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. 

Ghost Music

I can hear it in my head. Constantly. Looping over and over and over like a bad record. I don’t know if it comes from the musical teddy bear or the plastic aquarium that plays lullabies or the singing cow… but it haunts me.

This tune, this plinking melody that plays when my child hits the buttons on one of her musical toys… it’s everywhere.

I can sit in a quiet room, and I still hear it. I know nothing is turned on and the baby is asleep and there is no music playing… but I still hear it. The notes float in the empty air and swirl around my head until I’m singing the whole thing line by line, even though I have no idea what it is.

It’s the same with the screaming. Any time the Mister takes over baby-duty and lets me go take a nap, I can still hear the screaming. Even when there is no screaming and there hasn’t been any screaming that day and the baby is actually asleep on his chest… I’ll be lying in our room with the door closed, and I can hear her screaming.

It’s all a bit frightening, really. Like a soundtrack I can’t turn off.

It gets especially good when she manages to turn on more than one singing toy at a time and two or three melodies are mixing together all at once in their strangely high-pitched baby-toy voices… that’s a really good way for a person to lose their mind.

We’re gonna miss this

Roo is three and a half months old now, and I am amazed every day by how fast the time has already flown. She’s halfway to trying pureed foods, one fourth of the way to her first birthday, and I’ve already started to picture the day I take her to her kindergarten classroom.

We’ve had some really bad nights of zero sleep and lots of tears shed by everyone, but even in those moments, when I’m trying to doze off in the rocking chair because she refuses to be put in her own bed, I hear that song “You’re gonna miss this” playing in my head.

It goes like this:

She was staring out the window of that SUV
Complaining, saying “I can’t wait to turn eighteen”
She said “I’ll make my own money, and I’ll make my own rules”
Momma put the car in park out there in front of the school
She kissed her head and said “I was just like you”
You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this
Before she knows it she’s a brand new bride
In her one-bedroom apartment, and her daddy stops by
He tells her “It’s a nice place”
She says “It’ll do for now”
Starts talking about babies and buying a house
Daddy shakes his head and says “Baby, just slow down”
You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this
Five years later there’s a plumber workin’ on the water heater
Dog’s barkin’, phone’s ringin’
One kid’s cryin’, one kid’s screamin’
She keeps apologizin’
He says “They don’t bother me
I’ve got two babies of my own
One’s thirty six, one’s twenty three
Huh, it’s hard to believe, but
You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this
(Song by Trace Adkins)
I’ll be sitting there, in that rocking chair I originally, foolishly thought we wouldn’t need, approaching three hours of rocking a baby who refuses to sleep, and I tell myself how much I’m going to miss that warm weight on my shoulder as she snuggles in and clutches my shirt, my hair, my glasses and anything else she can reach. I may be exhausted, but she won’t always be this small.
When I start to think she’s too heavy and my back hurts so badly, I try to tell myself that someday too soon she’ll walk on her own and learn that big girls don’t get carried around by their mommies. I may be in pain, but she won’t always fit in my arms.
This week we got some major snow (for the south, anyway), and my office was closed for four unexpected days while the roads were cleared. I got five days (including the Martin Luther King holiday) with my baby girl that she would have otherwise spent in childcare, and I loved every minute of it. Even those minutes when I was too tired to walk in a straight line, and there were some of those too.
There were things I needed to do that I should have done and things that I wanted to do that I could have done, but I didn’t. Because that warm weight was asleep in my arms, clutching my shirt, and how do you put that down?
Even now, she’s too big to lay comfortably across my lap like she did as a newborn and her head doesn’t fit below my chin the way it used to. I don’t notice the day-to-day growth, but it dawns on me in leaps and bounds sometimes.
I decided the laundry will always need washing and the house will always be dirty, but she won’t always want to sleep on my chest, so we did that instead.
When we first came home from the hospital, I burst into tears because I didn’t feel that instant, overwhelming, all-consuming love at first sight that everyone tells you you should have when your baby is born. I thought that meant I might never love her properly. But you know what? That passes. And boy, does it pass.
(I promise all my posts from now on won’t be this sappy, and this is actually not the original path I intended to take, but it sort of had a mind of its own.)

