LJ Idol: Week 2 - Living Rent-Free In Your Head

"Why do we call you Black-Headed Grandma? Your hair is all grey!"

Ettis May smiled down at her great granddaughter, sitting beside her on the polka dot chenille couch. The preschooler had been happily coloring beside her while her parents, Ettis' grandson and his wife, sipped sweet tea and chatted about christenings and garden cucumbers and Cousin Sarah's gout. Now the little girl was bouncing her legs impatiently and asking questions with the impertinence of a five-year-old forced to sit too long in a humid living room while wearing itchy, ruffled socks.

Her mother looked embarrassed.
"Caroline, the big people are talking," her mama intoned. "No interrupting, remember?" but honestly, Ettis was getting desperate to change the topic herself. One can only discuss swellings and water pills for so long before the conversation dies entirely.

"Oh, that's okay. I'd love to tell Little Bug about how Black-Headed Grandma got her name."

She stood slowly. Her old knees had been giving her fits on rainy days of late, but she offered her hand to Caroline. Together, they walked behind the piano and she helped the child climb up on the bench, placing a steadying arm around her waist so they could examine a photograph on the wall. 

Within the gold-painted frame, a young woman with a big bouffant hairdo stood behind a microphone in a radio studio. Her eyes were sparkling and she was blowing kisses to an applauding studio audience. 

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LJ Idol: Week 1 - Resolution

"Mr. Corley, it is the decision of this board that your outside privileges should be restricted only to excursions with a family member or qualified employee of the Autumn Acres Retirement Community. With the documented rise in your wandering behavior, we feel this is a necessary status change in order to ensure your safety. We will continue to monitor your mental health and, if necessary, will transfer you to our memory care wing where you will receive more comprehensive care for dementia."

Martin Corley glared at the review board from beneath a tangle of bushy eyebrows. His gnarled hands gripped the padded armrests of his Forsyth Flyer mobility scooter and he leaned forward menacingly.

"Sons of bitches," he growled. "You can all go to hell." The one woman on the board raised her eyebrows. "And you too, HELEN," he spat, with blazing contempt.

"Y'all know I ain't got no family. Ain't had a visitor in three years. There ain't nobody to take me on an 'excursion' but ME. Going outside was the only good thing about this god damned concentration camp. It sure ain't the food, and the nurses? I ain't never seen so many flat asses — and I spent eight months in a military hospital in 'Nam!"

"Mr. Corley," Helen Castleberry intoned, leveling her gaze with irritation at the surly senior before her. "I would appreciate it if you refrained from using that kind of language..."

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LJ Idol Week 0 - Introduction

The dog is asleep in my lap.

Stevie Nicks croons "Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom..." but he is oblivious. A stray that my husband and kids brought home a few years ago, we did not need another pup. The moment the rotten thing laid eyes on me it claimed me as its human and that was that. I insisted for days that I wasn't attached but it was bullshit and everyone knew it. The dog stared into my eyes the first night he came home - my daughter wanted to name him Romeo because he was such a romantic- and stole a chunk of my heart. Now he's my shadow.

I've been sitting on our leather couch long enough that, even with the frosty A/C pushing away the 90 degree September heat, the cool upholstery has finally gone warm beneath me. Club soda and lime fizz invitingly from a tall glass on the end table. I take a sip and stare out the windows at the woods beyond my deck.

A million leaves flutter, their myriad green hues mesmerizing on a breezy day. After a rain they are even more gorgeous, the trees sparkling like they were hung with diamonds.

We built this house in the Appalachian foothills last year. I chose the spot because I always wanted to live in a treehouse. Now I do, hanging off a forested hillside where cardinals and goldfinches frequent my feeders and hummingbirds buzz close enough to feel their wingbeats when you sit outside.

The back deck is 20 feet in the air and was quite a bitch to stain but we did it ourselves. If you have a fear of heights you best stay away from the edge, but if you can take the vertigo it's one hell of a view.

My house is also green, a color I picked called "Retreat" and that is what my home is, a place to step back from the world and renew, recharge.

Being a children's librarian at the fourth busiest library in the state is an incredible job but after 40 or 50 hours with the public I'm ready to escape. If I get a day off during the week, I'll often spend it like this, barefoot, in jeans and a tee shirt, padding across the hardwood floors from my bedroom to my library, Fleetwood Mac pouring through the speakers as I research landscaping for pollinators, what bands are coming to Atlanta soon, best new bourbon brands or where to give my son the best paintball party for his 13th birthday.

