January 30, 1998

So. Yeah. It’s January 30th. Again.

If you know me and are connected at all with me through social media, this is the day I typically flood my news feed with pictures of my father and remembrances of him. This is the day he left this plane of existence for the next. This January 30th, though, is different. It’s different because it’s the 20th without him.

When Dad died on January 30, 1998, I sat and counted the minutes and then the hours I had been without him. On February 1, 1998, I started counting days. On my birthday, February 6, the counting of weeks began. Then months. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about.

Twelve hours ago, Dad was still alive.

Four days ago, Dad was alive and talking to me on the phone.

Two months ago, Dad was alive and planning to come visit me.

Then, there were the holidays and missed birthday. Those were always the worst, especially Father’s Day. Father’s Day 1998 was a day when I just wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend the world didn’t exist.

When I reached the first year mark, on January 30, 1999, I still counted, but it started to seem pointless. My mind was blown that it had been a whole year since he left. My daily dose of Zoloft and weekly trips to my psychologist had somewhat helped with my grief, but it was still there, simmering just under the surface. The worst moment was when I opened my dad’s letter to me.

Several years before his death, as his health declined, Dad wrote letters to me, my mother, my Uncle Curtis, and others. I don’t know how many he wrote in total, but they were all sealed and stored in a drawer. When I read it after his death, I bawled. I thought, one year later, that re-reading it would be easier. It wasn’t. It still emotionally ripped me apart.

Each year thereafter, on the anniversary of Dad’s death, I would read his letter to me. Sixteen days later, on the anniversary of Uncle Curtis’s death, I would read Dad’s letter addressed to his older brother, a letter I had inherited upon my uncle’s passing. And every year I would cry horrible, ugly tears all over again. I did this up until 2008, when the distance between my father and I added up to ten years and my children were small. I remember reading the letter, crying, wiping away my tears, and getting on with the business of taking care of my babies. Amelia, though, noticed my wet, red eyes, and tried with her little hands and arms to soothe me. It was that year that I decided to stop reading the letters.

They sat, folded and untouched in my dresser until today. I opened them up, read them, and cried as if today were January 30, 1998, not January 30, 2018. Twenty years later and the grief is still just as fresh as yesterday, the big difference being that the grief no longer squats on your heart. It may, instead, follow you from ten, twenty, one-hundred feet behind you. Yes, life continues and you get busy and get on with the business of living and moving and breathing and continuing. Your brain fills up with grocery lists and vacations, to do lists and time with friends and family. Seeing Dad’s picture isn’t as heart-wrenching as it once was and the fun memories with him have overtaken the bad memories of January 30, 1998, but the hole in my heart is still there and still as raw when I decide to look closely at it.

This year, rather than pictures, I decided to share the words my father wrote to me.

“Tuck”

Writing this letter to you is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Cause you know that I love you more than anything in this world. I’m writing your letter last–I have kept putting it off.

My hope for you Heather is that you will find true happiness and live a full and clean life and if there is a Heaven that we will meet again.

Heather please remember me every now and then–I would never like for you to not think about me now and then.

It seems only yesterday that Mom and Dad brought you home from the hospital. It was snowing and you rode home on Granny Smith’s lap.

The years sure flew by and I always wanted to be near you and hear about what you did–sometimes I know I bugged you a lot.

I remember all the good times at Montrose–the Halloween parades when I would dress up in the rabbit outfit. Then to junior high and the band–all the good times we had. I always remember you bringing the band onto Oaks Field–you made Dad so proud. Then on to high school and the old band podium I had to drag around and nobody would help me and when you kicked butts in your last year.

I remember the first junior high band festival at Wayne County when you won first place. I can still see you hollering “We’re #1!” and that you were.

Heather I can’t write of all the good times we had. Maybe from time to time you can remember them. Space Camp, the trip with the Spirit of America band and me crying. All the Rainbow Girls trips we made. The trips to Lewisburg–I never did take a short cut home. When I had the back trouble and you were in the floor with me. We really had some good times, that’s for sure.

And all the trips I made to Georgia.

What I’m trying to say Heather is that you have been one heck of a daughter and I wouldn’t trade you for a sack of boys–you were always strong and willing to run with the big dogs.

Heather as you go through life there will be a lot of bad times. Just try and do your best–I always tried to treat everyone like I wanted to be treated of course–you will run into some assholes. The best thing to do is just get away from then and do what you think best and always keep the ones you love the most around you.

I love you,

Dad

PS See you upstairs.

Pardon me while I wipe off my computer keyboard.

If you’re reading this and have yet to experience the deep, horrible sadness of the death of a parent, sibling, or child, just know that there is no timeline of grief. There’s no magic day that you wake up “over it.” You’ll never be over it. And fuck the first person who asks, “Why are still crying and upset? Hasn’t it been long enough?” It will never be long enough. I can guarantee you that if I live to be 100, I will still cry huge, nasty tears over Dad’s death, his birthday, Father’s Day, and his letter to me.

