Too Young To Be A Grandparent!

Last week, I attended a baby shower for the daughter of some friends. The daughter is my friend too. It was great fun…food,  family, friends. As I sat talking with folks at the shower, I looked around, and as I looked at my friends who were about to become grandparents, I thought, “They’re not old enough to be grandparents!” They’re still young, vibrant people! But they are old enough. In fact, their daughter is a full-fledged adult with a great job, married to a great guy, and they are both contributing to society and paying their own bills.

A few years ago, as my husband and I sat watching the Heisman Trophy Award Ceremony from our living room, we loved the interviews with each candidate. One candidate, Amari Cooper, was from the University of Alabama, my alma mater. They interviewed Cooper, and he told stories about this youth in Miami. And they interviewed his mother, a lovely lady.

When the interview with Cooper’s mom came on, my husband turned to me and said, “Wow! She looks really good for an older lady!” I agreed. And then I started doing the math. At the time, Cooper was likely about 20 years old.

After a minute or so, I said to my husband, “Amari’s mother probably isn’t an older lady.” He pointed out that Amari was about 20 years old, so she had to be older. That’s when I reminded him that we are older parents, but Amari’s mother was probably younger than we are. I don’t remember if I grabbed my laptop or if they told her age on the segment, but at some point, we learned her age was several years younger than ours…and she had a son who would soon be starting a career in the National Football League! That year, he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, but Cooper was the fourth pick in the overall draft and signed a fat contract with the Oakland Raiders. *Just yesterday, Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a first round draft pick.*

At the time of that Heisman ceremony, I was 47 years old and had an 11-yr-old daughter. My husband was 48. Because most of our friends who have kids the same age are about the same ages we are, we fell into believing everyone is that way. We lost sight of the fact that most people who have 11-yr-olds are younger than we are. According to this article in Allure magazine, the average age of a first time mother in the US is 28, considerably younger than I was when I gave birth at 36.

So our friends who have now become grandparents since that shower are old enough to be grandparents.  We just have a skewed view…thinking parents of grown children have to be older than we are. We are plenty old enough to have grandchildren. In fact, the average age of a first-time grandparent in the United States is 48. If I’d had a child when I was 25, and if that child had a child at 25, then I would be a grandmother right now…and I’d fit right in with societal norms.Since we were later than average having children, we are later than average having grandchildren, and we don’t plan to have them for at least ten more years. If our daughter is as old as I was when she was born, I won’t be a grandmother till I’m 72 years old. And that’s OK too.

Back in 2003, our friends were having babies in their late 30s, so we started thinking everyone was having babies in their mid to late 30s. Those same friends who were “late bloomer” parents are likely to be “late bloomer” grandparents too, so we will be in good company. We don’t fit into societal norms for the age of first-time grandparents, but we fit in with our societal norms, since lots of our friends are the same age we are.

The point? Any age is OK to be a grandparent! When you become a grandparent, you’re just happy to have a new grandbaby! If you need ideas for baby gifts for someone who’s having a baby, here are some ideas I talked about earlier this year.

We’re lucky to have these younger friends who have just become grandparents, and we’re lucky to know their daughter too. They bring joy to our family, and I’m not gonna lie…the new grandmother can cook!

Congratulations to our young friends on the new granddaughter!

***Our friends’ granddaughter was born on October 15 and weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces!***

 

 

 

 

 

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My Daughter Is Starting High School

As the mom of a rising 9th grade girl, I have lots of things swirling through my head, just like most moms of children who will be entering high school in the next few weeks.

On one hand, I feel a sense of relief. We survived middle school. As it turns out, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but maybe it’s like pregnancy and childbirth…we forget the bad and remember the good. Having a daughter in middle school was stressful at times, but it was a lot of fun too. It was all about survival. They played sports. They had social lives…real social lives they planned themselves. They had drama but solved it themselves. We survived. My daughter even told me recently she loved middle school.

On the other hand, there’s excitement. My daughter is starting high school. I feel like she’s ready. I hope she’s ready. I pray she’s ready.

