Hey Mamas! It's been a while, but boy have I been busy! Last week, I was blessed to be a guest on Lowcountry Live, where I not only shared tips to help moms manage their back-to-school mornings more effectively, but also did the cover reveal for my upcoming book entitled, "The Belief in Wings: Evolving from Self-doubt to Personal Power."
Check out the interview below!
Yes! That's right! I have an upcoming book! And here is the cover for all of you to see!
The Belief in Wings: Evolving from Self-doubt to Personal Power is a three-part journey designed to encourage teen girls to define and deliver their voices; choose courage and become the heroes of their own stories; and step into their personal power and greatness. This book will provide the stepping stones and guidance necessary to encourage girls to believe in their unique gifting and to make strides towards achieving their dreams.
This book has been a labor of love! I am so excited to give you a peek at what's to come. The book will be released this fall, so follow me here, on Facebook or Instagram for updates.
I want to take a moment to thank the artist behind the cover art, Dana Klein of Photography by Dana Klein. Through this gorgeous storybook image, Dana captured the essence of this book's title and contents. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect image, and I am blessed and grateful to have Dana join me on this creation journey. And my oldest daughter is the cover model!
Thank you to all for the outpouring of support for this book project. I am humbled and pray that I deliver a work that will bless each person who reads its pages.
I've been trying to write this post all day. I'm trying to tell you all about why I've been away...why it's been over a year since I've visited with you here. But I can't seem to find the words. Things keep getting in the way. Emotions keep getting in the way. Even the words are getting in the way.
Crazy how life can derail you, sending you on a completely different journey than you had planned. To some unknown destination. And all you can do, is hold on tight and ride.
Last year this time, my family's faith, strength and courage were tested.
On March 9th, one year ago today, I placed a call to 9-1-1.
"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"
"My husband is either having a heart attack, a stroke or both. We need an ambulance right away!"
I remember that moment in time so vividly. The sound my husband made as he groaned in agony, clutching his left arm. The way he stumbled to and from the bathroom, bouncing from the dresser to the foot of the bed, like a pinball. The way he began to slur his speech, as the left side of his face drooped, motionless. The look of panic and confusion in his eyes as I gripped the phone and colorfully described his every symptom. The picture I painted for the operator seemed unfathomable to him.
Those bizarre symptoms subsided almost as quickly as they began. But in their place, they left anxiety, worry and fear. That call marked the beginning of what became the most difficult time in our family. Things began to unravel and our new normal became one of chaos and uncertainty. After five days of testing, my otherwise young, healthy husband was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening blood disorder. Thrombic Thrombocytopenic Pupura.
What the hell is that?! That's all I could think as I examined the expression on the physician's face. I could see there was something he wasn't saying. I could see he was trying to ease me along one step at a time.
So when he left the room, I googled it. All my eyes could focus on were the words "mortality rate." Mortality rate. MORTALITY RATE?!
I got my act together. The last thing my husband needed was for me to fall apart. The look in his eyes...it was clear he was depending on me. For encouragement. For support. For anything I could muster up that would convince him that the rollercoaster ride we were boarding wouldn't be that bad.
He was admitted to the hospital where doctors immediately began plasmapheresis, the only treatment option available to save his life.
The hospital would be his new home for the next month-and-a-half. And every single day, most times twice a day, he would be hooked up to a machine that would pull the blood from his body, separate what was good from what was bad, replace the bad with fresh plasma, and place it back into his body. A process that took a few hours.
And, without warning, the free sample of what life with 8 children would be like without him was shoved in my face. Kind of like walking through the food court in the mall, or shopping in Costco on a Saturday morning. I didn't want the sample. It was forced on me.
It was lonely. It was hard. It was scary and stressful. And it hurt. It hurt deeply.
We were blessed to have a tribe of supporters rally around us. The trips to and from the hospital mixed in with our already insane everyday life was an unbelievable task. My tribe knew how hard that was on me. So they signed up to bring us meals to lighten my load. They prayed, donated, checked in and loved on us. They allowed me to share my emotions with no judgment.
Like in this video where I just couldn't be strong not one minute longer.
Their prayers, well wishes and gifts of love are truly what got me through.
I think I'm still learning lessons from that awful time. But there were a few profound lessons that settled in right away.
I learned to see my family through the eyes of others. It's so easy to allow the difficulties of family life and marriage to get the best of you. The incredible outpouring of love and support we received showed me how special my family is to others. It reminded me of why I created this blog in the first place...to see the message in the mayhem, the beauty in all this bedlam.
I learned that courage is the most important character trait of them all. Without courage, you are incapable of doing anything well. You need courage to love, to support, to believe, to trust, to give...everything.
