For my girls (and a little bit for me), PARTS 24 and 25

24. What is your favorite thing and least favorite thing about parenthood?

When I sat down to answer this question, my first thought was, “This could go on for far too many pages.” However, after a little reflection, this may be the shortest answer from the series. My responses are very clear and heartfelt, and there is no need to go on for thousands of words to say what needs to be said.

1. My favorite thing about parenthood is that I get to know you. Even if I weren’t your mother, I would feel blessed to know each of you girls. You have unique, beautifully crafted spirits, and it is an honor to be allowed to be your mother.

2. My least favorite thing about parenthood is disappointing you. I am not the fairytale-perfect mother for which you might’ve wished. I make mistakes. I don’t always make the right decisions where you are concerned or choose perfect paths for our Life. I’m doing the best I can and continuously hope and pray that I’ve done enough.

25. If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be and what would you eat?

There are so many amazingly perfect choices to this answer. I could choose to have cheesecake with Amelia Earhart or amaretto-flavored bread pudding with Princess Diana. It would be quite entertaining to enjoy salmon croquettes with William Faulkner or fresh peas and apple dumplings with Langston Hughes.  Doughnuts complemented by a dark French roast coffee with FDR or a steaming bowl of New England fish chowder with JFK would be excellent choices as well. I have always been intrigued by the enigma that was James Dean. If I got the chance to share a meal with him, I would find a real-life “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” diner and order something from the inevitably greasy-spoon menu.

But I can only pick one person from history, so I will choose to have homemade biscuits and fried deer meat with my Granddaddy. I only know him from pictures. I hear he was a tall man who loved my Grandma and thought I was pretty special. My mom (your Nana) still talks about him with a great deal of respect, and I would like to know the man who can still inspire that level of appreciation and love more than three decades after his death. I want to know what your Nana was like as a little girl, what made him fall in love with Grandma and what he thought when your Nana and Papa got married four weeks after they met.

I would like a chance to get to know him, even if I only had one meal’s worth of time to do so. My memories of him are fuzzy at best, and they are basically tied to a single time when he and Grandma came to visit when we lived in West Monroe. My only mental image from that day was of him sitting silently in a chair in our kitchen. I am told that memory isn’t very representative of the person he was, and I would like the chance to change that.

I would talk to him about your Daddy and about the wonderfulness that is you three girls. I would ask him what he thinks about the world today. I would bring your Uncle Jake along so they could meet. I would sit and listen to this man talk about what it was like to grow up in a different era, what he thought about as he was lying ill in his bed for so long, whether he knows what type of people Uncle Jake, our cousins Michael and Daniel and I grew up to be and what it was like to see Grandma on their 50th wedding anniversary.

I’m not sure I would eat at all. He could enjoy his meal. I just want to listen.

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 23

23. What is your favorite holiday and why?

Sugarplummy Christmas thoughts start dancing through my head before the first child runs through the Pumpkin Patch in October, and – in my mind at least – the Christmas season officially begins the minute the Halloween candy is sorted and the costumes are put away.

Why would anyone not adore Christmas? It brings opportunities to share the awe-inspiring story of Jesus’ birth, to see joy on the faces of friends and family as they open gifts you personally chose and to be swept away in a wave of wonderfulness as you sing old-fashioned songs, sip overly marshmallowed hot chocolate and soak up the outpouring of generosity and kindness that naturally seem to flow a little more freely during the holiday season.

Christmas is an exciting time. Our living room becomes a twinkle-lit, Santa-filled wonderland with our beautiful, humbling nativity scene taking center stage in the midst of the commercialism and childlike cuteness. There have been a few years when I even went so far as to wrap the pictures on the wall to look like Christmas gifts. There is so much joy and laughter (and awesome food!) during the month of December, and the parties, gift-wrapping, church programs and so much more add up to one pretty rockin’ awesome time of the year.

Christmas is not my favorite holiday, though. Surprised?

Alongside the fun that Christmas brings is also a significant amount of running around and a delicate balancing act of equal time spent with each segment of the family. We get up Christmas morning to unwrap gifts at our own home and then rush into the car to make the trip north to Crossett to be first with my parents and then with your Daddy’s parents. It is usually well into the night before we get home, and we are invariably greeted by a living room packed beyond the brim with boxes, toys, clothes and discarded wrapping paper (so much so that we are usually so overwhelmed by it that we go straight to bed and leave it there until the next day when we can attack it with clear minds).

Don’t get me wrong – Christmas is great. But it is definitely not my favorite holiday. Without a doubt, Thanksgiving is my favorite. As you know, every year we go to Branson and spend several days at a condo with Nana, Papa, Uncle Jake and Aunt Courtney. That alone is enough to make Thanksgiving my favorite holiday, but there is an infinitely long list of other reasons it takes the lead.

Nana, Aunt Courtney and I go shopping on Black Friday. I doubt either one of them know how much I look forward to that time together. We laugh. We dig in and refuse to give up our spots in line. We map out a game plan with the sales papers. We laugh. We find great deals. We make memories. We laugh.

Did I mention we laugh?

What do we laugh about? Everything. Nothing. All points in between. It’s amazing the things you’ll find funny when you’ve been up for 24 hours without resting and all you have to keep you going is your love for the two women you are with and the shot of caffeine you got with “first breakfast” some time between midnight and 2 a.m. at Denny’s.

Thanksgiving is more than just Black Friday fun, though. It’s so much more, in fact.

