Monday, October 31, 2005


It's amazing how a number of well-intentioned, very loving and supportive people can take a situation in which you feel devastated and alone and make you feel even more miserable and heartbroken than you ever could have imagined.

Note to my friends: If I die an untimely death as a result of a freak accident, grieve. Be sorry. Be sad (for a while, anyway), and do what you need to start the healing process. Love my family. Support my family. Go to see my family to offer your condolences. And then go home, or at least go away.

My husband's aunt died last Wednesday night when a shotgun her husband was carrying into the house accidentally (as of 12/15/05, the investigation is still open) discharged. She was pronounced dead on the scene, and her husband and children both said that she died praying. She was the youngest of 4 children, an incredibly forgiving and dedicated wife, and the 40-year old mother of two teenage girls still living at home.

We left our home to go be with my husband's family in Alabama the next day, and spent the weekend with the extended family in Chelsea. At times, it was almost like any other visit-- children laughing and playing together, making fun of my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend, and laughing with family over funny stories and silly mishaps. And then we'd remember what it was that brought everyone together, and there'd be tears, and some anger, and some heartache. There would be the occasional call or brief visit from old friends, co-workers, or distant family, but for the most part, it was family, together, sharing in the experience of loving someone you'll never again get to hold, hug, or pick on. It was parents remembering the child whose pigtails they fixed, whose pajamas they buttoned, and whose tiny forehead they kissed while praying for a long life full of joy for that child. It was sisters and brothers remembering first dates, teaching Sunday School to baby dolls, and late-night conversations. It was those of us who married into the family holding the hands of our beloved partners, and wishing we could make it all better but knowing that we can't. It was real love, real family, and real heartache, and it was what a grieving family is supposed to look like.

The entire weekend, we saw the husband and daughters of my husband's aunt only once. That was about all we could manage, between how stressful it was to go where they were staying, and how busy they were being kept by their church. The husband is the minister of a large church, and like many ministers of large churches who haven't learned to be assertive AND loving at the same time, he was swept up in the raging current of a church loving its minister within an inch of his life. Having worked in a large church for two years myself, I've seen it happen. A minister feels so appreciative and overwhelmed by the good intentions of church members and friends who want to do with, for, about, and around the minister, that he runs the risk of losing family, vision, and self. Before long, the pattern continues and grows, and the minister's life is overrun by people who "know what's best for him," or "know him better than anyone else," or "know that I'm one of the only true friends he has in this church." It's all hogwash, really, as ministers ALWAYS have a part of themselves that they keep separate from people in the church. It isn't that they're less genuine or dishonest or immoral; it's just that in order to maintain a family, a marriage, and some semblance of sanity, there have to be some boundaries.

When we arrived Friday afternoon to visit with the husband and girls, there were over 75 people at the home where they were staying. As it turns out, there were about that many people (or more) at the home from early in the morning until late into the night every single day since the death, and continued to be that many there over the weekend. Instead of coming to pay their respects and then going home to give the grieving family space, people were staying at the home all day, eating all three meals there, sitting in corners all over the house visiting and talking and laughing. Various family members, as they arrived, were greeted by church members in very unusual ways, including the offer of prescription tranquilizers at one time, and the announcement that "we're really going to have a good time tonight" at another.

And hiding in one of the bedrooms where he could visit peacefully and quietly was the husband. Mostly alone in his grief, with the few family members who could make it through the circus to get in to see him and the girls, looking like someone held captive. And the two girls-- who needed more than anything to be with family, to be allowed to cry, to be given the space to come to terms with the reality of the situation-- had been thrust into a 5 day long youth group social, unable to find the solitude to process the feelings rushing through them. You could see it in their eyes-- that they were swept up into the drama and without a moment of peace. Watching them try to navigate their emotions and surroundings in the middle of a never-ending church social, I was even more appreciative of the way those of us not involved in that particular church were allowed to grieve-- not alone, but not smothered; not overwhelmingly morbid, but without feeling the need to be chirpy and churchy; not around people who knew our loved one only as a devoted minister's wife, but around those who knew her as that PLUS so much more. The husband and girls deserved that. Their mother would want them to have that. Coming from such a close-knit family herself, she would want them to be surrounded by a small but loving group of family members to cry together, laugh together, and remember how much she loved all of them.