And I learned how important it is to depend on others. I had always been accustomed to being the giver. I wasn't used to receiving. But when I just let go of trying to be strong and in control, I realized I received so much more than food, money, gift cards and gas. I received love, inner strength and a fresh appreciation for those in my circle.
I look back and I'm just so thankful to have my husband, here with us and doing well. So much has happened and his journey to complete healing continues. But we are so blessed.
This post may seem all over the place. And rightfully so...I feel all over the place. My mind is jumping from one emotion to the next. Walking down memory lane has a way of doing that to you. That's probably why I initially struggled to find the words.
And now that I'm nearing the end of this post, I find myself feeling thankful, yet fragile and teary-eyed, and still trying to find the words...
I am a wife and a mother of 8. Altogether, we make ten.
When we go out, people stare. Some stare in wondrous awe, joyful smiles painted across their faces. Those are the ones who approach us with comments like, "Your family is so beautiful," or "What a blessing," or "Christmas must be so wonderful at your house."
And then there are others. Others who stare in sheer disgust. They whisper to one another. Under their hot and hateful breaths, they most likely curse me for being "irresponsible" or "leaving too large of a footprint on the earth." When I am in the store with my children and my husband is not with us, the glares are hard to miss. Those glares suggest they unjustly accuse me of being a welfare recipient with no husband and multiple baby daddies.
Some of them are bold enough to approach and comment, nastily saying, "You ARE done, right?" One woman went so far as to order me NOT to have anymore children.
My family is constantly and consistently subjected to prejudice and discrimination. I don't like it, but the gawking has become a part of our norm. I've learned to ignore the incriminating glances and to deflect the intrusive comments. But, if I am to be completely honest, there are times, here and there, when it gets the best of me. Days when I walk into a store with my guard up and guns blazin', ready to blast the first simpleton who dare bring ignorance my way. Sometimes this wall causes confusion...mistaken identity...and I become curt with the friendly ones...the ones who feel joy and love when they see my supersized brood. I catch myself when I do this. I offer a warm smile and tear down my wall as quickly as possible because that's the only way to receive the love that's being offered. I never wish to miss out on that. And I certainly never want to subject another to unfair judgment because of the actions of the mean ones. That would be hypocritical.
We get the prejudgment when we're in restaurants, too.
When judgmental patrons dining near us are finished with their meals, they make it a point to come over and applaud our well-mannered children. They tell us what a joy it was dining next to such disciplined kids. They give us their stamp of approval after they already assumed our crew was going to destroy their dining experience.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate their willingness to adjust their initial thoughts regarding our family. And I certainly appreciate the compliments. But what I don't understand is why people aren't more willing to give the benefit of the doubt or a stamp of approval...first.
Professors often say, "Everyone has an A; now, its up to each individual to keep it." Isn't that how we should all treat one another? Isn't is far more peaceful to extend kindness, love and trust with no judgment and only pull it back when the person(s) proves unworthy of said tokens?
I know what you're thinking:
Donloyn, if you're accustomed to this, then why are you bringing it up now? Has something happened?
Why, yes, something has happened.
When we sold our home last year, my husband and I decided we would rent for a short while (1 or 2 years) until we decide upon a home to purchase.
The end of the first year of renting is fast upon us, and we decided to rent a different home, in a new location...the neighborhood we wanted. Our plan was to rent there for one year and then purchase a new home.
It was an almost 3000 sqft, 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath home with an enormous bonus room and 2 formals. It was wonderful. Spacious, lovely neighborhood, close to the kids schools...perfect.
Last week, we completed the application process and satisfactorily met all rental requirements: credit, criminal background, income, rental history.
The manager of the property management company told me everything was great...except one thing. She would have to check with the homeowner regarding our family's size.
(Insert needle on record here)
I was caught off guard. "Oh, but I am sure it will not be a problem," she assured me. And so I let it roll off my shoulder.
The following day, she phoned. "I'm sorry, but the homeowner said she does not wish to approve your application based on your family's size," she said, sounding just as shocked as I felt.
My stomach dropped, my throat tightened and the tears welled in my eyes.
"Do you think she would be willing to speak with us," I said desperately as my voice quivered.
She agreed to contact the homeowner to request a conference call on our behalf. Minutes later she called back and said, "She refused the conference call. She's adamant about not renting to you." I thanked her for her efforts and hung up the phone in utter disbelief.
There are property rental laws that protect against unlawful discrimination based on familial status. But that doesn't stop it from happening.
Similarly, there are moral standards that discourage the act of discrimination, but people continue to be on the receiving end of harsh gavels pounding in judgment against them. Some deal with racial discrimination. Some gender discrimination. Some because of their religion or sexual orientation. In our case, it's because closed-minded individuals impose their thinking upon us and accuse us of having too many children.
Psalm 127: 3-5 says that my husband and I are blessed.
