Monday, September 15, 2014

Etiquette Nazis

If you don't say "Bless you!" when someone sneezes in this house, you're likely to get cursed. Unless you're a guest, of course; then we'll generously make allowances for your pitiful rudeness while making faces behind your back.

The whole "Bless you!" thing isn't my pet peeve. It's Matthew's, my chivalrous husband's. For years of our marriage, I suffered under his cruel tutelage as he lambasted me each time I didn't say bless you when he manfully sneezed. Now I'm so scared not to bless people that I nervously cry, "Bless you!" when anyone passes gas, coughs or burps in this house.

For quite some time I thought it was Matthew's upbringing that dictated this strange adherence to a, pardon me, somewhat out-of-date practice. I mean, really! When people used to say bless you in the Middle Ages it was because they thought you were likely going to die, and they wanted you to know they wouldn't harbor any grudges when you're poor sneeze-racked body was lowered into the ground. But as for my man's family, I soon discovered it wasn't actually their thing, because you can sneeze until you're blue in the face or go into a seizure around those fine people, and they wouldn't bless your disease-ridden cat. It's not because they don't care, I believe, but because they are simply far too pragmatic to think you might die from that common cold, dust inhalation or allergic attack.

Regardless from where Matthew's obsession with sneezing sympathy stemmed, I have now been well-trained and am stuck for life compulsively blessing strangers at the movie theater, whispering bless you at church during the priest's homily, and on frequent occasions when my bum kids won't take notice of my own sniffles, pitifully consoling myself with a, "Bless me..."

But don't pity me too much, I beg of you, for I have my own etiquette insanity that I have forcibly hoisted on my man in return. It's a little thing, really, and it goes like this: when I speak - no matter what nonsense I say - I demand a response of some sort. It can be a rhetorical question, an observation, or a simple statement, but you'd better acknowledge me. I blame my need for validation on the fact that I was the youngest and most ignorant of four kids. (I still am.) Even when I dramatically uttered cuss words in order to be heard, I was merely laughed at.

So, you see, I can say, "Meatloaf - it's what's for dinner!" and I expect my man to politely respond with an, "Umm, umm, good!" even though the guy can't stand meatloaf - not even with quality ketchup on it.

If I pointlessly comment on the duration of the hot weather here in town, I will burn holes in his head until he answers it with, "107? Yep, toasty."

Because I spend all day with a preschooler and most of the afternoon with arguing, school-weary children, I crave back-and-forth conversation and the assurance that I still have interesting things to say to adults without imitating the whining or shrieking tactics of my little ones. Therefore, I often end long discourses on the state of world affairs or thorny personal conundrums with a You know what I mean? or  You hear what I'm saying? in order to elicit the response I crave. Even with the most inane utterances on the most mundane things, I must have a response. It may seem like I am talking to myself when I muse, "I wonder why these plates overheat in the microwave?", but if you don't answer me, Bucko, one of them is likely to crash on your head.

All this reflection makes me wonder, though: is it good manners to force anyone save your own children to observe their manners? Is it right, for instance, to do what my four-year-old does a millisecond after he sneezes and yell indignantly, "No one said bless you!" before anyone had a chance to say it, or sarcastically mutter as my man has been known to do, "Thank you for all the bless yous..." or glare at my husband as I demand, "Well?" to get that assurance that he really is following every word I utter? In short, are etiquette Nazis all that polite?

Nope, we sure ain't. But if you do indeed die from that common cold, you can rest assured that you will have a thousand of our "bless you!"s to send you on your merry, blessed way.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writing, Failing

My husband feels I am too negative when I talk about my writing. The same familiar look comes across his face, a tight, disapproving look.

Maybe it's because the only time I talk in length about my writing is when I'm feeling despondent, and I do indeed say those words, I fail, or some variant such as:

I stink at...

I don't understand...

Pitiful...

Complete failure...

But as I point out to him, I am usually talking about how I market my own writing. I know I am a capable writer, and I used to naively think that if I wrote it, they would come...from somewhere. Maybe that makes me a lunatic, because the numbers aren't kind.

