Category Archives: Life

Fireworks Anyway

Yesterday morning I lost my mind, again. I had cramps and a headache and the kids were sick and needing stuff and the dogs needed walking and Carey was out filming and the kitchen was completely and utterly trashed and I couldn’t find a freaking coffee cup because every single one of them was in the living room because the kids have been guzzling medicinal tea in a FRESH CUP EVERY TIME.

After screaming and slamming a bunch of cabinet doors unproductively (they always pop open again when you slam them. It’s infuriating and oddly satisfying at the same time), I retreated to my room to bury myself in Facebook because DISTRACTION. Less than five minutes in, Everett walked in the bedroom door holding a six-inch-long strand of bloody mucus.

Bloody mucus. In a strand. That he had pulled out of the back of his throat and was now standing in my bedroom door holding out to me. There was a splash of blood on his chest from where it had swung against him as he pulled it out.


So, I tried to call my mom because I wasn’t sure if this was the sort of thing one rushed to urgent care for or not, and there was no way I was taking a chance on another $500+ bill if my son wasn’t actively dying (crappy insurance, $10,000 deductible, yada yada). Mom didn’t pick up.

So I called Keli, and she talked me down (well, she said, “Go to the doctor,” and I said, “It’ll cost $500” and she said, “He’s probably fine,” which is more or less why we are friends). Then I whined about my day, and she told me a bunch of spiritual stuff, like how I could focus on my gratitude that I have children to make tea for, and that they are here and safe, instead of focusing on how inconvenient it all is. She said I could make cleaning the house into a prayer, and I said, “That sounds really lovely,” and she said, “Yeah,” and I said, “It also sounds like bull crap” and she said “It is.”

And that’s also why we’re friends.

Everett didn’t die. At 8:30pm, he went to bed, exhausted from a long day of having a fever and making bloody mucus. And then at 8:55pm I remembered that our town was having fireworks at 9:15, and I woke Everett up and he started to cry when I told him because he thought he was going to miss it, but I told him we could still go if he wanted to, and he jumped out of bed and put on a shirt and we went. When we got there, he lay down on the sidewalk with his head on my laid-out vest, and watched the fireworks with a box of tissues clutched against his chest.

And they were beautiful.

Does the story have a moral? Well, maybe it’s this. Sometimes life is crappy, and sometimes your country is falling apart, and sometimes it’s worth putting on a shirt and grabbing your tissues and going to see the goshdarn fireworks anyway.

Happy 4th of July (ish), y’all.

Gifts from the Dead

My grandma started leaving me coins on May 27, 2014, six months and two days after the day she died. This is not a matter of conjecture, opinion, or debate. It is simple fact, as you can read in this essay if you’re so inclined.

She leaves them at strategic times and in strategic places. One time, she left precisely seven in a row, in answer to something I was worried about.

You can read about that here:

My grandpa died on January 4, 2015, nine months and 19 days ago. Let’s forgive him for taking a little longer to start sending me gifts. I suspect he’s been a bit distracted what with reuniting with the love of his life and all. Plus, I think he and Grandma were organizing to do something big together. Maybe something for my birthday (give or take a day).

Grandpa lived a seemingly charmed life, and he was grateful for it. He said, “I’ve always been lucky, especially since I met my darling.” He said it so often, Dad mentioned it in his eulogy and everyone in the church chuckled. Dad would tell him, “No, Dad, blessed,” and Grandpa would smile and say, “Yes, blessed.”

Grandpa liked to tell how lucky he was to have been adopted by his dad, the man who built a workshop and gave it to him as a present to welcome him into his home, a place where they spent many happy years building a sailboat together.

He didn’t usually mention the reason he was adopted is that his birth father never cared for him.

He also didn’t much talk about the part of his youth that he spent on park benches after his dad died, trying to get up enough money to get his mom out of the hospital and into an apartment. Or the fact that she died and left him penniless, unable to attend college and become the engineer he and his dad had always planned for him to be.

