A sour bite of envy


My in-laws just returned from a trip to visit my niece and nephew’s school for Grandparents’ Day.

“Oh, you should see their school,” my mother-in-law gushed, “it’s so nice.  They have a computer lab about four times the size of this room here, and they all go in and have a class in there.”

And that was enough to release the pang longing and of failure within me, the frustration that I am usually able to keep in check by focusing on all that I appreciate about my life.

“They all have Ipads in that classroom too,” she continued.  “They get them out of a rack and do things on them in class.  I guess that’s why the tuition is so high…”

And I listen and smile, hoping that I do not betray the disappointment has formed in my heart as I am reminded of what some parents are able to do for their children that I am not able to do for my own.

And of course I never begrudge them that, the same as I never begrudge my Facebook acquaintances their trips and grown up houses and new cars.  And normally I can roll with it without any effort at all, happy that all is going well in my friends’ lives.  I never can predict what will catch in my throat, or why…this friend’s new bedroom set…a cousin’s trip to New York…a high school buddy’s new boat.  Or my niece and nephew’s pricey, shiny, private school, with computer labs and multiple gyms for different age groups.

And I think, what is it that all of these people have figured out that I haven’t yet figured out?  Why am I struggling?  At 42!

And it is when such things stick in my throat that I must put forth great effort to filter out the noise and focus.  They are things, they don’t matter, we are fine.

And I try to remember that we have a house and other people don’t have houses.  And we have educations and jobs and insurance.  We have healthy children.  Our cars are not new or especially nice but at least they drive, and maybe if we can hold out a few more years, just a few, we can buy newer ones.  Not new, but at least newer.

Then I again will the self-pity to go away…and in short course, it is gone.  And gone it stays for the next month, or two, or six.

They are things.

They don’t matter.

We are fine.

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The Bug That Loves The South

When I was a child growing up in Connecticut I loved all creatures.  The ones I could readily get my hands on were caterpillars, and I played with them all the time, sometimes bringing them indoors to visit my dollhouse.  They had a habit of creeping away but oh how I loved to pet and play with them.  I think their furry little bodies must have been appealing to a little girl without a cat or dog to pet and snuggle.

That changed around 1980, when the gypsy moths took over the state.

Gypsy moths have always been around Connecticut, and why their population exploded in that particular summer remains something of a mystery, but explode it did.

The moth life cycle begins, of course, with the caterpillar…big furry ones.

Who wants to cuddle?

Who wants to cuddle?

Only this time, it began with many, many caterpillars, munching on leaves, marching across sidewalks, and raining out of trees onto passerby below.

At the end of that summer, our trees were stripped bare, there was talk of an even larger invasion the following year, and my affection for the little beasts had diminished.  The second invasion never came, but my distaste for plague-like insect intrusions persists.

Now I live in the South, and am faced with an semi-annual invasion of love bugs, so named not because they are lovable, but because they love each other.  Everywhere.  All the time.

They land in my coffee.



They mate on my deck.

Yes, they're connected.

Yes, they’re connected.

They practice mid-air sexual acrobatics.


Their favorite position, it seems.

And then they die on my floor.

It was a good life.

It was a good life.

Twice a year, every year.

I’ll take a bi-annual mating frenzy of these critters over a once-in-a-lifetime bum-rush of the caterpillars, but I must say, the love bugs have worn out their welcome for the year.

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On switches, the South, and good old football

When the news broke this weekend that a certain football player was being indicted on child abuse charges I read the article and then foolishly looked to the comments to gauge public opinion on the matter.  Although I’ve come to expect the rogue comment from the occasional jerk defending some bit of bad behavior, I was completely unprepared for the vehemence and sheer number of those who defended the man’s actions.

The comments went something like this:

“I got hit with a switch many times when I was a kid, and it made me the person I am today!”

“Hell, I had to pick my own switch!  If I picked one too small, I had to go back for another one!”

“I got hit with switches, belts, shoes, and extension cords, and I’m just fine!”

And nestled among these jaw-dropping comments was a much needed dose of comic relief:

“OK, I’ll be the dumb ass here.  What’s a switch?”

You’re not from these parts, are you?

It was actually refreshing to hear that from someone who did not have a clue what a switch is.  A switch, often used in the Old South, and apparently glorified in the New South, is a branch from a tree or bush that is stripped of leaves and used to whip the legs and behind of a misbehaved child.

Hailing from the Northeast, I had my share of corporal punishment, but never got switched.  Switching somehow never caught on up north.  Maybe it’s just too cold most of the year to go rooting about outdoors for such an implement.

What did I get instead?  Mostly the hand, one time the belt, and countless tongue-lashings.

Am I glad that I got them?  Do I think that they shaped me into the upstanding person I am today?


Do I still love my mother?


I can’t really say that I’ve never spanked my children, because I have, a few times each…but I never wanted to, regretted it each time, and have noted that the methods that require greater effort and more control on my part yield the greatest and most long-lasting results.

