One Year of Blogs

I say it all the time, and the older I get, the more true it is: time flies.

It has been one year since I started “blogging.” I started it as my own form of therapy a month after my mother died, and I do believe it has helped me cope with her death. If you had asked me about that this past December, I might have said otherwise. The first anniversary of her passing was extremely difficult for me…maybe harder than when she actually died. I think I was in so much shock after her death that I didn’t fully digest what had happened. At the one year mark of her death, I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the holidays are a busy time, so I could find lots of things to occupy my mind: shopping, parties, wrapping gifts, spending time with family, spending time with friends. I still grieved throughout the year. There are still times I think I’m losing my mind with grief. But the blog was also a big help.

The blog has morphed somewhat over the year. Originally, I wanted it to be a place where I could share great things I had found and share the stories behind them. There has been some of that, but sometimes, I find myself just sharing stories. I love a good story. I also have a pretty good memory, so I have a story for lots of things that happen. I don’t profess to be a great storyteller, but I appreciate folks who are.

I love writing about my favorite products, but my favorite pieces are stories about my life, my friends, or family members. Yes, I have favorites. I’ll list them at the end of this piece.

Just when I think I’ve run out of stories or new things to share, something else pops up. Lots of times, I see someone or something that reminds me of something else. I make a note in my phone, and then, when I get time, I sit down and write about it. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Some things are easier to write about than others.

But here’s the thing: I write for me. Do I like that people read it and sometimes reach out to me? Of course I do! Does that make it more fun? You bet! But I’m really writing it for a selfish reason: my sanity. It’s a great outlet. If I’m mad, sometimes I write about it. I might not ever share it, but it’s saved in my “drafts” folder. If I’m sad, I write about it, and again, it might not make it past “drafts.” If I’m happy or amused, I might write about that too! In fact, I just took a look at my drafts folder and found that I have about 240 blogs in that folder! And I’ve published just over 140. And hopefully, one day, when I’m long gone, my daughter will still have some of my stories.

Thank you for reading me. I never expected this to become “the next big thing.” I expected it to help me get through the first year without my mother. And it did. Now, I hope it will help me through the second year without my mother. Readers have sent me messages about how some of my stories remind them of things that have happened in their own lives. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the feedback. I enjoy the interaction.

So thank you. I’m grateful.

***Some of my favorite pieces from the past year (click on title):

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

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Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

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Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!

Mama Bear

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I am a mother. This post is written after being given the word “bear” as a prompt…I ran with it.

Everybody knows you don’t mess with a mama bear in the animal kingdom. Generally speaking, you don’t mess with a Mama Bear in the human world, either.

Mama Bears can be mamas, or they might be teachers fighting for their students, coaches fighting for their players, or any adult fighting for a child.

Let me start by saying I am a person who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. I expect good things from people. I think most people are good. I think most people try. I want good things for other people. I also want good things for my child and other people’s children. Most of the time, I think everyone around me is doing everything they can for everybody.

And then there are the times I feel like I’ve been gut-punched.

If you’re a mama, you’ve experienced it…that feeling you get when you feel the need to protect your child, or even your teen, from something. You feel the need to intercede. It’s an instinct that becomes part of who you are when you become a mother.

It might be you feel the need to keep them from going to a party. Maybe you feel the need to talk to a teacher. Maybe parents need to come together sometimes. MOST of the time, I try to encourage my child to work things out on her own. But Mama Bear is always in there…sometimes she’s hibernating, but she’s there.

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It’s an instinct that’s difficult to ignore. I know, because sometimes, I become Mama Bear.

Generally speaking, I don’t act on the Mama Bear instinct (and sometimes it’s painful to hold it in), unless I see what I perceive to be a real problem. Lots of times, I’ve had to vent to friends. Sometimes I ask for feedback about my instinct, but usually, I just want to vent.

My friends know the difference. They know when I want feedback and when I want to vent. And some of them know when I need feedback, whether I want it or not.

I’m not a big complainer, and I’m a reasonable person. Usually, if I run across a situation that I think needs to be mentioned, I sit on it for a while. I try to shelve it for a few days…a cooling off period, if you will. Often, I realize the “situation” was no big deal.

I have one child, a 14-yr-old daughter. What I have learned in her 14 years of life is something my mother always told me: Something might be a big deal to her, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. 

Remember when your child was a toddler? There were things that bothered him/her that seemed completely trivial to an adult. For my child, one of those things was collared shirts. She hated them. When I put a collared shirt on her and realized how it bothered her, I couldn’t get it off her fast enough…because it became painful listening to her! Whew! What was a big deal to her initially seemed small to me, but after much ado, it became very clear to me that it was a big deal all around!

All these teenage “big deals” should be taken into consideration too.

And sometimes, I have to help her put things into perspective. Easier said than done, but I try. If she continues to act like it’s a big deal, then I try really hard to see things from her point of view.

