Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Just Another Auld Lang Syne

Another Christmas has come and gone.  We just got home from Christmas with John’s family in Valley.  He and I did what we have done every year on our way home from our last celebration:  we shopped.   This year, however, the season brings with it more than the usual bittersweet emotions.  This is our last Christmas with Erin all to ourselves.  I guess  that isn’t exactly entirely true.  We left Valley by 7:30 this morning to get to the airport in Atlanta in time to catch her flight to Milwaukee.  TJ met her there.  She has gone to spend some of her Christmas vacation with him and to attend his father’s New Year’s Eve wedding.  By this time next year she will have moved to Wisconsin permanently.  This spring will be her last semester at U of A before transferring.  As I understand it, she will not be moving unless there is a real commitment between the two of them by the time she is expecting to move in May.  Personally, I’m surprised she didn’t become engaged over Christmas, but then, TJ is a man of his own mind and I’m sure he has a plan. 

This morning when we dropped Erin off at the Delta drop-off, I watched her walk away from us and it struck  me just how confident a woman she is.  Had I not known her, I would never have guessed that she is only 19.  She looked like a worldly traveler, confident in her ability to go and do whatever she pleases as well as any obstacles that may get in her way.  It was almost as if I was seeing her for the first time, only this time not as her mother.  Pride swelled as I watched her walk away.  It wasn’t until we actually drove away that I realized she really was doing exactly that.  Today, she walked away and never looked back.  She has taken control of her own destiny, made her plans, and forged ahead.  If there is fear, I will  never know.  I’m sure that she will tell me some things, but surely not all.  Her life is completely her own and there are things that she will experience, some good and some bad, that I will never hear about .  At various points during the afternoon I found myself almost tearing up at the oddest times.  It seems that after more than a year I would not get so lonely when she leaves, but I swear that it only gets worse.  Every time she leaves, it is easier for her.  How can I have such mixed feelings about this?  My heart breaks a little every time she leaves, yet my pride in her ability to run toward her life is immeasurable. I’m pretty sure mine is the plight of most mothers everywhere.  I so badly want to hold onto her, yet would never deny her the joy of what she is experiencing now.  Her future is so full of promise.  Unless I have misjudged the situation horribly, she has found the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with and he feels the same about her.  She has decided on a major that  will be challenging but makes her happy.  It never occurred to me that the fulfillment of her dreams would take her so far away from home.  I guess it all depends on your definition of home.  I believe it was Robert Frost that said that home is the place that, when you go there, they have to let you in.  True, but there is so much more to it.  Home is the place where you go to find refuge, where there is someone who is willing to fight your fights for your or to just let you rant until you feel better.  At home there is comfort, love, warmth, solace.
John and I talked about New Year’s Eve plans on our way home.  This year, we will do what he and I have done since Erin became old enough to make her own plans.  Before then, we watched the Twilight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi and occasionally played a board game while we watched.  Once we found ourselves alone, John and I have been going to a movie then out to dinner.  Afterwards we hit Krispy Kreme and head home.  Not a very exciting New Year’s celebration, but we like it.  This time of year it is traditional to look back on the year that is ending and make resolutions for the year to come.  Today, I’ve been revisiting the past nineteen holiday seasons and have marveled at how quickly they have passed.  It is hard to imagine what my holidays will be like in the future.  My whole life Christmas has followed a pattern.  This year that routine changed just slightly.  Next year will bring more change.  But no matter how I choose to see it, there are undeniable facts.  The biggest milestones of my life have passed.  I graduated from college, married the man of my dreams, raised my family.  Now what?  Grandchildren and retirement?  Really?  That’s all? 

I refuse to believe that is all that I have left to look forward to.  Surely my life from this point isn’t supposed to be based on my career ending and watching my child reach her milestones.  With her building her life so far away, mine will definitely be different than before.  I’m sure that I will share the high points in her life from a distance and over the phone.  When that happens I am just as sure that not being able to be with her will break my heart, just as watching her walk away at the airport today did.  Yet, beneath it all will be a fierce pride at her courage.  In order to chase her dreams and live the life she wants for herself, she is stepping out on her own.  Her dad and I will never  be more than a phone call and short plane ride away.  There is nothing here that could keep me from going to her wherever she is, whenever that may be. 

As the new year approaches I will do my best to keep from being saddened by all that has changed in my life over the past year.  Rather, I will find joy in my life as it is now.  Part of that joy will be watching my child find hers.  Happy New Year, everyone.    

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Not long ago John and I went to see a movie.  Just the two of us.  Erin was in Wisconsin and John and I decided to spend that rainy Sunday afternoon in Dothan at a movie.  The Debt is about telling the truth.  Ultimately, though, it is more about the lies.  It isn’t the lies we tell the world that ultimately eats us alive – it’s the lies we tell ourselves.  Those lies define us – make us the people we turn out to be.  We lie to ourselves every time we settle for less than what we wanted.  We tell ourselves we’re happy.  We tell ourselves our lives are the way we always hoped they would be.  We tell ourselves that all the little compromises we have made along the way don’t amount to anything.  What we don’t tell ourselves is that what we really are is cowards.

We are afraid to take what we want from life – maybe out of fear that we will hurt those with whom we share our lives.  But if those people love us as they say they do, don’t they want us to have the life we want?  Aren’t they willing to love us enough to help us pursue our dreams?  Are we courageous enough to let them?  Or, in chasing what we really want, are we afraid to risk those things we have simply settled for?  Those things, those compromises, define our comfort zone.  Many of those choices have little to do with how we see ourselves and more to do with how those who love us want us to see ourselves.  Why?

Are they afraid that in the choice we will fall?  Or are they more afraid that the choice is really just running away from them?  Is that what it is?  Really?  My mother has often said that she had always believed that of her two children I would be the one to get as far away from Kinston as I could the first chance I got.  Why didn’t I?  Fear?  I don’t know.  It would be easy to say that the pieces of my life just fell into place to work out this way.  But since I’m talking about honesty, I can’t really claim that is true.  I am where I am because of the choices I have made.  I went away to college but was so unhappy that I moved myself to a school closer home.  I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to major in, so I just took my transcript to my advisor and asked her to look at it and tell me what degree I could get with what I had in the time I had left.  I took a job as a secretary because it is nigh impossible to find a teaching job in November…when I graduated.  I took my first teaching job at a private school because I felt I really should be using my degree even though the secretarial job paid more.  I actively pursued a job in a public school because there is no way John and I could have the life we wanted with my job paying the little that it did.  So, many years later, here I am.

There’s a country song that says something about “the crooked road that took me straight to you.”  Please forgive me if I have misquoted, but you get the idea.  My life has been a series of seemingly unexplainable, unrelated  twists and turns.  I talk to my students all the time about getting out into the world.  I encourage them to explore options that will take them outside their comfort zones.  I probably did my best job with that particular goal with my own child.  Once Erin spread her wings she soared. 

So what lies am I telling myself now?  Probably the biggest one is that I’m happy that Erin is moving on with her life.  That one is a whopper!  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for her.  She is making her own decisions, fearlessly, and making her life what she wants it to be.  I just feel as if when this school year is over and she moves to Wisconsin, as she is actively planning to do, that I will be terribly lonely for her.  Things will never be the same.  I’ve talked a lot about easing into this natural separation progression and how that is making the whole process easier.  It has, really, it just can’t do anything to make me happy about it.  Someone told me once that from the moment your children are born they begin their journey away from you.  It’s natural.  It’s the way things are meant to be.  It’s only right.  Maybe what gets me about this is that my choice hasn’t come into play.  My choice for her life isn’t one she took.  She listened to our advice and considered what we wanted for her and then took the route she wanted to take.  Do I think the choice she has made is the wrong one?  I don’t think so.  Should things not work out the way she has planned, the potential consequences are vast.  But, then, that’s where my past choices come into play.  Should her plans not come together the way she sees them doing so, the culmination of my choices will put me where I need to be . . . right here if she needs me. 

Have I lied to myself in the past and told myself that I’m happy when I’m really not?  Sure!  Who hasn’t?  I like to think that I have a realistic approach to the whole “happiness” concept.  I read an article yesterday that said that the couples who are happiest together over the long term are those who do not insist that every problem be solved or every argument reach an amicable settlement.  The couples who persevere and grow old together are willing to accept that only 68% of the disagreements they have over the course of their marriage will actually be resolved to mutual satisfaction.  It seems to me that those couples have simply agreed to disagree.  They have agreed to be happy.  They have made their choices along the way and then chosen to be happy.