And while I’m nervous and excited and worried at the same time, I know high school is her job, not mine. My job is to give her the tools to make her successful at this job, but ultimately, it’s her job.

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So, I’m arming her with some tools. The first tool she has is experience. She earned experience on her own. You can’t hand your child experience, and there’s only so much they can learn from their parents’ experiences. Besides, they have to go to school, so they all get their own experience. Simply by making it this far, she has experience from which she can build. Hopefully, she has learned and will continue to learn what works for her and what doesn’t. Of course, I will share my own experiences with her, and maybe she will hear some of it.

Another tool: encouragement. She shares with me what her goals are, and I encourage her to do everything she needs to do to accomplish those goals. Let’s say she wants to try out for a sports team. I provide encouragement when she needs it. I tell her I love watching her play, even after a terrible game. When the coach is not happy with her play, I continue telling her I love watching her play. I encourage her to work hard and play hard. I encourage her to be the best she can be. The same can be applied to schoolwork. History test coming up? It’s her job to study and be prepared. I’m not a mom who helps with homework. I usually don’t know what her homework is…and that’s how I like it. But if she comes to me and tells me she is studying hard for a history test, I offer encouragement. I tell her I know she can do it, because I do know it. I remind her hard work is her friend. She is more likely to make the grade she wants if she studies efficiently and works hard. I encourage her to set aside the time to get the work done and get it done well.

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Unconditional love is another tool. It’s an important tool, in my opinion, as the parent of a teenager in high school. We hear it all the time: teenagers’ frontal lobes are not fully developed. It’s true. They can’t always reason through things, and sometimes problems appear larger than they are. They need us. They don’t need us to make problems go away. They need us to love them through their problems. My daughter needs to know I love her “no matter what.” That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. It means she knows I love her even when I’m angry. Sometimes, when we’re riding in the car or sitting at the dinner table, I will say to her, “I love you all the time. No matter what, I love you. If you have a problem, come to me first. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.” That’s what I want to give my daughter: unconditional love.

Another tool? A bit of wisdom: Get to know your teachers. I tell her the story of my freshman year in college. I had done well my first semester of Calculus, but about two weeks into the second semester, I was struggling a bit. I made an appointment to meet with my teacher, and we set up regular times to meet, so he could tutor me through his class. I had a low A going into the final, but then I bombed it. I received a B in the class, even after bombing the final, and I know it was because of my effort. After seeing my final exam score posted, I stuck my head in his office, and he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I told him I had seen that, and I was sorry to disappoint. When I asked him about my grade, he replied, in broken English, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” You do good in long journey has been one of my favorite quotes since then. My daughter has heard that story many times. From that, I hope she learns to know when she needs help in a class and “nip it in the bud” by meeting with teachers for extra help.

What more can we provide?  Freedom…freedom to make their own decisions…bad or good. Good decisions can propel them forward, and bad ones can help them learn how to make better decisions. We can provide them with independence. We can provide them with the opportunity for lots of rest. We can provide them with the opportunity to enjoy their social lives. And we can provide them with plenty of study time and a good place to study. We can provide them with healthy meals and with a home in which they can be themselves. But we have to give them the freedom to make their own decisions about all those things.

Is it going to be easy? Heck no! It’s going to be difficult, but together, we will get through it, and we will both enjoy it from different places.

Let’s do this high school thing!

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My Teen, How Have I Embarrassed Thee? Let Me Count The Ways…

If you’re a parent of a teenager, you know the struggle is real. Everything we do embarrasses them. Really…everything.

My daughter and I recently made a quick weekend trip by plane, which means we encountered a lot of people along the way…plenty of opportunity for her to be embarrassed by the way I sneeze, the way I talk, the way I breathe. Ahhh…the joys of motherhood.

In everyday life, I embarrass my 14-yr-old daughter on a regular basis. I’m a talker. I talk to everyone around me all the time, and often, I make new friends along the way. There is nothing I love more than meeting new people and learning their stories. It’s amazing what we can learn about the world when we meet people from other places…and I don’t just mean other countries. I mean it’s fun to meet people from all over the United States. We all have different traditions and cultures, and I love learning all about new people.