One thing I do know is that middle school girls are not like everybody else. I remember being 14, and I remember an emotional rollercoaster…daily. I also remember that I didn’t feel like I had the power to take problems to higher-ups, i.e. adults. So I kept my mouth shut.

My own daughter tends to do the same thing, like lots of girls her age. She gets upset about something, but she doesn’t say anything to anyone…except me. I try to teach her that she needs to learn to handle these “situations” on her own, but sometimes, it’s just impossible. Maybe she’s afraid she won’t be heard. Maybe she’s afraid of repercussions.

Let me clarify that I have never complained about a teacher. In fact, I am usually the first one writing a complimentary letter for just about anyone…teachers, flight attendants, customer service personnel, waitstaff, salespeople, hotel employees. Truly, I know people work hard for a living, and I like to help people. My friends actually LAUGH at how much time I spend writing complimentary letters, but I appreciate a job well done. I can’t remember the last time I flew somewhere and didn’t write a complimentary letter for at least one airline employee. Same with hotel employees. I find something good in them. That’s my long way of saying I’m a positive person.

Here is something else I know: sometimes we have to intercede on our children’s behalf, because truly, they feel like they are being disrespectful if they question authority. It’s an interesting thing we teach our children in this country: We start with “respect your elders,” and then we change our tune to “handle it yourself.” That’s a pretty confusing message to lots of preteens and teens…including mine.

We even teach girls not to call each other out! How many times do we talk about how polite they have to be, and how many times have we said, “Be nice.” Ugh. Yes, please be polite and nice, but don’t be a doormat.

They have this fear that they will appear too sensitive. They have a fear of getting in trouble for being “mean” when they defend themselves. My child has actually said to me, when someone has been rude, that it would be “mean” if she defended herself. WHAT?!? But sometimes, people will be rude as long as you let it go on. I’ve spent countless hours trying to teach my daughter to stand up for herself and others.

Growing up is hard. It’s hard for the child/teen, and it’s hard for the parents. It’s hard to see our teens lose confidence because of something an adult does. It’s hard to see our teens feeling sad.

Most kids learn to handle it, including mine. Most of the time when this Mama Bear flares up,  no one ever knows it.

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Usually, my flare-ups are about adults who act without considering the psyche of a 14-yr-old girl. Do people actually have that much difficulty remembering what it felt like to be that age? At 14, they are still part little girl and just taking one baby step into adulthood. They don’t know if they are little girls or big girls. They need guidance, and they need conversation, and they need someone to hear them.

Will a middle school girl speak up if she feels slighted? Maybe. Is it possible she will shut down if she feels slighted? Maybe.

And sometimes they internalize it…thus, the emotional rollercoaster.

Unfortunately, they often are afraid to speak up. That’s when Mama Bear has to step in. This Mama Bear always feels great pain about this. Generally speaking, I give people the benefit of the doubt, but problems arise when someone dealing with teens doesn’t take into consideration that they are still kids at heart. If someone doesn’t understand teens, they shouldn’t be in a position to deal with teens.

Their reality is different than the reality of adults. They can’t drive. They are trapped at school all day. They have to follow more rules. They’re distracted by social stuff. They’re distracted by almost anything. They’ve been told to be “nice” their whole lives, and dang it, most of them are.

I don’t profess to be a mental health professional, but I am a Mama Bear. I choose to be a Mama Bear who TRIES really hard to keep it to herself.

I give a mean “stink-eye,” though.

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Cheers to all the Mama Bears of the world!

Kelly

Seeking Human Kindness

My friend, Neill, posted this on facebook yesterday: Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person. 

That is an amazingly true statement.

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Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

It makes me think of one of Oprah’s shows. Didn’t we all love to watch Oprah back in the day? Well, on one of her shows, her guest was a lady named Tish Hooker. Years before, when Oprah was an eight-yr-old little girl, Mrs. Hooker visited her church while campaigning for her husband in the gubernatorial race in the great state of Tennessee. While visiting, she stopped as she passed the 8-yr-old Oprah. Mrs. Hooker looked at Oprah and said to her, “Why, you’re as pretty as a speckled pup!”

Apparently, no one had ever told little Oprah she was pretty before that moment. So sad, because don’t we all think our own children are beautiful? You’d think she’d have heard it from a relative at some point, but no, she hadn’t. And to be told you’re as pretty as a speckled pup? Well, it’s a southern girl’s dream!

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On the show that day, Mrs. Hooker came out to the stage with no prior knowledge of why she had been invited to appear. Oprah told her the story about the church encounter, and of course, Mrs. Hooker had no recollection of it. But Oprah remembered it. She said it made her feel so good to hear those words that she never forgot it.

Mrs. Hooker had done something kind in passing and didn’t even realize what a profound effect she’d had on that child’s life, but because Oprah went on to fame and fortune, Mrs. Hooker got to find out!

