Imperfectly Nice

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I’m really much too young to matriculate*

first day of kindergarten 
Besides an all-too-brief 11 weeks of maternity leave, I have dropped Vaught off at a babysitter or pre-school or summer camp almost every week day of his life.

Kindergarten shouldn’t be anything particularly different or stressful. Yet I am still a wreck, hours after I watched him walk ever more certainly away from me in that single-file line, backpack bouncing on his shoulders, his laminated fish-shaped name tag tied around his neck with a fuzzy piece of yellow yarn.

He is excited. And ready. There are so many possibilities waiting for him in this new, bigger world. And I wonder why it is he sees all of the good possibilities while I see the bad ones? He sees the possibility of new friends and I wonder if there will be a bully in his class. Or maybe two. He is excited about a new school and all that comes with it – new toys, new people, new things to learn – and I wonder if the old and sweetly familiar isn’t better. I worry how the decisions we’ve made as parents will affect him and if he will be happy and cared for in this new place.

I don’t know if this is part of being a parent or just part of being a neurotic parent, but I wish I felt a little less like I were walking around without my skin on. Everything feels raw and exposed with him in this new environment where I can’t control how people will react to him or give him little nudges when he needs them. This, really, is nothing new; he’s been navigating his way through playground politics for two years now, but it feels bigger this time. I know this is just one of the many steps he will take towards independence, but it feels a significant one.

My mother’s words keep running through my head. “It is a parent’s job to work their way out of that job.” (Although, I am 38 and still call my parents for everything so maybe the joke’s on them.) But today felt a little like a step towards working my way out of being a mommy. Like any day now, I will stop being mommy and start being “mom.” Mom. Mom said with an eye roll and all of the teen angst he can muster. Sigh.

I am getting ahead of myself though. I want to concentrate on today because today I got to hold his little hand while we waited for the long walk to his classroom and I got to give him kisses in the cafeteria. I got to whisper in his ear that the most important thing he can be is kind and prayed other parents were whispering the same thing in the ears of their wiggling five-year-olds.

I held it together as long as I was with him because he was so, so excited and I didn’t want him to believe there was reason to cry. I thought I might make it out of the school before I broke down but as I watched him walk away, the tears came. There he went, my baby, but not quite my baby any more. Because while I can still see the little boy pudge in his cheeks and in the dimples on his fingers, I can also see glimpses of the big kid and teenager he will become.

I stood in the hallway, a living version of the ubiquitous mom plea on Facebook feeds the world over. “Slow down time!” we all say when we post pictures of the next birthday or milestone. It’s senseless and it’s overused but there is a reason we all say it. Time is stealing our babies and turning them into young men and women. Their round cheeks and bellies are becoming leaner and they are starting to pronounce words without the funny little speech quirks kids have. They are becoming different creatures entirely, creatures who need us a little bit less.

We’re doing our jobs and turning them into big kids who march confidently away from us and into the unknown, with only their new backpacks for armor, hoping they will be brave and kind while we feel anything but brave. On the inside, I was the one kicking and screaming, grabbing him tightly and begging him not to go. Not quite yet. I wanted him to stay a little longer and let me kiss his pink cheeks a few more times; smooth his hair once more.

 I didn’t kick and scream though. Nor did I run down the hall, grab him, throw him over my shoulder and spirit him away like I wanted to. Instead I watched him go, knowing it won’t be the last time I watch him walk away from me. And I hope, as hard as it may be, that the next time he does, it is with just as much excitement and fearlessness for the future as he did today.

 

First day of school poem

Evidence that the PTO is, in fact, an evil, horrid organization that runs off the tears of mothers.

 
 *Bonus points to anyone who can name that tune. Hint: This song comes from a musical sequel that probably should never have been made but was still the soundtrack of my youth. It was bad but bad in the way that eight-year-old girls think it is amazing.

Clear eyes, full hearts …


I walked onto the field into the glare of the lights, the springy turf kicking little bits of recycled rubber onto my feet. My little one was hyped up from his game-day sno cone and he was running in circles around me. We were looking for our coach. We found him at midfield, his shoulders slumped. He took his visor off, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “I feel like we just lost this game,” he said. “I feel like we lost.” They hadn’t. They’d won.

