Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 5th, 1989

That was my first day of fourth grade and I remember it quite well. I remember it because it was one of the best days of my life. You see, I was entering a new school in a new town. We spent the summer moving and getting situated and living in between houses as we waited for ours to sell in the Metro, and ours to be ready in Brainerd, which is my hometown.

How does it become my hometown if I started school there as a fourth grader? I was born there nine years earlier when my parents were students at the community college. That town has always been part of my story. And now, my story was about to get even better.

I had brand-new black and red Nikes that morning – boy shoes because duh, they were infinitesimally better than girl shoes back in the day. I refused to wear anything pink or purple and Nike had yet to catch on to that little concept. I had a mullet; something my own Mama defends by saying it WAS THE STYLE BACK THEN dismissing my claim of child abuse. I had on dark denim and a denim jacket. I stepped on the bus that morning at my grandparents’ lake house – the very lake coordinates I have tattooed onto my thigh – ready to take on the world.

As a fourth grader.

Just Like You Are Today

I’m telling you this story because that day was one of the best of my life. I would go on from that moment to meet all your aunties and even your Fairy Godmother a few years later. The group of women who have shaped my life in so many rich, hysterical ways in the nearly 30 years we’ve been running and gunning. And, I feel so damn nostalgic (and hopeful!) as you don your own Nike Frees today to take on the universe from your point of view.

I was teased pretty hardcore that first day of school. Not only was I the new girl, which I guess sort of invites the attention, but damn. Is she wearing boy shoes? You’re goddamn right I am. That way I can run faster than you and your little white Keds with their pristine white laces. I’ll run faster, jump higher, and wear them tomorrow to do it all over again. Also? All my friends in the Minneapolis area are wearing these shoes today – that’s right. Even the girls. So I’ll wait until this little backwoods, backward tree town gets up to speed on fashion.

And eventually, it did. Those black and red Nikes morphed into Adidas shell toes, B.U.M. Equipment boots (okay, those WERE ridiculous), Eastlands with the little green tag, Doc Martens, Steve Maddens, and eventually, always back to Nikes. A girl never forgets her first love.

What Does My Past Shoe Collection Have to Do With It?

Because I always wore what I wanted to. And yes, sometimes it happened to be what was in style. But I was unapologetic about the choices I made, and I always stood my ground when it came time for criticism or merciless teasing.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks because you shared a little flash of this with me of your own. Because you are your Mother’s daughter, you’d been begging me to take you school supply shopping since approximately June 15th. I put my foot down and told you to wait until August. That was a fun conversation to have every single day for 67 days. When the time came to hit the pearly gates of Target, you’d been agonizing over your list, circling, adding, rewriting, giving priority number to items, and on and on for months. You had your sights set on all things Yoobi – a new brand of school supplies. Trendy, colorful, with a side of philanthropy. You loved knowing another kid in the U.S. would receive supplies with your purchase. You ARE your Mother’s daughter.

You shopped with a military-like precision while I tried not to sob into my Starbucks. Man, things like school shopping change when you started to read. You even brought a highlighter for efficiency. I was only tasked with being patient, driving the cart, and paying the tab.

You ripped into everything on the short drive home. Couldn’t wait to show Daddy. Spread things out on grand display, ran your thumb across all the shiny newness of untouched pages and fresh tips of wooden pencils, and simply oohed and aahed over your haul for hours.

Yet when I went to tuck you in that night, you whispered to me while clutching your new binder to your chest, Mama do you think my new stuff is lame?

You often choose night time to come at me with unexpected or out of proportion ideas or philosophies. I call that your Bedtime Ambush. That’s a stalling tactic to avoid sleep. But I felt like your question was different on that night.

I perched on the edge of your bed. I asked you if you thought they were lame or silly. I didn’t mention the pencil case you HAD to have was shaped like a giant yellow banana.

No, I LOVE my stuff! I knew that would be your answer. So I asked you why you wondered that. I mean I knew you were mentally taking yourself through your first day of school, unpacking your backpack, and filling up your desk and locker with all your Yoobi newness.

You Were Wondering What Other People Would Think of Your Swag

You didn’t tell me that in the darkness that night. I simply said, “If you love what you have, and are proud and excited, that’s all that matters. Period, end of story.”

You know that. You don’t have to defend or explain anything to anyone, ever. Not even to Daddy or I. We should be the place and people who question or challenge you the least on your own choices. Ever since you were small but old enough to understand language I’d ask you, do you feel good about it? To reinforce your ability to make personal decisions and stand by your choices.