I won’t say that those who spank are abusers either.   I know many parents who have spanked and have raised good kids.  I will only say that there is a better way, and that a spanking is often akin to using a sledgehammer to do the job that could have been done with a flyswatter.  Consider what a child feels when receiving corporal punishment: anger, humiliation, helplessness, devastation.  If there is a method is effective but does not lead to those feelings, wouldn’t you rather use that?

But all of this is neither here nor there…Adrian Peterson is back in the game, for now, and plays on Sunday.  So at least there will be football.

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Dear College Students: Things Not To Do To Your Advisor

It’s been quite a week at the university.  The last week before classes begin and the first week of the semester are times when I am most definitely MIA from the blogging world.  But I must bring you a few thoughts from this advisor’s perspective.

First, don’t get baked before going to see your advisor.  Chances are, your advisor knows what’s up.

Second, don’t be this guy:

Yesterday a young man came into my office at 4:50.  He smelled of suntan lotion, a tall, lean frat boy.

He: “I need to do something about my schedule.  I was looking at my schedule, and it’s just not gonna work.”

I: “Okay…what’s up?”

He: “Well, all summer I’ve been thinking that my first class started at noon.  But I looked at my schedule, and I have this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday class that starts at ten o’clock.  That won’t work.  The guys and I go out on Thursday night.  I’m not gonna lie.  It’s what I do.  We drink.  We have a good time.  I can’t make a ten o’clock class.”


Don’t do that!

Other things not to do include…

Don’t email the advisor, and then wait a few hours, and then send an identical email to her. 

Don’t email her and then follow up with a phone call.  She’s working on it

Don’t email her, email the office manager, and email her boss.

Don’t email the university president. 

Don’t call the governor.  (I’m not kidding.)

Don’t have your mother call.


Things to do include: 

Take care of your stuff early.  That way you are not waiting in line with people who have legitimate problems through no fault of their own.

Be patient.  I’ll get to you.


And aside from all that…helloooooo weekend!  Muah!  I love you, weekend.







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When I stopped blogging

One day in January I was at work when my father called.

“Joyce…” he said when I answered.

“Well hi, Dad.”



“Hold on,” he whispered, “I’m trying to collect myself…”

Several deep breaths later, he told me, “Ronnie has had a massive heart attack.”

Ronnie.  Ronnie had been my father’s dear friend for years, and the father of Stace, who had been my best friend for years.  We had met in high school and become close friends before realizing that our fathers had become fast friends as well.

I reached out to her, my once best friend, tentatively.  Checked in on her as her father clung to life.  Gave her my words of support.  And when her father succumbed to death, I offered more support, mindful of my place in her life now, but there for her to the extent that was fitting, and offering the love that has always been there no matter our status.

I was there at the funeral and hugged her mother, Carole.

“I’m so lost,” Carole said, her face against my shoulder and her voice slightly muffled.

“I know,” I told her.  “I just can’t believe it.  I am sorry.  I am so sorry.”

And when the funeral was over, we all went about our lives, but I could see by Carole’s Facebook posts that she was suffering greatly.

“I’m going to give her some time, and then bake something and go see her,” I told Stace.

But the visit was never to be.  Five weeks after laying Ronnie to rest, Carole followed him.  Her heart couldn’t take it, and she chose to join him.  It was a suicide.

At the funeral my father, stepmother, and I sat in the same row where we had sat the month before.  We listened to the same message from the funeral director that he had delivered for Ronnie.  We hugged Stace as we had before.  There was little of meaning that I could think of to say.

In the weeks that followed, I turned to my blog to compose a tribute to Ronnie and Carole.  I worked and toiled.  I wanted to convey the closeness that we once shared.  The fact that they had called me their other daughter.  The time spent in their home.  Special visits to Carole on Mother’s Day.  The fact that, although I was no longer close to their daughter, they  understood, and still loved me, and I them.

The weeks turned into a month, and then several months passed.  I felt that I could not and should not write until I wrote about them, and yet the job was so big.  How could the words I close ever convey what they meant to me and the ache that their passing had created in me, and how their passing had devastated their daughter?

The answer was, I couldn’t.  I can only say, they were once a big part of my life, I think I meant a lot to them, and their loss is a shock even now.

Writing about them was something that I let go of, until now.

I wonder if I will ever hear of a suicide without thinking of Carole.

I don’t know what I can say about Robin Williams that has not already been said.  He was beloved by all, myself included.  The world being what it is, now matter how beloved a person is, they wear a target.  Even in death they are fair game, and apparently, so are their children and families.

When people criticize a suicide, they are doing so from the framework of their own experience.  What they fail to understand is that one who considers suicide, attempts it, or succeeds at it is doing so from a place where few of us have gone.  And if we had, perhaps we would understand better.

