but i'm not too fond of october 18--with apologies to m

yesterday, i wrote about how i don't hate october 17, even though it's the anniversary of my father's death.

october 18, however, is the day after october 17, and therefore october 18 usually kind of sucks.  try as i might to resist it, every year i have a sort of subconscious build up to 10/17.  i take off work.  i plan dad-celebrating, family-loving activities.  i set aside time for writing.  and somehow, somewhere way down deep, i have this seed of a belief that this year, on october 17, something will change.

i never really fully recognize this kernel until october 18, of course.  when i can clearly see that the "something" i was hoping would change is not going to change.  i have not tranformed into a magical phoenix-like creature who now understands the meaning of life.  i did not have a dream in which my father appeared and told me the answers to all my doubts, wonderings, and hopes for the future.  lo and behold, on october 18, after all that celebrating and family-loving and writing, my dad is still dead.  well then.

this was especially hard to slam up against after anniversary one, and it was also extra crap-tastic after anniversary five.  this year, i thought i was wise to the ways of october 18.  indeed, it was no surprise to me when i woke up this morning to see that seed of a belief unearthed, barren, mute.  but even though it wasn't a surprise, it still wasn't fun.

october 18, it's a good thing you are the day m was born.  he is very special to me, so you get a pass.  otherwise, i'd just give up on you, i think.


i don't hate october 17

my father died exactly ten years ago.  on october 17.  since then, i notice the number sequence 10/17 everywhere, all the time.  i have an uncanny knack for checking the time at 10:17 in the morning and at 10:17 in the evening.  one of my closest friends in the world lives at 1017 _________ street.  i land on cell number 1017 in excel spreadsheets over and over again.

logically, it would make sense to me to hate that number, hate that reminder, hate it when october 17 rolls around every year.  but i don't.  i think i actually like it.  10/17 is now and forever linked to my dad, and so 10/17 makes me think of him, every time it shows up.  and i like thinking of my dad because i had a spec-damn-tacular dad.  every year, on october 17, i spend the day celebrating him and connecting with his memory and hanging out with my family.

this year, that celebration feels different to me, because this is the first year i've been a mama. this is the first year i've had this amazing daughter to take to one of her granddaddy's favorite breakfast places, to look up at me while those quintessential chamblee expressions form on her face, and to love with the same overwhelming, unconditional love i know my dad felt for me.  but this is also the first year i've had this incredible new human being who will never sit on my dad's lap, grin up at his slow smile, and crack up when he talks in his donald duck voice.

i never knew my granddaddy on my dad's side.  he died before i was born--before any of his grandchildren were born--just like my dad did.  i remember feeling awkward about that grandfather as a kid because i didn't know what to call him (no grandfather name is established when there are no grandchildren yet.), i didn't know if it was okay to ask about a dead person, and i didn't know if he would've liked me or not.  i want to help my daughter and her cousins know their granddaddy in some way, so in the spirit of celebrating him on october 17, i offer this:

my daughter and my nephews,

your granddaddy on the chamblee side...

checked everything in the house--but most especially the stove--at least six times before he left home

loved to eat breakfast and desserts from "the list"

wrote poetry for your grandma

made banners for his children on their birthdays and hung them in surprise places around our house

grunted when he was confused, mad, or in a tough spot

banged on the window over the kitchen sink to get our dogs to quit barking at least one million and seven times

washed the dishes but almost never put them away

couldn't stand whistling

trained us, all our cousins, and several unsuspecting friends that there is absolutely no smacking your food at the dinner table

wrote me a letter every single, solitary day when i was away at governor's school one summer between junior and senior year

taught us to drive at the farm on tractors, a go-cart, and an old chevy truck

once conspired with my siblings to hide breakfast from me on sunday morning before church because i was so hard to wake up

built a pond with just a scoop and a whole lot of trips back and forth

was a dreamer, a visionary, a schemer, a philosopher, a mediator, a stargazer, and a salt-of-the-earth farmer down to his toes

could be infuriatingly slow to speak but was frequently the one people listened to

laid down on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator when he was sick with the flu once every year

could make me laugh when i was mad better than anyone

was astonishingly smart but didn't show it off

had the best smile

would have loved to ride with you on the tractor at the farm
would have loved to listen to you laugh
would have loved to help you make a scarecrow at halloween
would have
loved you.

