modern family transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Looking for My Own Modern Family

I long for a family again. This single mess has gone on long enough.

Late at night on my screened-in porch, I can hear a guy talking 2 screened-in porches away. Because I am a corner house, I have neighbors behind me, and beside me. This guy is behind me. I sit listening in the dark, sliding my glider back and forth, because as much as I love texting, I long for the sound of human voices. And man, does he have a lot to say. Especially in regard to his family. He has opinions about every single cousin, and after 2 years of late night listening, I must say I agree with him completely about his cousin Daniel and Daniel’s wife, Katie. Katie is no good. Daniel really should get the kids. Their court case is next week, and I am tempted to go to the courthouse and participate. I’ve been listening since she was first caught with her old boyfriend, who, by the way, is a drug dealer. I lack sympathy for her. Daniel has given her countless chances. I don’t know that there’s hope she’ll change, and I’m fairly diplomatic. In my own, eavesdropping way, I do feel like they’re family now, though I still do not know this mysterious night-talker’s name. As I listen to him in dark, I nod in agreement. He seems wise, and I feel he was correct on the subject of sidewalks in the town. We need more and wider. His wife never talks. She just shushes the baby, and likely enjoys the quiet of the night, and the sound of her husband’s voice. They leave their light off too, while soothing their little one to sleep.

If you watch much tv (that’s all I’ve done for the last 12 days–it’s the flu) every show seems determined to tell me what family is NOW. Okay, I’m listening because my own family has flown the coop, and I’m looking for a new one. From Modern Family to About a Boy, no one seems interested in a traditional family, but everyone wants to expand the definition. I can’t really say much on the subject since my present family is a voyeuristic, screened-in, eavesdropping experience that I feel is not sitcom worthy. But, I do think after the first little family of Adam and Eve, all other families have been pretty much a blur. So game on for whatever family you feel you might fit with, because isn’t that what family is? That one place in the universe where you just fit? Where everyone knows you and you don’t have to catch them up on the last, in my case, 55 years. They already know, and no they don’t want to hear it again.

Here’s what I’m missing: connections.

I don’t mind chatty conversations about nothing. As these blog posts attest I can rattle on all day about nothing, but I miss human connection. I’m just not sure where to find it.

So, I’ve been watching all these shows on tv. (As if that’s going to help me sort out what family is now–sans kids.) But actually, it does make me feel a little less crazy, because the best shows, the ones you’ll actually watch again and again, are the ones where people connect. It isn’t Cam and Mitchell being gay that makes Modern Family such a popular show. It’s the connection they have with each other, and the genuine love they express. Every time I come away thinking, I want that. I don’t mean a guy and a girl thing, but a whole community of people. The goofy friend, the screechy wife, the bumbling adolescences, the player friend. I like a big mix of people. If you get tired of grandma, go play with a toddler.

I’m just looking for my own Modern Family.

But going out and adopting a family is well, not so easy, and even on sitcoms, sooner or later, the group separates. Maybe that’s why so many people my age move to where their grandchildren are, so they’ll feel as though they’re family again. But then, you risk your daughter-in-law’s ire for eternity, and who can blame her? It’s her turn now to build a family. Does she really want you five minutes away?

I haven’t sorted it out, but I suppose I will. I’ll either make my way down the screened-in porches and help shush the baby while giving my own thoughts on Daniel and Katie, or perhaps I’ll move at least a bit closer to the grand kids. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, its hard to live a life with only friends. Friends are a part of the glue in life, but nothing really beats family. With my kids grown, and far away, and the 70s still a good ways away (okay not that far away, but away), I guess I’m looking for my own Modern Family.

Small, Medium and Big Christians: Auditing the Faith

One Sunday after church, my oldest son (age 10 at the time) came into my bedroom to announce something.  He wanted me to know that it had come to his attention that there were “small, medium and big Christians.”

This is a mild announcement compared to some of the things my children have sprung on me since, but I could tell he wanted me to take him seriously. So, I did.

I probed a bit to get his meaning, though frankly, it wasn’t too hard to discern.

He said he had noticed that not all Christians were the same. Meaning, of course, that we’re at different places in our faith journeys. I agreed. His concern was that one person he thought of as a small Christian was seen by everyone in our church as big. What had he missed?

Well, imagine the following conversation. Of course, before you even think it or get it out of your mouth (because I know you are thinking it), we had the discussion about judging others. To which, he retorted, “Dad says we can judge if someone has fruit or not.” My ex was always the clever one. Touche.

