You mean, like, today? I’m a trained professional.
I happy cry during the usual suspects, the milestones. Weddings.
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?
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?!?
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?
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?
The first time they peck at keys, typing a report. And the project is their vision, not yours.
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.
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:
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.
I know fall is not officially here until 9/22, but he smells so, so good. I was seduced by Pumpkin Spice. And, for weeks, I’ve been burning fall candles like it’s my J.O.B. As if I could pump enough pumpkin into the world to will cooler breezes and scarves to flutter. We already have Halloween costumes, weekend plans and a candle supply that’ll last to Thanksgiving and beyond. And I’m grateful for the fun ahead.
I’m also grateful for a cut-from-the-same-cloth sister and friends—women who are in touch with their inner silly, ladies who lunch wearing feathers, six grown goobers who will cram into a red telephone booth with you just to see if you can (p.s. You Can. In 13 seconds flat).
I hope everyone has a friend who knows you’re a weird, hot mess and loves you more for it. Here’s an honorable mention for Norwegian pastries, Italian waiters, British Rock cover bands (and their choreography).
I am always thankful for bedtime with the boys. Tucker’s prayers are long, mostly because he’s a stealthy staller. But just when I’m nudging him to wrap it up, he’ll say something to make me laugh. “Thank you for my Daddy who thinks Mommy’s potatoes are awesome.”
And Case, who is so attached to his thumb, after years of us encouraging him to lose it, says, while I’m singing Baby Mine off-key, “I have to suck my thumb when you sing that song to me.”
My sister is a beauty—small-boned, porcelain-complected, silk-haired. Then my sister and I joke that it’s my brother who got all the pretty. He’s taller and has that spark. The three of us do come from two fetching people.
I am not beautiful. (And don’t tell me I am—my dimples and lack of height get me by.)
I am not old, either, but lately age pops up—with no soft grace. It’s a single rod of steely gray in a sea of my brown (it’s still brown!) hair, a new spot, a tweaking hip.
Age defies gravity, time and all the products that promise “firmer, younger, better.” Sometimes it’s alarming. Sometimes it’s sneaky. This week, it was clear and black and white.
Tucker was drawing and asked me to pose for him. “Look up and smile,” he said.
And he drew my face, with an unforgiving black marker. If it were a tube of mascara, it would be the “very black” black. He gave me big eyes, an even bigger nose and really great hair. He even got the flippant pieces that fly every which way just right. And then his honest hand drew three thick, parallel lines across my forehead. Crap, I thought.
“Whoa,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“Those lines are that big, huh?”
He felt guilty and launched into other try. This time, my forehead was line-free, but he drew in two deep lines from the outside of my nose down to the edge of my mouth. My hand went to that spot and traced the reality.
“Let me do another one,” he said, feeling awful.
“I love what you drew,” I lied. “You drew it right. Mommy earned those lines.”
I have. Emotion is physical. I feel with my face. I listen with my forehead. I think with my bottom lip in my teeth. I rub worry into my cheeks.
They say the eyes are the soul’s port of entry, but I say story is in the skin.
I didn’t use sunscreen as a sun-worshipping teen. I went too long without glasses. I go to bed late and wake up early. I frown a little and laugh a lot. I have proof.
I also have Case.
Case tells me every single day, sometimes several times a day, that I’m beautiful. Sometimes he’ll tell me in the morning, when I’m still in my pajamas, without a stitch on my face. Sometimes he’ll tell me when I’m fussing over a skillet and he’s scooching his stool into the kitchen to help me with dinner. Sometimes he’ll tell me when we’re singing or arguing in the car and we meet eyes in the mirror. He always tells me when I need to hear it. It’s another way he says “I love you.”
And I’m realizing that being beautiful is nothing about being beautiful.
It does not mean that I’ll quit clipping coupons for anti-aging serums or stop obsessing about my eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be trying to squash dessert calories with push-ups or skimp on eating the super fruits that promise mini miracles.
It just means that this skin I’m in, the one I’ve never loved and occasionally regretted, is more lovely than ever. This same skin with age spots and history and purpose. Because it’s beautiful to someone.
I may cry tomorrow. Who am I kidding? I’m crying right now.
Tomorrow means another new school year. And this year, both of you will wear official uniforms.
It’s not your fault I’m crying. It’s those collared shirts, dagnabbit. Because they make you look so sure and ready and grown. And that makes me proud and tickled and teary.
We’ll need routine tomorrow and I don’t wear routine well. I’ll be down to minutes, rushing me, rushing you, sighing and apologizing for it. And Tucker—you’ll just smile and say, “That’s okay, Mommy.” And Case—I’ll do one small something, inside-out your socks for you, and you’ll say, “You’re the best Mommy ever.”
