Georgia Love, gratitude, kids

from this angle

There are 7 more days left in the school year, and my kids are on overdive. Something fun happens everyday – Field Day and end of the year countdowns and yearbooks and cupcakes.

Last weekend, I hosted 19 kids for Norah’s sixth birthday party, and somehow the house is still standing.  We had donuts instead of cake and invited kids over in pajamas for breakfast, sending them all home by noon. When two o’clock rolled around, my two were somehow ready to play again and headed out on foot in the neighborhood to see what was happening. 4pm found me in a rocking chair on my front porch where I could vaguely see and hear the lemonade stand to supervise but not have a heavy hand. Every now and then, I could hear Norah’s voice yell, “Come get your LEMA-LADE!” This is one of her last pronunciation errors to hang on, and I selfishly don’t want it to fade.

I have these moments where I cannot believe it is May already, almost half the year gone. Cannot believe that I have two elementary schoolers who dress themselves and have ideas and friendship dynamics of their own and see their own world as limitless and completely safe at the same time. This is a Golden Age for us, and I am not unaware of that. I am grateful for it daily. Time is the only constant and it is rolling faster than I’d like.

I was talking with a friend recently about the messes and the joys of summertime, and she explained her sentimentality with all things summer with her own son. I get it. When I look back at my own childhood, it is somehow always eternally summertime. Hours and days of no structure at all and playing in the woods with my cousins and my sister. Watermelon, popsicles, bright red tomatoes.

We have a nature trail that runs behind the homes in our neighborhood, and the kids love to walk it all the time. Jude and his gang have built a fort of sticks and limbs and an old tarp. When he described this to me over dinner one night a while ago, he told me it was “a proper fort, Mom, a real one.” I don’t ever use that word in that particular context —  proper. There are moments when you step outside the frame to see your kids evolving in their own worlds. He lead me over there a couple of weeks ago to show it to me, and he’s right. It’s a proper fort, complete with an entrance and stones to line its edge.

Two weekends ago, they invited friends over for Sunday morning pancakes, and we went walking along the trail after breakfast. We got to a clearing lined on one side with honeysuckles, and the smell took me right back to something like 1989 when I’d run along the path between my house and my grandparents. I stopped and showed them how to pluck and string a Honeysuckle to get a drop of nectar on your tongue. They were enthralled – all four of them – and stood along the edge of the vines for a long time, plucking and stringing for that tiny drop.

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My kids have a childhood so very different from my own in many ways. They have Kindles and know what a smartphone is and see a globe much smaller than what I saw. We are settled in the suburbs with a small green square of grass and only three of us in this house. But there are ways it echos my own childhood, too. Lemonade stands and long summer days and dirt under your fingernails when you finally come back inside after hours of play. Fort building and honeysuckle eating and other kids to explore with.

It feels good to stand here on the outside and watch them build a world of their own. And I can see from this angle how deeply colored the aisles of memory are, knowing one day they will walk past a patch of Honeysuckle and be taken right back to the place we are now. This is my middle and their beginning, and it is such a sweet spot when I look through that lens to see the rolling hands of time as something that both pushes us from place to place and sometimes dissolves into nothing. Some things are eternal.

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motherhood, single parenthood

wide open

It’s been 16 days since I last wrote something, so here I am with no agenda but with a determination to mark this month somehow so that I don’t forget it happened. It’s still dark out, and I’m typing as fast as I can before the kids wake up. The only way to get it done.

I proctored my final exams yesterday morning – which means I am only about 240 paragraphs of grading + one long assessment report away from my summer break. My composition exams are always at 7:30am (university schedule dictates that, not me) which means I leave the house at about 6:30, Norah in tow. It takes a lot of coordinating. My mom always stays with us the night before to get Jude off to school since his bus comes a full hour after I leave. Then we drive, I check Norah in, I proctor, I grade, and I scribble our other spring priorities on the planner — dentist appointments this Friday, birthday party coming up, pediatrician visit, graduation ceremonies, and the list goes on.

Spring is crazy always, but the older they get, the busier life feels. And I wish there was a way to change that, but it mostly just comes with the territory. We have all these lofty ideals of what parenting will look like, and then we have the reality. These two pictures are generally not all that similar to one another.

