Vintage Georgia from January 2007

I wrote this column 11 years ago, almost to the day. How our lives have changed since we escorted our daughter Ellen off to Columbus to attend the Aveda Institute. Spoiler Alert: she stuck it out on her own. In the ensuing years we have welcomed not only her husband Jared , but they have brought something to the entire family that we all adore, their son Teddy.

Janury 28, 2007

Our middle daughter inherited some of my qualities. That can be a blessing or a curse. It was one of the many thoughts that were running through my mind as I drove behind her little gray car. Her dad was at the wheel of a rental truck leading the parade, she was in the middle and I brought up the rear. As we pulled out of the driveway early last Sunday morning, this symbolism – Tim on one side, me on the other, brought the sting of unexpected tears to my eyes. After one semester at a nearby college, she changed career paths and is moving away – off to life alone in a big city. Even when her big sister moved to Chicago, she didn’t go alone; she went with a bunch of friends.

Experts have long cautioned parents not to compare children, but heck, that’s half the fun, isn’t it? I think what they mean is that one child shouldn’t be held up to another. We don’t do that; not enough to cause any complexes anyway. I believe we appreciate each daughter for her uniqueness and what she brings into this noisy mix that is our family.

Each child took her first steps differently. The oldest didn’t attempt it until she could smoothly walk across the room without falling down. A typical first child, she was cautious and possessed an easily bruised ego. She didn’t like to make mistakes. She tended to quietly watch from the sidelines, studying how it was done and in a sense, practicing where no one could see her until she had it right.

The youngest took a few steps, couldn’t figure out what the hoopla was all about and reverted to being carried around for a couple more months. She has always appreciated order and we wouldn’t have been shocked to find she’d stashed a planner in her diaper bag.

Like her older sister, middle kid started walking on her first birthday, but unlike her sibling, she hit the ground running. It didn’t matter how many times she tumbled or if other people saw her fall. She possessed one of her mother’s characteristics: don’t ask any questions, leap before you look, and hope somebody has an extra Band-Aid.

Many times we saw our little girls approach new situations much the way they did walking. As they matured, however, they developed new skills, new talents and proficiencies.

Still I worried as we drove south.

In some ways, middle kid was prepared as she could possibly be, after all we were hauling just about everything she owned. She had a new toaster and a coffee maker and her aunt’s old sofa and chair for which I’d made cute new ruffled pillows. She had a fuzzy pink bath mat and matching shower curtain. She had new pink dishes and even a pink frying pan. Her favorite stuffed frogs were bouncing along in the seat beside me.

But was she taking what she really needed? Would the combination of inherited and learned traits give her the strength and smarts to forge her own way? Had we taught her enough or protected her too much?

Then I worried she would be too homesick to stick it out. She is a real homebody. This was the kid who got so homesick at her first sleepover, an entire two miles away, she had to come home. Homesickness has been a real concern during all the planning and packing and preparing. At her age I struggled with homesickness, too. It often kept me from going new places and trying new things. Eventually, whereever I was with Tim and my own family became home.

After wearing out homesickness, I stirred up other issues. She is too trusting, I fretted. Does she realize not everyone is as open as she is? What will she do when she goofs, as she surely will? We all do. She’ll turn the wrong way down one-way streets. She’ll get a parking ticket. She’ll miss her exit ramp. We forgot to teach her how to change a flat tire – heck, I can’t change a flat tire. She’ll forget to charge her cell phone. She will let the milk go bad. She’ll forget to lock her door. Will she clean the bathtub – ever? What if she burns popcorn in the microwave and the sprinkler system goes off?

She’ll dye her hair purple or green. She is going to cosmetology school, after all.

We pulled up to a stoplight and catching my eye in her rearview mirror, she waved and grinned. She is my child, but she isn’t a child anymore, I thought. I also realized watching children fledge is one thing that hasn’t gotten easier with experience.

 Ellen and her classmates on graduation day. 

Ellen and her classmates on graduation day. 

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The longer we live, the more we find we are like other persons. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Normally my blog is about lighter topics, but this is has been circulating in my mind this week. It's not easy for me to post this, even though it's what's on my heart. I don't like disapproval, I want to please people. And some people may not be pleased with what I have to say. But, I have to say it.  

My family may not agree with the statement that I am normally a person of peace.  Having been blessed with a speaking voice like a foghorn, I come across as loud, outspoken, opinionated and fearless. Many times the girls have said: "Stop yelling!" My reply is that I am simply being emphatic. There is a big difference between my emphatic and my yelling, trust me.  But deep inside, I'm a pleaser and a coward. I don't like confrontation or discord. I play around in my garden, talk to my chickens, put out fairy houses for the little kids in our family and the neighbor kids to enjoy. I'm a gramma, for crying out loud. I wear rabbit-shaped earrings and kooky aprons and I bake things. I keep popsicles in the freezer in the garage for anyone who looks like he or she could use a cool treat. Dum-Dum Pops sprout in my herb garden when kids aren't looking. I feed anything two or four-footed, inside and out. I grew up living in my own world of fantasy, art and literature that was populated with woodland creatures who lived in snug hollow trees and sipped tea with the fairies from acorn cap cups. I have always embraced peace, love and acceptance. My outlook has been rather simplistic until now.

