Author of: The Notes They Played - a lyrical collection of short stories & The Impossible - a what-if story of the triumph over fear

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Balance, Pedal, Steer!

Sometimes I think about the pleasure I'll have, when I FINALLY have an empty nest, when I reminisce about all the little things that I took for granted, or even grumbled about; the day-to-day things that are just part of raising kids. All the trifles that felt mundane or weighed on me. Teaching each of my children to ride their bikes without training wheels will be one of those things.

I taught all four of them. We live on a busy street, so our driveway only serves to help with the beginning stages of the learning process. I always used the mantra "balance, pedal, steer." You've got to do all three at the same time. You stop any of them, and you fall. Once they got the basics down, I'd take them to a larger area. 

The boys learned on a day that promised a 100% chance of thunderstorms. But, I'd planned to teach them, and by golly, they would learn! So, I packed them up, along with their bikes, their infant sister, and her stroller. We headed to their elementary school. They were learning together because 1) my eldest really should have been taught already, 2) the youngest was ready so why not just do it, 3) they are only 16 months apart, so it wasn't THAT bad that I'd waited until they were both ready. 

Unfortunately, they learned with an impatient mother who was worried about the impending storms, worried that they would not learn before those storms rolled in, worried I'd have to do all the heavy lifting another day, worried that the baby would fuss and cry and not sit patiently, worried that I didn't have it in me to teach them and they would end up like me - not learning until they were 12! I let worry dictate my state of mind. The entire experience was miserable and exhausting for all of us, with me insisting and impatient and them frustrated and afraid they'd disappoint.

They did learn that day, both of them. Before it started raining. With their baby sister looking on in her stroller, patiently. And, their joy (and mine) almost negated the terrible way I'd taught them.

My eldest daughter learned in another elementary school parking lot. The boys and I were running pacers every morning during that summer with my friend Rod and his boys (their friends). We had been late meeting them that morning, rushed and frazzled. The boys got started on their pacers and I tried to get daughter #1 on her bike. "You didn't bring the knee pads!" The look on her face made clear that she was not getting on that thing without them. I left all the kids with Rod, and rushed back home to get the knee pads. I came back to a child who knew how to ride. Just like that! In 10 minutes. I suspect Rod had something to do with it, but he maintained that she'd done it on her own. She agrees.

With my baby, like everything else from potty training on, she'd decided well before I was ready to teach her, that it was time for her to learn. We practiced in the driveway for several sessions, as I'd done with the other three, and Hubby and I had taken her to pick out her very own bike. She walked up and down the aisles in the store over and over, inspecting each bike carefully before she finally decided on a purple matte finish. It was a beauty! 

And then when it was time to go out and learn, she'd balked. She was afraid. She didn't want to fall. So I responded the way every patient and loving mother does - I referenced the amount of money we'd paid for the bike because she'd said she was willing to learn, and I threatened to give the bike away to a little girl who deserved it.

And for several days, we didn't mention it; I in my frustration and her in her fear. And then my sweet youngest came to me and said, "Mommy I prayed to God and now I'm brave. I want to learn to ride my bike." 

I'm so thankful that God steps in to manage the situations that I botch. I'm also pleased that my kids can harvest from seeds I've planted, even when I've neglected to water them. 

So, we started in the driveway. Balance, Pedal, Steer! As with the other kids, she needed a bigger space to master the pedal and steer. I told her that she needed to be focused and look ahead to where she wanted to go. Because when she got distracted by the puppy or her sister, or anything (and everything) else, she would look there and go there instead of where she meant to. We went to her elementary school. Balance, Pedal, Steer! And then she did it! Oh, the joy!!!

It occurred to me as I watched her balancing and pedaling and steering, and as I gave her the direction to LOOK where she wanted to GO, that life is a lot like riding a bike...

My lack of patience with my children often comes from the pressure of things to be done. I have a running list of things to do each day and my pleasure often comes from getting them done, instead of how I got them done. Their busy schedules make life even more chaotic. Balance means putting what is essential FIRST, placing what is optional next, and wiping away or limiting the things that don't matter. In Matthew 6:33-34, we are instructed, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow..."

It's so typical of me to be overwhelmed and preoccupied by what things are to come when I'm supposed to be focused on God first! His timing is what I have to focus on. To trust that the rain will come when it's supposed to, and that if it does come, time will be granted later. There is nothing wrong with later. I have to do better at trusting God to make sure that everything will work out, when it should (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) because when I trust Him, it does. When I trust Him, patience abounds. I can speak to my children in a way that is good for building them up, with grace (Ephesians 4:29).

