I grew up in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain. As a child my parents took me to visit it a handful of times but always stopped short of the top. Mildred the Bear was as far as we went. As a teenager I wanted to see this Mile High Swinging Bridge I’d heard about, and drove myself to the tip. My memory of what I saw is an old, rickety, wooden bridge twisting in the mountain top winds. I’m pretty sure I remember screaming tourists tumbling to their deaths 5,280 feet below. This may be the birth place of my acrophobia. My Technicolor imagination predates this by quite a few years.

In the next decade or so I hiked many trails up and around Grandfather Mountain but never re-visited that horrible scene. With yet another decade buffering the trauma, this weekend ShirtlessRoland took my lovely children and me back to Grandfather Mountain for Kid Fest. Upon entry we were handed an audio CD that is perfectly timed (if you drive the speed limit – and you really should) to tell you about the attractions you’re passing on your left and your right. The history of the park and the history of the terrain itself are explained in awesome detail that had my son (who is studying NC in his 4th grade class) oohing and ahhing. After a peaceful walk through the animal habitats, watching the otters eat, the cougars pace, and the bears pee (that’s more impressive than you might have thought), we summited, just as our CD told us we would.

I told ShirtlessRoland and the kids they could cross without me. I would wait for them, worriedly, on this – the safe side of the bridge. Still, without explanation, I found myself foot to foot with the bridge and immediately declared, “This is not the same bridge!” This thing was steel! I looked out at the middle, which was clearly over capacity, and despite the strong breeze, there was very little movement. As I stood, watching the middle and trying to reconcile my memory with what was in front of me, I saw my son, then my daughter, then my ShirtlessRoland pass through my field of vision. They were already on their way! I had to follow so that I could tell them there had been a bait and switch! I looked straight ahead (not down, not out) and fought the growing panic attack to tell them the news. By the time I exited the bridge, I could feel the vomit creeping to thyroid-height, and my loves were nowhere to be found. They had bounded off to some crags ahead.
When we met up again, I was still quite the Nervous Nelly, constantly instructing them to “stop running,” “quit jumping,” “watch your step,” “come away from that ledge,” “now move away from the other ledge,” and finally, “let’s just go.”

I handed the camera to ShirtlessRoland and asked him to please take a picture pointing straight down so that I could look at it some other time, when I’m far away and safely back to near-sea-level. On the trek back across the bridge, I was thinking how proud I should be to have conquered a fear by crossing the bridge, but how instead I felt just as phobic as I did before I crossed it. Then I decided that there’s no use doing something if you’re not going to enjoy it, and I thought this was a good time to practice that “just letting go” I’ve been working so hard on the last few years.

I kind-of-sort of looked down. Actually, I peeked over my right shoulder and down, like somehow seeing what I’d already crossed would not be as frightening as seeing what still lied ahead. It was a very quick peek and all I saw was the tops of some trees and a few rocks. Not too scary. We spent the next 15 minutes or so milling around the guest shop with the kids, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I just did something I thought – actually, that I swore – I never would do. I crossed the mile-high swinging bridge. Big pat on my own back.

Safely back in the car to leave, our faithful CD guide immediately greeted us with this news:

“Though it’s called the Mile High Swinging Bridge, that is measured from sea-level and the bridge itself rises only 80 feet above the ground below. During its reconstruction in 1999, the bridge was rebuilt with (however many tons of) steel, which doesn’t allow it to swing as much as the old wooden one did. Many people now refer to it as the ‘singing bridge’ due to the sound it makes as the wind blows through its steel bars, much like a harmonica.”

So let me get this straight. What I’ve been afraid of all these years not only was never as scary as I thought, but has been replaced with a newer, sturdier option?

Well don’t I feel silly?

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A few months ago, Wake County Public School System made national headlines because of a plan by our new super intendant that is backed by a majority of the elected school board members to return our education to a ‘community school’ assignment based policy.

