Goddess of May

In late April a few years ago, I was coming home from work and noticed something. With the windows down, driving over the ridge just past the river, I noticed that the coltish, freshly bloomed youth of Spring in April was giving way to something more mature, something richer. Over the past few nights I saw the same thing happening, remembered a journal entry I made those years ago at the end of April, sensed the change in the breeze and in the way lavender clouds floated in front of an orange sherbet sunset just before a Spring storm. It was like traveling in time.

I watched the sky in the distance as the storm front passed my area of the county in favor of the county to the northwest. Fading blue sky laced with molten orange met misty anvils and the blue-gray cotton candy of a twilight storm. Flashes of light danced behind the gauzy curtain, outlining the thunderheads in bright and pale pinks, lilacs, electric peaches, and blue fire. All behind the ridge – the spinal cord of hills and trees separating our neck of the woods from theirs (the other county). Magnificence.

Just before I turned into our small community of neighborhoods, I was driving straight toward the storm. Had I kept going I might have found myself struggling to share the stage with it, said stage being made of pitted asphalt and painted with the faded yellow of warning. But just after that right turn home, I breathed deeply and caught the essence through my open windows of something I haven’t smelled since the first few months I lived here, the smell of the country – this particular countryside – before it rains. I love that scent.

It’s the hint of refreshing rain mixed with the heavy-sweet flavor of balmy air – air full of the gossip of buzzing insects working in the bulb flowers and of the mingled breaths of newly blossomed, developing trees, musky with youth and dewy with the syrup of honeysuckle, air full of electricity and life, seduction set free to fly without restraint through the atmosphere.

That moment is when spring is real, when life matters. That’s all it takes, just that smell. It is how my ancestors predicted heavy rains before Doppler and before TV.

It is the beginning of a new relationship, a time when we usher out the fresh, shy bloom of April, say goodbye to the chaste whispers that draw the wild things back out into the open and welcome with open arms the more mature, more unabashedly sensuous May.

April is gangly, a bit clumsy as she grows into herself. She is blooming, warm but moody – going from cold to hot to cold again – like a teenager coping with hormones. She is beautiful, but not quite filled out in certain places. But May…

May teases for a while, with a glimpse of bare leg through the back-lit curtain, only to burst through, fully, mere moments later. May is April after she has learned to appreciate her conquests, after she learns to ply her trade of seduction, reveling in every stage from the introduction to the afterglow. Still youthful, still fresh and still sweet – but something more. May is fuller, richer, warmer, calling gently with the first light of morning, softly singeing during the day – just hot enough to burn but then soothing your skin with her sighs – and languorously drawing you in at dusk with her mystery and the promise to reveal it.

May is pleasure incarnate.

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Lovely & Hateful Things, Parts Dos

Things I Hate, continued…

  1. (really #47, but I’m too lazy to figure out how to start back a cleanly numbered list at 47 and not 1) hearing people chew (it’s just gross)
  2. know-it-alls (This is so hard for me, because I am one, and I know this, but I don’t like it when other people are know-it-alls, which is a problem, especially when you read the next item of things I hate, which I beg you to take tongue-in-cheek because I just can’t not write it because it’s a real thing.)
  3. hypocrites (Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame, here. Don’t judge me.)
  4. the ambient sound of the interstate under the buzz of cicadas in my back yard at night (I want to feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere instead of in other people’s laps all the time, and like the lady next door is absolutely not going to mow a GIANT CROOKED LINE down my yard this morning because she’s under the impression that our shared property line is  magical easement where visual aesthetics don’t exist. She is the reincarnation of Mr. Magoo.)
  5. the fact that I have lived in suburbia long enough that I just referred to any part of my yard as having an aesthetic appeal (help)

Things I Love, continued…

  1.  (really #56) Christmas songs (preferably starting around July or August – nowish – and running through January)
  2. old comedies (preferably from the 40s, 50s, and 60s – and if it’s a musical that’s even better!)
  3. cartoons (Fine. I confess. … I kind of secretly love Teen Titans Go.)
  4. walking our dog in the park on a nice day (I want to put that I love walking him on a nice day in winter because there are no bugs in winter, but since it’s currently the middle of summer and the bugs are everywhere I’m probably biased. I know I complain about walking him in winter, too.)
  5. when friends send books in the mail that make them think of me (I should worry that this is what made them think of me, but it’s just the best, funniest gift.)20160801_170312
  6. my morning bowl of coffee
  7. Gilmore Girls (Is it any wonder, considering I drink coffee by the bowl?)

 

And I’m sure these will continue now that I’m into list mode, which is a dangerous and addictive thing for me. But now I must adult (read: work).

