Tag Archives: love

Lessons on Love

My youngest, Miss Drama, does not have a phone or tablet of her own. She uses my phone to sometimes text her friends. It didn’t occur to her that since it’s MY phone, I’m totally going to read what was said.

For all you men out there reflecting back on your adolescence and wondering what girls said about you, well, it was pretty much this, and some of my friends’ spelling was equally bad and they couldn’t blame it on auto-correct.


According to the texts, her friend has a crush on a little boy, but clearly beauty is in the eye of the beholder because Miss Drama just isn’t seeing it.


But back to her admirer….

So class, what have we learned? The way to a 10 year old’s heart is to be funny and not have a triangle head, and maybe not to go overboard with saying “you’re hot” all the time and trying to “protect” your crush when she doesn’t ask you to. That gets you named a “do do bird”.


Safe Haven

It’s summer and once again, more often than not, there’s an extra child in the house. For at least three years this has been a thing. At first it was Mr. Smarty-pant’s friend, K. He lived down the street, but spent nearly every day here and frequently spent the night. I fed him. I took him to the park, the zoo, to movies. He lived his whole life in Memphis and had only been to the zoo once in pre-k on a class trip, and had never been to the river or to Shelby Farms.

He had a good relationship, from what I heard, with his dad, but his dad lived in MS and he didn’t get to see him that often. In all the years he lived on our street, his mother never more than waved at me. His ex-con, gang-member step-dad was more courteous. The relationship between K’s mom and his step-dad was apparently tumultuous, which is why K spent as much time as possible at our house. That, and I serve some really awesome food, even if soup is on the menu more often than a teenage boy would prefer.

At the end of last summer K moved to a townhouse a mile or two away. He still visits frequently, but it’s just far enough that he can’t slip out of the house and just wander over whenever he likes.

So, this summer Mr. Smarty-pants has another friend who is a regular fixture in his room, J. J is a smart kid, polite, and treated like the red-headed stepchild at home. His sister is spoiled and her behavior was such that both Miss Drama and Miss Diva quit trying to be friends with her. To be honest, she’s just plain mean. Meanwhile, J’s mom has had a stint of unemployment and hospitalization due to illness. Even on nights where he went home, I’ve fed him, because Mr. Smarty-Pants quietly informed me that J didn’t have any food at home. This morning I quietly asked if J’s mom knew where he was. Mr. Smarty-pants replied, “That’s part of the problem. She doesn’t really care.”

Mr. Smarty-pants may complain and whine about how mean I am. He’ll sulk when I don’t let him wander the neighborhood at 9pm at night. It might chafe his, “I’m totally almost grown” mentality, until his inner little boy pops up and reminds him that I make him waffles, and let him have some of my coffee, and care enough to demand he get his butt home when I say so. He thanked me for the waffles and bacon this morning. He has his moments.

Going on six years ago, Mr. Smarty-pant’s dad and I split up and he moved to his own place. Before that, neighborhood kids never came in the house unless he was out. They avoided him like the plague. Animals didn’t like him either. I know, I should have taken note. Anyways, it didn’t take long for the children to congregate once he left. I certainly didn’t pull out my pied pipe. At the time I projected a bit of a “Mean Mom” aura so that none were tempted to misbehave, but then JD fell down and got a gash on his head and I fixed him up.  My cover was blown.

There were occasional Popsicles offered and fresh-baked homemade cookies. I would talk to them when they asked about my garden. I’d teach them little things and they’d listen. I, in turn listened when they talked, something I suspect few adults they knew did. So, I suppose it’s no surprise that all of Mr. Smarty-pants’ friends realized that when they needed a safe place to cry, to get some food, or just to have a place to laugh and be happy, his house was the place to go.

I accuse Mr. Smarty-pants of being conniving because his friends will help him with chores. After all, he has a chronic case of lazy. Some of it is his charm, but I think some of it is quiet gratitude from his friends. One of them, JQ maybe, JD, heck it may even have been D…I forget which, once scolded Mr. Smarty-pants in front of their whole little gang of friends, because he gave me attitude when I read him the riot act for doing such a crappy job with the yard that I had to essentially redo it.

