Clan identity

(I was going to write this livid post about how all conservative religion wants to do is control women’s bodies, but, eh, been there, done that, so you’re getting this bit instead.)

Family weekend

Someone (a novelist, I think) somewhere said something to the effect of: A family is just a group of people who think they’re better than everyone else.

I think this is what people mean when they talk about “blood ties.” Love them or hate them, your family is going to inspire these super-intense reactions from you, because you’re part of their clan, for better or worse. And part of being a clan is the belief in your inherent superiority to every other clan.

Arrogant and self-serving as this is, I like this part of being a family. Of reveling in each other’s company and in your relatedness. Of feeling surges of pity for everyone else because they don’t get to be part of your clan. (This is why clubs and memberships are so appealing to us on the whole; we all want to belong to something that excludes other people, by definition.) It’s easy for me to feel this way, frankly, because I have this really fabulous, funny, and talented family.

I also feel this way about this band of friends I had during my freshman year at college. We operated like a mini-family (again, for better or worse). We ate daily meals together. We got all up in each other’s emotional business. We exchanged gifts and aphorisms. We created observable traditions. We were proud of each other and we bragged about each other’s accomplishments and talents, like cheerful siblings. We fought and forgave. And we eventually disbanded, but I still feel this surge of intense feeling when I remember them or see them, even from afar. It was a fraught family unit, but we loved each other, in our own clumsy ways.

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Remnants of my freshman-year family.

Of course, the intense pleasant feelings for one’s family are always paired with intense unpleasant feelings too. It’s part of the bargain of clan identity. You will love and hate your family more than you will love or hate almost anyone else.

These are not especially profound or novel thoughts, but they’ve been taking residence in my brain. My family is traveling to the Midwest for my grandmother’s memorial service, and I am mulling over all of those little sayings (“these are the ties that bind,” whatever that literally means) about family and family identity. But on the whole, I am pleased to be a member of my clan and to bear all of the psychological luggage that comes with it. There are very lovably complex humans in our family unit, and I delight in being with them.

Best wishes for a pleasant Memorial Day weekend to those in the US and to all those who will be plunged into clan identity gambits.

Loretta

My Gran, my Dad’s mom, passed away this morning.

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Midwest trip 2012
With her five children.

Gran was constantly laughing. Even after her stroke a year ago robbed her of speech, she kept laughing. It was the kind of bright, infectious laugh that lit up a room, that made everyone want to remain in close proximity to her.

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She loved NASCAR, motorcycles, dobermans, dogs of all kinds (more than people, for the most part), dental hygiene, painting, the beach, her convertible, and interior design, among other things.

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I liked to call her the “patron saint of painting.” She painted almost every surface in her beloved cottage in Grand Rapids (even once attempting to paint the carpet).

The last conversation we had, just about a week before her stroke, we had just moved into our home and she called me to check in. We talked about her coming to visit us in the spring, as she had never been to Charlottesville before. She asked me what we had been working on, and I told her that we’d painted the fireplace and the surrounding ceramic tile white. “What kind of paint did you use for the tile?” I told her that we used an oil-based paint. “Oh, honey,” she said, “I love you, but that was the wrong thing.” She laughed for a bit. “I painted tile in my kitchen with that kind of paint, and it started chipping a week later.”

Sure enough, a week later, after we learned about her devastating stroke, the paint started to chip in front of the fireplace, revealing the old red tile underneath.

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Dad and me with Gran, February 2014.

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It is hard to convey in words how endlessly FUN she was. I don’t think anyone has had a grandmother as hilarious. Spending time with her was always like hanging out with this really cool woman who happened to be related to you, and so you were always marveling: How did she get to be this cool?

She was independent, forthright, and sassy. She let you know what she wanted and when she wanted it.

Once, she drove Guion and I back to Ohio, and she let us know as soon as we got in her car: “Listen, I love you two, but we can’t talk much on the drive, because the race is on.” NASCAR or maybe the Indy 500, I don’t remember, but she loved her racing. She switched on the radio and that’s what we listened to until it was over. And then we talked about her family, how much she fought with her sister and her judgmental Dutch Reformed family, and about Michigan life.

