Not just Mamaw

My Mamaw, one of the four great-grandparents I’ve been blessed to know, passed away last week at the age of 106. I could write pages about the things she has taught me and the importance of her place in my family. She is part of who I am and who my mother is and, I hope, part of who Roo will someday be. She lived to know five generations of her family, and she is the toughest woman I have ever met.

She lived through many things that probably would have killed a weaker person. In the end, it was only the passing of time that ended her life; the human body is only meant to function for so many years before it stops, after all. (I also lovingly believe she was just too stubborn to let anything else do her in.)

I think, ironically, she taught me something very important in the days following her death. In my mind, Mamaw has always been Mamaw, and I’ve never spent much time thinking about her life before I came into it.

Last week I saw a photo of her at age 22 with her first son, Tommy, a toddler in her lap. All these years and I’d never seen a young Mamaw. She was beautiful! She was a graceful young woman with her hair pinned up and that tired look in her eyes that said she’d been chasing a toddler all day and probably all night too (in addition to everything else a housewife in the 1930s also did). She was my age once. She was a new mother once. She didn’t always have the wisdom and experience of a century to tell me my kids will turn out fine even if I don’t know what I’m doing. She had a time when she didn’t know what she was doing either.

She met her husband, my Papaw, after he starting hanging around her father’s general store in Alabama. Her sister had to point out that the young man was there to see her and she should pay him some attention. According to stories, Mamaw didn’t believe this could be true. “He made me love him,” she would say, as though she didn’t have a choice in the matter.

Papaw died long before I was born, and I can’t say I’ve ever spent a lot of time wondering about him and his life. I just always knew Mamaw to be on her own, and I don’t guess I ever stopped to wonder what her life was like before. My mom and grandparents have started the process of figuring out what to do with her house and belongings this week, and they came across a drawer in her dresser full of Papaw’s things – his work ID badges, his tobacco pipes, his hair oil and combs – things a woman only keeps when her heart is broken and she needs to remember a time when it wasn’t.

My Mamaw was a young woman once, and she had a great love. She never really talked about Papaw, at least not to me. I didn’t question this, since I didn’t take a lot of time to consider him, but now that she’s gone I have realized there was a hole there that I never took the time to see. Mamaw was widowed before 50 and lived another 56 years. She never, to our knowledge, entertained any other man or had a desire to date or remarry. I believe she loved my Papaw until the very end, even though she didn’t express that to the rest of us. She wasn’t really one for displays of emotion.

I’ve spent my life selfishly believing I knew everything I needed to know about her life – I can map her house in my mind and tell you all about the family line that comes down through her third son, my grandfather, to me. She was Mamaw, and that was that. But, obviously, I only knew her for the last three decades of her life, and she had seven and half of them before that. I didn’t really know her much at all.

She was born in 1912, and when we consider her life we typically mention the Great Depression, both World Wars and the assassinations of figures like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. When I recently looked up the year 1912, I realized that not only was Mamaw two and a half months old when the Titanic sank, she was also born when the U.S. still had only 47 states. She was older than Oreo cookies and only a month younger than the Republic of China.

So I guess this last lesson of hers is that she wasn’t always Mamaw. And she wasn’t *just* Mamaw. She lived a full life, with love and loss, poverty and plenty, pain and joy and uncertainty. She was like me, once, just as I hope to someday be like her. I only wish I had learned that sooner.

wedding photo

This photo was taken at my wedding in 2012. Nanny (left) was almost 94 at the time, and Mamaw (right) was 100. I’ve never known a time without the two of them picking at me and at each other. They were very close friends. 

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Have you flushed a frog lately?

Alright everyone, I know it’s been a while since my last post (I blame that on having a toddler), but I learned something this weekend that has BLOWN MY MIND, and I cannot possibly be the only person in the whole world who didn’t know this.

(Or maybe I am, but just humor me anyway.)

Ok, first, a little context:

Every once in a while, my parents have frogs visit their bathrooms. (I’ll never forget the first time this happened – my mothers’ scream made history books. But I digress.) Frogs sometimes show up in their bathrooms, just hanging out around the toilet. I have always assumed these frogs swam up the pipes from wherever it is the pipes go and ended up inside the house. I figured this was a fairly logical assumption.

