“Love Look What You’ve Done To Me” (Leaving Me To Feel This Way…)

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I don’t even know how to tell you this – so I’m just going to blurt it right out:

DO NOT FREAK, but…

I went to see a therapist yesterday.

I know.

I know.

I know.

You are so irritated. If people can even get irritated in Heaven or Purgatory or wherever God has stashed you for the time-being.

I guess if you’re in Heaven, it’s possible you’re smiling indulgently, but if you’re in Purgatory – trying to wrap up some loose ends – then I bet you’re super annoyed.

But calm down.   I called and checked –  I think insurance pays for some of it. (Therapy, not Purgatory.)

In the 33 years we were married and over the course of raising 5 kids, there were certainly more than a few times we encountered a little marital strife. And since my default mode is always “drama first” I might’ve calmly screamed on occasion, “We’re getting counseling!”

And you would immediately become resistant and entirely unhinged at the mere suggestion of outside intrusion into the sacred sanctity of your marriage, (per all men from your generation.) I don’t know if it is the $175 an hour therapists charge or the idea of telling your personal business to a total stranger – probs both.

To be entirely honest, you know I never actually had any intention of going to a Marriage Counselor either, I just liked throwing that threat in your face like a glass of icy cold water when I was frustrated with you. It was endlessly entertaining.

Anyway, whenever I “went there,” you would always shake your head in mock dismay and say,

Who are the two smartest people we know?”

And I would reluctantly sigh,

We are…”

And then you would say, “So who is best qualified to solve our problems?”

And I would reluctantly sigh, “We are…” 

And that was that. End of discussion. We would work together to find the high road of compromise to solve whatever was the matter with our relationship – money, sex, bratty children or the king-of-all-marital-woes… dry cleaning.

But this situation does seem a little different.

Everyone keeps insisting  I need to find a Grief Counselor. I keep saying “No Thank You.”

We Blanchards solve our own problems.  Amiright?

Remember that one Sunday we made our children all go upstairs and watch “Urban Cowboy?” Remember how hard we tried to get them to relate to Bud and Sissy?* How incredibly immature the two lead characters were throughout the entire movie, but how devoted they were to each other in the end and they got back together because all they really needed was their love and commitment to each other?

They didn’t need no stinkin counselor! They just needed those license plates in the back window that said “Bud” and “Sissy” to confirm things. Our kids rolled their eyes and suffered through the movie, but you could tell they couldn’t wait for it to be over and thought we were nuts for forcing them to watch it.

Anyway…a person you really respect and admire sent me a link to a highly regarded local Grief Therapist. Honestly Honey, he’s straight out of “Central Casting.” He looks just like a therapist from a movie set – he even wears a cardigan. I thought he was going to pull out a pipe and smoke it during our session. (So glad he didn’t on account of my allergies.)

I made sure he understood I wasn’t there for myself, per se. I assured him I was nailing it in the widow department (the strongest woman everyone knew) and was merely there “vetting” him for our children’s sake. He wasn’t buying it. Not one bit.

He thinks I’m grieving the loss of you pretty hard.

I tried to explain to him what a wonderful father you were to our kids, so that he could get a handle on the extreme depth of their loss. You know – just so he would know what he was about to be up against.

If he agreed to take our kiddos on.

I told him how you would make Tommy’s coffee every morning and start his car so it would be warm and running when he was ready to leave for school. And how I’m having to get up earlier in the mornings to pick up the slack and fill in a lot of these “nurturing gaps” you left in our kids’ lives when you died.

But then it started to sound like you were a wee bit of a Saint. And I thought we needed to go for a more balanced representation. I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression. So I started to emphasize how strict you were.

I said, “Oh don’t get me wrong! He could be mean!”

He asked me for a few examples of your meaness and so I attempted to give him a few.

You know what he had the nerve to say next?

He said, “I’m really not hearing ‘meanness,’ it just sounds like your late husband had some really positive and effective boundaries…”

I was flabbergasted.

Mainly because I had really tried to lead with my most effective arsenal of negative stuff I had against you. But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) it all appeared to this supposedly unbiased Mental Health Professional that you had a reasonable and rational approach to relationships. Of course that’s what you always maintained.

Now I’m starting to think that if you had actually ever called my bluff and dragged me off to a marriage counselor, I might’ve come out on the losing side of the arrangement.

After my experience the other day I’m starting to think our  potential “Marriage Counselor” might have implied I was the problem and suggested implementing some positive changes I could’ve made.

Dude – that might’ve had been the best $175 an hour you ever spent. Improvements for Sissy.

And then the next thing this guy did was pull out his calendar and schedule me for another appointment in 3 days!   Like I’m some kind’ve Woman-in-Crisis or something…

Love, look what you’ve done to me… It’s like he just didn’t get it. I was simply there for our kids.

*One of the greatest ironies of parenting is that we spend so much time trying to get our kids to appreciate the movies and music of our generation. Jimmy and I loved “Urban Cowboy.”   It came out the year we met.   Although we were Rock fans and neither of us ever learned to two-step, we lived in Houston 3 times and made some of our very dearest babies, friends and memories there.   The best part of “Urban Cowboy” is when Boz  Scaggs sings “Love Look What You’ve Done To Me.” That song says it all. Pure genius. We slow danced to it often.

