Category Archives: Family

The Original Frenemy

So here’s the thing.

I have a very full heart.

But when I think about everything I would love to tell everyone I’ve ever met (seriously. I love you.), I get tongue-tied and self-conscious and have poor grammar and misuse pronouns.

So instead, I write a blog post and then direct my loves to my blog, where they will find conciseness, eloquence, and subject-verb agreement.

Get in the kitchen and make me some pie.

Anyway. There’s this girl I’ve known my whole entire life who used to call me and my little sister Evil Twins. We know this was her secret nickname for us, her baby sisters, because we read her diary. So…accurate, I guess.

Today is my sister’s birthday. Happy birthday, aged cheese!

Unfortunately, she also lives too far away for a singing telegram, but not too far for our regular FaceTime lunch date so our daughters can stare at one another, try to feed each other banana slices and goldfish crackers, and say, “Hi!” over and over again, while my sister and I try to have a conversation around the more riveting one going on between toddlers. It’s unbearably cute.

But we weren’t always this close. Actually, my most tumultuous sibling relationship of all was with her, my big sister. It didn’t help that I knew exactly which buttons to push to cause her passionate-artist-temper to flare while I with my math-formulaic-brain sat in the backseat calm and rational. (Read: she was the one who always got in trouble.)

We have had some major fights. Blockbuster ones. We fought over ev-er-y-thing, from the last glass of Kool-Aid to whether or not I had used her razor or face wash without asking (I had).

The thing is, I was insanely jealous of her. She sings. She plays music. She paints. She cooks. She designs. She pretty much cornered the market on creativity and growing up in her shadow, I wanted some. I desperately wanted to be like her, and because I wasn’t, I resented her for it, at least until the moments when admiration won out, or when she invited me into her life. And those moments, brief but innumerable, are the sweetest.

Like the times she drew comic books for my little sister and me to read. (Bobbie Thompson: The College Years?)

Or when we spent entire afternoons playing School (which we all pronounced “Skoi”), so that upon entering Kindergarten, I was already reading chapter books and writing in cursive and coloring inside the lines.

Or when she set up a “library” in her bottom dresser drawer and we “checked out” books, complete with library cards with due dates stamped onto them.

Or when I got my hair permed in second grade, and had to spend ALL DAY at the salon because my stick-straight hair wouldn’t curl, even under chemical reaction, and when they finally got it to stick after three separate treatments, she let me go to the movies with her and her best friend.

Or when she taught me how to curl my bangs for my fourth grade school picture and accidentally left a burn mark on my forehead. (But then she styled my bangs so that little pink mark wouldn’t show up in the photograph.)

Or when she helped me set up a business selling friendship bracelets called “Jessie’s Strings and Things.”

For sure, those were the short and sweet moments sandwiched between the many (many) “Get out of my room!” and “Just leave me alone!” and “She started it!” shouts that gave our parents migraines and indigestion (probably).

But then we grew up and the Enemy half of the Friend-Enemy Sisterhood fell away, and all that is left is Friend.

My best friends

Best Friend, actually.

She is a confidante, a sounding board, someone who inspires and encourages. She is a beautiful mom, a devoted wife, a talented artist, a gourmet chef, a generous aunt, a wicked crafter, a bony-legged dancer, an inside-joke teller, and my big sister.

Happy birthday, sis. I love you.

(End of Conversation.)

28 Comments

Filed under Family

Have You Met My Brother?

I wish I could tell you guys about my brother. Because today is his birthday and he lives too far away to send him a singing telegram. Apparently they only deliver “within city limits.” He might be in a different time zone, but it’s still the continental US, okay?

Whatever, amateurs. PS, Your customer service sucks.

Anyway, today he’s turning 48.

Just kidding. That would be mathematically impossible.

But he’s not that far off. What? BURN!

But seriously, I wish I could tell you all about him. But he doesn’t read my blog. Or any other words, ever. When I told him I wanted to write a book, he said, “Cool! I won’t read it.” I’m trying not to take it personally.

My brother is funny. If it weren’t for him, I would be the funniest person in my family. (That actually can’t be proven.)