Everything about that last paragraph embarrasses my daughter. For example, if I’m standing in the security line at the airport, and the lady in front of me has on a sweater that looks like she might have knitted it, I ask her about it. “I love your sweater! Did you make it?” And the conversation goes from there. I can almost feel my daughter’s embarrassment as soon as I ask the question. Yes, this actually has happened. Or this: I met someone who told me she lives in Revere, Massachusetts. I knew right away that I had been through Revere, and here’s what I remembered about it: the Necco Candy factory. My daughter rolled her eyes.

Generally speaking, I’m a happy person. I like to greet people warmly when I arrive somewhere. And this is painful to my daughter.

As we started to board the flight, the gate agent scanned my boarding pass. I said, “Thank you! Have a great day!” I got the eye roll from my daughter in the jetway. As we boarded the plane, I greeted the flight attendants with a happy, “Good morning!” I heard my daughter audibly sigh. Maybe it was a groan…either way, I heard her expression of displeasure. We got to our seats, and I asked her, “What’s wrong with being nice to people?” “Nothing, but you don’t have to speak to EVERYbody!” And I don’t, but if I have a face-to-face encounter, I try to be polite.

After landing, we went to the rental car counter. When we got there, the agent was friendly. We chatted about the city we were visiting. My daughter walked away. It wasn’t a long conversation. He asked me if I had ever visited before, and we talked about some of our favorite restaurants there. The daughter didn’t like it.

Next, we got to the row of rental cars, and it was time to pick one. I had rented a midsize SUV, and I wanted to take a look at various ones to see which would be best for us. I put down my bag at the end of the row and asked her to stand with it while I looked. It embarrassed her. “Mom, other people just get in a car.” I know that isn’t true, but I didn’t argue. I just gave her “the look” and walked down the row looking at cars. I picked one, and she couldn’t get in fast enough. No 14-yr-old wants to be seen with her mother in public.

At our destination, we checked into our hotel and went out to dinner at a local restaurant. While we waited for a table, I was seated next to a gentleman who told me he had worked there as a teenager. He also had two handsome teenage sons, so while it was embarrassing to my daughter that I was having a conversation with a stranger, she didn’t mind chatting with his sons.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The next day, we attended a luncheon. We knew some of the people, but not many. I never want to be a burden on my hosts, and I’m not a person who needs to be babysat, so I approached a couple of different people and struck up a conversation. This embarrassed her, of course. I explained to her that we could sit huddled in a corner together, or we could meet some new people. Eye roll. She finally saw some teens she knew and ditched me. Whew! I was free to talk without ridicule.

We made it back to the airport after the luncheon, and I managed to refrain from embarrassing her at that point.

She’s a good sport, though. It’s not the kind of embarrassment that makes her angry. Truth be told, she usually looks back on it and laughs. She has a good sense of humor. She often tells me I’m like the mom on Good Luck, Charlie, a former Disney Channel show on which the mom, Amy Duncan, is a little bit crazy (hmmm), kind of a mess (hmmm), and accidentally embarrasses her children…except when she intentionally embarrasses them as a creative form of punishment. In one episode, the teenage daughter, Teddy, tricks her mom into letting her go to a midnight movie with her friend, Ivy, who also tricks her mom. When the moms find out they’ve been had, they go to the  theatre and get revenge by embarrassing their daughters in front of the crowd waiting to get in. They dress like crazy teenagers and talk on the bullhorn about their girls while calling themselves the “cool moms,” and they dance…yes, dance. I’m so glad my daughter has seen this episode, because it…could…happen.

Honestly, though, embarrassing my daughter is not my goal. I do what I can, within reason, NOT to embarrass her. She knows as long as she behaves nicely and doesn’t betray my trust, I won’t TRY to embarrass her. I think moms are naturally embarrassing to teens, though. We just aren’t cool. And if we try to be cool, we’re even less cool and more embarrassing. I’m not cool, and I’m over 50, so I just act the way I act. But I remember 14. It’s a difficult age. I remember when my parents embarrassed me just by dropping me off somewhere. It’s a natural part of growing up. I’d be more concerned if she wanted to be with me all the time. This whole embarrassment thing is about becoming more independent…growing up.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s a good thing I embarrass her…like when we’re waiting for a table at a restaurant and I start talking to the parents of a couple of cute teenage boys, who in turn start talking to her.

