Centered

Her bun was blonde and tight. Everything about her was slight and light except for the full coil that sat smug on the nape of her neck.

Her elevator eyes surveyed me, hanging on my legs—my short, thick legs—and assessed my height. I haven’t finished growing yet, my eyes pleaded with her.

We had just moved to Georgia and my angel mother, who still believes I can do anything, had driven me downtown to audition for the ballet company in our new city. I’d been dancing since I was two. Today, I was eleven, standing in the biggest studio I’d ever seen with dozens of girls my age. The wall of mirrors correctly reflected that in this sea of long, lithe branches, I was a squat tree trunk. These other willowy creatures were already in the ballet company. I had a chance today to show them what I could do.

The bun was about to start class when an older woman in an oversized tunic and fierce black hair drifted in. Her good energy splashed over everyone in proximity. When the bun noticed her notice me, she explained why I was there. And this woman, with her wild hair and even more wild eyes, stayed to watch me dance.

It was a silent eternity before the music started and I gripped the barre for dear life. But, when the first notes filled the room, my muscles melted into memory. The bun was methodical, sharp-clapping in rhythm, demanding slow, deliberate movement that stretched to the end of every note. And I kind of loved her for that, her care with the craft.

In ballet, you keep proving each move, from the tip of your tallest finger to the point of your longest toe. Symbiotic, you and the music complete each piece and you never stop stretching, pointing, looking, until it’s time to glide, jump or turn into the next move.

Ballet forced me to feel tall. Ballet had my whole heart.

After a grueling barre and some work in the center floor, the bun asked us to line up in the back corner. Physical giddiness fizzed beneath my skin. We were going to leap! We started with jetés, than grand jetés. Mid-air, I heard the bun bark out: good. Good!

See, back then, shortie had much ups. And, if nothing else came out of that day, the bun had seen exactly what my legs could do.

After the reverence, the class filed out and I hung back to hear my fate. The bun betrayed no expression, but the wild pixie leaned down to place both of her hands on my shoulders, untamed eyes close, smile open. “You dance from your center,” she said. “We’d love to have you join us.”

I’ll never know if she meant my literal middle, my core, my heart. I just know her words landed deep and I’ve called them up more than once in my life. Then I was met by my Momma’s proud-as-punch squeal in the lobby. And all was right with the world. At 11, I was smack in the middle of my center.

Your center is the midpoint, the nucleus, the most important place. You can center around something, too, move to the middle or focus in.

Lately, I’ve been a teense off kilter. Off tempo, off key, just-off center.

Leaning in to work, l’ve been leaving a gaping hole at home. Leaning in at home, I feel like I’m losing my place at work. Leaning, leaning. Worrying up for parents, sideways for a sister, sinking in worry. I live a charmed life, no doubt, but in response to the emotional maelstrom that’s swept my loved ones up this last year, I’ve lost site of my center. I’ve been teetering and grasping for the nearest solid option—my husband, a friend, a glass of wine.

And in the middle of a swirling universe, a trap door popped open to swallow me in grief.

I lost my grandma today, my Tootsie. It was an accident, a jolt, a shake-you-wide-awake.

She was the heartbeat of the Marriott clan. A woman clothed in strength, dignity, laughing with no fear of the future. Equal parts sassy, classy, accessory. With unruly beautiful balance.tootsie selfie

She had an actual twinkle in her eyes. A mischievous, wicked flicker.

She could arch an eyebrow high as the Brooklyn Bridge.

She could hold her whiskey and (sometimes) her tongue.

When he was a baby, Tucker could not get enough of her. He’d bury his infant face into her sweet wrinkled cheek and cover her in kisses. We all felt that way.

Because, for all her fun and games packed into a petite 5 feet, Tootsie was also the queen of center. Mother to 5 sons. Matriarch to dozens of grands and great grands. Each one of us got cards on every single holiday, birthday. And I hadn’t even returned her last phone call. Recitals, graduations, weddings, showers, baptisms. She was always there, for everyone. She made you feel like a gem. She knew what was most important.

tea for three
Disney Digression. Lindsey and I loved our magical Tea for Three adventures.

One of my favorite memories with her was a hot air balloon ride—one of her bucket list checks. We were floating high over north Tampa, pressed against each other, peering over the edge of the basket into the glory of the morning. As we drifted through this perfect, quiet peace, I realized this flight was like her walk with God. I prayed in that moment to keep this calm and this wonder.

Tonight, Tootsie’s dancing in the heavens with Doug, her love, jitterbugging across a cloud, perfectly centered.

And that’s my word for this year. Centered.