The tooth brusher
Brushing her teeth, right after dinner. The most fastidious woman you’ve ever met, when it came to dental hygiene.

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Southern Living
Family vacation in the Outer Banks.

When this photo above was taken, we were on a family holiday in the Outer Banks. She adored the ocean and couldn’t get enough of it. Kelsey and I were sitting out on the deck with her, and she was flipping through some magazines. Alex had made the three of us (very) salty margaritas, and we were laughing and talking while we drank them and looked out at the ocean. Kelsey and I decided to paint our toenails, and she watched us and chatted.

Later, after we got inside, Kelsey and I looked at our nails, and they looked terrible: all clumpy and gross. We exclaimed that they turned out horribly, and Gran looked at us and said, very matter-of-factly, “Oh, yes, you’re not supposed to paint your nails in the sun. The hot sun will ruin them as they dry.” She started laughing. We demanded to know why she hadn’t stopped us from painting them. And she said, with a face full of mischief, “I just wanted to see what would happen.”

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Lucy and Loretta
My grandmothers: Lucy and Loretta.

Two nights ago, I had a dream about Gran and my mom’s mom (Lucy, aka Ma-Maw). Lucy and Loretta have been dear friends ever since they were brought together by my parents’ marriage. As you can see from the photo above, they had a great deal of fondness for each other.

In my dream, Lucy and Loretta got a townhouse together in a retirement community. It was the present day, but Gran could speak and move around on her own, and somehow, them moving in together made them younger. They were having the best time as roommates, and they just wanted to party all the time. We kept asking to come visit, and they kept saying, Oh, we’re too busy, not this week, maybe next. But we all knew they were just partying hard and wanted to be independent ladies.

The dream made me laugh a little when I woke up, but when I recounted it to Guion, I couldn’t retell it without crying.

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Gran, love you forever and always. What a gift it was, to know you.

Gran, we miss you so much already. The coolest and most cheerfully sassy woman I know away this morning.

Family love: Sam

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the final installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the incomparable Meredith Perdue.

Sam, Sammy, Samantha, Lil Bro Peep

When Samuel Chase was born, it was, collectively, the best thing that had ever happened to us three girls. He was our living doll, our breathing plaything. And he was a BOY! We had never seen one of those before. He was also the most adorable baby ever created. I wish I had photos of him as an infant to share here; these pictures would make you weep, overwhelmed by the unbelievable CUTENESS of this child. It was unreal.

We fed him, stuffed him in doll strollers, changed his diapers, bathed him, spoke for him. Mom likes to say that he didn’t learn to walk until he was three because Kelsey carried him everywhere and that he’s still a reticent talker because he’s used to the family women, his four mothers, speaking for him. Poor boy.

329/366By the misfortune of his birth order, he was forced to play with us girls. He was always a good sport, though, and tolerated our dressing him up in Grace‘s endless treasure trunk of costumes. One memorable evening, when he was about four, we put him in Grace’s beloved Queen of Hearts satin dress, outfitted him with a blonde Dolly Parton-esque wig, and called him Samantha. This proved to be immensely entertaining… until Father came home and saw his only son prancing around in a dress. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON??” he bellowed at us when he walked in the door. We all burst into tears–Sam most of all, because he didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. Again, the poor child. How he suffered for us.

He got shafted a lot, as the youngest. The family travel rule was that whoever was lowest to the ground had to check under all the beds before we left a hotel. This thankless task consistently fell to Sam, although he has now surpassed all of us women in height. (Grace would now be the Lowest to the Ground.) He’s always been Mom’s favorite, which was natural and unsurprising to us all, but he was never given any special privileges. He was an occasionally dramatic child (often having “the worst day of [his] life,” multiple times, before the age of eight), but probably for good reason. Dad was always intent on cultivating manliness in him, and soon Sam took over all of the yardwork and mechanical maintenance tasks that we girls once had to perform. He was expected to be good, strong, and capable. Luckily for all of us, Sam is all of those things.

