Real Life Can Be Stressful

Real life can be stressful. The transition from high school to college can be tricky.

I haven’t posted anything since May 9. Why? Because my brain has been scrambled…that’s why.

If you have never had a child graduate from high school, but you have kids who eventually will graduate, hold onto your hat. What I thought should not be stressful or a big deal of any kind has turned my world upside down.

OK, maybe that’s being extreme. But during the weeks leading up to our daughter’s high school graduation on May 21, there were so many events and activities. I don’t consider myself low energy, but man! They wore me out! Parent meetings, Baccalaureate, Senior Supper, sports awards…and so much more! And those are just the things parents attended…the seniors did all that and more! I know the school was trying to cram lots of “memories” into a few weeks, but I’m not kidding when I say it was overwhelming. Back in 1985, when I graduated from a public high school, we had graduation rehearsal and graduation. I don’t remember any extra things we had to do, and I was cool with that, because honestly…graduating from high school is something we are supposed to do.

Soon after our daughter’s graduation at the end of May, she and I flew down to attend her college orientation. The event itself wasn’t stressful, but it was a lot of information at one time. Y’all know I didn’t even know want to go. I don’t think parents should have to go to orientation. In this case, nothing ever said it was mandatory, but as I talked to other parents leading up to it, I was afraid my daughter would look like an orphan if I didn’t go with her. So I went. But again, I don’t think there should even be sessions for parents. Back in the 1980s, my parents didn’t go. I drove myself there without GPS or a cellphone, and everything was just fine. I think they started doing parent sessions to give the parents something to do. You know, in 2022, we can’t just let our kids do things on their own. {Insert eye roll here.} So that one day I spent in the parent session is one day of my life I will never get back. Nope, I didn’t attend the second day. The second day, I just dropped her off with her roommate for the sessions, and I went back to the hotel for a leisurely cup of coffee…just as it should be.

But things went awry in our household after that. It actually started at orientation. Without getting into too much detail, I will say it has been a tough couple of weeks emotionally. Graduation actually hits these kids harder than we realize. Internally, they know they are feeling something stressful, but they don’t know why! Here’s why: they are leaving their family and friends to go to college soon. Everything they have ever known is about to change, and I don’t care how “ready” your kid is, it’s a scary time for them. I honestly believe it’s why we see so many friendships change in the summer after graduation. We see romances end. And seriously…I have seen my daughter trying to disconnect from me. It’s OK. I knew it would happen. I know she will need to disconnect emotionally for the college transition. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but I know it’s part of the process. She is moving 450 miles away to experience a new life. She won’t be coming back to Charlotte on the regular. It doesn’t make it any less sad, though. But that’s what stress does…we react to it in weird ways…and our daughter has certainly reacted. Wow.

We were fortunate to be able to slip away last week for some mother/daughter time at our favorite hotel in California. No, we didn’t just stay in the hotel the whole time, but frankly, I would have been OK with that. It’s a place of great comfort for me. It’s a place we feel at home. It’s a place we see friends. There is a reason it’s our favorite. We were able to relax, shop, eat great food, and relax some more in a beautiful environment. Did it help? Yes, it did. It helped us feel better, but it also forced us to have a conversation about the pressure we are feeling. She and I had a few heart-to-heart conversations. I told her everything she is feeling is normal. It’s OK to feel stress. It’s OK to feel pressure. It’s even OK to feel the need to disconnect. But it’s also important to try to handle things respectfully and compassionately. She is a sweet girl who is simply experiencing something new. And I’m a mom experiencing something new. As we barrel toward becoming empty-nesters, I’m feeling weird emotions too. I’ll likely sleep with one of her dirty sweatshirts after she leaves, just so I can have her scent nearby.

So, she moves into her dorm in six weeks. Of those six weeks, we will be on vacation again for two of them. I will have gallbladder surgery in July (ugh), so that will be two weeks of nothing. And then, we will move her in. Of course, I won’t be able to carry anything heavy for six weeks after the surgery, so it will be up to my husband to do all the heavy lifting. I’m not sure he knows that yet. We will move her in, and when we drive away, I feel sure I will shed a tear or a thousand. They will be sad tears for me, but they will be happy tears for her, because I know college is going to be a great experience.

And once she gets all moved in and starts classes, there will be more stress. College life is an adjustment, but she will figure it all out.

College is a good way to learn to deal with the stress of life, because real life can be stressful.

I’ve Already Graduated from College

I’ve already graduated from college.