THEN it’s good to have an embarrassing mother!

If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

She’s Growing Up, But She’ll Always Be My Baby

My little girl isn’t so little anymore. In fact, she’s the age at which she would be mortified if she knew I’m writing this. But she doesn’t know. Ignorance is bliss.

Right now, she’s upstairs with a friend getting ready for her last middle school dance. She’s finishing up eighth grade. Her school has two middle school dances a year, one in the fall and one in spring.

It’s hard for me to believe this is her last middle school dance. Truly, it seems like just a few months ago she was excited about her first middle school dance…in sixth grade. Afterward, she and all her friends could hardly wait to tell me how many boys asked them to dance! But it has been two years. Wow. She’s not even excited about this one. These eighth graders have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

As part of their upcoming eighth grade moving up ceremony (graduation), the school had parents send in pictures of the kids from kindergarten. Since my daughter started at the school in transitional kindergarten when she was four, I used that picture instead. She looks so sweet and so unjaded.

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September 2008, age 4 (almost 5!)

She started transitional kindergarten about six weeks before her fifth birthday. I remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I remember watching her get out of the car in carpool with her tote bag and walk up the sidewalk by herself. I remember trying not to cry.

Today, when I turned in the picture for them to use for the ceremony, I told the middle school administrative assistant how I had to convince my daughter to wear a bow in her hair on picture day in transitional kindergarten. My child was the little girl who at 18 months declared, “Ruffles are for babies.” She has always had very definite ideas, and she sticks to her guns. When she was two years old, her pediatrician declared her to be a “classic strong-willed child,” telling me, “it will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.” But on picture day in TK, I was able to convince her to wear a bow in her hair. I told her she didn’t have to wear it all day…just till after pictures. I reminded her that one of her friends (the daughter of my friend, Leah) regularly wore bows as big as her head…we are in the south, after all. When I picked her up after school on picture day that year, she didn’t have the bow in her hair, but she assured me she wore it for the picture.

I look at that picture and remember that sweet little girl who thought her mommy was the best mommy on earth and her daddy was the best daddy on earth. She thought we knew everything and could do anything.

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December 2007, age 4

Now, at age 14, she knows we don’t know everything, and she knows we can’t do everything. She’s more jaded than she was at four, because she has more life experience. She sees the world isn’t the perfect place she thought it was then. She knows the agony of defeat. She knows what it feels like to get a less than stellar grade. She knows injuries can end a sports season. She knows some people don’t have places to live. She knows there is no Santa Claus. She knows more about brain surgery than she should, because she watched her daddy suffer through it. She knows what it’s like to lose a grandmother. She knows what cancer looks like, since she has watched my friend suffer with it. She knows everybody isn’t nice all the time. She knows some friendships aren’t forever.

But as much as that life experience has jaded her a little, it has also made her appreciate the great things about life. She knows she goes to a great school in a fun city, and she’s fortunate to live in the United States of America. While she hates the agony of defeat, she loves the thrill of victory, and she knows it takes hard work, a good attitude, and confidence. She knows what it feels like to make an A+ and how great it made her feel when her history teacher told her he was impressed with the essay she had worked hard on. She knows there is a spirit of Christmas. She knows her daddy survived brain surgery. She knows sometimes kindness comes from  unexpected places. She knows most people are nice, and sometimes, friends we thought were gone come back around.

She knows that while parents can be embarrassing, we love her unconditionally. She knows we want her to live a good life in her own way. She knows experiences are far more valuable than things. She knows people may be able to take things, but they can’t take memories. She knows if she isn’t feeling well, her daddy and I will try to make her feel better…physically or emotionally. She knows we support her, but sometimes she has to be her own advocate.

