Ode to a Book

Image credit: BOOKS © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann Dreamstime.com

Sitting much like the girl I once was, I huddle with my legs criss-crossed, head bowed and book before me. I take my time poring over the front and back covers, searching the artwork for some hint of the adventure I’m about to take. The crackle of the pages, heralding its newness, signals that something new and exciting is about to take place. With its spine splayed open, the journey begins. Although I’ve never read these words in this combination or traversed this foreign plain before, it’s like a homecoming. I love the feel of the book’s weight in my hands, the dog-eared pages from when we are forced to part, the way the bottom of the pages swell from being held against my body in the summer sun, and the occasional smear tracing the downward voyage of a teardrop. With a book in my hand, I am whole. With every flip of the page, I am growing.

This feeling is as true today as it was when I read my first novel. So inspired was I by the undeniable power of a good book, that I have pledged to author at least one of my own before I die. It’s not that I seek fame or fortune, or that I long to see my face on the back cover – it’s that I simply wish to move someone the way that I have been moved over the years. Sadly, I feel as though time is running out. Between endless hours devoted to eking out a living and raising a family, the years seem to fly by as little to nothing is added to my dusty and decaying first draft. But my greatest fear isn’t that I will die before I’m able to finish it, it’s that books might die first.

H.G. Wells once foretold of the “decaying vestiges of books” in his classic 1898 novel The Time Machine. Through the eyes of his Time Traveler standing in a long-abandoned library, the author wrote of the future, “They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified.”

With 2011’s death of the nation’s second largest bookseller – Borders Bookstores – and the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets, I fear the inevitable demise of hardbound and paperback books. I cannot imagine a world without tangible copies of Pat-the-Bunny and Goodnight Moon, tattered issues of To Kill a Mockingbird and Wuthering Heights, or row after row of delightfully book-strewn shelves in a local library. With two little girls who feel as passionately about their electronic devices as I do about my cherished Stephen King collection, I fear I am fighting an uphill battle.  Although, every once in awhile – I catch my oldest daughter – sitting with her legs crisscrossed, head bowed, and book before her, and I am filled with hope.

Mostly, because I know that the one book she would love to read above all others is one that I have written.

 

Image Credit: BOOKS © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime.com

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The Final Flight of Peter Pan

Much like the hero of J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s tale “Peter Pan”, he flew into my life and I was forever changed.

As if one first name wasn’t significant enough to describe him, John David Keith boasted three. Even in his late teens, he was already a mountain of a man – larger than life and imposing of stature, but beneath all of the muscle and tough exterior lay the little known soul of a poet. In true Peter Pan fashion, he chose me as his Wendy. Every experience with him was an adventure, and danger seemed to lurk at every turn. I was hopelessly drawn into his world – enamored by its exciting divergence from the quiet, controlled and steady life I’d been leading with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

I floated above the clouds with him for years, until time and circumstance slowly wore away at what we had. I found myself growing weary of the relentless tug-of-war between my family and his world, the constant vying of attention from a never-ending cycle of mermaids, and the perpetual presence of his ever-true band of Lost Boys keeping him hopelessly tethered to Neverland. As I traded the soft pink floral paper that covered the walls of my childhood bedroom for the solid concrete walls of a college dorm, I knew I faced a new kind of future. It was time to put away childish dreams. Fearing he might actually be the boy who never grew up, I made the difficult decision to return to a quiet, controlled, steady life. Rather than rage against my choice – prepared to do battle to the death – out of love, he flew silently up and out of my life.

I’ve thought of him often over the years – like a shadow trapped in a dresser drawer. As I went on to happily wed and work, I dreamed he did the same. As I filled the rooms of my home with the sweet laughter of children, I prayed he was experiencing the same kind of joy. I never forgot the name he and I had once chosen for what we dreamed would be our first son – Joshua Skye – and found it somewhat prophetic that I would never give birth to the boy I yearned for. On that fateful night in 1989, with just a handful of words – I had completely changed the course of my destiny.