I wish I could tell you how many times we’ve sat around the dinner table, laughing so hard my stomach hurt. He would turn red and start doing this bark-laugh, I would start crying and do this hideous thing with my mouth because it wasn’t big enough to fit around the laugh that was pouring out of it. Laughter in my family is a common but ugly-looking thing.

He’s also a lot of fun.

I wish I could tell you guys how he invented all kinds of sports when we were growing up, which were basically just regular sports but renamed. Like when we would play Hot Potato with a squishy Auburn football, throwing it at each other with as much force as we could muster to inflict pain make the other person drop it ten times. We called this game Ten Drop. He was never too good or too old to play with his kid sisters.

But I should mention that he’s also a little scary.

Scary might not be the right word.

Intimidating, maybe. Or at least he was. Though the age difference between us has always been eight years, that gap feels so much smaller now that we’re adults.

But there’s still a tiny piece of me that looks to him the most, out of all my other siblings, for confirmation. For approval. Some habits are hard to break.

Maybe it’s because he’s the firstborn, the oldest. Maybe because of our age difference and we never really had to deal with sibling rivalry. Maybe because I’m his favorite sister. (According to his own declaration; Ramstein, Germany; circa 1989.)

But I think it’s maybe because he has always been someone to test myself against; despite how different we might have seemed, he was a reflection of who I wanted to be. He has always been someone who accepted my efforts – as sister, student, athlete, adult, parent – while ignoring my flaws, not bothering with judgment or advice, and made me feel like I was great at it, whatever It was. And if I wasn’t great, then I could be. I will be.

Happy birthday, Big Brother, even though you won’t read this.

Next year I’ll just draw you a picture.

20 Comments

Filed under Family

My Cloak of Invincibility

I need to disclaim something: talk of unpleasant bathroom-related inappropriate things lie ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…Dad.

A week ago from right now I was simultaneously vacuuming with a sick baby on my hip, cleaning and organizing my refrigerator in preparation for a feast of excess, sneaking “tastes” from one of two pumpkin cheesecakes, and waiting on my family to arrive.

In the past week and a half, I have (in no particular order): mopped up puke, wiped up diarrhea, roasted a 21-lb. turkey, watched my dad and sister make FOUR recipes of cornbread dressing, chopped, sautéed, baked, and stirred for 36 straight hours, pulled out feather stubs from a turkey butt like pimple-popping, consumed (roughly) 10,000 calories in half an hour, stood outside the mall at minutes-to-midnight, and force-fed Pedialyte to a grumpy baby sick with TWO separate bouts of a stomach virus.

In between preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, preparing Thanksgiving dinner, and burying my face in plates of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, I have nursed all three of my in-house family members back from the throes of stomach viruses. And no, their throwing up is in NO way correlated to my cooking. Hurtful. Did you even have to ask.

Bean got sick first, and in all its undiluted potency she had it for two days straight, unable to keep anything more than Pedialyte and Gatorade down. By the time she was feeling healthy enough not to be permanently attached to my hip, my parents were here and more than happy to baby-wrangle while my sister and I put on our chef hats. We ate, drank, and were merry, and it was good.

Until we came home at three in the morning after our very first Black Friday experience to find that Hubs, the mighty man of the house, had been brought down. BY GERMS!

(Side bar: to the dude standing in line outside the Apple store FOUR HOURS before it opened, I hope the 8% off the iPad you and everyone else with Internet access received that day was worth it…and to the dirtbag who crop-dusted in the men’s section of Banana Republic seconds before I walked into your potent wall of fart, was that really necessary?)

But alas! Hubs wouldn’t be down and out for long. By Friday evening he was tentatively eating leftovers. Huzzah!

Except that his triumphant plate of hash brown casserole was overshadowed by Bean’s overzealous vomiting sometime past midnight. Really, stomach bug? You already tagged her. I call foul.

So yet another day full of the all-liquid diet, and by Sunday afternoon she was back to animal crackers, bananas and refusing her green beans. That’s my girl.

I thought this nasty bug had had enough of the Buttrams, but I guess we’re just irresistible, and it came back for more, when Bug upchucked his pack of peanut butter crackers last night. And whatever else he ate, until about 2:30 this morning.

