A strong-willed woman

I have learned something recently.

Being a strong-willed woman is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

I can’t help how I am, I can’t.

It’s in my blood to be strong-willed or stubborn.

Upfront and unflinching.

Some people call it a few other names.

But it is something I can’t help.

Passivity is not something I do well, nor am I weak or subservient.

Having the opposite characteristics of these traits is not always welcomed in the company of some.

Again, it can get you called some pretty ugly names if you are a woman – behind your back and even sometimes to your face.

When a man stands up for himself or states his opinion passionately, he is called an alpha male; a woman, it seems, is supposed to smile and nod and keep her thoughts to herself lest she come across as negative.

A man complaining is a simply voicing what needs to be done; a woman is whining and bitter, even if she is making valid points.

Some people may appreciate this dynamism.

But it’s not a personality for everyone.

“You must have had a mouthy mother raising you,” someone said in an accusatory tone one day.

“Nope,” I replied. “Mama is very gentle and kind; she just doesn’t take any guff off anyone.”

No, the crazy redhead can’t be blamed for the way I am. Nor can the elder redhead.

Those two gave me examples but they aren’t the cause.

I’d likely place the blame on my grandfather and uncle, with them encouraging me to speak my mind and defend my position when necessary.

Both never had a problem with Granny being stubborn and strong-willed; if anything, my Pop seemed to encourage it.

“Chicken,” he would begin, calling her by his pet name for her. “You need to deal with these folks. They ain’t listening to me.”

I couldn’t imagine someone not listening to my grandfather. He could be quite imposing himself. But Granny had a way of stating her purpose that made people take notice.

Being tenacious and unshakeable are just not traits that are considered feminine.

But whenever something happened when I was younger, it would be my grandfather telling me to stand my ground.

“Don’t you let someone run over you,” he would tell me. “I taught you better than that.”

When I got older, and started working, I found that could be problematic in the workforce.

Some people want you to ignore any problems that exist and not make waves or changes, even if they are for the better.

I quickly grew frustrated with some of the things that were occurring and said so.

Big mistake. Huge.

My words were not welcomed.

“They don’t want things to get better,” I told Mama. “They just want things to be the same and us just suck it up and deal with it.”

“That’s life,” she replied. “Stand up for what you can, for what is worth the fight, and let the rest go.”

But I couldn’t.

I would get upset and voice my complaints and concerns. I would fight for the underdog.

I would be as pigheaded and determined as my grandfather could be until I would reach a breaking point and quit.

“That’s why your granddaddy has been self-employed most of his life,” Granny said. “He can’t stand people telling him to do foolish things.”

I could see his point.

But foolishness was rampant it seemed.

There have been a few places that embraced my strong-willed expressions and allowed me to be myself. Even if it was just a matter of letting me just be able to speak my peace.

Finding a way to express myself in a way that does not come across as strident or unyielding is something I have been trying to work on but doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, I am not able to find that balance.

But why should I have to?

Why is so wrong for me to be strong-willed? Or stubborn?

Or maybe even a little bit of a mess at times?

Is that really such a bad thing?

Maybe it would be easier if I was just more ladylike and quieter. Maybe I should keep my opinions to myself and not try to stand up for things as much.

Or maybe I will try to take the bite out of my tone.

I have tried in the past.

I don’t know that it is really possible.

Nor that I really want to change.

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A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.

 

Never Too Old

“Is Cole too old to trick or treat now?”

Mama’s question came out of the blue and kind of knocked the wind out of me.

Too old to trick or treat? Was there such a thing?

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Is he going this year?” Mama asked.

I wasn’t sure.

We haven’t really gone in the last few years.

We tried to go to a church event last year but it was so cold, we breezed through the parking lot of the trunk-or-treat and went and bought some candy instead.

The year before, I can’t even remember what we did.

And there was one year we went to a haunted house that was supposed to be ‘kid friendly’ and I was the one who ended up having an existential breakdown.

“There was a room full of doll’s heads hanging from the ceiling. Dolls. You know how I feel about dolls. They are the illegitimate first cousin to clowns,” I explained.

Mama was aware of my feelings about dolls.

That was actually the last time we really did anything to celebrate Halloween.

I was shocked and a little saddened.

Halloween is my favorite holiday.

But, I had lost my Halloween spirit.

