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Who Father's Day Belongs To

Posted by Mary Webb on June 21, 2015 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The esteemed Rev. Dr. Freddie Haynes of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas used to say something all the time that I thought was bold and audacious because of its plain and simple truth-tellilng. "Every once in awhile, you have to preach a sermon that will make folks not talk to you after church," he would say. I'm about that life when it comes to hard truths.

Therefore, you should take that little anecdote as fair warning that this post might be like that kind of sermon. If I step on your toes, I apologize for how it was said. But, not what was said.

Here goes.

I am a mother. It is an extremely hard job. Some days, I want to give it up. Others, I curse myself for what I've gotten myself into. Still others, I have to put myself in time-out so my perp walk and mug shot won't be on the evening news. For this 365-day battle, I get a day in May when I, along with millions of other women in the same boat, am touted for this struggle being real.

However unfair and unreasonable it might seem, It is just one day. It is not meant to carried over into June, the month when we celebrate fathers of the world. So, I'm going to need us to stop with the Happy Father's Day campaign for women. And, I'm dead serious.

Now, now, here me out.

First of all, most of us aren't spotlighting deadbeat dads, so we feel angst about them being honored. For the record, we should be just as outraged about mothers who are not during their part and steady trying to get their undue shine. But, this is the main reason I think women should chill with copping Father's Day cred. There are many good fathers who we will negate if we continue to do so. I know there are because my timeline was flooded with my female comrades' pictures, many of them on their wedding days with their fathers, and gushing sentiments that spoke of "the first love of my life". Are single mothers truly doing for our kids all that these fathers did for them? I know that I'm trying to. But I also know that, in some cases I am or will fail, because there are/will be things I cannot teach Quentin and Jory because it truly is a father's job.

Second, what about fathers who did do for their children, but are no longer in a position to do so? Take sickness or even death, for example. I'm hard-pressed to believe widowers and significant others would  be willing to slap their mates in the face by claiming Father's Day for themselves.

I guess the segment of the population who feel like they have the biggest stake in this would be single mothers of which I am one. The justification seems to have its roots in bitterness. Like, dude wasn't here, so he shouldn't be getting no glory on this day. And, he shouldn't. But neither should we be getting a second helping. Let me be honest. (Told you there would be some hard truths). We are single because we picked an unsuitable mate. In my case, I was unwilling to continue this unsuitability. So, I picked up my life and my kids and moved home. There was no gun to my head. No one forced me to do it. I did so of sound mind and free will. I had fairly good idea of how difficult it would be, and I did it anyway. I will not say, "Oh, look at me. Poor me. Doing it all by myself. Being mother and father." I'm still just a mother, maybe doing some of the father's work. We do this all the time on our jobs, and yet, we don't go around snatching extra titles for ourselves  there. 

And, let's be real. There are many married women who would be in as serious a contention for Father's Day praise if we went by that example. When one of them has the balls to go up against their husband for the title, I might be willing to get on board with this sentiment.

Finally, I know it can't just be me who is witnessing a growing phenomenon of men who are raising children by themselves. In the last three jobs I've held, there has been at least one man in that position, though in at least one case, there were two. Just a few years ago, I think this was virtually unheard of. And yet, we would be the first to call for their crucifixion if they started infringing on our holiday. But, what's good for the geese should be good for the gander as well?

So, I have an idea. Why don't all mothers celebrate the arduous task we've undertaken in May, and fathers celebrate whatever role they play in their children's lives in June? The way I look at it is a) one day isn't enough to note all of the sacrifices we make. Is two days going to adequately cover it? Probably not; and b) how many of us are really in it for the exaltation? I think we're doing it for the love.

All this to say, there's one person I'm not honoring for Father's Day. That's me. Quentin and Jory have a father. Imperfect as I may feel he is at times, I remain thankful that they haven't discovered that imperfection. Should they, I will still make them honor and obey him as their male parent as I require of them for their female parent.

Whatever your thoughts, let's be reminded that two young ladies woke up this morning without a dad because he was slain in the line of duty a day before. Let's pray for them, as well as sons and daughters who are without their dads for a multitue of reasons.

Happy Father's Day to all...the fathers!

And, rest well, Officer Daryle Holloway!

Who I Am This Summer

Posted by Mary Webb on May 31, 2015 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

"I was never me," says Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon's mother in Wild upon learning she has terminal cancer. She hadn't had a chance to be herself she lamented because she was always someone's wife or mom. 

I didn't exactly know why I needed this summer to myself; I just knew I did. Actually, even that knowing took some time. When the kids first mentioned it, I had agreed simply because I saw it for what it was: their attempt, especially Quentin's, to say living in my household was some sort of hell they could personally do without. They had somewhere more fun, less dictatorial and chore- and assignment-driven they preferred. It smacked of derision, and I was supposed to feel every inch of the disdain with which it was presented to me. In light of that kind of contempt, all I could do was throw my hands up in surrender.

It was also their father's thinly veiled continued bid to put his "family" back together. This episode would be something along the lines of "You're doing too much. The kids would like you better if you weren't so stressed, if you had some help." The irony isn't lost on me.

Either that, or my (he assumed) over-my-dead-body protest would earn him a few more popularity points with his children. It would sound something like, "Well, your mama is the one that said no." If this isn't running the score up on me, I don't know what is.

Somewhere along the way, their going became less about them seeing how shit really is for themselves, i.e. missing what summer really is for us -- movies, library activities, snoballs, science labs, water balloons, board game marathons, stay-cay outings, etc. I was even determined to sleep under the stars in the back yard this year. Instead, it became more about my own sanity and the difference between actually treading water and fighting to stay afloat. Drowning was too close at hand to ignore.

So,the closer their date got to leaving, the more I antcipated it. I relished the opportunity to just catch my breath, come up for air, or whatever trite cliche works for you here...for an entire summer. That's probably why I prepared myself for the inevitable jolt he would feel when reality set in. I could see the backpedaling coming a mile away. Instead of submitting to it in defeat, I steeled myself to do battle. This time I was grabbing Negroes by the collar and pulling them back to toe the line.