Over the past few years, however, Sam has developed a wickedly good sense of humor, a softened blend of my father’s cutting sarcasm and Sam’s own gentle wittiness. I think it surprised us, to learn that Sam was funny. He spoke so rarely that we often had no idea what was going on in there. He is delightful company at any moment. And he will almost always make you laugh.

the ones that got away: maySam is known as having the best heart in our family. We tease Mom about saying this so often, but she only does because it is true: The man has a tender heart. I don’t know how it happened. By all accounts, he should have wound up bitter and confused at life, at his unfortunate birth order. Instead, he is deeply compassionate to all people, understanding beyond his years, and emotionally profound.

The story Mom tells about Sam’s exposure to Jesus always gets me, even though I’ve heard it a hundred times. Sam was about three and Mom told him the basic outline of the Gospel: God sent Jesus to earth for you; he loved lots of people while he was here; he extends love to us even though we don’t deserve it; and then he died on a cross for us. At this last point–the crucifixion–little Sam burst into tears. Mom was surprised. “Sam,” she asked, concerned, “why are you crying?” “Mommy,” Sam said, “why would Jesus die for ME?” It is a simple question, and the truest expression of humility that I know.

I can’t even tell you about Sam’s speech to me and Guion at our rehearsal dinner without wanting to break down and sob. I didn’t cry during our entire wedding weekend–except for Sam’s toast. It was simple and pure and unrehearsed. At its most basic element, Sam just wanted to make sure that I knew how much he loved me. I certainly did, and I always have. He is a good brother–the best, in fact–and my life would be profoundly empty without him. I need to do a better job of telling him that, in the manner that he told me: Simple, pure, unrehearsed.

Family love: Grace

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the seventh installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Gracie, Petunia, Chicken

Coming third in the family birth order, we have the natural rebel, the original maverick. To some, it may seem a disadvantage to be born after two other sisters, to get proverbially lost in the shuffle. But little Adrianna Grace wasn’t going to be forgotten very easily. She came into the world screaming and, as my parents say, didn’t stop screaming for the first three years of her life.

My mother likes to say that all of her babies were pretty easy — except Grace. Grace formed her own opinions about reality very early in life and stuck to them with outrageous tenacity for such a tiny human. The famous story about Grace was her self-imposed hunger strike when she was about four years old. We had asparagus that night for dinner and Grace refused to touch it. The family rule was that you had to at least try everything on your plate. Grace insisted she couldn’t even look at it without feeling near death. Mom told her she couldn’t have anything else to eat until she tried the asparagus. Grace refused. Breakfast came. Mom gave her a stalk of asparagus before her cereal and said she had to try it. Grace refused. She did not eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner for two full days, since she was greeted with a tiny stalk of asparagus before each meal. On the second day of the strike, Kelsey, the sweet one, came sobbing to Mom, saying, “Please, Mom! You have to feed her! She’ll STARVE!”

Starve she might have — if only to prove a point. Once Grace’s mind is made, you cannot change it. (As children, we found that reverse psychology worked pretty well on her.) Her natural stubbornness might sound like a fault, but it has served her as a virtue in many ways. Because of her natural independence, this child does not take “no” or “nobody does that” or “that’s weird” as a rejection; rather, as an opportunity to explore, to pioneer new territory. Girls don’t just take off on a six-month trip around the (predominantly) third world? No one gets their yoga teacher’s license at the age of 16? Most humans don’t have that many thrifted clothes in their entire lifetimes? People don’t just visit almost all the continents — and pay for it themselves — before they turn 20? Well, you haven’t met Grace. She lives to push boundaries.dover beach

She was an incomparably beautiful baby: White blond hair, round blue eyes, little doll-like features. (Despite a penchant to look like Jeff Daniels in a strange number of family photographs…) She is still extremely beautiful today, as everyone who knows her can agree. Her impish grin flashes at the most unexpected moments.

In our childhood, I was not a model big sister to her. (Truth be told, I was not a model big sister to anyone, but especially to Grace.) Kelsey and I were close in age and we were natural playmates. When Grace came along, I saw her as a disruption to the family order. Kelsey was my BFF… and this mewling porcelain doll-baby, the natural favorite of my father? What were we to do with her? Torture her, of course. And leave her out of play dates. And begrudge her presence when Dad told us we couldn’t go anywhere unless Grace was invited, too.