Just… ring… the doorbell…

I haven’t forgotten all my readers, I promise! The Mister and I are working on a few big projects around the house, and everything has unconsciously taken a backseat until those are done. But I’m here, I’m alive, and this morning, I was locked out of my house.

When I grabbed my lunchbox and headed out to the car (because my priorities are obviously in order), I briefly thought my arms should be heavier. Then the door clicked shut, and I knew.

You know that feeling when you suddenly become aware that something very bad has happened, and you know there is nothing you can do about it, but your brain is still in denial?

Yeah, that feeling.

When the door clicked shut behind me, my first words were, “No… no no no no no!”

Sure enough, my purse, with my house keys, car keys, cell phone, wallet and everything else essential to my day, was sitting at the kitchen table, three feet from the locked door I was standing behind.

I knew this day would come. I knew it. From the first day we moved into this house I knew the moment would arrive where I would stand in the garage and stare at my keys through the back window. And here it was at last. Had I prepared for it by putting a spare key somewhere? No. Of course not. That’s what a smart person would do. And you’re about to see I’m not exactly a smart person.

I wanted to avoid having the Mister come home from work to let me in, so my first impulse was to shake and rattle the back door to convince myself that I had, in fact, actually locked it behind me. (Yes, people, I do have a college degree.) Then I tried the front and back doors, hating myself for being a responsible home owner and locking the house up tight before I left.

Then I spent 10 minutes trying to open the back windows from the outside. (It cannot be done, which is both reassuring and incredibly frustrating at the same time.)

Then I walked a few houses down the main road to where some friends of ours live, not sure if they would even be home. All three cars were in the driveway, all signs pointed to yes, so I knocked on the door.

And I knocked. And knocked a few more times. And called their names and told them it was me. And briefly considered trying to set off one of their car alarms.

Nobody answered, so I walked back to my house and woke up another neighbor who was nice enough to let me call the Mister to come to my rescue. He came, he laughed, he went back to work. An hour after I left for work, I finally arrived at my office.

The first thing I did was send a message to my friends who didn’t answer the door.

“What good is it knowing people who live down the street if they won’t let you in when you lock yourself out of the house?” (half kidding. mostly kidding. I think.)

Response: “We didn’t hear you. You should have used the doorbell.”


Why in the world did I not just ring the doorbell???????!!!!!

What in the world is wrong with me!??

I had actually, very briefly, noticed the doorbell when I first walked up, but I made the decision to knock instead. Maybe the brain cells that were awake thought that would be less rude, somehow? At any rate, I didn’t encode the information or go back to it when the knocking didn’t work.

Just. Ring. The doorbell.

Good grief.


I’m baaaaaaacckkk!

So WOW this has been a crazy summer! I have been in my own house three weekends since the end of April, and two of those weekends were spring commencement and vacation Bible school, so really only the third one counted.

I didn’t make the trip home this many times in an entire year of college, if that gives you some perspective.

Between the MIL being sick (she’s been through a lot but is progressing well!) and all the weddings (Oy. All the weddings…) it’s been one rollercoaster of a summer term. There is only one more wedding to go – and it’s in the family!

My baby brother is getting married this Friday, and I am blessed to be gaining a sweet, wonderful sister-in-law. (Beware, sister-in-law, you will now be fair game for blog material.)

But after that, no more! If you’re not already on my wedding calendar for the year 2016, I’m sorry, but we won’t be attending. No hard feelings; I just can’t take it anymore.

[It just occurred to me… sister-in-law came into my life after I abandoned the blog for the summer… so poor thing doesn’t even know what she’s getting into. Oh well. So sad for her. No free passes.]