This is code for, according to the NAACP and any number of other malcontents, a return to segregation. Stephen Colbert even did us the honor of weighing in by calling it ‘dis-integration.’

You likely already know the thing you should about the current policies of WCPSS regarding assignment; children are bussed long distances from one part of town to another part of town. It is illegal to assign students based upon race, so some administration of years gone by had the brilliant idea to assign based upon – are you ready for this? – the Free or Reduced Lunch program. Regardless of any particular student’s own familial financial circumstances, if he/she lives in a part of town that has a high number of Free or Reduced Lunch participants, they may not be assigned to the school down on the corner, or across the street. They may be picked up by a bus as early as 5:45am and driven 30 miles away to a school in another, more affluent part of town. This is in an effort to keep each school’s lunch program on par with every other school’s lunch program. Those aforementioned malcontents believe this somehow improves education.

Sir Isaac Newton’s promised equal and opposite law is in effect here, too. Schools in areas of town from where students are being bussed away became under capacity, so WCPSS turned them into magnet schools to attract the best and brightest students in the county for whatever fields of study; arts, sciences, math, international baccalaureate – you name it. And though a few of those schools have lost their magnet charter in recent years, many have succeeded with excellent programs – for the bussed in magnet students. The base students remain in a base education track and over a decade of data has shown that this particular group is being underserved in their far away, affluent schools as well as in their own base, magnet schools. So the $500,000 a day – yes, A DAY – being spent on transportation has been, pardon me, pissed away. What has been the return?

My ire over the inefficiencies in student assignment has recently been resurrected because of yet another injustice that is hitting somewhat close to home. ShirtlessRoland’s sister (I’ll unveil her pseudonym in a future post) is moving to Raleigh – TODAY. My joy over this will also be expounded upon in a future post.

She has 9 year old twin sons. One is autistic and requires special classes. Her base school is the same as my base school and her children should, according to the current assignment plan, be getting on the school bus with my ShortKids every morning. Except the county has decided that there is no room in the AU program at our school and declared that her autistic son must attend another, not so far away school. This does not guarantee the placement of his twin brother in the same school, however, and she will have to fill out a transfer request on Monday morning. Per policy, even if the transfer request is granted so that the children can stay in the same school, her other son will not be eligible for transportation to that school because he is transferring out of his base school.

Let me state this more simply. Wake County Public Schools cannot guarantee that twin brothers will go to the same school. If a transfer request is granted, Wake County Public Schools will send a bus into a neighborhood that it currently does not serve to pick up one child, but not the other.

It is very hard to sit and listen to our local school system receive national criticism for the wrong things.

Oh, Crescent City how I longed to love thee. How I romanticized your elegantly decayed Creole townhomes trimmed in wrought iron lace and your majestic, antebellum, Baroque estates, draped in French and Spanish influence, if not affluence. What I found, instead, was a shit hole. If Detroit be the armpit of our nation you, Land of Dixie, are anatomically accurate in your geographical location.

I am set ill at ease by your contradictions and equally by your ambivalence towards them. You are a European city held hostage in a tropical climate and very much suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Banana trees are juxtaposed with roses. Delicately scrolled marble mantles sit atop fireplaces in homes in a city that rarely drops below 50 degrees. Oil burning street lamps provide dots of heat along already sweltering streets that are filled with rejoicing and celebration as your natives feed their deceased loved ones into the gaping, open mouths of your cemetery cities.

My creative muses were suffocated by the smell of stale urine and fresh vomit on the early Sunday morning that I set out with the high hopes of capturing photos of the fog rolling in to the French Quarter and masking your grungy apathy. Admittedly, I planned to shoot in black and white and do a fair amount of photo editing, as I now know that is from where all of your beautiful pictures have come.

What I could not figure out is why. What makes a photographer opt not to document you as you are, but instead as how you might look if the next levee breach happens to coincide with an explosion at a nearby soap factory? Why do the throngs of talented artists in Jackson Square sit and meticulously paint the city behind them, but not the city behind them? And why do the passing tourists “ooooh” and “aahhh” at their delicate brush strokes, when they can plainly see the only resemblance to reality is that water color mules, not horses are pulling the passenger carriages? Why?

