Grandmother 

I remember swirling dishwater around your stainless steel sink, standing on a stepstool and holding a tiny wooden mop. 

    

Andes mints in the stiff and prim living room, dancing to “You Can Fly” and “Bare Necessities” while you clapped and watched. I think of you every time I watch Peter Pan or Jungle Book. 

Digging mud rivers with your flatware, rivulets of water and slopped mud into pie tins with clover and grass for garnish on top. I would bury piles of pennies wrapped in Kleenex – and then when I went digging to retrieve my treasure I would never be able to find them. Once you let me be a tree surgeon to get sweetgum sap and even though I’m pretty sure I killed that tree, you were never anything but proud. 

You always cleaned me up and gave me something else to do. You bought me clothes and you were a person who actually used the powder in those big frilly tins people keep on their bathroom shelves. 

  

You taught me to crochet and I made chains upon chains, garland for my room and decor for your mantelpiece. We pressed flowers and went for walks. You would always tell me about the things that would be mine when you were “gone,” even though I never really understood what that meant. 

You turned 92 this week. 

You don’t know us anymore. 

We gathered around your hospital bed last night, singing happy birthday. You sang along and watched us all, happy we were there but without a clue as to why. You wore a tiara and smiled at us. Someone had painted your fingernails pink. I’ve never seen you with painted nails. 

I don’t visit you like I should. I know that. It’s selfish of me. But I like to think you understand. If there’s any part of you left inside, I hope you can see why I would rather hang on to you as all sass and instructions. 

  

I’m probably wrong. You’d probably tell me to get my bottom to that nursing home more, show you pictures and tell you about my kids. And then when I didn’t you’d throw your hands up and shake your head, like you used to do when I made a mess and giggled about it. 

I love you. I’m sorry I don’t tell you more, but I think somehow you know. Happy birthday. 

On not taking what was never mine.

I'm having to learn to subdue the things I share.

It's a hard lesson for me, really. I have – for years now – been fairly unabashed about being totally frank about almost all aspects of my relatively insignificant life. I've talked about sex, boobs, money, illness, fears, embarrassment. Mistakes. Disappointment. I've lain myself bare over and over. It's been therapeutic, and I've never regretted anything I've said.

This year, though, my big kids entered the social stratosphere. Phones and accounts and the whole nine. Text message mothering is in full swing at the Steen/Marsh household, guys, and it's a beautiful thing.

But now that school is in session and I've realized how anything that I say can no doubt circle back full force on the kids, I feel a little…lost.

This blog is so special to me and I will never fully leave it behind, but the stories aren't just my stories anymore.

My kids deserve a face and a day to day that isn't sifted through for things to talk about, analyze, or recount. I want them to know that I, above all people, respect their rights to be who and what they are on their own two feet. They have always deserved this, and if I have violated this trust in the past then let this be my apology.

 

I will not go away.

I will still be a proud mom and I will probably still embarrass them with birthday posts or letters or general weirdness.

But I am saying this: Max, Ava – I will not steal your rights, whatever they are. Whether it's an experience, a breakthrough, a learning moment, or even a joy…

I will let you tell your own stories.

I hope that you do.

 

Because of my heart

Years later, I still wonder about us.

How we’ve made it work, even when it hasn’t.

How I can possibly despise and adore you, sometimes within minutes – seconds – of each other.

Every year I remember how lucky I am to have had you for another calendar spin. With every tick of your old man clock, I am reminded of what we share every day.

People are in our lives. Everyone has people. People you see daily, people you talk to and interact with and share whatever.

But I get to share your life. Night times, deadlines, events, accomplishments. Anticipation, elation, worry and disappointment. Dirty socks and broken shoes. Car trouble and bill paying, raises and check cashing. Frustration and forgetfulness, small victories. Large victories.

Curly blond fireball tear fits, video game lessons and front seat companionships.

First tries, second tries. Last tries.

You are the first person I want to tell about anything, everything.

You are the opinion I trust and the approval I seek most.

In everything I do I see you.

We have experiences ahead. Things that will be difficult and things that we never thought we could do.

But when we do them, it will be together. And I’m so lucky to have that.

 

You’re my best friend, you’re the love I never thought existed, and it’s your birthday.

I love you.

Happy birthday.

 

 

In twelve more years, or the last of the offspring birthdays for the year

(Max was twelve on June 14th. Happy birthday.)

maxtommy

In twelve more years, things will not be as they are now.