They’d beat a rival, in fact. His feeling of loss had nothing to do with the score, but with a player. One who faces things no 16-year-old should and who wouldn’t be able to stay on the team after that night.

My husband is a competitor. If you can hit, kick or throw a ball, he will challenge you and he will probably win. He challenges our son to races constantly. “ I will finish packing your lunch while you put away your clothes and we will see who wins!” He wants to score more points than you, sink your battle ship and finish games he makes up in his head before you. Are you at the ATM next to him? I promise you that in his head there is a battle royale occurring, unbeknownst to you, to see who finishes first. Points and scores matter to him. Winning matters. But that night, the score that was still up on the brightly lit scoreboard meant very little.

The truth is that while tackles and scores matter to coaches, and matter a lot, those things may be the least of what they are teaching our sons and daughters. I hear a lot of people argue that more emphasis is placed on sports than academics and how backwards this is. I’m not saying I disagree with that and I won’t get into the dollars athletics bring into schools, either. Should academics come first? Well, of course. Of course they should. This is high school, after all, not the NFL. It’s not anyone’s job to play football, it’s their job to graduate.

For people who lead a charmed teenage life, and by charmed, I mean teenagers with supportive parents and a stable home environment, this may not be much of a challenge. But I have heard teachers tell countless stories about students who don’t have the luxury of a “normal” teenage life.

The student who sleeps through class because he is working after school then coming home to feed, bathe and help his younger siblings with their homework. He packs their lunches and puts supper on the table and falls into bed exhausted, his homework untouched.

The student who knows he won’t eat again until he gets back to school Monday morning.

The student who calls DHS and begs them to take him out of his own home because the water is cut off again and there hasn’t been any food this week because his parents thought it was more important to buy drugs with the little money they have.

Our system expects high test scores and academic excellence in college-bound courses from these kids. And, as much as I know an amazing teacher can ignite a spark in these kids, a lot of times it’s sports that ignite that spark. It’s sports that give them a reason to achieve academically because you can’t fail and play on Friday nights. It’s sports that give them the opportunity to go to college at all.

“It’s just a game.”
“This isn’t the NFL.”

You’re right. No one out here is getting paid to run with that ball. And, yes, this is a game. But to so many kids on that field, it’s so much more. It’s an opportunity. It’s not necessarily an opportunity to win Super Bowls, although you never know, but it’s an opportunity to graduate high school. To go to a community college and get a free education. To get a degree that means as adults, these boys won’t worry about where their meals are coming from. It’s an opportunity to break a cycle and to make a life that’s more than the one they were given. It’s an opportunity give the next generation a fighting chance.

Maybe I’m giving football too much credit. I know for a lot of kids, it’s just something fun they do in high school. But for so many others, it’s where they learned about a lot more than how to tackle or throw. It’s where they learned about loyalty and hard work and friendship. Where they were given the chance to succeed. 

Now, I am admittedly, not always the best football wife. My husband became a coach after many years in other professions so I was ill-prepared for what life would be like for the wife of a coach. My frame of reference was “Friday Night Lights” where Eric Taylor always took Tammy Taylor to dinner at Applebees after the game.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned that after games, coaches feed players, clean up the field house, start the laundry, download film and start reviewing plays instead of taking their wives to dinner. They work seven days a week. Seven. And seven nights. I am not always gracious about this. In fact, there are days I am downright pissed off about it. On my worst days, I wonder why those boys get so much of his attention.

And then, I’ll find the card one of them wrote him that says, “Love, your son …” Or I’ll see the tweets he gets tagged in on Father’s Day thanking him for being the only father figure they have ever known. I overhear the phone call he gets from a player’s parent begging him to talk to their son because they don’t know how to and my husband is the only one who can get through to him.

I look at our son and I see a child who is loved beyond all reason by this man and know we will all be just fine. That maybe a lot of other kids will be just fine in the end because my husband loves them too.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is just a game. But I believe that what my husband is doing, what these coaches are doing, is giving the boys who suit up on Friday nights opportunities in life and reasons to succeed.

