Being Exes Without Exing Family Bonds

When people find out that my ex and I are still friends and we do things together as a family (that we’re exes without exing family relationships), I get a lot of:

Wow! That’s wonderful. I really admire you. How do you do that?

I typically shrug (it’s an honest shrug) and respond:

Why would we not do this?

I sometimes go on to explain how we found ourselves here. It goes something like this.

Rounding the Bend Begins with Forgiveness

I was sitting across the teak patio table from my mom when she started the rant again. A list of all the anger and disappointment points, all of the things for which she faulted (eternally it seemed) my now ex-husband.

I have long practiced tolerance for the difference in points of view (primarily political and religious) between my parents and myself. I respect their choices and typically skirt any embroiled discussion because that’s not what matters about my relationship to them, and, importantly, because their choices are authentic and deeply rooted in a belief system I have no intention of undoing.

This was different. Beyond a difference in belief and perspective, a future was at stake. The future of family relations.

Mom? Why are you still so angry? I’m not.

That was the first line of a new chapter in our family.

My mom and I had a long conversation that afternoon about anger, responsibility (I, after all, was not exempt from the problems in the marriage that ended), and forgiveness.

Father’s Days and Holidays

A few months later was Father’s Day weekend. Before the divorce, we had celebrated together at my parents’ place with the two fathers: mine and my children’s. For the two years since the divorce, our children had had to split special occasions and holidays between me and their dad. Mom asked about our plans for the upcoming Father’s Day.exes without exing

I’ll be here with you and dad but the kids will spend it with their Baba. 

Silence.

Later that week, my oldest asked about the plans too.

You and your brother and sister will spend the weekend with Baba. I’m going to the farm to spend the weekend with my dad. 

No silence.

Why can’t we all spend the day together?!

Indeed, I thought. Why not?

I made the phone call and suggestion to my mom. The affirmative answer came with restrictions, but it was a step. A step towards healing anger and mending relations.

I think we were all a little nervous, but we had a great, if sometimes awkward, reunited Father’s Day.

The next family holiday was Thanksgiving. This time my eldest was the first to bring up the plans. She asked: Please, let’s spend the day together. We did. Since then, our family, the broken nuclear family and the rebonded extended family, has come together for holidays, special events, and vacations.

High Roads and Easy Roads

I’ve been trying to write this post for over a year now. Not because it’s hard to write. The story of it spills out. The difficulty is that it might sound too proud or that others whose post divorce relationships were more challenging might feel judged. I don’t feel proud. I’m simply happy and blessed. The path we took as a family was the natural path for us. And I certainly don’t judge. Just as every marriage and family is unique, every divorce comes with its own hurdles and heartache.

I should emphasize too that I didn’t take the high road. Those I admire you’s often suggest that I did. Maybe we’re on the high road, but this was the easier road, the right relationship road. The beginnings of it were a little narrow and scary, but this road has proffered our family better holidays and special occasions, richer relationships, and a deeper understanding of where love and forgiveness lead.

Every time we have a family gathering, we hold hands in a circle before the meal and take turns saying what we’re grateful for. My mom’s gratitude, without exception, has always been or at least included:

I’m grateful for this family and for Ziad and Pennie, for how they keep this family together. 

Me too, mom. I’m especially grateful this was the easy road.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Hobbies and Derelicts

Today, I realized hobbies and derelicts are connected.

The Venue

Every six months, I load my beach wagon with boxes of pepper jellies, drag the wagon of jellies through the arboretum, and set up a booth to sell my wares. I think of vendor venues like the Plant Fest! as enabling events. When you make things, if you can’t hang them on the wall, display them on a shelf, wear them more than once a year, or eat them before they expire, you’d best have friends who clamber for them or a place to sell them. Hobbies and Jelly addicts

Peppers and pepper products are one of my many hobbies. Even when I sell several hundred dollars worth, I don’t really make money. I make just enough to enable my addiction hobby. That’s what I meant. Hobby. It’s also a chance to pop my work bubble, spend a few hours outdoors, and mingle with friends, vendors, and clients.

