Today is my favorite holiday. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t give a fuck about our independence, or how wrong (or wronged) our founding fathers were. I don’t give a fuck about our founding fathers. I don’t even like the phrase “Founding Fathers,” it reminds me of that piece of shit “Birth of a Nation” notion and it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Eww. Gross. Stop it.
Today is my favorite holiday cause I like fireworks! Ahhh! They are so pretty. And yeah, maybe they represent the casting off of bombs, and the old ways of war and rebellion, but to me they mean something much more personal. To me they mean summer nights. And summer nights don’t conjure up images of war, or bombs, or even old, white fathers who were super racist and gross. Summer means popsicles, softball, street kickball under the lamppost before my mom whistled for me to come inside. Summer reminds me of cantaloupe and sweaty baseball caps with my hair pulled up tight underneath. It reminds me of backyard camping at a friend’s house, and learning to shoot hoops in the driveway, of catching lightening bugs, and talking on the telephone very late. Summertime reminds me of my childhood, the good parts, the times when I got to feel and act like I kid. The parts where I didn’t worry about things, or people, or how this whole thing would turn out. I just worried if we’d win the game, or I’d get to stay the weekend at Lee Anne’s house, or if someone would take me to a cool fireworks show on the 4th of July. Luckily for me, someone usually did.
So happy 4th of July today, y’all. May this day of freedom and independence conjure up the best of memories for you, and remind you that although this isn’t the way we thought we’d be spending our day today, it could always be worse. At least there’s such a thing as fireworks!
Had me a blast! Summer lovin’ happened so faaaaast! You know the rest. We’ve been watching movies before bed. Sometimes we just fast asleep to “Fresh Prince” or “Bob’s Burgers,” other nights we’ve been introducing the kids to classics like “Teen Wolf” (“Is this supposed to be a comedy?”) and “Uncle Buck” (“What is wrong with that guy?”) and we’ve been talking and thinking about other movies to watch. Rachel and Madi brought their projector with them, so we are trying to decide what to watch for a fun movie, double feature outside one evening, and there is some disagreement. I say we watch “Twister” or maybe “Dirty Dancing”, while Jackson says we should just watch John Oliver, and Madi is like “What about a scary movie?” Yesterday Jackson suggested “Beetlejuice” as a compromise, hellbent that he’d never seen it before. Face to palm. He’s seen it. We watch it every Halloween along with “Hocus Pocus” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost”. This child of mine…
“Grease” came up in conversation however and everyone sort of nodded their heads up and down. “Oh yeah, ‘Grease’ that’s a good one.” Madi has watched it, but Jackson hasn’t. How have I failed him in this manner? Is it as good as I remember? I haven’t seen it in literal years. A decade or more maybe. And I’m in this weird space where I think he will like the cool cars, but does it hold up like the other movies? I’ve been disappointed recently by some old favorites.
So who knows. I’m throwing in the towel. Or maybe it’s caution to the wind. Or maybe it’s none of those things. I’m on the hunt for the perfect place to stick the projector, the rest will work itself out. Fingers crossed the right movie shows itself, and fingers crossed my kid won’t be afraid, or sad, or snapping his fingers while he greases back his hair and sings, “Summer lovin’ had me a blaaaast…”
First grade was a trip for me. Mrs. Heim was my teacher, and by then I had developed into a shy child, who was advanced in reading, and a little behind in math. Go figure. I have always heard first grade is tough. Some kids just don’t “get it” yet. Kindergarten didn’t set them up for success, or they were still too young to dive into the “real” work, and maybe that is the case for some kids, but it wasn’t for Jackson. The only real problem in first grade was that I didn’t like his teacher. It wasn’t for any particular reason. She was never rude to me. She liked Jackson. She had been teaching for years and she was smart, straightforward. She wasn’t a beat around the bush kinda gal, and that can come off as abrasive, especially when his kindergarten teacher was the exact opposite.
But mainly I didn’t like her because one of my friends didn’t like her. My friend had subbed for the first grade classes and heard “things” about Mrs. Mattner. She spent the whole summer scaring me. And I fell for it it hook, line, and sinker. And because of that I never gave her a fair shot. But I also never let Jackson hear any of it, and up until this year, fifth grade, if you were to ask him who his all-time favorite teacher is, he would tell you it was his first grade teacher, Mrs. Mattner! He adored her! He thought she was “hilarious.” That was one of the first things she said about him, matter of fact, that she would make some funny joke that the kids weren’t really supposed to get, and Jackson would crack up. That’s when she knew he was “different.”
Like most teachers, Mrs. Mattner was saddled with a mix of kids. It is different here in Georgia. It seems they put kids who are alike together. But in first grade there is a broad stroke of “smart” and some straggling “behavior” issues and while Mrs. Mattner had been saddled with some really gifted kids whose talents were just starting to emerge, like Jackson, there were some kids who weren’t quite there. I didn’t spend much time in that classroom, because I still didn’t really like her, even mid-year (and I had started grad school, and substitute teaching, and I had a GA-ship) but from the things I heard about the classroom, they struggled a bit to get things rolling, but by the end of the year they were pretty close to a cohesive, fun, again really kind and sweet group of kids.
I went on every field trip with this group, and while I did see some of the “behavior” issues that Mrs. Mattner had to deal with, I mainly saw a group of kids that loved each other, supported each other, and said kind things. This was from the top down, no doubt about it. Turns out we were blessed with another awesome set of teachers in Mrs. Mattner and Mrs. Smith, and by May I had realized my errors, apologized to Mrs. Mattner for not trusting her more, and stopped taking things that friend said so seriously. Ehh, you live, you learn.