Things I Love (because life should be balanced and because I was told I have to write this next)

  1. Starburst jelly beans
  2. cheap wine
  3. expensive wine
  4. the fact that just because I love wine people will think I’m a lush (I’m totally not. I have a glass – maybe two – every other day or less. My doctor told me it’s one of the best things I can do for myself as long as I’m not averaging more than one per day. Plus it feels like something an adult would do, ya know? I sip and enjoy. I don’t overdo it.)
  5. nonfiction essays (especially humorous ones)
  6. Romance novels (not, like, lady porn or anything – just some fluff every now and then… and maybe a good cozy mystery)
  7. Classic novels (for when fluff and reality won’t cut it)
  8. comics
  9. basically, to read stuff
  10. brownies
  11. when little children laugh
  12. dogs
  13. horses
  14. birds
  15. fine, all animals, then
  16. cooking (especially old family recipes when I need comfort food, and also trying brand new ones that are more gourmet)
  17. comedic movies
  18. action movies
  19. my best friend (who told me I had to write this list)
  20. music (pretty much all of it)
  21. family
  22. sunsets (I’m far too lazy to get up early enough for a sunrise, if I can help it.)
  23. trees
  24. climbing trees (I don’t get to indulge in this often enough. I’m told adults don’t climb trees, to which I say, pfffft.)
  25. singing
  26. driving (especially road trips)
  27. traveling! (though I rarely ever get to do so)
  28. writing
  29. my job! (for reals – and how many people do you know who can say that?)
  30. the fact that only about 3 people read this blog but I love the heck out of writing it anyway
  31. people who use proper grammar and spelling (this is a personal problem I’m working through)
  32. people who are willing to do my dishes (see “Things I Hate”)
  33. peanut M&Ms
  34. fishing with my grandfather
  35. inside jokes
  36. laughing at myself
  37. making people smile
  38. quiet time
  39. the beach (pretty much any beach)
  40. almost any natural body of water for that matter
  41. heights (that’s right – I love high places)
  42. bright colors
  43. drawing
  44. baking (not to be confused with cooking)
  45. flowers (except the ones that smell like dead things or funeral homes)
  46. resilient people
  47. doughnuts (I’m starting to wonder how I don’t weigh 400 pounds the longer this list gets.)
  48. Greek salads! (HA! I DO like one healthy thing!)
  49. a clean house, especially if I didn’t have to clean it (*dreeeeeeeeeeam….dream, dream, drea-eam….*)
  50. rain
  51. also, thunderstorms
  52. hugs (but ONLY from a very select few people, because I have a personal bubble of space that tends to be wider than most other people’s and I like it that way)
  53. finding ways to fix things that are broken and make them better (This can also be on the list of things I hate if it’s something I feel like I have to do all the time, but I like the challenge in general. This is not effective or fun when dealing with broken people, who I tend to avoid.)
  54. the fact that I’m much more comfortable now in my majestic awkwardness than I was a decade ago
  55. getting letters the old-fashioned way, via snail mail

 

…and lots of other things I’m sure I’ll add at a later date.

(There! Now I’ve balanced it. Better?)

Things I Hate (or, that make me want to poke my eyes out) Part One

  1. feelings (see previous post)
  2. hamburgers (Okay, so once every three or four months I’ll crave a thickburger from Hardee’s or something, but then I’m done.)
  3. also, meatloaf (only bread should come in a loaf)
  4. pushy people
  5. doing the dishes
  6. having plans made for me without being consulted
  7. being told what to do (see #4)
  8. being ignored (this should go without saying, right?)
  9. licorice flavored jelly beans
  10. fake people
  11. having to be nice to fake people
  12. not saving money
  13. eBay (I just… I don’t know. I’ve never liked it. I don’t know why. It may or may not be related to being forced to attend lots of car auctions in my youth. I’m not an auction person, okay? I just want to pay for something without having an argument or a competition over it.)
  14. mesh clothing (I mean, really, what’s the point?)
  15. baseball caps on the kitchen table
  16. 80s synthesizer music (this should probably be closer to number one, but I’m writing this as they come to me, so keep that in mind)
  17. Axl Rose (but Slash is amazing)
  18. the janky carpet in my house that I want to replace but can’t
  19. flan (yet I love creme brulee, and they’re really similar when you think about it)
  20. Michelob Ultra
  21. Sports Talk Radio
  22. any talk radio
  23. anyone talking on the radio, actually – I just want them to play songs. Is that so much to ask?
  24. ambiguity
  25. Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion (Sadly, I’ll probably get more flack for this than anything else.)
  26. when people misuse apostrophes to make things plural (An apostrophe is meant to show possession and join words into contractions! That is ALL. IT NEVER MAKES THINGS PLURAL. So stop it.)
  27. when people use the wrong form of a word (this one I can let go occasionally – the apostrophe thing I can’t)
  28. small talk
  29. ‘touchers’ (You know – the handsy people who touch everyone or have no concept of personal space so they’re all up in yours? I can’t handle those people. And that’s weird because I’m fairly affectionate with people I love. But if I don’t love you, don’t touch me.)
  30. gratuitously violent movies and TV shows (I’m a comedy person.)
  31. people who aren’t dog people (I don’t trust those people.)
  32. whiny voices
  33. complainers (Yes, I see what I did there.)
  34. hypochondriacs
  35. negative people (This is not the same as complainers. There is, of course, some overlap, but there can be a difference.)
  36. incredibly loud places (or at least for ridiculously long periods of time)
  37. the teacups at Disney (just… no)
  38. Nascar (sorry Dad)
  39. cigarette smoke (I’m allergic to it, so obviously it bothers me.)
  40. poison ivy
  41. mosquitoes (why do they even exist?!)
  42. people who litter
  43. people who don’t say “please” and “thank you” and hold open doors for other people
  44. Chanel No. 5 (I’m pretty sure my grandmother wore this. And I loved her. But I hate this stuff.)
  45. fart jokes (there were far too many of these growing up with brothers)
  46. people who keep their phones in front of their faces all through dinner