People try to make us feel shame for creating our beautiful family. A weaker person may be inclined to falsify the next rental application...but not me.
You know, Christmases around here are pretty wonderful. They are filled with joy, love and laughter. And I wouldn't change that for all of the almost 3000 sqft homes in the world.
I am a wife and a mother of 8. Altogether, we make ten. I am not ashamed. We roll ten deep. We are a force. Our love is far more powerful than the hate of discrimination.
Black versus White. Republican versus Democrat. Police versus Community. Government versus Government. Celebrity versus Celebrity.
Our world has become angry and divided...torn and forced to choose sides. The news and social media outlets are riddled with stories that sadly lead to the formation of rigid opinions and the waging of war against those who hold opposing views.
All this hate and separation has me very concerned and bothered. I find it upsetting and disruptive.
And then along came a little blessing. And it came in the form of sibling rivalry.
I know what you're thinking. How can she possibly see brothers and sisters fighting as anything good?
I admit it. I'm usually the mom who goes bonkers when the kids start fighting. It drives me nuts! Remember The Get-Along Shirt? Yeah, that's typically how I react when unrest breaks out in my home. But this time it was completely different.
Allow me to explain...
Last night, I walked upstairs to tuck my 3 youngest boys (John-Paul, Allen-Michael and Thomas) and my 3 girls (Lauryn, Kourtney and Chloe) into bed. The 3 boys share a room, and the girls are in the room directly across the hall.
When I reached the landing and approached the girls' room, I came face-to-face with a door covered in homemade signs.
Several months ago, my daughters formed a group called The Marshmallow Girls. Last night, their room had clearly been designated as their clubhouse and they were happy to showcase it.
They were also quite clear about their intentions to keep "stinky boys" out, as illustrated by the crossed through picture of a boy with flies surrounding him.
My three "stinky boys" recognized this as an enemy attack and they immediately took defensive action.
As a result, a new group was formed. The Beignet Boys! And you guessed it...No "rat girls" allowed!
So, why is this a blessing?
Well, for once, they weren't bickering or hitting one another. They were creatively (and quite hysterically) making use of their time. And although they were forming alliances and separating themselves from "the enemy," I've seen firsthand what they really think of one another.
I've seen Chloe console Allen-Michael. I've seen John-Paul pour Kourtney a glass of water. I've seen Lauryn tell Thomas it's going to be okay. I've seen them all dance and sing together. I've seen them share hugs and sincere I love you's.
They all look out for one another. And yes, sometimes they fight. Sometimes, they draw the proverbial line in the sand and declare "Room War."
This particular battle was different from their usual spats. It was refreshing. It made me smile and giggle. It lifted the heaviness of our hostile society. It was a much needed dose of innocence in a world so stained and corrupt.
And though it may never happen again, in that moment, I found a blessing...
Today, I will take a step away from what I often, lightheartedly, refer to as my "crazy" life with a large family. Today, I would like to focus on something far more serious. Something that prompts me to look at this hectic and chaotic life of mine as a blessing, because we never know what lies ahead for us.
Yesterday, we were all shocked by the devastating news of the death of the beloved Robin Williams. We were even more alarmed to learn that his death was a result of suicide brought on by deep depression.
When the news reported that Robin Williams' cause of death was asphyxiation, I clenched inside. And when reports were released today that he hanged himself, my fear was confirmed. And I couldn't help but reflect on another story of depression and suicide.
Almost 3 1/2 years ago, I interviewed a woman who's life was flipped upside down due to depression and suicide. I think of her, her heartache and her family often. It is important for us to learn from these tragic situations. If we don't, then that is the equivalent of saying that the deaths of their loved ones meant nothing.
Today is an appropriate time to remind others of the loss and pain that is brought on by depression and suicide. Depression is a serious illness. We must educate ourselves. Through the sharing of stories. Through the sharing of information. Through the sharing of resources.
We must do any and everything we can to help.
As we see from Robin Williams' death, as well as the story I am about to share with you, anyone can fall to depression. Depression affects young and old, rich and poor, famous and homeless. It knows no racial boundaries. It cares not what religion you are.
It is real. And it has led to the loss of countless lives.
The lady I mentioned above...I'd like to share her story with you now.
Songs help tell stories; their eloquent lyrics and sweet melodies often add tender touches to already meaningful occasions. “A Song for Mama,” for example, by Boyz II Men, is an extraordinary ballad typically reserved for the day when most mothers come face-to-face with the realization that their children won’t stay with them forever. That day is Mother’s Day.
It was Jaylan Willis’ senior year of high school. His mother, Kasandra “Denise” Alexander, was struggling with separation anxiety – she knew she eventually would have to let go. She never suspected what awaited her at the end of this sad song.
“Jaylan loved music,” said Denise. “It helped him express his feelings.”