All in all, first grade was fun, albeit stressful at times, but again Jackson sailed through it, even on our his last field trip, the famed First Grade Zoo Trip, when it rained, oppressively, ALL DAY LONG, Jackson, along with the rest of Mrs. Mattner’s Class were the only kids out there dancing in it. While she yelled to, “Be careful!” and also, “Nice moves!”
Growing pains sometimes hurt, but they always heal.
Thanks, Mrs. Mattner and Mrs. Smith, and the kiddos of first grade. We will always remember you.
My post yesterday was about fifth grade, and Jackson, so I decided to keep a theme this week, since it is the last week of school here in Georgia and start in kindergarten and work my way up. More for posterity for anything else. More because I have a kid that can’t always remember things like his teacher’s names, or who his friends were, and while the last six years has been a little crazy, and we’ve moved a few times, it is all still fresh in my mind, as it is with most parents. If you want to read about my traumatic and awkward kindergarten experience please read this post. I was not a “normal” kindergartner, but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever been considered “normal.” And lucky, neither has my kid.
Jackson started elementary school in Branson, Missouri. We applied for the preschool program there and he was accepted, though they did tell us that while he could obviously read, knew his colors and numbers, he didn’t know how to “skip” and also, when instructed to build a tower from blocks, he first sorted the blocks by size and color. We weren’t 100% how to take that. They seemed bothered by it, meanwhile we watched the kid next to him licking the table, so… we just took it that our kid was a little advanced and maybe, I dunno, in the wrong place. He was, and he only did half a year of preschool because of it. We noticed he was not really learning, just picking up bad habits from other kids, so we pulled him out. But his teacher was the sweetest, Mrs. Rosebrough, she was just totally overwhelmed by kids licking tables and still pooping their pants, and when we pulled him she was all, “Yeah, Jackson doesn’t really NEED preschool.” Got it. Glad we payed $500 a month until that point. (Let’s talk about how preschool should be free. Another post? Okay.)
In the summer between preschool and kindergarten we sold a vehicle, our boat, and most of the rest of our shit, packed up a U-Haul, and hauled ass to North Carolina in search of better opportunity, which of course we found, and Jackson settled nicely into a school in a suburban part of Charlotte. He was there from kindergarten until halfway through third grade, when we moved into Charlotte and transferred him into a STEM Charter School. But this is about Kindergarten, so Kindergarten we shall discuss.
Look at this:
This kid of mine was made to go to school. Of course he already knew all the basics of kindergarten, how to read, write, and count, but he was such a social kid, who relied on friendships and fun, and Miss Gamble and Mrs. Turner (the BEST of kindergarten) made the classroom just that. Ms. Gamble was a young teacher, just her second year in the classroom, but she was one of those people who was born to do what she does. She recognized Jackson’s abilities quickly and he became a leader in the classroom. Often sitting in the rocking chair behind him reading stories to his class, which they just thought was the coolest. Kindergarten was a rough year for me, and having that classroom and those people around helped tremendously. I often joke that I grew more than Jackson did that year, because it is true.
This is where Jackson met his first little friends, some he still writes letters to or plays Minecraft with! He showed his true self in those years, and set himself on a path different than many of the kids. A top student, a true leader, a kind friend. Loyal, to a fault, and always, always interested in the cute, little blonde girls. (Eye roll)
This is also where his true fashion began to shine. The kids in that class were unbelievably kind (even if some of the parents were a total nightmare) and that kindness, love, and loyalty was fostered by Miss Gamble. The important thing was being nice, everything else would fall into place she said, and it did. When kindergarten was over we were so upset that Jackson and I literally sat in bed and cried all morning on the first day of summer break. We were so thankful to be part of such a wonderful classroom, and we cherish those memories, still today. We would love to reach out and thank every, single one of those parents, teachers, and kids who welcomed us that year, who made us feel special, and who still want to be part of our lives. We hope you always feel as special as we did.
So there you have it. Kindergarten. Not much to report. My kid got a line straight “S” and “P” or whatever letters they used. He maybe was a little advanced, but he learned that kindness was key, how to stick up for his friends, how to accept others, how to adapt, how to make friends, how to keep friends, and how to feel safe somewhere other than home. It set us up for success for the next five years and we could not be happier. Now for the pictures!
I distinctly remember my last day of fifth grade. I remember loading up my desk remnants into my bookbag. Broken pencils, smashed pieces of crayons, and little nubs of erasers falling out all over my area. I remember Mrs. Coughran, my fifth grade teacher, the one who had terrified me on the first day of school, for her direct eye contact and her “strict” reputation. I remember her being a little sad, but also proud. I remember her telling us that we would go on to do great things, all of us. I remember walking through the halls of the elementary school I had walked into as a shy, crying kindergartener. I remember stopping in to see my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Albright, who had taught us about outlining and fractions. I remember Mrs. Heim, my first grade teacher, grabbing me into a big hug and saying how she would miss my smiling face. I remember walking out of the building that day with my friends, waving, proud of what we had accomplished, but so uncertain and sad about what we were leaving, what lay ahead.
Yesterday was Jackson’s last instructional day of classes. In the real world, that would mean the rest of the week would be pure nonsense. Days of fun! Teacher versus Fifth Grade Kickball, a Fifth Grade Day of Fun, a graduation, to promote them to middle schoolers, to recognize their achievements, an all-school awards ceremony, where surely he would clean up. Instead, he logged onto a Zoom call to play a trivia game. (The teachers smoked the fifth graders, by the way, surely not the turnout the kickball game would have had.)
But it was fun. It was nice to see the smiling faces. It was something we’ve become accustomed to over the last two months, and it surely worked so well because of the relationship that had already formed in those seven months together as a cohesive unit. We don’t know at this point what next year will look like, and honestly, we aren’t trying to think too much about it. We are focusing on staying safe, talking to our friends when we can, and planning summer activities to take our minds far from where we are, even if our bodies don’t leave the house. In short: This has been different than what we expected, but we learned how to adjust our expectations. We learned to adapt. We learned, and isn’t that what school is all about?
