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I Love You More Than Coffee

 

Evan and Lanes

By Melissa Face

 

“Do you like me more than candy?” my four-year-old, Delaney, asks. She’s been on this kick for a few weeks now, partly joking and partly trying to determine how she measures up in our eyes.

“Of course I like you more than candy,” I reassure her.

“Do you like me more than cookies?”

“Yes. I like you more than cookies, too,” I promise.

“What about coffee?” Her expression turns serious. “Do you like me more than coffee?”

“Now that’s a tough one!” I joke with her. “You wouldn’t really ask me to choose between you and coffee, would you?”

My older child, Evan, chimes in at that moment.

“Careful, Mom,” he warns. “It’s less than six days until Mother’s Day. You don’t want us to stop working on your presents, do you?”

I see him grin and wink at me in the rearview mirror, and I feel an actual ache in my chest from the love I feel for both of them.

“Of course I don’t want you to stop. I adore the things you make for me.”

But honestly, I had forgotten Mother’s Day was approaching. As grateful as I am to have my children and to be their mom, I don’t particularly love this holiday. Mother’s Day makes me feel inept and guilty. It is a day of celebration of all the characteristics I don’t demonstrate as a mom: selflessness, patience, tolerance, and kindness. It conjures images of moms who make and pack nutritious lunches, and plan and coordinate stimulating activities, all while talking in a quiet, calm voice.

I tried to be that mom a few times. Twice, maybe.

Since I’m a relatively hopeful person, I have fleeting moments when I think I can still be that mom. I tried again last Friday.

Delaney asked me to make her pancakes for breakfast, so after dropping Evan off at school, we went to the McDonald’s drive-thru, and I bought a large coffee and pancakes. That’s how pancakes are “made” at this stage of my life.

We were both excited about our day together. I promised her I would color with her and play with her doll house. And I promised myself I would try not to yell or fuss the whole day.

Hilarious, right?

“Uh-oh!” Laney exclaimed, while I poured her juice in the other part of the room.

Nothing good ever follows “uh-oh”.

“I spilled a little bit of syrup,” Delaney whimpered.

“Of course you did,” I said, not exactly to myself.

The entire packet of maple goo cascaded off the edge of the table, into Delaney’s lap, and eventually formed an amber puddle on the floor.

For a minute or two, I just stood and watched it ooze and thought about what I might use to clean it up. I thought about not cleaning it up. I could just leave it there; we have other rooms in the house.

“I’m sorry,” Delaney said. “I was just trying to be a big girl.”

“I know,” I told her, while I wiped syrup off her belly.

A few minutes later, my maple scented daughter sat next to me with her box of crayons. We took turns coloring Skye from Paw Patrol, her current obsession, in as many shades of pink as we could find.

We were almost finished when Delaney told me she had to go to the bathroom. She has been working on her independence in this area as well, so she goes in alone, and I check on her as necessary.

After the sink had run for about five minutes, I knew it was time to check. I opened the door, and Delaney jumped.

“You scared me!” she said.

“It wouldn’t be scary if you weren’t doing something wrong,” I scolded.

Delaney had her Doc McStuffins doll under the faucet, face upright. I wondered if she had been learning about water torture in preschool.

“What ARE you doing to your doll?” I demanded.

“I was just cleaning her face from where somebody marked on her.”

That somebody was Delaney, about two weeks earlier.

I took in the scene: a puddle of water on the floor, two soggy towels on the door knob, and half a bottle of soap emptied into the sink, and Delaney, shirtless, perched on her stool, scrubbing away at Doc McStuffins’ face. I’m still not sure why she took her shirt off for the task.

Anyway, my reaction was not one that I’m proud of, not one I aspired to back before I became a mother. There was yelling, fussing, and tears, from both parties. I took Delaney upstairs to the bathtub, fussing all the way and wishing I could just sit down and drink my coffee, my coffee that sat cold on the counter, before the daily messes began, before I lost hope in another day, before I once again turned into the mom I do not want to be.

I was really hoping as I scrubbed syrup, hand soap, and one unknown substance off my daughter that she would not choose this moment to ask me if I liked her more than coffee.

This stage of life is so intense. Other working parents of young children know what I mean. Stay-at-home moms and dads know what I mean, and my friends definitely know what I mean.

I received a text message from my friend, Dawn, just the other day.

“I’ve wiped poop off two different butts this morning and neither was my own,” she said. “How is your day?!”

I laughed and commiserated. This is my life right now. It is nothing like I envisioned. I pictured myself having picnics, going to the park, and braiding my daughter’s hair. But all of that seems like some fantastical scene from Mary Poppins and nothing like my actual life.

