Switching my default response

If you asked my child what my favorite word was, without hesitation, he would respond: no.

No has been my go-to word for a while now.

I felt a certain sense of pride in saying no when asked to do things I didn’t want to do, things I felt infringed on my personal time and space.

Being raised by two independent women taught me to speak my truth long before it was some kind of personal development rally cry.

And my truth was usually “No.”

Did I want to get together?

Nope.

Did I want to volunteer for something?
Um, not really.

Would I like to watch someone’s kids while they ran errands?
Absolutely not – my house was not childproof. Yes, I knew I had a child. However, my house was not childproofed for other people’s kids.

No was my favorite response and reaction.

I heard my friends getting sucked into things they didn’t want to do, and they were miserable.

“If you didn’t want to do it, why did you say yes?” I asked once.

I knew the answer before they said it.

They didn’t want to disappoint someone or let them down. A lot of women are raised to be accommodating and to put everyone else first, even if it causes them to neglect themselves. A lot of women, except for those raised by Helen and Jean, feel that way, that is.

I have joked to my girlfriends that any time they needed me to say no on their behalf, I would be happy to. Delighted, thrilled, ecstatic even.

My child knows no is my initial response, yet, he still tries.

“Can I –?”
“No.”
He sighs, knowing not to press the issue because I can dig my heels down in a no and make it stick.

In professional settings, my variation is a softer “no, no.”

I don’t want to seem quite as unyielding, so I put the extra one in as a gentle decline.

It had worked so well, of a number of years, this whole no thing.

Until one day, I heard some friends talking about an outing they had over the weekend.

I was kind of hurt; why hadn’t they asked me to go?
“You always say no,” I was told.

True. I do love my no. And being an introvert makes me also avoid most social gatherings like the plague.

But what they did sounded fun. I may have actually said yes this time.

My no wasn’t set in stone – was it?

Did it seem like it was?

“You would have said it was too far, or we’d get back too late,” my friend said.
That did sound like something I would say.

Or, I had too much to do, or I had plans.

Plans that involved putting on yoga pants and watching Hallmark Movies & Mysteries while looking at cat videos on social media.

“We figured you couldn’t go so we just went without mentioning it.”

Had my no become so standard and common that people were pre-emptively using it on my behalf?

I did not like this.

Sure, I liked saying no, but I wanted it to be my no, my choice.

It was my no to use, gosh darnit.

“If we go back, we’ll ask you,” my friend promised. “But you will probably just say no.”

“No, I won’t,” I said. See – I found a way to work in a no.

“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
Perhaps I needed to change my default in some way. A slight tweak.

I had missed out on a great afternoon; what else had I missed on by saying no all these years?

Had my love for the no caused me to stop saying yes to everything that was potentially good?

“So, you will go if we go back?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” My friend groaned.

It wasn’t as harsh as no; didn’t feel as locked in as yes.

It had so much open-ended potential that could give me the opportunity to decide if I really wanted to do something or not.

Maybe is my new favorite word.

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Come next week

There is something peaceful about reflecting on the year as we ready ourselves for the next one.

It’s a time, at least for me, to look back over what the last 12 months had brought into my life.

The moments of joy and happiness.

The obstacles that had been dealt with, whether I successfully bested them, or they knocked me down.

It helps me to take a personal review and see, most importantly, where I made mistakes and missteps and maybe what I can do better.

And this year, like the last few, has had its share of ups and downs.

I would get excited about one thing, to only find myself crestfallen the next day.
Granny used to not get overly happy when good things happened. “Life will balance it out soon enough,” she would say.

That always bothered me, as if it was some self-fulfilling prophecy on her part to usher in something that would tilt the scales of joy more towards the disappointment side.

“No, I am just not going to get my hopes up,” she would tell me.

But this year has taught me to get my hopes up, because in the middle of those high hopes, we are holding on to a thread of faith that can maybe be our lifeline.

I know this year has had some painful moments.

And I’m not just talking about the tragedies we see on the news.

Those were horrible and hurt us as a collective whole.

But sometimes the moments that hurt us the most are those personal events that cause us pain. Grief, loss, failure – we have all faced them this year.

Friends went through divorces.

