I Don’t Know How To Do This

Four years ago, I wrote a post that began with the words “I don’t know how to do this.” My husband and I had just split up, and I was agonizing over my new reality of being a single mom. I was mourning the loss of a marriage that we had both hoped would last forever, and I was terrified.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. My ex, whom I’ve often referred to here as The Big Guy, never truly allowed me to struggle as a single mom.  He was always a great dad; I don’t think I ever realized that until weren’t together any more. As strange as it may seem, we became better co-parents when we stopped being spouses.

We also became better friends. Over the past four years, we’ve had more conversations and shared more “inside jokes” than we ever did during our eighteen years under the same roof.

Today, I have to repeat myself, because Heaven has gained an angel in Carhartts and faded flannel.

I don’t know how  to do this.

Last week, we lost The Big Guy to complications of the flu. The Flu! How can anything so ridiculous possibly be real? He used to drive a race car, for God’s sake. He was a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade. This was a man who used to take chances and risks that would make my blood run cold, but would just laugh at me when I told him to be careful.

I don’t know how to do this.

My children have had to grow up over the past two weeks in a way that no parent wants to witness. Because The Big Guy and I were no longer together, responsibilities and decisions fell upon the shoulders of his oldest child, our twenty year-old daughter. I’ve said for years that she is more of an adult than I am, and she has stepped up and proved me right by displaying a level of maturity that makes me ache for her.

The nineteen year-old has also grown in so many ways. He is mourning,  of course,  but he is doing so with his father’s trademark sense of humor. My quiet, sarcastic little boy has become a warm and nurturing man who looks out for all of us and always finds a way to make us smile with some funny memory of his dad.

And our baby. Rooster turned ten just a few days after losing his father. He has cried so much that I’ve worried he might get sick. But each time, he finishes crying and then moves on to laughter or a quick  game of basketball while sharing stories about his daddy. He’s hurting, but  he’s adapting.

They are grieving, but they are grieving as a unit. The three of them are so close that I know, deep down, that I have nothing to fear for them. They’re going to be okay because they have each other. Well, each other and their father’s strength,  humor, and courage.

But I don’t know how to do this

I’m not talking about being a single mom. I can figure that part out, especially since the older two are here to help me. If I’m going to be completely honest, I know my daughter will probably continue to run the show with more maturity than I will ever have. Things are going to be rocky for a while, and there will be a tremendous learning curve, but we’ll get through.

No, I don’t know how I’m going to move on without The Big Guy. He was my ex; we hadn’t been a couple for more than four years. But he was my friend. We still talked almost every day. We had inside jokes and a shared history that spanned more than twenty years. We created three people together– three amazing, beautiful, incredible people who made us both so much better than either one of  us ever were on our own.

He had a girlfriend who never left his side during those final days in the hospital. His family referred to her as “the love of his life,” and I believe they were right. He was so very happy with her, happy in a way he never was with me, that I couldn’t hold that against her. During the time they were together, she was good to our kids and always treated me with respect, so I truly, genuinely like her.

Crazy, huh?

My heart is breaking for her. So few people in life actually find real love, but I believe she and The Big Guy truly did. As much as I am hurting right now,  I know her pain is even deeper.

And I am hurting. I’ve lost my friend. I’ve lost the father of my children. I’ve lost a person who was a significant part of my life for more than half my time here on Earth.

I’ve lost my Big Guy.  My crooked-toothed, flannel-wearing, warm-hearted Big Guy. And somehow, incredibly, life is going to have to go on as though the world hasn’t just lost a truly good  human being.

I just don’t know how to do this.

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Balance

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d have to start by apologizing for the mess. I’ve got laundry everywhere and dirty dishes piled up so high that we may have to drink our coffee out of wine glasses. Or take turns slurping directly from the pot. Your choice.

It’s been one of those weeks again. Obviously. I can’t figure out exactly what it is that keeps me so busy, but lately I feel like I live in a whirlwind of constant activity and obligation. Got to be there, do that, pick up this, drop off that.

I just learned that a friend of mine has written a book called Balance for the Hurried Woman. Well, I really wish that woman would hurry up and publish it already! I need this book. I need balance in my life.

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I should know by now that every time my life gets overwhelming like this, something happens that gives me a harsh dose of perspective.