When I first started this blog, I had the Goggle follow button on my home page. It very slowly grew until I had 33 followers at which point it stuck and never moved again. It became a badge of dishonor. I had to remove it.

And right now I'm agonizing over deleting my Facebook page, because it, too, atrophied at 29 followers - 29 followers - and my past several posts, sharing only select pieces from here, have gotten zero likes. Even my own relatives have not thrown me a like bone now and then while busily liking others' pages. Nor should they if they do not like my stories.

I fail. I fail. Numbers don't lie.

I love to write. I believe I am a writer, and there again I must plead insanity in the face of miserable stats four years in the running.

So why do I fail? Oh, I wish I knew why I sink where others float and glide! I wish I knew. I, wanting to be a writer since elementary school, have done a miserable job despite my constancy. Others, who never desired it until adulthood as a hobby, have excelled.

Do people dislike my style? Is it because I have recently turned readers off with my Catholic perspective? Both unalterable, I'm afraid. Is it because I don't have that "clear brand" of which marketing folks speak? Is it because I neither love, have an affinity for, nor understand how to use social media? Heaven help me, I don't know what I'm doing wrong (except when I don't post). My growth has been completely organic, and organic is not always healthy. And there, too: is it because I refuse to invest monetarily in my dreams? Other writers have advised me to advertise on Facebook or pay for blog design, but I can't quite get over the hurdle of spending money on this blog that seems so unlikely to make returns on the investment, except perhaps for my silly ego and creative happiness.

Maybe I just don't have that community of fellow writers to uplift me. All the writers I admire, the few that I regularly read, already have their own groups, and I have this forlorn feeling that I am too late to win myself a position in their circle.

Drat, but if this depression wasn't coming, sitting by the way and sharpening its teeth. I was doing so well for some time. For weeks I only got on my blog to write or edit. I stayed off my personal email except 2-3 times per week. I would sometimes leave Facebook to its own devices for a good long time. And I was happier. I knew I wasn't writing for much, but I persevered. And I loved that I avoided the Internet on many days; I felt mentally more robust that way.

But it builds, you know, with the evidence. My blog was growing through last December, and then I took a kind of holiday in January, and it plummeted. Painfully, it has begun to rise again, but for four years of effort, I have truly embarrassing results. I would share them with no one, except my Dad.

As a miserable person might, I am asking you - if you have been one of my loyal readers - to tell me why you think I have failed here or on my blog's Facebook page. I am looking for brutal honesty. Don't fear that you'll make me cry. I have already cried bitterly - just today on the phone with my husband, I'm afraid - simply wondering what secret ingredient I lack so profoundly that many others have in abundance. I would rather know if my readers see something critical that I do not.

I don't intend to delete this blog. You may have thought that I was planning to put myself out of this cyclical misery in that way. No. Writing for a few is far better in my estimation than writing for nobody but oneself out of fear of rejection.

So I persevere. But I do ask you to kindly share your insights and your opinions on what it is that I need to do or change, what I seem incapable of discovering for myself. I'm a selfish girl for thrusting this on you, I guess, but I would really appreciate it.

Thanks,

Hillary



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Two Weddings

My brother-in-law Steve and my sister Annie got married a week apart on Saturdays in July. Both are the second oldest among their siblings. Both had destination weddings. For the happiness of both these family members our little family had been praying.

Steve married his longtime girlfriend Joy on a beach in Hawaii:


 
And my lovely sister Annie married her man under an enormous tree of wedding lore in San Saba, Texas:

 
 
There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen at Steve and Joy's wedding, but they asked all of his nieces to be flower girls. The girls wore Aloha dresses and shell jewelry, gifts from their uncle and new aunt. Jon's oldest daughter, Lily, flung the flower petals down on the ground by fistfuls, scowling as if she had great disdain for the flimsy things, making everyone laugh. The best part of the wedding was the look on Steve's face when he saw his bride walking down that verdant aisle toward the ocean. He cried. My husband said it was the first time he had seen his brother cry, and, I must say, Joy truly did look stunning in her gorgeous gown and white, fragrant lei with flowers pinned in her dark hair.
 