"Not the whole summer."

"Yes, the whole summer."

"I never agreed to that. The kids came up with this."

"And, you never disagreed to it, either. The origin of the plan is neither here nor there. They think they're going, so they're going. What's more is they're staying."

I was prepared to do the simple math for him -- six weeks, eight at best, as opposed to the gazillion I'd served. By no means was I agreeing to turn my beloved children over to their father in May and never set eyes on them again until August. Quentin's numerous appointments nor my love for and attachment to them would ever permit it. But many days strung together of just me, myself and I, I desperately needed. Long weekends sprinkled throughout the summer would work perfectly visitation-wise.

Tuesday afternoon, when they pulled out of my driveway, I grieved. You'd have to be a hard person not to when your babies leave you for an extended amount of time. But, I felt something else, too: relief. Pure and simple release. Like, it might not have happened, and I would have had to keep limping along, but now I was sure I had time to heal.

When they were gone, I jumped in my car to go and collect books and movies on hold for me at the library. Nerd move, yes. But, winning, I thought. I got home with enough minutes to spare to do a quick kitchen and bathroom clean-up before Jeopardy came on. Definitely winning, I thought. Not so much watching it in real-time and having to sit through the commercials and banal interviews, but the watching it without having to pause it every three clues to answer a question, break up a fight, respond to a dessert request, etc. I enjoyed a nice long soak in the tub, long enough that I was able to finish my Essence magazine from two months ago. The caveat this time was I was able to stay in that steaming hot tub for as long as I wanted because I could keep the bathroom door wide open without a chance in hell someone would see. (These long soaks are generally a figment of my aspirations because I start sweating and am forced to get out.) I'm pretty sure I even read a few chapters. But, it was still winning. Best part of the night was meeting up with a friend at Maple Leaf and having such a good conversation it had to be moved off-location because it lasted well past last call.

Despite a glorious first night off parent duty, by Wednesday, the solitude and quiet of my home (an obvious result of lacking plans as spectular as the night before), I was sure I had made a mistake.

Dern's words Saturday night restored my faith. This summer isn't meant to run myself ragged or to fill every waking moment with something to do, marking stuff off my seasonal bucket list; it's meant to do some things I never get to do, like come in at 4 a.m. or check out the reading series I've been meaning to get to for some time and finally managed to do Thursday night. But, it's also meant to just enjoy my space unencumbered like I did today, lounging on the sofa, finally watching The Book of Negroes and The Wedding Ringer and taking a leisurely nap, even if it did almost turn into bedtime as my brother insisted it would when he called me at 8 pm.

Most importantly, it's meant to give me a chance to be me. Yes, being me meant I was responsible for all the Friday chores. But, it also meant I got to do them Saturday after a great lunch with a former student and lazy nap, albeit while blaring James Brown. It really did feel good. (Pun intended.)

Tomorrow, as well as the majority of the summer days, it will mean me sitting at my computer and writing for no less than five hours a day. You have no idea how long I have wanted to do such a thing, as mundane as it may seem to others. 

At some point, it will mean breakfast alone at a place I read about in Gambit and long-put-off consignment shopping on Magazine and Freret and Metairie Road. 

Hopefully, it will mean packing up a house to move into a home.

Cheryl, Witherspoon's character, explains her randomness as a woman on the trail to the hobo-scouting reporter as that currently being her life. She's a rarity she says because "women can't afford to walk out of their lives. They have kids, husbands and jobs."

This summer has afforded me the opportunity, one I may not have for a long time, to walk out of my life and just be me.

As for the other things it will mean, I'll try to keep you posted, but I will definitely let you know when the summer ends.

DeflateGate Put a Little Wind Under My Sails

Posted by Mary Webb on May 13, 2015 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday, the kids bickered in the car the whole ride home. Considering we live blocks from school, this shouldn't have been a huge deal. Except that we had several errands to run. Using the quiet voice instead of yelling wasn't working for me until I used it to say, "Nobody needs to worry about asking me for dessert tonight."

Then, there was silence. And, I thought the issue had resolved itself.

But, then later while we were working on his Lego car, Jory ratted Quentin out about taking a piece of candy when he was "cleaning out" the candy jar. He fessed up, and I immediately collected back the work pay and extra change I gave him for his field trip today. He went to bed in tears, but not before my mother called and happened to hear the drama. When I told her what happened, she said, "Ohhhhh, Mary! That was too hard."

And, so a new round of dissension I feel about raising my children as it relates to punishments was set off. On the one hand, I'm always thinking ahead to the future and thinking how unpleasant, to say the very least, visiting each or both of them behind a plate glass or in a grassy cemetery would be. In those cases, I'm about laying down the law (more like slamming it) and nipping stuff in the bud. On the other hand, I also think down the line to when they may move away from home and never call, visit or write because I was stifling when they were growing up. In these cases, I'm sure I end up acting like a pansy and giving in when I shouldn't. Disclaimer: This very rarely happens, the giving in part, that is.

Thankfully, I know the Lord, and He hears my cry, which is generally that I do the right thing by Quentin and Jory, making as few mistakes as possible. He generally answers by directing my path to an answer or encouragement or a better idea or my senses, sometimes all of the above.

The first thing I decided this morning was to give Quentin back his work pay. I've never done something wrong at work and had a boss make me turn over any previously earned funds. So, the punishment wasn't exactly fitting the crime here.

A little later, someone shared Benjamin Watson's (he is as wise as he is fine) FB post about DeflateGate (of which I am thrilled about the outcome). What Mr. Watson had to say was less about football and more about life itself. He starts with an old adage his father shared with him: "Sin takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and costs you more than you want to pay." In essence, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and their gang might have taken just a little peek into their opponents locker rooms but then that led to them taking just a little bit of air out of balls in an effort to go to the SuperBowl, but in the long run, it's cost them their quarterback's four-game suspension, a million dollar fine and two first-round draft picks.