and that's just a start.  ask me more anytime.  i'll tell you everything i can remember.



the parent who remains

a note to my readers:  many of you know me and know my mother, so i feel it's important to point out that--like most of my poetry/creative writing--this piece is not autobiographical or even biographical.  it is, however, influenced by my own reflections at witnessing the strength and grace of many "parents who remain," including my own gorgeous mama.

she looks out the window and notices that the grass has been mowed.
someone mowed the grass and she never noticed and she can't think
or who
but it must have needed mowing and she is grateful
someone mowed the grass.
in a couple of weeks, she will need to mow it again.
and again after that.
and again and again and again.
for the rest of her life, this grass will need to be mowed.
she can do that.
she can absolutely do that.

she looks over at her husband's aunt
a very old lady
whose own only child lives an ocean away
and she knows that this aunt will need to go to the doctor soon.
in a few months, she will need to be the one to move this aunt
into a nursing home.
and visit her after that.
again and again and again.
for the rest of her husband's aunt's life, she will need to be looked after.
she can do that.
she can absolutely do that.

she looks around her at the house and all the people in it
a lot of stuff and a lot of people
and she thinks of oil changing, thank you card writing, retirement planning, dishes washing, grocery shopping, churchgoing, window replacing, dinner eating, dog medicine giving, trash taking out, taxes completing,
and representing
out and about in the world
and deciding
all that deciding
that she will need to do.
she can do all of that.

looking at her children,
all grown up
as grown up as they will ever get in her eyes,
she does her very first deciding since everything changed.
she decides:

i will watch my children be heartbroken.
i will not try to cover up their pain or pretend it doesn't exist.
i will not offer them stupid platitudes that make them feel oddly guilty about being sad.
i will not act out when their father's memory seems to get more attention than my living presence.
i will accept their help when i really need it.

they are each, in turn, finding her in the room
every few minutes
checking in with their eyes or a hand on her arm as they walk by
she is heartbroken too
and she knows they know that.


still not here after all these years

this week, on wednesday, my dad will have been gone for ten years.  and when i say gone, i mean he will have been dead for ten years.  i am ambivalent about saying that word: dead.  sometimes it seems crass and inappropriate and rough and ugly.  but at other times, it seems wholly and absolutely appropriate.  after all, the whole damn thing is a lot of rough and ugly.

passed away, moved on, left us?  i guess.  those turns of phrase are meant to soften the blow, i suppose, but that's like saying a single feather placed over your heart will soften the blow when an elephant sits on your chest.  it doesn't work.  nice idea.  but it doesn't work.

in the end, i think i say "dead" sometimes because "dead" is a permanent word.  it does not equivocate the way those other phrases do.

my father's death is the most permanent event i've ever experienced.  it was the first thing that had ever happened in my life that didn't make sense to me that i also had no hope of ever changing.  bad grade?  upsetting, but maybe you can earn extra credit.  your boyfriend breaks up with you for another woman?  heartbreaking, but there's still a chance you could reunite or find someone better.  even getting some sort of disease offers the hope--however slim--of cure or inexplicable miracle.  but dead?  dead is dead, and that's all there is to it.  yes, i know i can feel his presence sometimes, and yes, i know about the many possibilities of afterlife, and yes, there are many beautiful things i've experienced having to do with his memory living on through us.  but, come on, that's not the same.  it's not the same at all.

i remember standing in the kitchen the morning my father died.  i was paralyzed by the image of the huge, wide, long space of my life stretching out in front of me--all without him in it.  it seemed impossible.  now, ten years of that huge, wide space of my life is behind me.  and it still seems impossibly, surprisingly permanent.

so.  yes.  at this very strange ten year mark, i am reminding myself--and i remind you--to love the people we love here and now and as much as possible.  because, as bizarre as it still seems to me, you cannot change dead.


a person called okay

the second installment in a week-long series exploring our rituals of talking to ourselves

it's okay you're okay it'll be okay everything's okay okay okay okay?
{step} {step} {step}
it's okay you're okay this is going to be okay sh sh sh sh sh keep walking
{step} {step} {step}
{step} {step}
{step} {step}
everything's fine everything's fine everything's fine keep moving
{hand to chest}
{taptaptaptap taptaptaptap taptaptaptaptap}
yep got it got it yep got it
{clamp jaw}
{breathe out through nose}
{eyes cloud}


we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this...

