Life’s Weeds

There are people who like to garden—me. And there are people who are master gardeners. My neighbor, Miss Debbie, is a master gardener or maybe a Garden Grande Dame. I call her Miss Debbie, because she’s my retired eye doctor’s wife, and I call him Dr. Miller. She’s the first lady of my eyeballs so she needs a title too, plus Miss Debbie has a very first lady, “don’t take no shit,” feel about her. She was her husband’s front desk gatekeeper at his optometry practice and very good at her job. If Miss Debbie had been in charge of the door at our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, we’d have never known anyone visited that day, and Miss Debbie would have been wearing someone’s coonskin cap at the dinner table that evening. 

Her keen landscaping vision is apparent. By looking at her front yard, you can see her eye for balance. She has different heights and textures of plants and flowers, areas of her yard are of varying elevations, some areas mounding, some lower. Everything flows into the next with the perfect juxtaposition. She has big rocks strategically placed throughout, and her flowers cling to them and swoon over them like damsels on a fainting couch. Dammit, I never know where to put the rocks. 

She mixes shrubbery with flowers, perennials with annuals, spiky growing things with low roundeth growing things, and it all works so beautifully. Roundeth is my word, don’t look it up. 

I have a perennial bed at the end of my driveway that I sweat hours in every year, and no matter what I do it still mimics a badly laid out charcuterie board or maybe a pizza with all the supreme toppings. Stuff grows everywhere, it grows into areas that it wasn’t supposed to. Plants grow taller than they were planned, throwing shade on my sun-lovers causing them to reach for life and get leggy. Everything in my perennial bed is touch and go, it’s like the ICU out there. In the hot summer, it’s more like hospice care. I’m just trying to give them dignity until they meet their maker in August or miraculously go to seed where I don’t want them to. I have learned perennials like to move themselves. If they reseed themselves, you might as well let them stay where nature puts them because when you try to move them they will drama queen themselves right into emergency hospice and the compost pile. 

The weeds are a constant battle. Years ago when designing the perennial bed I laid down landscaping cloth on top of the ground as weed control. The weeds laughed at it. I now have weeds that grow on top of the landscaping cloth as a big f-you, and I pluck them out by hand as a little f-you back. We do this all summer, the weeds and I. My very sore thigh muscles will tell you. 

But when I walk past Miss Debbie’s yard, there are no weeds. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing they’re a little scared of her.

And I look for them. I look for any evidence of imperfection in that Mrs. Optometrist garden utopia. I am always comparing her flowers, her design, the amount of sun she gets where, to what I’m dealing with over in my messy pizza garden. 

I tell Miss Debbie frequently that I covet her garden. She’ll stop sometimes as she leaves the neighborhood, roll down her window and say hello. I always make her sorry she did so because I get into one of my diatribes about my flower woes and she will finally jump in and say “gotta go!” and I know I did it again. I can’t help myself, I feel like she’s such a vast source of knowledge and artistic mystery that I want to gulp it all down like I do chips and queso on a Friday night. I want her tips, her expertise, her secrets to a beautiful organized, without looking too organized, luscious garden yet I run her off every time like I spooked a deer. People who run other people off, raise your hand here. 

Recently I walked past Miss Debbie’s house to drop something off to another neighbor, and as I strolled back to my house I slowed down. I was taking in her spiky liriope grass, placed perfectly next to her sculpted Japanese boxwood, so sculpted it looks as if it’s wearing a parochial school uniform, starched and pressed. 

She also has a cool mailbox. An ordinary Home Depot mailbox that leans just enough to the right to make you ask yourself if it’s leaning to the right like mine (spoiler alert, it is) would not be acceptable for the Garden Debbie Spectacular. Oh no, she has a cool iron mailbox on a pedestal that reminds me of something you’d see in a bank on Gunsmoke. It looks like you’d need a doorman with a ring of keys to open it for you. My crooked mailbox usually has ants in it. 

I was just barely shuffling past Miss Debbie’s, at a snail’s pace, soaking up all the self-loathing I could for my gardening inadequacies when I saw it… 

A weed. 

There. Peeking out from the shade of that Japanese Boxwood’s pleated skirt was a little green sprout of tremendous insult. It was not even sorry for its presence, like a drunk uncle staggering into the wedding and then loudly protesting to the bride how beautiful she looked during a moment of silence at the altar. How dare him. 

I was in shock at the audacity of this weed. I looked around to see if there was anyone to share in my disbelief. I stood and stared at it for a second and then quickly bent down and snatched it out of the crack between the mulch and the curb much like my future daughter-in-law did when one of my hairs unveiled itself in my cherry cobbler just as I dished up the first serving. She grabbed it as if it never existed, no one saw it, and it was never mentioned again. I knew my future DIL was a keeper long before that hair-in-the-cherry-cobbler incident, but it was just more evidence that she was my people. I’d be worried that my family will never eat my cherry cobbler again after reading this, but they are not one of my four readers. Bully for them. 

I silently plucked out that arrogant weed and finished walking home with the little dead intruder scrunched in the palm of my hand. On arrival I appropriately disposed of the body as any murderer should. I would have thrown it into my garden to scare my weeds, but I didn’t want the other weeds learning from such a skilled invader plus I figured with my luck it would resurrect itself seeing as my garden is a disco ball nightclub for weeds. 

Then I laughed at how offended I was that that weed had the nerve to invade Miss Debbie’s garden and how quick and comfortable I was to grab it. It felt slightly heroic, oddly. Not like I’d stopped a runaway baby carriage heroism, but the I told someone they had spinach in their teeth kind. 

And then I got to thinking how sometimes, we need someone to pluck the proverbial weeds out of our life’s garden too. We all have weeds creeping in from all directions. Beloved brothers get horrible cancer, our friends go through heartbreaking divorces, they lose jobs unfairly or are forced to move to new cities to stay employed, the people we love fall in love with other people sometimes, friends die leaving tremendously grief stricken spouses behind, wouldn’t it be nice if we could pluck those issues out of their lives like weeds that had to go. We’re walking along…Oh, look at that! you need back surgery? Nope. Pluck! And then, as anyone who has ever fed a baby says, “All gone!”

I frequent a little family-owned plant nursery close to my house. They always have really rare and unusual plants. It’s hot as a terrarium in hell, smells like wet dirt, and you actually walk in wet dirt, but I love it. I don’t spend much money there because my discomfort usually wins out before my weakness for buying plants that I don’t need does, and I run with my two items to my air-conditioned car. 

The last time I was there, I left my garden mid-planting and went to grab another couple of plants, toppings, so I could make my super supreme pizza yard look even more pizza-y. I showed up in my gardening shorts that have a hole in the back, right at the top of my booty crack. 

Now to a HOA swim and tennis neighborhood, crooked Home Depot mailbox gal like me, they are an eclectic group of knowledgeable, quinoa-bowl-eating, dirty finger-nailed, very gentle souls who run this nursery. I love their dreadlocks and Scooby-Doo vibe. They’re the kind who carry the spider out of the house on a flip flop made out of recycled baby diapers so the spider can flourish and find himself. They’re going to wear old dirty Birkenstocks to your daughter’s wedding, and look adorable doing it. There’s just nothing to not love about them. 

So as I carried my one item to my car, one of the young female employees followed behind me in silence with my other item. I could feel it. I knew she was staring at the hole in my shorts. 

We load up my items and as I’m closing the back of my car she draws her hands up to her chin, prayerfully and says, “I’m going to tell you something, and please don’t think I’m weird and I hope this doesn’t offend you, but if it were me I’d want someone to tell me.” 

I chuckled. I knew what was coming. 

She bravely delivered the blow. “You have a hole in your shorts.” 

That kind of heroism, again. 

And just for the record, this is about the time Miss Debbie would wave and drive off in my story…

But how many times a day do we get the chance to pick the weed out of someone else’s garden, or tell them they have a hole in their shorts? How many opportunities do we get to show that little momentary tittle of love, caring or kindness. 

Do we pass them up? Do we even see them? 

Sadly, we can’t always pluck the really bad weeds out of each other’s lives. The cancer, the grief, the divorce and dandelion-sized misfortune is delivered on sterling silver trays and only God can flip those trays over onto the floor. 

And maybe since we can’t control these big weeds, God gives us the little ones as His way of letting us help Him. Not that He needs our help, but maybe He gives us the little easy weeds thinking, “Surely they can’t screw this up,” after all, His day is pretty full. 

Anne Lamott writes, “Life is such a mystery that you have to wonder if God drinks a little.” 

And who would blame Him? This world is a tough day at the office. 

So I wonder if we’re given these little weeds along the way, even in the most seemingly perfect gardens, as tiny opportunities to help take care of someone, to support, as an “I got you.” And since God knows we are not perfect or unselfish He offers us a little feeling of heroism to go with it as a reward.

Or maybe we’re given them once in a while because God’s on the couch after a long night of worldly despair and He just needs us to lovingly brush the hair out of each other’s eyes occasionally as He sleeps it off. 

I don’t know, but I can tell you with utmost certainty 187 new weeds have emerged in my garden in the length of time it took you to read this so if any of you are walking by… 

Being Loved Like That

I’m ba-a-a-ck. 