We go to Silver Dollar City and see millions of Christmas lights. Despite the blistering cold, we ride the open-air train and hear the old man in the big chair relate the story of the first Christmas in that lonely manger in Bethlehem. You girls get your pictures taken with the greatest Santa of all time. Sometimes we see a live production of “A Christmas Carol” and other times we spend our time on the kiddie rides or walking in and out of shops. We watch the glassblower and the blacksmith, we eat way too many sweets from the candy shop and we get excited about stopping at the bakery on the way out.

We also spend time with Aunt Courtney’s family. They have welcomed us like we are their own each year we have been there, and it’s nice to be part of a big family gathering again. There was a time when we got together with your Papa’s family fairly frequently, but, unfortunately, that was long before you girls were born.

Papa has two brothers (Uncle Curt whom you have met and Uncle Mark who passed away before you were blessed to meet him) and a sister (Aunt Yvonne – or “Aunt Ebon,” as Aubrey calls her) who each had plenty of kids of their own. When we all got together, your grandparents’ home (which is where we live now) was filled beyond the brim with rowdiness and memory-making moments.

As we aged and the grandkids began making their own lives, we didn’t get together much anymore. I dearly missed seeing the raucously thrown Rook cards hitting the table, hearing Pap-pa’s excited “whoopty doopty doos” and seeing the aunts huddled in the living room chatting about their silly husbands. Those are days you girls will never fully understand since you weren’t there, but trust me – they were great.

So when we’re with Aunt Courtney’s family and everyone knows each other so well and is talking and laughing, for a couple of hours I get that feeling like I’ve gone home again. No, it’s not as loud as the Rook games were, and it’s not quite the same when you don’t see the uncles pestering Pap-pa or hear Mam-ma telling everyone to get out of her kitchen. But there is love and family and a bond that draws us together regardless of what blood flows through our veins.

It’s a good feeling. I like it. It’s a big part of what I adore so much about Thanksgiving.

But that’s not all.

We also get to see your Daddy’s family when we come back through Pine Bluff on the way home. We don’t see them nearly enough, but that is one time of the year when I’m at least 99% sure we’ll get to see them. No matter what else happens to keep us from getting together throughout the year, we’re almost always able to see each other during that time.

On top of all that, Thanksgiving presents the rare opportunity to spend a long stretch of time away from home with my sweet little family, and that’s always fun. In fact, it was so much fun last year that Sarah and Aubrey cried brokenheartedly when we left Branson because they didn’t want to leave. Sarah asked if we could move there, and I think they both missed the point that living there wouldn’t mean daily trips to Silver Dollar City, condo living and unlimited access to “JakeJake” and “Kiki,” as Sarah used to call Jake and Courtney.

Thanksgiving is such a blessing. Even though we don’t live near each other or get to spend time together as often as we might like to, the miles between us don’t seem to matter while we’re together for those few days. We’re talking and laughing (did I mention the laughing?), shopping and just being together. Thanksgiving is a reminder of how great the family ties are that bind us together, and there is rarely any other time of the year that I am so clearly reminded of how blessed, loved and thankful I am.

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 22

22. Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years? 15 years?

There was a time when I thought far into the future and tried to map out a clear path from Point A to infinity, but at some point along the journey, I realized I couldn’t control every step or even steer myself in the direction I thought I wanted to go most of the time.

I have plans. Of course I do. I just try not to commit them to a certain timeline. While you’re so busy making plans, Life scoots right past you, and you often miss your chance to enjoy the here and now while you’re staring ahead to the ifs and thens.

However, there are a few things I see ahead that are fairly certain.

In five years, Sarah will be 11, Aubrey will be nearly nine, and Zoey will be five. Sarah will be getting ready to start middle school and will most likely be worried about changing schools for the first time since she started kindergarten. How odd to think that, as I write this, she just finished kindergarten, and I’m already talking about five years from now when she will be in middle school.

(I don’t like it. At all. My babies are growing up too quickly.)

Aubrey will be getting ready to take Sarah’s place as the big sister looking over the little sister at school, and I have no doubt she will do a great job. My Aubrey will be headed into the fourth grade, which is impossible to imagine since she is only now about to enter PreK.

Zoey will be getting ready to start kindergarten. My last baby will be starting school, cheering (assuming she follows in her sisters’ footsteps), meeting new people and learning things like math, reading and writing.

Hopefully, five years from now, your Daddy will have finally gotten his first motorcycle and found a place at the house to work on his art. Amidst all the estrogen-fueled rifts and girly giggles, he will already be watching for hormone-crazed boys who think they are old enough to call his daughters and will be caught in the middle of sibling rivalries and tween attitudes.

And in all this chaos of changes and keeping up with you girls and your Daddy, I will be doing many of the same things I am doing now – taking care of my little brood and loving every minute of it.

In 10 years, I will undoubtedly be feeling a little crazier than I do now. I will be 48 and digging my heels in as I try to reverse the engines and keep from peeking around the corner at 50. Yes, I know it’s better to embrace your age and have fun with it, but I am going to go kicking and screaming into 50 with every bit of fight I have.

Sarah will be 16 and driving. I don’t even want to talk about that.

Aubrey will be nearly 14 and no doubt begging Sarah to drive her places.

Zoey will be 10 and still in elementary school, and I can’t wait to see what kind of person she is.

In 15 years, I will be in my 50s, and, hopefully, I will know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to make a living writing by then and have been blessed to see something I wrote published. Maybe I’ll have more time to go to the gym, visit with friends and be lazy with your Daddy.

