The might-have-beens

The other night, as I sat in the parking lot at Kroger texting a friend, there was a rap on the window.

A too-thin woman with graying, long, curly hair smiled apologetically.

I rolled down the window.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’ve got three kids – and you can check this out for yourself because they’re sitting in that McDonald’s over there – they’re sitting just to the left of the door – but I had to leave my husband because he threw the 4-year-old across the room. I need $14 for a cab, and – ”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, and gave her what I had, which was $10.

And then I pulled out, preparing to head to my Zumba class. On the way, I passed the McDonald’s. Impulsively, I pulled in.

Are there kids in there?

I got out of the car and wandered inside. There weren’t any kids. The McDonald’s was practically empty, save for a group of four adults.

Was I indignant? Angry?

Nope.

Why?

Because there might have been three kids in there, one of whom had been assaulted by his father.

Because that woman might have been someone who had summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

And for me, that’s enough.

I was in an abusive relationship from age 15 (almost 16) until the day I fled town and transferred to another college to get away. I was once the kid … well, teenager … who got thrown across a bathroom and into the shower.

In my mid-20s, I volunteered at a Rape Crisis & Intervention Center/Battered Women’s Shelter in the Texas panhandle. Most memorable was the night I picked up a woman and several children from a  gas station parking lot. A police officer was there, and he was clearly impatient to be done with the family standing out front.

The woman didn’t speak English. She had four … maybe five? … children. They were likely a migrant family, as the town I lived in was home to hundreds of people who flocked there each year to help harvest corn, cotton, soybean and any number of other crops.

I drove a two-seater Isuzu pickup. Somehow, however, we managed to get everyone crammed inside. The youngest child, a toddler, sat on the floorboard at his mother’s feet.

I dropped them off at the shelter, filled out the necessary paperwork, and called for one of the counselors. And then I went home, to my snug little house and my dog, Molly, grateful to be independent, on my own, and not living in fear.

I grew up as a privileged white kid. I had no idea what that woman’s background was, but, having written newspaper stories about the migrant families in that part of Texas, I had a pretty good idea of what she was up against.

And that, my friends, is why I freely handed over $10 to a woman the other night who may or may not have had three traumatized children.

Because she might have been in the same situation I once had to flee.

And I might have been the one who gave her what she needed in cab fare to get away from her abuser.

Several years ago, after a day at the pool, the kids and I stopped at Jason’s Deli to get takeout.

Since the kids were still wet and in bathing suits, I told them to wait in the car. On my way in, a tall woman with elegant features stopped me in the parking lot.

I don’t remember what her circumstances were, only that she wanted to know if I would buy her a salad.

“Sure,” I said, and we went inside.

While I waited for my takeout order, she meticulously assembled a salad. Then she asked the cashier for an extra cup for water.

On her way out, she thanked me, explaining that her father was in the car and that she was going to share the salad with him.

When I left a few minutes later, she and an elderly man were huddled together in a four-door sedan, sharing that salad. We exchanged waves as I drove by.

What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that it isn’t the money or food that means the most to those who ask us for help.

It’s being heard. It’s being treated kindly. It’s the human interaction.

So many people live in the shadows or on the fringes of our society. When they venture out, it means the world to them to be able to converse with a friendly stranger. Or to be treated with dignity.

I felt compelled to share this story because of the extraordinary time we now find ourselves in. It’s so, so important to hold on to what makes us decent and human.

2017: The year we find our way

When I was lost in the Chihuahuan Desert, I spent those long, cold nights finding comfort in the night sky.

Out in that part of Texas, there is no light pollution. You can see the Milky Way and falling stars galore.

On the third night, when I began hallucinating, that Far West Texas sky was the backdrop for everything I thought I saw. I truly believe that the reason I survived is because most of those hallucinations and their accompanying storylines focused on being found.

I spent two nights utterly convinced that searchers knew where I was. I just had to make them understand that they needed to come and get me because I was too weak to walk. (I did a lot of shouting at cactus and rocks that, at times, looked like human figures.)

I wasn’t just hoping that I’d been spotted by that helicopter. I believed — no, I KNEW — that all I needed to do was be patient and wait. And that’s what I did — for two days and two nights.

As we usher in 2017, I think back on my time in the desert and long to experience that kind of passionate belief again.

Right now, all these people are wishing one another a happy new year. Exclamation point! Confetti! Yippee! 2016 is dead and gone!

And I’m that petulant, fretting child off in the corner, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes as she mutters, “What’s so great about it?”

Because while 2016 was a hideously crappy year, I fear that 2017 is when our country begins a dark and frightening new chapter of American history. I don’t even want to open the book, honestly.

But I must. You must. Because while a small segment of America is writing this first chapter, there’s nothing keeping us from writing the chapters that follow.

