Widening Scope

My mom sent me this picture the other day and I was totally surprised, for the first time in a while (not really I’ve been watching Downton Abbey) because I hadn’t seen this picture in a very long time, probably since it was taken. And I remembered very little about it. In fact, the only thing I remember about myself in this picture is that I found that purse (Baby’s first Coach) at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Branson, Missouri for $79 and I thought that was a steal! Therefore two things must be true: 1. I was still young and naive enough to think that spending $80 on a Coach purse made you an adult woman, nay, a cool adult woman and 2. I was definitely in my early 20s.

The more I looked at the picture though, the more the scope widened. Funny how pictures that take us by surprise on Thursday afternoons can do that, isn’t it? The more the scope widened, the more I resented the person that was in this photo. She was a total wanker. I mean, who wears a damn denim skirt? And what is that shirt even? I looks like it’s some type of half-hoodie? But I did have make-up on. A feat that is very, very difficult for me to accomplish now, on the backside of thirty. Then I realized, like we all do sometimes, I was focusing on the wrong things. I was selfishly focusing on me, and not the man standing next to me, and the moment that is, to my utter displeasure, captured in time.

You see, I was in my early twenties here. I can’t pinpoint exactly the year, but I can say, with certainty, that it was somewhere between 2004 and 2006, and come to think of it, maybe “early” twenties wasn’t right. Maybe I was exactly 25. Maybe he was too, and maybe this was our actual first step into real adulthood.

A year or so earlier we had fought about something in particular. The fact that I wanted Jerimiah to go back to school. I wanted him, in the least, to finish his associates degree, which we had both been working on at Kansas City Kansas Community College when we started dating. That date I am more clear on, St. Patrick’s Day, 2002. That wasn’t our first date, our first date had come a couple months prior, but we hadn’t really thought anything past the tip of our noses back then, so while we were standing on the corner of 42nd and Broadway, in Old Westport, we looked at each other and smiled the kind of smile that you know you will be giving that other person for a very long time. And so months later, we decided on that day as our “anniversary,” and it stuck.

Anyway, a couple years later we were living at his parent’s place, a resort they bought on Table Rock Lake down in Southern Missouri. He was working for them, and I was serving and bartending in Branson, and I looked at him one night and thought, “He’s wasting his damn time.” What’s funny is that it never occurred to me that I was doing the same thing. Here we were, frighteningly close to the end of our early twenties, not a college degree between the two of us, and although it was fun, sure, yeah, we were having fun, we were definitely stalled. So I suggested he apply at Ozark Technical Community College and finish up there. Maybe, maybe, then he could transfer to a four-year college. And oh hey, Missouri State was just up the road in Springfield.

He fought me at first. He was helping his parents out, after all, and he didn’t really know if college was for him. I had to remind him how smart he was. I had to remind him that WE had bigger dreams. Bigger than Southern Missouri, bigger than him working for his parents, bigger, I would suppose then living in wedlock and partying with friends on the weekends. So he applied. And a year later he was the Vice President of the student body. And a year after that, I think, this picture was taken.

This was, of course, the beginning of both of us committing to higher education. Which in a sense, has been us committing to ourselves, to each other, and to our child. To our futures. A year after he started at Ozark Technical Community College, I went back. Then he graduated, we got married, got pregnant, then he started at Missouri State University, and I, six months pregnant, transferred to Missouri State to once again follow this man, whom I knew was finally on the right path.

The next few years were a blur. In fact, having a baby your second year of college isn’t ideal, regardless of how old you are (I was 27). It’s just tough. But, it makes you a hell of a lot tougher, that much I know. We ran into a few snags along the way, we both took longer than we intended, him working full-time and going to school full-time. Me working part-time, having a baby, and going to school full-time. But we managed, and eventually we both graduated with honors from Missouri State. Jerimiah with a degree in finance and and me with a degree in English.

Years later, when Jackson started kindergarten and I was looking for a purpose in this here life, I applied to grad school and was accepted. I began that transition from “Jackson’s Mommy” to the woman I am now, whoever that is. That forced Jerimiah’s hand once again. Here I was, killin’ it in grad school (in my head), working again, and being a kick-ass Mommy. So he decided to go to grad school too, and wouldn’t you know that he graduates in one month with his terminal degree, an MBA. I don’t have my terminal degree, I only have an MA, so you know, I’m scouting schools now. Because that’s what we do, Jerimiah and I. We push each other to do better. We always have.

So, yeah, I don’t remember a lot about this particular picture. But the widening of the scope brings me back to memories I had stored away. I do remember those two kiddos. And believe me, we were kiddos in every sense of that non-sensical word. We were just two kids, crazy for each other, so much in fact that we pushed and we pushed, making the other one do more than they thought possible. And that’s the code we live by now. The force we have created in our relationship. We are heading into year 18 now, with brighter eyes than we’ve ever had. And more opportunity, more possibility, more love, more admiration, than this denim-skirt wearing, naive little girl ever thought. And for that I am thankful.

Cheers to you, my darling. To this day, to the first time you graduated, to the second time you graduated, and cheers to the next month, though it will be hard, it will be worth it. Onward and upward we row.

M.

I’m a Georgia Voter

That’s something I never thought I would say. I have often admired the cute, little Georgia peach stickers when friends who live in Georgia voted and shared their picture online. But yesterday I actually got to cast my vote in the state of Georgia for the first time, and it felt kind of good. It felt like I was finally part of my community, like I had the power to make a difference here. There were only two question on my ballot, but I did have to do some research before I went to the polls, which is always important, and I got to take Jackson with me because his school is a polling place, so he was out for the day. It went something like this…

We arrived at the Methodist Church that was assigned to me when I registered to vote in the state back in April. It’s only about a mile from our house but we drove because it’s sorta cold down here, in fact yesterday morning it was a balmy 58 degrees. Whew! When we walked in, Jackson was a big hit with the women working the polls. And it was all women, by the way. Not just all women, but all retired, Black, women which made me very happy. It was 100% the first time I had ever encountered this at a polling place.

They were all very friendly and polite, and I told them all it was my first time voting in the state, so they walked me through the procedure as best they could, without helping me fill out anything (which is not allowed). First I had to fill out a form. This has never really happened to me before. I’m used to just casually strolling up to a table and telling them my name, then the old, cranky, white man finds my name on the registry list, puts a check by it, gives me a sticker, and a ballot and sends me on my way. This is how I have voted previously in Kansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. But things are, umm, different here in Georgia, and now I finally get Stacey Abrams anger.

There were three tables. At the first table I had to fill out a paper that was basically just giving all my information that they already had, so I really wasn’t sure why, but me being me, and having Jackson there, and knowing these ladies were just doing their job, I didn’t question it. I just wrote my birthday, checked that I was a Democrat, wrote my address, and signed my name. Then I gave her the paper, thinking I was done. I was wrong. She then asked for my ID. I was a little surprised, but gave it to her. Then she checked my ID against what I had just written on the paper. I am not sure what would have happened if my ID had been old, or I had written something different on the form. Then she sent me to the second table.

At the second table they again asked for my ID, where one of the women proceeded to scan it into a computer. It apparently came back okay, because there I was given back my ID, along with a little yellow card that read: State of Georgia Voter Access card. Example below:

The card had a chip in it, and I was told to put the card in the machine. There was only one other woman voting at the time we were there, so if I needed further help, it would not have been a problem. But I kept thinking what the next election would look like. What it’s like when there is a line out the door and every machine is full, and people are having troubles with those machines, and cards, and writing the wrong address down, or maybe having trouble seeing the small writing on the half-sheet that I was given. I kept thinking about my mom, and how she would have a wicked-hard time with all of this, and how it would be confusing and hard to read.

So Jackson and I got to the machine and I stuck my yellow card in the slot, which activated my ballot, but first there were a series of windows that I had to click through telling me how the machine worked, and explaining these awkward, not at all intuitive, ways to fix my ballot, if I accidentally hit the wrong box or something like that. Seriously, y’all. I didn’t know how easy I had it in North Carolina, or Missouri, or Kansas. Jackson and I read the instructions and he was all, “this looks complicated” and let’s be real here, if my 11-year-old who lives and dies by technology, who has known how to work on an iPad since he was three, says “this looks complicated” then that is sort of a red flag, ya dig?