After some major technical issues with my blog website that took some effort to finally get fixed and a few more of life’s obstacles over the last couple of years I’m finally sitting at my keyboard again, and it feels right. Writers know when we’re “off,” we know when we can sit down and it’ll pour out of us, and we also know when our creative pipeline is clogged we might as well sit on a bed of fire ants because that’s as pleasant as the writing experience is going to be. 

And because I think everything happens as it’s supposed to, and when it’s supposed to, I also think I needed these last couple of years to clear out my mind and heart so maybe the website being all kinked up was just the forced hiatus I needed. 

But it’s all working and my brain has been cleaned out and reorganized much like an episode of Hoarders after they send in the hazmat crew. The thoughts can flow now, sentences can form, and lucky you, can once again be privy to my meanderings. 

All four of you. 

And I recently found out my mother isn’t even one of the four. 

Many of you know that I lost a best friend in January. She died suddenly and unexpectedly during a two week battle with the flu. Don’t worry, this is not a blog post about her. I could write an epistle on what she meant to me and many others, but it would fall short so I won’t even try. 

This is also NOT a blog entry about grief. The pain of losing someone who is a huge part of your daily life and who you loved dearly seems unbearable at times. That’s news to no one reading this. Life doesn’t spare any of us. We all face it eventually. Grief isn’t new or rare or even profound. Grief is just grief. 

What I never realized about losing someone you love is this other hidden layer in the middle—like a bad cream filling—I learned how painful it is to lose a person you love, but also a person who loves YOU right.

I never knew there was a distinction with respect to grief, between the two, loving and being loved, until I experienced the loss of it. 

This is about being loved.

This person. You love them so much. You enjoy them. You laugh with them, make years of memories with them. You cry with them when you need it. You call them first to share your child’s engagement news, that your divorce is final, to tell them your funny airport security story or they call you to let you know that the corner vegetable stand finally has decent tomatoes. All that becomes your normal, every day safety routine. You love them, and they do love you. It’s great and everyone should have that. Everyone should have that person. Some lucky folks have several. 

But then there’s those few precious ones who you get in your life, you love them dearly, but they’re different because not only do they love you, but they love you exactly the way you need to be loved. 

They just know how to love you right. 

When you are sad or pissed off and you share it, and you’re sitting in that emotional washtub of cold dirty water they can get in it with you and by the time you are finished with your story they’re just as pissed off as you are—maybe even more. They are your cheerleader, your forehead kisser, your pat on the back person and your make-it-all-better person. Even when they can’t make it all better, they give you the illusion that they can, and for that second it feels like relief. They are that net when you get pushed off the edge, and you know without a doubt when you call them, they are going to say the very words that you need to hear. Every single time they are going to get it, and get you

Because they know how to love you right. 

They’ve paid attention. They’ve seen you vulnerable. They know where your weaknesses are and they protect and coddle them as if they were their own. They don’t secretly hold onto your insecurities so they can use them to wound you later as an act of superiority or to one-up you. They hold little you and your shortcomings in the palm of their giant King Kong hand, cupping you safely. They remind you of your greatness when you’ve forgotten. They shoot confidence into our veins when you have failed. And it all feels true and genuine. It feels umbilical as if they are giving you needed oxygen. 

Because they know how to love you. 

They don’t have a hidden agenda. They don’t just look like they’re your friend, while secretly being resentful or bitter. They are genuinely concerned for your welfare and your emotional state, and your happiness means everything imaginable to them as if it was linked to their own source of life’s energy. Looking into the eyes of someone who knows how to love you is seeing pride looking back at you even on your worst, most worthless day. They make you feel like your greatness was achieved by being born, by existing, and your exhaled breath is keeping them alive. 

Because they know this is how you should be loved. And they know how to do it. 

Not everyone can do this. In fact I’d bet that most people have no clue how to love the people that they have made a life with. I would also bet that a lot of people have sadly navigated their entire life without a person who really knows how to love them. If we’re lucky, we have people who try, and those people should be held onto for dear life and given credit for wanting to love us correctly because “wanting to and trying” are half the battle. We should be grateful for those trying so desperately to love us right, because it’s so much easier not to try. They shouldn’t be given a Participation trophy, but a MVP trophy. They’re there. They’re trying. They’re missing it sometimes but they’re also getting it right as best as they can. They just don’t know how to love us right and it’s not necessarily their fault. 

But here’s the dearness of those people who DO know how to love us right—their little secret—they ultimately teach us how to love ourselves. They show us how we deserve to be loved. They show us that our value is infinite and measureless. Our talents and abilities are unique. Our energy and our place in this world—unmatched and vital. Their appreciation for our existence is not conditional on what we can do for them or how they can benefit from having us in their lives. They just love us correctly because that’s what they were put on this earth to do. 

And when they are done with their mission, when they are sure they have successfully convinced us that we are the most magnificent human being that they always knew we were, they will leave. They will leave us to love ourselves completely. Where there once were holes or frayed bits of our soul needing to be tucked in and patted sweetly, there will now be sturdy seams holding us. Even though they will leave us, they will leave us better than we were because they knew how to love us. 

If grief is the price for being loved like that, I will pay. 


I love Shelly. She always makes you feel like a million bucks!”

–a quote by many 

Just Lean Into It


The month in which Spring starts to warm us all up and take its hold on everything living. Its blooming flowers, budding trees, and nesting birds renew our spirit after the chill. It’s also a time of Spring Break beach trips, senior proms and college acceptance letters—or sometimes disappointing college letters.

April starts the crescendo of a student’s senior year. It’s a time of excitement, future plans, hopes and dreams for graduates. Parties begin and memories are made as they count down the seconds to that proud cap and gown moment. It’s been coming all year for them, and now it’s almost here. They’ve studied, they’ve tested, they’ve sweated final exams, AP exams, ACT exams and SAT exams. It’s as if the entire world wants another opportunity to fry their brain one more time before they leave high school.

Emotions can run high in a lot of households senior year. There are important decisions to be made by young people who are still leaving the stove on after making their mac and cheese and parents who are walking the line between speaking up and keeping quiet about so many considerations. As a parent, you don’t want to influence them too much, but you don’t want them to miss an opportunity either. You don’t want to deny them, but you also have to be realistic about college tuition, expenses, long distance travel, and what type of college is a match for your child. I think there were more tears shed in our house during our oldest daughter’s senior year than all the other child-rearing years combined.

But let me clarify—those tears were mine.

None of what I mentioned above is a surprise to any parent. You know all that is coming as you navigate through the high school years, but you get a sudden jolt into it when the school asks you to order your child’s cap and gown and graduation invitations the first week of school. The first week of school? I remember thinking “can’t they ease me into this, like cold water? Why do they have to slap me with cap and gown nonsense the first week?” Oh no, that bronco comes out of the gate bucking wide open, and he’s wearing a tassel.

And then it’s an entire school year of “lasts.” The last first day of school, the last school pictures, the last football game, soccer game, volleyball game, Homecoming…and the list goes on. Us mothers recite this to ourselves over and over that senior year. It’s as if we need to say it to make it official, to make it accepted—in our hearts.

I was the type of mother who put my kids on the bus on the first day of kindergarten with hardly a flinch. They were excited, and I was excited for them. No tears for either of us. Then I managed through all the years of school, the plays, the music programs, parent teacher conferences, lunches, homework, football games, cheer, dance, baseball taking it all in stride, never emotional about any of it, but just checking it off as if it were on a list. I was “all business” as a mom, so imagine how surprised I was when my daughter’s senior year I was suddenly “all unglued.”

I’m not talking a little warm tear squeaking out unnoticed at senior night escorting our daughter onto the football field, oh no. I’m talking sobbing,   snot-flinging, spit-stringing, nose-blowing, congested, swollen lips, eyes that looked like they’ve been used as a punching bag, still in my bathrobe at 3:00 when your kids come home—kind of unglued.

That was me. Every single day of her senior year.

It started the second she left the house on “the last first day of school.” Everyday I got all 3 kids off to school, and as soon as they left I would feel a dark veil fall over me like a weighted blanket. At first I was so caught off guard. What was going on? This has to be normal? I’m sure this will pass, right?

I’m not an overly, outwardly, emotional person being from a family of southern women who see crying as a weakness so I couldn’t identify this alien emotion that was possessing me. The agony that took place in my mind and heart that year was grippingly painful.

Some of my thoughts that tormented me:

We will never be a family of five again.

The dynamic of our family is forever changing.

The dinner table will never be the same.

What if she never comes back home?

What if she gets homesick?

What if something bad happens and I’m not there?

She is NOT ready yet.

I felt so ripped off by life that year. I felt as if I had just been “renting” a daughter and now suddenly the lease was up. The world was taking her back from me, and I wasn’t done with her yet. I still had so much to teach her, to prepare her for. I felt overwhelming heartache and panic at the thought of letting her go.

I was genuinely pissed at a friend of mine who had gone through her son’s senior year the year before and had not mentioned any of this horror to me. How could she not tell me? I mean sincerely miffed…and at the same time I realized how irrational that was to be mad at her for MY emotions. They certainly weren’t her fault or her problem. I was so overwhelmed by the complexity of my emotions I was looking for something or someone to blame them on or a way to explain them. I’m the mother who always has it together, what in the world is wrong with me?