On October 14, 2008, I learned the sad truth about John’s destiny. He had not married a pretty little wife, was not living in a sweet little house encircled by a white picket fence, and the halls of his home did not ring with the laughter of children. He had found happiness working as a PGA golf professional at golf clubs throughout the Southeast – able to channel that athletic prowess I remembered so well from our high school football field into a career he truly loved. Unfortunately, after falling down inexplicably on the golf course several times and a laundry list of other strange mishaps, John David Keith was eventually diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a devastatingly progressive and degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal column. Over time, the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle function deteriorates to the point of complete paralysis. There is no known cure. Over the course of the last three years, John has lost the ability to walk, can no longer speak, and finds himself struggling to breathe without the aid of a machine. The once strong and muscular physique of an athlete has been slowly transformed into a frail skeletal frame. As his condition worsens, the bills for caregivers, medical supplies, and doctor visits continue to mount. As if watching the rapid decline of her beloved only son isn’t difficult enough, the financial burden has become overwhelming for John’s widowed mother, Renee – his stalwart, brave, and ever-present Tinkerbell.

Shortly after learning his fate, John reached out to me to let me know. My heart was broken in places I didn’t think even existed any longer. The tears didn’t stop flowing for two straight days even though we had not communicated or laid eyes on one another for two decades. That’s what love is. My poor, sweet husband has been patient and understanding, because well… that’s what love is, too. While he could still communicate – John told me to cherish what I have and to never take the simple things for granted – all of the things he could no longer do or have. It’s a painful and poignant lesson to learn.

In just a handful of hours, I will see John for the first time in 22 years. I’ve been told to prepare myself, and do my best not to cry. The setting will be a charity golf tournament in Cumming, Georgia at one of John’s former places of employ, Polo Golf & Country Club on August 29. There – surrounded by friends, family, and well-wishers – John will commemorate his 44th birthday, a day he never believed he’d see. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share in this bittersweet celebration of a very special young man and his mom.

Knowing what I know now, I find a tragic irony in the way I have always compared John to Peter Pan. In his final stages of this horrible disease – at the tender age of just 44 – it’s true that he will never have the chance to grow up. He will never utter the words “I do”, he will never hold his newborn baby in his arms, he will never grow old with someone he loves. When all is said and done, he will simply fly on to that second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. And – like Wendy – I will never stop searching the stars for the slightest sign of him.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” ~ Peter Pan

For more information about ALS, visit The ALS Association online at http://www.alsa.org. To make a donation to the John David Keith Medical Relief Fund, please visit http://johndavidkeithmedicalrelieffund.chipin.com/john-david-keith-medical-relief-fund, drop by any RBC Bank location in the Atlanta area with a check made payable to the “John David Keith Medical Relief Fund”, or mail your check to:

The John David Keith Medical Relief Fund

c/o Harmony Kiser

6230 Lenbrook Court

Cumming, GA 30040

To stay up-to-date on upcoming fundraising events, please visit http://www.facebook.com/johndavidkeith

Cite:  Barrie, J. M. Peter and Wendy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911. Print.

I’m Not Gonna Lie… I Have NO Idea What I’m Doing

It's Not Easy Being a Zombie Mom From Hell When All Eyes Are On You. Of Course, The Only Eyes That Really Matter Are Those of Your Children. Photo Credits: Photogen.com

I can remember poring over the dog-eared pages of parenting magazines and baby books as an expectant mother – sometimes even scribbling chicken scratch in the margins. I can recall making lists of concerns to take with us during trips to the pediatrician to make certain no sniffle, no sneeze and no funny shaped freckle was ever overlooked. Before either daughter even arrived, their rooms were lovingly painted and decorated in anticipation of the happy childhoods they would experience both inside and outside of those four walls. Once they were here, I carefully planned every meal to make sure their nutritional needs were being met and plotted every outfit to make sure they coordinated perfectly like the happy children whose faces are plastered on the cover of a magazine. Back then, I would take the time to learn, explore and experience. Back then, that is, before I became the Zombie Mom from Hell.

I’m not really sure when it happened or why – but at some point I stopped doing all of those things. Sure, I still lay out their clothes on occasion and every once in a while, I cook something that might be considered “good” for them – but somewhere along the way, that ubercharged gusto to achieve Super Mom-dom died. It’s not that I love my children any less – on the contrary, my love for them grows with each passing day. They are and will always be the moon and the stars to me. But sometime between goodnight stories and training bras, I figured out that I have NO idea what I am doing. Rather than pick up a book to discover the secrets and get back on track, I forge ahead on an uncertain path – moaning and groaning like the walking dead. I stopped being careful and started being careless, tossing out swear words like earthworms to my innocent baby birds. I throw insensitive remarks about hygiene at my oldest daughter – a sweet and sensitive pre-teen, and hit my youngest where it hurts by denying her hugs when she misbehaves. All the while, from the outside looking in – I HATE what I’ve become and like a twenty-something with a horrible hangover, vow to never do it again. That is, until I do it again.