When I have been especially grumpy and critical of my children, I feel a nagging guilt, and I try to do something to make up for it. But last Friday, I just joked that maybe my kids could go to the Mommy Store and find a mommy who doesn’t fuss so much.

Evan looked at me and said, “No way. I would never want another mommy.”

My eyes met his, and I could tell that he meant it.

So this year, I am going to try to be a little more enthusiastic about Mother’s Day. I need to say farewell, forever, to the mother I thought I would be, and learn to appreciate the mother I actually am.

My children accept me in the same way I accept them, despite shortcomings. They know I have a temper. They know I can be impatient. They know I sometimes fail, yet they love me anyway. They call for me when they don’t feel well and other times, too, like when they are mad at their father.

They are not perfect children, and I am not a perfect mom. But I love them something fierce, even more than coffee.

 

Teacher Finds Writing Good for the Soul

teacher pic

Melissa was interviewed by Chris Lange with the Progress-Index (Petersburg, VA) about her essay in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers. The collection was released in April 2017 and was Melissa’s 19th contribution to the Chicken Soup series. Since its release, the book has received a great deal of national attention and has been used for teacher training and staff development across the United States.

Read the interview with Melissa here:

http://www.progress-index.com/news/20170417/teacher-finds-writing-good-for-soul

Connected

Papaw and Me

 

(Published in Morsella Magazine, Issue 1: Augur – April 2018)

https://morsellamagazine.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/issue-1-augur-2/#Melissa%20Face

By Melissa Face

 

When I imagine my grandfather, Papaw, I picture a heavyset man climbing down from his Kenworth after hauling a load to Florida. He is humming an Elvis tune as he walks in through the door, embraces my grandmother (and her latest hair color), and asks, “What’s for dinner, Bobbie?”

I imagine these details when I think of him, but I remember virtually nothing about my grandfather. That has always bothered me.

“Don’t you remember the time he bought you a tricycle?” my grandmother asks. “It was a nice red one with a horn.  He knew you were going to be tickled, but you looked at that bike, put your hands on your hips and told him it was not the one you wanted.”

“I didn’t!” I said, horrified by this tale of my younger self. “What did he say?”

“He threw his head back and laughed! He said, ‘I’ll be damned!’ And laughed. And laughed. He took that bike back and got you the one you wanted. Don’t you remember?”

I wanted to say I did. I wanted to remember the sound of his voice, his laugh, something about him. But the story didn’t conjure up a real memory, only a stinging guilt for being a brat about a special present.

My papaw was a larger than life character with a fiery personality. He could cuss you up one side, down the other, and hug you five minutes later. He never had a formal education, but he was street smart, creative, and industrious. He liked haggling, driving his rig, telling a good story, and surprising his family with impromptu trips.

“It was nothing,” my grandmother continues, “for him to come home from a haul and tell me to get some suitcases packed. I would tell him okay and ask him when we were leaving.”

“We’re leaving at six in the morning,” he’d say. “We’re going to California!”

“And I would stay up all night, washing and ironing clothes, and packing sandwiches in a cooler.”

“It didn’t bother you to have to leave so suddenly?” I asked her.

“Not at all. That was life with Howard. Constant adventure.”

It seemed that extraordinary situations found him, much more frequently than the average person. These situations weren’t usually of his choosing, but he wasn’t the type to walk away from conflict.

Papaw narrowly escaped a fist fight once when a man’s car engine caught fire. His instinct was to grab a Coke from an onlooker’s hand to douse the flames. The sodaless man was ready to swing, but Papaw quickly put him in his place.

And another time, on a trip to New York with his family, Papaw tried to talk a man down from the top of the Empire State Building. It was 1964, before the highest level had been fully enclosed.

“Take it easy, buddy,” Papaw said soothingly. “You don’t want to do this.”

The distraught man faced my grandfather and let go of the railing, just as security reached for him. The man flipped backwards, a terminal sequence of spins that ended his life and my family’s vacation.

I’ve heard these stories about my grandfather since childhood. Papaw died tragically when I was four, and tales of his life have been a big part of mine even though he couldn’t be.

Perhaps my genes have given me what memories cannot. I have a fiery temper, a potty mouth, and a tendency toward impulsivity. They may not be the most desirable personality traits, but I like that they keep me connected to him.

 

Ride the Bull

IMG_5271 (1)

 

On our last night in Atlantic City, my family and I sat in a bar and watched the night scene unfold. We observed awkward interactions between males and females as they guzzled liquid courage and did their best to appear taller, stronger and more attractive to the opposite sex. It was quite entertaining.

