Archives For Scenes from My Memoir

La Passeggiata

April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

Our first night in Rome, Tyler and I headed into town via the Metro up to Flaminio station near the Piazza del Popolo. From there, we walked along the Via del Corso, a long straight street in Rome that closes down every night for walking. As a long-standing tradition, everyone in Rome finishes up work, and before heading home or to a restaurant to meet friends for dinner, they take a long walk. Sometimes they shop or buy ingredients for dinner, but it’s mostly just to socialize – maybe to show off a little, too.

The street lights glow a soft amber color. The shop owners stand around outside, talking to passersby. Old Italian men with their wool hats and coats and spiffy scarves gently push the elbows of their lady friends in heels and hats farther down the street. Teenagers in skinnies and Pumas light each other’s cigarettes and laugh on their way to the Spanish Steps or the nearby (and gigantic) McDonald’s. Street vendors shoot neon spinners in the air to attract the passing tourists.

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We ventured over to the Spanish Steps and then down towards the Trevi Fountain to throw in our lucky coin, assuring a return trip. We walked the winding paths leading over to the Pantheon. At the Pantheon we sat and watched a guy take an extended exposure shot of the passing crowds. We found a gelato shop, where I tried some made from rose jam. It was my favorite of the trip – light, fresh, and creamy. We wandered by the Victor Emmanuel Monument and then climbed to the Piazza del Campodoglio, where we could see the line of the Forum, the Arch of Constantine, and the Colosseum in the distance. There, the city was quiet and peaceful.

I loved being a part of this. It’s like Rome says, “Let’s take a few moments of every day and remember we are all in this together.” Rome doesn’t forget its past. It builds on top of it, or it saves and appreciates it. The streets bustle with modern-day life, but they still recognize the beauty of its history. Trevi Fountain, a gorgeous display of sculpture and art, was completed in 1762 to celebrate the re-opening of some of Rome’s ancient aqueducts. Now, it’s visited by lovers and by crowds of teenagers, by old men before grabbing some wine with friends and by tourists who want to catch some of the magic of A Roman Holiday.

I know visiting Italy for ten days will not make me an Italian, but I want to bring a bit of Italy into my every day life. I want to take time every night for a stroll or to catch up on the day with friends. I want to celebrate history right along with the present. Why not make something simple, like a water source, also be beautiful? Not all of Rome is in a museum. Most of its beauty and life is free for the taking.

I want a part of my day, every day, to somehow remember, “We’re not alone in this life. Let’s be together.”

This post is part of an on-going series where I tell random stories from my life. Names are changed to protect the innocent, unless given direct permission to publish. Originally posted May 11, 2012.

Hen Pecked ..*In UR face!

When I taught school, once in a while my students would ask about my years in high school. This was one of my favorite stories to tell them. My students rarely believed me.

I was a member of the FFA – blue-corduroy-jacket-wearing, creed speaking, card-carrying member of the once dubbed “Future Farmers of America” (now it’s just FFA). My small school had one of the best chapters in the entire country. I learned about parliamentary procedure, castrating pigs, mending fence, installing electrical equipment, welding, carpentry, and the lyrics to the entire canon of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimmy Buffet.

One of my teachers, Mr. Griffin, decided he wanted his students to see animals go from pen to slaughter to dinner-table ready in one class period (they just don’t cover this in your average curriculum, folks). This particular class period, the class walked to the back shop (normally reserved for welding), where we all immediately noticed four chickens in a makeshift pen over next to the cutting torches. Mr. Griffin called us on over to the pen, while he calmly picked up one of the freaked out birds. He cradled the bird in his arm like a football and carefully explained how we were going to watch how a chicken became edible.

I had just eaten lunch, so I wasn’t terribly keen on watching a chicken die, but before I had much time to protest, Mr. Griffin walked the class outside, telling us to gather behind the dumpster. He grabbed a hatchet on his way out (oh, yes he did). Then, he offered a prayer thanking God for blessing us, His children, with the ability to take the life of a chicken and eat it (I’m not really sure on the particulars of the prayer. Still processing how I was about to watch a beheading.) Mr. Griffin said his amens and raised the hatchet. I closed my eyes.

Whack!

Over the chorus of “eew’s” and a round of nervous laughter from the class, I heard Mr. Griffin (the consummate teacher) meticulously continue his instruction, noting the accuracy of the saying “running like a chicken with its head cut off.” I looked up to see this decapitated bird flail itself repeatedly against the dumpster until sputtering to a stop. He gave one last desperate kick toward the sky with his upturned legs.

