Deadwrong

My husband and I screwed up so badly last weekend that we didn’t even try to blame each other. Imagine that, a giant screw up in which neither spouse points the finger at the other. Yep, that’s how obviously awful it was.

You know how the scary movie always begins with a scene so idyllic it seems cliched? The young, happy couple heading out on that perfect picnic at an empty park, or the adorable, young family embarking on a beautiful hike in remote hill country. The audience knows what they don’t, that the crazy clown serial killer or mutant hill people are just off camera, waiting to wreak havoc and destroy innocence.

the innocent beginning of the sleepover

the innocent beginning of the sleepover

That is how my 11 year old son and his 10 year old best friend came to watch the movie Deadpool. With my permission. Under my roof.

Allow me to set the cliched opening scene. Two boys, friends since the day they were born (because their parents are the best of friends) spend the afternoon riding in Dad’s cool pick up truck, then ice skating, then romping around their huge yard, throwing tennis balls to the playful golden retriever. Mom and Dad grill hamburgers and hot dogs and make brownies — all the boys’ favorite foods. There is much laughter and sugar consumption as the 10 and 11 year old discuss which movie they will watch after dinner. Mom and Dad are in a particularly jovial mood because their daughter is away at Girl Scout camp and the boys are entertaining each other. Mom and Dad discuss which movie they might watch while the boys enjoy theirs.

“Deadpool! Deadpool! Deadpool! Deadpool!” When I walk into the living room, the two of them are chanting, pumping their arms, their eyes dancing. I look at the TV screen and see what looks like a super hero wearing a mask.

And this is when I made the world’s worst parenting decision. I did not look up the movie. I had vaguely heard of it. I read the two sentence blurb on the screen that, in my mind, sounded like a typical superhero movie. Like Spiderman. But different.

“Okay.” They cheered and I left the room to clean up the kitchen. I should have noticed that my son doesn’t normally cheer when allowed to watch a movie. I should have paid closer attention to the almost desperate look on their faces. I chalked those things up to buddies having a great time.

I would later learn that Deadpool was the stuff of lore at school. Some kids their age bragged they had seen it, but those kids were not to be believed. Why not? Because Deadpool is filled with graphic violence and nudity and sex and is Rated R. It is a profane, critically acclaimed movie that is for adults only, not 10 and 11 year old boys.

In ignorant bliss, I continued my major parent fail by suggesting the boys watch it upstairs alone, so my husband and I could watch something in the living room. They sprinted as if chased, probably still stunned that mom had said yes.

So how did we finally realize our huge mistake? My husband went upstairs when the movie was almost over, to check on them. He walked downstairs, his face ashen. “Uh, I just heard f*&! said about five times in a row.”

I almost fell out of my chair grabbing for my phone. I googled the movie. I actually heard myself groan when I read what was in it. It was filth. As in dirty-dirty-filth. I can’t even share with you all that’s in it. I can’t. It makes my stomach hurt.

We had to fess up to our dear friends who had entrusted us with their son for the night. They were appropriately horrified. They knew all about Deadpool, because adult family members had seen it and told them, “Don’t EVER let your kids see that movie.”

You’re welcome. Deadpool watched. With adult permission. Check.

I am accused, quite regularly, of being overprotective of my children. I find that journalists are pretty paranoid, because we often see the dark side of human nature. I am the mother who has more smoke detectors than recommended. I am scared to let my son walk two doors down to his friend’s house. I do not let my children go on just any play date. I don’t let them attend pool parties without me. I don’t let them have any screen time after school during the week. I don’t let them eat high fructose corn syrup, for goodness sake. I am suspicious and scrutinize everything  and my kids would probably tell you, with big, sad eyes and great self pity in their voices, that mom says “no” far more than she says “yes.”

I sure made up for lost time.

I waited until the morning after to tell them that we had made an awful mistake. They were still giddy. I was very stern. No, Daddy and I made an awful mistake. They reassured me the movie was very funny. It wasn’t that bad. No, they weren’t scared. My son’s friend said, “I’ll work it out with my parents,” like an attorney arguing leniency for his client. Even he knew I was screwed.

My son begged to be Deadpool for Halloween. No.

When I asked about naked people, the look they gave each other can only be described as the sort that will be remembered when they are grown men, recalling that time their mother let them watch that filthy movie. Alone. Upstairs.

Who knew I was such an effective defiler of innocence?

At some point I realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m that mom who buys her underage kids beer.’ We all thought that mom was cool until we grew up and realized she was the bad mom.

Just like that, I’m that mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Break Up

There were signs I should have noticed. That’s always the way with hindsight. He was unhappy. Complaining. Even angry.

I still didn’t think my husband would do it, even though he’d been threatening to do it for months. I mean, who can really break up with Facebook?

kennyfacebook3Social media is a significant part of our daily lives. For many of us, Facebook adds meaning and information and interaction with people we don’t get to see everyday. It keeps us connected. It takes us along on friends’ vacations/family events/birthdays/milestones.  It helps spread the word when someone is sick or in need, or even a dog is lost. That is when you see the best of this online community.

That’s the good. Then there is the bad.

Exhibit A - with a lot of pretty girls, winning Emmys

Exhibit A – with a lot of pretty girls, winning Emmys

Facebook is ‘Brag Central.’ You do it. I do it. You may tell yourself you don’t. Trust me, you do. We all do. You may not be as bad as my one friend who posted their new $150,000 car on Facebook and made sure we all knew they paid cash, but we all do it in our own way. And it’s addictive. Who wouldn’t rather receive 70 likes on a post, versus the 9 likes you got on that last post? It’s like high school. Am I popular enough? Oh, please like me.

We crave the feedback and attention. It’s like things aren’t happening to us if we’re not posting them on Facebook for people to see and agree, ‘Yes, that is happening to you! I see you. I will like you. I will even comment.’

Our phones have made us 3rd party observers to our own lives. We enjoy our family outings and trips through the lens with which others view us.

That’s pretty whack.

The hate talk on Facebook has spiraled. A casual scroll of my feed at any time of day will find friends facing off, insulting and threatening to block or unfriend each other. I have witnessed ugly friendship break ups in comment threads.

Discourse is a vital part of life. But the civil part has all but been abandoned.

