“If I Could Change The World” (We Were The First to Teach Them About Justice, Love and Equality, So Why Are We Shook When They Want to Go Fight The Good Fight.)
My 19 year old son works at a high-end poshy steakhouse in the heart of downtown America. He had a shift last Saturday night.
Initially, when he got his schedule for the week, I was thrilled he was getting scheduled so many hours. I know it’s risky for him to be milling about in public with this coronavirus still at large, but ever since he got sent home from his university after Spring Break due to public health concerns, I’ve grown increasingly concerned over how detrimental it is to his overall well-being to be isolated from his peers at his age.
As parents of young people in this age group know, it’s a balancing act.
For my son, at least right now, I believe it’s in his best interests to wear a mask and work a few days per week. It feels like a chance worth taking in the ongoing trapeze walk that has become my life as a single parent.
Until this past weekend…
I spent 7 hours glued to the news. It was more news than I’ve watched since my husband was killed. In fact, it was the very first time I have watched the news since I watched my sweetheart’s mangled motorcycle being towed off the street on 3 separate news channels. I picked up the remote, clicked the news off and haven’t seen a news report since.
But big trouble was brewing in our downtown area. My youngest son was down there oblivious to it all, bussing tables. My biggest worry was him getting to his car safely after work. I texted him to come straight home after his shift ended and steer clear of any protests or large crowds.
He texted me back assuring me that there were not any protests in our town and they were only in very large major cities; adding that IF there was one, he would definitely want to attend.
That was when I knew I potentially had a dilemma on my hands. I don’t know why it never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t avoid the protesters, but would rather seek them out He has never been one to stomach social injustice in any form.
At this point, I hadn’t even made myself watch the George Floyd video. I admit I’ve allowed myself to live in a protective bubble since my husband was killed. Can we just write it off to some innate survival instinct? I cried all night after I watched the video
My boy arrived home safe and sound a few hours later. Exhausted to the bone from a grueling night at the restaurant, completely oblivious to the fact that there had INDEED been a mild uprising in our medium-to-large sized city, with more planned for the following day.
The next morning, my son woke up to several informative texts from friends. The group Black Lives Matter had organized a daytime rally which would start that afternoon at the steps of our state capital and march to the steps of our city’s police station.
I heard about it the night before so I knew before my son did. I spent all night researching reasons why he shouldn’t go. I had a dozen good reasons – ranging from the fact that hate groups were protesting against the peaceful protestors in very dangerous and aggressive ways. I also came up with some dumb “Mom reasons,” such as you’ll need a TON of sunblock out there to protect your ginger skin in that blazing heat…
I know. That’s super lame. But I was desperate and my youngest of 5 children is a cross between Prince Harry and Ed Sheeran.
In the end, after a sleepless night of grappling with the pros and the cons, I realized that I raised all 5 of my kids from the cradle to the crowd – (the protesting crowd.) I was never the mother that chased my kids with a jacket, a tissue or even a bedtime. I trusted them to know if they were cold or sick or tired…it was always their call. But what I always drew a hard line at was character issues and mistreatment of others.
I recall drilling into each and every single one of them that they had more than a responsibility, but a MANDATE to protect the bullied. I specifically remember telling this very son at one time, when we were discussing a kid in his class that was being bullied, that if he stood by silently, than he was AS GUILTY as the bully himself.
So…now my kids accuse me of making them overly-sensitive. Okay. I guess I can own that. I hope they can work that into my eulogy. Better yet, maybe I can just write my own eulogy. I think I’d like that.
Is that a thing? Please tell me that’s a thing. It needs to be a thing.
So, I’m going to grit my teeth and grip my rosary while my kids stand up against what they feel is wrong in this country. I pray to God it doesn’t cost me any children because I know I’ll only have myself to blame (and their Dad who caused many a dust-up speaking his mind anytime he wanted. He was not afraid to challenge authority – EVER!!! ).
It looks like a lot of us raised a new generation of bull-headed, strong-willed, rabble-rousers who speak and live their truths.
I think what our generation can do right now is attend daytime peaceful protests (they need bodies) donate funds, organize vigils, and change the rhetoric, for the love of God and humanity. But most importantly, show our kids we are proud of them for doing the right thing at the right time and trying to make a difference.
And, of course, we can still make them wear sunblock.
Apparently the world celebrated Redhead Day this week. Not National Redhead Day, but World Redhead Day. This was a day the entire planet was supposed to take a short 24 hour break from fretting over the Novel Coronavirus to celebrate the Novel Redhead.
I trust all of you were able to set your life and death cares aside momentarily to give this day the full attention it deserves.
I only chanced to learn of this important event due to social media. I was inundated on Facebook with memes, giphs and private messages congratulating me for surviving the plight of my youth.
Thank heavens for the efforts of social media campaigns to raise public awareness about this important event, because the good folks down at Hallmark (the unofficial arbiters of all holidays) are not up to speed. There are no “Happy Redhead Day” cards in the aisles of Walgreens.
Yes, I checked.
Also, no one took me to dinner to celebrate.
And…no one bought me a gift. Not even a box of hair dye.
Yet, I am not entirely disheartened. I remain optimistic because I know, like all the great social movements, it takes some time to build public awareness and sensitivity. To be honest, I’m just relieved they aren’t burning my kind at the stake anymore.
