Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Tis the Season of the Witch....

Well, summer break has officially started and I have decided that this summer deserves a nickname all its own. Therefore welcome to the Season of the Witch (with many apologies to Donovan for his cool song does deserve better). See I will be imposing rules and chores, explaining responsibility, and requiring duties at a rapid pace and I'm NOT talking about me here. I have two teenagers, one of whom will be deemed old enough to drive by the end of the summer. So somebody explain to me why he's not old enough to drive the weed eater?

Now please don't think that I haven't been doing this all along. They've always had "age appropriate" chores. But I do find myself pushing more and more their way and noticing that I seem to (according to them...but who really trusts what a teenager has to say about work or pleasure) make them do more than some of their peers. Well, too bad for my kids, I say. There simply is no reason that kids who are taller and stronger than me should sit inside in that glorious invention called air conditioning, while I tackle the horror that is our yard. Same thing for the household chores. I'm not raising royalty here.

I just finished reading a Sookie Stackhouse book, "Dead in the Family",  (the book series that True Blood was created from). In this particular one, Alexei, the Russian Tsarevich who was brutally murdered in 1918, had been turned into a vampire. He was a pretty bad vampire and part of the reasoning is that he had been so pampered in real life that he had a very hard time understanding an inability to do what he wants when he wants it. Which sounds chillingly like my teenagers. So in the interest of the future world order...or maybe just so any future in-laws won't constantly be blaming me...'tis the Season of the Witch. Now they better go pick up my broom and start using it...

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Goons of Time

By Sheilah Zimpel
Contemplating the sands of time? Wondering how you got here, to be a woman or man of a certain age? Surrendering dreams of your younger self, or pulling old ones off the shelf? What mementos (or memento moris) do you like to massage, and why?
The hands of time clap for no one. (Except on “Glee” this week. Remember being kissed like that? Time does stop.)
If you like to finger such time-warping ideas, read this year’s Pulitzer-winning novel, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. In a perfect postmodern construction, through fascinating characters she dismantles who we once were and who we are now, how one points to another. The best fiction is supposed to be both surprising and inevitable feeling at once, and Egan understands the psychology of us, how to pull a thread and the story comes out, both mysterious and yet always known. We are oxymorons to the nth degree (how else to define the capacity to be both surprising and yet inevitable?).
Her story is not linear or chronological, and hence challenging and rewarding, reading like a collection of interrelated short stories, each fulfilling in its own right as character studies or story lines. But then characters reappear at different times in their lives, and minor ones star in later chapters. It’s left up to you to connect the dots. One chapter is done in “slides” from the perspective of an autistic child; the insights are startling, and remind me of the late David Foster Wallace’s essays, the ones full of footnotes.  
Don’t read this novel quickly. Let time go by. We may fade with age, but our youth is writ large all over us. We have fascinating stories behind our years, both wise and wet behind the ears.
Last year’s Pulitzer went to Elizabeth Strout (on faculty at my alma mater Queens U in Charlotte) for “Olive Kitteridge,” a very different novel and writer than Egan. Strout’s novel is a true collection of interrelated short stories, and fabulous reading.
Try these on the beach this summer, and get lost in some time passages. Who says summer reading has to be trash?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Perfect Attendance - Sure, Let's Start a Pandemic

True confession time - I despise going to the awards ceremony. Oh, it was fun the first six times - when they were little and so cute and everybody's kids got some sort of award. But as the years wore on and more and more kids started falling by the wayside (mine included sometimes) and the cliquish mommies and their entourages appeared, I'd almost rather have a failed epidural again (long, long story there). Hubby can hardly ever come (I am expecting him at their high school graduation. I hear it's not during the daytime, aka work hours.) so I am there alone. I confess I am jealous of the entourages. Our families are too old, too sick and too far away and I miss getting to share my children with them.

