Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Beauty of My Mother.

The following post is a part of my dear friend, August McLaughlin's "Beauty of a Woman BlogFest." Click the link on or after February 10 to read many inspiring posts on the topic, as well as for a chance to win a bevy of lovely prizes including a Kindle Touch! Thanks to August for presenting an opportunity to tell my mom (again) how I feel about her.

I’ve always looked up to my mother.

Sure, when I was little, I *had* to look up to her, since she was physically so much taller. These days, our height difference is only a matter of a few inches, but I still hold her in high esteem.

Here’s why.

When I was a little girl, I was fortunate enough to have my mom with me nearly all the time. She was able to stay home with me, playing games, singing songs, and all manner of other childhood pursuits. She was at every school play, never missed a band or orchestra concert, and drove me to all of my horse shows without a single complaint. In fact, we often had as much fun getting to a destination as we did when we arrived. I’d read aloud to her, or we’d sing along with our cassette tape of the complete Broadway cast recording of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

As I grew older, I made the conscious decision not to be a “difficult teenager.” I resolved to try my best to get along with my parents through high school. I had a tough academic schedule and lots of after school activities; in my mind, there was no room left for family drama. I realize now how wise my decision was.

When I was sixteen years old, my father died suddenly of a particularly aggressive form of leukemia. My sister and brother were long grown and out of the house, so that left my mom and I rattling around our four bedroom house on our own. We cried, clung to each other, and went to therapy together for months. While I can’t remember a lot of joy in that time, I am definitely glad that neither of us had to go through it alone. We had each other, no matter how much life otherwise sucked on that particular day. Living through that long, deep valley grew each of us as individuals, but also our relationship as mother and daughter. This was the turning point for us to start becoming friends.

A strange side effect of my father’s sudden passing was my ability to see my mother grow as a person through that time and beyond. While she was always an exemplary mother, watching her find her way on her own gave me a whole new respect for her. She learned more of who she was, what she wanted in her life, and what she wanted to become. She got a job, and then, upon reflection, decided they were not treating her how she should be treated, so she went and found a better job where they respected her as an equal of their other employees. Through her journey, I saw my mother insist upon what she deserved from others, no longer content to fly below the radar and not make waves. She didn’t need to be the constant peacemaker and people-pleaser anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom is an excellent hostess, and everyone I’ve ever brought home immediately felt welcomed. Most of my good friends in high school thought of her as their second mother. But now she had a little more backbone to go with the beautifully compassionate heart she’d always had, but that some people had seen as a way to take advantage of her generosity. In short, my mother had learned the value of saying “no.”

It was tough going away to college. I picked a school that was about 1,000 miles away from home, not because of its sheer distance from my hometown, but because when I visited campus, my heart immediately told me I’d found where I wanted to be. The biggest drawback was that I would be so far from home. I didn’t realize how much that would make me sad until the day my mom dropped me off. I was okay until I had to go to my first class. I had said my goodbyes and was walking away, and I could tell my mom was crying. Of course, that set me off, too. Thank goodness for e-mail.

I admire my mom’s sense of restraint when I was facing the sharp learning curve of being on my own. While I wasn’t the type to go to fraternity parties, well, ever, I did fall in with a lousy boyfriend for a few months my freshman year. While she surely saw what a jerk he was, she didn’t say a word about it, but let me come to my own decision. Putting myself in her shoes at the time, I don’t know if I would have had that much strength to keep my mouth shut. But, I realize that I might not have taken that too well at the time. While I regret the relationship, I did learn a lot from the experience, and in part, I have my mom to thank for that--she allowed me to make and learn from my own mistake.

Right about the time that I met my next boyfriend, who I would marry a month after we graduated college, my mom met a man at her church who captured her attention. He was smart, thoughtful and charming, and he swept her off her feet. In fact, she married him one month after my wedding. While it took me a while to adjust to the idea of having a stepfather, I was pleased for my mom that she found a man who would treat her with such love and respect.

Life has a funny way of going left just when you think everything is going right. After several years of wedded bliss, my stepfather fell into a depression. Since then, he will sometimes be the man my mother fell in love with, and other times will be a shell of that man, hardly wanting to do anything at all. My mom has accepted this challenge with grace and aplomb. I can usually sense on the phone when things are hard, but she has rarely lost her usual smile and is his constant champion when he needs her most.

Now, a few days into my fourth year of motherhood, I can’t help but be grateful for such a shining example to which I aspire. My mom is my cheerleader, my sounding board, and my best friend. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She is without a doubt the most beautiful woman I know, and my boys and I are lucky to have her. I just hope I am fortunate enough to have some of her mothering skills rub off on me.

So, Mom, now you know. You’ve done an amazing job so far, and I hope to enjoy many more memories with you in the future. Thank you for making my life beautiful.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fiction prompts, part 3.

Hi all,
In a novel move, I actually wrote a piece on today's Figment Fiction I know, crazy. But here it is, since my mom can't read it all on their site. :)

The prompt encouraged writers to write about a character living through an embarrassing situation. I took this and ran with it. The first part is fiction, the second part is 100% true. Enjoy.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot
I love babies.

