AN, in her 40’s, from small town, Alabama, is a restaurant worker with a heart of gold. She is raising 5 children, 2 hers and 3 her sister’s. Two of the 5 children are autistic and one has a gifted level IQ. We discuss her philosophy, “On your tombstone you’ve your born date, the Dash and your death day. It doesn’t matter when you were born, or when you die, its what you did with the Dash.” Inspite of a hectic life, she finds time to mentors young boys as a troop leader at the town’s Boy Scouts unit. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with her.
Heart: As moms, can we ever take the foot off the pedal?
AN: No, we cannot. Yeah, people always say, “Well, you’ve got your two days off?” And I go, “Well, do you know what I do on my two days off?” There’s a young girl at work, she just found out that she’s pregnant, and she’s already like, “What am I gonna do when I can’t work?”
They’re younger and I’m older and I’m mom to all of them. I talk to them, give them advice, and I keep telling her, “You’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that.” And she goes, “Do you ever stop?” And I say, “Nope. Get ready. The first couple of years, you’re gonna think you’re insane, but wait until they start school. You can’t really stop until they graduate college.”
Heart: Funny. I tell my boys, “As long as you’re not back to living in my basement, and actually doing real honest work, its good. Stand on your own two feet at 21. Just please don’t come back home.” (Laughs)
AN: That’s funny, because the other day, my niece said something like, “Well, I’m never moving out.” And I said to her, “You do realize though that at some point you do start paying some bills.”
My 25 year old has autism. And he has been working for 6 years now. We got him a little part time job in high school to finish his high school diploma. The lady that worked with us was phenomenal. She was like, “I’ll get him the hours required, and then if its really not working, I’ll won’t let him go. I’ll just keep him until his required hours are done.” And I was like, “That’s all I want. That’s all I need is those.” And he needed some 100 hours or something. It ended up working out, it was great. And then she left and another manager had come in, but he didn’t want to work with him.
So, I got him a job where I work. And he’s been there for 5 years. So, I’m like, “As long as he can work, let him work.” It gets him out of the house, coz with autism, they have no socializing. So, its going to be difficult for him to go out and do a true interview and get a job. So, as long as he works, that’s good.
Well, he does have to pay rent. We give him a certain amount each month that he has to pay, and the rest of the money is his. To a certain extent, coz, he has to buy his own hygiene stuff, shaving cream, deodorant, all of that.
Heart: Does he have his own room in your house?
AN: Yeah, he has his own room. He’s actually at my mom’s house. And I have a house literally next door. It just worked out that way. He was the one who decided that he wanted to stay with her. Once I moved into my new house with my new husband, he took another turn development wise. My mom said, “He’s a completely different person, coz he doesn’t live with momma anymore.” Coz in his mind, he’s on his own.
Heart: Has the turn been for the good?
AN: Yeah, its been for the good. Coz, he and Alex, my other one with autism, have two bedrooms in my mom’s basement. So, in their mind, its their house. You know what I mean?
Heart: Yeah. Cool.
AN: So, he buys them trash bags for down there, he buys the light bulbs if a light bulb goes out down there, he replaces them, he’ll buy toilet paper, coz they have a bathroom upstairs for them to use. So, he buys all of his shampoo, all of that stuff. He buys not all of his food, but a lot of his snacks and his sodas. He buys microwave meals.
Heart: Does he get food at the restaurant?
AN: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They feed him all the time. Every time I turn around, “What are you eating?” And he goes, “Honey gave me this!” Or “James gave me this!” So, I say, “As long as the manager gave them to you, I don’t care. Eat up. Because you’re 6’4″, and it takes a lot to fill you up.”
He’ll leave work sometimes and go buy a pizza for him and another pizza for the other four kids in the house. He feeds them dinner. And all this happened since he moved out, because “he is not with momma.” He took the next step, which is amazing.
Heart: I’m sure that feels like a load off your head.
AN: Yeah, its been amazing with him. But, we sit down, and “Ok, you pay your grandmother X amount of rent money.” Its not much because he’s not making much. Then he buys his groceries, he has his own cell phone that he has to pay for. Of course, he doesn’t drive, so, we don’t have him on the insurance.
Heart: So, do you get him to and back from work?
AN: Um hmm. But, a lot of times, because my husband and I work the same restaurant and he works with us, one of us is always going. On weekends when we both are at camp or someplace else, my mom will take him to work.
Heart: Do you work 7 days a week?
AN: I work 4 days a week. My husband works 5 to 6 days, and my son has 4 days a week, which is quite amazing for him. And its funny, because one of us is in that building 7 days a week. We’re like, “Really people, y’all can’t just give us one day where we’re all off and I don’t have to see this place?” (Laughs)
Heart: Aww. Are you a cook or are you in the front with the customers?
AN: I’m in the front. I used to cook. I’ve a culinary degree. Actually I’ve two degrees, one in savory and pastry and the other in confectionery arts.
AN: But, I’ve some nerve damage up here on my shoulder, so if I’m in the kitchen I can’t do the constant motion anymore (does a motion of stirring a pot). So, I went out front, I’ve served, I host, I do almost anything out in the front. I just keep the place running while I’m there.