 

To Be Continued… (probably)

We Don’t Do That Here

I’ve been exploring and talking a lot about my feelings over the past couple of weeks. I hate doing that. I’m not good at it; it’s incredibly inconvenient because if I talk about them I have to reflect on them and if I reflect on them I have to admit I’m not perfect and that I really do have the feelings even though I don’t do the feelings. Who has time for that? I’m not a starving, mediocre poet writing lines about the trash on the sidewalk. I’ve got bills to pay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine talking with other people about their feelings. I’m quite good at that, actually, and make my living helping other people explore their reactions and why they have them and then overcome them so we can get stuff done. Because after the feelings have been felt, there is still stuff that has to get done in order for the progress to continue. And I am all about progress while I still do care about the feelings of others.

Unless the progress is mine, apparently. That’s what I’ve learned while feeling my feelings over the past few weeks.

I have made very little progress toward my own goals in life. I’ve rah-rahed and fist-bumped my way through team-building exercises and I like to hope I’ve inspired other people to reach their potential, or at least think they can. But if life progress were measured in speed and miles I’d be a flea in a rusted go-cart a couple of inches from the starting line.

“There’s nothing wrong with feeling things,” I’ve been told, usually by people who have their lives together and don’t worry about all of the many possible scenarios that have literally and will likely never happen to them in this life, which is one of the things I catch myself doing. (I legit waste a lot of free time having imaginary arguments in my head that never come to fruition – line by line, action by reaction. I’m told this is one of the trademarks of a true INTP. Of course it is, because I wouldn’t have a useful trademark like making friends easily or being naturally athletic. No. Instead, I’m one of the lucky ones who has a high probability of being recommended for new anti-anxiety drugs and clinical trials to help alleviate ADHD symptoms.) And that’s great for them if they like to get worked up over their emotions and really engage with that mess. I hear there are also some people who love kale smoothies in the morning. I’m happy for them.

I would rather be stripped to the skin, drizzled in honey, and tied face-down to the top of a fire-ant hill (is that a thing? do fire ants have hills?) than talk about or even acknowledge ‘the feels.’ I feel the same about kale breakfast smoothies, to be fair.

Unfortunately, through an ongoing series of events (and we’re talking years here) and because of some of the books I’ve been reading lately to add some ‘tools to the tool-belt’ for work, I’ve been reflecting on my feels and dreams and hopes and wants and expectations and hang-ups and fears and co-dependencies and I’ve realized I’ve got diddly squat compared to what I have the potential to have, and worse, compared to what I expect(ed) to have at this stage of life. I’ve been forced to look in the mirror, stop having imaginary arguments for a minute or two, and tell myself, sternly, what I always hated hearing from grown-ups when I was a child: I am so disappointed in you.  I thought you were better than this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sternly talked to yourself in a mirror before, and if you have I hope you had the sense not to do so as soon as you rolled out of bed and before you’ve combed your hair, brushed your teeth, or wiped the previous night’s mascara out from under your bloodshot eyes and the flaking-off drool from your chin. Regardless, it ain’t cute.  It’s downright ugly if you do talk to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning like I did, but at any time it ain’t cute – not if you do it right.

The crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself for being less than what I know I can be because I’ve spent all of my time ignoring my own feelings, needs, goals, and dreams in order to take care of other people’s feelings and apparent needs. Were they real needs for those people? Possibly, but I didn’t have to be the one to provide for them or fix them. The fact that I felt compelled to do so was a disservice to them and to myself. I tied my self-worth to the validation I felt when others needed me, or at least appeared to need me, instead of to what I know is true about me. I believed I could only be worthy of love or friendship or success if I could prove how useful I was. I watched dream after dream after dream of mine fall by the wayside, fiery meteors of death and devastation crashing to the earth around me. I let go of little pieces of myself along the way, minute by minute, dust particle by dust particle, until I lost myself. I lost friends, time I would’ve loved to spend with them and with my family, the balance I felt when I focused on things I loved like art, writing (see? I’m slowly getting some of my own back), the outdoors, and anything I could possibly get my hands on to read. I lost money, and gave up my goals to travel, and at one point my dumb@$$ gave up the chance at a MacArthur Fellowship.  (Yeah. I’m an idiot. I got that.) I gave up everything I loved about me, everything I loved before I decided I needed to be needed.

All of it. Gone.

I tried to replace it with taking care of people and working my tail off and fitting into a mold that I thought my family expected me to fit into. I tried to tell myself that it was worth it and that maybe this was what I was meant for – to be last in order to gain my ultimate reward. Isn’t that in the Bible, too? “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16)? (FYI, it turns out that verse isn’t about being a martyr like I thought. It’s about a landowner being smart with his resources regardless of what others do for him or how much they think they need from him or deserve. Let that sink in a bit.) And while during some of that time I learned some new things about myself, about how strong I am and can be, and about what I can tolerate and withstand before I’m ready to start slamming faces with a baseball bat, I’ve finally realized something deeply, exhaustingly disturbing.

I was wrong.

And I know I said that the crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself but truly the crux of the crux of the issue is that I was wrong, and I really, completely, totally, wholly hate being wrong. (<— And that is the true crux of the issue. I’m petty that way. I know my truth.) It makes me feel stupid, worthless, and embarrassed. And you know what? I don’t like to feel my feelings, at least not those feelings. Those feelings suck like a stoner siphoning helium from a birthday balloon behind the local Chuck-E-Cheese.

Now, the heart of the crux of the ocean of issues is the fact that I have to make a decision to do something about it. And that means I have to confront my feelings and then talk about them with the people I’ve given so much up for, and we don’t do that here. We don’t fight, we don’t disagree, we don’t stay mad at each other, and we don’t talk about how unappreciated I feel because of everything I’ve given and done and everything I haven’t gotten in return.

We don’t do ROI (that’s Return On Investment for you non-business people) discussions and we sure as heck don’t rock this boat we’ve been patching with peanut butter and holding together with frayed bungee chords while we’ve been navigating the stormy seas of the hurricane we’ve been in for a decade. We talk about how we’ll pay the bills and feed the kids and how in another decade we’ll go on an imaginary trip overseas so we can do more things I really couldn’t give a flying flip about but that I support because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

And again, let me be clear: I did this. This was me. There is no blame to be laid but at the door of my dilapidated shack of self-efficacy, washed-up dreams like fragments of seashells and plastic can-rings left by the tide as it washes back out to deeper, bluer, livelier places. I’d love to be able to end this by saying I have a brighter outlook (I do, I think, but I’m hesitant to hope) or with a witty turn of humorous phrase. But I can’t, because this is serious stuff I’m addressing.

And we don’t do that here.

 

How to Throw a Solid Pity Party

*Note: this is not meant to be serious – mostly.*

I have always loved to make lists. I write them on Post-its daily, on the refrigerator (which I use as a whiteboard), on napkins, and during a brief stint in elementary school, I would even write them on walls. And I haven’t included one here, yet. I don’t know how that happened, but it’s time.

Also, just so you know, I’m doing this backwards. I 110% plan to complain (again) about something on here soon. I’m about due, I think.

But first, so we’re all clear about how this thing works, I’d like to educate you, via itemized list, on the joy that is the throwing of a pity party.  (“Pity? Party of one? Pity! Party of one!”) Also, to be even more accurate, you need to know this is Biblical. I’m not making this up. If you don’t believe me, read 1 Kings 19. You’ll see the theme.

So, without further adieu, here it is. The List:

How to Throw the Best Pity Party Ever

1. Make sure you’re alone. Invite no one else. No one – not your dog, cat, child, spouse, bff, squad, nana, not a single other living creature, not even your houseplant. You cannot properly be pitiful if you’re with someone or something else that is alive. They’ll either try to join you, dividing the pity between you and making you less pitiful, or they’ll comfort you, and you’ll feel less pitiful, which is unacceptable if you’re taking this seriously.