In writing my book, there’s a chapter that talks about the day my father died. I cried as I wrote it and went through my edits. In fact, the editing of that chapter took about two months because my editor wanted me to go deeper into my emotions and I just found that it was too hard. It was raw, the process was harsh, and it proved that my sadness is still there, still more fresh than ever. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t want to ever do it again. January 30, 1998, will always hover just behind me, waiting each year to remind me that life is fleeting and sometimes horribly unfair. Knowing it’s there just makes me appreciate my life, children, husband, and memories all the more.

So, in honor of my dad, go hug your parents today, or the people who are like your parents. Hug your children, your spouse, or your best friend. Hug the person or people who mean the most to you. Tell them you love them and raise a glass to Thomas Edward Scarbro, and let’s all remember his unique spirit.

Love to you all.

 

Rituals and Journeys

Rock Lake Presbyterian Church’s annual “flowering of the cross” ceremony is held each Easter. My mother started this tradition and this is this year’s cross.

Disclaimer: Is religion wrong? No. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about my journey from Presbyterian believer to atheist. This is my journey and I’m writing about it because there may be another person out there who needs to read this. They may be on a similar journey and they need to know that they aren’t alone. I’m not dissing on religion or God. I’m trying to explain why I have let go of my belief in both.

I very much like rituals. No, I’m not talking about routine or habit (that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy always putting my pants on right leg first then left leg because the other way would just ruin the whole day), I’m talking about ritual.

rit-u-al n 1: the established form esp. for a religious ceremony 2: a system of rites 3: a ceremonial act or action

I grew up in Rock Lake Presbyterian Church and each Sunday, the service followed the same pattern:

Opening Hymn, Call to Worship, Doxology, Prayer of Confession, Bible reading, Gloria Patri, Apostle’s Creed, Sermon, Invitation, Blessing, Hymn, Postlude.

I haven’t stepped foot in my childhood church in decades, but I can still sing the Doxology from memory.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly host! Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen.

Pretty ironic for an atheist, eh?

I’ll let you all in on a little secret that I haven’t told anyone. You may want to get a little closer to the screen because I’m going to whisper it to you.

During my eighth grade year, when we had to take state-mandated standardized tests, we had to mark our career interests. I put down, “Presbyterian Minister.”

Shocker, right?

When my father went into the hospital in 1981 for a triple-bypass surgery, my love of religious ritual was fractured when I overheard my mother telling a friend that our minister hadn’t visited my father in the hospital because we hadn’t tithed enough money that year. I realized at that moment that for some people, religion wasn’t so much about faith as it was about money and influence and I was determined to not make it about that. I wanted my church to be about God, family, and fellowship, regardless of whether my manse had a hole in the roof or if the church’s stained-glass windows had cracks.

The longer I stayed around religion, though, the more of a bad taste it left in my mouth. I saw people praising God for their raise or their tax return while children were starved or beaten two streets over. I witnessed a friend’s church state that only baptism by immersion could save souls while my church baptized by sprinkling. My Sunday school teacher proclaimed that one uttered cuss word would damn us straight to that fiery place and because of that, I lay awake many nights, terrified that I would spend eternity with the likes of serial killers and rapists because of a misplaced fuck, not to mention the fact that I’d possibly been baptized wrong and couldn’t be saved in the first place.

I slowly, but surely, realized that religion wasn’t always one thing for one person. That it could be grace or fellowship or volunteerism for some, while others used it for money, power, and selfish ego. Yes, I did experience the selfless sacrifice of a few people but overall, I experienced the opposite from many. And never once did I feel God was there directing any of it.

I recall one afternoon in high school, on the school bus, passing my church and wondering, “If I were born in India, I’d be Hindu. Or if I were Japanese, I’d be Shinto and Buddhist. Religion is geographical. It’s a birthright” Well, how could that be right? I knew there were missionaries, but why did there have to be? Why wasn’t everyone already Christian? Why did we have to “sell” it? And weren’t those same Hindus and Buddhists and Shintos convinced they were right? And then it clicked. It wasn’t so much about geography as it was indoctrination, what you’re born into and taught all your life. I was taught to worship God as a Presbyterian because that’s what my parents were taught, and their parents, and their parents, and so on. It wasn’t necessarily right or correct, but it was genealogical.

As an adult, I announced my affiliation with deism, then later agnosticism. But was I really a Deist and then an Agnostic? No. I think it was me, after decades of reading the Bible, being preached to and frightened into belief (or else) that I couldn’t let go of. It was after suffering from infertility that I finally set my belief in any higher power free. So many things were said to me and about me during that period in my life that I could fill a book. (Funny I say that because I’m working on an outline for said book as I type this.) Many of those things were helpful and caring. Some, though, weren’t. A few were callous and hurtful, but the one that absolutely broke my heart was a Bible quote.

