Jesus and a Moon-Pie

Vacation Bible School was a chore.

Before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain.

Granny, being in close connection to the one and only God the Father Almighty as well as the preacher, took it upon herself to take a week of vacation every year during VBS so she could serve.

Or, as she put it, make sure no one messed up her Sunday School room where she ruled the nursery.

So, for a week every summer my mornings or afternoons, whenever VBS was scheduled, were spent at the church at the crossroads.
I always thought Granny had some special authority at the church because if we got there before anyone else did, she knew where the key was and would let us in to get things ready.

We’d enter the building with a hallowed reverence to walk towards the stairs down to the fellowship hall so Granny could start surveying what snacks they had and what they needed.
Not only did she run the nursery, which she truly did for a number of decades, but Granny thought herself the overseer of the church kitchen.

And just like her kitchen at home, she would fuss and complain if anything was out of place or not as well stocked as she thought it should be.

“Why are you so worried?” I asked her every time.

“Because,” was her answer. “We gotta have enough food for all the children. It’s important.”

I thought it was kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong; I was never one to turn down a snack, but I thought she was being a bit strident about the whole thing.

But Granny knew it mattered because we didn’t just have our regular kids; we had kids that had never been to our church before and this was their first impression of us.

Lots of kids showed up that we never saw again.

They didn’t come to Sunday School, didn’t ever come back for church.

They just arrived and were later picked up in a car by someone who never got out to introduce themselves or speak to the people their kids had been with all day.

I didn’t understand it.

When I got older, I started questioning why these kids appeared for a week, sometimes, a little dirty, sometimes, acting like this was their sole summer entertainment.

And when it was time for snack, some lingered, eyeing the table wanting to ask for seconds.

The snacks were not that great but when you’re a kid, a cookie is still a cookie.

There were plates loaded down with those vanilla-chocolate fake Oreos that came a million to a pack for fifty cents, some kind of tasteless rectangular coconut one, and some soft, slightly stale chocolate chip cookie that seemed like a prize. To wash them down, we had orange Hi-C or gallon jugs of grape Kool-Aid.

And Granny let them have as much as they could eat.

One day, a scruffy child approached the table with a wary eye and demanded to know where the Moon-Pies were.

A Moon-Pie?

Did he think we had a secret stash of good treats somewhere?

Granny told him we didn’t have Moon-Pies but we did have some mighty fine cookies and asked if she could fix him a plate.

He frowned, very disturbed by the lack of marshmallow cookies.

“My mama told me there’d be Moon-Pies; thems my favorites,” he said. “I don’t like these cookies. I gots these at home.”

Granny nodded slowly. I was waiting for her to explode as she normally did, but for some reason she didn’t.

The next morning on the way to the church, she stopped at The Store (yup, that was the name of Mr. Gambrel’s establishment – The Store; it regularly held “Going Out FOR Business Sales,” too) and bought a Moon-Pie. She never said a word as to why, but I suspect she gave it to that child that had been so vocal about the snacks.

“Should we let someone we don’t know come into our church? They don’t even want to come here,” I complained one summer.

Granny took a deep breath as she tried to explain.

Some of those kids were coming to learn about Jesus and the Lord.

Some were coming to be loved.
Some were coming to eat and be in air conditioning.

And Granny, as judgemental as she could be – and God help me, I can be just like her – told me with a quickness it didn’t matter why they were there. We were going to do what we were preaching all week and we were going to love them and be good to them.

I was shocked.

Here she was, the meanest, strictest woman I knew, and she was telling me to go out there and show all those children some kindness.

I see the signs littering the sides of the roads now, letting people know the upcoming dates of VBS at all the area churches. Each one with a different theme, but all hoping to do the same thing – the opportunity to give children a little bit of Jesus for a few days.

And if they are lucky, a cookie or maybe even a Moon-Pie.  

In defense of my child

“Do you even want to hear my side of it?” my child asked.

“No,” was my tense response.

I had been informed by someone about his actions and behavior and did not like it one bit.

I didn’t want to hear excuses or justifications.

I had been told by someone I trusted that my child had done something uncharacteristic of him.

And because his behavior since turning 14 was that of some small stranger, I believed them.

Believing this person was not a bad thing; the person was trustworthy, and I had known them for quite a while.