But yeah, we’ve him pay his rent, and then like, birthdays will come up. He’ll come to me, “Mom, what do I give so and so?” The niece is the hardest, so I tell him, “OK, you’ve got a choice. You either get her a gift card or cash.” Some of us more choosier than the others.(Laughs)
And we do this in our house, its called a running list. Anytime the children want something, they put it on the list. And my mom or I’ll literally write it down in a notebook. And the children know this. And when they see something, its a t-shirt or a new toy – which we don’t do too many new toys now that they’re older, we write it down on the list.
Heart: When the money comes up, you’ll let them have it?
AN: Yeah. Well, if a birthday comes up, “Oooo, they’ve asked for this four times. They really want this.” And it also helps when we go to the store, with the “I want. I want. I want.” They know, so they are like, “Hey, can we put this on the list?” And I write it on my list. And sometimes, its out of their mind, they forget about it, or next time they’re at the store, they ask me, “Did you put that on the list?” So, I go, “Y’all are really pushing on this. OK.” (We both laugh)
Now, there’re somethings like when the fidget spinners became popular, we went and bought the kids some fidget spinners.
Heart: Uggh. Come on, not fidget spinners. (Laughs)
AN: Yeah, we’ve got couple of them. And of course, they fizzled out with the kids. I mean, they’ve still got a couple of them that they thought were really neat that are on the shelf and they haven’t played much with them now. I mean, all kids are gonna go through phases. And I hope they aren’t 50 million of those things for this generation. “Y’all not busting my bank account on any of these ones.”
But, somethings, they’re on the list and we wait and we see what they’re truly interested in. Like my niece, she now keeps a running list of different stores that she would like gift cards to. So, any of us can just go in, especially around her birthday, “OK, I can get this one and this one, so mom can get this one and this other one for her. Chris, if you’ll just get this one.”
Heart: That’s neat.
AN: And my niece is real funny, she’s real smart about making sure everyone knows what she wants. (Laughs) She’ll be like, “Can I buy something now? Can we go to the store now?” And I go, “I’ll take you when I’m off on Friday. Hold on to those gift cards.”
Heart: I want to know if there’s anything for yourself on the running list?
AN: (Long pause) Huh, two weeks on a deserted island. No. For me right now, I’m focused on my kids. I met my husband 6 years ago. And we got married. And I’ve told him from day one, “I’m not looking for anything, I’ve my children.” My youngest had just finished kindergarten. I said, “I’ve got to get him through college.”
Heart: Where did you meet him?
AN: At work. We met through work.
AN: I said, “As soon as I get him through high school, that’s when I’m free.” Of course, he looks at me and goes, “Duh. Where’re your certification papers, because you’re insane! Insane.”
Heart: (Laughs) Did he bring any kids?
AN: Nope. He has no kids. I can’t have any kids anymore. He knew that from the get go. And this is what we do. But we have our dates, when we go camping and be outdoors with our boys.
I’m a true believer that if you have these bonding moments with your children, when the tough times hit, they know who to go to. But, if they’re always at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s because mom and dad are taking the weekend off or mom and dad have to work, then they’re going to go their grandma and grandpa when they have problems. So, I want my kids to know that I’m gonna be there, but I’m also very honest with them. There’s point where you’ve to stand on your own two feet. I’m not carrying you until you’re 30 or 35. Its not gonna happen. You know. You graduate high school if you wanna stay in this house, and you’re gonna help pay the bills. You know. Its a tough world out there, if I know they can survive at 18 in an apartment by themselves, that’s fine. But, they’re not going to, they’re going to struggle.
So, stay at home, pay a few bills, put a little back, lets get you to a place. Or find a roommate. Lets make sure its a good roommate, somebody that you’ve known for 10 years and they’ve got their head screwed on just like you. Coz, a lot of times when the kids reach 17 or 18 years, they’re ready to get out of the house. They want their own rules, “I don’t want a curfew anymore. I want to be able to watch what I wanna watch. I want to be able to cruise the internet when I want to.” So, you’ve to have those boundaries, and we teach them responsibility. I mean, they’ve their Snapchats, Instagrams, and whatever else is out there, but, every so often I go, “Hand me the phone. Let me see what you’re doing? OK. This is inappropriate. Do you know what you’re doing here?”
“Well she made me mad!” (Imitating one of her children)
“OK, this is no different than saying it to her face. You’re saying that you’re gonna do this to someone, and it doesn’t look good. You think its just words. Its not just words.” I believe everyone has to have consequences for their actions. My children actually call me the drill instructor. (Laughs) But, I mean, I make sure the kids have a blast. I’ve got the two kids here, we’re doing this camp out with them. The 17 year old has autism, I went to tell him that I’m going to be gone for the weekend, and he says, “I know. Is it boy scouts? Hmmmm.” And I say, “Yes, it is boy scouts.” and he goes, “When I will go camping? I want to go camping.” and I say, “OK, we will pick a weekend and we will go camping. We’ll do a family camp out, I don’t care even if its in the backyard.”
Heart: Have you always lived in one place?
AN: I’ve been in [redacted] since my youngest son was born, so its atleast 14 years now. Before that I was in Kentucky.