“No More Lonely Nights” (When Your Plans Don’t Quite Work Out The Way You Intended…)

Less than a month ago – straight out of the clear blue sky – you announced you were going to, “Go the way of Paul McCartney…”

I don’t think there’s another soul on Earth who would have instinctively, intuitively and instantly understood the shorthand of your meaning when you said that, but I immediately knew.

We picked up on the finer subtleties of each other’s nuances for 35 years in the way that most couples do. I knew exactly what you meant. Gosh – we could’ve won a lot of money on a game show.

You went on to explain yourself anyway…

I don’t want to spend anymore nights away from you.”

You were tired of traveling with your job. You loved your work, but half of the restaurants you supervised were in other cities and you were weary of spending too many lonely nights at The Holiday Inn Express saying good-night over the phone.

You said you’d been thinking about it and you just didn’t believe in it. Not anymore. Not for us anyway. “Life is too short,” you said.

We had often discussed the great love affair and devotion that former Beatle Paul McCartney had for his wife, Linda Eastman McCartney. Rumor has it that the couple only ever spent one night apart – when Paul was incarcerated prior to his Japan tour for drug possession charges.

We were intrigued by their rare devotion to one another. Exceptional among celebrities.

We also discussed on many occasions how prophetically ironic it was that Paul was so committed to her since he could never have known she was destined to die so tragically and unforeseeably young from breast cancer.

Not long after you made your proclamation, you arranged for the promotion of someone younger you trusted within the company to take over those restaurants that required travel, even if that meant sacrificing a little of your influence and power in the workplace.

I was surprised and yet not at all surprised. I know you were at a point in your career where you felt like you had earned the right and had nothing left to prove.

That was just a few weeks ago. We were so close to our “McCartney Plan.”  We could almost reach out and touch it.  Gracie even gifted us with a Paul and Linda McCartney Coffee Table Book for Christmas, which will forever remind me of how our love story was so similar and parallel to theirs.

Back when you traveled, you’d often fuss at me when you arrived home to find I had turned the air conditioner setting on full-blast and then plugged in our heating pad and placed it on your side of the bed to pose as my PROXY YOU over there radiating pretend body heat to keep me warm.

But I was just so accustomed to you keeping me warm and secure at night.

Our kids always got entirely grossedout when I told people in public that you and I slept curled up around each other like a litter of newborn kittens.   They were particularly offended when we referred to ourselves as spooners

Remember our first apartment? We couldn’t afford a bed AND a couch so we had a twin bed that we set up to look like a couch with throw pillows on it by day and then we slept on it at night. So basically, we slept together in a twin bed the first three years we were together.

My mom, who had the gift of prettying things up with language, called it a “Studio Bed” And, didn’t we think that sounded so chic and sophisticated?

Most of our friends were surprised we never graduated to a King sized bed all those years we were married, but I remember it like it was yesterday when we finally moved up to a Queen.

I was kind’ve sad about it.

And I think we only finally relented to the ‘call of the Queen mattress’ because all our darn kids insisted upon sleeping with us. We were constantly waking up with a toddler’s toe jammed inside one of our nostrils.

Anyway… I really miss you curled up around me now.  It’s truly unbearable at night. So I hope you don’t mind, but I’m running the air conditioner at full blast in February and I’m setting up my makeshift “Heating Pad Hubby” on your side of the bed.

He doesn’t snore.

He doesn’t get inadvertently tangled up in my hair.

He doesn’t reach out for me in his sleep for a snuggle.

I’m fairly resigned that he will never croon “Baby I’m Amazed,” in my ear.

But, he does his bit to generate a little heat from your side of the bed which almost works to fool me in my sleep that maybe you are still there beside me…

“And Honey I Miss You” (How To Really Appreciate Your Spouse In Two Weeks Or Less…)

Today was my first Valentine’s Day without you.

Since you were in the restaurant business, it was always a really busy day for you. So it’s not like we went out to dinner or anything romantic like that. You were always at work, right?

Still…I knew I was your Sweetheart. And that mattered so much to me – even if we weren’t physically together. So I told myself all day today that that’s actually still true.

Look how I’m saving us money by being my own Grief Therapist!

It did hit me hard though. I feel completely untethered without you. For 35 years my entire existence was wrapped up in US.  You and me. Who we were together. I was always one half of a whole. I know that’s a very un-chic way to look at one’s life and relationships these days. Some who read this might suggest therapy for me because I approached our life that way.  It’s very anti-culture, but at least it was that way for both of us.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a million texts and phone calls from people letting me know they are thinking about me on my first Valentine’s Day alone.

You’d be so proud of me. I got our dishwasher fixed today!  All by myself.  Well, not actually all by myself.  So this guy, Josh, was sort’ve my Valentine. You know how much I’ve always hated dealing with workmen, but I’ve been washing dishes by hand since the day after you died, so it was worth it. He charged me $347.39, so maybe he didn’t feel the same way about me that I felt about him.