How did this happen?

Maybe it was because my beloved skulls and macabre décor were sandwiched between turkeys and Christmas lights on store shelves.

It was hard to feel a need for spookiness when you were bombarded with wreaths.

Part of me wondered if my child thought he was too old.

He hadn’t mentioned a costume in a few years, and it was something we always enjoyed planning.

Did he think he had outgrown trick or treating?

Some people get angry when they see teens and tweens partaking in the holiday.

It is not something that ever bothered me.

To me, it is kind of speaks to an innocence.

We have so many monsters out there in the world, it is nice to have a night we can pretend to be witches, warlocks, and dragon slayers.

I say let them be kids as long as they want.

Was he maybe over the day I had hyped up since his birth?

He still gets excited when the bags of candy filled the aisles and we had grabbed up new decorations earlier this month.

He still wanted to watch marathons of our favorite horror movies and just recently, got his own copy of The Shining, the only Jack Nicholson movie he likes.

Had I maybe killed the joy of Halloween for him?

Had I forced a frivolity upon him that he didn’t want or enjoy?

Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be bad; just like eating Reese’s can have its limits.

If he has outgrown trick or treating, he is officially ‘grown’ in some regards. Too old to make believe, too old to pretend in the magic of the night, and to have fun in simple frights.

My little twisted heart was heavy for many reasons.

And then — “Am I going trick or treating this year?” Cole asked.

“Absolutely.”

“What should I go as?” he pondered. “Are you going to dress up?”

Am I going to dress up? What kind of question was that?

“I thought about Bart Curlish,” I began. “Or maybe – wait for it – the Queen. Then I would have to get a corgi. Or, Velma. I always liked her better than Daphne, you know?”

My list ran on and on.

See.

You’re never too old.

The judgment of small talk

Being an introvert makes social situations a little challenging at times.

Even when it is with people I like or want to know better, I find gatherings quite hard to deal with.

It’s not that I hate people, mind you. Even though I do prefer the company of animals to most humans, that is not it.

No, it’s the small talk that does me in.

I loathe small talk.

I can talk at length about things that range from random trivia to deeper subjects but the tedious ‘getting to know you’ questions and chatter drive me batty.

Mainly because the mundane conversation can be used to judge and people have sorely forgotten how to be polite and inquiring without belly flopping right into someone’s personal life.

“Are you married? Do you have kids?”

If you answer no to either question, you can bet the next question is “Why not?”

People sometimes forget one is not necessarily a precursor to the other, which can make for some uncomfortable exchanges.

But perhaps the most annoying one is, “What do you do?”

Such a simple question really.

But one that is very loaded.

Depending on your answer, people are going to decide how to treat you.

If you say you are a doctor or other professional, people will treat you with respect.

If you say you have a blue collar job, their reaction may be a little different.

It’s wrong, but it is something I have witnessed far too often.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, and to not let their job title dictate the level of respect they received.

Yet, that one simple question carries a tremendous amount of weight to it.

Many times, people feel like titles and what they do for a living defines them, and sometimes, it can.

We do tend to get caught up in our jobs and worry about the image we are projecting into the world.

I have met a few people who let you know with every breathe what they did for a living and how important they were.

And, I have known folks who were humble and down to earth that did not need any kind of recognition for their positions.

In parts of Europe, it is considered rude to ask someone what kind of work they did. It is a matter of pre-judging someone.

Deciding if the person was worth getting to know. Evaluating if the person’s net income would put them on equal footing with us.

And trying to size up if the person can be valuable to us in any way.

I hate this question and it’s kind of hard to avoid it when you are in most social situations.

“I don’t care what someone does for a living,” I told Mama one day. “I don’t care what their level of education is or if they have a big, important job. And if their opinion of me is only based on how I earn a living, they can stick it.”

Mama gently agreed. “Well, Kitten, you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their wait staff in a restaurant. If they are rude to them, they will be rude to others, too. You weren’t raised to be that way so it is a bit hard for you to understand.”

It reminds me of how someone I knew once whined she was ashamed of her fiancé’s job and didn’t know if she could marry someone who “wore his name on his shirt.”

“Lots of people have their names on their uniforms,” I tried telling her.

“Like who?” she sniffed.
“Doctors, for one. Cops have name badges, too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your name on your uniform.”

