Short and Sweet: Wee, Wee Feet

On these dark, gloomy winter days, I am finding immeasurable joy in cuddling my new grandchild, Hazel. She’s wearing the little crocheted booties that my grandmother Juanita made for my first child thirty years ago. She made them for me, for all my cousins, for all my aunts, and for my own father. There is something exquisitely magical about heirlooms. They seem to hold in them all the love of all the generations that came before.

richard puckett, april 1941

dandelion 2

French Fries and Legos

In 2016, my husband and I bought a new car. It’s  Ford Escape (we aren’t big spenders, no BMWs or Caddys for us, at least not in this current life), but I splurged and opted for leather seats and a sun roof. This was our first post-child-rearing car, it was the one I wanted to drive for a long time, and I kept its interior clean. No jelly smudges on the upholstery, no milk stains on the carpet.

Oh my stars- milk in the carpet! Once, when my kids were little, I smelled something truly vile in my car, a little red Ford Escort. Or maybe it was the white Ford Tempo. It’s all a blur (though it’s clear we’re loyal Ford folks). I searched and searched, until I found a bottle under the driver’s seat. The milk in it had curdled, was leaking gas and fluid, and smelled to high heaven. It was rank like a boys’ locker room laundry hamper; like rotten, sulfuric eggs or fresh skunk spray on a humid morning. The smell lingered for months, no matter how much scrubbing or Resolve I used.

This new cinnamon-red, tan-leather-upholstered, luxurious clean crossover was my reward for all the years of driving three kids around, pulling through McDonalds to grab them sustenance before a game, piano lesson, or orthodontic appointment. Since we were new empty nesters, we anticipated a good five years of clean, quiet road trips to little wineries and out-of-the-way art galleries. I even got my nose pierced to celebrate the Empty Nest! I was ready to rock!

Just last week, while cleaning out the SUV, my husband found a french fry wedged between the seats. A french fry.

You see, our life took a major shift lately. A good one, a happy one, but still: a shift. We became grandparents. And not just grandparents of one little newborn. Our daughter’s partner has two children, and so we are insta-grandparents (just add white wine and stir).

Thrown in the deep end, so to speak. In it up to our eyeballs. Trial by fire. Zero learning curve.

So now, we have added trips to the children’s museum and Chik Fil A back into rotation.

My husband just glommed right onto this grandpa thing. Maybe it’s his silver beard. Quite possibly it’s his jolly, extroverted personality. More likely, it’s his big heart. I took a little time to adjust to the idea. I am an introvert who likes neatness and order and quiet. I willingly relinquished those things while raising a family, and I was pretty excited about having them back for a bit. Also, being a grandparent means you’re in phase three- the last phase- and that’s sobering. Then I met the kids who would be joining our family, and fell in love. The girl is seven, a second grader who reads well and instinctively mothers her little brother, a four-year-old with a glimmer of impishness in his eyes. Now I couldn’t care any less about a french fry in my car.

There’s a single Lego sitting on my fireplace mantel. I found it under the TV stand while looking for the remote, just sitting innocently on the hardwood floor, thankfully out of stepping-upon range, waiting for its owner to get back down to floor level and play his games of imaginary build and destroy.

A friend teased yesterday, learning about my newborn grandchild, “I bet you have your own car seat in your car.” I do. I bought a car seat, a pack-and-play, and a swing. There’s baby shampoo, formula, diapers, and wipes in what has been my yoga room and is now a shared space. My asanas are now kept company with Pampers and that wonderful smell of baby shampoo. And atop my refrigerator I have current family photos with four new and welcome faces.

grandpa magic

There’s no instruction book for being a grandparent, though I did stumble across an amazing book called Grandpa Magic: 116 Easy Tricks, Amazing Brainteasers, and Simple Stunts to Wow the Grandkids while at Barnes and Noble(see below for link). It was one of my husband’s favorite Christmas presents. I found him studying the tricks Sunday afternoon in his home office. He has big plans brewing, I think.

The kids? They’re the easy part. Spending time in the back yard playing school, coloring pages, bubble baths? I know how to do that stuff, though it’s exhausting. One afternoon of helping them ride their new bikes in our neighborhood wiped me out. Now I understand why my in-laws looked so frazzled after my kids visited.

I fear that the hard part is going to be knowing when to help my daughter and her partner and when to back off; when to offer advice and when to hush. When to let them stumble while they figure out the best way to parent. Parenting hurts. When your child is sick, when someone hurts their feelings, when they fail, your heart aches. I don’t think that’s going to get any easier.