Instead, he talked about how lucky he was to get into an Army program where he learned to be an aircraft mechanic, and how lucky he was to be invited home for Christmas by a young man with a pretty red-headed sister, with whom Grandpa would spend 75 halcyon years.

He didn’t talk about the struggles of raising a daughter who exhibited the same mental illness symptoms his mother had, at a time when mental illness carried significant stigma, and treatment was unheard-of. He didn’t talk about the headstrong attitude of the son who would laugh while being spanked. He didn’t talk about what it took to scrape together the resources to give two children the college education that his own youth denied him.

Instead, he talked about how beautiful and gracious his daughter was. How responsible and accomplished his son was. He told how lucky he was that his darling Syble was such a good mom, a good cook, a good partner. He talked about how lucky he was to have the opportunity to purchase an airplane at a price his civil service paycheck could afford, and to fly his children and grandchildren all over the U.S. in it.

He talked about how he and Grandma traveled all 50 states together, 49 of them in a motorhome. How lucky they were to do some of that travel with their beloved grandchildren.

He always said he was lucky.

On October 12, 2015, Carey and I, on a whim, decided to do our morning work at our favorite coffee shop, in the next town over. The drive there is short, and lovely–through wooded avenues lined with pretty houses. I often gaze longingly at their long backyards that touch the South Fork River.

That day, there was a For Rent sign in the front yard of one of my favorites, a stately brick home on a lovely, large, naturally landscaped lot. On a whim, I called. The house sounded so perfect for us, we made an appointment to look at it the next day. I spent the evening poring over photos of the interior, puzzling out the layout. I also noticed it had been on the market since August, a surprising fact given the heat of the Belmont rental housing market.

We went. It was beautiful. Stunning. Everything about it seemed custom-made for our family, from the number, size, and configuration of bedrooms to the layout of the downstairs, the screened-in porch, the large windows, and even the outdated kitchen and bathrooms that kept the rent attainable. We decided within minutes of entering the home that it was the right move for us.

Then we went down to the basement.

Now, before we head down there together, let me mention that Grandma has not been leaving me coins as regularly as she used to. I figure she’s a little distracted, what with welcoming the love of her life home and all. Plus, I’ve been doing pretty okay and not needing her as often.

So… down we go. This is where the story changes, here on the basement stairs. This is where I have to bite my lip and try not to cry in front of the realtor, who would undoubtedly judge me unstable and unfit. How could she possibly understand why a pile of pennies would undo me?

The pennies were sitting on the fifth step from the bottom of the basement stairs. An inch deep and three inches wide.

An unexpected, abundant gift from my grandma.

It was nearly two weeks before we would receive confirmation that our application to rent the home was accepted–the day after my birthday, a day when I felt my grandparents as near as I have since they died.

As soon as we received that confirmation, I headed straight to the agency to make our security deposit. The lady at the front desk took the check and asked for the address of the property in question.

When I told her, she said, “Oh, that house! We got millions of calls on that house. Just millions.”

“You did?” I said. “I thought it was on the market a couple months.”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Just millions of calls. I don’t know why it was on the market so long, but you’re very lucky.”


I’m very lucky.

And that’s why it was on the market so long. The gift Grandpa was waiting to give me was his luck.

Oh, you might say that coincidence just works that way sometimes. Our brains look for patterns, you say, and then we construct stories around those patterns. Yes, I’ll buy that.

And here’s the story my brain has constructed. My Grandpa was a man who lived a hard life. Abandoned by his birth father, left bereft by the death of his adopted father, saddled with his mentally ill mother, he scrambled and struggled to make a decent life for himself, and despite all his efforts, was deeply grieved by his own daughter’s mental illness.

My Grandpa was a very, very lucky man.

Because he believed he was lucky.

Look. Were those coins on the steps of that house that somehow sat on the market for three months despite “millions” of calls–were those mere coincidence?


But that’s not what I believe. I believe the dead leave us gifts, if we’re paying attention.