I was born in Birmingham, but I’ve lived all over the country.
Heart: Did you move around for your dad’s work?
AN: Yeah. Well, dad’s work and dad’s [long pause] big, bright ideas. (We both laugh) We’ve lived in Michigan, in Chicago, we even lived in California for a while. Then we moved back to Alabama and then my parents had divorced for a while and my mom’s job moved to Atlanta. And my oldest had just been diagnosed with autism and so I told my mom, “Yeah, I’m packing up and going with you.” Coz, I didn’t want to be in Birmingham by myself with no support. Because all the information we were getting was, “Put him in an institution.”
Coz, I mean…
Heart: Yeah, this was like 20 years ago.
AN: 22 years ago. When he was diagnosed, there wasn’t a whole lot of information out there. So, we packed up and moved to Atlanta for 10 years and then we moved back when my dad started getting sick. Mom moved back first and then we did. They were never really divorced, they were just separated, so mom just moved back when he started getting sick. We lost him about 3 months ago.
Heart: I’m sorry.
AN: Yeah. So, I’ve moved everywhere which I think gives me a bigger perspective, sort of like you. Where are you from?
AN: Coming from that culture and coming into the South, I mean that must’ve been a culture shock in itself. But, when we lived in California, when I look back at my class photos, I was the minority. I mean you can go and say, “Oh this white girl, maybe she’s from Russia?” You know, I mean. (Both of us laugh) It was stuff like that, you know what I mean. And they would go, “Yeah, she’s is the one. The one with the crazy last name.” And if you’re looking for true blooded Americans, I think I was the only one that had an American name. (Laughs)
But, I remember in California, in one of the classes, we did thing for a week. And its called, “Its a small world.” And it was all about different cultures. All the kids could come in their traditional dress, their customary dresses for whatever occasion that they would like to dress up, they could bring foods from their country, and you know, of course, here I’m an American and I asked my mom, “What are we gonna do?” And she was like, “Oh, we’re doing Southern food.”
Which was funny because, we were in California where everybody’s eating bean sprouts and alfalfa, you know.
Heart: And not eating fried chicken?
AN: Yeah.(Laughs) I remember bringing fried okra and a pecan pie, we didn’t do the big pie, we did them smaller so everyone could try it. And those were a big hit, coz they were like, “Oh my God, this is awesome!” And I was like, “Oh yeah, anything with butter and fat tastes goooood.” (We both laugh)
But, its neat, I’ve always enjoyed learning about other cultures. I had a kitchen manager that was from Pakistan. My kitchen manager now is from Jordan. He’s got a great sense of humor, coz I’ll be walking through the restaurant and go, “OK, crazy foreign dude, where you at?” And he would be like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know, where he go?” (Laughs)
Heart: Do you have a favorite food on the menu at the restaurant? Like something you could eat everyday.
AN: The one that I could eat everyday? We have a three cheese chicken cavatappi.
Heart: How do you spell it?
AN: Its a type of pasta. I’m not sure how to spell it.
Heart: No worries. I’ll figure it out.
AN: Yeah, I can barely pronounce it. Its heavy but its lighter, and one of my other favorites, but I can’t eat it everyday, I wish I could, we’ve a brunch burger, and it is the burger with the fried egg, with the hash browns and the bacon and the.. Its a heart attack sitting on the plate. I’m like “OK, I’ve to be good and not eat it.” But, every so often, I’m like, “Yup, I don’t care. I’m having it. I’m having it. Today.”
Heart: Especially as moms, we can afford to treat ourselves once in a while.
AN: (Laughs) When I had my surgery last year, and I had to be careful what I ate for so long, and got to the point where I could finally eat something I liked, my husband and my son made me fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and biscuits and gravy, all my comfort foods and fixed my plate and fed me in bed. That was awesome. I was a spoiled momma. (Laughs)
Heart: Nice. So where did your mother work?
AN: She has mainly done accounting work, most of my life. And that’s what I first went into when I graduated from high school. She’s worked for different companies doing accounts receivable, accounts payable, and then at one point she was working for a lobbyist for the senate. And she was keeping his books for his different business ventures, so she could actually work from home. But, it was funny, because I was in high school and I was like, “You don’t really have to be home now. But, OK.” But, it worked out because my son had been born and I was trying to take college classes, so she kept him while I went to college. And we were like, “This is what it was meant to be. This was the plan.”
Yeah, so she’s done that. She’s worked for some really big companies and then one of the companies she worked for, some of their accounting was going over to India, and she was like, “I’m too old to learn another language. I’m not going with y’all.” Couple of people had gone over and helped it all get set up, but mom was like, “No, I’ll just go back home (to Alabama).” She worked retail for 5 or 6 years before she retired.
Heart: So, after sitting at a desk job for so long, how did she do retail?
AN: Well at retail, she ended up being responsible for setting up the place. She worked for a clothing company, so when you go in to the store, the mannequins have these different clothes and accessories. Like in summer, they might have the beach bag and the beach ball and all that stuff. She sort of did all that stuff.
Heart: Sure. I get the idea.
AN: Like in the back walls of some of the stores, they would have accessories along with the clothes, she was the one who made it all interesting for people to come in and “Ooo, I want all of that, right there. All of that.”
