Sunday, February 12, 2017

Last Week


We kicked off last week by hosting a Super Bowl party. It was a fairly last-minute decision, which made it extra brave. The truth is: there reaches a point in your crap storm at which you're very nearly overcome with insecurity. This is especially true when your crap storm is just the latest of multiple crap storms. You start to wonder what people are thinking. Are they thinking you're bringing it upon yourself in some way? That you're being punished? Are they sick and tired of your suffering self? And honestly, even if you're able to answer no-no-no, you feel guilty that your friends (such good people) have sat with you through so much crap. You don't want to ask for help; you don't even want to ask for company.

We were extra brave, asking friends over for the Super Bowl at the last minute, so we felt very glad and relieved (also a little bit guilty) when they came, bearing tons of amazing food to include some apple cake that made my eyes well up when I bit into it.

I started my new teaching job on Tuesday. When I first visited this school just before Christmas, I thought it felt like a perfect fit, and eighteen teaching hours later, it still does. It's the smallest, warmest place. There's a mural on one wall, decorated bulletin boards, a little free library. I write my grades in an actual book. After years of teaching composition, I'm teaching literature to adults for the first time, and my students have been so receptive, so respectful. I can hardly believe it's real.

Friday night, I photographed a ladies' event. A friend had recommended me for the job on facebook, and I messaged the person who'd placed the ad. She asked me about my rates and if I'd be interested in trading photography for gym membership. My first thought was: no. Immediately afterward, though, I thought: Jesus? Because the truth is: I need more exercise, but in this season of Jim's unemployment, any cash payment wouldn't have gone toward a gym membership. The event was held at the gym; I had an amazing time and made some new friends; and we now have a family gym membership for the next five months! Jim and I have our initial consultations on Monday.

Last week was both the third anniversary of my friend Jason Hatfield's death and Grandma B.'s 99th birthday. I miss them both so much, but ask me if I think it's a coincidence that Mr. Edwards came back to me, last week. (I'm reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter to the girls and had completely forgotten about the Ingalls family's reconnecting with Mr. Edwards.) I cried so hard I could hardly read. Ask me if I think it's a coincidence that one of my favorite co-workers from ITT will likely soon be joining me at my new school. Until Thursday, I hadn't seen him for eight years or so. I also heard, last week, from a friend from grad school with whom I'd lost touch. There were other things that happened: tickets to a marriage retreat from an anonymous friend, for example.

He gives and takes away. I really do believe that. And I guess the very best thing about a crap storm is watching the incredible ways in which God provides in the middle of it: whom He sends, and what. I believe He's for me, still; I do.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Make-up and Perfume

A couple weeks ago at choir practice, our pianist Mrs. Carol gave me an orange symphony ticket for Cade. "The school may give him a ticket," I said.

"Then you use it," Mrs. Carol said, and in fact, Cade didn't end up needing a ticket because the clarinet choir in which he performs opened for the symphony. I would've liked to have gone but--upon learning of the symphony's plans to perform Disney music--decided I wanted Clementine to go even more. Since Cade wouldn't be available for Clementine the whole time, I arranged for her to sit with my friend Karen and her family.

I helped Clementine pick out clothes, scrubbed her head in the shower, and even put make-up on her. (Possibly the only bug flying around our yard, mid-January, had eaten Clementine alive to include her face. Of course.)


Charleigh was a bit pouty, but I promised her a special adventure, just the two of us. She and I walked Clementine to Karen just inside the high school and headed into town. Charleigh was quiet as a church mouse behind me in the minivan. Finally, I asked: "Are you okay back there, Charleigh?"

"Yeah," she said, "I'm just wondering when I'll get to see Clementine, again." She hesitated for a few seconds, then added: "But I'm glad to have special time alone with you, Mama." And I thought to myself: what in the world am I going to do with this child for almost two hours given that I can't really spend any money?

But I had six dollars and some change on a Dunkin' Donuts card, also a little more than a dollar in my wallet, which got us a box of Munchkins and a sweet tea from McDonald's. I considered going into Target after some laundry detergent but, on a whim, said: "I have an idea, Charleigh! Let's go to Ulta and smell the perfume!"

"What's Ulta?" she asked, then: "Is it far away? Can we smell all of it? All the perfume?" Inside the store, she admired the perfume bottles cautiously, her eyes wide as fifty-cent pieces. I showed her how to spray test strips at a little distance, then wave and sniff them. "How do you know how to do all this, Mama?" she asked, and I answered something about how I've been around for a good little while.