This year’s presidential election has made Facebook a land mine and there is no safe place to step. The intolerance is staggering. We get on Facebook and denounce someone and then react with anger and shock when our friends disagree with us. It’s like that time I touched my grandparent’s electrified fence at their farm. Guess what? It shocked me. Guess what? I knew it would. Action begets reaction.

My husband is sick of it. All of it. The adorable photos of his sibling’s kids is not enough to keep him on. The wonderful new friends he made at the Olympics in Rio, whose homes are peppered around the globe, is not enough.

I told him he would miss sharing his stories. He said he'll be fine.

I told him he would miss sharing his stories. He said he’ll be fine.

He’s had it with the hate. He doesn’t want to let any more of it into his space, into his heart or his head.

He’s already tried to say goodbye once, but somehow Facebook wouldn’t post it. Hmmm. The big brother aspect struck us both.

The second time worked. He is off.

We know other friends who have done it. They tell him that they grab their phone to check the feed and realize, ‘I’m not there anymore.’ Most report a feeling of relief. Somehow life goes on without seeing the giant burrito Bob ate for lunch.

I’m betting my husband will answer the siren call of Facebook again one day. Our son will make an incredible goal or our daughter will do something adorable, and no doubt he will feel a twinge, a deep urge to share. But here’s a novel thought. For now, when that happens, he will just enjoy it –as their dad. He will not be grabbing his phone to document it. He will be in the moment. I know as I type this and get ready to share it on Facebook, that’s a really good thing.

 

 

 

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Gold Medal Mama

My after work snack the other day was smoked salmon on thin, golden toasted bread sprinkled with just the right amount of capers and minced red onion. Yesterday, I devoured homemade chicken salad, hand picked from a roasted chicken that would also go on to become a beautifully aromatic soup. All of this was served to me with utensils, a napkin, and a glass of ice water.

By my mommy.

I have regressed about 30 years in the past month. My husband is in Rio, on a fabulous adventure to cover the summer Olympic games. His envious wife was left behind in Atlanta to manage the kids and the house and the start of school and the beginning of ice hockey and the middle of the night job.

Only time I was the short one in my family

Only time I was the short one in my family

As soon as the Olympics came calling for my husband, who was four years removed from TV news and didn’t expect to have this chance again, my mom was at the ready, volunteering to come help me. Let’s face it, the only person who would sign up for this sort of thing, without pay, is our mothers. The day-to-day raising of children is loaded with tedium and drudgery and endless tidying quickly undone by 9 and 11 year olds. Not to mention, she has been-there-done-that with me and my sister.

“I’m checking a bag this time.” She was really staying. For a month.

Have you ever flown on a plane with brain shaking turbulence, certain you were going to crash? And then the pilot comes on and says something like, “You may have noticed it’s a bit of a bumpy ride.” Meanwhile, people on the plane are putting away their rosaries and exchanging glances like, ‘A BIT bumpy? What are they smoking in the cock pit?’

I was worried about hitting air pockets. After all, it had been almost 30 years since I was an under-their-roof daughter.

So the husband flew out and nana flew in.

When you come home every day and your mother is cleaning another part of your house because it “really needs it,” your spine begins to tingle.

When she tells you she’s “really going to work on your childrens’ manners” while she’s here, you feel the beginning of a super twitchy eye spasm.

When she points out you pulled out your tomato plants too early and you had your zucchini plants arranged incorrectly — you hit full blown sulking.

BUT.

BUT BUT BUT.

I’ve learned that the only people who can really push our buttons are the ones who belong to us, either by birth or by choice.

I guess I want her to see that I’m getting it right.

I’ve got it figured out. It’s all under control. I’m the mom now. The truth is that I don’t have anything figured out and I’ve learned that nothing is under my control. Of course my mother sees this.

Dammit.nana1

So for every ‘did you notice all the crumbs under your couch cushions’  comment, there is folded laundry in my bedroom. Every single day. Swept floors. Made beds. Groomed Children. Homemade meals. Filled refrigerator. Night time runs for dog food. Packed lunches. Carpool — dear God, carpool. She’s doing it all at 70 years old and she’s doing it better than I did before she got here.

nanaWhen you’ve been adulting for a couple of decades, being mothered again is humbling, but it’s also sort of amazingly wonderful. I softened and fell back into my reclaimed role of child. I fell in love with my mother all over again.

Being a grown up can give you mind numbing amnesia. Being with my mom made me remember — it is such a gift, to be somebody’s kid.

My friends who’ve lost their parents know this. I had forgotten.

My mom has a strength so deep, I imagine it as a well — one of those old fashioned kinds — circular with a low stone wall and a bucket that can be lowered on a rope. That is the bottomless capacity we have for the people we love the most — even when our 70 year old backs are aching from weeding and mulching our child’s yard. Even when we’re not sleeping soundly because we’ve got an extra grandchild in bed with us. Even when we have ungrateful adult children who still sass us.

By mothering and mildly bossing me, my mom reminded me that the crazy job and the bills and the homework and the tutoring and the carpool are all a means to an end — and the end is love.

Love makes the mundane miraculous.

Folded laundry. Lunch waiting on the table. Clean windows. Love made visible.

My husband gets home tomorrow. We cannot wait. But I would not trade this month with the most important woman in my life.

I am grateful. So grateful.

“I made deviled eggs for you!” she yells from the kitchen.

She makes the best deviled eggs.

Thank you, Mom.

 

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Black and Blue

A few years into my journalism career, I became friends with a fellow reporter. When you’re young in the business, small town newsrooms are makeshift college campuses, everyone living on next to nothing paychecks, far from home, pooling their resources for cheap beer and pizza at whomever’s apartment has enough chairs. This kind of reporter boot camp forces an intense bonding, one that fades as you move to bigger cities with better pay and older colleagues who are busy settling down and starting families.

One day I went with my friend to a well known high end department store to help him buy shirts for work. We were browsing the men’s department, searching for button downs that would look good on TV. I noticed a man behind us. When we moved to the pants, there he was again. When we headed to the dressing room, there he was again. Behind us, not looking at us, but there.

At some point I said something to my friend about the guy who seemed to be on our tail. He nodded, clicking through the rack, not even looking up to see who I was talking about.

“That’s my buddy,” he said. He smiled, a hard, grit-your-teeth smile. That’s when I learned the plain clothes security guard of this high end store followed my friend every time he came in. Every time.