I hope I live a long life. I hope that by time I die, I'm so old and happy that everyone breathes a sigh of relief that my old carcass is no longer taking up space, air, and good casseroles at family gatherings. I hope my kids are grown and married, and that lots of little grandkids will run around, giggling awkwardly, at my funeral, and I hope that nobody shushes them when they loudly squawk that grandma's body looks freaky with that overly pink makeup on. I probably will look freaky, even if it's only the kids who'll have the honesty to say it.

But if, by some chance, that's not the case, and I die the kind of tragic death nobody expects or wants to believe, please give my family the space to grieve. Let my parents, siblings, kids, and their families come together, laugh about what a bossy weirdo I was, smile when they talk about how much I loved my husband and children, and cry when they remember the little girl who had such big dreams. To my friends: tell my family how much you loved me and how much you support them, and then find somewhere especially for my friends where you can be to comfort each other. Giving family the space they deserve to grieve together honors the one who has moved on and shows your integrity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

You monkey with your template one too many times...

And then you're sorry you didn't take that web design course in college.

It'll be fixed soon.

Edit: OK, we've got the sidebar back! Woo-hoo! Now, I just need to figure out where my expandable posts went. Not much longer!

Final edit: Ahhhh... Expandable posts. Told you we'd be back in business soon!


Hmmmm... Let's give haloscan a try for comments.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I think I'm getting a little closer to the root of my 30-year-old funk. It's the same thing my husband went into a funk about when he turned 30, and I made fun of him relentlessly from my 27 year old perch of safety.

It goes a little like this:
Approximate age at which Jesus was crucified: 33
Age at which Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration: 33
Age at which Napoleon crowned himself emperor: 35
Age at which Julian of Norwich received her revelations of divine love: 30
Age at which Origen took over the Christian Catechetical School at Alexandria: 17
Approximate age at which Luther posted his theses to the door: 34
Approximate age at which I realized I've done very little with my life and need to get on the ball: 30

I think I've pinpointed what it is I need to do; I also realize it will be at least 2 years before I can do it (for a variety of family reasons). But the realization is there, and that is a start to the gradual restoration of my sanity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why are we enemies until proven otherwise?

In my short 30 years on this earth, I have discovered a few things about the way people tend to treat each other. Not all people, mind you, but a good number of people I've encountered.

1) They expect you to think just like they do, and they often get angry when you aren't a mental carbon copy of them and/or their friends.
2) They make lots of assumptions about you based on what little glimpse they get into who you are. These assumptions are usually more about who they are than who you are, when all is said and done.
3) Once they've put they're assumptions about you out there, they will usually defend those positions vigorously even past the point when they realize they might have jumped to conclusions. Backing off of the original position is seen as indicating weakness.

Let me start by saying that I can, at times, be as bad about this as the next guy. I'm having a bad day, feeling that someone thinks Southerners are stupid and ignorant; I've heard a few too many redneck jokes for the day, and then someone says something that rubs me the wrong way, and all the sudden they're an idiot, a bigot, and certainly not a real Southerner. And because I've got my mother's sharp tongue, I'm more than happy to launch one sarcastic attack after another until I feel I've cut them down to size (or until I feel better, whichever happens first). Usually, in real life, this attack takes place either in my head or when I debrief my husband (poor thing) before bedtime. Online, however, it's easier to do it "out loud."

Then, after the attack is over and the frustration is out on the table, I start to feel this tiny twinge of guilt that creeps into my being and gnaws at my heart. I realize that perhaps I may have been projecting a bit of my own feelings-- that maybe I overreacted a bit, and that perhaps the other person isn't the ignorant, raving loon I first thought them to be. That's an awkward place in which I sometimes find myself. But I do find myself there-- meaning that there' s a level of self-awareness involved. I may have allowed one ignorant, raving loon to temporarily turn me into an ignorant raving loon, but I generally realize when I've gone down that path, and do my best to turn it around as well as could be expected.