When our daughter was in third grade, she came home one afternoon and asked me to help her with a math problem. She didn’t ask for help often, and I was happy to oblige. I sat down and worked with her, showing her how to do a problem. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” I said, “Well, that’s how I do it. I won the math award in high school…I know what I’m doing.” Again…”that’s not how my teacher does it.” My response? “Then ask your teacher in the morning. I have already passed third grade math.” And honestly, that was the best response for lots of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know how to do “new math.”

It reminded me of my mother when I was in school. I remember asking her for help with geometry, and her response was, “Honey. I don’t remember. That was 30 years ago. I’ve already passed geometry.” And with that, she turned back to continue watching Dynasty, because what Krystle Carrington was wearing was important. At that point in my life, I guess I thought moms retained every bit of math knowledge they had acquired in school. I guess I expected her to be able to recall the Pythagorean theorem on demand…30 years after passing her geometry class. My daughter has not asked me for math help (or any other kind of help in school) since. I guess, if she needed help along the way, she asked a classmate or a teacher.

And now, she is finishing high school in the next few weeks and preparing to leave for college! Exciting times at our house! She is enrolled, but she has lots of things to do before she can go off to college.

Back in the 80s, when I was applying to college and preparing to leave, I did it all. I don’t remember my parents helping me at all. Sure, they paid for everything, but I did all the legwork. I remember brochures and packets coming in the mail from different colleges and universities. My mother put a bag in my room to deal with that. Every day, after the mail arrived, she would bring all the brochures and packets up to my room and drop them into the bag. Every now and then, I would weed through the information and throw away the information from the schools I wasn’t interested in. When I applied to colleges, I simply asked her for checks to mail with the applications. I wrote the checks, and she signed them. I’m not even sure if she knew which schools the checks were going to. And that was OK, because I was the one going to college. She had already graduated from college.

Now, as my daughter is preparing to leave for college, I have joined some Facebook parent pages for her university, which is also my alma mater. I have written about the parent pages before. They are annoying, to say the least. Moms asking how to send baked potatoes to their kids’ dorms. (Not kidding.) Moms asking where their kids should park. (Not kidding.) Moms asking about tutors for their kids. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to do their kids’ schedules. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to drop/add classes. (Not kidding.) Rarely, there is someone who asks a question or shares information that is useful.

Why did I put “not kidding” behind each of those items I listed? I will tell you why: because those are all things the kids should be handling themselves. And do you know why? Because they are the ones going to college. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t asked me to handle anything for her (I don’t have any login information for her student account). She likely knows I would say, “That’s something you need to figure out like I had to do when I went to college. I’m not going to college; you are. I’ve already graduated from college.” Does it mean I don’t care? No, it means the opposite. It means I care enough to let her do it herself. She needs to learn to solve her own problems. She needs to know how to get her own questions answered. She needs to be responsible for herself. I have full confidence in her, because I have let her figure things out for herself for a long time. Heck, it’s easier for them now than it was when we were in college! Now, all the information they need is on the website!

Back in the good ol’ 1980s, if we had questions about college stuff, we had to search through the university catalog. Or get the university phone book and make some calls to get answers. If we were wondering about where to order a baked potato to have delivered to our dorm, we had to find the yellow pages and look it up. Only, we couldn’t look up “baked potato delivery.” We had to look up restaurants and search for one with an ad for delivery. We also had to have some idea of which ones offered baked potatoes. Or we could walk down the dorm hall asking people if they knew where we could order a baked potato…that often worked. But back in the 80s, our moms were not ordering food to have delivered to us. No way. Honestly, I’m not even sure my mother knew the name of the dorm I lived in freshman year! No joke.

All this also makes me think about something that happened when our daughter was about six years old. My friend, Wendy, and I had taken my 6-yr-old daughter, Wendy’s 6-yr-old son, and my twin 6-yr-old nephews to Great Wolf Lodge one weekend. When we took them to dinner, my daughter was holding her own plate, but standing next to me at the buffet. Wendy’s son was holding his own plate but standing next to her at the buffet. I looked around for my nephews and saw one at the prime rib station, asking the server for a slice of prime rib. The other one was navigating the salad bar on his own. When we sat back down, Wendy and I talked about how awesome it was that they handled it all on their own! I called the nephews’ mom the next day and said, “Wow! They handled the buffet like champs!” And I still remember her response. She said, “That’s what happens when parents ignore their kids. They become self-sufficient.” I laughed, because I knew she didn’t really ignore them, but she didn’t baby them. They handled things for themselves at six! And I learned a valuable lesson. l didn’t ignore my daughter, for sure, but I let her handle things on her own. Those same nephews are off to college this fall too, and I feel sure they can handle anything that comes their way.

