Room at the Top

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This past week before the fall semester began, I gazed out the window of my office, watching the groundskeepers cut down the bahia grass, sprucing up for the incoming freshmen. The campus, as if it had been in hibernation for the summer, awakened with the earthy tang of fresh-cut grass. Pine straw spread around the trees are like sun-browned nests in a field of green. Moms accompanied their high school grads, the younger siblings tagging along, the air full of humidity and expectation.

The scene made me think of the movie, Liberal Arts, set in an unnamed community college in Ohio. The main character is everyman Jesse Fisher—a thirty-something college admissions counselor who returns to his alma mater to speak at an old professor’s retirement celebration.

My favorite conversation was in the dining hall, when Jesse is sitting across from a moody, brilliant kid he’s unofficially mentoring—a kid who asks him why he liked his time at this college so much, when he just wishes it would all be over, to which Jesse replies, “It’s the only time you get to do this, you know? You get to sit around and read books all day, have really great conversations about ideas…You could go up to everyone here and say, ‘I’m a poet,’ and no one will punch you in the face.”

*

When I got promoted to a higher position in the office I worked in, I had the opportunity to create a flier advertising an essay writing workshop, for which I was able to implement my creative talents (i.e. my wordsmithery and penchant for puns). I never thought I’d be interested in graphic design (as I’ve always hated my computer classes), save for the books I create on Shutterfly, but I enjoyed this project.

Every semester, I am learning more about what I enjoy doing, and could enjoy doing for a vocation.

*

My college’s motto is “Go here. Get there,” but it’s feeling more like “Go here. Stay here”—at least until I can find my niche in the medical field, hopefully, writing newsletters or press releases or something along those lines (pardon the pun).

Even though I will be taking all my classes online, college will be my home away from home, as all four of my jobs will be on campus.

Four years ago, while trying not to nod off in Health Care Law class, listening to a monotone professor read off PowerPoints from an overhead projector, I never envisioned I would be holding two supervisory positions, much less feel capable of doing so.

Despite this, and taking three classes (maybe two), I am undaunted, for, as my dad would say, “the wind is at my back.” I will not have to struggle through any more math classes this last semester before I graduate with my A.A. and my A.S.

The best math professor I ever had said something like “Just love it enough to get through it and then you can go back to hating it.”

I don’t even hate it now; I just hated doing it.

That’s progress.

*

A good friend told me it isn’t the happiness that makes you happy, but the pursuit of it. I pursued security through education, but the process made me happy, for it connected me to people who will become lifelong friends and helped me become my best.

As I’ve learned more, I’ve found myself teaching my daughter things I might not have otherwise thought about—like how the Big Bang was more like the Big Whisper, that Big Toe’s real name is Hallux, and that zero is really the first number. (She will also know how to spell Pi before Pie—that whole i before e thing, you know.)

So even though I know it’s going to be a busy semester, I look forward to all my classes—learning another language (which I like to say is like getting a brand-new set of colors you didn’t know existed), the intricate workings of the human mind (what writer wouldn’t love that?), and humanities in the arts (I predict a chapbook of ekphrastic poetry coming).

Furthermore, I will be writing, editing, tutoring, mentoring, creating, training, collaborating, and doing the kind of office work that frees my mind to brainstorm about the next “Great American Short Story.”

Maybe one day that story will be my own.

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Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #448: Chore

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Hymn of Motherhood

(for all the “Tullies” out there)