But when the dishwasher cycled all the way through, I kind’ve loved him a little.

I also had James’ car towed to the shop and am texting back and forth with the mechanic about what exactly is wrong and how much it will cost to fix it.

I took our new “Therapy Puppy” (read: pain in my arse) to the backyard to potty and swept out the pool while I was outside with him. You would be rolling over in your grave if you saw all the orange dirt coating the bottom of your pool. I knew you’d be so proud of me for thinking to sweep it while the puppy is peeing and the pool guy is fixing the automatic pool sweeper.

I also turned on the hose and put some water on that new little tree you planted out back and were obsessing about. That old Bobby Goldsboro song from the 60s keeps running through my head, “And Honey I miss you, and I’m being good…and I long to be with you, if only I could…”

Remember that song? You used to like to sing it every time I wrecked one of our cars.   You really wore it out that one time I wrecked one of our cars into our other car!!!

“She wrecked the car and she was sad, and so afraid that I’d be mad, but what the heck!”

I’m so sorry I wrecked so many of our cars, and I know how frustrated you always were with my less-than-stellar driving skills, but at least I gave you a lot of opportunities to belt out that song. And you know you loved that song, especially when it made me cry and I begged you not to sing it because it made me sad to think about one spouse trying to live alone after the other one is gone.

On a positive note, I’ve become a bit of an expert on death and grieving and grief-support these past few weeks. I feel like I could author some kind of a How-To pamphlet on “Responding to a Friend or Neighbor Struck by Tragedy and Grief.”

One thing that has captured my attention is how many people have texted, emailed and sent me cards telling me I’m the “strongest woman they know!” What in the world are they basing that on? The false bravado I displayed at your funeral? Or all the years I was brazen and ballsy when you were alive? What woman wouldn’t be strong with a man like you standing behind her?

Now, I’m all alone. It’s just me. How in the world does anyone have any idea how strong I actually am? In the past 4 months I’ve lost my mother and the Love of my Life. I’m not at all sure that I’m strong.  But I am on to everyone.   I think our dear and well-meaning friends are employing the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” You know the drill – just tell people positive things you want them to believe about themselves and they will embrace it, believe it, live it out.

I don’t blame them. It’s a great approach. We raised 5 kids that way.

I’m having trouble getting hot water for my bath in the morning. And you know my morning (afternoon/evening) bath is my only comfort. At first I thought it was all the people camping out and showering here after you died that were usurping our hot water supply. But then after everyone cleared out, the problem persisted.

I know you always told me in the wintertime I need to draw the hot first and then add enough cold to cool it down so I can get in without burning my skin. I never listened.

I’m going to do that tomorrow morning. Now that you’re gone, I’m going to try to start doing a lot of the things you said.

It’s crazy to me that so much of our stuff broke the week after you died. Are you up in heaven trying to prove some kind of a point? If you are, can I just cry “uncle” now and wake up?

Is that what this is really all about? Is this actually some Dickensonian tale like “A Christmas Carol,” where the spoiled wife wakes up and realizes it was all just a bad dream? And then she turns over a new leaf and finally appreciates her wonderful husband for all that he was to her?

If you would just walk through the door and say, “Just Kidding!” I promise I would never take you for granted again.

But I’m a tiny bit mad at you that I’ve got that stinkin’ song stuck in my head. And I hope you’re getting a little kick out of that somewhere.
 

“Neither One of Us Wants To Be The First to Say Goodbye” (Fairwell My Love…Goodbye)

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You know how sometimes you’ll meet a person and think to yourself or even tell everyone around you, “Oh my gosh, he was the nicest man you could ever want to meet!” Well, That wasn’t my husband.

I’m not saying he wasn’t nice, of course he was, he was nice and got nicer with age, as men tend to do. I’m just saying that “niceness” wasn’t the most overriding quality he left you with when you met him for the first time. He wasn’t out there trying to bowl you over with his charm.

Jim Blanchard was so much more than that.

He was good.

In fact, In all my life I never met a man who was, quite simply, more good.

Because he wasn’t licking you up one side and down the other, blinding you with his sparkle, it would be so easy for an obtuse or distracted person to overlook or even miss altogether the substantive qualities that made him the finest man many of us will ever have had the privilege of knowing.

And I… I had the privilege to be his wife and the mother of his children, I worked for him (although I’m sure if he’s reading this right now, he’s saying my work claim “is debatable!”)

I kept his home, I kept his kids, I kept his bank accounts and I kept his heart. What all of that provided me with was a close -up, behind-the-scenes hidden camera view. A front row seat like no other, into the way this man truly conducted himself in every facet of his life. I never once in all those years saw that man’s character, his integrity or his commitment waver.

And trust me I watched hard.

When I started dating Jimmy, (we were both 18)  to use an antiquated phrase, I “set my cap for him” and I’ll just admit right here and now, he was entirely out of my league. He was extremely handsome, remarkably intelligent and possessed a confident James Dean swagger that was both indefinable and irresistible. We had a large group of friends who witnessed this romance unfolding and forecasted “uh-oh this ends badly for this girl”. “She’s bound to get hurt”. “She’s way out of her depth”.