To be quite honest, that’s always been my biggest … challenge or blessing? in motherhood. Raising a girl who is confident. Raising a girl who isn’t a carbon copy of someone else. Raising a girl who has the voice to defend who she is, even in the darkness.

Raising a girl who knows she wants a yellow banana pencil case, and raising a girl who proudly owns one.

I hope fourth grade is as good to you as it was to me, Kid Rock.
I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told you for the last six years.
Work hard and be nice.
And – don’t forget to be awesome.

AND if some little insecure punk says ANYTHING about your yellow banana pencil case or your shoes or face or ANYTHING … let me know and I’ll kick his ass. And his Mama’s too.

Just kidding. I don’t condone violence.

But if he does or she does, walk away. Head held high.
Think of the lyrics of our favorite summer song – our anthem from all our days in the sun:

Raise a cup up for all my day ones
Two middle fingers for the haters
Life’s only getting greater

Mama loves.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Second Grade Diaries

Lots of mommy bloggers write soul-baring admissions of truth. Truths about parenting, shortcomings, fears, failures, and absurd dreams. That’s exactly what this whole blog has been about. Because at the end of the end, I want her to know who her mother was, and how she viewed parenthood. I never sugarcoat, and I certainly don’t shy away from the raw, bitter truth when the moment calls for it. So, this post, having risen from the blog ashes of say, oh, the past six months or so, is just another admission from my soul. I won’t be heralded for bravery or honesty. I won’t get a day off or even a free latte.

But that’s okay. I get to be her mom every single day and that’s pretty great.

Kid Rock,
You are being an asshole.

Second grade hasn’t been cherries and glitter.
And I’m kinda pissed about that, because here I thought I had an easy kid, and this whole parenting thing will be so effortless for me. You are proving my life’s vision of motherhood to be a bit less … shiny and amazing. What if you hadn’t sleep through the night, every night forever, instead of being a pain in my ass now? That’s what I wonder. Did I count all those chickens before they hatched? I got cocky. That’s what happened. I got complacent.

This conversation is stemming from the phone call I got yesterday from your principal.
The assistant principal, but still. I remember when I was a kid and your Grandma G. (who, to this day, still scares the shit out of me) telling me she had better not EVER have to field a phone call from an adult whose care I was in while away from her, to report my assholery. I think that’s an awfully great life motto: don’t make your problem, my problem. Anyways, your assistant principal called and left a 2:12-minute message regarding An Incident.

(When she initiated the message with the word incident I waited to hear how bloody you were, or which ER you were en route to. When she went on to explain it was behavior-related, the air whooshed right out my lungs; proof I do love you very much)

Disobedience. Misbehavior. What have you. Regular ol’ elementary school shenanigans. Would you just get off the monkey bars when you’re told, sweetheart? That’d be great. But you didn’t. Of course, your story differs slightly in that nothing was your fault and … I tuned you out. You said you were stuck, you were scared, and no one would help you.

Just like me, and motherhood.

You are becoming very, very independent. I mean, you always have been, but you’re taking independence to a whole new level. I remember thinking when you were a newborn with your giant lemur-eyes as I laid you in your dark, empty crib wide awake … she’s just going to do this herself? And yes. You did everything by yourself and for yourself. I think that’s great. I always have.

But now … you’re a little girl who grew into her eyeballs, but haven’t really grown out of that highly intact independency thing. You’re your mother’s daughter so you possess some spunk and spitfire. You’re also your father’s daughter so you possess some of his zero-f*cks-given attitude. There you go, assistant principal. Blame genetics.

You’ve had to work extra hard in school this year, you my mighty girl who has always had everything come easy to her. Which means by default I have had to work hard to accept this and be patient with this process. You are not me. That’s the best advice/insight I have ever heard in regards to parenting (courtesy; your Papa) and it’s something I cling to everyday. I mean just this morning you went to school dressed like Rizzo from Grease because you’re on bit of a Grease kick. We are definitely different people.

And things are hard. They are hard in second grade. We turn in science projects late and lose library books and have to talk to you about racism in 2016. We forget picture day and try to remember when you wore last Thursday. I suspect you’re still eating high fructose corn syrup on a daily basis even though I’m quite vigilant about that particular issue. We lose, we yell, we stop, we hide.

Yet everyday, I am the last person to touch your face and search your eyes when you leave your home. I grab your chin, my very favorite chin, and kiss your lips. I tell you the same thing everyday. I love you the most. Be a good friend. Be respectful. And, don’t forget to be awesome.