Okay so I hit NEXT, then NEXT again, then my ballot popped up. Only two decisions to make. One was a vote for a City Council Member and because I am fairly new here, and because it was a woman’s name and she was the incumbent, I voted for her. Also, she was the only one running, which always pisses me off a little bit. Jackson pointed to the “Write-in” and looked confused. I explained that you could write in anyone’s name if you didn’t want to vote for the person on the ballot. Then I told him if it had been a man’s name, I would have written in my own name instead. I don’t vote for men, as a rule, unless I have to. (Full Disclosure I did once vote for a man, when there was a Democratic woman on the ticket. It was the 2016 Democratic Primary, in which the names on my ballot were Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and I voted for Bernie.)

Anywho, the next question was the one I had done some research on. Lots of trickery here in Georgia. Lots of trickery in the South, I have learned. Looking at you, North Carolina, and your “Snake.” So I knew whenever an “Ethics Board” question was on the ballot, and I had seen a lot of ads to “Vote YES on Ethics” that I probably wanted to vote “No.” And I was right. Trickery, y’all. Trickery.

So I voted no. Then I hit “Submit” and very quickly my screen changed and my yellow card spat out at me. I assumed that meant I was done. So we collected the card, and walked to the third and final table where they were taking our cards and passing out our coveted peach stickers. Of course Jackson got one too, and they were all very proud of him for accompanying me. One woman walking in said, “Well the voters are getting younger and younger,” and everyone laughed. But I mean, yeah, they are. #OurKidsAreGonnaChangeTheWorld

So that was that. My first experience voting in the state of Georgia. That’s what you asked about, right? I hope I made a difference. I hope I voted with intention. I hope I was educated and, made, to the best of my ability, the right decision. But above all else, I hope that my son saw what I was doing, how I made it a priority, and that he will do that his entire life as well.

So here’s to the next election, y’all! See you at the primary, where, well, you know me, I’ll be casting my vote once again, for Bernie! 🙂

M.

Kids These Days…

After I dropped Jackson off at school this morning I stopped by Starbucks to grab some coffee (gift card on a double point Monday, cheah! Sorry, Dunkin, I love you tho). Anyway, on the way back home I passed the high school. I ended up being stuck at a red light right in front of the high school, and it had all the quintessential high school things happening. Cars pulling in and out to drop kids off, teens driving their own cars (their parents old 2005 Toyota Corollas) into the parking deck. It had kids crossing the busy intersection with the help of a crossing guard, and I assume one of the principals, as he was a tall man in a smart, black suit. There was laughing, and tugging at clothes, and fiddling with lunch boxes and backpacks. There were mom’s talking with their hands in cars, and dads, red-faced, yelling at the cars in front of them. It was, in my opinion, the most sincere sorta morning there could be at a high school, at any school. And then it occurred to me, maybe for the first time since I became a parent, that high schoolers aren’t all that scary. High schoolers are just big kids. And now, well, I am changed.

Listen, don’t get me wrong, I recognize that there are many differences between a kindergartner and a senior in high school, but also, there are a lot of similarities. While kindergartners are adorable, with their toothless grins and their round, big eyes (evolutionary trait for us to love them), teenagers lack those adorable quantities. Teenagers are starting to look like adults, and adults suck. We all know this. So it’s difficult to remember that teenagers are still kids. Especially when they do dumb stuff. It’s been a running joke in our house to make fun of teenagers, as of late. No offense to my teenagers (you know who you are, and we love you!) but when Jackson, for example, first learned that teenagers were vaping, or say, eating Tide Pods, or challenging each other to eat spoonfuls of cinnamon, he just shook his head and said, “Mommy, teenagers are dumb.” And yes, he is right, teenagers are dumb (most of them) but that is how it is supposed to be. And we’ve all been there, and I think this is where a little compassion goes a long way.

What is your damn point here, Missy? I think my point is that as children (especially kids that are not our own, or not from our family) grow up, we start, in my opinion somewhere around middle school, to not trust them. To think they are dumb, or weird, or mean, or bad, or not worthy of a hug, or a smile from a stranger, or help when they might need it. Some people even see teenagers as “the devil” (case in point, Greta the Climate Girl, or the kids who are standing up against gun violence versus Republicans). The thing is teenagers, specifically high schoolers, are a lot more awesome than we give them credit for. They are smart, and resilient. They are living in a time when they are nervous about going to school EVERY SINGLE DAY, because they don’t know if today will be the day someone brings a gun to school. Or a fight breaks out. Or the cops have to bring the dogs in to terrify them. Then they get on social media, they see someone like Greta who is out there making a difference, and they get inspired. Then as fast as they are inspired, they are broken down because they see how Greta and the kids like her are treated by grown, actual, adults. What the hell are we doing, y’all?

Listen, I know I am not making a lot of sense today. I am only half done with my free Starbucks Cold Brew, but I think what I am saying is, if you give high schoolers a chance, the majority of them will surprise you. They are, after all, still kids. Whether or not you believe that. A 17-year-old’s brain is still forming, still learning. He still needs to be loved like a kindergartner, and while he might not need to be supervised like one, he still needs to know that people, his parents, his teachers, his friends, his community, have his back. And no, he may not return the love in handmade cards or macaroni necklaces, but if you have raised him right, he might return the love in acts of service to you, in thoughtful gifts, in gratidude! Ahh, every high-school parents’ dream, a “Thanks, Mom, for giving me an awesome life!” accompanied by a hug.

So all I’m asking today is that you take a moment to realize that kids are good. Kids are smart. Kids are resilient. But also, kids need guidance. Kids need to be trusted. They need to know that they have support, even from strangers. And by kids I’m specifically talking about the bigger of them, because we often overlook them.

Much love to my teenage friends! Y’all are awesome. And I love you.

M.

On Becoming a Woman

One of my best friends did something really cool recently. Which really shouldn’t surprise you all that much because I have really cool friends, who do really cool things, but this one really knocked it out of the proverbial park. So my friend’s daughter was recently inducted into the Sisterhood. Yes, that Sisterhood, you know the one I mean, the one most little, middle school girls get inducted into eventually. It wasn’t that all shocking to my friend and her daughter that it happened, but still when it happens, it’s always a surprise. My friend had prepared her daughter, as one does I assume. Listen, I have a son, and I’m not going to even pretend to know how to handle something like that, but if I had a daughter I’d want to do what my friend did.

My friend sent an email to her closest friends (all women) and told them the news. Then she asked them for any advice they might have for her daughter. She wanted to inundate her daughter with goodness, and calm, and love. She wanted the sisterhood to share from its collective experiences. And I was amazed and awe-inspired by my friend and what she did. How cool of a mom she is to do something like that for her daughter. How lucky her daughter is. And if I’m being honest, I was super jealous.

Here’s what I got on the day before my 11th birthday when I woke up to stained sheets: “Oh no!” Yeah. That’s for sure what my mom, then my sisters, then my friends all said to me: “Oh no!” Or something like that. Then I got a very brief, very messy introduction to how maxi pads work (never tampons because my mom was convinced I’d die of I used them) and I was sent on about my day. That was it. Someone may have mumbled something about, “Becoming a woman” but certainly didn’t elaborate, which meant I spent years thinking that becoming a woman meant screaming at people once a month to “get the hell away from me I don’t want to talk to you!”

So that “Oh no!” followed me all through my life. Every. Single. Month. Oh no! I eventually taught myself how to use tampons, learned my own anatomy from a book, and asked enough of my friends what the signs of my period looked like, but still for the next 28 years of my life every month (save the months I was pregnant) I had a sinking Oh no! feeling. And I really wish that wasn’t the case.

So I started thinking, after being an honored recipient of this email from my friend, what sort of wisdom I could impart on her daughter. And I realized that I probably didn’t have any more wisdom than her obviously cool mom has, but that I did have a lot of feelings about this transition. Feelings that I have been hauling around with me for a long time. Things that I wish an adult woman would have shared with me when I was younger. So I decided to tell Little Missy all the stuff I wanted her to know. What follows might not be “wisdom” or even helpful, but it’s what I wish I had known way sooner than when I figured it out.

Dear Little Missy,

You are amazing! Like for actual real. Amazing. The limits to which your body will be pushed is astounding. Men could never handle what we go through. They just aren’t emotionally and mentally as strong as we are. Always remember that. Weaker sex? I don’t even know how that’s a thing. I mean sure their muscles might get bigger allowing them to lift heavy objects, but uh, lifting heavy objects isn’t gonna be as big a deal in your life as they say it will. It’s like stop, drop, and roll, or 9th grade algebra. Turns out you don’t need to worry all that much about it. I’m not bashing men here, just stating facts. And here are some more facts for you.