In the movie that we went to see, the lie the characters live has much more serious implications.  In my little corner of our existence I will continue to make choices with a conscious effort to be honest with myself about what I want.  I will take the opinions of those I love into account and then look into my heart  and make a choice.  I’m sure there will be times that some of those choices will turn out not to be the best thing I could have done.  It won’t be the first time, nor will it be the last.  At this point in my life I think the most important thing to remember is that my opinions about what Erin should do to be happy are just that….opinions.  I want her to look into her heart and make a conscious choice to be happy.  There may be consequences and / or ramifications, but I believe that if she is honest with herself and chooses what she truly believes will make her happy, that those consequences will be few and less severe than if she lives her life by others’ choices for her and then lies to herself…telling herself that she is happy. 

Her not being close by will not make me happy.  Seeing the joy on her face and hearing it in her voice will.  And that is not a lie.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who's Afraid?

For the past week or so I've been preoccupied with the concept of fear.  Why isn't a question I'd like to answer right now . . . or maybe ever.  Let's just take it as a given that I've been thinking about fear quite a lot lately.  I don't think I've ever really considered myself to be a fearful person.  Oh, sure, there is the occasional physical  reaction when I see a snake, but that doesn't really count.  What I'm talking about is true fear - the kind that wakes you in the middle of the night.  The kind of fear that haunts you in your dreams and leaves you struggling to wake up.  I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately and how, if allowed to grow, fear can overcome your life.  It can suck the life out of your days and paralyze you.

I'm sure that we all have things that we are afraid of.  At some point in our lives we all have been afraid of the dark, afraid of being alone, afraid of failure.  These are fears that can be overcome.  Once you recognize your fear and can face the cause, common sense can explain away the shadows.  I can remember a time when being alone in my house at night was enough to make me lock all the doors and listen for any small sound that might indicate all was not right in the night.  Now, I can sit here on cool fall evenings, alone in my home with the windows open, without worrying about what's "out there."  When Erin was very small, for some reason she convinced herself that there were bears in our yard at night.  Every night before going to bed we would have to reassure her that Daddy Paul had killed all the bears that day.  That simple assurance that a grown up was in control of the night and could banish those things you were afraid of was all she needed to feel secure in her world.  If only there was someone to assure us in a way that could banish adult fears.

So what kinds of things am I afraid of?  I'm afraid of being alone.  I've just had a birthday.  As I grow older I think more and more of what my future might bring.  Let's face it.  The women in my family live incredibly long lives!  There is a very distinct possibility that I will live out the last years of my life without John.  The thought of being without him makes me truly afraid.  I know that as long as I have family I will never be truly alone, but being without the other half of myself is truly frightening.  I have now lived with him more years than I have lived without him.  We function as a team - a single entity sometimes.  I like it like that.

Erin's future is more and more surely developing far away from us.  Somehow being without her does make me feel alone, but not especially lonely.  When I am lonely for her all I have to do is talk to her and everything is better.  I think that God structured the parent / child relationship with a type of buffer that kicks in as the child becomes an adult.  That separation is a natural one.  It is a parting that one spends the better part of parenthood preparing for.  Letting her go has not been easy and there are still times when there is a very empty space in my home where Erin's presence used to be.  It wasn't until just recently that I noticed that my sister, my mother, and I have quit referring to the blue bedroom at my mother's house as "Sonya's room."  Strange, huh?  I haven't lived in that room for twenty-four years but I have always still thought of it as my room.  I think I will always think of the room upstairs here as Erin's room - even when I paint over the fuchsia, aqua, and orange striped walls.

The fear that I've been obsessed with lately is one that will either go away on its own or I will have to face it.  Having it go away on its own is my preferred method of getting rid of it, but I'll face it if I have to.  Until that time comes I'm sure I'll spend my time worrying it over and over in my mind trying to find a way around it.  Being afraid makes me feel vulnerable.  I hate that feeling.  It makes me angry.  Maybe that's the best way to overcome this particular fear.  Get angry.  Get very angry.  Sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charmed, I'm Sure!

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love to read.  My guilty secret is that although I love to read it isn’t always what people expect me to read.  My leisure reading list very rarely includes classics or anything on anything resembling a suggested reading list. I certainly don't read anything I have to analyze or think about!  This summer I found a series of novels that sparked an idea.  The series revolves around a charm bracelet.  Each of the protagonists ends up with this bracelet and the story involves the charm specific to that character.  As I read I couldn’t help but be drawn into the symbolism of each of the charms.  I guess that also isn’t news to those of you who know me:  I look for symbolism everywhere and am hardly ever disappointed.  That got me to thinking that charm bracelets used to be very popular.  Erin has one that my mother gave her and added charms to it occasionally to mark special occasions or memories shared by the two of them.  A truly traditional charm bracelet can be read as easily as a published chronicle of a person’s life.  Each of the trinkets attached to the chain represents a very particular event or memory – something the person who owns the bracelet wants to insure is never forgotten.  So, if I had such a charm bracelet, what would be on it?  If you unlatched it and stretched it out in front of you on a table, what stories of my life would be told in its charms?  Bear with me, but I think I’d like to, figuratively, add charms to that chain.

Logically the charms on a bracelet should be arranged chronologically – at least that appeals to that very small OCD element in me.  So, that means that I should start at the beginning:  my birthday.  That charm is actually very easy.  The actual shape of the charm isn’t really that important as long as it includes a blue sapphire which is my birthstone.  The second, I believe, should be a tree.  You know, one of those which everyone recognizes in illustrations as a family tree - a large, spreading, strong oak – as well as a bow to represent the ties that bind.  I was in a play in college and the theme of the work was family and the ties that bind.  In the play those ties are represented by the hymn “Blessed Be the Ties That Bind.”  Maybe I should include a music note instead of the bow.  What do you think?

The largest portion of my childhood revolved around school, so the third charm would have to be a symbol of that.  Therefore, the third charm would be my school mascot – a bulldog.  You know, looking back on this list I realize it is a bit sad!  Here I am all the way through high school and I only have three charms!  Was my life really that limited?  Maybe I should add a sprig of ivy.  According to my symbolism dictionary (yes, I have a symbolism dictionary!), combined with a productive Google search, ivy has a propensity to interweave in growth. Ever furrowing and intertwining, ivy is an example of the twists and turns our friendships often take - but it is also a testimony to the long-lasting connections and bonds we form with our friends over the years.  I like to think that ivy would be an appropriate charm for the friendships I made in school and the influence of those friendships on the person I have become.  That works for me.  The next charm will definitely be ivy.

The four years of my life after high school were rather unsettled.  Not in a bad way, really, but still not exactly what anyone with any sense would call years that followed any kind of plan.  I took a couple of classes at a junior college while I was still in high school yet attended a different one after high school.  I left there and went to the University of Montevallo but only for one semester before transferring myself to Troy.  I think the appropriate charm for these years should be a question mark indicating my indecision.  I never really formulated a plan for myself.  Somehow it just all seemed to have worked out for the best! This is not a path I encourage others to take.  Working without a plan doesn’t always work out well.  To proceed with chaos produces chaos as a result.  Oh!  That’s an idea!  Isn’t there actually a symbol for chaos?  I’ll have to check that out.

I don’t think it would be fair not to include some kind of symbol for the friends I made in college.  These are the people with whom I feel an interesting connection.  These are the people that knew me “when.”  To represent these special people and my personal growth as a result of our friendships, I would include a robin.  The robin represents growth in all areas of a person’s life as well as rebirth of the human spirit. 

Closer to the end than the middle of the college education process I met John.  I’ve thought about lots of different charms I could use for the beginning of our relationship but have decided that the best representation of our relationship is a simple wedding band.  Our relationship is as precious as the metal and as endless as the circular shape.    In addition to a wedding ring, I'd like to add a sarus crane. These cranes are known for their heartiness and ability to endure seasons of hardship.  In India sarus cranes represent a happy marriage because after a long, intricate courtship, they mate for life.  Interestingly enough, their courtship involves a dance, a waltz if you will.  They return to the same breeding grounds year after year to build their nest, incubate, and nurture their young - together.  They have an equal partnership in their "marriage."  What better example for a loving marriage?

The next milestone of my life would be Erin.  I think for her I would choose a simple aquamarine followed by other charms for our life with her:  a volleyball, a softball, a mortar board, a bear, Mickey Mouse ears, and a bunny.  At least a few of those are self-explanatory but I probably need to explain a couple of the others.  We moved to Kinston when Erin was two.  Her bedroom was on one end of our trailer and one wall was taken up almost completely by a large bay window.  For reasons I will never understand, Erin had convinced herself that there were bears around our trailer.  Many, many nights before she would go to bed, she would ask me if Daddy Paul had killed all the bears.  She would go to the window and peek out the curtains to see if she saw any he may have missed.  Although she never claimed to have seen any bears, she still seemed to need to be assured that Daddy Paul had, in fact, killed all the bears in the area at some point during the day that day.  I’d love to ask her about that, but I doubt she would even remember what started all that.  One day she simply quit asking.  Maybe she decided that all the bears were finally gone.