To be fair – I never set out to be perfect, and I’m really not all bad. I still faithfully run carpools, pack lunches, shop for groceries, help with homework, and dutifully play the role of room mom in my daughters’ classes – all while running a successful freelance copywriting business. . I walk them to the bus stop in the morning and I’m there to greet them at the end of the day, afterschool snack at the ready inside our cozy home.  I will always find time to snuggle with them on the couch, hands in a bucket of popcorn and a movie on the big screen TV. We host Wii Challenges when we’re at home and head out on regular adventures when we’re out on the town. Most importantly, I always kiss them goodnight and the sun never goes down on a day when they haven’t heard their mom say “I love you” at least once.

I guess this is just my ugly, aching midlife crisis. The desire to be a good mom is still there, but – like any respectable zombie – the life has been unexpectedly leeched from me. How on Earth do I guide when I haven’t the slightest clue where I’m going? Heading at warp-speed toward the teenage years with two girls in tow, it’s in everyone’s best interest that I claw my way out of the grave and get back to the business of actively living my life. The magic elixir is not to be found in the bottom of a bottle of Riesling (believe me, I’ve looked) and merely casting a wish into the universe won’t make it come true – I have to dig a little deeper and remember that I’m not alone.  I know there are other women out there in this big wide world who feel exactly the same way that I do. C’mon girls, we’ve got this! So we’ve said and done things that our children may use to determine how NOT to raise their own kids one day and we may serve as the subject of a colorful cocktail party story or two when our babies are all grown up – no use crying over spilt milk. It’s what we do from this day forward that really counts. We’ve got to find a way to be there for our kids – mind, body AND spirit. They may not be helpless babies anymore, but they still need us. It’s time to shed the guilt and the gray zombie shell – and jump back into our families with both feet. After that, we just have to feel our way…

 

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Dream I Never Knew I Had

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a star on Broadway. It wasn’t just a dream – it was a longing, an ache somewhere deep down in my soul. Before I was ten, I had memorized every song from Annie – The Musical and, as I got older, I committed to memory the lyrics from Hair, Fame, Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I took drama classes, joined a local children’s theater group and got as far as the Alliance Theater and the stage at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta. I loved it with a hot fiery intensity, and yet I let it go. I turned my attention to boys and BFFs, and merely dabbled my way through Show Choir in high school and Glee Club in college before letting it go completely. To this day, I still sing at the top of my lungs in the shower and in my car, and I never miss an episode of Glee or American Idol.  I have no regrets – I know now that it wasn’t the path I was meant to take.

When I was a young journalism student at the University of Georgia, I dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent. I yearned to travel to distant shores and learn about the people who lived there. I wanted desperately to join the ranks of H.R. Knickerbocker, Edward R. Murrow, Morley Safer and Peter Arnett. I practiced my pronunciation of difficult leaders’ names and perfected a clipped speech pattern until I felt it was reminiscent of a blend between Walter Cronkite and Jane Pauley. I wrote make believe reports with a poetic flair, and performed them before my bathroom mirror with hairbrush in place of a microphone. Then two events occurred to crush my dream: 1) I registered for a Broadcast Journalism course and froze every time I stood before the camera, and 2) I watched CNN’s 24-hour reporting from the Persian Gulf War.  The mental image of Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett seeking refuge under a table in their hotel room during the first bombing of Baghdad terrified me rather than set a fire in my belly to hop the next plane and join them. In truth, the only time I had ever traveled beyond America’s borders was for a high school graduation cruise to Mexico – I hardly ever left the Southeast, let alone the state of Georgia. My sense of adventure was relegated to living inside my own head (which really turned out to be a perfect situation for an unbeknown aspiring writer).  I have no regrets – that wasn’t the path I was meant to take, either.