And I believe that I am a very, very lucky woman.

(“No, Heather, blessed.” Okay, Dad, blessed. Smile.)

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An Open Letter To The Girl Who Is Trying To Impress My Son

It seems like just about everybody has advice for girls these days. What to wear, how to talk, whether to drink. As the mother of sons, I have a few things to say too, especially to girls who want to date my boys.* Here’s my dish.

Candalynnewilson instagram 150x150 An Open Letter To The Girl Who Is Trying To Impress My Son
Photo Credit: Candalynne Wilson, via WikiMedia Commons.

Dear Girl,

I see you with your puckered lips and your barely-covered butt and your neckline just high enough to not get you in trouble at school.

I see how you look sideways at my boy, just now growing into his manhood, and I see how you want him to look at you.

I see you, and I have a few things to say to you. They are probably not the things you’re expecting.

1. Your Clothes Are Not Appropriate For My Son

Nor are they inappropriate for him. They are not for him at all. They are for you.

What you wear is between you, your parents, and your school.

You are not responsible for dressing a particular way to prevent my boy doing particular things. He is responsible for his own self.

Sure, my son might look at you a little longer if you wear certain things. He might even say inappropriate things. I hope not, but I was young once, and sometimes young people do dumb things (sometimes grown-ups do too, but let’s pretend for a minute that we grow out of it).

No matter how you dress, you will never, ever be responsible for anything he, or any other person, says or does.

2. You Are Not For Him

Just as your clothes are not for him, neither are you. You are not here for someone else’s pleasure. You are here for your own sake. You are not for him because you are for you.

3. You Won’t Make Him Happy

My dear child. You can’t make my son happy, because nobody can make another person happy. He is responsible for his own happiness.

4. He Does Not Value You

When a jeweler assesses a gem and gives it a price, he is said to “value” the gem. My dear, there is no boy alive, not even my son, who gets to decide your worth. Your value is yours, forever, regardless of any other person’s opinion. And I assure you, regardless of what you think right now—you are priceless.

5. I See You

Oh, yes, I do. I see you. I see your purple hair and the diamond in your nose (oh, honey. You’re going to have to try harder than that to shock me), I see the way you shake your hips and plump your lips. I see you and here is what I see:

I see beauty.

I see wonder.

I see a child of God whose worth is beyond measure.

I see a girl who is trying so hard to be amazing when she needn’t try at all because she is already there.

Beloved girl. You are going to do incredible things. You do not need my son. You do not need his eyes or his hands or his desire. You certainly don’t need his financial support, as was once considered necessary. You have everything you need inside you.

But if you decide you love him, and if he loves you too, then that is okay with me. You have my blessing. Just don’t expect him to make you happy. That is your responsibility.


Mama To Three Boys

*The specific girl depicted in this letter is an entirely fictional amalgam of many young women I have known. She is not intended to represent any real person, living or dead. The image is pulled from Wikimedia Commons and does not in any way represent any real person that I have ever met. If, by some coincidence, a purple-haired girl with a diamond nose ring happens to have a crush on my son, I apologize and I promise you that I have no idea. And if I did know, I would never embarrass you by talking about it in public.

Except this cat. This cat has it ALL together.

The Truth Behind the Truth

You’re not doing it wrong.

Life is hard sometimes. It just is. The people who look like they’ve got it all together–it’s an illusion. They may have some things together. They may even have more things together than you have together. But they don’t have it ALL together.

I always thought of my grandparents as the epitome of *having it together.* Their house was always tidy and clean, their bills were always paid, and their smiles were always ready.

When I went out to stay with them periodically over the past couple years, I discovered the truth behind the truth. Their wheelchair accessible van required that the battery be charged prior to every use, and it would drain out again in a matter of hours, so they had to carry a charger with them everywhere. Their microwave was vintage 1960-something and needed babying to work. And like everyone else I know, they spent ungodly amounts of time on the phone sorting out mistakes made by various vendors and service providers.