For Mama Mia,
motherhood was a never-ending spin cycle—
of scraping dried spaghetti off plates
or off the floor,
wiping spit-up from faces,
throw-up out of sheets,
& sometimes poop or pee,
& even poopy pee.
It was poop in the bathtub.
It was cooking hamburger casseroles for dinner
& baking cupcakes for play-dates.
It was cold cereal & spilt milk
& crying for no reason
& laughing for the same.
It was yelling for a multitude of reasons.
It was vacuuming the rugs
for the creeping crawlies in onesies
& the toddling twos in their missing left socks.
It was reading the same stories over & over—
like binge-watching Groundhog Day
limiting her own screen time to set an example,
& sharing her chocolate to show that sharing was good.
It was hiding in the bathroom to check her e-mail or
in the closet to nosh on a frozen white chocolate KitKat
& not feeling guilty for saying no when she needed a dose of
I Love Lucy to unwind.
It was letting them see her read books,
so they would know she did it for herself
& not just for them.
It was giving them what they needed,
but not always what they wanted.
It was making time to play with them
& knowing when to leave them to their own (non-electronic) devices.
It was saying thousands of “I love yous” before
getting even one back.
It was sticky hands & dirty feet & boogies God knew where.
It was one dish left of a set.
It was showing them the world
but not showing the world, them.
It was teaching them about Heaven &
the God who created it in a way
they could
understand.
It was trying to keep their memories alive
of those who’d loved them,
but they would never remember.
It was putting locks on doors, cabinets, cupboards.
It was trying to remember so much &
having to be so aware.
It was a life sentence of worry.
It was not believing in spanking,
& yet,
promising never to spank again.
It was comforting after disciplining.
It was, when Daddy pissed her the hell off,
letting her temper freeze over when it wanted to boil over.
It was forgiving Daddy for pissing her the hell off.
It was remembering the day when she used to look at harried mothers,
feeling sorry for them,
& knowing now that she had become what she had once vowed
she would never become.
It was a constant unscrambling of the brain.
when interrupted because of the need for attention.
It was a distracted drive through life &
staying up far too late to get some alone time.
It was yearning for her pre-baby body in her post-baby life,
wondering why the silhouette in the mirror disappointed her,
for she’d been running,
it seemed,
since the day they were born.
It was everything she had ever wanted &
more work than she had ever thought it would be.
It was teaching them all the things they really needed to know
before they ever got to kindergarten;
it was learning to know when to ask for help
so that she could care for herself as well
as she cared for all of them.

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http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-448

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #443: Free

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The Navy Veteran’s Daughter

One day she’d hoped to be like her mom,
joining the Navy and serving her country.
When she found out, many years later,
that was not an option,
she realized that no mother could ever have it all,
because she couldn’t do it all.
As she worked her way through technical school,
writing her little stories in her free time,
she sacrificed her priceless time,
so that the time her family
would someday have with her
would be better time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-443

Childhood Memories: A Father’s Day Message

(top left):  1981:  My dad and mom, with a new me.  (top right):  1953:  My grandfather, Joseph York, with my mom.  I always thought Joe looked just like Billy Graham.  (middle right):  Circa early 1970’s:  A trio of Booker dads:  My dad, Phil (Phillip Wayne), his dad, Paul Whitaker, and my uncle Bill (Paul William).  It had been Grandma’s idea to give them all the initials P.W.  (bottom):  The father of my child, on the night she was born.

This morning, as I let my daughter press the button on our coffee machine, I was reminded of all the times when I was about her age, growing up in Rota, Spain, when my dad would let me press the button on the bean grinder (ground being unavailable). Maybe that’s why java’s lusty aroma always makes me smile.

I never knew why the grinder was always on the floor (near a self-portrait of Albrecht Durer framed in “gold,” leaning against a closet), but now I know that it was so I could be a part of the process (if not a consumer of the product).

And that’s partly what parenthood–be it motherhood or fatherhood–is all about:  Taking the time with your children.

*
When I found out I was going to have a baby, it took me a while to realize that my parents’ example had given me all the tools I needed to be a good mom, for we learn how to parent from our parents (whether good or bad), just as they learned from theirs.

A man learns how to be a father from having one.

*
From my dad, I learned that you can survive horrendous cooking (so long as it errs on the side of overcooked), that you can put up with a lot of crap from another person because they put up with a lot of crap from you, and that good acting isn’t using four-letter words and taking your clothes off.

But the greatest lesson learned was that I was just as valuable for being born a girl as my brother was for being a born a boy.

*

As for the father of my child, I can do what I do (go to school to better myself so that I can better our financial situation) because he does what he does (be a stay-at-home dad)—just as my dad supported my mom when she decided to join the military.

That’s what being a husband is sometimes: Not “letting” your wife do whatever she wants but supporting her so that she can feel good about doing what she needs.

 

Why I Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful

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When I mentioned to someone I trusted that my daughter was getting genetically tested, I explained, “To find out why she is the way she is.”

It was never to “figure out what’s wrong with her,” because I don’t see anything wrong.  She isn’t broken, in need of fixing, but rather, in need of additional guidance and patience to help her be the best person she can be.  Just like I needed math tutors last semester.

All test results were normal, though I’ve been asked by many people (all health professionals) if she was autistic.  She is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, but on the high-functioning end.

When my mother was alive, all she saw was her specialness, not her special needs.  “That’s just who she is,” she would say, because for her, and for me, and for all who love her, it was that whole unique and wonderfully-made thing.