Instead, in college, I found my feet firmly planted on another path.  I met my best friend for life, who also happened to be my future husband. He taught me to stop looking to the future, but rather to live in the moment.  The future suddenly seemed wide open – something I no longer needed to define and could not confine to any one dream. We married shortly after graduation, and built our home in Georgia. Talk eventually turned to growing our family, and I felt the excitement building – just as it had when I dreamed of standing onstage or under fire in some war torn nation. It was strange – I had been a TERRIBLE babysitter growing up. I was never really comfortable with small children, never knew what to say to them or do with them. It didn’t come naturally to me – or so I thought. What kind of mother would I be? It took ten months to become pregnant, and with each failed attempt – I found myself wanting that elusive baby all the more. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those parents who wait years for a successful pregnancy. Once I learned I was pregnant, I felt the love growing inside me right along with that sweet baby. When she arrived, everything fell into place. My first daughter was joined by a second just two years and eight months later, and I became completely fulfilled. Being a mom was a dream I never knew I had. While I would never claim to be the World’s Best Mom – I yell too much, cuss too much and occasionally brush their hair more vigorously than required – I am a far better mom than I ever would have imagined. Thanks to them, rather than looking to tomorrow and dreaming of what COULD be, I am living for TODAY and wishing it could stay this way forever.  Rather than dreaming of a happily ever after – I get to live it every day.

Southern By Association

My Southern Family

My Southern Family

 

 

A Yankee transplant finds a sense of belonging in the bosom of the Deep South

My family hails from quaint towns carved out of Ohio’s rolling countryside. My grandparents and parents grew up and fell in love in these small towns, and I was born to the first snowfall there one year. As little more than a babe, I have vague memories of snowdrifts taller than I was and cold, dark mornings. When I was just three years old, my parents picked up and moved our tiny family to a big city in the South – Atlanta. Not long after our arrival, my baby sister was born. She was a glorious Georgia Peach, but I would forever be an Ohio Buckeye.

 As a small child, it was easy to assimilate to the Southern culture. In fact, I embraced all things Southern – fried chicken, sweet tea, boiled peanuts, bluegrass music and dogwood trees. I loved the sight of kudzu and while my friends sought animal shapes in the clouds, I tried to make sense of the hulking masses under the rapidly growing green foliage (“I see a dinosaur!” I always saw a dinosaur.) I baked many a mud pie fashioned from red clay in the hot summer sun, and my mom would often curse the bright orange stains on the back of my shorts. Many of my friends spoke with lilting Southern drawls – the sound of which I cherished and would often try to imitate. The hitch was – I always knew deep down inside that I was a Yankee.

 When I was seven, the local drive-in theatre held a special screening of “Gone With The Wind”. I recall being dazzled by the majesty and grace of the Old South displayed on that big screen. I also remember feeling a sense of shame when a dirty Northern bushwhacker attempted to force Miss Scarlett to a “fate worse than death”. I have recollections of my mother taking my sister and me to the Cyclorama in downtown Atlanta. As I gazed upon the dead and the dying soldiers painted in blue and grey, I became aware that no matter how badly I wanted to be from the South – I would always be merely a resident here. There were differences that divided me from her dating back more than a century.

In addition, it took me an eternity to shed the word “pop” for the preferred Southern vernacular of “Coke” and, try as I might, I have never acquired a taste for catfish. It wasn’t that anyone ever made me feel like an outsider, there is no phrase more bona fide than Southern Hospitality. It was merely my own stubborn sensibility that kept me separated, until…

I met a sweet, handsome Carolina boy in high school who took great delight in making me laugh. He introduced me to pralines and SEC football. We attended the University of Georgia together, and married shortly after graduation. Several years later, I gave birth to our first Georgia Peach – and a few years after that, our second Peach arrived. Suddenly my home was filled with Southerners, and I felt – for the first time in my life – a complete sense of belonging. I now understand that although I wasn’t born in the South, I was raised here. As my husband and I regale our little girls with our own stories of growing up in the South, we are giving them a true sense of Southern heritage. I finally achieved my childhood dream of becoming Southern – if only by association.

With my Georgia Driver’s License in hand, I now consider myself a proud card-carrying member of the Deep South. Yee-haw!  Pass the grits!

Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bathing Suit Season Blues

Ah, yes! It’s that time again. The music of the ice cream truck fairly well heralds its arrival – singing to all within its happy sound – “Summer is here!” Many welcome its onset with open arms – the days grow longer, the smell of charcoal hangs heavy in the air, children’s laughter echoes throughout the neighborhood. My own little girls are so delighted by this precious collection of weeks of freedom from the hallowed halls of their elementary school that they can barely contain themselves. As they rub the sleep from their eyes and look forward to the day’s events, each morning begins with the dreaded question – “Can we go to the pool today?”