I just want to be the safe place. The lap that offers the best cuddles for the little ones and the ear that provides unerring support and love for their parents.

Maybe I’ll even practice a magic trick or two. Everyone needs a fairy grandmother with a little magic in her wand.

 

 

 

 

Mom of a Different Time

On a Sunday in early May, what I thought was an early birthday brunch ended up being the day I found out I am to be a grandmother.

This is not a title that sits comfortably on me. In fact, I have been dreading it for years, relieved that my older two kids planned to have kids much later if at all, and assuming the youngest would at least wait until she was married and settled.

The Universe has a sense of humor, though. What I have been planning is five years of travel and adventure and completely obligation-free Saturdays, weekends for sleeping in and drinking mimosas. Maybe with my daughter.

Now I am looking at a complete shift in identity. I am now “Grandma.” I utterly and unequivocally refuse that title. Perhaps I will be “Nonny” or “Lolly” or some such thing. But not “Grandma.” I couldn’t bear it.

I have several friends who are already grandmothers. They post sweet photos of squishy little faces, all cuddled up in Grandma’s arms. They have, you know, shirts that say grandma stuff. They swear it’s awesome. The best thing ever. Pure Magic. Which, of course, what I try to live, a purely magical life.

I had grandmothers. I had two completely beautiful grandmothers. You know what they were, though? Old. They were old. To a little girl, they looked ancient. I don’t want to be seen as ancient.

When my daughter and her beloved left our house that spring day, I told my husband as he held me, “I am not ready to be a grandmother.” His reply? “Are you ready to help your daughter be a good mother, though?” Yes. Yes, I am.

And so, after a few days of mulling, I got excited, really excited about the sweet little peanut who will come into our lives soon. I am in love with this baby. I talk to my daughter’s tummy; I stare longingly at other infants, so anxious to hold this one am I; I window shop in baby departments, and I have a countdown to due date app loaded on my iPhone. I felt her flutter, and that was an enchanted moment like nothing I’d ever felt.

Grandmother…and yet, still mother.

Spring, 1995(2)

Motherhood of young adults who are in their twenties is a whole different level of parenting. Skinned knees give way to broken hearts. Allowance shortfalls are now being unable to quite make rent. Not getting along with an algebra teacher has morphed into coaching an adult child how to deal with an abusive work relationship. Romances have moved beyond the land of “check yes or no if you like me” into the complex realm of co-dependence and infidelity.

Of course, the first step of this change is the college experience. With each child, I worried when we dropped them off at their dorm rooms. With the eldest, our consternation was much about her roommate, a reclusive and unfriendly gamer chick who stayed up late into the night, keeping Hilary awake and groggy. We worried whether she was making friends (she was), partying too much (she wasn’t), and studying enough (she most definitely was). I fretted about bugs in her dorm room and the quality of the food offered on her meal plan. I worried whether she would have the stamina to sustain her choice of major as she worked her way through the grueling audition process that is collegiate theatre. Eventually, she bought a car, changed boyfriends, and started being cast in phenomenal roles that challenged her as both artist and woman.

And yet…she fell deeply in love with a young man who played her romantic love in a play, and we watched as fantasy became reality. Red flags were showing everywhere, and her father saw them almost immediately. It took me a bit longer, though. Our daughter was in love with a drug addict. As a parent, you’re almost helpless. I would say it just  feels like you’re helpless, but it’s actually true. You’re helpless. We pointed out the dangers: disappearing money, stolen debit cards and checks, evictions and creditors, a totaled car, even jail time for theft. Our daughter was so convinced her love would be enough to conquer all. Until the day it wasn’t, and reality hit her like a tsunami.

All you can do, then, is to hold your daughter close when she needs to cry, give her space for quiet when she needs to think, and the sure knowledge that her family is standing by to help her put herself back together.

Christmas 1995

The next child falls into a depressed isolation in his dingy dorm room at the east Texas college that no one told you was in financial crisis and would soon be shuttered, and you begin to question where you went wrong as a parent. You’re sure that your childhood role models of family perfection, Greg and Marcia Brady, never struggled like this at college, that they made it to every class with their shiny hair intact and their books perfectly organized. He’s just far enough away that you can’t get to him easily, and when he comes home, he’s hurt and angry, feeling abandoned, when what you were really trying to do, as a parent, was show him your faith in his independence and courage.

That one also dives deep into a couple of troubled relationships, also sure that his love would be enough to conquer all. Again, Tsunami.