The older nieces jostled each other for the chance to take the bouquet from Aunt Joy. The look on their faces when the bride and groom kissed was comic; they all looked as if they were watching a fairytale ending. 
 
Our Danny Sam was the ring bearer. He kept scratching his sandaled feet during most of the ceremony. He even tried to lean on Uncle Steve to get better reach to his tickly toes during the presider's poignant discourse on the meaning of marriage, slipping off his sandals and attempting to balance. 

That wonderful event was the whole reason our family went to Hawaii this past July. The reception was a blast. The DJ invited all the married couples to take the dance floor, and then he started adding up years for anniversaries; anyone who had been married less than the pronounced time had to exist the floor. Matthew and I were there for a good while, we thought, but his parents stayed much longer, married now for more then 40 years. I felt a lump in my throat watching the few remaining couples; it was a beautiful testimony in a fickle age. When only one couple remained, neighbors of Steve and Joy, the DJ asked them to reveal their secrets to the newly married, and the gentleman replied, "Say, 'Yes, dear.' " It was cliché, but we all laughed. Then the wife added, "Have fun."
 
Matthew was having a good time
Fire dancers performed, making me clutch my chest and suck in my breath the whole time in fear of mishaps and in awe of their maneuvers with spinning rods of flame. It gave whole new meaning to burning your candle at both ends. The youngest one was a mere five years of age but full of bravado.
 
What was more astounding was that my oldest son Berto danced with his little sister Ella. I really wish I had gotten pictures. I would frame them on the wall in a collage as a reminder that those two do indeed love each other. Watching all my daughters and sons dance with their cousins, uncles and grandparents was precious and memorable. For me it was the best part.
 
*******************************
 
I was home but a day from Hawaii before flying out again for my sister's wedding. It was a small gathering of close family and dear friends. We all stayed in a quaint, tidy B&B in San Saba.
 
On the morning of the wedding, my sister Annie, Dad, Mom, and I sat downstairs and put together the bouquets, corsages, and buccaneers for the wedding. What am I saying??? My sister Annie did it all with precision, beautifully with a little help from Mom. I myself was confused by how to properly manipulate the floral tape.
 
As we dressed and primped before the wedding, the ladies had delicious mimosas. (I know, because I had at least two.) We chatted, shared feelings, laughed and cried, and the bride fixed our hair. Yes, she fixed our hair, because none of us had her crazy skills in braiding, curling and pinning.
 
We drove to the Wedding Oak down a dirt road bordered by barbed wire fences and hay fields. It was hot, but a welcome breeze followed us. My sister hid from Keith, her groom, behind her friend's SUV. Our mother was already crying. As I looked at Annie, I cried, too, because she looked so lovely. Her cascading golden hair - which she had fixed herself in intricate curls pinned back by silvery pins - embodied the rays of the bright sun.
 
The flower girl was the daughter of Annie's good friend, Jen, and her wheelchair was ornamented with pretty ribbons. Keith's dad was his best man. I was the Matron of Honor. The father of the bride was also the preacher and celebrant. He walked her down the dirt road as Keith's mother, Jan, played the violin beneath the sweeping branches of the colossal oak, and Keith's brother took pictures. Then Dad gave Annie's arm to her groom and turned to face her.
 
He asked, "Who gives this woman in marriage?"
 
My mother replied, "Her father and I do."
 
It wasn't long after those words that Dad got emotional, and as he struggled to speak, the breeze sighed through the broad leaves above.
 
And someone in a pickup truck idled just up the lane in order not to disrupt the ceremony.
 
What an unusually beautiful place for a wedding, beneath that magnificent oak! Just as Dad prepared to pronounce Keith and Annie husband and wife, the wind picked up dramatically and rushed about us for several moments, rustling the leaves. It was an impressive moment - at least I thought so. It was as if the Holy Spirit said, I make it so.
 