Then, in the middle of the floor, staff members unveiled a large, dark object. It was a mechanical bull! I had never seen one in real life before. The line grew quickly as brave souls stepped up to challenge the ominous beast.

I so badly wanted to be one of them, but I wasn’t feeling the least bit brave. I was feeling overweight, self-conscious and insecure. And as much as I wanted to ride the bull, I feared being laughed at if I fell off. I would look ridiculous and feel humiliated.

So I watched others fall off and saddle up a second time, and as I watched, I wondered what happened to me. Where did my confidence go?

When I returned from my trip, I knew it was time to make a change. I had dieted and exercised before. It wasn’t my first weight-loss rodeo. I had counted fat grams, cut carbs and reduced calories. I had even bought a treadmill, practiced for several 5k races and worked with a personal trainer. Despite all these efforts and all that change, I hadn’t seen any more than a 10-pound loss in about 6 years. It was disheartening to say the least. The one thing I hadn’t changed though was my attitude; I was simply going through the motions. It was time to get serious.

I was uncomfortable: in my clothes, in my skin and with my life. I turned down social invitations because I didn’t have anything to wear and shopping for new clothes was depressing. I refused opportunities to speak publicly because I was afraid that people would be critiquing my size instead of listening to my message. My weight gain was interfering with my life: socially, professionally and romantically.

When I first began my new, healthy lifestyle, it was all-consuming, an obsession not unlike when I quit smoking. I thought about food constantly – not in the sense of depravity and longing for an off-limits item, but in the sense of planning. Eating well requires constant preparation in terms of grocery shopping, lunch packing and restaurant dining. I made peace with my new obsession and decided to kick my extra pounds with the same gusto and persistence that I used to cease my smoking habit.

It worked. My persistence paid off, and I am fifty pounds lighter than I was a year ago. This journey toward getting my life back has been incredible. I feel energetic, social and happy. I love my life, and I feel that I am living the way I always should have.

Now I have the confidence to take risks and do things that scare me a little. I enrolled in an exercise class at my local recreation center; I improved my 5k finish time by two and a half minutes, and earlier this year, I read one of my essays in front of my students and fellow faculty members at a school assembly.

I have made some serious progress, but I’m still a little afraid of the bull. I could fall off. But missing out on exciting opportunities is even scarier to me. The next time I’m in Atlantic City, I’m going to get in line and ride that bull. And as for the rest of my life, I’m grabbing that by the horns, too.

 

Previously published in Sasee Magazine  – August, 2017

http://sasee.com/2017/08/01/ride-the-bull-2/

I Pressed the Button

Delaney and PGPS

 

By Melissa Face

 

I ignored my ringing phone, a number I didn’t recognize anyway, and hopped in the shower. A few minutes later, my husband popped his head in the bathroom door.

“You missed all the fun,” he said. “Our security alarm has been going off. It wouldn’t take my code, and the police just left a few minutes ago.”

“That explains the unfamiliar phone number on my caller ID,” I told him. “It must have been the alarm company, and I ignored it.”

My husband, Craig, went on to explain that the alarm started screaming, and it wouldn’t accept our 4-digit code after several attempts. And because I didn’t answer my phone, the police were automatically dispatched.

Three Prince George County officers showed up at our house, questioned my husband, and asked for proof of identification. Once they were confident we were indeed the homeowners, they came into the foyer and chatted for a while with my husband and our two children. After a few minutes, they wished us a nice evening and headed on their way.

Craig and I were glad that they had left on a positive note. They didn’t seem annoyed with us at all. Still, we were stumped about what had happened. We wondered what triggered the alarm, and we considered that perhaps it was malfunctioning. I decided I would call the alarm company the next morning.

When I was getting ready for bed that evening, I noticed a small, black object on my pillow. It was the remote to our security system. I keep it in the drawer of my nightstand in case of an emergency. Someone had obviously accessed it.

Craig and I called our children into the bedroom for questioning. “I didn’t do it,” said our six-year-old, Evan. “I promise. I know that’s only for emergencies.”

“I not do it either,” said three-year-old Delaney. Then, she took off down the hallway toward the playroom.

My husband and I exchanged a knowing look and went after Delaney. She denied pressing the button several more times before finally admitting she had done it.

“I’m sorry,” she squeaked. But it was clear that she really didn’t understand what she had done. Craig and I agreed that we would try to find a way to help her understand that alarms are only for emergencies, and we cannot waste the time or resources of law enforcement.

About a week later, I decided that I would take Delaney to the police station so that she could apologize in person. But first we stopped at our local bakery and bought fresh doughnuts to take with us. I wanted to have her apologize for her actions and also thank the officers for responding to our home so quickly.