I hope that one day, when they are telling stories about the big tackle they made or the pass they threw, they’ll take a minute to remember the men who were on the sidelines and loved them as if they were their own. 

I don’t know if that 16 year-old is ever going to walk into a corner office or if he will even go to college. I have no idea if he will be the kind of dad to his children that his coach tries to be for him. But I do know that he has at least one person who believes in him and tries to show him the kind of love his father should. I know that because of football, maybe he stands a fighting chance. 

And I know that even if my husband refuses to say it on Friday nights, Coach Taylor taught us all that clear eyes and full hearts can’t lose.

How lucky we are, how lucky our kids are, to have coaches that believe that.

If you can read this, thank a teacher 

It is Teacher Appreciation Week and while I am struggling to remember if it is Bring Flowers Day or Sweet Treats Day, I have been thinking a lot about my former teachers and how I appreciate the lessons I learned in their classrooms.

 

My mother, of course, who taught me in the classroom and teaches me in life. Mr. Leigh, who was the only teacher who ever helped me make any sense of math. Unfortunately, my understanding of math peaked in his 8th grade class and I have never again seen that level of success with All of the Numbers and Other Mathery. There was Mr. Williams who is probably the most OCD person I have ever encountered, and made me the grammar snob I am today. (At work at least. I obviously play fast and loose with the rules of grammar here.) My high school AP teachers, Coach Murphy and Mrs. Watkins, whose classrooms became a home to those of us taking all two of the AP classes offered in those days and who gave me some of my best memories of high school. Mrs. Kapaun, who was a crotchety little old lady that everyone swore kept peppermints tucked under her wig and added a little kick to her morning coffee. (Unsubstantiated rumors of high school students here, folks.) I loved her as I love most crotchety old people. I think that’s because because I aspire to be one. She once told me that one of my essays restored her faith in humanity and I still remember the feeling I had when she said that. I am not saying that to brag about my mad sophomore year essay skillz, but to acknowledge that the words teachers say to us mean something, even as adults, and I appreciate all of those who spoke kindly and gently to me. (Even if they were explaining fractions to me again.)

 

There is one teacher, however, that I loved more than the others, aside from my mother, of course. I have mentioned before that I grew up surrounded by people who love to read. I spent many hours being read to on the front porch swing or a big arm chair or my favorite spot in the woods, so when I stepped into Susan Long’s classroom in the 5th grade, I already loved stories. She made me appreciate words. 


One of the stories in our 5th grade reader was about a girl who lived in Mexico. She lived in a house with a courtyard in the middle and ground corn with her mother to make fresh tortillas. Mrs. Long asked us to close our eyes and listen to the words in the story. She would repeat words and softly ask us with her eyes closed, too, “Do you hear how beautiful they are? Listen. Marmalade. Tortilla.” And it was magic. When I closed my eyes and listened, I was in a world where words weren’t just static concepts on a page, but living, breathing things with beauty and power. I could almost taste the sweetness of the marmalade, could almost feel my fingers getting sticky from spreading it on a piece of freshly toasted bread. Words were no longer just there to convey a message or help us understand a concept, but were suddenly something that could make us see, smell, taste and touch. 

 

We did a lot of writing in Mrs. Long’s class, too. As she passed out our stories on sea creatures one day,  I saw her scrawl in red ink on my paper and was upset because I wanted her to think everything I did was only worthy of A pluses and gold stars. I certainly didn’t want to see that vibrant red ink. I was anxious to see what mistake I made and instead of a correction, I saw a notation that I should use a descriptive word like tenacious when I wrote about the sea creature clinging to the side of the boat. After I looked up “tenacious,” I wondered where in the world she thought I would have learned that word in the 5th grade and huffed and puffed about it for a while. I mean, I didn’t do anything wrong, I just didn’t use a big enough word? Ha! Ridiculous, I thought. So I pouted but I also started using my dictionary and thesaurus when I wrote, pushing myself to learn more words. I tested them out to see how they fit together with other words to construct a sentence infinitely better than the ones I could have come up with only using the vocabulary in my 5th grade reader. I don’t know if I ever admitted to myself at the time that that shock of red ink on my paper is what made me start thinking about word choice, but that single suggestion in the margins of my blue-lined paper challenged me. Are the embers hot? No, they’re smoldering. Is the wind chilly? No, it’s biting. 