This is a small community. Everyone knows everyone else. For example, there’s a woman I know who has a daughter one grade ahead of my son, and we pass each other every day at pick-up time. Our paths have crossed several times over the years, and while we’re both friendly to each other, I wouldn’t really say that we are friends.

One day this this week, I noticed that she was wearing a pretty green scarf wrapped around her head. Nothing unusual, really; she’s got a knack for accessorizing, so I assumed it was a fashion choice.

A few minutes of casual chit chat while we waited for our kids, and I realized that it had nothing to do with fashion.

I hate cancer.

I don’t understand how she can just go on with life as though nothing is wrong. Well, I do understand, in a way. That’s the way life goes; got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. The world doesn’t stop just because one person is terrified or overwhelmed.

Still, I don’t know if I would be able to go through the motions if I were the one facing chemotherapy. I think I’d be in a helpless heap of fear on the kitchen floor.

After I talked to her that day, I went home and tried to tune out the sound of my son’s voice begging me to play a game with him. “I have to finish the dishes first,” I told him. “And there’s laundry to do and the place is a mess.”

And then I thought about the woman with the pretty green scarf.

I sat down and lost two games of backgammon but won a round of Yahtzee by three points. I also learned that I will never beat that child at Hide & Seek in this apartment because the only place I can hide my big ol’ self is in the bathtub behind the shower curtain, and he’s smart enough to always look there first.

Look, I know the dishes and laundry still have to be done, and I understand that there are people out there who have figured out how to balance their responsibilities while still having fun with their kids. I’m just not one of those people, I guess.

Funny thing, balance. I loved gymnastics as a kid, and my favorite part of every class was the balance beam. Some people were afraid of falling off the beam, but I wasn’t. I knew it was exactly four inches wide and sturdy and perfectly straight, and I would be fine as long I didn’t look down, as long as I kept my head up and my eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

I knew I’d be okay as long as I had faith in what was beneath my feet.

I’ll get back there, eventually. I’ll find my balance in life, as long as I keep my head up and eyes focused on a point ahead of me.

In the meantime, I’ve still got to be here, do that, pick up this, drop off that. But those things are all just going to have to wait if my son wants to play backgammon or if I see a scarf-wearing neighbor in need of a friend.

***

This post is part of Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli. Please check out some of the other posts on this theme!

The Question

 

I should have seen it coming.

It’s basically a rite of passage that nearly every child must face, and my son is, after all, a very smart fourth-grader. Besides, he’s my third child; I’ve done this twice before and I should have been better prepared.

This time, it hurt. Maybe it’s because he’s my baby, my last little one, my late-in-life “bonus” child. Or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more emotional now than I was ten years ago when his siblings asked The Question.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They never really asked. They just sort of figured it out and made the transition without any kind of trauma or fallout. I guess I expected it to go just as smoothly this time around.

Yesterday, my little Rooster looked at me with those great big blue eyes that are impossible to lie to, and he asked me in his direct way, “Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

I wish he’d asked me if Santa is real. That would have been easier to answer.

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Ah, the good old days!

 

 

Do I believe in Santa?

I was eight years old when I asked my mom for the truth. She wasn’t always a great mother, but she had a few moments of brilliance, and that was one of them. I remember how she explained to me that Santa is indeed real. Not as a jolly fat man in a red suit, she explained, but in the spirit of giving to others. He’s real in our hearts as long as we keep him alive in the joy of Christmas morning, in the happiness that comes with believing in something that we can’t see or touch or prove. As long as we believe in magic.

I realize now that she borrowed pretty heavily from Francis Church’s 1897 editorial assuring a little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but it did the job. I felt so grown up when she trusted me with the truth, and even more so when she woke me up at midnight to help her put the presents under the tree. It’s one of my best Christmas memories.

So I would have known how to answer my son if he had asked me if Santa is real. I like to think I would have been just as helpful (if unoriginal) as Mom was.

But do I believe in Santa?

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! … Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

 

I used to believe. Even as an adult, rushing around to get the gifts and make the food and dress the kids in their holiday best before hurrying off yet to another family gathering with this aunt or that grandma or those aunts and uncles and cousins. In the midst of the whirlwind, I believed.

In Polar Express, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Oh, the true spirit of Christmas was in my heart!

Christmas is different now for my little Rooster than it was for his brother and sister, who are a decade older. There are fewer family gatherings, and the family that gathers is so much smaller now. The few remaining members of my side of the family tree don’t even get together for holidays any more; my ex-husband’s side has drifted over the years until my youngest barely even knows his cousins.