Those of you who have known me in real life know that I'm highly sensitive, deeply compassionate, and that I really love people-- talking with them, being with them, learning from them. I love discussion, especially with people who are equally well-intentioned in presenting arguments and beliefs that differ from my own. You know that I come with my share of baggage (as does everyone), but that I'm honestly and openly working through my junk. You know that I can self-absorbed at times, lacking self at others, and that I think most people are genuinely just doing the best that they can with what they've been given, even though it's hard to see it sometimes.

Those of you I have only met online-- you have no idea who I am any more than I know who you are. I do believe that friendships can develop without face-to-face contact, but in any kind of relationship, there is a period during which you hold your judgments while simply getting to know one another better. You read my blog and post thoughtfully from time to time; I read yours and post thoughtfully from time to time. Like a fox being tamed by a Little Prince, we develop a familiarity with each other, and a trust, and over a period of months, we each come to an understanding of who the other is. It becomes a real relationship, with real concern for each other, and we have earned the right to speak frankly to and about each other. It is not a right granted freely. And once we reach that point, it is still not granted with free reign to say whatever we want without regard for the others' feelings or beliefs. That is how relationships are, when they're allowed to develop in a healthy way. Mutual respect. Mutual compassion. Mutual honor.

And the lack of these kinds of sensitivity in interactions, while more prevalent and noticeable online, is not relegated only to our anonymous postings, in which we allow the unhealthy feelings and thoughts we usually mitigate to flow freely and recklessly. We do it in real life, too. Someone inadvertently cuts us off in traffic, and we react as if it was an intentional behavior, meant to hurt or harm. Someone in front of us at the grocery store has lost his or her credit card, and we feel the anxiety welling up within us, clearly drawing the line between who is and isn't like us, or on our side, or whatever.

What has happened to us, really? When we can't even give someone we don't even know the benefit of the doubt, what hope do we really have to grow as individuals and as a society?

I'm not perfect. Far from it. But I'm working on being a better human, so that I can be a part of a better society. I pray, meditate, exercise, study, and reach for what I know will lift me up and allow me to become a better vessel for God's love. And hopefully, with God's help, over time my life will more and more closely reflect the ideals about which I feel so passionately.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The overall creepiness of getting older

I just reconnected with an old high school friend, and I have to tell you-- I don't feel 30. What's up with that? In my mind, I'm still young, edgy, and hardcore. In reality, I've gotten soft in a few places and flabby in others, and I've become far too concerned with playing the mom/teacher/adult part that all my edges have rounded out considerably. Personally, I think that aging is a fabulous thing, but getting old just bites. I love the fact that at 30 I know so much more and get so much more than I did a decade ago, and I love that at 40 I'll know even more, and that by 70 I'll be a regular ol' babbling encyclopedia of old lady wisdom. But losing that individuality, that edge, that funk that made you who you were when you were first realizing exactly who "you" is, well that just stinks.

I wonder sometimes what would happen if I just up and decided to reclaim it. Can you really get it back once you've let it go? What if tomorrow, I went to the school where I teach wearing funky cords, a babydoll shirt that says something far more cool than I can think of right now, and a pair of Doc Martens-- what would happen? What would my co-workers think? Would they think I was faking edgy, when in reality I think I've been faking Donna Reed for the last 8 years? Would the students think Ms. Christy had completely lost her mind and was doing the cheesy 30-year-old pretending to be 18 thing? And how, exactly, does one do edgy at 30 without looking absolutely ridiculous? Please comment and tell me, because I hate feeling that I've landed in some kind of schoolmarmy box.