Except, that is, for our despair. We can’t let that happen.

I’m not making any resolutions this year because, fortuitously, I embarked on some new endeavors long before the presidential campaign came to its divisive end. It’s my hope that what I’ve helped start will flourish and provide just one of many safe spaces that will be needed in the years to come.

Yes, years. We’re in it for the long haul, folks. This is not the time to be a commitment-phobe. If we’re to preserve the fabric that makes up our democracy, we have to keep those ragged edges from fraying any further. I compare this election cycle to throwing a daintily embroidered bit of cloth in with the bath towels and turning the dials to “hot” and “heavily soiled.”

Preserving democracy involves much more than making the usual promises at the beginning of a new year.

It involves finding other like-minded people with similar goals. We need to boost one another up out of this pit. And when one weary soul’s shoulders give out, someone else must step in to do the lifting.

It involves refusing to allow others to normalize what emerged from this election cycle. I culled my Facebook friends list yet again because I can’t afford to let people I’ve always liked and respected attempt to convince me that I should get over it and move on because this is “just politics.”

It isn’t just politics. What happened already has allowed hatred, racism and misogyny several new means for insidiously creeping into our everyday lives.

Nothing about this campaign or election was in any way “normal.” We must ensure that 2016 was an anomaly, not help make it the new norm.

I felt terrible about some of those unfriendings. But my Facebook page is MY page. I’m tired of the debates and arguments and attempts to make me accept what has happened over the past year. I’m tired of people trying to cover coal-black hatred with a veneer of supposedly genteel pastels. They can slap on five coats and I will still see through it.

They say “sexist.” But what my teenage daughter heard during the campaign was “pussy-grabber.” Even she, at (almost) 14, knows that “sexist” is a wildly ridiculous (and vain) attempt at a euphemism.

This isn’t about political parties. It’s not elephants vs. donkeys. I know just as many from “the other side” — whichever side you happen to be on — who are horrified by what surfaced in 2016.

This is about defining human decency and what makes us Americans.

This is the time for action. This is when we create safe spaces for those who will need them. It’s when we reach out to those who want to help preserve what we know to be America. It’s when we gather — whether to plan or eat or just laugh together — because we will draw strength from such gatherings. It’s when we donate to good causes and good journalism.

So as we enter 2017, here are my wishes for you, my friends.

I wish you courage. I wish you determination. I wish you the ability to shine and laugh through the dark times. I wish for new and deepening friendships as we work together in the coming years.

And lastly, I wish for you a chance to sprawl on your back and gaze at the Milky Way … and to experience how it feels to truly believe in something — even when all circumstances point toward doom. I want you to know what it is like to be surrounded by chatter and laughter, to be covered in blankets and given water, after being found, alone, in a vast desert.

God bless you.

No, wait.

God bless US.

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You know you are a Girl Scout leader when …

You find glue sticks in unusual places … like melted onto the front seat of your car.

You use empty cookie boxes as extra storage space at work.

Your co-workers use empty cookie boxes as extra storage space at work.

You have more markers than a pre-K teacher.

You make sure there’s a bottle of wine waiting for you after troop meetings. Especially because you have one girl who passes out at the sight of blood and a child who asks, “What is God?” at your first-ever meeting.

The number of photos of your scouts rivals the number of photos of your family members  — even during the holidays.

Little girls run up and hug you during school field trips or parties.

Parents enthusiastically acknowledge you at the grocery store, even when you are decked out in your Zumba party attire.

Your husband groans, “Oh no … another meeting?” when September arrives.

— Dedicated to all of my Girl Scout friends and volunteers

Never forget: What we do does make a difference!

 

Let’s get physical

I’m a big believer in preventative care, whether it’s the annual physical, the girly exam, an eye checkup, whatever.

And it’s because of my most recent annual physical with my primary-care doctor that I finally learned why I’ve been so dang tired all the time lately.

Er, no, Mom. I’m not pregnant.

Apparently, my red blood count indicated a problem, which led to a B12-level test and voila — an explanation for this ridiculous fatigue.

Go here for more details.

I’m now getting monthly shots and using sublingual  drops on a daily basis. Let’s hope this regimen starts to have an effect soon.

My point, however, is this: Because of the physical, I now know why I’m exhausted and can do something to fix the problem.

Without those annual blood tests, I would have kept on struggling each day with the fatigue, wondering whether I should call the doctor for something I couldn’t even really define without sounding weird.

I mean, what working mom isn’t tired all the time?

And so, my fellow mamas, I want to remind you that we need to take care of ourselves too. Make those yearly exams for yourself — not just the kids.

 

Little Free Libraries are a cute and awesome idea

A big thanks to Texas blogger Jennifer Hiller for bringing this fabulous concept to my attention!