From the perfume section, Charleigh and I moved to the make-up section, where we tried all manner of products. We both left Ulta wearing foundation and lipstick. She was wearing bright purple eye shadow, to boot; I was sporting some mascara that froze my lashes, coal black, a full inch from my lids. "I want to tell Clementine everything," Charleigh said, waving a disposable mascara wand, "but will she think I'm bragging?"

"Probably not," I said. "She got to go to the symphony."

"I just wish we could've ridden an escalator," Charleigh sighed.

"We still have time to ride an escalator," I said and drove around to Sears, where we rode the escalator up to the bathroom. I noticed that Charleigh had six or seven perfumed test strips fanning out of a studded back pocket in her jeans. We rode the escalator back down and went to the high school to pick up the older kids.

"Oh Brandee," Karen texted. "Clementine loved it, her face was precious to watch."

A bit later, Charleigh asked: "Mama, can we do that again, the next time we have a special adventure, just the two of us?"

And who am I? Who is this person trapped in a fluffy body and pinched times? The perfume I liked best, tonight, smells like soap: like old-woman perfume, Cade said. There was no meanness in his words.

I am a woman who remembers buying expensive make-up and pricey, exotic-smelling perfume. A woman who remembers shopping at the mall. I am a woman who remembers turning heads. All of that is fading so quickly, though. Fading like the trace amounts of perfume on the test strips in Charleigh's back pocket. I would tell you that I'm sad, but mostly, I'm just tired.

I am a woman with friends. I am a woman with daughters, and the skin of their faces is taut, their pores nearly invisible.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

To Cade, the Week of Your 17th Birthday


Hello, Son. I can hardly believe that, in one year, you'll be considered grown, although I'll admit: your face looked different to me, again, today. It wasn't just the way your chin's been reshaped by orthodontics, either; it was some of the other bones in your face, also the matter of facial hair. I wish there were no need to replace your glasses because your eyes are lovely. They look like my eyes and especially as my eyes did twenty-five years ago (I've always liked my eyes), only with more generous lashes: your dad's. Why do the boys always get the good ones. It's not a question, really; I'm just writing.

I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm just starting to figure things out, and you're practically grown, and I'm sure I've screwed up sixteen million things. I am somewhat comforted because we can really talk and because I seem to be the person you want when your heart is broken. That thing I do where I enter your pain: no one taught me that, at least not the easy way, so I do feel inclined to take credit for it, to pat myself on the back for that one small thing. I think it's nice how sometimes we can count on getting right the things our parents screwed up most. You'll probably be clean and faithful; I'm glad, relieved.

I'm glad we share so many interests: that we have an honest-to-goodness plan to read 100 classics together in five years, that we're both serious as a heart attack about it. I'm glad we have music in common to the extent we do. I loved our Christmas together more than ever I have: our mutual awe over the Mighty Wurlitzer and every second we put into our own performance. I was proud that my son was the one playing and singing, and especially that you were proud to be playing and singing with me.

Thank you for never being embarrassed of me, or at least, for never letting your embarrassment show. If ever you were to shrug me off in public, I would cry for a million years. Thank you for knowing that and choosing not to do it. I know you make concessions to protect my mental health. (I really am aware, Cade.) Thank you for calling if you know you'll be late. Thank you for never even dreaming of joining the military or police, even if just to keep me out of Tucker. I'm grateful.

I know the church thing wears you out, at points. You may look back on it with resentment, but Son. You have to know I'm all in: that I'm just clinging to Jesus. And if that's true--at the very worst and even if I'm dead wrong--I am all the time just trying to make sure you know where to find me.

Last point. Even though, in my weakness (which is at points extreme, I will admit), I bye felicia-ed you as you were getting out of the minivan, yesterday, there's no one in all the world whom I love more than I love you. You are my treasure and will always be.

Mommy

Saturday, December 17, 2016

To Chip at Four


Mama's Baby,

You turned four right around the corner from halloween. Our celebration was quiet, but I took photos, thinking I'd write a post after our trip to Great Wolf Lodge (your big birthday present) in mid-November. Then, somehow, I didn't...but remembered the other day--after you announced that you want to marry me--that I should.

At four, you play such a significant role in my life. We want to make one another happy; we do make one another happy; it's easy between us. I am your parent, yes, but I am also your friend, and you know it. It makes no nevermind to me what other, more parenty parents have to think about this; I am pleased to make friends of my children when I can.

You, Chip, are a friendly sort, the most grateful child I've ever known. You are the leader of thank-yous in our family. You are mischievous but always very contrite after crossing the line. You are the only person in the house with any concept of how to wake me up, and it's the loveliest thing; they all send you in to do it, and truth be told, I suspect they think of you as a bear whisperer, a caver.