Another I need to explain is a story I’ve never told anyone as far as I can remember.  I certainly don’t remember ever having told Erin.  When  I want my students to do something quickly, I’ll tell them to be “quick like bunnies!”  I’ve been saying that for years now and for some reason they all find that very funny.  But the reason I think I should include a bunny charm is because of Erin.  When she was not much more than a toddler, I was trying to get her to hurry doing something.  I wish now I could remember what that was because it would surely make this story better.  Oh, well.  Anyway, after my having told her to hurry several times I decided to change my tactic.  Instead of telling Erin to hurry, I told her to be quick.  She turned, looked at me, and said, “Like a bunny?”  I said, “Yes, Erin.  Quick like a bunny!”  They must have been talking about bunnies at daycare because she wasn’t interested in picking up the pace to “hurry,” but had no trouble picking up the pace to be “quick like a bunny”!  So, yes, I must have a bunny.  Erin, if you are reading this, I can’t believe I never took the time to tell you that story.  I thought about it a couple of times, but thought you might be embarrassed when I actually said it in class.  I realize that embarrassing you by telling “Erin Stories” never stopped me before, but that particular memory was just too sweet to share.

I think the last charm I have to add would be an empty bird nest.  Now that Erin is in college, John and I are your typical “Empty Nesters.”  Our baby has flown and we are now on our own.  That’s okay.  There’s still space on this bracelet of mine to add charms for the memories John and I will make.  I’m sure that one day I will add something for Erin’s wedding, my and John’s special anniversaries, family trips.  Who knows?  The potential represented by that empty space is limitless!  It is ripe with possibility.

I realize that this whole thought process has been a bit cheesy, but who cares?  I warned from the very beginning that the purpose of my blog was to help me process my own thoughts and not to entertain or educate anyone else.  Writing it all out this way helps me to organize my thoughts and memories in a way that is meaningful to me.  It helps to see it divided into neat paragraphs.  Our lives are made up of a series of choices and the often unpredictable branch events of those choices.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life could be so easily managed?  Just think…lay out a blank chain and pick from a wide variety of charms the experiences and memories you want to have in your life.  All you have to do is choose and organize them any way you want.  But then, really, don’t we all do that anyway?  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I've Been Touched!

Today I met a friend for lunch.  She and I used to work together and hit it off big time!  We have children who are the same age who also became friends.  As I was driving to Dothan to share good food and better conversation, it occurred to me that she is one of those who have entered my life for a relatively short amount of time but whose footsteps echo from time to time in a very pleasant way.

All of us have people who drift in and out of our lives.  Some, thankfully, for a very short time!  To amuse myself on the drive over, I began to run through a list in my head of those who, at one time or another, have played a role in my life.  I didn't think I should count family members, because we all have those, but then I re-thought that decision.  Don't our family members define who we are, or at least who we see ourselves as?  So, in keeping with the spirit of the list concept, I decided to start with family members. 

Probably the two family members who have had the most influence on how I see myself are my maternal grandparents.  I'm not the first grandchild, nor was I the last.  I fell toward the middle.  If there is truly such a thing as Middle Child Syndrome, then there must certainly be Middle Grandchild Syndrome!  If being a middle grandchild doesn't label one as "been there done that," then my other deficiency did:  I am not a boy.  Boy grandchildren in my family, both sides I believe, are venerated.  They do no wrong and must suffer from nosebleeds from the height of their individual pedestals.  That didn't really occur to me until I was an adult and began to step back to consider family dynamics.  It doesn't keep me from loving my boy cousins, it just sheds a new light on things.   My grandmother, Mama Martin, probably had more to do with defining how I see myself than any other family member other than my own mother.  We are truly a matriarchal powerhouse!  The women in my family rock!  My Mama Martin does not suffer fools lightly and did not tolerate foolishness from me, either! My most cherished memories are the days when I would be at her house and it would be just the two of us.  It didn't matter if the only reason I was there in the first place was to help with some task or just to visit, she talked to me.  I don't mean that she and I swapped words, I mean she talked to me. Without ever actually saying the words specifically, she told me that she expected me to achieve, that to do less than my best would result in her disappointment, that developing a life for myself wasn't just expected - it was required.  I understood that to fail should be looked upon as a learning experience as long as I had given the task my full effort.  But, I think the best of all the times I spent with her my favorite are those times when I got a glimpse of the woman she is - not just the grandmother she is.  She remembered to call me when she made tomato gravy for supper (my absolute favorite with her biscuits) and made extra so I could eat with them.  My favorite desert is peanut butter cream pie, but not the one most people think of.  This one is homemade custard with peanut butter mixed with confectioner's sugar on the crust before pouring the hot custard on top, topped with meringue sprinkled with more of the peanut butter mixture.  I ramble but with a purpose.  My grandmother would make a pie for me and then call me and give me the whole thing.  She missed very few birthdays without making one of those pies for me and letting me have it all by myself.  She knew that I love divinity but not the way most people like it.  I don't like it once it has set up. I like it hot and glossy.  Every Southern woman knows divinity won't make if the humidity is too high:  those are the days she and I would make divinity.  We wouldn't make a full batch, just enough to either stand at the stove and eat with a spoon or to take out (still in the boiler) and eat with a spoon as we sat in the swing. 

The second most influential person who is a family member was my maternal grandfather.  I'm not so sure this is because he spent time with me the way my grandmother did, or just because everyone in my family respected his opinions.  We were always afraid that when he died our family would fragment, as he was the lynch pin which held us together.  Unfortunately, that has proven to be true as our family isn't as close as we once were.  Possibly this fragmentation is a natural progression as the grandchildren grew up, grew apart, and grew away.  We have families of our own now and our own lives to lead.  We don't follow our parents to our grandparents' home for gatherings anymore.  Although Daddy Paul was a source of fun while I was growing up, I think his influence actually came after I married.  Once we moved to the barn, I saw him every single day.  I would like to think that I was what drew him up the dirt road, but I know better.  He and Erin thought the day could not end without seeing each other.  As little as she was when we moved to Kinston, I believe that those memories are precious to her, too.

The first two were family members who have run their course as influences.  My Daddy Paul died when Erin was 5 and my Mama Martin is into her 90s now.  I don't feel that we'll have her much longer.  She is tired and misses the days when she could work circles around everyone else in the family (and that wasn't that long ago.)  The others who came to mind during my drive to lunch today were not those with whom I have had long-term relationships.  Please forgive me if I do not use their names as I would not want to make them uncomfortable in any way and you probably wouldn't know them anyway!

I have a friend from high school that wasn't truly a friend until we went to college.  Occasionally she drifts back in at the oddest times and always when I've been thinking about her.  The rumor mill says she is going through some difficult times right now and I hope that if she thinks there is anything I can do for her, she will call.  Another is also a friend from high school but one with whom I've made sure to keep in touch since high school.  Our lives have taken such different directions and yet when we get together it is as if we have never been apart.   Then there is the first friend I made when I moved away to college.  She never judged me for my homesickness and allowed me to camp out on her top bunk until we were both giggling uncontrollably.  I haven't seen her since she moved out of state, but her Christmas letters are the highlight of my holiday every year.  If I don't get one, I email her to encourage her to get with the program!  Those three women, at different points in my life, have wandered in and out giving my life a boost when it needed it.  One of these friends, hopefully, will be coming soon to spend an all-girls weekend!  I can't wait!  Watch out world, you ears are gonna burn that weekend!

After college different types of people wandered in and out of my life.  I learned what "work friends" are and how some of those turn in to real friends.  Some of my first work friends still show up from time to time.  I'll run into them while out to dinner or shopping and we take time to catch up on each other's families.  I always leave those chance meetings with a good feeling. 

My daughter's friends must also be counted among those who have drifted in and out of my life.  At various times in our family life, depending on stage of development or sport season, different children were almost as much a member of my family as my own child.  While these children are not around anymore, I will always be interested in their welfare and their lives. 

