P is for Packages and Notes from the Master. 

A week ago I started up the Stiletto Momma Care Package Factory again. It had been shut down for almost a year, but now with the Older One deployed to Germany and desperate pleas of “Send cookies,” collecting in my inbox,  I’m back in business. 

I baked and shopped and assembled and reassembled (USPS really won’t ship it if it doesn’t fit.) and taped and filled out customs forms and finally shipped it off across the ocean. All 12 pounds of it arrived nine days later to hearty applause and gratitude-filled text messages. Not only had I sent cookies, I sent peanut butter, jelly (Every soldier needs a PB&J fix.), tuna, oatmeal, protein bars, fiber bars, Jolly Ranchers, lip balm, ear plugs (He has 40 roomies, and apparently a few of them snore.), and a letter from his little sister. 

I didn’t know she was going to write him a letter. In fact, she didn’t even let me read it. She just handed me a piece of paper that she had rolled up tightly like a scroll and tied with a piece of green ribbon. 

“Will you send this to my brother,” she asked. I said yes, and instructed her to add it to the top of the box. I didn’t think anything else about it, until the Older One texted yesterday to let me know he got the box. 

That was when he thanked me, not for the cookies or the PB&J supplies, but for his sister’s letter. It made him laugh, he said, and he loved it. 

He responsed to my curiosity (in the form of a text that read, “Huh?”) with a picture of the un-scrolled letter…


I burst into laughter right there in the middle of my cube farm. In that moment, I really didn’t care if I disturbed any of the other worker bees around me. Once the laughter died down, I realized my heart was swelling and I was close to tears, not from the laughing, but from the love my daughter has for my son. 

At home, I told her he had gotten the package and that he loved her letter.

“I wanted to write it funny,” she said, “’cause I thought he might want to laugh at something.”

I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she is.

“Plus,” she said when she pulled away, “I do think he’d make a good Jedi.”

O is for Original Girl

OI love that you say you don’t want to be me when you grow up.

You insist on a simple pony tail with no headband or bow adornment. In your opinion, painting fingernails is a waste of perfectly good video game time. You own just two dresses and one pair of “fancy” shoes, and those are worn under protest.

I love that you complained about dance class and gymnastics.

You prefer field hockey and football. You run like a girl…gloriously fast and strong. You are fearless on the field, and when you tackle a boy during a soccer game, his mom silently cheers and covertly offers me a high-five on the sideline.

I love that you cannot define “traditional”.

You wore a Wonder Woman costume to a princess dress-up party, and the rest of your cosplay wardrobe includes Spider-Man, Darth Vader and a Ninja Turtle. Your career aspirations are police officer, inventor and soldier.

I love that your Barbies are collecting dust.

Your Power Ranger action figures have seen plenty of battle, and your favorite make-believe scenario features a light saber and a conflict between good and evil. At Build-a-Bear, you stroll past the frilly princess bears and have so much trouble choosing between Chewbaka and the Stormtrooper that you convince me get them both. (There’s a BOGO, after all, you say.)

I love that you show no interest in reading Little House on the Prairie.

Your bookshelf holds the entire Captain Underpants series, and you are currently reading your way through Diary of Wimpy Kid.

I love that you turn down every invitation for Frozen sing-alongs.

Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart on the car radio is cause to crank the volume, so you can join me in loudly singing its rock-anthem chorus: “I’m not America’s Sweetheart, but you love me anyway!”

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I love that you are brave and strong and live by your own definition of beautiful.

I love that you know your opportunities are limitless and that stereotypes only get in the way.

I love that you are no one but yourself…my one and only original girl.

N is for Neighbors with Fancy Cocktails

NI wonder if I stood on the sidewalk in front of my house with a pitcher of fancy cocktails, if I would be able to get to know my neighbors.

As of today, I have lived in my new Ohio home for 264 days and have yet to have a significant conversation with the people who live in the houses next door. In fact, if I were to pass them in my friendly neighborhood Kroger, I doubt I would be able to recognize any of them as having a street address close to mine.

When I moved to Louisville almost 17 years ago, I had met and had a conversation with every person on the block by lunchtime. By dinnertime, I had a plate of fresh-baked brownies, a basket of muffins and an invitation to share a home-cooked meal. A few years later, we somewhat reluctantly moved across town and were greeted on moving day with a footrace through the yard as new neighbors rushed to welcome us and offer to carry in the furniture.

I did not anticipate that relocating a mere 114 miles north would take us to a completely different culture. We have, however, crossed the invisible line between the “friendly South” and the “hostile North”, and I am definitely on the wrong side.

