Monday, June 13, 2016

Uh Oh!

Someone asked me a few days ago if I had abandoned my blog. Answer? Not intentionally. After logging on to the site a few minutes ago I was astounded to realize I haven't posted ANYTHING in over a year! How did I let that happen? Was I busy? Neglectful? Lazy? Yeah, probably that last one. Oh well...

My life is once again in a transition stage. For the past twenty-nine years I've been a teacher. Out of all that time I've spent all of it save one year in the same job. I didn't realize how truly unusual that is in this day and age until I stopped to think about several friends' careers. It seems to have several jobs over the course of one's career is the norm these days. Oh, well, I've never claimed to be normal! I have one year left. So what next? Heck if I know! I've actually thought about being a freelance writer. Maybe it's my ego influencing me, but I think I'd do okay with that. I've never seemed to have a problem getting words on paper once I'm inspired. My only real question concerns how I would actually go about staring a second career as a writer? Anybody out there got any suggestion? I'm open to them!

This coming school year will be a year of lasts: the last first day, the last holiday breaks, the last spring break, the last senior class, the last research paper, the last everything that has been my "normal" every year since I graduated from college. I have to admit that the very idea of sitting in my chair this same time next year and NOT thinking about different ways to keep my class interesting or cruising office supply sites for cool stuff for my classroom is quite daunting. I think that, for now, I just won't think about it. What is it Scarlet says? Tomorrow is another day.

Erin and T.J. are doing great. They've celebrated their third anniversary (I know!!!!) and seem to be building a strong marriage and a life for themselves. I worry less now than I did in the beginning. I still love hearing about what they're up to and still don't mind if they pick and choose the things they want to share. I don't stalk on Facebook and try remember that they are young and busy... calling "mommy" every day just doesn't fit their profile! Ha! We text more than talk and that's really okay with me. I like being able to send her a message knowing that if she is busy she can wait until she has a break to answer. I don't want to interfere in their lives, just be considered an interested outsider.

John and I recently celebrated our twenty-ninth anniversary and are still going strong ourselves. I love the life we have built together and am excited to see what this next stage of our lives will bring. John still has a few more years to work before he can retire so I'm sure I'll be ready for him to by the time he can.

This summer I'm having trouble finding the motivation to do the things I normally do in the summer. Erin was able to come for a visit the first week after school was out and I refused to clean out closets when I could sit and visit with her instead. But, it's been a week since she left and I've still done nothing more than basic housecleaning. I know if I don't quit losing hours in my Nook and playing computer games I will regret not having done my rituals once I have to go back to school. What does that ritual entail? Those things my mother seemed to instill in me as I was growing up that were essential to the smooth running of a home: clean out closets and donate items I no longer use / want to Goodwill, wash windows, clean baseboards, clean ceiling fans and light fixtures, organize the pantry, clean kitchen cabinet doors, clean out and reorganize my laundry room, go through our DVDs and be realistic....that one always gets me. I really do want to do those things before I go back to school in August. I know that if I don't, I'll feel as if I've wasted my whole summer. But the pool looks so nice, the days have been beautiful, and the cleaning / organizing will be here tomorrow, won't it? Yup!

We probably won't see Erin again until her friend Bethany's wedding in August. We haven't talked about upcoming holidays so plans are still up in the air. When she was here we tried to remember the last time she was home. It was actually Thanksgiving before last. A year and a half. Now how did THAT happen? Getting TJ here with her has become relatively impossible. He is so crazy busy with the dairy that John and I have decided it is less stressful on all of us for the two of us to just go there. They live in a beautiful little town and we love visiting with them. We know how demanding TJ's job is and we don't expect him to drop everything while we are there. Seeing his drive and ambition is reassuring. He and Erin have things they enjoy doing together and they have individual activities they each do for themselves. It works for them, so it works for us, too.

I promise to pay more frequent attention to my blog. Maybe I'll be inspired and have something more to talk about than the mundane details of my middle-class life. Until then...don't forget to look for the beauty in simple things and tell the ones you love how important they are to you.

By the way, the pictures are from last year's anniversary trip to Disney World. No vacation yet this summer, but we're working on it! We did go see Harry Connick, Jr. in concert last weekend, though!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stupid Delta!

I’m sitting here tonight waiting for it to get dark so that I can go to bed. I know…I’m old enough to know when I need to go to bed, but it is just all I can do to head that way before it gets dark. To say the least, it has been a trying weekend. To quote a beloved family member: Stupid Delta!!

John and I make the trip north to Erin and T.J.’s as often as time and work permit. Thankfully I had a four-day weekend this past week and we decided to take advantage of it. The plan was to fly up on Thursday when I got out of school, spend Thursday through Sunday night, and fly back on Monday. John had to go on to Indianapolis for a work thing, so I was to fly home alone. As a famous poet once said, “the best laid plans…” Yeah. Right.

Thursday worked out great! I had very few students due to nine weeks testing so I was actually able (with a little help from a dear friend) to leave a little after lunch time. I was able to get the pre-trip jobs done (water the dog, feed the cat, gather garbage to be taken out, etc.) before John got home so actually getting out of the house was easier than it often is. We had planned to fly out of Montgomery for whatever reason. Our usual jumping off point is Pensacola or Fort Walton. Should have known better than to mess with a plan that works. Anyway…flight coming in to Montgomery from Atlanta was delayed due to mechanical difficulties. John had planned for a FULL HOUR layover in Atlanta. Plenty of time, huh? WRONG!! Never, ever, and I mean never give yourself just one hour between flights. I don’t care how good you are at jumping turnstiles and running through airports. Planes never run on time and there is always the possibility of a glitch here or there. Sure enough, this trip was doomed for lots of little glitches. We missed our connection in Atlanta. Sat around the airport for three hours hoping to get a seat on the next flight. Ended up third and fourth on the standby list but the flight was full. Stood in line another hour at the Delta help desk trying to get a hotel voucher and reschedule our flight on to Milwaukee for the next day. Finally ended up in a hotel room very, very late. Got up the next morning to get the first flight out. Result? Missed visiting with Erin and having dinner the night before. Stupid Delta.

The visit went great despite our travel woes. T. J.’s sister Tara, an incredibly talented young woman, agreed to come down from Chicago where she is in school to take some family photos for us in exchange for us allowing her to us them in her portfolio for school. She is already creating quite a name for herself with her photographs. Naturally talented with an incredible sense of style. John and I had found the clothes Erin suggested we wear so we would “fit in” with the fall colors we were looking forward to. Pictures went great – love them, Tara! Time together was great. Weekend was much too short. Woke up Monday morning to weather in Clinton with worse weather moving in from the Gulf Coast all the way to Chicago. Wasn’t looking good for the trip home. Sure enough, my flight out of Milwaukee was delayed: first for thirty minutes, then for an hour, down to five minutes by the time we got to the airport, then back up to an hour before I actually took off. The pilot told us we would be taking a “circuitous” route to Atlanta and approaching from the eastern side via the Carolinas. Took an extra thirty minutes on top of estimated flight time. Maybe John should have flown out with me. The pilot said we were headed toward Indianapolis first and then would circle around to come around to approach Atlanta. Seemed a long way out of the way to me. That delay meant I missed my connection in Atlanta to Montgomery. Deja vu anyone? Yep. Got a message through my Delta app on my phone about the flight delay so I went ahead and made hotel reservations and rescheduled my flight for Tuesday morning. Meant I had to get a substitute and navigate the whole mess for an extra day. Found myself in line for security at Hartsfield-Jackson this morning at 4 a.m. central time. Took me around an hour and a half to get through security. The place was a mad house with people trying to make up flights and get to their destinations. Finally made it out on a 9 a.m. flight. Now that is a flight I will always remember. I actually heard women screaming as the plane rolled, dropped, bounced…basically took us for a ride I’m not sure I ever want to repeat outside an amusement park. The flight attendant kept reassuring us, from the safety of her seat where she was securely strapped in, that it was just “rough air” and that everything would be fine. It really was just really bad turbulence, but those sudden drops are heart stopping! The flight from wheels up to touch down was just a little over thirty minutes. Don’t think I’ve ever been quite so happy to see Montgomery in my life.

While the beginning and ending travel associated with our trip was memorable, the time in between was wonderful. Our time with Erin and T.J. always seems to be pretty relaxed. I hope that they don’t feel that they have to plan entertainment for us. We always seem to get along pretty well just sitting around reading, watching TV, or playing with their puppy who, by the way, is obsessed with John. Erin says she grieves for him when we leave.

I spent a lot of time this weekend just watching them. It is comforting to see just how easy they are with each other. They have celebrated their first anniversary and are almost half way through their second year of marriage. While the honeymoon may be over, their marriage is off to a running, happy start. They have and are facing those little adjustments we all make at the beginning of relationships. They are learning how to pick their battles and what really matters and what doesn’t. Of course, what those things are differ from relationship to relationship. Erin recently completed her college degree and is now adjusting to having a bit more free time on her hands. She has upped her volunteer time with her church, plays volleyball with a local league, works out at the gym with T.J., and is perfecting her skills as a domestic goddess. We are proud of her. She easily could have quit taking classes and let her college education go, but she didn’t. She stuck with it. The only semester she took off was the one during which she got married. We all knew that if she registered for classes that semester, the only result would be wasted money. She still graduated on time. She balanced a new marriage with completing her degree very successfully.

