Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Warts and all...

Last year, I remember reading a Catholic writer's take on facebook.  She laments both the self-promotion and voyeuristic qualities of social-networking, saying that we only present the side of ourselves we find flattering in our profiles.  She claims that we can draw ourselves as witty, clever, interesting and become our own little celebrities with the power of status updates.  She warns against falling victim to the belief that people actually care that we dropped by Walgreens to pick up ibuprofen, or that we are suffering from road rage at a red light.  She makes a good point about the danger of developing online relationships where we only reveal one side of our personalities....the best side.

As a big fan and devotee of facebook, I did a bit of eye-rolling when I first read the article.  Maybe because it hit close to home?  Maybe because I am guilty of only posting when I feel witty, upbeat, clever and personable. Any negative or self deprecating comments I feel like posting are humorous and will hopefully garner a little companion-sympathy and a few "I've been there" comments. However, when I am in a dark place, and  I am handling whatever difficult time life is throwing at me in a not-so-flattering way, my facebook page tends to go pretty quiet.  Guilty.  I'm freely admitting to building an online persona that will look like a rose garden to any high school nemesis that I inadvertently friended.  You won't find me updating my status to say, "drinking my second glass of wine, crying over old emails and feeling like a total loser."  I swear.

So what's the harm in this? We've all been in the uncomfortable position of reading miles of status updates from people who can't quite seem to keep their personal stuff personal.  My favorite thing to say about these emotional cyber-sluts is that "she/he has NO business being on facebook."  Ok, yes. That sounds bitchy, but bear with me. I do have a point.

There are some parts of us that we want the world to see, and some we, obviously, don't.  I don't think it's unreasonable to want to keep the not-so-attractive side of our personalities private. And by private, I don't mean lock yourself in your house when you aren't at your best.  I mean, instead of sharing them with 576 facebook "friends" you actually share those things with real friends. The ones who you have on your cell phone speed dial.  The ones who love you enough to love your worst side.

It's a pretty human phenomenon.  Don't we all have a face that we show to the world, or attempt to, and a deeper, maybe more truthful side as well?  Maybe the trick to integrating our own little angels and devils is to trust them to the people who we know love the whole...the dark and the light...the status-worthy and the cringe-worthy parts of who we are.

I think I could never truly love someone who was always at their best...a person I felt was always wanting me to see their pulled together, polished side. More accurately, the side they want me to see.

I'm thinking now of my three very best friends....and the moments when I have felt the most closeness with them.  All three times I'm thinking of were when they were either broken in some way or vulnerable, and they chose ME to see it.  They came to me with the gritty, the ugly, the unattractive.  They let me in and trusted me with their worst selves, knowing that I would love them anyway.  That is, in a somewhat convoluted way, when we are at our best.  When we are human enough to show who we really are to another human being, and be re-affirmed that we are like-able...even love-able when we give in to our weaknesses, fears, and shortcomings. It's not an easy thing to do, and it's easier for some than for others.

So who is the real person?  Which of these is the authentic self?  It's not who we portray to the world. It's not us broken and blubbering on a friend's shoulder when we just can't hold it together any longer. It's not the hermit that pulls the shades and hides in the quiet comfort of the mind.

It's all of it.  All of it together. We are a sum of our parts, our personas, our strengths and our weaknesses.  And we are, as I see it, searching for someone who can see it all, and love us anyway.

Monday, October 4, 2010


My children will be polite if it is the last thing I do. Southern manners will not die out with my generation. So help me, God of the Bible Belt and all things holy and served with cornbread. Tonight, I had to remind both children at least a bejeeelion times to not say "Yeah." but "Yes, Maam". And "No ma'am" instead of "nope". I remind them with the phrase that tonight, made me seem like I was stuttering. "Excuse me?"

K: Have you brushed your teeth?

H: Nope.

K: Excuse me?

H: No, Ma'am.

K: Evangeline, did you go to the bathroom?

E: Yep.

K: Excuse me?

E: Yes, Ma'am.

When I had to pull out the "Excuse me?" TWICE in five minutes, once on each child, after the aforementioned corrections, I was ready to scream. So, I did.

K: Aaaarrrghhhh! I'm gonnna.......

E: You gonna put us in jail, Mommy?

Of course, I cracked up and all lectures ceased to be poignant as we rolled laughing. My convictions stand...but I'm done for tonight. Let me go say our "now I lay me's" before somebody needs a bail bondsman.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greatest show on Earth?

One thing that is very important to me as a parent is exposing my children to live entertainment. Concerts, art exhibits, plays...even Sesame Street live and The Wiggles in concert, count. This is, in my opinion, the wax-on, wax-off theory of raising a child who is at home at a cultural venue. If they go through the motions enough as a young person, sitting in The Strand Theatre with a date in their teens will feel as natural as sitting in Tinseltown. That's the plan, at least.

This is why, when the circus came to town this weekend, we were SO there. Before some of you bemoan the state of the circus animals and their exploitation and abuse, let me just say that while I love animals as much as the next guy, I rarely boycott anything at all, the exception being any restaurant that ever gave me food poisoning. So, let's just leave the politics out of this discussion, mmmmkay?

The kids' school was giving away passes which entitled the bearer to a free child's ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket. What could be better than free, right? So, mom and I decided we would treat the kids to a day at the circus.

Now, I am by no means a veteran Mommy....I've only been at this for five years, but I have learned a few things along the way. Rule #127 in my own personal mommy handbook is "Never announce an exciting event to your children in advance." Rationale? Anticipation in young children is highly over-rated. It generally exhibits as annoying and constant harassment of the parent from the moment it is mentioned until the moment the exciting event begins. This works exceptionally well for birthday parties, parades, planned visits to Chuck-E-Cheese, and vacations. It is less successful for major holidays. Stupid marketing geniuses at Wal-Mart screw that one up for you. I can't hide Halloween nor the impending arrival of Santa or the Bunny. Kids are not that dumb.