The Neighbor

One of the neighboring vendors asked about my jellies and peppers. My muscle memorized explanation:

I grow my own peppers and forage the fruits I can’t grow.
“Oh really! Where do you grow them?”
Right here. In my backyard. I live behind the arboretum. 
“I live in this neighborhood too!”
I’m on Corby.

I could tell by the tone of his “Oh no, I don’t live there” that he wasn’t fond of my street. After he explained where he lived, he went on:

“What has happened to Corby? It’s become derelict.”
Derelict? How so?
“Oh, the houses are so run down.”
Hmmm. You’re probably talking about my house! 

My house needs gutter repair (not easy on a two-story home), a pressure wash, and paint on the front door. I guess the guy thought I was joking, because he kept going.

“You know the house with the DeLorean?”
That’s my house!

Domestic To-Dos vs. Hobbies

I tried to keep my tone true. Amused, because I found this amusing, not insulting.

I mostly live within my financial means. No yard guy, no maid, and I don’t hire that guy who knocks on my door and offers to pressure wash my house. I have a mower, a mop, and a pressure washer. I’ll do all that myself.

But I do NOT live within my temporal means. My time is fully spent: frenzied freelancing hours and more hobbies than I can count on both hands.

When hobbies and domestic trifles land on the same to-do list, pressure-washing the house is more likely to fall off than tilling the garden. I’m more likely to can peppers than dust. Vacuuming versus writing? I’ll choose writing every time.

I don’t judge those who spic the span and have picture-perfect homes. I’m just not there.

The Derelict

My vendor neighbor seemed uncomfortable, so I didn’t insist on explaining My street is fine, and several houses have been recently painted, windowed, or flipped. Mine is not one of them. So me. That’s me in the derelict house. I let him shift the topic to the car (what’s up with the DeLorean?) and cars, and all the cars that he has parked in his garage.

I don’t know why he thought my street was derelict, so I can only guess and assume.

My street has become more diverse over the years. This is something that thrills me. If he associates run-down and derelict with color (and I don’t know that he does), I am even more amused since the only three houses (all in a row) that need more TLC on my street belong to a middle-aged white woman, a white family who rent to their son and two other white twenty-somethings, and another white family whose parents are of the brilliant computer-geek types.

If long-in-the-blade yards are bothersome, I’m with the computer-geeks two houses down: I do my own and get to it when I can. The twenty-somethings next door? Since when do college-age guys keep a tidy lawn?

The Hobby

I’m going to own “derelict.” Since I’m sort of my own boss, maybe this can become part of a title: Derelict Product Developer? Freelance Derelict? Derelict Novelist? Jelly Dereliction? Derelictious Gardener?

I’ll also own that I have taken on more than time allows. I could take a loan and just get some of the domestic things done, but I prefer the pay-as-I-go plan. And honestly, I’d much rather finish a novel and a screenplay (writing is my loftiest hobby) than fret over a well-kept yard or an appointed house. I take comfort in one of J.K. Rowling’s replies when she was asked how she raised a baby and wrote a book.

I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman, and living in squalor that was the answer.

Here’s to more years ahead of hobbies and dereliction! And owning the creative squalor.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Giving: Did I Do the Right Thing? A Revisit and a Scrutiny

“I don’t want your money, but . . . “  That’s how our brief encounter began. I wrote about it (and giving) two and a half years ago.

When is giving good?

A few months ago, a friend posted about the same woman. She had seen her at several stores, hustling for groceries. It was a scam, a hustle for pricey items that she probably resold. Don’t give to her!

I had already given. Chicken, potatoes, bananas . . . What I gave was the opposite of high-ticket, but after my friend’s post I spent the next few months tumbling questions:

  • Did I make a mistake?
  • Was giving to her a bright spot in my human interaction or was it a bad (foolish!) decision?
  • Knowing what I know now, would I have still do the same?
No. Not sure. And absolutely yes.

Here’s the thing. She wanted chicken. The cheaper potatoes. Bananas. Bread. And (maybe I’m imagining this) validation.

She’s a human being making her way through a life. It doesn’t match mine and probably not any else who is reading my post, but she’s doing what she can with the circumstances she was given.