I think John and I both are conscious of being good in-laws. We don’t ever want to be a point of contention between the two of them. We like him. He loves her and is good to her. He has supported her decision to complete her degree and has provided a life for her that allows her to choose her activities based on what she loves and wants to do rather than on what she feels she has to do. She has taught herself to be an incredible cook and ventures into being a hostess for their friends and, occasionally, T.J.’s employees. She is making a home they both can be proud of. I have often worried in the past year or so that she would be bored once she graduated unless she had a plan for some kind of work. At one time she talked about opening a business. I don’t know if that’s still in the plans, but I’m sure that if it is, she will pursue success in that venture with the same dedication she has applied to building her home and marriage. We like going there. We can relax and just visit with the two of them. We don’t worry about whether or not they are able to pay their bills, if they are happy, if they are treating each other well, whether or not his family likes her or is treating her well. I believe that john and I are privileged to be able to do that. I’m sure there aren’t very many parents whose only worry when they visit their children is whether or not they will have to worry about flight delays or weather.

All in all this weekend was very successful. I always get a bit sad when she drops us off at the airport in Milwaukee. I’m sure she has noticed that on the trip from Clinton on the day we leave that I am very quiet. I hardly have anything to say. It’s simply because I am trying very, very hard not to let myself be sad knowing that it may be months before I’ll be able to see her again. Luckily I know she’ll be home for Thanksgiving if only for a couple of days. After that, I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. I’m sure that both she and we will be looking for that next opportunity to fit in a few days whenever we can. If we can, I know we’ll take advantage of it regardless of possible travel worries. This time the airline cost me a night and part of a day visiting with them. Maybe next time, we’ll get lucky.

Who knows? Stupid Delta.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is wanting to be alone really all that bad?

I recently had a conversation with a very dear friend in which I found myself discussing something I didn’t think I would ever really talk about with anyone. Thankfully, she didn’t think I was unusual in my appreciation for the art of being alone and quiet. Sounds strange, I know. What sparked this conversation was the end of a very long day at the end of a very stressful week. I seem to be having lots of those lately. You know how it is. You notice something a little “off” in yourself and, in a need to prove to yourself that you aren’t weird, you drop hints into a conversation to sound out others’ possible reactions. What I found was encouragement and an “I thought I was the only one” reaction.

I’m sure that everyone who goes into any profession at some point in a long career stops to question the sanity of actually having not only chosen the profession in the first place but also having continued to do it once maximum stress levels have been reached and boundaries pushed. With coming up on twenty-seven years of teaching under my belt, I have found myself doing that relatively frequently over the last couple of years. I can remember not very many years ago I had so much energy and excitement about my job that I got excited coming up with new, creative ways to present material to my students. Now, I am at work by 6:45 or so and am there until around 4:00 each day. But, I’m not getting as much accomplished as I did when I rushed in right at 7:25 on a wing and a prayer. Why is that? I hit the ground running just as hard every single day yet at day’s end have a list equally as long as the one I came in to in the morning. It seems I spend my day cleaning off my desk.

This friend and I were discussing our confusion concerning a proper attitude about our current stress level. There is no end in sight, actually. There is no fix, quick or otherwise. Looking back at myself over the past few years I realized that I am spending more and more time sitting in absolute quiet and letting time slip by . . . and loving every minute of it. I treasure it, actually. I once came home from work in the afternoons and the first thing I did was turn on the television for either noise or company. Now? There are nights John and I don’t turn it on at all. Often when he comes home from work, if he didn’t see my car in the garage and me in my chair he probably wouldn’t even know I was home. There were days last summer that I sat down with a book and a cup of coffee in the mornings and suddenly realized that the day had slipped away and I had accomplished nothing on my “to do” list for the day. And I didn’t feel guilty!! For the first time in my life, I was spending copious amounts of time doing absolutely nothing and there wasn’t even a hint of a voice in my head generously murmuring how guilty I should feel at having wasted so much time. Want to know what the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about retirement is? Quiet. Absolute, ear-roaring, listen-to-the-house-creak quiet. It settles me and helps me to separate work from home. I don’t bring home as much work anymore. I know that could possibly be interpreted as a contributing factor to the amount of work I have to do at school, but you know what? It hasn’t. I know. I don’t understand it, either. I haven’t figured out how to do that trick to alleviate guilt associated with undone ironing and floors, yet. I’m sure John would just as soon I not work on that little problem.

Anyway…I digress. Back to the conversation with my friend. In our conversation over how our lives seem to be more full than we can handle, I mentioned to her that once someone had described me as being pretty much a loner; someone who doesn’t form close, personal relationships with either friends or family. This description continued by characterizing me as someone who suffered from a lack of a social life due to this inability to gather for myself a close network of friends with whom I would drift in and out of each other’s lives on a daily basis. What I wanted my friend to tell me was whether she thought that was an accurate description of me: do I, whether intentionally or not, distance myself from others? I have actually thought about this description of myself frequently over the past few years. It has bothered me to the point that I actually sit and think about it for extended periods of time, agonizingly dissecting every relationship in my life. My friend actually seemed a bit surprised when I asked her. She said she hoped there wasn’t anything wrong with enjoying time alone (or with just a spouse) when she does the same herself.

I never have been one of those people who spends Saturdays out with friends shopping and talking. Don’t get me wrong. When I do spend time that way, I have a blast! It just doesn’t seem to be essential to my happiness to do this on a regular basis. I don’t like talking on the phone. I don’t spend my evenings calling various friends to discuss our day. I do that with John. No matter what I tell him or how much I whine about my day, he just listens: no harm, no foul. I have several friends that I can think of off the top of my head that I believe I could call at any time, for any help I may need, with any problem, and be confident in the fact that they will drop what they are doing to help me. Even if the only help I need is a sympathetic ear. I admit that I do not have a large, extensive circle of close friends. I make a distinction between acquaintances and intimate friends. Acquaintances are those people whom I encounter either frequently or even on a daily basis but with whom I do not discuss personal topics. With these people I share stories of my students, of my daughter, or my frustration with the problem of the day. I have lots of those kinds of people in my life. Those whom I think of as friends are those people with whom I have a shared history. We know each other’s stories already. They know the bad, embarrassing stories as well as the funny ones or those of my child’s accomplishments. These few know about all the embarrassing things I’ve done (have often been there to witness it themselves) and do not judge me for them. They know about my numerous bad decisions over the course of my career / marriage / life and are willing to tell me that I was wrong, to tell me it wasn’t really my fault, or to simply look at me as if they are amazed that I even thought I was right in the first place. I trust these people to be brutal. I do have some very dear friends that I think about often but who do not know these details about me. But, the ones that do are what I think of as intimate friends. Between those two categories lies one that incorporates a few of the characteristics of both. I'm not even sure what to call that one.

When I stop to consider these women (and a couple of men), it is easy to see how each came into my life when I needed them and, often similarly, drifted out again just as quietly until the next time I seemed to need them. One came into my life in elementary school and she and I still worry about one another, are critical of each other when it is called for, are sympathetic to each other’s heartaches and worries. Our friendship has grown over the years into one that I treasure and don’t have to work at. She isn’t offended if we don’t communicate frequently. We see each other when we can and selfishly guard those moments. A half hour visit often turns into an afternoon. Our friendship has known its highs as well as its lows and survived the course. If she needs me I will go; if I call her she will come. One friend I met in college and she helped drag me out of the depths of homesickness. Since then her life has taken her very far away and we don’t talk as we once did. Social media helps to keep us in each other’s lives now. Two others have become part of my life and very dear to me through work. Their youngest children are close in age to Erin and they have listened to my countless stories of the frustrations of being a parent. Knowing they had experienced the same problems kept me from being hesitant about asking for advice. One of those I make “dates” with during the summer and we’ll meet for lunch and have long, wonderful visits. I’m sure waitresses hate to see us coming as we are notorious about hogging a table well past the lunch rush. The other is the friend with whom this whole thought process began.

This last friend has listened to me whine and complain about everything from my feet hurting because I felt the need to wear my “big girl” shoes to work to the days when depression so overwhelms me that I can’t seem to breathe. I know that her life for the past couple of years has been a series of setbacks set off by occasional miracles. I think I have learned my biggest lessons in how to be gracious and grateful from her over the past two years. She has days – weeks – that I know would cripple a lesser soul, yet she continues to push herself to be everything she has always been to everyone she has always been it for. In the quiet of a late-night break room she listened to me tell her how someone had once described me and how that description continues to haunt me. With two very short sentences, which are so personal that I will not share them here, she made me feel that while some of that description is surely true, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those parts are not positive. As a matter of fact, she is the same in many aspects.