The piece they hadn’t reckoned on was that, oddly enough,  Jimmy had a penchant for curly red headed girls. On our first date, we parked out in front of the lakes on the campus of LSU and stared shoulder to shoulder straight ahead at the water talking about life. He had such a reputation as a renegade with a tough guy exterior that I decided to dig deep, “Do you love ANYBODY?” I asked.

He seemed taken aback – surprised and said, “I love my grandmother and my mom.” Some little part of this 18 year old girl was enchanted and enthralled by the raw glimpse of vulnerability and thought, “Ooooh I think I can work with this!” There’s nothing that a teenage girl loves more than a tough outer shell with a soft, sweet center.

Ask any M&M you know…

A few years later, when we were married, there was a bit of a snafu on our wedding day and the cousin who was supposed to transport Jimmy’s beloved aforementioned grandmother to our wedding dropped the ball somehow. After the event was over and we were driving away from the reception, Jimmy got to the end of the pull-through, laid his head on the steering wheel and started to cry. I was of course alarmed as any new bride covered in hopes and rice and future dreams would be. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I just never thought I wouldn’t be with my grandmother on my wedding day. Can we go to her?”

But of course we could.

So, he in a white tux, me in a long dress and veil, looking like little bride and groom figurines snatched right off the top of a wedding cake, drove over 2 hours across a dark Louisiana swamp called The Atchafalaya Basin to a small Cajun nursing home where the residents lined the halls cackling and fussing in their native French language – so excited were they to see a bride and groom in full wedding regalia, certainly not your everyday sight in a nursing home.

We turned the corner into his grandmother’s room. She was sitting there in her wheelchair, clutching her rosary beads, head bent in prayer, when she looked up and burst into tears of shock and surprise at the site of her adored grandson as a groom. He knelt on the floor and laid his head in her lap while she made the sign of the cross over him and said again and again, “My Jimmy, my Jimmy you make marry dat girl? You make marry dat girl?”

That scene is burned indelibly in both my heart and my mind. He knew that she sat in that wheelchair all day thinking that she had been forgotten.

And the “peace that surpasses all understanding” enveloped me fully and I knew right then and there that I had chosen well.

So I stood there in that doorway and I thanked our God for the gift of this Great Man, who to the naked eye still looked so much like a boy. And I thanked Our Heavenly Father for whatever rare sliver of wisdom or insight on my part gave me such a bold confidence to pursue him. And then we turned around and drove the 2 hours back to Baton Rouge, packed our car with our wedding gifts and left for Little Rock that night – because Jimmy was in the restaurant business and had to work the next day.

There are hundreds more stories like that. Anecdotes that exemplify the character of this man, his unique leadership style, hilarious stories about his unorthodox approach to developing people, both employees and his own offspring.

I imagine those of us who know the stories and those of you who just want to hear them may sit around for hours laughing and remembering and recounting them. But Fr. Ray said I should probably limit my remarks this morning to 15 minutes or so…

But that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure that on the Seventh Day God said, “Let there be Charlestons and Let there be Mahogany” so that My People can relocate their party.

Early on in our marriage, I took a bible study where I was introduced to the concept of tithing. Apparently, unbeknownst to me and Jimmy, God had issued a mandate, expecting us to give away 10% of our income! All the young wives were encouraged to discuss this with their husbands that very evening. Well I wasn’t worried one bit. I knew we were “off the hook,” as my husband was a very frugal man who would never agree to such an outlandish request, even if it did come straight from The Lord.

But I went ahead and told him about it that night and surprisingly and enthusiastically he said, “you know what – I’m in! Absolutely! Set up an entirely separate bank account and we’ll call it the tithe account. Slice 10% off the top of everything I make from here on out and deposit it in there and we will give it all away!”

But it was the way Jimmy gave it away that was noteworthy. Of course the Catholic Church received from us, but Jimmy very quietly behind the scenes paid his employee’s doctor bills, he paid his cooks’ children’s hospital bills, he paid their immigration fees to reunite them with their families. He gave people cars so they could get to work, made various orphans’ tuition payments and helped other people get back on their feet after a personal life disaster. But it was always very low-key. And, were I to ever utter a word of praise for him in public, he would’ve given me that withering “Jim Blanchard look.” For him, Christian charity was quiet, low key and personal, which is why you never saw us at fancy charity galas.  But I must allow for the fact that he also just didn’t like to wear a tux…

Recently, I caught wind of the fact that a few of Tommy’s friends were teasing him about how many kids we had in our family – saying surely Tommy, being number 5, must have been an “accident.” It was all in good fun. I think they just rationally found it hard to believe in this day and age people would purposely have 5 kids. I’m leading with this to try in some way, if at all possible, to illustrate Jimmy as a father…

One day when we lived in Phoenix, Jimmy came to me and said, “I  need TO TALK TO YOU. We are missing someone!”

I looked across the playroom at a sea of children’s heads. Our tweenage daughter’s 13 and 10 and our 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son and said, “1-2-3-4! No HONEY, everyone is present and accounted for!”