Quiet a few lost their spouse; others lost other family members and friends.  

And some battled private battles they didn’t share.

I know I dealt with worries and fears that I didn’t speak about, least they come true.

I have tried, instead, to focus on the things I could control, on the things that I could change.

Sometimes, there were not many, so I let go of the things I couldn’t handle.

But every now and then, something sad or unsettling would creep its way into my life.

In fact, it seems like I have been marking years by the sad events lately more than happy ones.

“It takes rain and the sun to make the flowers grow,” Mama reminds me.

I get it. I do. But I am hoping for a little less rain in the coming year, both figuratively and literally.

In her sweet, gentle way she was letting me know that we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty of the flowers without the rain and the sun, two things that if in excess can be harmful. But in the right amounts, make beautiful flowers.

“I am just ready for things to be stable and not so chaotic,” I stated one day. “I want things to be kind of on an even keel.”

Mama sighed. “Everyone probably wishes for that, Kitten,” she said. “But that is not life.”

No, life is not always stable or even keeled, is it?

It’s full of the ups and downs; the good, the bad. The sad, heartbreaking moments followed by the highest of joys. Sometimes, they come in the same week or at the least, the same year.

I know – I have been through all of those more times than I can count.

It’s just life.

We didn’t notice it when we were younger, mainly because our parents were better deflectors and shielded us from a lot of the stuff that people experience now.

But we will keep striving, fighting, trying to find the happiness and joy that bring us joy, even if it means we will have those disappointments and failures that crush our soul.

This year has knocked so many of us down and we have dusted ourselves and resolutely stuck our chin out as if to say, we are not giving up and out of sheer stubbornness, we won’t either.

It has been 12 months of chaos, hectic schedules, and everyday moments of life, that if we aren’t careful, will slip by, unnoticed and unappreciated.

Days that passed so quickly, one would think they were on a train, moving from one holiday to the next.

A year of memories made, and moments shared.

And come next week, we get to do it all over again.

sudiecrouch.com

The Christmas Slippers

By some small grace of frivolity, Mama has always believed Christmas gifts should not be practical.

It was the one time a year when one could ask for something a bit expensive and not feel bad for doing so.

Of course, she would often remind me,this did not mean I was going to get everything on my list, which included $100 Guess jeans, Members Only jackets, and 20 cassette tapes, mostly featuring Madonna.

“I am not buying you anything Madonna,” she would say, “Christmas or not.”

Outside of the Material Girl, Mama would try to get me the rest.

“You spoiling her,” Granny would protest. “When I was growing up, we got an orange. That’s what we got. Citrus. One a piece. You getting her britches that cost more than we spent on groceries in two months. Maybe three.”

Mama would ignore her, and gently state that times were different now and Christmas was supposed to be special.

My uncle, always looking for a way to play a prank on me, decided one year to give me the most practical gift of all: he wrapped a 24-roll pack of toilet paper, putting the biggest bow he could find on the package as he sat it under the tree.

“You will use this every day,” he promised.

“I will?” I asked, eyeing the big package.

“Oh, you will. And it will be something that you will be in a fix if you are ever without it.”

He laughed to the point of soundlessness when he saw my reaction as I peeled the paper back.

“You got me toilet paper!” I cried.

“It’s 2-ply and cushioned!” was his response.

“That’s a great gift,” Granny declared. “Wish I had thought of it!”

Mama shook her head. “Next year, give him a four pack of Dial and see how he likes it,” she suggested.

I did.

Problem was, he liked it.

While everyone else in our house was thrilled with packages of socks, toilet paper, and practical, everyday items presented in shiny paper and wrapped with a bow, Mama held fast to her belief that Christmas should be reserved for special gifts.

“Christmas is about Jesus, not about getting some ridiculously overpriced perfume,” Granny chastised one day.

“I know it is about Jesus, Mama,” my own mother said. “But even the wise men brought the baby frankincense and myrrh; not exactly practical gifts and quite pricey perfumes, if you ask me.”

Granny grunted. “You got a smart answer for everything, don’t you?”

Mama did.

And Mama believed in gifts that hailed Chanel, Lauder, and Lancome – and didn’t bat an eye when the sales person gave her the total.