That brings me full circle back to the friend with whom I had lunch today. Before we realized it, we had monopolized a table at Olive Garden for approximately two-and-a-half hours.  The only thing I regret is the poor waitress who missed out on tips because we refused to leave.  Even so, I felt that we were only just getting into our conversation when it was time to go home.  We have promised to try to do it again before we both go back to our jobs in August and I really hope we keep that promise.  While we both have lives of our own, our friendship has a life of its own.  In order for it to thrive, we must nurture it.  Thank you, Lisa, for letting a lonesome mother rant about how much she misses her only child.  Thank you for making me feel as if my separation anxiety won't be fatal and will gradually, oh so gradually, settle into dull ache followed by renewal of my own life separate from that of my child.  Thanks for the stories of your vacations with your husband that came to mind while we were talking today.  It was a gentle reminder that now is a really, really good time to focus my attention on my marriage, that now I get to be a wife, not a wife AND mother.  Because of the key times you wander back into my life and I into yours, tonight I'm back on a more even keel.  Thank you.

There are four people who are glaringly absent from this list.  That is simply because those people - John, Erin, Mother, and Donna - are constants in my life.  They neither come nor go. They simply are.  They serve as my lodestone and keep my compass true.  Without them I cannot be who I am, or at least who I believe myself to be.  Each day they serve as reminders of the lessons I learned from all the others.  They keep me true to my beliefs about what constitutes value in a person's life.  Because of this, my love for them is not constant.  Nothing that grows as much as my love for them does each and every day of my life can possibly be viewed as something as lifeless and unchanging as a constant.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I don't know of a kid alive who doesn't live in breathless anticipation throughout the entire school year for summer.  Visions of lazy days, swimming pools, watermelon, mindless TV...what could possibly be better?  Summers when I was growing up fell into a type of routine.  My sister babysat during the summers to make extra money, so I don't remember very many summers without "extras" in the house.  My goal every day of the summer was to sleep as late as I possibly could each and every day.  I think the goal of the kids my sister babysat were to do whatever they could do to keep me from realizing my goal.  We had a window air conditioner in the living room, one in my sister's room, and another in my mother's room.  They were not, under any circumstances, to be turned on without express permission of the management....Mama.  We ran the air conditioner when we were hosting overnight guests (not my or Donna's friends..usually family from out of town).  I can remember being uncomfortable and making up excuses to go to my grandmother's where there was air conditioning every day, but I don't remember ever being miserable in the heat.  Of course, my mother's house had trees that shaded the house.  Also, she had a good old-fashioned window fan in her room.  At night we would close all the windows in the house except the ones in my and my sister's bedrooms and mother would turn on the window fan.  The result would be the equivalent of sleeping in a wind tunnel!  It is from that particular experience that I truly understand the concept of a "soft summer night."  Once I moved away to college and could run the air conditioning in my dorm room as much as I liked, I adjusted to sleeping in a meat locker!

My first transition in my summer schedule didn't actually occur until after I got married.  I wasn't  teaching yet so I still didn't get that summer off from work.  The first summer we were married, however, I was working at a radio station in Enterprise.  I spent that summer being incredibly envious of those still living the college kid summer life.  John was really laid back about "housewife responsibilities," so that first summer transition was actually pretty easy.  We grilled a lot, went to the beach for the day, learned how to live with another person in our summer space.

As an adult I find myself looking back quite fondly on the summers of my youth.  Man, I sound old, don't I?  At this point I feel that I really need to give credit where credit is due.  I grew up with a childhood that I didn't realize that many are not privileged to have.  My mother made sure that we went on a family vacation every single summer.  We cut corners all year to get to go away for a week in the summer.  I'm sure not every vacation was exactly a week....but that's the closest estimate I can make looking back now.  Those trips always followed a pattern:  I filled the back seat with books and pillows while Mother and Donna made their home in the front seat.  They woke me up when we reached our destination and I asked to stop only when I needed a rest area or food. I don't think the two of them every really understood that for me it was never - ever - going to be the trip.  For me, it's the destination!  I like being somewhere new, not necessarily getting there!  I remember quite distinctly being awakened from a perfectly good car nap to look at corn fields in Iowa.  I didn't understand why they felt the need to wake me up to see something I spent several days in as we filled our freezer in the summer!  A corn field, is a corn field, is a corn field, is a get the idea.  But, regardless of whatever we had weathered the previous year, each summer brought that vacation and all three of us looked forward to it all year!  Memories of those vacations still come to me quite often.  I believe that they defined my relationship with my mother and sister.  It was during those long car rides and stopping at every corny tourist trap along the way that we laughed the hardest, talked the longest, and bonded the tightest.  I wouldn't give that up for anything.

My husband and I have been very fortunate that we have been able to carry on that ritual with Erin.  I can't tell you what our first family vacation was, but we have traveled with her since we first learned how much stuff we could cram into the back of our Explorer.  I'm still amazed how much stuff a baby requires for a simple weekend away!  We have even been fortunate to have traveled with my mother and sister, specifically to Alaska and Hawaii on cruises.  Erin has even been to China with my mother!  I think I can fairly say that she is one of the most traveled women of her age in this area!

Last summer was another transition summer for me.  Erin graduated from high school and worked for the summer.  While she was still living at home, I spent my days alone.  It was certainly different from our summer days the rest of her life.  Until then she and I had lazed away our days sleeping late, watching TV, and pretty much seeing how little activity we could get away with!  Now, I'm glad I had that transition last summer, because this summer is a whole new ballgame.

This summer is another transition and it has been especially difficult.  Just like last summer, Erin has a job so she isn't home during the day.  The difference this year is that while Erin has a job, it is in Wisconsin!  She doesn't come home nights.  We don't talk about her day over dinner every night.  Her friends aren't here at night raiding my kitchen and watching TV.  This summer our conversations are via text.  I'm getting faster!  I've also decided that I like texting, because if I'm interrupting whatever she has going on, she can answer me later.  There are details about her days that I find out from others who have talked with her or texted her.  Friends I've spoken with about this don't seem to understand why this summer is any different than the past school year when she was in Tuscaloosa.  It is different - very different.  In Tuscaloosa Erin could jump in her car at the end of her last class and come home.  I think the longest we went without seeing her this last school year was three weeks.  To date she has been gone for right at four weeks with no visit in sight.  I try not to pressure her about coming home because I know it isn't as easy as it was.  A visit home involves either a very expensive plane ticket or a very expensive gas bill to drive.  I miss her, but she knows that.  She misses us, too, but this is an incredible experience for her.  I think that the time she spends in Wisconsin this summer will have a direct influence on the rest of her life one way or another.  I think that the funniest thing about the whole situation is that, as strange as it may seem, she is actually getting to know me better.  I spoke with her today just before some company  who were coming to visit arrived.  She had earlier had an unfortunate disagreement with her mop and I had called to let her actually tell me the story rather than trying to explain it through a text.  Maybe I can better explain what I mean by giving examples of some of the lessons she has learned this summer:

  1. Regardless of all previous opinions, it is important to clean before company arrives even if you just cleaned the day before.
  2. As soon as the kitchen floor dries, someone with mud on his shoes will need to come through.
  3. No matter how many times you unload them, dishwashers need constant attention.
  4. One can survive on Ramen noodles and Alfredo sauce.
  5. Eating out isn't as important as making a house payment.
  6. Dirty clothes breed dirty clothes; laundry is a constant.
  7. One can survive without Internet or television.
  8. Someone in the house needs to know how to cook something besides Ramen noodles.
  9. You can only eat cereal for so many meals before there is a mutiny.
  10. Buying groceries can be a traumatic financial event.
  11. Ignoring the dust on empty pantry shelves won't make food "magically" appear.
  12. You have to tell the people at the post office you have moved in.  The mailman won't just suddenly notice lights in the house and arrange for all your mail to arrive at your door.
  13. Having money in a remote bank where you are unable to access it does mean you are poor.  No    money is no money.  The bills won't wait until you get your banking situation resolved.
  14. Your boyfriend's family's approval makes life so much easier.
  15. Anyone who can read can cook. 
  16. Calling your mother for advice, recipes, or even a laugh doesn't indicate weakness or failure.
  17. You are never, ever too old for a Care Package.
Looking back over the list of lessons she has already learned this summer, I can't wait to see what comes next!  She is making sandwiches, serving coffee, selling snacks to construction workers this summer.  She has learned more economics from this experience than she ever will in a classroom.  Right now there is only a small crew on site.  They are expecting about another 150 workers to come in next week weather permitting.  I do believe her little business will experience a surge next week!  What Erin is learning this summer is a set of true "life lessons."  Those are the lessons you can be told about but you'll never really learn them until you attempt to put them into practice.  I think that's how I'll think of this summer...practice.  She's finding out what it means to be very far away from your safety net.  She's finding out what being responsible for yourself really means.  She's finding out that all the times I lectured her on neatness, cleanliness, etc., I really did know what I was talking about.  Hopefully, above and beyond all else, I hope she realizes that no matter how far away she goes there are people here who love her, who want her to be happy, who want her to be successful.  This summer is just one more stop on that wild ride that is living an independent life. 