Watson went on to say that, no matter how small we think the sin we commit is, it results in us losing our total protection from God in that event. "Even the most 'innocent' diversion can have lasting and devastating consequences that not only effect the transgressor but those he or she is in a relationship with," he wrote. For example, when his children "innocently" jump on the couch when they know they're not supposed to, their disobedience removes them from his protection. So if they hurt themselves, that's a "natural consequence that they must endure because they have stepped out from under his covering of protection for them."

Then, he went Bible on us. Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death."

Quentin wrinkled his nose up in confusion and asked, "What are wages?"

"You know how you earn money for your work pay? Well, those are wages. What you earn or your payment is wages."

Then, I went metaphor on him. That little piece of candy that he took when he knew he wasn't supposed to have dessert may have seem like such a small thing to him, probably something I wouldn't have noticed if Jory hadn't wanted to get him in trouble. And, to be honest, there are worse things he could do, for sure. The problem is, like Watson so eloquently pointed out, while we may rate our transgressions, we can't do the same with the consequences; we can't say I did 10 degrees of wrongs, so I'm going to get 10 degrees of right to make up for it. The truth is, we don't have any control over what the consequences may be. That means, the small thing we did could earn us a far stiffer penalty than we would mete out if it were left up to us. It's why I thought, during the funeral of those two boys I covered years ago, their death was such an unfair punishment for the casual joyride that ended their lives. The way I explained it to Quentin is, what if he had choked on that piece of candy? What if it had happened in his room where he's usually holed up? What if he couldn't make it to me in the front of the house for help? What if I took the quiet coming from his room as him being engrossed in his game or coloring? How would I feel cradling my deceased child in my arms over a piece of forbidden candy?

Would the candy be worth it? Things didn't go that far, but was it worth the money he lost in this situation?

It seemed like I was reaching him. But, I steeled myself for one of those justifications Quentin seems so apt to make. If it were something like "It was just a piece of candy...(Even though I'd already explained how it's not 'just a piece of candy'), Watson had me covered. He said there is no "entry level" to rule-breaking; either you're a cheater/thief/liar/etc., or you're not. Scripture says, "For the person who keeps all the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God's laws."

Last night, Quentin went for his trusty finger-pointing. "Jory took one, too," he blabbed. She denied it and had not a mouthful of candy for me to consider.

"Right now, I'm addressing Quentin, and that's the person Quentin needs to be focused on."

Today, thanks to Mr. Watson, I'm even better prepared. "WE," he wrote, " are not each other's moral standard. Only God and His word have that distinction." So, Jory could have had a Brach's warehouse full of candy, and that would not detract from the fact that he had done wrong himself.

It was a hot day today, and I'm mindful that Quentin had less money than I wanted him to have, which means he had less opportunities to quench his thirst with a cool beverage at the zoo. Just another consequence. I suffer in knowing this, but I'm no longer feeling the anguish I felt when my mother told me I went overboard. (Besides this is Maw-Maw Nona speaking; if it were Mama Nona, who let many kids go thirsty in the summer because there was too much walking in and out, event though there wasn't any cool air to let out because the General wasn't putting on no AC, I would have been inclined to listen.)

I ended the conversation with Quentin with an acknowledgment of how much I love him no matter what. I think that's always the best note to end on. Mr. Watson must think the same, because he closed by saying, "...how much greater will God's grace and love remove our guilt and shame, give a new heart, a new vision and lift us to new heights if we, through the blood of His Son, turn from our wickedness and follow Him!"

 

10 Things Every New Mother Should Know

Posted by Mary Webb on April 18, 2015 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday afternoon, my oldest niece made the ultimate transformation to adulthood: she became a mother.

Just after her delivery, my sister texted me a brief video of Melinda holding Marley, aka Lil' Asteroid, who was wailing like her namesake's band (pun wasn't intended; it just worked out that way) and flailing her naked right arm all around like she had some major point to prove. Between her adamant I'm-here-and-you-better-take-notice-ness and the she's-here-and-she-has-my-total-attention, reality-is-setting-in-look registered on her mother's face, I decided an edit to my regards were in order. Instead of a heartfelt "Congratulations" when I burst through the hospital room door, "Welcome to motherhood!" seemed more just.

This might be like pissing in someone's Cheerio's. But, I like to think of it as, what was the line in Top Five? Rigorous honesty! Yeah, that's it.

Hell, she reads this blog (I think) and chose to spend her last night of Just Me status at my chaotic home sans air conditioning, but avec one child who was crying and mumbling about me liking the other child better and the other child being totally extra, showing off for a friend plus said neighborhood friend who was walking a groove between my home and hers, and who I would have sent home earlier for "letting all my cool air out" if I had any cool air to let get out.

But, I digress The most decent thing I can do is offer rigorous honesty.

So, Melinda, here we go:

1) Kids will always have something to say, even when they have nothing to say. Proof? Marley is still probably crying now as I write this.

2) Kids will make you talk in riddles. (See above.) But, it will make perfect sense. (Again, see above.) Especially to other women with scrambled brains, which is a side effect of motherhood.

3) Kids will give you cavities. My dentist assured me the crackhead's teeth I had going on in the back of my mouth when she got ready to put my crowns in was on account of all the nutrients a woman's body loses during pregnancy. Proof? I never even had a cavity until I became a mother. Double proof? I had no idea what a crown even was. Thought it'd be something cute going on top of my tooth, not something to fill the shards I had left.

4) Kids will tell you they feel sick at the last minute. Like come away from their seat at the table to you and deposit all their stomach's belongings on your dress shirt. I won't incriminate the culprit; after all, he or she was sick.

5) Kids will relegate your breakfast to a strip and and half of turkey bacon. Proof? They see you putting strips in the microwave, and at no point do they ask you to throw one in for them. And, as soon as you sit down to the table, they ask for a "piece". Seemingly, less is more.