There have been divorces and remarriages and deaths; children have grown up and moved out and become adults with lives of their own, and something about Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas any more.

It’s just Rooster and me in my little apartment now. I thought about getting a smaller tree this year and not even dragging out the big boxes of ornaments and decorations. After all, it’s not like anyone will actually see any of them. It’s just him and me now. Is it even worth it to haul out the Christmas mugs and the homemade ceramic nativity set? The latch hook toilet cover? The Christmas quilt I sewed for Aunt Marian?

Is it really worth it?

Do I believe in Santa?

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.

— Polar Express

I must have hesitated too long. My little boy crawled under the rocking chair and refused to look at me. “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.”

So did I, Sweetheart. So did I. 

“I don’t want to do Christmas this year,” he added.

My heart broke, just a little.

His father arrived shortly after that to pick him up, and we talked about it as a family. A fractured family, perhaps, but still a family. Rooster seemed to perk up a little bit before crawling out of his hiding place. A year ago, he would have curled up on my lap and dried his tears on the front of my shirt; this year, he wants desperately to prove that he is too old for that. A quick hug, and he was out the door before I realized that I had never actually answered him.

Do I believe in Santa?

I don’t know how long I sat there alone, asking myself that question. Long enough for it to get dark outside, dark enough for me to see the Christmas lights in the park in the center of my little town.

The lights reminded me of my family’s tradition of visiting Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park to see the decorations every year. My sisters and I would race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” and slide down the little snowy hill between the Wisemen and their camels. We’d snicker every year about the cracks and chipped paint on the faces of Mary and Joseph before dashing away to gaze in awe at all the lights on the trees — especially the giant Salvation Army tree.

Most of those trees were destroyed with the tornado went through downtown Kalamazoo in 1980. That cheesy old Nativity scene is long gone, and there are no more decorations placed on the snowy hill because it turned out to be an Indian burial mound. It’s the same park, but it’s not the same.

Or is it?

It’s still Christmas. Different trees, different decorations, different ways of celebrating. We can still go to Kalamazoo and race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” or catch a ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley, or we can stay right here in our own town and attend the tree-lighting party in the park, surrounded by our friends and neighbors.

We can make new traditions because it’s still Christmas.

It’s still Christmas, and we have each other, and we have memories, new and old. We still love each other, despite divorce and distance and paths that have taken some of us in different directions. There are moments of sadness, it’s true, but there are moments of joy as well, and it’s up to us to hang on to all of those moments and cherish them for what they are.

Do I believe in Santa?

Absolutely.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

Whippoorwill

Hey, everybody!

As some of you know, I put together a bunch of my earliest funny blog posts in a book called Have a Goode One a few years ago.  It wasn’t a great title and I knew nothing about making a good book cover, and it basically sank to the bottom of Amazon’s rankings. The nineteen people who bought it seemed to enjoy it, though.

However, I’m still very proud of the material, so I decided to give it another chance. I’ve re-vamped it with a new title, a better cover, and a little bit of rearranging of the essays on the inside.

For those of you who already own this one, a hearty “thank you!” I’m working hard to convince Amazon to “push” the new version out to you, and I promise to keep you all updated on that. But I really want to make sure that you know this is not a new book. I don’t want to trick anyone into buying something they already own!

For the rest of you, Faster Than a Whippoorwill’s Ass is now available. It focuses mainly on parenting, marriage, and country life, with a few other topics thrown in just for snicks. It’s a little bit naughty in spots, and I freely admit to just a bit of profanity here and there, but it was an awful lot of fun to write. I hope you all have just as much fun reading it.

The new cover was designed by my friend and fellow author Margaret Brazear.

 

whipkdpcover

Real?

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There’s a picture going around on social media right now of an attractive young couple walking together on a city sidewalk. The man is dressed in long pants, t-shirt, and warm jacket. The woman wears stilettos and a sleeveless, lightweight dress with a high slit up one thigh. She is obviously cold and miserable, but he seems happy and comfortable.

The caption says “Any real man will spot the problem in this picture.”

Okay. I’m not a man, but I like to think I’m somewhat real. On good days, anyway. I looked at the picture and saw the problem right away: The woman is an idiot who has no idea how to dress appropriately for the weather.

