The teary thing.

Dear friends,

So I told you the other day I had a million things running through my mind, and this is the third thing that is falling onto the page, one I never guessed I would share.

You see, I was reading Momastery the other day and I stumbled across this post from a year ago. I was reading Glennon’s story about Anna’s story, about death and fear and courage, and I cried and cried. And all the crying prompted half of the million-bazillion thoughts racing through my mind until I pushed them away because, geeeeeez, who needs a downer first thing in the morning? And despite the teary start to that day, my week turned out pretty darn great (a hard project completed, a financial reward, a lovely surprise from my oldest child).

And so by Friday, you know, I went to bed feeling happy. I closed my eyes and one sentence, 13 words that began with “When I was nine years old . . .” popped into my head. Just popped into my head and announced that I needed to rise. And so I crawled out of bed well after midnight and found my laptop in the dark and opened a blank document and filled it with a story that spilled out fully formed in a matter of minutes, 1,226 words that were born out of Glennon’s story about Anna’s story.

My story seems heavy, but don’t take it that way. Because I feel a lightness, a peace, an unshakable confidence in the power of love. One minute I was afraid and the next I wasn’t and I just sorta thought well, huh, this is different. And two years later, Glennon inspired me to dig deep and write it down.

With gratitude {for all the real Superheroes of the world, also known as Mothers},

Joan, who also has an unshakable confidence in the power of telling our stories

Witness

When I was nine years old, my maternal grandfather died in our bathroom. He had been on the toilet and something happened. I’m not sure what, something with his heart I think. I was in the living room engrossed in The Waltons when I heard my mother yelling for help.

There was no one to help. My maternal grandmother had suffered a stroke a few months earlier and was still recovering. She sat lame and mute on the sofa while I sat frozen nearby, both of us listening to my mother’s pleas.

“Please help me! Please call someone!” my mother frantically pleaded.  This was before the days of 9-1-1. I have little memory of making the call other than fumbling with the phone. I don’t even recall who I phoned – the Fire Department maybe – because soon enough they showed up. A long time later, two men in uniforms took my grandfather out on a gurney, a black drape over his body. It was late and very dark outside and I remember sitting under the harsh overhead light in our living room and staring out our front door, which had been propped open by the firemen and seemed like the portal to a darkness I would fear for a very long time.

The next day my mother sent me to stay with my widowed paternal grandmother who lived an hour away.  I loved my Gram but she was even older than my grandfather and as soon as evening rolled around, I became anxious. If something happened to Gram, I knew I would bear witness to her passing all alone. I don’t recall how I coped through the first night or two, but as the days passed on, I started inventing reasons to invite younger adults over or spend our evenings anywhere but alone together in my Gram’s house. I was terrified of being alone with old people after dark for a very long time.

Two years later, my brother died in his sleep at age 26. He was married and – for reasons I don’t to this day understand – his wife called my mother on the phone to tell her. Once again, my disabled grandmother sat mute and I sat frozen in our living room on an early Saturday morning as my mother absorbed the loss of her son over the phone amidst the din of Looney Tunes on our hulking console television.

I will never forget my mother’s wailing. She rushed to the bathroom and lost her bowels and vomited violently and screamed and retched like nothing I had ever seen. I cried and screamed, too, begging her to stop. She couldn’t stop.  I left the bathroom and went to my bedroom and shut the door. I have no memory of who tended to my mother – or my grandmother, for that matter — on that day.

A few years later, my grandmother, who had been failing for so many years, finally died at home, too. I was away at summer camp. My father – who I rarely saw — arrived unannounced in the middle of the night to retrieve me. All I could think of was “Thank god I got to miss this one.” My father had been drinking, and as he drove dangerously fast for more than two hours over the narrow and curving two-lane road back to my mother’s home, I recall wondering if death by automobile accident was preferable to other options.

And so, by the time I was a teenager, I had grown to fear death like no other occurrence, no matter how it arrived. I had been witness to its ravages, on the souls departed and the souls remaining, poor souls wounded and grieving, mute and wailing, young and old. I figured I might do anything to sidestep its grasp, from siding with God or bargaining with the Devil, to living healthy so as to delay its arrival as long as possible, to closing off my heart so that if it claimed another loved one, I wouldn’t feel it, wouldn’t fall into a shock, wouldn’t retch until my bones crumbled into a dust that choked me from the inside out.