And then after weeks and weeks of the kids coming home to snotty mom who’s still in her bathrobe, I was visited by a friend. When I opened the door, he quickly looked at his watch and at me in my bathrobe, and at his watch again.

“Shut up, yes I know it’s 2:00, and yes I know I’m still in my pajamas.”

He lovingly stepped into my mental and emotional breakdown with both feet as only a dear friend can do. I sobbed to him. He laughed. He made me laugh. And as I talked my senseless mama babble through my drool and snot and countless tissues he just sat there, listening and finally took a deep breath.

“You’ve just never had these emotions before. Your mind and your heart don’t know what they are or what to do with them. That’s why you’re having such a hard time with all this. You’re processing feelings that you don’t recognize. Best thing to do is just lean into it.”

I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted some magic advice to make me stop crying. I was going through a box of tissues a day something had to be done.

“Lean into it.” I thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. He was a retired Marine so I was wholeheartedly expecting him to say “suck it up Princess, now blow your nose and go get your shoes, let’s go for a run,” but his advice was just lean into it.

I thought hard about his words as everyday continued to be me sitting at home alone, sobbing, still going through box after box of tissues. The people at Kimberly Clark really should have sent me a thank you note that year.

Lean into it.

So lean into it I did. Hard.

I decided to make a graduation video for our daughter.

So from that point on every day was spent sobbing even harder as I sifted through eighteen years of photos and then put them all in a montage to sweet, sentimental, completely heart-wrenching, music. I wondered some days if you could die from crying? I had already proven to myself you could throw up from crying, but could you cry all the moisture out of your body and die of dehydration? I didn’t eat. I didn’t drink. I just cried. All day.

I hardly cooked dinner making 2010 a banner year for our local Domino’s. Everyday was a 24-hour headache, and I stayed so congested I didn’t breathe through my nose from August until May of that year. I didn’t care. I was leaning into it.

When the video was finished I would watch it several times a day. And sob.

By April that year I had started getting out of my bathrobe and dressing again. My daughter had a last minute acceptance to a college she really wanted to attend so we had a lot of chaotic energy with that which also helped to distract me from what was lurking.

What if at Graduation I collapse from crying? Embarrass my whole family?

And I was so scared of the emotion I was going to feel leaving her at her college dorm.

What if I fell apart?

What if they had to physically pull me off of her?

What if I couldn’t do it?

I kept saying to myself, “just lean into it, it’s just an emotion you’ve never felt before.”

Now—let me clarify. My daughter was going to a college 30 minutes away from home. But I can tell you to a mother who was a basket case like I was, it didn’t matter where she was going.

Graduation was fine. Proud. Exciting. I didn’t even shed a tear because I had none left.

College move-in day was awkward. My daughter and I both felt the pressure of the goodbye coming all day, and it was making us a little short on patience as we put together her futon and unpacked her.

I heard “Mom, just let me do it.” And I knew that was my cue.

It was time to say our goodbyes and leave her there.

Hugging at the curb is a rite of passage for parents when they leave their kids at college. They walk you out, you hug, and you watch them get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror until they look like a toddler again, and you turn the corner. And promptly fall apart.

Just like the love you felt when you first held them as a newborn, their absence in that second is immediate.

I relive all this not to be sappy, but for the moms who have been faking that smile while their kid is so excited about leaving home or think they are the only ones who have spent the last few months secretly slobbering into their bathrobes.

You are not.

It’s a passage of time. The end of an era. It hurts. But don’t swallow down your emotions right now. Let yourself feel every bit of it. After all you’ve put into this child, haven’t you earned the right to feel and process the emotions that come with letting them go? And it’s true, it’s all emotion you’ve never felt before which is rare because by the time you’re our age you think you’ve felt it all, but really… thank God we haven’t.

And a few days after you drop them off, when you get that first text message from them that reads “everything’s great!” it’s a bittersweet nod to the fact that when they go they aren’t supposed to be ready.

And neither are you.

Just lean into it.

Congratulations to all the graduates and all the mamas who survive it.

Now go get a tissue.

And Everyone Should Sing

We all have fears. Collectively, humans have a fear of heights, fear of small spaces, fear of public speaking, fear of abandonment, fear of dogs. We acknowledge them and occasionally have to work through them to conduct our lives. I’m not a huge fan of flying, but after downing three vodkas at the airport bar at 6 a.m. I have faked bravery and managed to get on a plane many times. I have no real desire to overcome this fear, because it doesn’t affect me that often, and the airport bar is never out of my coping mechanism.

I have had one fear my entire life that does haunt me however. Sadly this fear is also the same response I give people when someone asks me “What’s your dream job, if you could do any job in the world, what would it be?”


More specifically, sitting at a piano or with a guitar, singing sad songs about broken hearts and broken dreams in a dark corner of some forgotten little hotel bar in the middle of nowhere—maybe even at that airport bar.

Some of my friends reading this are nodding their heads because they know my fear of singing in public. They know that I fear it so much that I can’t even enjoy others doing it. I will turn my chair in a bar on open mic night to face away from the stage, and if you want me to leave your house just suggest “How about some karaoke?” If you take one step in the direction of that microphone I’m already in my car and halfway down the block. I get a knot in my stomach at the thought of it, even at the thought of someone else doing it.

I can’t enjoy the bar up the street from me when they have musical artists perform. I’m uncomfortable the whole time. My heart will race. I’ll reposition my chair. I’ll ignore them to the point of being rude.

It’s not that I’m trying to be rude. It’s actually the opposite. I’m so overly empathetic to them that I want to make it easier for them. It’s as if I want to say “Never mind me, don’t be nervous, I’m not looking, see, not looking!” I’m so nervous for them that I feel a little sick inside.

They get up in front of a room packed with strangers, and they do my dream job. They fulfill my fantasy and have a blast doing it, as  I hide like a cat under the bed.

This is a recurring scenario in my life and often times the reason I shy away from live music.

The fear causes me to miss out. It makes me squirm and experience unpleasant anxiety symptoms while my friends are kicking back, feeling the music, letting loose and enjoying themselves.

When my kids were babies, I sang to them. I sang with them. We sang in the car to silly songs that annoyingly stayed in my head for hours. I rocked them to sleep and sang a Linda Ronstadt song to them every night (I’m sure they don’t remember). They never judged my singing ability. They loved it. I loved doing it.

One time we had friends staying with us and after singing my son to sleep I rejoined them in the living room. My friend said, “I heard you singing through the baby monitor. It was so sweet. Do you do that every night?”

I was mortified. My evening was so preoccupied by the fact that I had forgotten about the baby monitor and had carelessly allowed someone to hear me singing that I could hardly engage with my friends the rest of the night.

Recently, in a moment of brash insanity I reached out to a vocal coach inquiring about voice lessons. I told her briefly of my paralyzing fear, and how I wanted to challenge myself to overcome it, step out of my comfort zone. I actually used the phrase “might throw up” in my initial email and hit SEND. It felt like I had bungee jumped off a tower.

That was nothing compared to the adrenaline rush and immediate anxiety I felt when I received her response the next day. “See you Wednesday at 3:15.”

Oh shit.

Wednesday came (very quickly as I was dreading it) and I arrived to her studio in a bundle of nerves. Shaking, my stomach in knots, sweating…

The first thing she did was give me a pretty intense pep talk. It felt more like I was in a therapy session than a voice lesson. It was a lot of listening and nodding and no singing. I was thinking, “she better make me sing today because if I leave and don’t sing I might not ever come back.” She must have heard my mental whispers because after some breathing lessons she sat at her keyboard and we began.

Keep in mind I had prefaced my meeting with, “I have no idea if I can sing. I’ve never tried.”

Her response was quick.

“Everyone can sing. And everyone should sing.”

Oh crap, here we go…

“Start with this,” she sang a string of vowel sounds as her keyboard played along.

I repeated them.

My heart pounded.

“Again…” and her keyboard played a different strand of notes.

I repeated.



After each she would play notes that sounded as if the keyboard was proclaiming “Tah-dah!”




Finally she stopped her torture on me. I thought I might need to sit down. My knees were weak. I felt dizzy.

She looks up from the keyboard and smiles, “Very good! You have about a 2.5 octave range. You’re a true alto and you’re going to be amazed at what you can do.”

“Oh well…um…I don’t really want to become a singer. I just want to overcome my fear of singing.”

She smiled, “Ok. We’ll see about that.”

What had I done? I saw it. I saw that little glimmer in her eye, like the teacher who was about to pass out the pop quiz.

So for a few months now, every Wednesday afternoon—I go to a voice lesson.

*that ka-thud you just heard is some of my friends fainting and hitting the floor*

And I hate it.

In fact, I hate Wednesdays so badly now that I hate Tuesdays too just in preparation. Am I singing well every week? Oh God no…sometimes I sound like the person I would turn my chair away from at the bar for fear of seeing their embarrassment. Do I feel super self-conscious, uncomfortable and sweaty singing in front of her?

Every. Single. Time.

It’s absolute agony if I’m being honest, but I’m there.

