Be a Memory

I am a Tar Heel. Class of 1998.

In the fall of my senior year, iconic basketball coach, Dean Smith, retired. He was a man I much admired. Not only was he beyond compare when it came to coaching basketball in a state where basketball is close to religion, but 96.6% of his players graduated and he fought for integration in a time and place when it wasn’t the popular thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.
Recent days have revealed that Coach Smith, 80 years old now, is battling a memory disorder. As a family of Tar Heels, we are, of course, following the story, reading a variety of articles and watching the comments and posts coming in through Facebook.
And it’s beginning to bother me. A lot.
Let me point out that Coach Smith has not passed on. He is still alive. He is still living his life. That was quite clear in the statement put out by his family. Yes, his life is amended. Yes, he isn’t doing all that he was doing a year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. But, yes, he is doing. Yes, he is LIVING.
The tone of so many of these articles has been one of loss, almost obituary-like. Like somehow he is somewhat less than as a result of a medical diagnosis. Perhaps it’s the fascination of watching a great one fall, not wanting to see a hero weakened. But I think some of it has to do with being uncomfortable. And memory disorders do that to those not suffering. Make them uncomfortable.
I watched my grandmother suffer from a form of dementia. There is nothing more painful than not being recognized by a woman you love dearly and who has loved you. The blank stare. The empty smile. The subtle twitch of an eyebrow as perhaps somewhere she recognizes that she should know this young woman before her, but honestly and truly does not. Perhaps more painful was the struggle her husband and children encountered as they bore the brunt of the paranoia, the anger, the yelling and screaming, all born from a terrifying frustration, I’m sure, as you realize your own mind has failed you and you can do nothing to stop it.
I watched her at my grandfather’s funeral. The funeral mass that was said in the chapel of her nursing home so that she could attend. Even though no one had told her yet that her husband had died. Because she hadn’t noticed yet. And would she remember if told? She sat in a wheelchair in the back. She listened. She smiled politely. This person they spoke of seemed like a very nice man. He had a lovely family gathered around him to say goodbye. Perhaps she even thought we looked like the kind of family she’d like to have. I hope so. Because it was the family she did have. And our tears flowed that day, not only for the man we had lost but for the woman we seemed to have already lost to this horrible, humiliating disease.
When she did pass, not even a year after my grandfather, we all sighed and said it was for the best. We comforted ourselves by saying we’d said goodbye years ago since she was certainly not the tour-de-force woman we remembered. But she was still gone. And it still hurt. I can’t help but wonder what those dementia years were like inside her mind. How hard that must have been for her. How she must have said goodbye to a piece of herself each and every day while fighting so damn hard to hold on to it.
Just this past weekend, on our wedding anniversary, a cousin of mine wished us well and pointed out a hilarious moment from our reception where he somehow ended up dancing with my grandmother to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.” What a memory that is. A memory that I’m sure my grandmother would not have been able to call up in those last years, but would certainly have laughed at and appreciated the woman who danced so ridiculously with her grown grandson.
So I am bothered. I am bothered because Coach Smith has good days ahead of him. I am bothered because he has a family who will refuse to say goodbye until the time of parting. I am bothered because it is not a weakness, it is a disease. I am bothered because those who say goodbye to this man and his legacy now only serve to isolate him, and isolated is a scary way to live, regardless of whether you remember it or not.
Tar Heel nation and beyond, if you are bothered, uncomfortable, saddened or otherwise affected by this announcement, do something. Be Coach’s memory. Take the lessons he imparted on the court to his players, take the model he was in the community and become a memory for someone else. Fight for research into these disorders. Visit that family member and share stories of the past.
Memories don’t need to live inside your own mind to be alive.
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Time to On Ramp?

I think about going back to the working world, wonder when the right time will be, daydream about what that “work” will be, struggle with how it will impact the family. So far, however, this has all been part of a thought process, not an imminent road map to on ramping.

However, apparently Peanut’s ready for me to go back.
We were driving down the local highway when we saw a MARTA train. He’s a bit obsessed with trains and immediately pointed out that it was a subway train. I thought this was my opportunity to earn some street cred and told him about how his mommy used to ride a train like that every day to work, only it was called the Metro.
His lips parted, his eyes sparkled. “What did you say?”
I explained how just like daddy goes to work every day, mommy used to go to work every day before I stopped to take care of him and Pumpkin. But unlike daddy, mommy had to take a bus to a train to get to work and that train was called the Metro. Maybe one day we’ll go to that city, Washington, DC, and I’ll show you the train mommy used to ride on.
Days later, he pipes up at the dinner table:
“Is today Sunday?”
– Yes, why?
“Do you go to work tomorrow, mommy?”
– No, sweetie, daddy goes to work tomorrow.
“I want you to go to work, mommy. And I’ll come with you. We can ride the train.”
If ever there was a reason to go back…

It Takes a Village

Seven miles. That was the distance between the front door of the house I grew up in and the dorm I lived in for three out of my four years of college. Seven miles.