In the back of my mind I had sorta blown off going this year. I didn't know of any awards mine were receiving, but last night at Scouts I found out that the eighth grader will have a "commencement" ceremony. Well, duh, of course he would. Didn't even think about it. So I asked my son, and he confirmed it...but he couldn't remember the details. C'mon people, a little help here. You're expecting hormonal teens to tell us all the appropriate details?? So I guess I'm going. In typical fashion, I will look for something to amuse me. Fortunately it doesn't take much and I do have a favorite story - here goes:

Of all the awards handed out, there is one award that crawls up my skin like a tick. The Perfect Attendance Award. Every year, I've watched kids get praised for not missing school and every year, I've thought, "Goodness, how can this happen?" My kids can catch something by being within 20 miles of you and your sneeze and somehow these kids can do it, no problem. Maybe your kid has had a great illness free year, but there's a good shot that one of those kids came to school sick and passed it through our house. So one year as I sat there thinking back on just how many days our sons were out during flu season, a child is called up on the stage for his award. He walked up being applauded and cheered on, and...threw up on the stage and on the principal's shoes. I think he might shoulda stayed home, umm, sick, that day? I still remember the faint ripple of giggles which I can only believe were the other Moms who had spent days taking care of their sick ones. We weren't laughing at the child, but at the circumstance. Can we maybe consider not applauding perfect attendance? I know we want kids to attend school...but really sick is sick. How 'bout it?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Prayer on Sunday (Or: Dear Lord, Help Me Survive My Teenager!)

By Mary Alford-Carman

I just came home from a six-hour-outing with my teenage daughter and I'm ready for the loony bin, or a heavy dose of some kind of controlled substance. A couple of nights ago I was watching an episode of The Middle, a tongue-in-cheek show on ABC about a middle class family and the struggles of parenting. The mom, played by Patricia Heaton, took her teenaged daughter out to shop for bathing suits and what she had hoped would be a pleasant outing turned into something resembling a war zone. I laughed. Silly me, I should have been taking notes. The eighth grade dance is in a few weeks and with the dress code, which suggested Sunday dress, no spaghetti straps, I felt we were good to go. (Did I mention that I am hopelessly optimistic and delusional?)

At 12:15 in the afternoon we picked up one of my daughter's friends and headed to the mall to meet up with my very cool, thirty-year-old niece, Veronica. She was there to help and hopefully speed the process along. Here's what happened instead: store number one had nothing, nada, and zip. Nothing was tried on or even looked at with any notion of interest. Store number two was way funky and the one dress (in an entire sea of dresses) that was picked out was strapless. "But I can wear a sweater vest and cover the top," was what I was told when I brought up the dress code. After twenty minutes in line just to try the dress on, it went back on the rack. The dress was way too inappropriate for a thirteen-year-old. My daughter looked like she was trying out for Lolita and I was about to faint. Store number three was a walk-in, walk-out venture. She didn't even like the way the store looked. At store number four, I laid down the law. "You WILL try on any dresses that Veronica and I pick out in your size that is appropriate." As you can guess, this was met with rolling eyes, slouching posture, heavy sighs and many muttered comments under my daughter's breath.

Once she was in the dressing room, the nightmare continued. "I hate all of these. I don't want to try any of them on. Why are you doing this to me?" I told her if she didn't try on those dresses and at least give us an idea of what she was looking for, the day was over and she could pull something out of her closet for the dance. My daughter's friend was encouraging and told her she had to try something on to get an idea of what might work. I could have kissed her, because Veronica and I were ready to mount brooms and try casting a spell of submission. My daughter tried on the dresses with slumped shoulders and a look that would have had a paratrooper jumping without the chute. We left store number four with nothing. My niece was close to fuming and I was close to tears. After four hours of shopping we were back where we started, at store number one. Suddenly, five dresses were found in what could almost be called a timely manner. "I didn't see these before." Geez, did she think the store put them out after she left the first time?