Texas 2

And there’s the baby, who, by luck of the draw, ends up in upper classman apartments instead of a freshman dorm, has a near brush with dorm room forced sex, is panicked by the pressure to choose a major, and so flees to Australia to be an au pair in what turns out to be a house run by an unkind mother who refuses to provide her nourishing food, all the while eating her own Hello Fresh food service meals. If you thought your son was too far to reach, your daughter is even farther. She falls in love with a 38 year old man and stays Down Under for two years, then comes home heartsick, a bit bruised in spirit by what turned out to be a pretty controlling bloke.

Then, thank all the heavens and gods and goddesses, she returns to school and meets a good young man, falls in love, gets pregnant, and makes you a Lolly.

It is so, so hard to bite my tongue when I see my young adult children making decisions that might come back to bite them: car purchases, job changes, lovers, debt…

When my kids were little, my husband and I managed their income, their spending, their friendships, their schooling, their hobbies. I don’t mean we dictated, but we drew boundaries: only two after school activities (to prevent exhaustion), sleepovers only where we knew the parents (to prevent abuse), supervised spending (to stave off wastefulness). We worked to lay a foundation of love and confidence.

Now we watch as they test that foundation. They crack it, but it seems to hold. They move forward, sometimes with grace and sometimes with grief, but always forward. Their love is more precious to me now because it’s been tried and tested in the fires of anger and forgiveness, tug and release, and lessons learned. Not just their lessons, but mine, too.

I have learned to have faith in my children.

Now, I too move forward. Can’t wait to meet my sweet granddaughter, Hazel Elizabeth.

Back of Family

Short and Sweet: Generations.

This morning, I find myself consumed with thoughts of my family, its history, its future. I think that, because I am watching my daughter’s body change daily as she grows this sweet, first granddaughter, nostalgia hovers close these days.

I have discovered that I am both culmination and continuation. I am the culmination of all those who came before: the immigrants who left Europe to forge a new life in America; the man who grew up in dusty Oklahoma and serenaded the most beautiful red-head in town; the couple who lived in a tent by a lake and did kitchen fox-trots; the parents who started off with such hope and faltered so devastatingly. I am also continuation: the children that my husband and I made, the family that we raised so erringly but with such love, has gone out to keep the family tree growing tall, reaching simultaneously toward sky and earth. Culmination and continuation. Wish granted.

Modesty, Shame, and a Korean Spa

For Mother’s Day, my daughters took me to a Korean spa. This was a wholly new experience for me- I was excited about soaking in pools of warm water and sitting in steam with my two girls. Then I learned something: you have to be naked. Fully unclothed. As a jaybird. Buck. Naked.

I did not handle this well. I had brought my swimsuit- but I was not allowed to wear it. I put on the short green cotton robe that was provided in my locker and just quivered.

I was raised to be modest, and since I was naturally shy, it went hand-in-hand. I am not sure I ever saw my mom naked, maybe once or twice. By accident. I never saw grandmothers in dishabille, even once my grandparents moved to live at a lake, my Grandma June did not wear a swimsuit.

Once, on my first sleepover with a friend, my third-grade self started getting dressed by putting my shoes and socks on with my nightgown. My little friend was puzzled, “Why are you getting dressed like that?” “This is how I always do it,” I replied. The truth was that as she started getting dressed, I was too embarrassed to do the same, so I started with the safest thing: shoes and socks. Of course, once it was time to take off my full length flannel nightgown and put on pants, I had to take off my shoes anyway.

Cover ups were worn to and from the pool, and when I was in drill team we were required to wear cover ups to and from rehearsals. We did not leave a dance rehearsal in our leotards and tights- we covered up.

Shorts were not allowed at school. They were not allowed at church camp- we sweltered in jeans in 100+ degree heat. When I went to college at a conservative Evangelical school in 1985, the same policy held: no shorts except in the gymnasium (no co-ed pe classes), intramural fields, or in the non-public areas of the dorms.

This was the norm in the 1980’s- especially in Dallas, Texas, where the Bible Belt influence is tenacious.

And to be completely honest- I dig a little modesty. I might be a mite old-fashioned, but I feel a jolt when confronted with booty shorts and crop tops. I don’t think I am judging the ladies who dress that way, but I feel uncomfortable, nonetheless. I once saw a really great political cartoon, in which the dichotomy of modesty and freedom in Muslim and Western culture is obvious:

I might fall closer to the figurative hijab or burqa, personally, and the cartoon above really brought it home to me. It’s about perspective, really.

But shame? That’s a whole different ball game.