 

I may never be the next Joe Rowling or have a best seller, but because of Mrs. Long, I will sit at a keyboard and write. I will challenge myself to make my words better. I will read novels and appreciate how the authors use their words to make us feel like we have stepped into the story. I will read to my son and tell him to close his eyes while I whisper beautiful words to him. Marmalade is still my favorite.

Goodbye winter, hello Mrs. Roper

Flowers are blooming, the days are longer and I am working very hard on not scratching my eyes out from all of the beautiful blooming flowers. Ah, spring. I am, in absolutely no way, a person who enjoys winter so I will take the warmer weather, itchy eyes and all, and be happy that we can unwrap ourselves from our snuggies like butterflies from cocoons.

Living in a coastal Mississippi county means that approximately four inches of my closet is devoted to winter wear, and every inch after that (that hasn’t been overtaken by dust bunnies and dog hair) houses sleeveless shirts, sandals and summer maxi dresses. I dig maxi dresses for many reasons including: the comfort; the fit, which is friendly to girls like me who fall firmly into the pear-shaped category; and the fact that they hide my very white legs. Also, the comfort. Again. Maxi dresses can be more comfortable than pajamas and I am all for anything that allows me to leave the house feeling like I am in my jammies. They are also pretty much my slippery slope into becoming a Mrs. Roper lookalike. In fact, if anyone has some sort of petition I can sign to make caftans appropriate workplace attire, please send it to me. I will post it, share it, tweet it and become a champion of a business caftan dress code. It would make casual Fridays more festive, I believe, what with all of us flowing around in our exotic prints and large sunglasses. Like an army of very efficient Nichole Richies. Conference calling and researching and analyzing would be much more productive if we all felt like we were lounging in a cabana in Miami is all I’m saying.

Do you see what happens here? My intent was discuss winter clothes yet, here I am, talking caftans. It goes against my very nature to discuss turtlenecks and wool pants, which is exactly why my closet is in its current state of chaos and I spend precious time on cold, winter mornings staring blankly at shelves full of summer clothes when it is 28 degrees outside.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The Dumbest Winter Wardrobe, Possibly Ever.

These are examples are my go-to pieces for winter:

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Do you SEE the ridiculousness displayed here? Let’s discuss.

This is an adorable cropped ¾ sleeved coat. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. A cropped, ¾ sleeved coat. Cute but totally impractical as it is pretty much impossible to stuff that coat under the coat it is necessary to wear over it if you are going outside.

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Next is seemingly practical winter wear. It’s fuzzy. It is warm. But it is missing pockets, which are a necessity for me in winter because, please, do you think I own gloves? Ha!

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This is my favorite because it is so pretty with its big buttons and lovely, full-length sleeves. However, it is more of a fall/spring coat and is really too light-weight to do the job I need it to do in February. It does have pockets and sleeves, though, so that is a bonus.

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This set of examples, in order: 1- has no pockets and ¾-length sleeves, 2- is so thin you can actually see the couch behind the fabric in the photo, 3- has short, butterfly sleeves and 4- is a ¾ sleeve turtleneck. Again, with the logic here. Because my forearms are very warm but my neck is cold?

And while these are examples of unwise wardrobe choices, I can usually get from the car to the office pretty quickly without gloves or a coat that makes much sense. However, there are instances that require actual winter clothing appropriate for the outdoors that I do not possess. I am no Carrie Bradshaw, but I do make an effort to look nice when I leave the house. I wear makeup, even to the mailbox, and have been known to suffer for cute shoes. But when temperatures fall below 50 degrees, all bets are off. Apparently. Anything colder than that and I end up looking like a hobo in public because I mistakenly assume that in Mississippi, none of us have appropriate winter clothing, we will all look ridiculous and I won’t stand out. For example, at my husband’s last football game of the season, I wore really cute riding boots, jeans (I did have fleece leggings on underneath), a hoodie, a pair of $1 gloves from Target, a scarf that was cute but matched absolutely nothing else I wore and a headband that I wear when I run. So, never, really. It was … not a good look, but since everyone else would be in similarly ridiculous outfits, I knew I would be fine. Of course, everyone else found some sort of winter weather clothing emporium, or maybe an outpost or something

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full of adorable clothes complete with crocheted head pieces and matching scarves and iPhone-ready gloves. I stuffed hand warmers in my boots because, while I wore fleece leggings, I had on thin socks because of course I did, and I tried to own the look even though it looked like my 4-year-old had dressed me.