— It’s important to always have chocolate on hand. Like, always.

— Periods are erratic at first. It’s nothing you are doing wrong, it’s just your body trying to figure it out.

—Speaking of erratic, let’s talk about your mood. Girl, there are gonna be some rough days. Like, some days you may want to hide in your room all day, but chances are you won’t be able to because of school, or work, or practice, or family obligations, or because your gerbil died and you really need to get him out of that cage and buried in the backyard before he starts to smell. What the actual hell is wrong with you, Missy? How long has that gerbil been dead? Listen, the point is that you will have to push through. And you will push through. And this will be the beginning of a lot of bullshit you will have to “just push through” in your life. Welcome to being a woman!

— Middle school girls are weird. They sometimes have dead gerbils, okay. And sometimes they don’t like to shower. And sometimes they forget to brush their teeth or to put deodorant on. But you gotta try harder, Missy. You don’t want to be that “stinky” girl. Especially now, when once a month your underwear looks like a murder scene.

— So that’s another thing. You are trying to navigate this weird middle school world and this even weirder you are “becoming a woman” world and the two worlds are itchy and they don’t mash up well together. Please know that EVERY SINGLE OTHER MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL is going through this EXACT same thing. You are not alone! Well, maybe you are alone with the dead gerbil thing, but the rest of the stuff you are not alone with. Some girls however, are like really good at pretending that they aren’t bothered by any of this. Some girls have mom’s who are actually, for real, models, or actresses, or just women who know how to contour their make-up. But even so, those girls are still going through exactly what you are going through. So be nice, but you know, take no shit.

— There are bound to be accidents. You will totally and completely bleed through your maxi pad in 6th grade science class on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Always keep a sweatshirt in your book bag for this very instance. There is no shame in tying that thing around your waist until you can get home and change your clothes. And shower. Remember, ahem, what we said about showering.

— I know, I know, you have no desire to have children. Today. But one day you might. So stop looking at this as a negative and start looking at it as a positive. This is the magic you were born with. This is what allows you to create an actual human being inside of you. You do that, girl! And trust me, joining the sisterhood may seem rough, but it is nothing compared to joining the ranks of motherhood. You are going through all this bullshit now to prepare you for the real shit later. Believe me, you will thank your body, over and over again. One day. Today though, it might be easier to lock yourself in your bathroom with a king size Twix bar and cry because you weren’t born a boy. But one day, one day you will be proud. It just takes time.

— Be kind to yourself. It’s so easy for you to be kind and nice to other people, especially other girls because you know they are going through the same thing, but you need to learn to be kind to yourself too. Some of those other girls will not reciprocate that kindness. Some of them will tease you because your belly is round, and your legs aren’t smooth, and you don’t know how to apply eye liner. But trust me, they don’t matter. The people who truly matter to you come when you are in the pits. When you are thumbing your way through your chemistry textbook for the fifth time and you still can’t figure any of it out, and you lock eyes with that cool, goth girl across the library and she gives you the, “What is this stuff even?” look and the next thing you know you are both under a table, eating Cheese-Its, talking about how much you don’t know. That’s when the real friendships form. In the meantime, you have to learn to like you. To treat yourself right. To love all your parts. Even the gross ones. The smelly armpits, and the bleeding vagina. The crooked toenails and the innie belly button. Just be nice to yourself, okay?

— Your body is not betraying you! Man, it feels like it doens’t it. It’s like the first time you run into your favorite park after school and suddenly you don’t fit into the little hole that starts the tunnel slide. You are dumbfounded. Didn’t your mom just bring you to this park like three months ago? Didn’t you used to run across that rope bridge without feeling unsteady on your feet? Oh your feet! They are huge now! And these boobs, what are they even?! Why did they have to pop up? I know this all feels so uncomfortable, but it won’t for much longer. You know when you are on a car trip, and it’s really long, and you keep checking your iPad to see if the hours are going by and the hours are just not going by and you honestly think you will burst if you don’t get to the dang beach already! It feels like that I know. This weird in-between space. But trust me. You’re gonna get to the beach one day. And you’re gonna rock a slimming, appropriate, one-piece swimsuit. 🙂

— Swimming. The beach. Pool parties and sleepovers. Vacations. Graduations. Your birthday. Special occasions. These days will all happen and the calendar Gods will not line up your special occasions with you being period-free. Those days suck. Did you remember that we started our period on our 11th birthday? Yeah, it started out rough. Don’t let a little blood dampen your spirits! Pun intended. Bring extra underwear. Always have a tampon or a maxi pad in your purse or book bag. It’s annoying, but it will save you in the future. However, just know that if you ever forget, or if Aunt Flo ever unexpectedly comes, it is totally normal and okay to ask any woman in the vicinity if they have anything. Someone always does, and no one ever judges you for it, cause we have all been there, sister.

— Google tampons and Maxi pads (know the chemical they use in them), Diva cups, that super, cool new underwear that you don’t even need to wear anything with! Learn about all of it, try them all. Try different brands and different “fits,” don’t get stuck with the same old mentality. Times changes, be willing to learn about your body and what works best for you. Don’t just use your mom’s same old brands. Branch out!

Okay, wow, I know I have said a lot here, and I have more to say. Many women do, if you just ask them. Never be ashamed or afraid to ask them! We will talk for hours about things. Not all women, but the really cool, nice ones will. And you never know unless you ask.

So I will leave you with this: There is no right way to be in your shoes. There is also bound to be uncomfortable days. They will happen. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are. How many Google searches you’ve read. How many times you have planned or packed, or re-packed, you will have surprises and hiccups along the way. But as long as you keep to your own truth, as long as you always strive to be the kindest, most badass version of yourself you can be, as long as you remember that what other people think of you is none of your business, well then, girl, you will be better off than a lot of us.

Oh, and remember what I said about the chocolate.

Welcome to the sisterhood. We are happy to have you.

Sending hugs and love. ❤

M.

429 Delaware Street

On the corner of Delaware and Fifth Streets in my hometown sits an old, red brick building. The Leavenworth Historical Society calls this building an example of “early 20th Century Revival and Colonial Revival design,” built at the turn of the 20th century. The locals just call it “The Corner Pharmacy.” My mom and I would go down to The Corner Pharmacy when I was a kid, on Saturday afternoons if she had a little change in her pocket, for a grilled cheese sandwich—and if we were lucky—a milkshake to boot. Sometimes we’d stop in for a late breakfast after particularly early basketball games at Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The grill was always piping hot on those Saturdays, with what seemed like a hundred fried egg sandwiches lined up in a row. The Corner Pharmacy was a pharmacy, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the last true relics of small-town prairie life, in a Kansas town that was quickly learning that if it was going to stay relevant, some things would need to change.

If you ask anyone born and raised in Leavenworth they can tell you countless stories about The Corner Pharmacy. The friendly Pharmacist, old whats-his-name, his wife, and teenage son. It was all very Olive Kitteridge from the outside. At some point he’d opened up the diner on the east side of the building and started flipping those fried egg sandwiches for waiting customers. They can tell you, some in painstaking detail, about the black pier frames, and single bay windows extending above the parapet, the wide entablature and decorative cornice, but if you ask what was above The Corner Pharmacy, who sat behind those old bay windows, they might not know. But I do.

In the spring of 1987, I was just finishing up my first year of kindergarten. I had a pretty good handle on my numbers, all the way up past 100. You can ask my mom, I recited them to her ad nauseam while she cleaned the floors, or dusted the wooden window sills, or mowed the yard with the old green push mower. I would walk behind her, believing she could hear me, believing she wanted to hear me, and recite all I had learned. I could count by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Lady’s choice. I was proud. I stuck my chest out, though it still didn’t poke out further than my round belly. I could read. I could write. I was even doing math, a fact that amazed my mother who often said math was her worst subject.

That spring, however, my mother was given an opportunity to finish something she had given up on a long time before, her high school education. On the second floor of 429 Delaware, directly over The Corner Pharmacy, a class was being assembled. A GED class. One for women and men. For those who received assistance from the state, from the government. For people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their children. And my mom nervoulsy signed up.

I don’t know the logistics of the class. I don’t remember who taught it, or how many times we had to go downtown to the stuffy, carpeted room above The Corner Pharmacy, but I do remember my mother’s scowled face, as she sat on a metal chair, next to another woman, and did math calculations that made no sense to me. I remember sitting under the plastic and metal folding tables, while she worked out the equations, often thrusting her hands below the table to count on her fingers, while the teacher reminded her to try to do “mental math.” I’d count my numbers in my head every time the teacher said that. Hoping to send some of those important numbers telepathically to my mom.