The bad thing was not believing or listening to my child.

I didn’t give him an opportunity to tell his side of things.

He wasn’t even allowed the chance to defend himself.

Why did I do this?

Well, for starters, I am not a perfect parent by any means.

And, I was taking his behavior personally.

Over the last few months, there had been a shift in our dynamics as we have butted heads in some heated disputes.

He has been moody, mouthy, and argumentative.

He has been withdrawn and opinionated when he was trying to engage in conversation.

All traits I didn’t care for very much.

So, when someone told me he was misbehaving, I believed them because it supported my own bias.

I was angry.

I was disappointed.

And I was not going to let him tell me what happened.

I took someone else’s words over his.

I am not saying we shouldn’t listen when someone tells us things about our kids.

By acting like we have perfect little angels that do no wrong, we get in a very dangerous dance that creates kids who think they can get away with everything and sets them up for a life of entitlement.

But I do think we should also listen to our kids, especially when we know they are inherently good ones.

A few days later, I had a meeting with one of my child’s teachers.

“He is a great kid,” she said when reviewing his notes.

Her genuine words resonated in my heart.

I repeated them.

Suddenly, hearing another person’s perspective reminded me of a fact I had somehow forgotten.

“I am glad you said that,” I told her. “Since he’s turned 14, I feel like I don’t know him.”

The other teachers in the room nodded. “It’s the age,” one said.

“Yes, it is the age,” another commented.

“So, this is normal?” I asked.

I had never been a 14-year-old boy before; I had been a 14-year-old girl and couldn’t really remember what I was like. According to my Mama, I was pretty horrid.

“It’s normal,” I was told.

I asked another friend who had two sons. She too assured me this was normal, even thought it was not exactly my favorite phase.

“We did some obnoxious stuff when we were 14, too,” she assured me. “We just don’t remember it. But I am quite sure we were just as bad. But boys will come around. Believe me; they do. That heart they have is still there, it’s just buried over hormones right now.”

His compassionate, kind heart was what I had always loved about my child. It was what others had loved as well.

I was thinking about all of this as we went through a drive thru one evening.

“I owe you an apology,” I began. “I should have let you tell your side of what happened. I am sorry.”

He looked at me and nodded. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I was not being very fair to you. And I was over-reacting just because I have taken some of your behavior personally. I should have heard you out.”

“I just don’t understand why the person said that,” he began. “And after thinking about it, the only thing I can think of, is she was just trying to look out for me because she cares about me. So, maybe it made her a bit overprotective. What do you think?”

I thought it was amazing that my child was looking for the positive in the other person, instead of trying to cast blame or fault, or even justify what he did.

He was looking at the heart of the other person.

For a fleeting moment, I saw that little tenderhearted boy flash before my eyes again.

Suddenly I realized, he may not be perfect, and he will make mistakes; that’s how he will learn. He may do some stupid things and get in trouble.
But deep down, he is a good kid and has a good heart. And I needed to remember that a little bit more.

The family you make

Being raised an only child was lonely at times.

I didn’t have siblings to bond with or to create memories with during my formative years.

I envied Mama being able to recount tales of things she and my uncle, Bobby, did as children. Even the times Bobby swindled her out of her own money or decapitated her baby dolls made me wish for a brother or sister. To retaliate for her dolls, Mama threw Bobby’s football in the fireplace. See what I missed out on being an only?

Sure, I had a house full of grown-ups that loved me and played with me, but it wasn’t the same.

For one, Mama and Pop cheat at card games, and Granny was a sore loser, even at Go Fish.

Bobby didn’t like playing most games, so his idea of a bonding experience was taking me to Dairy Queen or feeding our myriad of animals together.

But I wanted someone my age to share things with.

Thankfully, I had several good friends growing up that let me tag along with them and their siblings, giving me a glimpse into just what I was missing.

Even the fusses and fights were fueled by love.

It still wasn’t the same.

I tried to think of all the things I was grateful for being an only child, only grandchild, and only niece.

I never had hand-me-downs; I was never told I had to share. I didn’t feel unloved or like I wasn’t the favorite when it came to the adults. So, maybe there was some perks.

But, still, I wanted to have someone that would always be there through thick and thin. As much as Mama would terrorize her baby brother, she would also have taken on anyone who messed with him, and vice versa.