You are these things. I see you seeing me, assessing my every exposed nerve ending and accepting me, anyway. More than that, choosing my body as the safest place you know. Your wordless message (and it plays on a loop) is that I am okay; we are okay; there is nothing to see here.

You follow directions. You open your mouth wide for the dentist and hold your head still for Mrs. Brooke, who cuts your hair. You like hats and hoods, not so much socks and shoes. You are a hopeless sugar hound. You love knights, dragons, pirates, swords, Mickey Mouse, super heroes, water play, and baked beans. I am your favorite, and you are a gift to me. Every day, I think it's impossible to love you more; I am always wrong.

With utter devotion,
Your BFF






Friday, December 2, 2016

My Father Is an Astronomer



I took the little kids to the library, this evening, for an event called A Starry Night. There were experts in attendance from the Science Museum of Virginia and the Richmond Astronomy Club. Inside, they explained about an evening sky map and star clocks, and outside, they shared their giant telescopes.

It was dark in the parking lot, so dark I could hardly see my children. I was straining, shushing, fussing, and periodically calling someone down from a hill after (s)he'd bolted. Meanwhile, without my realizing it, the line for a telescope formed just to my left and stretched behind me, so it took even longer for us to get to the front than it should have.

At last we reached the man with the telescope. He was short, older I think. I could just make out a glint from his glasses: his features, not at all. "I'm sorry," I said: "What should we see?"

"Oh, that's quite alright," he said, and he proceeded to say that we should see something resembling a cotton ball through the telescope. He called it an M15 star cluster, I think. He had several other things to say. I can't say what. I got lost in his voice.

In his voice, I got lost. It was a most ordinary voice: scientisty. His words were so devoid of variation and volume that his voice seemed barely-, hardly-there. Gentle. Factual without seeming matter-of-fact. It was as though he were very far away. I think I have tuned out similar man voices all my life; yet, I was completely arrested. Utterly entranced.

It was the greatest disappointment to walk away, to go back inside the library for cookies and cocoa. I wanted to stay in the dark, in the parking lot. I wanted to listen to a man I couldn't see tell me things about a cotton ball of stars in space.

Driving home, I thought to myself how I've changed: how I'm so done, so threadbare, so tired of yelling. How I hope to never again hear anyone, including myself, holler. How I want to spend my next life--not that I really believe in next lives--surrounded by people who talk like the man with the telescope.

I was wondering how different my life would be if that man were my dad. I was wondering; then, I heard it: "Your Father is an astronomer."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Untold Story #21: St. Petersburg Murals

Usually, I admire the murals of St. Peterburg, Florida from afar, as my friend Erin posts photos of them regularly. I'm not a mural person as much as I'm a fiberglass-statue person, but I do like murals, especially because they remind me of Erin...and Anjie...and Becky.

You're sure to have noticed: I'm always on the lookout for things to do for free or very cheap, and Erin is very much my soul sister in this regard. We'd much rather have ten (or more!) cheap adventures than one expensive one. I would guess that a homebody/nester--provided that (s)he's on a budget--is much more likely to save up for that one special something, but Erin and I are in a different category. We need to go and do as much as possible, even on a limited budget.

Checking out murals is free, and I enjoyed seeing some of St. Petersburg's in person. Bonus: I think all the kids (ages 3-16) did, too.























Friday, October 21, 2016

Untold Story #20: Yoder's and Siesta Key


When my brother and I were kids, Aunt Ellie bought him a copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon. It was his favorite, and it was one of my favorites, too. It's a little story I carry with me, and I thought of it while we were in Sarasota, because...pie. I bought two pies (Florida Key Lime and Peanut Butter Cream) from Yoder's Amish Restaurant, and we ate pie, sea-side, for dinner. That's all: just pie. There were eight of us, and we ate a lot of pie, but there was pie left over (and neither a moose nor a porcupine in sight), so we asked a couple near us if they'd like to have the rest. They were so excited. They promised not to waste a bit, but instead, to pass on any leftover pie.

Cade looked at me and whispered: "Mom. That was awesome."




Siesta Key was more populated than Honeymoon Island had been the night before, and Cade and Sam sort of took off to do their own thing. But then they came back jogging, panting a bit, pointing, talking excitedly. Evidently, down (up?) from the rest of us, an aggregation of manatees had swum through. Nearby swimmers had been cautious, at first, not knowing the source of the activity, but they relaxed upon realizing it was manatees. Cade and Sam had swum out and with the manatees, actually touching them. What an unexpected delight.