Who am I to judge?

I don’t and wouldn’t judge you for walking past her or blatantly turning her down. I get it. I often don’t feel comfortable giving. But I won’t judge her for asking for the chicken and sides.

If we’re all subjects in a massive human experiment, a test to deteremine what “humanity” is, I’d rather err on the side of a little foolish and warm-hearted than cold and clinging to my dollar bills.

I stand by my initial decision and expenditure. But mostly I stand by my initial biological feedback. It felt good.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

My Garden Control

The hunter’s full moon is shining down on my garden tonight. I don’t have much in the garden, but the soil is freshly tilled and a dozen seedlings are reaching for the sky. My garden, honestly, is about everything but the vegetables. Sometimes it’s about control.

I can’t say I control my garden well. And the garden certainly doesn’t control me.

If the bean counters showed up, my garden would be condemned. It’s a bad business model. More money for the lesser vegetables, or, often, no vegetable at all. Add to that, the garden takes up precious time, space, and effort.

If the bean counters, however, would factor in more than harvest, my garden would receive a “best deal” sticker. My garden is for unplugging, for meditation and movement, for physical and mental therapy, for emotional grounding.

Tonight as I studied the hunter moonshadows on my crooked rows, I felt a surge of comfort.

Just as everything was spinning completely out of control, I took time last weekend to weed and till my garden. The weeds in some spots were chin-high. It took two days and many I’m-going-to-pass-out moments.

Control becomes an emotion. I felt it immediately. Sure, I was panting and wiping the sweat from my face. But I had restored something. Taken control.

I started this week with more direction and strength. And tonight, as that out-of-control feeling was creeping back in, I went outside to see the full moon. I knew she’d be there. That helped.

I looked at the shadows she cast. My garden rows and seedlings beamed up at me in the moonlight. They restored me.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

 

Uncertain Journey

A couple of months ago, I made a decision. I didn’t have time to do what was involved, but part of the decision was to make the time. I made the time to begin an uncertain journey.

Monthly One-Week Visits

Once a month, for one week, I go to the “farm,” my folks’ place. They live a mere ninety miles away, but due to my long hours and endless projects, months can slip away between visits.

Earlier this year, mom was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. Months between visits suddenly seemed unacceptable, so I decided to make a change.

Once a month, I throw a bag of clothes and my computer in the car, and the dogs and I head to the farm. I set up a docking station in the house we rent from my parents and spend a week in our little country home in the water hollow, just down the field from my parents’ home.

I’m not sharing this as a brag. I don’t have a clue what I am doing. In fact, I felt a little selfish at first. Even though I’m working, the visits are a nice break. I don’t have the worries and distractions that pressure me when I’m at home (in the city). I don’t have to feed or coddle anyone. In fact, I get coddled! Mom shows up with clementines and cashews. Dinnertime? I just show up. It’s already prepared.

Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents? Can I make a difference given my ridiculous work hours?through the field

I’ll answer the second question first.

Yes. Absolutely yes.

While I spend most of the eighteen hours I’m awake sitting in front of my computer, I can take a five-minute walk and I’m in mom’s kitchen. I walk up the field three to four times a day, sometimes to join my parents for a meal, sometimes to help mom do something, and sometimes just to visit. But can I make a difference? Just as doubt was setting in, I realized that the insight I gain during the visits and meals are helping me identify ways to help. This is a new journey for us, and although it’s not one I’m thrilled about, I’m blessed and joyful that I am able to be on board for it.

Regarding the first question: “Am I doing this for me or am I doing it for my parents?”

Both. Why shouldn’t it be both?

For me: The visits are self-indulgent. They take me out of my work bubble. I may not work less while I’m there, but I move more, look up more, breathe better air. I have a break from the regular pressures of home, and I get a little spoiled.

For my parents: This is an uncertain journey. The uncertainty is unsettling. I may not know how to help, but I know it helps to talk, share ideas we’ve found, and be present for each other.why I look up

The Magic of Making Time

Remember I said I didn’t have time to do this, but decided to make time? It’s true.