So apparently, in some of my home state’s neighborhoods, these adorable little red “libraries” are popping up. You take a book and leave a book. It’s that simple.

This is just adorable!

And here are books for the taking. Just make sure you leave one as well!

And here’s another …

Here’s another one…

There’s a website, Little Free Libraries, which tells you where to find them. Sadly, there appears to be only one in central Arkansas. It’s in North Little Rock.

So … are any of my mama friends interested in creating our own central Arkansas Little Free Library system? What a fun way to encourage reading! Let me know if any of you want to give this a go!

Here’s a link to the Little Free Library website.

Nothing came between me and my Calvins … except for a pair of pliers

Ah, first-day-of-school memories…

I’ll post the obligatory photos of my own sweet off-spring just as soon as Hubs emails or texts them to me.

Meanwhile, let’s wander back into the glorious 80s, when the spiral perm, giant shellacked bangs and designer jeans reined.

Now there is big hair and then there is Texas BIG HAIR. As a native Texan, I can assure you that there’s a difference.

This is my hair in its natural state:

Exhibit 1.

This was my 80s hair in its Texas state, thanks to a spiral, a pick, back-combing, a hair dryer and copious amounts of hair spray:

I know! Awesome, right?

Sometimes, when I bother to actually do something with my hair, Hubs has to gently inform me that I’ve accidentally gone a little overboard with the bigness and the hair spray. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take away her genetic leanings for big-ass hair.

Anyway.

Moving on to designer jeans of the 80s. As I recall, most were supposed to be skintight, with the exception of “baggies,” which made a brief appearance in junior high fashion at my school. (Baggies were fitted at the waist and rear and looser on the legs.)

But oh the joy of boasting a horse or a swan or pinstriping on your butt!

Sigh…

Remember these?

Glorias!

Oh, how I loved my jeans! If only they hadn’t been so difficult to get into.

Remember how long it took to shimmy and slither into a pair? Remember sucking in and sending up a silent prayer as you attempted to wrench the zipper up all the way?

One fateful morning, I was in a hurry and had no time to wrestle with a most unobliging zipper. So I headed out to the garage, rummaged through my dad’s tools and took a pair of pliers to my zipper.

Unfortunately, my head was bent over during this little task. Which is why, when the pliers slipped off the zipper, I bonked my forehead with them.

Yeah, my jeans were zipped and looking fabulous.

But my forehead now sported a rapidly growing goose egg that I knew would be the color of my jeans in just a few hours.

I pleaded with my mother to stay home from school. Strangely, the woman had no sympathy at all. In fact, I seem to recall that she looked rather smug, likely because she was NOT a fan of jeans that looked painted on.

I don’t remember how I explained away that knot on my head. But I’m quite certain the explanation contained no mention of Dad’s pliers.

Happy first day, everyone!

 

 

 

Back home after a few days of newborn-head-sniffing

Ah, the smell of new baby…

While I no longer have the stamina to even contemplate having a third, I do enjoy other people’s new babies!

Tootie was especially excited, because thus far, she’s been the only girl grandchild on my side of the family.

Adorable, no? She slept through all the picture-taking.

Here’s the E-man with my nephew, who hasn’t quite decided whether he’s going to like his new little sister. On the other hand, now he’s hangin’ with the big kids.

Look at those delectable cheeks! Nom-nom-nom…

Now head on over to Kristina’s blog (Moody Mom) for a chance to win a photo package!

 

 

Calamity Cathy

Oh, what a weekend of adventures I had.

Saturday, I took the kids to Willow Springs Water Park. Had I known this little jaunt would result in injury, I might have reconsidered. But given the powerful effect of my children’s whining pleas, I’m sure we would have ended up there at some point this summer.

Happy children!

Don’t get me wrong. We had a blast. Of course, “having a blast” involved me piggybacking the E-man from one play area to another (he’s still working on endurance swimming) and several rides down the slide.

Oh, yes. The slide. This is where my troubles began.

Here are a few photos of people on the slide from the Willow Springs website:

No hands!

These sliders are brave. Why? Because the more people, the more speed.

 

At first, I sent the children trotting up the hill alone with their mats. But each time they popped into the little pool at my feet, happy and laughing, I flashed back to my days at Shlitterbahn, remembering my former prowess as a waterpark slider.

This, my friends, is when my fate was, proverbially, sealed.

I grabbed a mat, and, for the rest of the afternoon, careened down the slide with my children, congratulating myself for my maternal hipness.

If only I hadn’t insisted on “one more time.”

For it was then that things went terribly awry.

Somehow, an unexpected swish of water managed to turn my mat around, and I went from sitting cross-legged and facing forward to hurtling backwards down the slide flat on my back.