Though, I think I am going to change that last sentence to don’t forget to not be an asshole starting tomorrow.

Mama loves.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting It Off Her Chest

It took her nearly eight years, but she finally did it.
She told me last night.
Daddy is my favorite.

The minute she made the admission, her hands flew to her mouth, as if they could redact the sentence.
Daddy is my favorite.

I could see her eyes well up. Hands clamped firmly over her mouth. Terrified.
I put my hands on my knees, getting eye level with her.
"I know he is, sweetheart." I told her, stoic.
It was the least surprising thing I heard in ages.
So I hugged her, made her laugh.
I hope she feels better, to have that off her chest.
I've been waiting for it for years.

I didn't have a favorite parent growing up.
To me, they were parents. Adults. Disciplinarians. Authoritative. I never considered either of them my friend, to be honest. I managed to leave the house at 18 with a healthy level of respect and terror for both of them. God, they were good parents. How'd they do that? I'm scared I won't get there with Kid Rock.

Today is different. They are both incredible people who I like being around. I value their opinions and judgements and unconditional love. Somewhere along the lines I fell in love with them as people. My people. I still respect the hell out of them, but they're less terrifying. My dad is really funny. My mom is really blunt. They're fantastic. And, equally so.

But, the Dad and I, we have one child. And I'm not her favorite parent.

I won't mention pregnancy. The stretch marks. The whiskey or bleu cheese I gave up. I. Stopped. Drinking. Coffee. The high heels that were shelved. The THIRTY ONE POINT FIVE HOURS of labor. Because none of that matters. It's not about sacrifices or what you do in the name of those you love. They'll still arrive at their own conclusions about you as person. That's all them and nothing on you. Try all you want. It's futile.

And truly, this is not a cathartic release of my pretend feelings on the topic in a half-hearted attempt to assume acceptance. I honestly, with my whole heart, knew I wasn't her favorite for many years. There was just always something about those two that were different. I sometimes come up with reasons.

I traveled too much.
I sent her to daycare.
I didn't breastfeed.
I can yell.
I'm impatient.
We're too similar.
I'm a hardass.
I'm too soft.

But in reality, none of those have anything to do with it. The heart wants what the heart wants. And damned if I'm going to stand in its way.

Besides, I'll always be her mother.

And someday when I invite her to the coffee shop, she won't throw herself on the floor in hysterics at the mere thought of how PAINFUL that sounds. Or she'll love shopping a little bit more than she does right now. I always joked that I could be 34 states away from her for a week straight, but her daddy goes golfing for 3 hours and she loses her mind. And maybe someday, I'll be her first choice.

Because right now, and likely forever, she's mine.
And letting her have this, and like this, is proof of that.

Mama loves.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Things I Wish I Knew Before College

When I was 17, I had my first baby girl.

Not really. No Teen Mom status. But my little cousin Magoo (her lifelong nickname I gave her) was born in June of 1997, the summer before my senior year of high school. I remember going to meet this squishy little bundle of pink with the biggest, bluest eyes. My aunt, one of my favorite people in the world, asked me to be her Godmother. I was shocked. I told her I was too young. She said that didn’t matter. I told her I had been Confirmed approximately 12 months prior. She said that didn’t matter. When I held her for the first time, I fell in love with my baby girl and nothing else mattered.

Well, that blue-eyed squishy little bundle of pink started college last week. Somebody hold me. I’m not old enough to have a college freshman! But she drove down her gravel driveway and into the sunset and now she’s living on campus and doing all those big-girl things. It’s wonderful. It’s terrifying.

The relationship her and I have isn’t mother-daughter. It’s big-little sister. I don’t have a sister; so Magoo sort of filled that role for me. Through the years, I held fast to the big sister status and made sure she didn’t view me as another parent chiding her for making mistakes, not making decisions, or being too hard on herself. She has mom and a dad, and a big brother, little brother, and two feisty-as-hell grandmas (one she shares with me) who do plenty of parenting for her.

Instead, I told her boys are idiots.
Men are too, but some are worth loving really hard.
Her hometown is too small.
Life is not.
It all goes fast.
But not fast enough sometimes.
The things that are important to her now, might not be later.
But they’ll always shape her life.
And she should consider taking less duckface selfies because when she gets married in that barn wedding she’s always wanted, all we’re going to have to work with for photos for the slideshow is all those duckface selfies.
Smile more.
Your real smile.

And now that she’s in college, I need to up my game with her. I think about my college experience and how much I loved all four years, even if that was 17 years ago (God; gross). So here is my advice for her, things maybe I wish I had learned, and not the hard way, or had my own big sister to clue me in on.