So, you know what? While I may spend my days, and many long nights, sitting listening to the quiet, reading a book, or even waiting for the sun to rise, I will no longer wonder if that means there is something missing in me. Instead, I choose to believe that while I may not have a bulging social calendar, I am not a worse person for it. I spend my life with my closest friend and he thinks I’m okay the way I am. In today’s world of constant, instant communication and noise everywhere, what's wrong with that anyway?

Monday, April 7, 2014

One Down...

This weekend Erin and T. J. celebrated their first anniversary. It seems so surreal. Just yesterday she was playing with her toys in a toy room that couldn’t – or maybe shouldn’t – be navigated without steel toed boots. John and I were able to go visit the first weekend of my spring break. They seem to have settled in to married life quite easily. I’m sure there have been bumps along the road. While bumps are awfully uncomfortable while you’re experiencing them, they are one of the most effective ways to work out problems and learn. Working out how to be a happily married couple while under a microscope is virtually impossible. That is why, even though I miss her every day, I think it is best that Erin and her new husband do not live within easy “visiting” distance from the rest of her family.

I’m sure that every newlywed couple faces the same issues. They’re universal, aren’t they? Money, vacations, holidays, in-laws, bathroom etiquette. Did I miss one? These issues may be resolved on a regular basis but they do have a tendency to continue to come up in conversations: loud, uncomfortable conversations sometimes. I think the trick is learning to follow the only piece of advice I have ever found to be truly helpful. What is that advice? Pick your battles!

Money has been the impetus for many marriages finding themselves on the trash heap and another in a long list of statistics. John and I seem to have found a way to avoid arguing about this particular trigger topic. I’m not so sure that we dealt with it so much as we have avoided it. For a while we shared a checking account. SO didn’t work for me. While my husband is very generous and has never denied me when I’ve asked for money, the problem is that I can’t bring myself to ask. Sharing an account means that one or the other actually gets custody of the checkbook. That means that person is also in charge of the check register. That horrible little booklet where I’m supposed to list every check I’ve written, to whom, and for how much. Really? I have to be accountable to someone other than myself for where my money goes? Not so sure I’m comfortable with that! It isn’t like I’m funding international crime rings or anything. It’s just that I feel that my money is just that - - mine. I’m sure John feels the same way and doesn’t want to have to tell me where all his money goes, either. I’m not really sure how long the joint checkbook thing lasted, but not too long, I’m sure. We now have separate checking accounts. Whew! Erin grew up in a home where the mother was uncomfortable asking for money. She never had a problem asking for money from me while she was living at home, but she seemed to have the same problem that I have when it came to asking her dad for money. As a result, he never really had a clue how much raising a daughter truly costs. Now that she is married, she is going to have to come to terms with her feelings about money and make sure she and T.J. come to terms about how their money will be handled. What advice can I offer? NONE! It’s none of my business. As long as she is cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, I will be staying out of that completely! That doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally send a gift card just so she can have some mad money in her pocket.

Vacations and holidays sometimes go together. We were lucky enough to get to go spend Christmas with her. We stayed a LONG time! Probably too long for comfort for the two of them. I’m not really sure how the holidays deal is going to work out. It isn’t as if his family lives much closer than we do. Maybe a couple of hours but no more. His father does come about once a week, but on dairy business, not just to visit. I have determined, though, that working out where they will spend holidays is going to have to be their decision. T.J.’s job isn’t exactly one that he can just decide on the spur of the moment to take a few days and come south. I am determined to be a good mother-in-law and take what time they can give us and be grateful for it. I’m sure I will probably get a bit more possessive when/if grandchildren come in to the picture, but not behaving myself and being gracious would just make their lives miserable. I don’t want to be the relative they tolerate for the occasional visit that, regardless of the length of the visit, lasts much too long. Someone out there, please remind me of this in the years to come. I’m sure I will need an occasional booster kick in the pants.

Now…bathroom etiquette! All I can say here is that this particular issue can be an on-going battle. I don’t think I have had a bath with 100% assurance of privacy since we were married. Even a shut door doesn’t seem to indicate that the person in the room doesn’t wish to be disturbed. We have two more full baths in the house as well as a half-bath. Can we really not just use the facilities in one of those? Is it absolutely necessary that you come through two shut doors (bedroom then bathroom) to come to the sink in our bathroom to wash your hands? I think the only issue we haven’t needed to address is whether the toilet tissue rolls from the top or the bottom. Whoever replaces the old roll gets to make that decision for the both of us.

As is evident, I am just a font of helpful advice! Fortunately, I think, I have been able to keep my wonderful advice to myself and out of my daughter’s marriage. If she asks, what will I do? Answer her. Non-judgmentally, lovingly, and with an eye for fairness. I must remain focused on the topic at hand and remember that she may sometimes simply be venting and not looking for an answer. She hasn’t looked to us to solve her problems in many, many years. Her independent streak is very wide and very distinct. She is also just enough like me that I realize that my taking any side, even hers, could cause a gradual undermining of our relationship. First and foremost it is important to remember that T.J. is her husband. Serious conversations about their problems should be held privately and with no one’s input but each other’s. They are both very young, yet both have also been taught by their parents to make careful, thoughtful, deliberate decisions. That won’t guarantee that all those decisions will work out precisely the way they plan, but then they will know those decisions were their own and weren’t influenced by anyone outside their home. They will just be bumps in the road to their future together. Opportunities from which they can learn and grow stronger. Do I think they can do this? Sure I do. In fact, I know they can. The evidence lies in the looks I see pass between them when they aren’t aware anyone is watching. Their obvious love and concern for each other is obvious. Even now a year later the look in their eyes reflects the same look that was there at their wedding. Their first priority is each other. What mother could ask for more for her daughter?

Erin and T.J., remember to pay attention to little things. Those are the really important things, anyway. Large, expensive gifts make a statement and there are certainly occasions where that sort of thing is appropriate. Your dad has done those things for me, and I remember each and every one. But the ones that touched my heart? The little gestures. You already know the story of when he gave me his heart, both literally and figuratively. I believe I still have them both. Ask me sometime about a particular special evening watching fireworks from a lifeguard stand or a stormy early evening that we spent the time just watching the rain.
I think my favorite quote about love was by Tom Hanks’ character in Sleepless in Seattle: “It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it.”
You guys are meant to be together – I just know it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teach Your Children Well

“Teach your children well” is part of a line from a song that I love. Given, it isn’t exactly in the current Top 40, but then neither am I. I could get maudlin here and say that this phrase inspired me to become a teacher but that isn’t even close to being true. Actually, this phrase was running around in my head this morning when I woke up. You know those days when you have a song you just can’t get out of your head and you don’t know where it came from? Well, it’s one of those days. For some inexplicable reason I woke up around 4 a.m. with that song ringing in my ears. Why today? Probably because of something I was thinking about last night as I was lying in bed waiting for sleep to find me.

Today is our anniversary. Twenty-six years ago today I made one of the biggest decisions of my life and stepped out on faith. This wasn’t a decision I think I consciously made, though. It was one that I just somehow knew was right. John and I had dated a little before deciding we really didn’t have anything in common. Even after talking it over and deciding maybe we didn’t need to see each other anymore, we still seemed to be drawn to each other. I don’t know how he felt about it at the time, but I intentionally chose to learn to like the music he does, the food he does, the movies he does. Um, yeah. Didn’t happen. We have, over the years, met in the middle on those issues. We found music we can agree on, movies that we both love, and foods we gravitate to when we are celebrating. It was a start.

Our life together has been freakishly smooth. I’m not saying there haven’t been times he and I could have justified to any court having strangled the other. I’m sure there have been times when he has looked at me and wondered how in the world he ended up where he is. I ask occasionally and he assures me he is happy with the choices we have made for the direction our lives have taken. I guess he is – he’s still here.

Neither John’s nor my parents are still married. Mine divorced when I was young; John’s not until he was an adult. I don’t remember much about the time when my parents were married, but I do remember their divorce was a good thing for both of them. I don’t think John saw it coming with his parents. I’m pretty sure he didn’t. I guess you could say that together we have seen two different kinds of marriages. As a result, we have consciously built our relationship with an eye toward avoiding those mistakes. Have we always been successful? I think so, but who can really say? I think our biggest secret to having been married this long is that we like each other. He makes me laugh and doesn’t laugh at me when I cry at movies. He doesn’t judge. While I know there is no way he can truly understand what my job involves and how it has changed over the years, he is, by turns, supportive and defensive in the sense that he does what he can to protect me from the stresses my job brings with it. We both really want the other to be happy.

Erin and T.J. have been married now for close to two months. As far as I know, things are going well. As any two young people who join their lives, they each bring different experiences to the marriage. People learn by observing others. What we perceive as “normal” depends entirely on what form of normal we have been raised with. I hope that she has paid attention. I’ve heard for most of my life that girls marry their daddies; that the way they see their fathers behaving toward their mothers is what they consider normal. I’m not so sure that is true in every case, but I hope it is in hers. My husband is a good man. He works hard, treats me with respect, is careful of my happiness, and devotes himself to raising our daughter in a secure, loving home. He is a wonderful parent and balances my occasional trips to crazy. He is a gentle presence in our home yet, when he felt he had to, his voice could carry a hint of steel when Erin needed to understand he meant business.