After much picture-taking, during which passing Texans in their trucks cried, "Congratulations!", we all went to the charming Wedding Oak Winery to celebrate. My sister designed the decorations for the reception area herself. Her gorgeous bouquets and hand-stenciled mason jars with tea lights rested atop burlap squares on the tables. She had made pretty little name tags tied on the keepsake wineglasses, and a cake topper of her own creation presided over the cake. The décor was rustic yet artsy, accented as it was by enormous wine barrels. It was completely unique, and I was amazed by what my sis had done - but not too surprised, considering all that she did for my own wedding.  
 
We ate a wonderfully filling meal with delicious wine - I particularly enjoyed the Viognier - and then Dad brought out his guitar and sang the most beautiful wedding song ever meant for a daughter: Where's The Little Girl, a song he wrote many years ago. It's the right of each of his daughters (and granddaughters someday) to hear it on our wedding day, and Annie had it sung to her for the first time. Then she and Dad danced to Landslide (Fleetwood Mac). the perfect choice, before Keith took her into his arms for At Last (Eta James). As I watched I, though missing my own man pretty badly on such a romantic occasion, was so very grateful to witness and experience it all.
 
 
 
 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Real Stormy Weather

 I woke up about 2am this morning to the roar of the pounding rain.

How dare it?

Doesn't it know that I calculate my hours of probable sleep each night when I go to bed and then estimate my hours of actual sleep when I wake up each early morning? If only it had come sooner and more gently, lolling me to sleep - I love that - instead of rousing me dramatically from Dreamland.

I couldn't fall back asleep. My husband couldn't either. The rain thought it was special in this desert climate, so it announced its vigor with awesome displays of lightning and crashing cascades of thunder and the incessant drum beat of its descent. The wind occasionally whipped and moaned through the rain but could not make head or tail against a continuous leaden downpour.

And I resigned myself to losing sleep for this special visitor. Until I finally pittered out.

I didn't imagine in the wee hours that the rain's power would continue into morning. My husband was up nice and early to try to make his own headway against it. I got up and thought, well, I'll write then, and my son Danny, daughter Ana and I migrated from window to window to stare in unabashed wonder at the new, unusual swimming pool in our backyard, the small creek in the street, and the pond between the eucalyptus trees. Where were the ducks?

We're used to microbursts this time of year that wreak havoc on trees and cars with their short but fierce migration across the valley, but this has not ended yet. The rain is gentler now; the ground is beginning to absorb its officious offering, a new record in Phoenix. It has snatched whole swaths of highway and turned them into canals dotted with submerged vehicles. Five mighty inches it has dumped in our part of town, and it's not done yet. My kids have been given a day off of school and my husband thwarted twice in his honest desire to get to work. The first time I saw him drive down the street I said a prayer when he turned into the flood at the corner, tires churning water. Two minutes later he was back at our door.

For once we weren't irritated by the "Monsoon" brouhaha of the news shows. Today they were exciting. It wasn't just a day when they showed a big fallen tree in a nice yard or had a reporter downtown stopping passersby to ask how they felt about this "incredible" half hour storm. No, today was truly incredible, and they had a weather man warning everyone to just stay home; it wasn't worth it, and a poor reporter out by Interstate 10, interviewing people who had swam out of their vehicles. The camera man showed a DPS truck that almost hit several stranded cars as it skidded toward the flood of a major highway, trying to find an island of sure foundation in the storm.

The kids pulled on raincoats after we tired of the coverage. In Phoenix, yes. I can't remember the last time they wore such strange garments. These particular raincoats were purchased by their papa several months ago; he couldn't resist them, discounted as they were at two bucks apiece. He brought them home, and I picked them out of the bag in irritation thinking, What on earth will we ever do with these? Really?

But this morning they were at last appropriate as my kids ran through our lake of a yard, jumped in the deeper parts, threw balls like skipping stones and splashed through on their bikes, pretending they were cars on the freeway. Today is a real treat for them.