***

It was Winston Churchill, I think, who said the only thing to fear is fear itself.  I got it, the very first time I heard those words in school. The fear could kill you too, he knew and I knew, more slowly, more deliberately than any real threat. Because despite the shock of losing three family members at such a young age, the rest of my adolescence and young adulthood were free of death or even hardship of most sorts, except the kind you carry around in your heart that you don’t want to hold and yet can’t release because even fear becomes an old friend after so long, a friend just waiting for you to turn your head so he can strangle you.

It’s funny to me how adult coping mechanisms are so similar to youthful ones, the bargains, the distractions, the rationalizations, easily conjured in age-appropriate expressions. I watched as family members fell prey to the kind of distractions that came in a bottle, or a needle, or a capsule and vowed to find another path. Mine became a particularly astringent kind of stoicism that bent to neither pleasure nor pain, a furious sobriety that could just as easily choke you from the inside out.

And then I had babies and the whole world changed.  I hid under my wings two beautiful and miraculous creatures, rendered so perfectly, so wholly sublime I thought my heart might burst like the Grinch’s from growing three sizes too big in an instant.  And oh my god I panicked. I remembered my mother and I panicked. Most people didn’t see it, but my husband sensed it, the way I fretted excessively over every fever, every cut, every potentially injurious speck that invaded their realm. When they lived through all their childhood illnesses and seemed to be safe and thriving, I invented nightmares to torture myself until I awoke in a fright because remember how I said fear can be an old friend and I seemed to need one in the midst of so much happiness that I worried couldn’t last.

***

Not long before my mother died, I held her hand and we cried together in a dark hospital room. We didn’t talk much, just a few words. We were staring down death together, as we had those times before, but this day calmly and quietly. She said she’d had a good life and she wasn’t afraid. Strangely, I wasn’t afraid either, for the first time. How had I blamed her all those years for frightening me so, and yet this time, she was leading me, helping me through it? Did she know, had she planned for this last gift to me of peace and courage? Her silhouette was so small, so frail, but she was a medal of bravery, burnished by life’s hard edges, glowing in the distant light from outside the door of her hospital room. We were looking from the dark into the light, a literal antonym of the portal etched in my memory on the first night I met death at age nine.  It was as if she was saying, “See, you can do it.  You can feel it and endure it.”

And I finally, wondrously came to understand that crazy retching love is not the thing to fear, not the thing that crushes you in the face of unimaginable loss, but the thing that sustains you and substantiates you and buoys your injured soul across the Sea of Healing until you are able to swim alone again.

My mother taught me that. It just took me many years to understand the lesson.

The happy thing. Part 2.

Dear friends,

Yesterday I told you about readers Karen and Wendy over at After the Kids Leave and their shout-out for Debt of Gratitude. As part of paying it forward, I’m delighted to tell you about 7 blogs I adore.

First this: I don’t read very many blogs. I’m ashamed, really, because being a good citizen of the blogosphere means reading widely and commenting frequently. Thing is, I’m a slow and tortured writer. Keeping up with my day job and composing almost-daily posts is about all I can manage. So despite my shallow knowledge of the best and brightest bloggers out there, here are 7 writers I follow, week in and week out, no matter how busy I get.

Ree @ Pioneer Woman — Yeah she’s blogging royalty and everybody knows her. But did you know I know her in real life? Her mother grew up in my hometown and is dear friends with my first cousin, Betty Marie. (Betty Marie, Joan-Marie, we like our Maries in my family.) I have memories of Ree  — who by the way is really named Ann Marie — from the time she was a pipsqueak hanging out with my younger cousin. As cool as Ree is, she’s not the most amazing woman in her family. I adore her mother (a kindred spirit in many ways) and I idolized her grandmother, a teacher that I always thought embodied grace and kindness. Several years ago, before Facebook, my cousin Betty Marie set up a “family and friends” website where we could all post photographs and exchange news. Ree joined us every now and then until one day she posted a message saying she had started a thing called a blog and invited us all over to the Pioneer Woman. I remember her very first post. And the rest, they say, is history.