When we get my daughter moved into the dorm in August, I will feel pretty sure she can figure things out. She can handle it. She has always been a decision-maker. She is like me; she can make a decision…it might not always be the best one, but she can make a decision, and that is a life skill. Why can she make decisions? Because I have always stepped back to let her make her own decisions. I might present the facts before she makes it, but she makes her own decisions. I’m proud of that, because “the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” If your kid is about to leave for college, and you haven’t let them make life decisions, you have a few more months to let them practice, so they don’t become a flat squirrel.

I’ve already graduated from college.

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!

Let’s Get this Garden Started!

Let’s get this garden started!

Last summer, I decided to take the summer off from gardening. After the whole pandemic thing, I thought I needed a break from my backyard garden. By July, I knew I was wrong. No matter how much work it is, I love gardening in summer. It relaxes me. It gives me more purpose. It’s important. Last August, I wrote about how much I missed it. You can see that here.

So this year, I have already gotten started. Before my daughter and I left for her senior spring break trip last week, I got 72 seeds started in a Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit (order your Burpee kit from Amazon here), and last night and today, I have started 144 more. While I was in Jamaica (with 60 kids and their parents, yikes!), I didn’t even think about the seeds I had started till the third night of my four night trip. As trashy as it sounds, I had left the grow kit in the window of our dining room, so it would get lots of light. I called my husband on that third night and asked him to walk in there and see if anything was happening, and he sent me a picture of lots of emerging seedlings! Once I see that kind of progress, I get excited and want to start more seeds, so I have been busy since we got home.

Being in North Carolina makes gardening a little tricky. It’s hard to tell when winter is officially over. It might be 80 degrees for two weeks, and then we will get snow the first week of April…trust me, it has happened. So I’m never really sure about when to transfer my seedlings to the ground. I try to wait as long as possible for the last cold snap and for the plants to get a little bigger, because I learned a long time ago that birds, rabbits, and deer love seedlings. I think I will likely do the transplant thing in two weeks and put all kinds of things around the garden to deter the pests. It looks crazy out there when I get all my flash tape, pinwheels, and fake owls out, but they do seem to help deter the “pests” a little. I can’t sit outside like Elmer Fudd with a gun hunting “wabbits” all night.

Seriously, I’m feeling better already just because I know I’m going to have a garden. I never realized how much it bolsters my mood till I didn’t garden last year. This year I will have tomatoes (tomato sandwiches, anyone?), three varieties of cucumbers (salad, anyone?), two varieties of corn, and lots and lots of different varieties of sunflowers, including the beautiful Mexican Sunflowers…a big, bushy plant full of tiny orange blooms!

Maybe now is when I should tell you that my “garden” means my whole backyard. There’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to my “garden.” I just plant where I can, and sometimes, it drives my husband crazy. Our next-door neighbor seems to enjoy it…she helps me with it when I’m out of town, and I share the cucumbers and tomatoes with her. Plus, she loves bees and butterflies as much as I do, and one of the great things about all those flowers and cucumber blossoms is that they attract both.

Having a garden makes me go outside every morning and every evening to tend things. I like to water everything by hand twice a day. I know, I could set up the irrigation system, but there’s something special about watering by hand…and by hand, I mean with the hose. Occasionally, I mix plant food in a watering can, but most of the time, I water things with the hose. If I’m not watering the plants, I’m pruning the plants or harvesting. And I’m always on the lookout for pests like tomato grubs or cucumber worms/beetles. A tomato grub will make short order of an entire tomato plant in no time!

I’m a self-taught gardener, which means I have learned along the way, and I’m still learning! For example, a few years ago, I planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to learn how to pollinate them by hand! Later, I realized one corn plant had corn smut, a fungus that is considered a blight here in the US but is a culinary delicacy in Mexico! So you know what I did…I learned how to make tacos with it. In Mexico, they call it huitlacoche (pronounced weetluhkochay), and cooked right, it is delicious. I also learned that braconid wasps lay eggs in the backs of tomato grubs, so if you see a tomato grub with white, spiny-looking things (the wasp eggs) sticking out of a tomato grub’s back, leave it alone. It will die from a toxic substance in the eggs, and the eggs will hatch new wasps that will keep the cycle going! Growing flowers close to tomato plants helps attract the wasps in the first place.

Do I know everything about gardening? No way! I know very little compared to most, but I enjoy learning to new things, so it’s fun. Hopefully, I will learn even more this spring and summer!

Let’s get this garden started!

I’m Proud of You, Mom

“I’m proud of you, Mom.”