And at last, as I've been writing this, the rain has stopped. But it need not fear. We won't forget this visit too soon, the pleasant and far-from-pleasant memories it made for us desert-dwellers. Our poor heat-burdened plants and trees will relish its gifts for weeks to come.

 
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Not Again! or I Dream of Sleep

At night a little burglar comes to our door, he wrenches the gate I've wedged there away from the door jamb, lifts it over his head, breaks it across his knees and hurls it down the hall. Then he crawls into our bed and robs us of sleep by hitting his papa in the face and back and pulling my hair repeatedly to make sure none of us falls into a deep sleep for the rest of the night - heaven forbid!

So I gave up on the gate as a security measure for preserving my now most-prized possession and pastime: sleep.

We then simply told the little bugger - whose name happens to be Danny Sam, "You're not allowed to come into our room no matter what! You're too old. You're four-and-a-half-years-old!"

So last night he got up to use the potty and then staged a sit-out right outside our door where every twenty minutes for an hour beginning around 1 am he whined, "Mommy, I can't go back to sleep. I can't."

Firmly and sleepily I informed him that he must go back to sleep and on his own in his own bed, his brother being in the next bed and his stuffed tiger there to snuggle. Whereupon he whimpered, stomped to his room, flung himself against the wall and wept....until, revived - and just as I began to doze in hope - he came back to his NO! NO! I won't go! placard right outside our door and, holding it high in the dark, whined, "Mama, I tried. I can't go back to sleep! Can you snuggle me in the recliner?"

I gently told him that I could not; he is not a baby. (And to be fair, I calculate that I have spent years of my life in that recliner with sick, sleepy, unsleeping, or sleeping children.) Thus the whole whimper, stomp, and weeping phase began anew until my brain shut my body down about 2 am or so for self-preservation.

Can you guess my mood today?

Danny Sam was the first one up this morning. I'm not even sure he slept. In high dungeon I told him that he no longer has the right to disrupt my sleep at his age and that I will not tolerate it, so after using the potty he'd best just return to his bed and lie there in complete quiet until he falls back asleep. I have no sympathy, because he, his papa, and I sleep far better when we're apart.

Will this new policy work? Oh, I don't know, but I hold fast to the dream of a complete, unbroken night of sleep. My dream is there, a reality, somewhere in the future. I just know it.

But maybe it requires a steel door and ear plugs.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Breastfeeding

Yes, now we get down to business. This honest post, I feel, has been coming for a while, but if the subject makes you nervous, you are no doubt staring at my blog like two men once stared at me in a restaurant as I fumbled with my shirt, a blanket and a baby, their expressions clearly crying foul: She's not going to do that right by us - surely not? Is she? Over breakfast? Where do we look? What do we do? Please, no. Nooooooo!

Yes, I'm going to do it, and, hopefully, not as clumsily or nervously as I tried to over that greasy breakfast. I'm going to talk about breastfeeding at long last because of THIS POST by Alison Lee from Writing, Wishing. I think her article is very insightful, and I agree with much of it. Nursing is a very convenient way to comfort, nourish and connect with your child.

As a new mother I held a strange belief that babies should be nursed to a year and no further. That was the magic number. Ha! I learned, as any parent eventually does, that when it comes to raising children, there is no magic number and there is no yellow brick road of enlightenment. With my firstborn, my son Berto, I did indeed wean close to a year - but because I was already expecting my first daughter.

His last nurse was a quick good-bye at 13 months. He nursed, then popped off to stare at my breast with a confused, reproving expression. He got back on, realized quickly nothing was forthcoming, gave the breast a last puzzled look, and turned his back on it permanently. The spigot was broken; there was no more milk or what little milk there was tasted funny. He was over it and not heartbroken at all.