Halfway through my fertility treatments, I received an anonymous card in the mail. There was no return address and a generic Atlanta postmark. Inside the innocuous card was handwritten the following:

Psalm 127:3

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him

I was stunned. There was no signature. I remember shaking from head to foot, unable to process how one Bible verse, so well-placed, could be so utterly hurtful. I cried loud, angry tears and screamed at the ceiling. An hour later, I wiped away the snot and cleaned myself off. I placed the card on the kitchen counter along with the rest of the mail so that Tyler could see it. I wanted him to read it without my influence and when he read it, he agreed with me that because it had been sent anonymously, it had been sent to hurt, not heal. A person who followed God was telling us that for whatever reason, we were unworthy of the gift of children. And no inner voice told me otherwise.

I finally proclaimed my atheism several years later because I hadn’t seen or felt God in my life. Ever. I realized that nowhere in my life did a divine power ever step in and assist. I never felt guided or helped or loved by anything celestial or beyond me. I have always felt alone. There has been no voice or direction, just me and my singular judgement. And the day I came out as an atheist was the day I admitted to myself that I was fine with that, that I accepted that, that it didn’t make me sad or angry. It’s just life. Good or bad, we are responsible for ourselves and our actions.

The guilt I felt for many years was lifted the day I admitted I’m atheist. We are all human, with mistakes and foibles and bad and good, all rolled into these physical forms. We screw up and we triumph every single day. This is humanity. And I refuse to apologize for being human, what religion calls a sinner. I’m not a sinner just because I’m human. That’s wrong. Accepting my humanity with no strings attached? That’s what’s right for me.

Crossroads

Even though I’m 45 years old, I still celebrate “firsts.” I am realizing that you’re never too old to celebrate a “first.” Each birthday is a first time experiencing that age and each time my children do something, that’s the first time I’ve experienced that thing through the eyes of a mother and not a bystander. But, there have been other “firsts,” as well.

At the ripe-old age of 33, Memorial Weekend 2005, I was heavily pregnant with my twins. Even though they weren’t due for another five months (and, in reality, came six weeks earlier than that), I felt the weight of the world on the small of my back. Tyler and I had just spent the weekend, our 10th anniversary, at my mother’s house in West Virginia. This was to be our last weekend there since I was close to the date I would have to stay home and my mother was two months away from moving, permanently, to Georgia.

Our last morning there, I woke up and waddled into the shower. And the reality of leaving this place, my childhood home, hit me. I began to cry. As I stood in that shower, I realized I would never again step foot in this house, that it would only ever exist in my memory, that I would never again be able to just casually walk through the front door and flop myself down on the couch. It wasn’t a great house, mind you. It was tiny and had its problems, but it was the house where I took my first steps, celebrated my birthdays, practiced piano, cried when my parents told me, “NO!” and laughed more often than I can count. The evening after my father’s death, I sat at the table, too tired to eat. I stared at the food in front of me and wondered if I would ever laugh again and I knew if I ate the salad sitting there, I would vomit. And, yet, it was just one day after his funeral that I sat at that same table, with a slice of chocolate cake, a Coke, and my cousin and aunt, laughing so hard over a stupid Trivial Pursuit question that I couldn’t catch my breath. That house saw me through so much and I knew that after this day, it would never again be “my” house.

Tyler and my mother rushed in to see what was wrong. They thought I was hurt or in early labor. “No,” I sobbed, “I’m just crying over a stupid house!”

Thirteen months later, I did step back into my old house. It had been sold and the new owners had redecorated. As I carried Heath, they allowed me inside and I don’t remember too much except that the smell was the same and my bedroom was now an office. Where there now sat a desk, I could still see my hot pink walls and my green shag carpet, my stuffed animals and my white bed. In a daze, I quickly walked through, thanking them profusely and hastily leaving. It was too painful.

Last week, I loaded my children up in our minivan and drove eight hours north to visit my home state. I’ve now lived in Georgia for longer than I ever lived in West Virginia, but I still consider myself more hillbilly than peach. As I drove down those well-worn streets and through the neighborhoods of my youth, not much had changed. The paint is peeling a bit more than before and the streets are bit more bumpy, but it’s nearly identical. And as I pulled up to the intersection of Kentucky Street and Rock Lake Drive, I realized another first. If my life could be summed up in a graph, this house, its address, near this intersection, would be coordinates 0, 0, 0. This was my beginning and my children were seeing it for the first time.

I’m very much a realist. I quite like to slip into my imagination from time to time, but I understand, quite clearly, that my graph will someday have an end set of coordinates. Where those will be, I have no idea. But, I do know that 5312 Kentucky Street, South Charleston, West Virginia, will always be my home, no matter who holds the deed. It’s as much a part of me as my current home. And those memories will live on and can never be taken away. Someday, my children will pull up to this house in Woodstock to show their own children where they grew up. They will cry a few tears of remembrance just as I did last week. Their children will wonder why this house means so much, but they will understand when they take their own children to see where their coordinates began. My children’s firsts fill me with joy and heartache and I hope when they come back to this home of ours on Wellesley Crest Drive, that their memories of it will be as happy as mine are of Kentucky and Rock Lake.

