Category Archives: Family

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.

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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.

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.)

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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

Best of Everett (Age X)

Seven years ago today, right about now (10pm), Everett came into this world pink and pudgy and not at all breathing. For thirty seconds, he took no breath and made no sound. If I had known then what I know now, I would have enjoyed those thirty seconds more. It was the last moment of silence I would ever experience in his presence again.

In fact, he seems to have made a point to make up for those first few tense moments by cracking us up at every possible moment. By age 3, he had developed quite the fan following on Facebook for my “Everett (Age 3)” posts based on things he said. Over the ensuing years, it became “Everett (age 4)” and “Everett (age 5)” and now it’ll be “Everett (age 7).” For your enjoyment, and in celebration of his birthday, here’s a collection of the Best of Everett (Age X).

Everett (Age 3)

Everett: Do you love my eyes? I love your eyes. They are super pretty.
Me: Aww… Ow! What are you doing?
Everett: I’m going to steal them and keep them for myself. <Poke!>


Everett: I HATE you Mommy!
Me: Everett, that’s not a good thing to say.
Everett (after a moment’s thought): Well then, what SHOULD I say when I hate someone?


Everett: You have three choices Mommy. Yes, or yes, or not no.


Everett: What does it mean when you make me go sit on the stairs?
Me: Well, what do you think it means?
Everett: It means… that you still love me.
Me: Mmm… true…
Everett (after a moment’s thought): And that you’re a jerk.


Everett, Age 4

Everett: Mommy. First of all, I need to go poop. Second of all, you need to wipe my butt. Got it? That’s my plan.


Scene: The car.
Everett: Doo, when I get to be a big person, like you, I’m going to be a good driver.
Carey: You’re going to be a good driver like me?
Everett: No no no. I’m not going to yell at the other people when I drive.


The boy loves his mama.

Carey (singing Guns N Roses): Everett, do ya wanna down to the paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty?
Everett: But Doo. The grass IS green. (Meeting my eyes with a dimpled smile) And Mommy’s the girl and SHE is pretty.


But also keeps her humble.

Everett, investigating my hands: Mommy, you’re getting old.
After a moment’s thought: I guess I will have to get a new mommy.
Hopping down to go play: When you die soon. Bye.


Everett gets up from the table explaining that he needs to go poop. One minute later, we hear a call from the bathroom: “Nope. I didn’t need to poop. It was just a fart.” Pause. “Do I still have to wash my hands?”


Everett absorbs everything like a sponge, including salty words he may hear in passing. He understands we prefer him not to use certain words, so when in doubt he asks whether a word is okay or not. One day, sitting on the toilet, singing and chattering:

Oooo, I’m singing on the toilet going poop right now! Oooooo!! I’m going poop and it’s not coming out… It’s a hard one, Oooo, this one’s really a …

Then: Mommy!

Me: Yes, baby?

Everett: Can I say, “son of a b*tch”?


Everett (Age 5)

Everett: Who’s going to be the first one in our family to smoke? Oh, I know, Doo.

Eli (Age 9): No, Doo doesn’t smoke.

Everett: I know. So I’m going to be the first one.

Eli: No, you don’t want to do that. Smoking is bad for you.

Everett: Why? Do bad guys smoke?

Eli: No, it’s bad for your throat.

Everett: Then why do people do it?

Eli: Because it doesn’t hurt right away. It’s bad for it eventually. And then you have to have surgery and have your throat taken out and a new one put in.

Everett: Does it hurt?

Eli: No, but…

Everett: Then I’m going to smoke.


Everett (Age 6)

Everett: Eli, if we were in a survival situation and all we had was Mommy, would you care if the food was burned?


Me: Okay, no kissing on the mouth right now. On the cheek.
Everett: Because my tongue is out?
Me: Yes.
Everett: Do you want to tongue kiss?
Me: Um. No. No, not ever. Nope. Parents don’t tongue kiss with kids.
Everett: Do you and Doo tongue kiss?
Me: Well. Yes. Sometimes.
Everett: You mean like this? [Sticks his tongue out] And then you put your tongues together?
Me: Well, sort of…
Everett: Or you put your mouths together like a regular kiss, and then put your tongues in each other’s mouths?
Me: Um. Yes. That.
Everett: Okay. I’m not disgusted. I’m just like, ‘okay.’
Me: How.. why… what just happened?
Everett: I just asked you about kissing.
Me: Oh.