2.Be sure to plan your party food, or lack thereof. Starvation is about as pitiful as you can get, but remember: the angel gave Elijah cake. This is really all about extremes. So if you’re not into that whole starvation chic thing, you’ll need lots of ice cream and chocolate. Cheesecake is also acceptable, but it has to be full-fat. Now is not the time to worry about your health. Healthy people are not pitiful. Also, it needs to be something that might get stuck on your chin or drip onto your shirt. Pitiful people wear stained clothing.

3. Find a pitiful place to be, and go there. (And if you really want Biblical accuracy here, you need to find a pitiful tree to sit under – preferably one that’s well over half dead and makes the Charlie Brown Christmas tree look like a bountiful Douglas Fir.)

4. Bemoan your fate and wallow – deeply – for a while.

5. If you still feel like you could do better, find a darker and more pitiful place. Caves are great for this. No cheating and taking lights. Total darkness is key.

6. Continue to wallow. Even better, claim to be the only person that has ever gone through anything remotely like your situation, and tell God how awful it is. Repeat it to him often until he believes you.

7. Don’t be surprised when he tells you to shut up, suck it up, and get up and get back to work.*

*Now, at this point, you have two choices. You may choose to end the pity party, knowing you have truly given it a valiant effort, and move on with life. On the other hand, you can choose to become offended that God doesn’t believe how pitiful you are, and the downward spiral can continue and/or repeat. You do you. I won’t judge.

(That’s a total lie. I probably will judge. I’m not a saint, after all. But I won’t judge you to your face; I’ll make sure to comfortably judge you behind your back. Cross my heart and hope to spit. I say ‘spit’ because I’m too young to die.)

Good luck!

 

On Horses, Hijinks, and What Happens When I Go Home

So, I was super busy with life and parenting and life and stuff over the weekend, but in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

Saturday: the Kentucky Derby

Sunday: Mother’s Day

Here’s the thing: the Kentucky Derby is one of my favorite days/things (ever) that we do in my home state. We grow up with it; Kentucky children learn “My Old Kentucky Home” when we’re in elementary school.  (Granted, many do forget the words – that song is crazy long – but we all know the tune and they put the words on the TV screens before the derby, so we’re good.) The boutiques on every Main Street in the state carry derby hats almost year-round, but they stock up around Valentine’s Day and keep adding to their stock until the week of the big event. Some women – you know, the ones with lots of local friends – even have “hat parties,” which is really an excuse to drink mint juleps, mimosas, and sangria, buy out the floral/ribbon stock at the local Hobby Lobby, and get crazy with a glue gun for the sake of creating a one-of-a-kind (and usually fallen-apart-in-the-humidity-and-revelry-of-the-actual-day) crowning glory. For three weeks before the race, Louisville is in Kentucky Derby Festival mode, offering more than 70 events that include things like one of the nation’s largest half-marathons, a steamboat race, the Pegasus Parade, a concert series on the waterfront of the Ohio River, and the largest annual fireworks show in North America – Thunder Over Louisville. We bring out the Hot Browns, the burgoo, and Mint Juleps, and we celebrate our heritage and the launch of the US Triple Crown.

All of this is to say that this year, I’ve been reminded of a time a few years ago, around Derby week, when I was visiting my parents’ place with my family and we were out riding the horses. They used to take in retired thoroughbreds and exercise horses alike, and had a couple other quarter horses and one cutting horse (he was my favorite – I won’t lie). Our son was about 5 years old, our daughter was 10, and my 6-year-old niece was there, too. They were all taking turns riding with my mom, my brother, and myself. Everything went well for about an hour, then before we went inside the house, Trenton (our youngest) asked if he could ride by himself.  We negotiated, since that’s his favorite thing to do, and we agreed that he could ride on Classy, our most docile quarter horse, if I had the lead rope and walked him around so the horse wouldn’t go too fast.

Unfortunately, all we had was a training lead rather than a standard lead (training leads are much longer to allow the horse more movement), so we had to wrap it into a coil a bit to shorten its length.  Also unfortunately, when I handed the coiled lead to my brother while I was dealing with the saddle, he set said lead on the ground as I was adjusting the stirrups and getting Trenton settled. Classy was moving only slightly as she grazed and waited for me to finish, but when she moved her front right foot, she got it tangled in the lead rope.

(Note: we probably should have done better at adulting and made better decisions. It happens.)