As I read the comments below the picture, however, I realized that this was not the answer they were looking for. Almost every person answered that the man should have given his coat to the woman.

Folks, I think I just figured out why I’m still single.

As several people suggested, we don’t know what took place before the picture was snapped. Perhaps she forgot her coat. Perhaps the weather changed after she left the house. If we’re looking at real-life possibilities, it’s also possible that the man told her they were going out somewhere nice for dinner but his idea of “nice” turned out to be hot dogs and beer at a hockey game. We don’t know.

What I do know is that my sisters and I were raised by a single mom and our father’s four unmarried sisters. There were few men in our lives, “real” or not. If we dressed stupidly, there were no men around to gallantly offer us their coats. We shivered, complained a lot, and remembered to wear a coat the next time out.

Well, that’s what my sisters did. My learning curve has always been more of a straight line, so I don’t have a great track record or learning from my mistakes.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand why any man, “real” or not, should be expected to freeze his biscuits because he had to give his coat to a woman who was just too stupid to wear one of her own. Sure, a true gentleman might offer her his coat, but I don’t believe he should be required to do so simply because of his gender.

I guess I’m just too logical on things like this. I was married for almost eighteen years, and my ex-husband is still a really good guy. So let’s say, just for snicks, that it was him and me walking down the street in that picture. First, he would have been laughing at me for trying to stumble along in stilettos, so let’s not even discuss the shoes.

But if I were all hunched over and shivering like that, I like to think he’s the kind of guy who would offer me his coat. He’d make fun of me first, but he’d offer. And you know what? I’d say no.  Not out of pride or stubbornness, but because I cared about him enough to not want to see him suffer. I wouldn’t want to be nice and warm and toasty while someone I love is cold and miserable.

Good heavens, I think I just realized I might be a man.

I like it when a man treats me like a lady. I like it when he opens a door for me or pulls out my chair for me. I love it when he offers to carry my bags for me if they are too heavy. And yes, I’d be thrilled if he offered me his coat on a cold and blustery day when I was too dumb to wear my own jacket.

But I don’t expect a man to do any of those things. It’s not any man’s job or responsibility to do so.

I don’t think that makes me a  militant feminist or whatever. I think it makes me a grown-up.

I have two sons and a daughter. I have tried to teach my sons to treat women with respect as equals, not as fragile little flowers. I hope my boys would both offer their coat or open the door or hold out the chair, but not because they think a woman can’t do any of those things for herself. I hope they do it because they are kind young men who treat all other human beings with respect and dignity.

Of course, these are the same boys who laugh at their own farts, so I have my concerns.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been taught to do all those things for herself as well as for anyone whomight need help, male or female. If a man offers her his coat or opens the door, she’s been taught to say “thank you” rather than simply accept it as her due simply because of her gender.

She, of course, laughs at her own belches, so I have some concerns there as well.

So if you see me walking down the street some winter day in a sleeveless, lightweight dress and I look cold and miserable, please don’t assume that some cad didn’t give me his coat. Assume that I’m a dummy who forgot to watch the weather report.

And then, if you feel like it, go ahead and offer me your coat. I’ll probably say no.

Unless it’s my size and dark purple. I’ve always wanted a purple coat.

 

A Traditional Family Christmas

This holiday season, I hope to establish some new traditions. But I have to be careful, because in my family the word “tradition” is sort of a bad word.

When I was growing up, my aunts were really into holiday traditions. Everything we did was supposed to have some kind of significance, from the precise placement of Grandma’s porcelain angel bells to the exact shade of Christmas toilet paper. Our Christmas with the aunts was always the weekend before the actual holiday, and Aunt Marian was determined to cram MEANING into every second of every day of the entire weekend.

Christmas with Mom, on the other hand, was much less predictable. The most charitable way to describe my mother’s holiday traditions would be to say “Well, she tried.” In fact, that was the best part of Christmas with her — she kept trying different things every year. The only constant about holidays with Mom was the fact that she would let us all open our gifts from Grandma on Christmas Eve.

And that was only because we all knew that Grandma was going to send us all matching nightgowns that she had purchased at Dillard’s Department Store in Jonesboro. Grandma worshipped Dillard’s the way most folks worship God, although she was pretty vague on which granddaughter wore what size and we all ended up swapping gifts with each other until we found one that fit.