That song, which is still rolling around in my head by the way, encourages us to “teach our children well.” I hope that we have. I hope that we have taught Erin how to make a happy marriage where the couple support, defend, comfort, encourage, and respect each other. I think the biggest thing I want her to have learned by watching us, is to be sure that she and T.J. build a life that includes no one else but the two of them. I’m sure there are children in their future. They have talked about the pertinent issues: how many, when, etc. I hope that she doesn’t feel that we were not positively involved in her life as a child. But, I also want her to be able to think back over that time and see that her father and I were in the process of building a life together that would be there for us when she was gone. Parents don’t have children with an eye to when those children will leave home. However, I believe the most important thing parents can do is to teach their children to be successful, independent adults. Once those children are launched onto the world, there has to be something left for the parents when the dust settles and the house is once again quiet. That’s where we are on this twenty-sixth anniversary and it’s a very good place to be.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So, Here We Are...

I know that it has been a while since I’ve blogged and I feel that I should apologize to those faithful few who do actually check my page occasionally. Those few are those who have an interest in what’s happening with my family and are tolerant of the frequent emotional posts. Sorry, guys, but I just haven’t been able to put my thoughts into any recognizable, coherent order lately.

For those of you who do know my family and have been keeping up with us this past year, you know what a wild ride it has been! Now that the excitement is over and real life has settled in yet again, I’ve found that I can actually talk about it without becoming too overly emotional. On April 6th Erin and T.J. were married. I hope that she remembers more of that weekend than I do. It was such a whirlwind of activity that as I’ve been looking back at the pictures I realize just how much I missed. You know, there are things that every mother just knows she will do with her daughter on the day her daughter is married. I’m sure you know the things I’m talking about: helping her put on her dress and veil, quiet moments with just the two of you to absorb the moment, seeing her father see her in her dress for the first time. I missed that. All of it. The lady who fixed her hair (three times…until Erin was happy with it) attached her veil. Probably just as well since she would have had to redo it when I was done anyway just to make sure it would stay. Even though we had all day and Erin and I did spend more time together than I thought we were going to be able to, there really wasn’t a time for us to just sit and take it all in. Her bridesmaids helped her into her dress and she was already dressed by the time I made it down to the room where they were meeting for pictures. What was I doing? Trying to get myself into my dress and her dad’s button covers on his tux done. I missed it. But, I was with her when she found her dress and for all subsequent fittings so it isn’t as if I don’t have special memories attached to it anyway. I’ve seen pictures of the moments just before John walked her in for the ceremony that show how very proud he was of her that night…and still is, by the way. So, even though I missed it, I still know the moment was special for the both of them.

The ceremony was beautiful. I hope it was everything Erin and T.J. had imagined it would be. I did really well. Better than I thought I would, actually. I was okay while the groomsmen walked in. I even laughed a little at the look on T.J.’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile so big. I think it speaks for T.J. that his groomsmen were willing to travel so far to share the day with him. Then, I thought I was going to fall apart when the bridesmaids began walking in: beautiful young women who are special in Erin’s life. Of the six bridesmaids, I only knew two of them before that weekend. Bethany and Sallie are friends of Erin’s that she took with her to Tuscaloosa and then, later, along with her in her heart when she moved to Wisconsin. Two of the bridesmaids, Catie and Hannah, are friends she made during her time at UA. Having met them now, I understand just what drew them together in the first place. Both are so funny and seeing them with Erin at the bridesmaids’ luncheon was a trip! The last two are T.J.’s sisters. I guess they’re Erin’s sisters now, too. The elder, Tara, is a wonderful young woman with an exciting future in the arts ahead of her. She just graduated from high school this past weekend, so she and Erin are pretty close in age. Even were she not T.J.’s sister, she is the kind of girl Erin would be drawn to. I think she is someone with whom Erin can be close. The younger, Trinity, is quite a few years younger and is such a sweet little girl. I think there’s a little case of hero worship for T.J. happening there. That’s okay, though, because he is crazy about her, too!

The most emotional moment for me was watching Erin and John come up the aisle. It’s kind of a surreal moment. I’m just glad it’s the dad’s job to “give the bride away.” I don’t know if I could have turned around and left her standing there. But I was really glad when John finished his part and came to sit with me. Once he was with me, I could just breathe and enjoy the ceremony. Anyway, during the ceremony Erin and T.J. couldn’t stop smiling. They both kept stealing glances at each other and I think it was obvious to everyone in the room how very much in love with each other they are. As emotional as the whole thing was for me, I got so caught up in the two of them that I basically forgot to be weepy. Stewart, the minister, took special care to make their ceremony personal to the two of them. While there were emotional moments, there were also those where everyone laughed along with Erin and T.J. Once they were pronounced husband and wife, they turned to leave the room and the look on their faces was priceless. They were both so obviously excited! The reception afterwards was a chance to catch our collective breath and just have fun. The food was wonderful and everyone seemed to have a good time.

So, now that it’s over and I’ve had some time to adjust to being a mother-in-law, I find that it’s kind of a cool thing. Every time I talk to Erin she is very happy and truly enjoying settling in to married life. I’m sure that there are adjustments that have to be made, but since they lived together before I think the adjustments have really not been that bad. Probably the biggest adjustment has been in the realization that now it is “real.” Up until the wedding, although I’m sure it was never really something she considered an option, she could always just come home – no harm, no foul. But now that they’re actually married, she knows that this is the biggest commitment she has ever made. This isn’t a decision she went in to hastily. Even though I know she followed her heart, I truly believe that marrying T.J. was something she thought about. John and I have been married almost 27 years, so I know that we have presented her with an example of what marriage can be if you want it to be. She knows that every day isn’t going to be perfect. There will be days when the two of them will irritate the other over the stupidest things. There will be in-laws issues on BOTH sides of the family. Over the next year, the two of them will work out between them what the pattern of their lives will be.

I have promised myself that I will be a good mother-in-law. To that end, these are the vows that I will be trying to stick to:
1. I will not offer unsolicited advice.
2. I will not invite myself for extended visits.
3. I will not “drop in” uninvited.
4. I will not demand “equal time.”
5. I will not make my child feel guilty if she isn’t home for every holiday – or even every other holiday.
6. I will remember that she has other people to consider when making plans.
7. In times of stress, I will not take her part over his or his part over hers. As hard as it may be, I will remain neutral and STAY OUT OF IT! (That does not mean that I will not discuss whatever issue is at hand at length with her daddy  ).
8. I will treat him as my own and love him if for no other reason than he loves her.
9. I will work to maintain a positive relationship with his family because now they are Erin’s family, too.

So, that’s where we are. They’ve been married a little over a month now and so far so good! I have to admit that as much as I hate the fact that they live so far away, it does leave me free to not be involved in their everyday lives. What I mean by that is I will not be close enough to witness their stressful days with each other. I am free to live vicariously through them and simply enjoy what they choose to share. I also get to show the two of them off with lots and lots of pictures!!

A new stage in our lives as parents has now begun. The nice part? For the past 21 years John and I have been careful not to lose sight of us. We made sure to make time for the two of us so that when this day came we wouldn’t be sitting around here wondering what to do now. We don’t eat dinner if we don’t want to. We take impromptu trips to the movies on Sunday afternoons. We spend quiet evenings reading or surfing the net, just enjoying the quiet. We’re at a good place in our lives and I’m enjoying just being a couple again. I’m willing to admit that the fact that our son-in-law is everything we ever wanted for her makes this whole process much easier. Stay tuned…who knows what the future will bring?!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Just a Little Rant

How did we lose it? How did we, as a society, get to this point? It truly makes me afraid for our future as a nation. Somewhere along the way, we have allowed our young people to expect that life is easy; no work at all and no expectations for success.

I’m convinced that this whole trend began when we began giving trophies to everyone – win, lose, or draw. Is it really a bad thing to teach our children that losing is part of life? That everyone doesn’t win all the time? Instead, we seem to be teaching them that if you want to take the lazy way out, that no one will think less of you for it. I don’t want anyone to think that now that I’m getting older (and I am) that I’m falling in to that old “kids these days” mindset. I’ve been teaching for quite a while and have always been amazed at the creativity of each new group of students. I like teenagers. I think they have endless potential. So why am I on my soapbox? This school year I have seen very likeable kids refuse to step up to the plate. I’ve heard students complain that it “isn’t fair” that they’re being asked to work a bit harder. Now, I understand that some of them believe that there is no reason to take the high road, the path less traveled shall we say, if there is no reward – no trophy – at the end. But so what?!