Pedal. Oh, how easy it is for me to wish that my life was easier - less cooking, less cleaning, less chauffeuring, less homework review, less refereeing. Galatians 6:9 says, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." The truth is that I'm investing in my family. What a blessing that I can! And, if I'm going to do it, I might as well do it joyfully (Galatians 5:22). I love these 5 heartbeats that I live with. LOVE them. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures (1 Corinthians 13:7).  

And, let's be real - my life really is easy, even on the days it feels hard! No matter how overwhelmed I get about cooking - Thank God I have food to cook. Cleaning? Praise the Lord for this house with heat and lights and running water. Driving my kids around? Blessings abound - money to pay for sports, a safe place for them to do it, a vehicle to get us there. 

Where we look is where we go. It's true with bike riding and it's true with life. Proverbs 4: 25-27 instructs, "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil." 

The best example I can be for my children is of a mother with focus; who looks directly ahead to God as my guide. I must be mindful of the path that I take, and wise in directing my family's path. Prayer about all things brings wisdom. Wisdom brings clarity and surety. There is only one way to be sure that we are going in the right direction. And, once we're headed there, we must pedal with everything in us, and maintain balance. In this way we won't need the knee pads! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Whitest Blacks

I went to bed sad a few nights ago. Sometime during the night the sadness I slept on morphed into anger. It was the snarling, smokey-eared, red-eyed, flared nostril kind of anger that every Mama reserves for those who hurt her children. And my child had been hurt. He'd been called a name that he hadn't fully understood. And, he'd questioned his identity. And, he'd come to me to help him navigate it.

I did not thank God, right away, that he'd come to me. But, I should have. These years are the years where kids are trying their hardest to pull away from us while all the while wanting desperately to cling to us for dear life. They choose their friends over their parents. They experience a roller coaster of emotions that they don't entirely understand. I would not go back to adolescents for any amount of money. It's harder even still when you a minority, of any kind. That my kids still come to me with the things that are big to them is a blessing!

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to a predominantly white elementary, middle and high school. I never had a teacher that was not white until I went to college. I was, often, the only Black person the kids in my school knew. My family was often the only Black family the people in our neighborhood knew. We were upper middle class. Both of my parents are college educated and they both held high level executive positions. My sister and I were both expected to go to college, and then graduate school. And, we both did.

When deciding where to buy a house, Hubby and I looked for top performing elementary, middle and high public schools because we didn't plan to send our children to private school. What we found was a beautiful home in a predominantly white neighborhood.

I was taught by my parents that some white people expect Black people to act a certain way - to be loud, to speak improper English, to be poor, to be uneducated, to be impulsive and ignorant. They taught me that Black kids often had to outperform whites in order to be noticed and to get ahead. They taught me to never act the way some white people expected me to, but to instead always act with pride for myself and my race, with dignity, and with God's light shining from me.

I have done my best to raise my children the same way. Almost. I do not tell them they have to outperform white kids. To me, white kids are not the yardstick by which to be measured. I tell them to live up to their own personal potential, and to the purpose that God intends for them. Their only goals should be living lives of purpose and living lives that glorify the Almighty.

I knew that my children would face racism. It has not gone away. Plus, we live in Georgia. My first job out of law school was in Swainsboro, Georgia, where the prom was still segregated. In 2003. But I thought that their generation was more enlightened. They would have been exposed to Black people, they would know that you can't judge a person solely by the color of their skin. Right? Wrong! Despite what I may have thought, the way the world at large sees Black people really hasn't changed that much from when I was a kid.

At school, my eldest son is quiet. He follows the rules. He does his best. He is kind. And, the kids he is drawn to for friendships have these same qualities. He learned recently that, to some, he seems to be an anomaly. Some ignorant kids called him "the whitest black kid" in the school. He was told that since he doesn't use profanity, isn't loud, and doesn't get in trouble ever, he acts like a white kid. He came home mostly confused and also a little hurt.

When he  told me, I was shocked. Certainly in 2018 my son's generation didn't still hold the cookie cutter idea of the Black man. I mean, these kids have witnessed Barack Obama - articulate, intelligent, dignified - as President of the United States.

I told Hubby about it because he is the household expert on what it means to be a Black man in America. He would have his talk with his son. And, I asked my Dad to talk to my son as well, because he has been close to my children since they were born, and he is an excellent role model for them all. 

But, I am his Mama, and I needed to talk to him too. I allowed myself to feel the anger, to stew on it for a few hours, and then I prayed for wisdom. I called him into my room for a talk.