We have made plenty of attempts to learn more about these people who call themselves neighbors. We smiled and waved to those who strolled past the house in those early days  only to be rewarded with cautious glances and hurried footsteps. The Young One and I spent hours in the driveway shooting basketball, hoping the sounds of the bouncing ball and laughter would bring out other children and their mommas. We’re still waiting.

Sangrita

It’s as tasty as it looks.

We’ve invited the neighbors to housewarming parties, college football rivalry parties and a Super Bowl party. The only people who showed were other transplants like ourselves who are equally perplexed by this strange world of un-neighborly neighbors. As soon as we get together, the first question asked is, “Guess how many of the neighbors have said, ‘Hi’?”

“None!” we all shout at the same time and clink glasses.

Aside from finding other neighborhood children for my child to play with, I’m not really sure why I want to forge some kind of relationship with the people next door. I suppose I’d like to be sure they aren’t doing illegal things over there. Plus, I think it would be nice to know I have someone close by who actually cares…

Cares enough to ask how I’m settling in…

Cares enough to ask after the MIL’s health…

Cares enough to know my dog’s gotten off her leash…

Cares enough to buy the obligatory box of Thin Mints from the Young One…

Cares enough to ask how the Older One is doing and how I’m doing while he’s so far away…

Last weekend, my Transplant Support Group did our usual toast with a delicious round of Sangritas, a delightful combination of sangria and margaritas whipped up by yours truly. That’s when I started wondering about bribing my neighbors with fancy cocktails.

I think I’ll go make a sign and set up a table next weekend…”Free Fancy Cocktails! Free Friendship! No Strings Attached!”

M is for Magic Eight Ball Tells No Tales

MEveryone experiences moments of uncertainty—those times when no matter how hard you think, you just can’t find the answer. You’re under pressure to deliver, but for the life of you, you can’t make a decision.

I was going through such a time yesterday. I needed an answer, but my brain just wouldn’t cooperate. I asked the Young One for suggestions. I even went to the Hubs for help, but unfortunately this is neither of their areas of expertise. It is all up to me.

So, late last night as I lay sleepless, I knew what I needed to do. It smacked of desperation, but I honestly could not think of an alternative.

I needed to ask the Almighty Eight to give me clarity. Under the cover of darkness, I crept into the Young One’s room. It sat on the nightstand, shining in the moon-glow. Its one round white eye beaconed me into the room.

I picked it up, and found its weight oddly comforting. The faint slosh from its insides whispered to me like an old friend.

Quietly, I began the ritual…

Shake, shake, shake. “Oh, Gr-Eight One,” I chanted. “Will I be able to come up with a good blog post starting with the letter ‘M’ tomorrow?”

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Photo Source: David Bergin (CC by 2.0)

A slow turn for the answer…

“Outlook not so good.”

Just as I feared.

A thought crossed my mind. Maybe I had been too specific with my question. I tried again.

Shake, shake, shake. “Oh, Gr-Eight One, will I write an ‘M’ blog post tomorrow?”

Turn. Wait for bubbles to clear…

“As I see it YES.”

*Whew*

The weight of the burden I had carried all day fell from my shoulders. Finally, I had clarity. I would succeed in publishing the “M” installment of my A to Z Challenge. It just wouldn’t be a particularly good one. I can live with that.

I returned the orb to its spot on the stand and walked back to my own bedroom. Not long after, I fell into a sound sleep protected by the knowledge that the Magic Eight Ball tells no tales.

L is for Laugh Like No One’s Listening

LWhen I was still living in Louisville, I looked forward to my bi-weekly yoga classes. The instructor was one of the best I’d ever had leading me through a yoga practice.

She was young and optimistic yet very spiritual and inspiring. She would begin each class telling us a story about her weekend and tie it back around to being balanced or living life with intention. Then she would lead us through a challenging practice that left me feeling drained and energized at the same time.

It was, as yoga should be, the perfect balance.

The universe, though, is tricky and likes to tip the scales a little every now and then just to make sure we’re paying attention. Such a nudge happened not long before I moved when I walked into class and found *gasp* a substitute.

I almost turned around and walked out, but I’m not normally afraid of change, so I decided to give her a try. The practice was fine–a good mix of vinyasa and warrior poses.

We were almost finished when the universe gave another nudge. I was ready to end the practice as usual with corpse pose when, instead of instructing us to lie down, the substitute told us to take a comfortable seat.

 “Let’s laugh,” she said.

The expressions on everyone’s face was a variation of, “Huh? What’d she just say?”