At least now, after haggling for a Lunchable (but staying away from the block of processed cheese) he seems to be okay, what with his Buffalo Bill impressions and gun-slinging after a full morning’s therapy of Gatorade and Nickelodeon, and the stomach bug that has terrorized our wee family has nowhere left to turn.

I think it knows better than to mess with me. For the past nine days I have literally been puked, coughed, pooped and vomit-breath breathed on, have snuggled with barfy babes, and have remained stomach bug-free. I’ve even taunted the rascal with joyous overeating, excessive carbonated drinks, lack of sleep and vitamins, and enjoying foods that would be particularly heinous coming back up…like Indian food. I’d knock on wood right now, but I’m so invincible wood knocks on me.

Or something.

So…how was your Thanksgiving?

16 Comments

Filed under Family, Humor

The Octopus and the Smidge

You’ve heard that Dodie Smith quote about family before, right?

“The family, that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts ever quite wish to.”

Well, now you have. It was always bizarre to me. It’s accurate, but I wouldn’t use it in my scrapbook or something.

My pet octopus is big enough to stretch across the continental United States, from the east coast (and I do mean coast literally) to the southwest. The last time we were all in one place was two years ago. A lot has happened in two years. Like the birth of three more babies. Yeah, that’s kind of a big deal.

Last week, my octopus converged in south Alabama, and it was noisy, chaotic, and glorious. Growing up, there were six of us under one roof, and for the first fourteen years of my life until my brother moved out, it was a very small roof.

Last week, there were fifteen of us, plus three dogs. We could have hosted our very own basketball tournament. (Dibs on the tall guy!)

We didn’t get very much sleep, but we ate really well. There were only three guest bedrooms and two bathrooms between the majority of us, but no one minded my pajama pants. We had to be abundantly flexible, all the children were champs when it came to disrupted routines, and my brother has formed a conspiracy about Cheetos. (We also have a bucket full of inside jokes that you might find sprinkled throughout this post. Sorry.)

The Original Crew (For the record, my sister was wearing heels.)

We’re all slightly candid because during our family photo shoot, we each brought our own cameras. There were four (five?) lenses firing off excessively. It was fun. I don’t know why it gets Lady Gaga all in a tizzy.

L to R (ish): Ying-Yang, Daddio, Willow Wonky, Moms, Egghead, Mrs. Egghead, assorted babies, Egghead's in-laws, Bean, Stinky Face, Your Smidget Hostess (and randos not related to us)

I feel like this photograph pretty much encompasses our entire time together: chaos, a collision of good looks, and an ongoing game of Where’s Waldo?. Except instead of Waldo, we were looking for one or more of the babies at any given time. Aunt Stinky Face is taunting Bean with a piece of paper, Moms is looking concerned, a wonky-eyed dog is photobombing, Bug is MIA, my brother and I are being dorks by taking pictures of each other taking pictures. So, yeah, all-encompassing.

There was so much hilarity and satisfaction and noise and enjoyment in one place, I’m surprised the city didn’t implode. We don’t get together anywhere near often enough, so when we do, it’s like a volcanic eruption of fun spewing all over anyone within shouting distance.

My family is my role model. If I can help foster and nurture an environment where my children can have even just a shadow of the bond between my siblings and me, then they are in for a lifetime of love.

16 Comments

Filed under Family

Playground Etiquette

Several Sunday evenings during the summer, the Hubs, offspring, and I would walk (off their dinner and my Klondike bars) around the neighborhood. Bug would ride his bike and Hubs and I would take turns pushing Bean in her stroller as she greeted every person and dog we passed. We would walk until the trail dead-ended in a cul-de-sac, then turn around and head back, stopping at the neighborhood playground.

There are a few rules of the playground that every kid knows. (Observes? Ehh…debatable.)

Wait your turn. Don’t go up the slide when someone is coming down. Don’t pee on the swings. You know, stuff like that.

As a grown-up who just can’t resist those primary-colored structures, I’m here to offer a few rules anyone over the age of 11 should observe if you plan on partaking on the fun.