Here's the conundrum: Little brainy girl is timid and weird. Around 11th grade, little girl decides she's tired of trying to please everyone else and develops her own style. Not quite grunge, not quite punk, not quite preppy, not quite hardcore-- this porridge was just right. She finds other oddball friends who each have their own style, and around each other they are happy, accepted, and unafraid of weird. Little girl goes off to college and continues with unique style, which develops and grows into something even more delightful. At 20, girl finds out she's pregnant with a little boy, and starts to wonder what this means. Over the next 5 years, girl starts to conform more and more to what she thinks a mother is supposed to be, and in the course of this transition, she loses who she was--so much so that girl makes a lot of stupid choices, having forgotten who she is and what she believes. Girl gets carted all over an emotional rollercoaster for a few years by people and groups with whom she's become involved during her destruction-of-identity period, and by the time it's all over, girl genuinely does not know who she is anymore. She looks back at what she was about to become, before everything derailed, and knows she can't rewind time and start over (much as she would like to sometimes). But she wonders if there's any way to bring a little of the old, unique, unafraid her back into the older, wife-and-mom blob of mellowness she's become.

Can I get an amen from the thirty-somethings in the house?

I LOVE my children, and they are my world! My family is the most important thing in my life, next to my relationship with God, and I would never want to sacrifice my family for selfish reasons. Few things annoy me more than parents who abandon their children while trying to find themselves and live their own lives, but I wonder-- must they be mutually exclusive? Can I really bring a little zing back into my life without it making me a bad mother, wife, or Christian?

When I was edgy before, I was not living a lifestyle that I'd like to live now. Maybe that's why I find it so hard-- I feel I have to turn my back on EVERYTHING I was then in order to be who I want to be now-- someone who is wholesome, loving, and pure of heart. But then I'm only half a person, leaving years of my life stuffed into a closet. Surely there's a better answer. I just haven't found it yet.

So, friends who know me in real life-- if you one day see me wearing argyle knee socks, velvet blazers, leather pants, or some combination thereof, rest assured that I haven't lost my mind. I'm just going through that bizarre re-adolescence that most thirty-somethings I know at some point have to face. Bear with me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Drowning in Puppy Love

Today, in my 5th-6th grade music class, I had to break up a hand-holding love-fest with my teacher/mom "this-evil-stare-will-only-last-so-long-before-I-break-down-and-kill-you” glare. Truth be told, the two kids are two of the cutest, sweetest kids I’ve ever seen, and I think it is absolutely adorable that they are having a little lovey-dovey cutesy crush-fest. However, my music class is not the place for it, even if it’s on a day we’re watching a movie.

After school, I went on to my regular job (bookkeeping for my dad’s office) and went about my day. Until around 6:30 pm, that is, when it occurred to me that my oldest son is now in 4th grade, and will be in the 5th-6th grade class next year. Within the next two years, my son may be celebrating his own lovey-dovey cutesy crush-fest. The mere thought made my heart race and my breath get wheezy. My baby, who I didn’t get to bring home from the hospital for two months, who I nursed back to health for over a year, and who was the light of my life during the time when I didn’t know if I’d ever find anyone to love... holding hands, with a girl. A GIRL, for crying out loud!! Lovey-dovey!! My baby!!

Sheesh, I’m getting old. Those of you reading this over the age of 20-- do you remember the first time you held hands with someone? Your first kiss?Do you remember how absolutely whacked out your first few “relationships” were? My first kiss was a neighborhood boy named Michael. I was 12; he was 15. His sister, Stephanie, was one of my good friends. And I had the BIGGEST crush... on his best friend, Jason. Every time I’d go over to Stephanie’s for a sleepover, my mom would freak: “You stay away from that Michael boy.” As if I actually liked him anyway. Even when he stood on my front porch with the world’s largest stuffed animal for hours, begging for me to come out and talk-- to rethink dumping him-- I just wasn’t interested. Even when he wouldn’t leave my porch, and my next door neighbor, Donna, called to see if I knew “that guy on the porch,” I wasn’t interested. He did exactly what I had hoped he would-- opened a door into greener pastures. And when I kissed the second guy I ever kissed, it was Jason. Mission accomplished.