In the fifth hour, two dresses were found, and I swear I thought I heard a heavenly choir of angels singing. Not only did she find THE dress (which we had passed three times the first time we came in the store), she found a little matching sweater to go with it, and they were on sale! Isn't that just the way things go? Just when you think you understand why some animals eat their young, something happens. The "Thank you Mommy," comes and saves the day. The way she looked in the dress, even the expression she had on her face didn't necessarily make the experience worth it, but showed we had come through the experience intact. Thank you Lord for my beautiful daughter. I am grateful, but next time, can I hire a personal shopper? Amen.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Mary’s Un-Merry Month of May

By Mary Alford-Carman

Oh heaven help me get through this month with all my hair still attached to my head and without that pesky twitch in my eye. It's the last full month of school and I can't wait for it to be over. The gear-up in August is bad enough with supply lists that are never given when the tax free weekend arrives, the hunt for school clothes and the open house/meet and greet the teachers evening. May, however, makes me want to run to the local church, light a bazillion candles and beg for mercy.

The End of Grade tests come first with the wonderful school note that states your child should get a good night's rest and eat a proper breakfast prior to testing days. I guess the rest of the school year it doesn't really matter how late they go to bed or if you feed your children at all. After the End of Grade tests come the End of Course tests. What is this, college? Then there is the spring concert, the eighth grade dance, the awards/graduation ceremony and field day. The letters for volunteers triple in May. Can you proctor for the tests, make brownies for the dance, and could you chaperone for the field day and dance? With a thirteen-year-old daughter, the hunt for a dance dress is turning into a quest for some ideal I'm not sure exists. Then there is the uniform for the band. Have you tried to find black pants in May?

When I look around at the other moms in the car pool lane, they all have the same glazed look on their faces. List after list, permission slip after permission slip and fee after fee, fly back and forth from school, to home, and back to school, like birds on cocaine. It's almost as if the schools have made May "Mommy Challenge Month". Can you do all you normally do and add this in too? It's scary out there and you know something is gonna plop down on you if you don't keep it together. If I lose my calendar, I'll be lost and heading for the padded cell.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I love my child and I'll do what is necessary to make sure she has what she needs. I just wish it didn't hurdle towards me like an out of control whirling dervish all within one month. There are only a few days left before the month is over. I think I'll head to the church now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Really Being Real

By MaryAlford-Carman

It's all over the news: Woman gives her eight-year-old Botox. I can't fathom it. I question whatever happened to growing older gracefully and now here's a new dilemma. Let's have our eight-year-olds look like infants…ever look at a newborn? The last time I checked they were pretty wrinkled. What's next? Giving Botox in utero? What on earth has happened to our society? We have an obesity percentage that beats all in our nation, and yet the media and magazines force size zero models down our throats. Cher looks like she's in her late thirties, Madonna has the arms of a twenty something swimmer, and Demi Moore, well, she's just hot (dang it). But do the rest of us have what the celebrities have to maintain that kind of figure and face? What's wrong with being real?

In Forty-fied, an essay in www.4gaby.com by Rachel McClary, the age of 40 is compared to Eeyore with his stuffing falling out. I can only speak for myself, but my forties rocked, and nothing fell out. People couldn't guess my age and I could flat out keep up with my very energetic daughter. At the mere age of forty-eight, our son Jack was born (unexpected and totally fantastic). At fifty, I may be a little slower, but I keep my children alive, fed, and on time to all their events. (Their social calendar is fuller than mine.) All of this is without the help of a personal trainer and a boat load of Botox. Would I like to turn back the clock when I see the new wrinkles appear? You betcha, but not at the risk of my health.

Having something done to make you feel better is fine with me. Lift it, tuck it, smooth it or hike it up, but don't expect me to believe for one moment that an eight-year-old child has the mental capacity to make a decision to have Botox injected into her face. The mom in question was asked why she did this to her child, and her response was that it would benefit her child in beauty contests and that many were doing it. I heard my Daddy's voice at that point saying, "If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?" Yes, everyone seems to be "doing it" with Botox, face-lifts, and implants, but what is the reasoning? I don't want to look like everyone else; I want to look like me. When I smile, I want to actually smile, not merely wonder if I am. What is the message we're sending to our children? What happened to unique? What happened to being real? I'd really like to know.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love Never Fails

By Sheilah Zimpel

I can't talk about my own Mom who just passed right now, but here's an old bit I'd written about Nana.