 He said, “That’s not what I mean! I’m talking about when I look over my shoulder as I’m backing our van out of the driveway for mass and I see all those little faces looking back, a very strong feeling comes over me that there’s someone else who’s supposed to be back there, someone who isn’t here yet. I think God has a little soul he’s wanting to give us ….I’m trying to say our family is not yet complete”

I don’t know how another woman walks away from a conversation like that, but suffice it to say, I was pregnant pretty soon after. I didn’t find it necessary to take a pregnancy test right away – I kept putting Jimmy off despite his badgering me. But on Thanksgiving day I guess he couldn’t wait another minute. He busted into the bedroom that morning with a brown bag from Walgreens, handed me the stick – pointed to the bathroom and said, “Go!” I came back and handed him the positive result. He was beside himself with joy, because I guess He wanted to give Thanks on Thanksgiving day.

Some of you may see this as an example of how much we adore our Tommy. And we do. He is undoubtedly cherished. But remember at this point we didn’t even know the kid. This story is really a testimony of the unfathomable joy the other 4 children brought their Dad every single minute of every single day. The man didn’t golf, play tennis, hunt, fish or go to Vegas. If he wasn’t working, he was daddying. The word Daddy was a verb in our house.

I think I would like to conclude all of this by describing to you the last few days of Jimmy’s life.

Three days before he was killed, last Thursday, I was at our daughter’s home babysitting our grandson when Jimmy swung by on his way to work. I let him in, he gingerly took the infant from my arms and sat down in their rocking chair cooing and stroking and loving on him. I sat on the couch beside them smiling and tearing up and thinking ironically that the greatest tragedy of my life was that my mother (who worshipped the very ground Jim Blanchard trod upon) died the day after Luke was born and would never be privy to the beautiful scene I was witnessing. The Great big man in a motorcycle jacket rocking the tiniest little replica of himself.  (And Yes- for those that appreciate irony, I was actually sitting there thinking one week ago that was the greatest tragedy of my life.)

At that moment Jimmy snuggled closer to Luke, deeply inhaled his baby scent, looked over at me, I’m not going to say he exactly cried, but his eyes glazed over a bit and he hoarsely whispered, “We got to do this 5 times! 5 times. Man – We were blessed!”

A lot of you know my precious mother died just a few months ago. I think Jimmy and I both thought I would be doing better by now and a little further along in the grief process, but the very day after that, last Friday, my grief was so palpable to him that it seemed to be affecting my health. He sat on the edge of our bed, wiping the tears off my cheeks from a sad dream and said,

I’m going to take the day off and we are going to stay in our jammie-lammies all day long. I know we have the baby  today, so I’ll cart his swing and a stack of bottles and diapers up to the media room and we can binge-watch our Netflix series until Emilie picks him up!”

And that’s just what we did. When Our daughter arrived to pick up her baby, Jimmy ran up to Panda Express and got us some dinner. We were standing in the kitchen making our plates and he asked me if I was feeling better.  I answered honestly,

A little bit. I just feel so lost, orphaned, abandoned without my mother here. She was my everything until the day I met you. In fact, I shudder to think how terrible life would be for me if I ever were to lose you…”

Jimmy paused dramatically to give it all some thought and these are the poignant words of wisdom and comfort that he laid upon my heart:

He said:

Hey I hear that! You know I was reading recently that in those Viking cultures, oftentimes when a Viking warrior died, they just buried his wife alive in the cave with him. I don’t know what those chics did in there all that time, but I would imagine they starved to death eventually!”

I was quiet and pensive for a moment.  Sensing my hesitation he added,

We would definitely get you some Swedish fish and Milk Duds and Coca Cola in there to tie you over for awhile…”

He had a quirky sense of humor, but honestly I don’t think he ever wanted to face life OR death without me.

In the early days of our marriage when Jimmy worked 90 hours a week, I took care of every aspect of his life that didn’t involve the actual running of a restaurant. I selected his outfit for the day, coordinated his necktie, laid out his underwear, brought him his coffee and ran a bead of toothpaste in a straight line down the bristles of his toothbrush while he was in the shower. But somewhere along the line, I dunno, maybe after the 5 kids or after he mellowed a bit, all the tables turned.

Somewhere along the line, Jimmy became solely responsible for:

-Turning on our tv …. I have no understanding how our remote control works
-Keeping track of all of our prescriptions, what I’m allergic to, how many migraine pills I had taken and when I could take another.
-He kept gas in my car, air in my tires and something that has to do with oil.
-Almost every night he brought me home a key lime pie, or a slice of mahogany chocolate cake, unless I was on a strict diet in which case he only brought a container of sour balls.
-He drew my bath in the morning after he made my coffee, but before he woke me up.
-And kept me supplied in those cheater-reader glasses. He was so proud he never paid for them. He got them from from the lost and found at the restaurants.

Saturday night, the night before he was killed I said, “Im congested, I can’t breathe through my nose,” he said, “if I leave right now I can get to Walgreens before they close.”