She never saw my point, but I am sure she is the type that uses the small talk question of “what do you do” to decide if someone was worthy of her or not.

The good thing about small talk is people usually aren’t listening; they are waiting to respond with more stuff about themselves.

“What do you do for a living?” someone asked me recently.

“Whatever it takes,” I replied.

Thankfully, they didn’t even notice.

 

 

A brief rebellion

My teenage years were not quite the rebellious era one would think.

The biggest thing I did was sass Granny and live to tell about it.

While other kids were sneaking out to go to parties, I thought I was big stuff if I cruised the Piggly Wiggly with my friends.

I lived in righteous fear that I would be caught and have to endure the wrath of Granny and Mama.

Mama would take away anything that mattered to me – namely, my phone.

Granny, on the other hand, was her own brand of punishment and could instill fear in the devil himself.

So, needless to say, I stayed out of trouble.

But there were times I pushed the boundaries.

It wasn’t intentional.

Usually, it started out as something that seemed harmless at the time, then turned into something that would get me in deep, unmeasurable trouble.

If wisdom comes from experience, this may be why I don’t let my own child go anywhere.

While hanging out at a friend’s house one day, her mother said she had a headache and was going to lie down.

We were probably the cause of said headache, or maybe she was doing it so we wouldn’t bug her.

Whatever her reason, she had left two teenage girls to their own devices for the better part of the afternoon.

Even though my friend, Crystal, was a couple of years younger, she was always a bit more eager to do things we shouldn’t.

“We oughta go to the store,” she suggested.

“No, Mama told me not to walk anywhere today.” I lived in a world where if Mama told me not to do something, I didn’t. Even if I was well out of her sight, she would somehow know. And what Mama didn’t know, Granny could darn well find out.

Crystal gave me a sly smile. “We don’t have to walk.”

Sometimes, I was a little slow on the uptake. “How are we going to get there?”

She picked up her mama’s keys. “We can take the car.”

“Your sister isn’t here to drive us.” See – slow on the uptake.

“No, dork,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I will drive.”

I was worried about this for many reasons. I was terrified of driving; even as a teenager, I thought we were too young to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. My next worry was the fact if Mama didn’t want me walking, how would she feel about me riding in a car with a 13-year-old driving? She had a fit once when Granny took me somewhere and didn’t tell her. This would not sit well.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said, not feeling so sure.

“Do you want some candy or not?”

Candy won.

And off in the car we went.

I thought I was going to throw up as she backed the car out of the driveway and into the street.

But as we eased out of the neighborhood, my nervousness and fear broke free.

It was exhilarating.

We both squealed and laughed, screaming “wheee!” as we drove around.

Was this what it was like to be a bad girl?

It made me feel so free and fearless.

Until we came up to a four-way stop.

“Crap,” she muttered. “Is that your Granny?”

I looked in the direction she indicated and sure enough, sitting at the stop sign was Granny in her burgundy Olds.

“Act casual,” Crystal said.

We did, and Granny drove on through without a sideways glance.

“Where is she going?”

I wasn’t sure. Maybe home? Maybe to the grocery store – but which one?

It threw an uncertain monkey wench in our freedom plan.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go to the store?” I suggested. “She will want to speak to your mother if she sees us.”

She would; Granny was big on talking to mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and any one in your family tree if you were friends with me.

“Maybe we need to go the opposite way?” she said.

Crystal may have been the  wild one, but she was smart enough to fear Granny.

I nodded.

We went down another road and another, taking great caution in avoiding any possible place Granny may be.

“Oh no!” I cried. “That’s Pop and Bobby’s work truck!”

Sure enough, at a red light, there sat my grandfather and uncle.

How many stop signs and red lights did this town have and did I have family sitting at everyone of them?

We turned down another road. And the next thing I knew, we were pulling onto the highway and heading straight towards my house.

“We will turn around at the cemetery and go back,” Crystal said.

We thought we were in the clear until right as we turned around at the cemetery and pulled into the road, here came a little blue Ford with one little crazy redhead at the wheel.

“I’m going to die. That’s it, I am dead meat!” I said. Part of me was glad. I had been a bad girl for about 20 whole minutes and it was exhausting. I was ready for it to be over.

“Duck down!” Crystal cried. How were we going to drive and be in the floor board?