It didn’t matter that my friend was the best dressed man in the store. It didn’t matter that he was an educated man, the son of educated parents. It didn’t matter that he was a great reporter, beloved by all who met him.

It mattered that he was black.

I was angry as he tried on his shirts in the dressing room, the man still hovering close by. I wanted to say something to the guard. My friend told me to let it go, that “That was the way it was.”

And I felt guilty. So guilty. It came from the knowledge that nothing like that had ever happened or would ever happen to me.

In our time together, I became a hawk, watching the world’s reactions to him. He said people wouldn’t be as intimidated if I was with him. He shared that on his morning runs, each time he crossed an intersection he would hear the click of car doors locking. When he walked home at night, he watched people cross the street to avoid him.

“I’m sorry,” I would say.

“Is what it is,” he would say. He wasn’t bitter. Just matter of fact.

I got the next job first. He got another job later. We lost track of each other. I went on to work in diverse newsrooms where my colleagues and I covered difficult stories of race over the years. Some of our frank conversations stay with me still.

In covering daily news for two decades, I formed friendships with countless police officers. Ask any reporter anywhere, and they will tell you that when you spend hours of your life waiting at crime scenes or for press conferences, you get to know each other. We shared pictures of our kids and talked of trips we hoped to take. They worked side jobs to make ends meet, directing traffic at my church and every construction project in town.

Baton Rouge. Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Dallas. Like Ferguson and Orlando, the names of these American cities now sound heavier on the lips.

The pain is deep and the fear is legitimate.

I dislike broad strokes. They are used to paint all of something as one. It’s done in presidential campaigns. In work places.  If we’re honest, it’s done in our own heads.

I don’t have the answers, but I do think ignorance is the kissing cousin of fear. You rarely find one without the other.

The majority of people I’ve met in my life are decent and believe we are more alike than different.

Until that traffic stop. Until the protest that began peacefully. Until that night out at that club.

Until.

With respect to my friend, wherever he is, I await the day good people will no longer have to say four words —

Is what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Orlando

How’s your Monday?

I spent mine talking about the final text messages a young man sent his mother from inside Pulse night club in Orlando. He typed out ‘Mommy’ in his pleas for help. I wanted to walk off the set, get in my car and drive far away.

We can’t talk about it. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, and I came to it long before this latest horrific tragedy in Orlando.

sandy hookSandy Hook did me in. When 20 first graders are slaughtered in their classroom and nothing is done about it, you know we’ve lost our minds.

‘Arm everyone. Confiscate guns. It’s the democrats/republicans/his/her/their fault. It’s mental illness. It’s religious extremism.’ 

You know what? At this point, it’s our fault. It’s our fault for listening to hollow promises made by people who have no intention of doing anything. It’s our fault for believing the spin from this side or that side. It’s our fault for becoming desensitized to mass shootings.

Be honest, were you shocked when you heard a gunman had entered somewhere and started shooting? I wasn’t. I’m ashamed it took the number 50 to stagger me. This kind of desensitization goes against my beliefs, against who I am as a human being.

Can you hear it? The machine is revving up. The candidates and pundits and paid hacks will slam the right and left-muslims-Obama-anything slammable. Devastated families will bury their dead and unlike the rest of us who will shake it off and move on, their grief and loss will be without end.pulse

We are like my 9 year old who plugs her ears and sings “La la la la la la la la,” to drown out what her big brother is trying to say to her. Where has that gotten us? I’ll tell you where, because I’m exceptionally adept at directions. It’s gotten us to the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Where do we go from here? I have no clue. Should we try to turn around or take a detour or a short cut, or keep going? The problem is that all roads to sanity are blocked by people so busy running their mouths and pointing their fingers that others have plenty of time to pull the trigger and take more innocent lives.

I don’t care if you love guns or hate guns, if you own a hundred or wouldn’t let one in your house — I think we all agree that we don’t want our children and mothers and fathers murdered at school (Sandy Hook) or at the work Christmas party (San Bernardino) or in class at college (Virginia Tech) or at a night club (Orlando).

It’s Groundhog Day, with a body count.

I’m not going to urge that ‘love must win over hate’ or that we need to ‘put aside our differences and work together.’ Those incredibly important and true words ring hollow in my jaded ears.

mommyThat poor mother in Orlando was forced to read the final terrifying moments of her son’s life.  ‘He’s coming. I’m gonna die. Mommy I love you….’

You good with that? Yeah, me either.

 

 

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Ol’ Blue

Our house is in mourning. My son and daughter have come to me separately, in tears. “I don’t want her to go. Why does she have to go?”

I explain the circle of life. I tell them nothing lasts forever. I console them with, “She’s had a good life.”

Ol’ blue is going away. They love Blue, even though she is old, past her prime, barely scooting out the driveway these days.

oldblue2Ol’ blue is my husband’s pick up truck, a GMC Sierra S15, the first vehicle he ever bought, brand new back in 1982. When he got his second car, he gave Blue to his daddy and when his daddy died ten years ago, Blue came back to us.

“I don’t want that rust bucket death trap in my driveway,” is the sympathetic remark I likely made to my husband.

He was so happy to have her back. He scrubbed her down and shined her up, him and the kids happily tooling around town in her. I could hear they were home long before they pulled in the driveway, Blue’s ancient engine alerting every neighbor on our street.oldblue

Friends who borrowed her, returned the keys with stunned faces. “There’s no rearview mirror. I didn’t know if we were going to make it up that hill. The clutch…the clutch.” My husband would smile. His Blue could do no wrong. He understood her, knew how to coax what he needed out of her.

earning her keep

earning her keep

There was so much love there. It went far deeper than the faded blue paint pockmarked by rust and dents. It went all the way back to that 19 year old boy, buying his first vehicle, showing his parents he was going to be his own man. That boy became a husband and father who handed the keys to his daddy and said, “It’s yours.”image

In profound grief, those keys came back.

Blue found new fans in our children, who lived for rides in her with daddy. Pushing 50 miles per hour, as cars three decades younger flew past them on Atlanta’s roads, they relished every ride. Yes, they loved being with their father, but they loved Blue because their daddy loved her.

That love is contagious when you’re a kid. It’s why you root for the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Louisville, because your daddy does. It’s why you eat plain Hershey bars, because your daddy does. It’s why you thought vienna sausages on saltines were a delectable duo, because your daddy did.