“I just had to smoke a cigarette and wear a hat,” the song says. It happened that way for me. When I was still a kid with delusions of grandeur, I wanted to be Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall. I admired their style, grace, and especially their witty banter with the guys. Much later I realized my grandmother, Nana Buckley, was more my style. She was a farmer, not a stay-at-home mother, a businesswoman. She had her own business desk, which impressed me a lot more than a trunk full of old wedding dresses did. I didn’t want to play dress up--I wanted to write checks. She had a big notebook-sized checkbook with “Buckley Farms, Inc.” embossed in bold letters on the front. She had “help,” not cleaning women or yard boys, but farmhands. In her desk drawer was a pack of True 100s. I never saw her smoke, and I probably smoked more of them than she did. She drank Manhattans, another thing I never saw, when she played bridge with the girls. She was a devout Catholic.

She fed us generous helpings of red meat from a chest freezer on the back porch, from a cow that had been slaughtered and packaged by hand around the dinner table. Homemade donuts dipped in the sugar bowl, rolls, cookies, rhubarb, and berries. Milk from the barn that left a ring around the glass. Born in 1905, she did not disintegrate into old age. She had too much to do. Her husband died young, and she had six children to raise and a dairy farm to run. She outlived her husband, five brothers, sister, and two sons. Two of her boys went to Cornell (veterinarian and engineer), and one to Vietnam; the girls became what they could then: a teacher, a nurse (my Mom), and a dental hygienist. Nana sold a cow to send Mom to nursing school.

At her death at 87, many years ago, my Mom said Nana raised her eyes to heaven and smiled. That’s the way true ladies die in the movies, so it was fitting she did so too. When I read Corinthians 1:13 at her funeral mass in 1992, I think I finally realized what about Nana was bigger than life—I’d thought it was her faith, wisdom, altruism—but without all those things she wouldn’t have been the powerful presence she was. It was her love. I had misplaced my affections on movie icons who were eloquent, sassy, and confident, but Corinthians said everything ceases without love. I vowed to put away childish things.

Some of those tall tales our parents told us are true. They did everything with nothing, but love.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eat Southern, Pray Often, Love Unconditionally - Lessons of a Grandma

Grandma Playing her Harmonica
My very first essay for 4gaby was about my grandmother ("Ironing for Eternity"). Today would have been my grandmother's 101st birthday. She passed away in June of 2008 at 98 years old. An extraordinarily long life lived in an ordinary way. She did not have much education outside of the Bible which she could quote and use against you quite quickly (though never in the mean way that so many do today). She never held a job of great importance, she worked in a textile mill. Grandma kept a spotless house and she cooked wonderful basic Southern meals. Grandma truly believed no good food was ever made that did not use grease, fatback or lard (personally I think she's right). She sewed, and crocheted beautiful items which her daughter (my Momma) despised because they were handmade and Momma wanted store bought stuff which would show they had money...but they didn't have money so she had to wear what her Momma (Grandma) made for her. Grandma dipped snuff, and played her harmonica, and she truly took life as it came to her. She lost her daddy when she was very young, her husband in his sixties, she lost one of her three children to cancer, and she had very little of material value. But she had an indomitable spirit and an ability to love unconditionally. Her lessons are ones that have stayed with me. I keep a clean house, I love to work with my hands, and we attend church regularly. Every holiday meal comes complete with grease, and I don't expect perfection in love. I do these things because I gain peace through doing them...just as she always said I would. I try to take life as it comes to me...but I don't dip snuff (though I do wonder what medicinal properties that stuff has. I mean really, she lived to 98 and had all her faculties right to the end.) I'm too tone deaf to have ever taken up the harmonica, and I think she was very relieved when I married a man who could sing on key.