I spent Friday night at a international festival nearby with countless food trucks and vendors and entertainers from all over the world.  After doing these sorts of things alone for the past 2 years, we finally have someone tagging along with us every now and then, and thankfully he has what seems like endless patience. There were a few sibling spats, some occasional long lines, and a little whining. But there were also some memorable moments and big smiles and full bellies. Jude climbed a rock wall and has watched my video footage repeatedly to relive his fearless pride. Norah charmed a few high school football players who were selling bottled water, and she lugged the bottle home and to bed with her that night. After one, long, exaggerated sip, she explained, “That ‘festibal’ was so fun, mama. This water is so good. I think it’s from China.” (This coming from the child who requested a hot dog over dozens of delicious international options.) Their imaginations are wild and unleashed these days, but their excitement and pride is, too.
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I decided to forego the occasional summer camps that I usually use to break up the routine. Instead, I figure we can do things together nearby and maybe squeeze in a road trip or two and a weekend away.  They have private swim lessons lined up in May so that I can finally exhale at the pool every now and then. (They are both so close to swimming efficiently, but one mom and two kids is not getting it done as securely as I’d like.) I find these sorts of things bouncing in my head a lot — that they cannot swim yet and that we still use training wheels and that my first grader can’t tie his own shoes. There are so many life skills I know they need, and it stresses me to remember that I am the one who needs to teach them when truthfully laundry + homework routines + mealtimes and bedtimes take up every ounce of time and energy lately. Do other moms think about this sort of thing? Envisioning some future where your adult child cannot ride a bike and knowing that it is all your fault for not teaching him?

I’m in a weird place in my own life and in the life of my little family. I’m used to being independent and managing a household and all of the things necessary to get us from day to day. But then sometimes I realize with such weight and truth that I really could use an extra set of hands. I think families come in all shapes and sizes, and we are happy and feel complete in our comfort and routines. But I also think there is a reason it takes two people to create human beings – because it takes two people to tend to their growth if you intend to have any energy or sanity left. I try to do the job of two, and sometimes I am pretty good at it. But sometimes I fall short. I’m human, and I have a full-time job outside of this house, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

I tend to look at motherhood like project management these days, employing the village where I can to get us where we need to be. Delegating what I need to – like swimming instruction – and playing on my own strengths, trying hard not to worry about the rest and knowing that it will come together when it does and they will be okay. Eventually, we all will be. I give them a lot of wide open time to play and explore on their own, and even though that is mostly out of necessity for me, I tell myself that has its advantages, too.

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Among all the chaos and the sibling fights and the demands of the calendar, I do see so much independence growing among the both of them this year. I can see that kids need space and autonomy to grow and find their own way. I’m praying the goals and milestones will happen somehow in this stretch of time.

When I think back to my own life, I see how many times I have met goals this way, too. I chug along in the regular mess of life and look back to see I ‘ve actually learned something and crossed that big item off the list and somehow arrived at the goal along my own path. I’m hoping it’s the same for them – that they will look back and see the safety net of my own arms and our food on the table and our home and routines — and that wide open space of childhood everywhere else.

gratitude, Jude, Life and Randomness, motherhood

my dirty south

I’ve lived in the south all my life.  And as much as I love going other places, I also love that I have somewhere to come home to.  And when I say “home,” I mean home of a long, long time. The vast majority of our family lives here in Georgia, and it seems those who scattered chose southern destinations as well.  Texas, Tennessee, The Carolinas, Alabama, Florida.  The last of which is sort of debatably southern to most of us, but there are pockets which would be characterized as such, I guess.

There are southernisms I love that I will never outgrow, regardless of where my path takes me one day.  I like collard greens.  My kitchen usually smells like I’m making something good.  I often catch myself saying I am fixin‘ to do something instead of the far superior about to.  I hate the cold.  I smile at you warmly, even if I don’t really like you.  I love to host a good party.  I say y’all.  I find a strange comfort in rickety church pews and old hymns.  I always handwrite a good thank you note.  I don’t wear white after labor day or before Easter.  The Florida gulf is still my favorite sand in all the world.  We bought our house for the wrap-around porch, and tens of thousands of dollars of repairs and improvements later, I kind of wonder if that was a good decision. But I still burrow in a rocking chair with a drink after dinner sometimes and think it was money well-spent.