My garden had gone to weeds, the walls in one room need to be torn out and replaced, all of the windows in my house need to be replaced, the shed needs to come down, two ponds need to be dug up and moved . . . The grass and weeds keep growing, the dust and webs keep collecting, the dogs keep shedding, and I can’t keep up because I work ten to fifteen hours a day. I didn’t have time.

What happened when I made time? The list of to-dos didn’t magically diminish, but, magically, I have more energy and vision for tackling that list. I’ll continue to make the time for this uncertain journey, for myself and for my parents.

Enjoy the photos I took on my walks between the water hollow and the main house (it’s not why I go but it’s why I look up when I do).

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Skin in the Game and 4 Conflict Conversation Tips

Skin color and police force have defined this month in my community. Many of us feel that one is undervalued, the other used in excess, and opposing views on these topics have become uncomfortably heated on social media and in conversations. Unfortunately, the impotency of many heated exchanges has paralyzed true communication and stretched the divide, most notably among white friends and family.

I haven’t struggled to find my position on the topics, but I have struggled to find my voice, an effective voice.

I’m putting my skin in the game.

In my middle-aged whiteness, I’ve reached back to my own experiences to find truths in current events.

I know skin color matters.

Flash back 39 years ago. I was head lifeguard of the city pool of a small town. I had a twenty minute commute to work on a rural highway, up a Smokey foothill, and I loved to speed.

The inevitable happened: one afternoon, a sheriff deputy pulled me over. I was doing about 90 mph in a 50 mph zone.

What didn’t happen? I didn’t get a ticket, not even a written warning. Just a verbal, “You need to slow down on these highways, missy.”

I know my skin color mattered. The blond hair and golden tan were fortuitous as well.

I know some policemen use excessive force.

Flash forward 20 years from my unticketed speeding stop. I was a young mother, leaving a city park with my 7, 4, and 2 year-old children. We were leaving the way we came in and the only way I knew out of the park.

A cop held up his hand to stop me. I rolled down my window, “I’m just trying to get out.”

“Turn around!” he screamed. My kids were alarmed.

“But I need to . . . !”

“I said turn around! Now!”

“But how can I . . .?”

He slapped his hand on my windshield, next to my inspection sticker and inspected the date. (Whew! It’s current.) His face was red as he screamed louder and louder. My kids joined in, screaming, crying, terrified by this man in blue with one hand on a gun and another slapping my windshield and pointing us in the other direction.

I submitted, turned around, pulled over a few minutes to collect myself.

Let’s take a moment to review the situation: a suburban park an hour before a football game, cars and people only beginning to arrive; no protesters, no picket signs, no dangers. Yet this cop was unhinged.

After a few minutes of assuaging my nerves and crying children, I saw cars entering from another direction, a second entrance I didn’t know about, that little bit of information the officer didn’t listen long enough to know I needed.

This minor, avoidable incident petrified my children. Incensed, I called the police department to report it. “You’ll have to come in to file a report.” So I went.

The visit to the police headquarters was infuriating and fruitless. The officer listened impatiently to my complaint, handed me a form, then dropped an album in front of me. Photos of every single member of the police force. The officer knew I couldn’t possibly identify the screaming white cop I had encountered among the hundreds of photos of mostly white cops.

“You could give me a list of the officers who were on duty last night.”

“No I can’t.”

I pushed away the heavy album and explained, through tears and much less eloquently than I’m recounting: “I came here to file a complaint, not a formal report. I came here to let you know that your officer was unnecessarily forceful, he wasn’t listening, and, as a result, my children are traumatized. I came here hoping someone could explain to him that his behavior was out of line. I came here in hope that I could make a difference in how he handles his next encounter.”

My incident was trivial, but suggestive.

Most policemen don’t but I know that policeman used unnecessary force. But the Force did not want to engage in real conversation about it.

Furthermore, I know my skin color mattered, again. It’s speculation, but not ludicrous to imagine that my perceived impertinence would have had a less trivial outcome for a black parent.

Sadly, this statement is not facetious: “I’m white, so I lived to write the story.”