We, as her parents, have always believed it to be very important that she be independent - that she be confident in her own abilities to take care of herself away from us.  She is trying to find out if the life she can make for herself in Wisconsin is one in which she will be truly happy.  She is spending time with TJ to see if being with him on a day-to-day basis is what she thought it would be and if she can see herself there in the future.  She has learned her lessons well and we couldn't be more proud.  What that means to me personally, is that I must, out of necessity, spend my summer in yet another transition - teaching myself how to be alone.  I have to learn that having her become everything we knew she could be isn't a bad thing just because she is becoming that person so far away.  Our dream for her has always been to go to college, experience college life to the fullest, make life-long friends, then, after she graduates from college, go out into the world and begin her life.  I keep having to remind myself that is my dream for her, not necessarily hers for herself.  Her first year in college wasn't the experience I wanted it to be, but I think it was the experience she wanted it to be.  She has made new friends and developed some old ones.  She is happier now with her life than I have seen her be for quite a while.  What more could a parent ask than that a child be secure and happy?

Just one last thing I truly want Erin to stop to consider...mild temperatures during the summer in Wisconsin turn in to brutal temperatures in the winter!  But, then, what better excuse to visit?!

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm just blown away...

Last week saw a disaster in my home state that one Facebook poster called "a disaster of Old Testament proportions."  Friends are blogging about their experiences worrying about family members in harm's way.  I think I'll start this blog with my comment on one such blog:

"I was sitting at home watching the Weather Channel thinking about my child just as you were thinking about your sister. Erin did get a call in to me as they evacuated the airport in Birmingham where she was waiting to take off. I could hear the fear in her voice as men yelled in the background to get down. Our connection ended. The reporter being interviewed on the Weather Channel was in Birmingham. The tornado appeared over his shoulder just as he was showing the audience the "trash" that was raining down from the sky...debris from the tornado in Tuscaloosa. It was a very large piece of glass and a piece of a cinder block. I watched the tornado hit Birmingham. No calls got through to Erin. The announcer on the Weather Channel said, "There goes the airport." How did I feel? Numb. What was going through my mind? Dear, God, no. Not my baby. Not Erin. No. No. No. He's wrong. That didn't hit the airport. I had heard the fear in her voice and couldn't get to her. Couldn't hold her. Her last words before she hung up? "Love you, Mom." Mine to her? "Me you, too." Just like every conversation. My sister was hit with a tornado in Cordova that morning and another that afternoon. One of her friends lost a child. Teresa's, Donna's roommate, niece whom Teresa has adopted lost a classmate. Another six-year-old died. Total of eight in that very, very small town. It would be like eight people in Lowery dying. It's that small. I couldn't get a call through to Donna, just voice mail. When the second one hit I knew that since they didn't have power that they didn't have sirens. Thankfully, she had her weather radio.  They never heard it coming. Two kids that were killed were skateboarding in the parking lot of what had been that morning the town's only grocery store. There was no reason they shouldn't be outside. The sky was partly cloudy. No wind. No warning. Cordova was the only town in all states hit that day that was effectively wiped out twice. Deaths both times. Even knowing that, all I could think of was that Erin was sitting in the bathroom at the Birmingham Airport underneath the hand dryer. She had spoken to Bethany and was scared for her. She called us to tell us she loved us. How do I feel now? Numb. I can barely breathe knowing how close I was to losing her that day. How close I was to losing both of them. I could sympathize with my mother who was afraid for her child the same as I was afraid for mine. There are mothers across four states who went through what I did that day. What my mother went through. What your mother went through. What Ashton's mother went through. Every time I let myself think about it, I can't breathe. I don't know how they're dealing with it, but I know how I have chosen to. I have chosen not to deal with it. Denial? You bet. I can't live with the thought of losing her, much less facing how close I came on Wednesday."

Responses the day after that series of horrible tornadoes were emotional.  Then I noticed a new Friend on Facebook:  Toomers for Tide.  Talk about a ground swell of support!  Now I log on as often as I can to check the posts from Toomers.  This poor guy has gotten help to keep this organized.  Good thing!  He seems to be organizing offers of help from across the country.  This morning I saw responses from Annapolis, Las Vegas, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland. 

It is so easy to get caught up in our own misery that often we don't open our eyes to the misery of others.  It is easy to begin to doubt the elemental goodness of Man.  We moved Erin home from Tuscaloosa yesterday.  We saw only a very small area that was devastated by the tornado there.  We made a point of staying out of the way as much as possible.  But what we saw broke my heart.  We saw cars that first responders had marked with spray paint to indicate whether or not a body had been inside.  We saw rubble where businesses, already dealing with a struggling economy, once stood.  One street over life was normal, untouched.  What else did I see?  National Guardsmen watching over a group of teenagers as they dashed across traffic.  Orange Beach police vehicles parked next to Tuscaloosa City police vehicles.  I saw bucket trucks three and four deep parked all along roads working to bring electricity back to ravaged neighborhoods.  I saw people from all walks of life who had left their homes to reach out to those in need. 

Looking back over the posts from Toomers I am reminded that I am blessed.  My heart is full from the efforts of others reaching out to strangers.  I mourn for those who were lost and their families.  So why do I feel blessed?  Because my loved ones survived.  Because God was watching over the ones I love.  Because God answers prayers - even those made up of, "Please, God, no."  Three little words.  Repeated.  Over and over.  And He heard me.  I am humbled by the despair I see in others' faces as they beg for help on the news.  I am humbled by goodness of others as they put their lives on hold to help others put their lives back together.  I am a speck of dust in God's universe yet he heard my prayer.  His answer could just have easily been something else.  So now I will continue to repeat another short prayer, "Thank you, God.  I am blessed."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring is in the air...

We have made our first trip to the beach so it is now, officially, spring in the Shaw household.  On Sunday night after we returned we had a good, old-fashioned thunder / hail storm with a nice green sky accompanying it.  I said  To anyone not living in an area where tornadoes herald the coming spring, a greenish sky is a bad, bad sign.  Thankfully, all we got was hail and we didn't get nearly as much as people as little as a mile south of us.  That's okay.  We got pictures and video!

Erin came home on Thursday so she could get some laundry done while John and I were at work on Friday.  Within an hour of getting home that afternoon, John and I were ready to hit the road.  Not long after, the car was packed and we were on our way. John had rented a suite for the weekend so that Erin could get away from his (our, really) snoring and hopefully get some sleep.  Nice room, nice place, manager's reception, i.e. a free drink.  Not a bad deal.  Although the weather didn't really cooperate on Saturday morning, our time wasn't wasted.  We saw a movie, did a little shopping, then hit the beach around 3:00 when the sun finally made an appearance.  That's where we got our first real sign of the approaching spring...

Have you ever seen a Portuguese Man-O-War?  Pretty things, really.  These were bright blue and everywhere!  Unlike some tourists, we actually pay attention to the flags.  This weekend they were yellow and purple...dangerous marine life and rough water.  The "dangerous marine life" got me.  Erin had already told us about the pictures she had seen on friends' FB pages of all the jellyfish.  While a Portuguese Man-O-War isn't technically a jellyfish (according to the news....), they can be quite unpleasant.  One man who was on the beach with his two children actually went in to the water to catch one in a net so his children could see it better.  When he was done with it, he left it lying on the sand.  It was a beautiful blue color.  So were the tentacles which trailed behind it for more than a foot.  It happens every year.  When the jellyfish arrive at the beach...spring is here!

The other sign of spring which I had noticed earlier in the week brought back memories for me.  I transferred from Zion Chapel to Kinston the summer after Erin's kindergarten year.  That fall she began riding to school with me every day.  It was that spring that she and I began watching for the "green haze" on the pecan trees at the barn.  It is really one of the miracles of Nature.  You go to school one morning and the tree limbs are bare.  You come home that afternoon and there is a light green haze hovering around the limbs on those very same pecan trees.  Every year when Erin and I would begin to get tired of cold weather, we would begin watching those pecan trees.  For many years, on the days when the miracle had not yet occurred, Erin would sigh, look at me, and say, "Not yet, Mama.  Maybe tomorrow."  Every day the same thing.  On the day the haze was there, she would get so excited; so would I!  It meant that Easter was coming, cold weather was on its way out, sleeping with the windows open was a definite possibility.  Life was good.