The Blink of an Eye

img_9200I remember lying in my hospital bed, a mother for just seven short hours. My twin babies were in the NICU and I was full of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to see them but wasn’t allowed because of the danger of seizures, I was worried I wouldn’t know how to breastfeed them, and my blood pressure was so high that I was mainlining magnesium sulfate through an IV pump I had affectionately named “George.” The doctor had ordered a “nightcap” for my IV (read: something to finally knock out the psycho mother in room 15) and I was just drifting off to sleep as my breastfeeding consultant walked in the room.

See, I was absolutely freaked that the twins wouldn’t get enough breastmilk. If I gave them a bottle, then I would know how much they drank. The ounces would be clearly marked on the side and with a little simple subtraction, I could know how much they were eating. Breasts, unfortunately, don’t come with those ounce marks. Plus, writing down the amount of poop and pee they created each day just seemed a bit too much like flying by the seat of my pants which, as we all know, I DO NOT DO.

So, there she was, this tired “Breast Milk is Best” advocate who was there to calm me down and give me advice.

In the middle of her instructions, her phone rang. It was her newly-minted 13-year-old daughter who was asking if she could have more minutes on her phone. You see, September 16th was her birthday, too. And she had just received a shiny, new cell phone for that 13th birthday. But, she had used all the monthly minutes to set it up and call all her friends to say, “HEY! CHECK IT OUT! I HAVE A NEW PHONE!”

4961_85634273231_4642627_nEven through my drug-addled, anxiety-ridden, sleepy brain, I could hear the mom’s/breastfeeding nurse’s voice become more terse and frustrated as the conversation went on.

“No. You cannot have more minutes.”

“You’ll get more minutes on October 1st. Those are the rules.”

“It’s not my fault you used up all of September’s minutes in just a matter of hours.”

“You should have paid attention to what you’re doing.”

“I know it’s your birthday, but deal with it.”

When she finally hung up, she apologized, explained what had happened, and as she spoke, gestured to me and the pictures of my new babies, and said, “This? Hon? This is easy. All you have to do is feed them, change their diapers, and love them. When they get to be 13? That’s the hard part. Trust me.”

Of course, I didn’t believe her. I was convinced that trying to guesstimate breastfeeding quantities was going to be the hardest thing I had EVER done in my ENTIRE life. (Postpartum anxiety is a total bitch, yo.)

Eleven years later, and here we are on the cusp of that cell phone moment. There are many days when I can see the beginnings of the teen years with mood swings and attitude. It’s no fun being the mom who takes away the iPad and tells them “NO!” while their tears fall as if it’s the end of the world. I can tell you that even though I know I’m doing the right thing, I still feel like the most awful mom in the world.

Somewhere out there is a 24-year-old woman, celebrating her birthday. She most likely pays for her own phone, and she may have her own children. I doubt she recalls that conversation with her mother, but I remember it as if it were only yesterday. I can remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “The teen years are SO FAR AWAY!”

And yet, they aren’t. They’re staring me in the face. I sometimes wish I could go back to the easy days of baby giggles, diapers, and fuzzy breastmilk consumption math, because she was right, those days were SO much more simple.

But, even though these days are no longer easy, they are certainly more interesting. I’m never bored. I see children who are forming ideas about the world, learning constantly, loving those around them, laughing freely, crying, arguing, questioning, and becoming really cool people. They make me feel more alive and more tired, all at the same time. I know the next eleven years will pass as quickly as these have and before I know it, I’ll have adults in place of the babies I once knew.

And I’ll long for these difficult days of the pre-teen years.

Happy 11th birthday, Amelia and Heath! I love you so very much!

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Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.03.03 PMYou* were always there. It was never a question. Every chance we got, we spent time together. Didn’t matter the months or the miles, we would always take every opportunity to be in each other’s presence. We would breathe the same air, look into each other’s eyes as we spoke and caught up, and re-establish that friendship that meant so much.

But lately? I’ve noticed a pattern. You’ve been here, but not here. To find out second, or third-hand that you’ve been near, driven by, around, and yet haven’t seen fit to actually be here, it hurts.

I think it all started two years ago when I announced my atheism. Even Tyler noticed it, the drifting away, seeing you less and less. I remember figuring out that when I posted on my old blog about my decision to be public with my atheism, I lost a family member on social media. It wasn’t unexpected, but it gave me a twinge. You, on the other hand, stayed.

But really, you haven’t. This is worse. You comment on my posts, you send a message every now and then, but that’s it. We haven’t seen you, even though you’ve been so very close. I get that life intrudes, work gets busy, family comes first. But, we can tell that you’ve specifically removed yourselves physically from our lives.

And this quiet, drifting away is more painful than the immediate severing.