Then there was Brian. His dad owned a bunch of local A & P grocery stores, and he was working as a cashier “to learn the value of a dollar,” something all rich dads try to impress upon their kids, I guess. “Hello, is this Christy? This is going to sound crazy, but I was the cashier at the A & P when you went shopping with your mom today, and I heard her say your name and got your phone number off of her check-- so, um, do you want to go out sometime?” I was 15 and a total nerd at my own school-- far too geeky, gangly, freckly, brainy, and self-deprecating to be of use to anyone-- and Brian went to another school in town. After several months of flowers, candies, teddy bears, nice dinners, gentlemanly behavior, and scooting around town in his little white convertible, I had had it with cutesy-cute nice guys. “I can’t go out with you today-- I’m, uh..., sick. Yeah, sick. The flu. It’s bad. Sorry!” Thirty minutes later, Brian was at my home, loaded down like a pack mule with get well cards, flowers, balloons, and teddy bears. I think my mother was more in love with him than I was.

It isn’t that I was some kind of heartless vixen. Truth be told, I was probably one of the biggest nerds in the school. I was one of those lonely kids in the gifted program who didn’t fit in with the preppy rich honors students, and wasn’t creative enough to fit in with the artistic honors students. I didn’t play the guitar or piano, couldn’t draw worth a crap, and my parents wouldn’t let me dress all “morbid-kid-listening-to-the-Pixies” like I wanted to. I’d feel poetry so deeply, but somehow when I went to put it onto paper, it sounded so.... so.... so high school. Trite, contrived, and appallingly boring. I had an artist’s soul and no real medium. So, I stuck with what I could do, and filled my time with band, math team, academic team, French club, and a variety of other school activities that didn’t require good looks, money, or profound talent. And I definitely avoided boys. I simply didn’t know what to do with them at that point. I’ve been married for almost six years, and I still sometimes wonder if I know what to do with them.

Given the form my early college relationships took, I guess that by contrast my first few relationships look pretty tame and desirable, even with their superficial intensity and lack of understanding of what real relation-ship entails. And I guess on some level, there are lessons learned in those first few relationships, but what kinds of lessons? Sure, you learn a bit about how to communicate, how to make someone feel special, loyalty, and romance. But you also learn a lot about how not to communicate, how to break someone’s heart, violations of trust, and anger. You manipulate, fib, test boundaries, violate boundaries, play with emotions, and walk the edge of pseudo-intimacy, all the while thinking it’s real. Older people tell you it isn’t real and to treat it as ephemeral, and you think they’re so old and stupid-- they just don’t get how it feels to really like someone. When you’re that age, you have no idea how well they really do get it. I’m 30, and I think I get it (at least as well as a 30 year old can). I get that playing in-love is cute and fun, and I get that it puts kids into situations that can snowball into situations they aren’t ready to face. I get that it can teach valuable relational skills, and I get that (unreigned by caution) it can teach patterns of self-destruction that take a lifetime to unlearn. And I definitely get that my son, followed shortly by my daughter and my other son, are not far from dipping their toes into the waters of intimacy with the opposite sex.

And I guess that’s okay. Toe-dipping, touching the water to test the temperature, letting it run through your fingers a bit.... That’s all okay. But I hope that’s all they do until they’ve given themselves time to grow up a bit. The love boat doesn’t come stocked with life preservers, and it’s far too easy to get in over your head. Relationships between adults are tricky enough; there’s no need rushing into that trickiness.

I hope my two little classroom lovebirds are crazy about each other. I hope they bring each other lots of happiness for however long they’re together. I hope they enjoy how delightful a pure, friendship-oriented crush can be. And I hope beyond all hopes that they keep it nice and simple for now, avoiding the teenage melodrama that somehow often finds a way to creep in and destroy something innocent and healthy. One day, there will be a time for something more. But for now, they have childhood to finish. There will be plenty of time for a nice swim.... later.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Just a little self pity and anger...