She proudly took full credit for planting this passion deep within him as she lovingly reflected on the countless nights she spent driving around town playing music and singing to him until he fell asleep.
It is with honor and respect that Native tells their story through song.
On July 12, 1993, while awaiting the arrival of her first child, a young Denise anxiously walked the hallways of a Flint, Mich., hospital, loudly singing Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Although she was only 17, Denise wanted Jaylan.
“I could not wait because I felt I was going to have the perfect child,” she recalled. “I couldn't have been more blessed.”
In an instant, her life had changed forever, and she would soon learn exactly what love really did have to do with it.
Two years later, Denise gave birth to her second son. In 2002, the unique love that she had come to know would be the driving force behind her decision to move her children to a better place. They spent five years in Texas, during which time Denise brought a third son into this world. In 2007, they decided to move nearer to family. Charleston, SC would ultimately become their new home.
In 2010, 17-year-old Jaylan, who loved to dance, was doing what most high school seniors do. He was planning for his future, working at his favorite retail store, hanging with friends and playing sports. This lively young man grew to be, in Denise’s words, “a good kid with a big heart, always smiling, always happy.” With a laugh, she reflected on Nov. 25, 2010. Jaylan, who had selflessly put off his own plans, spent the evening with his family, teaching them all the latest dances. It was Thanksgiving, and Denise was truly thankful.
The jovial guise that Jaylan outwardly portrayed was a vast contradiction to the terror that loomed within. He had great difficulty communicating his emotions and, sadly, had grown accustomed to burying his troubles.
“It hurts to be sad; it hurts to be upset. Jay would find a little reason to be happy and run with it,” Denise explained. Unfortunately, this faulty defense mechanism would leave him scarred beyond repair.
Like many teens, Jaylan had to bear the burden of having an uninvolved father. As a result, there was distance between him and his father’s other children; he longed for a deeper connection with them. He shared this same sentiment regarding other family members. The illness and passing of Denise’s father, a grandfather he had recently come to know, rattled Jaylan.
“The interaction, direction and guidance from a man – it just did something to him,” said Denise.
Jaylan hungered for stronger family ties, and he was also preparing for a family of his own. His girlfriend was pregnant, and, although Jaylan had every intention of being there for his own child, the responsibility of impending fatherhood did little to ease his pain.
When Denise moved to the Charleston area, she did her best to choose a neighborhood that would provide her children with the opportunity to attend good schools. Her research led her to Fort Dorchester High School, but it wasn't long before she regretted her choice. According to Denise, Jaylan was forced to cope in an environment of gangs, drug-dealing kids, promiscuity, vicious girls and harassment.
“He could barely go to school without being attacked or confronted or belittled,” Denise remembered.
In an effort to survive in a place he didn't want to be, Jaylan tried to fit in with those who were making life so difficult for him. He had problems, and he needed solutions, but he also suffered from attention deficit disorder, making learning a difficult task at best. ADD can be controlled with proper medication, but Jaylan insisted he could effectively manage his condition without prescription drugs. Denise disagreed.
“If you are unfocused, but everything in your body and mind knows you need to be focused, it’s like fighting a battle against yourself that’s very hard to win,” she said. “So it’s no wonder you get depressed.”
To make matters worse, Jaylan had a habit of bottling up his emotions. When he could no longer hide behind his smile, he would have what Denise described as an “explosion of tears and emotions.” He was even having nightmares and making spur-of-the-moment, irrational decisions. This young man, with a painted on smile, was crying inside.
On Dec. 9, 2010, Denise spoke with Jaylan over the phone. He sounded upset, and she asked him what was wrong. His response was that everything was fine. Normally, Denise would continue to press until he provided an answer, but this time was different. During a therapy session the day before, Jaylan had asked his mother to give him some space and the chance to be “Juss Jayy,” a nickname he proudly carried that reflected his desire to figure things out on his own. It was out of respect for this request that Denise decided to wait and discuss things later – a decision she would regret.
Jaylan and his 15-year-old brother were home alone. They argued that day, as brothers often do. Jay went to his room, closed the door and sat in the closet, a place where he often went to think, rap or listen to music. It was his space. While there, he sent a text message to his girlfriend. He just couldn't take it any longer.
It was the silence that prompted Jaylan’s brother to check on him. He walked into the room and found Jaylan in the closet – hanging by a belt. A day that had begun like any other ended in horror, and Jaylan Michael Willis was gone forever.
At the funeral, Denise noticed the soft smile on Jaylan’s face. As serene as it appeared, it was unlike the wide-mouthed smile she had come to know and love. This difference fed her denial, and she continued to postpone the acceptance of her new reality.
“I didn’t let go,” she explained. “I didn’t say my goodbyes at the funeral because I couldn’t. I simply had not accepted the fact that he was gone.”