Thankfully, this prejudice against Grace tagging along wore off as we both grew up. Interestingly enough, I think we became extremely close once I left for university. We started talking about art and ideas and new music and found that our temperaments had far more in common than we had ever thought before. Grace bathes with elephant in Nepal

Today, I depend on her. My life is far less interesting when she is not around. She makes me laugh and she makes me think. My favorite moments in life are lounging on the couch with her in Davidson, watching trash TV, simultaneously talking about all of the great food we’re going to make and the new ideas we’ve latched onto.

She’s incredibly accomplished. Her photography and her paintings are laudable by any standards. She is as strong as a little sun bear, thanks to her years of yoga practice. She dresses with the structure and flair of a true artist. She writes a blog that’s way better and more popular, for good reason, than mine. If I ever want to impress someone, I just have to start talking about what Grace has done in her short time on Earth. She’s accomplished more in her 19 years than most people accomplish in their entire lifetimes.

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Grace is sensitive and profound and loving. She is my true hero. Among my family members, I think I understand Grace the best — or, at least, that’s my perception. It may very well be true that I haven’t even begun to get to know her. Because let me tell you: There are miles and miles to this girl’s soul.

Family love: Win

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the sixth installment. All high-quality photographs from a wedding are courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Windley, Brother

If I was nervous about meeting Windy, I was even more nervous about meeting Win. He was, after all, Guion’s only sibling. What if he didn’t like me? What if he objected to my dating his only and older brother? What if we fundamentally didn’t get along?

As I was pleased to discover, it is impossible not to get along with Win. He’s probably the most likable person you’ll ever meet.

We love him!

Win is gentle and understanding. He listens far more than he speaks, which is such a commendable quality (and one that I could do well to emulate). You would think that more reserved, withdrawn people could have a harder time amassing a large circle of friends, but nothing could be further from the truth with Win. His quiet nature is magnetic to so many people. When we travel into Win’s territory — Raleigh — we are mobbed by his countless friends, his warm community that can’t get enough of his company. And for good reason.

The reader

I have always been fascinated by the interaction between Guion and Win. In many ways, they are very different. Guion talks almost constantly; getting a full sentence out of Win is a great victory. Guion possesses his parents’ endless social energy; Win seems content to be alone or to be with just a few people. Guion could get dressed in the dark without a thought to what he was wearing; Win has a well-cultivated wardrobe.

And yet. Despite these marked personality differences, their interests are almost identical. Both brothers are musicians, award-winning brewmasters, creative writers, former YoungLife leaders, and soccer players. Hobby-wise, you could not find two more similar people.

Love my bro-in-law

All of these brotherly overlaps and similarities aside, what’s been important in my relationship with Win are the things that the two of us have in common that I do not necessarily share with Guion. For example, Win and I share a love of literature and classic novels (something I have long tried to instill in Guion, but to no avail). We can talk with great enthusiasm about our love for dogs. (Our only point of contention is the family’s springer spaniel, Aoive, whom I love, but the Brothers Pratt are not so sure about.) He teaches me a lot about theology and principles of loving one’s community. As many ways as he resembles my husband in his interests, I love having conversations with Win that lie outside of those shared interests.

I am excited about the opportunity to have more of those conversations in person, because as of last week, Win is an official resident of Charlottesville. He will be participating in the Christ Church fellows program and we could not be more thrilled about having him in town.

Win welcomed me into the family with genuine warmth and a degree of trust that I did not deserve. He is willing to sacrifice his time and energy for the people who matter to him (as he so heroically displayed this past week when he drove to Lynchburg to retrieve my purse). He has always made me feel like a valued sister, and so I continually hope that he knows how much he means to me as a valued brother.

I light up when he introduces me to his friends as his “sister” — not “sister-in-law” — because that’s exactly how he treats me. No divisions. No qualifications. Just family.