She did all of that until she retired and during this time, I went back to Culinary school and when I left there, she was trying to work, I was trying to work and have all 5 kids. So she was like, “OK, I’m 2 years from retirement. You stay with the kids, and when I retire, you go to work and I stay with the kids.” And at first, I was like, “Sure.” Because I had spent two and half years at school, and working through school, because we were doing internships. So, I was like, “Yeah, fine, I’ll stay home.” And about 6 months later, I was like, “Oh my God, when are you gonna retire?” (We both laugh)
My mom and I are not the kind to sit still. We like to be busy. Even though she’s retired, she has remodeled her yard. All of her flower beds, and all of that. Now she is redoing the house. And I’m like, “As long as you’re busy.”
Heart: These 5 kids include the niece you were talking about?
AN: 2 of them are my own and 3 are my sister’s. My sister got to a point where she was very into herself and who her next boyfriend was going to be. Her social life was important than the children. So, I literally get a call one night from my mom and its “I need you to come home. You’ve to convince her to leave the kids with me. She has them on the side of the road sleeping in her car.” So, I come home, and “Listen, atleast here they’ll have a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and a bath every night, until you find yourself a place. I don’t care if its a Rent-by-the-week, hotel type place. But they can’t be living like that. Because if you get picked up, they’re going in the system (Division Of Family And Children Services) ”
And she was like, “Oh, I’ll get a new place, I’ll come back and get them in two weeks.” Then it was two more weeks, then it was “Oh, my car broke, I’ve to get this fixed.” And on and on.
Heart: Did she keep a steady job?
AN: She would keep a job for 8 to 9 months and then she would get mad and then she’ll have another job for a few weeks. But the inconsistencies, we went maybe 4 months of this back and forth before I told my mom, “Mom, you’ve got get guardianship over. [redacted] got to be back in school, [redacted] is about to start kindergarten. We got to be able to do this. Right now, we can’t even take them to the doctor if they get sick.” Because of all the new privacy laws. She’s like, “OK, I’ll get temporary guardianship.” And that’s what we went in for and the judge awarded my mom full custodial guardianship until an established home was created either by the mother or the father.
Heart: Is their father there in the picture?
AN: Sort of. He actually lives in Atlanta, he sort of got back in the picture when all the court things were going on and he did really well for about almost 2 years and then he dropped off the face of the earth. Found out later that he was a very severe (car) wreck and he had been in and out of the hospital. For two months, he had no idea who he was, he didn’t even remember he had children. So as he recovered, he called my mom back. “I told the hospital that they can release all the records to you.” I mean, she believed him and said, “No, no. Just get back to your life.” The courts had awarded my mom to get child support from both sets of parents, and she was like, “I’ll even wipe off the child support arrears you have. We can start fresh from here on out.” And he’s like, “We can do this, we can do that.” And he did really well for another year and half and then he sort of got real spotty when he would come visit. Found out he had met someone, he had a new girl in his life, which by all means, I’m like, “Be happy.”
But, now he’s sick, and he doesn’t get to visit as much. But when he was with them, he was attentive with the kids. We head butted a few times. “Oh, this is what my children are gonna wear. This is what my children are going to eat.” And mom told him, “If you’re gonna be here 24 hours a day, then you make the rules. But until you do that, its my house and my rules. That’s how it goes.”
And we had a couple of things, if you don’t want your children to study Buddhism, I get that, but if you say, you don’t want them to learn a religion, that doesn’t happen, because they are in my house. We did make a few compromises, because they are his children. But the crazy everyday stuff, “No, you’re not gonna tell me when these kids go to bed when you’re two and half hours away. I’m the one who’s dealing with them.”
Heart: How do the children handle the fact their parents are not there in the picture. How do they know they are loved?
AN: The 17 year old has autism. As long as he’s at my mom’s house, he’s fine. That’s his safe haven. He can be at my house too and he’s fine. Because I’m steady, I’m stable, I’ve been with him. When he’s with mom, its the same thing. He’ll travel with us anywhere, because he knows he’s coming right back. So, if his dad shows up, he shows up. He’s excited to see him. When dad leaves, dad leaves. But, I think, some of it is his disability. Same thing with his mom.
The 16 year old girl, that’s where we have more drama than normal. Because every so often she’ll lash out at me and I go, “You’re not mad at me.” And “Yes, I’m!” And I say, “No, you’re not. But, if you want to yell and scream at me, by all means, do that. But, you’re not mad at me.” And then she’ll just stop. And she’ll truly express what she’s mad about. “OK, does that make you feel better.” And she goes softly. “Yes.” I go, “Are you mad at me because I made you feel better?” And she goes, “Yes.”
I’ll take that and in a few minutes she’s back to being buddy-buddy, “When are we going shoe shopping?” (We both laugh) But, it took my mom and me to realize that her lashing out wasn’t really her being rebellious. She didn’t really know how to handle all of this.
Heart: How often does your sister come by?
AN: She comes by. But when she comes by its a whirlwind. Like, right when school starts. She’ll come by at night, “Y’all gotta do this, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, coz, I gotta go home.” Well, it shouldn’t matter (to her), you know. She’ll get ready to leave and she’ll tell one of the kids, “Well, make sure y’all are in bed by 10.” And that’s when I’ve to tell her, “You don’t make bed times.”