Today Jackson is working on a letter to the fifth graders next year, a rite of passage the kids get on the first day. They get to read advice from the kids who sat in their seats the year before, they get let in on secrets, and jokes, and advice on how to get through fifth grade. He’s taking it seriously. He knows the importance of being a fifth grader, of being a leader, and he knows now, that not everything happens the way we wanted it to, or planned it to, and that’s okay. We will all be okay.
Jackson’s teacher is cooking up something cool for the end-of-year festivities next week and he asked for baby pics of all the kids. This sent me down memory lane, as one goes from time to time, and I ended up staring at pictures of my son in various stages of his life and well, he’s just so adorable I decided to share. Each picture has a special story of course, so I am writing what I remember about that picture in the caption. If you are not into baby pics I’d skip the rest of this blog and come back when I’m having a breakdown, or trying to tear down the system, or something like that. For those of you who do like baby pics, enjoy! Ps… all this end-of-elementary-school stuff got me like, “WHYYYYYY?!” Expect a post of elementary school pics this week too.
Jackson is playing baseball* for the first time since he played t-ball at age four. Back then it was adorable and exciting. Back then it didn’t matter so much about the game, but about teaching simple skills like wearing a glove, and not picking flowers, and cheering on your teammates. I remember the first time someone hit the ball and the whole team went running to it to “catch it first” and the batter was so excited he ran out to the infield to celebrate with them, rather than to going to first base. Seriously, seriously cute.
The league we are playing on isn’t a competitive, year-round, $5,000 league. Thankfully we found one sponsored by a local church where the parents say things like, “Listen, no one here is going pro.” That’s what I like to hear, because let’s be real, the chances of your kid “going pro” in any sport are the same as my kid getting accepted into MIT and me not having to pay for it, it ain’t gonna happen, and the sooner you realize that, the better the experience is for everyone involved. And trust, I’m not saying this because my kid sucks, cause he doesn’t. He seems to have a natural ability toward baseball, not like soccer, where he had to work at it, and work at it, each season to get just a little bit better. We’ve been practicing in the backyard to get ready for this season for about three weeks now and he’s pleasantly surprised us. He isn’t gonna be the best kid on the team, but he might actually make some good, solid plays this season, and we are excited to see what he does.
All this talk about baseball has brought up all the memories for Jerimiah and me. We didn’t realize how excited we would be when/if Jackson ever decided to play, but we are WAY excited. Remember how I said we’ve been practicing for weeks now. Yeah, we didn’t do that for soccer. He never wanted to, and we never wanted to, and we were like, “ehh.” We like to watch soccer, but not play it. Meanwhile, he’s been running in from school asking to “hit a few balls” in the backyard and I’m super pumped about it.
That’s when Jerimiah and I started to share stories of our baseball/softball days and we blew his mind with how much we played. I even have an old scrapbook filled with pictures, and newspaper clippings from when I was a kid (thanks to my mom for clipping them out each game, and underlining my name, and our coaches for actually writing them up and submitting them for girls’ league softball). For real, we had the best coaches and parents (including my best friend’s dad and sister, who pretty much rocked, even though they made LeeAnne and me run laps when we were messing around). Check this out:
Oh trust, there are more of this bad boys, for several years, this was just the first season I played. But we won’t share them now. They deserve their very own post with accompanying pics.
So this is our first week of Robotics, Honor Band Practice, Baseball Practice, then bed. Our nights are as full as they can get right now, but Jackson is learning some valuable lessons. Sure, he’s learning to square up home plate and “elbows up,” but he also learning about time management, that practice makes progress, and that there are some things you just can’t half-ass. In short, it’s the stuff he’s learning off the field that will pay in dividends. But isn’t that how it usually goes.
Good luck this season to the Braves (Jackson’s team, not the Atlanta Braves, though I guess good luck to them too!) We can’t wait to see how proud you are of yourselves!
*Edit: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and then forgot about it when shit hit the fan. I wrote it back when life still felt “normal-ish” and I was optimistic that there would be a baseball season. Turns out the baseball season follows the school calendar, so the chances of us playing this year are slim, but Jackson still likes to practice in the backyard, and for that I am grateful. I still wanted to share this story though, for the reason I write most of this shit, for posterity. But for real, stay in your home, don’t go play baseball with the neighborhood kids.
I’ve always been partial to living in the city. So close that I can feel the heartbeat of the place. I never knew why. I was born and raised in a small town in Kansas. At least that’s what I tell people, but since I’ve left Leavenworth I’ve realized how much it wasn’t a “normal” small town, like other places I have lived since. Or like the place my husband grew up, or friends who tell me stories about the same 25 kids they went from elementary through high school with. When I was growing up in Leavenworth I felt stifled. But I’m learning it was more about my fear of never breaking the poverty cycle. Of never striking out to other places, meeting new faces, tacking chances. I didn’t want to fall in a rut, stay put, never grow as a person.
But Leavenworth itself wasn’t too bad of a place to grow up in. There was plenty of diversity and culture (for Kansas anyway) and it was a short 20 miles to Kansas City (Missouri or Kansas, take your pick). It had museums (if you took the time to find them), multiple elementary, middle, and high schools. Private and public. It had Fort Leavenworth, the Federal Penitentiary, and we were a cool 20-minute drive the other way to the University of Kansas. It was actually an okay place.
And because my mother rarely had a car when I was very young, we walked a lot of places. Which meant we were always near the places we needed to get to with regularity. The bank, the grocery store, the hospital (just in case) and my school. Which also means we were usually in the heart of the city. In fact, one of the coolest places we ever lived (in my opinion) was in this large house half a block from the main artery in Leavenworth, Highway 7, aka 4th Street. Here I am, standing in the front yard in an awesome bathing suit (probably had me a kick-ass Slip ‘n Slide).