Let’s face it – probably not.

Sarah will be 21 and, presumably, in college. Aubrey should be finishing her first year of college, and Zoey will be in high school. I’m sure there will be plenty to keep me busy, and while my friends are enjoying their grandkids, I will still be chasing my own children from one thing to the next to some degree.

Sometimes I look ahead to the next five, 10 and 15 years and wonder how different those years would look if you girls had come along sooner. Do you know what I realize when I picture that? I wouldn’t change a thing if I had the chance. Everything in my Life happened exactly how it was meant to be at exactly the time it was meant to happen. Looking ahead all those years forces me to also look back five, 10 and 15 years, too, and those years were exactly as they were meant to be as well.

They weren’t perfect. They weren’t even always that great. There were certainly some bumpy roads, but all those self-inflicted potholes in the path from there to here are just part of the bigger picture of the map of our Life today. It all falls into the “it is what it is” category, and that’s exactly how I see the future – it is going to be what it is going to be.

My job isn’t to map it all out and choreograph every move. It’s just to do the best I can at guiding the ship along the way.

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 21

21. Describe your relationship with your parents.

If I were asked to describe my relationship with my parents at this moment, I would use words such as “loving,” “respectful,” “real friends” and “close-knit.” I would tell you that I look up to them and am so thankful God chose them to be my parents. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t talk at least once, if not two or three times. They come to the house on the weekends to see you girls, but I am just as excited to see them drive up as you are.

Their opinions are important to me, and at 38 years old, I still look to them for advice. When I have a problem, I’m quite certain they will have an answer. I seek their approval and am giddy like a child riding a bike without training wheels for the first time every time they praise something I’ve done.

Your Nana and Papa are among my best friends, and I am so blessedly thankful to have been raised by them. They taught me to respect myself and others, to study hard and to never let anything or anyone keep me down. They showed me what it meant to be part of a loving family, and they made me believe that nothing on Earth was more important than those family bonds.

But don’t be fooled. Our relationship wasn’t always so Pollyanna perfect.

Just as you girls will surely do some day, I reached an age where I thought I knew everything. With one roll of my eyes, I could dismiss Mom and Dad’s advice and put the room on notice that I couldn’t care any less about what they thought. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, how I wanted and why I wanted it, and their disapproval was infuriating.

Was I a bad kid? No.

I was far more respectful of my parents than most kids I knew, but most kids I knew didn’t grow up in Neil Young’s house. Doing what you were told and not talking back weren’t just things I did when I was in a good enough mood to do them. They were behavioral expectations that came without ifs, buts or maybes. You were told to do something. You did it. End of story.

You didn’t have to like it, but you did have to do it.

And Heaven knows I didn’t like it 99.9% of the time, but I did it, whatever “it” was. It might be not getting to go somewhere my friends were going or being told I had waited too late to ask to do something on a Friday night. It might be wanting to talk on the phone for a long time with my friends and knowing that I had about a five- to 10-minute window of talk time before my parents told me to hang up. It might be having to sit quietly in a group while my friends ran around laughing and cutting up.

I thought your Nana and Papa were so unbelievably mean, but as a parent now, I can 100% say without any hesitation that they were right.

I didn’t need to go half the places my friends were going without adult supervision, and running up and down the roads on Friday nights wasn’t really where I needed to be either. As a kid, I thought I could handle anything, but as an adult, I realize I had no business being part of most of the things that were going on in that small town.

I had no reason to talk on the phone more than five or 10 minutes. I saw my friends all day at school. When I was home, I needed to be with my family. My friends saw me far more waking hours of the day than anyone else. At home, I needed to be an active part of the family and forget my friends for a while.

When everyone was running around being loud and getting into trouble, there was no reason for me to part of that. I felt like I was missing out on something, but the truth is that I was doing exactly what I needed to do – learning respect and courtesy.

Hard-learned lessons weren’t the only rough patch between us, though. In my senior year, I met someone I thought I needed to be with, and Dad told me I was “nothing but jail bait to him” and forbid me to see him. I listened (for a while) but eventually got over that and started seeing him secretly. I won’t even go into the details of that whole debacle other than to say that my parents were right, I was wrong, and it took me a very long time to see that.

Do I regret that relationship or the fact that I stood up to my parents? Not at all.

Every glass-shard-strewn path we have painfully marched down has been part of what makes us so close today. We butted heads and fought it out through all the teen troubles and early-20s ridiculousness, and we came out on the other side of it all with mutual respect and love for each other not only as a child and parents but as adults who know where each stands in the relationship.

I respect my parents. I thought they were so tough on me, but now I see that they weren’t tough on me at all. They hugged me and loved me no matter how unlovable I acted, and they only wanted good things for me. They raised me to have high expectations from myself and those around me, to live a good Life and to always do the best I can at everything I do. It took many years for me to see that they only had the best of intentions, but I get it now.

Maybe someday each of you girls will see that your mean old Mama isn’t asking perfection from you either. I don’t expect you to never make mistakes or to silently agree with everything I say. I only want you to grow up to be the best version of you that you can be, and it’s my job to arm you with the skills of compassion, faith, respect, honesty, integrity, intelligence and good manners you will need to make your way through this world.

Each of you is your own person. You will make your own mistakes. I will make mistakes, too. I can’t promise it won’t be a rough road from time to time, but I can promise we will get through this thing called Life even if we have to drag each other mentally kicking and screaming through the rough parts.