6) But, to be fair, on the 8th (or is it the 10th?) consecutive day of rain, when you swore you just couldn't take one more, single, solitary drop from the sky, kids make you welcome it with open arms. Proof? Jory brought me a bowl of grapes, and then, got under the cover with me and watched a movie with me this morning. Only thing better was when we finished our fruit, and our arms were free to wrap around each other. Only thing better was when Quentin joined us in bed to play a couple hands of UNO.

7) And, kids will tell you "Good cooking, Mama!" with fervor even when you serve them something way less than gourmet. Proof? They chowed down on smoked sausage sandwiches I made quickly so we could get to the hospital with time to spare visiting like it totally hit the spot. And, no one even mentioned the fact that we were out of chips.

8)  Kids will, also, make you feel like the most mundane things you do for them are the super-coolest. Proof? Quentin made it a point to tell Jory how I helped him to clean out his backpack when all I did was dump its contents on his floor and suggested a few things he could toss.

9) Kids will make the simplest things a lot of fun. Proof? A few weeks ago, we celebrated Quentin's transplant anniversary with a meal out. He suggested we play a game called "Categories" on the kids' menu. It called for you to pick a category, i.e., sports, fruit, etc., and go around the table naming something in that group. People were eliminated if they failed to respond quick enough or repeated something someone else said. My kids were worthy opponents, and the game made for one of the best conversations I think we've ever had, as well as some of the best laughs. I know people at the next table were stealing a line from When Harry Met Sally and wanting to have what we were having.

10) The fact is kids are maddening. But, you find yourself wanting them to stick around anyway because they bring you unspeakable joy. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand.

You know what? Kids kind of remind of me of tattoos. Just when you think you can't stand the pinch of the gun a second longer, the artist lifts the pen and gives you a reprieve. Just when Quentin and Jory are at the verge of making me go berserk, they chill out for me.

Also, like tattoos, children are permanent. I thought long and hard about the symbols I had etched on my skin with that in mind just as I waited until I was completely ready mind, body and spirit before deciding to procreate.

So, Melinda, congratulations on delivering such a beautiful baby! Be prepared for the absolute worst, but know that there will be many incredible moments on your journey through motherhood with Marley, too!

 

PARCC is Crap, Literally

Posted by Mary Webb on March 17, 2015 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Please tell me you you’ve noticed that PARCC is crap spelled backwards? With a double “c” for emphasis?

Well, it’s not lost on me that it is lost on the powers that be. This acronym aside, the test itself ranks in the same manner.

Now, let me just say that I still agree with Common Core, at least as it relates to English Language Arts. So, save yourself the time and stop reading if you thought that’s where I was going with this, because I’m all for rigor in our curriculum. But, PARCC does a few extra things that make me wonder they were ever allowed.

The first thing is the timing of tests. I’ve witnessed kids falling asleep during standardized tests and opting to “just do it on the make-up day”, so I can’t say that I’m totally against the tests being timed. I do, however, disagree with the limited amount of time given. I’m talking 75-90 minutes to read 2-3 passages, answer several questions that each have a Part A and a Part B, plan an essay, and then finally write one. Sure, kids are doing it because, what other choice do they have? But, are they doing it well? The only cases where accuracy and speed have ever mattered equally were typing classes and 100-yard dashes. Neither lend themselves to academia. So, the state needs to decide if they want students to be quick or right. I mean they were the ones who told teachers to stop racing to get through the textbook, and instead, slow down to reteach until kids had mastered it. You can’t have it both ways.

Second, remember I’m a writer when I tell you what I’m about to tell you, and I made my students write long before testing started moving in that direction. So, you should believe me when I say three essays in three days is TOO MUCH!!!!!! Hell, a well-written and thoughtful essay should take three days if we want them to brainstorm, draft, revise, edit and, then, produce a final essay. Oh, but it seems, the writing process is just another thing we’ve taught them for which they won’t be fairly assessed.

Speaking of which, anybody remember the pains we went to to get students to use a dictionary to check their spelling or a thesaurus to come up with a more sophisticated synonym for “good”, “mad”, and “sad”? All in vain, my friends, all in vain, because those resources are not allowed for testing. That might be okay for the second phase when students are being asked to use context clues to determine the meaning of a word, but it should have been permitted during the writing portion of the test. After all, isn’t this test about students’ knowledge as much as it is about their ability to figure out even what they don’t know?

Finally, in looking at the practice tests at several grade levels, there were many times I was stumped myself. The answer choices were, in my opinion, sometimes, poorly worded as if they were meant to trick a tester or they were too similar to reasonably eliminate the inaccurate response. I’m a college-educated English teacher who is currently working on her advanced degree, so if it made me second-guess myself, it probably won’t bode well for middle school students either.

As it relates to math (as part of a professional development session, I took a 3rd grade practice test), I didn’t do as bad as I would have thought with it being math, even if it was only 3rd grade math. But, I could still see how the written explanation of their work would be a problem. Besides, what has any math teacher spent her life begging kids to show their work for, if they’re still going to have to turn around and say what they did? It’s counterintuitive if you ask me. And remember, these will be timed as well. Seems like that time would be better served giving students a few extra problems to work out.

The main problem I have with the test, though, is its potential to be demoralizing to a child. I can see a bunch of my students who I know know the material, but who might not pass the test for any of the reasons I outlined. How are they going to feel when they’ve been busting their butts all year, and they get the results they may? And to be honest, I’m really thinking of one child in particular – my own. The struggle is real for him, but for the most part, Quentin works hard. But, I suspect he might not perform acceptably. I’m not wishing this on him. I’m not even speaking from a parental point of view, but a professional one.

That’s why two Saturday classes ago, I sat up straight and listened to this avenue I hadn’t known about before – opting out. This year, parents had the right to have their child not take the PARCC test, I guess as kinks were worked out. I thought long and hard about doing this because, otherwise, it feels like sacrificing him to the wolves. Quentin already has too many things working against him as it is. I resent being another one, or at least, participating in another case of this.