I think I’ve shared this pic before, but for a different reason. Trying to figure out who that truck belonged to (I’m pretty sure it was my sister’s friend Shane) and how/why we had a Polaroid camera. Might have been Shane’s too, as she was obviously very rich with a vehicle and what not.
The house sat diagonally, as you can see, from Burger King. It also shared an alley with Kentucky Fried Chicken, where my sister worked in high school, and Taco Johns was just across the street. Why yes, I do have a weight problem, but no, I have no idea why. Also, that BK had the most KICK-ASS play place, with a ball pit! A Ball Pit! Outside! I mean yeah, it makes me shake with nervousness just thinking about it now, and I’m compulsively dowsing hand sani all over my body, but it was pretty awesome in 1987. And I’m pretty sure my mom would scrape change together on nice afternoons, enough to buy a Diet Coke, and we’d walk over, and she’d sit and sip Diet Coke while I played all afternoon in the ball pit with whatever random kids happened over. So it was sort of like my own personal jungle gym. Cool. Maybe that’s why my pain threshold is so high?
McDonalds had the only indoor play place, with one of those really cool slides and that Hamburgler-Jail thing. So when it was cold, she’d scrounge up enough change for a cup of coffee and a Happy Meal, and we’d walk the extra half mile to McDonalds to play.
I’ve spun off topic. Imagine that.
I lived in the heart of the city. That’s my point, but I’ve lived in the country too. And fallen asleep to the sound of the lake, or the sound of the frogs chirping, or the crickets singing, or the Meth heads next door out at three am looking for their horse that got loose (true story). The country is nice, for awhile, but it just isn’t my thing.
I like the bustle of the city. The ease of public transportation. The events that are always happening. The people to watch. I like the way that, if I fall asleep with my windows open on a cool, crisp spring night here in the Atlanta metro, I can be lulled to sleep by the train, or the ambulance sirens speeding to the Perimeter. It’s not the Burger King play place, but it will rightly do.
Enjoy wherever your home is right now. Just make sure to stay there until it’s safe to go out again.
I was sad to see that the NCAA basketball tournament was cancelled, among other sporting events, and I’m sure people are bummed by this. I’m bummed by this, but I can’t imagine how the students feel. The players, and coaches, the fans. But mainly the kids. March Madness is the most fun because I love college ball. I’ve talked about my love sports of before. How I played softball for like a decade. How I was on basketball teams in elementary, middle, and high school. Volleyball? Check. Track and field? I was a Varsity thrower. Duh. I even gave tennis and soccer a go once or twice, never cared much for either, but I was an eager participant on most occasions. But if I’m being very honest with myself, softball is still my absolute favorite sport to play, and basketball is my absolute favorite sport to watch, because well, I’m just too slow to be any good anymore. Though I haven’t lost my jump shot. Seriously, play me fool!
And although I especially like college ball, I have been known to hang at an NBA game more than once, especially when we lived in Charlotte. We were big fans of watching the Hornets play, and while we are still Hornets fans, I’ll never forget that time my husband took me to see my all-time favorite team play, The Boston Celtics. Priceless. And of course, I would love to sit court-side at a Lakers game one day. Hey, a girl can dream!
The reason I like college ball better than the NBA is because I don’t like all the slam dunks and showmanship. I really like down and dirty street ball, but there isn’t a “Down and Dirty Street Ball” league* to keep up with, so college it is. I love the way the fans love their team, their school. Some of my best memories as a kid, were the few times I got to go to a KU game at Allen Field House. How and why? I have no idea. I know once I went with my sister and her boyfriend, but I remember going a few times and it was amazing. This was back, way back, when Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce (who went on to play for Boston), and Greg “Big O” Ostertag played. Jesus, why do I still remember those names?
I remember stepping into the front doors of Allen Field House in complete amazement. Here I was, probably fifth grade, totally in love with this school I dearly wanted to be part of (I eventually made it to KU as a student) and I wanted to chant ROCK CHALK! JAYHAWK! KU! on the top of Mt. Oread. And I did. Pure joy.
By middle school I was so in love with basketball, I could tell you all about the KU players, many of the Celtics players, and of course Michael Jordan, the best athlete in the whole world. That’s when I started asking my mom for a basketball hoop. The problem was two-fold. We were poor and we lived in a rental house on the “bad” part of town. If she had invested in a hoop, it would have to be one of those mobile hoops, which were just too expensive and the chances of someone walking off with it we too real. For sure, like they walked away with every bike I had while we lived there.
But one glorious day, I came home to, I shit you not, a piece of plywood painted blue, with a hoop attached to it, nailed into the damn tree in our side yard. Umm, not kidding. I have no idea where/how/what/who. My suspicion is my brother-in-law, or my mom’s friend Ruthie. But there it was, nailed to the damn dead tree in a pit of what amounted to mud, and a little Bir of run down grass, next to what I am pretty sure was a crackhouse. Yep. I played the shit out of that hoop. For years, y’all.
Listen, I don’t know how single moms do stuff, but they do it. Always. And this picture above is just a reminder that I was once the most important person in someone’s life. My mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But I’m beginning to see that she was doing the best she could with what she had. With what she knew. With what she was capable of. And I’m always reminded that it takes a village, y’all. And actual fucking village.
Anyway, we moved a few years later, though that was one of the houses we lived in the longest. Even though the neighborhood wasn’t ideal, the house was nice, clean, fairly new, and it was in walking distance to my middle school, and close to my mom’s work. It was just an old shotgun house, on the north side of town, with a wooden basketball hoop nailed to a tree. But it meant the world to me.