But there are other characteristics of my homeland I hate so much.  The lazy inactivity which matches the humid, scorching summers.  The racism that seeps so tangibly in the words of both my peers and my elders, not even shamefully hidden most of the time.  The closed-minded perceptions of so many people here.  The disinterest in education.  The classism that still exists in some old money circles and the resulting sense of entitlement.  I hate to think of my own son coming of age in a place where these are defining characteristics.  But I hate to think of him coming of age in a place of shallow roots instead of old ones, so I really don’t know which is best, and I’m leaving that big question to fate and where we land.

As I’ve thought about this question before in reference to my own home, I’ve always resorted to being happy I’m at least from a colorful place.  I believe it was Flannery O’Connor who once explained, “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”  And with this entry, reader, I am letting my southern freak flag fly proudly.

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My family is colorful.  We entertain children with thump bugs.  We turn naked kids loose in the back yard and let them play with a water hose.  My uncle is a beekeeper who swears they are miraculous and stings his own joints when they ache and sprinkles bee pollen on his cereal for daily consumption.  I have a relative who stands in his yard and stops cars if he deems them to be driving too fast on his shaded residential street.  I’m said to be related to the famous Miss Mary Bobo of Jack Daniels Distillery, but church-goin’ folks don’t look kindly on that, so we don’t advertise it much.  And in addition to all this, much to Jude’s delight, my grandparents live just a few minutes from us, and they house laying hens and two goats.  Not just any goats, mind you.  These are authentic Tennessee Fainting Goats.   They are of no use to anyone except that they are pets.  Pet goats who have grown fat and happy in all their peaceful years of strolling their large pen.
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Fat and happy and peaceful until they met my Jude who thinks that anything with wheels or four legs is for riding.  Our chocolate lab?  Can I ride him, Mama?  The cows we pass on the side of the road?  Cow go moo, mama.  I wanna ride!  No joke that he once asked to ride the bird that flew overhead in a parking lot.  So it’s really no surprise that he made the logical connection to goat riding, and now it’s all he wants to do.  And being a practical mama who tends to explain these things (No, Jude, you cannot ride the birds.), I’d ignore his pleading attempts, but his Great-Grandaddy thinks it’s hilarious to indulge him, and they’re his goats anyway so who am I to intervene?  So we end up with a goat rodeo around here about once a week.

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And taking photos of a goat rodeo is very difficult, but you can almost see him smiling from ear to ear.

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Children have a way of humbling you, it seems.  I swear that every time I find myself thinking I’m reasonably intelligent or well-spoken, I end up fishing shit out of a bathtub or singing some obnoxious toddler song or catching myself giving Jude a cracker that has fallen on the kitchen floor at least three times.  This goat scenario is no exception.  Jude has a way of saying “I wanna riiiiiiiide da GOATS!” in a shrill command that can get anyone’s attention, and he usually saves that statement for when we are nowhere near goats.  Like to another kid at a playdate with someone we might not know very thoroughly.  Or to a random server at a restaurant.  Or to other patrons in the organic foods aisle who look far more hipster than I do to begin with.  If you combine this with his tendency to leave the last syllable off of “mama” these days and yell Maaaaaaaw, we are regular hillbillies.

But these quirks are becoming deep-seated memories for Jude, and I love that.  I have my own images filed in the back of my mind from so many years spent here: Barefoot and eating slices of watermelon with my slew of cousins, all aged like stair steps one after another.  The whirl of an electric fan plugged in the corner of my grandmother’s home as July stretched in to August.  Fireflies in mason jars.  Beach trips to the gulf.  College memories thick with porch sittin’ and rocking chair gossip and arbitrary rules about what a girl should and shouldn’t do.

And roam where I might, this thick file of memories remains always in the same place in my imagination.  And it’s culture.  It’s flavor and foundation and family and all the things that somehow combined to give me the me I eventually became.  I forget that sometimes.  “Culture” has more than one definition.  Yes, in ways it is a result of a cultivated mind that sees and experiences new things and finds its way out of ignorance.  But the other kind of culture seems just as important to me.  Goat riding won’t give my boy a repertoire of big thick classics, a palette for caviar, or wide cluster of pins on a travel map.  But it gives him those glowing memories seared in the back of his own mind, and for a moment, my barefoot runnin’, watermelon eatin’, porch sittin’ childhood and his are the same. And that brings a happiness all its own.