Following rule #127, we pull up to the Century Tel Center and Harrisen's eyes go wide.

H: "MOM. Are we gonna see The Wiggles?"
K: "No, honey.......we are gonna see....."

*wait for it*

K: "The CIRCUS!"

And the crowd-of-two goes wild in the back seat. Rule #127 never fails.

Hand in hand, we walk up to the box office. I give them a talk.

K: "Now, kids, Mommy and Grammy are going to buy you tickets to the circus, ok? It costs money to SEE the circus. The circus is the TREAT. There are going to be lots of toys and things to buy, but we aren't going to buy them. We will buy a snack, and we will see the circus. Ok?"

E & H: "Okay, Mommy!"

So we buy our tickets. Even with the passes, the tickets were $40.

We walk in and are met by a friendly, neighborhood Shriner hawking souvenir program books. We avert right. The kids are none the wiser. Books are not that intriguing, anyway. We manage to avoid inflatable dolphins and Sponge-Bob-on-a-stick as well. My kids know me well enough to not even ask for Sponge-Bob anything. They may be young, but they ain't stupid. They know when to hedge their bets.

We get great seats. Midway up, directly in line with ring number two of the three rings. Pretty soon, the snack hawkers descend. I don't much mind snack hawkers. Snacks are yummy, and they don't collect dust in my house. I'm good with snacks at events, even un-healthy, overpriced ones.

Grammy flags down the cotton candy man. I smile. There is not much in life I enjoy more than cotton candy, myself. There are two versions of cotton candy to be had at the circus: the pink version and the blue version. The cotton candy versions just so happen to coincide with the two versions of offspring I have sitting next to me. Go figure. Of course, Harrisen wants the blue version and Evangeline (as well as every other girl-child in the arena) believes if it's pink, it should be hers. Grammy orders the blue, and in an uncharacteristic bit of self-control and quiet acquiescence, Evangeline complies without fuss. We enjoy our $4.00 cotton candy.

Shortly after we finish our cotton candy, the popcorn dude comes up the aisle. I'm one of those people who like to chase sweet with salty. The kids don't have to ask twice for popcorn. Popcorn comes in only one variety, thankfully, and is enticing in the old fashioned red and white striped box. Another $4.00 later, the kids are happily munching stale popcorn and the lights dim.

With the dimming of the lights, the holy-grail of circus-going children becomes evident in all it's glory. The blinking LED light wand.

This seizure-inducing toy is exactly what I hoped to avoid with the aforementioned "we are buying tickets not toys" speech. Raise your hand if you believe the lecture stuck with my children in the presence of hundreds of their peers waving blinking wands over their heads? It's playground taunting at it's highest level.

I lean over to Harrisen.

K: "Honey, remember, we are here to see the show. We are not going to buy a light up toy."
H: "Please?"
K: "No, honey. We had snacks. We bought tickets. Let's enjoy the show."

The circus begins, and I must say, it is probably the nicest circus I have ever seen. The costumes are fancy, the acrobats are nimble and enthusiastic, the elephant balancing on a rotating pedestal made Mom and I both nod at each other appreciatively. There is a very funny dog show and only one clown I had to endure. (I hate clowns.) Despite the fact the ring-master was actually a ring-mistress and looked and sounded exactly like Fran Drescher, we were totally enjoying the show. The kids were mesmerized. They were glued to the acts and clapped like crazy people. I was really glad we were there.

Then Fran makes her way to the center ring.

F: Ladeeeeees and Gentlemen. Chiiiiiildreeeen of all ages. I would like to call your attention to the aisles where our nuuuuuumber ONE, popular SOUVENIR ooooooof the CIRCUS is ON SALE NOW! Fantaaaastic glowing light wands will be your faaaaaavorite toy LOOOOONG after the circus is over! With their easily replaceable batteries, they will bring you joy for WEEEEEKS to come!"
blah. blah. nasally blah.

Mom leans over.

M: Is she seriously doing a commercial for the light wands?
K: Seems that way to me.
F: RAISE YOUR HAND and our vendors will bring you your OWN FLASHING LIGHT WAND!
K: Bitch.

The kids' hands shoot up.

Mom looks over at me. Our kids are adorable and expectant. The kids whose parents and grandparents love them unconditionally are happily waving their lighted wands overhead. Mom says:

M: Do you want to get them now or later?
K: Might as well get it over with.

I leave the transaction to Mom. She moves to the aisle and I try not to interfere. I probably could have stayed strong, but grandparents have even more peer pressure at special events, I think. Mommy is supposed to be a hard ass. Grammy is expected to over-rule Mommy. Grammy was between a rock and a hard place.

Harrisen comes back to his seat with a 3 foot long light saber with 4 color-changing LED's and a faceted disco ball apparatus on the handle that shoots blinding rays of light in a 360 degree radius. Evangeline was flapping a plastic crystal butterfly on a wand that flashes its spring loaded wings in a dizzying display of strobe lighting. Our entire row was instantly illuminated. It looked like a rave. I heard the dad behind us groan.

K: "Kids, we still have to watch the show. We are gonna have to turn the lights off, ok?"
H: "Ok, Mommy."
E: "WHHHHHaaaaaaaa!"
K: "I will give that butterfly BACK to the butterfly man if you don't turn it off."

Harrisen is no longer watching the show. He is looking at his now-dark, light-up saber and smiling. I ask Mom:

K: "How much were those flashing things...?"
M: "$15. Each."
K: "Shit! I thought they were TEN."
M: "The plain ones were ten. They didn't want the plain ones."
K: "Of course not."