I can’t imagine my mother ever, ever, EVER telling me that I didn’t have to do something simply because I didn’t want to or that I thought it was too hard. Are you kidding me? She looked at every experience in the classroom, bad or good, as an opportunity to learn. It didn’t matter if the experience came with grades. It didn’t matter that there was no public recognition or gold star in my future for having done it. Some of the time, I have to admit, that when she was standing behind me (which she always did), she wasn’t there to provide support. She was there to make sure that I stepped up, didn’t avoid difficult tasks, or run from it altogether. It just put her foot in closer proximity to my behind. What I learned was to pull myself together and forge ahead. I wasn’t always successful and my results were not always something to brag about. But, then, I did have the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. That while others avoided tasks because there was “nothing in it” for them, I had done it anyway and for no other reward than self-respect.

As Americans we have a difficult road ahead. But hasn’t every generation of Americans before us? Where would we be if Thomas Jefferson’s mother had been the type of woman who told him, “Writing that constitution is going to be really hard and when you’re done, what will you get anyway? I think you should just not worry about it”? Now think about where we’ll be if we don’t expect our children to step up to a certain standard of behavior and performance. Dismal, huh? We are facing a generation of young people who believe they deserve a reward for every task. They do not see that many times the reward is the task itself. This particular “Me” generation is really that…some want to know what we can do for them without their having to do anything to deserve those rewards.

Now that I have vented, let me end by saying that there are still many, many children out there who find joy in learning new things, or taking things they already knew and coming up with something entirely new. Generally these children have parents who don’t let them back out of commitments or quit something before the task is completed. They expect their children to know that life is hard and if you want something out of it, you’re going to have to work for it . . . sometimes for a long, long time before there is any type of reward at all. These are the kids that will save us in the end. They will find the solutions to our society’s most difficult problems. I trust my future to these kids. They step up to the plate every time. If they are willing to do it now, they will be even more confident in their abilities in their very bright futures.

To those of you out there who weren’t / aren’t the popular parent because you expected your child to meet your expectations, thank you. Because you held your child to a higher standard that child will know the joy of a job well done regardless of reward or recognition. You are the ones that get me out of bed and up the road every morning. And the answer is no. There's no gold star for me at the end of the day either...and that's okay.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

In remembrance

It is really hard to let go. That is true of so many things. Recently, however, I had to let go of someone. Earlier this month my aunt Gloria Martin passed away. She woke up one morning in pain and four weeks later she was gone. I had a bad feeling that once she went in to the hospital she would never come home. My mother assured me that she would, but I just felt it.

I'm a coward when it comes to sickness and death. About seventeen years ago one of my cousins passed away after a lengthy illness. My sister went to visit with him and his siblings encouraged me to do the same. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I know that his condition at the time of his death would in no way alter my memories of him, yet I didn't want that image to be the last one I had of him. He had suffered for so long. Over the last couple of years I have lost two uncles, both of whom I loved very much. I don't think you could find two more different men, yet their relationship with me was always loving and respectful. Both treated me as if I had some sense long before I really did. One died unexpectedly; the other after a short illness of about eight weeks. I didn't go visit him either. He had always been a fixture in my life, often in ways others didn't know about. My father and I have always had a tenuous relationship. This particular uncle, his brother, made it a point to check on my sister and myself on a regular basis after my parents' divorce. Although I'm sure he wanted to know that we were doing okay, I think he really just wanted to be sure we didn't lose touch. He was a very handsome man with a quick, brilliant smile. I know that he and his children went through some rough times, as well, but to me he was a steady positive influence for a very long time. Even after I left home, went to college, and got married he showed an interest in my and my life. When Erin came along and later began to play sports, he came to games and kept up with mentions of her in the newspaper.

Aunt Gloria was the first of my mother's siblings to pass away. She has never had a day in her life that she was not plagued by physical discomfort in one way or another, yet those around her would never guess. As she wasn't that much older than myself or my sister, there were some rough days among us as adolescents. As we grew older, she and her twin sister, Gladys, would often come to our house and we would play cards. I still remember those rather loud games fondly. But my favorite memories of her are those of her with Erin. From the time Erin was born I believe she had both Gladys and Gloria as her devoted slaves. She loved them and they adored her. Gladys would roughhouse with her, rolling around on the floor overcome with giggles. Gloria wasn't able to do that, but would have Erin sitting in the chair next to her and read, color, or just talk. Even as a very small child, Erin seemed to understand that we had to be careful with Gloria; that we couldn't run and jump on her the way she did with Gladys. Having never had children of their own, I believe Gladys and Gloria loved all their nieces and nephews as if they were their own.

I didn't go see Gloria while she was in the hospital. I kept up with her condition through phone conversations with my mother or another of my aunts. I was afraid that Erin might not be able to come home for the funeral, but we were lucky that she was able to work it out. Standing with my mother, sister, and daughter at the casket it struck me that the three generations of us will do this again. At our age (my sister's and mine) we will have to do this more frequently, I'm afraid. I know that is a part of growing older and certainly one of the unavoidable conditions of life. Like I said, I'm a coward about sickness and death. They are disruptions in my life and always bring about changes I'm not ready for. I haven't been back to my grandmother's since the day of Gloria's funeral. I know that I will have to soon. I sat with her the Sunday before Gloria died and had to tell her just how bad Gloria's condition was. Her grief was overwhelming. She and I sat holding each other and crying for over an hour. She told me several times that she hoped I never had to go through the death of a child, that it isn't natural for a mother to bury her children. I believe that witnessing her grief at the loss of a child - regardless of the age of that child - will affect me for the rest of my life. I'm not sure yet just what that impact will be, but I know it is waiting there for me to face it.

My aunt Gloria loved me as I loved her. Going to my grandmother's will never be the same and I'm sure I will always look for Gloria before I remember. I'm going to miss her a bit more every day.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I Love the Smell of School Supplies...

In just a little over a week, my summer will be over. Yup. It's that time again. I haven't accomplished everything I set out to do, but that's okay. I am pretty sure the attic will still be there when the motivation to clean it finally strikes.

This time of year always brings with it a strange mixture of emotions: dread of having to get back in to the routine, and the excitement of a new school year. If you count the years I was attending school, this will be about my 37th first day of school. Just a few more years and I've promised myself I will drive down there on the first day simply for the pleasure of watching before driving myself home to bask in retirement.

At our house the beginning of the school year has always signaled a particular ritual. Erin and I would make ourselves wait until about two weeks before school started before we would go school supply shopping! Of all the things she could have inherited from me, I think the love of office supplies is probably the most unique. We could spend hours strolling the school supply aisle at Target, ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over all the cool stuff. Even though I tell myself every year that I'm not going to, I always end up buying a few things for my classroom. I think somewhere deep inside me is an elementary teacher - but just the part that likes cutesy teacher stuff. I have already been by my classroom and dropped off two separate piles of index cards, bookmarks, markers, pens, and all kinds of neat things. It seems whenever a kid at school needs something he knows to come to me and I will probably have it. I'm particularly popular around homecoming. There's probably something a bit wrong about a woman my age having as large a stack of coloring books as I do. But they make great bulletin board patterns! That excuse might work if I actually put up more than three bulletin boards a year. If the urge ever strikes me, though, I'm prepared!

I didn't get to take Erin school supply shopping this year. She's still enrolled but will be taking all of her courses online. Since her move to Wisconsin there have been any number of little things like this that I miss. Even though she hasn't really lived here for two years, I still catch myself listening for her upstairs. Or, I'll think of something funny and want to share it with her. I don't know how mothers who didn't have texting did it! She and I probably actually have more conversations now than we did when she lived here. Hopefully I'll get to visit her in October for a weekend and get to hear her sweet voice in person. I sound as if I haven't seen her in months when that is actually not the case. She came home Fourth of July weekend to be in a friend's wedding. I picked her up in Birmingham so we had the ride home to talk. I have been very good about not pestering her about when she'll get to come home again. With her classes about to start, and with her being deep into wedding planning it may be a while. She and I have already talked about the probability of her missing either Thanksgiving or Christmas with us. It is only fair that T.J.'s family gets to see them on holidays, too. I am determined not to be the kind of mother-in-law that shares but makes sure everyone else is aware of the sacrifice. That's not to say that the first Christmas morning that I wake up and she's not here will not be hard. But it won't be any easier for his mother when it's our turn.

Erin did get to do a little school supply shopping this year. When T.J.'s mother and sisters visited a couple of weeks ago, Erin did a little office supply scouting with them. I talked to her not long after and she was laughing about how strange it was to do that and not to be loading up on cool stuff of her own. She really likes her sisters-in-law-to-be. One is old enough to really be a friend and the other is young enough to spoil. She also really likes T.J.'s mom. It's nice to know that her new family love her as much as we do.

Erin and T.J. have a new addition to their family: a miniature schnauzer named Trixie. I'm going to have to have a serious conversation with T.J. Although I know he loves dogs, too, I think he caved pretty easily on the puppy issue. I'm not sure it would matter what she asked for. If he thought whatever it was would make her happy he would try to provide it. A girl could get used to that!