Around the same time as the appearance of the "haze" would be the first hummingbirds.  It's funny, but we never begin the hummingbird season with just one.  There is always a pair.  Since my husband absolutely refuses to mow around trees, we have one lonesome tree way out on the edge of our yard in the front of the house.  That means the hummingbirds have a clear shot at the feeders I can see hanging on the porch just outside the kitchen window.  By the end of the season, I'll be able to go out in the mornings to have a cup of coffee on the swing and listen to the hummingbirds on our porch.  Yes, hummingbirds make sounds.  On our porch it sounds like a swarm of bees.  Somewhere we have a picture of one of our feeders several years ago.  You can very easily count 21 birds at one feeder.  When the season is in full swing, we will have five feeders going all the time.  We refill all of them every day.  I think the word has spread along the hummingbird internet that the Shaw household is good for free food.  A few years ago we continued to see two birds long after the others were gone.  With the help of an environmental scientist at John's office, we determined we had a nesting pair spending the winter with us.  We left out food all winter and saw the pair consistently right through until the spring.

Well, spring is here, the haze is here, and the hummingbirds are here.  Erin is not.  We got to spend a nice long weekend with her last weekend, but she is flying out to Omaha tomorrow night and will fly back in late Sunday night.  She is going back the next weekend.  For the first time since she was five we didn't share the miracle of the haze.  When we first moved to Kinston Erin was two.  We lived underneath those pecan trees and I began to teach her to watch the trees so we would know when warm weather was coming.  Now I know what her weather is going to be like from watching the weather channel.  I either look at the map of Alabama or the one for Nebraska.  She's one place or the other. 

Our lives are made up of these little rituals.  Those rituals change as we reach different milestones in our lives.  Until I was Erin's age I was someone's child.  Then I was someone's wife and someone else's mother for about the same period of time.  Now Erin is moving in to that second stage of her life.  So where does that leave me?  What's the next stage?  Just from personal observation, I think I get to be someone's wife again for a little while.  John and I have been talking about the things he and I want to do together.  Trips.  We actually did that during fall break this year and are tossing around a few more ideas.  While moving from one stage to the next can be bittersweet, I am going to have to force myself not to give in to my melancholy tendencies and find what's good in this for me.  I don't have to worry about Erin.  She is excited about her life and it seems to be moving along quite smoothly.  It's me that seems to be drifting aimlessly.  I'll find my way eventually.  But every spring, no matter where she is, when I see the green haze I'll miss her and I'll remember those sweet days when she would look at me and say, "Not yet, Mama.  Maybe tomorrow."  I'll just have to hang on to that promise of tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

They told me . . .

They told me it would change my life.  They told me my life would never be the same.  They told me to think carefully before making the decision.  They told me it was a commitment that would last a lifetime.  They were right.

Nineteen years ago today my life took on a whole new twist.  John and I became parents.  And you know what?  They were right.  My life changed.  It hasn't been the same.  I didn't stop to think as carefully as I  probably should have.  Know what else?  It made my life what it is.

I barely remember the first time I saw her.  It was sometime around 3:30 a.m.  I remember knowing she was okay, but that's about all.  The first time I actually got to see her she had been checked over and wrapped comfortably in a blanket.  I do remember, very vividly, what I felt the first time I held her.  I felt fiercely protective.  I was scared to death, overwhelmed, and hopelessly in love.  I knew then that she would be my first priority.  I also knew that making her life as perfect as I could would be more important to me than anything else in my life. 

But let's start at the beginning.  When I first suspected I was pregnant I was so overwhelmed that I sank to the floor.  Then I started laughing!  I was so excited I couldn't contain myself.  I immediately called a doctor to schedule an appointment.  I wanted to be absolutely sure before I told John.  When I was sure, I fixed a nice dinner and tried to come up with the perfect way to tell him.  That night at dinner, before I could tell him, he guessed.  We decided to keep our secret for a little while because we knew once we told our families, the baby would no longer be just ours.  We were right.

Do I regret sharing her?  How could I?  Because of the love of our families, Erin has become the wonderful young woman she is.  She is a composite of all the best parts of all of us.  Because of her my life hasn't been the has been richer, more colorful, more exciting, more intense.  Happier.  I'm not saying my life wouldn't have been full and happy if we didn't have her.  That's not something I could ever know.  What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that when I look back on the last nineteen years I am filled with gratitude. 

This morning was the first birthday of her life that Erin was not home.  I was awake at 5:00 missing her so intensely I could barely breathe.  I made myself get up and get moving, knowing that the quicker I did that, the better I would feel.  I logged on to her Facebook account to leave a note on her wall and realized I wasn't the first to think about her this morning.  Strangely enough, that actually made me feel better.  Just because she isn't with me doesn't mean that someone didn't wake up this morning with her face being the first image on his mind and heart.  I know that she spent the day excited that TJ was flying in tonight to spend her birthday with her.  They will come home on Friday to spend the weekend with us.  Still, we will be sharing her.  Family and friends are gathering here on Saturday night to celebrate her birthday.  I don't know what time TJ flies out, but I'm pretty sure they won't be able to stay late on Sunday afternoon.  She has one more week at school before her spring break, and then she will fly out to spend the week with him and his family in Nebraska. 

Looking back I realize that she hasn't really been just mine and John's since the day she was born.  We were determined to be the best parents we could be to help her become a young woman who could stand on her own...without us.  We knew that as an only child there would come a time when she wouldn't have any immediate family.  We wanted her to be comfortable in her own skin and confident in her ability to go on without us as a safety net.  I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do.  This is Erin's last year as a teenager and surely that is a milestone in itself.  She is on her own, solving her own problems, taking care of herself, and doing quite well.  She has a meaningful relationship with someone who appears to care as much for her as she does for him.  Her life is on track and she has a plan. 

Nineteen years ago I looked into her eyes and saw my future.  She looked at me so seriously that morning, as if she wanted me to understand that everything she would be, whether or not she had the opportunity to pursue her dreams, was totally my responsibility.  I felt the weight of the value of her life settle on my shoulders.  It is a weight I have gladly borne and would do so again. 

Hopefully when she looks back on her life, she will think that her dad and I have provided a life for her that has been nurturing.  I hope she feels that we gave her everything she needs to make her dreams come true.  I hope she knows that wherever she goes, her dad and I will always be available for whatever she needs us to be-that at a moment's notice we will drop our lives to go where she is if she calls. I hope that in talking with her friends, regardless of what might come up in the conversation, that she believes in her heart of hearts that we were good parents.

Happy birthday, Erin.  May today be the first in a long line of happy tomorrows filled with laughter, learning, and love.  May the roads you travel always be smooth.  May the sun always shine softly on your shoulders.  May those who travel with you walk by your side so that you feel free to travel your own path and not feel you have to follow them along theirs.  Should the road ever become rough, rely on your values and they will see you through.  Be willing to lean on those who walk with you and accept offers of help.  Be strong in the belief that you are loved, that you are valued, that you deserve respect.  Never underestimate your own worth.  We love you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is There a Full Moon?

Things around school are nuts!  Is there a full moon?  I can't blame the kids for being excited.  For the first time in a very long time, our basketball team made it out of the area and travel to Mobile to compete in regions.  I'm so excited for them!  Way to go, boys!  Play hard and I'll be sitting at school routing for you!  For the girls' volleyball and softball playoffs since Erin was in seventh grade, someone else has covered my classes for me so that I could go watch.  It's my turn to pay back those favors.

Play-off time (even basketball) is a really bittersweet time for me.  I hope that as the years go by it'll get easier and easier.  Softball season is getting kicked off and before long all the girls will get caught up in the excitement.  I survived volleyball play offs without too much angst; I'm not sure how I'll handle softball.  I feel so out of the loop!  With Erin in college I no longer have a personal interest in how well - or not so well - our girls' teams are doing.  I got so invested in volleyball and softball seasons over the past six years that my life is a little empty without it.  I realize what I need to do...I need to get a life!  My life.  My own personal existence outside the school or its events.  I realize what I need to do.  I just don't know how to go about it!  John got me a Nook (color!) for Christmas so I've been doing quite a bit of reading, but that isn't really a life.  I have been trying to go to the Wellness Center and exercise a little when my schedule allows.  But what do people who have a life do?  How do they spend their time?  I'd love a little feedback if anyone out there is listening or has some advice.

Erin came home this weekend and we were able to spend a little time together.  She had a pretty rough week at school and needed some down time.  Hopefully, she was able to find a little peace up there in her own space.  Maybe this week will go better for her.  Before she went back to Tuscaloosa she helped me get a Skype account set up so that I can actually see her face when we talk on the computer.  I'm so excited!  I'll let you know how that little venture works out...