Ol’ Blue has been owned by two amazingly good men. Those two men loved each other with everything they had. And they loved this little pick-up with its ‘pray the rosary’ bumper sticker and floorboard that floods every time it rains.rosary

Ol’ Blue is going to a farm (donated or sold for next to nothing).

Even I’ve come around on Her. The fact that my husband adores her in all her aged, faded, falling apart beauty is why I love him. He says he can’t wait until I have gray hair. I actually believe him.

There will be a final trip for ice cream and a teary good bye.

Then we’ll be in her non-rearview mirror.

Goodbye, Blue.

kennyandkids

 

 

 

 

 

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Idiot Girl

When you have a job in the public eye, especially one on live television, people see what you do. I’m intentionally stating the obvious. If you screw up, it’s not between you and your co-workers — it’s likely to wind up on YouTube for perpetuity. If you get tongue tied, have a wardrobe malfunction, have to red-faced-scream your information because a train/plane/trash truck passes by your live shot, or have your interview outside the football game hijacked by drunk tailgaters — everyone sees it.

I remember, years ago, long before Youtube, watching an anchor reading a story about something that happened at Yosemite Park. She pronounced it YOHZ-MITE. This same poor woman once called the Danube River, the DUH-NOOBY river. In today’s world she would have been an unintended internet star.

Everyone in this photo has received emails like me

Everyone in this photo has received emails like me

A lot of the criticism of us is deserved and at at times, truly useful. I remember being agonized years ago because I incorrectly used the word lay in a story. It should have been lie. My cheeks flamed bright pink as I read an email from a retired English teacher who chastised me for butchering the language. She wrote that I should strive to set a good example by properly using our language. Man, I was back in school again. But she was right. I never made that mistake again.

Then there is the criticism I received yesterday in an email sent to our newsroom. Here it is:

‘News Flash. Get Jay Watson off the air. Her reporting has constant religious over tones. I find it objectionable for a news cast and she’s an idiot. Just switched the channel, I won’t be tuning into 11alive news and more.’

I have received many emails critiquing my looks, my wardrobe, my reporting, my hair, my age. The majority of my colleagues have fielded opinions about their weight, their bald spots, their wrinkles, their underwear lines, their Botox — you name it, nothing is too personal.

The above email is not unusual, but like all the others I’ve ever received, it stings — and then I stop and think, ‘Does this person have a point? Am I religious on TV?’

My interview with Jeff Foxworthy

My interview with Jeff Foxworthy

I realized he was probably referring to a story I had just done on comedian Jeff Foxworthy who leads a bible study for homeless men, here. Or it could have been a story I did on an amazing young girl named Grace a week and a half earlier. Her story is hereBoth stories have elements of faith in them. Foxworthy does bible study and talks about God..kinda the whole point of the story. And Grace shared with us a God experience she had when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Grace Bunke, a cancer survivor who chose to get rotationplasty

Grace Bunke, a cancer survivor who chose to get rotationplasty

I think both of these stories are amazing, but they were not my stories. I was the conduit. Sometimes people forget that — that I’m telling true stories that belong to other people. Their truth as told by me.

When I’ve interviewed controversial figures, people castigate me for giving a platform to THAT mysognist/liberal/conservative/fill-in-the-blank. They think I’m ‘endorsing’ this person because I put them on TV. That’s just not the way journalism works.

I stand by my stories. I strive to do justice — to our language and our profession.

To the fellow who wrote me — thank you for your feedback, and by the way, it’s Jaye with an ‘e.’

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Red Light Wake Up Call

judehockey “We’re never going to get there and I’m going to be late again. Why aren’t we moving?”

He is wedged into my small backseat, his lanky, toothpick frame bulging with padding and hard plates beneath his hockey jersey. I am too tired and frustrated to try to explain, yet again, why I can’t make red lights turn green.

Moments earlier, I had shoved my bewildered daughter out of the car and into church for choir practice. I noticed, too late, the red ring around her mouth from her burned pizza dinner. The burned pizza was because the dog had a diarrhea attack that demanded an impromptu bath-by-garden-hose. The garden hose bath sprayed my work pants with water and poop.

‘I hate choir. I hate hockey. I hate diarrhea dogs and burned pizza and poop covered pants. I hate red lights and 11 year old boys who whine about red lights. I hate being tired all the time. This is not what I signed up for. I signed up for the movie house life where moms bake cookies and dads ruffle their childrens’ hair while playing an impromptu game of good natured basketball in the driveway.’

 We never do those things. We aren’t those people. Why aren’t we those people? I so want to be those people.

We sit through three changes of the light. We are still 15 cars back. My son was right.

I turn around to tell him we will be late, and it’s one of those crackle zap moments. He looks 18, about to unfold his long legs out of my car and out of my life.

judehockey1

“You are growing up so fast.” My heart physically aches, a phenomenon that coincided with his birth.

“I don’t want to grow up.”

He has said this a lot lately. How he thinks being an adult stinks. I worry it’s because he sees his frantic,worried, overworked mother chasing her tail every day, forgetting permission slips and parent reader and don’t even think about eating lunch with him at school.

I have been selling him on adulthood. You get to drive! You get to date girls! Did I mention you get to drive!?

He will not be convinced.

“I wish I knew what heaven was like so I could be prepared for it.”

These are our conversations. They veer wildly left and right and at some point topple over the cliff and into the depths below. It is only recently that I learned about his preoccupation with heaven. I wrote about why he releases all of his balloons, here. 

“I wish I knew what heaven was like, too.”

“What I hope is that when we get there, we all get to go back to being children. You and daddy, too.”

“But then we’d be kids, like you.”

He nods, his eyes filled with a sort of wistful wisdom reserved for old men, not 11 year old boys.

I am a scarcity expert. I should be a scarcity explorer because I can find it anywhere. There is no room for scarcity in childhood.

Childhood is abundance, living in the moment, enjoying it for what it is until the next moment arrives. Magic is real and wonder is guaranteed.

These things get lost in jobs and burned pizzas and dogs with diarrhea. They get lost in bills and illness and divorce and pain. Wonder and magic get shoved to the corners of our lives, in some cases extinguished altogether.

Since when did growing up mean denying ourselves the best parts of our existence that are actually free? The things that can actually heal our human pain and fulfill our deepest needs.