Here's what I told my son;

It's the Great American Fallacy that when God created people in general he created each one to be unique and spectacular. But when he created Black people, he made them all the same. You can be whatever and whoever you choose to be. I hope you will choose to follow Jesus. I pray that for you fervently. I know that you will never forget that Daddy and I raised you to be strong and courageous, hard-working and kind, forgiving and loving. And I know you have what it takes to be all of that. You are not what the world tells you to be. You are you. The you God made.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


In keeping with our vow to take the kids outside of the United States every other summer, Hubby and I decided to make Vancouver this year's family vacation destination. It kind of felt like cheating to me, to be honest. I'd really had my heart set on Italy or Spain this time around. Canada is right next door. I've been to Canada at least a dozen times in my life (although always the East). Since I was raised in Upstate New York, we went to Niagara Falls a good bit. And, since I went to undergrad at Michigan State University, I always cut through Canada to get back and forth between my parents' house and college. Once, growing up, we attended the Caribbean festival Caribana in Toronto. So to me, Canada was really no big deal. I will stress again that I've never been to the West Coast. Boy, was I awestruck by the beauty of it all! I'm even thinking that Vancouver might be the perfect place to retire. Although, I am acutely aware, after having lived in both New York and Michigan, that you never really know a place until you've spent the winter there...

Once we made the decision to go to Vancouver, I went about finding fun, active things our family could do. Because, 3/4 of my kids NEVER STOP! EVER. They love to jump, climb, run, and skip, and they are quite adventurous. One of the things I was most looking forward to was visiting and walking across a suspension bridge. Vancouver is famous for them. The pictures you can pull up on Google are AMAZING! And, I'm a sucker for amazing pictures.

So, on Day 1, we visiting Lynn Canyon Park and planned to spend the entire day there. The hike was absolutely breathtaking. And indescribable, even for me, a writer. It's what I'd always imaged a rain forest to be; without the poisonous snakes and frogs, and deadly insects. Twenty steps from a parking lot, we were suddenly surrounded by trees so tall and so lush I forgot all about my fear that it's quite possible my imaginary grandkids will not see a real tree in their lifetimes.  Where we live the coyotes and deer are being evicted daily for yet another huge house being built on yet another endangered plot of land.

There were trees and tree stumps so big around that we guessed they had to be 100 years old. There were hills and valleys and cliffs and rocks and trees struck down by lightening. And hidden inside the park, along the trail we found a giant staircase, and a swimming hole with water so turquoise and clear we thought it was transported straight from our favorite beach in Honduras. We spotted waterfalls, lakes, bridges, and, of course, a suspension bridge.

In my head I'd planned this wonderful family experience where we'd take pictures and walk across the bridge together. We'd laugh and hold hands and it would be magical. But then we got to the bridge. My boys were hesitant. The eldest played it off as disinterest. The youngest said, straight up, he was afraid. But the girls; they thought it was magical and they hurried on. I called them back and took their hands and we started across. It was breathtaking - literally - I could not breathe. Because, the bridge MOVED. You could see the wires that were put in place to suspend it. And they looked quite questionable to my, admittedly, untrained eye. But, it actually swayed under our feet, confirming my suspicions. I looked up at the faces of the people coming toward me; because on this bridge that seemed to be miles long but only two people wide, people shuffled across from the two ends, going in both directions at the same time. No one else seemed alarmed. My girls tugged me forward, chomping at the bit. People stopped dead in the center, looking down and taking pictures. People were stopping to take pictures of loved ones and selfies. No one was in a hurry.

That's when I realized that, as someone who is slightly afraid of heights, and always wanting to be in control, this bridge meant certain panic (and possibly even death). And. I quickly backed up, squeezing my daughters' hands tightly. Back to the boys we went and I told Hubby, "You take them!" And, annoyingly, he didn't even bat an eye. He took their hands headed across the bridge, waiting patiently behind photo takers, looking down periodically, and even stopping at dead center like everyone else, with my precious girls in tow, to look down even more intently. All the while the bridge swayed and the people crowded and I kept wondering whether that bridge could snap at any second.

Then I wondered what kind of mother I was that I was be willing to send half of my children across a bridge that I felt was dangerous. Fearing for my own life, but not protecting theirs. And then I thought about what kind of message I was sending them. Like 99.9% of parents everywhere, I'm always telling them to conquer their fears, to challenge themselves, to sometimes force personal discomfort. To trust God always. Would they remember the time Mommy wouldn't even cross that suspension bridge in Vancouver?

So, I went across. Slowly. I would have much preferred to run to the very end. But, as I said, everyone else thought that suspension bridges were places for leisurely strolls and picture perfect selfies. I chatted with the lady behind me, about our separate plans to go white water rafting with our respective families. The funny thing is that the further out I got, the easier it became. The swaying remained irksome. But, I had to trust the bridge's stability, and God, to get me across. I had to. 