I soak in the solitary peace of it all until the kids tumble off the high school bus and I'm back on duty. Full of stories about boyfriends and band, inedible cafeteria food and unintelligible algebra teachers, their banter leaves me laughing. I tell the kids I need to get some shoes on - and a bra - before "going out in the world" and then I'm loading everyone into the mom taxi for karate, theater rehearsals, grocery shopping.

When we return home it's already dark, my house glowing like amber beneath a star shot sky. Inside my husband waits for us all - and dinner.

I am a lucky lady, and my gratefulness is heightened by the fact that life wasn't always like this - and can't stay this way forever. But for now, I'll take all I can. This retreat feels like victory.

LJ Idol - Week 32 - Why I should Win Idol - And Why My Opponents Should

Pulling through the old swinging gate, rusty metal still flecked with paint, you smile wistfully behind your windshield.

It wasn't so very long ago - no, actually it was, it was an entire decade ago - that you first came here, hesitant, expectant, a little fearful, tires crunching over the freshly poured gravel, marveling at the hordes of other seekers who had shown up at this vacant spot for the very same experience.

Now the gravel is softer, worn down by time and the tread of a thousand startling revelations, a million striking words. Clumps of determined dandelions and opportunistic crabgrass sprout in the lesser trod corners of the parking lot. There aren't as many people here now, but those that do come are still bewitched, beguiled, enthralledby what lies within.

Stepping out into the cool of the autumn twilight, your arms prickle with gooseflesh. You smile at the chill. Autumn always was your favorite season.
In the distance you hear the laughs and cries of the crowd, see the glow beyond illuminating the purpling dark like a halo.

Is this place that profound, that rare, that even the sky surrounding it speaks to you of saviors and enlightmement and redemption?
Perhaps for some - perhaps for you, that is exactly what it has been.

Eyes fixed on that glow, you follow the solitary, snaking path through a field of ripe grain. As you walk, you run your palms along the tops of the heavy, golden heads of wheat as they hunger for the harvest, long for the scythe, for winter and fallowness and rest. You can sympathize.

Glorious scents waft to you on the breeze - salty popcorn, sweet cotton candy and funnel cake. The promises of such glories to be tasted, devoured, digested makes you pick up your pace, hurrying up the hill.

Breathless, you reach the top of the rise and find yourself at the foot of the entranceway, a crimson arch spreading above you.
You have reached the gateway to the fair.

Filled with a wave of nostalgia so great it takes your breath away you walk through, trying not to notice the peeling paint, the bulbs that need replacing. This old girl ain't what she used to be, but that isn't what matters anyway, was never what mattered - not the bright lights or fancy trappings. What always mattered most here were the people, the amazing, astonishing people at this crazy carnival and their words - always the words.

You buy your ticket from a sleepy looking gal in a blue-striped blouse and walk inside.

Unsure of what to choose first - what to choose last- you glance around and then, without warning, a man on stilts careens around a tattered tent and begins to call out to the crowd through a megaphone. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES...ASSORTED HIPPIES AND NEVERDOWELLS...WELCOME TO THE LJ IDOL CARNIVAL! "

You don't fear the maniacal ringmaster of this writer's circus. For the unindoctricanted, he might seem a bit frightening, a smidge sadistic, certainly a little cruel. For those that looked deeper though, he was the beating heart of everything within the carnival, loving the players and loving the game with a heart so big he had to hide it behind a smirk.

Barkers begin to call out from the various candy striped tents and you spin to listen. What wonders lie within?

"Step right up! Step right up! Little lady, are you looking to discover the wonders of a gloriously brilliant, bawdy mind? No truer tales have been told of the relationships between men and women, of the heartbreakingly laughable state of American politics and of the horrors stories of cities without rent stabilization! Peer inside the murky morals 'Merica and be sure not to miss the reanimated monster with a massive member! Step inside to discover Penpusher! "

Your eyes go wide. Massive member? You could cetainly use some truth telling, some humor tonight!

From a different tent the calls begin anew.

"Steel yourself, kid! Don't even think about coming here if you are afraid of the dark! Bring your ticket over to see Marlawentmad! Never have you experienced the wonders of fairy tales like these - but try not to cover your eyes! Who knew such inky truths lay beneath the surface of simple things - a marmalade cat, a pair of pointy stillettos, a somnolent beauty. Shadowed and twisty as Hansel and Gretel's woods, this tent will make you sigh in recognition with the sting of its often bitter bite. When you step back into the night you'll have left a bit of your soul behind!"

You give a shiver - of fear, of anticipation. You always were drawn to the dark.

A final carnie begins to cry from the steps of a third tent.