Recently, even before I started voice lessons, I had noticed some ringing in my left ear. As the ringing became more severe I decided to consult a specialist for it and after numerous tests, hearing evaluations and an MRI, it was discovered that I have a sizable blood vessel growing through a cluster of nerves in my ear giving me some nerve damage. Long story short, my ear ringing is because I am slowly losing my hearing in my left ear.

I sat in the car after the appointment with my ENT wearing a demo pair of hearing devices, shaking my head at the irony of my situation and wondering if I might cry. I have to “wonder” if I might cry before I cry because in my family of Southern women crying isn’t encouraged. I have to evaluate if something is “cry worthy,” and then give myself permission to cry. Sounds ridiculous, right? It is, but that’s just how us Southern women with years of specialized training in dysfunctional emotional patterns roll.

I decided that I didn’t need to cry over it, because… wait a minute….in reality it was a good reason to end my voice lessons—hot damn!

Hearing loss I’d like to introduce you to silver lining. I was getting out of that Wednesday afternoon session of suffering.

It was the “well I tried to sing, but look, I’m going deaf in one ear so I might as well just quit,” excuse and I was taking it all the way to the bank.

Or so I thought.

My voice teacher listened attentively as I gave my little sob story about losing my hearing and when I was finished said, “It’s ok. I have had several students who are hearing impaired over the years. You don’t need to be able to hear to sing. I’ll teach you… OK, lets start today off with some breathing exercises…”

She wasn’t having it.

I was stunned for a second. I paused, but then began my breathing and running my vocal scales just like any other lesson. She wasn’t giving me the chance to quit.

As I sang, I heard her voice on that first day “Everyone can sing, and everyone should sing.”

Then I heard my own voice in my head, “She’s right. Why are you holding back? Because you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself? Sing louder. Sing like you don’t care. Missy sing for yourself, use your voice, for once in your life don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. Don’t be afraid of sounding bad, so what…don’t be afraid of messing up, don’t be afraid of being afraid!”

As I began to sing my rather horrendous rendition of a truly great song which I practice every week—and every week I manage to completely annihilate—I felt some of my hesitation lift, I felt some confidence budding, and some power and depth in my voice I’d never felt or heard before. I thought about the children she must teach (for I am her oldest student ever) who are singing without any shyness or trepidation, like only kids can do—some wearing cochlear implants, some who can’t hear their own voices when they sing, but they sing like nightingales in the shower nonetheless.

Afterwards my teacher looked at me and smiled,

“That’s the best I’ve ever heard you sing. Don’t ever tell me you can’t sing again.”

I left my lesson that day with so much more than knowledge on breathing, pitch and tone but the discovery of a voice I never even knew I had. The one I’ve kept muffled under the covers for fear of being too loud, being too much, being wrong, being bad, being afraid.

I realize now what those singers in the bars that used to make me uncomfortable realize. It makes no difference how you sing it’s just important that you sing. It’s freeing, almost spiritual, when you do something that you suck at, but you just do it anyway. The problem is by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have mastered the art of avoiding things we suck at, or think we suck at, or are afraid we might suck at.

So for now my new hearing devices and I are continuing on in our pursuit together just to sing, period. Because we SHOULD sing, and because my hearing loss is predicted to worsen, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hear my own voice as it sounds now. I want to hear it as much as possible.

Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to pursue my dream job of singing in a dark corner of that lonely little hotel bar by the airport. And maybe I’ll suck at it.

Hell, I’ll be deaf anyway, I probably won’t even know.

Stop 2020 We Want Off

Shew. We made it.

It was questionable at times wasn’t it? It was the proverbial rollercoaster ride for sure, but even worse it was one of those rollercoasters IN THE DARK.

You know the kind—you just start to lean to the left and all of a sudden you are pitched to the right with no warning. You can’t see the track. There’s no anticipation of what’s to come around the next turn. Your eyes can’t tell your brain what to expect. Are you going up? Are you doing down?

Nope, upside down!

And you can’t catch your breath between never-ending jolts until you finally feel the lunge and the brakes, and the track catches hold of the barf train. At last you slide into the station to the unloading platform—you exhale, brush the hair out of your face and find yourself reconsidering that corndog you had for lunch.

We were on that ride for over 12 months.                                                                              —except Disney didn’t design it and it wasn’t fun.

This time last year we were forced to take a sabbatical from most everything we rely on in life to bring us happiness and to sit alone with our thoughts. Sitting alone is one thing, but sitting alone with our thoughts? No, no. Humans hate that. We don’t do that.

At first, after we got over the initial toilet paper panic, we started to question it all. Information was coming in like rapid fire and as we processed we also quickly realized we had to “pick a side.” In the United States, you either believed the science behind the pandemic/quarantine/pathogen or you thought it was a mass media driven hoax/over dramatized/politically motivated. So now, not only were you alone with your quiet thoughts but you had warm cozy feelings of outrage to comfort yourself with.

Jerk to the left.

Wow, this is…getting fun. (nervous laugh)

Then you fought it. Pushed back against the reality of it all. Refused to accept it.

“I’m sure we’ll be over this by summer when we can all go outside, it’ll go away.”


Jerk to the right.


I’m the emotional one here, so sometimes the frustration (or wine) would overflow out of my cup, and spill all over the floor and I’d cry to be let off the ride much like I did at the Mid-South Fair when I was in fifth grade riding The Spider. The spinning cups on the end of The Spider’s arms were making me sick and I wanted off, but no one was listening to me from 30 feet up in the air, and everything just kept spinning.

Motion sick girl was just going to have to ride it out.

We were all following along as best we could and trying to keep up and take in the bits and pieces that made sense. But at some point, we had to throw our logical and emotional compass into the mix—a.k.a good old-fashioned gut instinct—and just go with that.

A lot of my personal turmoil came from my need to fix the situation, for me and everyone. If everyone would just “stay home, stay six feet away, stop traveling, wear masks, stop having parties…” made up a great deal of my thoughts. I was stuck in a loop of “I can fix this,” but the reality was I absolutely could not and even thinking about it kept me in that nauseatingly spinning cup on the arm of The Spider.

I couldn’t write anything. I could hardly work on my books. I couldn’t even write a blog entry because my anger and frustration were clouding my ingenuity. They were clogging up my creative flow and my inspiration.

After a while, I noticed that the news didn’t change or make anything better so I stopped reading it. My social media was cleaned out of anything that didn’t bring me joy. I realized that no one’s opinion (including my own) political or otherwise, mattered to anyone else so I stopped engaging. I figured out that my attempts to check in on my friends might have been somewhat selfishly motivated as an excuse to have my own connection with them that they didn’t necessarily need, so I stopped. Anytime someone thought they needed to tell me how I needed to manage the pandemic for my family I bowed out, departed from the interaction. And I finally called myself out on doing it to them too even if I was only doing it in my head—it had to work both ways. That energy was toxic and felt like just another whiplash in the dark.

So I started to embrace the situation and just sit alone with my thoughts more and more (the horror). Instead of trying to lean into the next turn that I couldn’t see coming and getting jolted every time,  I loosened my grip on the handrail and exhaled. I prayed more. I meditated some. I sat outside alone a lot, even in the winter. Instead of wrestling with healthy choices constantly,  I cooked and ate what I felt like eating. I relaxed. I quickly realized that much like relaxing your body when you’re in labor, or getting a Covid vaccination,  it just hurt less.

That’s when it began to turn. The rollercoaster started to slow down. The curves in the track started to become smoother.

I started to notice the drama fading. My outrage calmed. My resentment waned. The voices in my head quieted and took the turmoil with them. I started sleeping through the night with no anxiety stomach aches. My body released two kidney stones (maybe not as efficiently as it should have) and I was feeling emotionally unburdened of all the angst of being quarantined. My body was relaxing, but so was my soul.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to say “maybe the pandemic was a good thing.” It wasn’t. Millions of lives lost, businesses closed and so many lives negatively affected will forever be its legacy. I’m just wondering what we might carry with us from this wild ride as we move forward. I certainly know what I learned.

In addition to the misery of sitting alone with our thoughts, the strength that so many people had to find over the past year was agonizing. I had several friends lose parents or spouses during the quarantine. They couldn’t have their funerals. We all know weddings, graduations and other joyful milestones that were taken away. Kids had to attend school virtually. Marriages suffered. I know I reevaluated some of my relationships, and sadly ended some, that I never thought I’d have the strength to do. “Bumpy ride” doesn’t begin to put the past year into words.

Two days ago I got my second Covid vaccination. Afterwards it felt like that year-long jarring rollercoaster in the dark had gently pulled into that station on the sunniest, the brightest, of spring days more like the peaceful little kiddie train at the zoo.  I was finally offered a hand and asked to get off the ride and exit to the right.

As I walked out the soles of my feet were sliding inside my sandals from nervous sweat because I hate shots, but I was also overjoyed and felt like kissing every stranger in that store. I was actually a little teary-eyed thinking of how far we’ve come this past year, how much strength we had to find to hold onto the handrail at times, but maybe just leaning into the quiet, as much as we hate it, is where the real strength is found—that place where we can’t ignore our own voice over the sound of the rickety coaster on the noisy track.

Maybe that’s why we hate it, because now we know how strong we can be.

Not Catching Crabs…or Corona

So a year ago, my husband and I made it a 2020 plan to relocate for a month to the beaches of Gulf Shores in March,  just to test out our snow-birding abilities. Translation: see if we can live together in a small condo and not kill each other.