I lean over to my son.

K: "Honey, look at the acrobats! On The Wheel of Destiny! In ring number one!"

He manages to tear his eyes from his plastic wand long enough to enjoy the rest of act one. We are still impressed by the circus. It's really quite entertaining.

Fran comes back out to announce intermission.

F: "Ladieeeeees and Gentlemennnnnn! We have come to the halftime show!"

She pauses to take a breath. Men in black shirts, ties and shiny black polyester slacks rush into action. Before she could utter another syllable, they transform rings one, two and three into the stuff of preschool dreams. Do you remember the end of "Annie"? When Daddy Warbucks cleans up all the orphans and throws them a big-ass carnival at the mansion? Well, this was the Bossier City version of that sort of overblown, over-the-top fantasyland, but big-top Shriner-style. Pony rides. Elephant rides. Face painting with glitter. Take your photo with a snake. And FOUR, count 'em, FOUR bouncy houses. I'm not sure whose eyes were bigger, ours or the kids. However, it did not stop there. Having sucked hundreds of dollars out of parents with the blinky wand tactic, the same circus soldier salesmen were now carrying the most cartoon-perfect latex balloons on sticks you have ever seen. Huge and round, in perfect primary colors. Crack for a three year old.

E: I want to ride an eeeeewuuuufint!
K: Honey, we are NOT riding an elephant. Or a pony.
H: Mom, are those bouncy houses for us kids?
K: No, honey, they are for the kids whose mommys really love them.

Ok, so I didn't say that last part. But I sure thought it.

E: I want a bawooon!
M: Dwennie, you have a flashing butterfly wand!
E: Gwammy, can we give him my butterfwy back and get a bawoon?
M: I wish.

Ok, so Mom didn't really say that, but she sure thought it.

It was at this point, I had just finished texting a friend of mine to inquire why they did not sell beer at the circus. Mom leans over and says, "I wish they sold beer at the circus."

As the kids longingly watched the special children of the world ride elephants and ponies and get painted up like the tigers, we adults put our thinking caps on.

M: This is going to take a while.
K: Yep. They totally have us where they want us.
M: We paid for our tickets. They have our money...
K: But they don't yet have the money of all of the people still waiting in line to ride an elephant.
M: They aren't going to start act II until every single child in line has ridden an elephant. Or a pony. Look at that woman walking in circles in pony poop. Bless her heart.
K: This is cruel. Our children have a ringside seat to watch all the other kids ride an elephant.
M: Do you think they would leave now?

Little did Mom know, I had a trick up my sleeve. You see, Mom did not teach me rule #127. There are plenty of rules in my book that did come from her, but #127 is all mine. I break out the secret weapon.

K: "Hey kids. You guys want to go to a birthday party?"
E: "With ice cream?"
H: "And cake?"
E: "And goodie bags?"
K: "You bet."

We were out of there in 3 minutes. As we walked down the steps to the parking lot, Harrisen said:

H: "Thank you for taking me to the circus. I loved it."
E: "I wanna ride an elephant."
K: "We'll ride one at the Fair."

As I hugged Mom and thanked her for going to the circus with us, we added up our expenses. Even with the free tickets, we dropped almost $80.00 at the circus and we did not ride so much as the elevator.

We told each other that it was for a good cause. Shriner's Hospital is a wonderful charity and they did remove an extra toe from my niece's foot when she was a baby. That had to set them back more than eighty bucks, so we felt pretty good about our investment.

I still love the circus. I love showing my kids a good time, especially when it involves live performers. However, I despise being taken for a fool, and milked for my money through manipulation of my children. That is not what the circus should be about. It's not what childhood should be about! With materialism and commercialization overrunning every child-centric venue, it makes me wonder: when did the experience itself become not enough? When did it become such that we all need to wear the t-shirt or wave the glowing wand to prove that we had a good time? How do I fight the ring-masters of the world who are serving my kids the kool-aid with both hands? I know it's a battle that won't be won by giving in each time, but when the kids are young and don't truly understand, it's harder to follow through than you might think. Maybe I'll figure it out in time for The Revel.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Deliver us...

Overheard on a Sunday morning...

H: Mom, can Dwennie be a space girl when she grows up?
K: Of course, honey. She can be anything she wants to be when she grows up!
H: Except a priest.
K: Right. Except a priest.
E: Whaaaaaaaa! I wannaaaaa beeeeeee a PWWEEEEEEESST!

First thing flying through my mind:
Oh God. It's a curse. Even at three years old, women want what they can never have. Deliver us both from this Evil.

Welcome to the Holy Roman Church of ancient Patriarchy, my loves. Get up and get dressed for Mass.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Walking the plank...

My kids were born 10 days apart. Wait. Let me clarify. They were born 10 days shy of two years apart. For one of the most fertility-challenged women I know, November was a good month for me.

This sucks for several reasons.

#1: Mother's jewelry loses it's interest. They have the same birthstone. So, it's like, "Oh, what a nice ruby ring. And another ruby ring. Or, a ring with two rubies. How clever. Oh, maybe I'll get the pendant mother's necklace. But do I buy two ruby dangles or just one? Isn't two redundant? But won't one child get gypped if I only buy one ruby dangle? If I buy two, how will I know which ruby is for which kid?" You see. It becomes complicated. Sucks the joy right out of etsy, I swear.