The disastrous marriage of racial prejudice and excessive police force is nothing new in this country. The problem isn’t escalating. The difference now is that the ubiquitous camera and the activist movements are pulling away the veil and exposing the inequities and crimes. We have work to do. All of us. This work requires unity and conversation.

Stay in the Conversation

Staying in the conversation is strenuous. Standing in the middle to work through a conflict is challenging, sometimes confusing. But bringing our voices and efforts together is the only way through.

If the conversation and the conflict aren’t over and you throw your hands up (“I’m done!” “I’m over it!”), you also surrender your voice and will not be part of the conversation or solution.

What is conversation?

This is what it’s not. It’s not a bumper sticker. It’s not a tirade of insults. It’s not a clever tweet. It’s not a series of Facebook slaps. It’s not one-sided.

Conversation is a communicative exchange, a give and take. Two sides. Two tasks. Listen. Speak.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication offers information and training in what is sometimes called compassionate communication, a process developed in the 60s. The NVC website details its mission and principles. Their communicative model is the takeaway that could help guide us through conversation around conflict:

Skin in the Game

The LISTEN side of this NVC model is painfully absent in most “discussions” about race and police abuse. I’ve steered clear of most interpersonal and social media “conversations” on the topic, not because I’m unsure about my position, but because most seem to deteriorate into an escalating series of taunts and feckless but oranges!, but apples! but elephants! comparisons.

For my part, I’m listening, lifting my voice in prayer and peace as I seek real conversation. I want more communicative and unifying conversation, so I offer these four tips for jumping into, out of, or clear of a conversation.

  1. If you’re not informed, steer clear. Listen and read before you jump in. If you haven’t done your homework, you don’t have any ground to stand on as you express an opposing view. 
  2. If you have something to offer, express it with respect, empathy, even love. Dagger tongues and poison pens never advance a conversation or solution, especially not on social media platforms.
  3. If the conversation is about apples, don’t jump in with oranges and elephants, unless the point is fruit genus (malus vs. citrus) or size (apple vs elephant mouth). Tackle one conflict or issue at a time.
  4. If the other parties diminish the conversation by trying to sustain it with barbs and misinformation, jump out! My dear cousin recently advised my daughter during a FB conversation scuffle with a quote that Brené Brown shared on her website: “Don’t try to win over the haters. You’re not the jackass whisperer (Scott Stratten).

Empathetic and Responsible Reading and Listening

I saw a meme last week that said: “We’re drowning in information but starving for wisdom.” Seek out thoughtful, factual articles and commentaries.

Racial Equity

  • If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?”, this post by Justin Cohen offers good advice for white folks who want to be an ally.
  • If your response to Black Lives Matter is All Lives Matter! or Blue Lives Matter!, there is a misunderstanding, and chances are you haven’t visited the BLM website or read the guiding principles. This is a not a “we matter, but you don’t” movement.

Police Misconduct

  • This article explains General Honoré’s thoughts on the militarized response in my city. I was appalled that this is what protesters faced at the conclusion of their peaceful march.
  • That said, I’m not anti-cop. Our police forces have an exacting, thankless, and underpaid job. That doesn’t excuse misconduct. I am anti-misconduct. I expect the police force to own and address the problems in their ranks, and the law to hold officers responsible for misconduct.

Coming Together

  • Real conversations aimed at uniting us are happening online and in real spaces. Join in. Put your skin in the game. Listen with empathy. Express yourself honestly. Come together. Be part of the solution.
© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Tiny and Big Motherhood: My LTYM Experience

Thirteen Listen To Your Mother Baton Rouge 2016 cast members gave motherhood a microphone on May 1st.

We are a diverse group. I’m not referring to our skin color, hair color, or ages (I was the oldest, by the way), but rather to the diversity in the piece of our heart that each of us shared on stage. More intriguing to me than our diversity is the connection that runs through it. I don’t mean the show or the stage or even motherhood. I’m talking about the connection of experience and emotion.

  • I wasn’t the only mom who…
    • never planned to be one.
    • has learned from her (sometimes “adulty”) children.
    • questioned her heart, her love, her choices.
    • channels lessons and wisdom from the “giants” who came before her.
    • experiences the chaos, the hilarity, the heartbreak.
    • lifts herself out of the fear for future or the grief of loss.
    • experienced some healing energy this spring.