Also – if one more person comes up to me and says, “But your students are on summer break, right? You can’t be that busy,” one more time, I’m telling you, I’m gonna snap. All that material new freshmen get when they come to campus the first time, where do you think all of that comes from? The alumni magazine you get in the mail in September is not written by forest fairies, and who, exactly, do you think gets the course catalog updated and put in the bookstore?

Umm… yeah… that would be us.


How my fur-baby is teaching me to be a parent.

I’ve never gotten a Mother’s Day card. I’ve never had labor pains or contractions. I’ve never sat outside my baby’s door while he cried and prayed for him to soothe himself to sleep.

But I have comforted a scared baby in the middle of the night while the thunder rolls. I have rolled groggily out of bed in the wee hours to take care of bathroom needs. I have inspected poop and discussed bathroom habits at length. I have had a tiny head (or a heavy head, in recent weeks) fall asleep on my chest; I have also woken up with small feet in my ribs. I have taken my baby to sitters’ houses and to the doctor’s office and driven away while she cried and didn’t understand why I was leaving.

She didn’t come from my own body and I didn’t carry her for nine months, but she is no less my baby than someone else’s two-legged human child. And she has and is teaching me many things about how to be a good parent to those human children if and when they hopefully come along.

She has phases just like human children – she throws tantrums, she listens well sometimes and not at others, she is smart one day and sort of dumb the next. I have phases too; phases where I love her so much one moment and want to lock her in a box the next. I feel like that’s probably normal.

The phase we are in now is wanting to sleep on the bed at night, and I am learning a lot from the successes and failures of this phase.

She is allowed on the bed during the day, but has learned that she must (A) be invited, and (B) stay on the blue part of the comforter. These two things have been successful, although I don’t know how they stuck so well, but we at least have that.

In St. Kitts, she slept in the floor but would spend the last hour (between potty time and real waking up time) sleeping on the foot of the bed. When we came back to America, we decided there would be no dogs sleeping on the bed at all. This worked for a while and we didn’t have any problems. Then came the winter, when it was cold and I wanted to avoid taking her out to potty as long as possible. I found Meera would sleep longer and more soundly if we let her sleep at the foot of the bed; so we did. This also served the double purpose of keeping our feet extra toasty. When the summer started, she made us too hot and had to resume sleeping in the floor.

Well, she didn’t like that so much.

At first, she would give us the horrible pleading puppy eyes at bedtime and we wouldn’t have the heart to make her move. She got her way for a while. Then, she would start out in the floor but later disregard the “must be invited” rule and sneak onto the bed in the middle of the night when we either wouldn’t notice or would be too exhausted to bother trying to correct her. She won again. Now, most recently, she starts out in the floor and tries to sneak onto the bed. I make her get down and tell her to be quiet. She settles back into the floor for about 10 minutes before taking up a post near my head and groaning softly until I acknowledge her presence.

“Hush, Meera! Lie down!”

She resumes her silent staring. A few minutes later, the groaning starts again. “NO, Meera!” Silence. Then she’ll go around to the foot of the bed and try to make another sneak attempt where she doesn’t have to climb over me and might get away with it. The Mister wakes up irritated at this point.

“Meera! Get down! Shut up!”

This cycle repeats itself throughout the night.

On the one hand, I’m always tempted to just pat the mattress and let her win. It’s faster, easier, and I can go back to sleep without further incident. That little head curled up on my legs is so comforting. But there is always the inevitable moment hours later when I try to move my legs and can’t – there’s a very large, very solid object in the way. Said object is more than half my body weight and very, very warm. Said object is also, probably, snoring. You see, she observes the “stay only on the blue part” rule very well, and at night, when the comforter is pulled up around the Mister and I, the entire bed is the blue part… and she wants it all.

Down she goes into the floor again and the routine resumes. I don’t feel like we’re getting much sleep.