I did a little google research when all the memes came floating across my iPad this week and found out that public sentiment towards redheads fluctuates depending on what “era” you live in. Several hundred years ago, 40,000-60,000 red headed women (a huge range, but the metrics weren’t as accurate back then) were tried and convicted as witches simply for having hair that was supposedly “kissed by Satan.”
Preposterous! I sincerely doubt these fiery ladies were witches. I can tell you from personal experience they were just a little temperamental and woefully misunderstood.
Fortunately, we are embarking on a new time whereby humanity embraces our differences. You can see glimpses of this when you watch television commercials. Madison Avenue seems to understand that we no longer desire to purchase products endorsed solely by Barbie and Ken types.
This was certainly not the atmosphere when I was growing up and my tender young self esteem was being formed. When I was a little girl, I prayed fervently every night for God to change the color (and texture) of my hair.
“Now I lay me down to sleep…
I pray the Lord my hair to keep…
Replace it with some other girl’s…
and while you’re at it, she can have my curls…”
No one was “celebrating redheads.“ I was taunted mercilessly on the school yard.
“I’d rather be dead than red on the head!”
When I played Barbies after school with my older sister and our friends, they handed me Midge, Barbie’s frizzy-headed freckle-faced cousin. It was bad enough that I had to look like Midge in real life. I merely wanted to play with Barbie for a little make-believe relief.
On television, my role models were those straight haired blondes Laurie Partridge and the 3 darling sisters from the Brady Bunch. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to run around looking like Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House On The Prairie. It was hard to take her seriously, much less try to emulate her “look” in her calico dress, bonnet and galvanized lunch pail.
Because my offspring have been known to skim across my blog occasionally, I won’t go into too much detail, but I was blessed to marry their father, a man that found redheads (and Laura Ingalls Wilder) sexy. Perhaps he was just drawn to writers. I don’t know, but he occasionally called me “half-pint” and favored those innocent white cotton nightgowns.
I’ll leave it at that.
Of course, now that it’s a little trendy, we find that the red headed population is diminishing. We represent less than 2% of the human population. Thus, we are keenly watching my latest grandchild, eagerly holding our breath for signs of impending gingerness.
She looks like she might come through…but it’s too early to call.
If she is indeed a Ginger, then perhaps by the time she’s ready for college our government may have come up with some type of restitution in the form of scholarship money or a stimulus check to pay my people back for our centuries of suffering.
It’s the least they could do for me and my ilk. Me and girls like Midge, Raggedy Ann, and the Un-named thousands that were barbecued in the name of hair color.
Until then, we will just feed our latest wee lass Lucky Charms and keep our fingers crossed. And if I thought I could cast a spell for her to have red hair, I certainly would not be above it.
But alas, if I had any special powers up my little calico sleeve I most certainly would have used them on my own head in the 70s.
But I don’t. Because I am merely a Ginger. A little misunderstood. A little temperamental. Not my fault.
Blame the hair
There’s been a lot of emphasis on “flattening the curve” lately. In keeping with this current trend, our family is going to do our part by flattening a rather large curve of our own. The only difference is that our local medical community won’t be getting any relief.
Quite the opposite.
We will actually be enlisting their help flattening the curve of my youngest daughter’s tummy as she delivers her first child.
In full disclosure, I guess it isn’t exactly a family effort, per se.
In fact, they aren’t even going to let ME in the hospital. No extraneous personnel allowed. Each laboring mother is allowed just one “support person” these days and my daughter has chosen the baby’s father. (You might remember him from last year, when he co-starred in another one of my family’s productions as “The Groom.”)
I never dreamed I’d see the day when one of my very own children would be bringing a child into the world and I wouldn’t be at least a few feet away in the hospital waiting room drowning myself in coffee and prayers, watching that red second hand on the big industrial wall clock…
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick
But, I do get it. Kind’ve…
It makes sense in these days of uncertainty over the novel Coronavirus. I’m sorely disappointed, nonetheless.
Gracie told me back in September – when she informed me of her (SURPRISE!) pregnancy – that she wanted me in the Labor and Delivery room when the baby emerged into this world. Not just out in the waiting room, but actually in the delivery room. I was so delighted.
But, alas, I’ve now been deemed “non-essential.” Never matter, I’ll just position myself outside the Labor and Delivery Room window in the parking lot.
It will be similar to the sonogram I wasn’t allowed to attend. I did get to participate somewhat via FaceTime. The technician pointed out what appeared to be static on the screen, informing us it was hair.
It was concentrated on the back of this baby girl’s neck. What we know thus far…
She’s sporting a Lady Mullet!
At this point, we actually know more about her character and personality, than her looks. We know she fought hard just to exist against some pretty insurmountable odds and then proceeded to battle even harder to stay nestled safely in utero during a grueling 9 hour cancer surgery. So that tells us a lot.
That tells us she’s got chutzpah, this wee girl. Which, honestly, could explain the mullet.
I carry my copy of the sonogram picture around in my purse. When I gaze at it, I’m struck by the fact that, while she was being formed, I was spending thousands of dollars on her parents’ wedding photography that I really never look at. Yet I do take time to ponder over this grainy, fuzzy image they handed over free of charge.
Isn’t life ironic?
What I find myself searching for is various family traits. Since the image was only available in black and white, I can’t tell if she’s blessed with The Gingerness. So, instead I search for my family’s infamous WTF line. This is a large crevice that runs horizontally smack down the center of everyone in my family’s forehead.