Family love: Kelsey

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the fifth installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Kels, Kelseyka

She was my first playmate, even though I did not welcome her to the world with kindness. Shortly after she was born, my mother would hear Kelsey crying and come in to find me standing on her little baby hands with an innocent face — or trying to ride on her back as if she were a rocking horse. I was not the best of big sisters, clearly. Yet Kelsey never showed me anything except abundant love.

It is common knowledge in our family that Kelsey is the sweetest among us four kids, followed closely by Sam. (I rank last on the sweetness totem pole, in case you are wondering.) She was born with a pure, golden heart. She loves everyone. Where I am quick to see the negative and the bad, Kelsey immediately finds the good and the positive. I think her only fault is that she wants everyone to be happy. If you could call that a fault.

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Kelsey answered my father’s lifelong prayer of an athletic child. After he had three girls, I think Dad had more or less given up on having a son, and so Kelsey was designated as his surrogate boy child. (It was determined early on that I would not be able to fulfill this role. I did not display any considerable athletic prowess; I wanted to stay inside and wear dresses and read books.) Kelsey was always climbing on things, throwing balls, twisting her body into bizarre shapes. I took ballet classes and loved the delicacy, the inherent femininity of it all; but Kelsey took gymnastics classes — the tough, intense side of little girl sports. She excelled at the gym and was a rising star until my mother pulled her out, concerned about what a gymnastics career would do to her body and self-esteem (and this was probably a good idea).

To my mother’s chagrin, however, Kelsey took up an even less feminine sport than gymnastics: She became a hockey star. What started as a nightly series of cul-de-sac games with the neighborhood kids became a prodigious career as one of the nation’s best women inline hockey players.

I have always been so proud of watching her on the rink. She plays with grace and strength. When she started out, there were no girls’ teams in our region, so she had to play with the boys. This was no problem for her, as she often outmaneuvered them all. I distinctly remember sitting on the bleachers during a game when a guy beside me said, “Whoa! Look at that dude! He’s awesome!” I followed his pointing finger and then politely informed him, “That’s not a dude. That’s my SISTER.” He didn’t believe me until the game was over and she took off her helmet. It was like a scene from one of those girl-power-kind-of-based-on-a-true-story-made-for-TV Disney movies.

Sister time

Kelsey is nicer than almost all humans. I have only rarely seen her angry (despite what the knife-wielding picture below may suggest). She always apologizes first, a quality that infuriated me when I was little because it meant that I couldn’t stay angry at her for very long.

So excited to be 21

She’d be the last person to tell you so, but Kelsey is also incredibly smart. With all due respect to Sam and Grace, Kelsey wins the title of Smartest Sibling in our family. She taught herself calculus when she was 14. She was the only one among us who displayed any talent for the more advanced topics of learning, such as statistics and science. Kelsey was accepted into numerous Ivy League universities, but she decided to come to UNC-Chapel Hill after being awarded the coveted and prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship (which is, essentially, a golden ticket to the most charmed life ever). She was the first homeschooled student to be given this award in the program’s history. This summer, she worked as a research intern for Madeleine Albright’s consulting firm in D.C. We all expect Kels to become the Secretary of State in a short matter of time.

In short, Kelsey is the consummate woman. She is beautiful, loving, and smarter than everyone else. She can do anything and that’s something I will always believe.

Family love: Mike

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the fourth installment. All wedding photos courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Mike

One of my favorite qualities about my father-in-law is how easy it is to fall into a serious conversation with him. It’s not that he’s overly solemn; rather, it’s because he’s always ready to engage with you on a level that transcends small talk. He also knows a lot about a lot of things.
325/365Mike has taught me a lot about how to love people. And even more than taught: Mike has shown me how to love people. Since we met, he’s always shown me deep wells of compassion, even when I had done nothing to merit such merciful treatment.

Mike’s theology matches the way he lives. He knows more about Anglicanism than anyone else I’ve met, but he also lives a daily practice of grace and love toward everyone. Mike and Windy were YoungLife leaders back in the day, but Guion likes to say that they never stopped being YoungLife leaders. I think that’s probably true. Their welcoming home in Southern Pines has never stopped being “the hang-out place” for kids during the holidays. Mike is able to keep up with people with astonishing energy and accuracy. I like to think that he and Windy were gifted with an endless supply of social energy. It’s very admirable and it frequently amazes me.