I am not perfect; we are all instilled with prejudices from the moment we take our first breath. There were times as I grew into adulthood when I had to rout out those misconceptions and replace them with realities. The best way to do that was to step outside my personal cube and explore the wonderful people who populate our world. I don't mean I am a global traveler - far from it. I didn't have to pack a bag - it's a cultural journey of the heart and mind. 

I have written for the public for over 17 years. I purposefully steered away from the topics of politics and religion. It was a wise choice. My work appealed to a wide audience and I wanted to keep it that way. I wasn't really looking for anyone to agree with me, I was just reporting on what was currently happening in my little world.  Occasionally, if I felt particularly strongly about a subject,  I brought out the soapbox, but not very often. When I did, I prefaced it with the words: "Scrape, scrape, scrape, that's the sound of me dragging out my soapbox."

"Scrape, scrape, scrape." You may or may not remember my impassioned response to trump being elected last November. Some people probably blocked me at that point because they didn't like my words. They were harsh words. This guy was barely on my radar before the campaign. I thought he was disgusting, living in his gold-plated tower in a world where there are too many have nots, a cartoonish example of what happens when someone has always had beyond way too much of everything,  I think he was just playing when he decided to run, but got one sniff of power and his warped and bloated ego started to grow like Ursula the Sea Witch in "The Little Mermaid."  I was hoping against hope that his ridiculous campaign rhetoric was just a ploy to turn votes his way, that maybe once in office he would buckle down to the job, that it wouldn't be as bad as I feared. He spewed filth, disgusting sexual commentary, stupidity - yes, wealthy people can be stupid - and let those who desperately wanted him to be a Christian think that he was. He is not. Every word he says, every action he takes is the opposite of what Christ taught. But, surprise - he is exactly what he showed us.

It hasn't been bad as I feared - it has been far worse. I don't know why I am shocked at each new disgrace he brings to the highest office of our land. I am depressed by the daily news from Washington to the point that my family sometimes has to filter it for me. I am embarrassed and disgusted on so many fronts, you would doze off reading the endless list. With each passing day, his actions become more and more ridiculous, more and more heinous. I feel literal nausea at the very thought of what this person has done to us Americans. (I cannot bring myself to call him a man. My husband is a man. He is decent, honest and principled and far more deserves the title of man.) I wake up in the morning and only a minute or two passes before the cloud of fear and apprehension sifts back down. How can we continue to respect the office of President when he has done everything conceivable to cheapen it and bring shame to it? I feel like we are caught up in the old story "The Emperor's New Clothes." If you aren't familiar with that old tale, inbox me and I'll be happy to tell it to you.

The situation is beyond party lines, beyond "winning" or "losing," beyond whether you supported our former President(s) or not. trump is a narcissistic child, a spoiled, rotten, delusional caricature, a clown who is stupid and ignorant. But, don't ever think that stupid and ignorant cannot be cunning and dangerous. We are in danger, the United States is in danger. Everything right and honorable we were brought up to believe is in danger. He has slapped the honor and memory of the millions of people who died at the hands of monsters, of those who risked their lives - and lost them - to right a world turned insane by the rantings of a an insane tyrant. Not to mention the men of the Union Army, and the people in our own lifetime who risked, and lost, their lives to stand up to prejudice and ignorance and anger and march and say "We are equal!"

Yesterday I was so upset, filled with despair thinking about how all of this must be affecting friends and family who have seen those ugly, torch lit, distorted faces over and over again, chanting that they are not equal, not welcome. I was talking with a friend that I haven't known long, but I knew the first day we chatted that I really liked her, and that despite the fact that she grew up in Detroit and I in little industrial towns in northwest Ohio, we have a lot in common. And you know what? SHE made ME feel better! That gritty, gray cloud lifted because of her calm, wise words. And that is what we have to focus on and listen to: the flood, no, the tsunami of love and support and yes, anger and disbelief that the MAJORITY of the people who live in this country are feeling. 

I also said the day after the election: "I will not be quiet." Our country is not perfect. It never has been. We are learning that the history we were taught left out a lot of people who mattered. We have a lot to be ashamed of, but we also have much to be proud of. Quit wasting time analyzing the actions of those people. There is no right, no reason to be found. We have got to make it clear that those rabid torch bearers are the real minority. This disgusting era must be quickly brought to an end and the only way is if WE REFUSE TO BE QUIET! As I write this, I don't know what opportunities will present themselves to help me add my voice, but I will do my best - and I WILL NOT BE QUIET!