#2: To party en masse, or not. This one I seriously struggle with. We have a large family. This family typically shows up for every kid party, driving in from the country, some from out of state, to celebrate. Wouldn't it be just a tad silly and selfish to expect them to do this twice in one month? BUT...don't the kids deserve their own special party? Don't they deserve to celebrate the miracle that is their birth independently? I mean, it's hardly their fault their momma didn't consider the ramifications of this when she was planning their conceptions. Hold on. Let me recover from the hysterical laughter [ . . . ] Ok. I'm good now.

#3: Kid parties in the summer suck donkey balls. Period. It's flipping hot in Louisiana in July and all of your school friends are totally MIA. It reminds me of my childhood, celebrating my birthday in late November. I made do with crazy aunts and uncles singing off key and candles stuck in pumpkin pie.

So, suffice it to say, I am working against a few obstacles in birthday party planning. To complicate matters, I have extremely high party ambitions. I like to fancy myself a party creating diva. My kid's parties (with the exception of last year, where I fell hard ONTO the wagon and did the whole thing the morning of at Dollar Tree and Sam's's the year that shall remain nameless...and themeless. Unless primary colors count as a theme) are pretty special. I mean, there is generally sewing involved. And tiered cakes. And fondant. And Photoshop. I enjoy this. I truly do. I get tremendous pleasure out of envisioning something and then bringing the vision to fruition. Before you think I'm getting all high and mighty about this, let me assure you, I am not. I pretty much am aware I am doing this for myself, and not the kids. Evangeline will not remember the 500 yards of pink tulle I spent hours draping for her first birthday. Harrisen will likely not remember three tiers of icicle-dripping glacier cake with dancing penguins on it...with his penguin printed shorts that matched the tablecloth that matched the banners, that matched his sister's dress....etc that I pulled off 2 weeks postpartum with a newborn. I was a little bit crazier then. Ok, a lot crazier then.

Sanity improvements aside, I still put a lot of internal pressure on myself to do their birthdays up right. I still art direct a theme and spend a lot of time on eBay, Oriental Trading and Birthday Express. This year, because my life remains out of control with school, I caved to the dual party. I just couldn't make it work otherwise and the kids seemed ok with it. At first, H wanted a robot party. Dwen was set on mermaids. Now, I'm good, but I ain't THAT good. (Though I would be lying if I said I didn't at least consider how to meld the two themes.) Long story shorter, the power of suggestion worked and Harrisen now thinks it was his idea to have a pirate and mermaid party. Arrrrgh, matey.

The kids are getting old enough to really get the concept of the party and be excited about it. They are even old enough to assist with the guest list. I was addressing invites yesterday and called them over to peruse the Montessori directory, just so I didn't inadvertently invite the spawn of Satan or the bane of their existence the party. Harrisen went first. There was nobody he wanted to exclude from his list. Typical for my angel boy. While we couldn't invite his whole enormous class, he truly wanted to.

Then, I called Evangeline over to compose her guest list. She took this very seriously. (some names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

K: Ok, Dwen. We can't invite all of your friends, so let's choose some who are your best best friends, ok?
E: Ok, mommy.
K: How about Jessica?
E: She cries a lot. She doesn't like to come into the classroom.
K: Ummm...ok. How about Samantha?
E: I can't say her name.
K: But we can still invite her. Even if you can't say her name.
E: Ok, mommy.
K: Let's see...Clayton?
E: He eats rice cakes. The big people kind.
K: Really? Well, do you want to invite him?
E: Ok, mommy.
K: Let's see. Lila. You love Lila. You talk about her a lot!
E: OH! Yes! Lila wears a flowered dress!
K: Every day?
E: Yep.
K: James. Your teacher said James is your good good friend.
E: Uh huh! He is gooooooood! He helps me! He brings me water for the speckled frogs!
K: Really? Let's see...a few more. How about Trey?
E: (serious look. very serious.) He. He. He eats his food when it's not lunchtime.
K: Oh dear.
E: (nods. Still very serious. I can tell this is a crime of massive proportion in Toddler North.)
K: Ok, one more. How about Brandon?
E: (looks shy, bats her eyes and glances away.)
K: (Oh shit. Let's not invite Brandon.)

It took the majority of the afternoon and evening for me, in cooperation with Daddy, to get the invite design finished, re-designed (remember, I mentioned cooperating with Daddy?), printed, trimmed, addressed and stamped. We even missed the trip to the park I had promised the kids. Harrisen was surprisingly understanding. We returned from the post office about 8:00 PM.

H: Whew. Mommy, those invitations were a lot of work, weren't they?
K: Yes, honey they take a lot of time.
H: But it will be so worth it. It will even be worth missing the park today.
K: (How did I end up with a compassionate five year old? Thank you, God.)

So, next weekend, I will walk the plank in our first birthday celebration where Mommy and Daddy will have to cooperate in public, for an event that is emotional in the sheer fact that their original birthdays were the happiest days of our lives together. I don't dread it, but there is a little fear of the unknown. I know it will be, essentially, a happy day. The kids will be delighted, and I will be surrounded by family and friends who love me. But it's hard to ignore the added stress that the party not only has to look good, but that I have to be a shining example of single-mommyhood with a perfectly functioning-though-separate family. Perhaps I should plan to serve a little grog with the buttercream.

Happy birthday to my miracles.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bucket List.

I have been meaning to actually put this down for over a year now. It's been stirring in my brain since last summer when I helped my friend, Kelly, click one off her bucket list. Somehow, forcing yourself to put it in tangible form holds you more accountable. These are in no particular order, as is obvious by number one...

