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.


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: “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.

Confessions of a College English Teacher, Part the Second

For the past 8 years, when I taught a college level Introduction to Literature class?

I taught Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a soap opera.

The students loved it, possibly because we also had a potluck dinner and watched the movie version of it (the good one with Stanley Tucci, Christian Bale, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc.).  But they still loved it, and I count that as a win.

Funny Daddy-Daughter Conversations at My House

Ah, tis the season of love and peace…

Meanwhile, at my house…

The hubs and I have a 15-year-old. She is hilarious (to the point where I have a #DailyHaley post on twitter when she’s around). Case in point, two nights ago, after both ate WAY too much at dinner, this conversation went down:

Haley: I think I’m gonna to have a food baby.

Hubs: Me, too.

Haley: OMG, together we may end up with, like, 8 food babies!

In mutual epicurean misery, they hug like they’re going down on the Titanic. Haley begins looking at her brother’s baby photos on Facebook – from over 8 years ago. Haley gets teary-eyed.

Hubs: Is your food baby making you emotional?

Haley: I think I might cry! He was so cute! ...*cue sudden switch in topics because that’s what Haley does*… I need a nap, and by nap I mean go to bed now and never wake up.

Hubs (ambiguously sarcastic): I feel like that’s not all you need.

Haley (totally serious): I need a boyfriend, too…well, I want one, anyway.

Hubs: Some people want world peace and clean water, but that $#%&’s not gonna happen, either.

Haley: Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna die from my food baby. All of my wishes will have been fulfilled except the boyfriend one.

Hubs: Well, this ain’t Make-a-Wish, so you might as well let that one go.

Haley (while laugh-crying): Ow! That kinda hurts me in the feels.

Hubs: Well, I don’t like to lie.


Feel the love. It’s palpable.



Outlawing In-laws

Disclaimer: *My last post was super serious.* This post? Well, it’s serious to me, sort of, but I see the humor. That’s right, God. I see what you did here. Cute. Real cute.

I like to think of myself as a decent human being. I mean, I don’t run around telling people how magnificently magnanimous I am or anything, mostly because I really don’t like people. There are about 10 in this world I can tolerate for long periods of time, and even then I have a 3-at-a-time limit and that limit has a specific expiration time and date.

I know my truth.

Still, though, I think the world would be a better place if more people loved people instead of finding something to be angry about all the time, generally speaking. At least, I did, until my father-in-law got moved into my home.

Please allow me to pause for a moment until the violent shudders pass…


My father-in-law has been through at least three wives (the history here is murky and a little frightening) and has fathered two sons (my husband and his older brother) and one daughter that we know of, but whom we discovered posthumously. He has been single for about three decades and, while he did work during that time, he was never what one might call “successfully employed.” Oh, don’t get me wrong, he was employed. No one could call him particularly lazy. But, well, he always relied on his employer for shelter, too, rather than what most of us expect, which is a simple paycheck, thanks. I mean, yes, he got a paycheck, but he has always relied on other people to house him and feed him.

He was always far too busy smoking and drinking to have time to worry about food and shelter. They always seemed to be there, because he has always been that pitiful, and because he’s not exactly what one would call picky… or tidy… or clean…or…well… moving on.

Apparently, my husband gets his effervescent personality and extroversion from his father, but I never would have guessed that had others not told me stories (which, I admit, I still categorize with fantasy stories like the novels that inspired True Blood, anything Tolkein, Narnia, et cetera). We can’t go anywhere – not even the restroom – without the hubs being stopped by 18 people he knows who need to have a hilarious conversation or a beer with him. The grocery store is excruciating because it’s like cocktail hour on the red carpet. Every 10 feet there’s a new person we have to interact with because his network is so varied and vast, and meanwhile I’m all like, “Honey, did you want the Bunny Bread Honey Split-top Wheat or the store brand?” … *blink, blink* … “Honey?” …*blink, blink*… *blink* …. “Hello?!” … *sigh* … *blink, blink* … * foot tapping, sigh, blink* … “HUSBAND!?” And his friends are all, “Psst. I think that hobbit girl over there wanted to ask you something about bunnies.