When you are an only, you don’t have that.

As I grew up and older, my friend circle changed. The friends I had known most of my life were now scattered all over, making being an only feel even more so isolated.

Until I started making new friends as an adult.

And suddenly, it felt like those sibling relationships I craved growing up.

Friends who could get upset with you and call you out on it. Friends who while helping you move, threw some stuff away against your loud, fervent protests and called you a hoarder, but still came back over the next night for Round 2.

Friends who had keys to your house and could come in even when you weren’t home.

Friends who loved you – no matter what.

It was the sisters and brothers I chose, the bonus family I made.

“Brothers and sisters are not what they are cut out to be,” someone once commented to me one day, airing their grievances and the discontent within their family.

It was a fact I had never considered.

In addition to my Mama and uncle, I saw my grandmother’s close relationships with her brothers and sisters.

“Not all of them,” Mama reminded me. “One sister she didn’t like.”

True. Granny and one of her sisters loathed one another. They had a spite that had spanned decades, maybe even a century.

Maybe family wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.

I thought of others I knew who had strained relationships with their siblings and how they may not even speak, avoiding holidays and family get togethers just so they didn’t have to see one another.

A common occurrence, yet not what I grew up with, and definitely not what I had yearned for.

It seemed like some family portraits were not quite the happy image you’d think. Not everyone loved one another or even remotely liked each other. There were varying degrees of dysfunction that made the concept of ‘family’ kind of hard to embrace.

The thought of this made me kind of sad.

But then I realized, not everyone comes from the same backgrounds, the same environment, the same kind of love. Some could grow up in the same family and not have the same experience, the same nurturing. Some love the hardest because they hadn’t been loved, while others had been given great love and knew how to share it.

Some people didn’t have the family they wanted or needed growing up, but they are able to find exactly what they need later.

We may not get to pick our families at our birth.

But sometimes, we are lucky enough to choose.

The missing ingredient

“Old woman, I cannot read your recipe,” is how I began many a phone call to Granny after I moved away.

“What does it say, old gal?” she would ask.

“I don’t know. You have the worst penmanship I have ever seen.”

“Maybe if you had paid attention when I was making it, you wouldn’t need the recipe,” she commented.

I sighed.

Granny’s idea of baking would probably drive modern day bakers and chefs crazy.

She didn’t really use measuring cups or spoons, preferring to eyeball her ingredients, a cardinal sin in baking.

“You are supposed to use exact measurements,” I told her once.

She gave me a sideways glance and ignored my comment.

When I married, I wanted to have her best recipes with me so I could continue some of her traditions, so I asked her to write them down.

“No.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I said no. I ain’t giving you my recipes. They mine.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They mine. I ain’t writing them down. I ain’t never wrote ‘em down – someone could steal ‘em that way. And I ain’t about to start either.”

Steal her recipes? Did she not know that people could find recipes for things practically anywhere? To Granny, her recipes were sacred and top secret; surely no one else could be trusted with the power to make a biscuit.

Still, I was shocked. Was she really not going to share her recipes with me?

Maybe I should have wrote it down when I was with her, but it never occurred to me that she would not me give a recipe.

I also was a little hurt. Granny had been the one who taught me how to cook, standing me in a chair beside her or sitting me on the table as she sifted flour, patted out biscuits, or mixed cake batter. How could she take away something so precious she and I had always bonded over?

“One. You can have one,” she announced one day.

“One what?”

“One recipe of mine. Choose wisely.”

I felt like Indiana Jones being told to choose the cup that was the Holy Grail in the Last Crusade.

I thought about it for a minute.

“I want your biscuit recipe,” I said.

“What? Are you kidding me? You’ve been making biscuits with me since you were three; if you don’t know how to make biscuits 20 years later, you don’t need to be in the kitchen. Choose another one.”

“But I can’t remember what you put in them,” I said earnestly. Everyone raved about her biscuits; I wanted rave-worthy biscuits, too.

She frowned, partly in disappointment that I could not remember and partly in the fact she was conceding her own rule and going to give me two recipes.

“Alright, I will give you the biscuit one, too, but it is so simple it is ridiculous,” she said. “What else do you want?”

I thought a little longer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle her coconut cake recipe; that involved too many steps. Things like pot roast or her golden fried chicken were not at the top of my list either. I wanted something that when I made it, people proclaimed it tasted just like Helen’s.