But Mama was busy lighting her Virginia Slim and didn’t pay us any attention. Crystal hit the gas and we sped all the way back to her house.

Mama arrived a little while later to pick me up, none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

A few months later, I was with another friend, riding around against Mama’s usual wishes. And there at the same dad gummed stop sign sat Mama.

We ducked down as Mama drove by.

She didn’t say a word.

Until one day, when I was heading out to a friend’s again.

“Sudie, don’t you be going anywhere, you hear me? It’s not safe,” Mama began.

“There’s all these people-less cars riding around.”

From the look on her face, I do believe I was busted.

My rebellion, albeit brief, was over.

 

Fat-shaming the dog

Ava, our German Shepherd, has put on some weight.

It’s not her fault.

She’s been on steroids.

Even before the steroids, she has always been a big boned girl, with the vet commenting quite frequently on her size.

“She’s big boned,” I insist.

“She’s extra-large, especially for a female,” the vet will respond.

“Big boned,” I repeat.

“She’s huge, no other way to say it,” the vet states. “She’s not overweight, but she is a big girl.”
There you have it – Ava has a medical diagnosis of being a big girl.

Problem is, Ava doesn’t know how big she is.

In her mind, she is still a small puppy, yearning to cuddle.

Granted, she wasn’t small when we got her; she was 11 months old with a lanky, large frame begging to fill out.

But she still thinks she should be able to fit in a lap or in the crook of our arm, not realizing her massive size.

She was big before but like the best of us, specifically me, she has put on a few pounds.

The steroids are actually to treat a systematic allergic reaction that was triggered by a gluttonous binge eating episode of cat food.

She apparently dove head first into a 16-lb. bag of cat food and only came up for air to make sure we weren’t waking up to catch her.

Two vet visits, steroid shots, shampoo treatments, and a prescription for steroids later, she is still binging but only on her specialty food.

“You get two breakfasts, lunch, and two dinners,” Lamar tells her as she paws at the feed bin.

Ava whimpers her protest. It’s been two hours since her last meal. Can’t he see she is wasting away to nothing?

“No,” he tells her firmly. “No more. You’re getting fat, Ava.”

She lets out a loud wail in protest and even flattens one ear down as if to say they are falling off for lack of food.

“Ava – you are huge. No more food for you.”

She runs – well, ambles at a somewhat fast pace for such a big animal – to me, leaning against my legs as she looks up to me for support.

“Quit fat-shaming my dog,” I tell Lamar.

“She’s fat. Look at her.”

I did. Her soft, big, brown eyes begged me for food. Just a kibble, a tiny nibble, maybe a bite?

“She is not fat.”

“She is too!” Lamar said. “She can barely jump up on the bed now.”

True. But she has always had to do a few laps like an ice skater preparing for a triple Lutz.

“She is just big-boned,” I protested.

“Fat.”

I shush him. I don’t want my dog getting some kind of complex or feeling bad about herself. She gets scared when it storms and gets in the tub to hide; as soon as she comes out, she needs a snack. Maybe the over-eating is just her way to cope.

Even if she is happy about something, she runs to the bowl to ding it, as if she wants to celebrate.

I can relate. When I am sad, I eat. When I am nervous, I eat. When I am happy, bring on the cheesecake.

“You see how she came to me when you called her fat?” I asked.

“Yeah, because she thinks she can hustle you for some food.”

“No, she thinks us chubby girls have to stick together. She is coming to me for support.”

“You’re not –” he caught himself before he said anything else.

He realized I was right. I’m always right but this time it sunk in before he said something he shouldn’t.

“Every time you call her fat, she runs to me. She probably thinks my name is ‘fat.’”

I have probably called myself fat so many times in the last few years, the pup may be associating it with me. And, she has made the connection that I call myself fat, then I get upset, and to console myself, I eat some chips and guac.

She thought Lamar calling her fat meant I was going to break out the snacks. Maybe for both of us.

“I’m not calling you fat though,” Lamar said, hoping to clarify things before it went horribly wrong and became a huge molehill. “I am calling Ava fat and she is. Look at her. She is kind of a long furry cylinder.”

Ava looked back up at me and wagged her tail, smiling her doggy smile.

“She’s still pretty though,” Lamar added.