“Mama, wouldn’t you like some poof?” she asked Granny one day. “It would be nice for you to have a pretty bottle sitting on your dresser.”

“Jean, I work in a sewing plant. What am I gonna do with some high falutin’ bottle of poof sitting around gathering dust? I ain’t gonna wear it.”

“You could wear it on Sundays.”

Granny frowned. “I ain’t gonna let you spend a lot of money on something I will wear one day a week. That’s foolishness. It will sour before I use it all.”

“No, it won’t,” Mama protested.

“It will, too. Don’t you get me any poof.”

“Then what do you want?” Mama asked.

“What ya mean?” Granny wasn’t used to someone asking her what she wanted. She was used to being given something and told to appreciate it because that was all she was going to get.

“What do you want for Christmas, Mama? I will get you whatever you want.”

Granny thought about this for a longtime. She needed a new stove but wouldn’t dare ask anyone else to get it for her.

She wanted a new fridge, but the old one was fine; she was old enough, she would say, for her wants not to hurt her.

After a day or two of ruminating over what would be an acceptable gift, she approached my Mama with her request.
“I want some bedroom slippers,” she said.

“Bedroom slippers?”

“Yep, bedroom slippers. I want the booty kind, so my feet will be warm all over, and I’d like them to be a pretty color. I ain’t never seen a red one but if they do, that’s what I’d like. If not, don’t get me no pink. I’d rather have blue.”

“Ok,” Mama replied.
“You got all that?” Granny asked unsure.
Mama nodded. “Yes, booty bedroom slippers, preferably red. If not, blue; no pink.”

“Good.”
“But Mama, why bedroom slippers?”

Granny sighed. “It’s the one thing I need and want, that I always forget to get for myself. And if I do, I feel bad spending too much on them. So, if you want to get me something all fancy, get me some fancy bedroom slippers.”

It was a practical gift, which Granny liked, but she felt like at Mama’s request, she could get the booty kind.

And for every year, until 2015, we got the old gal bedroom slippers.

I asked Mama the other day what she wanted for Christmas.
“Any makeup? Lancome? Some Chanel Mademoiselle?”

 “You know what I really want?”

“What?”

“Bedroom slippers,” she said. “The booty kind.”

And bedroom slippers she’s getting.

A Santa-less Christmas

A Santa-less Christmas

Spoiler alert: the following may cause some to doubt the existence of a certain yearly visitor who travels by sleigh and eats all your cookies.

Now, you’ve been warned.

No one warned me, though.

But suddenly, there was no mention of Santa.

The potential threat of telling my child Santa knew when he was sleeping, when he was awake, when he’d been bad or good no longer carried the weight it once had.

Maybe I should have known when my child stated that was “creepy” one year that something was changing.

In his younger years, I had a list to give Santa before the Halloween candy was gone.

Once, he found the note in the floorboard of my car, where it had fallen out of my bag. He was maybe four at the time and worried if he would get presents or not.

“But you didn’t mail it,” he said forlornly. “How will Santa know what I want?”

 “The magic of Christmas,” I said. “He knows already; he’s been watching, remember?”
Cole accepted this as truth, thinking there was indeed a Santa-vision screen in the North Pole, keeping the jolly old elf up to date on what everyone wanted.

One year, he wrote his list and gave it to the Santa on the square, not saying a word to anyone about what he wanted.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered to Lamar.

“I have no idea,” he said. “He said he was only telling the Big Guy what he wanted and no body else.”

When December 25th rolled around, Cole surveyed his loot and shook his head.
“Santa’s slipping; he didn’t get anything I asked for.”

We never knew what the child requested, but I think this may have been the beginning of the end.

“What happens to kids if they stop believing in Santa?” he asked randomly one summer.

It was 190 degrees and my hair was sweating. Why was my child worried about Christmas?

“They get underwear,” I told him.

“Oh,” was all he said.

A few days later, he brought the conversation back up.
“So, you really get underwear if you stop believing in Santa?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He nodded, slowly, thinking this through. He was wrestling with a decision or a plot and didn’t like the outcome of either.

“I think I will believe a little bit more,” he said.

Christmas came and went, and he seemed to still enjoy the moments of suspended disbelief, but I wondered if it was true or just for my sake.