*I was flipping through Netflix the other day and found a show that follows prison basketball. I gasped. Jerimiah yelled, “Shit! No!” and I added it to my “Watch List.”
Every time I move and go a new eye doctor for the first time, I have a litany of shit to tell them. My mother’s macular degeneration comes up. Then there’s my light sensitivity on account of my incredibly light, blue eyes. Then at some point I have to tell them that I am not from the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. They look at my tests, back at me, and ask if I’m sure I’m not from anywhere near the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley. I say yes, I’m sure. I’m from Kansas. But not chicken-farmer Kansas. I’ve never lived on a damn farm. Then they look confused and I say, “Listen, we had pet birds.”
I have an eye condition called Ocular Histoplasmosis. It’s from a fungus commonly found in the dust and soil of the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. You can contract the disease by inhaling dust with the fungal spores, usually carried and spread by chickens and other types of birds. If it is inhaled early in life, it can cause a usually symptom-free and self-limited infection throughout the body. But it may affect the eye by causing small areas of inflammation and scarring of the retina, which it has done to me.
There isn’t really a problem, not now anyway. But it’s something that the eye doctor has to continually check, to make sure it isn’t getting worse. Mine is not. Thankfully. And they are usually adament that pet birds won’t give it to you, but I have zero other explanations for it, except well, pet birds.
My mom likes pets that are self-contained. She’d probably be great with a pet turtle, if it weren’t for their sliminess. She likes caged animals. With minimal smell and hassle. Enter birds. Le sigh. Here is my mom with her first pair of birds from the early 1980s, just before I was born. These are the birds of my childhood, Fred and Barney, who in fact turned out to be Fred and Wilma, but we never changed their names.
Listen, I hated Fred and Barney. When I was really young they’d peck at my fingers when I tried to put their food bowl back, or fill their water. They LOVED my mom, hated me. Though they hated other people more than me, so I guess I was tolerable to them. They really didn’t like my sister, or any person who came into the house being loud. They didn’t like loud. I didn’t either, so it was good when my mom would yell at visitors, “Shhh, be quiet or the birds will start!” Cause trust, you didn’t want the birds to “start.”
Fred and Barney died one day. It was a sad-ass day. I remember being sad because of how sad my mom was, but I felt no real attachment to these birds, so I was like good riddance. Meanwhile, my mother grieved, as one does for a beloved pet. I gave her a hug, shrugged my shoulders, and went out to play. I thought that shit was finally over. I was wrong.
A few weeks later a friend said to my mom that she knew these two birds, they didn’t have names, just called Blue and Green, and did my mother want them. They were free. And came with their own, very nice cage. Did my mother want them? BRING THEM HERE NOW! she screeched. I think. I think she screeched that. It was like some backroom bird deal. She ran them over under the cover of darkness. I was half-asleep and very confused. I saw my mom’s face light up and I was like, “Shiiiiiiiit.”
The only thing I remember about these two, besides their constant squawking, fighting, and mildly displeasing nature, is that they could not be trusted when you opened their cage. They were escape artists, and more than once I found myself screaming down the hallway, running into my room and slamming the door, while my mom ran around with a towel screaming for me to help her “Catch the damn birds.” Jesus. “No,” I’d scream from under my blankets, “They’re your birds! Not mine!”
My mother was convinced her birds were always much smarter than we thought. She said she taught them tricks. Though to be fair, Fred and Barney knew how to “kiss.” My mom used to say to me every morning when I’d wake up since I was a toddler, “Kiss, kiss, Missy” in which I’d sleepy walk to her and give her a morning hug and kiss. She noticed one morning when she said it, the birds pecked each other. I thought she was nuts, but when she turned her attention to this, and really tried to work with them on it, they eventually got it. Yep, they knew “Kiss, kiss,” but they didn’t know “Shut up, you damn birds!” which would have been more helpful, if you ask me.
The birds were always a source of amusement for my friends who would come over. No one else had birds. My friends all had two-parent households, with two cars, and homes that they owned, and usually dogs and cats. You know, normal fucking pets. My friends were in awe of these birds. They’d sit and watch them, whistle at them, watch me feed them, that sort of shit. I despised it. All of it.
Then one day the second set of parakeets died. My mom cried, as she had the first time. And this time, so did I. I can’t be sure why, but I suspect somewhere around middle school I started to be comforted by these little assholes. When my mom was out at night, and I’d be nervously waiting for her to make it home safe, I’d sit in the living room with them and talk to them. They were good listeners. In fact, as long as you were paying them attention, you could talk to them all day. They’d just sit on their stoop and listen. Cock their head back and forth, occasionally interject a “SQWAAAA!” here or a peck on their bell there. Maybe they weren’t so bad.
I left Leavenworth not too long after the birds did. The next time I came home to visit my mom, she had a new bird. A friend had called. In the dead of the night. Saying that she knew someone, who knew someone, and did my mother want a Dove? Did my mother want a Dove?! You bet your ass she did! It was free, and it came with it’s own cage and everything. Her name was Baby, and she was the worst of the actual lot. But my son loved to visit with her, listen to her sing. pet her, yeah this bitch let you hold and pet her. She hated me though. Pecked at me every time I came near the cage. Eh, such is life.
Baby died last year. It was perhaps the roughest loss on my mother. No friend has called yet. Her house now sits silent. Lonesome. Maybe one day. Until then, RIP to the birds who have come before. They live a long time, in case you didn’t know, even “used” birds live longer than you’d expect. And they carry diseases. But that’s neither here nor there.
I was leaving Patsy’s office yesterday when I hopped in the car, feeling pretty good, a rare occurrence after therapy. I hadn’t cried, or said fuck, or told some long, sordid story about Adele or voodoo, it was a good visit, actually, and switched the channel on the radio to 90s music and “Stay (I Missed You)” came on. You know the 90s pop song by Lisa Loeb? “You say, I only hear what I want to. And you say, I talk so all the time. So.” And just like that I was transported back to my childhood bedroom, with it’s dolphin trinkets, underwater-themed bedspread, and matching curtains. And there, on my dresser, was my radio with the ability to record.