"Hide your eyes, my friend, from all that is Messygorgeousif you aren't ready to hear the truth! Like the Oracle at Delphi, her words are from the heart - and hearts were made  to be broken. The truth is wilder than fiction! Watch her fearlessly display the shadows of her own past, and breathe life into dusty tales from history as well. Be awed as she weaves the events of these unsettling times into moving works of fiction and irreverent fantasy. Her range will leave you with a chill!

The exceptional offerings form a triptych before you. You find yourself drawn to the laughter that spills from one tent, the darkness looming in the next and the tang of honesty promised from the third.

Truly, you can't go wrong with any of these options. But, you only have one voucher to give.

Squaring your shoulders, you make a final decision and pass your ticket to the gawking barker.

He tips his hat and you step inside.


LJ Idol, Week 31: Swan Song

Jessie breathed a sigh of relief the day the "Sold" sign went up in the yard of her childhood home. She and Jaden had moved out weeks before, but now her mom and dad could join them in their new place and they could all start over together, finally put the horror of the last few months behind them.

She'd always been her daddy's favorite. It had nearly killed her a couple years ago, when she found out she was pregnant, to have to break the news to him. She was just 20 then, and wasn't even married, and she knew he'd be so disappointed. Perfect little princesses did not sneak their boyfriends in late at night and have sex in the basement and get knocked up in the process.

The day she told her dad, she brought Tom over for moral support and shared the situation with her parents over dinner. Her mom sat in shocked silence, but it was the hurt on her father's face that cut her deep.

He had yelled at Tom and pounded his fist on the dining room table at the disrespect. Tom had practically ran from the house, tires squealing in the driveway, leaving Jess to face her parents alone.

Her mother had asked for them to pray then, extending her arms across the scarred wood of the farmhouse table. Jess and her father took her mother's shaking hands and lowered their heads as a family.

"Lord, I know you are always with us, watching over us. We could really use your counsel right now. Please help heal our family. Please give us the wisdom to make the right choices for Jessica and..." her voice caught, "and for our grandbaby."

In the stillness, a sniffle came from Jess' right and she opened her eyes to see her father crying, head still bowed. She had risen and rushed to his side, cradling his head against her chest.

"I'm sorry, daddy, I am so, so sorry!" she cried.

"A baby, any baby, is a gift from God," her father said and he reached up to wrap his strong arms around her smaller ones. Her mother rose and joined them.They were a family and they would weather this storm as they always had - together.

Instead of kicking her out, her family bonded over the pregnancy. Her daddy had insisted that she and the father of his grandchild live in the house with them. A girl needs her mama when a baby is young and they could fix up the basement, make a little apartment down there with their own kitchen and a nursery and everything until they'd "figured things out."

The baby was born, but two years had passed and Tom still hadn't figured anything out. Hadn't asked her to marry him, hadn't even kept a job longer than a few months so they could get a place of their own.

Jess was sick of waiting for something to change. She was young, dammit, and plenty of men would love to date her. She grew frustrated with Tom's dithering about a wedding date and watching him lie on the couch her parents had given them and play video games while she went to her job at the Best Buy every afternoon.

Their bickering became constant, exploding into screaming matches late at night that prompted her mom or dad to sometimes stick their heads through the door to the basement and call down to make sure everything was all right.

Tom resented being a father at 25. He had never wanted a kid so soon and now that he had one he hated all the responsibility it put on him, Plus, he was sick of how Jess' parents got so damn involved in their lives. He wanted to be the man of the house. He was an adult for fuck's sake and their precious little babygirl was a grown ass woman - a mother now. They needed to just back off!

One night Tom came home late, a little drunk. Jess started in on him about where he had been and he told her it was none of her goddamned business. "Oh it IS my business! I am the mother of your child and as long as you live under my parent's roof you will tell me where you are going!"

He sneered at her. "What are you now, my mother? You let your parents walk all over us. I'm not about to let you start doing that shit to me. I'm done!"

"There are a thousand other men that would marry me instead of your lazy ass. But don't think I will ever let you see Jaden. If you walk out that door, you can consider him gone. I'll make sure he's adopted by some man that is actually worth a damn and you'll never see that boy again."

Tom was headed for the door but he swung around, head low, like a bull ready to charge. "That boy is as much my son as he is yours, Jessie. Don't you threaten me with shit like that. What makes you think some other man would want to be with a used up whore like you anyway? Are you cheating on me? I will not put up with that shit for a second."

"Good! Get the hell out then! You can walk, but you will never see that boy," she repeated, and turned away from Tom, a satisfied smirk on her face. She had certainly won this argument she thought, and then the shotgun blast hit her in the back in a blinding, searing burst of pain. She fell to the floor in a shower of her own blood.