Did I mention I dislike people?  Great. Wouldn’t want anyone to forget.

I couldn’t tell you what drew me to my husband in the first place, except for the fact that when our personalities combine, we make one balanced, good person. It’s volatile chemistry at best considering all the outlying factors that can affect one’s mood and personality on any given day, kind of like hydrogen combustion (you know, you mix hydrogen and oxygen and you either get water or Chernobyl – there’s really no in-between).  But his dad… ugh, his dad…

His dad is a drunk, and when we used to see him at the occasional grand-child’s optimist league basketball game or softball game, he smelled rather like the fermenting rooms at bourbon distilleries, probably because those rooms are filled with thousands of gallons of beer mash cooking and cooling in order to draw out alcohol, which is basically what was happening through ol’ Pops’s pores. There was also an underlying smell of unemptied ash trays, like curtains that have been hanging in a pool hall since 1970, and together it made for a decidedly particular aroma that no one else could ever quite manage. Some people smell like they’ve spent one too many hours in an Abercrombie store, and then there’s Pops.  Between the two, I’d be hard pressed to say which is worse.

We had to move him into our home for a couple of weeks (ha) back in July. See, he had fallen at his then-home early one morning and broken his hip, so he had to have hip replacement surgery and then 6 weeks of physical therapy at a rehab center. Then, he needed to have home supervision for a couple more weeks when he was released from the center in July.  Now, I would like to point out that when he fell at 9 AM that fateful morning, he was not drunk. The beer he had been reaching for was still sitting on the coffee table unopened, so we do know that for a fact. I’m also fairly convinced he had a stroke late last year while he was working, because he blacked out and fell there, and while his boss and sons were waiting on the ambulance, he snuck into his truck and drove off, disappearing for 3 months in order to avoid the doctors. He hasn’t been able to speak clearly since.

I am not even joking.

So, suffice it to say, between the probable stroke, malnutrition (he eats only peanut butter M&Ms, honey buns, and pop-tarts and drinks only Mountain Dew outside of the alcohol), and his consistently high blood-alcohol content level, he’s not what one might consider to be ambulatorily stable. He’s wobbly, we’ll say.

So, we moved him into our teenage daughter’s room since it would only be a couple of weeks, and we started working on finding him an apartment.

Only, we called every complex and real estate management company in our area and there was nothing he could afford, and we can’t afford to help a ton (did I mention we have a teenage girl? and she has a little brother?). Plus, his Physical Therapist decided he wasn’t going to be able to be on his own until September.

Okay, fine. So it would be two or three more weeks until he could move out.

Meanwhile, he doesn’t bathe – refuses to, in fact, because he says he can’t balance well-enough to get into the shower and stand there. Fair enough. We offered to get a chair. Still, he has refused.

It has been 6 months. He doesn’t bathe.

He smells like dead people.

And yes, I know what dead people smell like. My brother is a police officer, and used to find it hilarious to show up to my home every time he’d spent time around a dead body. Looking back, is it any wonder I moved over 150 miles away from him? No, no it isn’t.

My father-in-law also smokes. And he was told he wasn’t allowed to smoke at our home, because I have crazy-stupid-hyper-sensitivity to cigarette smoke due to being allergic to it as well as an asthmatic, and our youngest has asthma, too.

So, naturally, my dumb@$$ brother-in-law thought it would be okay to buy him some cigarettes because he won’t tell the man ‘no,’ and father-in-law goes outside and smokes them and then comes back smelling like it, and then he listens to me hacking and asks if I’m okay.

Why no, Pops, I’m not okay. I’m dying, and it’s your fault. Thanks.

Also, he knows I won’t let him drink at my home, because if he falls again, I’m the only person home and I have to lift him, and I’m hobbit-sized and have the arm strength of a chewed-up spaghetti noodle. So the drinking is prohibited until he’s steady without a walker, and he’s not, because he refuses to do his exercises now that his insurance won’t pay for PT. So, he keeps asking his two sons (not me, because he knows my answer) to buy him beer. It took some threats to his happiness, but thankfully my husband has wizened up and refused his requests. Still…

Also, my husband has told me since September that he would be here “just two more weeks.” It’s December. Call me crazy, but something seems off about that math.

