Jackson and the Tornado and the Mayor and the President

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I’m going to take you on a long, sordid stroll down memory lane. When Jackson was four months old President Obama was sworn into office. We felt a great sense of relief that a man like Obama would represent our country, and we just knew he would be the sort of example we wanted for our child. Years later he was still the president when Jackson wrote the White House for advice on how to become the President of the United States one day. But first it started with a tornado, and a trip to the Mayor’s office.

When Jackson was in preschool he asked his first political questions. They came from a mind geared toward safety, like most things that consumed him at that time (and still do). We lived in Branson, Missouri at the time and at the start of 2012 a tornado hit “The Strip” in Branson, causing destruction to several attractions and theaters. It even destroyed Jerimiah’s office. We lived about five miles off “The Strip” and ended up sleeping through the whole thing, but abruptly at 6:00 am Jerimiah’s boss called to tell him not to come to work that day since their building was on the verge of collapse. Of course he did go to work, to help with the clean-up, and we went with him. This one event had a lasting impact on pre-k Jackson, who just a year before, had watched on the television as his PawPaw’s house was destroyed in the Joplin, Missouri Tornado of 2011. In short, he had some concerns.

All of this stewed in his mind for about a year before one day he walked downstairs and told me that he needed to talk to the Mayor of Branson about tornado safety. Of course I did what any mom would do to appease my four-year-old, I tweeted the Mayor. I told her about my son’s worry over the city’s storm readiness and asked if she would meet with him to discuss our severe weather plan. It was a shot in the dark, but it worked. She tweeted back moments later to say let’s meet up. For real. And two weeks later we were special guests in the Mayor’s office on a casual Friday. Here are the pics from the day we met Branson’s mayor Raeanne Presley.

This visit planted a seed in him, and he decided right then and there he would one day run for public office. We figured he would run for local office, as did the Mayor, so when she asked if he would like to be a mayor one day we were all surprised when he said, “Nah,” in his very adorable preschool voice. “I think I’ll be the president.”

The president, he explained, had much bigger problems to solve than severe weather readiness, on a much larger platform. And he knew he was better prepared for that road ahead. That’s when Jackson really dug his feet in, and for the next four years or so when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up it was either a police officer or the president. Nothing in between.

Fast forward to first grade. We’re sitting at our table in North Carolina one balmy November day eating chili. Jackson asked me if I thought President Obama liked chili. Because Jackson liked chili and he really wanted to be like President Obama. (Side note: Remember when we had a president our kids could look up to? Those were the days…) Anywho, I said I didn’t know, but suggested Jackson write him a letter and ask. (I really just wanted him to work on his handwriting and this seemed like a great excuse. I never thought anything would come of it.)

So we sat at the kitchen table, eating our chili, and I helped him sound out the words he was writing. He asked about chili, about the president’s dogs, about his kids, and advice on becoming a president like him. Then we stamped it, stuck it in the mailbox, and forgot all about it. Until months later when this arrived.

Jackson was less excited than I thought he would be, but later I realized it was because he always assumed the president would write back. I, on the other hand, figured it got lost in White House mail and that was that. So he was very casual as he opened the envelope, while Jerimiah and I stood behind him in excitement and anticipation. This was inside:

Now the letter is standard boiler plate, a-kid-sent-a-letter-stuff, but wow was he happy to hold it in his hands. He felt very proud and very important, which he has always felt, but I mean come on, a letter from the sitting president and President Obama no the less, our favorite, most awesome president ever! This was amazing. We celebrated. He shared with his class. People said to frame it. It was a big deal in our house.

The letter lit a fire under him like we’d never seen and he was suddenly very interested in the election process and the campaigning, and how it all worked. That was until 2016, when his world, and all of ours really, came crashing down.

As the results came in that night, and as we navigated the painful and pitiful months that followed, Jackson could be found crying at night because his friend Angel from Mexico might get “sent back.” Back to where, we didn’t know, since Angel was born in North Carolina, but his parents were not. It was sad and it was disheartening. Particularly when Jackson declared he no longer wanted to be the president. Suddenly the president he idolized was gone and in came this monster of a man who scared him. Gave him nightmares. Gave us all nightmares.