Center is not in yesterday’s regrets or tomorrow’s troubles. Center is today. And I will be glad in it.

Because when my true center dwells in my heart through faith, He can do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine, no matter what’s whirling by.

This month, as life would have it, I pulled on ballet slippers for the first time in 25 years. I tiptoed into the studio and gripped the barre, old pal, for dear life. Then music notes filled the room and my muscles melted into memory. My legs, ever thick, do not snap into fifth position anymore. But my arms, suddenly French, found the rhythm.

ballet slipper
I’m still tying these. YouTube can teach me how to sew, right?

The teacher smiled at me. “Nice arms, Mindy. But, look. See? You have to tondu from your center.”

 

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A love letter

Dear Jeff,

We’ve been smooching for more than 18 years now. But can we chat about that first one? Most people who love us know the story. We’d been talking for hours that night, under the oh-so-flattering flood of a parking lot light. Hours. Finally, in the wee, humid beginning of that summer morning, I asked you if you were going to kiss me or not. Finally, you did.

That. Kiss.

Looking back now, so much of us, so much of you, was in that vulnerable lip lock. It was epic in its spark (hot, hot, HOT) and in its simplicity. It demanded nothing. There was no ego, no desperation, no agenda. We’re a pair of odd socks–it’s true–you, 6’6. Me, 4’11. People ask. Trust. It works.

I didn’t know in that heart-racing, mind-bending, game-changing moment that you’d be my husband. I just knew that you could never be anything but mine. (Even though Ozzie absolutely thinks you’re his. You may be the only human on the planet who actually is the person our dog knows you are.)

wedding
08.09.03

While they are my lifeblood, people would say that you’re a man of few words. (I would say you repeat yourself a lot). And, after so many years, I think I’m almost fluent in your southern mumbles. You may not have a gift for gab, but I hold tight to a few of your phrases. You said once: I wanted you the second you ordered banana and pecan pancakes. I still don’t know why. Was it the way I rhymed “pecan” with “she can”? Was it because I ordered a stack of carbs? Whatever motivated that sentiment, it’s forever etched into my bones.

When I felt misunderstood, you said: I don’t think people realize that this is who you are. You are the same all the time. I don’t know if people know that. But you do. And that’s all that matters. When I’m empty, you hug me. When I’m full, you hug me. When you don’t know what to say, you hug me. I should tell you. You should know. Your arms hold me up–when I’m not zonked out in them.

You hold us all up–you are our load-bearing beam, our anchor, our catch-all plan. You make me tea. You make the boys lunches, every single day. You make sure we have fast passes, beverages and snacks packed for any occasion.

You make us laugh, too, with gruff voice overs for our French bulldog (no bun, just burgers). Your Chewbacca call rivals Chewie himself. And your hoola-hooping hips? Hot dog!

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They way you do anything is the way you do everything. No frills, all heart, 2 hours early.

It’s not all fun and games. Losses. Blessings. All the things. Across 15 years of marriage, we’ve known for better and for worse. We’ve known in sickness and in health. We’ve known counting coins and an embarrassment of riches.

You are a dad who knows his sons’ hearts and passwords and shoe sizes. A husband who knows his wife’s heart and buttons and love language(s).

You know what to bring for baseball, what to grill for dinner, and what not to say during a new business pitch.

You know that fine jewelry isn’t my speed and I’m not into purses that cost as much as a pet. But taking me to Disney is always the right answer.

castle
Disney Digression: I’ve fueled your addiction
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You’ve turned my blood orange and white.

You are the single most uncomplicated person I’ve ever loved.

Your faith is so easy and steady and sure, it helps me believe in miracles. Your love is so pure and strong and relentless, it helps me believe I’m worth it. Your resilience is so ridiculous that your parents, I know, would be in awe of the man you are.

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I don’t know how I can still be desperate for everyone to like me. You’ve loved me enough for 60 lifetimes. And that’s a blip compared to the eternity we have in store. I do know this, Jeffrey Wright. I love you more than my life. Hugs. Kisses. I get 3.

 

A birthday letter to Tucker

Dear Tucker,

Twelve years ago, right now, I was trying to find our fit—two new puzzle pieces turning until we finally slid into place. Your head cozied into the crook of my right elbow and my left hand steadied a flailing foot. I was paddling through a soup of emotions, all rational thinking had drained from me. But I remember wondering at your perfect teeny foot, comparing it to the size of my thumb, not sure how or why God was trusting me with this precious life, divinely woven, warm in my arms.

They could smell my inadequate instinct, I was sure. They’d never let me leave with you. But. They did. And 12 whole years have slipped by since.