But while I found your Garden District to be a disappointing visit to the homogenous unspecialness of Any City, USA, my street car ride is one of the highlights of my trip. And I fondly remember my accidental, after midnight navigation of Bourbon Street, who dons night time like a mask; darkness hiding flaws while bright streamers of colorful light averted my attention. I giggle at the thought of my stroll down Ste. Anne Street, with a belly full of beignets, a Styrofoam cup of café au lait in my sticky hand, and powdered sugar staining my navy blue T-shirt in a very Lewinsky-esque way. I could never forget the witch doctor in the voodoo museum who eyed me suspiciously and asked, “Are you,” and then looking left and right to see who might be listening and lowering his voice finished the sentence with, “a librarian?” In the days since returning home, I’ve come to miss the immutable sound track of horns and strings and sultry, gravely voices that wafted through your streets as I drifted in and out of open buildings. I feel strangely at conflict with myself, having stood on your river banks feeling protected by its embrace while fully aware of the carnage it creates when it decides to return to its original path, before man decided to scootch it over to make room for you to grow.

I believe that I have come to understand just what the men reeking of liquor and cigarettes must feel as they are lured into the darkened doorways by women in crotchless negligees or hot pink police tape. While I longed to love thee, it did not happen. Still, I cannot deny the growing pull back to your bosom.

It was definitely DAD’s day in this house. Dumb Ass Dog, that is.

My weimaraner’s name is Woody. That is not a pseudonym. He really is Woody. After today, I don’t care if he’s embarrassed by this story.
Last week he taught himself a new trick. No, this doesn’t prove that he’s not a Dumb Ass Dog. The trick is locking himself in the hall bathroom. We don’t know why he’s doing it, and more importantly, we don’t know how. Seemingly, he is able to open the door from the outside, let himself in, and close it behind him. On Thursday he tore up the door frame and dented the door knob trying to get out. He was so distraught that he took a moment to chew the roll of toilet paper off the holder, too.

I should tell you that he’s not a destructive dog. Except for a few stuffed animals (ok, A LOT of stuffed animals), he hasn’t destroyed anything until now. And the next ten or twelve times he got himself stuck in the bathroom since Thursday, he didn’t chew anything. He barked to be let out and we obliged (and then ridiculed).

Today I had to drive to Richmond to pick up the ShortKids from What’sHisName. TallGirl spent the day hanging out with a friend, so there was about a 6 hour window when we weren’t home. Before I left I made sure the doors upstairs were closed. I double checked, swear I did. But when we walked through the door tonight we were greeted with the now familiar yelp for help from the upstairs hall bath.

During his imprisonment this time, he destroyed both doors – frames, knobs, and all. He chewed everything on the sink, another roll of toilet paper and I’m pretty sure there were some nasty things out of the trash can in the debris field, too.

The mess was cleaned and off I went to buy new toothbrushes for the kids. When I returned, I sent ShirtlessRoland a text message.

“Walking them now. Then bed. My mood soured and I think sniffing your pillow will help,“ I blithely thumb-typed.

Three minutes later (and god, I wish I’d seen his face), he replied with, “My puke weevil?”

This greatly confused me. “Your what?” I asked. I have dated some very strange boys in my life, but didn’t have ShirtlessRoland pegged as one of them. His response confused me on so many levels. While waiting for him to respond, I scrolled back in our text messages looking for a hint to what he was talking about. That’s when I realized I had just become the first time victim of the AutoCorrect Monster.

While what I typed was the message above, what my phone thought made more sense was, “My mood soured and I think sniffing your puke weevil help.”

My mood is just fine now.

I’ve cringed as I’ve watched a rampant meme gallop across the status updates of my mom-squad Facebook friends the last couple of weeks. It’s a Promise To My Children that sounds more like a controlling and paranoid manifesto. It concludes, as memes do, with an imperative that I re-post if I love my children.