So, this is just me, telling you, that I see what’s happening. It’s very clear to me. To us. And it hurts.

*If you see yourself in this post, I’m not saying that, yes, it’s you. But maybe, if there’s a reflection here of you and your actions, then maybe you need to reach out. And we’ll talk. Or continue to drift. Your choice.

Dear Catherine,

I woke up this morning, like any other day, ready to tackle the craziness of summer and the kids getting easily bored if they don’t have every minute of the day packed full of activities. Amelia, running upstairs after breakfast, breathlessly told me about a hole in our sunroom window. I followed her downstairs and stood, helplessly, in front of a window that, indeed, had a golf-ball sized hole in it. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I should have known that this was a portent of the day to come.

My blogging friends have been a mainstay in my life for nearly eight years. It’s all of you guys who gave me my creative outlet after Jarrod was born. I was here, day in and day out, with three little kids who ALL needed diaper changes and entertainment and I found that writing and interacting with people on the internet was my saving grace. It helped me to keep my sanity. By summer, 2009, I was neck deep into blogging and ready to meet all of these amazing internet people face-to-face. I found myself on the road to Kentucky, to stay at the home of someone I had only met once before, to spend 48 hours with a crowd of people I had never physically laid eyes on. And it was glorious.

I met you there, Catherine. I hadn’t ever read your blog, but you had been writing, just like me. It was amazing to me how we all clicked. All of us, at Bliss Manor that weekend, we got each other. There’s a certain personality that goes online and shares their inner-most thoughts and secrets with the whole world. We are those people and we all got along fabulously that weekend. We all sang awful karaoke, drank more than we should have, and talked and shared. Dave was incredible in his guyliner, Becky drunkenly watched and cheered her Penguins to Stanley Cup victory, Britt tried out her selfie-stick, Hilly test-drove some new black hair, Marty did his Elvis impersonation, Karl promised us all eternal love and devotion, Brad sang, Liz mixed up sangria, and I sat in the middle of it all, trying to process how awesome all of you were. And there you were. You came with three other ladies, whom I had never met, all of you in your matching t-shirts. I didn’t know you, but by the end of the weekend, we were following each other on Twitter, friending each other on Facebook, and promising to do this again, soon.

I never actually saw you again after that, but we’ve shared many laughs on social media since then. We had similar tastes and opinions and you even bought one of Andy’s books.

And then you died. Suddenly, you were gone. The hole in my window mirrored the sudden hole you left in our circle of blogging friends. I looked down at my phone, in a moment of distraction, and saw our mutual online friends lamenting your death and I couldn’t believe it. Private messages flew, questions were answered and yet not, and I realized how fleeting not only life is, but also these 21st century relationships. We only met, in person, once. But I saw your wedding dress, I knew of your taste in music, your friendships, saw your pictures, read of your high points and your heartache. I walked at a distance, next to you, as you lived your life. And now, suddenly, you aren’t there.

I frantically looked back through all of the photos of those magical 48 hours in June, 2009, and in not one of them did we stand together, smiling. But that’s OK. Because I remember you. You made me laugh. You actually got Brad up on stage to sing a Journey song. And I’m glad I was there and got to know you.

We miss you, Catherine. Wherever you are in the great beyond, save a spot at the karaoke stage for all of us. We’ll see you at the next blogger meet-up among the stars.

Love, Heather

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An Open Letter to Jim Rome

Dear Jim,

I feel like I can call you “Jim” rather than “Mr. Rome” since you did, after all, call me and many others “dorks” on New Year’s Day. So, “Jim” it is. I have a few other choice words I can call you, but we’ll just leave those to your imagination. Shall we?

I was an extremely awkward 7th grader when I joined my junior high marching band, not to mention a mediocre clarinetist. I won’t share those first year’s pictures with you or anyone else because like most 12 and 13 year olds, my legs were too long, my feet were too big, my hair was huge, my braces were awful, and my face was too pimply.

But 8th grade was awesome. That’s when I found my niche. For a year, I had watched the drum major do her thing (up in West “By, God!” Virginia, we called them “Field Commanders.” Quite a ridiculous title.) and decided that’s what I wanted to do. And by gosh, I did it. And did it really well.

WayneCo85

There I am, in 1986, at the tender age of 14, at the Wayne County Band Festival. It was the beginning of 9th grade and the Spring Hill Junior High Rebel marching band was in full band festival mode. I had done the drum major gig for a year and I was on it. I loved it. Marching band made me feel like somebody. For a quiet, introverted nerd whose favorite pastime was reading, being out in front of the band made me feel special. I could shine.

But, really, I was just a dork, right?