Tuck Trek

And, still, I’m wondering over you. I wonder at your feet, your now man-sized, perfect feet, which were longer than mine a long time ago. I wonder at your wicked-smart brain, the one that denominates the common core math that I can’t riddle through, the one that re-imagines entire worlds brick by Lego brick, the one that considers the frailest eyelash or armor plate shape in a pencil sketch.

I wonder at your old soul. The way you hold eye contact, both direct and comfortably, with everyone you meet. The way you always invite someone to open up with thoughtful questions. Your emotional barometer in any room or field. And you may not always be the best of the best on the baseball team, but you never forget to thank your coaches or the umps at the end of every game. We know. We notice.

You’re careful with your words. But you welcome any thrill with reckless expectancy.

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Disney Digression

Music moves you, an electric conduit, and you’re never still. You’re always singing, dancing, building or moving. Unless you’re reading. I love your love for books—paper books, not digital ones, and the way you devour them in one sitting. You want me to read them, too, so we can talk characters, story arcs, the best parts. Like me, you re-read your favorites because they become old friends.

Your memory is country-miles long, just a little longer than your self-doubt. Everything is personal. Your faith runs deep, like your dad’s, always-on, a constant current coursing through you. You don’t question it. It’s a steady pulse as sure as your heartbeat. And your prayers have a way of startling me into the present.

Tucker baptized

One minute, you’re answering me with first-class sass, challenging me with your intense eye contact and your own ideas about what’s right. In the next minute, you’re being the best big brother I’ve ever known, always including your little sibling, your shadow, bringing him along on your adventures.

beach patrol
Another Disney Digression

You always ask me about my day. You ask things point blank. You ask mature questions about full-grown subject matter with alarming easiness. And, good grief, you’re twelve. Just steps away from a teenager.

Though everyone tells you that the days are long, but the years are short, everyone tells you not to blink, everyone tells you that each passing year flies faster than the last, you don’t get it until you live it. You don’t get it until your baby is eye-to-eye with you, and you wonder at his strength and heart, as he’s teaching you something you never knew. You don’t get it until life shakes you awake to remind you how fleeting and fragile and temporary it all is.

So, 12, let’s do this next year. Let’s ride all the thrill rides we can with our hands up and our screams free. I hope we talk books and movies and lyrics. I hope you keep the questions coming. I hope the puzzle pieces slip into place.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe you’re ours–at least for a little while. I can’t wait to see where your faith leads your amazing brain. And those perfect feet.

Tucker 12

 

 

 

A birthday letter to Case

Dear Case,

We brought you home 9 years ago, on Mother’s Day. Lucky me.

Case and Ozzie
The puppy you wished for forever is now your other “brother”.

You have been our sunshine from the start, our easy-breezy, aim-to-please-me child.

You still call me “Momma” and, baby, I’ll take it.

When I don’t have a stitch on my face, you tell me I’m beautiful. (But, then, my lipstick completely freaks you out.)

You’ll also squeeze me with the pluckiest hug and tell me I smell good. Like a cupcake. Like a flower. Like fresh spinach with salt. Which is cool. Cause you like spinach.

You’re a lover, not a fighter. So you’re not obsessed with fortnite, thank goodness, but you do know all the dance names—and their choreography. I love how you whole-body commit to each move, with a free and wide smile, revealing your permanent teeth finally growing in with crooked glory. Your teeth took forever to fall out. I get it. You’re hard to leave.

You can be as erratic as your freckles, sweet confetti across your cheeks. And untamed as your man-cub mane. Good grief–we go through unnatural amounts of detangler spray every morning. While I’m desperate to calm your hair, I never want to quell your silliness or thoughtfulness or need to be anywhere we are.

I love how you just want to be near us. When we’re walking and talking, you’ll put an arm around me or leave your hand on my shoulder. If we’re in separate rooms in the house, you’ll call out: “Momma?” “Yes, Case.” “Just wanted to say I love you!”. Translation: I wanna make sure you’re in earshot.

When you are semi-alone, you painstakingly create new dragon species and document their strengths and weaknesses in a special notebook. You rattle off random facts about animals that no one else knows because you learned it once on an animal show and tucked it deep in the folds of your beautiful brain.

You’re my favorite sous chef, with a taste for salad and sushi and Kalamata olives. You will try anything. And you chastise your older brother for leaving “perfectly good green beans” uneaten. You couldn’t be more different from your big bro, the old soul. But you couldn’t love him more.

