Click her to receive blog updates via email

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stories to be Told: Part 2

A few years ago, a family moved in across the street. I met Dan and Michelle, and their son, Matt, within days. Within months, Michelle and I were friends. When we first met, Michelle briefly mentioned her son, Nick, and said he was "away at school." As our friendship bloomed, I learned that "school" is a residential facility for kids with special needs. See, Nick has tuberous sclerosis, a rare, multi-system disease that causes non-malignant tumors to grow in the brain and other vital organs. When Nick was born, he had 28 tumors in his brain and 5 in his heart. Because of these inoperable tumors, he has seizures, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and is autistic. And he is loved. 

Michelle described to me their journey in deciding to allow Nick to go to the residential school. It had nothing to do with convenience for their family and everything to do with what was in Nick's best interests medically, socially, and developmentally. I asked if she'd like to tell Nick's story and she agreed. So we began. She's described brain surgeries, seizure episodes, behavioral issues, and the strain chronic illness puts on a family. But she's also described weekends at the beach, his passion for music, and how he inspires them with how extraordinary he is. They're an amazing family and I'm honored to write their story for them.

As we continue on this shared road of telling Nick's story--their family's story--I know it will stretch me as both a person and an author. To hear about heart-wrenching brain surgeries and frightening seizure episodes will break my heart and cause me to pause when I begin to complain about my life. I also look forward to how writing this story will help me grow as an author. To write someone else's memoir and be true to their life and purpose and emotions will be difficult. But I welcome the task. Because just as in life, we often must be pushed out of our comfort zone and test who we are and what we can become to discover where we can truly go. Thank you, Michelle, for this journey.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Granddaddy, Our Lives, and The Stories Waiting to be Told

On Tuesday, my Daddy and I flipped through photo albums that my aunt dropped off at his home. They'd belonged to my grandmother--Grandmomma Kelley, the matriarch of the family. They chronicled decades and included numerous photos of each of her nine grandchildren. She was one proud Grandmomma. When the great-grandchildren came along, they were included, too. A lifetime of memories. As I looked through these with Daddy, the stories they represented came alive when he began explaining the pictures. Who was in them. When they were taken. Where they were taken.

He was a military brat because my grandfather served a full career in the Air Force. In 1940, before my Daddy was born, my grandfather graduated from training as a propeller specialist. During World War II, he was stationed on an island in the Pacific working on fighter planes. Post-war, they moved to occupied Japan. The Air Force took them everywhere, resulting in my Daddy attending thirteen schools. Below is a picture of my Granddaddy in Italy in the 1950's. Original swag, huh?

As Daddy told me stories, I regretted never asking my Granddaddy about his life while he was alive. He died when I was 26. Like most young people, I was too self-absorbed as a teenager and too busy with my budding law career in my early 20's to think about the amazing stories in the hearts and memories of my family. I wish I could sit with him now and ask all the questions swirling in my mind about his experiences in the Air Force. What it was like to live during and be a part of the Pacific arena of World War II. What occupied Japan looked like. How important his country was to him that he would uproot himself and his family dozens of times. Oh how I wish I could hear his stories.

To me, he was simply Granddaddy. A man I admired and loved who always smelled of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum and had a toothpick in his mouth. Who always made me feel like I was his favorite (I later learned from my cousins that he made us all feel this way!). Who'd wink and say, "Baby, you're prettier than a Chilton County Peach."

The albums reminded me that we all have stories. Some good, some bad. Weddings, births, deaths, vacations, friends, careers, and even simple, shared moments weave together the stories of our lives. And they are each unique and worth telling.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Life, loss, and loved ones.

This morning was a typical morning. My ADHD miracle boy woke up, came downstairs, and immediately starting making random, non-sensical noises. The dog we adopted from the Humane League six months ago appears with her full-on crazy. Barking at the sunlight on the floor, squirrels climbing trees outside, and my aforementioned miracle boy who won't stop squeaking her favorite toy. This morning was just like every morning. Same button to push on the coffee pot. Same email address and Facebook account to check. Same chocolate milk for miracle boy and repetitive "shushes" to insane, but insanely loved, rescue pup. Most days start this way. Then they continue in this life my honey and I have created for our family. We have amazing friends. We're both pursuing our dreams. And we're best friends and incredible partners. The only thing missing is what we left behind. And that is family. His is in South Florida. Mine in the South (Alabama and Mississippi-- holla!)

Today, a call from my dad yanked me from my routine. It's amazing how quickly we insulate our "now" lives from our "before" lives. Yes, I would love to see my family more. My Dad is my hero. My cousin, Amber, is my sister from another mother. Her sisters and their children are so much fun to be with. There is so much to embrace and celebrate. But the distance makes the everyday connections hard. So life tends to compartmentalize. When we're here in PA, we're surrounded by our friends here. My church buds at LCBC. The life we've made. Then, something happens and I'm shoved into a time machine and catapulted back dozens of years. Although this can be painful at times, I'm not complaining. Reconnection is wonderful. It reminds me of who I was, where I've been, and what I've endured.