After graduation, I wanted space. I wanted to test my wings and see if I could fly. And so we did. The hubby and I — a month and a half after our wedding, three and a half months after my graduating college — packed up a U-Haul and the cat, left our families in the rear view mirror and headed to Washington, DC. I maybe stopped crying around Petersburg, VA.
Six years later, with enough for a moving truck instead of the old U-Haul, we packed up again and headed south to Atlanta. This time, to fulfill the hubby’s dream. I maybe stopped crying around Petersburg, VA.
I always thought we’d end up back in North Carolina. I wasn’t sure when, it just seemed a given. Then we had Peanut. Then we built a life. Then we had Pumpkin. Here we are six years after moving to Atlanta, 12 years after leaving NC on that hot, tear-filled Labor Day weekend and I have no idea when or if we’ll ever make it back to the old home state.
And that’s okay. Most days.
But then I see how much our families miss by not seeing Peanut and Pumpkin on a frequent basis. Sure, I try to keep our families updated through a family blog, pictures, emails, phone calls and Skype, but it’s not the same, is it? And then there are those selfish moments. Those moments when I wish I didn’t have to worry about who was going to watch the kids so I could run to the dentist or the grocery store or have a regular date night with the hubby without breaking the bank. Those moments when I wish we could share not only a holiday, milestone or challenge in person with our families, but a random Wednesday night.
Peanut had a play date with a friend from school today. His mom is from Hungary. Although my family is a lot closer than an international flight, we were able to share in the pain of raising kids away from family help. We laughed about how great a Sunday dinner prepared by our moms would be, where we wouldn’t have to do the dishes but could just go home afterwards. We daydreamed about calling someone for pinch hitting help on those rough days. We commiserated that those with help nearby will never understand just how good they have it, that we’d never take it for granted.
And then we talked about our neighborhoods. Our mom friends. Our girl friends. Our kids’ school. I realized that not only does it take a village to raise a child, but that I have an awesome village. I have a circle of friends who have dropped whatever they are doing to help me in a pinch, as I have done for them. I have a network of neighbors to provide referrals on services, babysitters, preschools and more. I have women in my life who have provided me the honest advice and nonjudgmental support about becoming a better mom while also accepting the mother I am. I have a community that includes stimulating activities and educational opportunities for both my boys.
I’m not saying that those who live close to their families don’t have these things, but there is a certain level of dependence this familial independence creates. The village takes on a whole new level of importance.
As much as I wish I was physically closer to our families, I take solace in knowing that I am creating a village that will teach, support and enhance Peanut’s and Pumpkin’s childhoods. And that will just have to do.
Until the next time I hear James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind.” Man, that song makes me homesick every time.

C is for Date Night?

Tonight at dinner, we were working on getting Peanut to eat his spaghetti relatively neatly. My expectations aren’t too high, but I do expect him to give a good faith effort at the dinner table. He’s big into pretend, right now, so I suggested we pretend we are in a fancy restaurant.

Peanut thought it was somewhat fun as I acted like a completely silly waiter, but tried to insist that restaurants aren’t in houses and we were in a house. I tried another tack:
High Heeled Mama: “Someday you might want to take LG (his friend from school he calls his girlfriend) to a nice restaurant, so you’ll need to know how to behave.”
Peanut: “No, I want to take her to the place with the cookies. Where was that place, mommy?”
HHM: “Schlotzky’s Deli?” (Where we met up with the hubby for lunch near his office last week and P’s meal came with a cookie).
P: “Yeah, schlozzie’s. That’s a good place.”
Oh, my poor child’s future dates. I apologize in advance. This boy has a lot to learn.
Although, I suppose cookies isn’t a bad place to start…

Foreshadowing

It’s been a parenting challenge in our house lately. Peanut has been showing age three the door with a bang that I can only hope will keep that bad attitude out when four arrives…but I’m not so sure yet. Power struggles, taking out aggression on the little brother, defiance, deaf ears, we’ve got it all. And it hasn’t been pretty.