Mr. Griffin tossed the head into the dumpster, grabbed the chicken by its feet and let the blood drain out. He walked us all back into the shop and showed us how to rip off the feathers. He tossed the feathers into a plastic trash bag. Then, he grabbed a hand torch and singed off the remaining hairs across the skin. He talked to us about the inner-workings of our denuded fellow and where we could find the different pieces of the chicken. He showed us the organs and digestive tract (cutting open the intestine to show us the contents of the bird’s last meal). He wanted to know if we had any questions. One of the girls asked where to find the chicken strips. Mr. Griffin washed his hands and told us we needed to go ahead and finish up for the day. We walked back into the classroom to gather our books and headed out to chemistry.

The next week, we saw a wild hog carcass hanging by its feet in the back of the shop.

*I originally posted this story on May 25, 2012. Since then, I found the picture documenting this event. 

I describe the junior high years as an odd combination. In some ways, you feel grown up and adult-like, wanting to try out make up and check out the dating scene. In other ways, you still (secretly) want to build things with Play-Doh or occasionally play on the playground at a park. Thus the paradox of the middle school brain – you’re caught in the middle.

I remember my fondest junior high memories involved this dichotomy, namely the junior high Halloween competition. Every year at Halloween, we could dress up in costumes for school. We would have an assembly at lunch time, involving a judge (usually a representative from the local paper), and a Halloween parade through the junior high gym. The winners received enormous bags of mixed chocolate, plus the bragging rights – big deal in junior high.

So one year, my friend Cynthia decided she wanted my friend, Melissa, and me to enter the group competition. Her idea? We could be Chef Boyardee, The Hamburger Helper Hand, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. We thought the idea was original and funny – enough to win the coveted bag of treats. The problem was making the costumes. How were we going to transform Cynthia into a giant talking oven mitt?

My junior high years were pre-internet buying. So much ingenuity would have been lost for a mere $49.99.

Enter my mom. 

My mom has a tendency to be the most weirdly creative and talented person I know. Proof: 1) She once died fabric needed to match a beige shirt by staining a white T-shirt in a bowl of tea. 2) She can fold a fitted sheet. (I swear, she has magic sheet-folding powers. I try to fold a fitted sheet, and it’s just a wadded ball.) Naturally, Mom did not hesitate with this costume challenge. She almost immediately said, “I think we can do that.”

I, as Chef Boyardee, would be the easiest. She made an apron and chef’s hat for me. Melissa’s Pillsbury Dough Boy costume consisted of a white shirt and pants with a large white trash bag taped around her body. Then, we stuffed it with newspaper. This worked great, until all of the paper would settle down at the bottom, causing Melissa to waddle, clown-like throughout the halls until we fluffed her back up. The trickiest costume would need all of my mom’s magical powers.

How do you make a giant oven mitt – a giant oven mitt with only four fingers?

First, Mom drew a glove-ish figure around Cynthia on the floor. She stitched and hemmed the fabric together. Then, with a box of Hamburger Helper as a model, we drew and colored on the face. Next, Mom dunked the fabric into a bucket of liquid starch. We let it dry for approximately 800 hundred hours or so. The struggle became keeping the fingers from flopping around. My mom rigged a helmet of sorts for Cynthia to put the middle finger on her head, and we cut a hole in the costume for her face. We tied elastic around her waist to attach a pillow and stuff in the thumb.

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When she tried the whole contraption on, the two side fingers kept flopping over, giving all of us the biggest flipping off ever. 

My mom arranged some shoulder pads to stick on Cynthia’s shoulders. Those didn’t work either. Finally, around midnight of the night before the competition, my mom just made my friend stand in a Y position (think Village People) at all times.

The next day, Cynthia walked around the halls with her hands ready to sing a never-ending chorus of the ”YMCA” while her big, fat thumb pummeled each passerby right in the crotch. I had to carry all of her books for her. Occasionally, she would get tired, and flip off all of the 7th graders. But, in the end the tired arms and the bird-giving paid off because we won!

What’s your favorite Halloween costume story?

Scenes from my memoir pin

I’ve been dealing with dead animals lately.

I decided to make a resurrection garden with the kids as a fun and informative craft leading up to Easter. After our trip to Wal-Mart to gather the needed supplies, we all walked into the back yard to start digging in the dirt. We found a dead baby possum instead, which makes talking about “Resurrection,” “New life,” and “The tomb being empty,” a rather awkward conversation.