We’ll drop you off tomorrow, with fresh supplies and the shiny smiles of a new start. We’ll chat with your teachers and hug you and hug you again. We’ll walk away from the classroom door and the tears that I hope I’ll hold until that moment will topple and spill. And Jeff will rub my back and say, “Oh, Wife” (even though he’s been expecting this).
I know it’s a beginning but, to me, that moment thuds like an ending. I worry that I’m missing too much, that I’ve let another whole year slip away, that maybe I’ve failed you too many times. It’s an ambivalent dance; I can physically feel time racing. And I’m wonderstruck at the amazing little people you are.
This moment will happen tomorrow and next year’s tomorrow. But I know tomorrow will begin another amazing year. So this is what I wish for you.
I hope you always walk into learning with the starry-eyed eagerness that brought you to today. I hope you read all the books you can touch. Devour them. Sip them. Share them. Read them again.
If it’s numbers you love, use them. Master them. I know that I’m awfully clumsy with them, but Dad can help. Or we can always call Pop.
Tuck—you can have all the paper and pencils you want. Draw whenever you can (just not when your teacher is talking). When your teacher is talking, listen with your eyes first, then your ears. Remember that there’s just one her and a lot of yous, so be gentle.
Case—I know I’ve spent hours, maybe months, telling you not to touch everything in reach. I hope I haven’t crippled your curiosity. Keep curious. Ask every question. When you’re allowed to explore, take your time. I promise to try and rush you less.
You’re sharing the year with a lot of kids. You won’t agree with each other all the time. But you can almost always find one piece of common ground with almost anyone—even if it’s as small as having the same favorite color, the same tooth fairy fee or the same disgust for peas. Find that one thing.
Eat your fruits and veggies first. But don’t let the lunch bell ring before you’ve had your treat.
Tucker—I get on to you for being a bossy sprocket, for parenting your little brother and antagonizing and swatting at him when you think I’m not looking. But, you should know, he sees you as his fierce protector, his comfort, his best bud who always gets an extra sticker or toy just for him. And so do I. You may meet other kids who need that kind of partner, kids who need a louder voice.
Case—your silly has no limit. From food-flinging to ear-ringing, I’ve never seen someone entertain so well with a single fork. You’re our live wire with a contagious sparkle. And you’re not happy until everyone else is. This year will be no different. I hope, one day, you understand what a gift that is.
I hope you two keep an open mind and open ears. But stay locked to what you know is right in your gut.
Ugly words are never cool or powerful or right.
You (still) will not get any new techie toys this year. And you will live.
It won’t be perfect, this year. There will be messes and oopses and flubs. But we’ll look for the good, the helpers, the magic.
Because you’re still 7 and 4. I want you to laugh the length of 7 and 4. Run the width of them. I want you to create, stretch, get dirty—and take your shoes off before you come inside. I want you to have the time, the year of your lives.
And, tomorrow, when you lug in those brand new book bags, I hope you also carry in the precious assurance that you are wonderfully, wonderfully made. And that your Daddy and I love you more than you’ll ever know.
I’ve never put pen-to-paper on his story before because I still can’t believe it happened. And I also have too many friends with raw hearts. But, here it goes.
Tucker’s story starts with his parents. Us. We were two plus years into our marriage, on a (mental) permanent honeymoon, broke and blissful.
We had just gotten back from Thanksgiving with Jeff’s dad in the mountains—we had four-wheeled down Spill Corn, filled up on 3 southern-squared meals a day and breathed in a big dose of pure North Carolina goodness.
Back home in Tampa, while we were unpacking, I realized that I was late.
How late? Jeff had asked. Since I didn’t keep track, we had monthly freak-outs.
Late, I promised him. He went to the store and bought a box of pregnancy tests. We watched the pink results flood across in instant slow motion. An indisputable positive.
I didn’t have time to think because Jeff said: Take another one. (Don’t worry. I still haven’t let him live down his first words to me.)
A box full of pink pluses later, we locked eyes. We grinned. And cried. We had made a person.
I could not keep my hands off of my belly. Sitting, standing, breathing. Everything felt brand new.
We made an appointment with the doctor. He didn’t need to see me until I was a little further along. But my mom was coming to visit us that weekend and I couldn’t keep it from her. We told her that she was going to be a grandma. And her elation made our surprise feel more like a reality.
To celebrate, Mom and I went shopping. And then I started having a few unsettling symptoms. So, I dialed the on-call doctor and explained what was going on.