The reason I never saw this until I went and lived with them and took care of them for a while is that they never focused on it. They were so grateful for even the smallest of blessings. And when life was hard, they knew it was just because life is hard sometimes. Not because they were doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. You’re just maybe looking at it from the wrong angle. Life is hard and life is beautiful and you’re doing it just exactly the way it’s supposed to be done.

Unless you’re killing kittens. If you’re killing kittens you have to stop that crap.

Otherwise: Carry on. You’re good.

Louis Chanel taking a nap The Truth Behind the Truth
Photo courtesy Stephan Brunet, via Wikimedia Commons

Turning Tables

I must have been in my early 20s. I was at the grocery store with my grandma, picking up a couple things for dinner. We got in the Express check-out line, right behind a woman with a cart loaded with two week’s worth of food.

Grandma leaned in to the woman and quietly said, “Excuse me,” and then, “This is the line for the express check-out. You’re only allowed to have twenty items.”

I don’t remember exactly what the woman said in response, but she did not take my grandmother’s “meddling” well. Whatever it was the woman said, I might have said something even ruder back, and the game was on. Believe it or not, I’ve never been much of one to back down from a fight someone else has started (SURPRISE!).

I don’t remember who “won” the war of angry words, but it was probably me. I’ve never been one to back down from a fight someone else has started. Surprise.

Later, in the car, Grandma quietly confided that she hadn’t meant to call the other woman out at all. I think she was a little embarrassed by my overreaction. Pure as pure can be, 100% light and sweetness, my grandma never imagined that anyone else could ever be anything but good. She assumed the other woman simply hadn’t seen the sign, and therefore would be grateful for the information. She hoped to spare her the embarrassment of being in the wrong line.

Soft on the inside and soft on the outside, the softest soft you’ve ever known, clear through to the center. Soft as can be.

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But don’t mistake that for weakness. Grandma didn’t need my mother bear act to protect her. Without me, the conversation would have de-escalated rather than escalated. You can’t be exposed to Grandma’s kind of purity and not somehow absorb some of it, come away a better person for having been in its presence.

I envy my grandma’s softness. I was born with little enough of it. Age and maturity (or what passes for it, anyway) have softened some of my edges (along with my waistline), but age and practice have also sharpened my pen (metaphorically speaking) and my wit. And I still respond with a hair-trigger mother bear instinct when someone attacks one of mine.

I think I might like to be softer.

Problem is, soft is hard. Maybe you think it’s hard to stand up and fight, to walk into the durm and strang of the battle, weapons drawn. It is hard in its own way, I suppose, but relatively speaking, righteous anger is a breeze. Remember Jesus in the temple, overturning the money changer’s tables and driving them out with a braided whip? No? I think the reason most people don’t remember that part of the story is that it was the easy part.

Not comparing myself to Jesus or anything, but I can turn tables over like a BOSS. Especially if they’re not too heavy.

Soft is harder.

Soft is believing the best of people, even when they’ve inconvenienced you. Soft is listening to people, even when you don’t understand where they’re coming from. Soft is knowing that when someone hurts you, your only job is to accept it and them.

Soft is where real transformation happens.

You couldn’t know my grandma without being changed, without becoming a better person. She didn’t have to tell you what you were doing wrong. All she ever did was see what was right about you, and then you wanted to be that person all the time. She made you better because she believed you already were.

Soft is where real transformation happens.

What we remember about Jesus, isn’t the righteous anger in the temple. What we remember is the softness, the compassion, and, ultimately, the quiet humility in a crown of thorns.

There is power in words, in battle, in weapons–yes. But the real power lies in the other direction. The transformative power lies in softness.

My grandma had it figured out. I’d like to be more like her someday.

Soon, maybe.

I just. It’s just this… one… more…


I’ve got a few more tables to turn over. Sorry, Grandma. Thank you for loving me anyway.