This desire to hold on is not uncommon. According to Susan Koester of the Charleston chapter of The Compassionate Friends, an organization that provides support to parents grieving the loss of a child, “This is something you never get over. …ever.”
Life for Denise is filled with regret. She recalled sitting with Jaylan in the hospital room after attempts to revive him had failed. With agony, she cried, “I wanted to just sit him up and hug him. I just really wish I would have told everybody to get out. Because every day I’m just struggling to touch him or to be near him or to smell him.”
“If I could go back, when I talked to him a couple hours earlier, I would have made him tell me what was wrong; I wouldn’t have taken ‘Nothing. I’m OK’ for an answer,” she said.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-to-24-year-olds. This harrowing fact lends the following question: How can mothers save their children from the tragic fate that claimed Jaylan?
Dr. Ericka Stricklin-Parker, a licensed clinical psychologist, said, “The best thing parents can do is have a strong relationship with their teen that involves open communication.”
Signs such as sadness and crying, inability to focus, feelings of hopelessness, anger and hostility, and sudden happiness after a period of depression warrant further investigation. However, not all kids display the same symptoms. This is when parents must rely on “good observational skills.”
According to Stricklin-Parker, “Depression isn't something that quickly goes away, so changes in mood, behavior and personality over a time period can distinguish it from the growing pains of adolescence.”
"Suicide knows no color boundaries. Black teens as well as the black community at large are affected by suicide," said Stricklin-Parker. However, many African-Americans view suicide as a white problem, possibly because information about depression and suicide in the white community is more readily available due to financial and social barriers that reduce access to resources in the black community. These barriers do not have to prevent any teen, regardless of race, from receiving necessary help.
“Probably the most easily accessible resource is the school,” Stricklin-Parker pointed out. “Turning to a guidance counselor or school psychologist can help save your child’s life.”
“As I look at the milestones in his life, I’ll be revisiting it all over again,” Denise said as she thought of spending special days without Jaylan. Koester added, “We have an anxiety on the anniversary date and on birthdays and we dread Christmas, but Mother’s Day is even harder. …someone’s missing.”
Sadly, while Mother’s Day gifts are being wrapped and brunches are being served, while children dance and sing sweet harmonies to the ladies in their lives, a mother will mourn. There will be one more mother without a song.
Thank you for allowing me to share this story with you. I pray that Robin Williams and Jaylan Willis' stories and the countless stories of others like them provide us with the opportunities to educate ourselves on depression and suicide.
We can help. We can save lives. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our loved ones.
We owe it to those we've lost.
I would like to offer my deepest sympathies and prayers for healing and comfort to the family of Robin Williams.
I would also like to remind Ms. Alexander and the family and friends of Jaylan that I continue to think of him and pray for them. I know that Robin Williams' death has been a harsh reminder of the sadness they live with each day.
I haven't forgotten about you all, and I can only hope you haven't forgotten about me.
I've been so wrapped up in all this Crazy, it's hard to believe that it's been 2 months since I last shared with you all. And I don't mean the "crazy" kind of Crazy, I mean the "good" kind of Crazy.
In the month that the kids have been out of school, I've finished some artwork, completed some poetry, wrote a script for a play, submitted the aforementioned script to a theater company, and I am now working on a book.
But those aren't the reasons things have been the good kind of Crazy.
In the midst of all that, I have spent some amazing time with my family. The kind of time when you're almost too busy soaking it all up to remember to take pictures, much less blog about it. The kind of time when I am completely content with taking mental snapshots and allowing the memories to create their own captions on my heart.
However, one special moment I was able to capture was of me, my 8 children, my mother, my father, my brother and his wife and son all hand-in-hand around the wondrous Angel Oak tree.
Spending time with my family was beautiful and grand...as beautiful and grand as this phenomenal tree.
But once all the family celebrations, like my brother's visit, the Daddy Daughter Dance and my wedding anniversary getaway, began to slow down, I felt anxiety come on. The fussiness of life reared its ugly head...once again. I felt rushed and pressed for time. It's already July, only one month left to get all the things checked off of my Summertime To-Do List. Panic settled in and I felt paralyzed to it.
A couple of days ago, while in the shower, I heard a knock at the bathroom door followed by a shout..."MOM!" It was Kourtney. I poked my head out of the shower and answered, "Yes?" Here's a tip: There's no sense in acting as if you don't hear them outside of the bathroom door...they'll just stay there!
"Mama, can we go outside and play with the fuzzies?" she continued. Completely confused by this bizarre question, I replied, "What fuzzies?" Very certain of herself, she answered, "You know! The fuzzies! The fuzzies falling from the sky!"
She was talking about the fluff that looks a little like dandelion that has been floating around. "Sure," I said, "once I'm out of the shower."