In the span of a single minute I see him grown up and he is quietly urging me back to bliss of childhood.

He continues to be the greatest teacher of my life.

The car behind us honks. The light is green.

We go, two kids on our way to hockey.

 

 

See the world as if for the first time; see it through the eyes of a child, and you will suddenly find that you are free. – Deepak Chopra

If we all could see the world through the eyes of a child, we would see the magic in everything. – Chee Vai Tang

 

 

 

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Up and Away

jude balloonSo sleepy. Oh so sleepy. The warmth of the sun is lulling me into a front seat stupor. I slow blink, reveling in the extra long red light.

Why do they drink so much milk? I don’t even see them do it. It’s like they’re milk vampires, draining our supply when I’m not looking. I can never buy enough milk.

I want to be home. I want to be in my house, not searching for a parking space at our crowded Publix, not loading them out of the car and into the store where I will say “no” and “no way” and “forget it” and “come on” and “I said no” 347 times.

‘I’ve been up since 2 am. I work so hard. I’m so sleepy. I want to be on spring break at the beach like other people. I’m so sleepy.’ My self pitying refrain plays in my head as I park.

“Can we get a balloon?” my son asks from the back seat.

“No. We’re getting milk and leaving. No.”

“Why can’t we get a balloon?” his little sister asks. They team up when it’s mutually beneficial.

“You always let yours go as soon as we get home,” I say to my son. “It’s a waste. It’s litter.”

Silence from the back seat.

“Yeah, Jude, why do you do that?” his sister is now on my team.

“I do it because I think balloons go to heaven,” he tells her. “I think God catches them and gives them to the people waiting in heaven for their families. I think he takes the other ones and puts them in the house where Mom and Dad will live, so they will have the balloons with them until you and I can be with them in heaven.”

I don’t say anything, but two minutes later, poor Moses (that was the name on his tag) the Publix employee never saw what hit him. I did not physically clobber him but I came close.

With balloons and milk — and cake in hand (the no’s floated away with the balloon revelation), we went home.

He walked into the backyard and let it go, watching until it was out of sight.

As he passed me on his way in the house he said, “Pink will look nice in your house.”

I think so, too.

 

 

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Thanks, Easter Bunny

Murphy’s Law of parenthood is that approximately 17 seconds after you sit down with your Friday night cocktail in hand, your ten year old will appear on the patio, lower lip trembling.

“Johnny said it’s your parents. The Easter Bunny..he saw them. It was his parents.”

He is ten, almost 11 years old. He had announced to us that he was going to stay up all night this year to see the Easter Bunny. He had marched off to school and told his friends his plan. And ONE kid, whose real name I won’t reveal here, just had to tell him. Because shared suffering is better? Because the blow is somehow mollified if shouldered by other fourth graders?

“Why did you lie about the Easter Bunny?” He stares at us, not angry — more disappointed. It is the first time I’ve seen a familiar expression from my mother superimposed on my child’s face.

He is at the kitchen table now, having fled the patio, images of the Easter Bunny staring at him on the iPad, sketching away, a tribute to a closely held belief that has suddenly vanished.

the tearful sketch

the tearful sketch

“Why?” The tears slip down his smooth cheeks, his fingers clenching his pencil.

His dad and I look at each other. You say something. No, you say something. 

“Because the Easter Bunny is about the spirit of Easter. It’s about God’s love for us. It’s about rebirth.” My husband attempts the explanation. My mute button has been pushed, something my mother would have paid dearly for, back in my childhood.

I sit next to him as he sketches, rubbing his back.

“Why?” he utters every few minutes, the spasms coursing through him. Then he takes a deep breath and resumes his picture.

How can I explain this? That we have lied to him and his sister for a decade so they would believe in magic, in things that are impossible, that no reasonable person would believe.

He looks up, horrified anew. “Does this mean the Tooth Fairy isn’t real?” He stares at us, disgusted. “At least I know Santa is real,” he announces. He goes back to work and I’m relieved to be free of his gaze.

It’s worth it. It’s worth it. It’s worth it. 

Those are the words running through my head. When you think reindeer can fly, a man in a red suit will reward you for goodness, and baskets of candy will appear on your doorstep, life is magic.

If you do good, magic will come to you.

I have a friend who told his kids from day 1, “There is no Santa/ToothFairy/Easter Bunny. It’s us.” He didn’t think it was fair to lie to his kids.

I can respect that, but I vehemently disagree.

What my son can’t yet understand, but what I know, is that life is loaded with magic.

Stars. Bearded men in plaid shirts who show up after your divorce. Clean sheets. A home cooked dinner delivered by a friend. A 3rd paycheck in a month. A negative strep test. A positive pregnancy test. Remission. Remarriage. Prolonged belly laughter. Watching someone trip. Your water breaking in a Waffle House. The words, I love you, Mama. The way the world sounds after it snows. Dreaming you can fly. Answered prayers for a sick friend. Sparklers on the 4th of July.

My son will forgive us.

The Easter Bunny and Santa are only primers for the good stuff — the kind of stuff that makes you wish you could live forever — like husbands and wives and children and parents and lifelong friends.

Here’s to bunny suits, and the continuous renewal of this magical thing called life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Father Christmas

I was home from college for Christmas. We were gathered around the table, my freshman 15 pounds packed onto my 18 year old frame. I shoveled in my mother’s famous chicken divan, so happy to be in my house, eating more food. I had never had an opportunity to miss my parents before this. Or my dog. Or my bed. Or that someone did my laundry and fed me.

I was excited. Christmas was just days away and I would soon be tearing into a pile of presents.

“What’s your favorite gift you ever got for Christmas?” I was chirpy and loud, making everyone at the table stop chewing long enough to answer. A few of my parents’ friends gave their replies which have long since left my memory. My mother said a baby doll. My father kept eating.

“What was your favorite present, Dad?”

He paused, looking at his plate, his fork halfway to his mouth. “I never got a Christmas present.”

“What do you mean?” I made it worse, urging him to remember a toy truck, something homemade, even an orange.

“Myrtle bought me a shirt when I was 15.” Myrtle was my aunt, my father’s older sister, married by the time he was 15.

The clicking of forks was the only sound for the next few seconds. My father broke the silence by changing the topic.  I was too stunned to continue eating.