Cause of death? Loved by a golden retriever.

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Things you Need to Know about Golden Retrievers:

1) They shed a lot. Like a lot. Like mountains of long, golden, wispy hairs all over the hardwood floors. Like lie down on the carpet stand up with a fur coat kind of shedding.

2) They are lovers not fighters. (This is the part that makes #1 bearable.)

Goldens are built for play. Give a golden a tennis ball, and he’s your biggest fan for life. So, when a golden retriever like our sweet boy Sam finds a mouse or a baby possum, or just this morning, a squirrel, he can’t help but get excited about having a new toy and also friend. He tosses his friend in the air. He plays hide-and-seek with his new friend. He carries his friend around in his mouth. He bats his friend around with his paws. Eventually, the poor critter dies a slow, slobbery, suffocating death. It’s a death by love. If my life were a Steinbeck novel, Sam would be Lenny. He just doesn’t understand when to stop petting.

It’s a lot like this:

In a way, this is a nice death for me. Instead of having to clean up squirrel parts throughout the yard, I only have to pick up one stock-still, slobbered to death rodent with a shovel. It’s almost convenient.

Anyway, the boys have been amazed by dead things in the yard and how to properly dispose of them. All this burial talk reminded me of the time my son Parker stared death in the face and didn’t find it at all scary. It’s a story that’s been off of the Internets for too long.

Taking Your Children to Funeral Homes: A Cautionary Tale

Almost two years ago, my husband’s grandfather passed away. He was 90 years old. He had lived a great life, and he died peacefully. On the way to the funeral, Tyler and I discussed how we would talk about this with our sons.

Following our parenting mantra that usually the simplest and most truthful explanation works best, we decided not to worry too much about our three-year-old (Parker). We would keep him informed about the basics without going into graphic detail. Then, for our five-year-old (Keynan), we would take him to the visitation and burial service, but not worry about the funeral service at the church.

During the visitation at the funeral home, I stayed with Parker and our baby girl in the parlor area. My husband took Keynan into the visitation room. Tyler explained the casket and the body situation along with our beliefs about God and Heaven and such. Keynan took it well, asking a few questions before saying he’d like to go back and look at the fish aquarium in the parlor. At this point, Tyler’s uncle volunteered to watch the boys, so that I could go to the visitation room myself. I thanked him and walked into the room. I paid my respects at the casket, and then started talking to other family members.

Meanwhile, back at the parlor, “keeping watch” to Tyler’s uncle actually meant “going exploring.” With two mischievous boys. At a funeral home. They were racing down the empty corridors, giggling and laughing along the way. Of course, after awhile, my energetic Parker bounced into the visitation room, free from the supervision of his uncle. Before I could get to him, Parker ran up to the casket and pulled up at the opening to get a better look at what was inside the giant box in the room.

Standing on tip toes, Parker peeped into the casket, and then blurted out, “Hey, that’s Grandaddy! Dad, did you see Grandaddy?!”

Tyler and I looked at each other in mutual understanding. “Welp, here we go.”

Tyler picked Parker up, and quietly talked to him, (I’m not sure what he said). Parker listened with intensity and absolute curiosity. In a few minutes, he started a conversation, shaking his head for emphasis, “Grandaddy was sick, but now he DEAD. Grandaddy’s right there, and he DEAD. That’s my Grandaddy. He DEAD! Mom! Did you see Grandaddy?! He DEAD!!!” He handled the whole thing with seriousness, but he was also pretty matter-of-fact about it. Obviously. And he wasn’t traumatized in the least.

Lessons Learned: Don’t underestimate a child’s capacity to understand death. Don’t let Tyler’s uncle be in charge of pre-schoolers.

My Husband is Handsome, okay?

In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I worked at rival schools. He was an assistant band director, and I taught high school English. So, when our two schools both performed at the same marching contest, my students made a big deal about pointing him out to their parents.

Anyway, when I got to school on Monday, one of the teachers who attended the contest came up to talk to me (We’ll pretend her name is Diana).

Diana: “Your husband. Was he the guy who stood at the end zone and directed during the show?”

Me: “Yes. That’s Tyler.”

Diana: “I had no idea your husband was so good-looking.”

Me: “Um.”

Diana: “I mean. He’s incredibly good looking. I was. I was. [fans herself]

{No, really, she actually fanned herself.}

I just had no idea.”