Mine is larger than the Grand Canyon so I’m thinking it might show up in ultrasound technology.
I was sitting with my brother in his backyard two nights ago when I noticed his. There it was. Bigger than Dixie. Since he’s a dude, he can’t cover it with bangs like me and my sister. Poor Schmuck.
I call it our WTF line because it’s connected to a prominent muscle in our forehead that scrunches up when we find ourselves in utter disbelief at the idiocy of the people around us. And apparently, there is an accompanying face we make to go with the emotion. It’s the WTF face.
Which is quite expressive.
Which results in an enormous wrinkle.
Which is intense.
Several of my offspring were born with it and in others it showed up as early as 6 weeks of age. This is why I always “fed on demand” and never implemented those sly parenting tactics such as, “cry it out” or “sleep training.”
These creative strategies lead to babies crinkling their foreheads and looking up at their inept parents with dismay as if to say, “What the flip?”
It was bad enough whenever I happened to accidentally disappoint them to see their tiny little furrowed foreheads wrinkling like a Shar Pei puppy, deepening that crease, ensuring a lifetime of Botox injections.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that one could dip a ruler in most of my family’s foreheads and gauge, with total accuracy, just how challenging our lives have been.
Rest assured when this baby is born, I’ll be sitting outside in that parking lot waiting on her tomorrow. I will require her parents hold her up to the window so her Lay-Lay can get a good look at her forehead. Because this little angel has already been through a lot and might have the forehead wrinkle to prove it.
So tonight, as I lay me down to sleep, I pray to The Patron Saint of Foreheads that hers is a smooth one. But, if it isn’t, she can just rock that WTF line alongside her Lady Mullet and be the Bad Ass Baby we already know she is.
At least until she can grow out a decent set of bangs.
(Me watching the birth in the lawn under the window of Labor and Delivery. Thank you FaceTime. The next best thing to being there!)
When we lived in Phoenix I was afraid.
We were 1000 miles away from family and friends. In our mid-30s saddled/blessed with 4 children. We moved out there to pursue a much-needed business opportunity.
Everywhere we’d lived, prior to this, was driving distance from our parents’ homes. All the previous cities were fairly similar to one another. Simply put, Arizona was a culture shock. Everything about the area was different from what we were accustomed to.
It was the desert.
It looked strange, felt strange, seemed strange.
Turns out – I had good reason to be angsty. In the time we lived there, the bottom fell out of the tech industry (the success of which our business endeavor relied heavily upon), my father passed away in Dallas, leaving my mother widowed and much too far away, immediately followed by 9/11.
The ensuing scorpion infestation of our home gets it’s own line.
Yet, in that time, we also managed to draw our family and marriage closer, as we leaned on each other in our perceived solitude. We started hiking, traveled extensively to a lot of cool places (we would’ve never visited otherwise) picked up some wonderful new friends along the way and shared the most AMAZING sunsets together.
Without question, the very best thing to come out of that era was our 5th and last child.*** And yet, as much as I acknowledge and appreciate those positive aspects…
…when Jimmy came home and told me his company had an opening for him back in Oklahoma, I personally hammered a For Sale sign into our rocky xeriscaped yard the very next morning.
We were in the desert 4 years. Which beats the Hell out of 40 years.
(My Ginger skin is still resentful by the way. It was made to accommodate the overcast, misty Moors of Scotland, not open terrain under an unrelenting blazing sun…)
Years later, when friends would inquire how we “liked living out there” I would answer enthusiastically, “We absolutely loved it!”
And Jimmy would all but fall out of his chair. Stunned by my ability to lie.
We’d been married long enough to refrain from contradicting one another too obviously in public, but when he challenged me later, this is how I explained my response: Phoenix was a little similar to a military tour-of-duty. I likened it to when my dad was stationed in Germany and Africa. My family knew in advance the finite beginning and ending of both 3 year “tours” in advance.
I went on to explain- looking back, I would’ve relaxed and appreciated our time in Arizona more if I was assured my life was going to GET BACK TO NORMAL eventually. I really value that element of predictability and control in my life. I think most of us do.
In all the wisdom provided by our old pal hindsight, I should’ve been grateful for the undistracted family time we had together….enjoyed the uniqueness of the moment and the memories we made. In short – kept the faith.
Easter looked and felt weird to us all yesterday. As have the past few weeks and months. Everything about this nationwide quarantine looks different, feels different seems different. It’s definitely tested most of us.
But, this too, shall pass.
We will all emerge soon from this “Life Interrupted” to congregate once again with our friends and families armed with our own unique stories to share. Tales of virtual Easter Egg hunts, Zoom family meetings, family quarantine-quibbles and more.
Humorous recollections will be intertwined with frightening memories of navigating through an unprecedented time of financial strain, aligned with fear for the very health of our loved ones, in tandem with uncertainty over the future of our societal infrastructure.
We won’t – none of us- come out of this the same. This surreal experience has put life in an entirely new perspective for us, not to mention what it’s done for our kids. (Parents, you don’t need me to tell you, this pandemic has probably taught our kids more life lessons than we’ve taught them ourselves since they were born.)
But, like most things, it has a beginning and an end. I strongly suspect we will all look back on it and remember the blessings. None of us will be the same, that’s for sure and certain.
***Just to be clear, I am not suggesting everyone go make a baby during this quarantine time period. The idea was mentioned solely for the purpose of a “literary life metaphor.” Not advocacy.