I love my children more than life itself and so this is my promise to them.

I am your mother and I am your best friend. There is nothing that you can confide in me that will make me love you any less. I’ve changed your diapers and I’ve seen your underwear before putting it in the washer, and I’ve loved you anyway. You need not be embarrassed to share your hopes, your goals, your failures, or your knuckle-headed, hormone induced woopsies. As hard as you may find it to believe, I’ve been your age. And as much as you’re going to hate to hear this, kids haven’t changed that much. When you confide in me, I’m probably going to have some very valuable advice for you, but when I don’t, you’ll still have someone holding your hand who loves you unconditionally.
But I respect you, too. I know that you’re your own person and are not obligated to share everything with any one person, including the woman who grew you those two legs that give you the freedom to go and do as you please. You are entitled to live your life and to have your privacy. I will never snoop just so I can know who you kissed last week. When my mommy instinct kicks and tells me there is a reason to worry, I will ask you first. It’s in your best interest to be honest, because at that point all bets are off and I will find out what is going on. I will never stand by and let you harm yourself or others, but there are some mistakes I will let you make because experience is the best teacher.
When you love and respect yourself, you will surround yourself with other people who will love and respect you the way that I do. And when I see you treat others with love and respect I will know that you are a responsible human. However, until you pay your own bills I’ll not consider you a responsible adult.

After my son’s school program last week I ended up chatting with a man who has just been hurled off of the same cliff I was 20 months ago. Our conversation started innocuously enough when he saw me taking a picture with my phone and asked how I liked my Droid. He’d been thinking about a smart phone, but was looking for one really good reason to justify getting one. As a policeman who spends 12 hours a day in a car with a laptop at his side, I don’t happen to think he would really benefit from one. I told him that when I break it down to wants and needs my Droid, my constant companion, is really nothing more than a want that I caved in to when I no longer had someone to tell me no. He was amused at the idea and seemed to still be looking for permission to…oh, I don’t know…want something.

I told him that my Droid was not my first freedom purchase. Twelve days after my husband left I traded my GMC Acadia (because I must be the only person in America that hates this vehicle). I’d gone to the dealership looking for a minivan because I had to do the responsible mom thing. I was just minutes away from signing on a used Toyota Sienna that smelled like french fries, when the clouds parted and a sunbeam shown down on the prettiest Jeep Wrangler I’d ever seen.

“I want that car,” I told the dealer. And he did his best to talk me out of it, as did my husband when he came to sign the paperwork. I owned the Acadia jointly with my husband (which was the official impetus for the trade). I pointed out that it was 4 doors, it seated 5 and there were only 4 of us now. There was plenty of room in the back for hauling dogs, luggage, or sports gear, and the removable top was hard so I didn’t have to worry about climate control. Besides, I only needed his permission to trade the old car, not for the new one I was purchasing on my own. And also, sometimes, “because I want,” really is all the reason that is needed.

I told OfficerBummedout that the Jeep was instrumental in exploring my new world and I put 50k miles on it last year. This idea excited him. He said he just realized the night before that there was really no reason he couldn’t go ahead and buy that little sports car he’d always wanted now.

It has been six weeks since his wife told him to move out. Though he stood tall with broad shoulders and the same, perfectly chiseled non-expression I’ve seen on every single officer who’s ever written me a ticket, I found it hard to reconcile his outward picture of strength with the pain I know he is in. He said he still had so many questions and asked if he could pick my brain. As it turned out, he had only one question and did not realize he was asking it many different ways. The one he loves does not love him. His family is broken. He has to visit his children. He wanted to know if life would go on.

I assured him it already is.

A month has come and gone without so much as a peep from me. Life has been busy, and that’s a good thing. But I slowed down and asked ShirtlessRoland out on a post-dinner date tonight. After the kids were educated, bathed, read to and tucked in, I left TallGirl in charge and sneaked out to meet him at Mellow Mushroom for trivia night.