*

My child has the most incredible memory, whereas mine is pretty crappy.  Sometimes I ask my husband if he remembers if I ate anything for breakfast.  I feel like Kelly Bundy from “Married With Children” in that episode where she loses a fact every time she gains a fact, because there’s only so much space in her airhead; she forgets on a game show a football trivia question about her father–something about these things called touchdowns.

However, a memory like my daughter’s has its challenges.  It took me forever to get her to unlearn “shit,” after my parents thought it was freaking hilarious when she tipped out of her Minnie Mouse chair and said, “Awww, shit!”  When they told me about it, I couldn’t help but laugh, even though I admonished her later that young ladies don’t use that word.

That’s said, salty language and an overabundance of sweet snacks are truly the stuff of grandparents.

*

My daughter also has an incredible ear for sounds–she actually corrected the teacher on the difference between a helicopter and an airplane.  As much as I would love for her thing to be words, I believe it will be music.

*

When a “neurologist” (I’m not even sure what she was, she didn’t even bother introducing herself or familiarizing herself with my child’s medical record before her appointment) said that our daughter’s face had a trace of dysmorphia, my husband got pissed while I got so upset, I started crying.

On the way home, I kept looking back for some trace of what this woman saw, but all I saw was this stunningly beautiful little girl with perfectly symmetrical features and enviable blue eyes.  I like to joke with my dad that all other kids looked like dogs after I had mine (not really, but parents are biased).

*

I know it’s a Thing for girls to want to be superheroes over princesses, to major in STEM, and for their parents to praise their strength rather than their beauty, and I get some of that, but there will be plenty of people in my daughter’s life who will say something unkind.  It is my job–my calling–as her mother, to build her up without tearing others down.

My mom grew up thinking she was ugly because her mom never told her she was pretty (and she was!), and so my mom always told me I was–even when I was going through this hideous awkward stage where I looked like the female (and brunette) version of that bully in A Christmas Story.  (At least I did in one of my school pictures.)  Of course, I believed Mom only said that because she was my mother, but I know she meant it, too.

That said, my mom always told me that her grandmother told her that “Pretty is as pretty does.”  I let my daughter know when she is being ugly, just as I tell her that she is strong and smart and all those other things.

*

I’m not blind to my daughter’s quirks, but it rubbed me the wrong way when the people at the center seemed like they were trying to push us into “family planning” (like to have another one like the one I have would be so horrible).  I don’t even like the way “family planning” sounds,  and I don’t practice it.  I don’t feel that way because a man in the Vatican or a bunch of men in Salt Lake don’t believe in it (Jesus died for me, they didn’t), but it’s my personal, spiritual belief.  (I will, however, concede that I would probably feel differently if I had more than half a dozen.)

Sometimes you just want to say someone, “Let they who are without imperfection be the first to cast the first birth control pill,” because we’re not talking Tay-Sachs or Huntington’s chorea here.  My daughter isn’t suffering–she is one of the happiest kids I know.  She’s never even thrown a tantrum.  She’s gotten upset and frustrated, but she’s never been one of those little horrors you see on that British nanny show.

*

My daughter has shown me that we are more than our genes, our chromosomes, our cells, for they only tell part of the story of who we are, and what amazing things we can become.

Thinking of Mom on Mother’s Day

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My mom with me (I was about six here) and my brother, Kelly “Kel” Morgan. I never lacked for books, as you can see from the stack of Little Golden Books on the nightstand (Rota, Spain, 1987).

What would’ve been my mother’s sixty-fifth birthday passed on the twenty-third of April–a day when we would’ve gone to all the different Firehouse Subs and gotten (or haggled) for her free sandwich (I still remember her precise order and how she would flip her you-know-what if there was cheese on it because “they slop cheese on everything now”), with me buying a brownie or two so we wouldn’t look like greedy a-holes trolling for handouts.

Since then, I’ve been to her marker, now headstone, twice, my grandmother relieved that Ann was included on the stone (all the other military headstones we saw only included the middle initial).  Bernadean (my grandmother) was the only person who ever called my mom by her first and middle name (which is customary in some parts of the South): Betty Ann (as she was named her paternal aunts, Betty Lee and Carmen Ann).

Mom was so sick for so long (her stomach and back always given her trouble), it never occurred to me that she was dying–that all it would take was a slight thing to trigger a chain reaction that her body was defenseless to stave off.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” my dad still says, echoing my thoughts, echoing his previous words.  Isn’t it strange (and perhaps it’s own kind of wonderful) that wonderful things seem more real than terrible ones?

For good things have happened since “Grandma went bye-bye to Heaven” (as my daughter says), never doubting that they were meant to happen.