WayneCoWinningWhoops! Here I am being a dork. Again. Same afternoon. I had just won a 1st place trophy for being the best danged drum major in Wayne County that afternoon. That year. These band festivals were a way for some junior high and high school bands to raise money. They would pay a few dollars for shiny, engraved trophies and the parents would work concessions, serving out donated food to other parents who came to watch their kids perform, kids wearing band uniforms those parents paid for, riding on buses paid for by those parents because the county didn’t have the money for weekend trips, performing in a band festival paid for by those parents because of the entry fee. I can’t even tell you how many Indian River oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits I sold each winter and how many candy bars I sold each spring to raise money. This picture was probably taken in September or October but us kids had been hard at it since the last week of July, giving up five weeks of our summer vacation for camp and practice just so we could be in the band.

Oh, wait, I was mistaken. We did all that just so we could be dorks.

After three years of junior high, off to high school I went. The South Charleston High School Black Eagles marching band was pretty awesome and I spent 10th grade paying my dues in the back and, yet again, did the drum major thing for two years after that.

GreenbrierCoAnd let me tell you. I killed it. There I am, in the yearbook, giving a bad-ass fist salute because we nailed it at the Greenbrier County band festival that year. That night? I was supposed to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. But instead, I was at that band festival. That lady to my right? Mrs. Kennedy. She was a hard-ass, told me if I missed that festival, I would flunk the semester. So I went. I poured my heart and soul into my performance that night. The rest of the band knew I was upset. It was our last festival of the year and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be standing with Dee Dee at her wedding. So we all made our steps crisper, our notes louder, and our smiles bigger.

I scored a 98 out of a possible 100. The band rolled away with tons of trophies.

FullSizeRender copyBut this isn’t about trophies and glory. This is about all us “dorks” who sacrifice our Friday nights to sit on the sidelines and play the fight song for every touchdown, whether it be rain, sleet, or clear skies. We sweat in our full-on polyester band uniforms, sopping wet, sometimes freezing, our hands so numb we could barely play, carrying instruments that are probably upwards of 40 pounds (TUBAS! BASS DRUMS!) and perform to keep the crowds excited and happy, even when our football teams are sucking. Did you know, Jim? My first parade as drum major? I marched in the pouring rain with a 103-degree fever? Yep. Dorkish dedication right there. Those marching band dorks do it not for the glory or the accolades. We do it because we love it, despite what people like you may say.

But the worst part of what you said? Is that you didn’t just say it to those members of the Oregon, FSU, Alabama, and Ohio State marching bands. You also said it to the 12-year-old trumpet player who is struggling to learn how to play his instrument and march at the same time. You said it to the insecure 14-year-old majorette who constantly hits herself on the head with her baton because she’s still learning how to catch it. You said it to the 17-year-old snare drummer who is going to ROCK a DCI drum line in a few years’ time.

You said it to me. The awkward, bushy-haired, 13-year-old field commander who made her debut performance sick as a dog in the rain beside the Kanawha River. And you also said it to me, the 42-year-old mother of three who hopes one day to be a band parent.

Think before you speak, Jim. Think before you make fun of those kids trying to find their niche, their tribe, their place in this big, bad world. Think before you ridicule the kids whose parents have sacrificed money and time and mileage to get their kids to away football games in a clean uniform with functional instruments. Think before you call children hurtful names. You’re a 50-year-old man who should know better. You didn’t just call those college-age adult students “dorks.” You also labeled every. single. minor. child. who proudly participate in marching bands around the country.

I’m glad you apologized. And I hope you’ve learned your lesson. #MarchonRome isn’t just about correcting your poor judgement. It’s also about us being damned proud of who we are and standing up for that. We are marching bands. We love our football teams, our parades, our festivals, our uniforms, our band families. And mostly, we love our music.

Respectfully,

Heather Dobson (née Scarbro)
Field Commander, Spring Hill Junior High, 1985-1987
Field Commander, South Charleston High School, 1988-1990
Field Commander, Spirit of America Marching Band, 1990

The Elephant in the Inbox

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.11.55 AMHeath: Mama, Camden was mean to me in class today.
Me: Oh, really? How was he mean?
Heath: He said something mean to me.
Me: What did he say?
Heath: He said that boys shouldn’t like My Little Pony, that only girls like those toys, and that I’m a boy and I shouldn’t like it. He made fun of me.
Me: Well, first of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy when it comes to liking something like My Little Pony. If you like it, then great! If you don’t like it, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a girl or boy. You like what you like and ignore the haters.
Heath: Yeah, that’s what I tried to tell him.
Me: Heath, you have to understand that a person like Camden said that for one of many reasons. Maybe he’s in a bad mood because he didn’t get enough sleep, or he’s not feeling well, or maybe his mother or father or sibling was mean or upset with him and that has put him in a bad mood. Maybe he liked My Little Pony and someone made fun of him and that embarrassed him. Or, maybe, he’s just a nasty person. I don’t know the reason why he said what he said to you. What I do know is that you’re a great kid and I love that you like My Little Pony and we should all be encouraged to love what we love, not made to feel less because of it.