 It’s a question I, myself asked regularly as a child. I was practically a mermaid – I was a proud member of the River Rats Swim Team, and my mom was a devoted ALTA tennis player – leaving me to my own devices at the neighborhood pool on an almost daily basis. I was blessed with such a high metabolism in my youth – that I could eat fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candy bars and Coca-Cola every day and not gain an ounce. This fact remained true throughout my adolescence. I would spend most of the summer months in nothing more than a bikini – there was little to no shape to my body, but I still looked trim, toned and tan in my itty-bitty bathing suit.

 The exact opposite is true today. My metabolism began slowing my senior year in college, and I started packing on the pounds by continuing to eat whatever I wished, and exercising less and less. In my mid-twenties, my impending wedding motivated a sudden weight loss – which I was able to maintain for several years, until the birth of my first child. My husband was not displeased – with the added pounds came a blessedly increased bra size. As I attempted to lose the remaining “lbs” from my first child, I joyfully realized I was pregnant with my second. Suddenly, with two kids at home, my husband and I made the decision for me to become a “stay at home” mom. These were wonderful days – we played and laughed… and ate. Kids eat A LOT – three full meals, and snacks in between. I’d forgotten how delicious a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted (even better with marshmallow fluff and a bag of chips). I was so happy, I hardly noticed an extra pound here or there.

 Two events transpired, leading to the ultimate demise of my relationship with a two-piece bathing suit: 1) I started working from home once my children entered school, and 2) microwavable Mexican cheese dip became readily available from my local grocer. All of a sudden, an extra pound here or there was occurring at a much faster pace – and the only exercise I was getting was carrying a basket of laundry up the stairs and a “not so” brisk walk around the neighborhood with my dog. Instead of biting the bullet and getting my rear back in shape – with the onset of each new swimsuit season – I looked to fashion to solve the problem for me. I’ve tried the French cut one piece – high on the hips, and low on the cleavage – as if my breasts will distract from the roll of flesh that lies just beneath them. I’ve sought the aid of the “tankini” – a mental trick for overweight 30-somethings who wish to fool themselves into believing they can still wear a “kini” of any kind. I’ve even resorted to “boy short” styles and – to one thing I never thought I’d be caught dead in – a skirted bathing suit in an attempt to minimize my ever-increasing thighs. After spending hundreds of dollars on failed attempts to hide my shame, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. All I have to do is look around – I see loads of women in my very same position, but I’ve never been one to follow the crowd.

Instead, the battle of the bulge rages on, and I just need to stop waving the white flag (and dipping my tortilla chips in that delicious white cheese)! Now, at the heaviest I have ever been, the inevitable bathing suit season has rolled back around. My little girls want to go to the pool, and I am going to take them. My responsibility to them goes much farther than my chaperoning them to the pool, I have to set an example by getting back in shape without making it an obsession. Since I know that there’s no possible way to lose 20 pounds in the next four hours, I’m not going to worry that anyone might notice that I’ve packed on some extra weight over the winter months. I’m going to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle for my family, because I don’t want to miss a thing – not because I want to be remembered for how great I looked in my bathing suit. I refuse to give in to the Bathing Suit Season Blues (and you should, too!)

Published in: on May 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lump In My Throat

I have been blessed.  (Some days – although few and far between –  I feel I may have been cursed.)  God, in his infinite wisdom, has granted me the blessing of being mom to two little girls.  My heart has ached for them since before they ever breathed their first breath.  I fretted about the number of fingers and toes they would have, whether they would be healthy, whether they could possibly love me as much as I love them.  Once you give birth to a baby, they start pulling away a little bit more every day.  Blink your eyes and they’re crawling, blink again and they’re walking.  It’s true what they say – “They grow up so fast!”  On one hand, you want to freeze time – hold them in that perfect place forever.  On the other hand, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.  Your love just grows right along with them.  The one constant – the one thing that never changes is you never stop fretting.

My mother-in-law gave me a book the Christmas before I gave birth to my first daughter – Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”.  If you’ve never read it, it’s brilliant – but one particular quote stood out to me on the subject of children. 

Gibran wrote:

 Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

 

I try VERY HARD to remember these words.  I know now that my mother-in-law believed them with all her heart, even though she is no longer here for me to discuss them with – and I miss her desperately.  Her death, at the tender age of just 59, had a profound effect on me.  Beyond the loss of such an amazing force in my life, my husband’s life and the lives of my children – I had to come to terms with my own mortality, with the finite nature of our existence here on Earth and the limited amount of time I have to watch over my children.  I don’t want to miss a thing!