Recently, I finished a big volunteer project…you know, I was working for free for weeks on end (months) when I could have been eating bonbons in the pool. It was a big project, no doubt…an athletic awards show for my teenage daughter’s school. I’m not complaining, of course. I worked with some awesome people and made some new friends. It was definitely a group effort, as lots of other parents and school staff pitched in. There were a few times I’m sure I was quite snippy with my family, because of the stress I was feeling, but we made it through!

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year at her much-loved independent school in Charlotte. She started there in transitional kindergarten, and now, we are entering the summer before her senior year. It’s hard to believe she’s going to be a senior. My husband and I are just enjoying the ride. We have loved every age as our daughter has grown. It hasn’t always been easy, but big picture…life with her is definitely an adventure. She is an only child, so she doesn’t get away with much. We don’t have any other kids distracting us. And I’ve always warned her that I’m likely to have done anything she tries to get away with. I’m likely to realize when she’s up to something. As I’ve always said, “You can’t bull***t a bullsh***er.” Forgive the language, but nothing seems to get the point across as well as that does. Has she always been perfect? No, but neither have we. All the little mistakes we make along the way (as teens and as parents) are part of who we are. I have a great relationship with my daughter. We talk. We hang out. We respect each other. Of course, there are times I embarrass her, but isn’t that just part of it?

Over the years, I have embarrassed her at least a million times. I’ve even written a piece before about the countless ways I embarrassed her on a trip to Boston a few years ago. I’ve grown accustomed to her sighs and groans when I do something that embarrasses her. Greet people we encounter? She’s embarrassed. Ask too many questions? She’s embarrassed. Wear something she doesn’t like? She’s embarrassed. Seriously, it’s not difficult to embarrass a teenager.

Last Tuesday, my big athletic awards show project finally ended. In normal times, the show is live in the auditorium at the school. Seniors and state championship teams are honored. Parents are in attendance. All those folks are shoved into the auditorium, shoulder-to-shoulder, but this year, we couldn’t do it that way. In fact, we had to come up with a “hybrid” plan to present to the administration. In the end, we pre-recorded the show and had a “screening party” for the seniors on the football field…with a gigantic, inflatable screen…drive-in movie style. Only seniors, coaches, and the parents of seniors were allowed to attend. Sadly, I think some people were upset they couldn’t go, but we couldn’t do more than was approved by the administrative team. However, anyone else who wanted to watch could simultaneously watch the “broadcast” from home online.

I was at the field for hours the day of the show…getting things ready beforehand, staying for the show, making sure everyone picked up their awards and got photos afterward, cleaning up. l didn’t even look at my phone for hours, but at 11pm, when I got into my car, I checked my phone and saw a text message from my daughter. Apparently, she had been watching the show at home. The text message, which she had sent at 9:38pm, said, “This is really good. I’m proud of you, Mom.” I was exhausted, but that message made it all worth it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I started the car, and before I drove away, I texted her back, “Sweetest message ever. Thank you.”

Who knows when I’ll hear/read those words from her again, but if I never hear/read them again, I will always remember that moment when I saw her text. I had complained and fretted about the preparation for that show, but those words in that text from my teenage daughter made it all worth it.

Choose Joy

Choose joy.

In my collection of hoodies, I now have a tie-dye one that says “choose joy” across the front. I bought it for myself recently, because sometimes I need a reminder to choose joy.

I like to be happy, and most of the time, I choose to be happy. I’ve had sad things happen and my own struggles in life, just like everyone else, but I try to process that sadness and find joy again. Sometimes it take a while, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I do believe we can all make a conscious decision to be joyful. If we try to see a silver lining, we can usually find one.

And in my experience, choosing joy for yourself makes other people joyful. I find that, if I am happy, the people around me tend to become happier…joy is contagious. No doubt. Just like anger and bitterness are contagious. I know that, because sometimes I’m downright angry and bitter. Occasionally, something will get under my skin and stay there. I get angry or upset about something, and it seems I will never shake it. When that happens, I tend to spread that bad mood…till I realize what I’m doing…and then I try to turn it around. I choose joy.

There have been times in my life that I’ve stepped back and realized I’ve been “spitting venom,” and that’s not good. When I’ve realized it, whether someone pointed it out or I realized it myself, I’ve tried to walk it back and change my attitude. When I was a little girl, if I had a bad attitude, my parents would tell me, “You need to put a smile on your face…now.” Sounds silly, right? But here’s what usually happens when you put a smile on your face: you start feeling a little happier. It goes with the old “fake it till you make it” theory…start acting happier, and you will become happier. I learned that valuable lesson in my 20s, and it’s a lesson I’ve always remembered…and one I’ve tried to teach my teenage daughter. I’ve had to force myself to “fake it till I make it” a lot more through the COVID pandemic, because honestly, it’s downright depressing. But if we look around and find joy somewhere, it makes it a little easier.