“Next you’re gonna say she has a great personality, too.”
“She does. She has the best temperament of any dog we have had.”

He completely missed the point.

I sighed. “Just quit calling her fat. She can’t help it; she has a medical condition.”

A few hours later, she dinged the bowl again.

“No more food, Ava, you’re –” he caught himself. “You’ve had enough today.”

She dinged again, and another time. After being told no three more times, she sighed and got on the couch. Granted, it took her a few seconds to get up there, but she did.

At least she wasn’t called fat again.

Now, if I can stop calling myself that, maybe she and I both can feel better about ourselves.

 

The legend of Piggie

“What do you mean, you don’t eat bacon?”

I am asked this quite frequently.

No bacon, no barbeque, no pork products of any kind.

People don’t get it.

“Did you have a pig as a pet or something?”

Well, kind of.

We did have pigs when I was growing up.

I thought they were our pets but had a harsh reality one morning.

That was enough to make me not eat sausage or ham for a while.

But the real reason we don’t eat bacon is because of one plush little pig.

Piggie.

Piggie Two should get some credit as well, but it was Piggie Prime who started the absolute non-pork stance.

“A toy pig, and not a real pig?” is the next question.

He may be a toy pig, but he was a big part of my child’s younger years and is still Crouch canon.

I had to explain how Piggie came into our life.

We had ventured to the grocery store one Friday evening, along with scores of other people.

While I shopped and tried to decide what we would want to eat over the coming week, I realized Lamar had taken Cole to another aisle to entertain him.

This was a common occurrence. I go into the trenches of the store while my husband and child wander off like two beagles on the scent of something.

After a solid thirty minutes of wading through dozens of middle-of-the-aisle talkers, holding prayer meetings and high school reunions between the Fruity Pebbles and Raisin Bran, I had managed to make my way to the checkout line.

As I tossed my items on the belt, the wails of a small child rose over the normal noise of the store.

“Did you find everything OK?” the cashier asked.

I nodded, hearing the screams grow louder. Was this child being beaten?

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

“Plastic,” I answered, hearing the wails intensify.

The cashier didn’t seem to pay it any attention; of course, working in any type of retail can numb you to certain things.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

She nodded, punching in the code for my tomatoes. “Yeah, kids hate being dragged in here on Fridays when their mamas get off work.”

“That poor child,” I began. “They sound miserable! What kind of parent does that to a child?  They are horrible, terrible people for putting that baby through that.”

The screams grew closer as it sounded like the child was nearing the front of the store. I turned to see who the offending parent was and shut my mouth.

There went my husband, toting my red-in-the-face, wailing child under his arm like a football out the door.

Of course, since I had brought the whole scene to the cashier’s attention, she was watching too. “That father’s got his hands full with that one,” she said.

I instantly felt a need to defend my child, who normally was so well-behaved and never pitched a fit.

“I have a feeling it was the father’s fault,” I began. “But some people! My word!”

I had mustered all the righteous indignation I could and paid for my groceries and hurried out the door to the car.

I got in the front seat and turned to look at my child, his face red and covered in tears as he tried to catch his breath.

“What in the world is wrong?” I asked.

Cole couldn’t even speak, he was crying so hard. I looked at his father for answers.

“He wanted some toy and had this meltdown over it,” was his response.

“A toy?”

Cole was not the type of child to have a meltdown over a toy. He did beg for celery once in the store, which I have yet to figure out, but he was not one to pitch a fit over a toy.

Lamar nodded. “I am not paying $10 for a stupid stuffed animal.”

“It – wasn’t – a – stupid – stuffed – amiminal,” I heard Cole say from the back seat, his voice catching with every word. “It – was – a – pig!”

“A pig?” I asked gently.

Cole nodded, sucking on his bottom lip. “A pig,” he repeated slowly, his breath finally regaining normalcy. “And Mama, I need it. Please. I asked Daddy for it and he threw it down the aisle!” At the thought of this, the sobs returned.

I glanced at Lamar. “You threw the toy down the aisle?”

“He was grabbing at it and it was too much. I am not paying that much for a toy! That’s crazy!”

Cole wailed. “Mama – I – need – that – pig! I – don’t – know – why – but – I – do!”

