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.

Girlfriends for every stage of life (5/20/2015)

When I had a disagreement with a friend during my teen years, Mama tried comforting my hurt feelings the best she could. “Don’t worry about this little squabble. Your friendship with this child won’t last.”

I asked how she knew that.

She replied that lifelong friendships aren’t formed until you go to college.

Her way of telling me to not worry about the argument made me feel like she was dismissing my friendships. And when you are a tween-age girl, your world revolves around your friendships.

The disagreement eventually was resolved and the friend and I did eventually part ways, sitting at opposite ends of the table in the cafeteria, and just passing each other in the hall.

Mama told me in her own little way, that she was right.

But that didn’t mean that whole theory was.

Evidently, whoever told Mama this lie thought that children outgrew their friendships as they did shoes.

Why she believed it, I am not sure.

Her closest friends were the ones she grew up with – my Aunt Cherry and Aunt Connie being her childhood best friends – and her friends from work.

Whoever told Mama this erroneous theory believed children couldn’t form solid friendships until they were more mentally and emotionally mature. And quit fighting over boys.

I did make some great friends during college.

I didn’t have the normal college experience that most folks do, as I commuted the whole time.

There was no living in the dorms, no pledging sororities, or any of the other fun stuff that forged lifetime allegiances. I made some good friends just the same.

Our friendships have been more solidified now that we are grown than when we were complaining about how our Criminal Law professor liked to sit on his desk while he lectured.

I tend to believe we have girlfriends for every stage of our life.

Like that proverbial saying: “Some friends come for a season, a reason, or life.”

I have had many friends who came for a brief period of time and then we went our separate ways.

There’s nothing wrong with that either.

Some people think if we don’t nurture these lengthy, emotional bonds, it signals there is something wrong with us. Or the other person.

But that is simply not the case.

Some friends come in and out of our lives, with no bitter ending just a simple moving on.

A few friends have come into my life to teach me lessons-either by mirroring my own flaws, highlighting my strengths, or just teaching me how to be a better friend, mother and wife.

Sometimes, I was the teacher.

Once the lesson was learned, we just seemed to ease out of each other’s lives.

Unlike Mama’s earlier notion, I have a few friends that I have known since I was four.

It’s not a question of if we are still friends, it is a knowing we always will be.

My soul-sister and partner in crime came into my life several years ago when we worked together.

“It’s nice getting some girl time in,” Sara Jean said over salads during one of our first lunches.

“I agree,” I answered. “I never do a Girl’s Night Out; I’d rather be home with my boys.”

Even though there’s times I have told Lamar how I could kill him in ways that are empirically undetectable, I still would rather be home with him, Cole and the pups.

“I’d rather be with my family, too,” she said and that’s how it all began. Having such a strong value in common forged our friendship early on.

When I had a teeny tiny fit a few years later and quit another job, I felt like a lot of people were disappointed in my decision.

Instead, Sara Jean showed up the next day with a trunk full of groceries and necessities -the girl brought me toilet paper (“It’s a daily necessity,” was her statement when I pulled it out of the bag) – and a homemade peanut butter pie. And helped me get Plan B formed in my head.

I am glad Mama’s theory didn’t hold water, and not just because it’s always good to tell her when she is wrong.

Sometimes, the friends made at four are friends for the long haul.

They knew us when we were gawky, geeky, awkward, chubby and pimply -and still stayed friends with us.

And sometimes, if we’re really, really lucky, we make new ones that see our new awkward moments, our fits, and moments of utter insecurity and instead of running, they sit down and settle in for the rest of the ride as well.

No matter when they are made, they all are – and should be – cherished.

settle for more

Settle for More (April 1, 2015)

A friend and I were chatting one night, catching up on things and the conversation turned to our usual wistful, wishful discussion of how life was really going.

You know, the real conversation that occurs when we get beyond the superficial stuff.

And once we had the stuff about our hair, makeup, latest diet out of the way, we got down to the nitty gritty.

“How are you? Really?” we asked each other.

When you’ve been friends a while you know there are often things that go unsaid.

“I just thought,” she began, “I don’t know…that life would somehow be….”

Her voice trailed off.

I understood exactly what she meant.

Different. She thought by the time she hit 40, life would be different.

More settled, more secure.

More exciting, more fabulous.

I had thought so myself.

In fact, when I was younger, I thought by the time I hit my 40’s – which, when I was younger, I thought was some ancient age – I would have acquired all the success I could handle and would be sitting somewhere, content with life.

No, I wasn’t drinking, either. I was in my late teens when I had this delusion.

A professor once told me frustration is when our expectations and our realities are not jelling.

If that is the case, consider me frustrated.

Make that a lot of us.

When I graduated college, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I was going to do great things, set the world on fire.

I see that hope, inspiration, motivation in young people now when they graduate, thinking it will be them that change the world.

But life happens.

Not that life is bad.

It’s not – life has a wonderful, beautiful way of putting us where we need to be sometimes.

It’s just that somehow along the journey, we realize we get off track towards our hopes and dreams.

Those things we thought we’d achieve, do, accomplish – the great American novel, the rock n’ roll album, the wild, crazy dreams – never get fulfilled.

And we settle for things that are far less than those dreams.

We settle for jobs that pay the bills instead of feed our souls.

We settle for situations that really don’t make us happy.

We settle for lives of quiet desperation, fueled by unfulfilled dreams that leave us yearning for things we think are so out of reach.

The great secret, I told my friend, was that really no one’s life has gone the way they wanted – for the most part, anyway. There may be a few that did but more than likely, they all had something that wasn’t perfect, some area of their life that didn’t turn out quite how they wanted.