She left, but her innocence, along with its message, remained with me. And it was loud and clear.
When I was focused on all the things that made me feel "fuzzy" inside, I was still able to get my work done. I spent wonderful time with family and still got a great deal of writing done. Maybe not as much writing as I would have liked, but still a great deal. And I was relaxed, happy and accomplished.
But when I set my sights on the fussiness of it all, my vision got blurred and I got stuck. Stuck on the final destination of the journey, instead of enjoying each stop along the way.
In May, I was a member of the inaugural cast of the Listen To Your Mother: Charleston show (check out my performance here). But I'm a firm believer that sometimes, we just need to listen to our children...follow their lead.
When we focus too intently on the To-Do's of life, it will inevitably cause us to lose perspective. Remember to enjoy the journey.
Less Fussing...More Fuzzies!
~How do you keep your perspective in line when the fussiness begins to take over? Please share in the comments below!
I would like to share with you all my original piece that I performed at the Listen To Your Mother: Charlestonshow that was held Sunday, May 4, 2014 in Charleston, SC at The Footlight Players Theatre. I hope you all enjoy it as much I enjoyed sharing it. Happy Mother's Day!
My Dearest Children,
How deeply I love all eight of you. It’s amazing how the heart has this infinite capacity to love.
Over a decade ago, we settled down in our first home. After bouncing from one apartment to the next, our family—mom, dad, 2 children and one on the way—took root. And for 12 years, those roots nestled deeply into that home, and our family grew.
Home has always been an important issue to me. Growing up as a mixed race child who was born in Florida, lived in South Carolina, but whose family was from Louisiana wasn’t easy. I was displaced. I had no real connection and no sense of belonging. I was viewed as an outsider, and what’s worse is I felt like one.
I remember looking at my mother as she cried while watching The Wiz. She sang along to Diana Ross’Home, tears streaming down her cheeks. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that my mama, too, was on a search for home. And deeper still, her mother before her, my grandmother, your great-grandmother, after losing both parents at a young age only to be passed around from one uncaring relative to the next, had been on this same quest.
You see children, this never-ending search for home has been a generational curse, and I don’t want that for you. That is why establishing a place for all of you to call home is so important to me.
But now the time has come for our family to move, to leave our home, to be uprooted, planted elsewhere. I have wondered if this move would damage us. Will the new ground provide us with the nutrients we need? Will the shock of a move prevent us from producing good fruits? Will the sadness of missing home cause us to guard our hearts, never reopening them to the possibility of a new one?
As I walked through our old home, each empty room that once housed so much love, I wondered if I taught you all enough. I wondered if I really shared what home means…what it means to me, what it should mean to you.
As I walked through our old home, each empty room that once housed so much love, I reminisced, scenes passing through my mind. And I wondered what stories this house would share If Only Walls Could Talk.
If walls could talk, they would tell you stories of love, laughter and lessons.
If walls could talk, they would tell you the beautifully turbulent love story of a young, perfectly imperfect couple who grew stronger with each test and trial, never allowing the harsh winds of life to topple them.
If walls could talk, they would share the joy felt as each new addition was carried over the threshold.
If walls could talk, they would tell you of the nights I walked into your rooms and prayed over each of you.
They would tell you of the tears of worry I cried when you were ill.
They would tell you the exact number of fevers broken, ouchies kissed and bedtime stories read.
If walls could talk, they would tell you the exact number of Hot Wheels cars that were driven across their surfaces.
They would tell you stories of Family Movie Nights and tickle fights. They would tell you of afternoons filled with never-ending Knock-Knock jokes, and how I would say, “That’s it! No more knock-knock jokes,”only to have one of you launch right into one.
Because of all of the times I sent you to “face the wall,”those walls know the exact descriptions of each of your faces to include the specific placement of each tiny freckle and mole. Because of Timeout, they’llnever forget you.
If walls could talk, they would tell you the exact number of “I love you’s” spoken, birthday candles blown out, pancake dinners made and laundry loads washed, dried and stored away.
If walls could talk, they would tell you how each of you possess at least one special characteristic that you inherited from me. Brandon, you are loyal. Noah, you are conscientious. Lauryn, you are creative. John-Paul, you are friendly. Allen-Michael, you are intelligent. Thomas, you are sensitive. Kourtney, you are strong. Chloe, you are kind-hearted. In seeing and loving you all, I have learned to see and love myself.
If walls could talk, they would tell you that they are only walls, and that neither they, nor the foundation or roof that hold them together are truly home. They would tell you that although Glenda in The Wiz is a fictional character, the words that Lena Horne spoke as she portrayed that role are true,“If we know ourselves, we’re always home…anywhere.”
I want all eight of you to know home is where the heart is. There is always enough room, plenty of space…an infinite capacity for love.