Honestly though, I wasn’t concerned about my son’s discovery that the church was busy promoting some elder as a stoic in the faith, while my son witnessed a very different person Mon-Saturday. Let’s face it. At some point, all of us church goers figure out that there’s a few loose screws sitting in the pews. My polite way of saying, a few who, for whatever their reason, show up to church, but haven’t a clue whomthey worship. I mean bottom line, for some, church is a social means to a business end. Or a cultural habit that revolves more around friendship than worship. There are plenty of reasons people go to church, not all of them have to do with Jesus. My son was going to figure that out soon or later.

No, this little announcement had a different impact on me. It had me on the edge of my seat of wondering where MOM fit on the small, medium, and large Christian scale.  I mean I talked the talk, that’s for dang sure. Was I walking the walk in his 10 year old eyes?

So, I nonchalantly got him off the elder by quizzing him instead about everyone else he knew. I was hoping to insert my name into the list and catch him off guard, so he’d be honest. After all, he’s 10, he knew who paid for the pool and movies. I started with his Maurme, my mom, his grandmother. “Oh, she’s  HUGE.: She got a huge? Huh. I went on, Aunt Debbie?, Aunt Kathy? Your Father? and so on. When I slid my name into the list, he cut his eyes at me, and said, “Mom, of course you’re big.” Hmmmm…

The child was desperate for a night over at a friend’s house who lived a long way across town, and I had agreed to talk Dad into it. So?? Was I truly a big Christian in his eyes? Or the means to his present end? Who knows? What I do know is that I became acutely aware that a 10 year old had pretty much nailed the faith (from appearances) of each person I listed. It was revealing because I could see how he arrived at his conclusions, and I really couldn’t argue with him. My mom is huge.

He’d done this without a word or a discussion. In his child’s eyes, he had watched each person in his world with a keen observation, and made some rather stern determinations. It was humbling, and life changing for me. I wanted, from that moment on, to be a big Christian in his eyes.

This past Sunday, sitting in an entirely different church than the one my son witnessed,  the Pastor said that as Christians. sometimes we want to “audit the faith.”

You know, like auditing a class. You get to sit in the class and partake of all the good things–lectures, notes, books, learning–but you do not have to take the tests and quizzes, or turn in term papers. Christians want all the blessing of the faith, but none of the testing of the faith. At least, I think we can safely make that assumption about most of us because who on earth wants to be tested in anything?

Here’s the problem with that: tests are what grow our faith.

If I want to grow as a Christian, and become more mature in my faith, then the Lord will test me. Test me to prove his total faithfulness to me. How would I know he would provide if I never needed him too? How would I know he would give comfort, if I only experienced joy?

Lately, I have found myself in a circumstance that proves to have no solution. I can’t think or muscle myself out of this situation–something I can generally do. I was thinking (obsessing ) about it again yesterday, and I said out loud, “I have no backup plan for this.” The Lord whispered in my ear, “You have me.”

When the Lord is the only back up plan we have, we’re facing a test.

When the Lord is our only help, we’re facing a test.

Now, I have two beautiful granddaughters, and one Bonus Daughter. I want them, if ever asked about YaYa”s faith, to respond as my son did about his Maurme, “She’s HUGE.”

Keeping in mind, of course, that our huge is still so very small compared to the greatness and glory of God. Amen.

Spare the Rod Grandma, Spare the Rod!!

So, we’re in church on Christmas Day, and what to my wandering eye did appear–well, not Santa’s reindeer. No, I was treated to domestic violence.  I exaggerate. Somewhat.

Listen I spanked my children. Yes I did. And, not because Scripture speaks to it:

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24

But, because I found it to be the most effective means of discipline for the BIG STUFF. I know, not everyone agrees with spanking. These days, you’d be hard pressed to speak out on the issue if you do use that form of discipline for fear of someone calling DSS, but what I witnessed in church Christmas morning was not a spanking. In fact, it was not discipline at all.

Picture this: 10 a.m. Christmas morning, the church bells have rung, the pews are filled, hymns announcing the Christ child’s birth are joyfully being sung, when whack!, a GRANDMOTHER, not the mother, backhands a 3-4 year old boy for making typical toddler noise. It startled my sons and I, sitting two pews back from her with the in-between pew empty, so much so, that my youngest son instinctively put his arm around me, as if to protect me.

What transpired after that is actually difficult to write, so I won’t elaborate, but I actually wondered if we were secretly on that show, What Would You Do? 

And, as much as you might want to do something, it isn’t always in the best interest of the child for you to do so. Its possible the parent, or grandparent, will take their embarrassment out on the child later at home.