Jackson saw President Obama as an example, he knew he had what it takes to lead our country if he held his head high and was a class act like President Obama. If he cared. If he was honest and nice. If he went to a good school, maybe got a law degree, worked his way up in small steps. But when he saw how President Trump was elected. How people talked about him. How he treated people from different cultures and countries. How he scared people. How he talked about women. (We always told him the truth about Trump, and didn’t shield him from the sort of man he is.) How Trump used words like “retard” a word that has the worst sort of connotation in our house considering Jackson’s baby sister never made it full-term because of a brain “retardation.” Well, Jackson was done dreaming of becoming the president.

Jackson told me one day in third grade, “maybe politics isn’t what I thought it was…” and I had to agree with him. Because at that moment, and in the years that have followed, American politics has collapsed before our very eyes. There is not truth, no integrity, no bi-partisanship. There’s just anger, and fear, and hate. And it doesn’t suit a kid like mine.

So there you have it. The story of Jackson and the tornado and the Mayor and the President. I still hold out hope (like when we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library last year and Jackson commented on what a “nice guy” he was) that Jackson might change his mind one day. And I still have faith that his generation will turn this sinking ship around, if we fail to do so. Maybe that’s the optimist in me. Or maybe I just have all the faith in my sweet, honest, hard-working, critical-thinking kid. Either way, I know he will do great things for his family, his community, his country, and his world. Even if it isn’t in the Oval Office. Because like President Obama said in his letter, “If you remember to give back to your community and chase your dreams with passion, I have confidence you will do big things…”

Thanks President Obama, we tend to agree.

M.

Life or Death

Both Jerimiah and I have been called to jury duty. Both times it was in the State of Missouri, and both times neither of us had to serve. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to. We understand the value of this particular civic duty, and would normally welcome the chance. It was just that, umm, well yeah, it was that we didn’t want to. For two very different reasons.

I was asked to serve first. On August 9th, 2011 I was served with a Federal Court summons to appear for jury duty for the State of Missouri. It was exactly five days after I found out that my daughter, the one I was carrying inside of me, had a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18. When I pulled the jury notice from my mailbox that evening, I had just came home from spending the afternoon crying in my doctor’s office while she explained that what I was about to go through was considered a “late-term abortion,” but insisting that she supported my decision. Until this point, it was the worst day of my life and I thought it couldn’t get any worse, then I opened the mailbox. I walked into the house, slammed my jury summons onto the counter and yelled to no one in particular, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”

It felt like the world was conspiring against me. Later that night while Jerimiah and I sat on the couch, a two-year-old Jackson taking his evening nap between us, we laughed for the first time in weeks. We laughed at how absurd it was that in this middle of this shit storm that we found ourselves in, that I was served with a jury summons. I don’t remember who started laughing first, but I know it felt really good.

The next day I called the State of Missouri and a curt woman on the phone informed me that it was a grand jury trial that I had been summoned to, and that I needed to be in Jeff City for the pre-trial hearings. That was the state capital, over two hours away. I asked the date, and the woman said the exact date I was expected to be in the hospital delivering my baby, who was the size of an avocado. I laughed. The State of Missouri did not. Rather, she told me that short of a “life or death situation” I was expected to be there. I told her that I was having a late-term abortion that day, did that count as life or death? Then the State of Missouri and I sat silently on the phone for several moments until she said, “A doctor’s note will do.”

Jerimiah’s summons came from Taney County, Missouri several months later, a coincidence we’ve always wondered about. Taney County was the place we had lived for nearly five years. The place our son was born. Where our daughter had died. The place, up until those last few months, that we thought we would always call home. He didn’t try to get out of it, couldn’t even if he wanted to. He didn’t have a “Get Out of Jury Duty Free” Card. He wasn’t an only parent. His job allowed him to be away. He wasn’t having a late-term abortion. So Jerimiah had to show up to for the jury selection, but he didn’t mind because he was actually a little intrigued by the whole process.

