Category Archives: Love

You Saw Me

crying graffitiOne day, I walked into Carlos’ classroom with him. A little girl I hadn’t seen before was sitting all by herself in the book nook. She wore a pink plaid sundress, white sandals, and a big white ribbon in her hair. She was crying so hard that the bow bounced up and down with each shake of her little body.

The teachers and the rest of the class were going about their business. I’ve seen kids sitting alone like that before at the Calm Table, where they go to get away from the bustle of the classroom when they need to regroup. But this little girl wasn’t just sniveling or glowering–she hiccupped with each little sob.

I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t mind if I’m 15 minutes late…later, so I sat down next to her on one of those tiny chairs. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked with my hand on her back.

She snurfled out a, “I…want…mommy.”

“Oh, sugar. I bet you do. Well, I’m Carlos’s mommy. Would you like a hug?” She bobbed her dripping little chin and slid over onto my lap.

“Is this your first day?” She nodded. I asked her name and she told me. I patted her back and rocked her a little bit while the rest of the kids thundered around us.

I asked Carlos to come over and say hello and he did. I told her the names of the other kids but she shrank up against me when they got too close. She wasn’t ready for them.

She held a Barbie picture book in her hand so I asked her about it. For a few minutes, we talked about books and what kind of shoes we like and how purple is her favorite color.

When it was time for me to go, she wobbled a bit but held up. I hoped she would be there in the afternoon when I picked up Carlos so I could congratulate her for being brave. But she was already gone by the time I got there.

It took a few more days before we crossed paths again at drop off time. I walked Carlos out to the playground to join his class and a bright shiny girl waved across the distance. I waved back and called her name. She ran up to me and stopped about a foot away. Just beaming.

I said, “Hey! I know you!”

She giggled and said, “You saw me when I was crying!”

We’ve been friends ever since. Her choice of words has stayed with me–“You saw me when I was crying.” She could have said, “You gave me a hug” or “I sat on your lap.” But she experienced that moment as “you saw me.” I was struggling and you saw me.

Isn’t that what we’re all crying out for? To be seen.

Sometimes it’s easy for the mean voice in my head to convince me that I am The Invisible Girl. That I could sit right down in the center of the big spinning world and cry my eyes out, but the world would whirl right past me. It’s not true, but that mean voice is an inveterate liar.

To see someone. To walk up and say, “I see you there.” It’s the simplest of gifts.

your light

A Flower to Say He Was Sorry

Jasmine lobbed out a great conversation starter today on Facebook: “Let’s play show and tell. Post an image in the comments then tell us something about it.” I love threads like this, so I checked my phone to see what pictures I had taken in the last few days.

An apology, twelve years after the fact

An apology, twelve years after the fact

I posted this picture of a white gladiolus that is blooming in the higgledy-piggledy overgrown strip next to my driveway. My story: “This is a scraggly lone gladiolus in my yard. I keep it because my late husband bought me the bag of bulbs in the Amsterdam airport as an apology for an argument we had at five a.m. in the Berlin airport.”

I’ve been hanging on to this flower (and his one wonkier orange cousin) for over a decade now. We had a vision of turning that dirt next to the driveway into a garden, but that never happened. But you know how bulbs are–you throw them in the dirt and forget about them until a year later. You enjoy them for a while, then forget that they are buried down there, still waiting for another time to bloom. Life moves on past the bulbs, so that every year, I am pleasantly surprised by daffodils, delighted with the grape hyacinths, then sentimental over the wonky gladiolus.

Richard and I didn’t argue much, maybe five times in four years together. And two of those happened when he was jonesing for a cigarette. Yes, he smoked. He HATED the fact that he was a smoker. Hid it from people, quit over and over. He was mostly 100% quit here at home (gave himself a pass during tax prep), but every time we went to Europe, he’d fall off the wagon again. As he put it, “Everyone smokes in Europe.” As soon as our plane landed in Amsterdam or Berlin or Paris, I would rush off to buy a pound of Leonidas candied orange rinds in dark chocolate and he would run in the other direction to buy Marlboros he could have gotten for half the price in Atlanta. But he only smoked in Europe–no fudging of the rules.