I feel uplifted, connected, and refreshed by this experience. I encourage everyone to attend the next LTYM show in their area. To those who have a story about motherhood (and you needn’t be a mother nor a woman to have such a story!), audition for next year’s show!

Thanks to director Meghan Matt for bringing LTYM to Baton Rouge, to producer Audrey Hayworth for helping her pull together a beautiful show, and to LTYM founder Ann Imig for being a Game Changer and making this experience possible for so many.

This is my story. I’ll share the YouTube video when it becomes available this summer. Thanks in advance for reading.

Tiny and Big

“I love you tiny and big,” she said with three-year old seductiveness as she mimicked her phrase with two pinched fingers for “tiny” and outspread arms for big. That about covered it for her. Sometimes she couldn’t love me big because she was overcoming a time-out; but she still loved me tiny. Now it had become a game. I would imitate her, hesitating between “tiny” and “big,” then watch her anticipation then satisfaction as I completed her favorite phrase: “I love you tiny… and… big.”LTYM-Audrey

I don’t remember ever telling my parents I loved them so freely as I grew up. I don’t remember being told often. We knew it, yet rarely said it. The few times we did, the expression swelled between us, tense, embarrassed, urgent.

My girls changed this. My mom can tell them easily and unencumbered by tension, “I love you.” I have noticed, however, that my three-year-old never tells her grandmother, “I love you TINY and big.” No, for her Mama Nick, my daughter stretches her arms apart as far as possible (even her facial muscles try to follow her hands) and tells my mom, “I love you thiiiiiis much.” Big. Only big.

I wrote this twenty three years and a dozen computers ago. My girls were joined by a baby brother less than a year later, and now I’m a seasoned mom of three adults. Through the mad rush of those mama years, I managed to save this snippet from my youthful, unseasoned motherhood, thanks to the nearly obsolete floppy disk.LTYM-Sarah

What about that young mom who scribbled her thoughts on a floppy disk? She had no idea how to be a mother! She wanted to be a writer. Is she still there? Or is she obsolete, like the floppy disk? Did motherhood take the write right out of her? I confess, the fear that part of me stayed behind, lost on a broken computer, gurgles through my mind from time to time.

That young mom didn’t realize how peaceful and simple those first few years were, how suddenly the energy would shift to work, carpools, soccer games, choir, volleyball matches, piano lessons, and swim meets. Write a novel!? Who was I kidding? I needed two to three years to READ the novel on my nightstand.LTYM-Sam

I wish I had written more as the children grew up, when the experiences with them were fresh. I’d have snippets like snapshots about rearing children. Like the day my son was born, and how my second daughter refused to look at him or speak to me. About how several months later, she would sit next to him and wait until she thought I wasn’t looking to steal his pacifier, take a few nom noms, then stick it back in his mouth. Or about their last bath together when they were three and one. She pointed at her brother who was twirling his finger in his bellybutton. “I want one of those!” she said. “But you have a bellybutton!” I replied, tickling hers. “No!” she retorted, pointing lower. “One of those!”

The humor and tenderness of mama journeys are often overshadowed by difficulties: the broken leg, the tantrums and time outs, the dislocated elbow, the first heartbreak, the science fair nightmares, the lost jacket, the stolen computers, the stolen car, the lost phone, let’s face it, the lost and stolen just about everything. I wish I had captured on a floppy disk more of those tiny and big moments in between the difficult ones.

The nest is empty now. I barely blinked! I would say “I raised my children well.” But that’s not the whole story. The learning was reciprocal. My children taught and continue to teach me tiny and big lessons. Lessons about their youthful world, lessons about myself. Listening to my heart was one of the biggest lessons.

I listened to my heart and started writing again.  

Last year, I wrote a blog post for Mother’s Day. It started like this:

I didn’t plan to be a mom.

For the first quarter century of my life, I boasted that I’d never marry, that I wouldn’t have children.

I would write, travel the world. I would be a nomadic wordsmith.