****Especially my own children.
*****All projects currently underway are joyfully anticipated, obviously.
I want you to know I got through today okay.
Just an hour and a half left. And then it will be tomorrow.
It’s hard to believe I married you 35 years ago today. I don’t know where the time went, but wow, it flew by. Just like everyone told us it would. We were just babies. How could we know? There’s just some things about life you can’t know until you actually know.
Gracie’s wedding last month was beautiful. I hope you saw it in some way or another. I know you were distracted by the “Game of the Century” – LSU VS ALABAMA, but I felt your presence holding me up as I walked down the aisle. Or maybe that was your two beautiful sons. I don’t know for sure. But there was palpable strength.
It made me think a lot about our wedding day. All I can remember was when they dramatically swung open those two big wide double oak doors of Our Lady of Mercy, I looked nervously down the aisle and was so relieved to see you standing on the alter, flanked by your dad, your brother and your best friend.
I don’t know what I expected. Did I think you weren’t going to show up? You RSVP’d that you were planning on attending. So, of course you did. The fine young southern gentleman that you were. A promise keeper to the end.
A lot has changed since you’ve been gone. But also nothing has changed. Everything is still the same, and yet entirely different.
I bought 2 pair of really soft, warm expensive socks that I keep in my nightstand drawer because my feet still get so cold at night. Only now I can’t twine them around your body and make you shriek out in your sleep calling me “popsicle toes!”
I still can’t find the television remote. Ever. I still have to unmake the entire bed and use the flashlight feature on my cell phone to look for it under the covers. It sucks so hard that I can’t blame you for misplacing it. Now, it’s all on me when it’s missing.
I can’t find my cell phone a lot either. A lot of times I have to look for my phone first, just so that I can hunt down the remote.
Did I mention how much I miss the sound of football and basketball blaring as the backdrop of my life 24/7 while you rant at the coaches, players and refs?
By the way, those five children we made….They are still assholes. But they’re also amazingly amazing. Just like you predicted they would be.
You just wouldn’t believe how successful, brilliant and attractive they all are. They take after you. They have all changed so very much since you passed. They were forced to battle their way out of childhood almost overnight when they lost their dad. It was sad, but awe-inspiring. It spoke volumes about the spark you left kindled inside them all.
And yet, in many ways, they are exactly as you left them.
They are exactly as you knew them to be and said they would be. You knew them each immediately and instinctively and constantly reassured my angst.
I sure do miss complaining about them with you. You were the only safe person to complain to, because you are the only other person in the world that loved them unconditionally, as I do.
There was no judgement. Anything they did was at least 1/2 your fault (maybe more?)
Our firmly established “Bad Cop/Good Cop” parenting formula is a colossal fail ever since Bad Cop turned in his badge and took early retirement. No one seems to take Good Cop seriously.
One more thing. And I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but…
We have 2 1/2 grandchildren now. Every time I’m with them, I find myself searching intently for you. I look for your blink, your lips, an inflection, an attitude, a tone, a brow furrow or a shoulder shrug. I know you’re in there somewhere.
I look forward to finding you as the years go by. My hope is to get you back in little particles and pieces every day.
Know that I’ll never never stop looking My Love.
“And The Beat Goes On” (Inevitably, When the Next Generation Comes Along, We End Up Right Back Where We Came From…)
My son-in-law has no idea how lucky he is to have me as a Mother-in-law…
It all began when I awoke to the savage sounds of an alarm clock blaring this morning.
It was faintly familiar, yet a distantly forgotten annoyance from my past life.
It’s been a few years since I’ve had to start my day in such a harsh way. In hindsight, I almost wish there had been a hidden camera in my bedroom filming my reaction, as I fumbled around trying to understand why anything would actually be trying to wake me up.
I’m an incurable insomniac, so the last thing I ever do is pre-set a mechanism to purposely awaken myself – should the sweet relief of slumber chance to find me.
But, today my grandson*** had his first live onstage performance. He was the lead in his Dayschool’s Christmas rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Christmas Star.” (At least he appeared as the lead in the Indy version I filmed, edited and produced. All the other toddlers trifled about onstage as mere “extras.”)
Sadly, the program began at the ungodly hour of 9 on a weekend morning. When I found out the time, I lamented quietly to myself,
Who is up and about at that hour?” And then I remembered from my own experience…children….and their parents.
I’m really not the Diva I’m making myself out to be. Quite the contrary. I served my time. I raised 5 kids. I did my bit for The Pope and all of Humanity. I’m not sure I could actually count how many Christmas programs, band recitals, dance recitals, swim meets and ball tournaments (every type of ball ever made) I’ve logged at or before sunrise on a weekend morning.
And I’m not really even that bitter…
After all, I have had 4 years now to rest. To sleep in. To rediscover lazy. To find myself almost borderline disinclined.
But, once I was up, dressed and downed a cup of coffee, I was in that auditorium with bells on. jingle bells in fact.
I actually arrived before anyone else and saved seats for the whole family on the 3rd row. (I’ve been known for years by everyone as “Our Lady of Perpetual Tardiness,” So I’ve delighted in surprising relatives at how prompt I am these days, now that I’m responsible for dressing only myself!)
This wasn’t the school’s first rodeo, nor their first Christmas Program. They knew from experience to begin the event with the students I’ll refer to as “Vertical Diaper-Clad.” They called them the “1 year old and 2 year old classrooms.” The Non-Verticals (aka: horizontal infants) did not perform, but were “recognized” in a slide show during intermission.