“Your chocolate pound cake recipe,” I declared brazenly.

She inhaled sharply. “You want me to write all that down?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I will. But it’s gonna take some time. I ain’t even got it wrote down; I just do it from memory, something you should be able to do.”

“That’s the one I want, Granny,” I said.

She nodded. “And that’s the one you will get.”

A few days later, the smell of the chocolate pound cake permeated the house and she handed me two index cards, one smudged with chocolate.

“I had to make one, so I’d know what all I put in it,” she said. “Don’t you go being like that woman that sold that high-dollar cookie recipe. You sell my recipes and I will sue you.”

Gleefully, I tucked the cards into my purse for safe keeping and went to eat the fruits of her labor.

It wasn’t until about a month later, when I pulled them out that I noticed something was missing.  I called her.
“Old woman, this makes no sense.”

“It should make perfect sense.”
“Well, it doesn’t,” I protested. “You only have flour, Crisco, and water or milk. No measurements.”

“It depends on how many biscuits you want to make. You should know that part. Now I gotta go, the Wheel is on, but you call me back if you need to. At 7:30.”

The next day I called her to tell her the dough did not turn out right.

 “You gotta get your hands in the dough,” Granny said.

“That’s gross,” I protested.

“You want biscuits? You gotta get your hands in there. Did you ever see me mix dough with a spoon? No, you gotta get your hands a little dirty if you want to cook.”

It took me a few tries – and several phone calls and a reminder from Granny about her super top-secret biscuit trick she omitted off the recipe – but soon, I was a biscuit baking master.

I should have known if she called that recipe easy her chocolate pound cake one would be a doozy.

Every time I made her cake, it involved staying on the phone with Granny.

“I couldn’t read a word the woman wrote,” I told Mama. “And what I could read, I couldn’t understand. She had just ‘cocoa powder’ or ‘butter’ but didn’t put down how much.”

Mama laughed softly. “Well, Kitten, if Granny used butter, more than likely it was one of two measurements: the whole stick or the whole pound. For a cake, go with a pound, just to be safe.

“And her leaving off the actual measurements was just her way of making you have to call her every time you made it so she would talk to you.”

“Yeah,” I said, finally understanding some of the Redhead Prime’s stubbornness.

Granny kept me in the kitchen with her just a little bit longer.

Always be kind to your mama

Mamas, it seems, can be a sensitive bunch.

Particularly mine.

I don’t remember her being that way when I was younger, but she has become so in recent years.

She claims I am not as compassionate as I could be.

Case in point, she can’t hear most of the time.

I am not sure if it is because of her age that her hearing is declining or it’s because she and my uncle normally have the T.V. volume at some obnoxious level that can probably be heard five miles away.

“What did Cole eat after school?” she will ask.

“He ate two orders of fries,” I said.

She hears: “He was attacked by flies?”

“He ate two orders of fries.”

“Flies?”

“Fries.”
“Rice?”

“No, Mama, he ate two large orders of fries. Fries. Fries!” I am practically yelling by this point, straining for her to hear me.

Mama takes it the other way. “I don’t think you should talk to me that way,” she says, a tone of indignation creeping into her voice.
“I was not talking to you any way. I was talking so you would hear me.”

“You were yelling.”
“Mama, I told you four times he had fries and you didn’t hear me. I had to practically yell, and I still don’t know if you heard me or not.”

She gives me the silent treatment for a few moments. She probably didn’t even hear what I said the last time.

“I am so sorry I cannot hear that well. I am 74 years old, my hearing may not be the best,” she said.

“Mama, you may need to get a hearing aid.”

“I am not getting a hearing aid,” she said. “I don’t need one. I am just not hearing as well. And this phone is not the best. I don’t like it. But you could be a bit nicer and more compassionate. You know, one day you will be old and may need some patience, too.”

I sighed. It wasn’t that I was impatient with her. I just felt like she needed to get her ears checked.

When did her hearing start to decline? Had it been around the time she started going a bit slower when she walked? The woman that worked two jobs after she retired– often getting off work at one job and sleeping a few hours before going into her next job – now found grocery shopping too tiring.

“Why do you get so angry when I can’t hear you?” she asked one day.