Then came my little girl into this world, my little bronze-skinned angel. She loved her nurses, but she never got all plump and rolly-polly like other infants. When I ran to the church nursery after her baptism to feed my very cranky and hungry daughter, I felt I was being judged by my relatives for continuing to nurse a one-year-old. My sister-in-law's words - "Once a baby starts walking and talking, that's when you have to cut them off!" - were playing in my head.

I had already stared cutting out feedings at about nine or 10 months, scheduling one every week or two to remove from the offerings. But my mother, after all the crowds of relatives had dispersed home, was sitting with our Ana, and she said very wisely, "Hillary, she's not ready to be weaned. I wouldn't wean her just yet if I were you."

Ana was nestled against her grandmother's side and was making tiny, self-comforting sucking motions with her mouth.

"But I already started....I can't go back now," I protested.

I wish I had listened to my mom. I caused my Ana and myself such heartache, because I didn't. I stubbornly persisted in weaning, and I don't know what I was doing wrong, but there was something. My breasts would still get engorged with milk between the feedings. And then at night, I would stand outside my daughter's door as my husband tried to comfort her to sleep without breasts, and my heart would bleed until sometimes I couldn't stand it and gave in, incurring my husband's wrath for wasting his efforts as I rushed to pick her up.

I would do it all differently now. I would listen to my wise mother. Ana's last nurse still haunts me - and, yes, I mean that. I want to cry just thinking about it. Technically, she was already weaned, but my breasts were so swollen one day when I came out of the shower that I drew her onto my lap just to gain relief from the pressure. The little look on her face was so surprised, so relieved, and so grateful. She nursed eagerly that last time at 14 months, but it shouldn't have been her last feeding.

For months after Ana was weaned, she made self-consoling sucking motions with her mouth whenever she sat by me or even another woman. She lost weight, because she still hadn't transitioned completely to solid foods - something which is completely my fault and makes me angry with myself and remorseful when I remember it. Sometimes she would only take cow's milk for breakfast, and when we showed up to her 15 month appointment with the pediatrician, the nurse practitioner was very concerned about her weight, and so I felt I was an absolutely horrible mother for not ensuring my daughter was getting all she needed.

Ana was sad and not eating properly. And I was sad, depressed.

Somehow in weaning Ana, I think I must have caused an imbalance in my hormones, because I went through a period of serious depression where I felt quite bad about myself as a mother, wife, person. This was acerbated by the fact that I realized my breasts were utterly altered by nursing. I was a full two sizes smaller (less than an A, I was considering buying training bras) and droopy after just two little ones, so my body-image suffered badly, vain creature that I am! Not only that, but my body chemistry seemed completely haywire as well. Only later did I discover that post-partum depression can sometimes occur after weaning your nursing infant. It certainly explains the emotional upheaval I experienced.

But regardless of miniscule breasts and post-partum depression, my biggest regret by far was not nursing my daughter longer for HER emotional and physical well-being. One day, years later when my daughter had entered elementary school, I cried to one of my dearest friends about Ana's experience of weaning and about the fact that I didn't just continue to nurse her until she was closer to two. I felt I had cheated her and could never make it right. That may seem silly to some that I could still have raw emotions about the traumatic weaning of my daughter so long after, but I suspect many mothers have their own memories, their own regrets that make them equally emotional when they recall them.

I did learn from that experience, at least. With my next two babies, I had no pre-conceived timetable. My Ella and my Danny Sam both nursed until they were around two years old, and I don't regret it. It was a blessing for them and for myself not to struggle with expectations but to just go with the flow.

In the end my advice to my daughters someday or to any new mothers now would be to listen to your needs and those of you children when nursing your little ones. It is a compromise, a balance of their well-being and yours. Reject pre-conceived ideas of your own and ignore the interfering opinions of others - especially if they have no children themselves. Nursing is not simply about nutrition. It is about the essential bonding between mother and child. I used to have people accuse my baby of using me as a pacifier. Well, and so what? I was made to comfort my child in a unique and very effective way. I do not believe you can spoil a child with love, attention, by holding them too much or nursing them too often and on demand. On the contrary, too many toys and a lack of discipline are how we spoil our children. I think the more love you show, the more attention you give, the more you hold them and the longer you nurse them, the happier, more confident and healthier they will likely be. Every family's story is different, and I understand nursing is not possible for everyone. But do your best with what you've got, and don't plan ahead too rigidly. The life of a parent is full of surprises.