Confronted with so much female nudity in the Los Angeles Korean spa- a clean, well-lit, secure environment- I could barely lift my eyes, which at moments filled with frustrated tears. I glanced surreptitiously- there were women both fatter and thinner than me, older and younger, darker and lighter, shorter and taller. There were abundant cellulite, lithe limbs, bellies stretched from childbirth, taut tummies, surgical scars, small breasts, large breasts, and in-between breasts. My body would have just blended in. No one would have given me a second glance, yet I just perched on the edge of the hot tub, feet sitting down in the hot bubbling water, robe wrapped tightly and clutched fiercely to make sure it didn’t gap. After a few scorching minutes in the steam room, I curled up on a sleep mat and let the heated floor send me into a sweet snoozy cat nap.

My daughters suffered no such self-shame, by the way.

I have given so much thought to the shame thing- where does it come from? It’s cultural, of course. Ad campaigns, tv shows, blah-blah-blah, on and on. But even more insidious is the way it creeps into the real conversations of the real people who impact our lives.

Like that drill team director who instructed us to cover up as we went to and from the gym or practice field and who also required regular weigh-ins at which all the officers were allowed to sit and comment on our weights as we stepped off the scales.

Once, without realizing I could hear her, a grandmother looked at my photo and commented to my father that I had gained weight. At fifteen, I had been so proud of that photo shoot and had felt very pretty. Until.

On another occasion, while hugging another grandmother tight, she disparaged her own body, saying there was too much too hug, how could my arms reach? I told her I loved her just as she was. Her reply? “Your grandfather would love me more if I could lose some weight.” I was thirteen…

and I believed her because that very grandfather would look out the window at their lake cabin and mercilessly critique the neighbor who, in her 50’s and then 60’s, liked to do yard work in her two piece swimsuit. Her body was fair game, both for its size (which was quite healthy) and its age.

Don’t mistake me- I loved (and still do) all of these grandparents. But somewhere along the way, their comments mixed with church and media messages to create a powerful and addictive cocktail of body and age shame in me.

 

As the mother of two girls, I tried to be very careful of what I said to them about their own bodies- I wanted them to feel comfortable in their own skins, and for the most part, they do. They didn’t have any problem stripping down to hop in the pools. But what I didn’t realize was that what I said about my own body was affecting them, too. That they were watching. They were listening. They were copying.

 

When I was visiting in LA just a couple of weeks ago, and I started the litany of body criticism, my older daughter looked at me with exasperation and said, “Mom, please don’t ruin this week with that. Please don’t go there. Please.” It stopped me dead in my tracks- I don’t just hurt myself when I clothe myself in shame. I hurt my girls, who have learned to love themselves, and who love me just like I am. It’s the craziest thing- they admire me. They respect me. And their adult selves have very little tolerance for my self-shame.

I guess body shame and body ownership are two sides of the same coin. I feel empowered when I am a little more modest. Some women are empowered by the burqa. Others are empowered by bikinis. We accept shame when we listen to the voices of the world, and when we let those voices supplant our own.

So, in my own voice, I spent time in my morning gratitude practice saying thank you to and for my body. Part by part: legs, knees, lungs, heart, eyes, mouth, womb, hands, belly…I acknowledged what my body does for me. With me. Sometimes in spite of me.

And just maybe, next time I will get in the naked pool. Maybe.

Forever in (Home-Made) Blue Jeans!

 

“Money talks
But it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk
And long as I can have you here with me
I’d much rather be forever in blue jeans”- Neil Diamond

When I was in eighth grade, that oh-so-painful age of adolescence, I wanted a pair of blue jeans so badly I was quite nearly in agony. Please remember that this was the age of Brooke Shields, who never let anything come between her and her Calvins, and Gloria Vanderbilt’s straight, super-dark-blue-with-gold-stitching disco ready denims. I didn’t necessarily care that my jeans be a designer label, I understood only too well my family’s poverty. I was dressed in garage sale clothes that didn’t fit or repurposed clothes from my mother’s 1970’s remnants. A favorite outfit was a blue chambray maxi dress printed with strawberries that my maternal grandmother had helped me redesign and sew into a skirt and blouse; I was vintage before vintage was cool. Genie pants were a trend when I was in seventh grade, I had tried (with disastrous results) to tie yarn around the ankles of a pair of brown polyester slacks I found in my mom’s closet. When all my friends had braces, I wrapped a rubber band around my front four teeth and tried to convince my classmates I was starting orthodontics (Yes, that really happened. And yes, my teeth were sore for days). When my family moved across town and I started a new school, I saw my chance to be someone different, someone who had not utterly embarrassed herself by doing a cartwheel at cheerleading tryouts only to find every single other candidate standing in perfect formation and kids in the bleachers pointing and laughing. Someone who looked and lived like everyone else.