Tom walked around her prone form and knelt by her head. "Don't you ever threaten to take my son away," he whispered hoarsly, raising the gun to point direclty between her eyes. For a moment she focused on the mouth of the gun then her eyes rose higher and she whispered "Daddy..." before her head fell to the floor.

"Your daddy isn't here to help you now, you little bitch," Tom growled, moments before his head split open and showered  the couch with gore.

Jessie's daddy had always been a fine hunter. He knew that boy his daughter was shacked up with had been acting real strange lately and when he heard the gunshot from down below, he'd grabbed his hunting rifle and ran for the stairs. As his wife screamed into the phone for 911 to get to their house he had rounded the basement stairwell and seen that sonofabitch pointing a gun right at his daughter's head. He'd only done what any father would do. He had rescued his princess from the monster in her bed without a second thought.

He ran, practically falling down the steps, to his daughter's side. She was a lucky girl. She was bleeding but the blast had hit her shoulder more than her spine, and he didn't think the wound was mortal.

He grabbed a pillow from the couch and applied pressure, and Jessie tried to smile at him.
"Thank you, daddy," she rasped, and he nodded at her. "You're safe, baby. You're safe."

"Mommy?" a plaintive voice called from the hall. Jessie's father turned from the carnage in the living room and hurried to grab his grandson before he saw his parents both lying in pools of blood on the floor.

The Freemans were amazed when they found the house on the Internet. It was for sale by owner, fifteen acres of wooded property, with three bedrooms and three baths and a wraparound porch. The part they liked best was the finished basement. It looked like the whole house had a fresh coat of paint and the basement was especially prime with new paint and baseboards and carpet! The ad said the sellers were "motivated" and they weren't kidding.

The price had already been a steal and they were willing to haggle even then, throwing in the stainless steel refrigerator and a wrought iron woodrack just because Mrs. Freeman mentioned liking it.

Mr. Freeman kept asking his wife "What's the catch?" expecting at every turn they'd discover termites or black mold or a haunted pet cemetery deep in the backyard.

On the day of closing, the deal was so good he had to ask the owner "Are you sure there's not like, an old indian burial ground under the basement you aren't telling us about?"

The man had looked across the lawyer's table at his wife for just a moment before laughing heartily.

"Most definitely not, sir! Nothing in that house but a lot of old memories."

On move in day the Freemans pulled up to their new home in a packed U-Haul truck followed by a little Honda Civic.
Mr. Johnson hopped out of the cab with a grin and walked back to the car where his daughter sat eyeing the house through the bug-splattered windshield. Liz been away at college and hadn't even seen the new place yet.

"So this is it?" she asked him. "It seems a little...remote."

Mr. Freeman's smile faltered a bit. "It's just private. There's plenty of land for me to go hunting! Come on, you are going to love it inside."

She opened the car door and he helped her stand up. Six months pregnant, her balance was a little wobbly.

"Your mom and I knew this was perfect the minute we saw the basement," he told her as they walked up the porch steps.

"There's a whole apartment down there just for you, with a nursery and everything! And when Matt gets back from Afghanistan, there will be plenty of room for all three of you," he patted his daughter's belly, "to make a bunch of memories here!"

As she stepped into the cool dark of the house a little chill ran down Liz's spine. It was pretty all right, but something about the place seemed off, she just couldn't put her finger on what. Pregnancy hormones, she decided. They really made her feel crazy sometimes. She shook off the feeling and followed her father to the basement door.

Hopefully Matt would love it as much as her dad did.
So, my husband discovered this house for sale a few days ago - he was exclaiming over the impressive price until something about the address jogged his memory.

This actually happened three months ago here in my hometown.

LJ Idol - Week 30 - Impossible

"I'm never having children."

Sitting on my front porch in the sharp afternoon light of a late summer's day, the look on my mother's face was one of pure sorrow. 

"But, why?"

Overbright rays of sun spiked through the pine thicket around my house and left blinding patches on the needle-blanketed yard. I squinted at the contrast of dazzle and dark and squeezed my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on.

"Because it would be irresponsible to bring a child into a world like this."

In the shadows that cut across her face, starkly highlighting all the creases and crevices that 50 years on this earth had given her, I saw the sorrow change to hurt.

She was thinking of the two decades she had spent raising me. The time and love and heartache that had been wrapped into the art of parenting me. The dreams she had surrendered in her own quest to be a "good" mother to me.

In all those years of midnight vomit and scrimping to pay for braces, of disrespectful and distracted teenagerhood, of watching her children grow up and out of her home, with hardly a second glance back at the old bird who tended their comfortable nest, through all that, she had harbored the hopeful dream of the next generation, of the simpler time to come, when she could end the discipline and the dreariness of being a mom and just be a doting grandmother.