All I have to do is finish this week and get through two more and it will be spring break.  I have really big plans for my break.  I'm going to clean baseboards and carpets.  I know, I know...doesn't sound like much fun for spring break, but I'll have a huge sense of accomplishment when I'm done.  Besides, Erin is going to Nebraska so I'll be here all alone during the day.  The plan is to work in the mornings then sit on the porch and read all afternoon.  Ah!  The good life!

Monday, February 14, 2011

What the world needs now...

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  Today is all about making sure the one you love appreciates the depth of your feelings.  As mushy as it may seem, I'd like to take the time to explain what love means to me.

Before I begin I think I should point out that I do realize that all my posts to this point have focused mainly on my daughter and our relationship.  I believe it's time I talked about another very significant relationship in my life.  This past weekend my husband treated me to a weekend away at the beach.  We left on Friday afternoon as soon as we both could get home from work and get our acts together.  I can't even begin to describe how excited I was over this trip.  All the way down I kept looking over at him and thinking about how much I love him.  We've been married almost 24 years now and every day it just keeps getting better.  He had made reservations for us at the Sandestin Hilton Spa and Resort.  Despite the cold I was excited to be at the beach!  We haven't been to the beach for the weekend in so very long.  Our beach-side, fifth floor, balcony room was were the strawberries and champagne.

We found the coolest little local spot for dinner...Busters.  For those of you familiar with is almost directly across from Silver Sands in a shopping center.  It's a sports bar and very busy with an obviously local crowd.  Right then we didn't care.  We were just hungry!  I believe we may have to become one of the "locals" when we go back.  The food was incredible. Who would have thought you could great such good blackened chicken alfredo in a sports bar!  We spent our time when we got back after dinner looking out at the gulf from our balcony and listening to the sounds of the surf.  Thanks to the sheltered location of our room, we were even able to sleep with the sliding glass door to the balcony open so we could hear the waves all night long.  I haven't slept that well in a long, long time.  Absolutely stress free!

On Saturday we met an old friend, one of John's old college roommates actually, for lunch.  He brought along his wife, step daughter, and five-year-old daughter.  It's important that you understand that Aubrey is my age.  I had Erin when I was 27 and he has a five-year-old!  As John and I stood and watched him on the playground with her we both were thinking how glad we are that we are out of that stage! 

Saturday night we met some other friends for dinner at Mitchell's Fish House.  If you've never been, you've got to go!  The food was out of this world and the atmosphere conducive to a romantic night out.  The food exceeded expectations and the company was even better.  We've definitely got to do that again!  On Sunday John and I got in a little shopping before we came home.  By the afternoon the wind had died down and we were walking around Destin in our shirt sleeves hating the idea of going home.

It has taken my saying all this to get to my point.  On the ride home it occurred to me just how quiet our weekend had really been.  Companionable silence.  We have reached a stage in our marriage where not talking is as comforting as a heart-felt discussion.  I wish I could tell you how many times this weekend John and I didn't finish each other's sentences.  We actually began making the same comment at the same time.  It is eerie how much alike we think.  A couple of times we actually began laughing at the exact same time, I looked at him and said, "That reminds me of..." and he, laughing, said, "Me, too."  End of conversation.  Both of us knew what we were talking about.  If you are around us very much, you'll notice that in our home element we are both pretty quiet.  You'd be amazed just how much we actually say!  Isn't that where everyone hopes to get in their relationships? 

So how did we spend our Valentine's Day getaway?  Quietly.  We spent time together laughing at the same things, reading, strolling through shops, and enjoying jokes we didn't actually have to tell each other.  I can remember more than 24 years ago trying to decide if he was The One.  I distinctly remember realizing there was nothing to decide...he just was.  All these many years later he still is.  After a long day at school all I need to do to feel better when I get home is see his car in the garage.  He listens to me rant about my day with a small smile on his face that I know means he knows all he is expected to do is listen.  He fixes all my problems just by standing there nodding as I rant.  He makes sure I have sinus medicine all the time.  He does the ironing when I have lots of papers to grade or just don't want to do it.  He lets me watch TV by myself in another room without wondering if I'm angry.  He runs me a bath when I'm cold.  He cleans the kitchen when I cook.  He folds laundry.  He checks out any noises I hear in the middle of the night.  He pulls my feet to his side of the bed even when he knows my toes are frigid!  He goes to bed a little early so he can warm my side, then when I come to bed he moves over to his (cold) side and lets me have the warm spot.  Every morning during the week he puts the alarm clock and the remote next to me in bed when he leaves for work so that I don't have to crawl over to the night stand to turn off the alarm.  When I'm tired on the weekend and don't want to do anything but nap in my chair all day, he doesn't mind if I don't clean house.  He lets me take his car shopping.  He plays music we both like when we go places rather than listen to the stuff I know he likes better.  On the weekends he cooks breakfast for me.  He's nice to my friends.  He lets me go down to my mother's when my sister is home without wondering when I'll be home.  He's nice to my relatives and doesn't hold them against me.

I feel like I've left something out, but I think I've mentioned the best parts.  Do you know what the best part is?  Every time I look at him I see the man waiting for me at the altar all those years ago.  I remember the look in his eyes as I walked down the aisle to him.  I remember holding my breath hoping he really would go through with it.  The only way to express how I feel about him is this...I love him.  Completely.  Comprehensively.  Thoroughly.  He isn't my best friend.  He's better.  He's my husband.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remember, It's The Little Things

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do a little shopping with my daughter.  Since teachers get paid on the last school day of each month, we did a bit more shopping than we probably should have!  But, for us, these precious moments that we get when it is just the two of us with no other influences, goals, or agendas provide opportunities to get to know each other a little better.  For me, it's a chance to look at her in a different light:  a young woman.  I love just walking around a mall with her doing what women all over the country do on a lazy Saturday.  I get to take a step back (figuratively, of course) and observe from a different viewpoint.  On these rare occasions the only "mom" role I have to fill is at the register when we're done.  Even then she more often than not steps up and offers to cover her own purchases.  The "mom" in me, though, rarely can let her do that.  Those times when she has to fend for herself, when neither her father nor I am around, will come all too soon.  For now, I'll gladly buy the occasional pair of shoes or jeans.  While the shopping is fun, it's the conversation I'm there for.  I'm forever amazed by her outlook and opinions.  I have to admit that there are times when I hold my breath - afraid of what she is going to say.  While what she says isn't always what I want to hear, I can tell that she has put thought into her opinions and is generally just using me as a sounding board.  I don't know how successful I am, but I do try to restrain any emotionally charged reaction I may have and just listen not only to what she is saying, but her reasoning behind it. 

I hope that for her, these days out serve a similar purpose.  I hope she is getting a chance to get to know me on a different level.  As I have grown older I have come to know my own mother less as a parent and more as a person.  I hope that my daughter is getting to do the same.  I know that for her the going must be tough.  It is a whole new frontier for her.  I can tell that sometimes in our conversations she is filtering what she is saying through the, "I must remember this is my MOM!" filter.  That's okay.  For her, as for me, that will probably never really go away.  But, I hope that she is gaining a better understanding of who I am other than her mother. 

This past Saturday we enjoyed a unique experience.  She has finished her first semester of college away from home (quite successfully I'm happy to report), and has returned to campus after a nice long Christmas break.  First semester of college is such a time of excitement and adjustment.  Second semester is when reality sets in...that this is really what life is going to be for a few years.  She had been back in Tuscaloosa for a little over a week and was meeting her dad in Birmingham on Saturday to go to a concert.  I went along for the ride...not the concert.  She met us at our friend Brian's on Friday night to spend a little time with her parents.  During our little shopping trip on Saturday, I got to talk to her about something that has really been on my mind lately.  She has a new person in her life who has really swept her off her feet.  On the surface he seems a bit too good to be true.  After having met him, though, it is good to be able to say that he seems just as good a person - in person -- as he does on the computer.  She had told us quite a bit about him, so her dad and I were anxious to get to actually sit down and talk with him.  He seems to be completely taken with her and she with him.  This young man really seems to have his life planned out and is working very hard on building his future.  He has a close relationship with his family and values those things that we have always taught her were the important things in life.  This past Saturday morning seemed like a good time to talk to her about not losing sight of her own goals. 

