Kentucky Mom to Twins and More

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Kentucky I know...

I didn't grow up here. I was born in South Bend, Indiana and met a boy from Kentucky 20 years ago and married him. But my children are true Kentuckians. I have friends, coworkers, in-laws and neighbors who are all Kentuckians. My home is here nowI've lived longer in Kentucky than I ever did in Indiana. I consider myself a Kentuckian. Y'all has been part of my vocabulary now for a good 15 years. But before I lived here, I too, had stereotypes of what Kentucky was. I believed most of the ignorant stereotypes being perpetuated today in the media and news outlets and in comments online from strangers across the country, I'm sad to admit.

But I can honestly say none of those assumptions I had holds true to the people I've met and had the privilege of knowing here the past 20 years. My late husband was a kind and decent, tolerant man. He and his family business over the years gave tirelessly to other people and to local charitieshe hosted annual events to raise money so they could stay operationalone was an inner city art program for at-risk African American boys. It made him happy to share what he had with others and he didn't give a rat's ass what color they were either. My husband was proud to be from Kentucky. But today's explosive and volatile political climate has caused a lot of us to feel shame in saying this is our home.

We all know that no matter where you go, whichever geographical region you live inthere is always ignorance lurking somewhere. There is bigotry or racism. There is hate that breeds hate. But that doesn't mean an entire population of people deserve to be categorized and cast aside as degenerate, racist assholes.

Because the Kentucky I know is better than what they show on TV. It's better than the two-minute video snippets they post in Facebook feeds. The Kentucky I know is people sharing what they have with less fortunate. It's people I know who volunteer their time at the Parish Kitchen in Covington, talking with homeless men, no matter if they are black or white. It's parents who volunteer time at their kids' schools. It's child-less people donating their money to less fortunate city schools. It's anonymous donors who help you with tuition bills. It's the kindest neighbor you'd ever know (coincidentally a CovCath grad) who has a snow-plow coming to clear a foot of snow off a widow's driveway because she cries when she has to shovel it herself.

It's the kinship in sharing a good bourbon with friends or enjoying the absolute best fried chicken (and I'm not talking about KFC). It's realizing the magnificence of a half-ton horse that elicits camaraderie every first Saturday in May. It's the fun and fellowship in winning a basketball game and learning to accept defeat (I say learning because I am still a student at this). It's seeing beauty in a blue blade of grass. It's the farmer who gets up early to feed livestock or stays out late to bush hog a field. It's the warmth you feel in a smile from someone in church. It's pride in our family from here who fought in wars for our freedom to speak any way we wish today. It's knowing there are people here with good and loving hearts whose depth of character extend longer than any cave and wider than the Cumberland gap.

This is the Kentucky I know. I am proud to say my home is here in Kentucky. 

This post was also published Jan. 25, 2019 here at Today Parents. 

Helping daddy bush hog the family farm.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The sweetest shout-out

Last summer my friend dragged me to an outdoor concert where a Billy Joel tribute band was playing. I'm a huge Billy Joel fan, but I didn't want to go, especially to hear any junky band butcher covers of my beloved Billy. But in the spirit of saying YES to things these days, the kids and I went. As the lead singer came out and started to sing, I stopped mid-conversation to turn around and pay attention because I was blown away.

This guy not only had the stage presence and visage of Billy Joel, but he played the piano and sang just as magnificently as the Piano Man himself. The resemblance was undeniable and that is saying a lot coming from me. He engaged with the audience exactly as Billy does at his shows and even told the crowd to throw out requests. I shamelessly told my daughter to yell for him to play 'Summer, Highland Falls,' which is my favorite Billy Joel song ever. He didn't end up playing it, but I'd find out why later.

My children danced around in front of the stage all night. I kept thinking I had to meet this guy, I had to be friends with this person. Whoever he was or wherever he was from, I knew we needed to be friends. At the end of the show, I found him at the side stage and complimented him and his band for such a phenomenal show. We ended up talking a while and long story short, we became friends because how do two people obsessed with all things Billy Joel since birth NOT become friends, right?

So Mike-with-the-uncanny-resemblance-to-the-Piano-Man apologized later for not playing my song, "oh shit that was your kid who requested it!?" he said. It's one of his favorites too, he told me. There is one line that kills me every time, I told him. "For we are always what our situations hand us... It's either sadness or euphoria." It's a song that evokes a lot of emotion, and he mentioned there are times he can't get through it without getting choked up. I get it, Mike. Me too.