As she finishes up middle school and prepares for high school, we continue to be her biggest supporters. We continue to tell her we love her every single day. We cheer her on at sporting events. We listen to her. We spend time with her and her friends. We read over her essays before she turns them in. We show her the world is full of different cultures and special people. We become her audience when she needs to practice a presentation. When she doesn’t feel well, we wish we could fix it. We remind her God will take care of us.

Tonight I will drop her off at her last middle school dance. The eighth grade girls don’t seem excited about it, but they’ll be glad they went. Like I said, they have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

And just when I think she is spreading her wings and flying away too fast, she surprises me. Last night, my husband was out of town, so our daughter crawled up into bed with me to watch TV for a little while. She cuddled up next to me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” She cuddled for little while, and she said it several times, reminding me of when she was four years old and thought I knew everything. While I make her hug me once a day, those impromptu moments are hard to beat.

Yes, I miss that little four-yr-old who didn’t want to wear hairbows, dresses, or tights with her dance leotard. I miss that little four-yr-old who was so sweet and innocent. I miss that four-yr-old who thought Mommy and Daddy were the greatest people ever. But I love the big person she is becoming. I love that she wants good things for people. I love that she is already talking about college but loves hanging out with me…sometimes. I love that she loves college football as much as I do…and knows way more about it than I do. I love that she has good friends. I love that she is athletic. I love that she loves rollercoasters. I love that she enjoys travel. I love that she becomes more independent every day. I love that she has an appreciation for music. I love that she discovered a passion for art this year in school. I love that she is compassionate. I love that she is outgoing. I love that we have real conversations. I love that she expresses her opinions. I love when I do something for her, and she says, “Thank you, Mama.” I love this 14-yr-old.

Every night when I go upstairs to kiss her goodnight and tell her to “go to sleep soon,” I sit on the loveseat in her room and have a quick chat with her to reconnect one more time. If anything’s bothering her, she will usually tell me then. If she’s upset about something, it can be a long conversation. But if all is well, after we talk a little while, I stand up and walk to the door, turning around to say, “Goodnight! I love you! You’re my favorite!”

And when I see her walk across the stage at the eighth grade moving up ceremony in two weeks, I will think of that little four-yr-old who made her mommy happy by keeping that bow in her hair till after pictures.

My mother used to say that her goal as a mother was to raise compassionate, independent people who contribute to society. That’s my goal too.

So far, so good.

She’ll always be my baby. She’s my favorite.

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Chicken Necks Make Great Crab Bait (and other Life Lessons From My Mother)

 

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My mother and I, probably February 1974. (I look thrilled to take a picture with her, but she looks like she could use a martini.) One of my favorite pics.

It’s almost Mother’s Day weekend, and this is my first Mother’s Day without my Mother. She passed away in December.

I’ve lost a parent before. My daddy died in 2006. I know how difficult all these “firsts” are. They’re tough, but I also know it’s a good time to reflect on my life and what my parents taught me. In this case, since it’s Mother’s Day, I will reflect on what she taught me. Of course, there is no way to cover it all, but I will do what I can.

My mother wanted nothing more than she wanted to be a mother. She loved being a mother, and she loved mothering…neighbors, neighbors’ kids, classmates, friends…she took care of lots of us. She was an exceptional caretaker…it was what she did.

My earliest memories are from my early years in Brewton, Alabama. I remember wanting to go to school. I must have been almost or barely three. My mother called her preferred preschool, but there was no class for three-yr-olds. The owner/teacher relented after Mother called her several times, but she would only take me if I were potty-trained. I was, so I started preschool.

Other parents got wind of it and called her too. And it worked out well for the teacher, because she then had double the number of students…four-yr-olds for part of the day, and three-yr-olds for part of the day. Nobody loved that teacher or her preschool more than I did.

My mother was my advocate.  She taught me to advocate for my child.

A couple years later, she decided she wanted a Volkswagen microbus for us to take on road trips. After searching for the perfect one, my parents bought a beige and white one. Mother couldn’t drive a stick-shift, but she learned quickly as soon as we got the bus. I remember stalling at traffic lights in downtown Brewton as she learned to work the clutch, but she did it. She was determined. At 34, she learned a new skill…driving a stick. Daddy would always laugh that we chose to take the un-air-conditioned bus on road trips. “We have two perfectly good air-conditioned cars sitting in the driveway, yet we opt to travel in this!”