Don’t wear flip-flops. Especially if the playground area is filled with pebbles, gravel, wood chips, or other small, pointy items. If you do, you will lose every game of Tag. Every game. And there’s a poignant shame in being actually unable to outrun a three-year-old. I mean, they just learned to walk on those things, and now they can chase you down? Shame.

Don’t slide down the fireman pole if you’re wearing shorts. Skid marks on your inner thighs might beat cellulite, but they still aren’t pretty.

Don’t hog the swings. It may be the only area of the playground where your adult-sized body is guaranteed to fit, but the kids moping under the slide will definitely tell their parents, who are probably on your HOA’s Board of Directors.

Don’t steal your 7-year-old’s bike while he’s busy climbing the monkey bars, then ride off laughing maniacally while he chases you with his helmet on (safety first, kids). It seems like a funny idea, but your knees will take a beating. Especially if you insist on riding it until he catches you.

Don’t be afraid to be a kid again.

Raise your hands if you miss recess!

23 Comments

Filed under Family

Motherhood, In Flashes

A trembling voice drifting through slumber, a tear-filled cry for her mama just moments before the sun rises.

Daddy rescuing her from the confinement of her crib, letting her finish off sleep in our bed.

The way she instinctively tucks herself into the hollow of my body, half-asleep, fully needy.

A seven-year-old forgetting he is too old to sleep with Mom and Dad, so, bleary-eyed, he joins the sleep brigade.

Sweet baby morning breaths mingling as brother and sister curve around one another, sandwiched between the two people who love them the most.

Breakfast in pajamas, lazy and timeless, punctuated by Saturday morning cartoons and karate chops.

A day when our family is whole and unscheduled, any whim and errand more enjoyable together.

For now and today, our children still adjacent to and dependent on us, not yet living separate lives.

A baby girl enjoying the wonder of bubbles, splashing happily with shampoo and squirt toys.

The scent of lavender skin and toothpaste kisses as we usher two weary wee ones to bed.

Slipping into their night-lighted rooms well after sleep has overcome them, staring at the innocence and miracle so evident on their faces, their cheeks soft like velvet, their lashes so long they cast shadows.

For just a moment, I can pretend they are static, timeless, that I will always have these small hands to hold, that their tiny bodies will always fit flush against my own, that they will always, always need me the most.

10 Comments

Filed under Family

She Captivates

“The king is enthralled by your beauty;
honor him for He is your Lord.” ~Psalm 45:11, NIV

Growing up, I lived by that verse. It’s what Bible Drill alumni would call a “Life Application Verse.” I wrote it on post-its and stuck it to my mirror. I scrawled it all over my journal (diary). Whenever I wrote notes to my girlfriends, I signed it, “Jessie!! Psalm 45:11!! Smiley face!!” (and probably bubble letters declaring, “God Loves U!!”) Why? Because beauty is a tricky thing, especially for young ladies.

I am enthralled by my daughter’s beauty. Mesmerized, even. Awestruck, often. She is lovely. She is breathtaking. And I’m not even talking about her wide, warm eyes, or her dainty nose, or her tissue paper lips. It’s in her laugh, her affection, the weight of her little palm resting against my neck, her stiff-legged swagger, her uncontainable joy when she reunites with me after a nap. It is all of these things that are woven within her, things that will grow even more stunning as she does, topped only briefly and as an afterthought by her little pixie doll face, perfect and captivating.

And yet.

One day she will be a young lady who can’t fully believe that. She won’t like the shape of her eyes, or her button-like nose, or how the other girls tower over her, or the length of her neck, or some other nonsensical insecurity that every girl will battle with, because every girl wants to be beautiful. And because that day she won’t feel beautiful on the outside, she will doubt what is beautiful on the inside.

And when she doubts, I can’t wait to show her this verse, point it out, tattoo it on her forehead (boy deterrent). Get it, girl? The King is enthralled by your beauty! The Lord, creator of things like supernovas, fog, mountaintops, fall, the ocean, sunrises…is enthralled by you!

You, girl, are intended to represent the everlasting beauty of God, the intricate delicacy of God, the divine femininity.

I hope that is the beauty my daughter strives for, not whether her teeth or toes are crooked.

