vehicle. How could I tell? Because the back seat and floor boards of the Toyota Corolla were covered in loose hay and it was sporting an after-market trailer hitch.
  3. The biscuit joint is located in a gas station. The line snakes back to the energy drink cooler over gray tile that wore down to the subfloor when Nixon was president. There is no ambience, and if you start to think there’s some, it’s the fumes. While I wait, I am free to peruse a revolving rack of “Discount Books,” most of which are about The Lord. (Locals call this place “Jesus Biscuit.”) I reach for the one entitled “It’s Your KID, Not a Gerbil!” before noticing the thin layer of fried bologna grease and motor oil on the cover and changing my mind.
  4. Listing out the biscuit toppings requires a board of the size that you might see in a high school football stadium. Bacon, ham, chicken, steak, five kinds of sausage AND fatback. My Pop would have thought he had died and gone to heaven. Alas, he has died and gone to heaven. Before anyone starts clucking about the dangers of cholesterol, that man ate fatback every time he could catch it and he died at 103. If you don’t know what fatback is, this is probably not the list you were hoping for. I’ll write about kale next week.
  5. Folks in line are not mulling over the menu or reading nutrition information. When they make it to the counter, they bark out “Bologna and fried egg biscuit” or “double red links on white toasted, side a grits and gravy.” The man in front of me ordered “two boloney on white, no toast, lettuce and tomato” and all the woman said was, “Is that it?”
  6. biscuitNot only is fried bologna an option, each piece has that little notch cut out of the edge so it doesn’t pooch up while frying. Makes me miss my grandma. She used to cut a little x in the middle of bologna so it didn’t curl up like a sombrero.
  7. The women working the counter are friendly and efficient. Two of the five people in front of me only had to nod and smile at her to get their orders because they were regulars.
  8. The woman at the counter repeats each order and simultaneously calculates the price in her head while scribbling it onto a brown paper sack. She ain’t got a calculator, but she’s got a neck tattoo. So does the woman working the griddle. Making a living off of gas station biscuits is not a gentlewoman’s game. These ladies have done some living and they got game.
  9. I feel like a dumbass when I say “to go” after my order. “Really, princess? You ain’t gon eat it standing here by the cash register so we can all clap when you’re done?”
  10. Giant flaky buttermilk biscuit with fried bologna and a fried egg=$2.39. The yella mustard was free.

If you’re in Athens, Georgia, stop by the Bread Basket inside the Chevron station on the corner of Boulevard and Chase Street. It’s all kinds of good!

Where’s your favorite biscuit joint?

 

 

The Left Way

11048706_10205359734385867_7995798829086982539_o“I cut paper wif scissors!”

Carlos plopped down on the carpet in the den with a few pieces of white paper from the printer tray and a pair of green safety scissors. He held the silver blades tightly with one hand while he got the fingers of his right hand positioned in the grips.

“Way to go!” I exclaimed, before he even began to cut. Holding scissors the “right way” is one of his goals in school. It has been a goal for a while. I’d never seen him get them in position like this, so I was already excited. Ever so slowly and carefully, he moved the grips of the scissors between his fingers and began to make tiny snips around the edge of the paper. G and I clapped.

As his cuts traveled farther down the sheet of paper, the paper began to wobble and slip away from the scissors.

I got down on the floor with him. “If you hold it like this, the paper won’t shake.” I moved his hand up closer to where he was making the cuts. He snipped a couple more times. Back on track.

Huck scratched at the back door so I turned my attention away for a moment. When I looked back to Carlos and the paper…

Y’all probably think I’m going to say that he had cut all his hair off, right?

Nah. But he had gone back to holding the scissors with two hands, otherwise known as “the wrong way.” I hovered in hopes that he would correct his grip. He snipped away happily as well as he could with the scissors all wonky.

“Baby? Don’t you want to hold those the way you had them before?” He ignored me.

“Here,” I offered as I sat down beside him. “Let me show you the right way.”

He pulled the scissors out of my reach.

“No, Mommy! I do it the LEFT WAY.”

So I kept my mouth shut while he snipped the paper in a clumsy line. He’ll learn eventually that the “right way” became the right way because it makes controlling the scissors easier. It’s the way of precision.

Tonight’s little moment reminded me that, until he cares about precision, the left way is a perfectly fine path to travel too. Two paths diverge, the right way and the left way.

This Is All My Fault

I started this post in February 2014. I figured out where it was going today.