I wanted jeans.

I rarely voiced my wishes, resources were so scarce, but I must have voiced this one. When I look back, I realize that wishing for appropriate school clothes was not wicked of me. I honestly just wanted clothes that were appropriate for my age and fit right. I wanted to blend in. Isn’t that the great conundrum that faces junior high kids? You want to blend in, to be like everyone else, but at the same time you ache to find your own identity.

My father did not know how to make these jeans happen. He simply did not have the money to do it. So unbeknownst to me, he called my grandmother, a master seamstress, to see if she could help.

One day I got a box in the mail, addressed from Lubbock, Texas. Usually, these boxes were filled with dresses or blouses made from the leftover fabrics from my grandmother’s clients. This time, I opened the lid to find dark blue denim. My blessed grandmother had made me a pair of blue jeans! Now, as a seamstress myself, I can tell you that denim is a real pain to work with. It’s heavy. It breaks needles. The finished, flat-fold seams that are standard on the sides and yokes are quite literally impossible without special industrial machines, so my jeans were actually made from a women’s trouser pattern. I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that I could wear denim on the bus the next day!

The next morning, I put on my jeans with a favorite peach-colored linen top (also made by my grandmother) and a pair of too-small Famolare shoes procured at a garage sale. I fixed my short, disastrously-home-permed frizzy hair and rubbed on eyeliner taken from a jar of shattered Mary Kay kohl leftover from the sixties, and walked to the bus stop.

And here is where I learned that no matter where I went, I would always be the girl kids loved to make fun of. Instead of my jeans helping me fit in, they stood out like sore thumbs. No back pockets, no side seams, no pretty stitching, no designer label. I was that morning’s bus target.

I did my best to put a dignified face forward, shielding my thoughts from the mean-spirited peers surrounding me. At first, those thoughts were of burning the cursed pants. Well, not really burning, but maybe ripping or burying in the bottom of my closet. But then I thought of my grandmother sitting at her machine, pins in her mouth, humming hymns, or listening to Paul Harvey, sacrificing time sewing for paying customers to make me a pair of jeans. I thought of my father setting aside his pride to ask this of her. And I wore those jeans.

Eventually, some of my peers became friends. I never really got invited to sleepovers, but I had people to sit with on the way to and from school. Once my singing voice was discovered, I became the girl that people wanted to listen to.

What I learned was that family love trumps everything, and that family love doesn’t always come from where you think it will. That same dear grandmother was still showing her love for me at the sewing machine two years later, making my white dress with a blue satin sash for my role as Liesl in the school musical, five years later with my pink and blue graduation dress, seven years later, helping to make my mother’s dress for my wedding, and then again making crocheted booties for my first child.

I miss that dear lady. She taught her children and grandchildren that loving family matters. She showed each of us that love is not always spoken, it is proven in serving and forgiving others. Loved by her husband, siblings, and descendants until her very last breath, her life was a testament to the power of family love.

Fashions come and go. Grandmothers are forever.

Not my mother’s daughter- or am I?

It is Mother’s Day and I want to think about my relationship with my mother. The mother daughter relationship can be incredibly profound. There are the common experiences  of wearing makeup and a bra for the first time, selecting a prom dress, childbirth and mothering. A mother influences a daughter’s fashion sense, decorates her bedroom, and chooses which clubs or classes her child participates in. A mother’s example is the template a young woman will look to when learning to form platonic, familial, and romantic relationships.

I’m not sure my mom really knew what to do with me. She was a confirmed tomboy in her youth, surrounded by brothers and boy cousins, she could throw a ball and ride a horse as well as any boy. She wore jeans when it was not acceptable for girls to do so, lived in cowboy boots and threw a mean softball. I was not a tomboy. I wanted to be a cheerleader or a ballerina. I loved Barbies and dresses and more than anything I longed for long hair that I could put into pretty bows.

Instead, my mom kept my hair in a boy cut and signed me up for softball and soccer. God, I hated to run (I still do) and if you have ever watched a soccer game, it’s nothing but running!

I did have one of those Barbie hair style heads that you could put blue eye shadow on and a toy sewing machine. My bike was purple and had flowers on its banana seat, and by fourth grade I had been signed up to be a cheerleader for the pee-wee football team and was allowed to grow out my hair.

More than anything, though, I wanted to take dance lessons. It was the greatest desire of my heart. I would check out library books on the five positions of the ballet and stand in the living room doing barre work using a chair arm to balance. I so desperately hoped that my mother would see my work and realize she simply had to get me to a class!

