My sister in law called the other day to sob (a little) about her 18-year-old son and his high school graduation. This kid was five when I started dating his uncle, so while I might not be facing the reality of a full grown adult and wondering when my baby turned into this capable person ready to take on the world, I totally understood the Where the Hell Has the Time Gone sentiment.

Because really? That thing about the, growing up too fast is only a cliche when you are talking about someone else’s kid.

It might not be a fair comparison, but I immediately looked at my own growing baby. Buttercup will soon be four years old. She’s a far cry from the six-pound newborn I brought home from the hospital. Gone is the little cherub baby face and the awkwardly adorable toddler gait and the gummy smile. It’s all been replaced with the face of a little girl who walks and runs like a little girl and that memory of the gummy smile she once had is playing tricks with my mind as she sits with her fingers in her mouth trying to gently wiggle loose the tooth that seems to be hanging on by a thread.

I asked her if she wanted me to tug it out for her. It’s almost there, anyway, and when she pushes it out far enough with her tongue, I can see into her gum cavity where the shiny white newness of her first adult tooth is still waiting to be born. She told me no. She’s not ready to be a big girl yet and can we please just let it fall out on it’s own? When it’s ready?

I sometimes ask her to please stop growing. If only for a moment. Usually she takes me literally and laughs, telling she she can’t not grow. It’s what kids do, for goodness sake. But this time, I didn’t have to ask. My little baby has given me a reprieve, however slight, allowing us both a little more time to process the reality of the coming tomorrow.

This post was written in response to a writing prompt on The Red Dress Club. This week, writers were asked to take graduation as inspiration.

 

Mercedes M. Yardley is an incredible writer and a woman of unbelievable strengths. She inspires me to be better, reach higher, and to reach deeper within. I like to tell Mercedes that I’m just staying on her good side so I can say I knew her when for when when actually happens for her but the honest truth is that when I saw on A Broken Laptop that Mercedes considers me an inspiration? Of her very own?

Uh-mazing.

So I’m passing on The Awesome.

The rules are simple.

When you win:

1. Post the picture above to your blog.

2. List at least three writers who you feel live up to the “write hard” spirit. Think: writers who work at their craft, writers who never give up despite the odds, writers who constantly turn out quality work. Writers you admire. Optional: explain why you think they are awesome.

3. Include these rules or a link to them.

4. Notify said writers of their victory. Ask them to pass on the torch.

5. Continue being awesome.

Now for my winners…

1. HC Palmquist: Maybe it’s because she writes fiction and I well, don’t, but H.C. always amuses me talking about her characters like they are real people. Oh wait, y’all do that? She’s hilarious, determined, and talented. I’d call that a triple-threat, people. She can probably also kick my ass in four inch-stilettos before breaking her own ankle and asking me to drive her to the emergency room.

2. Sarah Joyce Bryant: It takes an indescribable talent to take horrific childhood memories and turn them into beautiful testaments of strength and character. That’s what Sarah does with her breath-taking essays. Sarah is an amazingly gifted writer who also dabbles in poetry and fiction. I’m honored to know her.

3. Galit Breen: I found Galit through The Red Dress Club and am awed by her words every time I read them. You know those little moments that strung together make up the sum of our experience as mothers? Those moments that move so fast we too often miss them because we are simply trying to ready ourselves for the next one? That’s what Galit catches with her words.

Thank you for inspiring me, ladies. And remember to pass on The Awesome.

 

I could talk about the graduating from college with honors. Or my bylines in newspapers and magazines.

I could even point to my daughter and tell you I am most proud of the fact that pushed her out my hoo-ha without any pain medication even though I had been induced, which (and trust me on this) is probably the reason she is still an only child. Well, that, and the hellacious pregnancy, multiple hospitalizations before and after having her, and the missing pregnancy amnesia everyone promised me I would eventually experience.

Have I mentioned I am still waiting on that?

But if I have to be honest, another moment shines brighter.

I was six. My sister four. And even though I can’t remember why, I know I was mad at her. But instead of just telling her, I decided to use my new found spelling skills to write her a letter expressing my feelings.

Mature, right?

We were at my Tia and Tio’s house for the weekend, a tradition started by my uncle when they started picking me up as a baby for a few days to give my parents a break. I remember curling myself up on the bed with a sheet of paper and a pen, pursing my lips in deep concentration as I tapped the pencil against my chin. This was my first letter, after all. I wanted it to be good.

Veronica had made me mad. I don’t remember what she did, but I was the first-grade equivalent of livid. But didn’t Mrs. Ganoff say that there were words that sounded different that meant the same thing? And other words that meant the same thing but more? Like pretty and bee-u-tee-ful? (Besides, I had no idea the word livid actually existed.)

I brightened at the thought. I could really get my point across if I used a “more better” word than mad. Because, really? “Dear Vica, I am mad at you,” just wasn’t enough. But what word could I use? And could I spell it?

Gripping the pencil tightly, I carefully printed out, “Dear Vica…”

After careful consideration, I added the words “I” and “am”.

And that’s where I got stuck again. At least until inspiration struck. Quickly, I erased the word “am” and started writing “h”, “a” and “t”.

Now what was that spelling rule Mrs. Ganoff had just explained in school? Oh! I remembered! If you ad the letter “e” to the end of a word, it changed the short vowel sound to a long one! But I still needed to be sure. I didn’t want to embarrass myself with a typo in my first ever letter, did I?

“Tia! How do you spell hate?”

Without thinking, she answered my question.

Success!

I climbed off the bed, walked over to Tia Elvia, and handed her my letter.

“Can you please read this to Vica? I’m not talking to her right now.”

It probably goes without saying that I spent a little time in my room that afternoon. And while my aunt and uncle weren’t exactly pleased with my request to read my innocent little four-year-old sister a letter telling her how I hated her, the muffled laughter as they made their way down the hall was all I need to hear to let myself fall back on the bed with a happy sigh.

Short and long vowels?

I? Just won.

This post was written in response to a prompt on The Red Dress Club. This week, writers were asked to share a moment of pride. For some reason, this is where my mind went.

 

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.

 

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.

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