I don’t know how much you know about horses, but they can shy away from things and panic if they can’t see what’s happening. They’re tall, and it’s not easy for them to just look down at their feet, so when something gets wrapped around their foot – say, a lead rope – they don’t know if it’s a harmless rope or if it’s a copperhead (both wildly prevalent in these here parts). Needless to say, Classy was not pleased.  She did okay, though, just prancing a little bit, chestnut flanks twitching and gleaming in the sun but otherwise calm, and I told Trenton to hold onto his reins and pommel while I took care of her for a minute and talked to her. I had soothed her pretty well after a second or two, but my idiot brother then broke rule number one when working with horses: he rushed up to her in a panic of his own because he wanted to unwrap the rope and keep Trenton safe. (This is still a bit frustrating for me, of course, for two reasons: one, we were raised with horses basically from birth and both of us know better than to do that, and two, my son was on that horse.)

Feeding off his panic, the horse bolted, Trenton seated firmly atop her. My mother and I still had hold of the lead rope and were trying to pull her head down to calm her, but Mom lost her grip and stumbled right as I dug in my heels, and Classy, rearing and screaming, pulled the rope out of my fingers (leaving 2nd degree rope burns in its wake, because I despite multiple college degrees I was not smart enough to wear gloves).

Then everyone else panicked. My brother started running after Classy (idiot, like he could catch her), my sister-in-law grabbed her daughter and mine and pulled them out of harm’s way (obviously smarter than her husband), and I started yelling for Trenton to hang on and not let go no matter what…

…until the remainder of the lead rope that had gotten wrapped around my leg during the struggle pulled taught and dropped me onto my face into the field, cutting off all my air and sound. Classy then proceeded to drag me over a hundred yards across the paddock (think about that for a moment…yeah, it was as gross as you imagine).

I managed to flip onto my back and remove my shoe, on which the rope was stuck, so I got free as the horse continued to gallop across the field. I started sprinting (rapidly hobbling) for the barn that bisects the center of the field while Trenton and the still-panicked Classy took a sharp turn at the far corner of the fence and came barreling across the ground toward the opposite side of the barn. By the time they were halfway across the field, I noticed our other quarter horse, Sage, galloping toward Classy. He’s the Alpha in the group, so my wonderful and clearly-more-intelligent-than-her-eldest-son mother had released him from his stall and slapped his flank to send him running to Classy. He corralled her back to the barn and escorted the panicked mare to her stall, Trenton still hanging onto the reins, his knuckles as white as his sun-bleached blond hair.

I was taking stock of possible injury, gauging everyone else’s reaction so we didn’t scare any of the other horses, and soothing my crying daughter – who couldn’t tell me why she was crying since everyone was fine – when I saw and heard what followed.

Once Classy was settled in her stall and sniffing through the feed in her bucket, Trenton, oblivious to the chaos behind him when his mighty steed (okay, mare) bolted, had thrown his leg over the saddle, slid down to the ground gracefully, and had run out of the stall with bright eyes and a huge grin. He went straight to the barn door to my sweet, calm mother, reaching up to her to be picked up and saying with all the excitement in his little heart, “Mimi! Mimi! Did you see that?! I was on that horse on that saddle and I had the reins and she went so fast and I rode her fast as fast as she could go all the way around without letting go and I did it all by myself!”

To which Mimi (she’s too southern and too young to be called Grandma, she says) replied, “You sure did,” and patted him on the head.  She is and always has been eternally graceful, calm, and collected. (I do not take after her, in case you’re wondering.)

Then Trenton, without bothering to notice anyone else, asked Mimi if he could have a cookie, switching topics as children do, and she walked him and the girls to the house.

And honestly? I’ve never laughed so hard, because what looked to us like impending tragedy was the most brilliant and fun day of his life, and he had no idea what was happening just behind him.  You know how I know that? He looked at me this past Saturday – over 6 years later – while we watched Nyquist, his favorite (his school number is 13, like the thoroughbred), win the Run for the Roses and said, “Hey… do you remember that time we went to Mimi’s and I rode that one horse real, real, real fast all by myself?”

I said of course I remembered. Who could forget?

Then he said, “I bet I could ride in the derby with Nyquist and win all by myself, too. I would ride even faster than I did at Mimi’s!”

So of course I said, “You sure would,” and then I patted him on the head.

Mother’s Day as a Step-parent

As I sit here, the sounds of my 11-year-old son and my husband wrestling the daylights out of each other (and probably injuring an arm and a kidney or two between them) are literally vibrating through the house, followed by squeals of delights and the yowls of defeat (mostly coming from my husband, it seems). My almost 16-year-old daughter is at church with her aunt and cousin, in one of her favorite spring dresses and my super-tall wedges that fit her almost perfectly.  What makes today different than any other day, though, is that it’s Mother’s Day, so I am not at church with her and I’m instead sitting at home, writing.