When you think those rough parts are too much to handle and you think your Mama couldn’t get any meaner, just remember that I thought the same thing about Nana and Papa. I understand. That won’t change how I choose to raise you, but I do at least understand.

Someday you will, too, and when you have kids of your own, I am certain you will look back and think (just as I do now), “Dang. My parents were pretty smart.”

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 20

20. Describe three significant memories from your childhood.

As I think back to things that happened as I grew up, a few pop out with highly specific details, and it is for this reason only that these are the ones I choose to list here. I could write countless pages about lessons I learned or funny things that happened, but these three incidents stand out in great detail.

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In the summer of 1982, we lived in a small house on Cedar Street in Crossett, Ark. We had just moved there a few weeks earlier, and I was about to begin third grade at Anderson Elementary just a couple of blocks away. Mom stayed home with me and my nearly-two-year-old brother, and Daddy went to work every day at FirstSouth Savings and Loan. He came home each day for lunch, and around the time he left to return to work, I watched “Father’s Knows Best.”

One day in particular, we had finished eating, and I was sitting down to watch yet another “Father’s Knows Best” rerun in our tiny living room just off the kitchen. Mom came in and sat on the couch. She said she needed to talk to me, and she turned the TV off.

“This must be serious,” I thought. I wondered if I were about to get in trouble for something and couldn’t recall anything that might be a reason for this talk. As she began to speak, a sickening, why-must-you-talk-to-me-about-this feeling washed over me. The smell of the dingy, red, shag carpet and the smallness of the room were closing in on me, and I swear I thought I was going to pass out. I was so embarrassed that I could almost hear a ringing in my ears, and her words were distant echoes like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s muffled tones. 

Wahh, wahhh wah. Wahhh wah wahh, she said. One day you will get your period. Wahhhh, wahhhhhhhh, wahhhhhhhhh.

I spent the next four years driving myself crazy every time I went to the bathroom looking for that first speck of blood. Finally, it happened in the summer of 1986 just before I started the seventh grade, and I don’t recall being any less embarrassed to talk about it than I had been four years earlier.

Thankfully for you, girls, I am over that embarrassment, and talking to you about Life’s little miracles won’t bother me at all. The whole time I’m talking to you, though, I will be remembering that red shag carpet, the fact that I was missing my show and the head-spinning embarrassment of the topic, and I will wonder what part of the experience will stick out for each of you.

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On January 28, 1986, it was cold. I was in the sixth grade at Calhoun in Crossett, Ark., and we were all outside wishing we could go in where it was warm. Ms. McCormick, one of the math teachers, came outside to tell us to come in. Her face was bleached so pale with shock that it blended in with her white hair and silver-rimmed glasses.

Clearly, something was wrong. Ms. McCormick wasn’t the most boisterous person, but she was especially soft-spoken when she replied to our persistent questions about what was going on.

“The space shuttle blew up,” she said.

She turned like a robot on auto-pilot and went back in the school. As the word passed through the playground, we filed inside in an equally quiet, shocked manner, and I have no doubt many of us were as pale as Ms. McCormick had been when she had appeared at the top of the ramp a few minutes earlier.

Televisions were rolled into classrooms, and we sat transfixed watching the news coverage of the breaking apart and disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger barely more than a minute into its mission. All seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe who would’ve been the first teacher in space, were killed.

At 11 years old, I was in awe of the space program. The idea that we could leave our own world and travel into the skies in search of knowledge was baffling, but to think that a teacher was going with the crew this time made the launch even more special. At that age, your teachers and your parents are typically the main heroes in your Life, or at least that is how it was when I was growing up. Watching the Challenger blow up and knowing that Christa McAuliffe was on board was a double whammy of intensity – she was a teacher and a parent.

Her kids weren’t much younger than I was – her son was nine, her daughter six. I wondered if they were watching with pride as the shuttle lifted off that day and wondered what they must’ve felt as they realized that when they told their mother goodbye it was the last time they would ever see her.

The main thing I remember from that afternoon was silence. The kids didn’t talk. The teachers barely spoke other than when necessary. It even seemed the creaky old school building stood in respectful silence. It was my first “I remember where I was when” moment, and I still remember it like it just happened. I can only imagine what it must be like for the family members of the crew that died that day.

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, when Nelson Mandela was freed and when President Reagan was shot. I was alive to see Mount St. Helens erupt and the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. I watched Diana Spencer become Princess Diana. I remember Chernobyl, the Iran-Contra scandal and the standoff in Tiananmen Square.

And those were just the things I actually remember from when I was a kid. There were surely many others that didn’t stick out to me for one reason or another. I can’t begin to imagine what you girls will remember from your childhood and hold up as your first “I remember where I was when” moment, but I assure you that the details will stick out to you no matter how many years or how many other defining moments occur.

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July 7, 1990, I boarded an airplane in Kansas City to head home after being at the John R. Kirk Honors Institute for four weeks in Kirksville, Missouri. Thanks to a few well-timed bats of my eyelashes and a sugary Southern drawl, I had sweet-talked the ticket agent into changing my flight so I could travel the first leg of my trip with a friend I had made that summer. Before boarding, I had called home to let my parents know I would be getting into Little Rock sooner than expected.