Back then, I was thinking about the internal stories that I return to over and over. The stuff I just can’t let go–the stories I tell myself about myself all the time. I might have been reading Brene Brown’s ideas about shame and the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is a reasonable reaction when you have done something wrong; shame is the unreasonable belief that you ARE wrong.

gifts-462302_1280

Here’s an example of a story I keep carrying around. When I was a kid, I loved to wrap Christmas packages. I wrapped presents for our family, for my grandparents, for my aunt and uncle. My dad taught me how to tie fancy bows and finish the ends of the package with no overlap. So when I was about 13, my mom heard about a group at the mall that was raising money for some charity by wrapping presents. She signed me up for a shift and I was so excited! I wrapped many gifts beautifully that day, but there was this one package that got the best of me. A girl about my age and her mom brought me a large, not quite square box and asked me to wrap it for her boyfriend. I chose a simple gold foil, then I started on a double bow with contrasting colors of satin ribbon. Only the pre-cut ribbon didn’t quite fit around the awkward box. I didn’t want to cut new lengths because the volunteer coordinator had given me a very serious orientation about how this was for charity and we could not waste ribbon. So I taped the ribbon on the bottom of the box even though it didn’t quite meet–there was a messy gap of about an inch in the center on the bottom of the package. Everything you could see was perfect, but the bottom was messy. And I hadn’t wasted ribbon. Right choice? I thought it was the best path.

Well, five minutes later, the mother and daughter came back with the package and complained to the volunteer coordinator that the bottom was so ugly and the ribbon didn’t meet. I was mortified. I had been found out. When they were asked who had wrapped the gift for them, the mother looked around the room and pointed to me, “She did it.” When the volunteer brought it back to me to fix, I apologized and said that I hadn’t wanted to cut more ribbon. She looked at me like I was an idiot. She said, “We can’t CHARGE people for a mess like this!”

So yeah. I finished out my shift in red-faced shame and never went back. I still feel shame when I think about it. Because I was doing my best but I messed it up. I was a 13 yr old kid faced with the desire to do it right but working under the “don’t waste ribbon” edict. I opted for the wrong choice. And when it was pointed out as wrong, I fixed it. Fixing the package with a perfect ribbon took care of the guilt for the mistake. But the shame? That’s what I’m still carrying.

Now let’s return from 1982, shall we? Back to a year ago when I first started thinking about the stories that linger. Given that I have stories I can’t seem to let go of or reframe, I asked myself, “What is the theme of these stories? The continual story I’m telling myself about myself?”

Immediately, the answer popped into my head: “This is all my fault.”

This is all my fault.

Flash forward a year to today, when I was having my regularly scheduled crying jag in the preschool parking lot. Carlos has been sent home from school two days this week for hitting, biting, climbing on tables, screaming at another kid because he thinks it’s funny, throwing stuff….you name it. But by the time I pick him up, he a chirpy little angel who says, “I love you, Mommy!” Even on the days when he got to stay at school, I received a two-page note of every transgression. And Vivi didn’t get to go on her class field trip yesterday or today because she was acting up in class earlier in the week and didn’t get herself back to green. Today, as I sat there in the parking lot, just knowing that my kid was going to get kicked out of daycare and wondering what to do next–what to do to FIX THIS–I realized that this phase in my kids’ lives was triggering a lot of shame in my own mind.

And that’s when the words popped into my brain and heart simultaneously: This is all my fault.

THAT’S what has been turning my face red every time I answer the phone and it’s daycare calling. If only I were a better mother, my kids wouldn’t be having any problems in school. If only I didn’t work. Or if I took them to yoga. Do they get enough sleep? Does this milk have enough protein in it? Do other kids wear socks voluntarily? If I were a good mother, my kids would keep their shoes on.

Whoa, Nellie. I felt just like that 13 year old kid, watching as the woman’s finger stretched towards me: “She did it.”

The tears I’ve been trying to tamp down for weeks now came rushing out in the preschool parking lot. It’s not my fault. I’m worried over my kids because they’re my kids, but their actions aren’t my fault. I want them to walk the paths of their lives with joy in their steps and no rocks in their shoes. But they’re the ones who have to do the walking. I can’t carry them.

As I cried it out and reminded myself that I’m not a bad mother and these kids might even maybe somehow be a teensy bit lucky to have me as a mother, the fear and shame began to melt away. Vivi will figure this out by living with the natural consequences of her actions. Carlos’ language will catch up with his heart. We’ll all learn how to deal.

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Do you have stories that you can’t let go? What’s the theme to those stories that you tell yourself about yourself?