The day he had to show up for jury selection, we met that evening at the local McDonalds (the really clean one with the awesome playground) because Jackson had a playdate with his best buddy in the ball pit. While my friend and I discussed what our toddlers had been up to that week (they had both simultaneously, unbeknownst to each other, tried to eat dog poop the day before) we watched Jerimiah saunter into the play place, and I immediately knew something was wrong.

He sat down in the seat next to me and I asked what happened. I was afraid he’d been picked to serve and that he really didn’t want to. Too much going on at work, our new-ish desire to relocate, the very fresh loss of our daughter, there were a millions reasons why his mind or his heart probably wasn’t in a felony burglary trial or whatever it was.

Thats’ when he told us that he had been relieved of jury duty upon the defendant’s attorney telling the judge that Jerimiah, potential juror #8, had “made a face” when the account was read aloud. What kind of face did you make? I pressed, laughing a little, because he does show his emotions, even when he tries hard not to.

“I guess it was shock, or disgust, or…” he trailed off. He didn’t know what the face was, but at some point he was taken into the courtroom with 11 other people, placed in the jury box and told details of the case with the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defending attorney present. What was the case, my friend and I wanted to know. Jerimiah explained that the case was over an accusation that a 12-year-old girl made. I sucked in my breath. The girl was accusing her stepfather of repeatedly raping her over numerous years. And there it was, the face back on him. It was shock, and disgust, and well, it was anger. He had already made his mind up about the case. He was going to sentence the step-father to prison. To death, if possible.

We all sighed a long sigh. I put my hand on his arm in a comforting way, and he tried to smile, but hearing about that little girl, well that stung. It stayed with him for some time too, and obviously it has stayed with me, because here I am sharing it with you nine years later. The sadness. The cruelty. The insanity in this world. Sometimes it all feels like too much, even for the strongest of us.

Jerimiah and I were never called for jury duty in Missouri again. Likewise we were not called in North Carolina, and have yet to be called in Georgia, but I’m sure our time is coming again. And when it does we will answer our civic call. Until then, we will reflect on the other two times, and do our best to stay positive in a world that just makes it so damn hard sometimes.

M.

The Salt Belt

It’s a unique experience driving through Northern states during the winter. We’re in day five of our eight day trip now, and just safety arrived in Rhode Island this afternoon. The weather is cold, but it’s not snowing. At this moment anyway. We realized, most suddenly today, that we’ve lived in the South for too long to remember that frost clings to trees in the wintertime, in long, thick icicles. That ponds freeze over. That snow storms drop out of nowhere. That people own boots, and several pairs of ski gloves, and say things like, “They’re out salting tonight.” It’s astonishing and slightly absurd how fast it’s all slipped from our Midwest memories.

Jackson asked what that “tepee looking thing” was, while driving east from Buffalo to Syracuse. I explained it was where they kept the salt. He hmpf’d and went on about his business. I thought nothing of it, then a few moments later he said, “Wait, what salt? Table salt?” I guess he thought they liked all their meats brined here. I mean, that’s not wrong, but what I meant was the salt for the roads.

Because in New England and in the Midwest, from Maine to Missouri, Kansas to Connecticut they still salt the roads. They roll out in big trucks, hours, sometimes days before a storm is expected and they lay down a coat of salt. It’s funny how easily I forgot about the way the lines form in the road from the backs of trucks. How K-Mart parking lots turned into makeshift salting HQs. How men smoking cigarettes, with snow plows fastened to their old Chevy trucks, run up and down the road in the dead of the winter and layer this protection on our roads.

Geez, I’m sure there are ramifications. Of course there are. The rusting from the salt. The money for infrastructure. The tax dollars. The equipment, the salt “tepees.” It adds up. And probably, likely, there are safer, more cost-effective, more environmentally-conscious ways. And maybe I’ll investigate more one day. But for now, for tonight, I’ll lie in my hotel bed and remember the men and the trucks. The salting and the K-Mart parking lots. And I’ll miss the Salt Belt a little more.

Stay warm!

M.