Kate @ SweetSalty — She is the writer I aspire to be. Her exquisitely undulating prose startles me with its beauty like none I have ever read and leaves me breathless. There is nothing more to say except read her. Start with this.

Glennon @ Momastery — More blogging royalty and now under book contract and appearing regularly on HuffPost. I’m convinced Glennon can single-handedly change the world. She’s funny and she’s real and she’s the most moving female voice in the blogosphere. And, she manages to writes zealously about God without making me want to run screaming from the room. For that alone, I love her.

Yoona @ Yoonanimous — She’s a young working mother with a whip-smart sense of humor and crushing sense of style, who I suspect is a little left-leaning and therefore my kind of gal. Yoona is the only writer I know who can be both wickedly funny and sweetly earnest at the same time. She’s such a clear, fresh voice in the crowded blogosphere.

Sizzle @ Sizzle Speaks — I have no idea how I tripped across Sizz years ago, but I did and I’ve been reading her forever. We’re even connected on Facebook now and though I’ve never met her, I consider her my friend. When I first found her, she was single and living the kind of urban, hip life I imagined I could have if I weren’t, you know, old and uncool and stuck in the Midwest. Now she’s about to be married and she and Mr. Darcy have bought a house in the ‘burbs. I’ve loved tagging along on her journey and I’m standing firmly behind her and sending her love and light as she navigates a cancer diagnosis.

Kristin @ Going Country — She’s another woman I tripped across long ago. She lives on a small farm with her husband, mother-in-law and two children in the kind of pastoral fantasy I always dreamed about. In fact, when Mr. Mom and I were living on a postage-stamp lot in the middle of town, we used to talk about Kristen’s Blackrock and how we could so live their lives. Several years later, we’re on a acreage larger than Kristen’s, but there are no tomatoes, no sheep, no chickens, no cisterns of any kind. Turned out, we just like reading about Kristen’s Green Acres rather than cultivating our own. Go with God, Kristen, and keep sending us updates.

CJ’s Mom @ Raising my Rainbow — CJ’s Mom is the mother of all mothers, a smart, composed, my-God-she’s-a-saint of a woman writing about the “adventures of raising a fabulously gender creative son.” I hope you’ll open your heart to her and her family.

So that’s it. Seven women, seven fabulous blogs, seven ways to spend a few minutes in the company of virtual friends who will sustain and delight you. Give them a shout.

With gratitude {for writers who inspire and entertain me},

Joan, who loves her some good words and has been squirreled away writing some new stories of her own

#greatshot

Dear friends,

I’m one of the those parents who brags about my kids on Facebook. If this annoys you, I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. Consider it a symptom of an almost empty-nester. Maybe I’ll lay off for a few years after Parker moves out, but I’m sure I’ll be a prolific grandparent bragger as soon as the opportunity presents itself. (But please, opportunity, don’t present yourself too soon.)

The good news is I am friendly to other braggy parents and grandparents. I never get annoyed and I almost always leave “Great job!” and “Congratulations!” comments on other parents’ posts. (And I’m not just trolling for compliments. I truly enjoy reading about the accomplishments of my friends’ children and I consider it my civic duty to spread the love on Facebook.)

Anyway, my point today is to level the score between my children. I’ve done an awful lot of bragging about Kate, what with her being a senior and going off to college to play tennis. But I have another tennis player in the house and fair play dictates I give Parker a bloggy shout-out.

I just got his tennis photos back from the photographer. Parker’s wearing his game face rather than the smile I would have preferred, but I suppose that’s what boys do.

Yesterday, Parker’s team won the first round of competition in their district tournament. Parker lost his singles match, but he and his partner won their dubs match handily. I took the day off so I could spectate and be a mother, which included making sandwiches for the team and tweeting about Parker’s four aces.

Did I mention I also brag on Twitter? If you can’t use social media for self-and/or-family-promotion, what’s the point? I mean really?

Besides, there was hardly anybody there to witness the match so I had to tweet about it. (As did Kate.)

The sole spectator is me. Despite the loneliness of being a high school tennis fan in this part of the country, new media has helped create a virtual crowd. (At least three likes on my “fourth ace” Facebook post seemed like a crowd.)