Me: “Well. Yes. I think he’s handsome too, so ….”

Diana (interrupts, putting her hand on my shoulder): “No, no. I don’t think you understand. He’s INCREDIBLY handsome. I j-just. I just had no idea.”

Me (shifting my feet, awkwardly glancing around): “Yes. I’ve always been attracted to him. What are you trying to say?”

Diana: “It’s just that, well, you know. He’s a band director, and you’ve never mentioned that he was so handsome.”

Me: “I’m not sure how his job relates to this, and I don’t normally say, ‘Yes, my husband is a band director, and he’s super hot.’ Normally, I just say his name is Tyler.”

Diana: “Well, I mean, I just couldn’t stop staring at him during the show because I just couldn’t believe that he was your husband.”

Me: “WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?! MY HUSBAND IS TOO HOT FOR ME?! IS THAT IT?! Also, please stop staring at my husband.”

Diana: Backpedals.

I Stink at Compliments.

My husband and I have been married for almost eleven years now. We’ve both added pounds and gained a few wrinkles. I still think he’s handsome. I forget to tell him that. In fact, I forget to tell others about him, too. Bragging about my amazing husband doesn’t come naturally to me.

Tyler is complimentary to a fault. Any time his colleagues meet me for the first time, they almost always say, “Wow. It’s so nice to finally meet you. Tyler talks about you all the time.” He brags to everyone about the things I do: writing, cooking, mothering. When he’s conducting a band concert, he always makes me wave or stand up while he talks about me. I get incredibly embarrassed, sometimes even annoyed with him for this. Why?

I’m a natural compliment deflector.

I do not like to draw attention to myself, and I don’t ever, ever want people to think I am bragging. I purposely choose clothing that’s non-descript. I even get embarrassed for other people. I’ve learned how to accept compliments over the years. I mean, how hard is it to just say, “Thanks,” and smile? Not that hard. But I still have trouble knowing where to look or what to say next.

Because I deflect compliments so much, I do not make enough of an effort to brag about my husband to other people. I never know what to say, and it’s harder for me to pinpoint what makes Tyler so great. Unless people know him, they don’t understand, “Well, he’s Tyler. That’s why I love him so much.”

Actually, I find that it’s easier to complain about my husband: how he’s super stubborn and opinionated, how he leaves his dirty socks everywhere, how he gets annoyed when we have to go shopping. Those are tangible things people understand. Those are things we can joke about. (See how that list just rattled off like that?)

Somehow, I don’t want people to think that I’m bragging about how great Tyler is. Because, in my warped brain, having a good husband who loves me and thinks I’m amazing, that might seem conceited to others. So, since I deflect so many compliments, I forget to build up my best buddy and bacon bringer to those around me to avoid sounding cocky.

My compliment deflector shield has a self-destruct button.

Anyone else have this problem?

PS. Tyler, You’re handsome and loving. You’re the best dad ever. You’re incredibly, mind-blowingly talented, and you make me laugh until I wheeze. And all that other gushy stuff. I’ll try to let other people know all that more often, and really, the sock thing is okay.

Do you ever stick your foot in your mouth regarding literature? Do you know what I mean? Like, you always assumed Evelyn Waugh was some old lady or you mistakingly thought the title of that novel was Tequila Mockingbird? Maybe you tried to pronounce Fyodor Dostoevsky in conversation and your tongue crashed and burned in complete betrayal.

In honor of Les Miserables showing in a theatre near you, I decided to confess one of my biggest literary missteps. Back in 2000, I toured England for six weeks through a program sponsored by the campus ministry at my university. Our group could spend two free days in London, and one of the “must do” items on my list was to see a performance of Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre because anyone who heard about my free time in London insisted I go. They could barely speak of the show without crying, adding how my life wouldn’t be complete until I had seen it.

I actually knew very little about the musical. I thought it was something about the French Revolution (Literary Misstep #1). I had only heard one song from the entire show, “On My Own,” because I had a roommate obsessed with Dawson’s Creek, and she made me watch a scene where Joey (Katie Holmes) sings it for a beauty pageant, finally getting Dawson to look at her as a girl. You can find it on YouTube. I won’t provide the link because it’s painful.*

So, anyway, my friends and I are up at the very top of the Palace Theatre, super excited about the idea of seeing Les Miserables IN LONDON. (Something about saying IN LONDON after everything makes it that much cooler. Bag Pipes IN LONDON. McDonald’s IN LONDON. Pigeons IN LONDON. Wearing pants IN LONDON) The music starts, and I’m instantly enchanted. The rotating stage. The gorgeous score. Everything. However, before we even hit intermission, I’m suddenly lost in the plot. Based on very little context, I had convinced myself that at some point two men, who look exactly alike though are not twins, switch places to save one from returning to jail, awaiting eventual execution. Right? Was I missing something?