Desperate to turn myself around before reaching the bottom, I employed a burst of super-human strength to stop and turn myself around using only my left foot.

I’m convinced it was all of my self-congratulating that determined how this would all end.

By Saturday evening, I was feeling a “twinge” in my lower back.

By Saturday night, I was contorted and frozen after bending up to pick up the E-man’s socks.

Sunday morning, I hobbled around, clutching my back like a little old lady.

Still, somehow, I planned on heading to the gym for Zumba, reasoning that I could “work out the kinks.”

Then, on my way to the shower, I bent to pick up more dirty clothes and veered into the door frame.

Hubs was at a “Cousin Reunion” in Louisiana, unaware of the fact that I had rendered myself a cripple.

So I texted him: I am all kinds of sexy. Hurry home!

By Monday morning, my pinky toe was swollen and purple.

So.

Let this be a lesson:

Once you hit 40, it’s paramount to understand that hipness can be achieved only in small doses.

In other words — that “one last slide!” — well, it’s likely to be your undoing.

 

The boob wars

Today, Yavonda has opened a discussion on breastfeeding over on her blog, Baby and the Beasts.

Skip over there for a moment and read the recent opinion pieces Yavonda shares.

Back now? OK.

So at the end of her post, Yavonda asks:

Has our society placed too much of an emphasis on breast-feeding? Or is it a reasonable response to the widespread use of formula in previous generations? Are the 6-12 month targets realistic or not?

What do you think? Did you breast-feed, use formula, or a combination of the two?

My opinion?

For several decades, American women veered away from breastfeeding. I blame that gap for turning what used to be a perfectly normal, maternal experience into something foreign and “scary.”

The fact that we now feel compelled to TAKE CLASSES for something that our bodies are equipped to do says a lot.

Couple that with all the “breast is best” propaganda and the nagging and the judging— and, well, that only ramps up the fear factor.

But there’s more.

Now we also judge women on how long they nurse.

On the one hand, you’re told to do it for at least a year.

On the other, people judge you if you’re still breastfeeding when your little one starts walking.

Women in other places — Europe, for example — don’t worry about all this crap. They just nurse their kids.

(For the record, I was still breastfeeding my two when they started toddling. In fact, Tootie would walk over and asked to “nur-nur.” So enough with all the judgey commentary. Nursing is about providing nutrition and comfort. End of story.)

Anyway.

All this societal pressure has resulted in so much analysis and fretting among nursing moms — Am I producing enough milk? Is the baby getting enough? Then why is he still fussing? Is my baby latched on correctly? Omg I will NEVER get the hang of this. — that many simply give up.

Or they spend the entirety of their nursing experience feeling terrible about themselves.

(Now pumping? That’s a whole other issue, one that involves a nursing mother’s work environment and bosses. For too many mothers, finding a time and place to pump are very real problems. It’s damned difficult, to be honest.)

I nursed my first child for 16 or 17 months. She never had a drop of formula. Why? Because I’d had an emergency C-section. And because of that, I believed that since my body had “failed” my baby during labor, I would have to make up for it by being a stellar, awesome, superstar nursing mother.. In other words, I breastfed exclusively for a year and a half out of a misplaced sense of guilt.

My second baby arrived via a VBAC. This time, I swore not to make breastfeeding such a do-or-die experience. I nursed the E-man when we were together and I pumped at work. BUT — I always sent a bottle or two of formula to the daycare as a backup. That took away so much of the stress and pressure, knowing that if I missed a pumping session, or just didn’t obtain as much milk on a given day, my baby would still have plenty to drink.

As a result, my second go-round was what I wanted it to be. I nursed the E-man for a year exactly.

The thing is, there’s a lot of talk about the logistics of nursing — the latch, the position, the let-down, etc.. But there’s very little focus on the bonding it nurtures between mom and baby. The human touch is powerful. It comforts. It heals. It fosters empathy. Nursing is perhaps the strongest physical connection between a mother and her child.

So why are we, as a society, set on making it something miserable?

The E-man’s favorite place to sleep after nursing. I always say my breasts were his very first security blanket(s).

Breastfeeding, when you think about it, is an amazing thing. I found it absolutely incredible that even after pregnancy, my body was still capable of sustaining a human life.

In conclusion, and this is something I learned from having a baby who was 5 pounds, 2 ounces when we were discharged from the hospital: Your baby is not going to starve.

If you’re having trouble nursing, there are people to help you. There is formula. There are doctors who will tell you if your infant isn’t gaining enough weight.

The best advice I can offer — whether you choose to nurse or use formula —is to ignore what others say.

Your focus is YOU and YOUR baby. Not society’s dictates.

Now scoot back over to Yavonda’s blog and share your own experiences!