In the end, I only didn’t because to do so would be a shot in the foot for my school’s performance scores. Every child who doesn’t take the PARCC test earns a zero for their school. We work too hard as educators, period, but educators with our clientele of kids, specifically, to cause sabotage to what we’re doing in that building on Carrollton Avenue. Besides, fifth-grade isn’t a high-stakes testing year for Quentin. If he passes, it’ll be a lesson for him in hard and perseverance. If he doesn’t, we’ll know what we need to work on in the coming years, as PARCC doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

It Shouldn't, But Twelve Seems Like a Lifetime

Posted by Mary Webb on March 11, 2015 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The night before I was going in to deliver Quentin, I was consumed by this insane obsession (aren't they all?) to have my toes polished. Obviously, I couldn't reach or see to do it myself. So, I'd been bugging Christine since she stepped off the plane from Dallas to be my delivery coach to do it for me. I remember telling her that it was part of the job duty. I may have even threatened to renege on the cord-cutting if she didn't. It was that serious, to me anyway.

She eventually did it. Something about the way I appeared to be on the verge of sitting in the middle of a room and beginning to cry (wait! That actually might have happened.) made her respond to my despondency. You'd think I'd remember what color she painted them after all that, but I don't.

I think about that episode from time to time and wonder why on the eve of such a life-changing event that trivial little thing mattered so much. What I've come to is, simply, first impressions. Quentin would see my feet first, and crazy as this might sound, I didn't want him to judge me on that. I wanted him to find me worthy. I wanted him to love me.

Twelve years later, Quentin (and Jory) are the center of this maddening perfection. Not perfect as in 100 percent, but as in the very best whatever percentage that might total up as. It's why today on his birthday, I sent him to school in his Polo khakis instead of the hopelessly stained school ones that I hate sending him to school with on a regular Wednesday, much less this particular Wednesday. But, it's also why I had to admit, however grudgingly, to something that my mother told me last week in relation to an exchange I had with someone about my child.

"Mary, you have to stop protecting Quentin so much," she commented.

It was a conclusion that I had arrived at several times myself and then quickly dismissed. By reasonable assessment, I have cut many apron strings as it relates to my first-born. Oh, so you can pop the top on the Coke can? You must not want to drink that Coke then, son.

Oh, so you grabbed the school bag full of toys you took to your dad's this weekend, instead of the your real book bag. Should have unpacked it like I told you to several times. Good luck getting a pencil today.

Oh, so you don't have your wallet even though I've tried to impress upon you the need to get into the habit of wearing it. Well, you're going to catch your lick at the concession stand today, my friend.

So, I was doing good, right? In those regards, yes. But, it's hard to deny the lump that squeezes up in my throat the moment I feel like someone's going to mess over him or even that he's going to be hurt. When he fell three basketball games ago and hit his head on the floor, I was on my feet instantly and almost on the court before I remembered myself. He popped up without tears, sat out a second with some ice, and then went back in like nothing had happened. Meanwhile, my knuckles were metaphorically white as I clutched the sides of my seat in anguish. Three little boys torment him on a daily basis at school, and I want to trip them down a couple flights of stairs every time I see them. (Don't judge me.) He's struggling with vertigo now after everything, and I want to take a quick descent to hell and tie the devil's horns into knots and say, "Enough already!"

What I really want is to sit the world down and tell them what he's been through and request that they just lay off of him.

I need to be less Mother Bear and more Mother Duck.

But, how do you forget you once had very good reasons to feel this way? How do you get over the fact that your child's very life depended on this type of ferocious guarding? How do you lose consciousness of the fact that a life-or-death matter wasn't a figure of speech but an precise measure of existence or not?

Certainly, living with the knowledge that were it not for Quentin's transplant he would not still be living today is better than the actual event of his demise. I wouldn't think of disrespecting the thoughts and feelings of mothers, fathers and siblings who grieve in unslept-in rooms and are haunted by the absence of roaring laughter. But, it's still painful at the end of great days, like Soulfest at the zoo this weekend or movie nights under blankets with bowls of popcorn on top, to think that he might have missed those beautiful memories. That I might look over and hug Jory tighter but still long for him, too.

There should be some support group or HPA, Helicopter Parents Anonymous. I want to lay down this burden and be de-clawed. I appreciate that he's made it to 12 and that he'll make it to 13, 14, 15, 16 and beyond. I have to realize that the 11, 10, 9, 8 and before and all the experiences that went with them will give him the strength and expertise to navigate what I'm believing will be a lengthy life without the necessity of me coming to his defense.

I'm overjoyed that he is 12 and in relatively great health. It will do me well to focus solely on that.

 

 

If I'm Worrying...

Posted by Mary Webb on February 27, 2015 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This is so sad of me, and one of the very few things I dislike about myself: But, as if I don't have enough things to worry about, I worry about things that MAY (or may not) happen to me down the line.

Let me rephrase. As if the kids don't give me enough to worry about, I worry about things that MAY (or may not) happen to them down the line. It'll be like, what am I going to do if Quentin starts using drugs? Except he's the one who smelled the reefer of the kids in the row in front of us at the Kanye West concert last year, and exclaimed loudly, "What is that smell? It stanks!" So, maybe I'm good. Or, what if Jory decides to drop out of school? Except I watch her playing teacher and swear I pick up best-practice techniques from her.

So, this worrying is nonsense to me for several reasons. The obvious one is that worrying about something is pointless in and of itself. But, second, the things I actually have to worry about, I've somewhat perfected shaking off the things that's bugging me and putting it into the Lord's hands.

But, I'm letting distant what-ifs affect my mental state?

Luckily, I serve a God who will send me a word that will settle my spirit and soothe my soul even more than that lavender bath to which I just got put on. That was the case the other day when The Daily Bread offered the word from Mark 9:14-27. It was about the little dude who was possessed by an unclean spirit. His father had asked the disciples to drive it out, but they could not.

"You unbelieving generation," Jesus replied," how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."