When we arrived at the station, the receptionist took our information and asked us to wait in the lobby. A few minutes later, four officers stepped out and introduced themselves.

Delaney was a bit overwhelmed by the sight of several officers in uniform, but she quickly got herself together, told them her name, and explained why we were there.

“I pressed the button,” she said. “And I sorry.” The officers were very appreciative of her apology and the treats we brought with us. They gave Delaney special coloring books and her very own badge to wear. She chatted happily with them and told them all about her brother and some recent boo-boos she had gotten.

Before we left, a staff member took pictures of Delaney with the officers and later that day, the pics were uploaded to social media with a really nice caption about our visit. It turned out to be a very positive experience.

I wanted Delaney to learn responsibility for her actions, but I also realize she is only three. It’s hard to tell if it was truly a teachable moment or if she thinks that pressing the alarm button is a great idea – one that will result in another awesome field trip to the Prince George County Police Department.

 

 

http://www.prairietimes.com/currentissue.pdf

 

 

 

Old Dog Smell

dog lover

Old Dog Smell – 2009

 

“There’s nothing wrong with a little dog smell,” Granny used to say.

She was referring to the less –than-pleasant odor of Waylon, the hound who spent his days in the field running rabbits. He often returned from the hunt dripping wet or caked with dirt and ticks. And boy, did he get smelly. Waylon would then subject everyone to his mustiness by barging into Granny’s kitchen on Sunday afternoons. Granny gave him a cookie to get him back out the house, and he learned quickly that the easiest way to receive a tasty snack was to come inside.

“Here you go, Wayla Boy!” Granny said as she tossed a cookie onto the sidewalk.

He’d trot toward the cookie, and sometimes he ate it; on other occasions, he buried it underground with the rest of his reserves.

But even after he had gone back outside, much of him still lingered.

“Gosh, he stinks,” my little sister giggled as she pinched her nose shut. “He needs a bath!”

“Naw,” Granny said. “He’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with an ole’ dog smell.”

That’s right. Waylon could do no wrong in Granny’s eyes. She didn’t flinch when he plopped dead frogs, rats, and rabbits onto her porch. She didn’t mind his ear-piercing wail. She didn’t even mind his outdoor-rolling-in-dead-stuff odor. In fact, she almost seemed to like it. She liked everything about him.

But Granny hadn’t always been so fond of Waylon. Initially, he was my grandfather’s dog, a gift from my cousin and a surprise at that.

“We don’t need anything else hanging around this house wanting food,” Granny said. “Dogs are too much work.”

It was too late though. Waylon and my grandfather had bonded. They spent afternoons together out in the lot, the big open space behind the farmhouse. My grandfather messed around with his bottle collection and tinkered with old furniture, and Waylon chewed on twigs. Sometimes, they just sat together on the steps of the chicken house, Waylon sniffing the breeze and my grandfather puffing a forbidden cigarette. They had a special relationship; they understood one another. But Granny did not understand.

A few years later, my grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had progressed into a relatively late stage before it was detected. My grandfather stayed in the hospital for several weeks recovering from surgery and undergoing radiation therapy. Granny took care of Waylon.

I was standing on the sidewalk the afternoon my grandfather returned from the hospital. My dad, mom, sister, and I were eager to hug him and welcome him home. We had to wait our turn. As my grandfather opened the car door, Waylon placed his front paws on the edge of the car and licked his face with tail-wagging glee. My grandfather weakly wrapped his arms around his hound, lowered his head, and wept. They were so happy to be together again.

It wasn’t too much later that my grandfather lost his fight with cancer and Waylon lost his best friend. For several weeks, Waylon hunted for much longer periods than he ever used to. After he ate breakfast, his white-tipped tail would disappear into the wheat field, not to be seen again until the next morning.

I’m not sure if it was ever actually discussed, but Granny knew what she had to do. She fed Waylon every morning, afternoon, and evening. She marked her calendar with his heartworm pill stickers, and she took him to the vet for his check-ups. Granny became his primary caretaker and, with time, his new best friend. Waylon gnawed on acorns while Granny pruned her azaleas. He napped in the sun while she hung out her laundry. They took walks together around the lot. They grew old together on the farm.

It’s probably a good thing that Waylon outlived Granny. I don’t think she could have handled losing him and what their relationship had come to represent. Until her last day, Granny took care of that dog. And he took care of her too. He helped heal her heart.

I will always remember the sound of Granny’s voice as she called Waylon to the house for supper. “Wayla! Come here, Wayla boy,” she hollered. And a few minutes later, he would come trotting up the steps, dirty from his last hunt. But before she sat down his food, she stroked his dusty coat. There is nothing wrong with an old dog smell.