I knew two things. Once upon a time, a little girl fell in love with a lavender plush bunny on sight at the five and dime store and she turned down a pair of shoes for them. The bunny somehow spoke to her heart more than those glitter jelly sandals with the ankle strap and she loved that bunny for decades. She still missed that bunny and wondered what happened to it when she grew up, hoping like the Velveteen bunny, her love had made it real.

The second, and the most important thing, was my child never acted like this. So, something must be special about this pig.

“You need that pig?” I asked. He nodded.

“Then let’s go get it.”

He did end up needing that pig. In many ways and on many occasions. Piggie has been his faithful friend, and a part of the family now for well over a decade. And for me, he is a loving reminder of when my son, now a teenager, was small and a plush pig was the grandest thing in the world.

“You still have the Pigs, right?” he asked one day, knowing I am now the Keeper of the Piggies.

I affirmed that I did.

I still have the pigs. And always, always will.

 

There’s no place like home…

I have been a bit homesick lately.

Not just for the home I grew up in, but for a place in general.

It’s hard to explain.

I feel this yearning for home, but I am just quite sure where ‘home’ is.

I think the actual word is hiraeth, a Welsh word meaning a homesickness that can’t be translated. Whatever it is, I have felt it.

There’s the town I grew up in, just outside of Athens. A small, sleepy bedroom community that has blossomed over the years to a place proud of its roots and traditions as it reaches towards the future.

I spent the first 25 years of my life fighting like mad to get out of that town, only to have spent the better part of the last 15 trying fervently to get back.

I miss it.

I miss my family that lives there.

I miss the friends I have known since I was just a few years old, and all the memories we made.

And I miss my home.

There was nothing fancy about the home I grew up in, nothing remarkable.

It was a simple brick house that my grandfather turned into a duplex, for lack of a better explanation, for my Mama and I so they could help take care of me.

It didn’t have anything special about it like the homes of my friends. No huge closets, no basement where people could gather, not even a bathroom with a garden tub.

It was pretty boring and something I was not exactly proud of growing up because it was not as nice as my friends.

But there was something special about it. Something that made me feel safe and secure.

I can remember how the screen door would slam shut behind me when I would enter through the door on Granny’s side of the house. I can still smell the aroma of fried chicken and biscuits wafting from the kitchen or the welcomed scent of her homemade chocolate pound cake.

I can hear a Georgia game blaring from the den as my grandfather and uncle watched the game, can hear the swear words shaking the walls when we lost.

I can feel needles lost in couch cushions, still threaded as they find flesh through blue jeans when I sit down. I can see fabric strewn carefully about as Granny worked on yet another quilt.

I can see Mama’s favorite spot on the couch, where she would sit and do her crosswords, her home decorating magazines taking up precious coffee table real estate where her Diet Coke should have sat. Cats would appear briefly, only to scatter, as peering eyes would be spotted from around doors.

I can hear Mama complaining about the horrendous red, black and gold shag carpet that screamed the 70s. Even though it was beyond tacky, it was familiar and part of the mélange of home.

But that home is not even there anymore, sold with the accompanying land several years and in the process of a future development, torn down.

A lifelong friend told me she was looking for it as she and her husband drove to Athens and when she came upon the empty clearing, she burst into tears.

“So many of my childhood memories were there,” she wrote me.

Mine, too.

I have dreamed of that house, many, many times. Dreamed I have been back in there, talking to my family. Dreamed I was walking in the door, pulling down the drive way, or standing in the kitchen.

I told another friend this one day, saying wistfully I wasn’t sure why I dream about that place so much.

“Because home means more than just a house,” she said. “It is often where we feel safe and secure. Maybe that is why you dream about it? Did you feel safe there?”

I sure did. I was safe and loved and nurtured. I haven’t had that since I left.

And yet, it was something I refused to go back to when life fell apart.

Instead, I stayed in the other town I yearn for, the other place that feels like a home of sorts in my heart.

A place where I learned a lot about myself and for the first time, stood on my own two feet. I had to learn how to survive, even though I failed horribly.

In a lot of ways, it was the place I did my second growing up.

My child was born there.

A lot of the friends I made as an adult were there.

Some of the biggest leaps of faith were made there.

Some big mistakes were made there, too, but I’d like to believe the leaps of faith kind of made up for them.

But, it is not a place I visit very often. It involves going through Atlanta to get there and traffic causes me to have horrible panic attacks.