BrothersYou always see the good, the light, the bright side. Maybe that’s what makes you such an ace photographer.

photographer Case

When someone is upset, you’re not scared of red faces, flailing tantrum limbs or rejection. You go right in for the hug. When you found out the kid everyone was picking on in after-care is on the Autism spectrum, you spent the rest of your time there playing with him. When kids “accidentally” knocked over a classmate’s lunch, leaving him with nothing to eat but a squeezy applesauce, you offered him your food. For religious reasons, he couldn’t accept it, even though you told him it was a gift from you to him. How did you even know to phrase it that way? When you won a stuffed dino in a carnival game this weekend, you immediately handed it to the little boy next to you. He beamed. I beamed. And when we asked you about it, you just shrugged. “I picked him out before the game, Momma, and I knew I’d win one for him.”

I keep waiting for the cynical to flip on, but you are simply the purest heart I’ve ever known.

Despite your great grades and invitations for junior achievement and junior honor society, you worry down deep that you’re not as smart as your brother. But, bud, your emotional intelligence outshines the EQ of several adults I’ve known.

Don’t get me wrong. You have your moments. While you don’t sass me out loud, your stomp-offs are Ehhh-Pic. Putting your clothes away puts you over the edge. Who knows how many hours and tears you’ve spent over unpacked sock drawers and piles of hangers. Eventually, though, you manage to get the job done. You’re always apologizing to me in the end, making me laugh with a silly joke—those dorky, kid-safe groaners. We’re both suckers for those.

Lately, you ask me why I start work so early and stop work so late. I have no real good answer for you. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told you that my most important work is at home. We both know my default switch has been on the wrong setting.

Mickey Case
Disney digression.

But you, like your dad, you love fiercely, completely, without fine-toothed rationale. With you, there’s nothing measured or calculated. There’s nothing filtered, either. Words pop up with you and you believe everything’s better when it’s shared.

You ask hard questions, like: why aren’t dinosaurs in the bible? You pray bold prayers, always praying for other people, always leading by asking God to heal the ones we love who are desperate for healing. When things aren’t easy, your honesty is raw.

We both struggle to love God first and most when there’s so much consuming our hearts right here on Applecross Lane.

Adams boys

And my full heart is torn this year, Case, because you’re nine. Soon, you won’t reach for my hand as much–or at all. Soon, you won’t need to know that I’m just one room over. Soon, you may not choose time with me and your dad over anything else in this world. This next year, I may clutch your hand a little tighter, ask Alexa to tell us a few more jokes. I may even help you put your clothes away. I’m definitely signing my name as “Momma” until further notice.

I hope, in this next year, I give you my full, curious attention when you tell me about your dragons. I want to see every picture you take–and I hope it’s in the thousands. This next year, our kitchen is for dancing, even fortnite dancing, cooking and growing.

You won’t stay little much longer. But your amazingness is already so big.

So take courage, dear heart. Be strong and courageous. May this birthday be your happiest yet.

Table Topic Tuesday. 1/30.

Happy Table Topic Tuesday, y’all!

Here’s the question:

table topice 1_30You mean, like, today? I’m a trained professional.

I happy cry during the usual suspects, the milestones. Weddings.

MOH
This one got hitched last year.
sibs
The young one ties the knot this year.

I happy cry each First Day of School. It’s an ambivalent alchemy of tears. Anxiety collides with pride. Hope for a fresh start trickles into the fear that I’m failing them. And, for reals, I’m just giddy to get back on a schedule.

I happy cry in church, most Sundays, in surrender to the music or the message or the moment. The Holy Spirit slips out of my eyes and soaks my shirt. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry during animated features. Watercolor lessons run deep. Case, inevitably, will lean over and say: Mom, are you crying?

I happy cry as we drive into Disney, riding under the welcome sign. Every. Single. Time. (#notsorry: this is where dreams come true). Case, inevitably, will lean up from the backseat and say: Mom. Seriously?

WDW entrance
Disney Digression

 

Illuminations, Reflections of Earth, makes me misty. There’s this epic moment when all of the lanterns are burning by each country, each pavilion, and the entire lake is illuminated by this warm fire light. Then the narrator exhales a whisper, extinguishing each flame. What?!?

spaceship earth
Spaceship Earth. EPCOT at night.

But it’s the sneaky happy cries I love the most. The ones that creep up on tip toe and whisk you up in all the feelings.

Like surprise notes from your boys in your stocking that say, in permanent ink, why they love you so big.

Thanksgiving. Everyone gathered around one table, hearts heavy with blessings, lips thick with gratitude.

Hugs from a friend you haven’t seen in way too long.

Landing after a rough flight.

Seeing anyone else happy cry. Joy, unhinged, is contagious.

Any story on ESPN on Saturday. If you need a therapeutic sob, watch Game Day.