“I don’t get angry,” I replied. I don’t.

I get…I am not even sure what I get.

Sad, frustrated, scared – that’s what I get.

My Mama, the crazy redhead, was always able to hear every swear word under my breath as a teen and could live off coffee and nicotine for days. She was the one that would move the biggest mountain standing in the way between her Kitten and whatever I needed to do.

And now, I am fearful as age seems to be creeping up on her.

It scares me. It really does.

“You do get angry,” she insists. “You need to remember I am your mama and you shouldn’t get angry with me.”

I tried explaining I wasn’t angry again, but she had already decided I was. “Did you ever get angry at Granny?” I asked. When all else fails and you can’t win an argument, deflect.

Mama felt silent again.

“Well?” I pressed.

“I didn’t get angry with her; I got frustrated.”

“Uh huh.”

“I did.”
“And, why was that?” I asked. Before I asked the question, I knew the answer.

Mama didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Granny refused to get a hearing aid, doing the same Mama had done, and accused her of raising her voice because she wouldn’t hear.

“Didn’t she say you used to yell at her? Simply because she wouldn’t hear well. And you got so frustrated with her.” Hello pot, meet kettle.

“I had a reason; there was nothing wrong with that old woman’s hearing when she wanted to eavesdrop.”

True. Granny could hear a pin drop, or a bag of cookies open when she wanted to; the rest of the time, she exercised selective hearing and tuned us out.

Something I think Mama may do, too, though she denies it.

“You just need to remember one day, you will be old, and you will want Cole to be patient with you,” she said.

Right, I thought.

A few days later, Cole was trying to tell me something and I had to ask him to repeat himself.

Three times.

As he walked away, I heard him take a deep sigh.

And so, it begins.

My least favorite holiday

Valentine’s Day is probably my least favorite holiday.

I have long considered it as just some fictious day created to sell chocolates and greeting cards.

In fact, it is one I don’t really consider a real holiday despite the hype telling me otherwise.

Maybe it was because this day was not one that gave me fond memories as a child.

While other kids eagerly made little containers bedecked with hearts to collect love notes and boxes of conversation hearts from their classmates, I was trying to come up with a way to miss school.

I was willing to risk a trip to the doctor, even if it meant missing out on heavily sprinkled heart-shaped sugar cookies. That’s how bad I hated this day; I would miss out on cookies.

I would place my little Kleenex box wrapped in pink construction paper with red hearts on my desk and wait.

And wait. And wait.

For my classmates to come put a little folded card in my box.

All of my friends had theirs overflowing with cards within seconds.

Mine only had a few.

They all were from my female classmates – none of the boys asked me to be their Valentine.

I was crushed. I didn’t expect anyone to make some grand gesture of love – I think I was only in second grade – but it would have been nice to be asked to be someone’s Valentine.

This pattern repeated itself all the way to middle school, and then, the real horrors began: flower delivery at school.

With just an advancement in grade level, February 14th had expanded from a small cardboard card disappointment to a grand display of unlovedness.

I would watch one by one as friends were called to the office to pick up big vases of red roses.

How were these kids affording roses if they didn’t have a job?

It made the day even more heartbreaking, as I was usually the only one without any symbols or trappings of the day.

High school was even worse.

Some of my friends were going on dates.

“It’s not a real holiday,” Mama would comfort me.

I knew it wasn’t, but it still kind of stung.

“Your granddaddy got you a big heart of chocolate, don’t that count?” Granny would ask.

It did count; Pop was my best guy. But one eventually wants someone else to think they are special outside of family on Valentine’s Day.

“I hate this day,” I muttered. “I can’t believe it is still celebrated. It has to be the craziest holiday ever.”

“No, Columbus Day is maybe worst,” Granny said.

“Columbus Day?”

“Yes,” she said. “Columbus Day. At least on Valentine’s Day, the banks are open and the mail runs. On Columbus Day, all you get a dadblamed mattress sale. How often you gonna need to buy a mattress.”

She had a point.

“I’d take Valentine’s over that any day,” she added.

Of course, Granny would. She had Pop, and while he was not the roses or gigantic card kind of guy, he was known to go out as soon as the stores opened to get the biggest heart-shaped boxes of candy the stores carried for Granny and me.

My loathing for Valentine’s Day has carried into my adult life, with the day seemingly getting more obnoxious with each year.