But really, HOW DARE SHE? 

I thought of my own toddler munchkin, who’d stayed at home with mom. What if someone dared backhand my two-year-old granddaughter for making normal two-year-old noise? My heart breaks.

Here’s what I wanted to say to the other grandma in church on Christmas: Spare the rod, Grandma! Spare the Rod! That’s one of the actual rights of a grandmother. We get to spare the rod, and spoil the heck out of the child. My sweetie will yell, “YaYa come get me,” when put down for sleep. And, I go get her. I know, drives the parents nuts, but as the saying goes,  The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy. (Sam Levenson)

But really, what was killing me too, was the fact that this child stands a huge chance of growing up to hate Jesus, hate church, hate her. There’s the sadness. That he won’t remember singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” he’ll remember dreading the whole church ordeal for fear of repercussions from Grandma–what big teeth she has!!

That’s what made me want to scream at her. But, I prayed instead, and not because I’m all spiritual, but because when I feel helpless, that’s where I head–to God. He knows what is needed far more than I do–for that sweet, little boy, for the daughter, who could not stand up to her mother, and yes, for the grandmother, who needed his grace all the more. I could only wonder, who had backhanded her? Who did not spare the rod on her? Grace, grace, grace.

When my children were little, I would pray before disciplining them. Lord, I would ask, what do they need? Grace or law? I couldn’t see into their little boy hearts, so I asked my heavenly Father, who loved them even more than I, the rod or the cross? Rarely, rarely was it ever the rod. The Cross, Cinthia. Show them the cross.

Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin. (Julia H. Johnston)

 

 

 

 

Puking on Christmas

There was this one Christmas.

My oldest son standing at the top of the stairs throwing up. His younger brother could sleep Christmas morning away, reasoning that he had all day, and all school vacation to tear open and play with Santa’s loot, but not him. My oldest rarely fell asleep on that hallowed eve. He pestered his little brother until the youngest one conceded, and CAME DOWNSTAIRS BECAUSE SANTA HAS COME. My oldest couldn’t bear to close his eyes in anticipation of what the upcoming day would bring–Santa, family, celebration, church, joy–a day when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. He couldn’t bear for the day to have a flaw in it, and there he was, doubled over puking, unable to walk down the stairs. 

I could not fix it. I always thought I was supposed too. But, in less than 24 hours I’d have my head over a toilet while he played with his Christmas toys, sipping ginger ale. The day is sometimes just too much. It can be filled with so much anticipation that it rarely meets the expectation.

My oldest son now celebrates Christmas with his two year old, and wife. The two year old, my little Miss Priss, is more like her mother than her father, she takes the hits of life with a little thicker skin.

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

This year, on our way home from Christmas morning church service, I told the oldest, “I’m glad we go to church.” He didn’t respond because me being glad about being in church is not news to him. “Otherwise the day would be anti-climatic,” I said.  “After all the anticipation, and then the Christmas morning madness, if there was no church service to remind us that Jesus has come, well, it’s a let-down. But church does reminds us, and so its okay if the day isn’t perfect.”

My oldest thought about that for a second, reminding me of his father as he shifted gears, and made a right turn. He even bites his lip like his father does. He responded, “Agreed.”

I thought, I fixed it. I fixed that Christmas morning when he was puking, I fixed it for all of us. Or perhaps I should say, Jesus did.

Holiday Traditions; What to do with Family; How do You Cook a Turkey?

The topic here is this: WHAT THE HECK DO I DO WITH THE HOLIDAYS?

Who travels to whose house, and what are the new traditions going to be? ”

Do I make new traditions or stick with the old? One kid is married, one soon to be, 3 grandchildren, empty-nest most of the time, single again. So, what’s what with the holidays? My friend, Jen, and I were talking about this very thing over dinner. We googled what do do at the holidays when you’re an empty nester? We actually got some pretty good ideas.

Hey adult children are hard. Just a head’s up for those of you who still have little ones.

My mom gave up on this topic early on. Before she died, she and her boyfriend, Bob, would drive around looking at Christmas lights while listening to a radio station narrating the experience. Then they hit up the Cracker Barrel. Not a bad plan.

Some families do the Double Holiday deal. Go to one parents house, then the other. If said parent’s are divorced, that’s 4 houses in one day. 4 meals and 4x the grumpy kids. If grandparent’s are still hanging in there with their holiday traditions, then adult children are screwed. How many holiday affairs can one family go to and not decide that next year it is Tahiti baby?