After the funeral, Stace shared with me her mother’s notes from her final weeks on earth.  They were filled with despair and loneliness, the final thoughts of a good woman out of her mind with grief.  These were emotions that are unfamiliar to most of us.  We all carry the pain from wounds large and small, but it remains a mystery why some of us are crushed by that pain, while others make our way out, inch by inch.  Or, perhaps some of us never make our way out, but can somehow bear it from one day to the next.  Why are we different in that way?  I don’t really know.

I do not advocate suicide or even defend it.  When you commit suicide, you increase the chances that someone who was close to you will some day follow suit.  Carole’s brother, troubled, addicted, and nothing like her, took his own life ten years ago.  Stace is in turmoil and always will be.  She is hurt, angry, and guilty.

No, I don’t defend it, but I defend the person behind the act.  I wish that Carole had not committed this act.  I wish that Robin hadn’t either.  But more than anything, I am profoundly sorry for the pain that they were in.  I am sorry too for their families.  This life can be hard, even when it’s good.  So please be kind and don’t judge too much.

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On the giving of parenting advice to parents by non-parents

I very recently engaged in a brief and testy exchange on Facebook.  I feel slightly idiotic even admitting to that because first of all I don’t do conflict and second, I don’t do conflict on Facebook.  Before long, I took the whole thing down so that I would not feel compelled to continue to respond to a quickly escalating debate.

I won’t go into it – much – but what you need to know is that several childless friends with very strong views on Parents and Kids Today and Common Sense and Discipline voiced their views to me and I, feeling provoked, came very close to playing the You Don’t Even Have Kids card. And this got me to thinking about the time when I Didn’t Even Have Kids.  I had the card pulled on me a few times.  It’s annoying and somewhat insulting.  And yet, it is true.

Having started motherhood rather late in life, I had a good number of years prior to that to work myself into a state of sanctimony over How Things Ought To Be.  Maybe I hadn’t had children, I reasoned, but I had younger siblings.  I had friends with kids.  I had even been a kid. When I was around other peoples’ children, my focus was on their misbehavior, and my inner mantra became focused on the discipline!  And that children need discipline!  And discipline! And this is the mantra of my child-free friends.

But for all their theorizing, there is one factor that they don’t consider, and that factor is love.

Of course people know that parents love their kids, but the depth and extent of that love is hard to fathom if you haven’t experienced it.  It is that love that keeps a good parent striving for ways to deliver discipline that will not leave their child feeling beaten down.  It is the love that has us considering the connection that we have with our children, and it is the love that has us nurturing that connection as we search for ways to teach our children.

I had many years to theorize about parenting, and now eight years to practice.  And I can tell you, the theories are not equal to the practice.  Parenting is a complex operation, and there is scarcely a moment of the day that my children do not somehow factor into my thoughts, whether consciously or subconsciously.  In short, I practice being a parent far more than a child-free person even thinks about parenting.  And for that reason, I consider myself the expert.

Tell me, parents…do you play the card?

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I’m here. And, the first passage from a great book on the Great War.

I’ll make this part quick.  I’m here.  The blogging life can be like a new relationship.  In the beginning, you love your blog, you need your blog, you must be with your blog.  The ideas keep coming and coming.  Inspiration is everywhere.

The newness goes on for months, or a year or even more.  But then, life creeps up.  The responsibilities have piled up.  So you miss a date or two to do catch up on life, and the honeymoon’s over.  And then you miss more and more.  And then you don’t know how you will ever get started again.  Writing feels rusty and forced.  Then you want to say something about your absence, but the words won’t come, because you’ve gone and got yourself out of practice.

Anyway.  I’m here.  I’ve missed you guys.  I hope you’ll still come around.

Now, the thing I’ve really been wanting to talk about is World War I.  I heard this war mentioned in the news recently because this is the time, 100 years ago, that the first shots of the war were fired.  It wasn’t always called World War I – it didn’t wear that moniker until sometime after World War II.  Until that time, it was simply called The Great War.  You know, big.  Really big, with over 15 million fatalities worldwide over the course of four years.  Of those, 117,000 were US soldiers, double the amount of US soldiers killed in our 20-year conflict in Vietnam.

Sorry, I don’t mean to get mired in really depressing statistics, it’s just that they boggle my mind.  What I was trying to get to, was a passage in a book called The Guns of August.  Written by Barbara Tuchman and published in 1962, this entire book chronicles the month that led up to the outbreak of WWI.

And after hearing its mention in the news recently, I pulled out my copy which I had begun to read ten years ago, and then put aside because I was distracted by a class I was taking, and never got back to again.  And I re-read the first paragraph, and remembered all that I love about words.

This passage paints the picture of the pre-War era, slowly drawing to a close with the funeral of England’s Edward VII.

Look, just look at this writing.

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and green and blue and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”


Such a thing of beauty.  I just had to share.

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