Now she was watching her favorite daydream burn like a bug beneath a magnifying glass. And I was the cruel child kneeling over the ant hill.

I looked at her, unwavering, firm in this decision.

I was thinking about famine, and war. About global warming and religious intolerance and racism, human trafficking, heroin abuse and the way women are portrayed in the media, about nuclear weapons and overpopulation and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, about AIDS and cancer and the growing hole in the ozone layer and supercell tornados and the fucking, shrinking polar ice caps.

How insane could you be, to want to bring an innocent life into this crazy world? How could you ensure that life would be a good one? Good Christ, what kind of person would choose to birth a child into these unstable times?

A few years later I was talking to a much older woman, one who, due to circumstances beyond her control, never had any children. Watching me leave the adults at a party to play with the kids on the lawn, she asked when I planned to have a few of my own and was shocked when I said I didn't want any.

"Well," I clarified, "It isn't that I don't want kids, but there are so many terrible forces at work on this planet. I think it would be nuts to bring a child into this crazy world."

She eyed me, perceptively. "Sounds like you're afraid."

I raised an eyebrow at her. This lady didn't know me - but she saw right through my words.

"The world has always been a crazy place," she said, "but it's also a magical one. That's your job as a mother. Protect your children from the madness and show them the beauty. You can do that. If you want children, have them. Don't let fear keep you from doing what you want. Especially not something as important as this."

Looking at the little ones around us, barefoot in the grass, chasing fireflies in the purpling twilight, I knew she was right. Tears filled my eyes as their giggles and squeals of delight rose in the night. I did want to be a mother.

That didn't mean the fear wasn't still with me. Doesn't still shake my soul 13 years after my first child was born. Motherhood is saturated with the greatest joys and sorrow I have ever known.

On the day of my first ultrasound for my daughter, I lay alone in a dim room on a hard bed. The tech slid the wand across my abdomen in a slick of cold jelly and I wondered "What now?"

The galloping tattoo of a tiny heartbeat, a second heart beating within me, filled the room and I had to draw in my breath. I saw the baby in fuzzy black and white on the screen, at eight weeks, barely more than a peanut with arms and legs just beginning to bud. This was real, this life I was growing inside me.

I left the doctor's office in my car but had to pull to the side of the road a few miles away, I was shaking so badly. The responsibility I had to the new life inside me was overwhelming.

Sobbing, I wrapped my fingers around my belly, still flat, but not for long. This world was so fucked up, and this baby was so tiny. "I will take care of you, Peanut," I whispered fiercely. "I will protect you."

And then she was born, a whole month early and just four pounds nine ounces when I brought her home, and I realizedI was a liar.

I sat in a sunny window the day we brought her back from the hospital, nursing the most precious gift God could give me and again, I cried. Looking at her, so small in my arms, I knew even if I did my best I couldn't protect her from everything.

Forget the horrors of the world, I couldn't even keep her safe from the little things! My tears dropped to her head like a baptism of remorse for the times I wouldn't be able to shield her from the sting of mean girls or the ache of boys who would break her heart. From the little hurts that etch away at a child's soul, the scars growing harder as they grow up until one day the child is gone and you are left with an adult who faces the world, for better or worse, an amalgam of all their experiences, good and bad.

I vowed then that the good would outweigh the bad by a ton. THIS I could take ownership of.

I lost my second baby. Said I would never try again, but six months later, watching my daughter chortling as she was pulled in a wagon by her cousins at Thanksgiving, I realized again I couldn't let fear keep me from what I wanted, keep my daughter from having the joy she might find with a sibling.

A year later, my son was born. Watching them play together over the years, and fight together, and fight for each other, I am so glad I didn't stop at one. They fill my life with laughter and music and yes, frustration and fear and socks left everywhere but there is no greater happiness for me than spending time with my perfectly imperfect family.

The world may be a mess, that is something I've learned I have absolutely no control over. But inside my house, where mama is in charge, you'll find acceptance in droves, safety from the storm outside and magic, wherever I can make it.

My mother, she loves her grandchildren with the ferocity of a lioness. She watches my antics with bemusement and I know she thinks I go overboard sometimes, but she knows the place it comes from too.

Not once has she brought up that conversation on the porch 17 years ago and made me eat crow for scaring her and for foolishly believing I'd never have children.

"Never say never," she'll intone to me, waggling her finger in admonition. I echo her words with my own kids.

Never say never, indeed.