I Would Drive 15,000 Miles…

And I would drive 15,000 more, because I have driven 15,000 miles this year and this isn’t how the song goes. But you did try to sing it to the Proclaimers for a minute, right?! Sure you did. And also, this is no joke. My husband, son, and I have driven 15,000 miles this year, and as you know, the year is not yet over. Look it, we are Midwesterners, so if I’m being honest 15,000 isn’t that much for us. You learn young in the Midwest, that if you want to see the “cool” shit, visit the “neat” places, you have to travel. And no one has money to be hopping on airplanes all the damn time, so you drive. Wanna go to a beach, one on an ocean? You be driving. Wanna go to a cool theme park? That’s a drive. Wanna see some historical shit? Some real, salt-of-the-Earth, Mother Nature, God’s Country type shit? You be driving. Want some culture? Driving. Damn, you just want to see a mountain and maybe snap a pic of an elk or something cool like that? That’s at minimum eight hours in the car. So, yeah, 15,000 miles ain’t no thing, but we aren’t stopping there. Jerimiah just booked our hotels for our New Years Eve vacay, which we will be adding another, ohhh, roughly 3,000 more miles to our total for the year. Don’t worry, I’m SURE I will have stuff to tell y’all about when I get back from Canada, Upstate New York, and New England in the dead of winter… (Note: All the red below are links to what I wrote while I was on these many trips, or just something that happened in that place, if you want to go back and reminisce with me!)

So where have we been this year to be racking up those kinda miles? Well, we started off the year with a road trip to Washington, DC where we participated in the Women’s March with friends. That was some wonderful, scary, sad, frustrating, empowering stuff. It was the week of the government shutdown, so there wasn’t much to do around town, but we did make it to the Holocaust Museum with the kids. Then there were two trips “home” and home here means the Midwest. We went to Kansas in May and then back to Missouri and Oklahoma in June. Then there were the four or five trips we made to Atlanta from Charlotte to find a house, enroll Jackson in school, etc. Then there was the actual move from Charlotte to Atlanta. And there were the subsequent trips back this year to see friends in Charlotte.

Then there was the trip to Texas.

Then there were all the trips back and forth to and from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Coastal Louisiana all summer long. AHHHHH!

These miles do not count all the miles that we flew, and there were several thousands of those too. Mainly Jerimiah and his crazy work schedule this year, but also a trip I took out to Arizona to see one of my best friends.

At one point, six months into living in our new house in DeKalb County, Georgia (pronounced Dee Cab, not Dee Cobb for you Midwesterners) we counted up the actual number of nights that the three of us had been home together and the findings were not good. Not good at all. Meanwhile, we have earned so many airline and hotel points that our next vacation to anywhere, is actually free. That’s a lot of miles and points, y’all. Too many, really.

We aren’t normally this busy. In fact, we are homebodies, I know that is hard to believe, but we prefer to be at home. We prefer our own beds. Jesus, it took me months to pick out my bed and I LOVE it. And I like my own bathroom and well, just my own shit, you know? But, if you always stay where you are, you will never get anywhere. So we go. We travel, we move when we need to in order to better ourselves. We linger in new places for a few days, we see new sights, meet new people. We are travelers. Lucky to be able to do it, excited about what is around the next corner. But coming home is always nice too.

So there you have it, 15,000 miles worth of traveling so far this year, hoping to make it to 18,000, and hoping to add to our experiences, our fun, our love for our country, our friends, our family, and the world. Thanks for sharing in our adventures!

M.

On Being Extra

I struggle with my weight. I always have. The first time I can remember thinking that I was fat was when I was nearly four years old. I was at K-Mart with my mom and she was thumbing though the sales rack of the children’s section, and I was hiding in between the circular display. I did this a lot as a kid. In fact, most of the memories I have of shopping with my mother involve her frantically looking for me, after I had wedged myself inside a self-made shelter of some kind. Clothing display racks, toilet paper piles, I even once hid for an entire shopping trip in the bottom of the cart under an empty box. I’m sure my therapist has some stuff to say about that, but let’s save that for another day.

