There are certain pieces of my being that have been ingrained as absolute truth. Always show respect to your elders. You are considered a grown woman when you take your husband’s last name (and therefore are allowed to drink alcohol in front of the aforementioned elders.) And family before self.

Always.

But don’t you dare light up a cigarette in front of The Family. Ever since tio quit 13 years ago, it’s been understood that if you did smoke, it’s a habit that needed to be talked around similar to the way no one ever questioned the frequency with which 10-pound premature babies are born to sons and daughters of friends and cousins not too long after weddings.

“Five months early, eh?” Knowing eyes. Secret smiles. Brand new baby clothes, price tags already removed. Nothing smaller than 3-6 month in the gift bag. “She’s beautiful.”

My father, who gave up his Miller Lite for Lent every year but never made it to church on Easter Sunday because he was nursing the hangover he got started on at midnight, once told me that even after being married and having five girls, smoking was still off limits in front of his father. It wasn’t a habit Dad relied upon. More of a social thing in which he might or might not bum a smoke off a friend and be happy without another until the next cookout maybe a year later. But too many beers on too little food made Dad careless one day. Dad stepped out onto the porch with a friend only to be caught by my grandfather as he was getting ready to leave.

“He never said a word,” Dad said. “He just looked at me. I threw the cigarette on the ground and went back inside.”

My grandfather didn’t talk to my father for a week. My father never picked up another cigarette again.

At least when my grandfather was around.

***

I am standing in front of the courthouse, tears heated with the anger of betrayal falling from unblinking eyes as I look into the storm. My four sisters, backs braced against the reality they are choosing not to acknowledge. They stand close, arms interlocked, lips tight. My cousin stands with them, her eyes focused on her mother across the divide. Occasionally, one of my sisters almost loses control when a corner of their mouth starts to twitch. Even with my eyes trained over their heads, even with my focus directed on blowing smoke into the faces of the women who helped raise us, I understand that my sisters are fighting a battle between tears for what we have lost and laughter in response to my actions.

So do my aunts. They attempt to concentrate their nervous glances on the sky and on imaginary pieces of lint on their jackets,  anywhere but where I am standing while our respective lawyers attempt to make peace before the storm of misplaced loyalties intensifies. We had lost our father. They, their only brother. There hadn’t been time to prepare.

“Do you think he would be proud of what you are doing?” My cousin had asked her mother before court. “Do you honestly believe he would stand back and let you hurt them like this?”

She laughed in her daughter’s face before walking away.

Family before self.

The lawyer told us not to say a word to them. They told us it was better this way.

And that’s just fine. Because with each inhalation, I stand straighter. With each new cigarette lit off the still burning butt of the one currently being smashed out beneath my heel, I redefine the word family. With each unblinking exhalation aimed directly into the faces of strangers we once knew, they can hear it.

We all can.

Fuck. You.


This post was written in response to a The Red Dress Club prompt asking writers to describe an emotional fight. What I have written above is non-fiction.

 

I’m normally a Nook kind of girl. And my first question to author Meagan Francis via Twitter after seeing one of her national television interviews promoting The Happiest Mom was to ask how long I would have to wait to download a copy.

Which-side note here- was just an awesome example of the immediacy of social media. I think Meagan was still at the studio when she tweeted back. And that’s when I looked at The Husband and was all, “See? I am having An Actual Conversation with a real published author who WAS JUST ON TV. How cool am I?”

About a week later I found myself at Barnes and Noble and decided to just buy a hard copy of The Happiest Mom. What sold me? The cover. See that So Cute it Makes You Happy Just to Look At It book at the top of this blog post? ? Yeah…trust me. I’ve had the book for about a month now and I still find myself smiling involuntarily when I happen to see that pretty mix of happy on my desk.

What’s even better is that it’s not a book full of empty promises or Let Me Tell You Why My Way is Better empty promises wrapped in a pretty package. The Happiest Mom is more like a rational girlfriend who dishes advice that makes sense without making you feel like she is being preachy or judgmental because SHE GETS WHERE YOU ARE COMING FROM.

I’m a mother of one. I am in constant awe of moms of More Than One and sometimes find myself wondering how my own mother never had to get fitted in a white coat raising five girls. And I will gladly admit here that part of the reason I still have only one (she’s almost four years old now) is because I constantly find myself torn between feelings of inadequacy (How can I handle more kids if I can’t keep it together with one?) and frustration (How can I handle more kids if I can barely keep it together with one?) Bottom line? I love my kid but I can’t honestly say I’m happier as a mom than I was Before Baby. How can I be? I have so much to do!

My to-do list is living (and breathing) document on my smart phone, and I am not exaggerating when I say that if I don’t type in Remember to Breath after Wash Laundry, Put Laundry in Dryer, Take Laundry Out of Dryer, and Fold Laundry, I don’t remember to do it. I am overly anxious and freak out when the slightest thing doesn’t go according to plan. And I am always frantically running around trying to remember where I left my bank card. (Last time I lost it when I decided to mark my place in The Happiest Mom. Yeah, I know. The Husband told me my life would be so much easier if I just took five seconds now to get off the couch and put the card back in my wallet instead an hour of driving to the bank and back home to get a another replacement, too. He also told me to breathe, take some time for myself, and stop wishing my stress away. I told him to shove it.)