It's only eight months and two days until Erin's wedding. Her dress is bought, altered, and hanging in the guest room with her veil. Save-the-Dates and invitations have been ordered and delivered. Erin is working on addressing envelopes. The DJ and photographer have been hired and contracts signed. Wedding favors are here and stored with her dress. Hotel reservations have been made for us and her for a couple of nights before as well as the wedding suite for her and T.J. the night of their wedding. Blocks of rooms have been reserved for out-of-town guests. I think all we have left to do that I will need to be in on is flowers and a cake. The wedding planning hasn't been nearly the trouble I anticipated. With her in Wisconsin, me in Alabama, and the wedding in Birmingham I was dreading the logistics of the process. She has really made the process pretty simple. She's still working on a bridesmaids' gift idea but I don't think that's going to be any trouble at all. All in all I'm feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Ask me again the second week of April!

This school year marks yet another beginning. There have been lots of them in my life, many of them incredibly similar. I'm sure there will be many more. On the first day of school that I don't actually go I'll probably even feel a little left out - as if someone is having a party and didn't invite me! I'll just have to make sure that when that day comes I have a different kind of beginning to look forward to. What will it be? Who knows? It's good to have a little mystery in your life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Take a Letter...

Erin and I have been as busy as bees these past few days taking the next step on the wedding planning ladder.  I’ve spent countless hours on the internet searching for DJ’s and photographers.  We found a DJ and I think we are narrowing down our choices of photographers.  John seems a little bemused by the whole process.  Every now and then I try to explain to him that these service providers get booked months in advance, that it is possible that the ones we want won’t be available on April 6th.  Something that has also kind of stunned the both of us is the prices attached to some of these things.  We actually looked at one photographer whose fees started at $6500.  Yes, that’s right, I said started!  Then, of course, there was the traveling fee – so much per mile to and from the venue.  Thankfully, after further searching, I have found several other very good photographers that aren’t looking to retire on Erin and TJ’s wedding!

When Erin and I first started this process I truly understood what it meant to try to do this with my being in Kinston,  Erin in Wisconsin, and the venue in Birmingham.  Thankfully, Haley (our patient, kind wedding planner) has answered my emails with professional tolerance.  I’m sure that she has dealt with mothers worse than I, all of us believing that we are the first to come up against a wall in the planning process.  Actually, I’ve only sent one email, the purpose being to introduce myself and give her contact information for me.  I also asked what I needed to be doing right now and expressed my concern over this long-distance planning process.  Her prompt reply turned me in the right direction and eased my concerns.  Thank you, Haley!
If I sometimes feel out of the loop, I can only imagine how TJ’s mother feels.  This is a big day for him, too!  I’m sure that at some point in his life, she has thought about the woman TJ would eventually marry and she probably had some sort of vision in mind of what the wedding would be like.  But, being the mother of a boy, she may have actually felt a little relief knowing the bulk of the process would be up to the bride’s family.  Can’t say I would blame her. 

Anyway, with that on my mind, I asked Erin for TJ’s mom’s mailing address.  It took her a couple of days, but she finally came through.  Then I took a couple of days carefully wording a letter to TJ’s mother.  Do you know how hard it is to write a letter to someone you don’t even know?  The fact that this first contact would give her an impression of TJ’s future in-laws only added to the pressure.  I didn’t want her to read my letter then wonder just what kind of crazy woman Erin’s mother is!   There were several purposes for this letter:  to introduce myself to TJ’s mother, to express our gratitude for her welcoming Erin as she has, to tell her how much we have come to like TJ, and to tell her that she is welcome to participate in the wedding planning to whatever extent she would like.  As those of you who follow me regularly have realized from the beginning, I’m a bit verbose.  I could have handled all of this through email or Facebook, but I wanted to be able to let the words I had chosen rest a bit before I rushed them to Nebraska.   Let’s be realistic.  TJ’s mother will have more influence over their day-to-day life than I will simply because of logistics.  She’ll be closer.  Also, intruding mothers-in-law with opinions on everything can be hard on a marriage.  So far, TJ’s mom has done nothing to indicate that she is anything but happy over the two of them.  She has made Erin comfortable and treats her as she does her own children.  Since all three of her children seem to be bright, healthy, and well-adjusted then how she treats them must be a good thing. 

So, I trusted myself to read the final draft then forced myself to sign it, put a stamp on it, and walk it out to the mailbox.  Hopefully when she reads it she will know that we want TJ to feel as welcome and loved in our home as Erin does in hers.  Either that, or she’ll wonder just what kind of nut Erin’s mother is  and assume that is the reason she has moved so very, very far away and is so happy with her decision.  I guess I’ll know one way or the other in a few days.  Surely Erin will let me know if TJ’s mother says anything about it either to her or to TJ.  Then again, maybe she won’t.   

Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's All Silver

It seems like only yesterday.  My memories of it are still very clear and precious.  John and I celebrated our 25th anniversary yesterday.  Twenty-five years ago I pledged my life to him and have never looked back.  The six months leading up to our wedding were a blur of plans and nerves.  I’m sure I experienced the same jitters every woman does before her wedding, but mine seemed especially strong to me.  I don’t think I really believed he would go through with it until I saw him standing at the altar.  John is a good man any woman would be lucky to have.  I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if he had backed out.  I’m still not really sure that I deserve him.  Even through the times that we couldn’t stand the sight of each other, I never doubted that I loved him or that he loved me.  Slowly but surely he has become a part of me in a very real, concrete way. 

I think that it’s important in every couple’s relationship to stop occasionally and inventory  all the reasons you love someone.  Unfortunately, most – myself included – often neglect this important task.  I’m going to try to make up for some of those times now.  Of course, there are the obvious reasons that anyone who knows John will know.  It is funny to me to see the reaction on some of my students’ faces when they meet John for the first time.  Consistently their comments center on their disbelief that he and I are married; we are so very different.  I think that’s what makes it work so well for us.  While there are things which we share with each other, we each have maintained interests other than those we enjoy as a couple.  I jokingly tell people that my husband is a head-banger.  While that may be an extreme description, it is still applicable.  My husband is a music lover.  No, let me re-state that:  my husband is a music fanatic!  He keeps up with all the new bands, listens to alternative stations on the radio, buys CDs of people I’ve never even heard of.  He goes to concerts that would leave me with a definite hearing loss and a headache for days.  Fortunately, he has a close friend who shares his love of music .  Thanks to him, John has someone to go to concerts with and someone to discuss the new trends with.    His passion for music is one of the reasons I love him.  I’ve known about this particular obsession since we met and it is one of the things about him that makes him who he is.

Another reason I love my husband the way I do is his generous spirit.  This special part of him sets him apart from everyone else.  He gives of himself in so many ways.  I think the  most important to me, though, is the way he gave himself completely to being a father to Erin.  From the moment we found out she was on her way, she was loved.  Even though he already suspected, he let me have my moment to tell him we were going to be parents.  Even though she was planned, I was still a little surprised when it actually happened.  He knew that I was overwhelmed and a little afraid.  He never made me feel foolish for my fears and anxieties.  Looking back I’m sure he had his own concerns yet he never let me see them.  He was calm when I was crazy, strong when I was scared.  Then, as now, he put me ahead of himself.  His heart is always with his family – our family.  The look on his face the moment Erin was born is one I’ll never forget.  It was a look of unselfish love and devotion.  There hasn’t been a moment since that her welfare and happiness wasn’t his main priority.   Not once has he not put her first, ahead of anything else he may have had going on.  His love for and dedication to us speaks of his selfless spirit.  Even when he doesn’t say it, we know we are loved.  It’s there in his eyes when he looks at us and in everything he does for us. 

There are points in our lives that are with me now as clearly as if they had just happened.  Those are the things I think about when I stop to think about how we got to where we are.  Each of those memories considered separately is special in its own right.  Considered as a whole, they define who we are.  Some of those memories are of big occasions and events in our lives, while others are private, small moments between the two of us.  We are disgustingly compatible.  As different as we are that compatibility hasn’t been that difficult to achieve.  We simply allow each other to be who we were before we were us.  John is still the man I dated, the man I fell in love with.  Why would I want him to be any different? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

She Has Put Away Childish Things

I did something really stupid today.  I totally went off the reservation and ignored the plan.  A student wanted to borrow a book I thought I had at school.  When I couldn’t find it, I ran home during a break to look for it.  Not finding the book on the shelves downstairs, I thought I’d look in some boxes of books in the attic on the off chance I had loaned it to Erin and she left it here.  That’s when it happened.

Now, I know that there are many of you who will think this is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard.  But, some of you will feel my pain.  I can just hear you now, screaming at me telepathically, “Don’t go up the stairs!”  It was too soon.  The plan was to wait until one day this summer when I was home all alone before I went up the stairs for the first time since Erin moved out.  I was going to go through the attic and Erin’s room, cleaning as I went, and reminiscing all I wanted to.  I’ve been bracing myself for the tears I know will follow but since I will be alone, I can cry all I want to with no one to see or criticize.