 

And yet…  there is so much I wish to shield them from.  As my oldest enters into the early awkward phase of her youth, my once divine little bow-head now more resembles a virtual stranger to me.  Practically overnight, she changed.  My daughter, who I once knew every inch of – every single fat roll on her chubby baby body – every single tickle spot on her sweet smelling skin — is growing up, up and away.  This past December, she asked me to chop off her long, beautiful locks – she wanted to donate them to Locks of Love, so another child – who had cancer and had lost their hair, would have hair.  Her gorgeous smile was suddenly transformed by the appearance of adult teeth too large for her little face.  And, as of just a few days ago, her lovely hazel eyes are now hidden behind a pair of thick rimmed glasses she proudly chose herself.  She’s in the gifted classes at school and sobs if she doesn’t make honor roll.  She uses big words and tells terrible jokes.  Her head is always in the clouds, if her nose isn’t stuck inside a book.  Who is this kid?

 

She’s my baby.  She’s also the kid I wouldn’t give the time of day to when I was not much older than she is now.  I am dying inside at the thought of another child not being able to see what an amazing creature she is – or, God forbid, hurting her in some way – ANY way.  My sister –once a sweet, cherubic child – bent and nearly broke under the weight of the ugliness spewed from the mouths of other children in her school.  She battled bulimia for years as a result.  I don’t wish to see my baby crushed that way.  It’s a lie, you know – words CAN harm you every bit as badly as sticks and stones.

 

Thankfully, somewhere along the way, my goofy sweet first-born was given a confidence level that I could never attain.  I was shy and silent at eight-years-old, and still struggle as an adult.  She is completely secure in her own skin, and man does that kid love to TALK!  I hope that never changes.  There’s a part of me that wants to warn her, that wants to tell her about all the bad things that COULD happen.  That’s where the lump in my throat comes in.  I never really understood where that term “lump in your throat” came from.  Now I know – it’s all the words you want to say, but know you shouldn’t – trapped like a knot just below your mouth and slightly above your adam’s apple.  They are words dying to come out, but wise enough to stay inside.   These words often dissolve into silent prayer – a simple wish for their happiness.  That’s how I try to send my “living arrows” forth – with a quick hug and a kiss, an “I love you” and a silent prayer.  As I drop my little girls off to school every morning, I kiss them goodbye and watch them as they are swallowed up inside the double doors of their institution of learning.  Every morning, I drive away with that damn lump in my throat.  I’m afraid it’s here to stay.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 5:33 am  Comments (3)  
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Spring Fever Has Got Me Sprung

What is it about the sweet sound of a bird chirping outside my window that gives me an unexpected lift?  Why do I feel the sudden urge to take off my shoes and run through the grass at the first sign of green poking up through the yellowed Bermuda?  For what possible reason do I feel the need – year after year – to completely gut and redesign the interior of my home from the moment I take down all the Christmas decorations?  What could explain the sudden onset of the seemingly incontestable desire to take perfectly good shoulder-length hair and chop it off?  Two words – Spring Fever.

Spring Fever is a restlessness that starts somewhere in your brain and travels to the tips of your toes. It happens every year – as surely as the change of seasons.  I long to don flip flops, Capri pants and a tank top, and take my girls to the park for the afternoon.  I want to paint the walls of my bedroom a refreshing shade of blue and buy all new furniture.  I can hardly wait to stick my feet in the sand and hear water lapping at the shoreline of a beach somewhere – anywhere.   I yearn to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, while a light breeze plays in my hair.  But that’s the problem – the first casualty to my Spring-fevered frenzy is my hair. 

I’ve already destroyed a perfectly acceptable bob – with every good intention of achieving a hip and edgy look – resulting instead in something that more resembles a she-mullet.  I’m a little nervous to venture ahead – what I envision in my mind may go horribly wrong in reality.  I’ve already purchased the sky blue paint for my bedroom walls, but after the disastrous results of my first Spring endeavor, I’m a tad nervous to commit to so much BLUE.  As for the beach and any hope of acquiring new furniture – in light of the current state of our economy – the new focus is to stash away as much cash as possible.  So, no new furniture and no feet in the sand – at least not this year.  To top it all off, the winter has been unkind – and I find myself in the worst shape of my life.  My dad’s mom died when I was very young, but I still remember viewing her through the car window, dressed in a sleeveless house dress waving bye-bye – arm flesh violently flapping as she did.  I recently inherited my own set of arm flaps – which fairly well does in my great love affair with the tank top.  For some strange reason, I feel like this year is oddly different.  Spring isn’t even here, and yet I’m completely sprung. 