Well, the frogs have been visiting more and more often lately, and in more than one bathroom in the house. (Jokes about a plague were made, obviously.)

This weekend, my dad told me these frogs come FROM THE ROOF!!! How, you ask? Frogs don’t fly. Toilets don’t flush up. How is this possible???

You know those little white PVC-type pipes you can see on people’s roofs? I’ve spent the first 28 years of my life assuming those pipes were connected to air conditioners or heating units of some kind. BUT NO!!!! THEY GO TO YOUR TOILETS!!!! THAT’S HOW THE FROGS GET IN!!!!!

Yes, your toilets are vented through the roof, of all places. The open pipe allows air to get into the plumbing so that you don’t create a vacuum when you flush. It’s like when you open a small hole in a can and try to pour the liquid out. Sometimes, you can turn that can of juice upside down and still nothing comes out that hole. Why? Because of things like air pressure and vacuum spaces.

Air has to be able to get into the can to replace the liquid that comes out. If the air pressure is trying to get into the can at the same rate that the liquid is trying to get out through the same hole, then nothing moves. This is what would happen if there were no vent in the plumbing lines. (Ewww….)

But, if you cut another hole in the other side of your can (or are drinking from a water bottle that already has an air vent hole), the liquid pours smoothly out the bottom. This is because air is going in the top and replacing the missing liquid, so there is no vacuum. This is why the plumbing lines are vented – you got it – through the roof.

But, I knew that about cans already. That’s not the biggest part that blows my mind. It’s the fact that other things besides air can obviously come down those pipes as well. Like frogs. Or lizards. Or small snakes. Or small squirrels.

Can you imagine walking into your bathroom and finding a wet squirrel on the back of your toilet?

But what about the water, you ask? Wouldn’t things have to swim through the water? Not really. As it turns out, your pipes are empty most of the time (until you flush or turn on the tap). In the case of the toilet, there is only water in the toilet bowl and the U-bend part of the pipe immediately below and behind the toilet bowl. The rest of the plumbing system is empty, so any roof-dwellers that decide to visit only have to be able to swim the last foot or so up into the toilet.

Squirrels can swim short distances. It’s totally possible to find a wet squirrel in your bathroom. Have you ever thought of that? It’s been all I can think about for the past few days. (Not to mention snakes, lizards, cockroaches, insects and all manner of other creepy-crawlies that can also swim 12 inches.)

You can apparently buy weather-resistant covers to put on these pipes if, like my parents, you have a problem with unwanted guests, but those pipes are not screened as part of standard building procedure. So, if you’re like my parents and have an overhanging tree near your roof, you’re much more likely to see a rise in unannounced houseguests that fall out of said tree and find their way into your bathroom.

But most people don’t see things rising out of their toilets on a regular basis, right? That doesn’t mean they aren’t hanging around in the pipes anyway. When was the last time your toilet wouldn’t flush and you couldn’t figure out why?

Maybe it wasn’t yesterday’s monster burrito or the resulting excessive amount of toilet paper. Maybe you flushed a frog.

Take a moment to think about that… (Toilet vent pipe caps are available on Amazon.com.)

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Overly helpful

Today is the first day of the fall semester at the college where I work. We take great pride when new students and parents say they chose to attend here because “everyone was so friendly and helpful when we visited campus.”

So today, in the spirit of friendliness, I stood outside my office building before the 9, 10 and 11 a.m. class slots to welcome passing students and ask if they needed help finding anything. I enjoy helping students, and I like being able to answer people’s questions, so I made it a point to take a break from work and step outside to see what I might be able to do.

Most students said hello and thank you, but they did not need any help. Several walked on by with their cell phones and earbuds and did not acknowledge me. A few groups may have laughed at me as I stood awkwardly by the sidewalk hoping to be helpful. (They did laugh, I’ll just never know at what. I’m choosing not to assume.)

But, no matter how awkward and silly I started to feel, every time there were a few students who came toward me with that look on their faces – that hopeful, tentative look that says “Can you help me?” These students needed to find their parking passes, their student IDs, their class buildings, their laboratories. One student needed to find the ROTC building, which was a new one for me, but I’m pretty sure I got him to the right place.

One student came back by later and thanked me. “You probably saved me 10 minutes of wandering through this building,” he said. I felt validated for my over-eagerness.