Wouldn’t we all love to have the same effect on someone that Mrs. Hooker had on 8-yr-old Oprah? It’s possible you’ve had that same effect on someone and don’t even know it. Maybe you believed in someone when no one else did. You don’t have to be a gubernatorial candidate’s wife to have a big impact on someone. I don’t mean go around throwing out hollow, baseless compliments, but doing kind things or giving thoughtful compliments can change a person’s outlook…and it can improve your own mood too.

Just today, I was leaving the grocery store, and I was deep in thought about all the things I have to do. It had been an uneventful day, and I had spent the morning tying up some loose ends. I was pushing my cart (or buggy, to those of you in the Deep South) to my car when a smiling lady complimented me on my hair. “Your hair is so pretty!” It put a smile on my face immediately, and I thanked her, adding, “You just made my day!” We started talking, and I detected an accent that wasn’t Charlotte, so I did what I do. I asked where she was from.

She was from a small town outside Knoxville, Tennessee, which explained the accent. I told her I thought she might have been from Alabama. She is a Tennessee Vols fan, and of course, I’m a Bama fan, so we talked SEC football and Bear Bryant for a few minutes before hugging like old friends and going on our merry way.

She had no idea how much that one little compliment brightened my day.

And that’s what I mean.

The late, great Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel.” And that’s the truth.

It turns out Oprah remembered what Mrs. Hooker said, but she remembered it because of how it made her FEEL.

A few years ago, my friend, Angela, attended her 20th class reunion. (OK, so it was more than a “few” years ago.) At the reunion, a gentleman approached her and her then-husband. After introducing himself to her husband, he said, “I just want to tell you that your wife is something special.” He then went on to tell how, when he was a new student at the high school, he played football. After every game, the school’s spectators would rush the field and hug the players…important stuff to a teenage boy. The football player didn’t know many people at the school and didn’t have a lot of family in the area, so he could have felt lonely on that crowded field. However, after every single game, Angela made a point of finding him and giving him a hug…every…single…game. He remembered, because it made him feel special in a sea of new classmates. And guess what? By remembering it and telling her husband the story, he made her feel special 20 years later.

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My brother, Mr. Tough Guy, is good about performing random acts of kindness. Yes, I’m going to brag about him for a minute. He has always been good about helping stranded motorists in one way or another. Just last year, he was driving behind a truck on a country road. At some point, the truck pulled over to the shoulder. Brother (that’s what I call him) kept going, but after about a half mile, it occurred to him something might have been wrong. He turned around and went back. When he and the other driver stepped out of their trucks, it turned out to be someone he knew from high school but hadn’t seen in years! The old friend thought he might be running out of gas, so Brother followed him to the nearest gas station…just in case. That act of kindness turned into something positive for Brother too…seeing an old friend. He didn’t tell me the story to get “good deed points.” He told me the story, because it made HIM so happy to see his friend!

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My brother (on the right) sent me this selfie after running into his old friend.

Random acts of kindness…

If you find yourself feeling less than great, practice random acts of kindness. You might make someone else’s day, year, or even change their lives with one gesture! It’s probable you will benefit, as well. It gives me a little rush to think I’ve done something nice for someone. It’s not a “patting myself on the back” thing…it just makes me happier!

Next time you see your child’s teacher, tell them something nice instead of complaining. Treat a new friend to coffee. Stop by to meet a new neighbor. Pretty flowers growing in your yard? Cut some and take them to a friend. Greet your flight attendants with a warm, genuine “good morning” and a smile as you board the plane. Give a little extra tip to your server…or a big extra tip…especially if he/she is having a bad day. A generous tip could turn the day around for them. You never know when someone might need that extra cash. Donate needed items to a friend who collects things for the homeless in your area (remember, homeless people are somebody’s babies too). Check on someone’s elderly mama. I know I’m grateful to people who checked on and visited with my mother as she got older.
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My friend, Mary Ann, won’t take credit for this, but yesterday, she sent a message to the gentleman who organizes free mowing services for elderly people and veterans who need it. He has a country-wide network. Mary Ann wanted to help an elderly couple, both of whom are veterans, but they don’t have a lawn mower, and she couldn’t haul one in her automobile. She contacted the gentleman, and less than 24 hours later, he had someone going to mow the lawn. Mary Ann made it happen.

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My friends, Mary Ann and Neill, and my new friend from the grocery store (whose name I did not get) were my writing inspiration today. They’re all good eggs.  I’ll keep Mary Ann and Neill on my friends list, and next time I see my new friend from the grocery store, I’ll get her name.

So, make a conscious effort to practice random acts of kindness. The recipient will feel better and you will too.

Just think of it this way: Act like a Hooker…Tish Hooker, that is.

Why, you’re as pretty as a speckled pup!

XOXO,

Kelly

 

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