“And that doesn’t mean life is bad,” I reminded her. “It just means that sometimes, we get sidetracked from our dreams. We stop focusing on what we want, and we just…”

“Settle,” we said in unison.

Someone posed the question in a group over the weekend: “What would you like to change about your life?”

I thought long and hard before I responded.

Other than having some issues with forgiveness or my inability thereof, I wouldn’t change anything.

Sure, there were mistakes. I learned from them.

Yes, there were opportunities I didn’t take that would have been really, really incredible – and would have maybe given something more substantial towards retirement than the $1.75 I have lingering somewhere.

And sure, a lot the experiences and circumstances brought heart ache, disappointment, and made me feel devastated. They didn’t all get me closer to my dreams, or even put that much money in my bank account.

But they all made me me.

Just like the detours and experiences in my friend’s life had made her beautifully her.

We had grown up and thought we deserved the mediocre jobs and the fake relationships.

We thought we deserved to be talked to harshly and treated poorly and even worse, thought it was okay.

“So how do we change this?” she asked. We both were out of wine and the conversation had gotten far more serious than Malbec can handle.

“We settle again,” I said, hearing her sigh. “But this time, we settle for more.”

We start acting like we do deserve better and go after it with the same optimism and foolish belief we can do anything we set our minds to. We take the life we have, and we make it the very best it can be.

Because just because life doesn’t turn into the fairy tale we thought it would be, doesn’t mean it is still not something amazing.


The dearest friends I have never met (1/7/2015)

When I was single, a friend suggested I sign up for an online dating service.

I adamantly refused.

“No, thanks,” I replied. “I can meet enough crazies in real life; I don’t need the World Wide Web bringing more my way.”

Given some of the folks I had encountered just in my daily goings about, I could only imagine who I would end up on a date with. I shuddered at the thought.

During my week-long employment at the Piggly Wiggly one summer, a ruggedly handsome young man asked for my phone number.

The next day, I had a collect call from the work release program, which I accepted, not knowing what that was. The dude wanted to know if I would be of legal age to date when he got out. I don’t even think I responded.

I wasn’t even too sure about Lamar on our first date.

He wanted to take me to Atlanta and it occurred to me, I didn’t know him – all I knew was his mother sold Estee Lauder and left me Tootsie Rolls and Reese’s in my work locker.

Sure, she seemed like a good person, but this could be a perfect ploy, hiding behind candy.

Flash forward a few months later and I was watching, of all things, “The Bachelor.”

Don’t judge me. I am guilty of watching some pretty trashy reality T.V. in my time.

But there I was, angry about the girl who got the final rose, so I had to find a group of like-minded people to vent my outrage to.

Eventually, we created a private group where we could share more personal happenings besides just who we thought should be picked for the fake happy ever after.

A few of us even got together, which involved two flying in to Georgia, one from Canada (she had a kayaking event at Lake Lanier) and another from Texas. The rest of us were from Georgia. We met for lunch in Helen. I didn’t tell Mama.

Lamar wasn’t so sure about it when he dropped me and a year-old Cole off for the get together.

He suggested staying with me, just in case, then reconsidered when he realized he was out-estrogened.

“What if they had been crazy people?” Mama said when I confessed where I had been.

“They weren’t,” I replied.

Again, I get it. Really, I do. My track record has brought some whackadoodles across my path.

“Was it awkward?”
How could it be awkward?

“Mama, I have known these women for years – several years. We’ve been like…pen pals for three years or more.”

That’s what we essentially were. Pen pals, online, except instead of waiting for the mail to bring us a letter, we can send an email or post a private message or even start a thread and find out how they are doing, share something with them and let them know we’re thinking of them.

Over the years, some of my dearest, closest friendships have been nurtured online, with wonderful, incredible people I haven’t had the privilege of meeting – yet.

My friend, Paula and I met when I entered a writing contest on her website. She and I started corresponding via email and have been friends ever since. That was close to 10 years ago.

Another dear friend is here in Dawsonville.

While I haven’t had the chance to meet him in person yet, it was a chat conversation between us that made me realize, a lot of the friendships I hold dear, are with people I have never met.

“Do you know them, like know them in real life and not just on the computer?” Lamar used to ask when I would tell him about someone. He no longer does because he realized, you don’t have to necessarily have that flesh and blood meeting to know someone.

I would venture to say many of my online friends have been just as meaningful as those in person friends.

We’ve prayed for one another and supported each other. We’ve laughed and celebrated together. We’ve shared and created memories together. The same things we do with those friends we see “in real life.”

The irony of it is, the friends I know “in real life,” I seldom see and when I do get to talk to them, it’s usually on Facebook. Our schedules are so different and our lives are so busy, it’s hard sometimes to find a window of time to get together.

Usually, if one of my friends here needs me, they message me on Facebook. Or as my real life friend Yolande does, tweets me.

The Twitterverse knows she is still, two years later, waiting for me to clean my house so she can come visit.

A friend – one I have known online for 10 years – messaged me one day. Her job was going to have her possibly coming through Georgia this year. She knew as soon as she heard she wanted to tell me.

“Somehow, some way – we are meeting. I am hugging you in person. We’ve been through too much together for me to be this close and not come squeeze you!”

I hope I do get to meet her. I hope one day I get to meet all of my online friends – as she put it, we’ve all been through too much together not to meet. And it won’t be awkward at all.

If anything it will be just old friends, getting together.

Just this time, it will be in person.