I think our most memorable Christmas was the year Mom decided that we should all go to church on Christmas Eve. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to church on Christmas Eve. Jesus is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It’s just that we were never really a church-going family. We went on Easter and whenever Mom worried that one of us was sinning more than usual.

On that particular Christmas Eve, she made a batch of chili for our dinner and then ordered us all to get dressed up for the big evening service.  But she didn’t take us to “our” church. For some unknown reason, the woman took all of us — including my two adult step brothers — to an ornate, hundred year-old house of worship in downtown Kalamazoo. It was enormous, with high ceilings and lots of religious statues and plenty of stained glass.

It was beautiful, but it It wasn’t our church.

It wasn’t even our denomination.

To this day, I have no idea what denomination it was. I just know that it involved a lot of kneeling. Everywhere around us, people were bouncing up and down like bits of human popcorn. We tried to blend in and do what everyone else was doing, but we sort of gave ourselves away when a man on our pew bent to retrieve his pen and my entire family hit the floor.

About thirty minutes into the service, the Christmas Eve chili began to work its magic on my stepbrothers. I’m not talking about a gentle, unavoidable “right cheek sneak” during a loud hymn. No, these boys didn’t do anything halfway. Dedicated followers of the Go-Big-Or-Go-Home school of thought, they were busily exploring the full comedic and acoustic possibilities of flatulence in a quiet, high-ceilinged room.

By the time we got back to our car, Mom was furious. As for me, I was pretty firmly convinced that we had offended both Santa and Jesus, and that I was going straight to hell without any Christmas presents.

Now that I have kids of my own, I don’t serve chili or go to church on Christmas Eve. We have a few traditions, most of which involve food. This year . . . well, this year is kind of rough.

It’s been two years since my husband and I split. Last year, he still came to my house to watch the kids open their presents, and we were very cordial about splitting our time with them. But this year, I’m in a tiny apartment and he’s in a committed relationship with someone else. And with our daughter away at college and our oldest son graduating in the spring, it’s time to face the fact that our holidays are never going to be the same.

I’m doing my best to see this as a positive thing. It’s a clean slate, an opportunity to start fresh with my youngest son with a whole new set of holiday traditions. We’ll still make our sugar cookies from his Great-great Grandma Tice’s recipe, and this year he’ll be able to write the note to Santa without my help. By next year, he may have outgrown Santa.

I really hope he outgrows that creepy little elf soon.

Image result for creepy elf on the shelf

This holiday season, I hope to face Christmas with a positive attitude. I hope to keep in mind that this is a new beginning or me, and I hope to come up with a few fun and meaningful traditions for my Little Man and me to follow every year.

And  . . .

I hope that all of you out there have a safe and rewarding holiday season, surrounded by those you love.  Go ahead, share some of your family traditions or even some of your funniest Christmas memories!

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: “This holiday season, I hope…” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and Lisa from The Golden Spoons. Please visit their blogs to see what other writers have done with this prompt!

 

If you enjoyed what you read here today, please check out my book Have a Goode One! It’s free on Kindle December 11-12.

A Bit of Advice

Last summer, I watched my oldest child graduate and move out. Now, before I’ve even had time to catch my breath, I’m preparing to watch her brother follow in her footsteps, and it’s a lot harder than I expected it to be.

Sure, this one was my baby for ten years before their youngest brother was born. And he was my “difficult” child, the one who had me pulling out my hair and threatening to sell him on ebay by the time he was in second grade. We had a lot of rough years getting to this point, and it’s breaking my heart to realize that I have to let him go just as I’m finally starting to understand him.

But even more than that, there is the realization that I am also waving good-bye to all of the kids that are graduating with mine. I’ve watched some of them grow up from pre-school or even earlier; when so many of them tower over me or speak in deep baritones, it seems impossible that I once held them on my lap or dried their tears.

I wish I knew the right words to say, the right wisdom to impart to all of them. I wish I knew the secret of life so I could tell them all what to do to make everything turn out just right.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is . . . .

. . . sometimes it’s okay to ask for help.

. . . it’s all right if you hate Shakespeare.

. . . try a peanut-butter-and-dill-pickle sandwich at least once in your life.

. . . every once in a while, do something that scares the hell out of you. However —

. . . stop doing dangerous things that scare the hell out of your mother. Seriously, our hearts can’t take it.

. . . go ahead and cry.

. . . be nice to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

. . . forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it.