I don't have to say, but you know the Lord did his thing. The crowd thought the boy was dead because, when the spirit came out of him, he fell to the ground and looked like a corpse. For the still unbelieving, Jesus simply took the boy by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

So, even if my lovable son turns into a sullen teenager who battles an addiction or my intelligent daughter lets some obstacle dash her dreams of higher education, I know it's possible to have this struggle, as well as have them overcome it. Yes, there will be some agony and some tears, but I have his words to sustain me: "Bring him to Me," (Mark 9:19).

I'm practicing now. It appears that Quentin has vertigo. I know already that the ENT doctor will see on Good Friday, with the Resurrected Lord's help, will settle that for him.

I'll finish with words from The Daily Bread to sustain you, too.

Father, I lift my beloved to You, knowing that

You love him/her even more than I do and

You understand just what to do to meet his need.

I commit him/her to your care.

Marching is a Family Affair

Posted by Mary Webb on February 10, 2015 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

My days are can generally be summed up as a colossal juggling act. Take Saturday for example. Christine kept Jory for me Friday night because Quentin had an early morning appointment the next day, and she had catechism. Mama kept him for me when he was down while I darted off to a half-day writing class that I'd booked before his appointment came up. My brother-in-law dropped Jory off there as well since I was still in class. Linda picked her up from dance for me because Q's game was still going on across town.

It really felt like I was playing Hot Potato with my children.

So, you can imagine how I relish the times when things just gel in the form of us all being in the same place at the same time. Sunday was like that because we've made marching for an auxiliary unit for our school a family affair. With the exception of dropping Quentin off at school at 8:30, so Jory and I could make 9 o'clock Mass, we were together the entire day. No worrying about who could keep whom until what time and how he/she would be collected, especially since a day parade turned into a night parade.

And, let me just say, other than making repeated treks from Uptown to Downtown on a bum ankle, when I was approached about being the Letter Carrier Coordinator, wondering where my kids would be while I was marching was my chief concern. It's obvious my family helps me a good deal, but I hate to impose on them over and over again, especially in short time spurts.

The first part of that problem was solved when my colleague, who heads the cheerleaders, asked me if Jory could be her mascot. If Jory was game, so was I. Of course, this was before I knew, my girl was pimping my child for compliments. She told me on the route Sunday that if she had a dollar for every time someone commented on Jory's cuteness, she could go on a vacation next week. I should have thought of the whole mascot thing before she did.

But, I digress.

Next thing I knew, Quentin's services were being solicited for band. When our former band director asked me about Quentin participating as a color guard, I was a little torn. Of course, there was part of me that wanted him to be a member of the band. Another part of me started to decline. How would he make it from start to finish with all his medical issues? I figured I should let him because he really wanted to. Again, if he was game, I should be, too. So it wouldn't be too taxing, though, he said he'd wait until January to have Quentin start practicing.

But then, we had a band director change just weeks before the carnival season began. In fact, it happened days before we were slated to perform in the MLK Day parades. So, for the Friday one at the school, I had to drop Quentin off to Mama.

"But, you said we were going to do this as a family," he accused. Reasoning fell way short with him. I was supposed to find a way to make good on my word. He ended up doing it before I could.

Two school days later, following a mandatory parent/sponsor meeting, Quentin asked the new band director himself for a spot in the band. He kept telling me he would, and I kept trying to dissuade him. Who would agree to this with the start of Mardi Gras season just two weeks away?

And yet when Quentin marched right up to the new guy and asked, the band director said, "Sure!" Disclosing Quentin's medical history to him didn't deter him, either.

Because I felt like he'd been put on the spot, I informed him that Quentin had been promised a color guard spot, so no need to try to help him learn an instrument. But he said he didn't mind giving him an instrument. As he said, he'd work his "magic" despite the looming start to the season. The rest was easy negotiating. Quentin said drums. I said too many people played that. The band director suggested a horn. I responded with trumpet. Quentin agreed.

In one day's time, though, he came home with a trombone.

"I didn't know how to play the trumpet," he explained.

I didn't know you knew how to play the trombone, either, I responded in my mind.

I let it go, and days later just basked in the beauty of all of us in some form of Lions uniform. Quentin was so excited the morning Little Rascals was to roll. Almost like Christmas Day. Jory was so gracious about inviting him into the fold. In fact, one of her thankfuls that morning was her brother getting to march in his first parade.

It didn't take long for reality to hit him, however. We started the parade behind Clearview Mall. He was in the van shortly after we got to Veterans. According to his band director, he quit, and he wasn't trying this ever again. Because I thought it was a physical limitation, I just said it is what it is. I was okay with him thinking I was a pansy-ass who helicoptered over her male child, too, because there's something to be said for letting Quentin call some shots. I'm not the one who had cancer or any of the other things, so I can't be the one to say what he can and cannot do.

But then, a parent came and made me aware of Quentin's real feelings. He was frustrated because he couldn't get his steps right, and he said people were pushing him. I took a quick jog to the van and hopped on. As soon as he saw me, he went into a full-blown explanation. I stopped him quick.

"Quentin, you can't expect that you're going to be perfect the first time you've ever marched. And, you can't expect that the people around you aren't going to try to correct you. You wanted to march. You have to decide for yourself if you're going to continue or not."

Meanwhile, Jory marched like a boss. Not even the rain that poured down on us could stop her shine.

This Sunday gone, I thought it would be a repeat of events. It was, and it wasn't. We had a painfully long wait, as in three hours. A start time of 4 when he'd been at school since 8:30 would have drove me, so I tried to empathize with him as I watched his face contorting into all kinds of anguish. And, these were the real deal parades, not even starting at Napoleon and Magazine, but at Jefferson and Tchoupitoulas. Surely, he'll have hung it up by the time we make it to Napoleon, I thought.

But no one came and told me anything. I held off checking on him because I didn't want to give him a reason to give up. Just before Jackson and St. Charles, I decided to check in. His band director said he had just gotten into the van. I cheered. Then, I tried to ignore that discouraged look I imagined he was shooting me. When we've come from where we've come, getting that far is a huge feat.