LJ Idol Week 29 - Favorite Entry

This was inspired by the following entry. It was written by my daughter who threw her hat in the ring for Idol this season, for one whole week but then got too busy to carry on. She didn't want anyone to know we were related or that she was a kid, lol, but she didn't get voted out that week and I can't wait to see what she does in Idol Junior this fall!


Silently, she got in my car after her Nutcracker rehearsal. For a child who was never silent, hardly ever even quiet, this was an obvious sign of distress.

"How was practice, sweetie?"

Dance was her refuge and her release. Most nights when she left the studio, she was so full of joy it emanated off her body in waves. A normal teenage girl, who had normal teenage worries about her body, her place in this world, dance made her feel strong and powerful and beautiful and I loved to be there afterwards to share in something so empowering for her.

Not so tonight. I turned around to look at her in the November dark backseat and realized she was sobbing.

"What? What's wrong? Are you okay? Are you hurt?" There had been other nights, other tears, for bruises or strains, but this felt more like heartache than a pulled muscle.

Gasping for breath, she cried "They're going to...cut me..from the dance," she gasped out.

"Cut you? Did they tell you that? What did Ms. Danielle say?"

Haltingly, she told me that while they were rehearsing, she overheard Ms. Danielle telling one of the other instructors to look at some of the other students for costume sizing because if my little dancer couldn't get her act together, they were going to cut her from the Flowers Dance, the one she had been looking forward to most of all.

"So, at the end of rehearsal did they say you were out?"

"I don't know," she said, sniffling. "I just came out here as soon as it was over. I didn't want to know."

"Did you not know the dance?"

"No, I knew the dance. But...I was scared."

If you have ever seen The Nutcracker, you know the Flowers Dance is an acrobatic feast for the eyes. My daughter has never been a gymnast, or a cheerleader, never taken an acro class at the dance school, but after auditions, when she proved she could do the kicks, they had put her in the number.

Now, it seemed, she was having trouble with the flips.

As a mother, this is one of those moments where you don't know if it's better to push forward or pull back.

The flips looked scary, even to me. She had to trust another dancer to hold her while she did cartwheels with no hands and they tossed her over their backs. She could break her neck if one of the other petite dancers were to fall themselves or drop her on her head.

What I did know was that I wasn't going to allow my child to wait a week until the holiday break was over to find out if she had been picked off the cast. That was just cruel. I was surprised the dance school would have left her with such uncertainty. We were going to get some answers.

I am not a helicopter parent. I'm not a dance mom, not my kid's stage manager, hell, I have never even joined the PTA, but there are moments when life is bigger than our children and we have to advocate for them.

In the South, sugarcoating a message tends to be the best way to say something uncomfortable.
I was beyond spoonful of anything at this point.

I found the studio owner and asked him what was up. Was she cut from the dance or not? I told him that if she was cut, I was fine with that choice, I just didn't want her overhearing a conversation and getting the wrong idea.

He looked taken aback at my forthrightness. I think he was used to other mothers with softer voices and less crazy eyes.

He was stuttering as he told me that a final decision had not been made, but that if she hadn't worked out the flips by the time she came back from vacation then she would be cut.

"Okay. Show me how to do them."

He raised his eyebrows.

"How else am I going to help her learn these tricks if you don't teach me now? She's only going to be with me for the holiday, so I need to know how to coach her."

He walked me back to the studio and called another young lady over. Katie was an older dancer than my daughter, but not much older, and someone my daughter idolized.

He had her demonstrate the flips with my child. I could see the fear in her eyes as she was tossed over the young woman's back. She released her knees too early, fell hard, and crumpled to the floor, holding her ankle.

The studio owner looked away as her eyes filled with tears.

I didn't know what to do. I know as an athlete there are moments of struggle and physical pain. Moments that make you stronger for living through them and overcoming. But as the mother of this beautiful girl, the last thing I wanted to see was her be afraid, or hurt, even in pursuit of a dream.

As I stood, frozen, unsure of my role in what was unfolding, Katie sat down beside my daughter and whispered something in her ear.

She told her she was ok, but that she needed to get up, keep going. My daughter's eyes went wide, and then something changed in her face.

She set her quivering chin and stood up.

"Let's try it again," she said.

She and Katie worked on the flips and cartwheels. And then I took her home and she and I worked on the flips and cartwheels as well.

She wasn't cut from the dance. When the show opened, she was a shining beautiful star in the Nutcracker and I couldn't have been prouder.

Proud because she'd been afraid and fought through it. Proud because she persevered, and accomplished something she didn't think she could do.

Proud because she'd showed that witch that wanted to give her part to someone else that she needed to shut her mouth and not underestimate my girl!