When he got home he unpackaged the bottle of Afrin , but the main thing is that he stood there handing me the spray and worrying aloud that maybe he should throw out the child proof cap because he didn’t think I’d ever be able to get it open the following week when he was in Kansas City. I told him it was fine – don’t worry about it. As usual, He was right. The very next night after they told me what had happened to my Hero, I sobbed and cried until I couldn’t breathe. Of course I got congested.  And when I reached for my bottle of Afrin from the night before I couldn’t get the lid off.

I guess the good news is that so many have offered to help me, I may start a sign up sheet for people who want to volunteer to do some of these things.

I recognize a lot of you younger people out there that I know looked up to Jimmy as a kind’ve pseudo-father figure. You may not think I know about each and every one of you because of his reserved public persona, but believe me, he would come home and tell me and tell me and tell me about you. I know he was your role model and your mentor. Believe me when I tell you how much joy it brought him as he witnessed you moving along your upward trajectories through our company or even on to other successes. So many of you were constantly checking back in with him later on your progress. Each one of you mattered to him more than you’ll ever know. Being a part of your lives meant the world to him.

To Jimmy’s only fraternity – the brotherhood of men he worked for (and alongside) Hal Smith, Hank Kraft, Mike Rogers, David Brauckmann. To Gary, Rodney, Jeremy, Brent, Matt, Ryan, Dave, Edd, Jason, Jake, Jay, Cory, the Brads, Charlie and so so many others, I want you to know through the 24 years he was with the company, there wasn’t a day that went by that he wasn’t proud of the manner in which y’all conducted business and what y’all accomplished together. He constantly told me that it meant everything to him to work with men of unparalleled character and integrity. In fact, The night Hal was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Jimmy was honestly beaming as if it were his own personal award.

And to Jimmy’s mother, Mimi, I want you to know that sometimes he would look over at something I said or did or just the way that I handled a situation and say, “I married my mother!” But it was always and only when I had done something or behaved in a way that he found beautiful. He always told me you were a “Saint” and the sweetest woman on the face of the earth. I am so so sorry for your pain in losing him. I hope it gives you some measure of comfort to know he loved and cherished all you did for him his entire life.

Likewise to his siblings, Jimmy was so proud of y’all and your relationships. Every time one of y’all did something wonderful, he would say, “but of course – we are the best!”

To our own 5 children, I would say this: if Daddy had any faults it might have been that he took care of us too well… But what a legacy he left behind in y’all. Each of you is beautiful and smart and nice. But like your daddy, you’re so much more than nice. You are good. Partly because you inherited it and partly because you grew up basking in his shadow as he demonstrated everything he considered to be a teachable moment.

And didn’t he just consider everything to be a teachable moment?

So we will link arms and marshall this army forward without our General. But He left us with one heck of a blueprint. And, Who cares if we don’t know how to put air in the tires, you know what? if we can’t figure out how to get the air in, we can just buy new tires, I think they sell new ones that come with air. And if we don’t know how to replicate Dad’s extravagant Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, we can just order pizzas.

Because I believe what Daddy did leave us is so much more important. Buried deep in your DNA and life experience is a mixture of strength, resiliency and a strong stubborn Cajun survival streak that can never be denied.

One last final thought- Jimmy and I loved to sing to one another. We sang constantly and sent each other you tube videos of performances or lyrics or songs we wanted the other to appreciate. The very last link he sent me was Styx singing “Don’t Let It End.” Underneath the link he had typed the words, “Man these guys had it going on!” If you have time later and you want your own private moment with Jimmy, pull it up on your phone and listen to it with him.

But Besides rock, we loved the Motown Sound and one of our favorite artists through the years was Gladys Knight. Besides the song that we played in the video last night, (My Life Story) she sings another song we both adored. The only problem is every time Jimmy would serenade me with this particular song, I would burst into tears. Cue the floodworks of sobs and tears. Every. single. time.

So much so that I had no choice but to issue a Song Ban forbidding him from singing it. Which honestly he thought was a little hilarious. He would get all high and mighty and tell me “Tiny Red – you can’t just Willy-Nilly BAN a song!” But because it upset me so much he finally promised me he would never sing it again.

And I’ll never sing it either. Because Neither One Of Us Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye…

Fair well my love – good-bye…

“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Time Never Flies Faster Than When You’re Watching A Child Grow)

 

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That’s just your FOMO kicking in!” explained my daughter’s chic urbane friend, taking another sip of his equally chic cocktail in the equally chic rooftop bar where were seated, enjoying a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline.

It was my annual trip to New York City, where I get a crash course in everything youthful and au courant.

My what?”

Your FOMOfear of missing out!” I was enormously grateful to Bobby for enlightening me on the trendy diagnosis for a condition I’ve suffered from my entire life.  I’m always more than eager to slap a label on my behavior.

Not to mention how affirming it is to know that there are enough people exhibiting my particular malady that it warranted it’s own acronym.

For as long as I can remember, no matter how busy I’ve been or how tired I was, I’ve participated in things I had zero interest in, on the off-chance something exciting or interesting might happen that I wouldn’t want to miss or be left out of.

Ever since I learned FOMO is a “thing,” I’ve noticed it runs in my entire family. It might be a learned behavior, but it’s more than likely in our DNA.

Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that FOMO is why our 4 month old grandson doesn’t sleep. He simply can’t bear to miss any action.

Yesterday, he went to his second day of daycare and they wrote it in his official daily report:

Baby.
Does.
Not.
Sleep.

Thanks so much, but we already knew that.

I did tell my daughter it was validating, nonetheless, to have Real Life Baby Professionals confirming our own observations.

Basically, this child has been awake since September. We all have been. Oh sure, I guess he’s dozed off a few times. But not for long. And he comes across a little apologetic when he does fall asleep, like “Oh my goodness, I think I might have nodded off for a sec – what’d I miss?”

We are always very reassuring. “Nothing much! Your Grandmother loaded the dishwasher or threw in a quick load of laundry!” (If I have him) or “Your mom shaved her legs or wrote a brief” (if his mother has him). Anything to encourage him that sleeping = okay and you didn’t miss anything exciting.

We are a family that generally believes in the overall concept of sleep. We just don’t actually do it ourselves.

We own all the latest gear though. We have beds, sheets, pillows, blankets, pajamas and sound machines. The only sleep-inducing prop we don’t own is a pasture full of sheep for counting.

For the little people in our lives we have books, lullabies, rocking chairs and bedtime stories.

For the adults we have novels, television, melatonin, soothing-sounds-of-the-sea and the occasional shot of vodka.

We are just notoriously terrible sleepers.

And now I know why. It’s the FOMO. We are just afraid something’s going to happen that we don’t want to miss.

The good news for us these days is, if this baby is going to grow and develop at Mach Speed, changing every minute of every day, faster than we can keep up, we may as well stay awake and watch the transformation unfold.

When our first child was born, my husband’s grandmother, who was in her seventies at the time, gave us a piece of framed needlework to hang on the wall.  It read:

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow…for babies grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow…so quiet down cobwebs…dust go to sleep…I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep!

We hung the piece.  We memorized the words.   We made it our mantra.  We believed what it said.   But there’s really no knowing like the knowing that comes from experiencing it the first time around as parents.

That’s why grandparents don’t really care that much if grandbabies sleep.  We’ve all got the legit case of FOMO.

But still, we can collectively agree, it would be okay and none of us would mind too much if they nodded off for a few hours here or there.  You know, just so our kids can get a few things done around the house.

And we can just sit and stare at them in wonderment.

We don’t want to miss a thing.

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“I’ve Never Been To Spain, But I’ve Been To Oklahoma” (Parents On Both Sides Of The Pond Can’t Seem To Make The World A Fair Place…)

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Let’s face it – there is almost nothing worse than being accused by our children of being unfair.

Even perceived partiality of one child over another is one of the most dire parenting faux pas we can commit and must be avoided at all costs.

Good luck with that.

It took most of us becoming parents ourselves to realize the utter futility of this effort. The very offenses we bitterly railed at our own parents for when we were growing up, are offenses committed on the daily by most of us.

I remember when my sister, brother and I were kids, every time our beleaguered mother would so much as pour us a glass of milk, we would ram our glasses together making sure she had poured us all the exact same amount.  It’s a wonder we didn’t break more glassware.

I’m not sure why I cared, I didn’t even like milk.

After 30+ years of parenting 5 kids of my own, as well as observing everyone around me raise theirs, I’ve learned a few hard and fast rules to the fairness game:

1. The more children you have, the harder it is to be fair. If you want to keep things truly “even-steven” among your kids, you’d be wise to stop at one child.

2. If you do go for more than one child, it’s easier to at least appear fair if your children are different genders: they’re slightly less likely to covet one another’s goods and/or privileges.

3. It’s harder to be fair when your offspring are spread out over many years. Because your resolve weakens considerably as you start to weary. You begin to employ phrases like, “We are choosing our battles!” – which your older children will accurately and loosely translate to mean, “We are too tired to care!”

So, in summary, if you don’t stop production at one child, at least try to have one boy and one girl close together in age.

Otherwise, you’re pretty much screwed.

When our oldest child was born, we had very high standards for the way she would be brought up. We also were very young with very little money, so we mandated a “no-spoiling” parenting policy which dovetailed conveniently with our total lack of discretionary income.

She and I both vividly recall a time, while we were living in Arizona, that she asked for permission to attend a trip her high school Spanish class was taking to Spain. When she told me about the steep price tag that accompanied the trip, I knew it was an absolute no-go for a plethora of reasons. But mainly, with 5 kids, I didn’t think I could afford to establish a precedent for my brood to assume they’d be dashing off to Europe any time some teacher fancied.

We moved to Oklahoma shortly afterward and she became the living embodiment of the Three Dog Night song, “I’ve never been to Spain, but I’ve been to Oklahoma!”

A few years later, when she was in college, we were able to see the value in her university’s Study Abroad program, and assisted in bringing that dream to fruition.

She still mentions the other trip from time to time.

Fast forward a little more than a decade. We have everyone almost raised. Two have graduated college and law school. Our 3rd is just a few credits away from her undergraduate degree and more-or-less “off our books,” which leaves just two in the nest.