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Hey, Mom, You Need to Read This

When I was a young mom of young children, I would sometimes confide to acquaintances that I was actually looking forward to the teenage years. They almost inevitably laughed at me. They said, “Oh, yeah, wait until he…” followed by some horror story of smart-alec, obnoxious, or even dangerous teen behavior.

I would smile and shrug and say, “Well, I still think I’m going to like having teenagers.”

I’m wrong about lots of things, but this thing: I was right about.

I love having a teenager so passionately sometimes I can’t even stand it. I love my strapping, doesn’t-know-his-own-strength, hands-bigger-than-he-knows-what-to-do-with young man.

I love watching him reveal how much of us there is in him. There is something deeply satisfying about watching him swallow novels whole and then sit down to write fan fiction. I love our daily battles of the wits where his snarky humor meets ours and somebody comes out bloody (figuratively speaking) but all of us come out laughing.

And yes, he’s a smart-alec. He rolls his eyes. He’s moody and impatient and hard to get along with sometimes. A few days ago, in the midst of a tiff, he handed me a parenting book and said, “Here, Mom. You need to read this,” and stomped out of the room. It’s like he thinks he’s smarter than me and if I would just do things right, he wouldn’t have to deal with such imbeciles for parents, and the world would be a better place.

The standard model of parenting doesn’t know what to do with this. We think we have to control our children, to mold them into what the world wants of them, in order for them to fit in, get along, learn to be “productive” (whatever that means). We think they’re supposed to do what we tell them without question and never argue with their “superiors,” because we know better than they do what they need.

I don’t buy that. I think our job as parents is to love our kids and to help them unwrap their gifts and figure out how best to use them to make the world a better place. I don’t need my kid to know I’m smarter, or better, or in control. I don’t need him to think I’ve got it all figured out (hint: I don’t). I’m okay learning this journey as we go, letting him guide me and show me what he needs.

Does that mean we don’t ever “crack down” on him, show him where he’s wrong, even “discipline” him? Not at all. He does, after all, have several decades of experience *less than we do* under his belt, and, like all of us, he makes mistakes.

It does mean that we never take his snarky comments personally, react to them emotionally (‘never’ might be too strong a word–let’s just say ‘usually’), or let his behavior change our opinion of him for the worse. It means that we understand deeply that this young person stomping around our house is a miracle we’re lucky to have the honor of sharing our lives with.

By the way, I read that parenting book and he was right: I needed it. It taught me to be a better parent to him, and I’m grateful.

P.S. Also: Free babysitting.

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Encounters of Unusual Size

Today marks the second time in my life I’ve been struck at by a venomous snake. Not my favorite thing in the world, truly. Heart races, screaming ensues, scrambling for safety, and it takes about an hour for the adrenaline to clear fully out of my system.

This time, I was walking along a creek in a remote, heavily wooded area. The kids were jumping from rock to rock ahead of me, Carey behind. I stepped down from one rock to another, and saw her out of my peripheral vision. Brown adult with distinctive markings, coming toward me. In my recollection, she was enormous. Carey says she was moderately sized. Obviously, he wasn’t seeing clearly.

(This picture is NOT of the actual snake. It’s from Wikimedia images by Steve Karg. I could not find an adequately scary picture.)

512px AmericanCopperhead 300x150 Encounters of Unusual Size

Now, in this part of the Carolinas, the only venomous snakes around are pit vipers, all of which have diamond-shaped heads. You better believe I sized up the shape of her head in a big hurry. Very, very diamond-shaped.

I’m pretty proud of the fact that the first thing I did, when I realized this giant, spitting, striking snake with the diamond-shaped head was lunging toward me, was to yell at the kids to keep going, up the bank and AWAY from me (the snake was between us).

As soon as I saw that they were splashing away up the bank, I ran. A salamander skittered out of my way and I interpreted it as a baby snake and ran further. I might have squealed a little.

