Friday, July 26, 2013

How Not to Mend a Broken Heart

We were so sheltered in Virginia. 

I thought we were worldly.  Urban.  Right from the street, son.  But now that we're in Louisiana country, down where the "water don't move," I have changed my tune. 

First major difference is how kids physically run back and forth between homes to play here.  What?  People still do that in this day and age?  News to me.  In Virginia, we have play dates where parents almost always attend.  Some of us hover or at least spy-plane during the entire play date to make sure our kids are not making murals from Sharpies all over their walls.  Moms drink booze chat, discuss perimenopause, and occasionally referee an argument to save any child's feelings from getting smashed into pulpy remains. 

I see youuu.

Here in the south?  So very different. These little buggars are largely on their own.  Kids play, moms need not always apply.  No mama girlfriend in tow with a bag of Veggie sticks in one hand and a bottle of Bailey's in the other.  No in-home cookie decorating to keep all age groups united.  No being a 39 year old preschooler along with the 5-year-olds so everyone plays fairly.

It's like going back in time.  Kids are allowed to be kids again, not inmates being policed and monitored by parents who worry for their children's safety.  Kids here are watched from behind closed windows as they scuttle across the street, then outside then inside, then mudroom, sunroom, driveway, back yard, front yard then back inside with their motherless snail rot shoes still on.

"Miss Lady, do you have any snacks," the new group of bellies ask me. 

"Umm...  Yes.  I mean...have you eaten lunch yet?  Are you allergic to peanuts?  What is your name again?  Do you like cucumbers?"

You guys, it's an entire new thing of beauty here.  Pretty much 1984 without shoulder pads and Speak & Spells.

"Grayson, please let me know when you leave the house, and make sure you walk your sister across the street she doesn't look she trips every time thank you!"  Our door closes, the kids shuttle each other across the street and I look sideways for another child to help but none are singing my name whilst on the john or inside a cupboard.  Ahh, such new found freedom in this retro lifestyle.


Until the fight.  My boy and his new friend get into a tiff.  Not a fist fight but enough where I feel the need to halt my joyous cleaning frenzy to mediate.  I, however, make a very poor social worker and New Friend still leaves in a huff even after an apology from my own boy who stands at my left confused that "I'm sorry" does not work.

"Oh Bud, give him some time.  He might come back."

But New Friend never does come back.

Later that night, Grayson tries again but is denied.  He comes to me with chin quivers and tears pushing at his pupils.  "He's not home.  He went to his best friend's house to play with him instead of me."

Oof.  Zing.  Yeah, that one does hurt a bit, Little Man.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask praying he will rather play Lego Batman.  But he does want to talk about it so I pull out my best Maya Angelou and let him know that new friendships are fragile,  take time to grow into something more reliable and firm, and that no caged bird sings or some shit like that.

He lets me squeeze his little bony shoulders to my soft ones and brings his eyes to meet mine.

"Do you think he'll want to play with me ever again?"

Of course I want to say YES!  Every fiber of me wants to reassure him that this too shall pass and everything will be sunflower and coconuts once again but something stops me.  This time I resist the urge to explain away human suffering.  I refuse to give him any more empty promises.  Instead, I hold his face and let him know that I have no idea how things will turn out.

And man alive is it hard to watch my boy and those hurting eyes that, up until that point, believed I always had the power to fix any of his broken things. 

But this time?  I don't feel mending his broken heart is sound parenting.  That practice is getting much too risky now that he's getting older.  He must learn to navigate these sticky social spider webs himself.  And how can he practice that if I keep hovering/spy-planning/mediating the way I've always been?

Grayson and New Friend have not seen each other since the tiff but Grayson seems eager to try again.  His tenacity is admirable but scary.  Personally, I would not try again, after the second rejection. 

Luckily for him, he is not me.  Sadly for me, I must remember that I am not him.  And his heart?  It's his to run inside, then outside then inside, then mudroom, sunroom, driveway, back yard, front yard then back inside with his motherless snail rot shoes still on.

And my heart is to wave to him from behind those closed windows.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


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Before we move to Louisiana, my friend (who lived in LA for years when she was younger), squeezes my shoulder, lets me cry on hers, then snaps me out of it. "You're going to -bleeping- love it there.  You know that, right?"

She is right. I -bleeping- love it here.