And, sadly, some regret.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Short, mostly unedited: Picture

Every year around Thanksgiving my husband and I grab one of our friends and ask nicely, "Can you talk a picture of our family in front of this tree/cactus/flowering shrub?" If our relatives and friends are lucky, this photo ends up as our Christmas card. It may be the only family picture we take all year. We have never had a professional portrait taken of us all together.

This trend started with the wedding. Even then we were not willing to pay a professional. A friend of my sister's offered to take both the engagement and wedding pics, and we gladly accepted. The pictures were not bad at all, but they were not the glossy, perfectly-staged, marvelously-lit, photo-shopped masterpieces of so many other couples.

Not movie stars, but very happy

And so it continues, not a single perfect family portrait. Not one couple's picture that makes us look like stunning, impossibly perfect movie stars.

Yeah, sure, we've gotten school pics of the kids - but not both fall and spring. We've gotten sport pictures, but not a whole portfolio. We've gone on vacation and caught cute moments, but often we've gone to capture those sweet stills of time and realized we forgot our camera. That has been a chronic problem.

One time when coming home from vacation, I told the kids not to worry. If they wanted to see pictures of themselves, they could always ask Aunt Vinca. We know she takes lots of pictures of her loved ones.

Alright, that was a joke. It's not as bad as that. We usually take 10 or so pictures on birthdays and five on Christmas morning. But we, regrettably, never even thought to take the month-by-month-baby-growth snapshots. And just this year I realized that I didn't perform that essential mommy task of capturing my little angels as they flitted off back to school that first morning. I mistakenly thought that tradition ended with kindergarten.

This awkward list of my deficiencies in camera manipulation could get me kicked out of certain Mom's clubs, I'm pretty certain.

But, still, I regret I didn't get those back-to-school pics this year (and I felt guilty as heck when I realized I was maybe the only mom who didn't post such adorable time-keepers on Facebook). I also wish I had more photos of me and my man making out for the lens in a field of wildflowers (if we were ever in a field of wildflowers?) or just smiling and clasping hands on a beach. And I certainly wish I didn't have to tell my dad that, sorry, we don't have any fancy pictures of Daniel, because he's not in school yet.

The only thing I can say in my defense is that all my years of growing up in Tennessee, my parents had the same four pictures of their kids up on the living room shelf. They never switched them out for more recent renderings. They were taken all in the same year, and we were for 11 years frozen in time just outside the kitchen door. I will always see myself as a chubby, golden-brown haired, slightly cross-eyed four-year-old.

Okay, that's not a very good defense in this age of never-ceasing technological advancement. Maybe I'm just not a photographer; it's not my medium. A picture is worth a thousand words, but even five hundred words do more than take a picture.

I love my kids madly, but the proof is in the time playing or conversing with, the discipline of, and the raising up of these timeless treasures known as our children, not in the family portraits. And you can bet that I have grabbed that camera to capture their sweet, silly, messy, outrageous and candid moments - provided the battery wasn't dead when I found it. And, yes, some of my favorite photos are from vacation when I snapped away happily as my family was collecting shells, jumping waves, or standing by exotic animals. But there have been times when a camera felt like a burden and the absence of its demanding weight felt like the freedom to enjoy the moment more thoroughly and more presently.

Still, this October our family will, for the first time ever, have a family portrait taken, and you can bet Danny will have his own glossy headshot.

So if you are a close relative, and I do actually remember to send out these pictures with the Christmas cards, don't ever say I never gave you nothin'. I may even send out the last two years of school and sports pics with them. Never fear, though, we won't let the professional photography go to our head. On Thanksgiving we'll still have our picture taken in our friend's backyard by some cypress tree or rose bush - just for old time's sake.