Still, I put a plan in place for just in case. If that bridge snapped, I would hold on for dear life, and I would pray. I would not scream. I would will myself not to. Screaming would use up energy. I needed every ounce of energy to hold on...Seriously. That was my plan. Hold on and pray!

I made it across, obviously. And then the dilemma became, "how do we get the boys to cross?" So, naturally, I put Hubby in charge of that. And, he walked casually back across, promised them ice cream was on the other side, and brought them over. We walked a bit further to the ice cream shop, had a treat, and then kept walking in hopes to get to the 30-foot swimming hole. And then we got to a map and realized the best route to the pool was back across the bridge. This time we all went together with me at the lead taking pictures, rushing them along in vain, and praying. I even took a selfie with Hubby and I, and one by myself. I even took one at dead center, of the waterfall down below. After all, this was my last hurrah.

We walked about halfway to the swimming hole and found what looked like a staircase made of tree roots. We walked down and made our way to some rocks and a small body of water. Hubby and I sat down together as the kids walked back and forth across the water, jumping rocks and having a blast. And then Hubby noticed one of our backpacks was missing. And my youngest son said he thought he'd left it on the table outside of the ice cream shop. I'm not proud of this, but I asked Hubby if he thought the boys were old enough to go together to retrieve it. And before he could answer, I said, "Never mind, I'll get it. I need to get my steps in anyway."

So, I walked the half mile to the suspension bridge, and crossed it, praying and reminding myself to hold on and not scream if the worst happened. I grabbed the bag and made my way back across the bridge and back to my family. And, I reflected on the fact that I'd accomplished something. I hadn't cured ALS, or helped anyone really. But I'd made a small personal victory, and hopefully been an example to my kids, or at least I'd not been a negative example to them. I'd taken on the bridge the way I hoped to take on most of my fears - trusting in God and praying all the way. Holding on tightly if the worst happened, but not stopping the prayer, even for a second.

I took the walk back to the family a bit slower than the walk to the backpack. For one, there was no anxiety about the bag being taken and forever lost to us. There were waters inside that I knew at least the littlest Efemini would be whining for it we didn't have it to give her.

But I was also a bit slower because I was alone in my thoughts. I have never been a person for adventure. I've always had my feet firmly planted on the ground. Three of my kids are nothing like me.  As a kid I was cautious, timid, frightened of almost everything unfamiliar. They are willing to take risks in ways I wouldn't have dreamed of. As an adult, I'm slightly less afraid only because they taught me that fear can be crippling. Watching them soar has put a spotlight on all the ways that I should be a little less firmly planted sometimes.

Suspension. I was willing to go across that bridge for my children. So, in what areas in my life was I unwilling, still, to cross the bridge? Heady question for a slow walk back to a rowdy crew. But I did find an answer - my writing.

Having my first book published bolstered my confidence. After years of rejection, I was ecstatic that my dream was finally being realized. But with the writing of my novel and the upkeep of blog entries, I went back into the doubting myself - do people really want to hear from me? Regularly? Do I really have anything to say? What if people are tired of hearing from me? What if no one cares? Am I just an annoyance? Are people laughing at me?

I stopped posting to my blog. I used summer as an excuse to not even think about it. I had all the kids home with me on most days. The girls had joined the swim team. The boys were playing soccer. The kids take up a lot of time and energy. I was too tired to write.

And then something devastating happened. Paradigm, the publisher of my book, went bankrupt. And my editor, regretfully, could no longer work with me. I had been comfortable in the knowledge that I would have at least two more books published with Paradigm. My novel was nearly complete. Paradigm's demise left me with so many unanswered questions about The Notes. Most of all, I wanted to know what would become of it. And, I still don't know that entirely yet.

And then there's the upcoming novel. I'd have to find another way to get it published. And self-publishing is not an option. Facing countless more years of the submission/rejection cycle terrified me. All of the unknowns weighed heavily on me.

I stopped writing for a time. And in my fear, I refused to cross that swaying, crowded, narrow, miles-long bridge in my life that suspended itself over rock-hard and jagged doubt, dismaying disappointment and fatal fear. That bridge that gave me a viable connection to the other side required courage. It required risk. And, just like the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, if I crossed it despite my fear, I'd be showing my kids, not just telling them, that you don't just do what comes easy. You do what is hard. Over and over again if you have to. And you pray. And you come up with a plan in case your bridge falls from under you. And you pray some more. But you do not waste your energy on screaming. You put all of your energy into work and prayer (and planning). And working some more.