Of course, my mom wasn’t doing kindergarten math. She was doing high school algebra, which if I am being honest, might as well been a foreign language to her, and years later to me. But in that hot room, with a laundry basket of used toys to keep me occupied, and those big bay windows to peer out of, I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that every time my mother got frustrated, every time she closed the book in aggravation, every time she told the teacher she just couldn’t do it, someone, either the teacher or some other student in the room, would assure her that she could.

Some days I couldn’t stand to watch her make her way through her workbook, so I would sit in those bay windows and watch the traffic below. I would wonder what a “GED” was, whether or not I would have to take the same test, whether or not I would be good at math. I would keep quiet, hold my bladder the whole time, and never interrupt my mother. I may not have understood what was happening, or the gravity of the situation. The way that this had the potential to change my mother’s life. Our lives. But I knew it was important to her, even if I didn’t know or couldn’t remember why. The only thing I do remember, with great certainty, is the day the brown envelope came in the mail. The way she opened it up, smiled down at that piece of paper, said she had done it, she had passed her test, then promptly hid the certificate in her top drawer. Never to be discussed again.

My mom made a decision that day in the spring of 1987, and while all that hard work, those calculations, and late nights may have only amounted to a dollar more an hour at her job, it did wonders for me. It did wonders for my commitment to education, the value I know it can bring to your life. I’m a first-generation college graduate, but I am not a first-generation high school graduate, thanks in part, to the room behind the bay windows on top of The Corner Pharmacy.

M.

Creating Our Own Reality

You guys know how I love Brene Brown and gangsta rap, right? The gangsta rap isn’t important here, I just wanted to make sure you know. I’ve had this Brene Brown idea kicking around in my head for several months now, and it goes like this. Let’s say you get into a disagreement with someone. It’s based on a misunderstanding, most disagreements are based in a misunderstanding or faulty expectations. So let’s say you’re disagreeing with your partner and you start spinning out of control, like thinking of all these crazy scenarios and reasons why this person could be upset or angry with you. It happens right? Brene calls it, “The story I’m telling myself,” and it isn’t necessarily steeped in the truth of the situation, but rather our projections, our previous altercations with others, our own histories. You see? Why am I thinking about this lately, well, because I’ve decided to give up, once and for all, on a friendship that just wasn’t meant to be, because I’ve realized, finally, after nearly three years that there is no way I can help this friend. She has too many emotional and mental problems, and though I want to help people like that, I want to fix broken relationships, I just can’t give her anymore of my energy or thoughts. So instead I’m getting my truth out here today, and ridding myself of her negativity and the pain she caused me. Here’s the short version.

This friend, let’s call her “Julie,” and I were buds. Like a fast friends kinda deal. So fast, in fact, that I neglected the warning signs. Her parenting style was way different than mine, for instance. She did things like leave her kids at home alone and go to the local bar with her husband at night, which seems nuts to me. She’d complain ad nauseam about things like too much sugar at classroom parties, but she’d never actually make it to help in the classroom. She’d complain about women who had side hustles, like selling items they liked or making art. She’d make fun of women who had plastic surgery, or who kept a “clean” house. It was all very bizarre, and now that I’ve had time to think on it, it was mainly projections of her own insecurities, but there I was, believing the best in a person who I thought I really wanted to be friends with. Even though her small annoyances were actually really big judgments about people she knew nothing about. Red flags, you see?

Part of my desire to be her friend came from my child, who absolutely adored her daughter. She was also an eager person to network, and I was a shy, kinder mom who wanted friends, so again, I overlooked things. Most notably the horrible ways she would talk about our mutual friends and others we knew, especially when she drank. And she drank every single day. I don’t think there was one time I wasn’t invited to her house and asked, nay, pressured to drink. She once told a group of us that the only way their household could save money was to cut their liquor budget, and that obviously wasn’t going to happen. To say a few of us were shocked was an understatement. But this is all tertiary. The real red flags were much harder to ignore.

She once tried to convince all of us in “our crew” which was about six families at this point, that one of the other friend’s husbands was in love with her, this was after her theory that he was gay hadn’t panned out as she’d hoped. She slapped another friend’s husband across the face after she told him he didn’t know how to be a good husband, and he had in turn suggested her marriage maybe wasn’t as ideal as she thought it might be. We all laughed about it when it happened, but honestly, who does that? She often spoke badly of people based solely on their appearance, even women she said she really liked. Her husband’s friends’ wives, women we met around the community, etc. For the first two years I let this all slide, because I had a friends, and honestly, I didn’t want to rock the boat.

Then there was the whole summer where she pinned all the bad behaviors on one of the kids in the group, going as far as taking the girl aside and discussing things with her that she just shouldn’t have. In fact, that was the first time I confronted her about her behavior, explaining that maybe she should talk to the girl’s mom (one of our best friends) and not take matters into her own hands. Julie just scoffed at me in a condescending way, another habit of hers I ignored, and said as a “boy mom” I didn’t understand girl drama. And I guess she was right, because Julie was all drama, and no, I did not understand her.

The more that summer went on, the more horrible things she said about our close friends (including one that had just had a baby), the more I started to stick up for them. Started to decline offers to go sit on her porch and listen to her make fun of her neighbors, who were also her friends, while she told me very secret secrets about their family, most likely told to Julie in confidence. Am I painting a picture here now? This is not a normal, nice, woman. And she doesn’t even come across as one, it’s honestly more of a go with your gut thing, and I just totally blew my gut off to have friends. (Side note: I was in a bad place when I met her. In the middle of fighting infertility, having moved across the country, my baby starting kindergarten, I just wasn’t myself and the idea of a close knit circle of friends who I could trust was comforting. Still is. I just didn’t realize I already have them and that not all of these women were who they said they were.)

Anyway. our relationship came to a breaking point later that same summer. A mutual friend had an empty beach house for a week and suggested we take it. I half-heartedly asked Julie if her family would like to come along, assuming she’d say no as the strain in our relationship was apparent by then, but she said sure. She begged her husband to take time off work and come, since mine was, and when he couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, she was upset. But we all went to the beach anyway.

This is where things get complicated. And I’ve spent a lot of time, too much really, replaying it all in my mind and this is all I can come up with. You know when you’re truly unhappy, say in your marriage, and you spend a lot of time with a married couple who are truly happy, and it makes you sad and a little jealous? There was some of that. One night, as Jerimiah and I were debating taking the kids to do something fun, apparently we had discussed it enough, and she promptly slammed a pot down and said, “Jesus, do you two have to make ALL your decisions together?” That was followed a few minutes later by a, “You seem to want to be around him a lot. Can you not do things on your own?” I took this as an insult at first, it wasn’t until afterward that I realized that it must have been difficult to see a good, equal, partnership at work. In fact, later when I told her that yes, we do talk about everything because we are a partnership, she rolled her eyes and said, “Well good for you!” This made me mad, but I should have listened more to the undertone. She was a woman hurting, I knew this because most of our girls-only outings ended in Julie crying about her marriage, about her untrustworthy husband, about how the only real satisfaction she got out of life was her job. That is some sad stuff, and honestly I should have seen it sooner, but I didn’t. And later, even after I let her berate me like usual, I still apologized. Then I felt even more dumb. Why am I apologizing for having an awesome husband and an awesome marriage? Psh. Get it together, Missy. You can’t fix others’ problems.

So the long of it is that we got into a good, old-fashioned argument (after several drinks) one night. She told me, in front of my husband, what a shitty dad and husband she thought he was (projection) and she even made a comment about my nephew who was living with us at the time. She said she couldn’t believe I was okay with him smoking weed (not at our house, but just in general) and she said because of that her husband (the one who secretly smokes weed in his shed—no shit, I had to hide his pipe from him at my house for a year and she’d routinely call to check and make sure I hadn’t given it to him. Talk about trust issues…) didn’t like my nephew. I was quite taken aback, as you can imagine, so I said (out of anger, mind you), “Well I’m sure if they’d just smoke a bowl together your husband would like him a lot more.” As you might imagine that sent her off the deep end.