Yet here I am, mother of three adult children. Where did I go wrong? I didn’t.

As I circle around the empty nest and back to that writer in me, I understand I truly didn’t go wrong. A tiny twist? A big detour? Yes and yes. But I love everything about the journey. My tiny travel companions? I especially love them. I love them so big. Only big.

LTYM-kids

© Copyright Pennie Nichols, 2016. All Rights Reserved
Link

LTYM gives motherhood a microphone.

This is my LTYM cast spotlight.

Cast Spotlight: Pennie Nichols

by MEGHANMATT on FEBRUARY 24, 2016

It’s time for our very first cast spotlight of 2016 and we are so excited to introduce you to Pennie. She is an “experienced” mom and her piece is one that really gave my heart the flutters and made my eyes swell with tears. When she walked into auditions she brought a quiet strength and calming presence. She is a content writer for textbooks and a freelance writer for fun, and an all around just cool freakin’ lady. Get to know her a little bit, and then come out and see her in the show May 1st at the Manship!

pennie face

How did you hear about Listen to Your Mother? What made you decide to audition?
I heard about Listen to Your Mother most recently through my local friend Connie, but also from my friend Danielle, who was in the 2013 Indianapolis cast.

I auditioned because I didn’t think this through. Performing arts is absolutely outside of my comfort zone. I do, however, love to share through writing. This LTYM experience will make me stretch, but I feel safe because I’ll be allowed to carry my security blanket (my words) onto the stage.

When did you start writing?
As soon as I learned to write and spell, I began to write poems and stories, and I often drew illustrations to go with them. In high school and college, I wrote mostly for school assignments: term papers and theses. As a freelance editor/writer, my writing continues to be about assignments, which is unfulfilling because the words aren’t mine. Last year I made a determination to redirect my writing energy and write for myself, or “write for real” as I like to call it.

Describe your writing style.
When I was about twelve, I remember working on a horror novel about a serial killer whose weapon of choice was a staple gun. Fortunately, I’ve lost that manuscript. My writing now is eclectic but tends to be introspective. My funny bone is packed under a few layers of fat, but I’m trying to find it. I write about things I love to do, imaginary friends and foes, and heart and social issues that are important to me.

What is something that you always tell your kids?
“Watch your letters!” when they use acronyms like WTH and WTF; and “Use your words!” when they substitute acronyms like LOL or OMG for words.

What is your dream vacation?
My dream vacation is a large house on a quiet beach with sugary white sand. My family and several friends are with me (the house is ridiculously big). We have a grill, a boat docked on the pier, and a few cases of Marlborough County New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We cook, comb the beach, play games, fish, play music, float on the waves, SCUBA, and bask in the sun.

What is your mommy superpower?
Like most moms, I have many. Can’t find something? Mama!! Hungry? Mama!! Stranded with a flat? Mama!! I have trouble identifying “favorites” and “bests,” so I asked my children what they thought my ultimate superpower was. From the mouths of my three babes:
“You’re patient and compassionate.”
“No matter what we’ve done or chosen, you never judge us.”
“You effortlessly take the panic out of any situation.”
Based on their input, my ultimate superpower is not finder, cook, or lifesaver, but rather “defuser.” I apply patience and compassion to defuse fear, panic, and self-doubt so that my children feel safe to make mistakes, safe to come to me in a crisis, safe to call at any hour, safe to be themselves, safe to come home.

pennie fam

Come see Pennie and the 12 other incredible women at the second annual production of Listen to Your Mother: Baton Rouge on May 1! Until then, stay tuned here for more cast spotlights and information on our incredible and generous sponsors!

Motherhood: LTYM in Baton Rouge

I’m humbled and excited to help give motherhood a microphone as a cast member of Listen to Your Mother 2016 Baton Rouge.

What is Listen to Your Mother?

From the LTYM website:

“LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER features live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in staged community shows celebrating Mother’s Day. All shows are recorded and shared on our LTYMShow YouTube channel, boasting a catalog of nearly 1500 diverse stories of motherhood (daughter/son/father/Grandparent, etc).”