In twelve more years, you will no longer be my twelve year old son.

You will be twice as old as you are now.

You will no doubt be taller, broader, more of the you you’re growing into.

You will be my oldest, still.

My son.

The first to make me a mother.

maxflyIn twelve more years I wonder if I will look back to now. I wonder if I will remember your shoulder shrug chuckle and your constant interjection of usually random input. I wonder if you will still need to be told to take a shower and if you will remember your passion for Minecraft and Mario.

I hope I do.

But for now, while you are still my twelve year old son, I want you to know that I am proud of you. That I may never accomplish anything greater than I did when I gave birth to you and your sisters. That you are one of my greatest moments.

In twelve more years I will be just as proud. Prouder. Thank you for allowing me to be your mom. I will spend twelve more years watching you become a better person every day.

maxgraffiti

On fathers.

I have not ever been known for my speediness. Once upon a time I was exceedingly punctual (a trait that I inherited from my father, funnily enough. My Dad who is forever half an hour early for everything. I will never forget the morning that I took my senior trip to Europe, we arrived at Memphis International Airport at least 2 hours early. No flight was forgetting me, by damn. Not if Larry Wilkes had anything to say about it), but those days are past, I fear.

It was Father’s Day this past weekend.

Father’s Day has never been something I was good at. When I was younger I never had money to buy my dad a gift, and besides, what do you buy a man who could MacGyver himself a ham sandwich or a Mustang convertible with equal ease?

Now, while I may from time to time have a couple of dollars behind a plastic bank card, it feels…strange to buy my husband a gift with money we both control. I know, it sounds weird. Not to mention there’s this whole other dynamic of the big kids and how they have a kickass dad even though we didn’t stay married very long. He’s a father, he gets the day too. I end up at a loss.

I do what I can. Things I think they will like. When I can.

dadusBut what I had for this Father’s Day, what I have for future ones too (unless one of these men comes out and says, “Hey, do you know what? I would really like to have XYZ for Father’s Day.” Seriously how fantastic would that be for all involved?) is an entire being of gratitude. A heart that would gladly slice itself in half for these men in my life that are my lifeblood.

It’s never enough. Even now, I am torn. I want to talk about my dad and I want to talk about my kids and the fathers they made of Dan and Josh. I never have enough words. Or the right ones.

usoaklandBut it’s Father’s Day. My Dad deserves some talk. Dan knows he’s a great dad. Josh knows he is my whole heart.

With you, Dad, I built a house of sticks. I learned to fish. I shot a gun. I picked out materials for a glider. I made rock families in pockets of grass and made you and the lawn mower furious. I tried to play basketball and you never told me how terrible I was. I rode behind you on a bike through thready Shiloh roads. You taught me, through good and through bad, that honesty and goodness and just doing the right thing is how the world should be.

I try to find good things in my life every day. It’s an exercise that keeps me from focusing medadon small problems and being overwhelmed. Good things like a cup of coffee at just the right temperature, or a memory. A flash of something past.

So many of my good things are because you are my dad. Thank you.

Helpless

I am going to do my best to not come across as petty and whiny in this post. I realize that I am lucky to have a healthy family with a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. I am grateful for this.

Davasurpriseisclaimer over.

For Ava’s birthday on Sunday, we bought her an iPhone. Not a new one, not even the next-new one. But it was perfect for her and it was exactly what she wanted. She was thrilled to be able to look at Facebook and send wi-fi text messages and take pictures.

The surprise was executed flawlessly. She was surprised and thankful.

Then, the next day – Monday – she went to rehearsal at the local community theatre.

Where her phone was stolen.

I found out about this on Tuesday morning, where I proceeded to worry for the entire day. I still haven’t stopped.

I felt powerless. I was – I AM – furious.

How dare they? How dare someone see something that belonged to my daughter – something she had waited for and hinted for and waited for some more – and just TAKE it? Her BIRTHDAY present? Something that had made her so happy?

And I can’t do anything about it. Nothing.

I realize this is a teaching opportunity. A chance to show that the world kind of sucks and things aren’t fair. A chance to enforce that things are JUST THINGS.

But she’s ten. It was a special birthday. There’s nothing wrong with being ten and having something you want, or being happy that you got it.

I was happy that – for once – we had the capacity to give her something we KNEW she would want and enjoy. And that’s okay, too – isn’t it?