1. Milk a cow
2. Participate in a chili cook off.
3. Stay in an over the water bungalow
4. Sing in an opera
5. Build a teardrop camper
6. Build an amazing treehouse
7. Learn to surf
8. Make love in the rain
9. Take my children to Africa
10. Deliver a baby
11. Have my writing published Nationally
12. See the Pope
13. Finish my Master's degree
14. Fly in a helicopter
15. Serve on a medical mission
16. Learn to play an instrument
17. Direct a play
18. Attend a silent retreat
19. Cruise to Alaska
20. Tour the death camps in Poland
21. See the auroraborealis
22. Complete a triathalon
23. Run a 5k in under 30 minutes
24. Go to a nudist resort
25. See the pyramids
26. Participate in a protest
27. Take the kids to at least 20 of the National Parks
28. Put $100 on black
29. Sit on a jury
30. Visit Acadie
31. Memorize the rest of "Paul Revere's Ride"
32. Donate blood
33. Boil a lobster at home
34. Ballroom dance
35. Swim with seals
36. Take a bath in a tub full of warm chocolate milk

So...36 far. One for each year of my life. There are some common and religion, for sure. There is a lot of random. There are a few that are slightly embarrassing. In fact, in a way, all of these are a wee bit embarrassing. I'm not fond of discussing in public all the things I have not done, but if you want to get things accomplished, it's best to write them down. If you had to pick three things you don't want to leave this world without accomplishing, what would they be?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The making of a man...

A couple of weekends ago, I took the kids to Caddo Lake for a weekend with Grammy and Grampy, camping in an old farm house with a great view of the cypress trees and sunset on the water. It was a nice time to reconnect and allow the stress to melt away a bit. I was there for a few hours before I felt I was taking my first deep breath of the summer.

I forget exactly what happened to bring about this conversation, but anyone who knows my son, Harrisen, will understand. Mom and I began discussing how blessed I am and how special and sweet both children are. We talked of their spirits and budding souls, and the conversation wound around, as conversations tend to do, to Harrisen and his tenderness.

Since he was a tiny baby, he has been a gentle soul. There is something incredibly tender and achingly sweet about his nature and spirit that make you want to grab him up and protect him from a sometimes cruel and hateful world. He has an innocence that is not found in many children these days, that is not solely due to my refusal to have toy weapons or anything harsher than LPB on the television. His sister does not have it. Evangeline, though 2 years younger and not yet three, juts out her chin and dares the world to cross her. She has a toughness about her that leaves me shaking my head already. Evangeline sees danger as a challenge. Harrisen sees danger as a confusing darkness he does not understand.

Harrisen tries so hard to please and takes to heart lessons, advice and direction. He admonishes his sister's devil-may-care approach with a sweet concern that likely stems from his lifelong lesson on being a big brother that he could likely quote word for word: "Evangeline is your baby sister. Your job is to help take care of her, protect her and love her." This is a job he takes very seriously.

Harrisen takes pride in his accomplishments and comes, wide eyed to you for acknowledgment and acceptance. He is mannerly, gentle and easily upset. His boy-like roughness is not hard like a kick or sharp like a poke, but rather like a pile of warm, snuggly puppies rolling around in a wicker basket.

When Harrisen is corrected, his eyes get big and soft, and he tucks his chin. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he gets mad...but he always comes back, and in a sincerity that outpaces his years, asks for forgiveness. He seems to sense the importance of relationship and closeness and nurtures it with all of us. In some ways it makes him seem like a baby, while in other ways, he seems to be as wise as an old man. In some ways it makes him seem vulnerable, and in another way, it makes him seem (sometimes) stronger than me.

These are all qualities I love and cherish in my long-awaited. These things I am proud of. These things make him different from many of the other boys I have known. I find joy in his very unique self.

But, rocking on the screen porch of the lake house, Mom and I wondered aloud to each other, "Is Harrisen tough enough? Is his tenderness going to stand in the way of his growing up to be the kind of man he needs to be?" As mothers do best, we worry. We concern ourselves with bullies and harsh realities and inevitable heartbreaks.

About this time, Grampy walks up with a styrofoam container of worms and a fishing pole. He announces to us in his typical spare way, "Boys are goin' fishin'." Harrisen puts on his green monster life vest that he isn't too grown up to be embarrassed of and practically flies down to the pier.

We rock. Back and forth.

A few minutes later we hear a commotion coming from down on the pier. Seems my sweet boy has caught his first fish!

Some time later, Harrisen and Grampy come bustling up the path with a small igloo cooler containing four fat bream. Harrisen beams. He opens the cooler and asks Grampy if he can hold his fish. Grampy shows him how to put his thumb in the fish's mouth and pinch it tight so we can take the requisite photographs. Evangeline reaches out with one girly finger to touch the slimy scales and runs away shrieking. Harrisen is totally unfazed. He is totally digging holding this flipping, flopping, slimy fish. I am impressed. My son is doing something seemingly effortlessly...something I would only be capable of under penalty of death or mortal embarrassment.

He spends a few more minutes picking the fish up, dropping them in the grass, putting them back in the cooler and generally pestering them half to death when Grampy says, "So, Harrisen...what are you gonna do with your fish? Do you want to clean them and eat them, or let them go?"

Harrisen says, "I want to clean them!"

Visions of Harrisen adding dishwashing liquid to the cooler and adding tub toys for their enjoyment swirl in my mind. I know he does not understand the concept of cleaning a fish.

I intervene.

K: Harrisen, do you understand what cleaning a fish means?
H: Ummmm...I think so.
K: It means you have to kill the fish, H.
H: Ok.
K: You will have to cut the head off and get the guts out. The fish is going to die. Are you ok with that, honey?
H: Yep. I want to eat em.
K: Ok. That's good. I just want to make sure you understand.
H: I understand. Come on, Grampy. Let's go clean my fish.

I sit down, woozy. The boys take off back down to the pier.

Mom and I resume our conversation...