To top off all of this grossness (not to mention the issues of having a 15-year-old girl share a room with her 10-year-old brother indefinitely), I’m an introvert.

And I mean full-on, at-the-edge-of-the-scale-just-before-hermit introvert. People are unappealing to me (see above statements), so when I do spend a lot of time around people, I need at least an equal amount of recharge time to spend ALONE so I don’t become a homicidal psychopath. I can’t just be in a different room if there are other people in the house. I need TOTAL. ALONENESS.  I need it silent. Dogs and horses are acceptable company; no other living organisms are allowed.

Now, let me go back and say again that Pops is immobile. He is unable to leave the house. Also, to make it fun (again, God, I see what You did….hi-larry-us), the hubs’s car broke down in September and he had to use mine for three months due to our lack of financial ability to fix it and his lack of give-a-crap about it.

Oh, and I have mild PTSD from a traumatic event in college. So I’m a light sleeper, and Pops gets up an average of 4 times a night, so it’s safe to say I haven’t slept since July.

Needless to say, I’m a teensy bit edgy.  The good news is that Pops is moving out this week.  I’m currently trying to figure out how to cut that room off the frame of our home and burn it since I’m fairly certain it will smell like dead people and unfiltered Marlboros for the foreseeable future. Also, I’m super excited (sarcasm) to get to replace the entire bed and all bedding in the room, as well as the carpet. And no, that is not an exaggeration. All of it is legitimately ruined due to Pops’s lack of hygiene and his refusal to eat dinner anywhere but in his room and from anywhere but off his lap – also without a napkin – among other issues with apparent incontinence (or laziness, which is what I’m pretty sure is the problem).

So, new rule: NO. FAMILY. MEMBERS. EVER. AGAIN. *outside of the two children who fall under the statute of limitations on residence in this household which will expire on their 18th birthdays or the day they each go to college, whichever comes first*

And thank GAWD there are no clock towers anywhere near here for me to climb. It could have gotten ugly.


I am wrecked.

I have been wrecked since this time last week when I found out a man I graduated high school with and then graduated college with, a person whose face I saw almost daily growing up and during my last few years of college, was shot in the head and killed. And that kind of news is devastating, even though we hadn’t seen or communicated with each other in years.

But that is not, exactly, why I am wrecked.

His death was callus and cruel, but I am wrecked for reasons beyond that cruelty, and beyond the knowledge that I clearly wasted the opportunities handed to me to know such a wonderful person better than I did. I am wrecked because, though we were not incredibly close, he was part of my extended family on my sweet brother’s side.

I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking it’s more understandable to be distraught when a tragedy like this touches your family, even if it isn’t a blood connection, especially if you have to watch someone – like a brother – deal with the pain of the forever kind of loss. And you’re right.

But you don’t quite understand.

You see, he died as the result of what I’m starting to consider to be a hate crime. It was premeditated. His shooter had already proclaimed his intention to shoot any member of this family who walked through the door, and it was a crime based on color – one of many acts of violence targeted at this specific group across the nation to date. And it is evil, unfair, and devastating.

But still, you don’t understand.

I went to his funeral, where over 5,000 people, it was reported, attended to pay their respects to a pillar of the community. His visitation drew the governor-elect, who met with the family privately because he didn’t want his visit to become a media stunt but rather he wanted it to be about respecting a well-loved and well-lived life that had been lost.

After the funeral service, where his brothers sang and quoted scripture – the Beatitudes – in his honor, where his cousin raised her own voice in a song of worship, and where the head of our family looked at us all at the opening of his remarks and simply said, voice laced with disbelief and heartache and tears, “We have lost our Daniel,” a procession of hundreds of cars that stretched almost 20 miles bumper-to-bumper lined the parking lot. As the thousands of us in attendance stood in the parking lot waiting for the rest of the family to make their way to their cars, I watched as they brought out Daniel’s casket. I watched his young wife as she stood just behind it, and I watched her cover her mouth with her hand in grief and with the hope of trying to hold back the sobs that were surely coming forth as they walked the casket away from her and down the stairs to load it into the hearse. She was watching her husband get farther and farther away from her, truly separated now.