School will be out soon and I promise to move on to other topics besides my kids. #ormaybenot

With gratitude {for a Monday better than most},

Joan, an equal opportunity gasbag, braggart, blatherskite, boaster, windbag, bigmouth (and Thesaurus-lover)

For two interesting views on Facebook bragging, read this post by Yoonanimous and this post by Glennon Melton. Yoona made me laugh (and think Oh God, I do that!) and Glennon made me pause (and think Oh God, I do that!).

Mr. and Mrs. Mom.

Dear Friends,

Image courtesy of Pinterest

I recently pointed you in the direction of a blogger named Glennon Melton of Momastery on my post about funny writers (of which we have well established I am not one).  Glennon has a serious side, too, and her article Friendly Fire was reprinted recently on the Huffington Post. In it, Glennon discusses the ways in which women criticize themselves and each other for their choices related to careers and family life. Her point is that we’re all doing the best we can and, despite our choices, we’re all conflicted about them at any given moment.  Witness:

. . . When you yell about how much peace you have with your decisions, it just doesn’t ring true. The thing is, if you’re yelling, I don’t believe that you’ve got it all figured out. I don’t even believe that you believe you’ve got it all figured out. I think your problem might be that you’re as internally conflicted as the rest of us about your choices. But instead of kicking your own ass, you’ve decided it’d be easier to kick ours.

I’m a working mother who’s worked my butt off and sacrificed more than I care to count over two decades to advance my career and reach executive status. I also am a woman who loves nothing more than to putter around the house, cook and bake, pamper my children and husband, and nest in every way I know how. To say I have been conflicted is to say the sunrise is reliable. But I mostly made my peace with my conflict nearly a decade ago when my husband sold his business and became the stay-at-home Dad I now call Mr. Mom on this blog.

I wrote an essay on our choice (and on our individual demons) that was published in a 2007 anthology of Oklahoma writers. I’ve decided to reprint it here for any new readers who didn’t follow me over from my former blog.

Here’s the point I continue to be struck by, both when I wrote that essay years ago and earlier this week when I read Glennon’s post: Our struggle is a foreign concept to men.  As women, we torment ourselves and others in a way that never occurs to our male counterparts.

When Mr. Mom became a stay-at-home dad, he had his demons to face, all right. Boredom, monotony, lack of adult stimulation, feelings of diminished value due to lack of earning power . . . all of these became personal struggles to confront. But never once did he suffer from what Glennon calls “Mommy Guilt,” that inner voice that criticizes every choice a mother makes — and then projects that guilt, as a coping mechanism no doubt, on every other mother she knows.

When we first made our transition, I used to marvel at how my husband could be so in-the-moment. He did the best he knew how, every day, for our kids and for me, without looking back and without second-guessing. Over time, he got better at juggling the home-keeping side of his job and now I marvel at how he manages to do so much.

Nurturing and loving a family is tough work, folks, and to tackle that while keeping  house is to excel at multi-tasking and to sacrifice your own dreams and desires for a good long time. I am acutely and reverently aware of what Mr. Mom gives up to make our lives easy and comfortable and filled with loving care. Why any human, female or male, would see fit to criticize another for doing this yeoman’s work is beyond me.  And why any soul would criticize themselves or others for choosing to be an earner for their family is also hard to fathom.

I’ve done it, though – beat myself up with the rest of the Mommy Guilt survivors. A few years ago I was bemoaning my failure to spend more time with my children in a lunch conversation with a dear friend. (Read: I was self-flagellating for being a working mom – even as I had a husband who stayed home!) I think I said something like “As a mother, I just don’t know what I’m any good at.”

And my friend put down her fork, looked me square in the eye and said, “I’ll tell you what you are good at, Joan. You are a provider. A damn good one! I know plenty of men who aspire to provide for their family at the level you do. Let go of the guilt and feel good about excelling in your role.”

I cannot repay my friend for her kindness. I took her words to heart and I have mostly released the guilt. It tries to creep in now and again, but I remind myself there’s no point in it.

If the man in my life doesn’t need it, why should I?

With gratitude {for the freedom to choose my path, a partner who signed on for the ride, and the good sense to hear sage advice when it’s offered},

Joan, who honestly digs the whole “happy housewife in an apron” image but is mostly content to wear that persona on weekends

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