What I know now about my parents’ marriage and finances tells me that there was probably not money for dance lessons, and a mentally ill and severely depressed mom is not always capable of recognizing the needs of her kids.

One of the most powerful truths I have come to realize in my midlife is that most of us are doing the best we can on any given day. Sometimes that means we climb a mountain, and sometimes that means we just manage to draw the next breath. I think my mom was doing the best she could, most days, to just draw that next breath.

I spent a lot of wasted time as a teenager and into my twenties being really angry at my mom. That does no one any good. So one day, I just let it go, dropped that weight of self-righteous indignation and bitterly held grudges over neglect and hurts my mom had inflicted.

I have come to a peace, of sorts, with my mom.

What my adult self would tell my mom:

1. I finally got to take ballet. As an adult in my thirties, I signed up for ballet classes at the studio where my kids took dance. At first, I took the adult classes, the ones meant for moms like me, but when those classes were no longer offered, I screwed up my courage and took class with Hilary. This class was for kids who had taken about 9 years of dance. They were teenagers. I told the teacher not to worry about actually teaching me, but she did anyway, correcting my position for the port du bras or tweaking the turn out in my hip socket. I never became an actual dancer, but I learned how to appreciate the strength of my muscles and more importantly, to try to do turns across the floor as though no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

2. We share a love of yellow. Her favorite colors were yellow and orange, mine are yellow and green. I have a yellow bicycle and yellow clothes and one single yellow wall in my apartment. Almost always when I see a perfect shade of yellow, I give her a little moment in my thoughts.

Libby senior pic (1)

3. She has four granddaughters, all of them feminine little princesses who love or still love to play dress up and wear lavender and pink. But I would have to tell her about Libby, the child who not only looks like her but shares her love of sports and competition and athleticism, who has sass oozing out her very pores and also my mom’s tendency to emotional extremes.

4. My favorite way to wear my hair, ironically, is in the short pixie she kept me in as a girl. I just got it cut in this style after months saving pins on a Pinterest board devoted entirely to pixie cuts. A student told me last night that I look like my real self. I wish I knew if my mom had always seen that, or if she just wanted the ease of the short hair.

5. Being a mom to girls sometimes means letting your girls have space. My mom didn’t understand that sometimes her girl just needed space to think, to process. I am a person who faces challenges first with silence. This was infuriating to my mom, puzzling to my husband, and inappropriate to my current boss. Sometimes mom would try to force me to talk, certain I had a deep dark secret to confess. That was almost never the case. I just needed time to think and process. One time when Hilary was making the tough decision to change schools, she only spoke when necessary for two straight days. I watched her, wheels turning furiously in her mind as she debated and grieved and predicted. I was dying to question her, but I held back, letting her peacefully come to her own decision. God, that was hard!

6. Being thin does not equal being lovable.

7. Female sexuality is a beautiful thing and should not become a shaming tool. I hope I have raised my daughters to appreciate this part of who they are and to know that they can always talk to me and I will not lay a burden of grief upon them.

7. I understand now that she loved me. She is forgiven.

Shopping. Ouch.

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I am not a great shopper. I get a little lost in the stores and sort of wander around aimlessly, rubbing things that are soft and darting from pretty color to pretty color like a dazed hummingbird. My closet reflects this inability to acquire what I believe is called a “cohesive wardrobe” (I learned that term from watching Project Runway). It’s a motley assortment of shirts handed down from my girls, skirts from resale shops, and  black, brown, and silver pairs of shoes (one set is for when it’s cold, one for when it’s hot). I did manage a small shopping trip in September, during which I splurged on a pair of autumnal orange cords. I absolutely adore them. I bought two outfits that day, all at JCP, because that store is comfy for me. The outfits are hung on four-way racks, so you know exactly what top is supposed to go with what bottom. It’s kind of like Garanimals for working moms.

I also experience tremendous guilt when I buy clothes. That’s why almost nothing in my closet is new. I just feel like one of my kids must need something more, or I should make an extra payment on a debt, or send some money to a starving child in Africa. My family has started confiscating the receipts after a shopping trip so that I cannot return everything the next day when regret takes over. I looked at a pair of exquisite cashmere hand beaded gloves this afternoon at a new store called Soft Surroundings. They were so beautiful I almost wept. Then I saw the price tag- $120!!! I dabbed my eyes and put them away. That’s a payment to my neurosurgeon or ten months of support for my local NPR station right there.