Okay, so, if life is transitioning then it stands to reason that the TRADITIONS are TRANSITIONING. (I should name the post that, but I won’t because I prefer long wordy titles to quick, snappy ones.)

So what to do? I don’t know. I’m literally playing it by ear year-to-year. This Thursday I’ll be at the Grove Park Inn Spa, alone and well, probably pretty darn happy. It’s been a long year of hard work. A spa day indeed. Then dinner at The Vue 1913, joined by one child and his girlfriend. I am actually looking forward to doing something different, and I’m beginning to figure out that if I don’t change, I’ll be left behind.

Still, there are lingering conflicted emotions. Subtitled and all.

Conflicted Emotions

The older I get, the more people I miss. That’s the thing, more and more people are missing from my holiday table. It ain’t just the kids anymore. My daddy. My mom. Old friends. And, as my table diminishes in size, and my ability to cook flies out the window, I find the holidays are transitioning in more ways than where to spend them and what new traditions to come up with. I miss the people who used to grace my holiday table.

I  go to my children’s homes and feel blessed beyond measure to see them and be with them, but I do miss that table set for everyone. I miss the faces I grew used to seeing year after Thanksgiving year. I miss my holiday traditions, even as I embrace the new ones that aren’t so traditional.

Holiday Traditions Wish

I often ask my kids, Okay what’s the best case scenario here? If you could have anything? So I ask myself, best case scenario? Easy. Everyone around my table for one meal. Just one. The whole family together for one day, one hour, one moment in time. Then we can all go back to separate lives and separate ambitions, but, for that one holiday day, there’d be no holes, no one missing from my table.

And, I’d remember how to cook a turkey.

 

Exclusion/Inclusion: What to do with the Other Woman?

The new buzz word for families these days is inclusion. Everyone gets to be included in the family. No tossing people out into the wilderness as in days of yore when one (and there is always one) starts acting up. Family is about inclusion, making sure everyone feels welcome at the table. Being a mom, I understand this. It makes for a family that lacks dysfunction.

This concept actually epitomizes Christianity too. All are welcome, and no one has to work for it, or change for it. Christ welcomes us all into his family exactly as we are, and there are no exceptions to this. Being a Christian, I follow this teaching too.

But. There’s always a but.

What about the other woman?

Yeah. Her.

The one who left her husband for my husband.

The one who gave my husband an open invitation to her house whenever her husband was away from the homestead. The one that now sleeps in my house, eats at my dinner table, pets my dog, and enjoys the viburnum the boys gave me for Mother’s Day along with all my other flowers.

For all this to be accomplished (her living in my home) the first thing that had to happen was exclusion. My ex had to exclude me from his life. A wife and a mistress don’t mix. He had to choose. I was out. She was in.

Just that phrase, out and in, brings us right back to the premise of inclusion and exclusion again.

If I listen to the ladies on The View, evidently I am supposed to welcome the other woman with open arms. If I listen to the women who live in the real world, I should chop off her head. I would prefer neither. Can’t we just ignore her, and hope he dies of poor diet and over-drinking at an early age? Then, I get my family all to myself? Not that I’m trying to exclude anyone. It would just be so much easier that way.

Well, for me, obviously. But, it is my blog post, so I can be narcissistic and focus only on me, right?

Family, on its own, without strangers inserting themselves into the middle of it (uninvited) is hard enough. It takes years to work out the dynamics between everyone. It is no easy task to learn the nuances of one another, or figure out the road to take with each family member to reach the most productive end. And trust me when I say, it is the mothers who do all that work. Ain’t no dads out there figuring that stuff out.

So, now there’s this stranger to everyone except the ex, and, she’s to be included, according to the experts, if everyone is going to survive this insanity they call divorce.

So, what are the options?

Go into mom mode? Make everything alright for everyone, and just be so sweet? Or hightail it to the hinterlands, and let the natives sort it out for themselves?

I’m leaning toward the latter because I notice in the buzz words of inclusion and exclusion there’s no mention of abandoning ship. Not sure what the catch-all word for that is, but presently, it sounds pretty darn good. I’m thinking someplace tropical because I love tropical plants and really would love to grow them. I can’t here.

So, inclusion/exclusion, or hit the road Jack and don’t you look back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road Jack and don’t you look back no more?

Letter to Joffrey (on the night of his birth)

This letter was written to my oldest son, Joffrey, whom I adore, on the night of his birth. Enjoy! Those of you who asked for a re-read (I read it on the night of his going away party).