When we finally called it a night, I assumed we’d wake up the next morning, and hash it all our sober, so I profoundly apologized about that one mean thing I said about her husband (the rest of the argument was really just her yelling at me about how I let people take advantage of me… uhh, hello, that’s what I’d let her do for years by then). And just before she walked into her room she turned to Jerimiah and me and said, “I’m sorry too, that I called Jerimiah all those horrible things and said he was a bad husband and father.” I smiled. I understood. Then she added, “I mean, I think it, and I believe it, but you know I shouldn’t have said it out loud.” Then she went to bed, woke her kids up before the crack of dawn the next day, and left like a coward, refusing to ever talk to me in person again.

Over the course of the next few months I sent lengthy texts to her. I wrote her letters and shoved them in her mailbox. I FB messaged her, I emailed her, I did all I could to try to sit with her, to replay the night, to figure out where I went wrong. And in the two years since I’ve sent at least three forms of communication telling her hello, and hoping she is happy and healthy and that her family is doing well. And I received no response, save one text where she said I was mentally unstable and she asked me to never call her again. So I blocked her number from my phone, unfriended her on social media, and tried to move on.

The hardest part was that we had these mutual friends. The ones she had bashed for years when they weren’t around. But I didn’t want to tell them that. And if I’m being honest I assumed they knew. Because if she said such horrible things about them to me, I can only imagine what she’d said about me to them. They had to know what kind of person she is, and if they didn’t they simply didn’t want to know, and either way I had one foot out the door so I wasn’t worrying about it. It did hurt quite a bit that only one of them ever asked my side of the story. Only one of them sat with me as I cried on my car outside our kids school and searched for answers on what I had done wrong. We both agreed that Julie is the kind of person who makes her own reality when things get tough. She tells herself a story so she can not feel bad about the hurtful ways she acted, the mean things she said, the trust she broke. And I get that. I know other people like that. And all I can do is hope they get the help they need, sooner rather than later.

I guess this is my way of clearing the air. It’s better for her to make it in my blog than my book. Bahahaha. You never really wanna piss off a writer, right?! Especially one like me. The truth sets me free, y’all. It gives me power because I know that if you live in truth, in light, in open and honest communication, then you never have anything to worry about. So I’m sending my truth out into the universe today. I won’t be reaching out anymore. I won’t be awkwardly asking our mutual friends (I only have a couple left) how she’s doing. I won’t be filling my brain with that nonsense anymore. And if I’m being truly honest, Julie taught me way more than I bargained for, but still she taught me. I trust my gut more now. I wait a bit more to fully invest in a new friendships, because I know now that if you give them time, people always, always show you who they really are. You just have to be accepting to the facts. So that’s that. The friendship that is no more, that never really was. And I feel so much better!

As always, take care of yourself and each other.

M.

Update: Wow, this post has had a lot of “views,” like uhh way more than a normal one. I have a few ideas why, but I also had a lot of adult women reach out to me to share their stories of being in toxic friendships. Which means my writing is helping, and you know that’s all I truly want.

I’m so sorry ladies, if you’ve had a friend, or a spouse, or a family member like this in your life. And believe me, I understand staying for longer than you feel comfortable. You feel like you have to. You want to belong. You want to be liked. I get it, I really do. But I’m here to tell you that the relief you will feel letting this person go, forgiving them like I did this “friend,” is more important for your peace of mind, your mental health, your physical health, than any friendship could ever be. Besides, you’ll have friends that will always love you. Always stand beside you. My example above I called a “friendship,” but it wasn’t. Because real friendships don’t treat you like that, and they don’t end like that. So take stock, ladies! And live your truth. ❤

This might be helpful for some of you dealing with the same sort of people:

Do You Like Wigs and Birds?

My mom wears a wig. She wouldn’t mind me telling you that, because she tells everyone that. When we walk into a restaurant, or a store, and another woman looks at my mom and says, “Oh I love your hair!” she immediately says, “Oh, it’s a wig.” Ahhhh! Stop it, I tell her later. Just say thank you and move on. But she has to say it, and I get why. It’s the same reason that I have to make a fat joke about myself whenever I am surrounded by thin women. I have to show them that I know that I am fat. I have to show them that I know that they know. We have to say it to clear the air, because we assume everyone is thinking it. It’s a thing, we all have our things. Moving on. I’ve been to three wig shops in the last three days. This is a new experience for me, and for my mom.

My mom isn’t new to wigs. She wore them when she was younger. Much younger. In her twenties and thirties. When I look back at the pictures of my mom holding me as a baby, her hair was black, and long, and always pulled up into a beehive of sorts. It was years later that I found out that wasn’t really her hair, well all of it. She wore wiglets, and wigs, and weaves, and wow!

The older I got the shorter her hair became. She stopped wearing the wigs, and decided to take care of her natural hair. But years of torture to her hair, four babies, not eating healthy, it all adds up and about ten years ago her hair started to really thin out. She fought it, and fought it, doing her weekly curling of her hair, and her semi-annual perms (that she did herself, or roped one of us kids into doing it for her). I did many of them, for many years. So much in fact that my childhood smells like hair chemicals in hot bathrooms. Oh, the headaches. Here’s a pic of my mom and sister, Belinda, in Michigan in the 70s. It was a “curler” day.

But she finally decided to go back to wigs a couple of years ago, and she asked me to take her to a wig shop in Charlotte, where I was living at the time. I Googled “Wigs Nearby” and only one popped up, so we went. It ended up being a very lovely, albeit pricey, place with many different styles and a no-nonsense kind of owner, who sort of told my mom what she was going to buy. I bought her that first (but not first)wig and we went on about our lives. She wore the heck out if, everyday, mostly all day for about a year. Then when we moved to Atlanta last year and she came to visit I took her to a “new” kind of wig shop. Think: Pink hair, blue afros, etc. It was a little unusual, and I wasn’t sure we’d find anything for her. In fact, we felt a little out of place when we first walked in, but by the time we had left she had a new red wig with blond bangs (not kidding) and she loved it! She wore it to church the first day she got home and all her friends LOVED it!

Then, because she hadn’t cared for wigs in so long, she sort of messed up her wigs. She combed them when they were wet! Gasp! She cut one of them herself. Eye roll. She even used normal hair shampoo on her synthetic wigs. Oh my! (BTW, neither of us knew this was all wrong! Haha. Remember, we are learning.)

So last week when she got here we watched some YouTube videos. We Googled, “how to wash synthetic wig hair,” we watched videos, read articles, and went to three new wig shops. And lo and behold she found herself two new wigs that look fantastic on her. And we paid half of what we did for the first one! So yeah, we are learning. Here’s a pic she wouldn’t want me to share with one of her new ones on (shh, don’t tell her):

Yeah, she’s single guys. She’s single, 75 years old, and ready to mingle. As long as you don’t mind wigs and birds. But NO “Trump fans” need apply, she isn’t having any of that nonsense.

Love you, Momma. Just wish you would have bought that long, pink one. Maybe next time.

M.

ATL Traffic

This might be an unpopular opinion, this might even anger some of you who have ever muttered, “Atlanta traffic is horrible,” but I got some truth coming atcha right now: It’s not the locals who cause the problems, it’s all y’all other people. Follow me please, but not too closely. I’ve been in the Atlanta-Metro area long enough to see some traffic patterns, which I think is the first important point. Before we moved here we had only spent a weekend in Atlanta, and most of the people who groaned when they heard we were moving here, and shook their heads and said, “Oh, the traffic!” have only ever spent maybe, I dunno, a week in the area. Most of them were just driving through. You really have to spend time in Atlanta to “get” the traffic patterns. You have to spend time and exercise patience, because Atlanta doesn’t need you to teach Atlanta how to drive, Atlanta gonna teach you how to drive.

Now before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I’m not saying there isn’t horrible traffic in Atlanta, or that it’s isn’t congested, or dangerous, or even scary at times, it is all of those things. In fact, in the INRIX 2017 Global Traffic Scoreboard Atlanta was ranked No. 8 in the race for world’s worst traffic, stuck in between London and Paris. Now mind you that is for traffic congestion only, but still, it’s not all roses, and I’m not claiming that it is. Atlanta is congested because it is populated, yes, but also because in order to get ANYWHERE in the Southeast United States, you pretty much have to travel through Atlanta. We are the convergence of many interstate highways, including our coveted/despised “Spaghetti Junction” named so because from the air it looks like someone took a bunch of spaghetti and dropped it on the ground. So yeah, we play a major role in getting to anywhere ’round here. We have: Interstates 20, 75, 85 and Georgia 400. I-285 forms a beltway around the city, but don’t even think about calling it a “beltway,” it’s colloquially knows as the “God-damned, piece of shit, Perimeter” and that’s how you know where something is. Is your doctor’s office, for instance, inside or outside the perimeter? If it’s inside, then it’s ITP (ITP! That’s for the Goldbergs fans), if it’s outside it’s OTP (OTP!). And also, if it’s inside, then bless your heart.