I have had numerous conversations, like the above, with my children as they have aged and come into contact with other children. As we get older, we all feel the need to drift away from our parents and to find our tribe. This is a natural survival instinct. Our parents are someday going to die and leave us alone and we need those friends to lean on as we get older. But, in finding our tribe, we have to wade through the bullies, the haters, and the negativity. In confronting those negative people, we learn, hopefully, how to stay away from others of their kind, how to deal with them, and how to cope. I would love to shelter my children forever so that they never know the sting of rejection or hate, but in never knowing how those moments feel, they’ll never learn how to cope when I’m gone. I will do them a disservice if I keep them isolated from the negativity. It’s my responsibility to kiss the “owies,” both mental and physical, and help them to learn from them.

Lately, having the above discussions with my children has been difficult because I have so very poorly dealt with recent negativity in my own life these past 60 days. As many of you know, I was hurt very badly by a couple of family members two months ago and although I’ve been mostly mum about it since my one blog post, my mind has raced and run around in circles ever since. I have pretty much cut myself off from most forms of social media and have had a very hard time responding to emails unless they involve my children’s school.

I had absolutely no clue that four emails, two Facebook messages, and one unwelcome Halloween card, all from two women, would have such a profound effect on my psyche. But it has. And I haven’t been able to regain my footing. Since 2007, I’ve considered myself to be an “on line wizard” in my corner of the universe. I was on Twitter before it was cool. I jumped on Facebook not too long after. I had a family web site, then a blog, I coded in HTML and even dabbled in CSS. Hell, if you really want to get me going and not shut up, just bring up SEO and I will go on for hours. I love it. All of it. Having an on line presence is perfect for an introvert like me where the work is behind-the-scenes and I don’t have to talk to people face-to-face. All communication is type-written and I can think on it, edit it, and take my time before I say what’s on my mind. I’m not good with snappy comebacks. I typically embarrass myself during IRL conversations and I’m much better with a keyboard and monitor. I’m also a stickler when it comes to on line security, presence, and words. I’ve had a few missteps, sure, but I’m more careful than not. To have two people be so utterly wrong about me and my on line presence and abilities, in such a nasty way, and then to have it break me down to the point where I want to hide from the very things I love, has taken its toll.

I can’t figure out if I’m more angry with them or with me.

It’s hard, as a mother, to try to teach your children how to face the hate when you’re curling up into a ball and hiding from it. How can I even be effective as a parent when I am so clearly hiding? Do as I say, not as I do has never been an adequate slice of parenting advice and I know, if my children ever find out how poorly I handled this, then they may follow suit. These two months have really tested me as a parent and, unfortunately, I have been failing. Miserably. I need to turn that F into an A. Or maybe a solid B+.

So, this is me, picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting all over again.

Hello, my name is Heather. I am a wife and mother, a daughter and a friend. I am an introvert. I love the Internet. I blog, I frequently share a bit too much on Facebook, I like to take pictures of my kids and pretty things, I keep it to 140 characters on Twitter, and I hunt ghosts. I am a Social Media Specialist. I curse but I also care, deeply. I love my family and my friends. And I will not allow the heartless, thoughtless actions of two people to bring me down.

Watch out, world. Mama is back.

Back Off My Breast Friends

There's a dairy food theme here, isn't there?

There’s a dairy food theme here, isn’t there?

I remember the day well. It was March 18, 2006. For six months, I had made a vow to myself, and that vow was, If I can breastfeed these kids, day in and day out, for six months, I will declare victory in the Milk Wars and wean these little hoodlums. Six months, I decided, was my hard limit. I was done being the Dairy Queen. In real time, I had done this gig for six months. In twin years, that’s one whole year. (Note: This is called “Twin Math.” In “Twin Math,” you double everything. Two kids on two breasts for six months is equivalent to one kid on one breast for one whole year. And even if it isn’t logical, shut up. You did not push two babies out of your body on the same day. The only thing that trumps “Twin Math” is “Triplet Math.” Those women are goddesses and can say and do whatever they damn well please.) I was done. I started weaning the twins the month before, cutting off a feeding here, two feedings there, and replacing said feedings with bottles of formula until, on March 16th, on their six-month birthday, they were on straight formula. Two days later, a Saturday, I left the house around 7AM, waved to Tyler and my mother as they held the twins, and spent the entire day shopping with my sorority sister.

I. Was. Ecstatic.

More dairy references, you say?

More dairy references, you say?

For me, breastfeeding wasn’t a bonding experience. It was a chore. I was absolutely determined to breastfeed because I was convinced that if I didn’t pass on my immunities to my preemie twins, they would become gravely ill. And if I fed the first two that way, then the third needed it as well. It was a chore I did, without complaint, for one whole actual year. (I lasted six months with Jarrod. That’s an actual six months. No freaky singleton math going on there. But, technically, with Twin Math in place, I like to think I lactated for a whole 18 months. Don’t judge me. It was hard, ya’ll!) I don’t want to go into too many details, but let’s just say that my mammary glands aren’t the most… functional in the lactation department, and without help (read: nipple shields) I was in a lot of pain. A lot.

