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.

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

 

How Neil Gaiman marked me forever

I have not, as a rule, been a huge fan of any author since I sent a letter to Beverly Cleary in 1989 and got a reply.

 

I mean, there’s Stephen King, who I love and read and saw his house in Maine but if I ever met him in person I might cry and run away because Pennywise, but seriously I’m not what you would call a fan/devotee of any one author.

 

This brings me to Neil Gaiman.

I paid attention to Neil Gaiman because I have long been a twitter devotee of his wife (I remember when they got married – I saw the announcement tweet, even), and I figured anyone who recognized the awesome in her was my kind of cool.

I’d read The Graveyard Book, it was a book club selection when I was pregnant with Lucy and for some reason it had always stuck in my head, but I never really gave two thoughts to the brains behind the story.

Then we watched Coraline. And I fell in love with the very idea that someone could think this way. I admired it, I envied it. I ached with lack.

Then I read the book Neverwhere and didn’t understand the notion that I had gone my whole life and not known….well, this. It was kindred and it was home.

So when we found out that Neil Gaiman was coming to Nashville…well, there was no question. We had to go.

The problem was, however, that we found out about the appearance far too late in the game to have any hope of finding tickets. I mean, this was a huge deal. He signs for everyone who wants him to, and this was the last tour of that. Not to mention I’d never been to a book tour. I’d never heard an author read.

I stalked Craigslist. I trolled eBay. I begged on Twitter.

The day of the event rolled around and I had no tickets. I’d given up refreshing the venue’s ticket queue.

Until about noon that day. For some reason – I still don’t know why – I checked the ticket site. The quantities were listed as…

Very Limited

AND I JUMPED ON THAT SHIT.

Suddenly, we had tickets. We were going!

I had no idea what to expect. No idea of the number of people or the venue or anything at all.

We were going to be there, and that was enough.

Hours later, we arrived in Nashville and…guys. So many people were there to see Neil Gaiman. It was a little bit crazy. The perfect kind of crazy.

We waited in line, then we found some seats. All the things people do.

Then, once Neil appeared, he pointed out our section of the seating and said “Hey those people can’t see me, why don’t you move?”

We moved.

Onto a front row.

There were intros, then there was the man of the night. Bizarre, really. A person whose name is on a metric shit ton of books, but he was talking to us in that insane British accent like we were best friends and that took me right back to 2007 Episcopalian Emily because Hey-I-worked-for-a-Brit-and-I-speak-your-accent-andohbythewaydoyouknowTim?

The actual speaking/performance to me is a bit of a blur, because I was in such awe of all the people. These were amazing people. Friendly and weird and the kind of people that would give you a ride in the rain. A front row right in the center that I’m pretty certain was packed full of Amanda Palmer fans.

Then there was the thunder. The storm outside and the blanket of stifling auditorium heat that transformed this huge building full of strangers into a group taking refuge from the weather to listen to a story.

As the talk was winding down, Neil mentioned musicians. Being in Nashville and how if he could have dinner with anyone there who would it be.

*Spoiler* the answer was Bela Fleck, but for one instant I was convinced that Amanda Palmer was about to pop out of the curtains. Once I was proven wrong I sent the following tweet:

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To which, in a few moments, she responded:

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And after I died, I stood in line. Clutching my copy of his new book and hoping I wouldn’t get brushed off in the well-oiled machine that was the signing line.
We arrived at the table, and in a burst of bravery that is all but extinct from me in times of great pressure, I simply showed him my phone.
“Of course,” he said.
And in one move, the little lady with the bookstore shirt stepped aside, Neil turned, and…

 

You guys.
He hugged me like he missed his wife. I wanted her to be there just so he could hug her that much, because I had nothing to do with it.

 

Later we went home and went about our lives.

I received, in my email, a very special quote from the first book of Neil Gaiman’s that I ever read and loved..in his handwriting.

And then I decided to keep it forever, because I am, apparently…finally a fan of someone.

 

 

Not forgotten

A week ago yesterday, my first baby girl turned nine.

Normally I’m on top of this kind of stuff. And Ava, because you are my daughter, you will one day look back into the troves of Internet history, you will see that in 2013 I didn’t write a post about your birthday until over a week after your birthday. You will inevitably read into this many things – neglect, ill will, suppressed resentment.

None of that will be correct. The sad and less interesting truth is that I am busy and I’m incredibly skilled at putting things off when I don’t want to face them.

And I don’t want to face the fact that you’re getting older.

I remember being young. And I don’t want you to have the moments I had. The times of being convinced that no one understood, no one cared. The preteen-erotica and angsty-poetry writing hours.

I know feeling that way is normal. And necessary.

But you’re so fantastic.

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I never want you to doubt that because at some point the way you think about yourself becomes a key part of your identity. Right now you know how amazing you are.
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Never lose that.