Mother taught us to try new things, and she taught us to be resilient.

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When I was seven, halfway through second grade, my family moved to Spanish Fort, Alabama, a community on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Some mothers would be nervous about a new place and new school, and the kids would feel that, but my mother approached the move as if it were an adventure. The transition was a smooth one at my new school and neighborhood.

Living near the water was a new adventure for all of us, and Mother took full advantage of that. Unafraid of a new challenge, she talked with locals and learned how she could take us out to the Fairhope Municipal Pier to catch crabs from Mobile Bay. She learned chicken necks are good crab bait, and she learned how to tie them into the nets and how to hang the nets from the pier. Back then, it was OK to hang the nets. She learned how to get the crabs out of the nets and cooked them up when we got home. She even made her own recipe for crab cakes.

She taught us to be adventurous.

For more information on Fairhope, click here.

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We spent almost every afternoon and many evenings at the pier. One day we were catching lots of crabs, so we stayed into the night, checking those nets regularly. At some point, I was stooped down, pulling up one of the nets to check it for crabs, and I looked up. I saw some men coming down the pier dressed all in white. I’d never seen anything like it.

I walked over to my mother and asked, “What are those clowns doing here?” It was actually members of the a white supremacist group. She said to me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. They won’t mess with you. I need to go over here and sit with Miss Essie, so they think she’s with us.” She then got up and walked over to a bench to sit with a sweet, elderly African-American lady we had met months before, and with whom we often visited on the pier. Soon thereafter, we left the pier for the night, and Miss Essie left with us. Once we knew Miss Essie was OK, we got in the car, and it was then Mother explained everything to us.

Mother taught us compassion and that it’s important to help other people. She also taught us we are all created equal.

It’s important for me to tell you that most people I know who grew up in Alabama have NEVER seen the aforementioned white supremacist group. That sighting on the Fairhope Pier that night (I think it was 1976) was extremely rare, especially in quaint, upscale towns like Fairhope, which is why it is memorable. I don’t want readers to think it is/was a regular occurrence. In fact, I can’t name even one of my friends who has encountered the group anywhere. 

No matter where we lived, Mother volunteered. Sometimes she volunteered at the school, and often, she volunteered with the Red Cross. She was a Registered Nurse, and while I’m not sure what she did with the Red Cross, I know she went into underserved neighborhoods. She used to come home talking about what nice people she had met along the way.

She also seemed to always meet people who had elderly family members who needed care. In one place we lived, an elderly couple lived across the street, and Mother would check on them every day, helping them with tasks on a regular basis. After we moved, an elderly gentleman around the corner needed assistance a few times a week. Mother helped him. We received several late night calls over the years…people needing her assistance, and she was always willing to help. Not many people knew she did this, because she didn’t toot her own horn. She believed it diminished the deed if you went around boasting about it.

Mother taught us to help those who are less fortunate.

When I was a teenager, I learned a lot more from my mother. Just yesterday I was dress shopping with my 14-yr-old daughter, and I thought of my mother when I heard myself say to my daughter after she gave “thumbs down” to another dress I held up, “You don’t really know what it looks like till you try it on.” That was straight from my mother. That, and “Always put on lipstick before you leave home.”

While she taught me not to be superficial, she also taught me to try look “presentable.”

As we went through high school and college, my brother and I learned that our mother had a great sense of humor. That’s not to say we didn’t get in trouble, but she didn’t make a big deal out of things that weren’t a big deal. She also tried to approach situations with humor, and the good Lord knows, she loved to laugh. Even in the last year of her life, she loved when our now-adult friends from college came over to visit at her house. I think it reminded her of when we were younger. We would all sit around and laugh, and that was when she was her happiest.

She taught us not to take life too seriously, and she taught us about perspective.

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Mother and my daughter at dinner one night.