My life this past year since I lost my husband Matthew has been much of thatextreme highs and some really low lows. I've gone from crying on the bathroom floor some nights (because it's the only place I can shut and lock a door to keep kids out) to feeling high on a cloud because I got asked out on a date. With, like, a real live man. Grief tosses you back and forth like this and it can give you emotional whiplash sometimes. It's hard to manage how you feel some days. It's hard to put into words talking to friends. But that's when many times music can do it for you.

Many of my friends might remember how I wrote a while back about attending a Billy Joel master class concert at the University of Notre Dame in 1996. I shared how I got the microphone that night and how Billy Joel answered the questions of a giddy 20-year-old me, and even sang my name to the tune of 'Honesty.' Over the years a lot of people didn't believe that story. Including my late husband. I couldn't prove it because it happened back during the pre-cellphone camera era when we lugged 35mm cameras and sharpie markers to concerts.

A few days after I met Mike and his band, he sent something to my email. He found a bootleg recording of the entire concert that night back in January 1996. It was like being gifted a time machine. There I was, on track 9 and 10 a squeaky college kid chatting up Billy Joel and him bantering back with me and even throwing my name into the chorus of 'Honesty.' I played it over and over. I couldn't believe he found it. He said ever since he met me and heard my story he was on a mission to find it for me. I couldn't stop smiling. I laughed thinking how fun it would have been to play this for my husband. My own, "I told you so."

Mike and I keep in touch. We regularly "geek out" to Billy Joel stuff, as he says. So when I messenge him to tell him I'm sitting alone in a parking lot crying to "Until the Night" one of my favorite songs off Billy's jazz album '52nd Street' he just gets it.

Last night Mike's band was back in town. The night before, he texted me to ask if I had any requests. So I gave him my favorites 'Rosalinda's Eyes,' 'Angry Young Man,' 'Honesty' 'All For Leyna' and he even played 'The Stranger' (after I texted him on the way there because the Uber driver said to tell him to play that one). And as my girlfriend and I sat through the show with crowds of people all singing along with us, my new friend Mike gave me a shout-out before he played 'Summer, Highland Falls' just for me. I like to think it was for me, and maybe Matthew, too. Because while he was never a huge Billy Joel fan, he always liked that song.

"For we are always what our situations hand us... It's either sadness or euphoria." 

This night was definitely the latter. I'm glad I said yes that night last summer to the 'junky concert' I didn't want to go to. I think God has a way of putting people in your lives right when you need themeven if it's just to make an awesome new friend.

This blog was also published here Jan. 22, 2019, at the Widow Wears Pink.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My birthday wish

It's my birthday.

I'm not saying how old I am anymore because they say you are only as old as you feel... and some days I feel about 67 1/2 and that's way more than I am today. But I will say that I'm getting better.

For the past few months, I've been trying to eat healthy. I have been running almost every day, even on Christmas night, when I took the dog out running in the cold after the kids had gone to bed. So I took off every last thing I had on and held in my breath and weighed myself today. I'm down 10 pounds. The person standing naked on this scale isn't anyone I'd recognize a year or two ago. In fact, she's a completely different person - yes, ok, she still cusses like a sailor and laughs loud as hell - but something inside her is different, better. And I'm not saying I'm better because I lost weight. Not at all - I'm sure under different life circumstances I could be 40 pounds heavier and possibly be happy as a clam.

But this new me feels stronger. She says YES to more things. She still has a hard time letting go of some things (including the kids' request for homemade slime and any glitter inside the house) but she's digging deeper to forgive, forget and be better. I don't know what 'better' really means, but I'm trying to figure it out.

Just before my birthday about three years ago, my late husband and I were on our last no-kid vacation together in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. It was a beautiful, tropical place where the water was so clear you could be waist deep and look down and see your toes. My toes are probably the only things that haven’t changed since then. I looked through pictures of myself from that trip and realized how painful they are to look at. I was overweight by my standards, the heaviest I'd ever been (not counting when I was enormous with twins six years prior to that). 

In the pictures, I saw myself faking a smile 
through what I know inside was pure misery. I didn't like myself back then. It was also around the time when my husband started feeling shitty - we had no clue that cancer was just around the corner waiting for us. We didn't get along great then. I snapped at the kids all the time. I fought with in-laws. I felt ugly, weak, criticized, judged, hated in every aspect of life back then. I remember after one fight asking him, "Why do you stay? Why are you still here with me?" I cringe at the thought of yelling at him how he'd be "better off without me."

In those next few months, we'd try marital counseling - again - and then things got worse after the diagnosis came. But I will always remember being in that tropical place with him, trying to get away from everything, hoping and praying something would just put us back together, put ME back together. But deciding in my mind that nothing probably ever could.  