The call seemed to be met with a little frustration, but I shrugged it off, boarded the plane arm-in-arm with my friend and chatted happily with him until we landed in Little Rock. As we went our separate ways, I saw my Dad waiting for me but didn’t see Mom or Jake. Dad seemed tense, and when it became clear that my flight had been changed but my luggage had not made the switch, we went to the baggage claim counter to find out what could be done.

“Where’s Mom,” I asked as I saw Pap-pa and Uncle Mark walking up.

Dad told me that Grandma (your Nana’s mom) had passed away that Thursday, and they had held the funeral earlier that day. He had made the three-hour trip to get me and left Mom and Jake at home to visit with guests and tie up loose ends. They hadn’t told me because I was finishing up my time in Kirksville and didn’t need the stress of being there by myself when I got the news.

Grandma was gone.

They had already had the funeral.

On the same day I came home.

The same day.

The. SAME. Day.

Never in my Life before then or since has time, space and sound stood as still as it did at that moment. So many feelings coursed through me that I wasn’t sure which to process first.

Grief that my sweet, wonderful Grandma was gone and that I would never again look into those brown eyes and see them speak volumes with a single twinkle.

Frustration that my Mom wasn’t there to hold me and tell me Grandma knew I loved her even though I had been a complete teenage loser and hadn’t appreciated the last time I saw her because I was too filled with selfish thoughts of my upcoming four-week adventure.

Anger that the funeral couldn’t have been postponed a single day so I could be there.

Head-spinning nausea that it was all happening without warning.

Uncle Mark and Pap-pa barely spoke. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they could tell by the look on mine that there weren’t many words that would’ve sufficed right then. Even now, 23 years later, it stings like it just happened, and I am teary as I type these words.

It’s a wound that is still fresh and bleeding and viciously painful. I can feel what it was like to stand at that counter, to hear that my luggage was missing and to speak to the baggage claim clerk with hatefulness-tinged words as if it were her fault I would never see Grandma again. I can feel every bump in the road from Little Rock to Crossett. I can feel the pitying eyes of everyone in our home when I walked in the door and saw some of the people who had the blessing of being allowed to take part in my Grandma’s final farewell while I had been left out.

We had a graveside service just for me. Bro. Emil Turner said a few words, and even though he was someone I respected greatly, every word he said felt like acid being poured on an open wound.

He was there, and I wasn’t. He barely knew her. How can he stand there and tell me that I should find solace in knowing that Grandma is with her Heavenly Father? I want her here with me, her Earthly granddaughter, you jerk! How dare you stand at her grave and tell me how I should feel? You have no idea how much I’m hurting and how much I resent being kept in the dark!

I was fairly close to a mental break the whole time we stood in the blistering heat that day at Hickory Grove Cemetery. I had visions of crawling into the ground to be with her. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders in an effort to hug myself into reality and keep from falling to the ground and weeping until the dirt around me became so soggy with tears that the freshly packed grave turned to mush and swallowed me. I tuned out Bro. Emil and talked directly to God.

“Take me, too,” I said to Him in my mind. “Don’t even let these people know what happened. Just take me. Now. They won’t miss me. I need to see her one more time, and I know You have the power to do it. PLEASE.”

Clearly, I did not burrow into the grave, and God saw fit to keep me here a while longer. Obviously, I got past my typically teenagery angst/frustration/resentment and realized my anger was not with the people – it was with the situation. My parents made the best choice they could considering the circumstances, and I know that now.

But just knowing that doesn’t make me feel any less like I missed something important. As I type these words, I can honestly say it is the first time I have shared this story in such great detail with anyone, and sharing it does not make it easier to process. You are probably questioning how I can remember the details of what I felt and exactly what thoughts went through my mind.

The first time you lose someone you genuinely love, you will understand.

And years later, I have no doubt, you will unfortunately remember it like it just happened. If I could suffer that pain for you, I gladly would.

I still miss her.

Every day.

And it doesn’t get any easier.

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 19

19. How did you feel the moment you became a parent?

I’m not sure there is enough time or space or words in the universe to describe how I felt when I became a parent. To even begin to share that, I will have to split my experience with each of you into two pieces – finding out you were on the way and actually meeting you for the first time.

Finding out I was pregnant with Sarah was a shock. My divorce from my second husband had been finalized three months earlier, and I was seeing someone who was good looking, sweet and a lot of fun but not someone with whom I wished to be on a marriage track. We enjoyed each other’s company, and at that time in my Life, that is all I wanted. After two failed marriages, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married again, and if I did ever get married, I was certain it wouldn’t be to him. He didn’t seem interested in running down the aisle either, so our relationship was comfortable and didn’t contain many high expectations.

Finding out I was pregnant changed everything. I had been very sick and had been to the emergency room due to what I thought was gallbladder problems. When I saw your Aunt Yvonne and told her how I had been feeling, she said, “You know when your Mam-ma thought she had gallbladder problems, she found out she was pregnant with Mark.”

Even though fertility testing a few years earlier had shown that kids weren’t in my future, her words stuck in the back of my mind for the next week. I can’t get pregnant, I thought, but I’ll take a test so I can quit thinking about what she said.

When two blue lines immediately appeared in the test window, I looked back and forth from the instructions to the test a dozen times or more to be sure I saw what I thought I saw. Jumping in my truck and driving faster than any law has ever allowed, I flew to Target and picked up three more tests – the most expensive, supposedly credible ones I could find – and took all three at once.

One test with two blue lines.

Two tests with two blue lines.

Three tests with two blue lines.