“Laughter is powerful,” she continued as if she hadn’t just lost everyone a second ago, “It calms us, makes us feel lighter, and restores our spirits.”

She instructed us to close our eyes and try a few, “Ha-ha’s”.  It was quiet except for her own chuckles.

“Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks,” she said. “Put a smile on your face, and laugh.”

Soon, I heard a faint giggle from the back corner, a gaffaw from somewhere to my right, and a full-on belly-laugh from the front. Within seconds the room was rumbling with laughter…deep, high, loud, soft, each laugh as different as each variation of crow pose.

What started as stilted turned to genuine, and after a full minute, the room was filled with roaring laughter. I’m sure the muscle heads in the weight room next door were complaining about the “slackers” in group exercise.

After another minute, the laughter died down, and as everyone regained their composure, I realized our sub was right. I did feel lighter and calmer and just as restored as if I’d spent the last two minutes in the ultimate relaxation pose…maybe even more so.
img_0223-2 Today, April 14, is International Moment of Laughter Day, so take a minute to laugh, even if you find nothing humorous about your circumstances, put a smile on your face, and laugh like no one’s listening.

You’ll feel better for it. I promise.

K is for Kid Conspiracy

KCrossing the Young One’s room lately has been like walking through a mine field of dirty socks, crumpled t-shirts and discarded yoga pants. Her soccer jersey is in a pile by the closet door, and a towel hangs from the edge of a mirror.

The socks freak me out. I find them everywhere…on a dresser, under blankets, on a lamp shade, in toy boxes, tumbling off bookshelves, hanging from a towel hook in the bathroom.

I need to understand why this is happening and how to make it stop.

“What is going on with your socks…with all your clothes for that matter?” I asked, scooping up a stray fuzzy slipper sock from the corner of her nightstand. “Why are you not putting your dirty clothes in your hamper?”

“Well,” she said with all innocence and big eyes. “That’s what he said to do. It’s fun. Watch.”

sock

Sorry, Fuzzy Face.

She bent down, pulled a sock to the tip of her toe and gave a kick. I watched it arch across the room and land with a soft plop on the head of an American Girl doll.

“Who…is…he,” I said calmly, even though I was furiously thinking, “Once I find this kid, I’m going to beat him with a dirty soccer sock.”

“My brother,” she smiled.

“Your…who?” I stammered in my shock at her revelation.

“Myyyy…brrrooootherrrr,” she enunciated slowly, clearly thinking my hearing was fading.

“He did what!”

“Momma! Pay attention!” she snapped and then flung another sock through the air. This one landed on her pillow.

At that moment, that oldest child of mine was pretty lucky to be safely residing in Germany.

However, now that I think about it, his part in the state of total disarray in his sister’s bedroom makes perfect sense. His was never a particularly tidy room when he was growing up. I remember laundry days where his contribution to the dirty clothes was conspicuously slim.

Add to that a recent trip home, the loud thumps and laughter echoing from the second floor and a serious case of hero worship, and I have a true kid conspiracy on my hands.

Now that she was busted, I was able to adequately carry out a threat punishment that fit her crime.  For every night, I find dirty clothes in random locations no where near her hamper, she will be fined one dollar.  She may not get an allowance, but she does get birthday/Christmas/Tooth Fairy money. She saves it like a miser, so the thought of losing it just to watch footwear fly is daunting.

Now, how to deal with the Older One? He’s thousands of miles away bravely serving his country, so the punishment for this betrayal of household cleanliness can’t be too harsh.

I could call his commanding officer and explain the situation. No, that’s probably crossing a line.

I could call his girlfriend! No, she was probably in on the conspiracy too.

Hmmm…

I know!  I have recently become aware of an opportunity to procure several boxes of Girl Scout cookies that went unsold during his sister’s Brownie troop cookie booth sale last month. I’m going to hold the Thin Mints and Samoas hostage!

I’ll have an apology in no time.

J is for Jersey Numbers

JI don’t have just one lucky number. I have five: 48…64…55…57…16.

I can’t see the number 48 without thinking of my son. That was the number he wore on his back for seven football seasons. He first claimed that number at age seven when he started playing tackle football.

It was a magical season. Prior to that year, the team had the dubious honor of being labeled the worst team in the league—the team all the other teams figured as an automatic win. That season, however, saw a change in coaching staff which took the team to an undefeated season and a city championship.

Jersey 48

The cutest #48 ever.