Among the nuggets I can add to the list of things I learned by guessing, you may be surprised to hear that Luke Skywalker of 2LiveCrew is running for mayor of Miami. Good luck to him. This news brought back fond memories of 1989 and riding around in a golf cart with Q-tip somewhere in the general vicinity of Myrtle Beach.

Among the Answers We Knew Were Wrong But Wrote Them Down Anyway were bits like Wyatt Earp was a marshal in Oklahoma. Ronald Reagan was born in Missouri. Maverick’s dad’s name was Mr. Mitchell (technically correct). And who knew Tubb’s first name was Ricardo? I never even saw that show anyway.

Had ‘Songs Billy Joel Had Nothing To Do With’ been a category, we would have swept it, as I recently learned Two Tickets To Paradise was actually recorded by Eddie Money. Now I know. Instead, with a handful of anally derived answers, we came in 2 points behind the first place winners. But with a $20 gift card, 4 beer glasses and a small, long sleeved T-shirt, I’m pretty sure we raked in more loot. However, that may have had more to do with our conversation with the bartender. He was from Pennsylvania and ended up in Wake Forest by way of Las Vegas. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to these two cities but let me tell you, direct entry from one to the other should not be allowed. I imagine he suffered something akin to the bends that SCUBA divers get from surfacing too quickly.

Wake Forest, you see, is not a drinking town. This makes the opening of the new Waffle House down the street a little curious, but anywho. Wake Forest is the home of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is inhabited by people whom you would not be alone in at first mistaking for Temple of the Dogs fans. But sadly, no. They are simply emulating our Lord Jesus Christ and Personal Savior and if you sit next to them one too many times in Starbucks, they will mistake this as an invitation to point out why the things in your life (including a surprising list of items that can be found in your pantry) will send you to Hell. Mr. Bartender was not adequately warned.

But he was generously tipped and I hope to see him and the small crowd again next Thursday.

I’ve been considering a tattoo since What’sHisName ran off with StayPuftGirl (special thanks to EternallyPregnantWoman for giving her a new name, since MissPiggy is trademarked and OfficeWhore no longer applies because this time it’s different). I wanted a physical reminder that I was surviving – something visual for the world to see, but also I think there was something alluring in the pain factor. Like, if I can grit my teeth and endure this, then how bad can anything else be? I know, I know. Clichéd. Important to note, I have a VERY high threshold for pain.

This is the design I found and fell in love with.

Ooooh.  Ahhhh.  Pretty.  Ouch.

The script, if you cannot make it out, says, “Only one who has lost all has the freedom and the ability to gain everything.” Beautiful. Plus, it’s right on the spine. What better place to prove I am a badass?

The only thing stopping me this far is the fact that while I want you to see it so that you know that I’m a badass, I don’t want to see it; not in pictures, not in mirrors, not looking over my shoulder and stretching my neck just right. This is why my only tattoo to date was placed on the bottom of my left ring toe (and maybe not too surprisingly, after my first divorce).

This morning, I got over that.

No, I didn’t get the tattoo. I didn’t even get my waist cinched like the picture, but I’m not ruling that out. I found the perfect compromise. I have no unsightly reminder that I’ll one day outgrow, and I got enough pain to cross that threshold three fold, plus I have to go back 5 more times.

I got my pits lasered.

And boy did I feel it. That reminder you do not see – or more importantly, that I do not see – that’s my badass.

I don’t know much about TheZone, as I was really only introduced to its concept by ShirtlessRoland. I recognize now that I’ve known other people who lived in TheZone (my daddy, for example), but just didn’t know enough to understand what an enviable thing it is.

TheZone enables its inhabitants to transform wadded up gum wrappers to 3 point shots into a waste basket, step from rock to slimy rock in La Jolla, California without so much as a drop of seawater brushing their ankles, effortlessly score tickets to a show that has been sold out for months, and get upgraded to first class on every single flight.