So there I was, inside the actual rack of clothes, standing completely still, watching my mother’s feet go around and around the rack, when I heard a familiar voice approach. It was a woman who my mother knew. Not so much a friend, more like a friend of a friend. I knew her enough to recognize her voice, but still couldn’t remember her name. They exchanged pleasantries, then my mom remarked that she was looking for some new summer clothes for me. The woman offered to help and started thumbing through the rack too. A couple moments passed and she held up an outfit. This was the 80s, mind you, and outfits at K-Mart in the 80s came in two pieces. Shirts with matching shorts. How about this one, the woman asked my mother. My mother told the woman that it was too small. She went on to tell the woman that I was a size 6X. This was the first time that I heard a letter associated with a size of clothing. The woman gasped. She’s not even in preschool yet, right? The woman wondered aloud. Right, my mom said. She’s four this September. Then my mother politely excused herself and called for me. I emerged from my cocoon of clothes and the woman looked very surprised, but she smiled and waved us goodbye. That night I asked my much older, much cooler sister what the X meant in 6X. She said it meant “extra large,” and thus began my journey into being extra.

The thing is, I wasn’t always an extra large, but even when I wasn’t I still felt like it. In elementary school, for example, fifth grade, I was well into adult sizes, but not anywhere near extra large. Middle school, I was still clocking in at a medium or large. But compared to the other girls I was always Extra. Always. Even in high school, on the track team, working out five to seven days a week, limiting my calories, I was still an extra large compared to the other girls. Everything about me was just bigger. Except of course, my confidence.

By college, however, I was definitely into extra. A few years later, double extra. And now, here at this moment, the absolute most extra I have ever been, having just come off whacked-out hormones from a hysterectomy, pills that made me pack on the pounds, and a killer case of the blues. Extra, extra, extra.

I’m fat. I don’t try to hide it, how can I? It’s not like a mental illness that you can cover up with alcohol or self-sabotage. It’s a physical condition. I don’t need to tell people I’m fat, they meet me and can see it for themselves. What really chaps my ass though, is when people assume I like being fat, or that I am not actively trying. I’m trying. I’m always trying. And please don’t mistake me for one of those fat girls who feels good in her skin, because I am not. I LOVE Lizzo, I think she’s incredible and beautiful, but I don’t have her confidence. I don’t have her ability to feel comfortable at the weight I am at. I don’t have other talents that take the pressure off my appearence. I’m just a normal girl, in a normal fat-shaming world, trying to get by. (But I’m super grateful for the big girls out there shaping the way we talk about ourselves and see ourselves as women, because some days I really need it!) It’s just that I have always been extra large, and well, you do get used to it.

This isn’t a diatribe. This isn’t a “feel sorry for me post,” I don’t write those. Nor is this a “light a fire under my ass and start eating healthy” post. I eat healthy. That’s the thing. I have a kid, a kid who is genetically predisposed to being extra, so I work really hard to make sure he is not, and that includes leading by example. But something isn’t right in my body, it hasn’t been for many moons now, particularly after pregnancy, and trauma, and I’m working to get that worked out. It’s just a process, a really long, daunting process.

And the thing is, this isn’t a “fewer calories in, more calories out” fix. Believe me, I’ve tried that. This is deeper than “Keto” or a “30-day cleanse”, as it is for most of us who were always extra. It’s a process. You don’t got from the little girl who hides in clothing racks because she is afraid of people, to suddenly grown up one day and not having any issues. That’s not a thing. My mental health affects my physical health. That is true for all of us. And it can take decades to rectify.

I’m just here to say, don’t quit trying. That’s all. I see you. You are not lazy. You are educated on what you are putting into your body. You are trying to get your mental health under control. You are trying to figure out what makes you tic. How your hormones work. What insulin resistance looks like. How past trauma is holding you back. I see you, and I think you are doing a great job.

As for the little three year old who wore a 6X, she’s okay. She will be okay. One foot in front of the other.

❤️

M.