He fell in love with football while wearing the number 48, and fought to keep it throughout his youth football career. To this day, I feel a jolt of excitement when I see 48 on a football player. It is quickly followed by a twinge of irritation because I know in my heart no other player is worthy of wearing that number.

I feel the same with 64—his jersey number in high school. I have my own team hoodie with the number displayed across its back. I wore it to every game. It’s been six years since he wore that number, but I still have the hoodie hanging in my closet. It brings a smile every time I see it.

Jersey 64

“Six and four is 10!”

Sixty-four was also the number that proved to me my youngest was a genius. She was three-years-old at the time, and while prepping her to find her brother on the field, I told her to look for number 64. “Sixty-four,” I explained simply, “is the numbers six and four put together.”

At the game, I quizzed her. “What’s six and four, honey?”

She waved her little pom-poms in the air and gave her biggest cheerleader yell… “TEN!” (See, she’s a genius!)

Next came 57, his jersey number for his first year of college football with the Army Black Knights. It was later changed to 55, then back to 57 and back to 55 again. These are good strong numbers, and I like to think they were fighting for the privilege of riding his shoulder pads.

The number 16 was added to the list a few weeks ago when the Young One played in her first competitive soccer tournament.  We had ordered her uniforms–more like a soccer wardrobe complete with two sets of game uniforms, training gear, warm ups and bag to carry it all–weeks before the tournament, but two days before the first game, we still didn’t have them. The backup plan was to borrow a jersey from another girl who was going to skip the tournament

As the newest girl on the team, the Young One had a strong desire to fit in with her teammates. Without a uniform and her very own number, though, that task (in her eight-year-old mind anyway) was utterly hopeless.

I checked my email every hour on the hour for a notification that the uniforms were ready. Game day arrived…still no uniform.  Ours was a late afternoon game, so we decided to make one last desperate run by the soccer store just in case they forgot to send me an email. We gave our name at the counter and waited…and waited…and waited.

Finally, the saleswoman came out of the storeroom, arms loaded with a plastic wrapped bundle. “Here you go,” she said. “We were just waiting on a pair of shorts to come in, but you can take what we have now.”

Jersey 16

The Big Jersey Number Reveal!

The Young One squealed and looked desperately through the plastic, but the number she was so desperate to see was buried under layers of cotton and Nike logos. I could tell she wanted to tear the package open right there in the store. Being the cool momma I am, I made her wait until we got home.

When we finally made it through the door, she tore off the plastic to reveal her personal magic number…16!

“I’m number 16! I’m number 16!” she chanted as she jumped up and down.

I have to agree with her enthusiasm.  Number 16 is pretty awesome. How could it not be? She’s going to wear it on her back for years, and she’s going to make it just as great as her brother made every number he wore. 

I is for Invisible Illness

II first became invisible when I was 12 years old.

My sixth grade class was reading The Invisible Man, and our teacher had a brilliant idea to turn the tale into a feature film–sort of. She borrowed a video camera from the AV department for the project, and then explained to us how she would film us as we read the different roles.

It was a low-budget production. We didn’t have costumes or an elaborate set. We didn’t even have to memorize our lines. We just had to hold the book in front of our faces and read.

Since acting skill was not a requirement to get an actual speaking part, my teacher decided the best way to assign “actors” to roles was to pull names from a hat. Everyone waited breathless to hear whose name would be pulled for the lead role.

When my name was read, I listened to the disappointed groans echoing through the classroom.  Everyone wanted the part, and no one was thrilled that I had gotten it, except for me.  A few people tried to barter with me and offered to trade their lesser parts for my starring role.

I promptly turned them all down. I knew what I had, and I wasn’t about to trade it for a “co-star” label. I was going to be invisible! How cool was that!

On the day of the filming, I stood behind the camera and read my lines. Invisibility, apparently, is very simple to achieve.

 

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Photo Source: Wyatt Wellman (CC by 2.0)

A decade later, I learned invisibility is neither cool nor simple. It’s lonely, confusing and frightening.

When I was 20, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, one of a set of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which is characterized by chronic inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract. This inflammation results in severe diarrhea, pain, fatigue and weight loss. IBD can be debilitating and sometimes lead to life-threatening complications.

It is also often invisible. People suffering from invisible illnesses like IBD, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and arthritis look fine on the outside, but they live with chronic pain and fatigue. Some days I wish I looked as bad as I felt just so a decline of an invitation to happy hour wouldn’t be perceived as disinterest. If I looked sick maybe I wouldn’t feel guilty taking up a seat in the doctor’s office.