Activity, and lots of it, tend to be our behavior savior around here. Unfortunately, it was to the detriment of Pumpkin’s naps. I scaled back the activity meter a little bit, made a few timing adjustments and naps have gotten back on track. I’ve been sucking up the repercussions each afternoon about 4pm when Peanut gets bored or frustrated about sharing time. And by sucking it up, I mean counting down the minutes until the hubby gets home to help balance the adult to child ratio.
Today, however, was a good day. A really good day. We met up with some friends at an area train museum. Okay, so it was 100 degrees out – not the best environment for climbing in and out of trains. Outside. But the kids had a great time checking out all the different cars and engines and buses and models and signals and lights and whistles. We had a few moments of Peanut turning a deaf ear, but brief moments that didn’t mar our adventures, moments more a product of excited distraction than intentional defiance.
I braced myself, however, for the onslaught of bad behavior the afternoon would bring. We were all hot and tired. It was destined. And then. It didn’t happen. We played a few games. We did some puzzles. He cleaned up the blocks after he was done with them (what?!). He crashed cars on his train table to the sheer delight of his baby brother who just stood on my legs, watching, squealing in that delicious, uncontrollable baby belly laugh way at every hit, bang and car flip.
Later, as we “spied” for the hubby to come home, I spotted two brothers that live up the street as they walked home from a friends house. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they walked close to each other. Sharing stories of their day, perhaps, or planning the evening’s games or discussing whose favorite superhero was superior. It was the closeness that got me. The nearness of their swaying arms, the almost imperceptible tilt of their heads towards each other as they trudged home from another busy summer day of play, sun, freedom.
And there it was. In the depth of the laughter, in the sway of those brothers’ arms, in the pressure of Pumpkin’s little feet on my thigh, was a promise of the future. A future that isn’t so distant. I felt that moment stand still and etch itself into my memory to be recalled on those afternoons that aren’t so perfect. I relaxed into it. I smiled.
Correction. I smile.

The Evolution of the Fourth

The Fourth of July holiday has always been special to me. Growing up, we often spent the 4th celebrating America’s independence in the cradle of the Revolution – at either my grandparents’ in Rhode Island or my aunt’s in Massachusetts. Clam boils, tubing, swimming, the Boston Pops, pop-up thunderstorms, cousins, hide and seek, coffee ice cream, red, white and blue, we had it all. And it was good.

As I got older, work, moves, my grandparents’ passing all made these fourths less frequent. I realized today just how different the 4ths of my recent past have been from the 4ths of my youth.
Six years ago this 4th, the hubby and I were in Atlanta from DC to go house hunting before our big move. I spent the morning before meeting with the real estate agent kneeling on the cold tile floor of the Omni Hotel bathroom convinced I was going to hurl at any moment. I was excited about the move. Confident on the outside to the point where I think I was starting to believe it. In the moments before meeting a total stranger who would soon show us possible homes in a city I knew very little about, the reality of uprooting our lives hit me like a ton of bricks.
Somewhere in our agent’s car while looking at houses in neighborhoods as different from each other as Buckhead and Candler Park, I fell in love with this diverse new city of ours. By the end of the weekend, we had a contract on a house and the real fun began.
Four years ago this 4th, I was 8 months pregnant and went to a Braves game with the hubby. What was I thinking? It was hot. I was swollen. It was hot. I couldn’t drink beer. It was hot. There was a huge thunderstorm that sent us scurrying to the sweltering safety of the concourse where no one offered the swollen, sweaty, gigantic pregnant lady a seat. I sat on the ground until it stopped raining enough for us to call it a night and head back to the car in relative dryness, at which point the poor hubby had to hoist me in a very ungraceful way off of the floor. We made it home in time to watch the remainder of the game with my swollen ankles up on the sofa and a gallon of ice cream perched on my belly.
A year ago this Fourth, I was pregnant again and somehow decided that since I was sick with some horrible respiratory thing and not going anywhere anyway that I’d commence potty training boot camp. That weekend was the last time this house saw a diaper until Pumpkin arrived. Gives new meaning to Independence Day, huh?
This year, there are four of us. How appropriate.
When I think of the Fourth of July, I am instantly transported to the 4ths of my youth, yet here I am with significant events marking my adult 4ths. And now, as we move into yet another phase of life, we will begin to formulate memories of the 4th for our children.
It might be time to schedule a clam boil for next year. Guess I better start calling the cousins.