And if you’ve read my blog about our traveling mishaps over the years you know that that usually means some weather phenomenon, disturbance or catastrophe starts to brew in the atmosphere. Weather meteorologists suit up, animals and birds seek higher ground, residents board up windows, medical facilities stock up their supplies, someone is going to lose a limb because…well…

The Hudgins are coming.

The closer we got this year to our trip the more excited we became because we’re apparently what you call S-L-O-W  L-E-A-R-N-E-R-S.

We started checking the weather daily, and it looked like perfect sunny temperatures for our arrival. We were giddy. On the way down I checked my weather app, saw temps in the ’70’s and actually said out loud “Ha!  take that! Bad luck, my ass!” Then I’m pretty sure I asked dismissively…

Think this Corona virus is going to turn into anything?”

We both laughed carelessly, “ha ha ha…”

… right in Karma’s face.

Introducing! (Horns sound!)  Pandemic COVID-19! The 2020 catastrophic event of epic proportions…

Now our plan all along was to spend the month at the beach, but Paul would work from here, and I would start working on a new book, because I figured that monsoon rains would start promptly on our arrival so I better have rainy day stuff to do. Oh, Fate must have enjoyed my attempt at backing up plans.

We arrived on March 11th, and quickly started receiving texts from family and friends at home that the sky was falling….the world was ending…No food! No water! No toilet paper!—man, they really know where to hit me, I am so fond of TP I bring it with me when I travel…hmmm, should we be alarmed? “Nahh,” we say to each other. So Skip To My Lou we go, getting groceries, setting ourselves up in the condo, right on the beach, for the glorious month of our free-trial snow-birding.

This is gonna be GREAT!

First day, we are run over in the elevator by REAL snow-birds getting the hell out of here. I strike up a chat with one who says “Gotta get out before all the spring breakers bring that Corona virus here!” He’s frantically bumping the cart, carrying everything he owns, into the walls and door frames as he pushes it down the hallway. I stopped on the walkway to the beach, thought about what he said and then promptly went out onto the beach and stuck my head right in the proverbial sand.

By now the texts from home are becoming more frantic by nature, and I’m starting to feel a bit anxious. My mother is texting me that my brother is dropping off “ammo” (a word a mother should never use) for her gun, because “we’re all going to martial law!” I immediately picture rioting and pillaging in the streets and my mother crouched behind her sofa loading her gun.   My mom—the woman who can’t open a bag of croutons.

“Think we should go home?” I ask pouring myself some wine.

“Are you feeling nervous?” husband looks concerned.

“No, why do you ask?” picking up the salad bowl of wine with both hands.

By this time, stores at the beach have started to run low on items as well. The panic has finally trickled its way from Atlanta, everywhere, to the quiet shores of Alabama. We hit three stores looking for various items, give up, and end up in a tacky souvenir shop getting a 1970’s airbrush t-shirt made, and putting pirate hats on each other—don’t tell me we don’t know what to do in a crisis! Deny, deny, deny! Look at us! It’s like we don’t even know it’s the end of the world!

I quickly deduce that my culinary talents are about to be fully tested. I laugh at the irony of my fully stocked kitchen at home which I could cook a gourmet meal for 12 people at a moment’s notice but where am I during the zombie apocalypse food shortage? At a rented beach condo with two tangerines, a bag of pistachios and a half a bag of pork rinds, because pork rinds are low carb and I’ve been low carbing it since January1st—New Year’s Resolution, right? Yeah, well that was before Corona scared us all into thinking that every meal might be our last. This is a crisis french onion dip can’t possibly stand up to. I’m eating potato chips dipped in carrot cake now.

Corona is nipping at our heels.  At this point the beaches were still open and some college spring breakers had made it into town. No worries. It’ll be fine. I’m not talking to anyone on the beach—God no! I’m not even looking at them. But it’s there—looming. I’m an Empath, so I can always feel things coming before they actually arrive, and as I sat there that day looking at the drunk kids having the time of their lives on the beach I wanted to tell them to run the other way—away from me. I felt like the witch in Hansel and Gretel—I might as well just shove all these kids into my oven.

The restaurants were still open too so that night, at 4:30 to avoid “people,” we sat outside overlooking a beach full of bikini clad co-ed’s who were sharing drinks, touching, kissing—Oh my God, stop! Have none of you taken Microbiology?! Cooties! The mother in me wanted to stand up and send them all to their rooms, collectively. I felt it then…they were going to close the beaches. The Hudgins curse had now befallen all of Baldwin County Alabama.

Next morning—beaches closed. Uh-huh. Shocker to no one.

It’s funny how you start to bargain mentally, offering yourself consolations when you get disappointed:

“Maybe we can still WALK on the beach but just can’t sit out there?” NO.

“This should be a private part of the beach, I don’t think it will pertain to…” NO.

“Can we still go out early morning and then just come in before…? NO.

“What if we just walk to the edge of the…?” NO.

“OK, well, we still have the pool.” NO.

“Can we even look at the beach?” NO.

It reminded me of a cartoon I saw once showing two guys casually chatting amongst the burning flames of Hell, one looks down at his cup and says “Man, they’ve thought of everything, even the coffee’s cold.”

I had my birthday here. Planned it that way, because how fun would that be right? To get to celebrate your birthday at the beach—that you can’t go on? Or look at? Lucky for me, I have a husband who made sure I still got to celebrate so he took me to the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge—lured me there with beignets no less. I fell for it thinking it was going to be like a petting zoo.

“Am I going to get licked by a baby deer?” NO

“Get to hold cute cuddly things in my lap?” NO.

With powdered sugar still in the corners of my mouth, I was starting to get the feeling that I had been duped.

Just look at him. He knows I’m about to hate this.

It was hiking through miles of sloped sandy trails, boob sweat, peeing in the woods with no-see-ums biting my ass, and looking over my shoulder for an alligator the whole time. It was basically Missy’s “Alabama birthday boot camp.” Plus every time we met someone on the trail I had to do quick social distancing math in my head, “Is that six feet? Wait…no…move back.” For the record, boob sweat and math do not a Missy birthday make. He also forgot my birthday presents at home in Atlanta, but he did say “Here, I’ll let you have the last tangerine for your special day.” No scurvy for me,  just  like celebrating my birthday in 1887.

So here we are. Beaches closed. Restaurants closed. I’m trapped with a man who doesn’t drink, hardly eats, doesn’t really talk, and has dedicated over half the kitchen counter space to his work computers. I’ve voluntarily sequestered myself to the condo balcony because I can “make noise” out there.

All personal hygiene or lack thereof is in full swing here. I’m on a quest to see how long I can go without washing or styling my hair or wearing make-up. The seagulls don’t seem to mind. I saw a picture of Rita Wilson online yesterday and realized I “looked” far sicker than she does (btw, God Bless Tom and Rita). I’m just sayin,’ I don’t think keeping people six feet away from me is going to be a problem.

A trip to the grocery store channels my inner, Lara Croft Tomb Raider–gear up, scan the perimeter, suspend myself from the ceiling so as not to touch anyone or anything, dodging people who are breathing. I get home and my husband tells me I have a hole in my shorts. “Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t realize it was a garden party, I thought it was a pandemic! I should have worn my NICE shorts to brave the killer virus germs at the store to get your dinner! Silly me! We’re all just trying to survive here man!”

The unpacking of groceries is now followed by a Silkwood hot shower brillo scrubbing.

One of my favorite lines from, Christmas Vacation, we’ve used daily, “I don’t know what to tell you Audrey, it’s the holidays (or a pandemic), we’re all miserable.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking “Poor things, quarantined at the beach, wah-wah…” and I agree. I’m not making light of the fact that our worst quarantine situation here by far outweighs the best quarantine at home . We can still look at the beach (if we don’t get caught)! And that beats watching pandemic TV or walking my mom through loading her gun over the phone…

“Mom. Mom. No. It’s on the bottom. The bottom Mom. No, the other way. No, you can’t turn it off and back on again…Mom. Listen. Ok, let’s start over…”

Everyone please stay safe—wear clean underwear like your mom always told you to, “just in case,” maintain your sense of humor, and we will get through this. We can do it!

If We Aren’t Tripping Over Our Egos, Life Shoves Us

When I’m writing I try to focus on life’s ordinary happenings, and in doing so find some extraordinary or curious point of consideration in which to view them. Some jump out at me, and I can’t get home fast enough to write them down, and some require my brain to marinate in them a bit in order to attach any words. It’s humbling either way to sit down and do what feels quite arrogant—put my words down for anyone to read but–luckily life likes to humble me, or us, whenever it can. It’s so quick to put us in our place precisely just when we are deep into a lofty thought or selfish reflection.

I actually like it when life “keeps it real.”

For instance, the other day I had just finished getting dressed. Makeup done. Hair done. A glance in the mirror and I quickly assessed that it was going to be a good hair day. Good hair days are something that curly-haired girls never take for granted. On this particular day, not only did I have shampoo ad hair, but I also noticed that it was a “cute” day all around. You know what I’m talking about? Some days we just look better than others. Maybe we got more sleep or we lost a couple of pounds recently and our jeans are showing it—it was that kinda day. Before I put my shoes on I remembered that I wanted to trim my toenails—being that it’s winter, pedicures are not in full season. I lift my leg up over the bathroom sink and begin, “clip, clip, clip…,” With about the third “clip” a toenail shot up into my face. I looked up on the mirror and around on the vanity wondering where it went, and then I saw it.