Mother was a tough chick, and we are who we are because of her and Daddy. I like to think I’m passing some of their wisdom and humor to my daughter.

When mother passed in December, we wrote her obituary with all the normal information about family, but we also included a list of things she had taught us. Because she did not want to have a funeral service, we thought it was important for people to know who she was. Here’s the list:

LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER:

Nobody goes hungry on Mama’s watch. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind. It’s OK to laugh at yourself. Save for a rainy day, and when it does rain, splash in the puddles. Take care of your brother/sister, your children, and other people’s children. Enjoy coffee with friends at Waffle House on a regular basis. Call your mama often. Raise your children to be independent, and encourage them to spread their wings. Spend time with your children and their friends (especially at Coaches Corner). Ladies never leave home without lipstick. It’s never too late to learn to drive a stick shift. If you break an arm, you can make your own sling till you get to the ER. Always say “I love you” at the end of a phone call or visit. What other people think is not important, because God knows what you are doing. Laughter cures a lot of ills. Doing something nice for someone else will make you happy. Never pay full price if you don’t have to. Children/teens sometimes think small things are big deals; remember they are big deals to them. Pizza will cure the Sunday night blues. Don’t schedule events during football season. Learn new skills your whole life. Be grateful. Turn it all over to God. You can’t tell what clothes look like till you try them on. Chicken necks are perfect bait for crab nets. Defend people who can’t defend themselves. It’s more important to get into Heaven than it is to get into Harvard. If you want to have good friends, you have to be a good friend. Life is not a dress rehearsal; make it good. All people are created equal.
We loved our mother, and we will make a toast to her on Mother’s Day. God Bless Mama.

Turning 50

Next weekend, I’m going to a friend’s birthday party. She’s turning 50, quite a milestone birthday. I asked her recently if she is as excited about her 50th birthday as I was about mine, and she said she’s not sure how she feels about it.IMG_4555

I turned 50 last year. If you didn’t have to tolerate me then, I will tell you I was pretty obnoxious. I was almost as excited about turning 50 as I was about turning 21…almost. I’ve never been as excited about one of my own birthdays as I was about turning 21. Turning 50 was a close second, though.

When my friend, Nikki, said she wasn’t sure how she felt about fifty, I thought, “She’s got this.” She’s a young fifty. She lives life to the fullest and has a positive outlook on life. All those things point to being happy about a milestone birthday.

Maybe I’m weird, but I look at fifty as a positive.

Of course, I look for reasons to celebrate. Fifty was the perfect excuse for celebrating myself! Fifty deserves Champagne at lunch and anytime I want it! Trust me, almost anyone who has had lunch with me in the past year will tell you I love Champagne with lunch.

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Bellinis in some adorable stemless flutes my friends, Jenn and Neill, gave me.

When I turned fifty in May of last year, I took full advantage of the fact that I was having a big, important, milestone birthday. My husband had turned fifty the year before, and he wanted no fanfare. I honored that. He didn’t really even want it mentioned. He did, however, go to the beach with some friends one weekend near his birthday. Judging by the late night phone call I received, he had a good time.

I didn’t want “fanfare” in the way of my husband throwing a party. Some sweet friends did come together and surprise me with a small dinner party, and some other friends took me out to lunch and to see Smokey and the Bandit (its 40th anniversary) on the big screen. Both events were great fun, as we had fun at the dinner celebrating my birthday, and we lusted after a young Burt Reynolds in the movie theatre after lunch. I wore a “50 Looks Good On Me” sash and black feather boa at dinner and a Smokey and the Bandit homemade t-shirt at the movie. ***Note: black feather boas shed, and if you have any sweat on your chest, the loose feathers will stick, making it appear as though you have a hairy chest.***

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Proof that shedding feather boas can make you appear to have a hairy chest

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My sweet friends humoring me by wearing Smokey and the Bandit t-shirts at the movie

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Drinking Dr. Peppers my friend smuggled into Smokey and the Bandit

My husband gave me a gift I planned: a trip to Los Angeles with my daughter and one of her friends (taking the daughter and a friend gave me lots of time to do whatever I wanted)…staying at my favorite hotel, where we had a lovely suite with a beautiful, gigantic patio that I enjoyed every…single…day. I love outdoor spaces; the hotel gifted me with a glorious outdoor space unlike any other.