You’re perfect. You’ve made my life better for nine years now.
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Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I love you.

Seventy times seven – for my husband

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Tomorrow is our anniversary.

Seven years ago, we cut out of Ava’s second birthday, we drove the silver Expedition to Selmer, and we got married.

I was nervous and I wasn’t. Looking back, I wish I’d worn something at least a little bit pretty as opposed to jeans and a potato sack of a blouse.

We arrived, we did our paperwork, and then a woman used her husband’s book (prayer book? Book of civil ceremonies? What exactly was it?) and we said our vows in an empty courtroom. I remember she got all choked up and I couldn’t help but wonder why. Was she overwhelmed by how sweet we were? How I didn’t have an engagement ring because we were broker than broke – but we had sweet engraved silver bands? I wonder where those are now. I wonder if, seven years later, that lady still works at the Selmer courthouse. I wonder if she teared up at every eloping couple she saw – and I know she saw a bunch.

Not much changed after that. We lived in the same apartment as before. We didn’t go on some big honeymoon getaway. But I was a wife. You were a husband. And somehow that changed everything.

It’s so easy to lose sight of what we had such a grip on that day.

So easy to say that we weren’t thinking of much besides how we wanted to join a church and they wouldn’t let us while we were living in sin.

Looking back from where we both stand now, the fact that church was a very real issue in our union is….kind of absurd.

But what was real then is no less real now. I love you. I love you even when I don’t like you. I love you enough to say that I’ve spent seven years being yours – and while I may have done a lot of things differently, while I may have taken different steps along the way, my best friend is eternally bound to me in one way or another.

I will never be sorry that you became my future. I will always be yours.

I love that we have grown over the years. Together, apart, together again. So many things have happened. Seizures and surgeries, jobs and houses. Failures and successes.

We’ve had so many roads to travel. You’re the best company I could have asked for.

We make mistakes and we take each other for granted. We do everything wrong.

But we’ll make it. We’ll be okay. We’ll be better than okay because that’s what we do.

Thank you for the past seven years. For our little girl. For being mine. For being what I always know is there.

I love you.

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On mothers, being and having

I'm thirty three years old and I've had a mother all of that time.

Triumphant, yes?

I love my mother. She has waded with me through waters that could have killed a boar. She's outlasted every friend I've ever had and hasn't blinked. I know I disappoint her. I know she wishes that instead of beer, liberalism, gay rights and swears I would devote my time to Jesus, Beth Moore, Billy Graham and being a Proverbs 31 woman.

But it's not me.

She knows that and she loves me anyway. Because that's what a mother does, dammit. She loves. There are lots of ways and reasons for giving up on anything and anyone – but she hasn't. She hasn't and she won't.

 

So all of this to say I lucked out in the mother load.

 

Now I am a mother. It's the hardest thing I've ever – EVER – done. My kids drive me crazy and they make every day into work, but I have no idea who or what I'd be without them. They've each made me into someone new. Every day I'm disappointed in something – I wish that Max wasn't so awkward or that Ava wasn't such an overdramatic queen, or that Lucy wasn't sometimes a brat.

But because I have such an amazing mold to try and fit, I know that somewhere in my DNA is a way to see past what's annoying and what I wish I could change. I know that my kids will know one day – they'll understand that I may be short and I may run from their ENDLESS RECOUNTS OF EPISODES OF GRAVITY FALLS, but that I would step in front of any non-guncontrolled bullet for any of them. I would spend every afternoon for the rest of my life signing permission slips and listening to rhythmic cup-stacking (yes, that's a real thing and Ava has decided that she is totally into it and watches YouTube instructional videos), if that were what I needed to do. Let's hope it's not.

 

So…thanks, Mom. I needed you. And you're awesome. Happy Mother's Day.

 

Three years

I have three kids, you know.

The youngest is this strange being who is perpetually tiny and soft, sweet, and totally liftable and cuddly.

Except- she's not.

Today my baby is three.

Three as in too many scoops of ice cream, too many sugars in your tea. Numbers in your credit score.

I never thought I'd have three kids – and then I did. And now the one I never expected is getting to be an actual person. Thoughts and feelings and personality out the wazoo.

Lucy, you have done so much for me. For your daddy. For our lives. You took everything I expected and turned it on its head in ways we never thought of.

For all the ways I fall short – I don't know what to do with curly hair, I don't really put much stock in matching socks, I let you marinate your stinky feet in rubber galoshes and I probably introduced you to Family Guy way too early – I'm sorry. I try to be what you need, because you were and are everything our family needed to be complete.

I will spend the rest of forever helping you become whoever it is you are meant to be – because you have made us all everything we are.

Happy birthday, Lucy Grace.

 

We love you so. I can't wait to watch who you will become.