She says, “I just told them something.”
“Well then, your bed stays here too.”
“But, I’ve to go.”
“Then you don’t make the bed time. Unless you’re here.”
My little one, when he had to stay with my mom this summer or after school when we’re at work, I always tell him, “Your grandmother’s rules are your grandmother’s rules. Plain and simple. Only difference is, if I told you, ‘No sodas or no tablet,'” if he’s grounded, I go tell my mom, “He’s grounded, so no tablet.” And she goes, “Ohhhh, what did he doooo?” (Laughs)
Like snacks and sodas, I don’t fuss too much. She’s a grandmother, she should be able to be a grandmother. She’s raising 3 that she can’t be grandmother with (because she’s the legal guardian to AN’s sister’s kids). Because, Lord knows when my gramma had the cookies, and the candies and the bubble gum.. you know.. (We both laugh) And I don’t know how much of my mom’s protesting was the “true protesting” when her mom was spoiling us, but she was a good actress.
Heart: Aww. Absolutely.
AN: But the 14 year old that’s with me, he gets real excited when his mom visits, but they’re getting to an age, just like the other day I got home from work, and he was like, “Well my mom’s supposed to be here.” And I asked, “What time was she supposed to be here?” And he says, “11am,” And I say, “You know its 3’o clock.” And he goes, “Yeah, can you just take us?” And I said, “Well, let us give her 30 more minutes or I’ll take you where you need to go.” They were supposed to go get school shirts or whatever they needed for school.
I try not to cause the big fights in my family, but there are times when she will come up to me and say, “You can’t buy them school clothes.” Uhhh, guess what, I’m auntie. It’s my right and its my job coz, I live in the same house with them now. Its my job to spoil them. “Well, you don’t leave anything for me to buy them.”
I say, “Then, don’t wait until the Wednesday before school starts to buy them clothes.”
Heart: So your sister has two boys and one girl?
AN: Yeah. When they were younger, it was rougher, she wouldn’t be there at all. Or she would say she would be there, but wouldn’t show up. Now, they’re like, “Momma will get here when she gets here.” November will be 12 years since we’ve had them. My youngest was 4 months old when I brought these three to my home for the first time.
Heart: Do you have any “me time” at all?
AN: Uh, right now, my me time is getting into a book, reading, or I do a type of needlepoint called cross stitch. And I’ll sit there and work on my cross stitch projects.
Heart: Do you listen to music?
AN: Oh yeah. Well, we’ve got music going on in the house all the time.
Heart: Do you have a favorite genre?
AN: Country. That’s what we usually listen to. We actually listen to a little bit of everything, but our go-to is the country station. Every so often I’ll go back to my 80’s music, if I’m being nostalgic. And embarass the kids. Coz, I’ve to do the AC/DC dances and they go, “Oh my God.” (We both laugh) And I go, “Atleast, I’m doing them in the backyard and not in the middle of Walmart.” They’ll crack up and they look at me and roll their eyes. But that’s the type of relationship I want with them. “Yeah, I’m embarrassing you in the backyard, but we’re not in the middle of Walmart, so I’m being nice to you here.”
Heart: Is it just you and your sister?
AN: Nah, I’ve a brother. He lives in Canton, Georgia. He’s married but he has no children. He always jokes that he’ll come to the house and visit, and that reminds him why he doesn’t have children. (We both laugh)
But, I think after a while of being a married couple, its just you and your spouse, and you’ve lived your life a certain way, and usually its the wife who has this urgent sense of having a child, unless that happens, you’re like, “Yeah, this is good. We’ll keep it that way.” You know what I’m mean.
Heart: Yeah, I think I get it. So, is there faith in your life?
AN: Mom and the kids are Baptist. And I’m a non practicing Catholic. I don’t attend mass because of my work, but I still follow the ideology in it. I do attend when I can, some of the services at the Baptist church with mom and the kids, so I can be involved with the kids. That way I can also stay more with the philosophy because that’s what primarily our unit is. Its also just easier to keep going, you know when we have prayers before meals, or prayers before we travel, I can just sort of roll with them.
We do try to teach the kids, that was one thing that my mom and I had talked about when I had converted to Catholicism, “They can learn both. The children can choose what they want to follow. This is my choice. They can convert to Judaism, I don’t care. Let them follow their path.”
Heart: Did you convert for your husband?
AN: No, when I was in high school, I went to this Methodist church, I had friends literally across the street in the Baptist church in the little bitty town I was in. Both the churches would go together for their summer camps but it was essentially one camp, I mean, its a small town. “Yeah, we’re basically all learning the same thing.” Coz, a lot of places down there are sorta, instead of being like, Catholic or Episcopalian, they were Protestant. We will all be traveling together, be in the same camp, didn’t matter whether you’re Methodist, Baptist or Protestant.
Then I had an issue with the church, mostly with some of the people in the church, from them being small town, small minded – hadn’t really traveled, you know. Coz, when we were in California, I had a friend in class who was Jewish. So, we celebrated a day of Hanukkah with him and his family. And he came and did Christmas eve with us. Both sets of parents thought it will be wonderful to expose each other to the two cultures.