It is still a place I yearn for and get little pangs of nostalgia for from time to time.

I left that place and somehow, ended up in the mountains.

I love it here, I do; but that doesn’t negate the yearnings I have.

I asked Cole if here or anywhere near here had ever felt like home. He has grown up here and it is really the only place he has ever known. But did it feel like home in his heart?

He thought about my question, looking out the window at the passing scenery as we drove.

He was quite reflective in his response.

“I have always felt like where ever you and Dad are is home,” he began. “Where ever we are with our loved ones is home. It’s not a place or a building really; it’s more about family.”

And maybe that’s what I have felt along.

Not a connection to a home or a town but one that goes deeper to the soul.

Granny on my shoulder

Granny’s voice has been a familiar refrain throughout my life, and even more so now that she has passed away.

There are many days where her words of wisdom echo in my head, giving me direction into whatever situation I am facing.

Being able to call her for advice is something I sorely took for granted and it is something that I miss, oftentimes reaching for the phone with questions about what to substitute in a recipe, what to give Cole for a cough, or how to best handle a situation.

Oftentimes, her words were full of sage counsel, as she offered instruction and guidance from her decades of experience.

“Use cold water when making biscuits,” she would remind me. “Your dough will be tough if you don’t.”

“Keep all your receipts; you never know when you’ll need them.”

“Don’t open the oven door so much; you’ll make your cakes fall in the middle.”

She was full of hints and helpful tips to help me navigate all the twists and turns life threw at me.

As much as she was full of guidance, she also imparted a certain amount of sass and vinegar.

“If they gonna talk, give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about what they think; you and God is a majority.”

She was the salt of the earth and sometimes, spoke the truth even if it was unpopular.

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

No, Granny, the Helen Prime in the family preferred to speak directly to the person’s face.

“I wanna make sure there was no misunderstanding in my message,” she told a poor soul once after delivering her diatribe. “And when something is delivered by a rumor mill, the message may get watered down. I’d hate for you to not know exactly how I felt.”

I can’t even remember who the person was but remember the gasp they took at her words.

No, Granny was full-strength, non-diluted truth and righteousness in her delivery.

Her acrimonious nature skipped her children, with her daughter trying to be a paragon of gracious kindness.

Mama balanced out Granny’s bluntness with a gentler approach and response.

Both influenced me as I grew up but, for good or for bad, it was Granny I have turned out the most like.

I know what she would say so well, it is like I can hear her running commentary as if she were still alive.

“Do you remember the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?” I asked Mama one day.

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s how I feel sometimes,” I said. “Granny’s on one shoulder, you’re on the other.”

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

She should know if anything, Granny would be the one encouraging me to go ahead and say something whether it needed to be said or not.

When a discussion takes a very heated turn, Mama’s voice is the one encouraging me to find a peaceful compromise or to maybe bow out. “Not everything deserves a response,” she would say.

Granny’s voice is always rooting for the opposite. “They are wrong and need to be corrected,” Granny would say.  “If you don’t correct ‘em, you are just as wrong as they are. Set ‘em straight.”

On a recent trip home, I told Mama how Granny’s influence was still pretty solid, with her strong opinions trickling into my perspective from time to time.

“I miss her, even if she was sometimes a bit much,” Mama said. “At least you always knew where you stood with her.”

Yes, you did. It didn’t matter who you were either; she was an equal opportunity fusser outer.

When I left, Cole and I went to the mall in Athens, a place I hadn’t visited in a number of years.

“There’s the cookie place you said you and Granny used to go to,” my child commented.

“Yes, we need to get a cookie before we go,” I said.

The warm smell of cookies baking always lured Granny in, but she had, in her words, a love hate relationship with that cookie place.

Once, as the girl behind the counter approached her to take her order, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand. “What would you like?” the girl had asked.

“For you to wash your dadblamed hands and put on some gloves before you get me my cookies,” Granny replied.

Another time, Granny had some sticker shock when she was given her total.

“For that price, I could have gone to the store and bought the ingredients to make several dozen cookies,” she protested. “Maybe even made a down payment on the cow for the milk.”

“Do you not want the cookies?” the girl asked confused. No one had probably fussed about the price of cookies before.