Do you feel pregnant? He had asked me.
I was quivery and loopy and terrified. I’d never been pregnant before. How could I know what pregnant felt like?
I don’t know, I told him, apologizing. He asked me to come in first thing the next morning. I tossed and turned and clutched my stomach all night.
We went in the next morning and filled in stacks of paperwork. After measurements and samples were taken, a chipper ultrasound tech whisked us into her room so she could “take a look.” She sang out pleasantries in her outdoor voice.
Let’s take a look at this baby, she sung.
Here’s the sac, she cheered, pointing to a shape that we absolutely saw. Joy flickered.
Now, we’ll turn this on and listen for a heartbeat. She did. We listened. She was bright-eyed and wide-smiled as she maneuvered each angle—and as each hour-long second crept by, my heartbeat quadrupled. As if it could pump enough for me and the blob shape. After a few minutes, though, our tech dropped her smile and her outdoor voice.
You go ahead and get dressed and I’ll get you back to the doctor’s office.
My limbs, heavy with worry, made dressing slow and clumsy.
My hand clung to Jeff’s, our fingers laced, mouths closed, as we walked into the doctor’s office. There we sat, we two, waiting on a doctor. My doctor was not in that day. That day, we saw Doctor G. He came in, shook our hands and sat down, making it a professional point to lock eyes with both of us.
His room was cold and alien, like an out-of-date space station, and the overhead lights buzzed as he confirmed, out loud, what we already feared.
There’s no heartbeat and, with your symptoms? I think, he said just so, as if he was reporting the 10-day forecast, you have miscarried.
I took it in as if it were a spoonful of cough medicine—swallowed quick, shuddered, shook my head, answering in silence.
You have options, he had said, diving straight into his speech.
We can wait a few days just to see if your hormone levels change. You can let this happen naturally. Everything will pass, but it may take a while and I can’t tell you how long it will take. Or, we can do a procedure here—as soon as tomorrow—called a D&C. That way, you don’t have to wait through it.
He lifted his hands off of his desk as if he were throwing good options before us.
I’m going to let you talk about it. I’ll be back in a few minutes.
He left. I slumped. Jeff just rubbed my hand with his thumb. What could we say? There was nothing to say.
I didn’t cry until I opened my mouth to speak. My eyes were drowning in indecision—a deluge of hot doubt soaked my shirt and our interlocked hands.
I guess the procedure will be the easiest, I told Jeff—saying it, but asking him. I don’t know if I can do it naturally. It sounds awful.
I’m okay with whatever you want. I’ll be here with you.
So, we agreed on the D&C. He wiped my face with his shirt. The doctor came back in.
A chill raced through my veins and across the tops of my arms and seized my stomach—an alarming chill. Something whispered. Something Holy. Something snapped. Something understood.
I want to wait.
The words popped up—and there they sat—between a surprised doctor and husband.
I just—I can’t do it tomorrow.
I understand, Doctor G said, without any understanding. I’ll wait with you. But I have to tell you that I’m 99.9% sure you’ve lost the baby.
The baby. My free hand found my belly. We had to wait.
Follow up appointments were scheduled and we slipped into waiting. Grief’s breath is strange. My nerve endings felt short-circuited, unplugged. How many days ago had they tingled with shock and promise?
I stayed home from work for a few days, nursing my numbness. How could this unplanned blob shape stir so much? The fraction of ounces was lead in my gut. I couldn’t taste, listen or focus, but each twinge in my belly felt like a violent convulsion.
Jeff was spoon-feeding me smiles, trying to.
We would’ve been good parents, I cried into his lap.
We will be, he said.
We went back to the doctor. They took more measurements and blood.
And then? Then? A miracle.
My hCG levels had increased. Two days later, they took more blood. The levels had doubled.
Nerves were tingling again.
One week later, that same sweet tech ushered us into the room for another ultrasound.
There was the sac. And there, I swore, was movement. An eye twitch? A glitch?
The tech found her outdoor voice. THERE’S THE HEARTBEAT!
She turned on the sound and a strong warble flooded the room. It was a symphony. An opus. My breath quickened to its beautiful beat. We were all crying—me, Jeff, the tech. And the baby’s heart, muscular, alive, kept pounding. We had waited.
Now, Doctor G was not at that office that day. I had not seen him since we’d sat at his desk. My own doctor was there, though. He took us through the packet, the appointment schedule, the new parent track. He explained that I would see all of the doctors in the office in a rotation because any one of them could be in the delivery room on the baby’s birthday.