On the other hand, I can stay strong, be firm and say no. It won’t kill her to sleep in the floor or in the armchair in the living room. This, while painful for me now, is ultimately for her own good. Parents have to be the bad guys sometimes. If I let her win, she will run my life. I am her mother, not her friend. Be a parent, not a peer. Stay strong!

The voices in my head repeat these and other such cliches throughout the cycle.

In the morning, she’s always by my feet. I don’t know how this happens. We’ll try again tomorrow.

So, in summary, parenting lessons learned:

  • Don’t let the babies start doing things you don’t want them to do forever, because it’s harder to change the habit than to prevent the habit.
  • When you say no, mean it. They know when you are weak. Be strong!!
  • Just because she doesn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s hurting her.
  • Punishments must be consistent and predictable. She has to know that when she gets on the bed or knocks over the trash or doesn’t come when she’s called she will get a predictable, unpleasant result every. single. time. Not just sometimes, because she’s willing to play the odds. (See #2.)
  • I am a total pushover.

I think everyone thinking of someday having human children should have to train a dog first.

What do you think?

Holy Mackerel!

Operation In-law Week is off to a great start! Monday the four of us chartered a deep sea fishing boat for a half-day tour, and what started out as a rather boring loop-de-loop offshore turned into a battle to stay in the boat as a very angry mackerel tried to pull us all in with him.

We had expected to be taken to a particular fishing area and allowed to fish off the side of the boat until we caught something, but that’s not actually how it works. Instead, the captain rides back and forth along the coastline while the deckhand strings six poles and releases the bait into the water. Then, you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Then, with any luck, one of the poles will eventually jump. This is your cue to jump into the special reeling chair and take the pole handed to you by the deckhand and try to pull “your fish” into the boat.

The Mister reeled in the first fish – a large mackeral about 18 or so inches long. An hour and two lost bites later, his dad got to reel in a beautiful barracuda. Then, it was boring for a very long time. You can only play “i spy something blue” for so long.

As we were on our way back from Nevis, one of the poles jumped violently and everyone started. It was my turn. I jumped into the reeling chair and grabbed the rod that was handed to me… and immediately realized I am not strong enough to turn it. The Mister rushed over to help me, and even with the both of us reeling the fish was not ready to cooperate. It ended up getting so wrapped around another of our lines that the Mister had to reel in one rod and the deckhand had to reel in the other just to keep both lines from snapping.

This continued for a good ten minutes with no progress being made at all, so the captain finally came down to the deck to help. It took the Mister AND his dad reeling the first rod, the deckhand reeling the second and the captain leaning over the back of the boat trying to haul the fish in bodily to defeat it. Judging from the fight it put up, we were expecting a shark! It turned out to be a spotted mackerel almost two feet long, which the mister estimated to weigh close to 15 pounds. It was an exciting catch.

(Yes, at this point the captain is on the deck pulling in a fish and untangling line, so nobody is steering the boat. Which is why my father-in-law and I can now put “helped drive a fishing boat” on our lists of personal accomplishments. :])

We only kept the fillets from the big mackerel and let the captain and deckhand have the others. One fillet served all four of us! I roasted the pieces in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder and we ate them with rice and some red potato wedges from Sunday’s big lunch. It was surprisingly good, and the Mister and I still have a whole fillet in the freezer for a rainy day!

Today we visited Brimstone National Fortress and Caribelle Batik, where they make a type of Caribbean dyed fabric. My legs might never walk another set of stairs again! Nevis is on the agenda for tomorrow, so wish us luck getting onto a car ferry that apparently leaves whenever it feels like it, regardless of the posted schedule. :/

Meera is getting to go play with Daisy and Penny – American dogs that belong to our friends – tomorrow, so that will save her from a whole day in her kennel. She’s really taken a shine to “Nanna” and “Big Dad” and hates to leave their sides. First grandpup is a success!

Happy mid-week to you all, and to all a good night.