All of this happy crying may sound like I’m leaking weakness. But, after decades of living on the edge of all of my feelings, I’ve learned these tears are liquid honesty.

What about you? Have you ever been so happy you cried?

 

Thursday Thanks. Helping #22.

I haven’t snuggled up in my Thanksgiving Chair in way too long. A new year is a good time to be grateful out loud, right?

thanksgiving-chair

Today, I’m thankful for words of wisdom from my Dad. He is full of choice nuggets. Things like: Excuses are like butt holes. Everyone has one and they all stink. (His version is a teense more colorful than mine). Or: I only expect your best. But I know what your best is. (Can’t tell you how fun it’s been to share that gem with my own children). My favorite, though, has always been: words are powerful.

Words have been my livelihood, my love and my lifeline, so this one sticks to my ribs like a proper biscuit. Words are powerful. Words can wound you or save you. They are bridges and fences. A wee word spark can roast an entire forest. They are expressions of the core of our hearts. Words are powerful. So, when I saw a sweet friend review 2017 by her word of the year, I wanted to jump on the trendy train and embrace one word to live by for all of 2018. But, of the gazillion gorgeous words in the universe, which one would I choose to measure a year?

HOPEFUL. My word this year is hopeful.

I’m hopeful that, this year, the boys will choose Legos over screens, outside over Legos and time with us over everything else. I’m hopeful Tucker will keep group-texting Jeff and me when he gets good news, uncovers something new or has a silly thought. I’m hopeful Case will keep hugging me with all the squeeze he’s got.

silly outside

I’m hopeful that 15 pounds of wrinkles and a foot of tongue will keep bringing us together in ways I haven’t imagined yet.

Ozzie
Meet Ozzie Wyatt Adams, our new pup!

I’m hopeful that the Volunteers have a good season. God is still in the miracle business. I’m hopeful this year is filled with Disney Digressions: meet ups, dress-ups and Dole Whips.

I’m hopeful that this year means more corn hole victories, JENGA towers and firepit chats. I’m hopeful for less late nights and more date nights. A girl can dream. I’m hopeful that this work we do, this advertising stuff, will move business, sure. And, hopefully, move a few moods, minds and hearts along the way.

I’m hopeful that last year’s razor-edged grief, with its macho pushy points, will be worn down to a meeker, smoother, manageable mass. I’m hopeful that I’ll stop counting holidays as the first-without or the last-with and, instead, revel in the hope that, on the other side of earth’s horizon, there’s a celebration that will never end.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be more cautious with my words, more careful with my decisions and more reckless with my love.

I’m hopeful for this year that brings new family, new adventures and, God willing, new life.

I have this hope.

Wonderland

If you’re not entirely bonkers, do not proceed.

Today, we’re falling down the rabbit hole into a full-on Disney Digression.

See, my little sister says “I do” in one week and I’m all misty just thinking about it. While most siblings were playing school or house, Lins and I (and our brood of MyChilds and Cabbage Patch Kids) pretended we lived at Walt Disney World. She vowed to be married there, dreaming up a fairy tale wedding more than 3 decades ago. And, next weekend, the wish her heart made all comes true.

So, along the way, we’ve showered her with as much pixie dust as we could muster. And with the magically formidable women in the bridal party, we decided a high (read: boozy) tea in Wonderland was perfect for our princess’s shower.

invitation

When you’re mad, hats are just what you need to get in the right head space.

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And white doors are begging to dress up as cards. Hearts are a sweet touch. Bonus if you can work in the wedding day or month (Her wedding day is 9/9).

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Decks of cards make whimsical garlands and decorations. Just throw them about, all topsy-turvy like.

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How awesome is anything-goes Alice? It’s all fun and games with black & white checkers, kooky clocks and cloth-bound classics.

That’s the shine of wonderland. There’s beauty in chaos and splendor in the higgledy-piggledy. Tea calls for tea roses, right? And they’re even lovelier upside down.

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We filled tea cups and tea pots with flowers, straws, candies. Anything but tea, really. Because the secret-recipe sangria was a teense more refreshing.

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What kinds of yummy for guests’ tummies? Sammies made with love, chessmen cookies and roses (as they’re being painted red). Drink me. Eat me. Yes, please.

It wouldn’t be Wonderland without a few harebrained games. We invited guests to leave the newlyweds their key to a happy marriage. Date night advice. Then we matched a few Disney love songs to their movies.

And a wonderland flower went home with everyone as a token of the golden afternoon, by way of a teacup.

tea cups

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Hats (errr, fascinators) off to a beautiful bride, the earth’s best bridesmaids and a magical ever after.