There were now four tests saying a baby was on the way. My doctor recommended we draw some blood to confirm and to find out how far along I was. I worked at the hospital where the lab work was done, and the ladies in the department knew me and knew my struggle with infertility. A couple of them had similar struggles, and we had talked about the pain of Mother’s Day and how it felt to see our friends effortlessly pregnant.

Needless to say, they were shocked when I handed the orders through the window. It was late in the afternoon, and I was the only patient there, so they put a rush on the results. When I heard the door begin to open, I glanced at the intake window and saw several women gathered around it staring excitedly at me and fighting back tears. Of course, when I heard that doorknob turn and saw their faces, I already knew the answer but couldn’t breathe until I heard the actual words.

The lady who came out smiled and said, “Congratulations, Mama,” and the ladies at the window cheered. I doubled over like someone had punched me in the gut and let the tears flow. All those years of childless agony came pouring out in that one moment, and she knelt down next to me and gave me the happiest, most comforting hug I have ever received.

The next few months streaked by in a blur of excitement and nervousness. At 39 weeks and four days, Sarah finally made her debut. I got to the hospital at 11:15 p.m. on December 27, and at 10:10 the next morning, she came screaming into the world. The first words I ever said to her were, “I love you,” although I’m not 100% sure I ever really knew the meaning of those words before that moment.

I was happy growing up. I was loved and hugged. I heard the words “I love you” frequently. I knew what they meant.

Or at least I thought I did.

When Sarah was handed to me for the first time, those three simple words took on such an enormously overwhelming depth of meaning, and I have never looked at them the same since. In that moment, I understood what it meant to prize someone else’s Life more than my own and to be willing to sacrifice, sweat and suffer if need be to make sure my child was safe and happy. Every time the nurses took her to the nursery, I agonized until she came back – What are they doing? Is she okay? Does she miss me like I miss her?

Realistically, she didn’t even know where she was. But I knew from that day on that my Life would never be the same and that no matter what happened, it was this tiny baby and me together through it all. All we had was the two of us and the love we felt at that moment, and we didn’t need anyone else to be part of our family of two.

But sometimes the world throws you a blessed little curveball, and mine came in the form of your Daddy. When Sarah was about nine months old, your Daddy and I started dating, and she was right there with us every time we were together. We were an instant family, and Daddy never hesitated to treat her like he had been part of her world from day one. About a year and a half later on August 2, 2008, we got married. Sarah walked up the aisle on Daddy’s shoulders after we said, “I do,” and that was the image of how our Life was going to be – just the three of us as a happy little family.

Thankfully, the Universe had other plans.

A few months after we got married, I was eating a lot more than usual. It wasn’t that I was bored and feeling snacky or that I had missed any meals. I felt like I had a parasite that would tear my insides out if I didn’t constantly have something to eat.

This isn’t normal, I thought. What is wrong with me?

On an odd hunch, I took a pregnancy test. Again, just as it had done when I found out Sarah was on the way, two lines appeared immediately, and again, I looked back and forth from the instructions to the test a dozen times or more. Daddy was working late, so I texted him to find out how much longer he would be. He said he was going to be a while, so I texted him a picture of the positive pregnancy test.

He texted me back: “Whose is that?”

I told him that the test was ours, and I’m pretty sure the night sky lit up from the glowing beamingness of his smile. We were giddy that our little family of three was going to be a family of four.

Sarah was supposed to have been my miracle child who beat all the odds to get here, and yet here we were less than two years later with another child on the way. We tried to tell Sarah that a baby was on the way, but at just under two years old, I’m not sure she completely grasped the concept. On the other hand, telling our friends and family was fun. I remember your Aunt Karen hugging me at Christmas and asking, “Hey, sweetie. How are you?” As she stepped back, I grinned and said, “Pregnant.”

Based on the excitement that filled the room when I said that, you would’ve thought I had set the place on fire. Your Aunt Kara was pregnant with Grant and Ethan at that time, and our family which had previously had no grandkids was going from zero to four in a single year. Blessings were pouring out of every moment in our Life, and the excitement was practically palpable.

A few months later I was at the Woman’s Clinic for my regular weekly visit, and Dr. Sheppard measured my stomach to see how much Aubrey had grown. She eased back across the room and leaned against the counter.

“We need to get this baby out of there,” she said.

Aubrey was getting big quickly, so we made an appointment to come in that Thursday to induce. When the morning of August 13 arrived, Daddy, Sarah and I left the house at 5:30 a.m. when it was still dark outside. Everything was so quiet and happy and laidback, and as Daddy carried Sarah to the car, she looked up to the sky and said, “One, two, ‘free,’ five, six, seven. Seven stars.”

“Remember that,” Daddy said. “There were seven stars in the sky the day Aubrey was born.”

Those weren’t the only stars to be seen that day, though. I’m pretty sure I had stars in my eyes when my sweet Aubrey was born, and I, once again, said the same three words to welcome my child into the world: “I love you. ” We were surrounded by so many family members and so much love, and the look on Sarah’s face when she saw her sister for the first time was priceless. She was hesitant to hold her for fear of breaking her, but we could tell she was drawn to her in a way she couldn’t explain and was already well on her way to earning the name “Mama Sarah.”

Friends and family drifted in and out for the rest of the day, and it wasn’t until much later that evening that I had a chance to be alone with my newest daughter. I was so overwhelmed by the shock of being a mother of two, but Aubrey was immediately snuggly and loving and easily soothed.