Today, I ventured into Forever 21, where Libby was looking for a dress for her college auditions next week. Having been told by her super awesome voice teacher that a study in L.A. found that teal and turquoise were top colors to audition in, we had our eyes open for garments in these hues. While she was in the dressing room, a deep turquoise lace overlay dress called my name. I showed it to Libby- she loved it so much she bought it without even trying it on! Success! Imagine my surprise- I had picked out something my 18 year old loved! No eye rolling, no sweet little pats on my dowdy old head (which, by the way, has not had a haircut in 13 months. Hence the ever present low pony and plastic headband)!

So, here are my new thoughts on shopping:

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1. Drink at least two glasses of wine first. This will shut the hyper-critical second-guesser in my head right on up. I’ll be whipping out my debit card in no time, buying highly impractical heels and fluttery skirts! Of course, this is the strategy that led to the acquisition of a tattoo in the East Village last summer, so a little caution should probably be exercised.

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2. Take a daughter with me. My girls are fantastic at putting outfits together, and they can keep me from the yoga pants-tunic ensembles that have become my go-to. In fact, when I do get compliments on my clothes, it’s always something one of my girls bought for me! However, I must be sure not to buy a corn hat.

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3. Stop being distracted by costume ideas when shopping. Some of you will totally get this. I would always rather buy for one of my costumes that buy for mundane work clothes! I had to make a conscious effort today to walk away from the pretty headbands that would go so perfectly with my fairy costume. I don’t want to buy an every day purse, I want a beaded bag to go with my red dupioni silk bustle dress. I want earrings with skulls and crossbones for Rosie. I just have to have the raspberry tights, suede kitten heeled pumps and crystal encrusted shoe baubles to go with my French courtesan costume (see above)!

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4. Have fun. I really need to embrace this philosophy in pretty much everything. I need to lighten up! My girls tell me that clothing can be a way to express one’s creativity, mood, and personality. I used to know that! I have a friend, Melody, who is a theatre teacher, like me. But she wears feathers in her hair, bright colors, and lots of sparkles. Mel wore a feathered hat to the Tommy Tunes awards last April that was like an avant garde work of art on top of her head. She is fearless and so much fun!It’s time to let my inner Melody out to play. I need to find my inner drama queen. Maybe even my inner drag queen.

Image Yep, it’s time to brave the mall, change my inner monologue(I am NOT fat), and start discovering a new fashion sense before I become a victim of the dreaded red hat lady syndrome! Know of any good sales, gals?

The price of bullying.

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I think we have, as a society, become aware of what happens when adolescents and young adults use their words and influence to bully people who are different: whether it’s sexuality, weight, poverty, intelligence, or physical beauty. We have seen the vlogs of kids getting ready to kill themselves, stared in shock at the footage of shooting victims, we have heard the cries of the anorexics.

The “It Gets Better” campaign is a marvelous grassroots effort to assure those that are different that it will, in fact, improve. Each day is its own challenge, and each day is a fresh start. With adulthood comes the power to turn one’s back on the naysayers.

But you know what I don’t hear people talking about much? Parents who bully. Good, loving parents who browbeat the dreams right on out of their kids. I am not talking about parents who hit their kids, neglect their kids, or even verbally abuse their kids. I am talking about parents who are so ruled by fear of risk, by fear of the unknown, by fear of failure, that they attempt to micromanage every decision that their child makes.

In my profession I have the opportunity to encounter all sorts of kids and the parents who create them.

There are the helicopter parents who hover over every moment, the tiger parents who manage every choice, the absent parents who exert no influence whatsoever, the damaged parents who barely limp through their own pain and are not equipped to nurture their offspring, the healthy parents who support and guide their kids but let them make their own choices.

I had a mixture of parents: a mom who was mentally ill and drug addicted and could not be a mother and a dad who was lonely, damaged, and overworked (both have passed).

My husband had the kind who could not bear to let their son be who he was. They love him, I know they do. But his memories are filled with being told what extracurricular activities to participate in, what college to choose, and what major to undertake. The Arts were his true passion and calling. Anyone who has been around him in the last fifteen years knows I am speaking truth. He was good enough to be a professional actor. With the right training, he might have spent a life acting, directing, coaching, or casting. He most certainly could have paid the rent. Browbeaten into submission, he tried the safe route. It has been a difficult path. I have watched him fight depression, addiction, weight, and despair. He has spent his entire life trying to please the two people who should have been cheering him on from the beginning, and I have spent our married life picking up the pieces.

Now we are fighting the same battle on behalf of our children.