M: Are you going to go take pictures of him cleaning his fish?
K: I'm not sure I can. It kinda skeeves me out. I don't like seeing them die.
M: You need to take a picture.
K: I still don't think he gets what is about to happen.
M: Kate, I think he does. You spelled it out. He knows, and he's ok with it.

I haul my queasy self down to the pier and watch (and record for posterity) Grampy whack each fish several times with the back of a big metal spoon before he cuts off their heads. Harrisen says "bye" to each fish as they meet the buck-knife guillotine. He uses his chubby little fingers to dig guts out of their bodies. He holds each fish down firmly as he saws the scales off with the big silver spoon. His blond curls glisten with fish scales. He smiles. He is proud. He seems taller.

I can only witness something I can't fully understand. The man is hiding in every little boy. Even my sweet, precious, innocent and vulnerable little boy. This is something he did not need me for. He did not need me to scale that fish. The desire and gumption to do that was born in him...drug along on that Y-chromosome from the moment he was created. I feel a satisfying distance grow between mother and son at that moment. He has stepped through a door. I watch my four year old son do something I am unable to do. He has connected with something lying dormant inside of him, brought out by love and trust for another man who showed him the way.

This is how men are made. I pray that, along with many loving and kind men and women in his life, I am helping make a good one.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What would YOU say?

I am taking a class this semester called "Death and Dying". Both appropriate and challenging, considering I have lost both grandfathers during the course of the semester. The major assignment of the course was to write our own eulogy. I struggled. I started. I deleted. I considered taking the easy way out and writing a short, sweet and vanilla homage to myself. I finally waited until I had something to say, and as they usually do, the words came.

Eulogy for Katie Hall Smith

Katie was a person who deeply valued family, friends, loyalty, and love. She admired those who were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs. She honored education and the Arts. She reveled in her children and dedicated herself to them. She held tightly to her faith, even when it was challenged. Most anyone who knew Katie at all, knew these things about her.

If you are here today, it stands to reason that you probably know the high points of Katie's life...her talents, accomplishments, strengths, and even weaknesses. Any of you likely could have given the first few lines of this eulogy.

Wouldn't it be interesting to not talk about the glowing things everyone already knows at a funeral? Wouldn't it be refreshing to learn, even at this time, some things you might not have known about Katie? Recently she was on a journey...a journey to understanding herself and her world. A quest to peel away the layers of pare down the soul and spirit to the original, the organic...the truth. I believe we owe it to her today to do the same as we remember her.

Did you know that as a child, Katie spent an entire summer licking S&H Green Stamps with her Great Grandmother while watching Another World? She didn't particularly like soap operas (a preference that followed her to the end of her life) and she certainly didn't particularly enjoy licking hundreds of stamps and putting them in little books. What motivated her to ride her bike across Gilliam day after day was the reward of hours of time spent in the presence of two of the people she loved most, and who made her feel connected to something greater than herself, her Grandmere and MeMe. The french language, strong coffee in little cups and stories of people she only knew from photographs lit a fire at a young age; fueled a desire to connect and identify with the side of her that came over from Acadia on a boat so many generations ago. This fascination and identification led her, 15 years later , across the ocean to West Africa to learn the language of her grandmothers...of the LeBlancs and Pellissiers and Begnauds. Even though she heard the language in a different accent, on a different continent and among people far removed from the Acadians, she knew she was stitching up a hole in her history; she was closing a language barrier that began with her father and will hopefully not end with her children. Her connection to her history, through her love and admiration of her grandmothers, led her to read and re-read the story of her people and give her daughter a name to grow into: Evangeline.

Speaking of on earth does a little white girl from a small, private, liberal arts college end up studying on the dark continent? Katie did not come from a long line of people who spent their Junior year abroad in exotic locales. She did not necessarily come from a family that spent a lot of time considering other cultures and ways of life. She did, however, come from a family who valued her...her spirit of adventure, her unpredictability and her courage. When Katie was given the opportunity to apply for a grant to study in Africa, her mother probably knew she would do it. She knew enough to know that Katie would likely accomplish what she set her mind to. She also knew that if Katie were to make it to Senegal, it would no be through any effort on her part! Carole remembers the day she learned of her daughter's desire to spend a year in Africa: “I told her I loved her, I supported her and I would be very proud of her. But I absolutely was not going to help her get there. I would not type a form...I would not mail it off. I would not finance this dream at all. I couldn't. It had to be her decision, her effort and her choice. I knew that if, God forbid, something happened to her over there, I wanted no responsibility in it. I knew she would do it. And she did.” Katie came home a year later transformed. She literally became a different, deeper, better version of herself that year. A little part of her heart always remained in West Africa. She never underestimated the evolution of her character that happened that year. It set the stage for the last 15 years of her life.

Did you know that Katie never passed a beggar, homeless person or panhandler without giving them something? A dollar, five dollars, a package of crackers, a taco out of her combo meal....She had seen poverty. She knew it up close. She never again took for granted the blessings of shelter, clothing and food. She became extremely frugal. She shopped at Goodwill and bought on sale. Before she went to Africa, she had credit cards to every major department store in the mall. In the last fifteen years of her life, she likely set foot in a mall 2-3 times per year instead of 2-3 times per week. This year, leaving the Festival Plaza in Shreveport, pulling her children in a wagon, they passed a homeless man in a doorway, leaned over his sack of collected aluminum cans. Katie stopped the wagon in front of this man and emptied her bag of every last snack and juice box she had packed for the kids. She gave him a blessing and the food and took two bewildered toddlers back to the car. Evangeline was crying for her juice box. Harrisen was asking questions about why the man was dirty and why Mommy had given their snacks to him. Her children have been deprived of so many lessons in the future by losing their mother so young, but when you see them today, ask them what you should do if you see a hungry, poor, dirty man on the street and you have a bag full of snacks. They know.