I didn’t plan on being the safe haven, exactly. It sort of just happened. I suspect it had to do with my own mom sending me outside to “play” AKA “keep an eye on” the little pre-k kids that lived on our street when I was about Mr. Smarty-pants’ age. For the record, “playing” with half a dozen kids between the ages of three and six was exhausting, even for a fourteen year-old. I’d tag my brother to take a turn and catch a breather, and he’d have the kids laughing and giggling, and the little ones used him as a jungle gym. Even at fourteen, I knew a three year old had no business outside without an older sibling or a parent watching. When my mom felt it was time for us to come in we’d walk the little kids home, making sure each one was delivered to their parents.

In two or three decades, I imagine Mr. Smarty-Pants will be sitting in his recliner as a small mob of kids parade through his house. Much like me, part of him will pine for that thing parents rarely get….silence, but not for long. Laughter is far more satisfying and infectious than silence. Besides, they do eventually sleep.

Moment in Time

Earlier today Soup King was hunting for some particular books, but most of the books had been packed in optimistic hope I’d land a job out of town. Instead, I’m working here, but unsure if I should unpack or leave the stack of boxes in the living room for the next year. In any case, in the process I rescued a pile of old snapshots, negatives, and a small photo album. I opened the photo album and inside were pictures from when I was in high school. I’ve seen them a hundred times, but this time it wasn’t a quick glance, smile, and close of the album.

My eyes lingered on a picture of my brother and myself. It’s possibly one of the absolute worst pictures of me ever, but my smile is genuine as is Justin’s. The moment, frozen in time on film captured our bond.  He’d helped me on a school project, adding his artistic touches when in truth there was no reason for him to do so. I think maybe my dad blustered him into helping and I begged. If I attempted to paint the shark on that cardboard boat it would have looked like ridiculous googly eyes.

Justin (14) Me (16)

Justin (14) Me (16)

There might be other pictures of us taken over the next three years, but I can’t really recall any. My senior year was filled with activity and the three grade levels between us meant we lived in totally different social realms. After I graduated, I moved off to college and my short visits didn’t really have much in the way of picture taking. Not to mention, he was at that age where he often avoided the camera because, dude, he was too cool for that.

As I looked at that photo I realized my son is just about the same age now. There’s a faint resemblance, although not a lot. Mr. Smarty Pants may look a great deal different and of course he is very much his own person, but he shares a remarkable similarity in interests, aptitude, and personality.

Both my son and my brother out-class me in sheer IQ power, but both preferred gaming to doing boring homework. Justin devoured history books for the sheer love of the subject. My son’s favorite reading topic? History. Mr. Smarty Pants inherited the same talent for art which turned that blank cardboard boat into a shark.  He has a deep, beautiful singing voice he’d rather no one heard, the same as his uncle. As the years go by, I find it hard to recall my brother’s voice, but I suspect Mr. Smarty Pants shares more than a passing similarity. Even the ups and downs of their report cards mirror each other.

Growing up with Justin gave me insight and patience that has aided me in maintaining a strong bond with my son. While mother-son is far different than sister-brother, I was the big sister and “little mother” growing up. So, while some days I just shake my head and roll my eyes at Mr. Smarty Pants’ teenage angst, I do so with the knowledge that these next few years pass by so very quickly. He’ll be a young man in just over four years and the maturity will come, sometimes at a frustrating snail’s pace and at other times frighteningly fast.

The teen years strained my relationship with my brother, and to a lesser degree with my sister. We had different lives and my life in college was vastly different than that of my kid brother’s in high school. The last conversation I had with my brother took place early January of 1999. We rambled about all kinds of things: plans, dreams, troubles. At that point though, all the prior tension of being in different worlds melted away. He was growing up and once again we were not only friends once more, but held mutual respect for each other. No matter that we were very different people, we liked each other and knew without a doubt we could rely on each other.