Everett, on the way to Petsmart: When I have a pet, I don’t know which kind to get.
Me: Well, what’s important to you in a pet?
Everett: I want it to talk.
Me: You’ll have to have a parrot then. They’re expensive!
Everett: And I want to train it to sit and come.
Me: Oh. A dog does that… but not the talking…
Everett: And I want it to play with me, like pretend games and computer games.
Me: … Um. I think you don’t want a pet. You want another kid.
Everett: Yeah. How much to adopt one of those?

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Ten Interesting Things: Monty’s Birthday Edition

In celebration of my son’s 14th birthday today, ten interesting things about his birth, his childhood, and himself.

Ten Interesting Things About Monty’s Birth

1. I went into labor while teaching at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. I finished the class and drove home. My contractions on the drive home were 5 minutes apart.

2. I was back in the classroom teaching two weeks later–with him in a sling, nursing. Loudly.

3. While waiting for my labor to get serious, we went to the store to buy snacks. In the pharmacy aisle, my labor got serious. I stood staring at a box of band-aids, trying not to look like I was about to drop a baby on their floor, all the while thinking I was about to drop a baby on the floor.

4. He was born at home, on purpose. When the midwife arrived, I asked if it was okay if I took off my pajamas. I was worried she would be offended by my nudity. It was probably the silliest thing I’ve ever worried about.

5. I had asked for a large wading pool so that I could have a water birth. Carey spent most of an hour rigging it and running hot water from the laundry room through a window. I got in it for one contraction, said “Nope, not for me” and never got back in again.

6. In the middle of one enormous, breath-taking contraction, something broke. It made a loud “pop” and it felt like my organs had shattered. I was so terrified that I threw up. It was some time before I could speak to ask the question to which the answer, in retrospect, is obvious: What broke? My water. Duh.

7. My friend Jill held my hand through the pushing stage. Toward the end, she kept saying, “You’re almost there! You’re so close!” and I kept thinking, “Shut up, you’ve been saying that for 20 minutes!”

8. Also toward the end, I got really, really loud. The ladies around me–Jill, my midwife, her assistant–called it my birth roar, and said how strong I was. I FELT strong when they said that.

9. I spent most of the labor on my knees. I couldn’t bear to lie down. Because I’d been working two jobs up to the very day of labor, I was exhausted. Toward morning, my knees and arms were shaking so badly the midwife wondered whether we might want to start talking about a hospital visit for an epidural and some sleep. Monty was born about thirty minutes later.

10. When he came out, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Ten Interesting Things About Monty’s Early Childhood

1. His first word was “fish.”

2. Except for “fish” and “mommy,” most of his first “words” were actually complete phrases elided together.

3. As a baby and toddler, he hardly ever slept. I don’t mean that he’d only sleep for a few hours a night, I mean he would only sleep a few hours every week. It was so bad that when he did finally fall asleep, usually in the car on the way to some event, I would call up whomever we were meeting and tell them we weren’t going to make it. I would then pull over and sleep in the car for however long he would let me.

4. As a toddler, his favorite game was to walk around the side deck pushing a toy mower while somebody walked around behind him pushing another push toy.

5. I used to go through a drive through and order a milkshake for me and a water for him. Because they came in the same style cup, he thought we were drinking the same thing. I was sad when he figured it out.

6. We used to go to the toy store so he could play with the train sets. He loved it so much we could stay for three hours and when I was ready to go, I would still have to carry him out literally kicking and screaming.

7. I once let him carry my purse on one of our walks around the apartment complex. He decided to see what would happen if he dropped it in the pool as we walked by. What happened was that mommy’s phone was in it and mommy cried.