Just hanging there, stuck in my freshly glossed, “Pink and Proper,” bottom lip–was my damn toenail.

Now I’m not fond of toenails. My friends and family know that toenails, even feet in general, can trigger my gag reflex. When I was pregnant, just hearing the squeak of my husband’s toenail clippers in the other room made me sick.

I have a group of girlfriends who, one year for the Christmas season, decided we would all go together and do some volunteer work…one suggested we go to one of the Catholic churches on a certain day when they “wash feet.” My reply back to her was immediate and emphatic, “I’m out.” Everyone has to know their limits and that was mine.

There’s always that pause when something humbles me like that. I like to soak up the moment and gain introspection from what the universe is telling me. On this day it was probably something like, “Oh just get over yourself, Miss Priss.”

I sighed. Ingloriously plucked the toenail off my bottom lip. And just like that my ego was back down to earth…in fact the universe had stuffed my ego into a plastic bag and tied a knot in it, choking off any air to it at all. Lord knows the universe wouldn’t want a girl to feel good about herself for no darn good reason on any ordinary Tuesday. What’s the point in that? The universe saves most of that for proms, weddings, when you’re in a coffin–important stuff.

That’s when it hit me. What if I had left the house with a toenail stuck to my lip? What if I had answered the door to the cute, flirty UPS deliver guy or I had shown up for an important job interview with a little, pointy, half-moon of globular protein hanging from my lip? What if I had met a friend for lunch and proceeded to take a bite of a sandwich and my friend had to stop me saying, “Hold on. I think you have a piece of toenail on your lip…” ???

I’d have to move to a new town.

Life just likes to remind you who is charge from time to time. It’ll throw you down with a glass of wine in hand onto at stone walkway, throwing wine and crystal everywhere (me). It’ll let you have a TP tail coming out from your smock as you come out of the ladies’ room at the fancy hair salon (me). You’ll have your top on inside outward but won’t realize it until you are at the end of the day, and you recall all the places you were that day with people probably thinking you were drunk (me, and no I was not).

You’ll be sitting in your dermatologist exam room with your legs hanging off the table, and you’ll look down and realize you have on two different shoes (me, again, not drunk, I swear).

You’ll be at a fancy work function trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism, swing your purse around, start an avalanche of beer bottles tumbling to the floor and if that’s not bad enough you’ll accidentally press up against the light switch at the same time so just in case someone in the room of 200 people couldn’t quite see who was making the ruckus–you spotlight yourself like it’s last call at a dive bar (actually not me, for once).

Or you’ll be in such a hurry trying to make everyone else’s life happen on time that, after paying, instead of replacing the nozzle back on the pump you’ll just jump back into your car to pull away…taking the nozzle and half of the gas pump with you (nope, not me either).

Or you are skinny dipping with a bunch of your girlfriends, and the cops show up to see who’s making noise at the pool after midnight And all your girlfriends grab their towels and run as screaming ninny’s into the bathroom leaving you to talk to the police officer with only a terry cloth drawstring bag that either covers one “part” or another,  but not all “parts.” Take it from me, your ego leaves the building–actually it leaves you and goes to find a building. It’s hard to look cool while you’re standing naked in a drippy puddle in front of a uniformed stranger with a gun.

Or you’re in a costume shop hunting for something to wear to a big Halloween party. You see an “I Dream of Jeannie” costume. Loved her! You grab it and run into the dressing room. You shimmy it all on in a frenzy, including the cute, little pill box hat with the chin scarf. You turn around to gaze at yourself. No doubt Barbara Eden looked adorable in it, but you look like an organ-grinder monkey.

Get it off! Get it off!

Or you take a drink of your Mountain Dew while you are riding your bike and run straight into a parked car on the side of the road.

Or you are feeling pretty cute, again, because you have a first date with a new guy and just as he’s supposed to show up your old boyfriend rings your doorbell and “wants to talk”…as he’s telling you that he doesn’t think you should get back together your first date pulls up into your driveway…so you spend half of your first date apologizing to the new guy for the old guy. Life just likes to let you know it has a sense of humor, it’s in charge and when you’re getting too big for your britches.

Or you get your side zipper stuck on your dress pants and you work in an all-male office. And you’re wearing thong panties that day. Call it Murphy’s Law…I think even Murphy was trying to help me get my pants zipped up that day. At one point, I caught myself looking up asking, “Do you even work here?”

Or you’re in 5th grade and as you reach into the cage with the class pet mouse, Pinky, she jumps up inside your blouse sleeve. Panic ensues. Teacher drags you off to the girls bathroom to retrieve the mouse who is elusive in the shirt sleeve. Discussion of Plan B-mouse retrieval, aka Plan Boobies, then occurs, and the teacher tells you you’re going to have to unbutton your shirt to get the mouse out–In front of your female classmates who came to the bathroom with you as a show of moral support–and you didn’t wear a bra to school that day (yeah, that one was me).

Towering Oaks Baptist School had not had such a nudity scandal since the janitor, Mr. Gene, was outside the girls bathroom talking to a teacher about who was smoking in the stalls (not me). I came out of the restroom one day, heard the discussion, and in my “name-taking, do-gooder” Barney Fife attitude said to them “Yeah, there’s a lot of butts in there…”

I heard it the minute it came out of my mouth. Life keeping me in my place again.

Or, one of my personal favorites–when I wrote a long, scathing comment to a company who misused the plural form of Notary Public. I wrote on and on about how it was “Notaries Public,” and I knew because I had worked for the National Notary Association (dork).  The company responded to me thanking me for bringing their attention to the error, but also wanted to bring my attention to the fact that I had spelled Notary Public as Notary “Pubic.” That one still haunts me. The universe again saying, “get on with your bad self now.”

These are the moments that keep you in check with your inexperience and our powerlessness. They level the playing field for our egos and teach us humility and how to laugh at ourselves, and if not in that exact moment, years later. I appreciate that life likes to keep us real. Plus, lets face it, after you are over the discomposure and the painful awkwardness, they are what the good stories are made of.

Then there are the ones you can’t completely blame yourself for but you certainly feel the sting. Example: when your Kindergartener, after rushing to catch the bus with him on a hurried, crazy morning, hears you sigh, and as he takes one step on the bus turns around and announces to everyone at the bus stop and the church deacon bus driver, Brother Carl,

“Shew! MOM! Now you can go back in the house and have your Martini!”

I don’t know why he said that. He was mistaken.

We all know he meant “Margarita.”

Keeping it real.

It’s Mother’s Day, Take The Day Off From Screwing Up Your Kids

Mother’s Day is here again, and thanks to the brilliant and creative marketing departments of the greeting card companies, with it comes a certain amount of pressure. Like New Year’s Eve, it can have an element of forced fun and build-up, and before you know it your expectations exceed what is attainable, and your Mother’s Day is left feeling disappointing or even exhausting. Whatever you do as a mother, you can’t screw up your kids, but you can’t screw up Mother’s Day either!

For years, I dedicated Mother’s Day to the matriarchs of my family. I spent the day shopping, buying gifts, and cooking a big meal for my grandmother and my mother until at the end of the day my knees hurt from standing up all day, and afterwards I was left with a kitchen full of dirty dishes. Hmmmm, I’ve never seen that Hallmark commercial.

So this year, I gave myself the day off. No cooking, no dressing up and going out to brunch. No having to shower and race off to church first thing in the morning. I also gave my kids the day off.

My kids said, “So to get this straight, the thing you want most for Mother’s day is NOT to be a mother for the entire day?”

“Yes! Perfect!”

(Did that sound too joyful?)

But then I thought about it and realized that it’s only because of my three children that I get to be a mother in the first place. They are who made my life what it is. They are, and all mothers know what I mean by this—who gave me my purpose. So in gratitude, for Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write a list of all the things that I’ve learned while being their mother—especially for my two daughters, who will hopefully get to experience the joy of being mothers themselves one day.

So here goes the list…

*Have the difficult discussions—about sex, drugs, relationships, confusing feelings, questionable behavior, toxic people, moral responsibilities, money management, religious views–whatever it is. Say the hard words, and ask the tough questions. Let them know to come to you with their issues or concerns—and be prepared that when they do it will knock the wind out of your soul for a bit, but they did the right thing.

*Say “I’m sorry” because you as a mother are going to make mistakes. They are two little words that do a lot of good when said, but can cause decades of harm when left unsaid. And just for the record, those words are not followed with a “but…”

*Having said that, make no apologies for how you choose to keep them from the trap of drug/alcohol addiction or criminal behavior. Every possible attempt to protect them from these is fair, no matter how cruel or harsh it seems at the time. You can’t read a book on how to perfectly navigate through these issues with children, because the nature of such evils has no logic, just ask any parent who has already experienced it. Do whatever you have to do, period. Your children can yell at you years later for how you chose to parent them through it, and if they are yelling at you sober—you still won.