So we were in Berlin one time and on our last full day there, he finished the pack of cigarettes before dinner time. “You gonna break down and buy a new pack or start bumming them?” I teased. He had it all worked out. “I’ve got three left in a pack in the hotel. One for tonight, one for in the morning, one for at the airport.” Always a man with a plan.

But when we got back to the hotel, he couldn’t find the three cigarettes. He ransacked the room. He opened every pocket on his back pack and mine. He looked under the bed, in the bathroom, behind the curtains on the window sill, in the night stand drawers that we had never opened. He went through our luggage again.

When he started to grumble that the maid had probably stolen them, I said, “Why don’t you just go downstairs and buy another pack?” Nope. That was not the plan. He continued to stomp around looking high and low in our Ibis Hotel room that was probably 80 square feet total. He was bound and determined not to break down and buy another pack with so little time left on the Smoking Continent. He went to sleep, a bundle of bristly nerves.

He woke up the same way at 3:45 a.m. We stumbled around getting dressed and packing the last of the stuff. It was so early that the desk clerk had to call us a cab to Tegel. We didn’t talk much. Because he WAS FINE AND DID NOT SEE ANY REASON TO DISCUSS IT FURTHER THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

We got to the airport with plenty of time before our 6:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. It was still too early for much to be open, so I sat there hurting for a Diet Coke and four more hours of sleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Richard zipping and unzipping pockets on that godforsaken back pack, still muttering about the larcenous hotel maid.

“Would you PLEASE just go buy a pack of cigarettes?” I snarled.

He snapped right back. It makes me sad to realize that I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “I am a grown ass man and will make my own decisions.” After someone dies, even remembering a fight gets sentimental, because at least they were there and snarling at you. Together.

That was that. We flew to Amsterdam in silence. At Schipol, we found the gate to Atlanta and I plopped my ass down with a book, a Diet Coke, and a very high wall of GoToHellYouRatBastard around myself. He wandered off to buy cigarettes.

He came back smelling of Marlboros and carrying a mesh bag of flower bulbs. He held them out to me like a bouquet and apologized. “I would have bought you flowers, but we couldn’t bring them in through Customs. These will get past the sniffer dogs.” Ever the romantic.

That was the only spring we got to live here together. I planted the glads along the driveway. The next year when they bloomed for the first time, he was gone. I had my apology, but he was gone.

After remembering this story today, I did some research on glads. Turns out, Gladiolus (plural gladioli) is the birth flower for the month of August, Richard’s birth month. This spiky, colorful flower is also called the Sword Lily for its likeness to a gladiator’s sword. With its connections to fearless warriors, Gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, faithfulness and honor.

But here’s the fact I learned today that made my hand flutter up to rest on my heart. The Gladiolus flower signifies remembrance.

Every summer, I remember that morning in a strange airport, the smell of smoke, the way it felt to argue and the way it felt to forgive ourselves. It makes me glad.

 

The wonky orange one

The wonky orange one

Don’t Forget to Play

Many years ago, when Fartbuster and I had been married about a year, Daddy and Gay came to town. They took us to dinner downtown at East/West Bistro–a rare treat for us because the fanciest outing we could afford those days was a half price pitcher of margaritas on Tuesday night at Mexicali Grill.

I accompanied Big Gay when she went out to the sidewalk for a cigarette, thus abandoning Fartbuster to solitary conversation with my dad, which always ended up with Daddy exclaiming, “They don’t make graduate students wear jackets and ties to class anymore? In my day…”

Once we were outside, Big Gay leaned in close and said, “So how’s married life REALLY going?” I confided that we were enjoying ourselves for the most part, but there were…moments. Those times when I was the one commuting two hours to work a job I hated so that we would have money for rent…and he skipped class because he just didn’t feel like going. Or times when I did the cooking and the cleaning and the churning and the milking so he could study…and he didn’t. Or times when he didn’t feel like he should have to “jump through hoops” like the other students. Y’know. There were some things. But I wasn’t ready to be 100% honest with anyone.