Just yesterday the kids and I drive off to visit a funky little nearby town to see some folk art. Folk art, in my opinion, is an understatement.  This museum is a collection of brilliant minds and darkest hours smashed together with patience, nostalgia, and loads of patina.  It takes my kids and I a solid hour to get through the gift shop alone, things are that mesmerizing. Not everyday do you find bacon lip balm, hand-painted wooden spinning tops, and customized black and white prints for sale inside the same four walls. 

The man behind the register welcomes our tribe, then ducks his head low to continue typing on his keyboard. 

He must be a writer.

When I check in with him to see if we should be moving along, only the very tops of his salt and pepper curls are visible.  Those friendly tufts let us know we can putter around as long as we like.  They have all day just like us.

A few more minutes of lingering, then we decide to pay admission and graduate toward the museum.

What we see is unconventional, bizarre and delicious.  Broken plate pieces beautifully alternate with old house keys to line a monster truck tire.  The tire holds in a snapping turtle who pierces the surface of her algae water long enough to let us know she is there.  "Look Mom, it's a snapper, isn't it?!  Isn't it a snapper, Mom!?"  Abby and Grayson climb the wooden fence to prop their bodies high.  Our turtle friend pushes her clawed feet out of the water to make it worth their climb.

When we can tear ourselves from finding her eyes (they are unexpectedly quite close to her nose), we walk through the next archway.  Each building has single rows of colorful tribal spots, polka-dotting their way up the trim of the doorway and back down in lieu of a welcome mat. 

Doors seem redundant here.

The next building we enter pays homage to the great soul artists and jazz musicians of New Orleans.  Rusty saxophones, a lone accordion on its side, and glassed-in miniature exhibits of the city's night life give Abby the heeby-jeebies; a black magic feel.  She wants "up" as she trembles and asks to see more. 

Grayson is touching everything in sight.  There are push buttons, on the outside of each exhibit, that make one thing come to life in every tiny world.  Sometimes a spot-light for a jazz singer, sometimes a little boy jumping on the bed in a swanky hotel.  One button Grayson pushes starts an empty swing to sway back and forth and for a few seconds, we all hold our breath. 

The next room has old pinball machines, video games, and other games of yore the kids cluck around with for less time than I thought they would.  Before long, I find them both staring silently at yet another alligator gar skeleton.

"Is it real, Mommy?"

"I'm not sure if any of this is real, Grayson," I admit.  It seems to all of us, more like a dream.  A cool-funky-retro-world kind of dream.

The end of our tour is my favorite.  My black magic.  The man behind the register allows us into another building lined with the inside lids of paint cans;  frozen in time with their bleached out drips of salmon, orchid, and celery green.  Right away I can see it's his studio.  He explains this is where he writes music, records musicians, and works at building his museum exhibits with wire and small working puppets someone donates from a defunct playhouse.

The three of us step in to a familiar sight:  rugs stretching across uneven floors, lamps leaning against each other, and an old battered up piano standing its ground right there in the middle.  Somewhere must be an old Billie Holiday mic stand.  I can't see it but I know it's there.

I love this room.  This room still hums warm with creativity, ideas and hopes colliding, hard work - the sweaty kind where you lose track of time and drink Sprites to keep your eyes from closing before the light must come back in through the door you wish was not there. 

As the kind register man sits with black-rimmed glasses half-buried under his thick friendly locks, my jaw moves but the words don't come out.  So much living yet to do. 

The kids stay near the door, spinning their free wooden tops where the light comes in.  They don't mind the door. 

We chat a bit more about musicians, pop shields, artists, parenting and I know it's time to go.  

Even though from here?  I'm nowhere near ready to leave.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mrs. Ferguson

"The guy cutting my hair thought I was 27 today," my husband says batting his soft brown eyes at me.  Lucky bastard. 

Truth is my husband really doesn't look near 40.  He has excellent genes.  His wife, however, can no longer pull off twenty-something ever again.  If the crows feet or creased forehead don't give me away, my birthin' hips sure do.  They look like they're still on the clock.  They're not.  It was an early retirement years ago.  Those heffers just stick around like a pesky boyfriend, begging for naps and Pizza/Movie Night.

I think being a full time parent for the past 7 years to my full time children has aged me faster than it has my husband.  Not to say his full time job hasn't taken a physical toll on him either.  I'm sure it has.  It's just that his is hidden underneath the hotness.  You see, being a Marine, he still works out (as part of his daily job, mind you) as much as he ever did.  Which makes it challenging to see the aging process on the outside, is all I'm saying.  Dude can still bench press a refrigerator multiple times, is all I'm saying.  Husband still turns heads of All the Girls in the Yard in swim trunks, is what I'm trying to get across here. 