holy moly.  yesterday was my one-hundredth post.

thank you so very much for reading, y'all.  and for commenting with your good thoughts and unique experiences.  no one seems to have time to spare these days, so the idea that you're choosing to spend some of your precious time with me in this way is a great gift.

in celebration of 100 posts, i looked back to see which ones have been the most read so far, which have generated the most comments, and which ones are just extra-special to me.

here are five of the most popular, in case you missed 'em.
and here are five that maybe not as many folks read or i just feel extra-strongly about, so i'm putting them back out there.
and finally:  i really do love to hear your thoughts, so click the boxes below the posts or leave a comment if you are so moved.  a couple of folks have asked if it's okay to share posts on facebook or twitter.  the answer is yes.  go for it.  i'm absolutely grateful and flattered and honored when you share a post that's particularly interesting to you.

with love and appreciation,


one way to hear what you're saying to yourself

the first installment in a week-long series exploring our rituals of talking to ourselves

this happened:  our baby was born.

and then this happened:  the things that i say--and even just silently think--about myself became very, super-duper, incredibly, intensely noticeable to me.

here are some examples--positive, negative, and...well...complicated:

  • i look like crap today.
  • oh man, i'm an idiot.
  • mama can't do anything right. ["mama" is referring to me, not to my own mama, who does almost everything right.]
  • i rocked that.
  • everyone's going to think i'm [insert negative adjective here].
  • look: i can fit into my non-pregnant jeans again!
  • i think i can really help with that.
  • i'm stressed out, okay?!
  • i'm awesome at figuring out those kinds of problems.
  • i don't care what he thinks of me.
  • i just tried to be a good friend to her.
  • we're having the most fun ever, and i am hilarious.
  • i'm not doing as much creative work as [insert person, usually a woman, to whom i am comparing myself negatively here].
  • i am the luckiest person on the planet.
  • i am supermama.
  • i sounded like a moron.
  • i'm really freakin' good at that.

now, i consider myself to be a pretty self-confident person.  on the whole--from a bird's-eye view--i really do think i'm smart and kind and a good friend and creative and have things to offer the world.  and still, my daily soundtrack tends to be pretty rough on me.

when i say or think these things now, i automatically click to how i'd feel if my daughter were saying or thinking them about herself.  and often, i don't like it.  

so i'm trying to change my daily soundtrack.  and it's hard to do.

i'd love to hear from the non-mamas and non-papas, as well as the parents out there:  when do you hear what you're saying to yourself most clearly?  and how do you change it when you don't love what you hear?


i love

the fifth installment in a week-long series exploring the rituals of apologizing

i love || hobnobs

hobnobs cookies, i love you

because even though i am now gluten-free and couldn't eat you without getting all sick and broken out, you taste so unbelievably good that i still fall into a happy daydream when i spy you on the shelf at the parker + otis.

because i was eating you in a small-ish kitchen in london when i opened a letter from a longtime friend, one of those absolute highest-and-best friends.  it was a letter of apology for several years of unnamed troubles between us.  it was generous and loving and a total surprise.  and as i crunched away on your buttery deliciousness, i was both humbled and happy, and things got a lot more right in my world.


a place called little

the fourth installment in a week-long series exploring the rituals of apologizing

i live in a little town in a little state in a big country.  five days a week, i drive my little car from my little house to a little office where i work for a little man with a big opinion of himself and a little opinion of me.   on the weekends, i putter in my little vegetable garden, go for a swim in the little indoor lap pool in our little community center, and come home to put on my little black dress for a big night out.

my little group of friends tells me i have a little problem with apologizing a little too much, which is a big deal to me.  so i got the big idea to keep a little log of all my apologies yesterday for the little space of two hours, when i was doing a little work, a little emailing, and a little grocery shopping.  it reads like this:

ooh, sorry.  pardon me.  sorry.  oh, excuse me.  i'm so sorry.  oops, i'm sorry.  i apologize.  i didn't mean to--yes, i'm sorry.  yikes, what a jerk i am.  i'm sorry.  could i just--yes, i'm sorry.  apologies apologies.  sorry, sir.  i'm just sorry as i can be.  oh crap.  sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.