College does not prepare you for the real world. The only thing that prepares you for the real world is the real world itself. So don’t spend your precious few college years worrying about being a grown-up, because you’ll worry about being a grown-up when you are one.

Plan B. Not the contraceptive.
Well yes, the contraceptive, too. Because no matter what, people make mistakes. No big deal. Zero judgment. But figure out Plan B. Because you can start your college career with your eyes on the horizon, your shiny little plan all figured out until you actually get into it. Then you might want a new plan. Make one. Make 70. Nobody will care except you.

Wear eyeliner. Learn how to be a girl when you are surrounded by them.

You will never need both Oreos and those shitty, neon pink frosted animal crackers in your grocery cart at the same time. In fact, you probably don’t even need either of them.

Drink water.

Don’t drink whatever you can get your hands on. Have some standards, man.

Travel. And I’m not talking Cancun for spring break. In fact skip Mexico because that’s actually not a vacation when you’re 20. Take your girlfriends when you turn 30. Instead, take a roadtrip around the Great Lakes. Visit Savannah, GA, and stay at the Azalea Inn. Go snowboarding in Crested Butte, CO. Stay in a shitty hotel in Seattle and eat your way through the city.

Work your ass off. Work two jobs. Be a hustler like your Grandma S. She raised you to be one, and she’s so proud of you.

Don’t ever, ever smoke. It doesn’t help you relax, focus, get a buzz, calm you down, or make you appear like you’re a badass. All smoking does is give you cancer. And let me get a little Momish on you here, cancer from tobacco use is the only cancer that’s 100% preventable. Don’t. Ever.

Skip class. If you can’t decide whether or not to skip class, just skip it. If you’re already contemplating no-showing, your heart and brain aren’t in it, and you’ll just sit in class complacent, lethargic, asshole-esque, and the students around you don’t need that kind of negativity in their lives.

Your parents no longer are responsible for you.
I should leave that sentence on its own without any sort of supporting content, because that is a big, ol’ nasty one that’s really hard to accept. So if you think you’re sick and legitimately cannot get out of bed, swallow water, or get your temp to drop below 102*, you probably have Mono and you should haul your own ass to health services. That way, your mom doesn’t have to get a phone call from your roommate, leave work, drive 120 miles, and take you to the ER. Be your own advocate because you’re all you have right now.

Buy your parents cliché campus souvenirs for your first Christmas as a college student. Because your dad will wear that crew neck sweatshirt until the cuffs fray off, the logo indistinguishable. Your mom’s mascot coffee cup will be hand washed for two decades, and its handle will be super glued on six different times, but she’ll always treasure it.

The fitness center is free. Your gym membership the rest of your life will not be. Use it.

Don’t forget where you came from. And, don’t forget that you can always go home.

Date. But not exclusively. You won’t marry your college boyfriend and this world is a very, very big place.

You have all the control when it comes to dating and boys in general. Don’t ever, ever let any of them tell/force/believe you otherwise.

Learn how to cook using only real food. What you have in your pantry in tidy little cans, packages, and freezer meals are not considered cooking, or even real food.

On topic, SlimFast is bullshit, expensive, and never going to do what getting your ass to the gym and eating real food will do.

Find your ride or dies. Or a single die. College is full of scary, big, doubting, messy, dramatic stuff. Having your person there makes it … not as much. And be the same for her, or him. Say what you mean, and always, always pick up the phone when they call, day or night, rain or shine.

Be yourself. Yourself is amazing. People will fall in love with that girl, the real version of your very best you. But remember, you're not everyone's cup or tea, or shot of whiskey. And that's okay. Don't even try to convince them otherwise.

Don't drink and drive. Don't get in a car with people who are about to drink and drive. I'm sure I told you this when you turned 16, but it bears repeating.

Call your mom. She misses you. Write letters to your grandmas. They REALLY miss you.

Work hard and be nice.

And, don't forget to be awesome.

Mama loves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

National Dog Day: 39 Days

Adam Levine was right. This summer's gonna hurt like a motherf*cker.

Today is National Dog Day. Just as National Donut Day, National Creamsicle Day, and National Lighthouse Day ... it gives ordinary people extraordinary reasons to celebrate ordinary things. I'm sure it all has to do with social media.

But today is National Day Dog. And our dog was anything but ordinary.

39 Days

When we moved into our neighborhood 10 years ago, my own Dad said we needed a dog. Dogs and babies make neighbors. He was right. A year and a half later, we had neighbors.