At my sickest, people often complimented me on my thin physique. “You’re so skinny,” they would say, or “You look great! What are you doing to lose weight?” I didn’t think telling them, “Eating makes me feel like I’m digesting glass,” was appropriate, so I just smiled politely and kept the secret to myself.

I once had a manager who was skeptical I had a disease at all. I felt like I was begging when I asked if I could call into a meeting because I was too exhausted to drive five hours to be there in person. He grudgingly agreed and then cut me from the agenda all together and took credit for my work. Another time, after emailing to say I would be working from home because I had to take a narcotic pain killer just to get out of bed, he called me and kept me on the phone for hours grilling me on the work he didn’t think I was doing. I actually felt vindicated the day I told him my doctor was recommending major abdominal surgery.

Invisibility is definitely not the glamorous life it was back in the sixth grade. I wonder if I could get any of my classmates to trade with me now?

 

H is for Honoring a Hero

HThe definition of a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities, and I have recently learned about a hero who is all those things…except the person part.

Earlier this week, Lucca, a bomb sniffing Marine canine was honored as a war hero when she received the PDSA Dickin Medal, an honor bestowed on animals who exhibit gallantry and bravery. The Dickin Medal is the animal equivalent of the British Victoria Cross, which is on par with the United States’ Medal of Honor.

During her 400 patrols searching for explosives and IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lucca was so successful that not one soldier from the U.S. or the UK was injured, except when Lucca herself lost a leg to an explosive device while on patrol in 2012. Her handlers credit her with saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers over her six years of service.

Heroes don’t have to be human; they just have to be brave.

Lucca is now retired and living happily in California with her first handler and trainer. Watch Lucca’s story here…

G is for Girl Drama

GI’m over the drama already, and my girl is only eight.  Actually, she’s almost nine, and really it’s other parents’ girls causing the drama. Still…I’m over it already.

I knew we would have drama as soon as the Hubs and I agreed to adopt a child of the female variety. Girls and drama go together like a sale at my favorite shoe store and the credit card bill that comes to the house a week later. Enjoying the first means you will inevitably have to deal with the second.

So, I expected drama to surround my girl at some point, but I didn’t expect it in the second grade or for it to be such a complicated and never-ending story.

When I sent the Young One to the her first day in her new school back in August, I sent her with a mission…make one friend…just one. We had moved to Ohio 10 days earlier, and she was still missing her friend posse, and I thought making at least one new friend would be a good first step in moving on.

She called me as soon as she got off the bus that first day, and I could hear the excitement bubbling through the telephone. “I did it!” she told me. “I made a new friend.”

“That’s great, Sweetheart! What’s her name?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” I guess I should have specified…make a new friend AND ask her name.

She came home the next day to tell me her new friend’s name was DramaGirl1 (Strange name, I know, but I like the keep it anonymous here.) and even bigger news…she had made a second new friend by the name of DramaGirl2. (I like to keep it original too.)

That scenario sets up the drama nicely because while DG1 and DG2 both want to be BFFs with my Young One, they have no desire to be BFFs or even just Fs with each other. Plus the monster that hides under both of their beds is green-eyed.

The after-school-call I received the week after winter break was tear-filled. “DG2 says she’s not my friend anymore,” she cried.

“Oh, no!” I replied, “What happened?”

“I told her DG1 was my friend too, and she said if I played with DG1 at recess then I couldn’t be her friend anymore!”

I empathized, and we spent the evening talking through different scenarios to let DG2 know she still wanted to be friends. The next day’s call went like this:

“DG2 and I are friends again, but now DG1 says I can’t be her friend anymore because I told her I was DG2’s friend too.”

*sigh*

BFF

You won’t have drama when your BFF is your momma!

That has been the after-school conversation most days for the last three months, just replacing DG1 with DG2. Fortunately, while she used to tell me the news with tears in her voice, now all I hear is resignation. She has come to the realization that these two girls’ moods change with the wind and that she is not responsible for their meanness or their jealousy. She is just caught in the middle.

I’ve contemplated calling their mothers and talking with them about the situation, but I realize this is too much of a helicopter mom maneuver for my liking. The girls need to work this out themselves or decide to go their separate ways. It’s life. We’ve all been there.

If I did make those calls, I could very likely find out that these girls have learned their jealous and possessive behavior from their mommas, just as my daughter is learning kindness and tolerance from me. I definitely don’t need my own grown-up girl drama at this stage in my life.

The end of the school year and hopefully the drama is only six weeks away. It can’t come soon enough for me. I’m hoping the summer will bring us a little bit of peace, and that the fall will bring us a new set of friends.