I hope that is the beauty I teach her to cherish.

6 Comments

Filed under Family

Thing 1 and Thing 2’s Excellent Adventure

Several weeks ago, Leanne Shirtliffe (aka Ironic Mom) sent out a worldwide (web) call to temporarily house her twins, Thing 1 and Thing 2. Not her actual twins, just their internet doppelgänger. For some reason, the post office frowns upon shipping humans.

First stop for the Things, our lovely town in East Tennessee. All the way from Canada!

They're HEEEEEERE!

I knew my Bug and Bean would love to play host to a couple of stuffed toys for the sake of my blog, and I was right. Except sometimes Bug, my creative assistant, was too embarrassed when shooting some of the photographs. Embarrassed for posing with a couple of blue-haired dolls in the middle of the sidewalk/museum/road while strangers passed around us? Amateur.

Bug Welcomes The Things

The Shenanigans Begin

Beanie immediately reached for the colorful dolls, then tried to kiss them, then discovered the unpleasantness of fuzzy lips.

Oh, Hi!

Oh, Fuzz!

Things 1 and 2 were definitely polite house guests (don’t worry, Mom), even when I treated them to some Filipino cuisine as their Welcome-to-Tennessee dinner. I know, makes perfect sense. Especially when we treated them to champorado before shipping them off to the next stop. I figured we could sandwich their first American stop in between some Filipino culture. You know, for culture’s sake.

Filipino-style Chicken Adobo

They ate all their dinner

Afterwards, once released from their long trip inside a padded envelope, they were eager to enjoy the fresh air. Even if it did come with a triple digit heat index.

Everyone loves bubbles, differing citizenship notwithstanding

We tried to fit the Best of Knoxville in the week that we had our Canadian house guests, and did an okay job of encompassing the vibe of East Tennessee. We even managed to visit Hogsmeade by way of our local library. (I had a hard time finding that tricky Platform 9 3/4…we finally found it in the Large Print section.) We also took a day trip to the East Tennessee History Museum, where legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett’s first gun Ol’ Betsy is on display. The Things even got to hitch a ride on the famous (maybe?) historical (definitely) Gay Street streetcar, after getting whisper-yelled at by a curator for touching a non-touchable exhibit. (To be fair, Bug was doing the touching, but I’m pretty sure the Things were egging him on.)

Hogsmeade!

Butterbeer!

Gay Street streetcar

Don't Shoot!

Historical Tennessee Theater

Photobomb!

Beanie and Bug were sad to see them go, but after our allotted week, we shoved them in an envelope and sent them on their way. (But not until they had their bellies filled with champorado, as promised.)

Farewell breakfast

Happy trails, Thing 1 and Thing 2!

Make sure to keep up with Thing 1 and Thing 2’s adventures here, and be sure to check out the talented bloggers along the way who are making it happen!

32 Comments

Filed under Family

He Needs Me, He Needs Me Not

Bug is voracious, in everything he does. His appetite is insatiable. He devours books, he inhales information, he craves attention, and he spits it all back out with rapid fire.

I’ve learned more about dinosaurs, the subject of particular interest lately, than I ever did in elementary school. Dioramas of Play-Doh stegosauruses and plastic trees included.

And Bug makes a great teacher. Except when I miss everything he just repeated from the book open in his lap, because I’m stuck staring at the little boy before me and wondering how I let him grow up so fast.

I came downstairs the other day to find him helping himself to a bowl of cereal.

At the library, he wanders off into the children’s non-fiction section, his library card in his pocket, and checks out his allotted five books while the librarian smiles at him, this miniature adult.

He showers, dries his hair, and gets ready for bed all on his own.

He pours a glass of juice to go with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he fixed himself.

He writes stories without pausing to ask me how to spell difficult words. Even if he misspells them.

He flips on the television, with permission, of course, finds a show he enjoys, or starts one of his bajillion DVDs.

He can easily find games to play on the computer, Dad’s iPod, or on my iPhone, navigating around technology like it’s an extension of his own body. Maybe it is.

He is outgrowing me.