The year was 1994, and I had been waiting for what felt like literal years for one of the pop stations out of Kansas City to play Lisa Loeb and her love song to the guy she desperately missed. Or did he miss her? Or was it all a big misunderstanding? Was he kind of an asshole? Now that I think about it yeah, he was kind of an asshole, but I didn’t get that back then. Back then, I wanted to hear those first few chords, run to my radio and hit the play/record button to get as much as the song as I could onto the mix tape that I was making for my boyfriend who had just moved because his dad was in the Army and life was horribly unfair. We were soulmates.
And then it happened. The DJ said the magic words, “Here’s Lisa Loeb…” and I ran over, hit the buttons and well, it worked. Just. Like. Magic.
The rest of the mix tape had a lot of Wilson Phillips on it, but the second side, first song, was this one and man, I was way serious about him hearing it.
As the song played, and the radio recorded, I danced around my room like I was Lisa Loeb, and I only hear what I want to, and a camera was following me around as I hopped up in down in relative torment with my super cute glasses in a little black dress. It was all too magical. Then I stopped the recording at just the right time. After the last chord, before the DJs annoying voice came back on.
Two weeks later the tape was finished and I sent it to him, all the way across the country in Virginia. Two weeks after that he wrote me and said he liked the tape, but that we should break up. It hurt. A lot. Because I missed him. Then I cried. I slammed my door. I cursed Lisa Loeb while I screamed:
“So I, I turned the radio on/I turned the radio up/And this woman was singing my song/Lovers in love and the other’s run away/Lover is crying ’cause the other won’t stay…”
While my mom banged on my door to keep it down in there.
Yeah. Middle school was fucking harsh. But at least I had Lisa Loeb.
Some weeks I have a very strict idea about what I am going to write about every day. In fact, in my planner (yes, I use a paper planner) I write each day, then make a little box for checking the day off when I write, and next to the box I sometimes write the topic. I do this to sort of will myself into writing about a certain subject. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today’s box said, “Oakland Cemetery”. Oakland Cemetery is a cool place. It’s another famous southern cemetery that we recently visited. It’s in the heart of Atlanta and it is where Margaret Mitchell is buried, so I went to sacrifice a penny on her gravesite, as many writers before me have done. The problem is somedays when I actually sit down to write, what I intend to write is not what comes up. Today is one of those days. Today I woke up thinking about the phrase, “These Colors Don’t Run” and the first time I ever heard that phrase, and I can’t get it out of my head, so I just have to write about it. Margaret Mitchell and Oakland will have to wait.
The first time I ever heard or read this phrase was in a shopping mall in my hometown in 1991. It was during the Gulf War, and I lived in Leavenworth, Kansas. If you’ve never heard of Leavenworth then bless your heart. Go find a John Wayne movie on Amazon Prime and wait. At some point he will talk about a “bad guy” either of black or brown skin, and he will say something along the lines of, “I’ll be seeing them in Leavenworth,” then he will ride away into the California sunset. He just means he’s rounding them up and sending them to prison, probably because in the movie they stole cows or killed a white woman. Same. Same. Leavenworth is a prison town, but it’s also an army town and home to the historically-famous Fort Leavenworth, on the banks of the Missouri River.
This is all to say that when the Gulf War was happening (the first time the Bush’s tried to make money off Middle Eastern oil) Leavenworth was a hot-bed for pro-war shit. I was a third grader with no real idea what was happening, and both my sisters (who had been married and moved out of the house) were suddenly back home (with two and a half kids in tow) while both their husbands fought on the front lines overseas. It was a stressful, confusing, chaotic time in my life.
So from the summer of 1990 to the summer of 1991 my mom, my two sisters, my two, then three nephews, and third-grader Missy lived all lived together in our two-bedroom apartment in Leavenworth. We watched the news every, single night on a small 19-inch colored television. On the weekends I would sometimes go with my sisters who would volunteer to do things around the community in support of their husbands with the other Army wives. Maybe we’d pass our yellow ribbons, or man a table at the local shopping plaza to pass out buttons in support of our troops. I always went because usually someone bought me ice cream afterward. That’s it. That was my driving motivation.
One particular Saturday morning I stood at a table with my sister and handed out buttons. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I know they said, “These Colors Don’t Run” on them, so I’m guessing they were something like this:
I know we had entered Operation Desert Storm (or Shield, I think they were two different operations, maybe) at this point, because I had a shirt on that said it too. Here look, this is third grade me in my favorite “Operation Desert Shield” shirt:
I know it was my favorite, and probably only one, because my mom has like 15 pictures of me in it from that single year. Here I am in March of 1991 holding my newborn nephew Josh, who is legit getting married next month:
Just for the record, that’s not a mullet. That’s just my mom cutting my bangs, but refusing to let me cut the rest of my hair, so I always wore it in a pony tail and it sometimes looked like a mullet.
Anywho, there I was standing at a table passing out these buttons and I vividly remember looking down at one of them and thinking, “What the hell does that even mean?” I mean, how can colors run? Which colors? Red, white, and blue? Run from what? From bad guys? Who are the bad guys? What is happening?
Something like that started to unfurl in my brain and I was, for the first time, very scared about the war. About never seeing my brothers-in-law again. About having to see my sisters cry a lot.
It sort of got worse before it got better after that. I started having nightmares about bombs, which were just little flashes of light that I’d see explode on our small tv whenever Tom Brokaw would come on in the evening. My teacher would ask if I’d been sleeping. I’d lie and say yes. But mainly I’d just lay awake at night, pretending to sleep until two, maybe three in the morning, when my sisters’ whispered voices and the low hum of the tv stopped for the night.