That may seem weird, except I’m not really their mom – I’m their step-mom.  My husband and his ex-wife share joint custody of their two children, so we have them (or one or the other, depending in the season) almost as much as she does. I call them mine, because their father and I, and their mother and their step-father, have been living like this for a decade.  (Our youngest has no recollection of a time when he didn’t have four parents.) I love them just as much as I would if they were mine.  Parents without step-children would probably disagree with me there, since I’ve repeatedly been told by several supposedly well-meaning busy-bodies that it’s different.

Is it? Can you prove it? Have you lived inside my heart and seen the height and depth and breadth of my love for them? Because unless you have (and I’m pretty sure you’re not God), you can’t say with 100% certainty that it is different.  You can say that you think it would be different if I had my own children.  You can say that you’re in a similar situation and you know it’s different, and you can even say that you’ve seen multiple situations like mine and you’ve observed the differences.  But you can’t say that you know our situation.

But I can tell you that I come from a blended family, and I love my step-brothers and step-sister just as much and just as deeply as I do my biological brother, so it’s not a stretch for me to feel the same about these two children. And I can say I love them just as much as if they were my own because their mom and I have a pretty good relationship, and I react to their successes and failures the same way she does.  We’ve talked about how it makes us feel, and we’ve found we feel the same. And I commend her for that, because I can’t say that if the situation were reversed I would handle it as well; that’s how much I do love them.

But back to the layout of today…

I take them to church every other Sunday, sometimes more often depending upon their mom’s work schedule and if we have them back-to-back weekends. So today is weird, because I didn’t take them, and I didn’t go by myself. Why? Because it’s Mother’s Day, and I’m not their mother, nor would I ever try to replace her or pretend I’m equal to her. Maybe in their eyes I am.  In fact, I hope they love and respect all four of us – mom, dad, step-dad, and me – equally.  That means we’re doing something right. But I can’t fault them if they don’t. Their biological mother and father get to be at the top of the pecking order, and that’s as it should be. We are all equally involved in their lives. We plan and coordinate and re-plan and adjust based on everyone’s needs, and that gets us to school, soccer practices, baseball practices, archery, family events, birthday parties, and everywhere else. And it takes all four of us (they have a younger half-brother who is part of all of the logistics, too).  But they have a mother, and I’m not her, and they need to know I understand that.

So, since I’m not their mother, I didn’t go to church. I don’t want to stand up when they do the usual “Recognition of the Mothers” and get the strange looks and the judgments and the stilted applause. I don’t go to “Muffins with Mom” at school every year, and when asked, I tell people they’re my step-children. I don’t want to take any attention away from their real mother, who is very much in the picture and works just as hard to make sure they know and feel secure in how much they’re loved. It’s not my right, it’s not my place, and it’s not my desire to detract from that.

And you know what? It’s hard to know you’re number 2 (or number 4, depending on the day and the kid) forever.  That number isn’t exactly equated with great things. (Think about it.) In fact, it really, really sucks some days – especially on the days when not even my husband recognizes the sacrifices I make because life is just that hectic and stressful and it’s hard to notice. I won’t even sit here and lie and say my feelings don’t get hurt, because they do, until I remember that oh yeah, it’s not really about me, is it?  It’s still worth it, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I. Chose. This. And I would do it again.

So on Mother’s Day, the oldest gets to spend over half the day with the women in her mother’s family.  Because she got the reminder two weeks ago, she already put thought into and bought flowers for her mother and gave them to her. The 11-year-old and I are working together and painting a sign for his mom so she knows he thinks she’s the best mom ever.

Because this day – no matter how commercialized and Hallmarked it may or may not be – is not about me. This day is and should always be about her. That is the life and truth of a step-parent. We know this; we chose it with eyes wide open and willingly.

And you know what? It’s kind of super awesome. Because if we do it right, we get to see these kids grow up into loving, considerate, wholly fulfilled human beings.

Note: It’s also really funny at birthday parties and parent-teacher conferences when we show up en masse and have to explain everyone’s relationship a dozen times before people get it. And it was extremely funny when the kids were little and would look at other kids with pity and say, “You mean you only have one mom and one dad?! Wow, that must be awful.”  (To be fair, that only happened a couple times before we had to have the “every-family-is-different-and-you-can’t-judge-them-for-it-or-say-things-like-that” talk in order to avoid future embarrassment.)

So to all the ‘real’ moms and step-moms, and to all the single dads who are also moms, and to all the grandparents and aunts and godparents and brothers and sisters and anyone else who steps into that role, Happy Mother’s Day. May it be delightful and rewarding no matter your situation and how you live it.