They also know about God. Katie had a prie dieu in her bedroom, with icons of the Blessed Virgin and Christ. Though she was devoutly Catholic, and knew by heart most of the prayers in her prayer book, she taught her children that God, Jesus and Mary were there to talk to in their words, in their time. The kids would stand on the kneeler, look up at the icons, and say, “Hi Jesus. Hi Mary. I love you. Amen.” They are well on their way to a spiritual life as deeply rooted in action as their mother's.

Did you know that Katie once took a $25,000-a-year pay cut to go to work for the Church? She did. She was working in sales for a major network television affiliate (a career that never suited her) and left it to pursue a career raising money for the Catholic Church in Northwest Louisiana. She was fond of saying, “I got sick of waking up each morning for the sole purpose of raising money for fat guys on a golf course in Alabama.” So, she devoted the next decade to raising money for things that mattered: the hungry, the poor, the unborn, the men who wanted to be priests...things she cared deeply about. Working for the church, she was known to say, was like, “pulling back the green velvet curtain and seeing the wizard pulling all the levers...” This intimate relationship with the Catholic Church led her into a deeper understanding of her faith and a mature relationship with God. It forced both an acceptance and a healthy criticism of something so close to her. It was a time in her life that she treasured and was extremely proud of.

Did you know that Katie was a handyman? She hated depending on anyone to hang, move, repair, paint, wire or plumb anything. She couldn't always do the job totally by herself, but she always tried. Her independent streak and self sufficiency were qualities in herself that she truly valued, and she was tireless in her work. She was goal-oriented and would not stop until she collapsed or finished. She helped her father lay a floor in her kitchen a week before she was due to deliver Harrisen. She rolled around like a bowling ball on that floor until it was complete. Nobody ever had as much energy as she did when there was a deadline to meet. A goal was a challenge and she never backed down.

It's no great secret that Katie Smith was smart. However, I'll bet not many of you knew that Katie was a geek. She was. The trendy clothes and put-together look, as well as her ability to truly work the room at a party, belied the fact that she was a book junkie, a constant learner, and a delver into the things of the mind. She visited the library more times that she liked to admit and called it alternately her “cave” and “sanctuary”. Katie read non-fiction for fun. She took senior-level Literary Criticism at Centenary as an elective. She valued her few friendships where she could open up that part of herself and share her thoughts and intellect with those who both understood it and appreciated it. It was a pretty private side of her life, and a quiet one...but it was extremely important to her. Any of you know about iTunes university? Katie did. Look it up.

On the outside, Katie was passionate, dramatic, and often emotional and impulsive. What her closest friends and family know is that Katie could also be extremely rational. She was an excellent listener and friends relied on her to tell them the truth...not what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. Her advice was often sought, and was always tempered with love and compassion. Katie was known to the world as a talker: someone who always had a lot to say, lots of it funny, much of it over the top, and sometimes exaggerated for effect! But when her phone rang, as it often did, with friends or family in crisis, the performance stopped and the talk quieted. She listened...thought...and then chose words carefully and sparingly. In these times, she was able to say much with few words. Those closest to her will tell you that Katie was one to love despite people's shortcomings, trust despite being burned, and look for the good in people, sometimes to her own detriment. Her ability to be compassionate in the face of pain led just about everyone who knew her to agree she would have been uniquely successful in her latest endeavor, nursing. She liked to say, “It only took me 36 years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up!” Many people who heard she had gone back to school to become a nurse had an immediate reaction of shock, which was quickly replaced by a knowing smile and nod...that, yes, it indeed made a world of sense.

In the last two years of her life, Katie was experiencing a Renaissance. She was shedding painful parts of herself and her world that had kept her from experiencing the fullness of life she desired and deserved. She was searching and working daily to achieve peace and truth in her life. She was setting goals and attacking them in her typical unrelenting fashion. Some may say she died at the most inopportune time... in the middle of her journey. However, I believe she died in a very appropriate time: a time of pruning...and we all know what happens after pruning. We flower and grow and bear fruit beyond all measure. May the memory of Katie continue to bear fruit in the lives of those who loved her.

I encourage all my friends to do this assignment. If not on paper, in your head. It was a very clarifying experience for me. I think I shall live better to truly live up to it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Letter to my 20 year old self...

So, I blatantly stole this from Kelly...but I thought it was a worthwhile exercise, especially in the midst of a time of major growth in my life and heart. If I would have been told at twenty that 16 years in the future I would be a single mom struggling through a divorce and nursing school...raising my kids and scraping by with the lowest paying job I have had since college...well, I would have laughed in the face of whatever fool was doing the telling. But life is quirky like that and reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. So, what follows is a note to a not-quite grown up major at Centenary, top of the world, nothing-will-stop-her-girl. But you know what? Even if I could, I probably would not mail it. It's a fun exercise in theory, but would it really have changed anything I regret?

Dear Katie (version 2.0):

Hey, brat. Yeah, you. You with the big ego and creepy hippie clothes.

I've got some things to say to you, things you likely will neither completely believe or understand, but I'm going to give it a shot.

First of all, good for you for being brave. Your bravery will be a trait that you will rely on in tough times ahead. You will also curse it from time to time, as it sometimes masks a certain arrogance and pig-headed-ness that will get you into trouble. Best thing to do now is to learn the difference between the two. Brave is good. Arrogant and blind is not. Temper the bravery with reality. Please.