The other day I jogged across a cache of teenage boys.  Some on skateboards, some shooting hoops with sweaty foreheads.  "Dude.  Is she hot?" One of the boys muttered as I slogged past.  I glanced backward to catch whatever little vixen there was who was about to pass me. 

Only nobody was there.

Shit.  They were talking about me.  So I did what any reasonable almost 40 something woman would do in my position.  I lifted my chin, hummed Immaculate Mary to myself loudly so I wouldn't hear their ever-honest teenager response and sprinted away.  Whew, close one.  Humiliation thwarted.   

Two nights later, I almost opted to run a different route to avoid the boy band.  Terrified my non-hotness would be confirmed by these kids, I wanted to remain a blurry mystery runner girl.  Not an exhausted burnt-out cougarless mommy.  Soon it began to rain.  Sheets and sheets of hard drops drilled down from the sky so I went for it.  Nobody would be out in this crazy storm.  No chance I'd be caught by any onlookers.  It was glorious.  Liberating!  Ridiculously stupid when I realized I had no place to hide my cell phone.

Trying, in vain, to roll the darn thing up my shirt sleeve like a pack of Slims, my slog morphed into a defeated shuffle in the downpour.  Seconds later, I heard a padding on the pavement behind me.  There, at my right shoulder, stood a teenage boy holding out a small beige and black towel.  The same boy who was part of the club I had been trying to avoid.

"Do you need a towel, Miss?" He asked like a concerned student, unaware we were now both sopping wet rats.

"Yes, actually...thank phone needs a towel!  I will bring it back on..."

"Don't worry, we have a million more in the garage, you can keep it," he shouted as he backed into his driveway smiling like a Boy Scout.

And so went any hopes JT and his fellas would never see me up close.  One of them was able to confirm and report back to the others that "Nahh, she looks like old Mrs. Ferguson who teaches World History." 

Oddly enough,  I'm nothing but relieved.  And concerned this young man might now have a cold from standing in the rain.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


"Can you tell us another one, Mommy?"

"Ok, but this is the last one..."

I choose my very first memory.  I am walking down a sidewalk, making letters of the splits in the hot concrete.  Every other square brings a surprise dried-up curl that was once an earthworm.  I can smell lawns being mowed.  Something is glistening near the grass.  A gold rock, a gray rock, and one in between.  Making a cradle for them inside my shirt, I get these finds home to pour over.  Seeing how highly they are revered, Mom brings over a small white jewelry box with protective stuffing inside.  With curator's hands, I nestle my treasures in that box, close the lid, and open it every few minutes to stare.

"I bet they are beautiful," Abby whispers.

"Rocks." Grayson's eyebrows are low and flat.  "Um.  Can you tell us the one when Uncle Eric almost killed you because you forgot to change his turtle cage and the turtle ate all the fish?  You know, the one where Boompa was like, "There's been a masssaaaccccrrrreeee!"

"Was one of the rocks sparkly, Mommy?" Abby isn't ready to move on.  Her eyes are looking past mine and she's smiling for the first time today.

"Yes, as I recall.  And even a little bit gold." 

"You mean, rainbow?  Was it sparkly and rainbow?"

Even though my girl defies parental wishes in thirty minute increments, uses only her most operatic bellows 98% of the time, and charges through the house like a tiny pirate, at this second I see her through the eyes of an admirer, not only a responsible mom.  I recognize a fellow artist.  The way her mind sees without trying.  The way her heart accepts without questioning.  The way her imagination adds color automatically inspires me to remember.  Something in me stirs after a long hibernation...

"Yes, Honey.  Now that you mention it.  One was definitely rainbow."



Thursday, July 4, 2013

New Girl

I owe my children a huge apology.

For years I've asked them to, "Go play with Caleb," or "Share your umbrella with Kylie," when Caleb and Kylie were children we had just met at their new school or playground. 

"No."  They'd balk, "Pick me up." They'd request.  And my mama heart would go out to the rejected Kylie, not my own confused child who thought I'd hit my head and forgotten we did not actually know these people.

Now I am the one who needs to make new friends.  And it's really hard. 

"Mama, just go talk to her," my four year old purrs.  "Her phone is just like yours.  Purple!"  For a minute I consider this sound advice and almost make the attempt.

"Hmm." I balk.  "Need me to pick you up?" I request but Abby stands her ground. 