And I was wrecked. But still, you have yet to understand.

I rode in one of the cars toward the front of the procession – after all, he was part of my family, too – and I will never forget the awe I felt as we exited the parking lot.

You see, not all those who loved him and appreciated him for who he was were able to attend the funeral, so they lined the streets to pay their respects. Thousands upon thousands of people from the community were there in a show of love and support. They stretched for miles down both sides of the street on what is normally the busiest thoroughfare in town, but there was no traffic that day other than the procession. They were silent, some of the people openly weeping at the loss of such a great young man. Some held balloons, some held banners, and some wore shirts that were made in support of his family. He was only 33, and he was well-liked even by his enemies.

But our procession didn’t end in that town. We traveled over 100 miles and through five counties to his burial site, down the interstate and through several towns. There wasn’t a street that wasn’t lined with people and stopped cars. There wasn’t a town where they weren’t holding signs of support or where they weren’t crying – even perfect strangers he’d never met – over the loss of our Daniel.

And I was wrecked. But you still don’t get it.

He wasn’t famous, our Daniel. In fact, before this past week I don’t even know if he ever made the news aside from the usual hometown newspaper articles about high school clubs and engagement announcements, the things only mothers pay close attention to. He left behind a legacy of kindness, though, unlike many who have come and gone before him. He helped stranded motorists, bought brand new car seats out of his pocket for a family who’d had a collision and had two young children and no seats for them or way to purchase seats, gave regular rides home to an elderly woman who was too afraid to walk from work after dark, helped a man pay for a hotel bed one night when he found out the man was going to sleep in a tent outside a business in order to make it to a job interview there in the morning, and even followed one of my own good friends out of a bar one night – even though they didn’t really know each other – and convinced him not to drive drunk because it wasn’t worth the risk. I never even knew that until after his death.

And I am wrecked. How could someone wish to hurt such a good man? How could anyone hate a whole group of people so much that they could pull that trigger?

Here’s what you don’t understand: Daniel, our Daniel, was a police officer.  The family he and I shared is a family of law enforcement officers in his community and their loved ones. He and my sweet brother stood together in what has become known as the Thin Blue Line, which is the only official line of protection civilians have against criminals.

In a nation where hate and fear is more prevalent than ever, and where people have the right by law to spew it in a steady stream at anyone who might disagree – even when it’s at a person they don’t know and have never met or seen or heard of, and where in many cases it is directed at law enforcement and the media helps to fuel and propagate it, being a police officer – a good one – is not an easy thing to be. It would be far easier to be something else, like a doctor or professor or banker (and I should know, because I took one of those easier roads), where if a mistake is made by one person in the field, it might never be commented upon by the public, the media, the politicians, or even by that other doctor/professor/banker around the corner who always seems to have had it out for you.  It will never be assumed that because there are a few bad eggs, all people who hold the same title should be condemned to perdition. It would never occur to a nation of people to think that, in those cases.

So why do we, as a country, assume it is that way in other cases? Are people really that stupid?

And it isn’t just law enforcement who are targeted. There are other groups who are targeted as well. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted to the point of illness by this hatred. In a country purported to be a melting pot, a land of tomorrow and of the great dreams of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and of Opportunity, we are woefully dividing ourselves by color, and class, and gender, and religion, and now occupation. We are creating a tomorrow of darkness and decay, a nightmare of Death, Oppression, and Devastating Grief, and we are stealing opportunity from ourselves the longer it goes on.

And this is one of the reasons why I am wrecked.

I’m tired of those who cry out for justice by way of violence. I completely agree that all lives matter – all of them, not just a few, whether black, white, yellow, red, or even blue.  It doesn’t make a difference to me what color a person’s skin is, or what color uniform they have to put on in the morning when they go to work, or even which bathroom they’re required by law to use.  It is not my right to judge. Discrimination and oppression are still alive and well in this country, and almost every person who breathes can find some way some other person is aiming one or the other at them. I have eyes, and ears, and a functioning brain, and I can see it when it really is happening, because it does happen, and I can also see it when it isn’t happening but someone just wants something to be offended about because they have too much time to contemplate their own lack of contribution to the world and they feel the need to be a part of a movement without actually having to do anything. These things are obvious.