Meanwhile, Jory marched like a boss again. She is really in her element out there on the route with all eyes on her, sort of like a young Bey. Not even the length, the blister that formed on her pinkie toe or the bigger kids who were practically falling out around her could stop her shine.

Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong about the band director's thinking because when we got back to school, he told me to make sure Quentin took his vitamins.

"You know, I think he did pretty good. He got further than I thought he would. I know that's not the standard you have for your band members, but it was good enough for me," I said, fighting to keep the defense out of my voice.

"To be honest, he surpassed my expectations," he said. "But, still make sure he takes his vitamins."

"I will," I said, fighting to keep the pride out of my voice.

Later, Quentin told me that he got back out and finished the route. I'm not sure where this happened. I am sure that I am every bit as proud of him making it to the end as I am of baby girl making from start to finish.

 

 

A House of Harmony

Posted by Mary Webb on January 26, 2015 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I read something the other day, and I felt totally convicted about it. The Parent magazine reporter started with an anecdote about the ever-painful potty stop her 5-year-old daughter requested on a road trip just five minutes after they had stopped to use it because she hadn't felt the need to go.

Even though as a mother who claims to have common sense, sense that would have been demonstrated by making my own child go anyway, I could totally see myself gripping the steering wheel so tight that my knuckles were white. And, clearly, I wasn't the one in this situation.

Then, I realized this wouldn't be an article where we ganged up on defenseless children. It was an article where we upset parents needed to have an angry mob unleashed on us for exacting the kind of fear, uneasiness and apprehension we have caused the ones we loved. In the article, the mother had reminded her small daughter that she'd said she hadn't needed to go when they stopped. The daughter had answered as honestly as the little babes tend to: "But, I didn't."

The author said she turned around to see her child's "little face deflating like a soufflé and her literally wringing her hands." What's worse is, though she saw her daughter's expressions, she still muttered her disbelief that they'd have to exit the highway yet again. But her 8-year-old son checked her, and that's what drove the point home to her when he said, "Mama, she just needs to use the bathroom. Probably she should have gone before, or whatever. But, she needs to now." All that was left to say was, "Soooooooooooooo? How about it?"

My first thought was, OMG! That's me when I have a heart attack because I'm ready to leave school, and the kids are still struggling into their jackets and haven't even started collecting the homework they need to place back into their folders, even though I told them minutes before I was done. That's me when Quentin is trying to tell me something in the morning, and he's still in his underwear though it's 6:15, and he should at least be at the breakfast table. That's me when Jory is insisting I help her with homework that I know she knows how to do without my assistance while I'm trying to prepare a quick dinner.

It was certainly me the other day in Target when a) we'd just let a fully functional toilet at the hair salon; b)I really just wanted to pick up Jory's king cake for class and get home; c)she'd waited until we'd pass the restroom at the front of the store, and we'd gotten all the way to the back of the store to say she had to go; and d) excitedly hurried me on back to the front even though I was going as fast as I could in heels and a still-healing ankle, as I certainly didn't want to contend with an accident on top of everything.

The truth is the last thing I want to do is make my kids feel like I think they're blowing it. Yet, that's probably what my huffing and puffing and dramatic sighing (which I thought was an improvement over yelling; you know if you can't say something nice...) is conveying to them. I just want things to go the way they're supposed to...as quickly as possible...without me repeating any directions. I just want what that article offered -- harmony. I'm just going about bringing it about the wrong way. A little inharmoniously, to be exact.  

So, what to do? First, I have to recognize what harmony means; it means that while each voice is different and individual notes may vary, we're all singing the same song. The article also said harmony means cultivating communication and compromise, flexibility and kindness, courtesy and the benefit of the doubt.

Here's my answer to this: As it related to communication, instead of trying to bury my head into a magazine at the dinner table (because I feel I never have time to read) and getting pissed when it gets interrupted with delirious peals of laughter when Quentin starts with his "Jory, would you eat a (insert stupid inanimate object here)" comedy routine, I put them first. We actually talked at the table. One night, we just did "highs and lows" of our day. Another night, we did the brain puzzles and riddles from Jory's Highlights magazine. And while we laughed, it was actually the pleasurable kind.

Compromise was a little more difficult for me. Let's face it. I grew up in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do era. Maybe I'm getting revenge on the wrong people by making my kids do the same thing. The flip side, though, is I just think I make more sense than my kids do. But, these are very well the reason why I should be compromising. It's not their fault I didn't get to do things the way I wanted to do them. And, if I don't allow them to start making some decisions (and see why the ones they make might not work), how are they going to learn to make better ones? So, the other night when I told Quentin he needed to come to the table to do his homework when I saw him reclining in his bed to do it after he finished reading, and he asked to just stay there instead, I didn't march him to the table anyway. What did I really want in this situation -- for him to do his work or to sit at the table? For him to do his work. What didn't I want? The homework drama we usually have. So, I let him stay where he was. To his credit, he got it done and correctly.

For flexibility, I just ran down the schedule they have me juggling on Saturdays with catechism, dance, basketball, band and whatever invitations they acquire, and they were open to wiggling when I needed them to. For example, last weekend, I was under the weather for the entire holiday weekend. I dragged myself to the things I needed to take them to, but then, dragged myself right back to bed. Even though that meant they didn't get to go anywhere and they had to be quiet and they ate more than fair share of sandwiches, they did it without complaint.

Admittedly, I am unkind when I'm fussing at them. It's pretty much the nature of reaming someone out. I've decided it doesn't have to be. There's a way to tell Quentin when he needs to take the garbage out without reminding him of how many times I've reminded him about that, which I know drives him crazy. And, I could have declared my disappointment in Jory that she continues to be a talker in class without telling her that I was going to give her teacher permission to put her desk outside of class, so she would be mortified about being singled out. That totally overshadowed her otherwise stellar, straight-A report card.

I think I already do a good job of being courteous. Even though they have to do what I say (technically not), I'm the first to thank them for it. Maybe that's why they're equally good about thanking me for doing the things I really do have to do for them.