My dad had the sort of Gothic southern childhood one encounters in a William Faulkner novel. It makes for a compelling story, but a hideous reality, and it’s one I knew nothing about until I was grown and my aunts began to surrender the stories of their youth, giving me a glimpse inside my father’s life before my mother and my sister and I came long.

My father and grandfather

My father and grandfather

Words like hardscrabble don’t do justice to the struggle my father and his four siblings endured. A loving mother killed in a car accident when he was a toddler. A widowed father who left his children alone in the North Carolina mountains for long stretches of time, the oldest just 12 years old, while he worked as a weekday mine worker and weekend bootlegger in West Virginia.  Despite their poverty, my father and his siblings went on to become wildly successful adults, owning their own companies, serving as leading members of our community. My dad graduated high school a year early and put himself through college. He became a personnel chief at the military base near our house. He was revered by his employees and beloved at our golf club where he was the frequent champion.

I wanted for nothing growing up, but as a young couple, my parents struggled. A few years ago, I found out from my mother that even though money was very tight when we were little, Dad always set aside $125 dollars per child at Christmas — a fortune (this was the early 70’s).

You may wonder how I made it 18 years without knowing that my dad had never received a Christmas present as a child. My father is a man of few words. Gregarious and enormously funny with his friends, possessed of a drier than kindling wit, my father is quiet with us — I came to realize, more himself. He was a stern dad, reserved with physical affection. One of my favorite memories is of combing his hair. He liked for me or my sister to do it when he laid on the couch after dinner. My insides would tumble with happiness when it was my turn to stand quietly next to the striped couch, daddy’s eyes closed as I ran his black plastic pocket comb lightly over his hair.

He didn’t talk about his childhood. Ever. He didn’t complain. Ever. He lived and worked and provided for his family, ensuring we would have a smooth path to our futures. He did all the things no one had done for him.

My favorite picture. He was so happy the day I graduated college

My favorite picture. He was so happy the day I graduated college

Each of us has that day, when we see our parents as people, not as our parents. It’s a startling epiphany, when the bullet proof badge of Dad is ripped away, revealing the grieving boy who lost his mama, the grown man no one nurtured, no one indulged, no one told, “It will be okay, sweetheart. I will always be here for you. I will always love you.”

My father and his baby brother, my Uncle Tommie

My father and his baby brother, my Uncle Tommy

I grew up a lot that night at the dinner table. When I became a mother, it hit me anew, the burden on that tiny boy who realized that magic and presents and parents-who-stay are things he would live without.

I am quite certain I have shed more tears for my father’s broken childhood than he ever has.

These days his walk has a slight shuffle and his to do list is a good book, a diner meet up with buddies, or a day on the links.

This week my children will almost knock each other over racing to their bounty beneath the tree. The only world they know is one of magic and presents and parents who stay. That is because their grandfather gave those things to a little girl who would one day be their mother.

Merry Christmas, Dad.

Dad and Mom

Mom and Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Awesome Things About Getting Old

My husband and I settled in for a Saturday night movie at home, some sci fi flick that had received good reviews. Within two minutes of the movie starting, I grabbed the remote and hit the button to turn on the closed captioning.

“Thanks, Maw,” my husband said.

“I couldn’t understand, could you?”  He nodded his agreement and smiled.

“We’re old, aren’t we?” He shrugged and sipped his beer. Old didn’t matter at this moment, in the cozy comfort of our nice home, on our nice couch, with our hopefully nice movie.

Old mattered a lot, just one day earlier. We were at an amusement park with our kids, riding roller coaster after roller coaster. We were up for it. We’re cool. We like speed. But then came the final coaster of the night, an enormous, wooden, rickety contraption that would have been all the rage when I was growing up in the 70’s.

Thirty seconds into the ride, my husband and I became those people. Our initial “Aaagggh!” was quickly reduced to “UghohGodohGodNoNoNo!” In an interminable two minutes, I learned the noises we would make if we were on the receiving end of a back alley beat down. The family photo with Santa that I had tucked between my knees flew away, as I grunted and groaned, my teeth and bones rattling. The ride ended and we looked at each other, traumatized. I was near tears.

“That ride is going to get them sued,” I huffed on the way to the car.

I have enough self awareness to recognize these are NOT the sorts of things uttered by so-called young people. There is young, like my children, and there is young, like the 30 year olds who populate my newsroom.

When you’re 30, you’re the star of your life, the universe revolving around you for your viewing pleasure. You possess healthy levels self absorption. Life is about the next job, who you’re going to love, friends or couples you click with, where you’re going to eat.

Flash forward a decade or two and you’re knee deep in marriage and children and mortgages. You’re no longer the star of your life. You’re more like an extra. It’s about everyone BUT you. You try to master selflessness, sacrifice, compromise. You fail and keep trying.

It’s a hot mess, your life, but you’re doing it. You’re the master of your domain!

Then, you throw your back out — by making the bed. Or by picking something off the kitchen floor. Or by sneezing.

Really, you think?

The hairline cracks start spreading into your world of cool. Sleep wrinkles hang around for hours. You find yourself truly excited about that new office chair with increased lumbar support. You can no longer drink an extra glass of wine and feel okay the next day. Just looking at those sexy platform pumps with 4 inch heels make your knees ache. Certain foods give you acid reflux. Going to bed early is appealing. You buy cozy, zipper-and-button-free yoga clothes even though you don’t do yoga. You give up on cute matching pajamas, opting instead for your husband’s boxers with a 15 year old running shirt and beat up Uggs.

Me and my favorite Geezer

Me and my favorite Geezer

I’m making aging sound horrific, aren’t I?

Here’s what I’m leaving out.

It’s AWESOME.  I MEAN FLIPPIN’ DIPPIN’ AWESOME.

1. You know who you are. Let me say that again. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Because of this, you finally stop caring what other people think of you. You sing at the top of your lungs alone in the car when that song from high school comes on the radio. Lots of people see you singing, because you’re sitting at the intersection. And you’ve added hand gestures to your performance.

2. You get rid of the vampires. The people who sucked you dry and gave nothing back. The people who made you feel worse about yourself. This can include friends, husbands, wives, co-workers and even certain family.

3. You make peace with yourself. With your flat butt, your big nose, your thick thighs, your small boobs, your short toes, your profile, that one eyebrow that sits higher than the other, that birthmark on your neck that boy teased you about in fourth grade. You forgive yourself your imperfections and you move on.