Therefore, I also love pregnant women. I seem to gravitate toward them, hoping to start up a conversation, eager to share advice or compare notes, as the situation would allow.

That's why, when I saw a pretty young woman across the produce aisle, a t-shirt stretched over her rounded midsection, I made a beeline for her to introduce myself.

"Hello, I'm Carol. I haven't seen you here before, are you new in town?"

"Hi, I'm Amber. Yes, we just moved here a few weeks ago." Amber deposited a bunch of bananas into her cart.

"That's wonderful, welcome to the neighborhood! Are you liking it so far?"

"Yes, everyone is so friendly here, I'm very happy." Amber smiled shyly.

"So, when are you due?"

Amber's smile faded as the color drained from her face. "I'm not...I'm not pregnant," she said.

"Oh..." I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. "I'm so sorry..." I allowed her to make a graceful exit while I pretended to inspect some peaches, blinking back tears of anger at myself for making such a boneheaded mistake.

What made this whole situation worse was that I have had the same thing happen to me, in reverse. The first time, I was in college, browsing jewelry at the mall, minding my own business. The sales girl came up and blurted, "Are you pregnant?" Um, lady, I'm 20 years old and not sporting a wedding ring...even if I was pregnant, I may not want to discuss it with strangers. And since when has it not been common knowledge NOT to assume that of women? Now I just felt fat, when earlier that day I had felt like I was looking pretty good. Thanks a lot.

Even after having my two kids, I have literally run my butt off, racing in several half, then a full marathon, getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight. However, I can't seem to get rid of a slight roundness to my midsection, an unfortunate casualty of having two large boys reside in my short torso for nine months apiece. It is really a slap in the face to have a woman come up and tell me that my baby will be a runner since I'm taking him/her along with me for my marathon. I'M NOT PREGNANT!!!

So, what have I learned from this? Assume nothing. We all know what happens when we assume. The only time it's acceptable to make such an assumption is if the woman is a patient in Labor and Delivery at the hospital, in the obstetrician's office looking at her sonogram pictures, or the guest of honor at a baby shower. Otherwise, keep my mouth shut!

How about you, dear readers? Have you been on either side of one of these awkward exchanges? What did you do/ what did you WANT to do? Spill it. :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fiction prompts, part 2.

Hello again. Time has gotten away from me once again, but here is another group of writing prompts that spoke to me, courtesy of Figment Fiction.

Focus on an important life milestone (a birth, a wedding, a funeral). Slow time down to a crawl and zero in on the most important moment in that event. Describe in wrenchingly specific detail what goes on in those minutes. You can focus on many characters or stick to the perspective of just one.

My head is spinning as I carefully take the tiny bundle from the nurse’s arms. Tiny squeaks are emitting from the occupant of the blanket-cocoon as I try to act like I’ve ever held something so tiny before in my life. My hand trembles as I brush the blanket back from her face. Still red from her long struggle for independence, she settles quickly into my chest. No one else could be in the room, as far as I’m concerned; I only have eyes for her. Her eyes are fluttering as she blinks in the bright light of the hospital room. I try to make out their color, but as yet they are quite dark, almost black, with lashes that would make models jealous. Fuzzy dark hair covers her head, sticking out at every possible angle. I bend down to touch my cheek to her head. Velvet feels like sandpaper compared to that baby hair. She smells amazing--an unearthly sweet smell I have never before experienced. I realize that I’ve just spent what seems like an eternity just staring at my baby, but I should talk to her, let her hear the voice she’s spent so many months hearing from the inside. Putting my lips to her tiny, shell-like ear, I whisper with a lump forming in my throat, “Welcome to the world, baby girl. Mama and Daddy love you more than anything, and we’ll love you no matter what.”
 Go back to the important life milestone you focused on yesterday (a birth , a wedding, a funeral). Now speed the event up. It’s going so rapidly that you’re only able to capture snippets of action and dialogue. What are the moments that stand out? What makes it into your retelling of this event?

“It’s a girl!”
The parents’ eyes well up with tears.
“She’s perfect!” exclaims Grandma.
“What’s her name?” asks Dr. Green.
“S-Sybil,” Dad manages to answer.
“We’ll just clean her up and give her right back to you,” the nurse explains.
“Oh!” Grandma croons, snapping a few pictures.
The nurse hands the baby back to her mother, who can’t take her eyes off the new person she created.

“Welcome to the world, baby girl. Mama and Daddy love you more than anything, and we’ll love you no matter what.” Mom can only tear her eyes away from the baby long enough to give her husband his first kiss as a full-fledged father.

Write an active scene entirely in dialogue. No quotation marks; no he said-she said; no description of action—just the words the characters say. Don't explicitly tell us what the activity is, but through your characters' dialogue, make it clear what they're doing.

--How much longer?
--Just relax and try to keep up.
--Man, anyone who says this is easy is kidding themselves.
--Ha ha!
--Can’t we just slow down for a minute?
--Nope. You asked me to help, so I’m helping.
--I’m beginning to regret that.
--Really? c’mon, you can’t be serious.
--I guess not...but you’re making this really hard.
--That’s what she said!
--Har har har.
--Okay, I’ll slow down for a second. But then we’ll do a sprint at the end.
--Race you to the top of the hill!