For those of you who would prefer to see me as happy, well-adjusted, and living the good life, close your browser and go home. Now.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m on the outside looking in at someone else’s happy life.

Ever feel that way ?

I don’t even know what the divorce numbers are now-- what is it-- half of all marriage end in divorce, huge numbers of kids living away from at least one biological parent? Pretty sad. Most of them living with moms, only seeing their dads as custodial agreements agree. There are so many kids who see their biological dads either as absentee jerks who can’t seem to get it together, or get to watch from the outside as dads move on to find their own happiness.

I’ve never been divorced. But my oldest child is from previous relationship. He’s the joy of my heart and the delight of my life. He is so completely precious, brilliant, compassionate, pensive, and special that I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be deeply a part of his beautiful life. His father, when he was conceived, was going through a divorce that existed only in his heart and mind and lies. He was stupid, and a liar, and manipulative. After his real divorce, he went through a few years of just plain being stupid. He would come to visit our son only when he knew I wasn’t seeing anyone. He was regular as ex-lax when it came to paying child support-- anything to keep me away, and keep me from pursuing a deeper relationship between him and our son. And he saw his child once every 12-24 months, when I made it convenient.

The standard script goes a little something like this:

Me: Hey, we’re going to be coming through Atlanta next weekend on our way to Birmingham. Would you like to get together and see ____?

Dad: Oh, let me check... Yep, I have a 9:30 business meeting, but I bet I could work you in for an 8:15 breakfast at Shoney's. I just won’t be able to stay long.

I’m really not making that up. That is how the past 5 visits have been arranged (the only 5 visits that have happened in the past 6 years, just as a note). There have been promises of visits, last minute cancellations, and other lies and let-downs.

6 years ago, I married an amazing man with awesome integrity and a gentle spirit. I never told my son to call him “Daddy;” it just happened over the first year we were together. He is (like me) a child of divorce, and is the father of all three of my children, nevermind the biology. He’s incredible, and I could never express how thankful I am to have him in my life, and our sons' lives. Whenever my oldest’s biodad would cancel another visit, tell another lie, or make another excuse, I had two comforts. First, my son has a dad, even if the biodad is a sorry excuse for a human. Second, I comforted myself in the knowledge that biodad has made life choices and career decisions that have simply created in him someone who is not capable of being a dad. He wasn’t able to be a dad to his first 5 children or to our son; he’s just not dad material, which is a sad and sorry state for him to be in, given that he has fathered so many children. So many precious moments he’s missing-- so many sweet kisses and bedtime giggles and dinner table stories. I’ve tried to mitigate my anger all these years by telling myself that he is just not dad material. He’s a rotten dad, he’s finally realized it, and he is cutting loose and moving on.

Sometime early in 2005, we had scheduled another extremely convenient lunch date for our son to see his biodad. It was cancelled 3 hours before the start time because (surprise surprise) “non-dad material” biodad and his “career-minded, doesn’t want children” third wife were in the hospital, welcoming a new baby. I thought he was insane, having another kid to neglect, and we didn’t hear from him again for months. When he did eventually call, he told me about the web site where our son could see pictures of his new baby half-brother (the half-brother he will probably never see, if the current pattern keeps up).

When I went to the site, expecting a few portraits, instead I found tens upon tens of pictures of a beautiful, happy, loving, joyful family. All these years of his misery, I’ve been praying for him to be happy, thinking that a more emotionally healthy and happy biodad would be in the best interest of our son. And now I was sitting at the computer looking at biodad’s happy, healthy family, and had never felt more pain. If he had it in him to be a dad, even a sort-of bad one, but an involved dad nonetheless, then WHY HASN’T HE BEEN DOING IT ALL THESE YEARS? WHY ISN’T HE DOING IT NOW, FOR HIS LOST SON????