Heart: Which year was this?
AN: I was 3rd grade, my brother was 2nd grade. So, we were old enough to understand but we were also sort of curious. “Why doesn’t this guy get Christmas gifts?” And my friend would be like, “Why do they only have that one day to celebrate?” And going through the rituals made sense to us. He had come over and help us put ornaments on our tree. It had been decorated for a while of course. He hung stockings with us, we read the Night before Christmas with him and we all exchanged gifts in the night. And he was like, “Wait a minute, y’all get more gifts in the morning?” We told him, “Sure, typically, if we’ve been good.” (Laughs)
In high school, I was talking about those experiences in the church. One of my best friends was Korean. And all of a sudden I was this Satanic devil worshiper, that’s how the church people were talking behind my back. Now, when I look back, I think, “Really, where did y’all even get that?” I was introduced to other cultures and other religions, and it was eye opening, you know. “Why do the Chinese have their new year in the middle of the year?” And its like, nowadays, we celebrate Cinco De Mayo, and Mexico couldn’t care less. “Well, hello, something’s wrong here!” (We both laugh)
But, this sort of stuff is interesting to learn. I broke away from the church for a while, and when we moved to Atlanta, I had a friend who wanted me to get involved with something. Like an outlet because my son had just been diagnosed with autism and my friend was trying to make sure I was having a positive outlet. And I started going to the church with him, it was something soothing and solid when I was in the Catholic church. The ritual, the familiarity every time I went there. So, I studied it and converted after a while. But, I guess, I never lost my Baptist roots, they’re still there.
Also, studying my genealogy, we have Irish ancestry. We had the Celts and the Druids, so I got interested in that a lot. And that flipped a lot of people out. I was like, “You guys do realize that we were the first ‘tree hugging bunny lovers’, that’s what we basically are.” We celebrate nature, we’re the ones that want to conserve nature. And we’re the ones thankful for the sun, or thankful for the trees. It doesn’t mean we’re worshiping the trees. I don’t think the tree is going to come to life.” Of course, it actually would be really cool, kinda like the Lord of the Rings thing. (We both laugh)
So, yeah, the close mindedness can sometimes get to me, and its funny now, because now all those same people are into the Essential oils, and the herbal, aromatherapy stuff, and I’m like, “Yeah, that would be like the whole Druid culture, wouldn’t it?”
Heart: Kind of like the hippies back then and the hipsters now?
AN: Yeah, that’s all it is, and you’re making it something totally big and different. They say, “You don’t celebrate Christmas. Y’all celebrate the winter solstice.” And I’m like, “Uh-huh.. Well, what do you think Christmas was? Where do you think the older generations got it from?” I mean, I did a whole speech about it in college, and people would ask, “What are you talking about?” And I would reply, “Tell me, which Bible verse says that he was born on December 25th?” And they’re all looking at me going, “Uhhhhh?” So, if you look at it, they are going by the lunar chart, the winter solstice.
Heart: Wow, you were thinking differently even at such a young age?
AN: Oh yeah, I was. I’ve always stood out for what I believe in. Who I’m is who I’m, I don’t want to conform to anyone or anything. But, just the close mindedness gets to me. “Oh no, no, no, that’s not true.” But, who told you that? Challenge what everyone tells you. “Pagans were so unruly, you wanted to convert them over, so you incorporated.” Easter is spring equinox. And when I tell people that, they go, “Uhhhh?” Why isn’t Easter on the same day every year? Because it follows the Lunar cycle.
And then they go, “Wait a minute.”
There’s nothing wrong with what they think, its just that there was no calendar dating system back then. That’s how they kept up with things, when the moon rises this happens, or that happens. The same way the Native American Indians did. “4 moons have passed since we’ve lost the running buffaloes, so, its been 4 months.” Same way, you’ve a sun rise and a sun set, that was a day. That’s how it was done back then. But people forget that. So, yeah, that’s how I got into the Catholic faith, by just exploring.
My basic thing, is the moral aspect of it. Similar to what the Boy Scouts of America teaches. Trustworthy, loyal, all of that, and all of my kids would come out of that being what they are taught, they are allowed to be snippy from time to time, but if they’re polite when they’re supposed to be polite and all that. You know. The children are too young to know that we can have two different persona, we have our home lives and our professional lives, so at home you can be yourself. But in public, you’ve to be a certain way.
Heart: Is there a favorite proverb or quote or a book that has influenced you?
AN: I’ve read so much in my lifetime. (Long pause) There used to be a DJ here in Atlanta, that would do these little parody songs. Some of them are funny, like “Its a Friday, end of the week”, and they would make up a funny song. Some of them are serious. He used to do one called “My cup runneth over.” He did Amazing Grace, How great thou are, A Soldier’s night before Christmas. Oh my God, that song was so beautiful. It made you cry. It talks about a soldier in an abandoned house, sitting on a floor, with an old blanket over him, and I’m from a military family and my grandfather, my uncles and my brother are from the military.
Heart: And he used to do parodies of all these?