And you take breaks too - to take on giant staircases, two giant steps at a time, to walk in the trees and jump the rocks and wade in cool water.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Which Story Do You Need to Tell?

I'm probably going to have to tell my husband he's right today. And, the prideful girl in me would much rather just keep quiet. For several weeks now, we've been at odds. Instead of treating disagreements like minor debates between friends, we've begun to disagree in the way of Heavyweight Champions - carrying out knock down, drag out battles that leave us wounded, and  with ringing ears. My heart has been heavy. I know that we are supposed to disagree civilly; to not take differing opinons personally; to be respectful of others' ideas. I can do this with my girlfriends beautifully. No problem. My interpretation of my husband's demeanor when he states his opinions, always leaves me feeling inconsequential. Something about his tone makes it seems like my ideas are pesky lint on his collar. Annoying; easily brushed off. It makes me irate. I know part of it is that we are both first born children; innately "boss." We are used to being right. We are used to being listened too. Even after nearly 13 married years.

One of the subjects that has been especially sore is how one of our sons is being treated by his soccer coach. He's playing on a highly competitive team. At the beginning of the season, he started for every game. As the season wore on, he was played less and less. And last week he didn't get any field time at all. Oh my goodness!

I'm a Mama Bear, so I want to shout from the rooftops about how unfair his coach is being. I want to confront the coach day after day, hour after hour, until he puts my son back where he "should be." I want to call the director of the program. I want to do whatever I can to make this situation palitable for me sweet, broken-hearted son and make that confidence crushing coach pay.

My husband is being "objective" (his word, not mine). He says that our son was given the opportunity to start and that he did not play to his full potential, he played safe and he played timid. It's true, he was a big fish in a small pond and jumped his way into a humungous pond, where he was less than average in size. It was a shock at first. It took him a while to step up. And, he disappointed people in the process. But, mostly, he disappointed himself.

I think his coach is teaching him a lesson. He's punishing him. He's determined that my kid may not be quite up to the challenge, even as he's proving himself practie after practice; game after game. And, he's limiting his playing time accordingly. I believe we, as his parents, should FIGHT FOR HIM! What does it say about us if we jsut sit idly by and watch this man break our son's heart?

My husband, while he doesn't agree with the tactic, is willing to let our son flounder in this ocean of revenge in the interest of personal growth. No. He doesn't agree with the coach. Yes. He believes our son has phenomenal ball sense. Yet, he believes this hunger that's building up while our son sits the bench will serve him well in life.

Please recall that last week, my son did not play for even 5 minutes. Today neither of us could be at his game. I dropped him off at the house of a teammate so that he could ride with them. My heart broke. What if he sits the bench again? For the entire game? I won't be there to console him just by being there. The same anger that bubbles up in me at the oddest times - while I'm vaccuuming, in the shower, driving around town - resurfaced. I want to give that coach a piece of my mind.

But, my husband's words began to wash over me and I actually listened to them. In life, you seize opportunities. You fight. You don't always get what you want. You aren't always treated fairly. People become disappointed in you. They give up on you. But, YOU determine how you handle circumstances. YOU persevere. Actions resound. Words dissipate.

Our son will not be on this team forever. He will not live with us forever. But, he will have to live with himself for his entire life. The things we teach him now, will remain with him forever. My husband keeps saying, "He will overcome this. If he works hard and believes, by God's grace, he will be exceptional." This is temporary - the coach, the team, even the sport.

Because I am a God girl, this was a God sepaking to me moment. For some reason, in the car alone, feeling as if I had abandoned my son, my husband's words reminded me of what God would  say to me -

2 Corinthians 4:
(1) Therefore, having the ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
(17) For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (18) as we look not tothe things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things hat are unseen are eternal.

And, I can share this verse with my son. I can remind him that God can be (MUST BE) applied to every aspect of our lives. That adversity is God's way of drawing us closer to Him. Period.

And part of being closer to God is being able to relate to and guide others in His ways. Every adversity we face as children of God can be used to help someone else. Because Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another's burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ. We have to be there for each other.

If Mama Bear had her way, the cub's story would be that one day he picked up a soccer ball and began to play with it and then, like magic, he was on his way to soccer stardom. He would never have a bump in the road. He would always be victorious. But, thank God for Jesus (and for dads). My son's story, like all of our stories, must be peppered with challenges that he overcame by drawing closer to God, by being steadfast. A story as small as having an unforgiving soccer coach might be a blessing to someone else one day.

And, my husband is right. He's right. And, I am wrong. But, just this once.