We had a dog.

Jasper was a clearance sale Beagle. I had to really sell the Dad on his purchase. I always knew I’d have a Beagle, and his name would be Jasper. Back then, when I was 26, he was part of The Plan. Graduate from college. Get married. Buy a house. Get a dog. Have kids. He fit perfectly into that plan. He fit perfectly into our family.

Born on 3/16, we brought him home to the 316.


He screamed/barked bloody murder all the way home after we picked him up. 15 miles of freeway, with a howling, braying 11-week old puppy with ridiculous ears caged in the backseat. To his credit, the Dad just kept driving, hands gripping the steering wheel, silent.

We gave him a miniature green collar and a tour of his new home. We showed him the linoleum, tile, and hardwooded areas he was to stay on, period. No carpet. No furniture. No exception.

No chance in hell.

He cried all night, every night. Laundry room. Garage. Entryway.
He stopped crying when we put his bed right next to our bed.
He stayed there for nine years.

Acquiring a dog tethered us to something we needed. It gave us a home. A purpose. A reason to leave Happy Hour. It made the two of us into a family, and gave us someone else to focus on other than each other. It was that first integral “thing” we did aside from the mortgage. He kept shitting on the floor in the brand-new basement; we enrolled him in puppy school where we spent a month paying too much money for idiots to teach us how to discourage that very behavior of his. One of his instructors literally showed us how to tell if our dog was about to poop. It was awful. And hilarious. It showed us that if it mattered to someone important to us, like our puppy, we had to do it.

He never ate a single shoe.
He never chewed on a single piece of furniture.
He did eat my favorite childhood book of all time, the one my Grandma had gifted me because she had read it to me 5,987 times. The Meanest Mouse & Other Mean Stories by Janice May Udry. But the Dad salvaged a lot of the cover because it was my original copy, and found a replacement on eBay.

He was the unPuppy. The unDog.

The vet told us he had 11 days.
He lived, and really lived, for 28 more than that.
I know he had a few things yet to accomplish.
He needed to live to see the Dad celebrate another birthday on the 4th of July. He needed to protect his baby sister from the loud, scary fireworks for one more summer. Because next summer, when she’s eight, she’ll wholeheartedly welcome them. She won’t need his protection.

He also needed to taste 40 handfuls of the fresh raspberries that grow so abundantly right here on his property. We took a final stroll through the gardens on his last day, and I apologized that the cucumbers and sugar snap peas weren’t ready for him. He loved those the most. Then he sniffed out the carrots, and we saw the few he’d been working on, gnawing on the tops that grow out so barely of the soil.

Who has a garden dog? I mean, I’ve heard of sheep dogs. Farm dogs.
We had a garden dog.

He was one of a kind.

Through the tears there is so much to be thankful for. I’m addicted to music, its form of therapy unrivaled when it comes to so many of life’s toughest lessons. When we loaded Jasper into the truck bed for his final ride, we laughed through the tears as the Dad’s favorite song of all time, Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp came on the radio.

            Well I was born in a small town.
            And I can breathe in a small town.
            Gonna die in this small town.
            And that’s probably where they’ll bury me.

The next song on the final ride soundtrack was Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust.
That REALLY made us cry. But laugh, too, in that sick sort of deranged humor you can only experience when you’re on the edge of something awful.

            How do you think I’m going to get along,
            Without you when you’re gone?
            You took me for everything that I had,
           And kicked me out on my own.

And the trifecta of songs to wrap up our trip was when we walked out of the vet’s office, each holding an empty leash, an empty collar and Forever Young by Rod Stewart.

            May the good Lord be with you,
Down every road you roam,
And may sunshine and happiness,
Surround you when you’re far from home.

Each of us have sacred places, and we wanted to bury Jasper in his, which is the 80 acres where my Dad has built his cabin in Beaver Township. Beautiful, quiet, and full of sunshine. The most perfect spot for a forever sleep. I knew the area for his spot nearly exactly in my mind. The southwest corner of the cabin where we can see him from the window, and where he can see the driveway, announcing its visitors. 

What I didn’t know however, is how the sun would beat down on him there, surprising even my Dad who knows that terrain better than he knows most things. One of Jasper’s many nicknames was Sun Dog- he craved the sunshine endlessly. Or how we had to clear away so many ferns before we started the internment process. Ferns? Like Where the not-so-red Ferns Grow? Eerie. But perfect.

So today is National Dog Day.
And I don't have one anymore.
But I did, for nine years.
And an extra 39 days.
And he was the very best.