8. When he was three, he decided that “mommy” took way too long to say, and abbreviated my name to “moi.” This annoyed me. I birthed you, child. The least you can do is pronounce two dadgum syllables.

9. From a very young age, he had an uncanny ability to know what was going to happen next when there was no logical way he could know what was going to happen next. We’d read a book for the first time and he’d start talking about fire, and the next page would have a picture of a house on fire; we’d watch a movie for the first time and he’d start talking about snow, and the next scene would have snow. When we went to yard sales on Saturday mornings, I’d ask him what he hoped to find, and whatever he said he was looking for, we’d find at nearly every yard sale we went to.

10. The day that I was in labor with his first brother, I had a strong desire to spend quality time with just him. We went outside and I watched him kick a soccer ball around while my contractions washed over me, and it was lovely. I still love quality time with just him. Preferably minus the contractions.

Ten Interesting Things About Monty

1. He’s better at data entry and database QA than a lot of adults we’ve hired for the same work.

2. He once went hunting with his grandfather and on his first outing sighted his first pronghorn which became his first kill with his first shot.

3. He has a remarkable ability to connect with kids with conditions that are out of the ordinary. Following a visit to our home, a woman whose child has autism shared that her son had never talked so much to other kids as he did with Monty. A little girl in Colorado with a rare heart condition still talks about Monty several years after the weekend that he helped look out for her at my parents’ house. Etc.

4. He has a wicked sense of humor, with a solid dose of well-tuned sarcasm.

5. He never uses his sense of humor to hurt people.

6. The boy loves to read, and he’s good at it. Devours books like candy.

7. Speaking of candy, he’s not too crazy about chocolate. Weirdo.

8. He devotes at least half of every day to finding new ways to torture his brothers and the other half doing nice things for and with them. The third half he spends playing video games. He’s better at math than I am.

9. At least one girl I know of has had (may still have) a crush on him, and I’m not saying who. I’m hoping this tidbit will drive him crazy but he probably doesn’t care. Or he’ll pretend he doesn’t. He doesn’t really share the inner workings of his romantic life with his mother. Maybe he should think better of that.

10. Despite all her shortcomings, he still loves his mama and with all her heart his mama loves him.

10.5. He doesn’t have time to pose for pictures, Mo-om. Take it quick, while the game is loading. He’ll pretend to smile.

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The Dummy’s Guide to Building a Christmas Tree Out of Books

You know those “dummy’s guide to” books? I hate them. Seriously, people. The fact that I am buying books demonstrates that I am not a dummy. Give me a little credit.

This entry, however, is a dummy’s guide–not because *you’re* a dummy, but because I am. At least when it comes to construction. And you too can feel like a dummy–and waste most of a weekend–simply by following these step-by-step instructions.

Or you can use this to avoid my dumb mistakes and cut your Christmas-tree-building time down to a few hours. If that’s what you want to do, start at Step Five, and skip steps six and seven. Which leaves you with only two steps. And what fun is that? Just go ahead and do all eight steps for maximum fun and frustration.

Step One: Start with Books


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I mean, you could try it without books. That would probably take even longer. So yeah. Let me know how that turns out for you.

Step Two: Over-Analyze

Being the free-spirited, spontaneous folk that we are, we couldn’t begin this project without a detailed cost-benefit analysis. The following graph represents our key findings.

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We decided to proceed. Your results may vary.

Step Three: Over-Plan

This is a major undertaking that will affect the appearance of one corner of one room for nearly one month. It’s important that you plan it out in detail prior to engagement.

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Start by carefully laying out all the books in your house on the floor, and organize them by thickness, height, and width. Bonus points for arranging by color also.

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This step is completely unnecessary and will eat up several hours. Throw in a shirtless kid putting books in the wrong piles and you’ve wasted yourself an entire afternoon. Congrats.

Step Four: Start Small

When you finally realize the utter futility of step three–preferably after you’ve already emptied all of your bookshelves, ideally in the wrong room–you may begin building a base for your tree. Start small in order to create a set-up that will have to be taken down and started again.

Use big books, but not too many, and place them super close together.