Just once I would like to be able to not try to find the bright side. Just to be able to say that my kid is brokenhearted and I can’t fix it and it sucks.

You thought I was done mentioning it

Sunday was my anniversary.IMG_0158

Eight years. Eight years of name calling and furious fights, snuggles and tv shows and approximately 673,000 text messages since we finally decided to make ourselves an us.

I have learned a great deal about myself in the last eight years.

I’ve learned that compromise is an art, and
that loving someone means loving all of them, even when they leave clothes in a pile and don’t throw away empty boxes.

wpid-Photo-Dec-17-2011-1104-AM.jpg

photo credit Addie Talley

Listening to bands you’d rather not.
Eating rice cooker Thai food and pretending it’s not revolting.
Not watching shows alone that you always watch together.
Learning terms that apply to their job so you have something to talk about.
Tolerating the pet they love.
Knowing when to lose.
Wanting their dreams to succeed, even if you feel left behind.
Even when they disappoint you.
Even when you disappoint them.
Always being ready to try again because whatever it is, it’s worth it.
Wanting to be better, because they deserve your best.

To my husband:

You infuriate me. You amaze me. You make me proud. You challenge me. You accept me.

You make me better.

And I love you.

 

A decade of you

Ava, tomorrow you will be ten.

Ten. A decade.wpid-Photo-Apr-28-2011-315-PM.jpgavapark

I remember being ten. It was strange and awkward and I was not a teenager but I SO was not a little girl anymore thank you very much.

You are amazing. You inspire me and worry me and make me so proud all at once.

I’ve said before how when I found out you were a girl I was so worried. Worried because l was so bad at being sure of myself and confident and true to the amazingness I knew I had within myself.

I won’t lie, I see some of that in you sometimes. I see you pause, unsure of your next step and timid about your choices. And in some ways, of course that’s good. You’re supposed to pay attention and question yourself.

But before it becomes too much of a question in your head, let me tell you again:

You are enough.
You are smart and capable.avaagain
You’re a leader.
You’re creative and funny, strong and so sweet.
Of course you’re beautiful, but beauty is the last thing I wish for you.

For you, my first daughter – I wish for you the imagination to find your dreams, the courage to claim them, and the strength to follow them. With every discouragement I wish you a lesson learned and the determination never to give up.

I love you, and I hope beyond hope that I will never see you doubt it.

Happy birthday, my sweet girl. I love you so much and I am lucky to get to know you. I cannot wait to watch who you become.

For my mother, whom I love.

Every year I struggle with exactly what to say.

579813_10151075895131439_1330949638_nSometimes I’m sure I’ve disappointed you. My beliefs (or lack of), my foul mouth, my affinity for beer and wine and hard core horror.

But then other times I realize how much I love my kids, and how I would – how I will – no matter.

I think in terms of opposites, like if any of my kids grew up to be churchgoing Evangelical Biblical scholars. I wouldn’t love them any less. I would be happy as long as they were happy and purposeful. I mean, I’m happy with Minecraft and shaggy haircuts even though 207223_4549921913200_2056190641_nthey don’t make sense.

So I know you love me. That you just want me to be happy.

And I am. I am happy with my life. With my accomplishments and my pastimes and my beliefs. I am happy because you taught me to find happiness, to create it, to be grateful and to love for love’s sake.

This Mother’s Day I just want you to know that I’m grateful. I love you, and I love my life because you showed me what it is to be a good person.

Thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

To my kids

As a mother, I will never think I’ve done everything right. duo

I will always worry that THIS PARTICULAR choice I’m making is the choice that you will remember in twenty years, facing a nodding voice of reason before you fill prescriptions for Zoloft or Prozac or whatever they have by then.

I will always regret the missed milestones.

I will always fear your next step.

I will forever quake in terror that you have to make your own decisions and live for yourselves.

I will eternally wonder what would have happened if….x,y,z. Fill in whatever scenario, I have wondered about it.

I will always marvel at how smart you are.

photo credit Talley Images

photo credit Addie Talley

I will always want to be your friend.

I will always respond. To letters, to texts, to phone calls.

I will always help you. Even if I’m furious at you.

I will never stop trying to make your world better.smooch

I will never understand your fashion choices.

I will always want you to be happy.

I will do whatever it takes to make your life happy.

I will love you.

Whatever may happen. Whatever you may think.

You are my heart.

Love, Mompark