Then Megan told me (in her book) that part of one of her secrets to being a happier mom is to take time now to do that extra step, like putting the laundry away right after folding it instead of leaving it in a pile on top of your dresser and leaving a bigger mess for later. She also suggests breathing, taking some time for myself, and to think of happiness as a skill that would be a benefit to everyone in my family if I mastered (Think Go with the Flow). And I nodded my head and declared her a genius for thinking up such original advice.

That’s when The Husband told me to shove it.

The Happiest Mom is full of gems and broken up into ten chapters in which Meagan shares her secrets to staying sane (and smiling) while raising her own brood of five. Love Your Life, Make Your Bed, and Aim Low, Go Slow are just a few examples of the discussion topics Meagan leads with a rare but welcome blend of authority and warmth. Never once does Meagan suggest she knows all leaving you with the feeling that she is telling you why her way is better and yours is not. Instead, she shares the happiness skills she has learned along the way (like figuring out your Must Do’s on your To-Do list and saying To Hell with The Rest) and offers suggestions on how to incorporate them into your own life and what works for you.

Buy it. Read it. Love it.

And then send a tweet to Meagan Francis or leave a comment on her blog letting her know how happy you are.

I did.

***

Ready for the good stuff? You know…the part where I tell you to leave a comment sharing the one change you’d like to make in your life to become a happier mom and I tell you that two winners will be selected next week to receive copies of The Happiest Mom? Yeah…that part.

Make sure I can get in touch with you via twitter, facebook, or email if you win! Contest will close at midnight, EST, on Wednesday, May 4.

 

Because I remember hiding in the pantry as a child to eat my feelings, I tell my daughter every day how much I love her.

Because my father died when I was 29, I finally understood my mother’s loss of both of her parents at the age of 19.

Because my family broke when we buried my father, I came to appreciate those connections that remain for the precious gifts they truly are.

Because I hated the girl/teenager/woman looking back at me from the other side of the mirror until recently, I tell my daughter she is healthy and strong before I tell her she is beautiful.

Because I grew up knowing I was the reason my parent’s got married, I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 15.

Because every time I thought He’s The One I was wrong, I said “I do” to the right man.

Because I was ashamed of my kinky curls, I silence my first thoughts and simply respond with a “thank you, baby,” every time my daughter tells me my hair is pretty.

Because I was left standing on my front porch waiting for my friends to pick me up for senior homecoming, I learned the importance of holding my head high.

Because I once wanted to die, I am grateful to live.

Because I still have dreams to make a reality, I wake up with a reason to try harder.

Because of yesterday, I have today.

This post was written in response to The Red Dress Club memoir prompt asking writers to share a a negative experience with positive results.

 

Dear Lane Bryant,

I know I’ve been kind of…distant lately. *Shuffles feet* And I know I’ve stood you up on more than one promised shopping date. *Stares at the ground* So really, I would totally understand if you wanted to break up with me. Frankly, it would save me the trouble of having to do it myself.

Look, Lane. We’ve had this conversation before. You being too needy? And why do I always have to pick up the tab? I NEED MY SPACE!

I’ve thought about this long and hard, Lane. And because you haven’t really taken any of the hints I have been dropping, I’ve decided to just drop the “letting you down easy” bit and just tell it like it is.

So here are my Top Ten reasons for why I am dumping you for Other Stores.

10- You lie. A size 14 at your store is not a size 14 for the Rest of the World. You want proof? Just take a look in my pre-pregnancy clothes bin from five years ago. I have size 14′s in there that I JUST GOT BACK INTO (and yes, thank you, my ass looks pretty cute in them) so it makes no sense that the 14′s in your store today are falling off of me after I have zipped them up.

9- You are a not a cheap date. Have you looked at your price tags, lately?

8- It’s not you…it’s me. No, really. I’ve outgrown you. And by that? I really mean I’ve gotten too small for your britches.

7- I don’t want to be tied down right now. It’s true. Go ahead and call me a retail slut. I don’t care. But I have had no choice but to shop at your store since I pushed Buttercup out my hooha, and this retail monogamy has gotten kind of stale. And really…it’s not like you were being all that faithful to me.

6- Have you seen the rest of that big world out there? I just realized it was here in front of me the whole time. Old Navy. Coldwater Creek. New York and Company…new styles. New sizes. New reasons to stare at my Cuter Than it’s Been in Four Years and Nine Months Ass in the full length mirrors in the dressing room.

5- I need to be able to express myself. And frankly, having to send the sales attendant morsecode messages for her to decipher in silence indicating my frustration that the smallest size in your store is too big for me to avoid the Evil Death Stares from bigger women doing their shopping was really just stifling me. I’d much rather walk into Any Other Store and ask for a 14 without having to give a damn what the size 0′s are snickering about.

4- Don’t take it personally. We had a good time while it lasted. And you really were good to me. I swear that a few of my favorite wardrobe staples say Lane Bryant on the label. If you hadn’t changed your sizing, things might be different today.

3- The irony here is that now that I am too small for you, Lane, I may find myself in need of you again. At least if The Husband has his way. Which is why…

2- I’m not necessarily calling this a break up.

1- Just a trial separation.

 

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