We also happen to be a hub for Delta, and a southern hub for Megabus, which provides service to Washington, D.C., New Orleans, New York City, Birmingham, Dallas, Nashville, and Indianapolis, among others. So yeah, people get here, and then they leave, but not before driving around a bit. And therein lies the problem.

I have noticed, from real-world Atlanta driving over the course of the last six months, that people who don’t live in Fulton Country, or Cobb County, or DeKalb County just make things worse. And I have boiled it down to three very distinct reasons. 1. They lack speed and 2. They lack confidence. 3. They are not observant.

The first one is self-explanatory. The 70 mph speed limit is more of a suggestion in Atlanta. In fact, if you are ever going less than 70 miles an hour, you are either on a Megabus, an out-of-towner, or in some type of congestion. That’s it. Otherwise you’re cruising along about 85 and slamming on your breaks when you need to. Case closed. Get new brake pads before you come.

The second one takes a bit more explaining. When I say confidence in driving I mean it in every sense of the word. You have to be confident about where you are going, but also confident that if you happen to get forced into an exit that you didn’t mean to take, you have to confidently take it and find an alternative route. Which is really easy because there are like 17 different ways to get to the same place here. Just keep driving and let your GPS reroute. Simple as that.

I also mean confident in your driving abilities and your decision-making. Look it, if you see that open spot in the lane next to you and you think, hmm, I should maybe, well should I get over, I mean my exit is in two miles and… too late! Someone already took your spot. See what I mean? Make the decision, then do it. Be confident. No need to stick a blinker on, just go fast into that spot, beat that Cadillac Escalade, don’t worry your VW has the power. Unless it doesn’t, then please rent a car that does before you get on the highway.

What happens, more often than not, is that tourists and passer-throughs, cause accidents and delays. They think, for example, that just because they are cruising along at 75 mph at mile marker 53, that they will still be cruising at that speed at mile marker 54, when in reality, no. You never go that fast for that long. There’s always a break check up ahead. Which leads me to No. 3.

Let’s say you’re still thinking about that open spot. No one has taken it yet, and you’re gathering up the courage, but still you’re driving along in the middle lane, minding your own business. You look over one more time and see that it is still open, so you decide to move. You put your blinker on to let the other drivers know you are coming over, then you start to go over, but oh no! You’ve taken too long and someone jumped over a moment before you did. Luckily, you were being observant and saw them. They didn’t indicate, so you had know way of knowing what was coming. See what I mean? What is wrong with these people? You think to yourself, as you try to get back to your original spot, but just then the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you see nothing but break lights ahead so you slam on your breaks, mid lane, which prevents you from both hitting the car in front of you, and being hit by the car behind you which had run up very fast to take your original spot. Good on your for being observant!

See, it doens’t take long to “get” Atlanta traffic, just a bit of trial and error, moving at a much higher rate of speed than you are comfortable with, having a sixth-sense about what other drivers might do, and not wasting time with actually thinking about your next move, just doing it!

Hmm, maybe Atlanta drivers are the problem…? Naaaaah!

Come on down, y’all, we’d love to have you! But maybe fly and we’ll just pick you up at the airport. About the airport… Nah, that’s another post.

M.

This is Not a Fetus

I know a very lovely woman who is sweet and compassionate and well-educated. She loves her children and she loves Jesus, and although her and I do not agree on some things politically, we can still be sociable. She is wonderful to talk to. Her kids are sweet, and she has a knack for always saying something nice, just the thing you need to hear, when you see her. She is still accepting of my f-bombs on social media, meaning she still hasn’t blocked me or hidden me like some of my “friends” and family members (I see y’all. I see you. Please just delete me!) But there is one thing that we are very, very far apart on, and that is the topic of abortion.

To be fair, I have never had a conversation on the topic with her. I just know, from social media, that she is anti-abortion. She knows, I assume, that I am pro-choice. And both of us just take the higher road, which is something I wish I could say for a lot more people. But alas, life isn’t so much about open discussions anymore, as much as it is about “being right,” and that is sad and a bit scary.

Having said all of this, I have to share a picture that I came across the other day from her newsfeed. She was explaining that her church, or a local church maybe not hers, made a mobile clinic to go to the rural areas in the counties near them and do ultrasounds, and pregnancy tests, and discuss options with women. And honestly, I support that. I know there are a ton of woman, a lot of them young, a lot of them scared. A lot of them in need of some kind of support, and this might be the key to helping them. Some might just stop in to get a free pregnancy test and a hug, some might just to see their baby on the screen. Some might still go to a local abortion clinic, some might choose “the word of God” like they promise. Either way, it seems it is one more thing that is helping women who might need it. It is a group taking action. And there is an awful lot of talk and no action these days. But they have done something that angers me so much when it comes to anti-abortion propaganda. They have misrepresented a fetus.

Now am I more offended by this because I had a baby who was not anatomically correct? Probably. My daughter was born with half a heart, half a brain, a severe cleft palate rendering her unable to eat, and her intestines formed outside of her body. So yeah, this is a touchy subject for me. But, this is something that anti-abortion people do to make women feel bad for even considering abortion. And they wonder why people react like I do when I talk to them. Let me share the picture.

These are not actual representations of a fetus, and we have to stop pretending like they are. You see that 12-week embryo/fetus there? That is not what your 12-week-old gestational baby looks like, because there is no such thing as a 12-week-old gestational baby. See that 16-week-old “baby,” that is not an accurate depiction of a 16-week-old gestational “baby.” That is not what your 22-week-old baby looks like. Ask me how I know what a 22-week-old fetus looks like…

I understand wanting to get women thinking about embryos and fetuses like babies, but give us some credit here, y’all. Give us some damn credit. And we will try to give y’all a little bit of grace. I know you think you’re doing God’s work here. But so do we. The difference is, we aren’t being deceptive.

I don’t know what I am suggesting, other than to get rid of these damn dolls and speak truth. Real medical science. Listen to the women. Don’t just push your agenda. And remember, remember above all else, no one is keeping score here. You don’t get extra points for “saving a baby,” but imagine how satisfying it could be to save the life of a teen girl who got herself into a really bad situation and you are her only hope out.

Think. Love. Act. But most importantly love, regardless of anything.

M.

Representation Matters

I had a necessary and slightly concerning conversation with some other parents at Jackson’s school the other day that revolved around a picture that is on a website from the fundraiser that we are doing right now. This is the picture:

It’s cute, right? What sparked the conversation was one of the other mommies telling me she wished we would have made it to Midvale sooner because we have been such a blessing to them and Jackson is such a great kid. I thanked her and agreed. I told her this was the best elementary school we have ever been in, and that we have been in three of them.

The first one, I told them, was also great, on paper. It was not a Title One school, which is very important to some people. Like, very important. Like one of my old friends, upon asking why her daughter went to our kid’s school (at the time) when she lived just as close to another one, rolled her eyes at me and she said (in a voice just above a whisper, even though no one was around,) “That’s a Title One school,” and gave me a knowing smile. I didn’t have the heart, or maybe the nerve, to tell my “sweet” friend that I was raised in a Title One school. That I am a product of poverty. That I got free lunch. Of course, this is the same woman who said she wouldn’t send her dog to the Charter school that was in our town, even though she knows people who work there, kids who go to school there. And I’m guessing I know some of her reasoning. PS… She’s a teacher. #EekFace

Our kids at that time, my son and her daughter, were in kindergarten together in a school that was, in the state of North Carolina, an A-rated school, sometimes an A+. The problem wasn’t so much that it had a 3% free or reduced lunch population (which we were a part of, unbeknownst to my friend I’m sure), it wasn’t even that I could count the number of “diverse kids” as she referred to them, it was that the school itself didn’t reflect real life. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the school. I met some amazing people there. Of course I also met some people who turned out to be some real assholes, but most of them were pretty cool. And I’m still friends with some of them. And I still think they are doing what is best for their kids, given where they live.