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On my glorious patio at the hotel, recreating Faye Dunaway’s pose the day after she won the Academy Award. She posed by the pool, but she was a young, tall, skinny Hollywood star. I posed on the private patio, because I’m not.

While we were there, I visited with a friend who had just turned 40, and we traded “war stories” over dinner while watching celebrities dine. I also had the chance to meet two hot gentlemen, Tony Romo and Chace Crawford, and pretend I was just meeting them so I could take a picture of my daughter and her friend with them.

I embraced turning fifty. I see it as the age of respect. I have knowledge I didn’t have at 20, 30, or 40. I have experiences I wouldn’t trade. As a result of those various experiences, I have wisdom. If you’re thirty and want to tell me about “real life,” be prepared to get, “Bless your heart. I’m 50. Let me tell you about real life.”

There’s also something relaxing about being fifty. When you’re twenty, you worry about what other people think. When you’re thirty, that becomes less of a worry. You understand that when you go to a party, other people don’t really care what you’re wearing…they’re more concerned with what they are wearing. In fact, I like to think that at 30, that all went out the window with me. Some people refer to 40 as their “kiss my a** age” (I heard someone say that on David Letterman’s show years ago), meaning they stopped letting other people influence them and stopped caring so much about what other people think, but I think mine was 30. Some people who knew me in my 20s might argue that it was earlier.

If my mother were here today, she would tell you I was the “classic strong-willed child.” I didn’t cause problems, but I was stubborn. I was known for it in my family. Daddy always talked about it and wondered aloud where I got that lovely trait. He would often say, “If she doesn’t want to do something, or if she doesn’t agree with something, she is not going to give in.” Generally speaking, I didn’t care what other people did, but I wasn’t going to do something I didn’t want to do, and I wasn’t going to be talked into changing my mind about something.

As life has gone on, I’ve become less rigid, more relaxed, and most of the time, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I like to think I quit sweating the small stuff when I was in college. My parents used to say, “She might have been ‘switched’ at college” (a reference to Switched at Birth), meaning a different person came back than the one they dropped off four years before. Whatever happened, I had gained wisdom in those four years, and I’ve gained even more since…I don’t care who is right and who is wrong…unless, of course, it negatively affects me, my child, or my family. Then…well, you already know about Mama Bear.

For me, with age has come peace. I have peace in knowing God is in charge. I truly have peace in knowing there are some things over which I have no control. I have peace in knowing that I, generally speaking, try to do the right thing. I will admit that I’m perfectly capable of being petty, but I try to do the right thing most of the time. I have peace in knowing I have a nice family and good friends. I have peace in knowing I’m trying to raise my daughter to take care of herself and others. I have peace in knowing a small act of kindness can mean a lot to someone. I have peace in knowing my brother and I will talk almost everyday, whether we have something to say or not. I have peace in knowing he is happy. I have peace.

So, to my friend, Nikki, and all my other friends who will be turning fifty in the next year or two, this is my gift to you: Embrace the 5-0! Tell everyone you see you are enjoying your 50th birthday! Enjoy it! And don’t just celebrate it for one day; celebrate the whole dang year! Find the peace you deserve at 50!

My 51st birthday is approaching one month from today, and I have called this past year The Year of Me, this year that I am 50.

Unfortunately, I lost my mother during this year, but she laughed and laughed last May at how I embraced turning 50. She had a great sense of humor, and she was happy I was celebrating life. She was glad I took some extra vacations (my favorite thing to do), and she was glad I was spending time with friends and family during the year. She encouraged me to enjoy every single day. As my parents used to tell me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Make it good the first time around.” I’m certainly trying.

Friends, enjoy every day. Be glad you’re turning fifty. It’s a milestone. Eat cake! Cake is for winners! (Nikki knows what that means.) It should be a celebration.

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Now, let’s pop the Champagne!

Cheers!

Kelly