It was a valuable lesson for me. That her mother doesn't always have the answers. And that my daughter is getting old enough to fight her own battles - that she is tough enough to fight her own battles - and win.

LJ Idol Week 29 - The Distance Between Us

It was a long distance romance that made them create the machine.

If you've ever been a part of such a romance, you know the desperate nights of longing in a bed too big for one body, the lonely dinners sitting in a restaurant, partnerless, watching other couples happily feeding one another Tiramisu and laughing their tinkley, over-bright laughs while your heart breaks a little at each lilting note.

And the horniness, good God, let's not forget the crotch-boiling horniness that comes - or rather doesn't cum - with such an arrangement.

They were scientists, and smarter than their situation, or so they believed. But work visas and student loan payments and limited vacation days kept them apart so they had to get creative.

Anyone who has seen Star Trek knows people have been dreaming about "beam me up" technology for decades. And that was the glory of science fiction - it presented a world that wasn't...but with the right amount of money and research, it certainly COULD be!

After long nights of Skype theorizing - followed by frenzied online mutual masturbation sessions, because dear Lord, smart is sexy! - they felt ready to move their ideas to the here and now, to take them from graph paper to graphic lovemaking, bodies tangled together in a bed, not just wrapped up mouse cords on the Interwebs!

They applied for grants, hired interns, and moved into shiny labs on opposite sides of the world to begin exploring this solution to their loneliness.

They began to experiment. Space time continuums and physics conundrums weren't enough to ground their enthusiasm or their rising hormones, so even small setbacks just elevated their desire to succeed, or suck something anyway.

They built portals on each end, and hoped the government wouldn't get involved. They wanted to build a love machine, not a weapon!

In the beginning, transmission was spotty. There were incidents of course. On her birthday he tried to send her a slice of cheesecake and a slinky negligee. She received a bra and panty set made of American cheese.

She sobbed and said "You know I look terrible in orange!"

For their anniversary, she tried to send him a perfectly cooked sirloin of Kobe beef, his favorite, and a tuxedo, because she thought a guy in a tux was hot. He received a rather irate cow, strangling in a suit and tie.

"I know I've gained weight, but Jesus, couldn't you have come up with a kinder way to tell me?" he cried.

But one day it happened. The Western Hemisphere interns were trying to play a joke on the Eastern Hemisphere interns and packed a box full of piglets under a quilt into the reactor. As the universe seemed to have a sense of humor, they included a bottle of ketchup. They were hoping it would become a tray of delicious pigs in a blanket. When the box arrived in the East, full of wriggling piggies, they knew they'd seen a breakthrough!

The scientists tried it on more living things. Mice, monkeys, a very startled sloth.

They decided that they should be the first humans to test the machines though, in case of catastrophic failure, or lawsuits from angry intern's parents.

She stood in her laboratory in Japan, and her heart thrilled when she opened the door and found him standing before her, lab coat slung over his arm. They rushed into one another's arms and kissed. She pulled back and looked into his eyes. Her first words to him were intense.

"Did you eat pickles before you came over here?" she asked him.

He nodded sheepishly.

"Gross! Let me get you a breath mint!"

Oral hygiene. Something you don't really have to worry about in a long distance relationship.

Their machine change the world, or at least, it certainly changed the dating scene. Now, singles could meet people from all over the globe and be in their bedrooms instantaneously if so desired.

They even created a mobile app-based version of the tech. On Tinder, you could now swipe once to like someone and swipe twice if you wanted to give them an immediate pass to your boudoir. The rising rate of one night stands was astronomical!

The scientists were content, their creative juices and carnal desires both spent.

Months later, when the initial fervor of CNN interviews and Scientific American photo shoots finally died down, they lay in each other's arms after a round of good, old fashioned humping.

She turned to him, a pinched look on her face.

"Soooo..." she began,"I think this was all a lot more exciting before I got to spend every night with you..."

"I would have to agree with that analysis," he replied. "Our formula for bringing two bodies closer together was successful, but it seems to have brought our hearts farther apart."

"They do say absence makes the heart grow fonder," she agreed.

"And familiarity breeds contempt," he concluded, glancing at the way she had carelessly thrown her clothes on the floor.

"Yes, you really should floss more. Perhaps now we could work on finding a simple way to keep people interested in one another over the long-term," she added, gathering her clothing.

"I don't think there's anything simple about a long-term love," he told her.

"Well, let's work it out over Skype next weekend," she said, and stepped back into the machine, naked.

He heard her call out, as she disappeared into a billion particles, "I'll bring the tiramisu!"