it looks like i have some big changes to make.


is your partner better at apologizing than you are?

the third installment in a week-long series exploring the rituals of apologizing

i was going to write today about how my husband is a better apologizer than i am.  because he is.  and i'm trying to get better at it.  but as i was writing a whole big post about that, i figured out something brand new, so now i want to write about that.  here it is:

i am mostly bad at apologizing in this circumstance: when i do something wrong even after a little voice in my head tells me not to.  if i know, on some level, in the process of doing something, that i probably shouldn't be doing that thing, i fightfightfight against the inevitable "i'm sorry" later on.  okay, that's confusing.  here's what i mean:
  1. i bring up a controversial/tender/challenging thing with my husband at the wrong time.  i know it's the wrong time because there's a wise and experienced voice inside my head saying, "don't bring this up.  it's the wrong time."  and then i tell myself we don't have any other time because we must talk about this before [insert someone else's deadline], and i bring it up anyway.  in case you're curious, wrong times include but are not limited to: while racing around to get ready in the morning, ten minutes before we go to sleep way too late in the first place, and three blocks from arriving at someone else's house.
  2. i get mad at my husband for an inadequate, underwhelming, or distracted response, and i await his apology.  this may involve my snippily clomping around the house and/or sitting like a statue in the car.
  3. i wait for my husband to ask me what's wrong, and i tell him how mad i am.
  4. i hear his points about my timing in bringing up the aforementioned controversial/tender/challenging topic, and i have a flashback of that little voice in my head telling me the very same thing before i did it.
  5. reluctantly, i consider the idea that i might be the one who needs to apologize.  this could take 10 minutes or several hours.  all of it takes place in silence.
  6. and finally:  i say that i'm sorry.
all of this seems completely counter-intuitive to me, but after replaying several tapes in my head, i'm pretty sure it's true.  a revelation!  cool.  okay.  good information.

and that makes me curious:  when are you the worst at apologizing?



the second installment in a week-long exploration of the rituals of apologizing

she sits and she stews.
bubbling broiling basting baking in a badbadbadbadbadbad soup
her nostrils are flared
(which she doesn't know).
she is biting her lower lip
on the inside
(which she doesn't realize).
she is super duper bigtime watch-out-honey this-is-gonna-hurt

and no one speaks to her for a few minutes
because they know better.
and no one tries to help
they've seen this before.
and everyone just waits
because eventually

and when she does, she will send flames shooting up the walls / she will scratch the paint off the coffee table / she will rip up the curtains with her incisors and crunch gravel with her molar teeth.

after all that
she will stop.
and maybe cry a little bit.
or a lot.

because she knows that she's made a mistake.
she is the one who screwed this up.
she is the one to blame.

and because no one is harder on her than she is on herself,
this makes her skin feel hot and her head feel like it's crammed very very full of those little styrofoam peanuts,
and it will take her a long time to get to

i'm sorry.


six no-nos of apologizing (test-driven by me)

the first installment in a week-long series exploring the rituals of apologizing

i've made my share of mistakes, which means i've done a fair amount of apologizing.  and not always in the best possible way.  so here's a little apologies-no-no-book for me:

  1. when you feel like you did something wrong, but you're not sure what it is, try not to apologize amorphously without really finding out why you should be sorry.
  2. when you've been hurting someone's feelings for an extended period of time, try not to give blanket i'm-sorrys for things that deserve specific apologies.
  3. when you've done something a little wrong, try not to apologize a million times for it.
  4. when you've done something a lot wrong, try not to hold it against the other person when they need more than one apology for it to really sink in that you're sorry.
  5. when you're in the middle of a bad spot with someone, try not to say you're sorry in a tone of voice that really means, "you're-a-pain-in-my-ass why-are-you-so-sensitive it's-your-owndamnfault-anyway goodgodwhatdididotodeservethis?!"
  6. when someone is taking things out on you unfairly, try not to apologize for things you're not really sorry about.
do you have some rules about saying you're sorry?  i so want to know them.  tell me in the comments, will you?