Much more manageable from our perspective.  We can almost see the finish line.

As such, and without even realizing it, we have eased up a bit. For example – our son is in California this week watching his college football team play in the Rose Bowl. Granted, the trip was his Christmas present, but it was still exorbitant enough to raise some beautifully arched eyebrows among his older sisters.

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We are sheepishly trying to pass the trip off as “Study Abroad.” Isn’t California like an entirely different country? Or how about an educational trip for a Liberal Arts intercession class? Where better to learn the “Art of being Liberal” than California?

One day recently, my youngest daughter sighed heavily and said, “I really want to go to Europe…”

“God help me,” I thought.   Sure I’m tres and muy sympathetic that all those Europeans are over there living her dreams, but seriously?

Ever the creative mother, I distracted her with a compromise.  We binge-watched The Crown on Netflix instead.

I must say, it was comforting to note that this problem isn’t unique to us commoners. Even the gentrified offspring  on that show didn’t think their parents were fair.  And their parents were Sovereigns for crying out loud.

God Save The Queen (and all the rest of us…)

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A souvenir on my Christmas tree from someone else’s trip to Europe. That’s fair, right?

“Telling My Whole Life With Her Words” (How Writing A Christmas Letter Can Help You Raise Better Kids…)

 

My mother wrote an annual Christmas letter.

As a military wife, I suppose it was her way of staying connected to the friends and relatives we left dotted across the globe as we shuttled from army base to army base.

To her children, whose antics and accomplishments she dutifully chronicled year after year, the letter was a grounding force that helped us make sense out of an ever-changing world. A yearly reminder of who we were, where we belonged and how much we mattered to the people we mattered to.

Its true. One short paragraph about each one of us flanked on either end by a generically warm “Season’s Greetings!” accomplished all that and then some…

I can’t vouch for the enthusiasm of her targeted readership, but I certainly clamored for my copy every December. As soon as she finished composing it, correcting any typos with a bottle of White-Out, she’d Xerox off 100 or so copies on festive holiday paper and I’d snatch the first one I could get my hands on.

Back in those days, editorial privileges were seldom granted to mere children, so I had to steel my nerves with a deep breath and a big slug of hot cocoa before I could work up the gumption for my first skim-through. (In general, reading about your life through the lens of your mother’s perspective could prove cringe-worthy.)

I’d suffer through my sibling’s paragraphs with the indulgent understanding that my mother was obligated to include a blurb or two about her other kids. Most years I’d note she “laid it on a bit thick” bragging about my sister’s Girl Scout badges or my brother’s track meet medals.

But mostly I couldn’t wait to get to the good part. The real entertainment.

The part about me.

How had mother’s flowery prose best showcased my accomplishments, milestones and achievements this past year? I couldn’t wait to read in Mama’s very own words how terribly proud she was of her most cherished offspring.

Yes, the Christmas letter can be a delightfully insightful summary of a child’s progress, a frank assessment of how they’re “coming along” as they slog their way down the path towards their reluctant adulthood.

But it could be a slippery slope as well.  Our mother was a true southerner with a penchant for storytelling and extreme exaggeration. Just as she added additional syllables to every word she spoke, she added a little extra fluff to every story she told. She could take even the most minor mishap in our young lives and “color it up” until it hardly resembled reality.

Sometimes this worked in our favor. Sometimes not.

Oftentimes her recollections caused us to regret more than a few childish foibles and resolve to spend the next 12 months attempting to redeem ourselves.

All in glorious pursuit of more impressive future paragraphs guaranteed to overshadow our siblings, drop-kicking them into literary obscurity by the very next holiday season.

Is that so very wrong?

I’m not sure if this was our mother’s intended child-rearing side effect, but she kept pecking away at that letter long after we were all married with children of our own and we continued jumping through hoops to impress her as long as we could.

Needless to say, I purposely initiated this tradition in my own family, because a gratifying level of accountability laced with an amusing degree of paranoia accompanies it. It’s inestimably effective for my children to know when they pull a crappy stunt in, say, July, that it will likely be touted in the family Christmas letter later on that same year.

A few years ago, one of my sons rolled his truck. As we stood there on the side of the road, bathed in the red flashing lights of emergency vehicles, rather than inquiring if our automobiles were adequately insured, how long he was to be grounded or if we had “accident forgiveness,” he asked if there was any chance I was planning to humiliate him by weaving the tale of the incident into the family Christmas letter.

So if you ever find yourself deliberating over whether or not to draft one of these tedious missives yourself; updating everyone from the Amatos to the Zimmers on your family’s highs and lows, milestones and developments, or whether to keep it simple with a photo card, do at least consider the potential upsides:

The threat of a Christmas letter can pay huge dividends all year long, keeping even the most rogue offspring on their behavioral toes. So what if it has the added benefit of stirring up some petty unhealthy sibling rivalry? It may also spur your spawn to run a little faster, study a little harder, eschew texting while driving and honor that perfectly reasonable curfew you set for them.

Because around here, the Christmas letter is the gift that keeps on giving, as the pen (keyboard/tablet/smartphone) is, and always will be, mightier than the sword.