She’s Still There

When was a time in your life when you felt the most hope?

That’s the question Chrystal Evans Hurst asks in her new book She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You. Hurst posits that if we ask that person, the person we were who was full of hope about our future, we will find the answer to whatever we are questioning right now in our lives. Because she’s still here. We just need to go and ask her what she thinks.

I haven’t read Hurst’s book but this premise resonates with me. I’ve just moved house with my family, back to a place where I have grasped for hope and held hope and lost hope in equal measures. I’m at a career crossroads, juggling the hot potato of what it is I still want to be when I grow up. So I’m taking Hurst’s advice. I’m going to go find that girl and rescue her.

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There are a couple iterations of Kendra who had a lot of hope.

Flower girlin w/ my cousin Li’l Ry. Grandpa + Auntie Nora behind us.

The first I can remember is Young Kendra who spent a lot of time with her grandparents. They really were the most loving forces you could imagine. Doting, good-humored, and completely enamored of their family. Also, they thought a heaping bowl of Rocky Road ice cream was a totes appropriate pre-bedtime snack. I spent countless afternoons and overnights at my grandparents’ houses. I felt secure and loved and could not imagine a world that would be so cruel so as to eclipse the warmth of my grandparents. I only have one living grandparent now. I called my Granny today. She wasn’t home. But it still felt good to be able to call her. A baby step in my rescue mission.

kendrahighschoolgrad Another Hopeful Kendra can be found in Recent High School Graduate Kendra and the summer that followed. An idyll, that season. I was so glad to be done with the drudgery of high school, the negativity and sadness that had clouded my purview for the last few years prior. Also, I was still working at Dairy Queen and you CANNOT BEAT full access to a walk-in cooler with whole vats of boulders of Reese Cup goodness. When I think about visiting that Kendra, it’s honestly hard to imagine how unobstructed her view was. She wouldn’t know how she’d have her heart shattered in the coming year. She would think college would be all about studying interesting topics and taking study breaks to watch 80’s rom-coms with her roomies. And yet she’d probably still tell me something valuable, which is, to pursue that which interests me, and to try new things even if it’s uncomfortable because otherwise how will we ever grow and how will we ever figure out what we want to be when we grow up?

I usually resist notions of having to rescue ourselves because it sounds unnecessarily dramatic. However, I understand Hurst’s urgency in that for so many of us, we’ve buried that person along with our hope. We’ve become jaded. We’ve forgotten what it is to believe in our ability to THRIVE rather than merely survive.

And you? Do you have someone you need to rescue? What will he/she say to you when you find him/her? She’s still there, and so is he.

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The things they found when they were moving

Everyone always hails the purge when you move, the commendable, enviable ridding of Excess Stuff that one accumulates from living for too long in a particular place. We could all Marie Kondo our way through our domiciles on a weekly basis but sometimes you still open a door and lo! The entire Oriental Trading catalogue appears to have been deposited, in glow-in-the-dark form, where your cookie cutters should be.

I do not exaggerate that the moving out of our Tennessee rental home was a six-month liquidation of crap. I don’t know if my kids are just at that fringe age where they are still clinging to ye toys of olde whilst embracing the accoutrements of Tomorrowland but they were categorically unhelpful when it came to parting with any of their possessions. I was all, “I put this in the basement for a whole year and you never asked about it once,” and they were all, “Wait, Mom, that’s my favorite band-aid of all time!” So we sent them to my parents’ house for two weeks. Seriously. This was hard but necessary. Separate, stop, collaborate and listen. We sent them away and made 23824390234 trips to the donation bin at Goodwill and finally we only had one truckload of stuff to move into our new Boston apartment and we’re here. Yay. Somehow still unpacking boxes of stuff. Weird.

In the wake of this move, here are some interesting artifacts discovered:

UntitledExhibit A: Charlie Sunshine Lotion – The lotion itself is starting to sort of ferment but you can open the tube and catch a whiff of Summer 1999. The sense memory is fierce with this one. One sniff and I am transported to  early college years and all of the homes of my high school friends who were still working high schooly jobs for one last summer. Lifeguarding and nannying and working at the mall and whatnot. This perfume smells of being young and mostly dumb and patently irresponsible and yet I always had enough money to fill my Honda Civic’s gas tank. So basically this lotion reminds me of a time and a metabolism I will never get back.