4. You no longer care about being cool. Very few people are. You’re not one of them. And it’s okay.

5. You stop doing things to impress others. You now do things to fulfill yourself. You’re good at your job because you know what the hell you’re doing. When you try something new, you enjoy the experience, as opposed to being embarrassed because you stink at zumba/ice hockey/zip lining. You’re not worried about looking like a fool, because you no longer care about being cool (see above).

6. You’re still growing, but it’s on the inside now. You recognize the profound value in things you’ve had from the day you were born. You delve deeper into faith-spirituality-mindful living. You deeply cherish time with your friends. You smile when you think about that great belly laugh you had with your sister days ago. You are spontaneously struck by the thought that your life is a miracle. You feel gratitude, without having to be reminded by an atrocious crime or car crash or fire.

7. The trio of should/could/would die a spectacular death. These are soul-shrinking-over-the-shoulder-looking words that paralyze you. Should I have? Could I have? Would I have?  They’re replaced by, ‘I can and I will. Then again, maybe I won’t.’ 

You still freak out sometimes, over the bills/kids/life/401k’s. You still want to punch a wall when you trip over your husband’s running shoes in the middle of the hallway, in the dark. But the freak outs are shorter and the wall punch urge passes more quickly.

You finally know the truth. You’re not a victim of life. You are life, and you only get one of those.

Live large, Geezer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Thanksgiving Stuffed with Guilt

thanks1 I probably shouldn’t have said it. I just blurted it out when I realized he wasn’t there.

My 8 year old had handed me a Thanksgiving card she made for us at school. It had the feathers glued to the front, and inside was the requisite stick figure representation of our family.

She pointed out her handiwork. “There’s daddy, and you and me, and Honor (the dog), and the kitties (we have wild cats outside).”

“Where’s your brother?”

She looked at me, down at the card, back up at me. Her cheeks flamed pink. I had never seen her blush. She was  lovely when she blushed. She bit her lip and her eyes widened. She grabbed the card from my hand and held it closer to her face, scrutinizing it, like maybe she could find him.

I laughed. “You forgot your brother.”

“Stop it. Stop it,” she said. She grabbed a red crayon from the table and started scribbling.

The red circle is the beginning of her brother's head

The red circle is the beginning of her brother’s head. Not obvious at all

“It’s okay, honey. It’s funny.”

“No, it’s not.” She was near tears, dropping the crayon and grabbing a pencil, trying to quickly sketch her brother into the tight space next to our dog.

I left her to her repair work and walked from the kitchen, elated.

She felt remorse! She felt badly! Woohoo! Hallelujah!

I’m a fan of guilt/remorse/regret. I have enough to power a small village. For me, it comes with the package deal called working motherhood, but I believe a moderate diet of guilt and remorse and regret is a good thing. When properly heeded, they serve as excellent course correctors in life.

These things were not equally distributed between my two children.

My son would feel badly for inconveniencing me with his birth if he could remember it. When a woman road raged against us, he urged me to consider that she was probably having a “bad day.” Wayward bugs that wind up in our house are carefully captured and returned to their outdoor habitat.

In contrast, his sister screams “Kill it kill it kill it!!!!,” furious that her brother is giving the offending creature a second shot at life. She has excused herself from the table during dinner to use the bathroom, then three hours later I find a stalk of broccoli floating in the toilet, her loophole for the ‘no clean plate, no dessert’ rule. When she gets busted and loses dessert for the next night, the look she gives me says, ‘It was worth it, lady. Throwing that crappy broccoli away was the smartest thing anyone in this family has done today.’irisskate

They are good kids, but one has too much guilt/remorse/regret and the other doesn’t have enough.

I’ve taught my children things my pre-parent self had no idea I’d need to teach, like how to blow their noses. I was dismayed how long that took. “Blow out,” I’d urge, and they would obediently inhale all of the goop back in.

The basics are bottomless — covering their mouth when they cough, saying “please” and “thank you,” not peeing in the backyard when the neighbors are outside and can see you.

As they grow, it’s much harder to teach the other stuff.  I can tell my kid to”be nice.” It’s another to teach them to be kind. I can make them say “thank you.” It’s another to teach them to feel thankful.

Gratitude. Remorse. Humility. Patience. Grace. The master life class list is long and intimidating. I’m no anthropologist, but I would say more is learned than is innate, and sometimes my kids have a woefully inept teacher. Just as I wouldn’t get my hair cut by a stylist sporting a 1980’s mullet, I might not listen to an adult who tells me to be kind, after she just snapped at us for having fun with the dog, especially when that thing the dog’s tail knocked off the table wasn’t even broken. I might struggle with gratitude when I hear her on the phone complaining to her friend about all the things going wrong in her life that week. I might have an issue with patience when she tells me I have 3 seconds to get to the dinner table, or else.

Which brings me to my old, familiar friend, Guilt. If only I had done this..I should have done that. 

I’m an awful gardener. I kill everything, and yet somehow, I grew two humans. The terrifying part is I’m still growing them and I don’t have the fertilizer/lime ratio right yet, and I have no clue about pruning, yet for the most part, they seem to be thriving.

If I did it perfectly, there’d be no guarantee. If I did it horrifically, there’d be no guarantee. It’s one long tightrope walk and most of the time I’m off balance, flailing and flapping my arms, squealing in fear.

This is where guilt and gratitude play Bad Cop-Good Cop.

Guilt says, ‘You’re screwing them up You’re screwing them up You’re screwing them up.’ 

Gratitude says, ‘You’re so lucky you have them, even if you’re screwing them up. You’re screwed up, too. We’re all screwed up. Just love them. Be in it. They aren’t yours for very long. You’re so lucky You’re so lucky You’re so lucky.’ 

My daughter brought the ‘fixed’ card to me.

“It looks great, sweetie.”

Her cheeks were mottled from dried tears and her bottom lip quivered as she spoke. “Don’t tell him, okay?”

“Okay.”

It’s our secret.

Happy Thanksgiving.

She gave us all big hearts. I take that as another good sign

She gave us all big hearts. I take that as another good sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 8 point bucks and Paris

It might have been my husband’s fault. Or mine. Either way, the cacophony of rushing out of the house early on a Saturday morning meant we had forgotten some needed hockey gear. I selfishly volunteered to go home to get it while he stayed at the ice rink with both kids. I was getting the better deal, 20 minutes of solitude.