I kept expecting a man to come out, looking exactly like Jean Valjean. You might also consider: 1) we sat at the very top of the theatre, 2) all of the actors sang every line of the entire show, and 3) all of them had British accents, so understanding the nuance of the plot was difficult.

Not until several days later did I realize why I was so confused. I mixed up the plots of Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton switched places to save one from the guillotine and save the other man’s soul through ultimate sacrifice during the best of times and the worst of times. Not Jean Valjean and, you know, some other guy in France with a British accent. Jean Valjean offered grace to his most hated enemy as he heard the people sing, singing the songs of angry men. In my defense, Valjean hid his identity to keep from going back to prison, plus the France thing, and the battle thing with French uniforms. It’s all very understandable. Right?

I’m the weirdest and dumbest person ever.

Moving on, we saw Les Miserables over the holidays with my husband’s family. We loved it, except for the hot mess performance of Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway was amazing, and Hugh Jackman could sing to me any day of the week. Lovely man. I still recommend one of the Broadway recordings for your listening pleasure, but the movie pulls out emotion and depth you can’t really see from the nosebleeds at the Palace. So, spill it.

When have you been most embarrassed in literary circles?

*Okay, okay. Here’s the link to the “Someone-sings-a-song-from-Les Miserables-worse-than-Russell-Crowe” video. Watch at your own risk.

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photo via compfight.com

I grew up in a loud house. Big voices, big personalities, all talking over each other for a chance at the floor. In my house, it was not uncommon to hear something like this in normal conversation:

“MOM, WHERE’S MY OTHER BOOT?!” – my brother, from the depths of his closet.

My mom in the kitchen, over a sizzling pan of fried potatoes, “WHERE DID YOU PUT THEM LAST?”

“IF I KNEW THAT, I WOULDN’T BE ASKING YOU WHERE MY BOOT WAS!”

Mom, not moving an inch from her skillet, “DID YOU LOOK IN THE GARAGE?”

My dad on the lawn mower, through the open kitchen window, “SEND A KID OUT HERE TO MOVE WATER HOSES!”

Mom, “KELLY! GO HELP YOUR DAD MOVE THE WATER HOSES!”

My brother, “I’M GOING OUT THERE, MOM. DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. HEY! I FOUND MY BOOT!”

Mom, “OH, GOOD! NEVER MIND, KELLY!”

My brother, trips on the dog while heading to the garage, “WILBUR! DON’T GET UNDERFOOT!!”

Dad, “HEY! SOMEONE GET OUT HERE AND MOVE THE HOSES. THERE’S A RANGER GAME TONIGHT!!”

My brother, “I KNOW, DAD. I’M COMING. NOLAN’S PITCHING!”

My other brother from the bathroom, “MOM, CAN YOU BRING ME SOME TOILET PAPER?!”

Mom, “KELLY, GET AN EXTRA ROLL OF TOILET PAPER FOR THE BATHROOM!!”

Me, from my room, “OKAY. JUST A MINUTE!! MOM, HAVE YOU SEEN MY SANDALS?”

Mom, “WHERE DID YOU TAKE THEM OFF?”

Me, “IF I KNEW THAT…”

My family yelled a lot, not really out of anger so much, although yelling matches did happen. One could argue that our house was small, so our voices carried easily. But truthfully, my family just had loud voices. In a family like mine, you didn’t wait for a quiet time to say what you wanted to say. You just started talking louder. It was nothing personal or rude – just the only way you to get everyone else to shut up.

When my husband and I started dating, he spent time around my family over the holidays. He would sit on the couch and watch the football game. He would laugh at our stories, but wouldn’t say much. He wasn’t angry, and he didn’t feel left out. “You’re family just has a bunch of loud-talkers,” he’d say. I had never really thought about it. Later, when Tyler asked me to marry him, I distinctly remember my mom saying, “We all like Tyler, but it’s just so hard to get to know him. He’s so quiet-natured.”