But, today, in my rush to find the book and get back to school, I forgot all that.  I forgot the plan and barreled up the stairs as if there was nothing up there I didn’t want to face yet.   The moment my foot hit that top stair I knew I had made a mistake.  There it was, staring me in the face – proof that my baby doesn’t live with me anymore and she isn’t just away at school.  She has really gathered up as much of her stuff as she could put in her car and moved away.  While her room isn’t totally stripped, there is enough lonely space up there to make tears well up in my eyes.   I forced myself to go on into the attic, look for the book, then to go back to school.

I think what I will think about more than anything else is not what she took, but what she left.  There are still movies in her entertainment center.  Her desk still holds pens, pencils, flash cards, and various odds and ends that ended up in the drawers.  Her jewelry is gone.  Her nightstand storage space is empty but for an empty Bath and Body Works bag.  Her walls are bare but for her softball state championship picture and the bat with her name on it.  There’s an alarm clock she got for high school graduation next to her bed.  Her high school sports uniforms are in the closet along with various curlers and hair accessories.  There are three dresses in the closet but the shoes are gone.  In the attic is a box that she  has labeled very carefully so that I don’t give the books inside away.  Her toy closet is still pretty full and there are various piles of things all over the floor. 

All of these things represent who she was and don’t really fit with who she is. Her childhood and adolescence were left behind in various stages of disarray, carefully sifted through as she searched for the things she wanted to take.   Before long I’ll make myself go back up there and finish what she started.  I’ll go behind her and straighten up the rooms so they’ll be ready for her when she comes home to visit.  I’ll clean up the attic and categorize things into piles to be carefully stored away in plastic boxes.  It won’t take long before Erin’s childhood and adolescence will be stacked and labeled in a closet.  Her chalkboard wall in the attic will be painted over.  The fluorescent striped walls in her bedroom will be toned down a bit and the area upstairs will slowly but surely  be transformed into guest space. 

I think it’ll be interesting to see just how much of who she was shows up in her new home.  The interior designer in her has pretty much a blank canvas to work with in their home in Wisconsin.  Since last summer she and TJ have painted at least one bathroom in a color better suited to their tastes and she has ideas for the rest, I’m sure.  But when I finally get to go visit, how much of my little girl will I see?  Even as I write this, I am looking around my own living room trying to see anything of who I was when John and I married almost 25 years ago.  Very, very little.  The things that are precious to me now would probably surprise most people.  My two most treasured possessions are a glass box shaped like a heart and a china Eeyore.  John is responsible for the heart.  He gave it to me not long into our relationship back in college.  I still think about the way we were then every time I see it.  The china Eeyore was a gift from Erin.  Of all the residents of the Hundred Acre Woods, Eeyore is my favorite.  I just seem to identify with the ever-present cloud and the equally often-misplaced tail.  On one of her trips to Disney World  that John and I didn’t accompany her, Erin remembered my love for Eeyore.   I thought it was so sweet that she remembered a detail about me so small.  He now sits on the desk in our office and I think of her and our shared love of all things Pooh every time I see it.

Before she left, I made sure that Erin had at least one thing from home that I knew she wanted but would probably never ask for.  I collected Santas.  There is one that has sat in a corner of our home, all year round, for most of Erin’s life.  She commented once that she would have to hunt for one to put in a corner of her new home.  At first the idea of letting that particular Santa go was unthinkable.  But, the more I thought about it, the more right it felt for that Santa to go with Erin.  When she left I made sure she had it in the back seat of her car.  As strange as it may seem, I feel as if she has taken some of our family traditions with her into her new life.  With that Santa she also took a little piece of me with her.  When she looks at it she will remember  - and I hope the memories are all good. 

To me the things she carried and the things she left behind tell their own stories.  I will write those stories on my heart the next time I venture up the stairs to put away her things.  

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child:  now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11

 She has put away childish things.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

And the countdown begins . . .

Today is April 6, 2012.  Exactly one year from today Erin will get married.  Just 364 days and a few hours.  Seems like such a long time, doesn't it?  I'm sure it feels like a long time to Erin and TJ.  It occurred to me yesterday the significance of today's date and all day I've been trying to pinpoint how I feel about it.

By this time next year all the little details will have been taken care of.  Probably by this time of the evening the actual service will be over and the celebration will have begun.  I hope it's a party to remember!  I know that it will be a joyous time for John and me.  I can only compare what we felt once the actual ceremony was over to what I image Erin and TJ will be feeling.  I believe that the wedding's being in Birmingham will serve a particular purpose:  the ceremony will be intimate and involve only those who truly wish to see Erin off into her marriage surrounded by people who love her.  When she and I talked about how there will probably not be too many people attending, she made a point I hadn't considered.  If there aren't that many people in attendance, she will be able to remember those who are.  She'll have time to speak to each one so they'll know how much she appreciates their coming.

I've been looking all over the internet for an event countdown application I can put on my Facebook page.  Now that we have exactly a year left to go, I thought that would be a neat thing to have.  Then every time I log on I'll be able to see exactly how many days are left.  I think that with every day that passes I will get more and more excited!

Erin has started her own countdown of sorts.  Her last semester in Tuscaloosa is quickly drawing to a close.  In a month she will move home for the last time.  She'll spend a week or so with us getting ready for her move to Wisconsin.  I'm not sure how I'll react when that day comes.  TJ is coming down to drive back with her so we don't have to worry about her safety on the road.  That's a very long way to have to drive alone.  I'm sure that the drive will be memorable for the two of them.  They'll literally be driving toward their future.  When she and I talk about her move, I get the feeling she is trying very hard not to show how excited she really anxious she is for this segment  of her life to begin.  I may be horribly wrong, but if I'm reading the situation correctly, I think she thinks that if she let's us see how jumping-up-and-down excited she is that she'll in some way hurt our feelings.  That is so far from the truth of the situation.  She doesn't have to hold back her excitement from us.  We are as excited over her future as she is!  Sure, we'll miss her the same as we did when she moved to Tuscaloosa.  And I know that this move is of an entirely different nature.  But she is so very, very happy and her excitement is contagious!  I think the only thing that will really bother me is how far away she will be.  For the past two years she has been only 3 to 4 hours away from home.  A quick trip home for the weekend wasn't out of the question and (except for the price of gas) manageable.  After the middle of May a trip home will involve some pre-planning and a plane ticket!  I've already decided that I'm going to visit and have begun doing a little planning ahead for plane tickets.  I don't see myself making a special trip this summer, though.  Even though she spent last summer there, I think the two of them need this summer together without too many visitors.  She'll be home again in July to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding so it won't really be that long after she moves that I'll get to see her.  I don't know how long they'll be here (TJ is planning to make the trip with her), but I'll take what I can get!  It really won't be any longer than I went without seeing her last summer.  I think I will cope okay!

In conversations Erin and I have had since she came home last summer, I have become more and more aware of what her life in Wisconsin will be like.  From a parental point of view I couldn't ask for better.  She has made friends there and she and TJ have found a church where they feel they belong.  She knows how demanding TJ's work schedule can be and how he isn't always in control of how his day will go.  They have made plans that had to be cancelled because of something going on at the dairy.  She just takes it in stride.  After last summer she has insight into the life she will be leading and doesn't let things like that bother her.  Even with her impatience to go back over this past school year, I have seen a different maturity in her.  As much as she wanted to be with TJ, she has done what she needed to do in Tuscaloosa.  Now that she is actually engaged she is even more anxious to finish what she needs to do here and move on to her life with TJ.  I remember that feeling well...

Only 364 days and some odd hours left.  You can be sure that I'll have a constant countdown in my heart to the day when she won't - officially - belong to us anymore.  But now that I stop to think about it, she hasn't really been ours since her trip to San Diego.  She went to visit a friend and came home with stars in her eyes.  Since then the writing has been on the wall.  She loves him.  He loves her.  They are each other's future.  They see forever and the possibility of blessings to come when they look in each other's eyes.

I know that in 364 days and some odd hours what precedence I have had in her life will officially be over.  Even though I get a funny feeling in my heart and my eyes well with tears when I think about it, I know that those are just simple emotional responses that every mother who has ever been through this has felt.  I'm sure I'll be looking at family photos and crying a lot more before this weekend arrives next year.  I hope that she knows that those tears, and those emotions, have nothing to do with being sad or unhappy.  I am just overwhelmed that all of our dreams for her are actually coming true.  I've seen her with TJ and can say with absolutely no reservations that I can see his love for her  in his every move.  I wonder if he knows just how precious he is to me simply by loving Erin as we have always wanted her to be loved?

TJ has his future well in hand and Erin is very much a part of those plans.  Regardless of where their future takes them, Erin will be cherished by her husband.  What more could any mother ask?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Step One...

This past weekend Erin came home for a little "family" time with me and her dad.  She and I had spoken earlier in the week about what we might do.  Erin suggested we go dress shopping.  Not just any dress, mind you.  THE dress. The WEDDING dress.  This isn't supposed to be the first step on the wedding planner list, is it?

It has been quite a long time since I planned a wedding.  Even then I didn't know what I was doing.  All  I really cared about was that at the end of the process, John and I were married.  Erin is already much better at this than I ever was.  When it looked as if the time was approaching where some definite plans must be made, Erin attacked that process as she does everything else...full out.  It is still about 54 weeks until her wedding and this is what she has done so far: picked a date, picked a venue, picked bridesmaids, picked colors.  Now I am aware that most little girls have a vision in their heads most of their lives about what they want our wedding to be.  Generally, that is just a basic idea of the church, flowers, colors, etc.  