So I am bidding farewell to winter – to sweaters that only keep me partially warm and jackets with no pockets, to my snuggie and to shoes that cover my toes – and saying hello to summer, sandals and caftan Fridays at the office. Fingers crossed.

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Here’s to you Helen Roper. Like most great fashion icons, you were before your time.

WWMD about a splinter?

My poor sweet little one got a ridiculously large splinter tonight and during the long extraction process he was so brave and so still … but far from quiet and more than a little dramatic.

Neil and I were … maybe not helpful. Neil, with his booming football coach voice, kept saying things like, “I’m going to get the knife now,” while I screamed at him to shut his pie hole because screaming WILL SCARE THE CHILD. We both exhibited great moments in parenting. I am usually the one who is calm in a crisis and he is the one who gets a little rattled. It is certainly easier to be the one to soothe and comfort though than to be the one faced with Doing the Thing, e.g. digging a splinter roughly the size of a bicycle out of a four-year-old’s foot.

Of course, kids pick up on adult tension so Vaught, while holding very still, especially considering all of the sharp instruments and digging going on in his foot, was wailing the following:

What’s going to haaaaaaapen to meeeee?
Am I going to diiiiiieeee?
But is Daddy a doctor?
I just want to go to Beeeeethleheeeeem. (Me: ???)
Because Mary will help me! (Me: Of course.)
Can we tell Santa Claus about this?
Help me Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft to get this splinter out of me! (These may or may not be his exact words.)
Then he made the sign of the cross and said the prayer they say before snack time at school.

Slightly dramatic, completely brave and we are apparently getting our money’s worth from this Catholic education.

A little triple antibiotic cream, a Woody and Jesse bandage, and some major gratitude for Dr. Daddy, and he is blissfully asleep with a great war story to tell on the playground tomorrow.

Being right IS being happy … right?

From time to time, as I am scrolling through Facebook, I will see the inspirational quote, “You can be right or you can be happy.” It is typically shown over a background of a sunset at the beach or a dandelion, its fluff blowing away in the gentle breeze, or maybe a picture of some wildlife drinking from a small mountain pond near moss-covered rocks. It is mostly attributed to no one, but a Google search (this will be important later) shows that Gerald G. Jampolsky is the one who coined this phrase.  Some people like to give credit to the Dalai Lama or Marilyn Monroe because the Dalai Lama is always saying something deep and thoughty and Marilyn Monroe gets credit for saying a lot of really smart stuff that she didn’t actually ever say. At least it seems my Facebook feed is full of women who are going through divorces attributing lots of words to Marilyn. Anyway, Mr. Jampolsky and his wife, Diane Cirincione, are psychologists and run something called the International Center for Attitudinal Healing in California because where else would a placed called the International Center for Attitudinal Healing be located? It is probably a place several people in my life – but mostly my husband – wish I would visit, at least once and, apparently, with good reason.

The thing is, I like being right. Being right makes me happy. So be right or be happy? Nope, I am happy because I am right. HA! HAHA! I WIN, Gerald Jampolsky!

My weapon of choice in my path toward eternal rightness is Google.  In fact, I feel Google was probably really invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Yep, Googled their names) because they wanted to be more right than anyone has ever been and they also wanted to be able to prove their rightness. Let’s face it, there is no point in being right if the person you are arguing with can sit there and smugly bask in their wrongness like THEY are the one with the all-important correct answer and there is NO way to check the answer. What is the point of knowing that Motownphilly was released in 1991 if you can’t wave your phone screen displaying the correct answer in the face of the one saying it was 1990? Moral victory? Ha! I don’t want me to be the only one who knows I am right; I want you to know that I am right.