Was it selfish for me to want him to continue to believe a little bit longer?

For him to be caught up in the magic of Christmas and the hope that miracles can and do exist – was it wrong for me to want him to hold on to that?

“Do you still believe?” he asked me one day a couple of years later.

“In what?”

“Santa.”

The question had caught me off guard as it was yet again, no where near Christmas.

I thought sincerely about his question, knowing this was it. This was probably when he was giving up the world of make-believe.

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“You really believe in Santa?”

“Yeah.”

He eyed me cautiously. “They say Santa was a real person that went around throwing toys in the windows of poor peoples homes, so their children could have Christmas,” he said. “But he doesn’t do that now, does he?”

“Maybe not him personally,” I said,choosing my words carefully. “But maybe it is someone carrying on the tradition. And I believe in the hope and magic of the season, where people do good for other people. I think that is what Santa,or Saint Nick, was supposed to be about.”

He considered this for a moment.

“If I stop believing, am I going to get underwear this year?” he asked.

“Maybe.”

He nodded.
And just like that, a few years ago, we shifted from talk of Santa to the practicality of present buying. Gone are the days of writing letters to Santa or leaving out milk and cookies, with carrots for the reindeer. It made me sad to think the days of magic and make-believe were behind us.

“What are you getting the baby for Christmas?” Mama asked.
Even though he is 14, he is and will always be, the baby.

“He needs a computer,” I said. “And underwear. Lots and lots of underwear.”

All the December babies

All the December babies

It never fails.

On the first day of December, my husband starts reminding “someone’s got a birthday coming up.”

I cringe.

The someone is me.

I cringe, not because I dread getting older.

That part doesn’t really bother me; I am now at the stage of life where I am looking forward to becoming that crazy old Southern woman that shocks people.

No, the part that bothers me is that my birthday is the week before Christmas.

You folks with birthdays in other months just do not understand this pain.  

The only good thing about having a birthday the week before Christmas was that it was usually the day school got out for the break.

But celebration wise, to quote Seuss, it stink, stank, stunk.

“We’re having the Christmas party at church on the 17th,” Granny would say. “Consider that your party.”

“But, that’s not my birthday and it is the Christmas party,” was my response.

“Well, your mother’s working and I ain’t got time to throw you a party. You think you too good to celebrate on the day we celebrate Baby Jesus?”

I shook my head. The old gal knew just how to shame me.

“Well, good. And any gifts you get at church is for your birthday.”

You know what I got?
I got socks and books.

No underwear, thankfully, as that is not proper to be given at church, even if wrapped in red, shiny paper.

“So, this is my birthday presents?” I asked as we drove home afterwards.

“You may have another special one under the tree at the house,” Granny said.

A special one under the tree. Hmmm…I wonder what that could be?
Had the old gal felt pity on me for getting socks and a new Garfield comic book as my birthday?

“You gotta wait until your birthday though,” she said. “But it will be worth it.”

I was so excited. I knew I had two sleeps until I could wake up and get something awesome, something incredible, something Granny herself had described as special.

The day of my actual birthday, I woke up early even though I didn’t have to go to school. I ran down the hall, hoping Granny would let me have the gift before she went to work.

“You’re up early!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “Couldn’t wait to be one year older, could you?”

I shook my head. Would she give it to me now? Did I need to go wake Mama? I hated waking her but if this was special, she should see it, too.

“Eat some breakfast and then I will let you get your gift.”

She shoved a plate of biscuits and sausage in front of me because she did not believe cereal was a proper meal.

I was almost too excited to eat. I saw a big box under the tree, and knew it had my name on it.

Pop had already checked it out and was disappointed it wasn’t his.

“You got the biggest one under the tree,” he told me. “She better not have me a tie or something. I only wear that stuff on Sundays; it ain’t getting worn out.”

Granny was about to leave and hadn’t given me my gift yet. Had she forgotten?

“Granny?” I began.

“Yeah?”

“Are you forgetting something?”

“Oh! You are waiting on your birthday gift. No, I didn’t forget,” she began. She sat her purse down. “Go get that gift over there.”

She was pointing to the big box.

 “The big one?” I asked, just to be sure.