I remember telling this to my friends at school, and they’d all fall in the floor laughing. My husband is nothing close to quiet-natured. The consummate entertainer, Tyler tells stories, cracks jokes, performs in front of thousands without one bead of nervous perspiration, but around my family, he’s quiet. That’s how loud my family is (not bad, not unloving, not crazy – well, not all crazy). JUST LOUD!!

As my husband and I made our home together, he started pointing out my random yelling. I’d yell at him from our bedroom to the living room, and he’d say: “Can you come in here to tell me?” He pointed out my yelling even more after we had children. I would shout out, “HEY, STOP PULLING ON THE BLINDS!” I wouldn’t be yelling in anger. I was in the kitchen and didn’t want to walk the five steps into my boys’ bedroom. My husband would roll his eyes and say, “Just go in there.”

Over the years, I have learned that excessive shouting leads to added crazy at my house. I work on using my inside voice, but I’m not perfect. Recently, I began to catch my kids trying to yell at me in the house. They yell at each other, too. Where does this originate? Um, yeah. I’m continually working on ways to get my point across without raising my voice.

What are some ways to beat the yelling habit?:

1. Proximity and Physical Touch: If I go and put my hands on my children’s shoulders and bend down to look at them in the face, they are more likely to listen. I know this in my head, but it takes extra effort to stop what I’m doing, walk to the bedroom, place my hand on my son and calmly tell him to stop licking his sister.

2. Enforced Quiet Times: I require a good hour and a half in the afternoons with everyone in a room to themselves. This is time to sleep or play quietly. This daily quiet time helps keep the house less chaotic, and recharges everyone.

3. Prayer: Yelling in anger is never okay. My parents learned this over time, and my brothers and I have all learned this as adults, too. Still, I revert to old stand-bys when I am especially angry, and the angrier I get, the louder my voice gets. I have spent a lot of time over the years in prayer to help change my habits because I know yelling in anger only hurts and destroys.

4. Apology and Forgiveness: Even though I am working on quieter ways to express frustration, I still make mistakes. When I make those mistakes, I apologize to my husband or my children, and we talk through the situation.

Overall, I know words are powerful, and I must be intentional not only the words I use but also in how I project those words to my family.

Dear Teenage Kelly,

First. These glasses. Are you afraid of bats attacking your face? Do you really need a face guard along with the corrective lenses? Were you just hoping to shrink those chubby cheeks? Precious, they are chubby, and they always will be. They are also adorable. Seriously. Hey, you know what, you’ll see what I mean when you meet a little one named Hannah Beth, especially when she is two. No need to hide those cheekers. Just get some contacts soon, OK?

Kelly, take it from yourself at almost 34, putting up a shield (either of the emotional or bat-deflecting framed variety) to shut other people’s judgments out of your life will not keep hurt or criticism from happening. You can use sarcasm or feign shyness or wear t-shirts and jeans or put your hair in a ponytail to deflect criticism. In fact, keeping up those defenses might hold back the battering ram of the outside world for a time, but those defenses will bring you no peace. You can only find peace in learning to love how God made you.

Here are some other things I would like you to know:

1. You can hide your true self and try to fit in, but the pretending will not heal your insecurities. Please know that girls as teenagers, in general, are mean. Just plain mean. You need to rise above it, and not embrace the meanness. You are trying to avoid conflict and teasing, but you know what? Usually, people tease and judge others to mask their own insecurities or inadequacies. Just don’t worry too much about belonging, and don’t repay any insults you receive by heaping insults on others. It’s not easy: the gossiping, the backstabbing, the teasing. But, you have some friends who can help you get through this. Stick to them.

Like this one. Keep writing letters to her, and as soon as you get your driver’s license, drive down to see her.

Also this one. Yes, she has a boyfriend. (What? Did you say, “Like that’s going to last?” Oh, it does. Trust me. He’s a keeper.) But she’ll still make time for you. Just call her.

Also, your friend, Les. She’s awesome, right? Maybe take a few pictures with her for posterity’s sake. You are with her all the time. She is one of your best friends. (Sorry Les!) You might also consider wearing another dress to semi-formal occasions as most of your pictures around this time feature you in this darling shade of peach. 