About a month into the pandemic isolation, I was looking out the window onto my patio when I realized the trees behind our patio were becoming greener…sprouting tiny green leaves. Because we were all searching for things to do during that lockdown, I spent some of my time taking photos of the trees as we moved into spring. Sounds boring, right? I agree, but somehow it was fun at the time…and it brought me joy! I also got my garden started way earlier than usual…finding joy where I could…watching seedlings grow into flowers and vegetables. I chose joy that way.

Did I still have times of sadness? You bet. The pandemic shutdowns and isolation have been hard on me. But I refused to give in. Sure, occasionally, I had a breakdown here or there…or I made a big deal out of something that wasn’t a big deal. But when I realized it, I adjusted my attitude and chose joy.

That “choose joy” hoodie I mentioned earlier? Well, I found it on a website called Elly and Grace. I got one of those Facebook notifications that a college friend “liked” the Facebook page for the company, so I checked it out, and I was glad I did. Elly and Grace is a small company in Missouri whose mission is “to provide the softest, highest quality Christian apparel, designed to uplift, inspire and point others to Jesus.” Indeed, they do! The hoodie I purchased is the softest ever, and it certainly promotes an inspirational message! They have other items that feature other great messages and Bible verses. You can see what they offer here. I will definitely be shopping with them again very soon, and I know I will purchase some Christmas gifts from them too. I love to support small businesses…and this one seems special.

So thank you, Facebook, for leading me to Elly and Grace, and thank you to Elly and Grace for reminding me to “choose joy.” I am trying to make that conscious choice every single day.

Choose joy.

October 2 Has Meaning for Me

October 2 has meaning for me.

Different days have different meanings. To a lot of people, October 2 means nothing different than any other day. To me, it has meaning.

October 2 is the anniversary of a day my life changed forever…the day my Daddy died in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about it before. Today is the 14th anniversary of his passing. While it’s hard to believe it has been 14 years, it also feels like I haven’t seen his face or heard his laugh in forever.

For years, I could only remember him sick. Pancreatic cancer was a cruel disease for him. Frankly, it was cruel for me and the rest of the family too. I had never felt such emotional pain. I thought I would lose my mind with grief. Yes, the disease was terrible, but through those months from diagnosis to his passing, we managed to have some good times. We laughed…a lot. We cried a lot too. We spent a lot of time together. My husband and I moved our little family down to the Alabama Gulf Coast for months, to be closer to Mother and Daddy. We were lucky we had a condo on the bay near their house. Our daughter was about to turn three. It wasn’t easy to uproot the family. We had good support in Charlotte…great friends we had made over the course of our marriage. They called to check on us, and they mailed little treats to our daughter. I called them and cried regularly. We didn’t have a lot of support in Alabama, but I enrolled our daughter in a church preschool…they very graciously took her when they didn’t have to. And I did everything I could to keep my little family happy while trying to help my mother help my daddy. Daddy was so sweet throughout his illness. It was heartbreaking watching him get sicker and sicker…and that was all I could remember for a long time.

But now, I can remember him not sick. I can remember his laugh. I can remember his stories and his wordplay. I can remember watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS with him. I can remember watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN and listening to Harry Caray with him. We loved the early days of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire…when Regis hosted. He was into all the same “useless knowledge” I’m into. I remember what a jokester he was. I remember how he carried me to the car when I had a stomach bug at 17…just picked me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to the car to take me to the doctor. I can remember how big his hands looked when I was a little girl. When he was dying, I kept looking at his hands…trying to etch them in my memory. I don’t know why that was so important, but for some reason it was. I think his hands represented his strength to me…his physical strength, but also his emotional strength. He was rock solid to us. He carried the burden of supporting our family, and he didn’t have a financial safety net in the form of parents who could help him in a financial emergency. He gave us that safety net, though.

My brother and I laughed just recently talking about how Daddy always made sure we were taken care of. He provided for us…everything we needed and most of what we wanted…throughout life. And here’s the funny thing…he’s still providing for us, in a way. Just recently, almost three years after my mother died, we discovered they had a life insurance policy he had set up many years ago. Today, on the fourteenth anniversary of Daddy’s passing, I deposited the check from that policy into a bank account, and afterward, I sat in the car and thought, “Wow. Fourteen years to the day after he died, and he’s still giving to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. Mother provided lots for us too…in a different way, but today is about remembering Daddy. I used to dread October 2 every year, because it meant heartache to me, but now I smile. I’m certainly not happy he’s gone, but when October 2 rolls around, I spend the day thinking about Daddy. I’ll look at the moon tonight and remember how he used to call me in Charlotte from his home in Alabama and tell me to go outside and look at the moon when it was particularly spectacular.