My first night with her was so different than my first night with Sarah. With Sarah, I had talked to her endlessly and told her how sorry I was that she had been born into a broken family without a reliable father figure. I had stared at her in disbelief for hours and had been unsure of what the future held.

But when Aubrey was born, that was not the case. I knew her future was filled with family and stability, two parents who loved her and a sister who would always be her friend. So when Aubrey and I were alone for the first time, we didn’t talk as much as Sarah and I had. Instead, I stared at her sweet face and thought of how blessed I was to have this precious little person in my Life and to feel her breathing that sweet baby breath on me as she snuggled her face into my neck. Every time the nurse brought her back to me after having her in the nursery, I lit up with the joy of seeing her as if it were the first time, and we mostly sat in quiet bondingness and just soaked each other up. I felt peaceful and complete, and I cherished the first quiet moments to get to know my youngest child.

Or at least we thought Aubrey would be our youngest child.

June 8, 2012, we got a puppy. Our family was finally complete, but oh what a handful sweet Piper turned out to be. At 3 a.m. the following morning, I was up with her yet again, and as we sat in the floor playing, I was suddenly struck with waves of nausea.

Where are these feelings coming from, I wondered. Could it be…

I took a pregnancy test, and it went through the window positive, just as it had done with both Sarah and Aubrey. I didn’t need to look back and forth this time, though. I knew what those two lines meant – yet another Mixon baby was on the way.

I really didn’t know what to think. Zoey was just as unexpected as Sarah had been. We had wondered if Aubrey might be possible and had hoped we would be able to conceive her, but Zoey was our unexpected blessing.

I was in shock, and if I knew this little secret, your Daddy needed to know, too. I crawled into bed next to him, poked him on the arm and said, “Hey. I don’t feel well.” 

“What?” he asked, still groggy from the deep sleep he had been in before I poked him.

I repeated what I had just said, “I don’t feel well, and I know why.” I held up the pregnancy test, and he opened one eye to look at it, saw that it was positive and fell back onto the bed in shock. We spent the next couple of hours laughing, shaking our heads and wondering where we were going to put a third child in our tiny house. We had already had to convert the den into a bedroom when Aubrey was born. What would we do now that yet another child was on the way?

It didn’t matter.

All that mattered was the surprise and joy of knowing another child was on the way to bless our home. When we told your grandparents, Daddy was in Crossett. He logged into Google Talk so we could video chat, and Sarah and Aubrey got to tell each set of grandparents that I was pregnant. They were as shocked as we were but thrilled at the prospect of continuing to grow our family.

My pregnancy with Zoey was harder than it was with Sarah and Aubrey. With Sarah, I had a rough start but ended up having an easy pregnancy for the most part. Other than having swollen feet and hands, Aubrey was basically a breeze from day one. Zoey, on the other hand, was different. Nausea, backaches and headaches were common throughout my pregnancy, and she was the most active baby I’ve ever seen. There was hardly a moment in the day when my stomach wasn’t moving. It was like she was begging to get out and get her Life started from the moment she was conceived.

January 16, I went for my weekly appointment. I had been dilated to three for several weeks, and when Dr. Sheppard checked me, she once again eased across the room and looked at me, just as she had when she said it was time to induce Aubrey. This time, though, she had more urgency in her voice.

“You’re dilated to six, so it’s time. Do you want to go to the hospital now?”

It was three weeks before my due date, and I wasn’t ready for her to be born. I wanted her to stay in there as long as she could, but in true Zoey fashion, she had her own plans. On January 17, we once again left before the sun came up and went to the hospital thinking we would have a baby by mid-morning.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Dr. Sheppard had several emergencies throughout the day, so the nurses had to slow me down so I could wait for her to arrive, which she wasn’t able to do until nearly 7:30 p.m. I had spent the day in the delivery room waiting to meet this precious child, and with every passing hour, I became more anxious. There was a time mid-afternoon when the lights were almost totally out in the room, and I was wallowing in depression. I had thought that by this time of the day, I would already be in a room and entertaining guests, but we were still waiting with no signs of progress.

Once we finally started pushing, Zoey made her debut very quickly. The nurse laid her on my chest, and that is where she stayed for a full hour for what the hospital calls “Mother-Baby Bonding.” Once that little doll was in my arms, the struggles of the day were forgotten, and all that mattered was holding her. Just as with Sarah and Aubrey, the first thing I said to Zoey was, “I love you,” and I swear she spent the next hour lying on my chest saying it back to me with her eyes. She hardly cried at all. She mostly just looked around and took it all in as if she were an old soul who had perhaps journeyed this way through the universe before. I was totally in awe of this little creature who would someday call me Mama. For 37 weeks, she had grown inside me, and we had more than our share of conversations about Life and family and what she could expect once she was born. But now here she was, and it was like I was thinking about her and understanding for the first time that there was someone new in our family. 

Once they took her to the nursery, it was nearly 1 a.m. before I saw her again, but when they brought her to me, it was as if we were meeting for the first time and yet somehow already knew each other like old friends. Zoey immediately fell right into place in our family, and I spent that first night looking at her and beaming with pride. I thought a lot that night about Zoey’s place in our family and how she would fit in with her sisters who were six and three. I wondered if they would be friends and actually asked her what she thought. As odd as it may seem, I swear she grinned at me when I asked her that, and I didn’t know if that was an affirmation of her intention to be her sisters’ friend or if it was a devious, they-won’t-know-what-hit-’em grin. Regardless, our little family was finally complete with a husband, a wife and three beautiful princesses to light up our world.