I used to wish I could have said more, been more present in the last few months of my brother’s life, but I let go of my regrets. People say that time heals loss and that you cease to grieve with time. It doesn’t work exactly that way. Grief is not so much an action as a part of you which you come to accept. With time it gets buried under all the other little pieces that make up who you are, but you are the collection of all those little pieces. It doesn’t take much to move aside the pieces and shine a light on that painful piece– painful because only love can leave so lasting an impression. It can blind you with its intensity, as wrenching and painful as the moment you first felt it.

Sixteen years ago I shared the last of many, many conversations and hugged my brother for the last time, but the love and laughter we shared remain.

Power of Three

So, yesterday was sibling day. It’s a relatively new thing, and as far as I know, Hallmark has not turned it into a cash grab. Still, I suppose there’s a use for Hallmark in the world. The advertising reminds me of when the holidays are. Oh wait…. my phone does that. Sorry Hallmark. You’ve been outsourced to my phone and my handy dandy skill with words.

Well, at least the works for Nationally recognized holidays. Outsourcing is never a smooth process.

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far….

Wait… wrong story.

No, this story started in good ol’ Memphis, Tennessee in June of 1979. I ruined my parents’ plans for a Saturday picnic, and any shot at eating a warm dinner for about the next year. Soon enough, seeing as how my opinionated ways started early, I informed my parents I wanted a baby brother or sister. Sure, I was ever so slightly annoyed when I found out they didn’t pop out ready to play, but life has lots of surprises like that.

In 1981 my brother arrived and in ’83 my sister rounded things out to form our intrepid trio. Being a sibling is an odd sort of thing. Half the time you like them and the other half you want to kill them. As you grow that balance swings back and forth. If you are lucky, your siblings end up as people you like. If you are very lucky, they are your best friends.

In construction, the triangle is the strongest shape. 3 points. 3 children.  3 unbreakable bonds. Sometimes it was an equilateral triangle and sometimes isosceles, but it never, ever broke.  For those who believe in magic, three is a number of power. The three of us together were far stronger than any of us alone.

As a kid and even into adulthood, I didn’t realize that not all siblings shared the bond that grew between my brother, my sister and myself.  It’s sadly true, that far too often you do not really know what you have until you lose it.

In 1998 that triangle lost a point. As my sister so eloquently stated, “There’s an empty space in my life where my brother once was…..it was so much better when we were a trio.”

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

I’m the third dork on the left.

We don’t need sibling day to remind us how blessed we were to have each other, but it doesn’t hurt to use it to tell the world how wonderful mine were and always will be.

Just Another Day

Today marks fourteen years since my brother’s death. It took my sister’s Facebook status to remind me.

You might ask how I could forget such a thing.

To me, this day is not as important as the seventeen years prior to July 17, 1999. I refuse to allow his killers that power. Since the day Justin’s ashes were interred, July resumed it’s normal place in my mental calendar, remarking only my parent’s anniversary. The days that get me are his birthday and the other 364 days of every year that has followed.

I was robbed of a brother and a friend, and time does not erase that. The biggest lie is to tell people that time heals all wounds. It does not. Soul-deep wounds merely become a part of who you are, manageable, like a chronic ailment.

Even so, I had seventeen years with my little brother. His memory is a part of me. On average, two siblings share in the neighborhood of 50% genetic code. I am half him, in some ways, and half of that was passed on to each of my children. My sister, likewise, is half, and her son carries a piece. He is not gone; not wholly. He’s there in my nephew’s silliness and my son’s scarily cunning intellect and wit. He’s there in my love of Batman, Transformers, and X-Men because he was my excuse for watching those cartoons when I was really too old for such “childish” things. Truth be told, I wanted something in common with him during those strained years where age gaps made it difficult to relate each other.

So, while today hurts, no more so than any other day, because my brother is always there with me, in my heart and mind.




My sis came through town yesterday on her way to Michigan. She’s starting a graduate program. I’m very proud of her. We’ve both found the true meaning of higher education: the ability to techno-babble at each other in different technical vocabularies and not understand anything.

I gave her the nickle tour and introduced her to the people in the lab. A visiting student commented, “Oh my, you two look nothing alike. I would never guess you were sisters.”