Just this weekend, when I was in a store with a friend, someone heard me call her “Miss Merry Sunshine” and asked if that was her name. I explained that I just call my friend that because she’s perpetually happy. And even that made me think of Daddy. When he was sick, I would take our toddler daughter over to visit, and he would sing Good Morning, Merry Sunshine any time she walked into the room. She loved it…and frankly, I did too. In one of his final days, I walked into the room with her, and he had a lot of morphine in his system…his speech wasn’t clear. His smile was clear, but his speech was garbled. He was “singing” but it wasn’t clear. I took that almost-three-yr-old little girl outside, and said, “I wonder what Big Ken was trying to say to you?” She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Good morning, Merry Sunshine!” So yes, I thought of him this past weekend when the woman in the store thought my friend’s name was Merry Sunshine.

Now that little toddler girl is almost 17. In memory of Daddy, before she goes out with her friends tonight, I’ll take her hand and press a crisp $20 bill into it. He used to do that…give me “walking around money,” or WAM, as we started calling it when I was in college.

His passing was difficult. That’s not even a good word for it. It hit me hard. But it also taught me some coping skills…his final lesson to me.

Lots of good memories of Daddy. Thanks, October 2, for making me sit back and think about him. I still miss him, but I have wonderful memories of him.

Embracing My Inner Ouiser

Embracing my inner Ouiser.

I saw Steel Magnolias soon after it premiered in 1989, and once I could digest some of the questionable southern accents (Tom Skerritt and Darryl Hannah, I’m looking at you), I loved the movie. As a southerner, I saw characters I could totally identify with. Growing up in Alabama, I knew people like those characters. I knew folks like M’Lynn, Truvy, Clairee, Drum, Shelby, Annelle, and yes, I knew people like Ouiser.

On Facebook, I often see these silly quizzes titled Which Steel Magnolia Are You? Yes, I take the bait and jump right into the questions with gusto. Going into them, I’ve often thought of myself as the very practical M’Lynn. Sometimes, I might be a cross between Claire and Truvy. But after all these months of COVID? I’m becoming Ouiser. And honestly, I’m embracing my inner Ouiser.

Normally, I consider myself a “glass half full” person. I try to see the positive side of things, and I look for silver linings. I’ve never considered myself a “glass half empty” girl. But now, since I’m embracing my inner Ouiser, I might have to become a “throw the glass against the wall” kind of person. Damn glass…who cares if it’s half full or half empty? This is so out of character for me, but I just need to wallow in it right now.

If you’ve seen the film, you know Ouiser is the grouchy, sarcastic member of the friend group. She is “eccentric.” And honestly, she brings a lot of flavor to the movie. Shirley MacLaine, even as a non-southerner, brought life to a character all good southerners have known at some point in life…the grumpy neighbor lady…the bitter teacher…the friend’s mom who locked them out of the house during the day all summer…the old lady with the constant scowl on her face…the old woman who screams at neighborhood kids for being too noisy. We know them.

I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, but I have it on my list of things to watch again in the next month or so. I’ll squeeze it in somewhere between old episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Family Affair, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Partridge Family. Oh, and don’t forget That Girl. You can see Steel Magnolias on Amazon Prime for a small fee here. Yes, I’m digging deep to find some joy…anything that takes me back to a happier time, because life in the days of COVID? Well, a lot of the joy has been sucked out of daily life. I’m just telling it like it is…just like Ouiser would.

So to channel my inner Ouiser, I looked up some of her best quotes from the movie, and here they are…for your reading pleasure:

I’m not crazy; I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!

I’m pleasant, damn it! I saw Drum Eatenton this morning at the Piggly Wiggly, and I smiled at the son of a bitch ‘fore I could help myself.

Ugh. Leave me alone.

Don’t try to get on my good side. I no longer have one.

The only reason people are nice to me is because I have more money than God.

He is a boil on the butt of humanity.

A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I’m not as sweet as I used to be.

This is it. I’ve found it. I’m in Hell.