Driving around a curve on the the serpentine road that leads to our house, a deer emerged from a yard and stepped into the path of my oncoming car. I slammed on the brakes. He didn’t budge, his heavily antlered head held high, seeming to consider me. I had time to count. He was an 8 pointer, as the boys I grew up with would say. I wondered how he had eked out an existence in the middle of a crowded city, how he had lived long enough to grow those enormous antlers despite stepping into the path of cars filled with people on their way to somewhere.

It didn’t seem possible.

He turned away from me and finished crossing the road and was gone.

I cried the rest of the way home.

In the hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was glued to the unfolding coverage and aftermath. Survivors shared accounts, each more horrifying than the one before it. The experts gave insight and made educated guesses and the reporters dissected each new detail.

The morning after, driving to hockey, the four of us had been singing a song on the radio. The sound of our blended voices made my heart hurt. We are rule keepers. We wear our seat belts, pay our taxes, and worship our God. We don’t take stupid risks.

The risk lines keep getting moved. Reporting to work wasn’t dangerous, until we watched people in business suits and skirts jump from the burning World Trade Towers. Going out for a much anticipated Friday night dinner with friends wasn’t dangerous, until innocent Parisians were shot to death at their tables. The riskiest thing about the rock concert at the Bataclan should have been a spilled drink or the ringing ears that would follow concert goers out into that Paris night.

My 10 year old son walked into the room while I was watching the coverage. We try not to watch news around them, but I couldn’t stop. “I thought it was supposed to be a nice city,” he said. We are planning to take him and his sister to Paris next year. “I don’t know if I want to go,” he said.

I couldn’t explain that it’s complicated, that darkness can seep into anywhere, blotting out light. It can happen anytime, anywhere, to any of us. If my mother had said that to me at his age,  I would have gotten in bed and pulled the covers over my head. It all would have seemed horrifyingly pointless.

“Paris is beautiful and we can’t live scared,” is what I said. Then I turned off the TV. I believe what I told him, but I worry about our collective humanity, from the slaughter of the innocent in Paris, to the people on social media using it to provoke political fights while they are still counting the dead.

One of the few pieces of video from outside the Bataclan concert hall shows a young woman hanging from a second story window. That girl now knows what other victims of terror knew — the people in the Towers and on the planes and at far too many places on the planet — that in a moment of grotesquely distilled clarity, the only thing that matters is life.

They weren’t their job or the color of their skin or their political party or that upcoming vacation or the divorce they were going through — they weren’t even the next day.

They wanted to live. All the other things that consume the waking moments of our lives are just details and choices that cloud this profound reality.

At times like this, I feel there’s a black cloud threatening the future I want for my children. I despair.

And then around a curve in the road, I am reminded that all the calculating and rule keeping in the world guarantees exactly nothing.

Evil can take away life, but it can’t extinguish the truth — that much of our existence is a miracle, one I will never fully understand.

With his antlered crown blocking my way, he showed me what is easy to forget.

Against the odds, life finds a way.

 

 

 

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Lip Service

His first communion. He knew the prayers that day

His first communion. He knew the prayers that day

I busted my son in church yesterday.

He’s 10 years old. An altar server. A good kid. But Catholicism isn’t easy. There are lots of prayers and lots of versions of those prayers to memorize, and he’s still learning them.

In an effort to help, I handed him the cheat sheets they keep in the pews for all of us, but he waved it away, mouthing to me, “I know it!”

Okay, then. Sure enough, as we said the Apostle’s Creed, he said it, too. I felt a swell of pride. That’s not an easy prayer.  There’s words like ‘consubstantial’ and ‘apostolic’ in there.

About 15 minutes later, our Monsignor asked us to flip to the back of our books to a new prayer card tucked inside. As the congregation read this brand new prayer, I looked over at my son who was standing, hands clasped, lips moving away, his book unopened in the pew.

I stopped praying and just watched him. He was tilting and nodding his head in an animated fashion, lifting his eyebrows on the parts with meaning, his eyes wide and earnest, his mouth working away — with not a sound coming out of it.

He was faking the entire thing. He was doing a masterful job.

I was conflicted. Part of me was impressed. Part wanted to break into laughter. Part wanted to give him a very hard time.

We talked after church and he confessed immediately, apologizing and telling me he didn’t want to look stupid  (I didn’t advise him that it would have been smarter to open the book and pretend to follow along).

I didn’t tell my son what I was thinking the entire time we had the talk. I was thinking that faking is a necessary part of life.

It’s a skill set.

When kids in school make fun of you for being taller than everyone, you fake it, pretending you don’t care, laughing with them.

When that boy/girl breaks up with you and then jokes about you with their friends, you fake it, acting like you’re okay when you’re actually mortified and heartbroken.

When it’s your first day on a new job, you fake it, pretending to be the picture of confidence, when you have no idea what you’re doing.

Leaving the hospital, clueless

Leaving the hospital, clueless

When you take your newborn baby home from the hospital and you can’t believe they just let you have this human to raise, you fake it, burying your fear, adopting the face of new-parent-bliss.

When your child admits that someone at school bullied them, you fake it, calmly helping them, while hiding your Mama Bear Fury.

When you glance at your husband in the car and see hair spilling out his ear, you fake it, pretending not to notice, making a mental note to attack it with the shears at home.

When you ask someone for their honest opinion about a difficult thing and they give it to you, you fake it, thanking them for the truth, even though that truth really hurt.

When your life is in turmoil but no one at work knows, because you fake it, remaining professional, hiding the pain.

When your husband/friend/wife/parent/child has a health scare that shakes you to your core, you fake it, supporting and telling them you will be there to help..even though you’re scared and you don’t know if you’re strong enough. You are.

When your children grow up and leave, you fake it, celebrating their independence, while silently grieving your loss.

Faking gets us through moments. It’s a way to cope, until we make it to our car/mom/home/phone, so we can weep/rage/laugh/worry.

Faking cannot hide the truth — that time is not on our side, that pain is a part of life, that joy and loss sometimes sit shoulder to shoulder.

Which brings me back to my lip syncing boy. He agreed to read the prayer sheets until he knows them by heart.

That’s my little faker.

altar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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