So, now what?  The venue.  Erin and TJ's wedding will be at B and A Warehouse in Birmingham.  While that is quite a distance from home, it is still farther away for TJ's family.  When Erin started shopping for places, she sent me pictures of several different places she was thinking about.  Then she took the next step and checked on open dates at the places she liked the most.  Her final decision was this place in Birmingham.  I thought she was jumping the gun on choosing a venue.  I is more than a year away!  Boy, was I wrong.  Several of the places she was considering were already book for April and May in 2013.  Dang!  I guess I'm the only one that thinks booking a venue a year in advance is too early!  But she is really happy with the place she has chosen and so am I.  She knows what she wants to do with the place and is on track with the wedding planner who comes with the venue.  Oh!  I didn't mention a wedding planner comes with the place? It does, thank God!  Like I said, planning this kind of thing isn't my talent.  As competent and talented Erin is at this sort of thing, I am a lot more relaxed about this whole deal knowing there is a professional involved in the process.  The room has exposed brick and columns and the pictures I have seen of other weddings held there promise it will be incredibly romantic.  

Next step?  Bridesmaids.  Erin has that firmly in hand and has already spoken to the girls she wants to stand up with her that day.  Along with bridesmaids come dresses, shoes, accessories, flowers, the whole deal.  Erin and I have talked about this a little but not that much.  She has chosen a color scheme and her next step is to try to pick a dress and accessories that will suit all the girls she has asked to be bridesmaids.  I've seen some pretty ugly bridesmaids' dresses in my time and I'm glad Erin is taking this route.  She really wants all the girls standing with her on her wedding day to feel beautiful.  I'm not sure how she is going to find something to suit all of them, but I'm sure she will work it out.  

Next?  Flowers.  I'm really stumped here.  I know that wedding flowers come and go in trends.  What is popular now won't be popular in six months.  Knowing Erin as I do, I'm pretty sure popularity and trends won't really have a part in her decision.  She has very classic, elegant tastes.  If she sticks to her own history, she'll pick something simple that serves as a romantic backdrop for the wedding.  I know that one thing she is thinking about is carrying calla lilies.  How much more simple and elegant can you get?  They are beautiful yet won't detract from her or the bridesmaids.

Music?  She and I talked a little.  She doesn't like the traditional wedding march, so I'm going to try to find some other alternatives for her to consider.  She has some ideas herself, so we're going to get together on this at some point and try to put something together.  

Now the really big decision:  the dress.  As I said in the beginning, Erin and I decided to go dress shopping this past Saturday.  We left early enough to have plenty of time to look in as many stores as we possibly could.  Neither of us left home that morning thinking we would buy a dress.  The goal was to try on lots of dresses to get an idea of what is out there and what style she thinks she might like.  At the first two stores she tried on a total of about ten dresses.  She did try on one ball gown style just for me.  Thank you, Erin, for fulfilling my Cinderella dream!  Anyway, she didn't think that with her complexion she would look good in white so she tended to choose ivory.  She did try on a couple that were white, which quickly killed the idea that she couldn't wear white!  With every dress she tried on, there was something she loved and something she didn't.  On one she liked the top.  On the next, she liked the bottom but not the top.  With every dress she tried on, there was some little detail that just wasn’t what she envisioned when she imagined her wedding dress.  My job was to help her get in and out of dresses that were more difficult to manage than Chinese finger traps!  Dang!  What are these designers thinking?  One of the dresses had laces from the curve of her lower back all the way up to Erin's neck!  That takes some doing to get it laced up correctly!  She had I had quite a few giggles in the dressing room as we tried to figure out just how to get in to some of those dresses. For every dress she liked, I took pictures and made a note of designer and item number.  The plan was to take pictures of every dress she liked.  Then, on our way home, we would stop at Wal-Mart and have the pictures developed.  That way she could take the pictures of each dress and lay them all out next to each other so she could have a better idea of what the dresses looked like on her.  This was supposed to make the decision easier for her in the long run.  What a waste of time!

After we left the second store, Erin and I were talking about the dresses she had tried on and trying to re-focus on just what it was she was looking for.  Her list?  Lace, trumpet bottom, pretty back, possibly a sweetheart neckline.  She had tried on several dresses with those elements but not one dress had all of them in the combination she was looking for.  I need to preface this next part with a little explanation.  Erin and I are absolutely addicted to a show on TLC called Say Yes to the Dress, especially the one filmed in Atlanta. Southern brides are fun to watch!  So, after Erin and I left the second store we were talking about how the brides on that show experience THE moment.  You know the one.  All the girls in the show may try on a dozen dresses, but she invariably puts on one and knows - - - immediately - - - that she has found THE dress.  Somehow she just knows the one she has on is the dress meant for her.  Erin hadn't had that moment.  Even though we knew our goal for the day wasn't to buy a dress, I think we both really thought she would find something she would like.  Erin reminded me that one of the people working at Kleinfeld's on the show, says that not every bride has that moment.  Some don't ever have it and just pick a dress.  Even though I didn't tell her, I really, really wanted her to have that moment.  I wasn't too worried, though, since we wouldn't really be pressured about having a dress for about another six months.  So, we went in to the third store with no expectations.  The lady who greeted us, and I use the term loosely, asked what we wanted.  Erin told her that we would like to look at bridal gowns.  That kind of made the sales lady a bit more amiable.  I think she had been having a really stressful day with teenagers looking for prom dresses.  Anyway, she asked Erin what she was looking for, then helped her pull some dresses.  After pulling several, Erin chose three to take into the dressing room.  I helped her in to the first dress then went out into the room with the big mirror to wait for Erin.  When she came out of  that room, I knew she had found it.

The look on Erin's face as she came out of that dressing room was the look I had been waiting for all day.  I could tell by the way she carried herself as well as the look on her face as she looked at herself in the mirror that she was having THE moment.  She had found her dress.  Now, don't get me wrong, I thought Erin was beautiful in every dress she had tried on that day.  She told me later, that despite my efforts not to let my likes and dislikes affect her choice, that she could  tell which ones I liked  and which ones I didn't.  But, really, seeing her in a wedding dress was so special for me.  She was beautiful in every single one of them.  This dress was different,  In this dress she wasn't  beautiful.  She was stunning!  I've always thought Erin is beautiful, but in this dress she truly was stunning.  Even the saleslady started grinning when she saw Erin in this dress.  She turned around and picked up a veil so Erin could see how the dress would look with a veil.  Then, she went a step farther, and added a small headpiece to give the veil just a little something extra.   What the saleslady added couldn't be any more "Erin."  It was perfect.  I asked Erin simply what she thought.  Her answer?  "Mom, this is my dress.  This is it."  She wouldn't even try on the other two dresses in the dressing room. 

Before we left that shop we did the only thing we really could do by that point.  We ordered the dress.   I know that it is still a year before her wedding, but I was afraid that if we waited the dress style would be discontinued and she wouldn't be able to get it.  The saleslady measured Erin and we ordered the dress and a simple, unadorned, finger-tip length veil to go with it.  We brought the headpiece to go with it home.  It now sits in my cedar chest awaiting the day when Erin will put it on and march down the aisle to TJ.  I can't wait to see the look on his face!  

I don't believe it is possible for Erin to be any more breathtaking in another dress.  She is right.  This is THE dress.  The saleslady brought out a cutaway tux jacket and suggested that tux style would really compliment Erin's dress.  I loved it and evidently Erin could, too.  I said, "Erin, do you know what your dress with that tux reminds me of?"  I was about to tell her when she answered, "Gatsby."  She was right!  She got so excited!  She told me later that she had been trying to think of a way to explain her vision of her wedding to the wedding planner.  After finding her dress and seeing that cutaway tux with it, she can now tell her wedding planner that her vision of  her wedding is Gatsby.  Vintage yet elegant.  Wow!  Now she just needs to get TJ on board  with the cutaway tux idea!  He hasn't been able to deny her anything yet, so I don't really see the tux being the first.  

I so want to post a picture of Erin in this dress.  But, she doesn't want TJ to see the dress before she walks to him down the aisle.  She wants the moment of their eyes meeting and the memories that will give them both.  So do I.  So I will abide by her wishes and not show this dress to anyone she doesn't want to see it.  That doesn't mean I won't carry a copy of the picture with me so I can look at it and dream any time I like.  

Erin, I have never seen you so beautiful as you were Saturday afternoon in that dress.  I wish I could come up with a better word, but the only one I can think of is stunning.  Thank you for sharing that moment with me.  I'll never forget it.

Oh, one more thing, Erin.  I didn't cry when we were shopping Saturday.  I promised myself that I wouldn't embarrass you that way.  I did pretty well, didn't I?  I have to confess, though.  That night, when there was no one to see, I cried.  I don't think it will be the last time.