I survived. So did the kids and Carey, who continues to insist that the GIANT snake was actually a fairly ordinary, potentially even sub-adult specimen. He wasn’t as close to the behemoth as I was AND he wears glasses. I’m just sayin.

The first time a venomous snake struck at me, I was walking the dog on a wet night and nearly stepped on it (it, too, was HUGE. I am struck at exclusively by GARGANTUAN snakes, despite what you may hear from unreliable and/or traitorous sources). I backed away in a panic, and asked a neighbor to drive me home so as to avoid further contact.

I know it’s a weird quirk, but I’m not overly fond of being struck at by venomous snakes. Just a thing I have.

But here’s the other thing I have: Reason. Also this thing: Compassion.

It’s Spring and the snakes are out in force. I see pictures of them all over my Facebook feed and it seems inevitable that every update containing a snake must also contain comments saying things like “the only good snake is a dead snake.”

When actually, most snakes are really, really good. Rodent population control is their primary economic benefit, and it’s estimated to be significant.

And most of them are non-venomous. Some of the non-venomous sort eat the venomous sort. Win-win.

But what about those venomous snakes? My first instinct following this second-ever incident with Reptiles of Unusual Size was to say: Eradicate them. Dangerous. My kids could have died. I could have lost a leg AND lost an otherwise perfectly delightful afternoon.

My second instinct was to say: Kids, no more creek time. Not playing by the creek again. Ever. Come away. Let’s go somewhere else. I know, let’s play in the car. Yeah, in the car. It’ll be fun. And safe. Let’s just always play in the car, except when there’s not a grown-up around, and then let’s play in the house. In a padded room. With all potential snake entry points covered. Surrounded by snake poison.

Because getting struck at by a MASSIVE venomous snake = scary.

But here’s the reality. That big ole girl, that brown on brown fat booger, she was three feet from my leg. If she wanted to strike me, she would have. I’d be in the hospital, probably unconscious and doped with morphine. In fact, she could have struck the kids. Remember, they were ahead of me. THEY stirred her up–I was just lucky enough to be the one who finally pushed her over the edge into defense.

Defense. That’s all it was. She wanted us to leave her the heck alone. We big galumphing morons came into her home and disturbed her peace, and she just freakin wanted us gone.

We left. All the way up the bank, and as I scrambled I imagined that a snake was going to drop out of the overhanging branches at any moment and bite me in the neck, causing instant anaphylactic shock and shortly thereafter death. I believed that the same snake would also then chase down my children and kill each of them as well. And that it would enjoy it.

This is what Lenore Skenazy recently coined, ‘tragical thinking.’ It’s the imagining that Very Bad Things are bound to happen, as if by magic (get it–‘tragical’ ‘magical’?), if we let our guard down for one second. That, in fact, they are happening all the time to people who stopped guarding against them for just one second. It’s what therapists call “catastrophic thinking”–the idea that the worst possible scenario is actually a very likely one.

Therapists talk about it because it’s a very damaging way to think.

The truth is, in this instance, that most snakes, including all of the venomous varieties commonly found in our part of the world, prefer to simply be left alone. Actual venomous snake bites are a vanishingly small occurrence and the vast majority of those occur because some guy gets drunk and decides it would be fun to play with his personal stash of live snakes with his bare hands, as one does.

Even then, the vast majority of bites cause no lasting damage.

And isn’t this how it is with many of the fears we have for ourselves and, especially, our children? In our mind’s eye, the danger is so big, so scary, so enormous that we shrink back in terror. And if we should ever have a “close call” we interpret it as evidence that the danger is imminent, and that our only safe course is to put ourselves and our children into a protective cocoon to prevent anything like that ever happening again.

We put spongy material on every sharp corner they may encounter, and we tame their playgrounds to the point that they are no longer fun. We keep them indoors away from the dangers of the street, and keep them away from the stove because they might get burned.

And meanwhile, anxiety and depression, obesity and heart disease, illnesses we know are caused by and exacerbated by lack of exercise, lack of nature, *lack of risky play*–these illnesses continue to skyrocket among our youth.