She nodded.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater. Whatever this was, was going to be good.

I ran to it, eager to tear the paper off. I knew Granny had probably re-used the bows from the last seven Christmases, so I wasn’t worried about being careful with them.

I opened the large, white box, full of anticipation.

And found a long, brushed flannel granny gown with a pink ribbon at the neckline.

“It was so big, I didn’t think I’d ever find a box to put it in. It’s going to get cold the next few weeks; you’ll need it before Christmas.”

And with that, the old gal, headed out the door to work.

A flannel gown. My big, special birthday gift was a flannel gown.

A few years before it had been footy pajamas, so perhaps this was a step up.

“I’m the only child that gets a granny gown for their birthday,” I muttered.

“No, you aren’t,” my grandfather said.
“Name me one more.”
Pop chewed his biscuit as he thought.

“I don’t know their names. But it’s all them other December babies. That’s who.”

sudiecrouch.com

Mama’s retail rules

One thing that can get my Mama up on her indignant high horse quicker than anything has always been customer service, or the lack thereof.

Growing up, I learned to bristle anytime a retail clerk told Mama it was not their job or their department.

She would make a sharp inhaling sound as she drew her hand up in the shape of C.
“Do you see this C? It stands for customer. That is what I am. And the customeris always right!”

The salesgirl would normally scurry off in search of someone in a higher pay scale to deal with the crazy redhead, as Mama stood her proverbial ground, Virginia Slim in hand.

Mama pulled out the C once when we were shopping for a debutante ball gown.

Going shopping for a formal required a trip to a mall other than Georgia Square, so we took a day – a whole day– off from school and work to go. Even Granny went, figuring we would need protection, deliverance or bail money if we ventured outside the county line.

After trodding through multiple stores, Granny decided to go back to the car.
“She ain’t never gonna find a dress she likes,” the old gal declared. “I ain’t never seen such a wishy-washy child.”

I was not wishy-washy; I just knew what I liked and so far, had not seen it.

Finally, after going into several more stores, I found it. A royal blue strapless dress with a full, fluffy skirt.

“This is the one I want,” I said.
“You need to try it on first,” Mama said. “I am not going through this again if you need to bring it back.” She grabbed the hanger only to find the dress secured to the rack by some locked cable.

I guess shoplifting mountains of taffeta and tulle was a thing in the ‘80s.

There was no sales clerk in the immediate area, so Mama went to the closet department where she saw an employee.

“Would you please call someone who can unlock the formal wear to come help us, please?” she asked.

The girl didn’t even look up but continued to pick her cuticles.

“That’s not my department,” she said.

Uh oh.

“Excuse me?” Mama said.

“I said, that’s not my department.”

Double uh oh.

Mama bristled and pulled herself up to her full height. “I didn’t ask you what your department was. I asked you to call someone for that department.”

The girl looked up long enough to roll her eyes. “You will need to go find someone yourself.”

That was it. The final straw. The comment that broke the crazy redhead’s sense of decorum.

“I will not go find someone. I already did, and I asked her — that’s you, in case you missed it – to call someone. I do not have an intercom to page someone. And if I did, I would be paging the manager!” Her hand came up, making the C and I knew what was coming. “Do you see this C? Do you know what it stands for?”

I bolted out the door and across the parking lot, hoping I could find Granny.
I found the old gal, sitting in her Oldsmobile, eating cookies.
I banged on the window, startling her. “What in the devil is wrong? You almost made me drop my snickerdoodle.”

“Mama is doing the C,” I began breathlessly. And when did she get the cookies? “I found the dress, but Mama is going after some sales girl in luggage.”

Granny frowned and put her cookie back in the bag in her purse. “Lord, have mercy. Let’s go save that poor girl.”

Mama was schooling the store manager on customer service when we returned. “Where have you been?” she asked me when she saw me. She shoved pounds of blue taffeta at me. “Go try it on. Now.”

In the dressing room, I could hear her continued barrage. “Maybe if you had enough people working, I would not have had to walk to another department. Did you think about that? It is the holidays. You need to be properly staffed to meet customer needs.”

We got the dress and left, Mama fussing all the way home about how people no longer took pride in their jobs and didn’t have a clue about customer service.