*Save “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’m” for the military, the classroom and the courtroom. I grew up in the South, and for many of us, this formality was upheld in our homes, and still is, but just pay attention, because instead of being a show of respect it can turn into a strong hold of power, fear and resentment between child and parent. Do you want your child to respect you just because you demand them to or because you deserve it?

*Tell your kids when they are dating the wrong person, and hopefully they won’t end up married to the wrong person.

*Your children owe you nothing. Nothing. Not one thing. You brought them into this world. They were not asked to be born, so don’t expect them to be grateful for the fact that you work hard to keep a roof over their heads, or food on the table—in fact, you don’t get credit for these things as a parent. because they are “givens” but—having said that, if you do your job correctly your children will just naturally be grateful. Give them time. They will show you gratitude when you least expect it, and it will be glorious.

*Try not to apply guilt to leverage certain behaviors out of your children. Guilt is toxic and causes your parenting efforts to backfire. If you are trying to get your children to do something or feel something out of guilt you might as well just douse them with bear spray. Try to get your children to do the right thing by doing the right thing yourself. They will follow your lead when it counts.

*Leave your ego in the hospital delivery room. Prioritize your children’s needs over your own selfish ones—I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take care of yourself, but you know in your heart the difference, and you should listen to your heart.

*As a mother, don’t ever pick a man over your children. I’m not saying don’t prioritize your marriage—you should do that, if you want your marriage to be the foundation of your family. I’m saying don’t let a man convince you that he’s more important to you than your children, because no real man of any worth would ever ask that of you to begin with.

*If your job doesn’t allow you to prioritize the demands of your family find another job.

*Keep some of your opinions to yourself. Don’t say things to your children that you wouldn’t say to a friend. The worst thing you can do to your child is allow yourself to be the negative voice in your grown child’s head. Kids all grow up with their own self-inflicted negative voices, the last thing they need is another one. A mother’s words hold a lot of power, use them carefully.

*Let your kids be imperfect, and let them fail. Even when you sometimes have the power to fix things—don’t. It’ll be one of the hardest things you’ll do as a parent, but also one of the most beneficial for their independence and survival skills.

*We already have enough Kardashians. Let your kids be ordinary. I’m not saying they “are” or they “will be” ordinary, and I’m not saying you, as a mother, will EVER think they are ordinary. What I mean is let them be ordinary to the rest of the world—if that’s how they appear, it’s okay. One of the greatest hidden treasures of humanity is how much extraordinary there is in most ordinary people.

*Tell them you love them. That sounds simple, and something that a mother shouldn’t have to be reminded of, but some mothers are not comfortable with emotions. Some think of it as a sign of weakness, and it’s actually the opposite. It’s your child’s most basic human need being met in the easiest way possible– with three words. Say them. Say “I love you” most of all when you are not sure you feel it, because be assured those are the days they need to hear it the most (and believe me, every mother knows those days).

*Hang on to your hats here, it’s not very philosophical but if you want the advice I believe in the most:

Don’t let your kids have a cell phone until they are driving. 

We’re so reliant on them now that the thought is terrifying, inconceivable, almost impossible, but it’s not. Every generation that lived before the invention of the cell phone is proof. When your child is old enough to drive alone, at that point the safety benefit cannot be denied, but until then the cell phone is just an invitation for every evil or negative influence possible to circumvent you as a parent and get directly to your child way before they have the maturity to handle it. I know most parents would argue that they give a cell phone so they can find their child at all times, but frankly that’s the parent’s job, not the cell phone’s job.

*Don’t compete with your children for the spotlight. This is their time, step back, get out of their way and let them have it. Let them be better than you were in athletics, let them be a better dancer than you were, make more money than you did, let them have a more active social life than you did, have a better marriage than you do, if they are let them be prettier/more popular/funnier than you were at that age without feeling the need to be a part of it, and somehow relive whatever shortcomings you might feel from your childhood. Let them have their time alone with their friends and don’t get offended when they ask you to leave. Don’t you sometimes want to be alone with your friends without them hanging on your every word? You should.

*Be to your kids who you needed as a child. WHATEVER that need is…nobody’s childhood is perfect, it’s unnatural to think that, but we all know what we would have liked to have had more (or less) of as we grew up. It’s healthy to want to provide every generation with a little bit more emotional or mental stability than we had—what’s not healthy is repeating toxic cycles.

Now I don’t have a degree in child psychology nor am I a mothering expert, but quite frankly being a mother is something that’s nearly impossible to be an expert at anyway, because what works for one child doesn’t always work for another. And this isn’t meant to be a how-to for mothers, but advice for my children on what I discovered while parenting them.

Who knows the discoveries my own daughters will make while mothering their children, but I hope if their idea of a great Mother’s Day is not to be a mother for the entire day they speak up and get the day off as well. Because as any decent mother realizes within five minutes of becoming a mother: if you screw up your kids, nothing else in your life matters (no pressure though).

So take one day off. You’ve earned it. You’ve still got 364 more days to screw them up.

The One Thing Parents Are Never Supposed To Say

All of us parents have those little remembrances of how our children came into our world. We remember having a wet baby placed into our arms or maybe we remember opening an envelope and seeing a cherubic little face that we would soon meet after a long flight to a strange, new country. Either way, certain parts of a child’s introduction into a parent’s life remain locked away forever.

We remember trying to figure out “Is this the front or the back?” during the first diaper change. When we arrive home with the new baby and lay her down in the house for the first time, we remember the look on our spouse’s face that begged the question,“Now what?”

I had only been a mother for about 48 hours when a paralyzing wave of reality swept over me. My daughter was content, sleeping catatonically in my lap like only a newborn can, and my mom, who was visiting, was just over my shoulder. My daughter was peaceful. She was adorable. She looked like she was sleeping in complete contentment, so fragile and delicate.

“I can’t stand the thought of her experiencing pain or fear. It kills me,” I said. “Things are going to hurt her, people are going to be mean to her. I look at her, and I realize I will never be free of worry about her. Ever. My mind will never be unburdened again.”

“It’s so overwhelming. All of it.”
I started to cry, and since I’m not a crier by nature this only upset me more. “It almost makes me wish…I mean, I kinda wish…” I stumbled over my words until my mom took them from me.

“You almost wish you’d never had her?”

There they were. The words you’re never supposed to say.

My mom had ripped them right out of my mouth. I looked at her searching for a sign of disapproval that I had made such a heartless confession, but found none. Instead she just dismissed my words with a wave of her hand, “every new mother feels like that,” and walked away.

What! Every new mother feels like this? No one had mentioned one word about this parenting scam. The “no going back now” panicky feeling that the hospital handed you– along with that new diaper bag and first inky footprint– was just a big well-kept secret I guess.

I felt wronged. Tricked. Why had no one, none of my friends who had babies before me, or my own mother, told me of this crooked deal I’d delivered along with this perfect baby? Where did I need to expose this huge ugly secret so that every perspective new parent could rethink this whole decision?

Before I go any further, let me clarify the full statement here so I don’t come off sounding ungrateful for my three children. I’m incredibly grateful and feel blessed beyond belief to have my kids.

My feelings of “I almost wish I hadn’t had her” were only because I loved her so much it scared me.

I had the terrifying realization that my happiness was now vulnerable to being pierced by anything or any person that would ever cause her grief or pain. In an instant, my happiness was forever inseparable from hers–this person who weighed six pounds and who I had only known for two days–and that wasn’t an emotion I was prepared for.

And the catch? By the time you figure this out, it’s too late. You’ve been given this baby and instantly you’re condemned to a life sentence of constant worry.  Your utterly confusing and baffling parenting journey of questions and second guessing yourself immediately begins, and you are constantly introduced to new things to obsess about at every turn:

Is she sleeping enough?
Is she sleeping too much? If you have that baby, just to be clear– all mothers hate you.
What if they drop her on her head at daycare?
Will she make friends at school?

Will she survive her transition to Middle School?
Will I survive her transition to Middle School?
Does she need braces?

Will she make cheerleader? What if she doesn’t?
What if no one asks her to prom?
Is that her boyfriend?

Those are all pretty typical questions parents ask.
But hold on, because you will also ask questions such as:

Who did this? Spoiler alert, this question is always answered with “Did what?”
Why is the dog sticky?
Where is your father?
Why is there a boiled egg in your backpack?
Why in the world would you type f- -k on the Media Center computer?

So do you understand now why you can’t just wipe your runny nose on someone’s baby?
Where is your father?
Well when was the last time you saw your hamster?
Why do you have a shoe box full of water?
So do we agree, no more talk with your bus driver about Mommy drinking martinis?

Where are your pants? This one seems funny, but it’s not really funny if they’re in high school.
Why would you tell your Brownie Troop that Mommy and Daddy sleep naked?
Who shut the cat in the shower?
Why are you limping?
Where did you get that?… Just make a rule, nothing dead or alive comes in the house.
Can you please tell Mommy why you have a jar of olives under your bed?

You need a poster board?…always after 10pm and you will always be in your pajamas.
Oh My God, where is your father?
How can you possibly need another poster board? See above.
Why is this wet?
What in the hell…?
Is it still breathing?… I know this one sounds odd, but you’d be surprised.