He can switch from joking to serious life discussion in a minute’s time, whatever the group or mood or tone requires. His careful mix of humor and politeness has always astonished me, because, well, I grew up with Juju, whose humor is never tactful.

M. PrattAside from Angela, I think Mike has been mine and Guion’s biggest fan. His unconditional support to us while we were dating, engaged, and now married has been invaluable to us both. He often reminds me that he and Windy have been praying for me since I was born. I smile, thank him, and feel overwhelmingly grateful.

Family love: Dad

I am writing a series of short posts about why I love my family. This is the third installment. All quality (wedding-related) photographs are courtesy of the incomparably great Meredith Perdue; all other photographs are mine.

Dad, Juju, Jak

We like to say that my father never truly grew up. Throughout our childhoods, he was the most popular dad in the neighborhood. He was the Pied Piper. Flocks of children followed him everywhere: to the pool, to play dodgeball against the walls of houses, to set up a makeshift hockey rink in the cul-de-sac, to stage water wars against other bands of roving children. He did not act like everyone else’s serious, starchy fathers; he seemed like one of us. At family gatherings, he preferred to sit at the kids’ table; adult conversation made him uncomfortable. He never treated us like babies or talked down to us; he treated us like his equals and we worshiped him for it.

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He is one of the most hilarious and unusual people I know. Sarcasm is his mother tongue. I often regale people with stories of the bizarre and funny things he’s done, only to realize later that he may come across as totally insane.

All I ever wanted when I was a child was to make him laugh. To get Dad to laugh! That would be the highest honor. When he did laugh at something I said, I felt on top of the world.

Dad's true love

He is the most humble man I know. Dad is a quintessential renaissance man in many ways. He was a celebrated athlete in college, winning all sorts of titles (including the Big Ten Award) for Purdue’s track team. Today, he coaches hockey and plays any sport that he can. Our family gatherings are now famous for his organized “Family Olympics” events. He gathers all willing members into a gauntlet of games (including but not limited to: basketball, badminton, volleyball, disc golf, ultimate Frisbee, hockey, Crate, and so on).

Along with still managing to fit the role of the consummate athlete, Dad is the smartest person I’ve ever met. He has three master’s degrees (in computer engineering, robotics, and something else equally nerdy). He worked on the team in Florida that invented the first personal printer. He did freelance engineering work for NASA. He spent a year creating an algorithm for auctions that no one had discovered before. But he’d never tell you any of these things, not in a million years. He’s accomplished things that we are still finding out about, even now.

In my teenage years, I was very easily frustrated with him. I had little patience in our relationship. I regret that a lot. Looking back, I think this is because how similar we are. I can’t completely express all of our small, shared characteristics, but I am convinced that they are many. We both have a tendency to default to sarcasm in tight situations. We are likely to become obsessed with something, to a degree more extreme than most people. We cultivate a fierce pride in our family. We like to exaggerate problems but then solve them quickly. Since I’ve gotten married, I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been before. I appreciate him to a deeper degree; I realize all that he has done for us and continues to do. He brings unlimited joy wherever he goes and I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather spend a day with. As a father, he is peerless. He gave us the happiest childhood one could imagine. And I don’t tell him that enough.

Family love: Windy

I’m writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the second installment. All quality photographs (the professional ones) courtesy of the incredible Meredith Perdue.

Windy, Windz, Winder, aka Best Mother-in-Law Ever

As any new girlfriend would be, I was very nervous before I met Guion’s mother for the first time. Guion was, after all, the firstborn, beloved son. As life and literature had taught me, mothers have a thing with their firstborn sons and often don’t take to other interested women kindly. It took me a few days to decide on the right dress to wear. I pestered my roommate about how I should wear my hair. I was anxious.

Mike and Windy were taking the two of us out to dinner at 411 West. The men had a hard time finding parking, and so Guion joined Mike in the car–which left Windy and me together for almost 15 minutes in the restaurant. I was so worried. What would she think of me? Would she decide in these next minutes that I was an unsuitable match for her matchless son?