But, lives matter.

I agree that there are some who have been placed in positions of authority who are unquestionably corrupt, and that they should be held to the same standards of any other citizens who are not in positions of authority, and that must start with our highest political leaders and with the elite and wealthy who control much of this nation’s government and economy. They need to be leaders by example, and we should demand integrity from them and they in turn should demand integrity from those they lead. And if we don’t, and if they don’t, then we all have failed. And this extends to law enforcement.

But I refuse to believe that all police officers are corrupt, or, as one citizen expressed directly to me in my time of grief recently, that all police officers should die. I had never even met or seen or heard of this person before, and when I posted on social media quite simply that “All lives matter,”  I didn’t direct my statement at any one person or any group. I was tired (am tired) of hate and violence, and I posted my thoughts in three words, and within 15 seconds I received a profane, direct message from this stranger, who had no context of the situation, telling me our Daniel deserved to die, and that all the rest of the law enforcement officers in this country deserved the same treatment – including my own brother, who is a school resource officer as well as a hostage negotiator, and whose job it is to protect children and adults alike, from all walks of life.

Daniel’s life mattered. My brother’s life matters.

What kind of people, collectively, are we that it’s okay to wish violent deaths upon people we’ve never heard of or met based on assumptions we make when we have no facts about a situation? How have we managed to sink to this low level of selfishness and brutality?

For those who have decided to hate an entire group of people, hundreds of thousands of them, based on the terrible actions of what amounts to only a handful of the entire group, I can only say may they never be the victims of armed robbery. May they never be beaten to within an inch of death by a person who has promised to love and cherish them. May their children never be at school when a crazed gunman shows up to carry out a massacre. May they never need someone to pull their loved one from the twisted and mangled wreckage of a collision, or to let tractor-trailers traveling over 80 miles per hour know that they’re stranded in the dark with a flat tire so they don’t get run over while they wait for it to be changed. May they never know someone who is assaulted, molested, raped, kidnapped, or who has a heart attack or stroke in a public place, may it never happen to them, and may they never live near a house or car that has been turned into a meth lab, and if they do may it never explode.

May they never be called upon to notify the loved ones of a friend or stranger that tragedy has befallen them through no fault of their own. May they never have that kind of grief directed at them.

Those are the types of situations law enforcement officers willingly sign up to help prevent and/or deal with every single day, often with very little thanks. A few of them may think they’re above the law they’ve sworn to protect and uphold, and those who do think that should absolutely be dealt with the same way any other citizen would be. But the majority do not feel that way. They respect that law, and the citizens it protects, and that’s why they go to work each day.  That’s why Daniel got up to go to work each day, and he was protecting a citizen and her right to be safe when he was murdered in front of his fellow officers (who, by the way, did not kill his shooter but who instead showed great restraint by subduing him and arresting him – and I can’t honestly say I could have shown the same restraint and professionalism).

So I am wrecked.

I’m wrecked because this hate and fear that has caused the loss of our Daniel has created within his immediate family, within a department, within a community, an open wound that will never completely heal. I’m wrecked because the day after Danial was mortally wounded, my brother got up and wept as he put on his uniform, clipped on his badge, and went to work. I’m wrecked because he had to do that less than 24 hours after he watched his friend and brother bleed out as he rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital, where he sat and waited into the small hours of the night for the family he had to contact and to whom he had to deliver such devastating news.  I’m wrecked because Daniel’s wife has become his widow after only a short time, and because his son has lost a father and has no idea why, and no one can explain it to him, because we don’t know why, either. I’m wrecked because she has stood strong, but when he was carried away from her, she covered her face in pain because he will never come back.  I’m wrecked because hundreds of fellow officers – most of whom had never met him – showed up from across the country to mourn Daniel’s death and to salute him as he was laid to rest, and because those same officers stood at attention the entire time, even as tears streamed down their faces. It is heartrending to see such strong men and women brought to such weakness unashamedly. I am wrecked because other officers in five counties manned intersections and maintained a salute or a bowed head as a 20-mile procession of cruisers and family vehicles slowly filed by, and because for over 100 miles of travel, every overpass bridge was filled to the barriers with first responders who stood atop their trucks and saluted the fallen. I am wrecked because on Veteran’s Day, I saw countless veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and Desert Storm forego celebrations of their own valor in favor of honoring a fallen police officer, whom they’d never met, in full salute.  I am wrecked because even strangers wept at his passing.