Fast forward to now. I realized I didn't want to wait anymore for someone or some 'thing' to tell me when I can enjoy shit again or start being happy. I was done. 

I ran just over 6 miles yesterday. Without stopping. I hadn't ever run more than 2 miles in my entire life. I told myself for years I just couldn't do it. I told people my legs physically wouldn't go any more than that. It may not seem like a big deal to normal runners, but I'm not a distance runner. At all. I've been a sprinter since fourth grade, which means literally this ass puts out then gives out - a max of no more than 400 meters or so. I never had any faith in myself to even try to go more than a mile or two anyway.

So recently I've been out a couple times with someone. He's one of those glass-half-full optimists. He's a runner - a marathon runner - and he oozes determination. He's a person who doesn't do excuses either. So after he told me in so many words that all my excuses were bullshit, and that I should try and run farther, I did. Don't ask me why I waited 43 damn years to try (oops shit, yep, there's the age). But seriously don't ask me why it's taken losing my husband to want to be in better shape, to be a better mother, a better friend, a better lover (a girl can dream), a better person all around. I know I have a really long way to go, but I'm finally starting to be who I should have been with him, who I should have been for years.

I'm getting rid of those vacation pictures. I hate that person I was in them. I won't go back to her. The only pic I kept was the beach shot - that crystal blue water you can see your toes in. The toes are still the same but the rest of me is new. This girl here and now is getting so much better.

Friends, my cliché, lame-o birthday wish this year is for you to ask yourselves, what or who are you waiting to be better for?

This post was also published Jan. 9, 2019, here at Today Parents. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

When the TALK comes in the middle of aisle 8

My only son is going to be 12 this month. I never had any brothers. I know a couple things about boys his age, like the funky smells, the reclusive attitude and the ravenous appetite. But I don't know all that much about boys and puberty and their ...things... and all that. Nothing. Zero. This was supposed to be his dad's territory. Dad was supposed to take care of all this stuff.

Since dad's not here to take a swing at this, I'm on deck.

We have not yet begun to chip away at the iceberg that is The Sex Talk. I don't remember getting a talk back in the 80s when I was his age. I think one of my fifth grade friends enlightened me to where babies came from and how they got in there during recess one afternoon. I suppose it was good enough for me back then - parenting these days is wildly different. From what I've heard, if you haven't gone over Sex 101 with your kid by the time he is 9, you are likely creating some sort of uneducated sexual deviant child who may or may not become a serial killer. So I'm going in for the talk.

I bought a book for him a couple months back, "Your Changing Body" or something equally cringe-worthy. I left it on his bed one night and noticed it was on the floor under some clothes in his closet not long after. I told him, "hey, so we might have to, you know, talk about some of those things in that book sometime, ok?"

Quicker than you can say mortified, he replied, "Mom, no. Just NO."

And so it's been a big, fat NO for several months now and I haven't really forced it on him either. He kind of avoids me as I suppose any prepubescent boy avoids his overbearing and overprotective mom. He goes about school, practice and life with his buddies like normal and leaves his mom wondering what things he already has seen or what things people have already told him. I try and catch a glimpse of his reaction when he sees certain interactions on TV or hears innuendoes in songs or movies. I never know really how much this sweet boy of mine knows about it all.

I took him shopping for a new basketball the other day at the sporting good place. It's a place where I can actually get him to say more than two words to me - even if it's just "please Mom, can I get this?"
We walked the aisles together and I got a lesson in how there are indoor basketballs and outdoor basketballs and that there are certain sizes you need to play here or there. I learned about how Under Armor is obvs way better than anything with an Adidas logo on it and how he has already grown out of a $100 pair of sneakers I bought him like … three minutes ago.

After a while, we passed by a bulky, errrr… generously endowed mannequin in the men's section dressed in tight boxer briefs on our way to the checkout. He and I both looked at it. I probably looked at it a little too long. I am never one to know when to close my mouth, act natural or you know, have tact. And before I even realized it, I blurted out loud, "God, I miss your daddy."

And that's when an almost 12-year-old boy and I started laughing hysterically together in that sporting good store aisle and we couldn't stop. Walking out of that store with a boy who encapsulated on his face the sweet grin of his father's, his laughter and sense of humor too - that's when I realized we had taken the first chunk out of that iceberg. It's going to be ok. The talk will come and it'll be ok. He's not going to be a serial killer. He's going to be ok.

This post first ran January 3, 2019 here, at Her View From Home.