Windy, however, instantly put me at ease. She talked to me warmly and confidentially, as if I were an old friend.

Mike and Windz!

Windy is one of the most gentle and laidback people I know. Nothing seems to ruffle her. She has always welcomed me warmly into the family, even when Guion and I were only dating. She has never emitted even the slightest trace of rivalry or jealousy toward me, those vices that mothers-in-law are traditionally supposed to possess; Windy has only ever shown me love without condition.

Windy and I forge an alliance when we’re with the family. Aside from Aoive, Windy lived in and raised a household of men. Unlike my mother, she had no band of fellow women to support her and her causes. We were magnetized to each other by the mere fact of our common sex. Windy made me feel valued and welcomed by trusting me as her feminine confidante. I know I can always count on her to be in my corner during playful family disputes.

We keep secrets and clean the kitchen together. We set the table and tell the men what’s up. When I am with her in Southern Pines, I feel like I am a part of this generations-old tradition of reciprocal trust and reliance between women. This sounds weird, but I see it this way: Windy showed me how naturally one can fall into familial unity with another woman, to be welcomed into the family fold of womenfolk, to instantly assume domestic roles of cooking and keeping the peace. It sounds very old-fashioned, but I like it. When I’m with Windy, I feel like I’ve finally been given a membership to this club of good Southern womanhood.

She is loving, generous, and patient and I wish that all married women were as lucky as I am to have such a mother-in-law.

Family love: Mom

I’m writing a series of simple posts about why I love my (immediate) family. That’s all. This is the first installment, because today is my mother’s birthday! Happy birthday, Mom! All quality photographs courtesy of Meredith Perdue.

Mother Teresa

Happy birthday...When people hear about all of the things my mother did when we were growing up, their common response is, “Is she superwoman??” And our common answer is, “Yes. Yes, she is.”

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Throughout our young lives, the four of us never had any doubt in our mind that we mattered to our mother. She stayed home, but she wasn’t merely a “stay-at-home mom.” She was a full-time teacher along with being a managing partner in a successful gift store. She cooked every meal and cleaned every room. She taught us how to read and how to be kind to others. She led our family Bible studies every morning. And she never seemed weary.

165/365I knew she was special when I was a child, but now that I am out of the house, I realize how seriously exceptional she is. There’s no one else like her. I don’t know anyone who could have done everything she did without caving, snapping, or surrendering. She sets an extremely high bar for motherhood, one that I am already anxious I will never be able to meet. But she never credits herself with her shimmering maternal abilities; she always says that God gives her the grace to accomplish everything she does.

Mom and I have always been close. I was her firstborn, after all. Sometimes I wonder if our closeness was dictated not only by temperament and birth order but also by our physical similarity. My mother and I share almost identical bodies. I was the only child who got her curly hair. If something weird happens to my body (like your left leg throbbing in pain when your period is coming), I ask her, because there’s a 95 percent chance that she has that similar quirk, too. Though our coloring differs slightly, we’re built like mirror images of each other. If I had a daughter who looked like my twin, I’d probably pay careful attention to her, too.

When I was a super-dramatic and volatile teenager, I complained about this careful attention that I received from her. I was probably the most parented child among the four of us. Kelsey and Sam were born good-natured and sweet; I was not. Grace was (and still is) as stubborn as a mule, but she yielded to instruction and adapted quickly. I was not so malleable. I didn’t take kindly to correction. And so, for most of my young life, I was my mother’s project. I needed (and still need) a lot of guidance, discipline, and stark reminders. I vividly remember those hour-long lectures I’d receive from her in my bedroom. Parenting was not a passing duty to my mother; it was her entire life. She wasn’t content to let us slip by with half-hearted morality. Where most parents might spend an hour disciplining a child for an egregious mistake, my mother would spend six.

97/365

She’s very beautiful. I often wish I looked more like her. Strangers often ask if she’s our sister. We roll our eyes, having heard it so many times, but these people are serious. She looks 10 or 15 years younger than her actual age. I think this is because she has a good heart and because my father keeps her young.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as she is. But I can keep trying. At least, that’s what she’d tell me to do.

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you!