This year, Listen to Your Mother gives motherhood a microphone on stages in over forty communities. The shows take place in early May, and raise money for non-profit charitable organizations.

Find and catch a LTYM show in your area! If you’re in my area, come check us out on May 1, 2016, at the Manship Theatre.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols, 2016. All Rights Reserved

Worthy of Kindness?

When does a person become unworthy of kindness?

Although it’s not a rhetorical question, I’m not looking for any answers. I think there are many.

This question came up in my home the day Derrick Todd Lee, convicted serial killer, died. I wasn’t thinking about Lee, though. I googled Trevor Reese.

Trevor was my son’s high-school classmate and soccer teammate. Until he wasn’t.

Between their sophomore and junior years of high school, Trevor did the unthinkable. On a summer day, he slit the throat of Jack Attuso, a happy eight-year-old, out for a walk with his family.

My son was sixteen at the time, as was Trevor.

“Mama!!!”

The news was confounding. Even today when I read about it, my heart breaks in every direction.

  • Jack’s parents
  • Trevor’s parents
    • Jack’s siblings
    • Trevor’s siblings
      • Jack
      • Trevor

And the heartbreak goes on.

In his sixteenth year, Trevor felt he was like a Derrick Todd Lee. On that summer day in 2010, Trevor set out to get some “relief.” To get “high,” if you will. To feel better. He was sure killing would do it. In his court testimony, he explains that he was disappointed after the act.

The Lee and Trevor stories are horrifying. Google their names if you really want to know more. But I ask this:

When did/will/would a Derrick Todd Lee or a Trevor Reese become unworthy of kindness?

“Maybe he (my son) could write to him, tell him something nice he remembers about him?”

“Why?

“To lift him up. Maybe add something.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?

“Why waste your energy on someone like that?”

I was surprised to hear this from someone who sees the value in lifting up. But my partner had a point. Why expend good energy and goodwill on someone who may be immune to it? We have many people, projects, and commitments in our lives. If we prioritize it all, where would a Lee or a Trevor fall on our list?

Can I make the time? Should I make the time? Stripped down, the question is: “Is he worthy of my kindness?”

My heart answers “yes” every time.

Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things.

In a scene from an Argentinian film Hombre mirando al sudeste (Man Facing Southeast), Rantes, the protagonist, is in a pathology lab. He slices a brain in half and asks a series of questions as he explores the crevices: “Where is that afternoon where he first felt the love of a woman?”  “What marks are left of the moments of pleasure and pain that this man felt?” As he tears apart pieces of the brain and washes them down a drain: “There goes Einstein. Bach. Mr. Nobody.  A crazy man.  A murderer.” Rantes asks the doctor who is visiting him: “What do you think, doctor? Does this drain spill into hell or into heaven?”

There are so many things we can’t truly know.

  • Why?
  • What’s in a person’s head?
  • Will my kind words be fruitless or fruitful?

When I asked my son what he thought:  “I think I would actually like to write to him. I don’t know what I’d say. ‘I hope you find peace.’ Something. It can’t hurt.”

Those words, that missive would be small. Light as a ping pong ball. So why not toss it over? That ping pong ball could hit a brick wall then bounce away, back at us, over our heads, into oblivion. Or, the ball could fall into an open heart. Maybe lift it a little.

Maybe Trevor would remember something good. He’ll spend the rest if his life in Angola. What could a ping pong ball of kindness hurt?

I confess I’m drawn to stories like the Amish story of forgiveness and grief. Within weeks of the shooting in which the milk truck driver entered a school and shot ten students, killing five and then himself, Amish families donated money to the murderer’s widow and children. What’s more, the day after the services for the victims, some of the family members of the victims attended the killer’s burial service, hugged his widow, and expressed condolences to the family.

Trevor’s mom was my son’s math teacher. My son liked her. I often thought about reaching out but never did. I regret that. I should have written. I should have tossed her a ping pong ball of kindness. Maybe it’s not too late to send a kind missive, perhaps even an uplifting word to her son, Trevor. Tossing that out there will feel good, no matter how it lands or where it bounces.

Copyright © 2016 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.