My grandson and his class were the fourth or fifth act to perform. Apparently, there was some little ham of a girl center-stage who stole the show with some version of “the worm,” but I never got to see her shannanigans, as I was assigned the job of videoing my own progeny, thus my eye and my iPhone were trained solely on him.
He started out with a little stage fright, but then you could see the light of recognition cross his face as he thought, “Oh yes, I recall rehearsing this number!” and began a series of plyometric movements that one can only hope will assist him down the road in dunking a basketball at an earlier age than most.
Right before our tot came on stage, my son-in-law nonchalantly announced his intention to depart as soon as his son’s number concluded. Not unlike this morning’s alarm clock, this was also faintly reminiscent of something or someone from my past.
And so was my daughter’s reaction.
“You can’t do that! It’s rude to all the other families and their children who watched YOUR child perform!”
This was me and my hubby going at it at every one of our kids’ events from 1990-2010.
Right about that time, over the PA system, the school announced that there would be a “slight intermission” to allow time for the the parents of the Diaper Clad Verticals who had just performed to collect their children backstage.
That’s when I intervened, earnestly explaining to my daughter that the school creates this intermission purposely, so “the families of younger children can leave the auditorium with discretion.”
“They don’t expect us to stay for the next 2 hours until the 10 year olds sing. It’s just too hard on the wee ones! We will have years and years to endure all of this,” I gently persuaded, (unselfishly on behalf of my busy son-in-law.)
As we were leaving, I pinched my son-in-law as hard as I could on the back of his arm and hissed,
“You owe me!”
“For what?” he protested. “I was leaving after he sang no matter what!” all puffed up and full of his foolish manhood.
If my mom had been there, (The Gold Standard by which all other grandmotherly enthusiasm should be measured by) I guarantee she would’ve mustered up a tear and said, “Oh we simply have to stay and listen to all the other classes sing. The sound of children caroling is so joyful! It’s what Christmas is all about!”
3 hours later, we would’ve been fighting our way out of that parking lot bumper-to-bumper, with low blood sugar hating Christmas hating children and hating carols.
Not necessarily in that specific order.
No – What Christmas is all about is Peace, Love and Pragmatism.
Christmas is also about the jaw-droppingly amazing gift I expect my son-in-law to give me next week as it occurs to him that I’m the coolest, most supportive mother-in-law a dude could ever have, albeit camouflaged as a somewhat Accidental Grandmother.
***I know it’s hard to believe I’m a grandmother but that’s what happens when YOU have a child and then THEY have a child. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it doesn’t matter what chic little moniker you come up with to call yourself – You’re still a grandparent.
“I Can Feel It Coming In The Air Tonight” (When we Are Certain We Have No Reason To Live, But We Actually Just Might…)
“Bless me Father for I have sinned…I’d try to calculate how long it’s been since my last confession, but it’s a moot point, because when you hear the sin I’ve committed, you’re probably going to tell me it can’t be absolved anyway…”
The unpardonable of all unpardonables.
It all came to my attention when I received a phone call from my baby brother a few months ago. He good-naturedly informed me that I had inadvertently scheduled my third daughter’s wedding on the exact same day as the biggest football rivalry in the history of all football rivalries.
Thus I have unintentionally set the very world askew on it’s very axis. Or at least the very world of my 300 wedding guests – who now must choose between the people they love the most in the world (dem Tigers) and my family.
I don’t envy their decision, as we are planning to blow it out in New Orleans. We are commencing at The Cathedral in Jaxson Square with a beautiful religious ceremony, immediately followed by a Second Line to the reception on a terrace overlooking the mighty Mississippi with 3 open bars, two oyster bars, all the New Orleans cuisine you can imagine, 2 jazz bands, and hand-rolled cigars – just to mention a little of the allure.
What we will NOT be featuring is a television set playing the game.
While acknowledging the enormity of the conundrum I have created for all my LSU Tiger loving friends and family, I wasn’t terribly concerned and continued merrily and ignorantly planning our big day, unaware that a perfect storm was brewing each and every Saturday as big games were being played and won/lost by specific teams.
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, (living in my football free widow bubble) the stakes have been raised even higher.
After spending the past decade disappointing and upsetting my late husband – raising his hopes, only to dash his dreams – it seems his beloved tigers have picked this post-mortem year to be good.
It has just come to my attention that Alabama is ranked number 1 and LSU is ranked number 2.
This is the stuff baby piglets dreams are made of. Forget all that hogwash from Charlotte’s Web. (Pun intended) South of the Mason-Dixon line, in SEC territory, baby pigs dream that they may live and die one day to present their very hides to be skinned and laced up and tossed around in a game of this magnitude.
Why just yesterday, ESPN (never a network to be dramatic about the importance of any sporting event) called this November 9th match-up, “The game of the century!”
And here I was thinking I was planning “the wedding of the century” for a little girl whose Daddy won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. (A day he and I talked about and dreamed of since we glimpsed the very first sonogram image of her.)
In an effort to explain to me the significance of my faux pas, which I evidently wasn’t fully grasping, a dear friend said, “You just don’t understand how passionately folks from Louisiana feel about their football!”
“Oh, Mais Non, Mon Cherie!” I met my husband at 17, dated him at 18, married him at 21. LSU Football was the very backdrop of my marriage. I was fully indoctrinated, baptized in the bayou waters of LSU football devotion Why, it’s a right of passage down there.