Seasons

Busy times ahead. Busy times behind. I do love this season. Not just the holiday season, but also the season of life I’m in now. I’ve been thinking about this season of life recently, since the whole social media photo thing erupted last week. You know the one, “Share a picture from the last decade, and the current one” or something like that. Basically a chance to see how you’ve aged. What fun. I haven’t played on social media yet. I was going to, when I came across this photo:

This is a picture from a decade ago. It’s dated November 2009, but I remember the night and it wasn’t November. Not yet. It was Halloween. Jackson’s second Halloween. We had just spent the evening strolling down the Branson Landing with friends. He was Elmo. I was dressed as “Death” and I didn’t need to dress up much because I was sick. So very sick. I’d developed a fever sometime that day, and I wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. But I couldn’t, because it was Halloween! And I was a mommy. A mommy of a toddler hopped up on candy. And sure Daddy was there, but I didn’t want to miss a second.

I think back more often than not and wish to be back in those days, but only for a moment. It’s the little things I miss. The hugs and the kisses. The amazement of everyday things. But Lord Jesus, there is a lot I DON’T miss! Ha! I don’t miss the all-nighters of crying from teeth popping in. Or the seemingly constant colds. The worry about him running off in the grocery store. Or meandering into the deep end of the pool. The anxiety that comes with monthly doctor appointments where he was charted against “the norm.” I don’t miss the lack of sleep. The constant, CONSTANT games of peek-a-boo and “I dropped my sippy cup now pick it up.” I don’t miss the diapers. And the diaper bag filled to the brim every time we left the house. I don’t miss it, but I do remember it.

Today I’m thinking about my friends in the thick of that season now, and I have several. I was a “young” mommy, though at 27, I didn’t feel so young. I have friends who are in this season of life right now and they are pushing 40 and omigod I love y’all and I just don’t know how you do it. But your babies love you, and your families love you, and I know, I know it sucks sometimes. You don’t have to pretend like it doesn’t, because it does. And maybe you tried for years, and maybe you think you can’t afford to complain or you will sound ungrateful. I get that too.

For years my friends didn’t complain, or even talk very much about their babies around me. Why should they? I had lost a baby, they didn’t want to bring that up to me. But listen, it’s okay. It’s okay to talk about your babies. It’s okay to complain. To not be present at all minutes of every day. It’s okay to let Paw Patrol help out sometimes. To skip a night of play, in order to read a book, or take a hot bath alone, with no children screaming at the door (if you can manage it). Its okay to not be so very happy about this season you find yourself in, because it will change. It will get easier. One day you will walk out of the house without an extra bag.

In fact, one day you will get to walk out of the house with just your bag, and your kid will have his own stuff. He will get his own shoes on. He will brush his own teeth, and dress himself. And you will wander into his room at night, when he is asleep, and you will look around. And for a moment you will wish he was sleeping in a crib, with his Elmo jammies on, a half-drank bottle next to him. But then you will see his walls covered in Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or Minecraft. You will open his drawers and see the clothes he put up all by himself. You will realize that he is growing independent. That he is needing you less and less. And sure, absolutely that is scary. But it is also freeing. It is so very freeing to know that you can breath. You can take a step back. You won’t worry less, trust this. But the worry changes. It evolves, sort of like you, and sort of like him.

So yeah, this is a tough season. It is. But slow down. Relax. Take it all in. I know some days it feels like the worst. Some days you are sick, but as a mommy you can’t really be sick, that’s not a thing, and I know that came as a surprise, but now here you are, afraid to even complain about the bad days and just wishing them away. But remember, a new season is just around the corner, and then another, then another. And if we keep trying to rush the season we are in, we will miss out on the really good stuff. The Elmo jammies and the wonder of a butterfly landing on our shoulder. The M&Ms of potty training, and the slobbery kisses. But no one is expecting you to be perfect in this season. No one is expecting you to be happy all the time, or available all the time. And if they are they have never been through this season, or they have forgotten, and it is okay to remind them. Remind them that it is a wonderful season BECAUSE it is a tough season, not in spite of it.

Love to all the mommies out there. I hope you get some sleep tonight.

M.

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.