Today, my dad hurt my feelings. A little hurt-- tiny like the point of a needle-- touching the balloon of pent-up heartache and anger that’s been building for a while. I don’t remember my parents ever living together. My only childhood memories of his involvement in my life (up until I could drive and go to visit him myself) were that he sent a little over $200 a month for child support, even when his income increased far beyond what it was in 1980, when that amount was determined; that I saw him 2-3 times a year, most years, and that we did lots of fun stuff when I’d go to be with him; that he didn’t protect me from the step-brother who was thankfully only in my life for a short time; that he could play songs on the guitar that made me laugh; and that I always liked his third (and current, and last) wife a lot, even though they didn’t invite me to their wedding. I still idealized him in the way that daughters do when they don’t live with their fathers, and thought he hung the moon because he never hit me and his house was big and old. I had a step-father, too, but we never got along [{---understatement], and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully came to appreciate that he did love me, but in his own way.

At 18, when I went through a particularly angry phase, I couldn’t stand either of them, to be honest-- my step-father for being who he was, and my father for coming in after 18 years of being (in my eyes) a non-parent, suddenly ready to be the dad that he never had been. By 21, I loved them both very much, although there will always still be moments of hurt and confusion, and many tears cried (some of the inherent risks of being part of a family). I’m 30 now, and I understand that everyone is human; everyone is going to have times when they inadvertently hurt someone else. But it still hurts, even after quite a few years.

And when my dad hurts me, like he did today (certainly without meaning to, and probably without even realizing he had), it reminds me what it feels like to be on the outside looking in at someone else’s father-of-the-year. I’ve never lived in the same town as him until the past year, and I’ve never been around his family quite as much to see what they’re like. We’re learning how to live near each other again, how to work together, and how each other operates. And maybe the hurts are happening now that I managed to escape with 25 years of scheduled visitation and weekend get-togethers. And when it happens, it makes me do a little mental housecleaning and sorting out of old memories.

For example, here’s a few things my stepfather has never done:
Told me it would cramp his lifestyle to have me living with him.
Told me I couldn’t come to something he was doing because it was family only.
Made me feel like I was in any way not a part of his family.

He’s done things that made me hate him when I was younger, so much so that I sometimes (in the angst of my teenage frustrations) envied kids who had the guts to kill their parents. But he has always been unhestitatingly, unreservedly, and unapologetically my dad. There has never once been a single thing he has offered my brother and sister that he didn’t offer me, never a thing they were invited to that I wasn’t, and never once a time that he withheld something from me that he had to give. I don’t think I ever told him enough how much I love him; I was too busy expecting him to be something he wasn’t. Expecting him to somehow be something for me that even my own biological dad wasn’t.

Every parent has flaws. There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t at some point say or do something to or about our children that hurts them deeply. There isn’t a single one of us who has found the book or video that explains how to raise a child. None of us has cornered the market on being a perfect parent, and none of us, no matter how idealized or hated we may be by our children at times, has cornered the market on being a bad parent, either. We’re all a little bit of both, depending on the time of day and the mood of the moment, and we’re all living this same human experience in the best way we think we can.

I love both of my dads, neither more than the other. The older I get and the more I live as a mother, the more I realize how important they both are to me, and how much power they still wield to comfort or break my heart. I’m a grown woman, a wife, and a mother to my own children, and yet somehow, in spite of my best efforts and against my better judgment, I’m still in love with my dads. I wish they could see that.

I’m on the outside looking in at someone else’s happy life
watching the parents I never had raise the child I’ll never be...
Feeling lost, trying hard,
still trying to do enough be enough love enough
(like a stupid little girl that thinks she can fix her parents by just being good)
yet knowing all along that it’s all just a ruse
and I’ll always be looking in from the outside.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Like all good upscale rednecks, I love ebay. Who'd have thunk that people would buy up all my old junk-- junk that my hubby has been begging me for months to give up. I was a hoarder, and letting go of things (clothes, knick-knacks, past hurts, grudges, and the like) has never been my forte. Ebay sure has turned my life around! After that first round of stuff went for a good bit more than I expected, I couldn't wait to get home to see what I could get rid of next. "Who are you, and where did you put the hoarder I used to be married to?" he asks. Frankly, it's a mystery to me, too.