To illustrate, I will share a classic Jimmy Blanchard story. It will bring a smile of recognition to all of you who knew and loved him well and will help y’all who didn’t know him, appreciate the man he was.
The year was 2007. The day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 23. Per the usual, the men stayed home to watch the traditional LSU VS ARKANSAS football game (remember we had lived in Little Rock 3 separate times with Steak and Ale and Outback, so there was no shortage of phone calls, texts and trash talking from friends and former employees. To put it bluntly, the stakes were high, as our pride was on the line – it wasn’t a matter of whether we’d beat Arkansas, just by how many points.
All the ladies went Christmas shopping that day every year with the little girls and the men claimed they “babysat” their own sons. Truth: this was the beginning of the boys’ football fandom brainwashing program. (In the South, you start em young.)
As we had a long drive ahead of us that night and Jimmy wanted to get on the road to Oklahoma the very second his Tigers kicked those razorback’s bristled hides, the sisters-in-law and I quietly arrived back to the homestead with our purchases about midway through the 4th quarter and started packing the minivan.
But something was very wrong…like Phil Collins said, “You could feel it in the air that night...”
Smoke was coming out of Jimmy’s ears. The boys were biting their nails and near tears and Jimmy, his mother and brother may well have already been crying. I’m not at liberty to say. Let’s just say you could cut the air with a knife.
I started corralling kids as fast and quietly as a mother can corral 5 children. I insisted the girls all potty and strap into the car. The game went into triple overtime while my daughters waited like sweet little angels in the car. This situation didn’t jive well with our travel plans, but Jimmy never budged from the couch.
You never heard so much Purgatorial howling, wailing and gnashing of teeth in your life. You would’ve thought the CIA was waterboarding someone in there.
In summary, LSU lost the game in triple overtime to Arkansas. Jimmy got behind the wheel. I warned the kids not to utter a sound. If you’ve ever met a Blanchard, you know we always utter sounds. But they didn’t. It’s like they innately understood the depth of their father’s deep despair.
We drove through the darkness of the swamp, the Morganza Spillway, over the herons, the alligators and God only knows what other swamp creatures. When I say not a creature was stirring, I mean nothing made a peep.
After about an hour and a half, Jimmy finally broke the silence. He said to our sons. (Aka: My baby boys)
“Well boys, we now have absolutely nothing left to live for…”
That’s when this Ginger Snapped. I lit into that man like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t remember my exact words but it was something to the effect of,
“Our little boys back there have their entire lives ahead of them and EVERYTHING to live for. For the love of God and mankind, they’re 10 and 7 years old! You may think YOU have nothing to live for, which is pretty ludicrous, but don’t you dare cast that dismal outlook on my sons. They’ve got extremely bright futures!” Something to that effect…
(Keep this between us, but I was thinking – they’ve never even kissed a girl or had a beer. Geez.)
The rest of the story – and I’ll include a link- is that I was right. Some unforeseeable madness occurred and all the top teams ended up with incredible upsets propelling LSU back into the National championship game against Ohio State.
The picture I included is the day they posted the rankings and Jimmy and the boys realized that LSU was going to the National Playoff Game and they did have what they call in Louisiana, “raison de vivre,” (reason to live!)
That’s Jimmy’s “raison de vivre,” facial expression in that picture. I’m not sure many of y’all got to see it. Y’all mostly got his poker face. But as I tell this story, it occurs to me, he never did tell me I was right when I lit into him that night crossing the swamp. The night he forcasted my sons’ dismal futures.
My baby boys got to witness a genuine football miracle that year. It taught them that all things in life are possible (and also that sometimes Mommy is right and Daddy is wrong…shhhhhh).
Dem Tigers went on to beat Ohio state 38-34.
So my boys actually had that to live for. And now, they have this year and November 9th. That’s the night they will stand in for their Daddy and walk their beautiful beloved sister down the aisle and happily miss ESPN’s “Game of the Century!”
They will do that because every single day they honor the man that made them men. And all kidding aside…the man that raised these two men….he always knew what to live for.
There seem to be two kinds of families in the world. The kind that call their members by their given Christian names, and another kind of family that names you something adequate for the purpose of the Birth Certificate and then proceeds to call you by a myriad of random names that may or may not have any relevance to who and/or what you are.
Our family falls into the latter category. In fact, we have nicknames for our nicknames.
The name Emilie morphed over time to “Millie,” then “Lillie” and eventually, “Lillie Pad.” There was the occasional leap from the “Lillie Pad” to “Zillie” (for “Bridezilla”) the year she was wed. She didn’t really deserve it, but we couldn’t resist.
Mollie became “Yaya” when the boys starting jabbering around the turn-of-the-century. Apparently, it’s Greek for Grandmother – Mollie is neither Greek nor a Grandmother, but somehow her little brothers saw her that way and it stuck.
Gracie became “Pooshka Lou” as a baby, which was shortened to just “Lou” as a little girl and then lengthened to “Lou-cifer” during a few rough patches in her teens.
James is “June Bug” and Tommy is also “June Bug.” Eventually, in the interest of clarification, Jimmy started to call Tommy, “June Bug, Jr.” At some point, he simply started calling both boys “June,” short for both “Junior” and “June Bug” and we remained as confused as ever.