Let me quickly address the free lunch thing, since I sorta just snuck that in on you. We were on the free or reduced lunch program in kindergarten because at the time that school started we had just moved to NC, and Jerimiah didn’t have a job yet. We were still living off our savings while he looked for work, so the school district automatically qualified us for the program, and we took advantage of it for a few months, until Jerimiah found a great job, and Jackson started to bring his own lunch to school. But still, it impacted the “numbers” for the school, and still the people who were privy to this probably looked at us differently. Most likely. This may be shocking to some of you who knew us back then, especially because people always assumed that we moved to NC because of work. But no. We moved to NC to find better work. We knew we couldn’t stay in Southern Missouri. We also didn’t know that the town we were moving into was basically more of the same, just with more money. I never told people that because I was ashamed of it. But truth be told, we were kinda bad-ass for doing it. For selling off most of our things, for taking a BIG chance. And we have been reaping the rewards ever since. But, again, that sorta behavior scares people. And you can’t make friends easily with that origin story.

Again the school we were at for kindergarten through half of third grade was great. The real problem was just that 90% of the kids were little white kids with the same socio-economic status. And as some of you might know, some of you who have left your bubble, moved away from the places you were born and raised (unlike my sweet friend mentioned above) this is not reflective of real life. As I told this story to my new friends one of them actually gasped, a white woman, and said that was her worst nightmare for her kid. To go to school with people who looked just like her. I agreed. Explained that it was a driving force for us to move into “the city” and enroll Jackson into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, even with its many problems, it was much more reflective of real life. Then I brought up this picture.

Again, it’s cute. But, after what I just said, can you see the problem? You might hear a lot of people talk about representation nowadays. And if you are white, you may not pay much mind to that talk, well because, you are represented. Everywhere. But this pic concerned me in a lot of ways.

First off, this is the pic that all the kids and parents see when they first log into the site. So if you are a little Black girl (which we have a lot of at our school) then you see a scene that is not reflective of your life. If you are an Asian boy (which we have a lot of at our school) you are not seeing yourself represented very well either. And so on and so forth.

This might be a good time to add that the county that we live in, DeKalb County, Georgia, is the second most affluent county IN THE COUNTRY, with a predominantly Black population. Let me break that down for you. Most of the money, coming in and out of our county, is from affluent Black families. We are minorities here. Jackson is a minority in his school. Both in sex and race. This is our life. Our community. And it is good. Really good.

Back to the picture. Did you notice all the white kids are on one side, while all the “other” kids are on the other side. See that? See the token Black girl? And the Asian boy? See the two kids that could “pass” for Latino? It’s a bit odd. And maybe I’m reading too far into it, one tends to do that when they have been enlightened to white privilege, but I don’t think so. I also don’t think, or want to believe, that the company did this on purpose. I think it was more of an, Oh shit, we need some “diverse” kids in this pic too! And then they hurried up and made sure they had “one of each.” That’s how I think it went down. Either way. Bleh.

I think I’m just noticing things like this more because I am more aware of the world that we live in. The world advertisers create. The world the white-males make for us, and I’m starting to call a spade a spade, if you will. Like my sweet old friend, who still has others fooled, but I’ve seen her true side. Her “Christian” side, and it ain’t pretty. But more about her in another post.

So that’s what’s been kicking around in my noggin today. Representation. The importance of being around people who do not act like or look like or live like you. The importance of cutting through bullshit and getting down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be said. So here I am, saying it. Like always.

This weekend, try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Eat at a new place, try a new store on the “other” side of town. Start a conversation with that one Black man that lives in your town. I dunno. Try something. Be present. Show up for others. You won’t regret it.

M.

Just the Boys

Jackson is headed to his first fifth grade field trip today. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but this is the first field trip that I have not been invited to chaperone, like, uhh, ever. In fact, there were no parents invited to chaperone this one because this one is to the Fernbank Science Center. And this one is Just for Boys. And this one is chaperoned by Mr. Budd, and Mr. Board, and Mr. Hammonds. And this one came with an accompanying vocabulary list, words like:

Penis

Acne

Vagina

Semen

Yeah. That is this field trip. And I gotta say, I am glad I am not there.

It’s not that Jackson doesn’t already know these words. We are always a little ahead of the game. You don’t get a kindergartner with a third grade reading level if you aren’t. Likewise, we didn’t want the kid that says “balls” for “scrotum” and giggles a little. We want a kid that knows to never use the word “pussy” in any context. Like any of them. Yeah, even cats. Cats are called cats. That is to say we are raising a man with a respectable mouth. Sure he might yell, “What the hell?!” when a car cuts me off, but that’s learned behavior and I’m okay with that. But if my son ever referred to his penis as his “dong,” I’d probably lose my shit.

Our son is, naturally, a bit nervous about today’s trip. He said, and I quote, “I’m just gonna keep my head down and my mouth quiet.” And I believe him. Though I encouraged him to listen attentively, to not giggle when the other boys do, and to try to keep his head up. This is all valuable information. Then I warned him that I want to know EVERYTHING that happened, so he should try to take copious amounts of notes. He rolled his eyes.

I have a fifth grade boy on the brink of puberty. That is amazing. And scary as hell. I have this smart, funny, honest child who is just a bit shy about saying the word “vagina,” but will say it when it is appropriate, because he knows better. He also knows the term, “Sexual Intercourse,” probably much to his grandma’s chagrin. He knows about “consent,” and he knows about birth control. His birth control. His responsibilities. It seems a bit early to bog him down with the wonders of “the pill,” though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I hope there is a male version before he is of age.

I guess I am telling you all this today because I am nervous. I hope he behaves. I hope he represents. I hope he learns. I hope he lets his guard down just a bit. I secretly hope he does giggle a little bit to himself. Or turns red in the face. Or makes eye contact with his best bud Lucus, and they both make that face. I hope this is just another step in teaching my child to be the best version of himself he can be. And I hope one day he will know how much I worry, but push through anyway.

Teach those babies right, y’all. Have the tough conversations. Because if you don’t they will have them with people they shouldn’t. It is inevitable.

M.

I Want to Ride it Where I Like

Jackson and I have been riding bikes to school and back home the past few days. Prior to this Jerimiah was dropping him off every morning, and I was walking to get him every afternoon. That meant that Jackson was walking one mile a day, and I was walking two. But this week Jackson wanted to ride his bike to school. But a mile is far, and you have to cross a five lane road to get to his school, and let’s be real—I am too anxious to let him ride alone—which means I have to ride with him. So how is that going?! Great. Fine. Awesome. No, but really.

It would seem weird for someone like me to go from no activity to bike riding two miles a day, but really, it wasn’t a bad transition from the walking. I already had the bike, I bought us all new bikes last year after we rented beach cruisers at the beach and I was all, Oh my gosh, this is awesome, why did we ever stop biking when we grew up?! Quick answer: It’s hard. And people judge you.

People really do judge you. I mean, the people in the cars don’t want you on the road, and the people on the sidewalks don’t want you on the sidewalk. People don’t want you going past their driveway, they give looks, and people don’t want you riding on the shoulder of the road or in a lane like a car. In the state of Georgia, if you are over the age of 16 and on a bike, you are supposed to treat it like a “vehicle.” They understand it is not a “motor vehicle,” but they still consider it a “vehicle,” which means you are supposed to ride it on the street. Why do I know this? I Googled it, after I realized that I only see real bike riders (you know who I mean the people on teams who compete and have racing bikes with those funny little suits and make motions with their hands) I see them on the streets all the time, not the sidewalks, because well, sidewalks are for walking. I get that. But, if you are under 16, you are supposed to ride your bike on the sidewalk. This is all new information to me because I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a kid!

So do you see my dilemma? Probably not, because I haven’t laid it out very well. I want to make sure I am on the sidewalk with my son when he rides his bike, but riding my bike on the sidewalk is technically “illegal.” So I ride behind him on the sidewalk, we get off our bikes at the crosswalk and walk them across, and when I am riding alone on the way home after I drop him off, I ride in the street like I am supposed to. Well, I did. Once.

The cars were not nice. Like, not nice at all. Most of them just zipped past me like I wasn’t even there, with no thought to how close they were to me or how fast they were going. They split lanes, they didn’t get over when they clearly could have. I don’t know what the rules are, but when I see a bike rider on the street I get over if I can, and/or give them plenty of room and slow down. Not these people. I am seriously surprised I didn’t cause an accident, and the whole time I just kept thinking, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do! Maybe it’s because this is Atlanta, but riding my bike on the road did not feel safe.

So I ride on the sidewalk now, but I get mad looks from people in the cars and on the sidewalk, even though I know I am not supposed to be on the sidewalk with wheels, so I stop when a walker or runner is coming and I get off my bike and wait for them to pass. Do I want to do that? No, I lose my momentum and believe me, my fat-ass needs my momentum, but I think it is the right thing to do. Ahhhhh! I just want to ride my bicycle where I want. Thanks, Queen.