Don’t be mistaken–these diseases are deadly. They are killing our children in record numbers.

But you know what’s not killing them: Venomous snakes. Strangers. Climbing trees, riding see-saws, walking to the store alone. In fact, I would argue, the fact that they are *not* doing those things *is* killing them.

I know it’s hard. I know snakes are creepy and the streets are scary and trees are tall.

And I also know that we can do hard things. I know that we can be brave. We can behave as though we see things as they really are (even when our tragical thinking gets the best of us, we can pretend). We can give our children the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong and free.

And so, because I try to practice what I preach, but mostly because I didn’t want to look like a big weeny, we headed back to the creek (after my heart rate returned more-or-less to normal). The kids galumphed along the stream bed for another half hour, jumping from rock to rock, splashing in pools, startling salamanders. One of the kids climbed a steep cliff that runs along the creek. He went all the way up, about forty feet, and then found his way down again. It was scary.

And it was beautiful.

And that dadgum snake was freakin huge, y’all.

Shut up, Carey.

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The Power You Have

When my grandma died, I was unreasonably devastated. Wiped out. Completely and utterly ruined. A train wreck. Mowed down to the ground.

This made no sense.

I mean, I hardly talked to her in her latter years until she got sick. I didn’t grow up in the same town, so I only saw her occasionally as a child. As much as I loved and revered her, she just didn’t play a huge role in my day-to-day life. What difference could it possibly make whether she was alive on the other side of the country or not?

It took me months to figure out what that was all about and when I finally did it wiped me out again.

She was my safety net. She was the person who was *always looking out for me*. From my earliest days to the end, she loved me without judgment, unconditionally and with no reservation. There was nothing in the world she wouldn’t do for me. If I ever needed her, she was THERE for me.

Losing that is having the earth shifted out from under you.

What I learned during the grieving process, however, is that I never actually lost it. She gave it to me, an unconditional, lifelong gift that no one can ever, ever take away from me. To be loved like that, to be held and cherished and safety-netted like that–that is never, ever lost. It’s just that it lives inside me now.

Okay, so THAT’s not what I just realized. Here’s what I just realized.

There are people in your life for whom YOU are that person. You may not often see them. You may not even call them but once in a blue moon. But if you’re part of their safety net–if they occasionally call you when things are rough, if they ping you on FB when they want to talk, and if you accept them and love them and take care of them when they need you… YOU give them that gift.

You have that power. So do I.

Oh my gosh.

You guys.

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Photo Courtesy Ian Paterson

On Regret

What do you think of when you think of regret? Me, I think of a tall, spindly man with unwashed hair ducking his head meekly under the assault of another man’s verbal attack. I think of a little girl in footie pajamas padding sleepily into a bar bathroom.

The man came in after closing, while I was pushing the Kirby up under the sticky tables, where half-chewed cocktail straws mocked my attempts to keep the vacuum running long enough to get my side work done so I could go home.

I only noticed him because our bouncer, a thickset guy with thin, curly long hair blowing out in a halo around his head, started yelling at him.

“This is no place for a little girl,” said the bouncer, loudly enough that I heard it over the Kirby’s whine. I shut it off.

“What do you think you’re doing, coming in here like that with her?” said the bouncer.

The man, recipient of the bouncer’s speech, was tall and angular, and bent over under the weight of the little girl on his shoulder. She clung to him, and he bent his head into her, his back bowed over slightly, meek under the bouncer’s assault.

“I know,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”

I watched.

“She needs to use the bathroom,” he said. The little girl stirred on his shoulder. He set her down. “Please.”

The little girl disentangled herself, and the dad pointed to the dimly lit ladies room, where sticky toilet seats and yellow stained floors awaited my sponge and mop later. I watched her go, fighting the urge to go in with her, watch over her, make sure no harm came to her.