Last night, when Jory didn't come when I called her to get her teeth brushed because she was on their laptop, I collected my ruler and, to her "surprise", smacked her across the rump with it. There's been a sudden epidemic of "not hearing me" when I've told them to do something. Perhaps, I should have given her the benefit of the doubt that she might have been so caught up with what she was doing that she really hadn't heard me. A second call might have been more fair.

Essentially, I want all our days to be like the ones we spent in DisneyWorld last month. There was zero beef and lots of love and laughter. We simply just enjoyed each other's company, which was a relaxing state of mind to be in, especially since I really do like them as people and not just my children. Realistically, I know all our days won't be like that. Juice spills and last-minute-mentioned projects will still happen. But, getting as close as possible to nirvana in the home begins with me. Yesterday when Jory asked to go to the restroom as soon as we got to Mass, I just said okay. And, guess what? It really wasn't the end of the world.

Forget the Evil Stepmother! How About the Evil Mother?

Posted by Mary Webb on January 13, 2015 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

A student told me yesterday they wished they had a mother just like me. This was in reference to seeing me make Quentin a study guide (list of questions) pertaining to Holes to make sure he is actually reading it.

I should have glowed with the compliment. It's the cynic in me that made me first register this mental response: Be careful what you ask for!

It's not that I'm not a pretty fantastic mother. (I really do think I am.) It's just that, if it were left up to Quentin, this awesomeness would manifest itself in me leaving him the hell alone with reading. (It would certainly allow more time for my own reading for pleasure.) Yet the fact I persist in forgoing this to keep up with his reading, writing, basketball, meds, overall being is why I think I'm all that.

But, that's not what this is about. It's about the fact that Quentin probably doesn't think so at all. Sure, he'll sometimes mention I'm the best mother ever. It usually precedes needed something or follows a hearty meal. Every once in a while, it's completely random and, obviously, heartfelt.

Overall, though, I fear that Quentin's perception of me is somewhere between a nag, mean mommy and Grendel. I don't like this idea, because it isn't rightfully earned. In fact, it's usually a corner he's painted me into.

Let's take yesterday morning for example. We bypassed the breakfast drama because he actually wanted to eat. (His dad left donuts over the weekend.) In fact, Quentin was the first one dressed and groomed and rarin' to eat. A quick peek at his room, and I had to ask him to hold off. To say he'd just been up for 15 minutes, it looked like a cyclone had run through there. He started his grumbling...as if it was totally acceptable to leave his room in such disrepute, and I was the one on some ole' other s**t. I'm forward-thinking, so I could see how this could go into Round 2. That's why I gave him a heads up.

"Quentin, please pick up your room entirely. Because if you don't, you won't be having a donut for breakfast this morning," I said in plain English.

If these had been last words pronounced upon me, I would have heeded them. More so, if I knew the pronouncer's record: never has she said something that she didn't follow through with.

Two seconds later. Quentin was back at the table. If there had been one thing left on the floor, perhaps, I would have let him slide. Instead, it looked like he had only picked up one thing off the floor. When I summoned him, he came with this pained, what-is-it-now expression plastered on his face. I was incredulous when he looked his room as if the pajama pants, comforter, tennis shoes, books, toys and loose cards weren't strewn over the floor. And, that was just what I pointed out on one side of the bed.

"Listen, little boy, pick up the pajama pants, comforter, tennis shoes, books, toys and loose cards and put them where they actually belong if you want to keep them," I said, by way of a second advance notice.

Eventually, he came back to the table. Because of my promise, as well as his continued under-the-breath mumbling, I stayed his hand when it reached for the donut.

"I wasn't playing games with you, Quentin. Find something else."

He vowed not to eat anything if he couldn't have his donut.

I vowed with equal steadiness in my tone not to feed him another meal that day if he didn't eat breakfast.

With the wisdom (or lack thereof) of an 11-year-old, he stormed out of the kitchen.

With the hunger pains of an 11-year-old boy who knows school lunches can be a little iffy, he returned some time later. But he came back with that effin' (it was getting to that point in my head) muttering. When Jory deciphered his message about not liking me and ratted on him, he denied it and started screaming at her. I asked him to excuse himself from the table because breakfast isn't the meal for unpleasantness.

When Jory was done, I called him back but warned him that he had eight minutes to eat.

"I can't eat in that little time," he complained.

Mind you, this wasn't a plate from the Intercontinental's Mother's Day buffet. It was a pancake on a stick.

"Well, if you can't do it, Quentin, it's no use you try."

Seeing me shove his breakfast in the microwave really made him hoop and holler.

At every juncture, I wondered what it was he would have liked me do that wouldn't seem so evil.

Then, I recall Outkast's infinite wisdom: "...I shoulda listened when my mama told me that, if you play now, you gonna suffer later...' Hopefully, Quentin will stop thinking I'm talking "yin-yang" and start paying me some attention. To take Andre and Big Boi's message a bit further, maybe it'll be the reverse. If I keep on him now (even though this shouldn't probably be happening until his teens), it'll be smooth sailing forevermore. Ben Carson didn't get to be the renowned heart surgeon he is today without his mother's strict pressing of him to read for a specified amount of time each day.

Unfortunately, there is such a long time between now and Quentin finishing medical school. Thank God for the little reprieves like this morning when, instead of coming with renewed and fortified strength (and stupidity) to engage in combat again, my child remembered yesterday's defeat, conceded it, and did he needed to do, in a timely fashion, I might add, to have the breakfast he desired.

I also thank God for the teacher yesterday who stopped me from making my kids return the money another teacher gave them for coming to open the door for her. I tried to explain to her that my kids always seem to get something for doing something they should do. For example, at church Sunday, one of the ushers gave them each a roll of Lifesavers because they brought up the offertory collection. It was the teacher who did some the explaining, though. She showed me that when the kids receive something they didn't solicit for something they've done, the giver has chosen to bless them. Further, she said, the blessing is bestowed upon them because people recognize that they are good kids.

My blessing is that they are, even if they sometimes give me hell.


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