But I wish with all my heart that today's time travel never happened. More importantly, that it's facilitation never happened. Yesterday, my cousin, who is a year older than me, and his beautiful, 18-year-old daughter were killed in their home. All day, my heart has been sick as images flip through my mind like a slideshow. Eddie and Allison have been through so much. This sweet 18-year-old girl had a mother with MS. A little brother who was run over in his own driveway. A grandfather who raised her who died too young from Melanoma. And her sweet life, and that of her daddy, is cut short.

It makes no sense. It makes me question God. How can so much tragedy fall on one family? My Daddy is faithful and clings to his beliefs. Despite having one child in a coma for weeks from a car accident. Another lost at the age of 30. A grandchild who died. A wife who is in the end stages of dementia. A brother lost to cancer. A mother lost to stroke. I can't comprehend that kind of pain.

So no reference to writing tonight. Just homage on this Father's Day weekend to my amazing father who keeps taking punches. Mike Tyson got nothin' on him! And in honor of my cousin, Eddie Kelley, and his beautiful 18-year-old daughter, Allison, who became angels too soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The sacrifice of motherhood and being honest with ourselves.

When you decide to have children, you know it will require sacrifice. Midnight feedings, dirty diapers in inconvenient places, temper tantrums, sibling fights, bedtime battles, friendship drama, boo-boos, bullying, and never going to the bathroom alone. Again. Ever. You've heard (and pray it's true) that your child's smile will melt your heart. That her happiness will genuinely be yours. That the first time he catches a foul ball, you'll be as proud as if he won the World Series. Watching them sleep will make you weep. Sending them to summer camp for the first time will break your heart with ache.

It sounds cliche, but anyone who's had children will agree that you have no idea what you're truly getting into. The love and the aggravation. The pride and the embarrassment. Stretching the limits of your joy and the limits of your patience. The extremes of who you were, are, and will become. It isn't only the greatest pleasure, it is also the greatest test of character. Having children forced me to embrace all that is good and bad about myself.

In all honesty, the hardest challenge for me has been the loss of self. In many ways, I've developed dimensions that never existed until I became a mom. I see the world in a different way. News stories, politics, the economy, the environment all have more depth because I view them beyond my own life. I now see my children. And their children. And their children. It creates a responsibility that before ended with me.

But in taking on this burden, I've lost parts of me. Some good. Some bad. To qualify, the sacrifice is worth all that I've gained. Yet, in full disclosure, I miss being able to embrace the muse. In a prior post, I described how ideas and words flutter around like butterflies. If you don't capture them when they're in front of you, they're gone. Tonight, I sat to work on my fourth book. A book that I need to finish because it is the story of my friend's son and her family's life with his tuberous sclerosis. But each time I tried to write, someone needed something from mommy. Yes, I'd love to be one of those writers who can wait until it's quiet and write into the wee hours, but when you know your ADHD son will be up at the crack of dawn, it doesn't happen. Sleep trumps pursuing waking dreams. I can carve 15 minutes to write a blog post, but not two hours to write another chapter.

Of course I would do it all again. Give up my legal career. Give up research and writing full time. Give up being able to sit down when my muse decides to show her face and capture the thoughts. Because my children are everything to me and worth the sacrifice. But I do miss her.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Truth About Love.

I've mentioned in the past that I work with an amazing group of eighth-grade young women on Sunday mornings. Today, our fearless leader, Jason, stressed to the students that we don't need to earn love. A big point he pushed with the kids is that love is not earned and it can't be lost. It just is.

This resonated with me on so many levels and in talking with my girls about it, I drew the parallel of parental love. As a mom, I love my kids. Period. They aggravate me, annoy me, push my limits, and make me cry. But they also inspire me, motivate me, give me purpose, and endless joy. Every morning, my eight-year-old son comes down the steps and my heart smiles. Not just because he is the miracle we never believed would happen, but because he is mine. Simply stated, I love him because he is mine. It doesn't hurt that the first thing he wants every morning, even before chocolate milk, is his "morning hug" from me.

This same little boy has ADHD and spends the morning making random noises. Not singing, not talking, not even humming. Just random bleeps and blurps. And it's loud and incredibly annoying. I find myself clinching my teeth to not yell at him to stop. And just as I don't love him any more for the empathy, intelligence, and innocence he demonstrates every day, I don't love him any less when his ADHD makes me want to run far, far away. Because Ty didn't earn my love, so he can't lose my love.

This morning, another parallel struck me and I was reminded of my Daddy. Jason asserted that we believe doing good is necessary when in fact, that isn't why we do good things. We do them because we're loved. Period. Growing up, my biggest worry was not of my Mama's wrath (the woman could yell) or even of being punished. I didn't want to disappoint my Daddy. This wasn't out of fear. Anyone who's ever met my Dad will tell you he is kind, loving, and peaceful. In my 41 years, I've never heard that man yell. His gentleness and unwavering love for me is the reason I didn't want to disappoint him. I wanted to be like him and emulate him.

There is no parallel in writing. Readers don't love you just because. You must earn their respect. Their time. Their consideration. And you must keep writing to maintain it. Just as with any art or entertainment, you must work hard to stay relevant. I am so thankful my husband, my children, my father, my friends, and my God love me just because. And that's the way I love them.