Exhibit B: Costco Calling Card – This item is not only completely obsolete but is incredibly sentimental. This was The Calling Card that made possible the 1.5 year long-distance relationship between Loverpants and myself. Any time one of us would get paid, we’d load a hot $20 onto that ticket. For a time, Loverpants had the phone number and code memorized. It’s a hell of a thing to be able to look at a 2 x 3 sheet of plastic and think, you were indispensable. Upon you were all anecdotes about his grad school endeaCalling cardvors and my undergraduate misadventures and all the sighing and crying in between. I’ll never know how much money we logged onto that calling card, talking about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, but kids today will never understand why one was necessary and this makes us Betty and Barney Rubbles: The Long-Distance Courtship

Exhibit C: 8th Grade Math Trophy – It may not have had my name on it (because I was part of a team! A team of mathletes!) but kids, there is now proof. Mama was once smart enough to do math and get a trophy for it. Nevermind that I was 12. Nevermind that it was on a Saturday and everyone else who could add and subtract was probably playing football or watching VH-1 Pop-Up Video. Mama got herself some heavy metal for her mad math skillz. I took a picture of it so it’d last longer, yep I sure did, Pee Wee Herman.
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Six Years a Southerner

“Looks like Michelangelo is getting a bath,” said the dad, bending over the grate where his offspring had wedged an action figure into a ground sewage stream. “Do y’all understand how this happened?”

One of the funniest scenes during our time in the South played out within the first month of our arrival, some six years ago. Loverpants and I still laugh when we walk by this spot in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, a destination that is the heart of Chattanooga’s renaissance as a Southern city. We think how the aquarium houses pods and plants and all manner of sea and river creatures. It also the little-known bathhouse of ninja turtles.

My own immersion into the South was almost as abrupt as Michelangelo’s. We arrived to our rented ranch house on three acres and felt the distinct awe of our new rural-burbia life, waking up to the sounds of cows mooing when only days prior, we had known only tinkering shopping carts rattling down city blocks, the siren cry of ambulances so familiar we barely noticed. We were soon introduced as newcomers to my workplace. We were awkward and unwieldy. Baby Girl couldn’t find her sleep groove for weeks. I couldn’t find time to lesson plan. Loverpants couldn’t find an office space to lease. Little Man couldn’t find his walking feet.

But then we did. We found ourselves doing life in the South as people who worked and churched and bought Aretha Frankenstein pancake mix to make at home on Sunday mornings. The difference, I think, is that finding a rhythm is not the same as finding a fit, which is how I would classify my time in the South. Just because Michelangelo is placed in the gutter and he stays there doesn’t mean he belongs there.

I have not found belonging in the South. This is not a criticism of the South, just a witness to my experience. Mercifully, though, I have found pockets of being known and that has been the great treasure of my life here.

Belonging in the South, specifically in a more junior city, specifically in a conservative religious community, requires a certain extroversion that eludes me. Small talk is currency in this environment where one mills in small concentric circles of interconnected folks. I am allergic to small talk so I am most likely to enter into conversation with, “I cannot freaking believe I am buying sex ed talk books for my kid already,” rather than preferred pleasantries about the weather. There is also a pervasive lack of directness that is borne of the aforementioned interconnected network. If good fences make good neighbors, then a lack of fencing can lead to a superficial neighborliness. Being authentic, after all, is a liability. And being authentic in one social circle where any misdeeds in one patch might bleed into another can leave us defenseless. The need to “play nice” at the expense of addressing conflict or wrong behavior is something I’ve observed too often. My natural bent is to be as direct as possible, even if it is hard. So whenever I have found others willing to join me to climb the chutes and slide down the ladders of directness, I have desired to call those people my kin.

There are a whole host of other aspects that I have found so foreign about the South (The expression “might could.” The frequent use of styrofoam in restaurants. The lack of sprinkler parks in spite of the heat much of the year). But if I dwell on these things then I fail to see the good and to celebrate the great things about the American Southeast (Publix Grocery Stores, hallelujah! The lushness of spring. Savannah/Tybee Island. Charleston. Birmingham. Nashville. Memphis. Crepe Myrtles. Sitting in the bleachers for Used Car Night at a minor league baseball game in the fall). There is so much to adore about this region that has been our home for six years, this city that has, at turns confused and enchanted us.

We will return to the Northeast from whence we came, with children six years older, with wisdom poured like a fine wine aged six years. And we will be glad for the friends we have made, the places we have served, the houses where we have worshiped.  We will count it all a blessing to not only have gotten wet but to have been fully immersed like Michelangelo in the sewer, with passersby asking if y’all knew how it happened.

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