A Texas Childhood


Texas highways are bursting with the signs of Spring. There are fields awash with bluebonnets, poking their brilliant blue heads among the leaves as if a grand welcome to a big a country fair. There are daisies and Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers that only old people know the names of. And I’m okay with that. I like to say instead “why look at those pretty yellow flowers” even though I know they are only dandelions.

I’m proud to be raised here, in this land of freedom and independence. We carry both handguns and chewing gum in our purses, and use a lot of hairspray and double negatives. I was in particular thinking about how my family would all head to the Kerrville Arts and Crafts Fair when I was young, to listen to bluegrass music and look at all the handmade rolling pins and water pitchers painted with sunflowers. We’d gnaw on ears of buttered corn and wander around the booths, saying “what a pretty gemstone necklace” or “well isn’t this a cool picture of a cow.”

I had a great childhood, apparently filled with lots of rolling pins.

I wonder sometimes what my children will look back upon and remember. Am I the only one who wonders what legacy is set forth? Why just yesterday, we went to the garden to pick out some carrots and potatoes for our dinner, which we lovingly picked and cleaned and chopped and added to the pan. However, since I planted too late in the year, the carrots are only about the size of a pencil, the potatoes big enough for a large family of field mice. But I pretended we had enough and supplemented with vegetables I purchased at Whole Foods, hoping no one noticed. Will they remember nights of roasted chicken and vegetables, fresh from our garden? Dear God I hope so. Why else do I go to the trouble?

I think as parents we work so hard to create a world for our children that’s safe and happy, filled with trips to theme parks and birthday parties and nature walks through the woods. But what they want most of all are not memories of their mother listening to Lyle Lovett or singing loud or cooking sweet potato biscuits, but a place where they can be fully themselves. A place where they don’t have to look nice, be someone special, or meet some high threshold the digital world places upon them.

Kids want a warm place to rest their soul when it’s weary, so they can actually grow. That can be in the city, or in the mountains, here on our little stretch of Texas soil. And whether you plant your vegetables or buy them, kids don’t care. As long as they can curl up in your arms, and you tell them about how they were born and loved, about how wonderful they are to you, and how you’ll never ever leave, even when it’s hard. That’s home, regardless of what flowers are blooming in the fields or how large the vegetables. Because these kind of seeds are internal, rooted deep.  This kind of childhood provides a strong future for our children, evidenced by branches of love for others, gratitude for the earth, and thanks to God.

This is the childhood I want mine to remember. One where they eat loads of roasted carrots from Whole Foods and think I grew them.



Enjoying the nature

I hope that my children turn out to be misfits.  Geeks.  Nerds of the worst sort.  I hope they don’t fit snugly into a world of perfect hair and football uniforms where things come easy.  Because self-esteem comes from knowing you’re worth more than the stereotypes.  Because failing miserably over and over builds up deep reserves of character.  I want my children to fail because I love them so.  And loving them means I want them to develop a strong moral fiber, and a confidence that only comes after the breaking.  And when they hear the words “you are not of this world,” I want them to feel the words seared into their very own scars.

In 6th grade, I had a deep crush on some boy with glasses.  Everyone knew it, and the mean girls would write notes and slide them under my desk as if coming from him.  Letters covered with hearts and cheap men’s cologne that I believed for a solid four days, telling me to wait by his locker for a kiss.  It was a lie, as I soon discovered.  And when the history teacher wasn’t looking, someone threw gum in my hair that stuck and my mom ended up cutting it out and wedging stray strands free with Vaseline.  Let’s be honest: school sucked.  Especially when I fell over backwards and broke both wrists at the same time, waddling around in high tops and matching arm casts. Try and top that, fellow nerds of the world.

One day at recess in the 7th grade, before the days of school shootings and metal detectors, someone lit up and threw a smoke bomb at me, the red ball singing with pent-up explosive authority, causing me to topple off a ledge and break my ankle.  And there was the time I was so desperate to wear Guess jeans that I sewed one of those triangle labels on the back pocket of an old worn-out pair of Levis. And for a blissful few hours, I felt special.  Until the label started to unravel in English class and I stood in front of an entire room of kids pointing and staring, practically curled over in raucous laughter.  The feeling in my gut sunk deep, and I can still feel its weight after all these years.  I was so hungry to fit in.  I ached to belong. I just wanted time to rush by so I could enter the seductive world of adulthood.  But children, you aren’t ready.  These lessons have to simmer slow.

Growing up is hard.  It should be, because this world is hard, and it can at times be filled with pain.  You have to learn these lessons at a time when you can still run home to the loving and accepting arms of family.  Many times we would take weekend trips to the city, because mom could tell my sister or I had quite enough. The defenses were tearing loose at the seams, and we just needed to breathe.  That’s what true family is – it’s a space where you can let out the air and take off the mask and learn who you really are.  Loved regardless of what you do or what you say or what you wear.  A fierce love.  An elegant love.  A love that stands next to you, so that no matter how far you run, you can’t ever overtake it. We’d order pizza and flop around in the hotel pool and just be our glorious, goofy, nerdy selves.

I will die running to tell my children how they can never disappoint me.  How the lives that they see as silly and disjoined are like masterpieces to me, patching their father and their grandparents and their own twisted strands of cells into a pride in me that swells.  Oh my loves.  The flesh of my flesh.  You will never do anything too vast or too dark to create a chasm in my heart.  And if I can wrap my heart around you like this, you can only imagine how much more God can love.