We’ve gotten that a lot over the years, and in many ways it is true.

  • I have thin, fine hair that is low-maintenance.
    She has thick wavy hair  that takes an hour or more to style.
  • She loves heels.
    I hate them.
  • I’m into science.
    She’s into music.
  • I love gardening.
    She avoids gardening like the plague.
  • I’m semi-organized and can focus even with three kids hollering, a television on, and dogs barking.
    She struggles with ADHD and even before she had a child to add chaos, mess followed her like a devoted puppy.
  • She quit playing with toys when she discovered boys around age ten.
    I thought boys were idiots and really only fun to moon over from afar, and I plead the fifth on how long I continued to play with dolls.

I’m fairly certain the list could go on, and yet over the years as we grew up we found common ground. We both love Star Trek, and reading, and like each other’s career fields enough to have true interest, we enjoy the outdoors as much as we are allergic to it, and can even sometimes agree on music. As we walked at the park I caught her singing a few phrases of Pink‘s “Just Give me a Reason”, which I love, and randomly singing is also something I do.

I’m sure over the years my mother felt like bashing our heads together as we fought over whose mess had trashed the room yet again. My sis only has one child, an eleven year old boy, so far, and so she hasn’t had to deal with the joys of sibling wars. When the siblings are the same gender it seems to me that it adds an extra layer of love-hate to the relationship. One minute you’re best friends and the next one is smacking the other with a doll…or a fist…or whatever happens to be handy.

My sis and I managed to not kill each other and she’s as much a best friend as a sister. I’m proud of the woman she’s become.

When two people are by nature polar opposites, clashes happen frequently. My two girls, much like my sis and me, don’t look tons alike nor  do they act it.

My girls way back when they were little bitty:

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where's my hand sanitizer?

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where’s my hand sanitizer?

I made a mess. Isn't it GREAT!!!!?

I made a mess. Isn’t it GREAT!!!!?

Did I mention that Miss Drama didn’t quit eating dirt until about age 5? Miss Diva began color coordinating outfits and three. Miss Drama preferred running naked.

My hope is that one day they’ll be adults and have found that common ground and realize just how lucky they are to have each other for friends, if they haven’t killed each other by then.

What was that I said about getting along?

What was that I said about getting along?

Hero Defined

My brother’s birthday is around the corner. He would be thirty-one years old, but he was killed in July of 1999. More than the anniversary of his death, his birthday is a painful reminder of all that has passed since he left this earth, but it also reminds me of all the things I learned from my baby brother and all the laughter we shared.

I’m the eldest sibling. As such, I took my role of protector quite seriously as a child. No one was allowed to pick on my siblings, unless of course that someone was me. I recall distinctly the moment when my baby brother transitioned from the little baby brother I protected to the beginnings of the young man he would become.

It  was my fifth grade year and we were “new kids” at the school. I was used to being teased by that point, but our little sister was only in first grade. We were waiting for our ride after school, the three of us goofing off together, because we had not yet reached the age where hanging with your siblings was no longer cool. Some boy tossed out a few insults, and I think I fired back a retort and walked off, but he followed and kept it, starting in on our little sis. I recall turning around to say something.

Before I could, my brother stepped in front of both of us, no matter that he was only in second grade and I think the kid was in my grade. Hands balled at his sides, in a low, serious voice he said something along the lines of, “Quit messing with my sisters.”

In that moment I knew he would take on the world to protect us just as I had always felt it had been my job as eldest to do. My baby brother, facing an older, bigger kid, became a hero in my eyes at that moment. I stepped up beside him, letting him know without words that I had his back. Even my little sis swallowed her tears and squared off against the kid.

I told the kid, “You mess with one of us; you mess with all of us.”

The kid backed down, laughing off his taunting as “just kidding”.

My brother always had my back, and he didn’t do it to gain favor or expect any type of thanks. Oftentimes I had no idea he’d defended us until long after the fact. In spite of all the stupid teen rebellion stuff he did, I never once doubted that I could count on him. At the grand age of nine he defined for me what I saw as a hero. He challenged me to find my own courage and for that I will forever be grateful.