LJ Idol Week 29 - Nevermind

"Come as you are,
as you were,
as I want you to be..."

She stepped out of the shower and stared with heavy lids at her gaunt reflection in mirror. She grabbed her breasts, once pert and full and squeezed the sad sacks of flesh together, giving the semblance of cleavage, then let them fall, sagging and stretch-marked, back against her chest.

'A push up bra it is,' she thought.

She turned to the side, stared at waist, her ass, smiled a little. At least THAT was still perky, and her legs had always been long. She'd wear the oxblood pleather mini tonight.

In the gray light of a Seattle afternoon, she walked through her studio apartment, past the band posters, the album covers she'd pinned to the walls, winced when she crunched a roach on the hardwood floor beneath her bare foot. Damn things kept coming back, even when she laid traps.

Her closet door stood open and she stepped in, over the clothes piled on the floor, lifted a bra to her nose and sniffed, grimacing at the smell of B.O. and booze and last night's cigarettes and put it on anyway. Pawing in her underwear drawer, she found a pair of graying thongs and slipped them on too. She definitely needed a trip to the laundromat.

Parting her clothes on the rack, she pushed shirts to the side, past the STP hoodie and the Soundgarden tank, looking for the black tee with the dead-eyed smiley face emblazoned in yellow. She grinned when she found it, then frowned as she noticed the holes around the neckline. They were getting bigger with every wash.

She pulled it on over her head. Why the hell not? Holes just made it look grungier, right? More authentic!

Slipping the burgundy skirt over her hips she did a little hop to get the tight waistband past her butt, and zipped it up the back.

"As a friend,
as a friend,
as an old enemy..."

Across the room, in the curtained corner she called her bedroom, the phone rang. She reached across the unkempt mattress to answer it.

"Hello?... Gina?... Hey girrrrl!" she crowed, voice gravelly from too much whiskey, too many American Spirits.
"You in town?... Sweet!...Hell yeah, I'm going to the concert!... I'm leaving the house in about fifteen... I'll see you there. I'll buy you a shot of Jager for old times sake...Killer. Bye girl!"

She'd met Gina back in school, when they both worked at Tower Records. The skank still owed her $300 from when she bailed her out of a "drunk in public" charge back in '93, but she was funny as hell and a force to be reckoned with in a mosh pit.
It would be good to see her again.

Back in the closet, she pawed through the scattered shoes on the floor; flip flops and Doc Marten's mixed with platform heels and Chuck Taylors. Glancing at the rain on the windowpane she decided it was definitely a shitkicker kind of night. She slid the big black boots on over her torn, thigh high stockings and laced them tight.

"Take your time,
hurry up,
the choice is yours,
don't be late..."

She glanced at the clock and realized it was almost time for her to catch the bus. Shit, she still needed to get her makeup on.

In the bathroom, she pulled her cherry-red locks into a high ponytail and fluffed her Betty Page bangs. She stroked thick eyeliner around her lids and spread it wide,  making it look like she had a heroin habit, or at the very least, had been on a three-day bender. While she hadn't done the hard shit since the late 90s, just a little blow now and then, that was the look she was going for.

She added some mascara, then painted on her crimson lipstick, smearing it to the side of her chin, like she'd been kissed hard and didn't even care.

She opened her wallet to make sure she had her concert tickets and then stuck it in her back pocket, hooking its jangling chain to a belt loop in the front.

"Take a rest,
as a friend,
as an old memoria,

She opened her apartment door and a chilly breeze hit her. Damn! She'd almost forgotten the most important thing! She reached behind the door and pulled a faded flannel from the hook. Sliding the red plaid fabric over her shoulders, she sighed with contentment.

Twenty years of wear had made it soft as Egyptian cotton, threadbare at the elbows and filled with the memories of late nights in smoky bars, laughter-filled diner breakfasts at 3 a.m. and the music, gawd the amazing music that shirt had seen.

She clomped down the stairs and walked to the bus stop on the corner. A fresh-faced undergrad, irridescent with youth and money, in sparkly accessories and a millennial pink blouse, sat on the bench, looking her up and down.

'Go on and judge me, honey,' she thought, brazenly staring into the girl's eyes. 'I LIKE who I am, and you worry too much what other people think.'

Cocking her head, she winked at the sweet little thing and chuckled when the girl blushed and looked away. Kids today were too damn soft.

Popping her earbuds in, she scrolled through the bands and found just what she was looking for while she waited for the bus.

As the deep bass of Nirvana rolled across her eardrums she sighed with contentment. Sure, everything had been better, brighter,  when Kurt was alive, but somedays you just had to let it all go.