These are all things I, too, can do when standing inside ShirtlessRoland’s field of influence. Outside the field my spasmodic episodes might make a blooper reel, and I don’t see very many shows. Coach-class, however, suits me just fine. My legs are short. But last Wednesday I learned that TheZone’s value goes far beyond parlor tricks.

ShirtlessRoland hydroplaned on the interstate and did a 180* turn, smashing the passenger side of his car against the concrete median and coming to a stop in the emergency lane. The car is totaled, but he didn’t hit another motorist and didn’t re-enter the now-head-on stream of 70mph traffic. He didn’t even crap himself. Three minutes after impact he sent me a txt message telling me what happened, that he was ok, but that he would need a ride.

When I arrived on the scene, he was his usual calm, cool, and collected self. We met the tow-truck driver at the body shop and went to lunch before coming back to my home so he could make a few phone calls. I suggested he throw his soaked shoes, socks, and pants in the dryer. In a breach of Undressing Man In The Room etiquette, I burst out laughing at the sight of ShirtlessRoland bent over, exposing the green waistband that read, My Lucky Boxers.

Later in the day I heard news on the radio that not even an hour later the location of ShirtlessRoalnd’s accident was the site of an unusual pig spillage. No automobile accidents occurred and the pigs were rescued and driven to the local animal shelter by policemen (there’s a picture I wish I’d seen).
Click here for the audio.

So I’m still not totally sure how to explain this Zone thing, but I’m so very glad it chose ShirtlessRoland and that he was able to share it with the pigs.

Often when I spend time with ShirtlessRoland I feel like I should bring along trail mix, binoculars and a notebook. It usually feels like I’m observing an entirely different species that should be cataloged. For the most part he does exactly what other men do; he just makes it look easier. It is possible I’m simply captivated that life in general seems so effortless to him because of the time served with someone for whom every aspect of life was so damn hard. But more likely, I think, is the fact that ShirtlessRoland lives in The Zone. You know, that magical karma bubble that encompasses some people and greases the skids for all of their endeavors – or at the very least, keeps difficulty and frustration at bay.

Ah, I’m kidding. While there is ample evidence that ShirtlessRoland does inhabit The Zone (and that I can vacation there simply by standing near enough to him), it is not accurate that difficulty and frustration are kept at bay. Not all of it, anyway. Yes, he still occasionally ends up stuck behind the motorist who has no business driving in the left lane. And being the mere human that he probably is, more seismic events occur in his life, too. What fascinates me is that nothing bites his ass. I don’t mean in the literal, rabid bull dog sort of way or the literary Forest Gump in the jungles of Vietnam sort of way – though I don’t think those examples apply either. What I mean is in the everything-rolls-off-his-back kind of way.

I want to be like that and last weekend he gave me an unexpected lesson in Letting Things Go. His instruction was lifted from Nike: Just Do It. I found this utterly unhelpful. If I could Just Do It, I already would have. ShirtlessRoland said that though the time involved may differ, the process is the same for the big stuff and small stuff alike. He repeated many times, “You just let it go.”

But it’s not the same, I tried to argue. I can get on with life after being stuck behind a slow poke in traffic. Sure, I’ll be the first one to suggest unchaste things about his mother but it’s not like I memorize his license plate and hope to someday cut him off in traffic. With bigger issues it’s different because in addition to years of the well-practiced behavior of bottling things, I have this itsy bitsy fear that letting go of the transgressions means they weren’t really that bad in the first place. That maybe the transgressor wasn’t really so wrong. That maybe if I let it go that means they actually did the right thing and I should stop praying for alligators to devour them. But traffic – hey – I am behind a slow poke today, I was behind him yesterday and I’ll be behind him again tomorrow. Once I’m around him, I’m over it. It doesn’t matter that he’s always going to be an idiot. I’m still going to get where I’m going.

I’m glad I said that out loud, because the light bulb over my head seems to be voice activated.