But, here’s the thing. I did it. It is possible to breastfeed even if you don’t want to or aren’t really built properly for the job. And even though I did it, I didn’t have to. I mean, I was raised on formula and I turned out just fine. I have a pretty bitchin’ IQ, no behavioral problems, and my weight is OK. Tyler was raised on formula and has, to my knowledge, never gone off the bend. My mother breastfed me for six weeks before the same dysfunctional mammary gland design that plagued me stopped her cold in her tracks. Shit happens, people. And it happens a lot when you’re trying to feed those feisty little ones.

But here’s the other thing. If I had put my foot down and said, “NO! I will NOT be breastfeeding my children!” should I have been made to feel guilty? As this mother was made to feel? Absolutely not.

I hate that we, as women, feel it necessary to judge other women on how they are feeding/clothing/bathing/teaching/disciplining/raising their children. Get off the Judgy Train, headed for Fort Judgerson, with a stop at Judgjunction. You take care of your kids as you see fit and I’ll take care of mine as I see fit and stop thinking that your way is better for everyone. Your way is just better for you and yours. And that’s just fine and dandy as long as you don’t shove your way in my face. Then, we might have a problem.

Now, here’s where I’m going to make… a suggestion. Any time I see a pregnant lady, I just want to hug her and ask, “First time?” and if she says, “Yes!” then this is pretty much the soapbox from which I want to stand and share my incredible wisdom of moderation, ease, and frequent breaks.

Just one more. I can't help myself.

Just one more. I can’t help myself.

There are lots of people out there who talk about “nipple confusion” and “breast is best” and “formula will make your kids fat and stupid” and blah, blah, blah. But, here was my reality. I had premature twins who NEEDED the calories that formula could provide. They spent their first 20 days in the NICU and since I couldn’t be there all the time, I pumped my breast milk and carted it over there every day. Since my babies needed to gain weight, the nurses and doctors at Northside Hospital supplemented my breast milk with preemie formula and bottle fed them. And they had pacifiers. When they came home, I continued with the one-bottle-a-day routine so that I could get extra sleep, they could get extra calories, and Tyler, Nana, Grandmama, et. al. could get extra baby cuddles. It was a win-win. I continued the tradition with Jarrod. Tyler got the late evening, “Let’s bond over Enfamil and Magnum, P.I!” feeding. So, this is my Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy You Are Gonna Kiss Me When This Is All Over Feeding Guide For New Mothers. Use it or not, it’s up to you. But, it seems to me a common-sense approach to feeding your babies and keeping your sanity.

  1. You have absolutely decided that you don’t want to breastfeed. It turns you off, the thought of it makes you sick to your stomach, and you’re done before the baby is even born. That’s fine! You stick to your guns, give that precious baby some formula, and don’t let those Lactation Nazis make you feel guilty for your choice. And if they harass you, kick them out of your hospital room.
  2. You decide to try breastfeeding and it doesn’t work out. No worries! As long as baby isn’t starving, you’re good. Get out the Enfamil and have a party! And tell those Lactation Nazis to take a long walk off a short pier.
  3. If you are successfully able to breastfeed your baby, give your baby one bottle of formula a day. Wait… hear me out.
  4. One bottle of formula a day gives you a break and allows you extra sleep and allows your significant other/relatives to also bond with the baby.
  5. Having that bottle of formula allows the baby to get used to the taste of formula so that if something happens and you have to unexpectedly wean them, it’s not a battle getting them used to formula. (I can tell you that after watching a friend try to force her baby through an emergency weaning onto formula, it’s not pretty. Your precious wee one will reject that bottle and put you through a couple of days of heck. Trust me on this one.)
  6. Also, having a bottle of formula a day gives you a chance to get out of the house. Guess what? It means you could actually have a date night/night out in those first six/eight/whatever months! You’re not so tied down that you can’t leave your child! Go out and have a great time! And realize that your baby is fine because they’re used to a bottle nipple and acclimated to the taste of formula and you are your own person and can take a break if necessary.
  7. And finally, give your child a pacifier. There is nothing wrong with pacifiers. They soothe your baby and, again, get them used to sucking on something other than you. It gives you a break and a rest. You can start to wean them from the pacifier any time you like, but definitely keep it around for the first year. Trust me, it’s a life saver. If your breast is the only thing soothing them, then you’re probably going to have a lot of sleepless nights.

I guess mainly what I’m trying to impart here is don’t be so hard on yourself. Pictures and media and ads make breastfeeding look very easy. I mean, it should come naturally, right? Not really. It’s a learning process for both you and the baby and if neither of you is enjoying it, you don’t need the stress. Do what’s best for both of you while at the same time giving yourself some elbow-room. Trust me when I say you’re going to need it.

Stepping down off my soapbox. Tune in next time for “Pampers versus Huggies versus Luvs: Is it really all about the diaper or is it more about penis position?” where we discuss leakage and little boys. Or not. Cheerio!