“I know you love Daddy, but…. do you ever… have a day when you can’t even stand to listen to him for another second?”

“A DAY?” Gay blew out a long plume of smoke and hooted. “A day? Try WEEKS. Honey. I love your Daddy more than anything but sometimes he gets on my nerves so bad I want to tape his mouth shut.”

“What do you do?”

“Read a book. It passes. Eventually, you remember why you thought they were charming in the first place.”

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She reminded me that it was possible to love someone even when you couldn’t manage to like them for a while.

G and I have been together for nine years, three kids, and all the ups and downs that come along with that. Let’s just say, there have been days when we have run out of nice things to say to each other. It’s been a snappish couple of weeks around here.

Then at Vivi’s birthday party, we had a chance to play. We went to Pump It Up, one of those SUPER FANTASTIC BIG FUN INFLATABLES places. We schlepped the cake and the balloons and the presents and the extra socks and the glow bracelets and the gluten free options and the organic grapes and the Capri-Suns with no high fructose corn syrup. We did all the adult stuff. After 15 minutes, Carlos had adjusted to the noise and chaos and all of us were done with our task lists.  So we played.

I got in the foam ball shooting range and taunted Jeff, “You can’t hit ME!” while bending over and showing my butt as a perfect target. The kids loved it. Victoria and I took over the inflatable basketball court and did some ridiculous dunking. I went down the slide (which creates a lot of friction when you are a grown ass woman in capri pants). G tried to do the Wipe Out style obstacle course, which requires leaping from one giant purple ball to the next, gecko-style. He busted it. We hollered so loud that all the dads started doing it. Then all the moms had to give it a try (except for Susan, who has some sense). G came out of the maze unbowed.He stopped where the moms were laughing and assembling glow bracelets to preen and pose for us. When he started rubbing his belly and pretending to unbutton his shirt, I yelled, “BACK OFF, LADIES! He’s taken!”

And I meant it.

We got a chance to play, despite the kids. We’ll be back to sniping at each other soon enough, but it sure felt good to play.

I would post pictures of this hilarity, but my phone just wasn’t fast enough to catch the blur of our prowess. Just picture a grown man trying to leap across this:

canyon-crossing

Mother Each Other

I’ve started doing this weird thing. When I hug someone, I don’t just do the hug and the pat on the back–I put my hand on top of their head and give a gentle pat. It’s such a mothery thing to do, the pat on the head. As if I am hugging them horizontally and vertically at the same time. OK that sounds weird. You know, the way you cradle a baby’s head when you’re holding them close.

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I did it a few weeks ago to a total stranger. Heading down the hallway at Vivi’s school, I passed a young woman who was wiping tears behind her sunglasses. She was ducking her head and sobbing. I could have given her the head-tilt-sad-face combo and kept walking, but I stopped a few steps in front of her and asked, “Are you OK?”

“I just got some really bad news. These girls I went to school with were killed in a really bad wreck.” I wrapped her up in a hug and started mother-clucking.

“Oh, honey! That’s awful! Oh my goodness!” I patted her on the back of the head and let her cry for a few moments before letting go. “Are you OK to drive? Can I get you anything?”

She waved off the offer and said she just needed to get home. I told her to be careful then went on my way. Found out that night about the horrible wreck on I-16 that killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern.

Earlier that same day, I had sat in the sunshine with a friend whose life has been blown up in the last six months. I listened to him and told him what I knew about getting through hard times. When it was time to go, I hugged him and rested my hand on the back of his head. Held him close.