 Sign in my good friend's front yard.

Sign in my good friend's front yard.

Happy Birthday to a Party Crasher

It’s the first of August. For most people it means school will begin in just a few short weeks. For our family, August 1, 1987 should have announced itself with a large banner emblazoned with the words: Buckle Up! Your heart is about to embark on the most thrill and fear-filled emotional roller coaster ride of your life! It’s Ellen’s Birthday!

Ellen was the baby we waited for the longest. There was a quite a stretch of years between Betsy, our oldest, and Ellen. When Betsy was two and a half, I made the very difficult decision to attend nursing school. It was a total commitment to 12 straight months of full days, five days a week. Time not spent studying included laundering and ironing uniforms, putting a spit shine on white shoes, meal planning for the week, and packing lunches. I was used to being able to let the day unfold, playing with Betsy, going for walks, visiting the library, reading stories . . . my stay at home mom schedule. Every night I almost cried, well some nights I did cry, thinking about the early morning routine of dropping a sleepy little girl off at a friend’s and heading for school. It took a lot of hard work, newly developed self-discipline and Tim’s unwavering support to get me through. 

My interest in obstetrics was the reason I wanted to become an LPN, however, just as my class was about to graduate, area hospitals implemented an initiative to eliminate LPNs in labor and delivery. I was truly crushed. I accepted a third shift job on the med-surg floor and although I did my very best, with few and far between shifts in OB, my heart ached that I couldn’t work in the area of nursing that I felt so passionately about. Somewhere between earning my cap and the pinning ceremony, Tim and I realized we were ready for another baby. Making that decision and having it unfold as we planned just didn’t happen.

I found another job a little closer to home with a more family friendly schedule. I picked up my work with HOPE – Helping Other Parents Experiencing Grief – having been offered the job of coordinator of the program. It was a good fit. All the while, month after month, no signs of a baby on the way.

Eventually, I was put on a fertility drug that, among other passion dashing tasks, included the fun job of basal temp charting. Eventually, we got pregnant, but it ended in a very early miscarriage. I was crushed emotionally in way that only a woman who can’t get pregnant when she wants to can understand.

Since Ellen is here, it’s obvious that after almost three years of infertility, we had our baby. The pregnancy was fairly uneventful, excepting her arrival time. She was over two weeks late. We were in the midst of a sidewalk sizzling heat wave and our old house only had AC in the bedrooms. I literally thought my abdomen was going to split like an overripe melon. I was miserable. July 31 was my birthday and Tim took my pouting, wretched self out to dinner with friends, saying that I was going to have a good time on my birthday no matter what. And I did! I laughed, enjoyed the restaurant’s air conditioning, ate a lot, followed it up with cake and ice cream . . . and of course . . . we all know how it turned out. Later in the evening, a weird wave of nausea washed over me and promptly dissipated. Then it happened again, quite different than when Betsy was born. But, it turned out pretty much the same. Labor, waiting, working hard. She was finally born, a little bigger than her sister at 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and so blonde!

We didn’t know it, but she was going to face a couple of real challenges before her umbilical cord dried, and even bigger ones before she was three. But, she recovered well from her early illnesses and we had on our hands the complete and ornery opposite of her older sister. We all just sat back and watched with a combination of astonishment, amusement and trepidation, because we just never knew when and what kind of trouble she would foment. We constantly felt like the beleaguered Mr. Wilson of “Dennis the Menace” fame. I was a pill as a kid, but my childhood antics didn’t begin measure up to the things Ellen managed to get into. 

So, now, today, she is turning 30, actually as I write this, it's almost to the minute she was born. She has become quite a person who sparkles with personality and intelligence. Everyone knows Ellen because people rarely forget her. Green-eyed with her signature scarlet red hair, she has an awesome offbeat sense of style that is reflected in her home décor down to her pedicured toes. She is a beautiful reflection of her favorite flower, the sunflower. 

Because of her musical, mellow voice, her words lilt up and down as she speaks. She is hilarious with a knife-edged wit. Her sense of humor is comprehensive as she wends through slapstick and dips into dark sarcasm. She is an amazing mimic, from her Minnesota accent to some of the crustier characters she meets at her job. Her wheezy laugh is contagious and to laugh with her until tears pour down my cheeks and I am forced to cross my legs is one of my chief joys in life. 

Now she is a mom, too. And she really needs that sense of humor of hers most days, as Ellen and Jared also have a little pill on their hands - Teddy. Being a first time mom is a huge task, full of triumphs and milestones and pocked with mistakes and missteps. There is no set course to parenting a child. There is no GPS (Grandparent Policy System) for us either – we are all new at this job! Ellen sometimes listens to my endless stream of advice, sometimes not. I appreciate that she even asks my opinion, from toddler food options to binky elimination tactics – it makes me feel needed.

It feels like yesterday that she crashed my birthday party, but Ellen really is the best birthday gift ever I received. 

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