Wait. What? Three kids. Holy cow, I thought. I have three kids. Three kids. Me. Mother of three. When did this happen?

It happened while I was making other plans, as Life tends to do. It happened in three distinctly different but wonderful ways, and each time I met one of you, I experienced that world-changing love all over again. It’s difficult to remember who I was or what I wanted before you girls came along, and I can’t imagine one second of the last seven years without you in it.

How did I feel when I became a parent? After 3,000+ words of trying to tell you what it was like and trying to explain the happiness I felt, I think I can actually sum it up in one word.

Complete.

Thank you. You each came along at the exact moment I needed to meet you. You didn’t just change my world –  you became my world. You were each a blessing when you were born, and you continuously amaze me with what you bring to the world around you. Since you were first conceived, you have been everything this Mama has thought, breathed and felt. 

You were the pieces of me I didn’t even know I was missing.

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For my girls (and a little bit for me), PART 18

18. What do you think your spouse loves most about you?

When you’re in love with someone, it’s impossible to pinpoint that one bit of magic that makes them Mr. or Mrs. Right. It’s usually a combination of many factors that leads you to know that this is someone with whom you can happily share your Life. So when asked to say what it is that your Daddy loves most about me, I wasn’t really sure how to answer. I thought, “I’ll go with the first thing that pops to mind. This will be easy.”

Wrong.

For possibly the first time, my mind was 100% blank. I know your Daddy loves me – that is unquestionable – but I have never been asked to define that love, and that’s where I had trouble. In fact, I even considered changing the question to something easier, but this blog series is based on transparency. Changing the question because it was difficult to answer or because I wasn’t sure if I would pick correctly wasn’t the right thing to do.

So, yeah. I cheated. I didn’t fill in the blanks on my own. Instead, I asked. His response was simple but also rather complex – the thing he loves most about me is the way I love him back.

That doesn’t mean he would transfer his love to someone else if another person were to come along and love him. Many people easily get their focus shifted to another person, but your Daddy is not like that. Cheating is not something I worry about with him – he knows how much he would lose if he ever did, and our family and our love is far more important than any hotty-trotty little fling who might present herself.

It’s easy to be physically attracted to someone and “love” their body. You might love the way that person makes you feel or the way he or she makes you laugh. It might be that this person can provide financial stability.  Or perhaps you have been with someone who cheated on you, so you seek someone who is faithful, regardless of what else they are.

Truly loving someone is all those things and none of those things. It’s however you decide love should be and what you think is important. It’s finding someone who meets certain criteria – stable, loving, faithful, honest, sincere – but who also can be an a la carte menu of things that are important to just you – sense of humor, hobbies, looks, personality, career.

Maybe you don’t care about financial stability. Ideally, you will be financially stable on your own before you enter a long-term relationship. My parents always said I needed to be able to take care of myself without any help because the world didn’t automatically deliver Prince Charming, a white picket-fenced house and two perfect children wrapped in a 50-plus-year marriage. Just as my parents did before me, I want each of you girls to be on your own and have your own stability prior to deciding with whom you will share your Life.

Maybe you don’t care about someone’s looks. Or maybe you do. Maybe you prefer a tall person with dark hair or someone of average height with blue eyes. Whatever it is you seek, only you know if it’s worth passing up a chance at love to find that ideal physical appearance you think you prefer. I have always been drawn to slimmer, taller guys, and I have a history of dating guys with tattoos, light brown hair and infectious smiles. However, when the right person comes along, you don’t always care that they didn’t walk straight from your imagination into your heart.

If it’s right, it’s right. And that, my dear daughters, is where your Daddy and I are. His response makes that clear. It’s simple. I love him. He loves me. It’s the greatest part of who we are as a couple.

On the other hand, his response is complex. I interpret that response in a different way than he meant it. What he meant is that he loves the fact that I actually return the love he has for me, and that may sound funny to you. You’re probably thinking, “Daddy loves Mama just because she loves him back?”

No, that’s not exactly it. Your Daddy took a blessedly broken path to get to me, but those are stories he will have to share with you if/when he is ready. His previous marriage and the struggles he had are for him to explain in his own way and his own time. For now, I’ll just say that your Daddy’s Life was not always filled with love and respect, so when he found me and actually received in return the love he was sending out into the world, he decided that the thing he loves most about me is that I love him, too.

He will tell you that it’s much more than that, though.

He loves me for all the little things that go into shaping the love I have for him. It’s the way I fix his lunch or wash his clothes or make sure he has the things he needs. It’s how I ask about his day and run my hand across the top of his closely-cut hair as I pass in the living room. I laugh at his jokes (most of the time). I ask his opinion. I share secrets, watch the same TV shows, make homecooked meals for him suited to his tastes, understand his love of art and more.

At the root, his response simply means that we are in love. That is the thing he loves most about me. It’s not a superficial, change-on-a-whim love that can easily be discarded. We are in this for the long-haul, and there’s such an overwhelming awesomeness that comes from knowing that. You have to set aside the physicality and all the superficial aspects of a relationship and look at what’s left. It’s what you see when all those other things are stripped away that matters the most.

What I see is a man who loves me for the way I love him which is a different byproduct of the way he loves me. It’s an infinite circle of loving awesomeness, and I am happy to chase my tail in that circle for the rest of my Life with your Daddy.

Or maybe it’s him chasing my tail.

What?! I didn’t say physicality was unimportant! 🙂

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