"MA-ma, just go," she tries again with a practiced amount of stern.

"I'm thirsty, let's get a drink."  Before she revisits her sweet pep-talk, we are dopping toward the water fountain like two puppies. 

Now I see how ridiculous we parents are for forcing friendships, even through the guise of being helpful. 

We're not really being helpful.  We're being worried.  Worried our kids won't have a buddy.  A network.  Someone with whom to text, "WTF, no more edamame chips left at TJs," when they're thirty.

When what we should do is stand back and let the kids find each other.  Even if it's not the friend we thought they'd pick for themselves.  Even at two years old, kids know who they like.

Sometimes I think we'd have more success at asking our children to throw a ball in a crowd and see who pops out.  "Play with zee first one zat moves, dahhlink.  Zat vill be a goot friend for you."

Or maybe we should get our children to stand next to every kid in the playground and see what happens.  Don't talk.  Don't fake smile.  Just stand there and vibe it out. Vibe out the whole merry-go-round if you need to, brother, one of those sniffly buggars will resonate.

How about asking them where they live.  How long they've been living in that house.  No, that's weird.  And most likely illegal. 

I know.  Take a lap around one, smile awkwardly without looking directly into their face, and hope they think you're really nice, have excellent taste in Gogurts, and want to check out your Princess tea party situation.  Yes.  That should have them lining up to book play dates by the dozens.

Whichever way you slice it, putting yourself out there to make a new friend is tough.  It feels unnatural.  Utterly uncomfortable.  Exasperatingly uncool.

There's a really nice mom in the neighborhood who stopped to return a piece of our mail that had accidentally landed in her mailbox. I was mowing my yard, looking a little something like this:

Sweaty with layer of sheen, tomato pink about the face, and in my best tie-dye. 

Yet there we were, two moms chit chatting in my driveway like it wasn't raining salty water from my nose. 

This mom is lovely.  I don't know what she thinks of me but she invited us to a play date the next day so my guess is she's ok with effusive smiling and pink and black workout tanks showing through. 

The truth is truth whether you're four or thirty-nine, you can't force friendships.  They simply sprout up from your grassy weed riddled yard when the time is right.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


When one of your main people dies, you wake up each day a little more disconnected.

Part of you isn't here anymore.

Then you go running, tip your chin to the puffy clouds above and fall into a giddy default daydream about seeing him over Christmas or Oh! maybe Thanksgiving? 

And you wake up, already awake, to wonder at yourself for not knowing for a few seconds.  When you always know.  You never stop knowing.  Every minute of your day is spent paler, further away, hungry for something it wants but can never have again:  the way it was when things were perfect.

Jimmy is my giddy.  My look forward to.  My can't wait to see him.  He is our Trump card for the holidays or birthday parties.  If you have Jimmy then everyone will come because they want to see him, not eat your dinosaur birthday cake.  Jimmy is the reason I ever wrote to get things out of my head.  To show him that yes, I get it, words fit together when nothing else does and now I can't stop either.

I can't stop missing him.  And like my mom says, we won't.  Our main person is gone.  And also like she says so innocent and precious-like, "I like missing him.  It feels like he's close." 

I've taken up running again.  Not for fun, I hate running.  I want to miss him purely and uninterrupted for 30 whole minutes.  24 whole minutes with a six minute cool-down if I'm being honest.

During the run, I watch my legs - strong and pounding like hell on a road I barely know or give a sh*t about yet.  Making peace with new surroundings seems apropos with making peace with this new life. 

Except I'm not making peace. 

I'm making motion.  A slow plodding jackass crawl through this steamy air so I can miss him and pretend his legs are mine, strong and pounding like hell on a road he barely knows or gives a sh*t about.  Motion feels right.  Slow motion feels annoying but it's all I've got.  The Tortoise Girl.

Jimmy was a runner through and through - fast, strong, often.  He wouldn't stop for anything.  Not even a broken heart. 

Through some of this new disconnect, there is a tug I feel toward the sky - like an ongoing conversation.  The message sometimes lost but this vast landscape shows patience with me, with my tendency for looking down.  It waits with decent clues for when I'm exhaling in twos and forgetting everything.

The human in me wants to process, shelve and categorize but thankfully I'm enough gypsy to know that's just science. 

The sky tugs at me like a child does to the hem of her mother's shirt.

Like my own, it's determined to get my attention;  it will not be ignored.

I'm running.  I'm listening.

I hear you, Jimmy.