So while you spend a lot of time worrying about them, their safety and their welfare, you also end up feeling you could at times be the very thing they need protection from. I am certain that parents who have been summoned to a police station, a hospital, a Principal’s office, a concert venue or anywhere else to pick up a child who made a bad decision know what I’m talking about. They have felt that rage.

And even though we don’t mean it, that “I almost wish I’d never had them,” thought shamefully comes creeping back in from that dark, manic corner of your mind, just for a split second. Probably the same place where that urge to just yell out really loudly in church to see what would happen also sits, but we won’t talk about that.

Certainly they will do little things that annoy you, for instance you will now have to hunt for items that you usually take for granted everyday: your hair brush, your car keys, your self-control not to choke someone.

Along with those, there are three things that you will  never ever see again in your home: Scissors, Sharpie markers and Tape.

The fact that one of these items renders permanent ink on anything it touches will certainly be no source of comfort. You can hide it from them like a loaded pistol, but they’ll find it faster than a drug dog. Sometimes the “Sharpie marker at large,” like a phantom, will even leave evidence that it still exists somewhere in your home (the loop-edy-loo’s on the new coffee table incident of 1993) but you’ll never actually see the marker itself again. Just resign yourself to the fact that you can own these three items again in about 20 years.

It’s such a miracle that these little people who are so demanding can possibly evoke such emotion and undeniable devotion from us, but Mother Nature knew what she was doing there. And quite frankly if someone did try to tell us this before we had a child, as I wished they had done for me, we wouldn’t understand it or worse, we’d all just stop having kids.

When my husband and I were contemplating having a third child someone said to me “If you want another baby, just have another baby. You’ll never regret having one, but you might possibly regret not having one years down the road.” Ironically, it was best advice I ever received, and now I can’t imagine our family without her spunky third dimension.

This mental and emotional yoke our children have around our necks is such a mix of the greatest joy and at times the worst heartache imaginable, and they are separated by the smallest most delicate spider’s thread. Just ask any parent who has ever buried a child. It’s such a horrendous experience that there’s not even a word for it in the English language. A man who has lost his wife is a widower, a woman a widow, but there is no word for a parent who has lost a child, simply because no one term could ever describe the indescribable.

To acknowledge the moment that you recognized and accepted that joyous burden and fear of being a parent, of which there is no going back, is much more a testimony and commitment to our astounding love for our children, than any ingratitude

You suddenly realize their safety, success and well-being are the currency for any future peace of mind you will ever hope to experience. So here’s the thing, even though you’re not really supposed to say, “I almost wish I’d never had them,” you’re not the only one to ever feel it, because for all the incredible, rewarding, joyous moments it provides, parenting is hard. It’s exhausting.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and it just about scares you to death, but only if you’re doing it right.

Waffle House Has Your Valentine’s Day Covered…And Smothered

I recently read an article stating that for the 12thyear certain Waffle House restaurants are taking reservations for Valentine’s day. The article said that it was the only day ever that Waffle House puts out white linen tablecloths, dims the lights and even offers a special menu.

Hmmm. Valentine’s Day at Waffle House. I like that idea.

As much as I love creative, quality food, and for as many times as I’ve been deemed a food snob, I think it’s fair to say that there are just some places and foods that are special because of their lack of frill or extravagance. Waffle House is one of those places.

There are a few restaurant chains that have the recognition and reputation that the ubiquitous Waffle House does. That yellow lettered sign is everywhere it seems, unless I have a sudden craving for a patty melt while on a trip and then it seems they are hidden, and I have to look up the closest one. Something that I’m more than happy to do if it means a patty melt is coming my way.

I never go into a Waffle House that I don’t think of my grandfather. I grew up going there with him for breakfast whenever I could. I didn’t think that much about it as a kid, but I loved their raisin toast, which is odd because I hate raisins. Sitting with my grandfather as he enjoyed his coffee, I would polish off a waffle, a bowl of grits or hash browns loaded with ketchup, and an order of raisin toast. Obviously that was back in the day before carbs were demonized.

Since he lived close to the restaurant he was a regular and knew all the waitresses by name. They were “Sweetie Pie” and “Honey,” and they addressed him,“Darlin,’ you ready for some more coffee?” Sometimes, when it was crowded we’d get to sit at the high counter with the swivel stools, and anyone with kids knows that swivel stools are essentially just a free carnival ride. Everything that was wonderful about the world was right then and there in that Waffle House as I swung my chair back and forth, buttery triangle of raisin toast in hand. I’m certain I was annoying someone, but he never once told me to stop moving the stool, because that’s the kind of grandfather he was.

Sometimes we ate there for dinner which was a real treat because my grandfather could still get breakfast—something that you can do anytime there—and I could get a cheeseburger. Once while eating dinner at Waffle House my grandfather looked at me and said “How about after dinner we go get you that guinea pig we saw yesterday?”

I’ve never eaten a meal so fast in my life, and “Albert” was the first of my many guinea pigs to come.

When I was older Waffle House became the 2am rescue meal to soak up some of the alcohol we had consumed earlier in the evening, hence warding off the next day’s hangover. Those were the days when I could eat chili cheese hash browns at 2am and not experience even a twinge of heartburn. Today I’d probably have to go straight to the hospital afterwards—not because the famous Bert’s chili is subpar in anyway, oh far from it, but because my digestive system has had a hard life and chooses to remind me (Dammit. Now I really want chili cheese hash browns).

When I was in Journalism school at The University of Georgia I was writing my first article for the campus newspaper, and I had to interview a gentleman as a source for my article. The gentleman asked me to meet him at a Waffle House right on the edge of campus. I was incredibly nervous, doing my first interview as a student journalist, and I was afraid the man was going to see me as an inexperienced child so, for the first time in my life, I ordered a cup of coffee at the Waffle House that day. There I sat, asking him the probing questions about some silly topic I had dreamt up, trying to appear grown up and professional while my nervous knees were shaking under the table. But I got the interview, wrote the article, and it was published in the paper, landing me a solid A in my Public Affairs Reporting class that semester. To this day every time I’m visiting Athens, Georgia and pass that Waffle House, I remember that’s where I had my first grown up cup of coffee.

We still go to Waffle House when I can’t take it anymore, and I just have to have my favorite “BLT, with a fried egg, pickles and onions on it” (try it, I’m telling you) or one of their world class “monogrammed” waffles—the waffles are so incredible I take my own European butter from home in my purse to put on them, because I won’t disrespect the waffle with anything less.

Once I contemplated straying from my norm and ordering the pecan waffle but –here is where my food snobbery shows a little– I wasn’t sure if the pecans were toasted. My husband looked at our server, who was working with the hurried proficiency of an air traffic controller and a circus plate-spinning act all at once, and said,

“I dare you to ask her that.”

I just settled for a regular waffle that day.

Waffle House is not only the premiere spot for affordable, familiar, heart-warming food but wherever they are they stand as a gauge for a community hit by any crisis. The Waffle House Index is a real standard for a hurricane’s severity or any other emergency. Since they pride themselves on being open 24 hours a day/7 days a week, if the local Waffle House is closed then someone better send in the troops because the situation is “red.” And I’ve heard more than once of Waffle House executives, called jump teams, heading into crisis areas to help keep their restaurants open so people affected by the disaster and first responders can find something to eat. That’s just not what any ordinary restaurant that serves up grits and hash browns does. That’s “super hero” grits and hash browns kind of stuff, right there.

One of my favorite parts of eating at Waffle House is the open kitchen. At high volume times, it can look chaotic, but it’s a well-oiled machine of spinning waffle irons, sizzling bacon, and popping toasters. The kitchen has its own secret language too. I like to try to guess what someone’s order is from what’s being shouted behind the counter or which plated waffle in the line up is mine. I would fail miserably at Waffle House school. The first time someone shouted more than two items at one time I’d sit down and cry, the system would buckle, and no one would get their waffles that day–pecan or otherwise. I know where my strengths lie, and they are on the eating side of the counter.

We recently loaded up in our cars with some friends and all our college-age kids and did a Waffle House run for a late breakfast. We had to wait a little bit, because there were several of us and we wanted to sit close together, but it was fine. Customers wait patiently at Waffle House for some reason—maybe it’s because they really want those crispy hash browns or because they can always see how hard the staff is working to get them seated so they just can’t complain. Two things you’ll always notice while waiting to be seated at Waffle House– some stranger always starts a friendly conversation with you and at some point someone waiting is going to get up and hold the doors open for someone’s feeble little grandmother. And quite frankly, either one of those is just a nice way to start your day.

When I finally get to sit down at my table at Waffle House I’m almost giddy when I grab the menu –to the point that my husband makes fun of me pretending to clap his hands. I don’t care. Let him. That just means I’m not sharing any of my waffle with him.

I don’t know what the special Valentine’s Day menu is at Waffle House. Maybe heart-shaped waffles? Maybe little doilies under your bowl of grits? There’s no wine list and probably no espresso or Tiramisu after your Valentine’s Day T-bone steak. You probably aren’t going to get a little orchid, or a chef’s fancy chocolate scribe on your plate. I don’t even know if they’re going to toast the pecans on that waffle. But if you’re there with the right person there’s going to be plenty of sweet Valentine memories to be made—not to mention some killer raisin toast.

And if you’re a lucky girl like me, maybe even a guinea pig