If Google is my bullet, my phone is my gun. I can draw in record time, thumbs out and ready to type the in the piece of trivia we are arguing about, ready to hit search before the other person has even considered taking their phone out of their pocket. Possibly because they don’t have the same neurotic need to be right that I have and simply don’t care that much, and just remember at that dance in the 8th grade, they killed it on the dance floor to Motownphilly. But who really knows what their motivations are and why they are slow on the draw?

The next moment for me is sweet, sweet victory as I all but shove my screen in your eyeballs and say something like, “See? Ha!” or maybe “Nanny nanny boo boo.” For that brief, shining moment, I am on top of the world. I mentally dance around like this:

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I then smugly put my phone down, but not so far away that I can’t draw again if the need arises.

Then I look at my husband, who – let’s face it – is almost always the one on the receiving end of my desire to be the rightest person in the room. He looks … a little irritated maybe. I may have noticed some major side eye going on while I was congratulating myself on knowing the name of that actor who guest-starred on that show in the 80’s that one time.

Huh. Seems like my quest along the path of rightness may look, at least to my husband, like it is my quest to prove him wrong. It’s not really. I’ve been doing this, to my knowledge, since the beginning of my time on earth. I remember in fifth grade one of my very favorite teachers, Mrs. Long, gave us the assignment to do a book report on a biography. When a classmate of mine named Melanie (or Melody?) gave her book report on the fictional work “Six Months to Live”, a book I LOVED, I could not keep my mouth shut. My hand shot up and I informed the teacher that Dawn Rochelle was not, in fact, a real person. Mrs. Long just nodded her head and quietly suggested we let Melanie/Melody continue with her report. I also corrected Melanie/Melody when she mispronounced the name of one of the members of the “Baby Sitters Club” and when she said Arkansas like Ar KAN-zuhss instead of ARK-en-saw. I am pretty sure Melanie/Melody hated me. She should have. I was a 10-year old know-it-all with no filter who publically pointed out her mistakes.

I would like to tell you that I’ve grown since then but, apparently, not so much. There is a difference though and it is that I am at least now aware of my know-it-all tendencies and knowing is half the battle. So, instead of making a long list of resolutions this January which would be broken by now anyway, I am going to try to take a step back and be self-aware. I am going to try to use these little nuggets I’ve learned about myself the past 36 years and realize how my stuff makes other people feel. And not only that, I’m going to try to be self-aware in the moment, not after I’ve already “won” and am getting the stink eye from the person opposite me in the living room.

I’m hoping for a little help from Neil. He probably shouldn’t challenge me on things re: books I’ve read, reality TV and Beastie Boys lyrics, for example.  These are my strengths and he is well aware. He is always proud to have me on his Scene It team for a reason. In return, I agree to that I won’t challenge him in the area of sports and math. I will attempt to contain myself even if I have itchy trigger thumbs and I will attempt to remember that maybe Gerald G. Jampolsky is correct on some level on this whole right/happy thing. Neil will probably think I can’t do it; that I will fail miserably unless I sew my thumbs to the couch cushions. But we all know he is wrong.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words …

Then there many, many thousands of words here.

Happy 4th birthday!

Happy birthday to our love.

I like kids’ books and I cannot lie

I was challenged by a couple of friends on Facebook to post 10 books that have stayed with me long after I put them down. Of course, I am entirely too wordy for Facebook as I feel the need to explain why these books are the ones that stayed with me over time. I also realize that this list is not just about books, it is about the people who introduced me to the worlds books create inside my head, and even about the authors who created those worlds in the first place.

You will notice that while many of these books are often read by adults and go far beyond their intended children’s lit or YA audience, they are all, in fact, books for kids. There is a line in “You’ve Got Mail” where Kathleen says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” Agreed.  I do read books for grownups, and I love many of them. But these … they have never left me. They have taught me that being brave and kind are probably the two most important things you can be, and that we are all ultimately flawed and all ultimately worth fighting for.

In no particular order, my 10 books are:

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – C.S. Lewis taught me that magic and entire worlds can exist in ordinary objects like wardrobes. He also helped me understand the sacrifice of Jesus, not always an easy thing for kids to grasp, through Aslan.