Honestly, Ouiser doesn’t have a lot of the best quotes in the movie (that award goes to Truvy), but her character is a doozy. She says some of the things we would all like to say sometimes, but our manners keep us from saying them. She gives that meaningful scowl…the one that says “eat s**t and die.” It’s not likely I will start walking around telling people to “leave me alone,” but right now, I want to. I want to stand up and scream at the world to just stop! Just stop! Stop trying to make it look like COVID isn’t ruining a lot of our fun! Stop trying to make it look like everything is “normal.” It’s not. And yes, before you come at me telling me “we live in the best country in the world,” I will tell you that yes, I know that. I know I am fortunate to have a loving family and a roof over my head. But damn it, I’m sick and freaking tired of COVID. I know people who have died. I know people who have been terribly ill. And by golly, it’s OK for me to have a bad attitude for a while…just because.

I know my friends and family expect more from me, but frankly, I just want to kick COVID’s ass for messing up the good thing we had going on.

But after all this, I’m sure I will pull myself together. I will not be shouting “bah, humbug” at people or telling them to “leave me alone.” I’m sure that in a few days, I will embrace my inner M’Lynn or Clairee, once again, and move on. But unless you want to encounter Ouiser, you might want to tread lightly till the weekend.

In the meantime, if you want to join the Ouiser Fan Club, call me.

8th Grade Underdogs

8th Grade Underdogs.

No, I don’t want to relive middle school. Lord, no…just no. I don’t even want to relive my daughter’s middle school years. We were fortunate she had great teachers and administrators for most of her middle school, but she wouldn’t want to do it again, and I wouldn’t want her to. Today, though, a friend posted her daughter’s field hockey stick for sale on Facebook, with the caption, “For sale! The field hockey stick has a proud history of fending off many goals plus an epic win over [our rival]. #letthemeatcake  And it brought back a great memory from my daughter’s 8th grade field hockey season.

One great thing about middle school was that it offered students an opportunity to try sports they had never played before, and our daughter wanted to try to play field hockey in seventh grade. She had been to a field hockey clinic or two, but soccer had always been her primary sport. As the school year started, she decided that, even though she was also playing club soccer, she wanted to play middle school field hockey.

And so the school year started, and she would stay after school for field hockey practice for a couple of hours. Then I would shuttle her over to another part of town for soccer practice. It was more stressful for me than it was for her, because of the traffic at 5:30, but we did it. And then one day, after one of the first field hockey games, she got in the car and said she just couldn’t go to soccer practice. She had too much homework.

Something had to give.

I told her, “It’s time to make a choice. We can’t continue like this. Your schoolwork can’t suffer because of all these sports commitments.” And right there in the car, without hesitation, she picked field hockey. She was tired of soccer, and I understood…she had been playing since she was five years old. Frankly, I was tired of traveling all over the state for it every weekend. Getting up at 5am to drive to Mebane, North Carolina, for an early game was not my ideal way to spend a weekend. So…field hockey it was!

She loved it, but I wouldn’t let her play club field hockey, because I wasn’t getting us back into the same situation we had been in before with soccer. She needed time to get her schoolwork done in a timely fashion, and she needed family time and friend time. So she just played on her 7th grade school team, and she had a great time! Most of the girls on the team had never played before, so they were all learning together. They won some games and lost some games…maybe even lost most of them, but they had a great time. It was a good learning year, and they had a coach who was patient and let everyone get some playing time. And then, in 8th grade, most of them played again.

In eighth grade, the stakes were a little higher. The girls all got some playing time, but they didn’t get equal playing time. In eighth grade, they play to win. Again, I think most of the girls had a great time, and they played pretty darn well. In fact, as the season came to an end, they found themselves in the semifinals of the conference championship (the highest level in middle school) against their biggest cross-town rival. Our team was the underdog, but they had heart…just like The Bad News Bears…but with field hockey…and they’re girls. Their coach got them motivated, and they went into the game wanting to win…on the other team’s field.

The game started, and it was a close one…both teams were playing really well. A friend’s daughter was playing goalie for our team and had some great saves. The girls were stepping up their play! They were playing together beautifully as they never had before! Coach had really pulled them together! She certainly gets all the credit. And then, my daughter, who was playing center-mid, went down with an ankle injury right after halftime, when one of her friends on the opposing team accidentally hit the ball hard right into her ankle. We heard it in the stands: THWACK! My friend who was sitting next to me sat down with me, as I fully expected to have to take my daughter to Urgent Care, where, at the time, we should have had our own parking spot from all her sports injuries. From the stands, though, I could see her crying on the other sideline and icing the ankle, and in a little while, she was back on the field! I was elated!