My Darling Joffrey,

Well, here we are exactly, and I do mean exactly, nine months from when all this mess got started. You were born precisely on your due date at 2:02 a.m. That either means I am punctual or you are. I don’t know which.

Its 4 a.m. and your father, Lord love him, is sound asleep on the floor beside us. He barely survived the whole birthing ordeal, and at one point they nearly had to resuscitate him, but we’ll keep that between us.

You are wide awake beside me watching the world with amazing curiosity. Your eyes are simply soaking it all in, and I am astounded at how I feel like I know you so completely already. I thought you’d come out a stranger to me but here you are, and you are Joffrey.

But, it is hard to tell if you know me too, so I feel a few facts to introduce your family to you are probably appropriate. I’ll start with the bad news first. (First lesson in life: it is always best to start with the bad news first.) So, here goes.

1. We’re poor.

2. We live in the middle of no-where.

3. We will never go to Disney World.

Now at the moment, and for the next few years or so, you probably won’t notice or care about these few points. But one day, I’m guessing around age 10, you’re going to go home with THAT KID. THAT KID will have every new toy under the sun, and will live in a cool subdivision (as opposed to the middle of nowhere) with a pool, and THAT KID will have gone to Disney World at least twice. (Probably more if he has rich grandparents, and by the way, you do not.) I imagine you will come home, arms crossed, and demand to know when you will be supplied with the same. Well, let me say now that you should refer to items 1-3, letter dated 4/20/89. You were informed.

Now to your parents. I’ll start with me, your mom. Again, I’ll start with the bad news.

1. I am horribly unorganized, which is really bad because you should see all the equipment that comes with you.

2. I absolutely never follow the rules, and here’s where it gets rough for you, so let’s just get this one settled. You, my dear boy, will have too. It isn’t my idea, really. It comes from all these parenting books I’ve been reading. It seems If I don’t want to raise a brat, I have to make sure you follow a schedule (again not my idea, I detest schedules) and rules. Sorry kid.

3. I can’t cook and really rarely make the effort. Your father and I eat out a lot. But, here’s the upside. I know most of the cool restaurants in Asheville, and we love Mexican, so its not all bad.

4. I am a terrifyingly horrible driver, which I inherited straight from your grandmother, but hey, I’ve discovered that car seats are super handy when a State Trooper pulls you over. Who wants to give the harried mom a ticket?

5. I haven’t figured a thing out about this world, and generally find myself lost in the middle of it, but I am hoping we can discover it together.

But lest you despair, let’s move on to your father, the more positive part of the intros. Your dad is and always will be one of the great things in your life. He’s pretty darn awesome, mostly because he can literally fix anything, which is why I married him. Everyone needs a good handyman around. So, here goes.

1. Your dad knows all the places to hike, fish and camp, and he knows all the names of trees. (Although, if you hear him say Dogus Woodus, well, feel free to roll your eyes.)

2. He drives a cool truck with a bunch of gadgets and radios on it, which you, being a boy, will so totally love. (Me not so much. I can never get into it gracefully, which provides your father with oh-so-many questionable jokes at my expense.)

3. He loves AC/DC and the Eagles so you’ll get long hours of good tunes.

4. He can quote most of Shakespeare.

See? Pretty good, huh?

But, a few positive notes about me, so you don’t worry this is a one-sided deal.

1. I am killer at Battleship and will kick your butt in it, but I promise to let you win at CandyLand. (Side note: Do not play your grandmother in Scrabble. It has been my suspicion for years that she cheats.)

2. I know all the kids books and I’ve been practicing how to read to you. (Your father did not enjoy this activity–pretending he was the baby or I was–and reading out loud, with emphasis, despite his aforementioned talent of quoting Shakespeare).

3. I’m not too big on homework, and chances are good I won’t make you do it. (I mean, what if a good movie is on??) Which brings me to the best point of all and one that I believe will give me a leg up on dad.

4. I will take you out of school on a whim for vacations. I love the beach in the fall and see no reason to miss it just because of school. What do you think now?

So, see? There is hope for dear old mom.

Well, my brand new perfect baby, the sun is rising and those blame nurses will be in here soon to poke and prod, so let’s get a bit of sleep while we can. Tomorrow we start an amazing 18 years together. Sounds like a long time, huh? Your grandmother says it isn’t, that it goes by in a blink. I hope she’s wrong because already you are the delight of my life.

Sleep sweet, dear child. I love you, Mom

P.S. I forgot to mention that your pediatrician will be here bright and early. I can tell you now, you aren’t going to like him, but don’t worry, they say it only hurts for a second.