I wish (two words I find myself thinking more often) that I had more pictures of my mom and me in our later years, but, like the Bible says about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving unto his wife, well, I guess the same goes for wives.  I became the adult in the family portraits, and my favorite subject to photograph became my daughter (still is).  I became one of those annoying moms I loathed who think everything their kid does is cute. (Okay, maybe not everything, but I love to share what is.)  I will never be a “Caroline Appleby” (Lucy Ricardo’s frenemy from I Love Lucy) about how adorable her “Stevie” is.

My mom wasn’t the type to open up to other women (I am too much the other way), so even though she wasn’t a Caroline Appleby, I always knew how she felt.

I was hesitant about sharing this eulogy I wrote and read at her visitation, but then, what is a eulogy but a type of poem?  I wanted to make this available for the family members who didn’t get to be there due to distance and circumstance, or for those who came later.

The post I published before was about her death–this is about her life, who she was, and still is, in what I think of as a “galaxy far, far away.”

(as read March 12, 2018)

I’ve always said that no one loves you like your mom loves you. I never understood that till I had a child of my own.

I remember when I knew I was going to have a girl, I put Hannah’s ultrasound picture in a book as a surprise. I remember Mom was as excited as if she was going to have the baby herself, and doubly excited that I was going to name her Hannah, for she’d always loved that name.

From that moment on, she started calling her Hannah Banana. Hannah eventually became Hannah B (for Hannah Beth). Mom was always so excited to see her. When Hannah got old enough to understand the concept of Grandma, the feeling was mutual.

But I know my mom loved me, too.

*

It was Mom who made my dad go into the room with me when I had to get a spinal tap for spinal meningitis because she couldn’t bear to see her child in pain.

It was Mom who showed me that a woman could have a career and a family, and still be a good mom. (Cooking skills not required.)

When I lived at home and didn’t come back when expected, it was Mom who would worry and drive around looking for me.

It was Mom who taught me to be observant, so she may have helped me save my own life and I never even knew it.

It was Mom who made my husband promise to take care of me.

It was Mom to whom I always first brought my stories—before they had the credence of publication or awards.

It was Mom who would give me rides every morning to work and pick me up when I didn’t have a car—sometimes when she was sick—because she had faith that I would be successful someday.

It was Mom who taught me how to have a sense of humor, and I understand, in times like these, how important it is to have one. I still laugh when I think of one of her “mom jokes”—funny only because they came from her.

It was Mom who told me that I could always come home, if needed—that there would always be a place for her children.

Mom always made sure her mom was taken care of, and I always figured the day would come when I would have to help take care of her.

I just wish I’d gotten that chance.

*

Just as Mom didn’t know how much I appreciated her—something we so often forget to tell people—I didn’t always know how proud she was of me, but a teacher of mine told me at an event I read at, that she could see how proud she was.

I just hope that Mom knows I’m proud of her, too.

*

Throughout her life, Mom did what the writing experts tell all storytellers to do—to show, and not tell. She did even better than that; she backed up everything she said.

She will be terribly missed, but that only proves how much she meant to all of us. She’s gone, but not lost to us forever.

Almost everything Mom taught me, I would never learn in a classroom, but isn’t that what moms are for? To give you the tools you’ll need for when they are gone?

So, thank you, Mom, for all of that, and everything else.

Poem-a-Day April 2018 Writer’s Digest Challenge #29. Theme: Response (to a previous poem this month)

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What He Thought His Wife Thought of Him

In response to: https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/26/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-26-theme-relationship/

He was the cook, 
the man who knew how to wield
a slotted spoon.
He was the griller,
the fryer,
the everything but baker.
He was quick to flip someone off on the road,
quick to forgive,
but not forget.
He was the paranoid,
obsessed with how his wife perceived him,
who never asked himself
why she perceived him that way.
He was the man with the memory,
who catalogued every wrong thing
she had ever said,
and every time she had forgotten to remember him.
He was the man who wanted his woman pure,
but who made love like fifty shades of immorality.
He was the black sheep,
the stray sheep
who did not stray.
He was the man who had disappointed her
with the gambling,
the alcohol,
the nicotine that surely damaged his contribution
when it came to creating another little one.
He was not a reader,
but a roughhouser.
He was a depressed man,
locked in his own mind,
but always trying to break into hers.
He had never broken her heart,
but her trust.
He was the man who put her before their child,
even as, at times, put their child before him,
for she had been taught that that was what mothers do–
just as she would ask him to love her enough
to save their child
before saving her.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-day-29