I did not see Doctor G throughout the rest of my pregnancy. I was angry. And I don’t get angry. Forgive him 7 times 70 times? No. That’s how many times I wanted to punch him. The memory of his face, his voice was bitter. Soul-corroding. I went out of my way to stay out of his.
I spent the rest of my pregnancy happy, healthy. I ate 3 watermelons a week and held on to my belly for dear life.
On an evening in early August, we I was watching SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE while a summer lightning storm fumed outside. I’d been having contractions all day, but now they were taking my breath away—every few minutes. Still, I insisted on finishing the show, taking a shower and putting my make-up on before we headed to the hospital. I was in labor all night, but my doctor—my own doctor—was on duty the next morning. And he delivered our baby boy.
Suddenly I was holding Tucker’s warm weight in my arms. The perfect fit. I put my palm on his teeny chest until I could feel his heart thumping beneath my fingertips.
Jeff’s lips were thick with prayer, a grateful murmur only God himself could understand.
We locked eyes. We grinned. And we cried.
What a boy.
Unreal combinations of Jeff and me, our best bits, wrapped up in one big, blonde, beautiful boy.
By the time he was two (oh, how much do you love two?) we decided that we really needed to do this again.
My second pregnancy was planned, expected, easy. I sailed through the doctor’s appointments, still avoiding Doctor G. We knew we were having another boy. And, though the world didn’t know it yet, we knew his name was Case.
I had an appointment to be induced and I planned to have Case naturally. Everything was set. We had the sweetest nurses—troopers, really—who were coaching me through labor without drugs. I was really close to being ready—in the throws of acute active labor—when the doctor on duty walked in. Doctor G.
He was not part of the plan.
I tensed to my toes, the acidic bitterness more painful than the contractions. I stared Jeff down, silently begging him to do something. Anything. He knelt next to me.
It’s going to be fine. Think about Case.
Doctor G did not recognize us. But he talked with us—with us, not at us. And then? Then? He was encouraging me. He said he’d get me anything I needed. He made me smile.
I did not want to smile.
I only pushed for mere minutes, five times, and Case was born. Doctor G was intent. He was kind. He was amazing. He melted my anger. I hadn’t realized it had calcified in my gut—an impassable block—until I felt it dissolving. Doctor G delivered our little one. And I’m so grateful he did. Because I forgave. Freely. Easily. Gladly.
Then, I was holding Case, feeling his warm weight in my arms. Jeff and I locked eyes. We grinned. We cried. And we prayed.
Happy Thursday. It is still Thursday in California where I’m curled up in my Thanksgiving Chair tonight.
It’s already August 1st, but it’s still summer. And it’s still pro baseball season. Thank goodness.
I never thought I’d say that I’m thankful for baseball. I grew up dancing and cheering and singing Broadway. Each Saturday morning, there was a melody for my mood–from “The Music of the Night” to “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” There were buns and bobby pins and pom poms. And now? Now there are cleats and cups and coolers.
I’d never touched a pair of cleats. Then, just like that, I was responsible for making sure they were laced and velcroed. And fast. Just like that, I was sitting in the stands cheering Slugger Tucker on.
Case shared a spot in the shade with me while Jeff helped coach on the field. But games are long for a baby brother who just wants a team of his own. So, sometimes he would sneak beneath the bleachers and watch from the fence.
Maybe it’s because Jeff has brainwashed encouraged us to pull for our hometown team. Maybe it’s the silly songs & snacks & stats. We’ve all caught the baseball bug. I mean, how can you not be smitten with a sport that’s not timed? Anything can happen.
And our team, the Rays, hosts family fun days with giveaways for kids. Growing loyal fans, one freebie at a time.
The Rays even celebrate the ultimate fan combinations.
And, when they win, they’re proud to let the world (at least the city) know.
It’s always fun to cheer on the Rays live at the Trop (where it’s always a balmy 72 degrees). But we usually watch them at home. Home is where I love baseball because we’re in a baseball state of mind. We catch a few bits of the game but, because there are so many, it’s really okay if we don’t see the entire thing. A game is always on, but our weekend doesn’t revolve around one. Instead of “5 more minutes” bedtime is “at the end of this inning.”
This week, we sign the boys up–both of them–for fall ball. Two teams. Two practices. Two games on Saturdays. The new season and school year will be in full swing. Not yet though.
For now, it’s still summer. Like baseball, this summer season is play-paced. It’s that unhurried moment, sandwiched between the chaos of school years, when we’re not timed. It’s a pseudo pause button that means Tucker isn’t in second grade yet, Case isn’t in VPK yet and we can snuggle on the couch for just one more out.