Jimmy called me “Tiny Red” which I tolerated, but just as often called me “Patricia” which is not my middle name, a family name, the name of an ex-girlfriend, or even a name that I’m particularly fond of…
So, it was understandable when Emilie first started dating Matt, that she asked him what his family called him. He answered,
“They call me Matt!”
“Well, of course, but what’s your nickname?”
“I guess it’s Matt!”
She persisted in her questioning.
Eventually he lit up and said, “On yeahhhhh.…Sometimes they call me Matthew!”
Shortly thereafter, per family custom, we took it upon ourselves to combine the only two things we knew about the guy (that he grew up on a farm and was also a doctor) into the most obvious moniker, “Dr. Farmer.”
Mortified, Emilie beseeched us repeatedly to only refer to him as “Matt.” She even went so far as to threaten that if anyone in our family (siblings OR parents) ever refers to him as, “Dr. Farmer” in his presence or within earshot, we would never lay eyes on the two of them again.
Less than two years later, Emilie and Dr. Farmer were engaged and we got down to the business of planning their wedding. When Gracie asked if she could make a toast at the wedding, I thought it was a great idea. My initial feeling was that the Father-of-The-Bride, was a man of few words, so it couldn’t hurt to subsidize his remarks with a few loving thoughts from the Bride’s baby sister..
It didn’t occur to me to be overly concerned about the theme or content of her proposed speech. A day or two before the wedding, bogged down in last minute wedding details, I asked her if she had jotted down some notes for her toast, she responded,
“I’m having a busy week at school, I’m planning to wing it…”
Much to the amusement of our guests that evening, Gracie commandeered the mic and launched into an expose’ of our family’s penchant for nicknaming, not just one-another, but all of our daughters’ boyfriends. She then proceeded to provide a few examples, such as “Dot-Dot-Dot Boy” (a young man who followed all his texts with “…” )as though his every thought was utterly profound. And, “Coffee Shop Boy,” (who couldn’t seem to make it through a simple date with one of our daughters without a strong jolt of caffeine.)
As I sat listening to Gracie’s toast, I suddenly realized one major wedding detail I had overlooked. I had neglected to exercise editorial censorship over the “toasts.” I suddenly knew exactly where this speech was headed. With what I hoped was an adoring maternal smile plastered on my face, I waited anxiously for Gracie to drop the proverbial hammer.
And then she did exactly just that. Gracie-style!
She shared with 200 friends (our side) and another 200 Prospective friends (Groom’s side) that he may be “Matt“ to all of them, but, to us, “He will always be our Dr. Farmer!”
As Gracie wrapped up her speech, I noticed the wedding guests, (particularly our brand new in-laws) howling with laughter, and so I began to relax. After all, it really was quite an accomplishment that we managed to restrain ourselves for the full two years of their courtship. We made it all the way to the other side of the alter without a slip-up.
Now post-wedding, there’s really nothing left for us to do, but sit around and wait on all the Baby Doctors and Baby Farmers, pondering what we may be inspired to call them.
One thing we know for sure is that we will NEVER call those Little Darlins by their given names…
The wedding planning has been a blessed and welcomed distraction.
I should probably be embarrassed by how many hours I can spend online obsessing over every detail. But, I’m not. Nothing is too minor. The napkins, the florals, the invitations. It’s all a distracting creative outlet.
I’m breezing through my checklist with very few glitches.
I can’t seem to settle on a MOB dress. For those of you not immersed in wedding-speak, that’s the abbreviation for Mother-of-the-Bride…I’m not joining the Mafia. But if I was, I’d definitely launch a full-on quest for the perfect outfit.
It’s not my goal to “Outshine The Bride,” as people are so fond of saying. She’s a beautiful girl in her twenties – so I’d be hard-pressed to manage that. At this point I’m just trying to look like we share the same DNA.
But what I have managed to do is annoy Her Brideliness. She asked me the other day,
“Have you ever seen the movie, “27 Dresses?”
When I told her I had, she quipped,
“That character in the movie is YOU, except instead of 27 Bridesmaids dresses, you have 27 Mother-of-the-Bride dresses!”
Well at least I can rest assured we share the same DNA, as she has clearly inherited my penchant for exaggeration and embellishment. I definitely don’t have 27 dresses. But I have purchased several and I’m still on the hunt.
I guess, as I get older, I realize that one doesn’t have as many opportunities as one might imagine to wear an evening gown. This is my last daughter and who knows how many Galas I’ll be invited to moving forward.
Perhaps it’s a little bothersome to Gracie that I continue to inundate her with screenshots of dresses I’m finding online. I’m just after her opinion, not judgement.
Yes of course I am aware that she just started her new job this week and is fully immersed in their training program. But surely she gets a few short potty breaks and can check her phone?
She doesn’t even have to type out a text response. Just heart ❤️ the images of gowns she favors.
She must’ve gotten a lunch break yesterday, because around mid-day, she shot me these hurtful little bubbles:
Ouch…was I just Slit-shamed?
I’m apparently dancing all over her last nerve. Burlesque? Seriously? I’m not trying to look “burlesquey,” but if I was…what better place than a French Quarter wedding to dabble in that lost art?
I remember shopping with my mother for her Grandmother-of-the-Bride gown before my oldest daughter’s wedding. Doris spent more on her entire ensemble than we spent on the bride’s – and mom didn’t even wear a veil ! I happened to make mention of that fact as she was handing her credit card over to the clerk at Neimans. Without batting an eye, she looked over at me and said,
“Then bury me in it!”