As I write this letter to you, I reflect on my own mama. And I see her, searching for a place of belonging, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she sings the words that I had seen her sing so many times before:
“And I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love like yours, like mine…like home.”
With Love and Home in my Heart,
How do you define home? What do you want your children to know about finding a place of belonging?
And "keeping it crazy" is the exact route I took when my daughter Lauryn came to me to discuss her fears regarding a recent situation at school.
Let me give you a little background history...
Lauryn is sweet, friendly and creative. She a beautiful girl who likes to dance, sing, draw, paint and write stories. She's tutus and glitter...she's never been a tough girl. She took longer to learn to ride a bike than most kids because she was afraid to fall. She's not into a lot of running...never played many sports. She's a sweet softy. Always meek and peaceable. Even shy in some respects.
Because of this, she seems to be a magnet for aggressive, bullish behavior.
I've been interceding on Lauryn's behalf since kindergarten. Every year, there has been some ill-mannered child or adult who has set their belligerent sights on my daughter (Yes, she has even been the target of hostile attacks from adults--a PE teacher even pushed her once! You should have heard what I had to say to him!).
Now, let me clue you in on a few things about me...
I'm not one of those parents who thinks her child can do no wrong. I'm probably the hardest on them. In fact, I know I'm the hardest on them. That said, I'm also fiercely protective and I will advocate for my children if they are being wronged. For that matter, I will stand up for anyone who is being abused or treated unfairly.
For years, I have been trying to coach Lauryn on being tougher, stronger, more confident.....Being brave...Believing in herself!
After school on Tuesday, Lauryn told me that seating changes had been made, resulting in her being placed at a table with 3 boys, one of whom is allegedly racist. So I began asking questions.
Racist? How do you know? What does he say? Has anyone informed the teacher? What has he said to you? What about the other little boys? What are they doing to you?
She couldn't answer any of those questions with any facts. She has heard the little boy make unkind remarks about other races; however, he has never said anything to or about her. And as far as the other little boys, well, she just didn't want to sit at a table with all boys.
So I got a little NOT calm.
And I began saying things like, Why are you getting all worked up to the point of tears over something that has not happened? Why are you allowing someone's unkind remarks towards a separate group of people intimidate you? Why are you the one feeling uncomfortable? If this boy has a thing against minorities, then sit right at that table a let him be the one who feels uncomfortable! I need you to be strong! I need you to be confident! No, don't do it for me, do it for yourself! Believe in yourself! You are a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful girl! Find strength in that! Walk into yourself, Lauryn! I need to know that you are going to be able to take care of yourself in this world! I don't care how nervous you are on the inside, you be strong on the outside! You have to practice being confident! You have to pretend you believe in yourself until you really do!
And, I kind of went on and on and on...And yes, I was talking in this excited, flared up, overly passionate tone.
I couldn't help it...I just couldn't remain calm. I just wanted to shake some sense into her. No, not sense...Courage! BELIEF!
I mean, doesn't she understand that she is MY daughter and that she better not EVER let anyone cause her to feel inferior or minimized? Doesn't she know how fabulous she is? Doesn't she see it? Doesn't she know?
I tucked her bed...told her how much I loved her...and explained that I wasn't yelling at her, I was just a little hyped up only because my love for her makes me CrAzY.
I asked my husband later if I had gotten too worked up. Surprisingly, he said no. He's usually the one telling me how nutty I get over things. But still, I felt I handled it incorrectly. Lauryn isn't me. She's not even the me I was when I was almost 12. At age 11 and 12, I had already gone through things in life that toughened me. I had already learned to be a fighter.
So, I decided on a tender approach.
And this is what I did...
I often wonder why I--the Inspiration Specialist, the one who leaps at every opportunity to encourage a woman or young girl, the one who always seems to know exactly what to say and how to say it--why do I always seem to fall a little short when it comes to inspiring her?
She loved the journal...she loved my words...and she loves the idea of writing from the heart until she believes in the strength that lies within.
And of course, sometimes I sing her this song...minus the Lena Horne facial expressions! Haha!
How do you remain calm when it comes to allowing your kids the space to practice and apply these teachings on their own? Share in the comments below! Others will benefit...I know I'm not the only crazy one!
I'm drawn to it. I craft with it. I design with it. I love it in nail polish and lip gloss. I've brought my love for it into the cyber world by virtually "Glitter-Bombing" my social media friends whenever they are deserving of celebration. I'm even on a hunt for it's edible version so I can have it with my coffee...talk about a cup of inspiration!
More importantly, I've passed my love of glitter and all things sparkly onto my daughters:
~Lauryn started working on a blog called Sunshine, Glitter and Dreams. There, she's the Glitter Girl, champion for powerful, sparkly girls everywhere!