I have ever, as a mom, believed that it was my role to help my kids discover who they were created to be, equip them for it, then get out of their way when it was time to stumble on those first uneasy steps to self discovery and adult fulfillment. Rather than watching my children despair as they tried to fit into a mold of someone else’s design, crafted of someone else’s values, I believed they needed the freedom to try new things until they discovered their passions and aptitudes. My task has become to listen to their hearts, teach them to do the same, and show them that fear and failure are inevitable.

Hilary has chosen to get a BFA in Acting and Directing. She’s really good at what she does. She has three nominations, some great roles, and Dean’s List certificates to prove it. I am amazed by her. Will she be an A-List celebrity? Who knows. Probably not. But I do know that she can make a living doing what she loves. Take a look at these statistics from a recent study on the impact of Arts employment in Houston:

“According to the report, 146,625 individuals in the Houston metropolitan statistical area had creative jobs in a creative or non-creative industry, or non-creative jobs in a creative industry, in 2011. That’s more than are employed in the city’s finance and real estate sector, more even than the Texas Medical Center employs…Plus, the median earnings per creative worker are higher in Houston than anywhere else, at $21.58 per hour, which — coupled with great demand (only about half of the $21.93 billion spent on creative goods and services in 2011 was produced and sold locally) — renders the city an ideal spot for creatives.” (Taken from the Houston Arts Alliance, by Whitney Radley)

My daughter is bright and capable. More than that, she is brave. She is brave enough to go to auditions and be told no, then do it again and again. She is hardworking enough to bring people food and drink so she can pay her bills while she starts her career. Most importantly, she knows that if she fails, she will have the utter satisfaction of knowing she tried. She will not spend her entire adulthood grieving over chances never taken. She has parents, a love, and friends who will cheer her on for as long as she needs us.

I think the other ones will be artists as well. We have always known Travis Austin would not follow the typical path of college and 9-5 job. Libby, a member of the All State Theatre cast, is clearly as talented as her sister. She radiates on stage. When she is dancing, it is as though she is transported.

I know Trav and I will hold them when they cry at failure. But we would rather comfort them in failure than watch them chafe at safety.

I just wish their grandparents felt the same, for my kids’ sake, and their dad’s.

(Don’t) Put Up Your Dukes!

“We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it” (Dwight Eisenhower)

Sometimes people tell me I am a good mom. I don’t know about that. I guess I have done okay, but I tend to think I got really lucky with my kids and they got really lucky with their dad and I just went along for the ride.

But I know one thing I absolutely laid the law on when my kids were little: fighting. It just simply wasn’t allowed (before you scoff, know that my kids have confessed to a few punches and hits when Mom wasn’t home, but they will also tell you those were exceptions, not rules).

I have heard many times, both in my years as a teacher, youth minister’s wife, and as a just plain person, that sibling fights are just an unavoidable evil, that all siblings punch and pinch and push and tease and torment. I know my brother and I did.

I had two brothers: Lance, who was two and a half years younger than me, and Chad, who was six years younger. I never really fought much with Chad. He was just too much smaller, it didn’t seem fair. Besides, he was sweet. But Lance? We fought like little heathens. Well, I say little. I remember digging my long fingernails into his forearm to draw blood when I was driving the van and he was in the passenger seat. We hit each other, pushed each other, called each other names. I even lost my temper and threw a knife across the room at him once. It embedded itself in the door where his belly had been just seconds before and hung there, vibrating with force and calling me back to my senses. I have told you before, mine was not the most peaceful of homes.

When I started my own family, I absolutely knew I did not want that dynamic. So as Hilary and Travis began to disagree, I just told them there would be no hitting. They could argue with quiet voices but they could not call names. They could not resort to violence. What I discovered was that this training meant I had to be the referee for the disagreements. I could not leave them to sort it out without supervision. Notice I said supervision, not intervention. I still let them find the solutions. Sometimes I coaxed them into the most fair or compassionate resolution, but I didn’t dictate. Kids don’t learn from an adult laying down laws.

Libby was a little tougher. If you know her, you get it. She is vivacious and strong-willed and competitive. Fortunately, her older brother and sister stayed the course.

There has been bickering in this house. Want to test that? Ask Hilary or Libby to tell you who takes the most clothes from her sister’s closet.

But my kids are friends with each other. I love having all three of them in the house because laughter is abundant in those times. They miss each other when they don’t get to see each other for a few days. And that’s way better than how my brothers and I ended up- one dead alone in a hotel room of a drug overdose and the other telling me he does not want any contact with me.

Maybe you pounded on your siblings and you managed to stay friends. Me? I am glad I stood, however imperfectly, for peace. It may be the thing I am most proud of in all my mothering. Teach your kids how to disagree in love. The world could use more of that.