But the best thing I’ve seen today had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the type of student and the type of family atmosphere we value on this campus.

A blind student with a cane came down a sidewalk after the main crowds had dispersed. He was coming toward my post, but turned when he reached the intersection of three sidewalks. Instead of taking the right or left turn, which would make the most sense, he instead started down a diagonal walkway that essentially took him back in the direction he had just come from. I watched him walk away and I started to think, “I wonder if that’s really what he meant to do…”. I decided to catch up with him and ask if he needed help.

Before I could get to him, another student approached from the opposite direction, obviously on his way somewhere. This new student asked the blind student where he was headed, and the next thing I knew, the newcomer had given his arm to the blind student and was walking slowly alongside him in another direction – apparently the one the blind student had intended to take.

I don’t know if the newcomer had any previous relationship with the blind student. I don’t know if he was originally going toward that same building or if he took a complete detour to help a fellow student. But regardless, the fact that he stopped his fast walk to serve as a guide for another made my heart smile. I don’t know that young man, but I hope his parents would be proud of him for doing that.

Schrodinger’s baby

At some point in high school, I sat through a discussion of Schrodinger’s cat. You know, the cat in the box that’s supposed to be both alive and dead at the same time? And somehow has something to do with physics (I think)?

Yeah, that cat. Anyway. Nobody really understands that cat. I’m not convinced Schrodinger even understood that cat. But you know what? Now that I have a baby – I think I might be on the right track.

In recent weeks, Roo has finally started to fall asleep in her bed on her own. It’s taken nine months to get here, and we still have some work to do, but the Mister and I feel good about allowing her to reach this milestone at her own pace rather than forcing it on her earlier in life.

Each night around 7 p.m., I drop whatever I am doing and start the bedtime routine. Yes, sometimes this messes up family dinner. Yes, it often annoys guests or people at whose home we may be staying, but it’s essential for my sanity and the few precious hours of quiet I get in the evenings.

When I put Roo in her crib at bedtime and leave the room, for a while, she is quiet. She’s the cat in the box – both asleep and not asleep. Either is a possibility, and until I go find out otherwise, I can tell myself that either is the truth. (If I don’t know for sure, I can tell myself anything. That’s how I get through a lot of things in my life. But I digress.)

Until I go check on her and see that she is, in fact, wide awake and playing patty-cake with her feet, I can pretend she is sleeping soundly for as long as she doesn’t make any noise. Until she screams unhappily, I can tell myself it worked and go take a shower. Until I know differently, I can believe the outcome is whatever I want it to be.

Thus, cat in the box: both asleep and not asleep at the same time, until you open the door and find out for sure.

Done. Equation solved. Teachers need to just use that analogy to explain the cat.

Although how that applies to quantum mechanics or whatever the cat represents, I still have no idea. Maybe Roo will explain it to me when she starts talking…

Hail to the Fathers

In honor of yesterday being Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about all the wonderful fathers I have in my life, both those I was born with and those I have collected over the years. It’s funny the things that become memories, and so many times it’s those things that you didn’t intend to leave lasting impressions. Here are just a few of the lessons and memories I’ve stored away:

My actual father:

  • Don’t tell your child that eggs over-easy are “Buzzard Puss.” That child might scream those words to an entire crowd at Denny’s one day and embarrass you to death.
  • Teach your child to shave with a plastic spoon and a handful of shaving cream – even if that child is a girl. Also, let her put the shaving cream on your face, even if that means having shaving cream in your hair and up your nose. She’ll never forget it.
  • Let your kids sit in your lap and “drive.”
  • Go camping in the driveway.
  • Tell the truth. Keep your word. Work hard.
  • You don’t need things that just gather dust.
  • “If you’re 10 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”
  • How to play foosball, pool, darts and ping-pong
  • How to make the perfect waffle

My Opa:

  • “Why does your tiny hand need so much soap, but my big hand only needs a few drops?”
  • You don’t need a whole lot of words to say important things.
  • Most things are a lot simpler than we think they are.
  • Get to the point. When someone says they have to get off the phone, let them get off the phone. Don’t say goodbye 15 times.
  • You can get a lot of things done without technology.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.

My Grandpa:

  • The Piggly-Wiggly is really called the “Hoggly-Woggly.”
  • Don’t poke the fish if you don’t want it to slice your hand open.
  • Mistletoe grows in trees.