. . . eat dessert first once in a while.

. . . wait to say “I love you” but don’t wait too long.

. . . don’t mix peppermint Schnapps with pizza. Trust me on this one.

. . . give three sincere compliments every single day.

. . . let it go, whatever “it” is that’s hurting you.

. . . don’t be afraid to make the first move.

. . . understand that life is not going to turn out exactly the way you expect, and accept that it’s going to be amazing anyway.

. . . call your grandparents more often.

. . . read Slaughterhouse Five.

. . . don’t be afraid to say good-bye. Not everyone is meant to be in your life forever.

. . . find something beautiful about yourself every day.

. . . know that life is not a competition and you don’t always have to win.

. . . take the high road whenever possible.

. . . read a banned book at least once in your life.

. . . remember that there’s more to life than what you see on the internet.

And last, but definitely not least . . . .

. . .forgive yourself once in a while. You deserve it. 

 

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “What I’m really trying to say is …” Hosted by Kristi of Finding NineeMardra Sikora, and  Vidya Sury .

 

 

Coffee or Tea?

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If we were having coffee this morning, you’d probably have to fend for yourself. Yes, it’s been one of those mornings.

My Sunday began a little before seven a.m., when I rolled over in bed and found a pair of big blue eyes mere inches away from my own. They were sparkling and oh-so-wide-awake. Disturbingly wide-awake. Terrifyingly wide-awake.

“Hey, Mom!” the boy chirped. “I wondered if you were ever gonna wake up.  Can we go watch TV? Have you had your coffee yet? Are you gonna make waffles today? ‘Cuz we’re out of cereal. We still have the Cheerios stuff but everybody else ate the good strawberry stuff and I never got any of it at all. Can we go to the Amish store and get some more of it ‘cuz it’s really good and it’s my favorite and I never get any because everybody else always eats it before I get any. We have some Lucky Charms but I don’t want it because I already ate  the marshmallows and now it’s just cereal. I don’t want eggs though ‘cuz it takes too long to make ‘em and I’m really hungry and aren’t you ever gonna get outta bed?”

I like to think I said something wise and motherly that fully demonstrated my love for this, my youngest child. In reality, however, I think there’s a pretty good chance I said something along the lines of “I have to pee.”

I haven’t really made coffee in my new place yet. I’ve basically switched to tea for a lot of reasons that sort of escaped me this morning. I dug around in the cupboards for the parts and bits and pieces of the coffeemaker, jammed them together, dug some more for the filters, and scraped the last bits of cheap dollar store coffee out of the bottom of the Folger’s can where I store it to trick myself into thinking I’m drinking the good stuff.

Now I’m somewhere in the middle of my third cup, and Little Man is polishing off his first. Oh, don’t judge me; it’s more milk than coffee, and it’s not as though a little caffeine is going to give him that much more energy. He can’t have more energy than he has at this moment. He’s already vibrating. He’s also playing some game in the living room that involves Matchbox cars, a stuffed camel, and a giant penguin that keeps playing “Let it Snow” on an endless loop that is seriously lacking in volume control.

The energy is a good sign, honestly. He’s settling into our new home and getting enough sleep, and I just don’t think he knows what to do with himself now that he’s fully-rested. He loves his “new” bed here, and I think this may be the first time in months that he’s actually been sleeping all night long without getting up in the night to crawl in with me or one of his siblings.

The coffee is really pretty bad, I’m afraid. If you really want to share some, you’re probably going to need some sugar and milk. Maybe a shot of whiskey, if I had any. Perhaps I should have offered tea?

I have some flavored coffee beans we could try if I hadn’t given the Princess my coffee grinder when she left for college. She was so excited about those blueberry-muffin-flavored coffee beans she bought herself, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the hammer-and-rolling-pin method she devised on her own.

She seems to be settling into college life pretty well. She sent me a copy of a paper she wrote about her Great-Aunt Marian, and I was a sobbing wreck by the time I finished reading it, so it would seem that she’s making a good start in that class, at least. She also seems to be pretty happy with Mr. Nice Guy, the newest man in her life. I don’t know much about him beyond the fact that he makes my daughter happy and he treats me with respect, and that’s enough.

My oldest son, the Dark Prince, seems to be settling into his Senior year as well. I can’t believe this hulking 6’3” young man with the size 14 EEEE feet is is the same little boy who taught himself — and all the other daycare kids — to ride a bike because his father and I weren’t teaching him fast enough. I can still see him whizzing around in circles on that little green Hulk bike.