2. Comparing yourself to others leads you nowhere. The sooner you learn to stop comparing yourself to other people, the better your life will be. You can never measure true value with an instrument – not a scale or a measuring tape or a bell curve. You are smart. Sometimes you try to hide it. And sometimes you use it to measure your worth. Listen, you don’t need to hide your A+ test grade under your folder, but you also don’t need to know who made the highest grade on the test either. When you get to college, you will meet people who love you despite all of your social awkwardness. Despite your inept fashion sense. Despite your A’s in everything. And you know what? Most of them will be just as smart or smarter and just as pretty or prettier, and it’s not a big deal.

3. You don’t have to prove anything. The basketball thing? Yeah. Just go ahead and stop doing that. You aren’t competitive. It’s okay. You’re not athletic either. That’s okay, too. Spend time reading and writing. Don’t take every upper level math class or join every academic and extracurricular activity possible. Cut yourself some slack. Spend time walking and running for fun. Stick with music, maybe take an art class. Seek out other things you enjoy. You don’t have to like sports at all, really.

3. Go over to the feed store and spend some time with your dad. Get him to tell you the stories again. I know he tells them all the time. Trust me. You’ll still laugh. Write a few of them down in a journal.

4. You are about to go through the turning point in your life. Hang on. You’ll make it out on the other side just fine, but not without grief and heartache. Mostly, hang on to your real self during that process. You’ll spend most of your twenties trying to hide it. Don’t.

5. Run to God. RUN! Grab on tight to Him. Seek him in your pain. Find joy in His blessings. Don’t seek distractions or food or another extracurricular activity or more friendships. Fill up your plate with His loving kindness. Find Him, and He will give you peace.

Take care,

Your ancient, still-blind and now half-deaf 34-year-old self

PS. Don’t worry too much about finding the guy you’re going to marry. Truthfully, you’ve already seen him. Remember the summer camp talent show? That guy who played the piano with his sister? Yep. I know, so CUTE, right? Well, yeah, but he starts to wear his hair shorter, so it’s all good. Anyway, you’re going to meet up with him again in a few years. There you go. No worries.

Note: Emily at chatting at the sky has a new book for teenage girls called Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life. She is offering an invitation for bloggers to write letters to their teenage selves. Teenage girls need encouragement and love more than anything. They might also need to hear how we all felt as teenagers, not advice or warnings. Go check out emily’s blog today for links to other letters, and go grab a copy of her book!

My dad bottle feeding a baby calf.

My dad lost his battle with cancer on this day 17 years ago. I was nearly 17 at the time. Because I only had my dad through my teenage years, I never experienced the natural cycle of the parent/child relationship with him. I didn’t get to have conversations with him about how I had made my own decisions and then he could say how he would always be proud of me. I never got to laugh with him in my thirties about stupid stuff I said when I was in college – when I knew everything. He didn’t get to hear about my parenting scares, like my youngest boy at the age of two steal a dining chair and a step stool in order to reach the bag of marshmallows high in the pantry (He would have cracked up at that one). In other words, Dad never saw me all grown up, which is a shame.

Just before rounding up cattle

You see, my dad more than anything liked to grow things. He worked with cattle most of his life, and after college he wanted to run a feed lot or his own cattle business, but that never worked out. Instead, he started selling farm equipment. His job was to help farmers produce the highest yield from their crops. Eventually, after a raw deal through his corporation, he set off on his own to grow his own business – a feed and fertilizer business, once again helping farmers get the best harvest possible.

Dad rented farmland to grow wheat as a side project. Yes, my weirdo dad grew wheat for fun. He also planted trees in his spare time – fruits of every kind imaginable, and he made them thrive in the West Texas barrenness – land only meant for mesquite trees. My dad dug a well, so that he could water and cultivate his trees, despite droughts or rough winds. Some of my clearest childhood memories involve Dad moving water hoses all over our property with the Texas Ranger game blaring from his pickup radio. We had plums, pears, three types of cherries, peaches, apples, a walnut tree, blackberry bushes. We usually had a vegetable garden, too. I lived at a Farmer’s market, essentially and had no idea. I thought everyone could just go in the backyard for a snack.

Dad was always watching growth. He even bought calves to graze in our back pasture, not to make money, just to see them grow up. We had baby lambs, chickens, ducks, a horse, puppies, kittens. While other houses around me housed guns for hunting or rods and reels for fishing, our house was always teeming with life. In his own way, he hated pheasant and deer season, always commenting that he’d rather see the pheasant roosting in the pasture or flying off together, and he’d rather watch deer jump gracefully over barbed wire throughout our country than see one mounted in a living room.

Dad holding me as he talks to my brother.