AN: Yeah. And so there was another one called the Dash. On your tombstone you’ve your born date, the Dash and your death day. It doesn’t matter when you were born, or when you died, its what you did with the Dash. So, we all talk about it, we live in the Dash. What happens in between those two days is what stands out and what matters. So, I actually have it printed out, and one of these days, I’m gonna get to a point where I’ll cross stitch it. But, every time I start working on it, I think, “Nah, I’m not ready.” (Laughs)
My mom and I sort of joke that that’s what I’ll be doing like towards the end of my life. She goes, “That’s when you know you’re ready.” Yeah. I don’t know. I see the frame, it reminds me, but you live in the Dash, you live every moment, and you’ve to make of the moment. That’s what I told my husband, “Right now, its time for the kids.” You know, this summer the boys went off to summer camp, and it was great, because they all went at the same time, same week.
Heart: No way. So you did get a break of one week after a million years. I was almost feeling sorry for you.
AN: (Laughs) Yeah, we had an actual date night. Woohoo.
And the people in the restaurant were joking with us, “There, you got your one night together.” And I go, “Yes, I’ve 5 children. That’s what we got.” We always pick on our 12 year old, “You go off to college and we’re getting an RV and traveling all around the country.” And he’s like, “How about I go with you now?” And we laugh. Of course, we won’t ever be too far from him, but, my husband and I think that’s when we’ll get our time.
And its not like we don’t have time now. We have time in the night, when we sit and talk. We’re not complete strangers to each other. But the excitement that’s there when you first start dating someone, and go out, I mean.. We dated for about 18 months, but had like 6 true dates. Everything else was like, he was at the house, there was family around always. He’s going grocery shopping with me, he’s helping the kids finish homework.
AN: Yeah, because I was adamant. Because if he was going to be with me, he had to know what my life looked like. This was my life. There’s no need for me to say, “Mom, will you keep them? I’m going out for a couple of hours.” And a couple of years later, I’ll tell him, “By the way, I can’t keep doing that. Wherever we go, all 5 kids will follow us. And we come back and we’ll help them finish their homework.” It doesn’t work that way. He needs to know what he’s getting his booty into.
So, yeah, they went off to the camp and we had a little time together for ourselves and at dinner, we started talking about the kids. He goes, “Stop!” and I go, “I don’t know what else to talk about.” (Laughs) One time we were in this restaurant, you know how they have these songs playing, and when they had a song come on and I say, “This is Matt’s song.” And we both laughed.
He asks me sometimes if I want something to drink. And I don’t drink in front of my kids. So, if he and I get a night out to ourselves that’s what we do. Get a drink. And people think I’m crazy. But my father was an alcoholic. I was brought up in a violent, alcoholic household. So, don’t drink in front of my children. They know what it is, they’re aware of it. Coz, I keep reminding them of, “You’ll be 21. You’ll be 21.” Then I can’t say anything, hopefully, they’re on their own at that age. We talk about it, there’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine with dinner, but if you’re having a couple of drinks after work with your friends, all we ask is to take a cab home. Its not the same exact thing, but on Halloween, you get all this candy, but what will happen if you eat it all in one night?
We don’t watch certain movies in front of the kids. But, my 12 year old is very highly intelligent. I mean, this is a child that stopped watching cartoons when he was five, because “they were boring.” They did not hold his interest. So, it was hard for me to find movies that we could all watch together.
Heart: So, how do you challenge him now?
AN: So, his outlet is puzzle solving. He does the rubix cubes, in all forms and shapes. If its a crazy shape, and its all bendable and twistable, he’ll do it. I don’t even know the names of some of them.
Heart: Do you shop online on Amazon or something?
AN: Some we have found like at a book store. “Oh, that one’s new, lets snag that. That’s his birthday gift.” Last year, I ordered some for Christmas off of Amazon. But anything, logical, anything he can wrap his brain around, I try to get him to do it. Like this past summer, he took up pottery and sculpture. So, we had to go get him clay and now he sits in his room, and he practices his sculpture and pottery.
Heart: Will he go to an Ivy league school?
AN: No. Actually, we know where he’s going to go. He’s going to go to Auburn. He’s going to be a Vet tech. He chose this when he was three and he has stuck with it. First he wanted to be the owner of a zoo, or “I want to be a marine biologist.” But he has stayed with animals from the age of three.
Heart: Do you have pets?
AN: We have three cats. And we work for a no-kill rescue shelter. He goes there for community service hours and we’ve stuck with it. I think total through Boy Scouts, from Scout Rank all the way to your Eagle, not including your Eagle project, you’ve have to have 80 hours of service. Logan has 287. All of it from the rescue shelter.
Heart: Wow. Oh my goodness.
AN: Yup. Because we’re up there always. Like in the summer, I can drop him off and he will work all day and I come back after work and pick him up. He loves being up there. The lady who owns the shelter is a Vet tech, she can do everything except the vaccinations. But, she has a person who comes and gives the Rabies shots and everything. But, she has all got all kinds of animals up there. She’s got horses, goats and pigs. So, we had one of the horses, we don’t know what he did, but on his hind quarters he had this huge gash. It almost looked like he got caught in barbed wire. So Logan goes out there with all the medicines and she would tell him what she’s doing first, then and he’s learning this and enjoying it.