Sadly, 2 short years later, I did just that.
But, my mom didn’t really have the advantage of shopping from her bathtub. She was way too nervous to give out her credit card information online.
I don’t have that problem. Ask Amazon, Etsy, PayPal et al. They’ll vouch for how fearless I am.
That’s why I’m not ready to commit to being buried in whatever dress I eventually select for this event. I can obviously lie right here until I take my last breath and choose something even more suitable and au courant.
And with all the advantages of overnight shipping, I’m sure anything I pick out will arrive in time for when I finally make my way to the Pearly Gates.
Hmmm…something pearl-encrusted in white or cream to go with the whole “Pearly Gates vibe?”
Unless I’m not destined for heaven…if I end up headed the other direction I’ll be requiring one of y’all to overnight the red one with the slit.
Don’t worry – I’ll send you a screenshot and the link.
I’ve learned quite a bit since my husband died. All sorts of handy skills and life-hacks to help maintain the house and finances. But mostly I’ve stumbled across philosophical truths. It’s exciting to think that one day I might be wise.
I might even start a “Widow Boot Camp” or become a “Widoula!” I’m convinced my girlfriends will need my guidance some day. (Sorry Dudes – statistical probability!)
There are just so many falsehoods surrounding grief and loss.
For starters, I believe we all think the major life events are the days Grief Survivors will circle the drain, spiraling into the depths of their own despair.
I can tell. Because my phone blows up with all manner of genuinely loving texts.***
“Thinking of you today. Hope you have a fabulous Mother’s Day…”
“Happy Anniversary. You were both so blessed to have one another for the short time you did…”
“Merry Christmas! Hope you are surrounded by your children today…”
They also reach out on Easter, his birthday, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. They take me to lunch or brunch to convey their compassion and remind me they are “here for me.”
The first birthday I had after I lost my hubby, several of my friends organized a brunch. About midway through the meal, one of my friends signaled everyone to hold up their Mimosas while she made a toast to the Birthday Girl.
“To the best year ever!”
Clink, clink, clink!
Clinks all around.
As I was clinking, and drinking, I was also thinking…
I seriously doubted I was about to experience my Best Year Ever. But I was equally convinced it probably couldn’t be worse than the preceding year.
Or could it?
I’ve now come to believe the second year of loss might actually be worse than the first. Remember how right after you had a baby or surgery, you sat up in your hospital bed and evaluated your overall pain experience? Most of us thought, ‘There now, that wasn’t so awful! I’m pretty Bad-Ass. I survived!’ You congratulated yourself with a pat on the back – reassured by your own bravery and resiliency.
Until the anesthesia wore off.
No longer numb, you panicked and started scrambling around, wincing in pain , looking for that little button on the bed-remote that has a nurse icon on it.
Likewise, the major holidays aren’t really what triggers the panic.
Quite frankly, my husband wasn’t all that stellar on the Big Days. As a young wife, I genuinely had to learn to manage my expectations. This was partly due to the fact that he was in the restaurant business. He was swamped in the weeks that led up to Christmas and exhausted by the actual day. Ditto our anniversary (one week before Christmas), New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentines Day. Same, same, same.
To be fair, some of his lackluster-ness, might also be attributed to the general stress the “important days” put on all of our relationships. There’s a lot of pressure to make them memorable.
But my husband instinctively knew his way around this problem. He made up for it on the minor days and in the little moments. The forgettable ones. The ones we take for granted.
In fact, he used to give a short speech to his young managers, whereby he acknowledged that their business wasn’t easy on marriage and family. Most of them would always work on weekends and holidays, so they better make up for it on their next day off. Make the little days count.
Like next Tuesday.
As time went on, we dubbed the iconic speech, “Any Given Tuesday.”
Now, it’s the minor days and seemingly insignificant life-moments that really get to me. I tend to be somewhat prepared for the big holidays. Typically, I am armed with scripture, inspiring quotes, and a supportive posse.
But the other day, I was in a restaurant trying to decide between the Rueben and the French Dip, I missed my hubby so much it didn’t matter what I ordered. All I could remember was him telling me, “Order your top two choices for both of us and we’ll share!”
A few weeks ago, Luke donned a cowboy hat and Emilie said, “Who are you Luke?” And he buoyantly answered, “Papa!” He didn’t mean Jimmy. He meant his other grandfather. He will never know Jimmy. And I could’ve never anticipated that level of heart-shred.
This week Luke has finally decided to call me by name. I took him to the park and installed him in a baby swing. He pointed to the swing beside him and barked out an order:
For a second I thought he wanted me to lie down in the park bark. (Which I was perfectly willing to do!) But then I realized it was his best attempt at calling me, “Lady!” Immediately I looked expectantly up to the heavens for my husband and my mom.
“Did y’all hear that?”
”Isn’t he so terribly clever?”
“Isn’t he brilliant?”
“That’s your legacy! He’s calling me by name!”
We learn so much as we muddle through life and loss. Maybe by the time we pass on we are almost complete. Perfect and wise. Maybe it takes longer for some of us than others. Maybe that’s why some die young. I’m still pondering it…
I’ll let everyone know when I’ve got it all down and ready to start a workshop.
But for now, in honor of all my lost loves, I spend my Tuesdays with Luke. Trying to make those little days count.
***texters and well-wishers: Don’t Stop sending that love!