All of the Harry Potter books – I was a Harry Potter holdout for a long time. I didn’t care about the hype and didn’t read them or even watch any of the movies until a couple of years ago. Y’all … those were wasted years. Wasted, I tell you. J.K. Rowling is a genius storyteller and weaves plot details in that you don’t even notice until you pick the books again. And again. And maybe one more time. I love these books so much, I have a Gryffindor shirt and seriously considered buying a Marauder’s Map until I saw the price. (I am a fan, but I am not an idiot.) I also might just know which house I would be sorted into on Pottermore (Ravenclaw). The obsession. It is real.

The Percy Jackson series – I read this series when I was pregnant with my son and remember thinking that I wanted my son to be just like Percy. So far, so good. Here’s hoping. The books are fun and funny and, much like Harry Potter, teach lessons about bravery and friendship. THEN you read the author – Rick Riordan’s – story about how these books came about and you fall even harder for them. (link)

“The Giving Tree” – I have been a regular reader of the great Amalah for many years and, a few years before I had my own child, I remember reading this post and being amazed. Wait … what?! She is totally right, the tree IS the parent. As a child, of course I didn’t realize this fine detail; I just loved the book, even though I thought the boy was kind of a jerk. Then I read Amalah’s post and got it, then I had a child of my own and holy tree leaves, I really got it. I am the tree. I AM THE TREE! WAAHHHHH! For those who feel similarly about this book, this year is the 50th anniversary of “The Giving Tree” and the Shel Silverstein website has some really cool activities and lessons based around the book.

“From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” – E.L. Konigsburg’s story about a little girl who loves complications and runs away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her little brother, the tightwad. Hilarity, and a fantastic story, ensue.

“Scorpio Races” – Maggie Stiefvater is amazing. I love her words. I am consumed by them when I read them. She can say more about who a character is in one sentence than most people convey in hundreds of pages. She makes me want to write, more than anything.

From “Scorpio Races”

“This time of year, I live and breathe the beach. My cheeks feel raw with the wind throwing sand against them. My thighs sting from the friction of the saddle. My arms ache from holding up two thousand pounds of horse. I have forgotten what it is like to be warm and what a full night’s sleep feels like and what my name sounds like spoken instead of shouted across yards of sand.

I am so, so alive.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – This is possibly the only book I read in high school that I was supposed to read. I’ve always loved to read and have always hated being told what to do, so there you are. I missed out on a lot of classics because I was too stubborn. Harper Lee (or Truman Capote, depending on what story you believe) broke through my rebellion of classic literature by force and I love her for introducing me to the Tom Robinsons and Boo Radleys of the world. And the Atticus Finches, of course.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” – I found this book on an old bookcase on my grandparents’ screened-in porch, along with many other old hardbacks that belonged to my granddaddy. We read Tom Sawyer on the front porch swing together. We would sit and rock and shell peas fresh from his garden and laugh until we cried. That copy, which he got for Christmas in 1926, is my most prized possession and still has dried up pea hulls in its yellowed pages.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” – Mark Twin is one of my literary and life heroes. He was smart, funny and just a little wicked. I want to be just like him when I grow up. Oh, and he was brave. So brave. THIS passage from Huck Finn …

“I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”- and tore it up.”

 “Looking for Alaska” – Trying to choose my favorite John Green book is like asking me to choose between chocolate and peanut butter. I just don’t think I can do it. I chose this one because it was the first of his books that I read, and I If we are voting for class favorites like we did in high school, John Green gets my vote for the male favorite, with Maggie Stiefvater coming in as my favorite female. They are a somewhat unlikely pair, but both are equal parts nerdy and bad ass and way too cool for me to hang out with, not that they would ever make me feel that way. That’s just how they are. (I am assuming.) John Green writes about kids who are figuring out who they are and who they will become in the most real, thoughtful way. I want him to write more and more so I can read more and more of his words. Now I just have to decide if I want a Nerdfighter or Deathly Hallows tattoo, because my love for John Green rivals my love for Harry Potter. Maybe.

Honorable mentions go to all of the books read to me on the laps of my mother and granny, those read to me by my granddaddy while we paused during our walks in the woods, and those read to me by my father with his deep, rumbling voice. (I bet he doesn’t even know his voice rumbles. It does. I have been blessed to be raised by people with good reading voices.)