If our daughter should ultimately end up with this young man, I don't believe her father or I would have anything to complain about.  He treats her with the respect we have always taught her to believe she deserves.  What I tried to express to her was to be very careful not to allow herself to get carried away to the point where she loses sight of what she wants for herself.  Too often I have seen young women adjust their dreams to fit those of the special person in their lives.  I told her that in order for a relationship to work, and work really well, each person has to have something to offer the other.  That when one person is living out his or her dream and the other is along for the ride after having put his or her own dreams on hold, generally what occurs in the long run is resentment.  Also, this young man has the means to offer her all the things she wants, and can do so when he chooses.  He works very hard and has learned the value of hard work.  As a result, he can enjoy the benefits of that hard work.  He has scheduled trips to Tuscaloosa to see her as well as providing for her to go out to visit with him and his family.  The type of life he leads as a result of his hard work, is the kind of life that can really sweep a girl off her feet.  It would me!  The point of my conversation with her was to focus on the little things.  I reminded her of the crystal heart that sits in the office of my bedroom.  If you just looked at it you wouldn't see anything special in it.  It isn't very large, nor is it very impressive looking.  It is, however, one of the most precious gifts my husband has ever given me.  With that small gift my husband expressed his feelings for and commitment to me for the very first time.  I have probably told her that story a hundred times over the course of her life, but I think she really sees the value of that story for the first time.  Maybe she understood.  I hope so.  I'm not so sure I was very eloquent in my conversation with her.  I wasn't even really sure what I was trying to say.  I think that in some strange way, though, she understood.  Again, I hope so. 

She and I are at a very strange, unfamiliar, strangely difficult stage in our lives.  I'm trying to gracefully let go.  She is trying to step out on her own without cutting all ties with home.  It is a delicate balance for the both of us.  I knew that when we decided to make our home here; that there was very little possibility that our daughter would return to Kinston to make her life.  That's okay.  It really is.  When the time comes, I"m sure I'll feel as if some part of me has been torn away.  I won't be alone in that feeling.  Her father will feel the same.  But we also won't be alone.  Millions of parents have gone through what we are facing and survived.  Many have even survived it without ruining their relationships with their children.  Hopefully I can find the grace to do so, too.  It is rather surreal to sit and listen to her tell us what her plans for spring break are without telling her that she forgot to ask us.  But isn't this what we've been teaching her...preparing her to do?  We can't spend the first eighteen, almost nineteen, years of her life insisting she learn to stand on her own and then refuse to allow her to do so when the time comes.  My difficulty in letting her go shouldn't affect her actually doing so. 

So, what do I really want her to know?  Stand tall.  Be strong.  Take a deep breath and step out on faith.  While you are finding your way, we are here to help.  Once you do, you'll know we will do all we can to help you be happy in the life you have chosen.  Believe in yourself.  Follow your heart but remember to listen to that little voice in your head.  If you can achieve that balance you will find all you have ever hoped for.  No matter where you roam or the paths you choose to get there, you will always be loved.  You will never be more than a phone call - or a short plane ride away.  Should you ever need us, we will put our lives on hold to be with you.  When things get tough and you need to know that we are on your side, just close your eyes and listen to the calls of "Gidget" from the sidelines.  We'll always be on your side, cheering you on.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Here We Go Again

Well, it's back to the same ole same ole at the Shaw household.  The week I went back to school after the holidays John and I welcomed a friend of Erin's as a house guest for a few days.  TJ was with us for five days and I have to say I really enjoyed his visit.  It is nice to know that there are people out there who are still raising gentlemen.  I had living proof visiting my home.  The weather wasn't actually conducive for sightseeing so Erin had to entertain him here.  It was kind of funny to him, I think, to watch us sitting around shivering.  He's from a part of the country where there isn't a run on the IGA every time there is a hard freeze warning!  On the Monday after he arrived we actually had a "snow" day.  Even though snow wasn't predicted as far south as we are, conditions were still a bit cagey.  On Tuesday I convinced Erin to take him and head off to the beach.  Although the weather outside was gray and relatively miserable, all reports were that they had a good time.  His visit ended when Erin left with him to take him to the airport for his flight home.  Afterwards she headed back to Tuscaloosa for her second semester.

I went back to work on Tuesday believing my life would return to its normal routine, or at least what passes for normal now that Erin isn't home.  Somehow when I got home that afternoon it wasn't like what I thought it would be.  John and I were sitting together watching TV but something just wasn't right.  I finally was able to put my finger on it.  My house was eerily quiet.  No footsteps upstairs.  No laughter as she Skyped with a friend.  No quick step down the stairs or an "I won't be late!" as she heads out the door.  No one told me I would have to go through this again when she went back to school.  I thought once I had become accustomed to her absence I would be okay.  I am okay, really.  It's just that after several weeks having Erin at home I had let myself fall back into "Mom Mode."  I really like that mode.  It's almost like running on automatic. 

Spending time with Erin over the holidays was wonderful.  She's happier than I have seen her in a long, long time.  She walked as if a world of worry had been lifted off her shoulders.  She has made it through her first semester living away from home and came through with flying colors.  I couldn't be more proud of her.  I think that all our lives will be in a constant state of transition over the next few years.  New people will come and go out of Erin's life and each will bring something new.  From this newest addition I believe she has come to have a better sense of her self worth.  She is being treated with respect; as if she matters.  He listens when she talks and laughs at the same things she finds funny.  He can barely keep his eyes off her and she hangs on his every word.  He treats her the way John and I have always told her she deserves to be treated.  Now she sees the difference.  I don't know how this relationship of hers will develop, but I believe that regardless of the end result this is good for her.  She hasn't lost sight of her own dreams but I believe she is beginning to wonder how those dreams may develop.  She's beginning to believe she can have it all.  I believe she can, too.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I've been putting it off...

I just finished Erin's high school scrapbook.  I know, I know.  She's been out of high school since last May.  I hate scrapbooking.  For me it is a torturous exercise in cutesy page design that is about as much fun as a root canal.  It also takes me longer than the average root canal to do just one page.  I started this particular scrapbook for Erin when she was in the seventh grade.  The idea was good; the execution - not so much.  At the end of her seventh grade year I took the very first Monday of my summer, dragged out my stuff, and commenced to design pages.  Two days later I finished a two-page spread of the highlights of her school year.  Why is this so hard?  I have friends that could have done an entire high school career for a child in the length of time it took me to do just one grade!  I tried to follow the tenants of a good scrap booker:  the best pages are those which tell a story.  I'm afraid the story that mine tells is that I do not have an eye for this sort of thing.  Erin seems to like it, though, and she's the only one that truly counts.

So why the sudden urge to finish this one?  Well, we have a house guest coming in on Thursday.  Erin told me that she thought it would be nice if I could finish it.  What could I say?  I had no real, good excuse.  I started on Sunday.  Today is Tuesday.  In the end I had a stack of pictures I thought I just had to include and no more pages left.  I do need to give myself a little credit.  For her senior year I didn't just do the two-page spread.  I did one page with a senior portrait, two for volleyball, two for softball, one for awards day, one for graduation, two for her senior trip to Disney World, and two more pages for snapshots.  Looking back, for me that's not too bad!  That's one, two, . . .eleven pages in three nights!  Woo hoo!  Maybe this  scrapbooking thing isn't so bad!  Did I really just say that?  Just goes to show just how tired I am.  Tomorrow I'll clean up the mess and pull my house back together for our house guest.  Besides, the appreciation on Erin's face when she sits and looks at her books makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Beginning...

Happy New Year, Everyone!  Today is a day for resolutions, football games, and naps on the couch.  So, how did we spend our day?  Yup.  Watching football and taking naps.  No resolutions for me this year.  I see no reason to set myself up year after year with all the normal resolutions:  lose weight, don't work such long hours, be a better housekeeper, etc.  Either I will or I won't and making a resolution today won't change the results. 

So, reflecting on the past year what do I see?  I think it is a year best put behind us.  Erin graduated from high school, got her first job, moved away, and started college all within the space of 3 months.  That's a bit too much change for me in such a short time.  Not that all those changes weren't good ones.  Erin's move to Tuscaloosa has been a good one for her.  John and I have spent the better part of her life helping her to expand her horizons so she would be comfortable away from us and self-sufficient when the time came.  That's what good parents do, isn't it?  So how come now that she is away from us, taking good care of herself, and doing well does it make me a little sad?  Maybe because she doesn't really need me anymore.  She patronizes me occasionally and lets me mother her, but she really is quite an independent young woman.  I guess I should just be glad she let's us take what part we do.  She is so much happier now than she has been in the months before she went to college.  That makes me happy, too.  I see more life in her eyes now than I have in a long time.  That's a good thing.  High school is hard when your mom teaches where you go to school.

So what's in store for us this next year?  Only good things, I hope.  Erin is starting her second semester and will continue to build her life in Tuscaloosa.  John and I will continue to do what we do here.  In the meantime our lives will march on.  Stuff will happen.  We'll deal with it . . . together.  I can't really say that I hope things get better.  They are pretty good the way they are right now.  My family is happy and healthy.  We have jobs and we can pay our bills.  In this day and age that is saying lots more than so many people can.  We are blessed.  May you be blessed in this new year as well.