“You need to be nicer to the sales clerks, Jean,” Granny said.

“They need to be nicer to customers!” Mama retorted.

“That poor girl was probably making minimum wage and you were chastising her – it was not her department. She was in luggage.”

“You missed the whole thing, Mama. I asked her to call someone to that department; she was too busy watching her nails grow to help me. I am nice. I am beyond nice. But the reason she has a job is to help customers.”

When I worked in retail, Mama’s lectures on good customer service stayed in my mind.

And the holidays could be the worst.

I would be in the middle of a sales floor, sometimes with just one other employee, trying to help scores and hordes of customers.

People would get upset. Some would be frustrated if they had to wait in line. We were short staffed, overworked, underpaid, and usually out of whatever they wanted to buy.

But none, not one, gave me the C.

I made sure I was courteous and cordial, and not once did I say, “not my job.” I thanked all the customers with a smile and wished them a Merry Christmas.

I did have over 20 years of prior training.

The other day, a friend posted a graphic on Facebook reminding people that retail workers were away from their own holiday celebrations when they were waiting on them and that patience and politeness were important. Maybe I should send a copy to Mama.

An untraditional tradition

I used to marvel at Granny’s Thanksgiving turkey-ing.
Golden brown on the outside and moist and delicious inside.

I had no idea how she did it, and she wasn’t sharing her secrets with anyone.

Her turkey was so decadent one could eat it free of gravy and without any of the accompanying sides. It was good enough to stand alone.

When I finally decided to try my hand at cooking the bird, I did a decent job.

Even the old gal said so herself, although she had thrown in her commentary about what she would do differently.

“Did you thaw your bird out long enough, Sug?” she asked, her tone telling me she thought I had not. “And next time, make sure you cook it longer on low, instead of trying to rush it.”

My husband only had Granny’s turkey a couple of times before she quit making it; I don’t think my child ever had the honor of blessing his taste buds with it. A deprived childhood, in my opinion.

My child only had memories of disgusting Thanksgivings.

The year Granny put the turkey in the pressure cooker, yielding a mess that the evil beagle refused to eat, and she ate, well, I am sure you know what beagles eat.

The following year, Mama ordered something equally uneatable.

The next year, I tried ordering a complete dinner that was supposed to be already cooked and just needed it reheating.

Cracker Barrell made the dinner the following Thanksgiving.

While tasty, it felt weird not to have a carcass to shove back into the fridge when we got done.

Thanksgiving, which is usually such a joyous holiday marked by eating and football, had become a day where we dreaded eating.

“I don’t really like turkey,” Lamar confessed when I was trying to figure out what to make this year.

If I was honest, I didn’t either. If it wasn’t Granny’s, it wasn’t really fit to eat.

“As far as I am concerned, we can just have the sides,” he continued.

“What kind of sides are we talking about?” Cole wanted to know.

“Well, you have to have potatoes,” Lamar began.

“Two kinds of potatoes,” I said. “It is Thanksgiving. It is completely acceptable to have two kinds – some kind of sweet potato and mashed.”

They agreed.

“Mac and cheese?” I suggested. Both nodded.
“Peas?” Cole added.

Of course, peas. You can’t have mashed potatoes and not have peas.

“Some kind of roll,” Lamar offered.

I nodded, wondering which would be best: biscuit or roll.

“What about dessert?” I asked.

“Pie,” Lamar said.

“What kind?” I asked.
“Apple,” Lamar said.
“I don’t like apple.”

“I do. Cole does,too.”

“Cole likes any pie,” I said.

“What kind do you like?”

“Pecan, lemon meringue, or key lime.”

“Maybe cake?”

“I can make a cake,” I agreed.

“Do we need anything else?” Cole asked.

“Like what?”

“Could you make salmon?” he asked.

I could. Salmon croquettes sounded better than turkey and wouldn’t take as long.

“So, our menu is a bunch of sides, salmon croquettes, and cake?”

They both nodded.

“Neither of you will miss turkey?”

Both shook their heads.

“Alright. That’s what we’re doing.”

A turkey-less Thanksgiving is what it will be. And with it, the beginning of an untraditional tradition.

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.

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.