 

All of My Selves Are Crazy and We’re Cool With That

Since learning to adult over the past couple of decades, it has come to my attention how often absolutely stupid thoughts wander from around the bend of the ol’ cerebrum, spin around a few times in the frontal lobe, and then meander on through the cracks in the brain-to-mouth filter to vocally exit the building before I realize what’s happened.  (Wow, was that a crazy long sentence or what? Sheesh.)

For example, I’ve found myself saying things as a parent like, “No, sweetie, we don’t lick the dog’s face,” and, “Please don’t set that opened SlimJim down on the concrete to play with your friend, then pick it up and eat it again.” (At which point the other progeny – the teenager – said, “I don’t know why you waste your time saying that. You know he’s going to,” and I responded with a sigh and, “I know, but I have to at least try.”)

There are also random things like, “Alanis Morisette was the Taylor Swift of my generation,” which for some reason came to my mind while the song ‘Honky Tonk Rock and Roll’ played on my car radio, because clearly all three of those have worlds in common.  Add to that the fact that I now work from home (which is an absolute delight, by the way – an absolute delight) so I don’t really have office mates and my propensity for talking to myself conversationally has increased exponentially, and well, Houston, we have a problem.

I first became bothered by this a couple of months ago when I realized I was no longer talking to my dogs as if they are dogs but instead started conversing as if anthropomorphizing them was the same as, say, chatting at a coctail party or arguing with a family member.  We’d go on walks and they’d do something utterly canine, normal, and stupid (like try to crap in someone’s front yard when I hadn’t brought a bag) and I’d spout off nonsense like, “Stop being such a douchebag! You’re doing this on purpose to get me in trouble with the HOA! How will you feel when we’re banned from walks and you only have a 3 by 5 square of dirt to do that in, huh? HUH?” and then pause as if waiting for an answer. Because clearly we would be banned from being in public because of my dog answering nature’s call and not because the crazy lady who looks like the female unibomber thinks her dogs are people.

Right.

Then last week I seriously lost it while working (because yes, working from home does mean you actually have to work, contrary to popular belief – I average about 45 hours every five days).  What happened?  Well, it went something like this…

*Begin scene*

Me: *typing notes into database*

*suddenly remembers has a phone call scheduled 2 minutes ago and frantically searches for number*

*can’t find number and starts to panic, made worse by being startled when calendar reminder pops up and makes loud noise*

*knocks three pens, two pencils, and a notebook off of desk*

*tries to clean up mess but ends up knocking computer mouse off of desk, too, and it falls so hard it unplugs from computer and rolls into hard-to-reach corner where my T-rex arms can’t go*

Me (as I straddle desk and contort my no longer young body trying to reach mouse): “Argh! Get your sh** together! Get. It. Together. You. Idiot. You. Work. From home. And should. NOT. BE. HAVING. SUCH. STUPID. PROBLEMS.”

Me: “SHUT UP! Worry about yourself! No one needs all your negativity!”

Me: “YOU shut up! Stop being such a moron and learn to adult, already!”

Me: “UGH! I HATE YOU!”

Me: “You’ll effing get over it. Now, seriously, shut up. I’m TRYING to work, here! AND HURRY UP AND GRAB THAT MOUSE BECAUSE I NEED IT!”

*end scene*

I would love to tell you that this is fiction. I would also love to tell you that Chris Hemsworth finally saw the light, left his gorgeous and talented wife, and asked me to run away with him and live the rest of our sun-kissed days together in paradise and that the hubs was totally cool with that.  I would also like to be able to look at people with a straight face and say Trump will be a great president if the brain-dead multitude decides to vote him into office.

All would be flat-out lies. (And okay, really I don’t wish I could say that about Trump. Even I have limits, faint though they may be.)

And since it’s not fiction, and since this bottle of $9 red wine is surprisingly delicious, I’ve decided to embrace all my versions of me, and we’ve agreed on a temporary truce for now as I embody the crazy that is us.

At least until the hubs wants to know when the dishes will be washed. Because when that happens, those bee-otches are going down. I work 45 hours a week; those other freeloading fatties can start pulling their freaking weight or get the eff out.

Real Text Conversations: Hubs Edition

Hubs: What’s for dinner?

Me: Will we have both kids?

Hubs: Yes.

Me: I say we pick a kid and eat them.

Hubs: That’s weird.

Me: I’m just running out of ideas. … We could make Haley cook.

Hubs: I don’t want Hamburger Helper.  I’ll just stop by the grocery store.

Me: I guess we could do nachos or spaghetti.

Hubs: I don’t want spaghetti.

Me, because I’m out of ideas: I just found out I can change my texts to hot-air balloon shapes on a background of green sky with clouds.

Me: It has BALLOONS.

Radio silence from the hubs. I win texting.