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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Shift Into First

It first happened in our upstairs hall last summer while I sorted school supplies into two piles. One for the big one and one for the little one.

I had given Tucker, capable, soon-to-be fifth grader, a Sharpie to label all of his notebooks and folders. But I wrote Case Adams in the other folders myself, in perfect Momma script. I was four deep before he stopped me.

Can I write my name?

Of course you can, I said, even though I really, really wanted to finish. Why? Labeling your child’s things is so parental. It means you’re in control. It means they need you.

I’ve never written with a Sharpie before, he said, giddy and sliding onto his belly to form each letter in permanent black.

He was ready and I missed it.

I missed it because I was all consumed in Tucker’s lasts. His last year of elementary school. Their last year together for years. The last bit of little. I’d been devouring blogs, wallowing in other mothers’ weepiness. Stories about moms who couldn’t remember the last time they’d washed their kid’s hair for them. And, alarmed, I realized that I couldn’t either.

Lost in the middle of the rewind, I was fast-forwarding through the now.

I used to be aware of their heaviness when I carried them upstairs to bed. I don’t carry them anymore. I don’t help them get dressed.

I do still help with the hair. Y’all. I have to.

And, though it’s been country miles from perfect, I’m aware of a shift to first.

Shifting to first. Just as there’s only one last, there’s only one first. They’re easier to miss because you don’t see them coming. Instead of mourning what you had, it’s a shift into relishing what you have. We have fragile, incomparable life springing up, always. And it’s so sweet to catch.

Like the first time a gnarly man stink smacks you in the face; it’s coming from your boy and that sweet swing-set sweat is long gone.

The first time he asks for Axe instead of that unscented organic stuff you bought for him. Wait. What?

A pimply nose pops up in place of a stuffy one.

Baseball cups replace sippie cups. There one sits, on your kitchen counter! The horror! The ew! And you want to scold, because this is certainly not the place to leave it, but you stop, awestruck. No way this type of cup is really necessary?!

Then there’s the first time they defy a life-long fear and ride a thrill, seemingly on whim. And you wonder: how long have they been tinkering with that in their brain?

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Disney Digression: Case is tackling the Magic Kingdom mountains, one at a time. This one’s next.

The first time they peck at keys, typing a report. And the project is their vision, not yours.

keyboard Case

The first time they realize I don’t know everything. The first time they challenge me with their eyes, then their anger, then their words.

The first time they come to your rescue. You mess up, they cup your cheek with their growing hand and they tell you it’s okay.

The first time the little one prays for his big brother, out loud, through a toothless lisp, “on our journey to goodness.”

The first time you hear them chatting after midnight, serious conversations about God, girls and Clash Royale between bunks, and you realize that, though they’re made to share a room, they’re choosing to be friends.

Choosing.

A few weeks ago, we drove up to South Carolina to see Jeff’s dad, host to a legion of cancer. Though I never dared let my worry speak out loud, it was a farewell trip.

I know the exact minute it hit me that this could be the last time we’d see him. The truth flickered across my murky brain and seized my gut.

And the moment felt empty. Inadequate. There we sat, in quiet panic, blinking, dumb, circled up in the living room. We didn’t know what to say.

In the middle of that too-still last was the first time I saw my child’s full heart. Tucker climbed up on the couch next to his Gamps and laced his 10-year-old fingers between the cool 67-year-old hand.

In the Venn diagram of fear and the unknown, our boy laced them together with hope.

Days before he died, he gave our sons, his grandsons, a copy of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. He wrote this note, in a permanent black:

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“I hope you enjoy this book. It is about a couple of boys that made the best of life, living their dream. Enjoy it. Love, Gamps.”

This from a soul who was a conductor of adventure, vitality and faith, a living example of being ever-present: in his last message, he was encouraging them to shift into first.

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Table Topic Tuesday. 1/31.

Oh, hi! Here’s a light, easy, indulgent question for this Table Topic Tuesday.

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I’m just Mindy. It’s not short for anything. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s me. So, what else would I choose?

Well, you know I have to go to my Disney sisters first. Belle, Ariel and Aurora all have meaningful monikers, but they sound a little too prissy-Mc-princess pants for me. Esmeralda is lovely, especially for a hopeless wanderer, but the name is kind of a fluffy-bunny mouthful, right?

I could almost be on board with Merida, especially the way her mother says it.

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Disney digression

But it’s not quite right. So, let’s go to literature. Desdemona, Isolde and Cressida promise epic beauty and drama that is so not real life. Elizabeth Bennet has always been one of my best loved characters and I’m drawn to Beth (for short). Short is apropos. And doesn’t Beth sound like a sweet, rock-steady soul?

I’ve also always loved Cara, Irish for “friend”, and Cora. Then there’s Eva, “life” in German. Or Teagan; this gem means “little poet” in Australia. Who wouldn’t want to be called that?

I’ll stick with Mindy/Mommy/Mo-om! for now. What about you? Is there another name you’d choose for you? Have you ever gifted a name with winsome meaning?

Table Topic Tuesday. 1/24.

Happy Tuesday, y’all!

Ready for the latest Table Topic?

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This one’s easy.

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I. Dance. In this house, we all dance. It’s a law.

IMG_8136.JPGWhen the kids are mopey or grumpy gills, I tell them to shake out all of their ya yas. We dance in the grocery store. We dance in the car (Sit-dancing is an art. We should make it an Olympic sport.). Even Jeff’s shoulders will shimmy & shrug when the sillies strike.

When I dance, I feel like this:

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And I probably look like this:

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You can dance & laugh, dance & smooch, dance & happy cry. But you can’t dance & stress or dance & snarl or dance & argue.

Happy magnets flood your muscles, pushing and pulling joy on through.

What do you think? What do you do when you’re down?