Perhaps that’s the mark of a turning point – the moment when you realize it’s time to trade in the old ways and start anew – much like the transition from Winter to Spring.

I need to come at it from a different angle – through a new pair of shades, perhaps.  Hair grows quickly – but so do children.  My little girls are growing up so fast – right before my eyes.  Since I haven’t invented that freeze ray, yet and no amount of wishing will slow their growth – I need to soak up as much time with them as possible (especially while they still believe in fairy tales and think I’m the best mom ever).  I envision countless trips to the playground and pool – freckles popping on the cheeks of their sun-kissed faces, Popsicle juice running in streams down their arms.  This is their Spring, too – and I need to find new (and cost-effective) ways of making it special.  Picnics in the grass, kites carried on the breeze, weaving tales while rocking on our front porch – simple things that equate to memories as warm as the springtime sun.  These simple things are far more important than the recollection of Mommy crying over another bad hair style choice or home décor mishap.

And as another dreaded birthday approaches, I need to stop attributing the new muffin top and widening thighs to age, and start taking responsibility for what I put in my mouth and the amount of exercise I get every day.  Instead of riding that wave of Spring Fever-fueled energy to paint all the walls of my house and rearrange the furniture (again), I need to take my dog for a jog on the trails down by the Chattahoochee and teach the girls to play tennis.  I need to grab a hold of my Spring Fever and twist it slightly for more positive long-lasting results.  Rather than focusing on hairstyles and home décor, I need to focus on family and fitness.  With more than a month and a half to go – and with a large collection of tank tops waiting to be worn – there’s still plenty of time to turn my Spring Fever into Spring Fit.  With so many adventures to be had – right in our own backyard – there’s still plenty of time to turn my Spring Fever into Spring Fun.  Meanwhile, I need to enjoy these last precious days of winter – and never stop believing in the miracle of snow in the Deep South.  My faithful flip-flops will wait patiently on the floor of my closet until Spring has truly sprung.

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”             – Mark Twain

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

American Idol Saved My Life

Okay, okay – so American Idol hasn’t really ever saved my life in a conventional sense – yet!  But you have to admit, it’s a far more enticing title than the original “Why I Love American Idol”.  I have been a fan since Season One – when I voted for Kelly Clarkson, and wept along with her as she assumed her role as the first “American Idol”. I took partial ownership in her wild success – I ran out to buy her very first CD and have downloaded just about everything she’s done since then.  I love (and voted for) Carrie Underwood and David Cook, and I adore (and voted for) some of the one’s who didn’t make it all the way to the bitter end – like Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtery.  But, it’s about so much more than a singing contest and finding the next American Idol.  The reasons I love American Idol as a whole are almost too much to list, but I will try.

As a wife and mother of two, I love the fact that – on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings – my family gathers around our big screen TV to watch dreams take flight (or crash and burn before our very eyes).  I am reminded of the stories from my grandparents of mom, dad and the kids gathering around the radio for news and entertainment each night after supper.  It’s more than the two to four hours of family-friendly entertainment per week – it’s musical theatre, human drama and comedy blended with the lesson that we should ALL reach for our dreams (even if you get smacked down in the process)rolled into one. My girls get to witness the fact that sometimes life hands you a yellow ticket, and sometimes you learn that you’re striving for the wrong dream and it’s time to change directions.  They learn about the importance of grace under pressure and why it’s never in your best interest to be a sore loser.  They see the simple beauty of a tearful thank you and grace under pressure, as opposed to the ugly nature of the sense of entitlement.  They now know that not everybody gets what they want – no matter how badly they want it.  And – the most important lesson – they learn the importance of being yourself.   Never hide behind a gimmick or a costume – let the real YOU shine through.  That said, they also see that there really are crazy people running around out there in the world, wearing capes and feather boas.

I listened from my cozy bed the other morning, as my five-year-old daughter sang “Jingle Bells” in a clear and beautiful voice before her bathroom mirror.  Christmas has passed, but it’s one of her favorite songs – no matter the time of year.  Even though I couldn’t see her face, I knew that just behind her eyes was a vision of standing before the judges, their mouths agape as they knew instinctively that they’d just found the next American Idol.  I love that she has that dream, along with the fairy princess and fashion designer dreams.  Why on Earth would I ever take that away from her?  It does get me thinking, though.  All those poor saps who can’t hold a tune, and say “People tell me I’m a mixture of Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston” – did their moms build them up on false hopes?  OR did their moms hear clean and beautiful voices, too?  Does the saying “a face only a mother could love” hold true for voices, as well? 