Until about nine o’clock at night, when he catches my shadow as I slip out of Bean’s room and down the hall, and over the muffled sounds of the television on in the den, I hear my name softly called, his voice a whisper and full of hope. “Cuddle?” he asks when I stick my head in. And because he spent the sunlight hours nurturing his independence from me, I scoot beside him beneath his blanket and let his gangly, skinny little arms wrap all the way around me.

And at least for a little while, though he needs me not, he needs me.

23 Comments

Filed under Family

Part of This Complete Breakfast

I have bags and bags of cereal in my pantry, the healthiest being Frosted Mini-Wheats. That’s right, we don’t mess around. But since the summer has begun, and our mornings have become much less rushed than during the school year, my breakfast repertoire has expanded from a bowl of Fruity Pebbles to cheese omelets, bacon, French toast, Nutella pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and other hot breakfasts Bug only dreamt about while half-asleep shoveling lukewarm oatmeal into his mouth while I yelled at him to hurry up or he’s gonna be late! from the top of the stairs with a baby on my hip ironing Hubs’ shirt-of-the-day.

Nevermind.

Every Saturday growing up, we always had a hot breakfast. I can still picture my dad shuffling from the bedroom, finally awakened by the aroma of my mother’s cooking as we gathered around the breakfast table after being pried away from back-to-back episodes of Saved by the Bell where Zack Morris schemes, seems to get away with it, gets caught, hilarity ensues. Remember when James from The Max played both his father and Mr. Belding? Genius. Too bad Mr. Morris with his giant cell phone and ambiguous business calls and sporadic guest appearances decided to be the Involved Dad for once and showed up to Bayside High’s school carnival where he dunked Mr. Belding in the dunk tank after Mr. Belding ridiculed his throwing arm. Ruh-roh, Shaggy.

But Mo-om, Mr. Belding and Mr. Morris are JUST about to discover each other’s real identities!

One meal that was always a breakfast treat was champorado, mine and my dad’s veryveryveryvery favorite, period exclamation point comma splice I’m Ron Burgundy?

Champorado is a traditional Filipino dish often served for breakfast or dessert (Spoiler Alert: it’s sweet) that is basically a chocolate rice porridge. Made with a sweet, sticky rice, you boil it in cocoa water until done, further sweetening it with sugar or (my preference) condensed milk. In other words, ahhhhhh! (That’s the wavy voice sound I make when I imagine the Heavens opening up.)

It has been roughly seven years since I last had champorado, because I haven’t been able to find the sticky rice you’re supposed to use. Coincidentally, I have yet to introduce champorado, a very sweet and significant part of my culture and childhood, to Bug. But when I do, I imagine great things will happen.

I remember when I last had it. Yeah, it’s that good.

Squiggly lines squiggly lines squiggly lines. (What. That’s how they began every flashback and dream sequence in Saved by the Bell. OWN it, Oprah probably does.)

Bug was newly born. My mother had come to stay with us for a couple weeks as we started to slide into the role of New Parents. I somehow had a bag of sticky rice. I’m thinking my grandmother probably brought it to me when she had visited. Irregardless isn’t a word, I had the Right Stuff like NKOTB.

I had talked about champorado to Hubs, trying in vain to capture its essence of chocolatey goodness, hyping it up like the season premiere of American Idol, when finally my mom decided to make it for breakfast. We sat down at the table, both my mother and I watching expectantly for the moment of glorious awakening when Hubs would take that first bite.

He loaded up his spoon. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate. He held, in his hand, a tiny mountain of champorado. He took a bite and gave a, “Mmm!”

I knew immediately. “You hate it.”

He hated it! White Man not a fan.

To be fair, I should have noticed Hubs’ less-than-impressed facial expressions whenever I gushed about the awesomeness that was chocolate rice porridge, but I figured that was just his face.

So, so disappointed.

But I do know that Bug, my little Asian-Caucasian Sensation, will love it. LOVE it, I say!

For another part of this complete breakfast, visit Clay Morgan’s ode to breakfast cereals here. You will laugh. You will reminisce. You will cry. Especially if you don’t buy those cereals anymore, Responsible Adult.

13 Comments

Filed under Family