My father-in-law:

  • Sometimes people just need to talk. Just smile and nod, even if you don’t completely understand, and often that’s the best response.
  • Don’t forget about caregivers. They need love and support too.
  • Be careful what you ask for because you might just get it.
  • “Noodling” is a real thing and people do it for fun.
  • Live bees can be transported in a moving vehicle.
  • Dessert is a food group.

My husband:

  • Not all spiders are going to kill me.
  • You can get a hummingbird to sit in your hand if you wait long enough.
  • Velociraptors could be anywhere.
  • Daddies make the best “baby burritos.”

 

 

The things we do…

Oh, the things we do for our kids.

Things we never expected to do, or say, or think about. Things we would have died laughing if someone else did it, only to find ourselves in the same positions years later.

It’s been a while since I could tell a really funny story on the Mister. He wised up after the first six months or so of our marriage and became very careful about doing things that might end up here on my blog. But last night… last night he messed up.

Roo (who has major congestion, an ear infection and a first tooth coming in) woke up very unhappy around midnight after having been asleep for about three-ish hours. We tried all the normal things – feeding her, rocking her, Motrin for teething pain, etc. – but nothing was really settling her down.

Finally, a little before 2 a.m., I decided to put her down in her crib (a place she has only slept a few times in her whole life) and see what might happen. I rolled her onto her side, which has become a favorite sleeping position, and waited. It took a very, very long time, and I couldn’t walk away from the bed or she would get upset, but she did eventually fall asleep.

She fell asleep!!!

Those who know me or have read my previous posts about her sleeping habits know that this was a major mommy moment for me. After standing beside the crib and rubbing her belly for about half an hour, I was finally able to sneak back across the hall and climb into my own bed.

And that, apparently, is where the Mister stepped in.

(I would like to clarify that I had no knowledge of this event, and if I had, I would have filmed it and sent the footage to America’s Funniest Home Videos. It’s the world’s loss that I was passed out unconscious in a baby-induced coma. But I digress.)

The Mister got up to check the thermostat after I was asleep and heard a very loud, very obnoxious bird singing in the bushes right outside Roo’s nursery window near the crib. Sleep-deprived and not about to potentially endure another two hours of baby crying, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

So, pulling on his heavy-duty work boots (which nicely compliment the T-shirt and gym shorts he sleeps in) and arming himself with a broom, he crept into the backyard and around the side of our garage.

Sneaking up to the nursery window – the wary bird now silent – the Mister took aim and began to beat those bushes mercilessly with the broom.

In our front yard…

In his pajamas…

At 2:30 in the morning.

Apparently, the bird wasn’t in the first bush he attacked, and so he moved on to the second and was quickly rewarded with a completely panicked bird scrambling out of the branches and fleeing for its life.

He then came back inside, calmly put his boots and broom back in their places, and climbed into bed as if he had not just attacked our landscaping like a deranged crazy person in the middle of the night.

I cannot think about this scene without cracking up. I’ve been bursting into seemingly spontaneous fits of tearful laughter all day long. I would have paid good money to have been awake for this.

But, alas, I – and, thankfully, Roo – slept on, completely unaware of the heroic lengths to which our devoted husband and father will go to save us from the horrors of ill-timed birdsong.

(Rest in peace, noisy bird, which I’m sure went off somewhere and had a heart attack shortly after.)

#momskills

Finding a pacifier lodged behind a shoulder or under a head and removing it without waking the baby.

Finding a tiny mouth and slipping a pacifier into it in a semi-conscious state in the middle of the night without waking the baby.

Eating off a plate balanced precariously over sleeping baby’s head and not dropping food on the baby (or dropping food on the baby and cleaning it off without waking the baby).

Generally doing anything with the baby without waking the baby.

Measuring water, measuring formula powder, connecting all bottle parts with one hand while wiggling baby is balanced in the other.

Finding the elusive, ever-changing, perfect bounce rhythm to put baby to sleep.

Anticipating the cough and catching the pacifier like a pop fly.

Lining up a thousand tiny snaps correctly.

Buttoning buttons on the back of baby’s onesie (obviously put there by someone who has never dressed a baby).

Closing the diaper seconds before the explosion.

What are your #momskills?