Speaking of reality, it's a good time in life to really get real. You are spending lots of time building a life around things that are, by necessity and definition, fake. Smoke and mirrors. Velvet drapes and blue gels. Blackout. Costume change. Strike the set and move on to the next character. It's exhilarating. It's fun. You are very good at it. It's also a really good way to avoid being real and knowing the person behind the character. If every day you play a character, where is the skill and talent of doing it on stage? You must have a reality to suspend to create art that is worthwhile. Spend some time and energy finding your authentic self. (and no, Dear. You have not already done that. Believe me.) As you do that, the characters you create will deepen. Don't hide behind them. Put them to bed after the curtain falls and go home with the truth. It will take a bit of that bravery I mentioned before.

Next, you need to learn to love. I DO NOT mean all those boys that smell of sawdust and steel grease, and Ben-Nye makeup. I mean yourself. You need to look in the mirror and love the girl with the flaming red hair, pale skin and green eyes. You need to go easy on her. She is the only friend you will have for the rest of your life. She will be your company when you are lonely; the one lying in bed with you each night. Almost twenty years from now, those same green eyes will stare back at you from the mirror, looking for acceptance. (The fire engine red hair will be, blessedly, a thing of the past.) Take care of her. Life will be challenging enough without scrutiny and criticism from within. Work hard but don't set the bar so high for things that don't matter. Be tough on yourself for not standing up for what you believe in...for being untrue to yourself...for falling short in kindness, tolerance, and patience...not for your pants size, your "B" in British Literature, or for not landing the lead in every single show this season. Come to think of it, that Brit Lit class will actually transfer as Fine Arts in nursing school, so spend a few more hours in the lobby of Hardin studying for that final...but, do go easy on the other stuff.

Katie, now is the time to get to know your family. For real. Not for what you think they are, or what you wish they were, but for the people they truly are. You are a big girl now. You can handle the truth. Don't wait five more years to learn who they are. Start learning it now, because the knowledge will help you through some dark days. This is another place in your life that calls for shedding the rose colored glasses of girlhood and giving in to the truth. It can be painful, but the truth is liberating. It will set you free. And while some relationships may change in ways you don't expect, others will be strong enough to flourish and bloom in full sun.

Seek direction with purpose. Your inclination is to impulsively head North, and when it begins to feel a bit chilly up there, turn around and set a course due South. But, truth be told, it's pretty hot down there. What you might be needing is a bit of Easterly winds...or Western sky. If you are headed in the wrong direction, it does not mean the right direction is the opposite direction.

People. People come and people go in life. There is an ever-evolving cast of characters that move fluidly in and out of the scenes you play. They all teach you something...eventually. Unfortunately, some lessons they have to teach will leave scars because they took so long to learn. Embrace people. Learn from them, but don't be hesitant to learn what they have to share early on. When someone shows you who they are...believe them. Right away. There is no substitute for kindness. There is no passion that is worth peace. Gentleness and goodness will nurture you and fill you up. Settle for no less in those you let get close to you. Kindness, peacefulness, gentleness and goodness. That is the bar for which you must reach. These are the qualities you should seek, in yourself and others.

So, as I draw this to a close, there is obviously a common theme. Truth. Honesty. Faithfulness to self. These are the things that you will struggle with developing when it's almost too late. Get a jump start on the lessons now. Listen to that little voice that whispers in the wings while the louder voices shout from the front row. Block out the loudmouths from time to time. Listen to and take direction. Don't be afraid to change the blocking in the middle of the scene. Improvise. Be brave. Be real. Love yourself.


Katie (version 3.6)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I was watching both kids play and splash in the new pool I bought for them (which should require a post in itself...big ugly blue monster that it is.) The sun was sparkling on their wet little faces and I was filled with such joy and peace and love, it was almost unspeakable. Harrisen came over to the hammock where I was reading and laid his head on my leg.

K: "I love you so much. You bring me great joy. Thank you for being my son."

H: "You oughtta thank God, Mommy. HE made me. All I did was come outta your tummy."

Reason number 1,365,789 that I love him, he brings me joy, and I thank God for him every day.

(and his fiesty little sister ain't so bad, either.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

My own best friend...

This week on Facebook, the world has been doing a little time travel through profile pics, by posting an image of themselves from way back. Some have posted baby photos, others horrors of the seventies and eighties with feathered mile-high bangs and wretched polyester outfits. I decided to play along, since I needed to rev up my rarely-used scanner for some nursing school documents.

I shuffled through a box of photos under my bed and found some that were indeed a bit horrific...but this is the one that I was looking for in particular. The reason I was looking for this photo is not that it accurately captures how I actually looked when I was about 11 years old (though my family would say it does), but because it captures how I remember myself during the time that my childhood memories are full, bright and relatively accurate and complete. I was old enough to really remember myself and my world. And this is how I remember myself.

If I really scrutinize the photo, it's the eyes that reach out to grown-up Katie. My eyes are the same. Not just the shape and color, but what they say and how they express. Little Katie in this photo looks at me, and gives me what I seem to be searching for these days in my life: someone to see hear understand me; to look past the trappings of the exterior and to see inside me with emotional and intellectual x-ray vision. When I look at this photo, the girl looking back gets me. She's looking out with love. You can tell that she loves the person she's looking at. Twenty-five years ago, when the image was snapped, it was her mother. Today, she's loving her grown-up self...a self that could use a little of it right now.

It's a good lesson, I guess. Perhaps what I'm searching for is not out in the great unknown. Maybe I'm looking too far. Maybe, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I should be looking in my own back yard. In a way, it's comforting. If it can be enough that I get myself, understand myself, hear myself...then I don't have to depend upon someone else to fill that space. Then, when I run across people who can also see me as I want to be seen, and love me how I want to be loved, then it's just serendipity. It's a worthy goal: to be able to be whole and happy with your own self-love and understanding. Not an easy one, but a worthy one. And I'm not one to back down from a challenge.
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