Auburn has the best Vet program in the country and so I want to see him through his bachelors. So, yeah, that’s what he has chosen to go. He had wanted to be a Vet, but the Vet doesn’t interact directly with the animals. They just do the surgery, and the animals go off to heal. Its sort of like the doctors. Doctors do the work, but you see your nurse more. Basically that’s what he wants to be, a Vet Tech. He wants to be behind the scenes helping the animals.
Now, the 14 year old hasn’t figured out what he wants to do yet. The 16 year old girl wants to be a teacher. We will see. Well, she has stuck with that for about an year now.
Heart: Does she have a good role model, like a favorite teacher?
AN: Well, I’ve suggested to her that she can be a good kindergarten teacher. She’s fantastic with little children. And has been for years. She’s very patient with them. She keeps them entertained with very creative ideas. Of course, right now, she wants to get a degree in what is called Family and Consumer Science. When I was in college it used to be called Home Ec (Home Economics). They teach young kids how to cook, how to sew, how to balance your budget. It teaches how to navigate home and your community. So, that’s what she wants to do.
Heart: Is it a 4 year degree?
AN: Yeah. And then she’ll take a test to get a certificate to teach. Like an English teacher goes through school, and they go 4 to 6 years majoring in English, and they’ll come out and take a test to get certified to teach. So, you don’t really go to school to learn to become a teacher. You just major in what you wanna teach and then get certified. Now, there are some things like primary education, whether you teach little kids or big kids, or if you’re gonna teach Special needs, they’re things she can do.
Heart: 12, 14, 16, 17 and 25? 4 boys and one girl.
AN: Yeah. Its definitely easier now. People say, “Oh my God.” But I like this age right now. The 12 year old cooks dinner, there are nights he has made dinner for us. It may be something simple, like grilled cheese and soup, but you know, it helps. He’s self sufficient, especially around the house.
A year ago, I had to have emergency surgery on my gall bladder. I went to the doctor and they were like, “Yeah, you’re going to the ER right now. And you’re going on the operating table right now.” And I was like, “Wait a minute, I didn’t make dinner yet!”
Heart: Was it because of long hours of standing?
AN: No, one of those things, that when you get older stops working on you. So, I went in, had the surgery and couple of days later I come home. I’m sore, I’m stiff. I can’t be up pulling and tugging. So, he was helping with lunches and dinners, but I would go like, “Did you turn the stove off?” And he would go, “Oops!” and he would come back, and I would ask, “What did you do with the butter?”, and he would run back to the kitchen. (We both laugh)
They’re kids, they get scatterbrained like all kids, but atleast they’re trying to help. What would they do, if I’m run down or heavens forbid have the flu? They want something better than cereal, they should be able to fix their French toast. Its just not a big deal. I’m tough on my kids, I know they’ll make mistakes, but you don’t have to make mountains out of mole hills. How can you get mad when your child tells you, “Oops, I forgot to put the tea back in the refrigerator, can you give daddy some icecubes in it.”
Heart: How are you happy, inspite of being so busy and living such a tiresome life? You sound to me like nothing seems to be a problem for you.
AN: I think the biggest thing for me is being content with who I am and my life. I’m not comparing myself to anyone. I don’t care that I don’t have the car that my neighbor has or that celebrity is wearing that style clothes. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m no makeup, hair up, tennis shoes, jeans, ball cap, that’s it. I dress up when there’s an occasion but for the most part, I’m not high maintenance. And I think when people know who they are and are comfortable in their own skin, then they can find happiness. I tell this to my niece always because she has just started dating. And she’s going through all those ups and downs and we are letting her go through those ups and downs.
I’ve a boy in scouts who is special needs, is in a wheelchair and he was dating someone and he comes to find out that she was dating him to make someone else jealous. And I’m like, “OK, you need to move on.” Of course, he was a little hurt, but I told him, “There is someone out there who’s not gonna see that chair.” And just looks at me and goes, “Really?” And I say, “There is someone out there who will see you for who you are and not see you as a person in a wheelchair.” Then he starts dating another girl, maybe a year later, he tells me, “She just got mad at me because I went fishing.” And I tell him, “Nope, she’s not worth it.” And he says, “What do you mean she’s not worth it?” And I ask him, “Do you want to stop fishing?”, and he says, “No,” And so I tell him, “You didn’t cancel a date with her to go fishing, did you? If not, she needs to accept you for who you are.”
So yeah, I think those little things, being comfortable with who I am, and being able to express who I am and not feel judged, and really not caring anymore, you know. There are these young girls at my work, who go, “Oh, I can never say that!” And I tell them, “Trust me, you will. Put 20 more years on you darling, and you will.”
Its not like I don’t have my black days, where I just want to be in my room, with the lights out and curled up in bed, and I don’t want to see the world. But my family is there to make sure it doesn’t happen for long. They’ll walk into the room and be soft and give me love. Like my son will come in, “Do you want another blanket? Do you want your ice cream? Well, OK, I will just put Jeff Dunham and watch it with you.” First I will roll my eyes, then sit up a little bit, then start chuckling, you know. And that’s how they make sure they cheer me up.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.