“Yes, I want the cussed cookies; I promised my husband I was gonna get him some. But this is ridiculous what you charge for them!”

The girl blinked. “I don’t charge this personally. It is just what corporate tells us to price them at…”

Granny knew that; she was just going to complain to whoever was closest.

Getting cookies at the mall as we left was a tradition with Granny, just as getting a pretzel and lemonade was with Mama. We had already had the pretzels.

So, there we were, getting two cookie sandwiches with a thick layer of frosting as filling.

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” the girl asked.

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

Whatever it is, for once, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

Edge of fourteen

My child’s teenage years have given me lessons I did not expect.

For one, I had no idea that most of my time would be spent feeding an ever-growing human being who apparently was never full.

I need a GoFund Me just to cover my grocery bill.

He can eat vast amounts of food and still be hungry.

At the same time he professes to be near starvation, he does not want anything that is currently in the pantry or fridge.

“There’s plenty to eat,” I will tell him, running down a list that includes pasta and burritos among the possibilities.

He shakes his head. Dairy Queen and Taco Bell were not offered so he may very well starve.

Thankfully, the child gets hungry; otherwise, I wonder if he would have a reason to emerge from playing Fortnite.

Besides the constant feedings, teenage years have brought some angst, more on my part than his.

Gone are the days where it seems like I am the center of his world.

He has pulled back just ever so slightly, finding independence, forming his own opinions that sometimes differ from mine.

He’s growing up.

I am glad to see him making these steps even if it feels like I am having my heart torn out at the same time.

I still remember the little boy who wanted to be walked to his class while holding my hand, giving a kiss in the center of my palm to “take with me.”

The little boy who never wanted me out of his sight.

To me, in my heart, he will always be that little boy with the blonde hair and cherubic cheeks that called his mama his “sweet girl” and loved me more than he did Piggie.

But now, he is a young man, and doesn’t need Mama quite as much.

It has been a hard transition.

My pastor asked me just a little over a week ago how school was going. I told her he was in 8th grade; she gave me a sympathetic sigh that only mamas can understand.

“8th grade is tough,” she said. “But Cole is a good kid.”

I agreed. He is.

Overall, he is a great kid. That’s not saying he’s perfect; he can be moody and mouthy at times. But, considering how moody and mouthy I was at his age, he is practically a saint.

When I was 13, I heard my own Mama mutter, “This is why animals eat their young” more times than I can count.

I pushed every boundary button with her I could and somehow both of us survived even though in retrospect, I admit I was a total brat.

And now, I am extremely cognizant of how parenting can be one of the most painful things we do.

We lose sleep, sacrifice things we need for things they want.

We change our lives for a tiny, little person and literally move mountains that need to be moved to give them everything to make their life better.

And after years of nurturing, loving and sacrificing, they become teenagers who no longer need us quite like they did before.

It feels like your heart has been yanked out of your chest and tap danced on.

I think the feeling unneeded is what hurts worse than anything.

Thirteen has been the year he has pushed away from me, the year I started to feel obsolete. As he creeps closer to the edge of fourteen, I have feared he will pull away even more.

Will he just get to where he doesn’t need me at all?

“Boys always love and need their mom,” my pastor promised, giving me a squeeze.

I hoped she was right; it didn’t feel that way sometimes.

Feeling this ache prompted me to make sure my own Mama felt like she was still needed and appreciated.

“Boys do always love their mom,” she said. “I’d like to think daughters do, too.”

“They do,” I said.

“Just remember, Kitten, it’s good to always let folks know you appreciate them. Even if it is your dear old mama. Or your child. Maybe Cole feels like you think he has changed so much since he’s become a teenager, he doesn’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

Was that it? Surely not. I mean, what does my Mama know about a teenager suddenly acting like they don’t need their parents?

As I thought all of this over, I realized it had been an hour since my child had ate, so I made him a sandwich just the way he liked it and took it to him while he played his video game.

“How did you know I was starving?” he asked, taking the plate.

“Just thought you may be hungry,” I said, retreating from the room but not before I overheard him talking to his friend online.

“Man, my mom just brought me a sandwich. Gimme a second, I gotta eat. She makes the best sandwiches. Yeah. My mom is amazing.”

Maybe everyone was right; boys do always love their moms. And maybe I don’t have to wait until he fully grows up to learn that.