For me, personally, I love the excitement surrounding each season – it’s escapism at its best.  It’s apart from the daily grind of deadlines and carpools.  I know I’m not alone in that feeling.  A friend who recently moved to a small town hundreds of miles away from home, wrote to me of her adjustment to the new surroundings  “…at least the boys are happy, and American Idol is back on.”  I love picking my favorite contestants, learning about where they’ve come from, watching the transformation from ordinary citizen to superstar and debating with my girlfriends about WHO should be the next American Idol.  I love that occasional performance that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and changes the entire direction of the contest.  After all these years of watching Idol, the judges seem like old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  I LOVE Simon Cowell and his no-nonsense approach.  He says the things we think, but are too afraid to say.  He can be cruel, but he can also be surprisingly sweet.  Who wouldn’t want to be built up by Randy Jackson (“Dude, that was the BOMB!”) or Paula Abdul (“First of all, you look AMAZING tonight!”)?  And I admit, I wish I could get the occasional hug from Ryan Seacrest when I’m having a bad day. But, still, it’s so more than that.   

I danced from age six to thirteen, and performed with a children’s theatre group in venues all over Atlanta. I knew every word to every song in the musical Annie. I’ve stood before judges during an audition and audiences during a performance.  I watched “Fame”, the movie AND the TV series, and dreamed of making it big on Broadway one day.    That dream, utterly unrealized, doesn’t shame me or weigh me down with regret.  It buoyed me all those years ago, and now – with my REAL dream playing out every day (wife, mom and writer) – it seems a fond, but distant memory.  I know American Idol does that for countless others the world over, including my little girls.  American Idol brings entertainment and hope into innumerable living rooms each week.  Hope, even the false kind, is something we desperately need during these days of economic instability, war and political infighting.  American Idol offers us all a break from the reality of our everyday lives – while we laugh, we cry, we sing along.  In a world of global warming, terrorist threats and unemployment on the rise – for a few hours each week, many of us get to celebrate the individual desire to achieve a dream.  In a way, for a few hours each week, American Idol saves ALL of our lives.

Published in: on January 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Morning-Night

I felt it before I actually heard it. 

 

I lifted my head from the pillow at the same time as sweet Annie.  Our faithful pup was off the bed before my feet hit the floor. 

 

It was “Morning-Night” – titled such by my 5-year-old daughter to describe that sliver of time when you first wake up and can’t decide if it’s Morning or Night. 

 

Annie was at the door before I was, trying to be patient while waiting for me to use my opposable thumbs to turn the knob.  The sobs grew louder as the “CREAK” of the door heralded our arrival.  I heard a pleading then — “Mommy?”  I climbed quickly to the top bunk to find my 8 ½ (going on 16)-year-old looking very small under her covers, her hair soaking wet.  My initial reaction was to feel her forehead, and finding no fever there, I lifted myself into her bed and pulled her close.  Through tears, she described the horrible nightmare she had just escaped as she fought to reconcile whether it had actually happened or was just a very bad dream.  She told me of the man who tried to take her away from me – of how she was calling out for me, but I couldn’t hear her, couldn’t save her. 

 

I listened carefully to her words before I spoke, and then I deftly navigated the waters of my own self-doubt.  As I told her that her Daddy and I would do everything in our power to always keep her and her sister safe, I myself was haunted by the faces of the daughters of countless others flashed across countless screens during countless evening news programs.  The faces of young girls and women stolen from this world and their families by monsters – not the kind hiding in closets or under beds, but even more frighteningly, hiding in plain sight.   All the while, I was amazed by the simple power of my embrace and gentle words to calm her fears. 

 

In time, sobs turned to smiles and giggles under the covers.  And as our attentions turned to shadow puppets on the walls of her pink room, I was struck with the realization that we often exist in a state of “Morning-Night”.  That sliver, that fine line, between truth and fiction.  It’s made up of the same kind of magic that leaves us so desperately wanting to believe in the existence of Santa Claus and “happily ever after”.  It’s what pulls us through each day, rather than leaving us cowering in our beds, crippled by fear.  There is comfort to be found in the moments between the fantasy – what we want most to believe – and cold harsh reality.

 

by Kasie Bolling

Published in: on December 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm  Comments (2)