I just know that I will soon be adding another book to this list, and that is “The Envelope,” written by my friend John. It is a book written for grown-up type people, but I have a good feeling about it anyway. You should just go ahead and buy a copy, and also read his blog.

So, there is my list. I read like a 16-year-old girl. Or possibly a 10-year-old boy. I probably always will, and that is okay with me, because as much of a cynical adult I can be, those are the books that make me believe in magic.

Sweet summertime

  
The world is bleached blue in the fading light, the frogs and crickets and cicadas playing their nightly song while the fireflies blink like tiny, white Christmas lights.

I lay on the front porch, fingers scraped and stained from picking blackberries on the fence row between our house and the farm behind us.

I watch the moon rise with my little one close against me. I lazily swat mosquitoes away from him and his still downy, soft hair tickles my nose. 

He whispers to me to tell him “secrets” (stories) about when he was a baby. I tell him about the all of the time we would spend circling the back deck or the front yard when his colic and reflux were at their worst, while I would sway him and sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

I would tell him the man in the moon was smiling at him while he cried and I paced. Then, I didn’t think those would ever be sweet memories, but they are.

He asks if we can dance and sing under the moon now, and we do, him giggling as we spin. 

Eventually, the mosquitoes chase us away, back to the warm light of the house. 

The magic of nighttime during the summer has spun its quiet spell around us and we look up at the moon one last time before we head off to bed. 

A Summertime PSA from: My Husband*

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Summer is approaching, and beach vacations are imminent. We are all counting down the days until our behinds are in a beach chair, the smell of sunscreen and salt water (or maybe margarita salt) coming together to form the olfactory heaven that is summer.  The warm sun and the ocean breeze are intoxicating, and we find it hard to remove ourselves from our beach chairs. We are blissed out and joyfully reclining, Jimmy Buffett music playing on a radio a few towels down, and we feel the need to document the moment. Because this is of those moments we wait for. When deadlines are swallowing us whole and the cold won’t quit, this is what got us through – the promise of a white chair and a striped umbrella. We don’t just want to document it though, we want to share it. With our loved ones and people we probably went to high school with, but really don’t remember, and that person we met at that conference that one time. Also, we kind of want to make everyone at the office a little jealous, because we can be jerks sometimes. The phone comes out, the photo is snapped, we spend copious amounts of time deciding if LoFi or Valencia makes the water bluer and the clouds whiter, and then we post. We post a picture of our feet facing the ocean. Not only do we post it now, we post it over and over again, all summer long every time we are beach- or pool-side. And my husband has something to say about it. Stop. Please stop. He doesn’t care if your pedicure is fresh, he still thinks you have jacked up toes, and desperately wishes for something else in his newsfeed in the months of May through September besides your sandy ankles.

I understand the temptation. I have been there. I have taken photos of my feet at the beach. Half of our honeymoon video is me taking shots of the Jamaican surf slowly covering and uncovering my toes. There is practically nothing better for our five senses to experience: the smell of the salt, the feel of the foamy surf between our toes, the sound of waves crashing, the taste of a cool drink, and the sight of the blue water … perfection. But here is the thing. It is perfection for YOU. While YOU are at the beach. You know what the rest of us experience when you post these photos? Your weird crooked toe and that tattoo you got on spring break in college that you now kind of regret. That is all. We don’t hear the waves or feel the surf between our toes.** I’m not telling you not to take the picture. By all means, document. Document away. Take a million photos of your feet and filter and Photoshop them to death. Print them and keep them in your desk drawer this winter because, for a brief moment, it will take you back to that perfect moment on that perfect day. But please don’t share them. My husband is freaked out by your hammertoe.

*The words are mine, but the sentiment is his. And he is correct.

**This is NOT a solicitation for VIDEOS of your feet at the beach. Still can’t feel the sun or taste the cool drink in your video, so no.

Special note: This announcement is made for those who are traveling to the beach sans children or with nanny and/or grandparents. Anyone trying to keep a toddler from swallowing half of the Gulf obviously doesn’t have time to take feet pictures. Lounging? Ha! 

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