Would that be weird? To go in after her? Probably. Probably the dad would think I was some sort of predator, preying on the weak and vulnerable. Still. I took a few steps toward the bathroom. I watched the door. I willed her to be okay. Willed her to come back out into her daddy’s arms. I prayed for a relatively pee-free floor for her little stockinged feet to walk on.

The bouncer was still talking, beating the man down for coming in after hours, for being the kind of father who let his little girl walk into a filthy bar bathroom in the middle of the night.

The man stood with his head down, quiet and meek. When the bouncer asked him to account for himself, he said his house had been foreclosed on. That they were sleeping in the car. That she needed to go to the bathroom and this was the closest place that was open. That they didn’t have enough gasoline to go looking for some place better. He was sorry. He was so sorry.

That’s one thing about him: He was sorry.

Here’s two things about me:

1. I had $60 in tips in my pocket.

2. I was sorry too.

The little girl came pattering out of the bathroom. She was wearing a tattered blue robe over her footie pajamas, and rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Her long hair was tangled. She found her dad immediately and stumbled into his arms, fitted herself snugly into his shoulder. He lifted her.

I watched them go. I watched them walk out of the bar. The bouncer said, “Next time think of your daughter first.”

I stood and watched them go.

I had $60 in my pocket and I watched him walk out alone with his little girl cradled in his arms like the precious treasure she is, like a prize he cherished more than all the world and yet knew he was ultimately powerless to protect.

In the years since, I have thought about that scene over and over. I have examined it from every angle, inside and out. I turn it over in my head and try to make sense of it. I wonder why I didn’t go after him. What was I afraid of? The bouncer’s condescension? Losing my crappy job? Looking ridiculous?

I don’t know, but I think I mostly didn’t believe I had the power to actually make a difference. I think I didn’t believe in my own softness and hardness enough to know that the bouncer was wrong and I was right.

I think of that man walking out that door and out of my life, and I imagine an alternate ending.

In the alternate ending, I run out the bar door after him. It locks behind me because the bar is closed now, and I don’t care. I go into the night.

I say, “Excuse me? Sir?”

He stops and turns toward me, his head down, anticipating some new insult to his battered dignity.

I say, “I’m sorry about the bouncer. He’s like that to everyone.”

The man nods. He looks up at me under his bangs, and a weary almost-smile appears on his lips. He’s relieved and grateful for the kind words.

I say, “I don’t know if it will help, and I’m sorry I can’t do more but… well, here. Just—you know, I hope it helps.”

In this alternate version of events, I hand him the $60 in my pocket. It’s all wadded up because I want to make it as small as possible, because I don’t know if the offer will be a further insult to his dignity and I want it to seem just as small and insignificant as it possibly can be. I’m a little embarrassed.

I lean in close to place it in his hand without making him let go of his daughter.

I don’t know what happens next in this alternate version.

Maybe his face lights up because he’s so grateful. Maybe his head ducks down because he’s so embarrassed. Maybe he doesn’t even look at me but says “thank you” and turns away. Maybe I stand and watch him wrestle open the dented backdoor of a burgundy sedan.

I don’t know if he uses the money to get a motel room for a couple nights, or to buy groceries, or to buy gas so they can travel to family in another state.

I don’t know what the bouncer says to me when I bang on the bar door, and come back in to finish my shift. I don’t know if maybe I get fired. I don’t know if the bouncer turns his taunts on me and I spend the rest of the night feeling foolish.

All I know is that in this alternate version, that tall bent-over man carries away a little cash and a lot of knowing that somebody cares what happens to him and his daughter.

Also in this version, the little girl has something too. She doesn’t understand it yet, but what she has is a vision. It’s a vision of light shining in darkness, of help coming when it is least expected. It’s a vision that may carry her through the days to come, even as her daddy’s arms carry her through the darkness of the night.

In this version, my pocket yields a sliver of hope and the night carries a shard of light and a father reclaims a moment of dignity. I don’t know much, but I know that it is an ending devoutly to be wished.