Riding in a straight line presented a few challenges for him, if I remember correctly, but he mastered it the way he has always mastered the challenges that face him. He’s now in the running for a really big scholarship, and I’m busily crossing fingers, toes and everything else in hopes that the opportunity pans out for him.

So . . . life is going on.

It was an awful summer. One of the worst ever. But I survived, and I’m moving forward. Oh, we’re still tripping over boxes, and I’m starting to think I’ll never get all of our clothes put away, but we’re settling in and doing okay. Not great yet, but okay.

Even without good coffee.

Tea can be good too. Different, but good in its own way. I just need to be okay with the idea that my life is sometimes going to have to be different too, but good in its own way.

Good Morning!

It’s ten a.m., and I’m sitting at the computer in my jammies. I’ve lost count of how many cups of coffee I’ve inhaled, or how many times I’ve thought about taking a break only to push the thought aside and keep writing until the kids wake up and need me. Don’t judge me for letting them sleep in; it’s summer vacation.

I’m hungry. My ankles are swollen. I really have to pee.  And let’s face it; I’m pretty sure I stink.

This is not my fault.

I blame the writing workshop I attended last night. The instructor has been talking about plotting and structure, and I don’t remember ever feeling so driven to hurry home and write. I was home by eight, and I figured I could “burn the midnight oil” to make a lot of progress before going to bed. I felt like a real writer, like an artist starving to create a masterpiece. Yessir, I had a real fire in my belly.

Have I mentioned that I also have kids? More specifically, kids with nothing in their bellies.

My seven year-old greeted me on his bike at the foot of the driveway, surrounded by a posse of small people on similar bikes. “I’m hungry,” he announced as soon as I stepped out of my friend’s car.

“Didn’t your brother feed you?”

“Nope.”

My sixteen year-old sat on the couch, reading. “Is there a reason you chose not to feed your little brother any supper tonight?” I asked.

Shrug. “It’s not supper time yet.”

“Son, it’s after eight.”

“He never said he was hungry.”

This is the child I have entrusted with his brother’s safety while I work. Honor Student, National Honor Society member, general overachiever academically speaking, but apparently a bit lacking in common sense when it comes to child care. I may have to re-think this particular arrangement.

Out came the Foreman grill and burgers, plates and buns. Thirty minutes later, they’d been fed and the youngest was begging to be allowed to go back outside for s’mores at the neighbor’s bonfire. Which, of course, resulted in a sticky child in dire need of a bath, despite the fact that this child is terrified of my bathtub because he believes the rust stains are bloodstains. Every time he gets a bath at my house, he is absolutely convinced that something is going to climb out of the drain and kill him, so I have to stay in the bathroom with him for the entire bath to ensure his safety.

At one point, I also had to start texting my wayward daughter, who had taken my car to work nearly twelve hours earlier and apparently vanished from the face of the planet. Or at least outside of the calling area. Otherwise, she would surely have called or texted to let me know where she was and whether or not she was safe.

Shortly after learning that the Princess was safe but forgetful, I got a giggly phone call from a friend who thinks she has found me the perfect man. There was talk of a blind date with a handsome acupuncturist she met in the hot tub at the local wellness center; however, she doesn’t know his name or anything about him beyond the fact that he is “book smart” and has some distinguished gray at the temples. She wants me to come with her on the next family night so I can meet him, but somehow I don’t think I’ll be feeling my most attractive in a bathing suit, in a hot tub, or meeting a man who just may want to stick needles in me.

So what it boils down to is that I didn’t even get a chance to look at my computer until this morning, and I have been kicking butt ever since.  Their Love Rekindled is finished in rough draft, but I’ve made the decision to go back through and apply what I’ve learned in the workshop. I’ve been doing some restructuring, cutting, re-writing and –I hope – improving upon what I had already created.  I feel like I’m making it so much stronger, so much more coherent.

I had originally planned on releasing this one at the end of July, but now I want to push that back a bit. I want to make it the absolute best book it can be, and that’s going to take a little longer. I am going to aim for Labor Day Weekend, and I plan on sharing my first chapter here within the next few weeks just to give you all a taste of what to expect.