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Important: Be sure to start stacking the next set of books really far in–leave at least three or four inches between the outside of the first level and the outside of the second level.

This critical step will ensure that the tree circumference decreases in size at a precipitous rate, leading to a completed tree that is wider than it is tall. Continue to stack in this manner until you have at least five or six layers that will have to be undone in order to get the proportions right.

Step Five: Start Over

This is actually the first step that accomplishes anything, so you might want to stop and get a drink first. Maybe watch a little television or troll Facebook for an hour or two. Wouldn’t want to get ahead of yourself.

Ready now? K. Start with as wide a base as you have space for. Then start stacking books in alternate fashion, moving each level in from the previous level by less than an inch at a time. Try to choose books at each level that are more-or-less the same thickness. It’s okay to stack two books to match the thickness of other books on the same level. Don’t obsess–you can always adjust any leaning by thickening one side or the other.

This part will go pretty fast. Sorry.

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Step Six: Add Some Fancy but Unstable Adornments 

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It’ll look great and get tall in a big hurry. Fortunately, however, it will come tumbling down quite readily without much effort, and take some of the more stable substructure with it, creating additional work. Plus, it’s fun to retrieve all the fallen books from the hollow in the middle, which can easily lead to more damage to the substructure.

Step Seven: Repair the Damage and Finish Stacking

This is the second productive step. Take another break to draw it out. It’s important to forget to take a picture at this point. You’ll be glad for the lack of evidence of your productive work, especially if you have more than a dozen shots of all the unproductive steps.

Step Eight: Light it Up

If you’ve done it right, you won’t get to this stage for at least a week from the start. But when you do:

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Not sure I did the right thing…

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Monty and Goats

Splitting my personality into three distinct blogs may not have been the best choice. It’s too confusing. Should I post this here? Or there? Where does it belong?

Anyway. Had an interesting day. Mostly work and taking Eli to the doctor and starting him on new diet & supplements for his tummy troubles and anxiety…

And then that little thing about Animal Control coming by to investigate negligence complaints.

It turned out okay. He was really, really super nice, and seemed apologetic about having to investigate at all. And of course he found no evidence of negligence and just some minor code compliance concerns (there are WHAT kind of animals in the backyard?). But it did spur a final decision on something I’ve been hemming and hawing over for months.

But because I split myself into several different blog locations, you’re going to have to click through to find out the rest of the story.

It has a sad ending. But it’s kinda funny in the middle.

(And in other news we had a great time in Alabama a really terrifically wonderful relaxing and fun time and Gunner had fun with our friends while we were gone and it’s almost midnight so I’m closing this post now.)

I’m Grateful For: Kids Who Think We’re Way Cooler Than We Really Are

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The setting: It’s the night before Thanksgiving, after dark. We’re traveling down I-85, right through downtown Atlanta.

Everett, Age 4: Whoa! Look at that tower! It’s a tower of LIGHT!

Carey: Cool, huh? It sure is pretty.

Everett, in awe: Yeah!

After a moment’s thought: Doo, is that the tower you and John built?

Carey: (Pause.) Uh, no, we didn’t build that.

Everett, gazing around: Well, which one DID you build?

Carey: Uhhh… None of them.

Everett: Where is the tower you built?

Carey: Everett, I hate to break it to you, but John and I have never built a tower together.

Everett: Well, which one did you build alone?

Carey, truly befuddled now: I’ve never built a tower at all.

Everett: Yes you did! With your hands. Which one did you build all by yourself by hand?

Carey: Seriously, really really, I have never ever ever built a tower by myself by hand or otherwise.

Everett: YES YOU DID. You were looking at pictures of it. You and John. Up at the cabin.

Carey: Ummmmm…. Do you mean… the … deer tower?

Everett: YES. The deer tower. Which one is it?

The most amazing thing about this conversation: Everett’s admiration for his dad is completely uncompromised by the truthful explanation of exactly what a deer tower really is.

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Happy Thanksgiving, and may your children always think you’re as awesome as 4-year-old Everett finds his dad.