~Chloe...Well, let's just say she would bathe in glitter if you let her! And with her sweet, loving disposition and her affinity to skip everywhere, it's fair to say that she has mastered the art of sprinkling shimmery happiness wherever she goes.
~Kourtney...Even my tough girl adores the twinkling dust! Thanks to her, glitter is now a verb in our household. "Mom, can we glitter?" "Is it time to glitter, yet?"
As fantastic as glitter is, I've often wondered why an almost 42-year-old woman still gets so starry-eyed at the sight of tubes of twinkly, colorful fun.
Maybe it reminds me of the innocence of childhood dreams--the innocence that was taken from me far too soon.
You see, I don't remember bright pink, shimmery, sparkly, glitter-filled afternoons. I don't remember wildly swirling glue across paper, dumping a colorful mix of magic on top and dropping my jaw in amazement at the masterpiece I had created. I don't remember the feeling of being a 5-year-old girl bursting with excitement and wonder.
I remember fear and terror...loneliness and abandonment...confusion and pain.
My twin girls are almost the same age I was when I was molested. A 5-year-old girl being molested...There is no glittery magic in that.
But the cruel attempt to break me was unsuccessful. Through God's grace, innocence lost was replaced with an undying strength. I think my strength was God's promise to me...His promise to ensure the innocence and protection of my girls. And I would suffer a million times over if it would guarantee them a lifetime of safety, happiness and joy.
Wickedness tried to steal my sparkle. But here's the thing about glitter...No matter how hard you try to clean it up, no matter how much you sweep, rub or try to wipe it away, it's NEVER all gone. Some always remains.
"Hey Sis! What'chu doin' on Saturday..like 'butt-crack' early?"
This is what my girl, Kat, said when she called me that Thursday afternoon.
I answered. "Uh, nothing, why? What's up?"
Excitedly, she squealed, "I was just blessed with two bibs for the Cooper River Bridge Run! You wanna go?!"
Never mind the fact that I had just hours earlier asked her about going to Bokwa class with me on the same Saturday at 9 am, to which she replied, "No, it's the only time to 'sleep in,' or at least try!" Apparently, butt-crack early is an acceptable time on a Saturday morning for a wife and mom of two...but anyway.
Conveniently forgetting that she had just turned me down for Bokwa, I yelled, "Yes!"
Obviously, butt-crack early is also acceptable for me...a wife and mom of 8! Who knew?!
So I made sure my kids would be covered and excitedly prepared for a 6 mile long walk WITHOUT children in tow! YES! A dream come true! Which, now that I think about it, is probably why butt-crack early didn't seem so offensive. It was a chance to have some time to myself and with a great girlfriend.
That Saturday came, and we did it...we both participated in our very first 10K Bridge Run!
It was wonderful.
Power-walking on a beautiful day while having great conversation with a special friend...it was all I needed on an early Saturday morning.
And yet, I received so much more.
Inspiration surrounded me.
The fresh, spring air; the crisp, blue skies; the fluffy, white clouds; the gentle, cooling breeze; the feeling of being grounded, connected.
All of this surrounded me.
And as I neared the top of the bridge, this is what lay before me.
And then there were the messages...
Our conversation was great, but at some point it turned from more laughable, lighthearted topics to those a bit more serious and closer to home. We talked about family...its challenges...the obligations of supporting a loved one as they transition from one stage of life to the next.
I brought up my daughter and how she is currently transitioning from being a little girl to a young lady. This stage comes with emotions I've never felt before. I find myself feeling angry with her...angry with her for allowing the little girl I once knew fade away.
Silly. I know.
And she needs me right now. She needs me to persevere, to be strong, to do all I can, to fight the good fight, to have faith and to help her finish strong. She needs me to be her stairway...not to heaven...but definitely to the highest heights. She needs to be able to trust me to recognize her promise, lift her towards the sky and deliver her unto her greatness.
And then I saw this...
And then she did this...
My heart rejoiced and broke all at the same time. All the signs were there that day...and they all pointed to my daughter.
My daughter is at that age. She's trapped in this state of in-between...no longer a baby, not yet a lady. One moment, she's that sweet little girl...the next, a moody stranger with a rebellious attitude.
It's hard to deal with. So much fussing, behavior correcting and reprimanding goes on. And it makes me question if I'm doing the supportive part of my job. Am I there for her at the time when she needs me most? Am I holding her hand enough? Carrying her through?
You see, I know I am like the mother above--strong yet tender, guiding yet allowing. What I don't know is if I have been those things enough with her recently.
A large part of me just cant bear to let go of the little girl she once was. But I know the journey is inevitable. And I can either choose to join her or let her go it alone.
In my mind, her going it alone is far worse.
Sometimes our journey is not really about us.
Inspiration and thoughts of my daughter on the bridge run...