So, I've begun acquiring things... Family say things like, "I hear you sell on eBay. I have about 300 old records in jackets I've been wanting to get rid of. If I give you 50% of the take, will you sell them for me online?" Ahhhhhhhhh... another fix for my addiction. Sure, I can sell them.

Now, I'm sitting at my computer with a pile of records-- Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, old RCA Victor albums that are as heavy as bricks-- and I have no idea what to expect from them. It's hard to assign arbitrary value to something whose value is so clearly subjective to begin with. Or is it?

Our society is whacked out when it comes to how we value things and people. We pay top dollar for gas-guzzling uber-SUVs, but we won't pay for technologies to make cars less gas-guzzly. We pay movie stars bazillions of dollars for prancing around for a few months, being cute, hitting the talk shows to promote their latest flick (because we all know that hype sells better than artistic integrity); and yet we pay the people who take care of our children-- our lives, our legacies, our nation's most precious resource-- the smallest amount to which they'll agree. We complain that the cost of living is killing us, and yet some ya-hoo somewhere pays thousands for a piece of toast that looks like the Virgin Mary. [Note to self: patent a wafflemaker that mass-produces religious images ASAP.]

We don't get value any more than we get how to really get along. It just seems to be beyond us. When so many people allow themselves to be so easily swayed by popular culture and media hype, the capitalist thing to do is take advantage of the stupidity of the masses. We offer ourselves up willingly as consumers of frivolity, and then complain that life's meaning seems so vague and empty. Go figure.

I did an exercise with my youth group, back when I was a youth director. It went a little something like this. Get a handful of paper cups, and label each cup with something you spend time on each week. One cup might say "sleep;" another might say "internet." Other cups might represent school, work, friends, family, prayer, hobbies, TV... You get the picture. Then take 168 pennies-- these represent the number of hours you have in each week. Now put into each cup as many pennies as the number of hours you spend on that activity in an average week. After you've placed all your pennies, line up your cups from highest to lowest numbers of pennies. Are they now in order of your priorities and values? If not, why not?

Let's just say it was a pretty depressing exercise then, and probably still would be for me if I were to do it again today. It's just not in our society's makeup to give the most time and value to those things that truly mean the most to us. Sad, really. Not that I'm doing it right, but at least I recognize how much better I could do. At least I'm trying.

I went to a little rinky dink fall festival on Saturday-- you know, the kind of festival where the directions say, "Take Hwy 25 to Ware Shoals. You'll see us when you get into town." We rode the "Trackless Train" driven by the freaky carnie-type guy. We played "Hillbilly Skeeball" with tennis balls on a homemade plywood game table. We listened to what has to be the most awful gospel band I've ever heard. And we had the most wonderful time together as a family. I didn't earn any money, win any awards, or make any headlines, but the memories made and time together was worth far more to me and to my children than anything else I could have done with a Saturday afternoon. The value to me could not have been higher.

So, I guess to someone, somewhere, my Statesman Quartet album will be worth a buck or two. And that's alright, as far as I'm concerned. It's all about priorities.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A New Buddy!

The Thinking Southerner has added yet another thinking southerner to its arsenal! Please welcome aboard Mick Ayres, one of my family's closest friends, and someone I've admired since I was a wee little tyke, when he first wowed me with pennywhistle performances, clawhammer banjo, and the most delightful tall tales that led me want to be just like him when I grew up.

Mick Ayres was born and raised in the deep South near Pawley's Island, South Carolina and has kept the Atlantic Ocean within arm's reach ever since.

Today Mick, his wife and two daughters live near Hilton Head Island where he entertains tourists with tall tales, a bit of fiddling and some serious tune-knocking on his banjo. He is a master at snoozing in a hammock with a glass of tea in hand...hasn't spilled a drop in years.

Of course, like every true southern gentleman, Mick is deeply concerned about the depletion of our nation's common-sense reserves.

Glad to have you, Mick!