There is a wonderful book called "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I truly enjoyed this book - her reflections, and her sense of humor all expressed while she worked on making sense of her life. But isn't it interesting that so many of us spend so much time trying to figure out life while the women who have come before us just knew how to live it without stressing over it.

It's nice of the world to think they should pause for a day to recognize Mothers. But the reality is that we pause our entire lives to recognize the world. As Mary wrote in her essay, "The Second Sunday of May and Always", we spend our time loving, nurturing, teaching, and sharing and it's not even just our own children that we do that with...it can be the child down the street, the friend our own age, the elderly stranger that we stop to help. We learn from other women how to be a mother. We mourn their loss, and celebrate their lives, and we pause for one day a year. But perhaps we should each pause each day and recognize the goodness in ourselves. Women are the soul and the heart of the universe. We should celebrate ourselves. Don't we all have women who have shown us the way?

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Escape, But Only On Thursdays…

As a hard working, trying to juggle everything mum, I look forward to my Thursday nights out with my girlfriend. It's a vigil, a sanity check, and a keep in the real world affirmation. This precious time is like drinking mellow wine. We sit and write, gossip, laugh, and cry – we are back to being girls again. What a feeling!

As a stay at home mum, wife of a serial world traveler, and thrown into home schooling due to an anxiety disorder that struck my daughter like a speeding car, my temporary escape is key to my survival as Dawn.

As we pass through the different stages of our lives, I can't help feeling that part of me is disappearing. Some days when I look in the mirror, the image looking back at me is still the same old me, but I feel as if I am looking at a stranger.

Perhaps, it is because I am a stranger. A stranger to my former self. Yes, I have grown, matured, and learned life lessons, but life itself along with marriage and kids can overtake you like an alien. Invading your very soul. I love my family, but honestly, sometimes I long for solitude. To do things and make decisions based solely and selfishly for me.

As a partner and/or parent, whether you are male or female, we make compensations. We agree to meet in the middle, we compromise, we give in, and we make decisions for the best together. However, the young girl lost in me sometimes wants to rebel.

Is that so wrong? I don't think so.

Even my husband agrees, that in marriage, we do lose a little of ourselves. We are in danger of becoming the mirror image of our spouses if we submit to it. I can never forget an old English TV sitcom where the married couple wears identical knitted sweaters, their identity becoming one or reading "Eat, Pray, Love," where the author describes the time a person told her that in relationships she takes on the look of her partner. A reality that happens to some that is scary to say the least. You may argue that in marriage being synonymous is a good thing and, yes it is, but as a synergy not a coup.

So you see, my safe escape every Thursday allows me to visit with my old self and say hello to her. It allows me to enjoy the feeling of liberation and then return to my family, happy and content. We all need a little escape, so go ahead allow yourself, it is magnificent!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Fairytale, The Terrorist, and The Reality.

By Dawn Tolson and Mary Alford-Carman


As a group of four unique individuals, two Grits, a Brit and a Yank, we've shared a maelstrom of events within the past seven days. We've seen the highs of jubilation, the depths of evil, and the reality of loss.

During the Royal Wedding we watched in awe as a fairytale unfolded. A prince took a commoner for a wife and made her his princess in a manner unsurpassed by the United Kingdom. The beginning of a life together celebrated by a nation and shared by the world; it was stunning. In the span of 48 hours the media blitz began again with the death of a terrorist. Celebrations of a sort ensued, albeit at the other end of the spectrum. The worlds most wanted man was finally eliminated, bringing to an end an almost ten year search for justice.

But what does that mean to us? The reality is that most of us will never walk within the walls of Buckingham Palace (unless we've purchased a ticket), and while we may never experience personally the tragedy of terrorism, we are all aware that we could be one airplane flight away from the horror. The great leveler for all of us is loss.

No matter who you are or where you are, you will grieve the loss of a loved one. Within these past seven days, one of our own lost her Mom to Alzheimer's. For some of us, this has been a reminder of what has already been lost and for others, a mirror into what is yet to come.

The events of the world go on around us, and they always will, but for the moment, we pause in the reality of loss.