I am wrecked because there is nothing so heartbreaking as watching a wife, son, mother, father, and sisters and brothers say goodbye forever when they don’t understand why. There is nothing so heartbreaking as watching an entire department of men and women sworn to protect say goodbye to one of their own, whom they could not protect through no fault of their own.  It is unimaginable how difficult it must be to know there was nothing anyone could do.

There is no sound on this earth as tormenting as hearing the final roll call over the radio, when his badge number is called just like all of his fellow officers have heard it called every day before, and when that call is met not once, and not even twice, but thrice with silence. And those of us with loved ones in that department, and those all over the country with loved ones who go through roll call every day, who’ve heard their own badge numbers called over the radio and who’ve heard them respond immediately? We are wrecked when we hear that radio silence, because until there’s no answer, our hearts want to hope that this isn’t real, and that we’ll hear his voice answer the call in the affirmative. We want to believe this can’t happen, not really, not to our Daniel and not to any of our other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, or friends. When we stood at the burial site at the twilight hour, it was not the 21-gun salute or the lone trumpet playing “Taps” that pushed us over the edge of grief.  It was that radio silence, and the only sound to be heard over it was the sobbing of friends and family members who know the daily worry that their officer won’t answer, who can too easily imagine the emptiness and the debilitating hurt of it, me included.

We are wrecked because as overwhelming and amazing as a traditional law enforcement funeral is for a fallen officer, we must go home and know that tomorrow, we could be those loved ones getting notification that something has gone terribly, irrevocably wrong. We live daily with the knowledge that the growing hostilities of a people who are quick to accuse and judge all because of the actions of few are becoming more and more prevalent, and we live daily with the knowledge that our loved ones – the men and women who really are in it to protect and serve – have become living targets.

So don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of so much hate and fear and violence. Don’t tell me none of us on this side of the line know the loss that is felt when someone we love is targeted and profiled even when they’ve done nothing wrong. And don’t you dare tell me that Daniel’s life and my brother’s life and my friends’ lives don’t matter as much as other lives.

Because I do know.

And I am wrecked.

Confessions of a College English Teacher, Part the First

I have a confession to make: I don’t know how to diagram a sentence.

Oh, sure, I used to know how to do it, and in fact spent most of my 8th grade career diagramming sentences.  But I don’t remember how to do it now, and honestly couldn’t have confirmed that I knew how to do it by the time I hit the 9th grade, and I feel like I should be ashamed.  I’m not ashamed of it, but I feel as if I should be.

I do teach introductory writing to college students, after all. 

And there are so many other things about which I know I should feel ashamed but don’t, like the fact that I just started this sentence with ‘and’ and a previous sentence with ‘but,’ which would have thrown my 8th grade English teacher into conniptions only a southern American woman could truly understand and appreciate. (We do things differently in The South, y’all. Everything is bigger, from hissy fits to hair.) I should also be ashamed about not caring if my students can tell a past participle from a present participle, or whether they know more than five or six different transitional words as long as they never use ‘firstly,’ ‘secondly,’ (etc.), and ‘lastly,’ which makes me want to shave my eyeballs with a rusted straight razor. I sometimes, sometimes mind you, not all the time, just almost always, don’t even care if they end a sentence with a preposition.  Most of the time I’m elated if they can tell me what the prepositions in the sentence are.  And did I mention use of second-person pronouns at the same time first- and third-person pronouns are being used? (Pay no attention to that ‘you’ in the above paragraphs! Do as I say, not as I do!)