There are times I wish my childhood was different.  I wish I had cooler stories or adventures across the globe or wild weekends of desire. I cringe at my own feelings of inadequacy, feeling stupid for being tall and clumsy instead of whimsical and witty. I didn’t go to fancy camps.  I didn’t join a sorority.  I wasn’t in cheerleading or wear name-brand clothes and I only made All-State Choir as an alternate.

But I was so deeply loved.  And now I’m so grateful now for the trials, because they only get harder, and your strength is tested, and it’s the ability to rise above them that matters.  After all these years, I laugh more.  I judge less.  I have learned that great courage is found in the vulnerable places and to succeed you first have to feel the sting of failure.  I rise up and arch my back against the blazing sun with tears drying on my cheeks.  I throw my hands up to the heavens and say thank you to parents that always believed, and ran along side of me until their sides heaved with hurt, and never let go. Because I know that no matter what happens, I will be okay.  I will rise again.  I will be loved.

That’s what it’s like to be a misfit. And it’s beautiful.




Are owls really smart?


(courtesy of Pottery Barn Kids)

I admit it.  I’ve completely fallen in love with the childhood décor of our generation and current obsession of all hipster children’s magazines on the planet– the cute little owl.   They are pink and green and patchwork with button eyes and cute little feet dangling from their stuffed calico bodies.  They adorn walls and bags and hardware pulls and everything you can think of.  So what’s a mom to do?  Well, you get on etsy this minute, you idiots, and find wall décor that encourages your youngster to be wise and studious and adorably hip.  Plus it was the mascot of one of my bestie’s sorority, so it’s a win/win.

Hoot hoot for all.

But as I was sitting there one day in my daughter’s room folding laundry, my mind wandered to why exactly owls were considered smart to begin with.  Are they?  There’s a wise owl in Winnie the Pooh, and I think Mr. Rogers had a rendition that quoted Shakespere, so I of course had to stop everything and run to my computer to find out.  Could The Owl and the Pussycat have led me astray all these years? This is why laundry never gets put away in my house.  And consequently why we have such rambling conversations at dinner.  Mostly ending with “good question / let’s google that” followed by “but aren’t you going to do the dishes?” and my outcry response of horror because obviously no, dishes can wait but knowing the proper scientific name for a baby dinosaur cannot. Duh.  Drop that breadstick and follow me to the computer immediately.

In Greek mythology, the owl was Athena’s go-to bird and an ancient coin from Athens even bore the owl’s image to symbolize the goddess of wisdom.  And it’s connected with mysticism and all sorts of witchcraft and fantasy, mostly because it flies at night under the cover of darkness with an amazing sense of hearing and very awesome night vision.  And then it appears as a recurring main character in Harry Potter, and it’s got those big smart-looking eyes with a head that moves about like a law professor, and it’s the mascot of Rice University, for heaven’s sakes.  It’s solidified as being way more intellectual than those brothel-loving, swearing, ugly, annoying little grackles that appear in supermarket parking lots.  Done.  You don’t have to convince me.  It’s the new room décor of choice whether you like it or not, sweetheart.  Let’s head down to Pottery Barn Kids post haste.

But the more I read about these (rather scary) creatures, it appears that they are very tunnel visioned when it comes to killing, and they regurgitate up the nastiest owl pellets, and with the exception of their fine-tuned senses they really are a bit dim-witted. So when I tell my daughter to “grow wise, young owl,” I’m really telling her to escape under the veil of black night to go kill young rodents and please don’t stumble dumbly in front of a truck and get whacked by a windshield, because those insurance deductibles are killer.  Just sleep all day and stay up all night and make scary screeching noises because you’ll someday be featured in a young adult fantasy novel.

OMG.  Effective immediately, I’m changing her room mascot to a dolphin.

Little Boys

I cradle his head in my forearm, his droopy eyes and fat cheeks soft.  I lay my cheek against his and smell his quick honey breath.  It’s a small space between love and hurt because sometimes I want to squeeze him so tight the air squishes out and I’m left with a rag doll and I think how can I love this boy until the end of time?  I rock and rock like a ticking clock even though he’s asleep by now because I don’t want to break the spell.  I praise God for this magic who is a blessing.

At midnight I hear his cries, the pacifer, I dropped it, momma, and I run into shush him back.  And when he crawls into my king-sized dreams I welcome him in, even though he kicks and pats my face and says in a whisper are you awake?  Are you awake, momma?  He flips and tucks and pats me to sleep because that is the world of one who is two.

But I’m awake and angry at this boy for always yelling and kicking and screaming I want dat and never listening to my incessant pleas.  I want to make it stop as I run him back to the time-out chair.  Teeth are for chewing, not for sister’s arm, I say as I pull him back to a place of reverence.  He pouts and swings his legs and says he’s sorry.  He wraps his arms around my parched throat and says I wuv you mommy and I am suddenly filled, love pouring and drenching and filling what was never really empty to begin with.

Having a little girl is sweet and pink and bubbly but having a son is a different animal and it’s an Achilles heel.  I want to stay hunkered down in his devotion and I place my hand over his little child kisses like I can preserve them there, fossils of when mommy was everything and nothing else mattered. I want them tattooed on my cheek so I can see them there and weep.

This love cripples me so. Someday he will leave – they both will – and it reminds me again that there’s a small space between love and hurt and sometimes they happen at the same time and that’s okay.  So I rock and shush and sing and pray.  Lord help me see the beauty of spilled juice and toilet paper heaps and rocking babies.  It’s so precious and warm and soft.

Hurt or no hurt, it’s more love after all.