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 is...how 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 mean...it 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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

They're Going to the Chapel and They're....well, you know!

I was looking back over my blog today and found this one under "Drafts." Why didn't I ever publish it? I'll never know, I'm sure. But, I really like it so can I just use it to celebrate their first anniversary? I promise I'll be a bit more prompt from draft to publication in the future if you'll let it go just this once.

It’s just one surreal jump in life after another around our house!  We are officially getting ready to welcome a new member to our family…a son-in-law!  That’s right!  Erin’s engaged! 

How can she possibly be engaged?  She’s only 3 years old, right?  I realize this is so clichĂ©, but here goes anyway…where DOES the time go?  (The all caps is so you get the Southern mama emphasis in the right place.)  I swear when I look in her face, my sweet cherub-faced baby looks back at me.  Every single time.  Now we’re talking about cakes, bridesmaids, and dresses.  Sometimes I feel myself backing out of the situation and just watching myself from a distance.  The whole thing is just so strange.

Before I really get into this, I guess I should be completely clear about one very important detail.  Erin’s fiancĂ© is Todd Jack Tuls.  He comes from a good home with a solid family background.  He has good old-fashioned Southern manners.  He knows to stand when a lady enters the room.  He doesn’t sit if a female in the room is standing regardless of how many empty chairs there are available.  He is unfailingly polite.  He is kind.  He is considerate.  He has a work ethic I never thought I would see again.  He has goals.  He has a future.  I could go on and on, but I won’t.  I think to sum it up best, I need to say that he is everything we have ever prayed for in the man in Erin’s life.

Not long after Erin was born, my sister Donna made some comment about praying for not only Erin but also for the man Erin would marry.  I thought that was a little peculiar, but it was Donna and we get our giggles from what we think is peculiar about the other.  I just couldn’t help it, though.  I had to ask.  Why was she praying for a person whose entrance into our lives was so far in the future?  Her answer was truly profound and based on unshakeable faith:  somewhere out there, somewhere we probably knew nothing about, the man Erin would marry was being raised by a family we didn’t know.  Donna prayed for his parents.  She prayed that he would have a strong family structure with a secure home.  She prayed for his safety.  She prayed for his faith.  For twenty years she prayed for a man we didn’t even know.  This is not the first time Donna’s prayers have intervened on our behalf.

When we found out Erin was on the way, my sister – in her infinite wisdom – began praying quite diligently for our new baby to be a girl.  Not just any kind of girl, mind you.  A GIRLY girl!  It didn’t take long for me to realize that God must like Donna more than me.  We got what she prayed for.  She will sell her soul for a flirty pair of four-inch heels.  She is addicted to make up and loves purses.  Afterwards, I think God took some pity on us and let Erin’s more practical side develop equally with her “girly” side.  She can put together an outfit out of stuff I can’t imagine going together.  She accessorizes as naturally as she breathes.  She is tall, slender, and blonde.  She has beautiful eyes and peaches and cream complexion.  She has hair other girls have envied.  I say all this to preface one other thing:  she is a tomboy somewhere deep down inside.  She has a fierce competitive side to her and hates to lose.  She gets truly intense when competing.  I used to sit in the bleachers at volleyball games and marvel at the things I would hear coming out of her mouth!  She pushed everyone on her team as hard as she pushed herself and could not tolerate those who were not throwing themselves on the floor going after a ball she refused to let hit the floor.  She spent summers running and working out.  She spent every volleyball season with huge bruises on the inside of her right knee and sore spots on her hip bones from diving for the ball.  For several years my car reeked of sliding pads and athletic shoes.  Getting dirty playing the sport in season never bothered her.  She would just pull that curly hair up into a knot on the top of her head so it would be out of her way, and threw herself into the game.  I had the red clay stains from softball fields and equipment in my old car to prove it.

So, Donna’s prayers for our child were answered and so were ours.  I am just now beginning to appreciate her prayers for Erin’s future husband.  I think that God started listening to Donna from her first prayer for TJ – even though we didn’t know exactly who she was praying for – and began to pick out the person Donna prayed for.  The more time I spend around TJ the more thankful I am for Donna’s prayers over the years.

So here we are planning for a wedding!  I am so excited for the two of them I can barely stand it.  He is so good  to and for her.  Her supports her in pursuit of her dreams and shares his dreams with her.  I knew things were serious the first time she came home and talked about what they had done together the last time she visited with him in Wisconsin.  (YES!   Wisconsin!)  Every time she talked about him, I could see the loneliness in her eyes.  She missed him as if there were a part of herself missing.  Every time she left him in Wisconsin or put him on a plane back home, she lost a bit more of her heart to him.  Now her heart is more his than hers.  Thank you, God, for TJ.  Thank you for the home he was raised in and the values his parents passed on to him.  Because of these things, once she moves to Wisconsin to be with him, I’ll know that someone who treasures her will be watching over her for us.  He takes care of her and treats her as if she is some precious thing.  For that I will always be thankful.

The wedding won’t be until April 2013.  While that looks a very long time away on the calendar, I know just how quickly that time will pass.  My job as Mother of the Bride is to make this time in her life something wonderful to  look back on fondly.  My job is to listen to what she wants and help her do that.  She has already picked a venue in Birmingham.  That isn’t exactly right out the back door, but I don’t care.  She saw the place and fell in love with it.  That’s enough for me.  Her Daddy didn’t bat an eye.  He told me to call her and tell her to book it.  We knew it was coming and Erin and TJ didn’t want to leave picking out a place to the last minute.  They were afraid what they wanted wouldn’t be available so we jumped the gun a little on wedding planning and got an early start.

TJ proposed to Erin on her twentieth birthday.  He met her at the airport in Milwaukee then turned her around and put her on a plane for California.  He took her to Huntington Beach as a surprise for her birthday and proposed the next morning on the beach.  There were flowers and tears involved in there somewhere and evidently it was history’s most perfect proposal.  I know he put a great deal of thought into the planning so I’m glad it worked out the way he wanted.  I know it is a memory that will be special for Erin for the rest of her life.  John and I knew it was coming because TJ had called earlier in the week to ask John for permission to propose.  Even though John was expecting the call, he told me later he got a little emotional in the course of the conversation with TJ. 

Now the peal of wedding bells sounds in my head all the time.  Erin is picking bridesmaids and making plans.  She is very creative and has a vision in her head of what she wants it to be like.  I will do everything I can to make that day exactly what she has in mind.  My job is to be in the background that day, making sure everything that happens has no other purpose than to make the both of them happy.  This will be my last real, official “mama” job.  I feel a weight on my shoulders to do this right.  On the day she marries TJ,  I don’t want her thinking about anything but seeing him waiting for her at the end of the aisle.  I still remember seeing John’s face as the doors of the church opened on our wedding day.  I was looking specifically for him and he was the only one that mattered.  Everything and everyone else faded into the background.  That’s what I want for Erin and TJ…the joy of looking into each others’ eyes on the day they are married and knowing….this is the person God meant for me.  This person is my life. 

Congratulations, Erin and TJ.  I love you both.