And, then I had a child and was forced to face the aisles covered with pink and red hearts.

I was urged by him to get at least two boxes to make sure there was plenty of cards and they would be appropriate. He wanted the day of love to be fair and full of harmony.

Instead of having a repeat of my grade school days, teachers now send home a class list, so no one is left out.

My child took Valentine’s Day very seriously when he was smaller.  I hoped, deeply, sincerely, that now that he was in middle school this holiday would be ignored.

In many ways, it is. There are no little cards to address and fold, nor sticking suckers into the little tabs, or bedazzling a Kleenex box for a Valentine container.
And somehow, I found myself missing it.

Maybe the day I had always loathed became the day I tolerated a little bit better.

But Columbus Day, complete with its mattress sales and bank closings, is on its way to the top position.

ntine’s Day is probably my least favorite holiday.

I have long considered it as just some fictious day created to sell chocolates and greeting cards.

In fact, it is one I don’t really consider a real holiday despite the hype telling me otherwise.

Maybe it was because this day was not one that gave me fond memories as a child.

While other kids eagerly made little containers bedecked with hearts to collect love notes and boxes of conversation hearts from their classmates, I was trying to come up with a way to miss school.

I was willing to risk a trip to the doctor, even if it meant missing out on heavily sprinkled heart-shaped sugar cookies. That’s how bad I hated this day; I would miss out on cookies.

I would place my little Kleenex box wrapped in pink construction paper with red hearts on my desk and wait.

And wait. And wait.

For my classmates to come put a little folded card in my box.

All of my friends had theirs overflowing with cards within seconds.

Mine only had a few.

They all were from my female classmates – none of the boys asked me to be their Valentine.

I was crushed. I didn’t expect anyone to make some grand gesture of love – I think I was only in second grade – but it would have been nice to be asked to be someone’s Valentine.

This pattern repeated itself all the way to middle school, and then, the real horrors began: flower delivery at school.

With just an advancement in grade level, February 14th had expanded from a small cardboard card disappointment to a grand display of unlovedness.

I would watch one by one as friends were called to the office to pick up big vases of red roses.

How were these kids affording roses if they didn’t have a job?

It made the day even more heartbreaking, as I was usually the only one without any symbols or trappings of the day.

High school was even worse.

Some of my friends were going on dates.

“It’s not a real holiday,” Mama would comfort me.

I knew it wasn’t, but it still kind of stung.

“Your granddaddy got you a big heart of chocolate, don’t that count?” Granny would ask.

It did count; Pop was my best guy. But one eventually wants someone else to think they are special outside of family on Valentine’s Day.

“I hate this day,” I muttered. “I can’t believe it is still celebrated. It has to be the craziest holiday ever.”

“No, Columbus Day is maybe worst,” Granny said.

“Columbus Day?”

“Yes,” she said. “Columbus Day. At least on Valentine’s Day, the banks are open and the mail runs. On Columbus Day, all you get a dadblamed mattress sale. How often you gonna need to buy a mattress.”

She had a point.

“I’d take Valentine’s over that any day,” she added.

Of course, Granny would. She had Pop, and while he was not the roses or gigantic card kind of guy, he was known to go out as soon as the stores opened to get the biggest heart-shaped boxes of candy the stores carried for Granny and me.

My loathing for Valentine’s Day has carried into my adult life, with the day seemingly getting more obnoxious with each year.

And, then I had a child and was forced to face the aisles covered with pink and red hearts.

I was urged by him to get at least two boxes to make sure there was plenty of cards and they would be appropriate. He wanted the day of love to be fair and full of harmony.

Instead of having a repeat of my grade school days, teachers now send home a class list, so no one is left out.

My child took Valentine’s Day very seriously when he was smaller.  I hoped, deeply, sincerely, that now that he was in middle school this holiday would be ignored.

In many ways, it is. There are no little cards to address and fold, nor sticking suckers into the little tabs, or bedazzling a Kleenex box for a Valentine container.
And somehow, I found myself missing it.

Maybe the day I had always loathed became the day I tolerated a little bit better.

But Columbus Day, complete with its mattress sales and bank closings, is on its way to the top position.

Intrinsic grace

I have found one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different that areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

d one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say over the year, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different than areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so what will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

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.”