I’m also seeing a lot of things I wish I had done differently in my other books, although I’m not really sure whether I’m going to go back and make changes or not. To be honest, I’m sort of feeling ready to put my Beach Haven series aside for a while and dive into the new series that’s been percolating for a while.  It’s about three childhood friends, a fortune-teller, and the idea of Love and Destiny.

I’m thinking about making one of the characters an overworked, overstressed single mom who works four part-time jobs while writing romance novels and falling in love with a handsome acupuncturist after a chance meeting in a hot tub.

Or maybe it’s just time for me to switch to decaf.

Carrots, Anyone?

It started in line at the grocery store.  And since I live in a very small town with only one grocery store, it quickly escalated into one of those uncomfortably memorable moments in life.

I was waiting for the cashier to finish ringing up a six-pack of Vernors when I heard it from behind me – that unmistakable sound that any mother can identify at any distance: Gag, splatter, and a pitiful little cough.

I didn’t need to turn around to confirm that my son had just defiled the checkout lane at Wagoner’s Grocery Store.  But as usual with me, there is so much more to the story than just the tale of a seven year-old vomiting in public.

You see, I had just interviewed for a job at that store a few days earlier.  My job at the school is about to end for the summer, and I am in a full-out state of panic because I can’t find employment anywhere.  The government says I am not disabled, but I am having one hell of a time finding anyone who will hire a forty-nine year old former hairdresser with a twenty-pound lifting restriction. Every job, even basic cashiering, requires a certain amount of lifting.

So I’m not disabled, but I’m not physically able to get a job. Go figure.

The manager at the grocery store was very honest with me. She liked me and thought I’d be a valuable addition to the team, but . . . what if a customer had a 25-lb bag of dog food or some other heavy item that had to be lifted back into their cart? I told her that I understand, and I really do understand; nobody can afford to hire an employee who can’t do every aspect of the job.  I assured her that I would still continue to shop at the store and there would be no hard feelings. After all, it’s a small town.

Remember that.

When the school called to tell me that my boy was feeling sick and needed to be picked up, I really didn’t think he was all that sick. He said his tummy felt bubbly, but there was no fever. He certainly didn’t look sick, but I’ve learned over the years that a bubbly tummy should never be ignored. I’ve also learned that the best treatment for a bubbly tummy is a few sips of room-temperature Vernors.

vernors

Okay, for all of you unfortunate souls who have never experienced the joy that is Vernors, let me explain. Vernors is the best ginger ale in the known universe. Don’t argue with me that you know of something better; Vernors is simply the best. It just is. Any Michigander will agree.  And any Michigander will also tell you that Vernors has medicinal uses during flu season. Whether it’s the carbonation or the ginger or just the firm belief that it really works, Vernors always seems to do the trick.

vernors2

But my boy is only seven; he was not old enough to leave at home or in the car while I ran into the store for his Vernors. I took him in with me, grabbed a six pack for him and a Diet Coke for me, and headed for the register.

Where the new cashier was being trained for the position I had so desperately wanted. She is the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, and I was so happy to see that she got the job. She has more kids than I do, and I know for a fact that she is one hell of a hard worker with a reputation for being a fantastic employee. I can’t think of anyone in the world who deserves the job more than she does.

In fact, I was in the process of opening my mouth to congratulate her when Young Faithful blew behind me.

I grabbed the child as he let fly with a second stream of partially-digested carrots. I started apologizing profusely and asking for a mop while simultaneously trying to swipe my debit card. And like any good mother, I was also desperately fighting the urge to join the Puke Party. I mean, let’s be honest here. When it comes to parenting, I am not one to gently rub the puker’s back while murmuring words of comfort. No, I am more of a “If you’re gonna hurl, hurl that way” kind of mommy.

I have to say that the grocery store staff reacted admirably. They cleaned up the mess and told me they hoped my little boy felt better soon, and they have asked about him every time I have gone into the store since then. Everything about that store has just gained about 100 more points on my personal rating scale for a business. They are all such nice people, so professional and caring toward every customer, even the ones who decorate the floor with a slightly used lunch.

On the other hand, I am now the woman who let her sick child blow chunks all over the woman who got the job I wanted.

I have just officially forfeited all rights to ever again say anything to anyone about being a good sport.  About being gracious. About accepting defeat with honor and dignity.

And I may never eat another carrot.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “It started in line at the grocery store . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Nicki from Redboots, and Dawn M Skorczewski.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!