The game came to an end, and our little team of Bad News Bears won by one goal! They jumped! They screamed! They cheered! They celebrated! And then, while our girls were still celebrating, two or three players from the opposing team quietly approached our players. They were carrying a cake…the one that was intended for their celebration…except they weren’t celebrating. The girls said their coach wouldn’t let them have their celebratory cake, because they didn’t win…and they offered it to our team. We didn’t have a cake, so it was a gracious gesture. Our girls were in shock but accepted it, and a new motto was born: Winners Eat Cake!

Our girls went on to play another cross-town rival in the championship and lost, and although they were disappointed, they have never forgotten how awesome that semifinal win was! As our girls start their junior year of high school and a new, strange field hockey season during COVID, they are still looking forward to the season and being together…and making more memories together. Sometimes the underdogs get the win. Such a sweet memory…

Hoping we can have a great season this year…even with COVID!

Winners eat cake!

 

 

 

Leaving the Group

Leaving the group.

Remember when you were a teenager? I do. I remember my parents telling me that if I attended a gathering where things started to get “out of hand” or “go awry” or if I were uncomfortable, to leave. Get myself out of the situation. At different stages of life, that could mean different things. As a teenager, maybe people were getting too rowdy. Or maybe I had the choice of whether or not to get into a car with someone I didn’t really trust. In college, maybe there were drugs present that I didn’t need to around. Maybe there was a mob mentality about something, and people were about to do something they wouldn’t have done if they were alone.

Recently, I found myself in a virtual group that started to scare me. By “virtual,” I mean it was the Facebook page for a group I joined long ago. According to the Facebook page of this group I remember as always quite civilized and respectful, the goal of the page is stated to be “to build a network of [members]…to share resources and opportunities.” It states clearly in the group rules that there is to be no hate speech or bullying. “Communicate with courtesy and respect,” it says.

Imagine my surprise when communication on this same page recently turned quite ugly and disrespectful. People are calling each other names. People are addressing members in ways I wouldn’t address anyone. People are using profanity left and right as a means of conveying their viewpoints, instead of using respectful speech.

Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t care about profanity, but I don’t like when it is hurled at someone…especially in a setting where we should be treating each other with respect. Imagine hurling obscenities at your coworkers in a professional setting. Or imagine your children hurling them at their teachers in the classroom setting. I don’t know about you, but the school wouldn’t even have to punish my child; she would be in big enough trouble at home.

I’ve seen kids on sports fields and sports courts in recent years sassing referees and gesturing after what they believe is a bad call, and every time, I think, “Holy smokes. My daddy would have walked out there and snatched me off that field.” I’ve been watching when my daughter was playing high school sports, and when a girl behaves poorly or with poor sportsmanship on the field, I’ve thought, “My daughter’s coach surely knows that I would take her home right now if she acted that way on the field.”

That brings me back to my group. Apparently, a lot of people don’t feel the same way. They think respecting others is no longer important. They think it’s OK to get out there and say whatever you want and say it however you want to whomever you want, without regard for others. They think it’s OK to use profanity in every sentence when they are trying to make a point. In this particular group, someone actually typed out these words to another member recently: Sit the hell down. 

And that’s when I knew I needed to leave the group. That was that moment my parents had warned me about. When things start to go awry or you are uncomfortable, leave. So I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve been a member of most of my life. It broke my heart, because I really wanted to try to make a difference. I’m really good at listening to other people’s viewpoints. I know everyone doesn’t feel the same way about everything…and I think that’s OK. That’s what makes the world go around. But I will not tolerate disrespectful behavior. I do not want to be a part of a group that communicates that way.

If it had been a one off situation, I could have gotten past it. But it wasn’t. People were accusing each other of horrible things. Worst of all, no one was hearing anyone else. And as soon as I saw “sit the hell down,” I was done. I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve loved for years…a group I have dedicated time and financial resources to…a group that, for me, was always a soft place to land, a place I made lifelong friends. I had to leave the Facebook page. I hope the behavior of those people is not indicative of the members of the group as a whole. Is civility dead?!?!

I keep getting messages from friends who are still in the group. I’ve received six or eight from people who have left it too, but I’m getting messages showing me screenshots of some of the posts, and I’m brokenhearted. I’m disappointed. I don’t want to be a part of a group that behaves that way.

So I left the Facebook group. I had to. My parents would be proud that I chose not to participate in the insanity, because that’s what it looked like to me. It looked like a bunch of spoiled, entitled, participation-trophy kids who think they’re the smartest things on the planet, and they’re probably 25 years old. They think their education makes them knowledgeable about life, I guess. At 53, I know that’s not true. They know very little, but they’re not even smart enough to realize that yet. When they’re 53, hopefully, they will look back and realize just how incredibly rude they were.

I’m out.

 

 

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