Dad also loved helping people grow – coaching softball teams, mentoring teenage guys needing a summertime job, extra tipping the new wait staff at the local diners. He encouraged his own kids to work hard and use their brains to grow as much as possible (We didn’t always listen).

In case you can’t read the letters on my ultra-rad iron on Smurf’s shirt, that’s me at around 5 years.

I guess that’s where I get part of my creative spirit. I have a brown thumb, not retaining anything I learned about plants from my dad. In fact, I once killed a fern, which is just about the hardest plant to kill. My dad wasn’t a big reader or writer, but he knew the power of working on something and watching it flourish. He relished in the growth process. Though I may not ever have a garden or plant a fruit tree (I’m thinking about doing it this spring with the kids), I hope I always remember the spirit he exuded when I sit down to write something to see if I can make my ideas grow.

This post is part of an on-going series where I tell random stories from my life. Names are changed to protect the innocent, unless given direct permission to publish.

Two of my summers in college, I spent six weeks in England (that’s twelve weeks over two summers, if you’re counting). I traveled with a group of students and an older couple as sponsors to three different cities, where we performed at schools, town squares, and other community places in order to get a name out for the local churches. We worked most of the week and then had a couple of free days. Two of our free days involved London. We traveled there by train, and we could spend the day doing whatever we wanted.

On free days, I usually hung out with my friend Andy, mainly because Andy and I could sit on a park bench anywhere on earth, do nothing but watch people, and laugh hysterically for hours. Andy is super smart and hilarious, a color commentator for all of life’s happenings if you will. And I’m an easy laugh. Seriously, it’s one of my best qualities. I laugh at everything. He used to play this game where he would rapid rapid fire a list of words to see how soon I would start laughing.

One particular afternoon in London, Andy (a fellow English major) and I spent time at Shakespeare’s Globe, ate lunch near Trafalgar Square where we chased the pigeons, touched all the graves of famous poets buried at Westminster Abbey, and read John Donne poems on the steps of St. Paul’s. You know, book nerd stuff.

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In this photo: Not me. Not Andy. Not Charles Dickens.
photo via flickr

Then, we decided we wanted to see Charles Dickens’s house. It was out away from everything. We walked forever, thinking, “Wow, OK, maybe we didn’t like Great Expectations all that much.” We finally arrived at Dickens’s house, and, of course, it was closed for renovations or just closed for the day. I really can’t remember. We were bummed.

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Important image for the story.

So we ceremoniously touched the doorknob of Charles Dickens’s house, and headed for the nearest entrance to the Underground, our favorite method of travel because the announcers said things like, “Mind the Gap” (which to obnoxious American tourists like us, sounded hilarious.)

I might also mention that Andy wore a neon yellow shirt and carried a backpack that could store Charles Dickens. No kidding. The top of this thing reached almost above his head and the bottom of it hung below his knees. Ginormous. I frequently sang the yodeling song from that mountain climbing game on the The Price is Right, just because I’m a good friend.

Right, so Charles Dickens wasn’t at home (and we didn’t stuff him in Andy’s backpack.), and we headed back to the Underground. As we snaked our way through the after work crowd, very touristy-looking amongst the black & gray of the office world, we heard a faint tinkling sound. I asked, “Is that a tambourine?” Andy replied, “I think it is.” We kept walking. In time with the tambourine though, we heard a trumpet start playing a jumpy melody. I said, “Is that a trumpet, too?” He nodded .

After about a minute, Andy added, “I think that’s ‘Part-Time Lovers.’”

I replied, “Like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Part-Time Lovers’?”

It totally was.

We chuckled a little about that and kept walking. As we reached the mouth of the Underground to board our train, we saw “the band” at the bottom of the escalators, a crowd of commuters walking around them.

Two men played a trumpet and a tambourine.

They played “Part Time Lovers.”

In cat suits.

Like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Magical Mr. Mistoffelees Cat Suits.

Yep. Cat suits.

As in, “Hey Nigel, it’s about that time, do you want to head to the Tube today?”

“Well, I can’t really play anything. I only have this tambourine.”

“That’s OK. The only song I can play on this trumpet is ‘Part-Time Lovers.’”

“Should we change out of our cat suits?”

“Nah.”

Although we didn’t get to see the Charles Dickens house that day, I like to picture Dickens himself smiling and tapping his feet with the two gentlemen we saw on the Underground. They would have felt right at home in the pages of one of his novels.