That instinct towards mothering the hurting–it put me in mind of a story my college sister Sally told about a moment she had at the school where she works:

“So yesterday I accidentally stabbed myself with a tiny screwdriver while changing the battery in my watch. (pretty par for Miss Graceful, here) I had to ask the school nurse for a band aid. Last night, as I was taking the bandage off, I flashed back to the moment with Mrs. F, the school nurse. She didn’t just hand the band aid to me. She opened it and carefully placed it on my wrist. Like a Mom. Then patted my arm and smiled. Like a Mom. And it struck me that as little girls we get “mothered-on” a lot. But when little girls grow up, we become mothers or mother figures to others and, for many of us, miss out on being “mothered-on.” Little boys get this attention as well, AND it continues into their adulthood. (If you don’t understand this point, you aren’t’ married or haven’t been long enough!) I think we can do better, my grownup girlfriends. Now go get a band aid and find a woman to “mother-on!” We all deserve this kind of love.”

bandageAmen, Sally, amen. Maybe my kids are so crazy about those Doc McStuffins bandages because they aren’t just a cool sticky thing with a picture–they’re visible reminders of how much they are loved. How their boo-boos will always be patted and kissed and fixed right up.

It’s the subtle difference in meaning between “loving someone” and “loving on someone.” One takes heart and the other takes heart and hands. One is an intransitive verb and one is very very transitive.

For Mothers Day this year? Let’s mother each other. Go find someone who’s hurting and love on them a little bit.

 

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

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.

Love For the Sheer Joy of Loving

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Wesleyan College lost a great light this weekend–our chaplain, Reverend William Hurdle. For seventeen years, he encouraged and counseled and delighted in every young woman who needed an ear or a shoulder or a hug.

Reverend Hurdle joined the staff after I graduated, but I’ve had the pleasure of being in his presence many times at college events. Over the last few years, he had grown weaker–he would be seated on the stage already instead of processing in with the faculty and staff in all their regalia. As he made his way to the podium to say an invocation or grant a benediction, his body showed the signs of age and illness, but his voice kept its gentleness.

There are a thousand broken hearts now that he is gone. He truly was the kindest, gentlest, most loving man. I didn’t know before today that he was on Okinawa at the age of seventeen.

Well, none of these words come close.

I’ve been thinking about his “motto” that so many of his friends have quoted this weekend–“Love for the sheer joy of loving.” Not because Jesus told you to, or because you want to improve your own karma, or to pay back some debt. Love for the JOY of loving. Love for the goodness it brings right now, to you.

I was sad today, so Vivi and I took our Kindles and went on a little adventure. We stopped by Trader Joe’s and bought an armload of roses–green and red and white. We ate Belgian frites with feta sauce and read our books. She’s reading “The YoYo Mystery” and I’ve begun “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” We sat at the tall table that we can’t sit at when Carlos is with us. While we were sitting there side by side, she looked up, all freckles and brown curls, and said, “Mama?”

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Before she could even start her question, I heard Reverend Hurdle’s voice in my mind and heart, “Love for the sheer joy of loving.” That’s exactly the way I feel when I hear myself being called “Mama.” A simple joy, nothing complicated and not towards any end. Just love.

It reminds me of a talk my friend, Robin, and I had once about Jesus’ love. Even though I am an atheist, I don’t mind talking about Jesus because I think he got a lot of things right. (I don’t talk about religion much because I don’t have any interest in changing how others believe and I don’t plan to change my beliefs either…now back to our story). Robin was trying to reconcile the idea that Jesus loves EVERYONE equally, regardless of how they behave. Hitler, Ghandi, Beyonce and Mr. Rogers all stand in the same line. So Robin had finally found a way that she could picture this unmeasured, inclusive love. She stopped talking and simply spread her arms wide, like a mother would do when her child starts running to her for a hug. That was her idea of what the love of Jesus looked like. Made sense to me.

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of Reverend Hurdle, arms flung wide, come one, come all.

May those who loved him hold his memory as a blessing. Here’s the lovely blessing I remember hearing from him:

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