Anyway, I have no real reason to be writing this but to complain. Maybe you have suggestions. I’m just going to keep on keeping on as long as Jackson wants to ride, and I guess the cops can pull me over on my bike. Lord knows they can catch me.

As a reward for reading my rant here are some pics of a new pair of bikers. I asked him if we could get leather vests made with our nicknames on them, and he said, “We aren’t those kind of bikers, Mommy.” And I told him we were, in our souls we were… #SonsOfAnarchy4Lyfe

M.

Color Doesn’t Matter

I’m gonna stop you right there. Color does matter, and if you are one of these people walking around saying it doesn’t then you are not paying a lot of attention. Color matters. It matters so much in fact, that for us to brush it aside is actually, literally, killing people. Listen, I’m not stupid enough to think that just because you have uttered the phrase, “Color doesn’t matter” that you are a raging racist. I too have said this phrase in my life. I said it to my son when he was a little guy, trying to explain to him that it doesn’t matter that the kids on either side of him are different shades of brown (not that he cared, or even paid attention), but I said it to make myself feel better, to show that I was hip to this idea. I was, in my own way, trying to dumb something very complex, down, way down to my child, and possibly to myself. But I do not say that to my son anymore. In fact, he will be 11 years old next month and he is very aware now that color matters. It matters in everything we do.

Color mattering is what founded this country. If you were white, awesome! Welcome to this new land! If you were a Native American and already lived here, move over, walk 400 miles from your native Navaho Holy Land because we have better ways to make use of it. If you are black, no problem. You can be brought here, against your will, to be our slaves. Chinese? Want to build our railroads? You are smart, hard workers. Yeah, but you can only do that. See the trend here?

Our history is rife with color mattering, so when you tell your children that color doesn’t matter, you raise the very people that are part of the problem today. The white man who just doesn’t get why the Mexican-American man next to him is asking for a pay raise. You either think he makes the same as you already (but he does not, because color matters) or you think he doesn’t deserve more than you, after all, you are the white man. You don’t get why black people are scared of the police. You don’t believe there is such a thing as “white privilege” because to you, color doesn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t. And no it shouldn’t. But it does. And if we keep pretending that it doesn’t, then it always will.

So the next time you hear someone say, “Color doesn’t really matter. I don’t know why they are making such a fuss,” and you don’t step in, and you don’t explain to them why color does matter, well then, you’re just part of the problem. It’s time to take a stand, for everyone.

M.

Westview Cemetary

We’re fans of cemeteries. Maybe that’s odd, probably that’s odd, but we don’t mind being odd. We enjoy strolling through the grassy slopes, reading the names, honoring the deceased. We all have our thing. Jackson likes to look for the “cool” statues and the “cool” people buried there, he’s also always on the hunt for a ghost wandering the grounds (he’s read too much Harry Potter and is expecting a Nearly-Headless Nick). Jerimiah and I like the architecture. We like the mausoleums and the crypts. I secretly like to wonder about the people buried in them. I read a name and envision their story, their life, that’s the writer in me. I wonder about the people who still come to visit their lost loves, that’s the empath in me. Or maybe it’s the romantic in me. Either way, I hope people come to visit their lost loves.

We’ve visited a couple of really unique cemeteries in the last few years. We were accidentally locked in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va for a few minutes, when we stopped for the scenic views and to pay our respects to Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. Luckily the man closing the gates came back.

At Arlington we talked with Jackson about generals and presidents. About politicians and war heroes. We stood at the Eternal Flame and let him take it all in, even though we know it is way above his head. For now.

We visited St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans this summer. We walked along the catacombs, and admired the restorations. We met some locals who told us how tourists tend to disrespect their hallowed grounds. We apologized on behalf of those people, though there is no way to make amends.

Life has settled back into a routine around here over the last couple of weeks, so we have finally started to explore our new-to-us city, Atlanta. So it should be no surprise a cemetery was on our list of places to see. This time it was Westview Cemetery.

Westview is the largest cemetery in the southeast United States and it’s about 20 minutes from our house. It is home to war heroes, confederate generals, rappers, politicians, ministers, and businessmen. The founder of Coca-Cola, Asa Candler, is buried there and Jackson was very interested in visiting his memorial. I think he was secretly hoping it was shaped like a giant bottle of Coke (spoiler: it is not).

Along with Westview being the largest cemetery in the Southeast (600 acres, over 100,000 people buried there), it also has a couple other unique characteristics. For one, the Civil War Battle of Ezra Church happened on that land in 1864. Twenty years later the cemetery was opened after Oakland Cemetery, the more famous of the two, filled up. Then there’s the four structures at the cemetery. There’s a Confederate Memorial, a Water Tower (which is often mistaken for a Civil War-era look-out tower, or the place where Rapunzel let down her hair), a Receiving Tomb (which housed excess bodies during the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918), and lastly, the stunning Westview Abby, which is home to a chapel and a mausoleum. Westview Abby was built in 1943 and houses 11,444 entombments. It is the largest structure of its kind ever built under one roof, and it is a sight to behold.

The day we wandered into the cemetery a storm was just about to blow through Atlanta. In fact, it started right as we were leaving and it ended up being quite a storm, sending lightening down in many spots. Several people were injured at the PGA Tour Championship just a few miles down the road, when a tree was struck by lightening, and some lost power in their homes for a better part of the day. But it didn’t rain while we were there, which means I was able to snap some pictures, and I’m sharing them here with you today. If you ever get the chance to visit Atlanta, make sure to stop by and pay your respects. And if cemeteries are not your thing, that’s okay. But remember, you might end up in one someday, so maybe start checking them out. 🙂

M.

Throughout the mausoleum there are several stained glass panels depicting Jesus Christ’s life from nativity through crucifixion and resurrection.
Explaining entombments

Keep it Positive, Y’all

Something funny has occurred on my Facebook feed. Listen, I know I talk about Facebook way too much, but it is in fact how I stay connected to most of my family members, where I share pics of Jackson, and also where I get my news, besides Jerimiah’s weird, but informative podcasts. The funny thing that happened is all my friends and family members who were/are Trump supporters no longer share Trump things. Instead, they share things like recipes, and positive quotes, and a lot of stuff about God. Then they implore all of us on FB to “keep it positive” by not sharing political stuff. Meanwhile, a year ago that is all they shared, hate-fueled, non-factual, political stuff.

So now here I am wondering: Do they still support Trump or are they FINALLY embarrassed about what they have done? I’m also thinking, nah, I won’t be just sharing positive stuff, because we don’t live in a positive world and those Trump supporters are to blame for it. So, they can keep seeing my political/sad stuff or they can unfriend me. Their choice. You don’t get to run your mouth and say mean and hurtful things, then get a pass because you had a “change of heart”. I see you. I know you. And now I know the kind of person you really are.

I’m thinking about all this today because I am wondering about the next election. I am wondering if they will feel compelled enough to not vote the same way again. They got us into this mess, they should be the ones to step up and get us out. But they won’t. We know that. It is up to us, y’all. I am positive about that. We have to keep doing what we are doing. Bringing the injustices to the forefront, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes people feel. It needs to stay fresh in their minds, in our minds, in all of our hearts. This evil that has taken over needs to be remembered come time for elections. We can’t sweep it under the rug, not now, not ever. Something has changed in our country and there is no ignoring it.

The Georgia Democratic Party came to my door yesterday. The representative was a lovely man, with a deep, deep desire to overturn HB 481, Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act; enact which was introduced this session by the following people:

Ed Setzler, 35th district

Jodi Lott, 122nd district

Darlene Taylor, 173rd district

Josh Bonner, 72nd district

Ginny Ehrhart, 36th district

Micah Gravely, 67th district

It’s important to name the enemy of the people.

It’s also important to say that, while Atlanta Metro is a bright blue dot in a red state, the 7th district still has pockets of deep, deep racial divide. Including, but not limited to, the town of Cumming, Ga who up until the 1990s had a sign at their town entrance warning “N-words” to stay away.

I needed this reminder. We all need this reminder. There is nastiness, racism, injustice, hate, and bigotry in our country and it comes from the top. We aren’t bottling it up. We aren’t sweeping over it with recipes and pictures of dogs playing with sticks. This is real. And the people who no longer want to face it are the people who help make it this way. So no, I won’t be “keeping it positive” to make you feel better. This is us now.

Stay strong, y’all. And remember to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

M.