Both my brothers-in-law made it back home safely, but not without problems. They aren’t my sisters’ husbands anymore, and I had a few more nephews over the years.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that “These Colors Don’t Run” was a bad pun, at best. My mother said something one day about washing colored clothes with whites, and it hit me. Ah, yes. These colors don’t run. They don’t run away from necessary war. They also, it would seem, don’t run away from unnecessary war either. Some things never change.
I left college at 19 to pursue different avenues of life, like working full-time at Blockbuster video, rolling blunts, and doing keg stands. The latter were skills I’m sure college would have taught me eventually, but I didn’t think I needed the pesky class time to get in the way. Plus, how else could I get movie rentals for free? I didn’t go back again until I was 26, recently married, and unexpectedly pregnant. It’s when I finally decided to take my education seriously. Lead by example, I suppose. Read: I wasn’t good at keg stands.
So there I was, eight months pregnant, sitting in an astronomy class when our old, bow tie-clad professor showed us a video that totally and utterly fucked me up. My stomach was so large at this point, that I was unable to sit in a normal auditorium seat. The class was in a big hall with those small seats that had the small writing surface that flipped up from the side of the seat. So there was no way I could take notes using it (college desks aren’t made for women who are very pregnant, lest that be a warning ladies), but there was a long table with two chairs in the back of the hall for people with disabilities, or for larger people who couldn’t fit in the seats below.
So every Monday night I’d race my chubby legs up to the third floor to get a seat at that table. And every Monday night it was in fact, a race. I was racing two very large dudes to the two empty seats at the table. Looking back I should have just let them have it, they were uncomfortably big for the seats below, but again, I literally could not get the flip desk over my pregnant belly. There’s no moving parts around to fit better at that point. It’s just there.
On this particular night I was running a bit late, and I ran into my 85-year-old professor politely standing at the VERY slow elevator. He caught my eye and waved me over. He really liked me for some reason, and would always ask me to ride up with him if he caught me. I obliged and was chatting at the elevator with him, when I saw the two big dudes enter the hall. They eyed me, and I eyed them, and I swear to you they took off running up the stairs. Running. Full speed. Yeah, they beat me to the table. (Now that I think about it, that was pretty fucked up of them. Then again maybe I should have just asked someone to bring a third chair up, I dunno.) Jesus, I’m off topic.
So the night that we watched this video that fucked me up, I missed my chance at the “fat kid table.” (I say this lovingly, as both a fat kid and because that’s legit what those dudes called it) and had to sit in a seat and use my notebook as my desk. I was pissy, and defeated, and just starting to try to routinely will my baby out of me. I was done, y’all. But he still had another month of cooking to do. So there I was. Alone. Pregnant. Annoyed. And slightly in awe of the path my life was taking when my 105-year-old professor showed us the video.
The video started out with a person standing on a street in Paris. I knew it was Paris because as the camera panned up and out, you could see the Eiffel Tower. Then it kept panning. Up, up, up. Out of Paris, out of France. Out of Europe. Out of whichever hemisphere that is. Shoot me, who cares. Up, up, up, way up into space (this was an astronomy class). Up through Earth’s atmosphere, up past the International Space Station, through the stars, out of the Milky Way, way up, past everything, into pure nothingness. I was so engrossed in the film that my notebook slid off my lap, and still I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The camera went way up. Then it just ended.
We all sat silent for a long time. My 110-year-old professor flipped the lights on with a flick of a switch on his podium down below. People shifted nervously in their seats. No one said a word. It was all too much. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know why. Hormones I guessed. I looked behind me. Up to the big dudes. They sat silent, stony faced in their large, comfy chairs. My 113-year-old professor said something like, “It’s just like that, isn’t it? The stars. The universe. This life.”
I looked down at my notebook, half-heartedly kicked it with my foot. Then down at my expanding belly. It occurred to me that it is like that. This small, insignificant life. The comfy chairs, the notebook on the floor, the elevator ride. My annoyances, my desires, my stupid, stupid mistakes. My baby. It’s all like that.
Then my 119-year-old professor went on with his lecture.
A girl behind me quietly got up, picked up my notebook, and handed it to me. I managed a smile, but by now the big, fat tears were rolling down my face. She nodded in a knowing way, even though she had no way of knowing. This was it. Only one way out from here. For all of us. Into the nothingness.
A month later my very healthy son was born. I dropped my classes the next semester. Decided maybe I’d made my mistakes and college wasn’t for me. That instead I’d focus on this child. This bright star, and his future. Then I remembered that he wouldn’t know how to shine, if I didn’t teach him.
A couple years later I graduated with my toddler waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. I graduated a second time with my third-grader waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. And who knows, maybe I’ll graduate a third time, and maybe my teenager will be screaming and waving “Mommy” while I walk across the stage.
And sure, in the end, it all fades to black. We all go back to the nothingness that we came from, but at least we get to look back down for a bit. Down, down, down. All the way down to those few blazing moments.
Yesterday morning, right before Jackson walked out the door for school, he looked back at me and asked, “Will you take me for a haircut after school?” I was a little surprised because I’m usually forcing him into a haircut, even so far as pulling a “surprise haircut” on him, by rolling up to Great Clips when he least expects it. He loathes haircuts. I don’t know why, but he does. So I dumbly shook my head yes, then sat silent over my morning tea and wondered what was up. Then I remembered: Today he is going on a field trip to the middle school. Today he, along with all the 70 or so fifth graders at his school, will be marched around a much larger, much nicer, much more complicated building in front of “really big kids” and well, I think he’s a little nervous. And he should be.