I’m not very good at following the syllabus, either, to be honest. I hate it, in fact. No one reads it, no one honestly cares that it exists except the corporate academics who spend more time trying to figure out metrics and percentages than they do worrying about whether our students sound stupid in their writing. After all, that’s supposed to be my job, not their job.  I’m the one charged with making writers out of apathetics, whom I would love to call ‘apathletes’ instead, but they tell me that’s not a word, even though ‘mathletes’ seem to have adapted just fine, but I digress.  I digress often, really, and that’s the problem here–not the fact that I don’t remember how to diagram a sentence, or even the fact that I use ‘that’ too often to make the other English teachers in residence comfortable with my abilities as an educator. The problem is really my pedagogical methodology, or the lack thereof, since my pedagogical methodology doesn’t exist. I’m also no good at lying, so my students can tell when I don’t care if they use a passive academic voice or a more personal, first-person narrative approach to a research essay. I prefer the personal approach over the passive, truth be told, and that makes me dangerous, because that isn’t what the academy prefers, and I’ve resigned myself to it. I’m not exactly what the academy prefers, either, with my skinny jeans and hot pink toenail polish, not to mention my lack of give-a-damn regarding whether my students are aware there’s a thing called ‘literary criticism and theory’ beyond the reviews planted on the hallowed websites of Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.  I showed a class my copy of the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, once, and all they said was how pretty the title was in multicolored font. They also thought Foucault looked a bit like Gandhi, and I had to agree.  I once had another student ask if it was alright to have one-word sentences.  Because of the expectations of the other instructors in my department, I had to answer his question in a way not at all conducive to my personal belief system.


And so the saga continues.  The other teachers hand out rules like, “Every paragraph must have at least five but no more than eight sentences,” and, “Essays may not be written about any political or religious subject,” which is baloney, because if you take away faith and politics there’s nothing much left to write about in a compelling way, because at the heart of it we’re politically religious beings.  Even the atheists are politically religious; they recently formed their own church on principle.  This is a country all about equality, after all, and if the Christians and Muslims can gather in the name of their belief system, who are we to exclude the atheists who choose to believe in nothing at all?

Back to the syllabus thing, though… I reiterate that no one cares about its existence, nor do they read it, nor do they listen to me reading it if I sit/stand up front on the first day of class and read it to them word for word. It’s like trying to read War and Peace to an elementary school class in the original Russian.  I could put it to song and do a jig at the refrain and they still wouldn’t care.  And that syllabus makes me the worst kind of hypocrite, because even though it’s basically a form I have to fill out, I wrote it, and it’s boring.  I tell them my number one rule is to never write anything boring, but that’s how we begin–not as we mean to go on, but as we mean to avoid going on. We begin bored.

Another mark against me is my aversion to quizzes and tests.  I hate using tests to measure writing skills, as if fill-in-the-blank and matching, multiple choice and short answer combinations can make the difference between an articulate sentence and a fused sentence. It can’t.  It can tell me if a student knows (or can at least guess accurately) the difference between an articulate and a fused sentence, but just because a student knows the difference between the two doesn’t mean they can write well, nor does it mean said student will remember in two weeks what the difference is.  I like to think of myself as fairly articulate, at least upon occasion, but I didn’t get that way by taking tests and quizzes.  I became articulate because of two things: (1) I read a lot growing up, I read a lot now, and I plan to continue reading, and (2) I had English teachers who made me write almost as much as I read, I still write quite a bit, and I plan to continue writing.  It’s a simple formula, and it seems to be working so far. Teach writing by having students read different types of writing, and then having them write. Other instructors in my department talk about the quizzes they give every week, saying, “We cover so much material, I have to give them a quiz to make sure they’re getting the important information.” I say, if it isn’t all important, stop teaching it to them.  Teach them only the important information to begin with, and then teach them practical application to make sure it sticks.   

Welcome to The Persnickety Pen…

…where I used to put helpful things like writing tips for people who found themselves at the impossible crossroads of writing something and writing something well.  I have since decided there are enough of those sites, and I’d rather write about something far more interesting to me: namely, me.

So, for better or for blah, this is now where my thoughts and feelings and confusion and randomness all collide.

I’m almost sorry.

But not quite.