I immediately thought back to my middle school tour. I was terrified. And I remember very specific portions of it. Like how we were all ushered into a room when a fifth grade class from another school, there the same day as us, was ushered down the hall. I remember looking out at the faces of the “other” school, knowing that in a few short months we’d all be classmates. Some of those kids would come to be some of my best friends in middle school, but I didn’t know that on that day. I only knew they were unfamiliar, and scary, and I didn’t like them. Why would I? Why should I? They weren’t from Anthony Elementary School.
My middle school was old. It was old and it was crowded and it lacked the sort of funding that Jackson’s cool, techy middle school will have. But like my middle school, many elementary schools are funneled into one middle school. There will be opportunity for more than new classes, or new clubs, but opportunity to meet new friends, develop new crushes, and start the journey to really figuring out where he belongs in the hierarchy. There will be some bumps. Some bruises. Some stuff that never leaves him, both good and bad. But in the end the stuff that doesn’t really matter, won’t, and the stuff that does, will. I know that. That I learned in middle school, and high school, and in my 38 rotations, but he doesn’t know that yet.
I asked him while we were waiting for his haircut if he was nervous about today. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nah. I’m excited to see the STEM classrooms!” He’s only concerned with how many 3D printers they have. He’s a different breed, my kid. Then his name was called and he walked over alone, asked the woman to do a “Two on the sides, and scissor the top” and I sat and listened to him talk.
When she brought him back to me she told me what a lot of people tell me about my son. She said he was kind, and smart, and that he was very well spoken for his age. She said she hoped her three-year-old would be like my kid, because as it sits she was nervous. I shook my head and thanked her. Assured her that her toddler would be alight, told her that the “threenager” stage doesn’t last much longer, and smiled. I looked at my son, who was running his fingers through his hair, and suddenly he nudged me and said, “There’s this, uhh, hair stuff she used…” She told me it she’d put some in his hair and he liked it. “I think I want some,” he said, shyly. “For you know, style.” I told him sure, to go grab some because yes, he’s gonna need it for style.
When I was born in 1981, my oldest sister Khristi was 16 years old. That’s right, sixteen! And today is her 29th birthday (I’ll let you do the math on that one) and I’d be amiss if I didn’t say something about my big, little, sister because even though our ages have made us feel worlds apart at times, she has taught me so much about what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, and a friend, that I am forever indebted to her. But not so much that I won’t make fun of her 4’11” stature, or her graying hair she tirelessly covers with “strawberry blond.” Because that’s what sisters do.
When I was very little, learning how to read and write well before I should have been learning how to read and write (thanks, mom), I had a hard time spelling my sister’s name. To be fair, I’ve seen her name spelled at least a dozen different ways. I had the “K” part down, and the “i” a the end, but I kept messing up the middle part. So for a short time, to help me remember how to spell it when I’d write lists of family members to practice my writing at four-years-old, my mom would say, “Remember, it’s Khristi with an h.” One time I ran up to my big sister and I yelled, “Your name has an h in it!” Khristi grabbed me up, spun me around, and laughed. Cause that’s what sisters do.
There are other things that sisters do. Sisters fight. And we’ve had our fair share, particularly when I was a teenager and she was a mom, struggling to raise four boys largely alone (her husband, though a local police officer, was also in the military and would sometimes be gone for a year at a time), and she relied on her family, me included, to help out. In fact, every summer I would babysit the boys during the day, and she would pay me to do this. It worked out. She got a pretty cheap sitter, and I made some pocket money. But, it was a job I loathed, because three boys (at that time) were a nightmare, and they just wanted to torment their Aunt Missy. Looking back, I’d give my left leg to spend one more summer running through the sprinkler with Josh and Corey, or watching a toddler Sammy run down the hallway and slam his door shut because I wouldn’t let him watch ANOTHER episode of Teletubbies. But, I just got Josh’s wedding invitation in the mail, and Samual already has two monsters of his own, so I mean, I’m pretty proud of what they have become too. But me being a teenager, and knowing much more than anyone else around me, I would often fight with my sister. She’d try to tell me that I’d “get it” one day, and I’d tell her that I hoped I wasn’t anything like anyone in my damn family! Oh the rebellion.
Turns out, as I’ve matured, realized that I actually know nothing about anything, especially how my sister made it thorough the rough days, I’ve realized I’m more like her than anyone else in my family. I’m a little tough sometimes, especially toward myself. I feel obligated to be honest, even about the things I’ve done in my life that aren’t so great, because like my sister, I’d rather control the conversation, than have people controlling it behind my back. I’m fiercely loyal. To a fault. I realize that we all make mistakes. No one is perfect, no one is even close to it, but while I hold people accountable for their actions, and assume they will do the same to me, I do so knowing that we all mess up from time to time, and then we work to make it better.
My sister Khristi has seen better days. She’s been married to a man, who for the most part treated her well. She’s had four awesome sons who would die for her. She’s been through a divorce, but she’s recovered. She’s reinvented herself time and again, and she’s still learning, even at 29, which is more than we can expect of a lot of people that have walked her shoes.
So my wish for Khristi on this 29th birthday, is that the needle keeps hitting “Full.” I hope that she stays full on the recent luck she’s had. I hope she stays full on love, on trust, and on loyalty, even to the friends who have wronged her, and yes, she has close friends who have wronged her, friends I can’t even forgive on her behalf (because sometimes, that’s what sisters do), but she can. Because she’s just that sort of person. I hope, more than anything else, that she stays full on love, forgiveness, and patience to herself.
I love you, Khristi with an h. I hope you have the happiest of 29th birthdays, and that Greg takes you somewhere nice to celebrate. I hope you get to see all the boys, and the grandkids, and I hope that someone tells you how wonderful you are. And just in case Beeb forgets to say it, “It’s time to do those roots, Sis.” 🙂