I Loved Them First

So, I posted this picture on social media yesterday. I didn’t really have an intent other than the fact that I just wanted to share the picture. Finding it was easy. It’s saved in my phone. Posting it was easy. Captioning it was easy. Then, I stared at it. As if at any moment the faces in it would speak and tell me the secret to a beautiful life. I stared for a long time. Not because I was sad. But because I was proud. And I was wishing I could remember that day that was captured on a roll of film that an actual person developed. A roll of film that kept its owners in suspense as to exactly how the photos would turn out. Old school style. The film you had to wait days for. Not like today. Nothing was “instant” back in 1981. So, that’s me, my mama, and my daddy. They were probably terrified. First baby. Premie. Fresh out of high school. And you know what?! Maybe I was nervous too. But, little did they know, I had already been loving them. And we were connected, the three of us. For life. They didn’t live in the same house for a long time. And that is okay. It’s always been okay. That fact of life has never made me sad. For God had His plan. And God’s timing is always right. And I have always, always loved my life.

me daddy and mom

I am proud of this picture. I am proud of this moment. I am proud of my parents. If it weren’t for their lives, I might not have mine. If it weren’t for every single decision they made, good and bad, I would not be the woman I am today. And for all their decisions, I am grateful. I have been loved by them since day one. And I have loved them since before. I am theirs and they are mine. I love them fiercely. I love them with my whole heart. They shared (and still share) with me moments and advice that could only be given by them. Moments and memories that are so uniquely special. Moments and memories that are unforgettable.

So this is my mama. We had just met. But we already knew each other.

mama and me baby

me and mama

And here…In her 1980’s high-waisted, skinny belt, v-neck (in the front and the back), shimmery eye- shadow, frosted hair style. Rockin’ it. I bet she was listening to Madonna or Prince in her car on the way to my mammaw’s house. And I bet she was singing. That’s her. Growing up I loved to hear her sing in the car. I’m not sure if she thought she was good or not, but I felt like no matter what song was on, she sounded just like the lead singer. I even told her that one day on the way home from school. She just giggled and said something like, “Oh, Amanda…I do not.” But I know she was happy I told her that. See, mama knows how to have fun. And mama knows when to shut it down and “mean business”. Mama is the yin and the yang. She’d be cutting loose to some “We Built This City” tunes on Saturday, and then be in her glasses with her “mom face” on cleaning bathrooms on Sunday and laying out clothes for Monday like it was her job. Mama meant business on Sunday. I’ve never known her to give less than 100%. Because of her, I learned to make my own way and take care of myself and no matter what, “you better make it work”. Life is not for sissies. She may argue that she should’ve done things differently. And to that I say, no way. For every shortcoming she sees in herself, I see the good. I only smile. I am only grateful. Her perseverance is unmatched. I’ve never seen an obstacle she’s not been willing to fight. Her sacrifices were many when my brother and I were growing up. Know this. Mama always made things work, and she never made excuses. Ever. She pushed me but not too hard. She let me fail. She let me fix my own mistakes. She gave me space and time. But she always came back to me. We have an understanding between us, mama and me. For even though she is my mama, it’s almost like she’s my twin. We are kindred spirits. We have a once-in-a-lifetime love. We laugh the same, we hurt the same, we love the same. I bet if she were to tell me her deepest fear, it would be the same as mine. I bet it’s from her heart. I bet she’d have to dig deep for it. Because my mama fears nothing. As a matter of fact, I owe my fearlessness to her. I was never afraid when she was near. It’s funny how I learned to not fear things. She never told me not to be afraid. I just knew I shouldn’t be. Somehow I always knew she would protect me. No matter where I was. Perfect example. Dance team tryouts, 1995. Open tryouts. To the public, ya’ll. I don’t think I have ever been more nervous in my life. But, I got out there. Group of three. JCHS gym floor. Bleachers packed. Somehow, I found my mama’s smile, and suddenly, no one else existed. It was me and her. It was just us. All I had to do to make it through was lock eyes with my mama. I love that memory. Not because I made the team but because I didn’t have to tell her I was scared. She knew it, and she knew exactly what to do. She did it. And I was not afraid. See, we have this thing. This thing where we can be in the middle of a thousand people…and yet we’re the only ones there. Just us. Only us. And time stands still. She has been my calm in hundreds of storms. Although she sometimes watched from afar against her better judgement, she never let me so far out of sight that she couldn’t reach me. I know God gave me to her because He knew I needed her. I need her always. Even when I don’t think I do. I remember the way her hands felt as I inspected every inch of them on Sunday mornings at church, watching her put on make-up even though she never really needed it, our talks every other Sunday when she picked me up from Daddy’s, calling her every ten minutes to tell her my brother was “not listening to me” when I was in charge of babysitting, Ham and Goody’s lemon cookies, nights I’ve spent at her house as an adult and taking in the scent of her sheets…because they remind me of being “home”… And as insignificant as it sounds, she makes the best sandwiches EVER. I make the same exact sandwiches at my house, but they are never as good as hers. I’m glad though. Because, to me, the fact I can’t replicate the taste of her sandwiches means I still need her. And I’ll never be ready to stop needing my mama. This tiny, little, small thing symbolizes so much more. In fact, I hope my kids think my sandwiches are the best they’ve ever had. The smallest of things teach such profound lessons. And the journey of “me” begins with lessons I learned from my mama. We did it. We loved through it all. We made some memories that changed both our lives. The triumphs made us stronger; the challenges tested our faith. Regardless, there’s good in every memory. Because we both know even the bad turns out good. Always. Just ask Granny. I learned how to be strong from my mama. I learned how to love myself and how to trust my instincts, no matter what. I hope she knows how strong she is. I hope she knows I learned how to be strong from her. Life is not scary to me, never has been. It’s not scary because she made me fearless.

And so here’s my daddy.

me and daddy

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Here he is. Terrified, I’m sure. I know for a fact that little girls are not easy to raise, and knowing my daddy, he began this journey with me scared to death but willing to move mountains for me. And in this picture I can see he’s anxious. But, I also see he’s there. I’m reaching. He’s reaching. Neither of us is sure the other knows what they’re doing. And yet we ended up right where we intended to- somehow with each other. We’ve actually ended up this way several times in the past 36 years. We’ve reached out across great distances. And we’ve saved each other without even knowing it. We explain without speaking. We understand without words. We help each other before the other realizes we need help. Honestly, I have never been one to ask for much help or advice, and frankly, he never has been one to just simply hand either of those things out. And even though I never asked, he helped me without knowing it. And although he told me he loved me, I never really needed him to. The absence of words and explanations spoke clearly. We didn’t need all the “extra”. Simple is how we liked it. Just plain and simple. We only needed each other’s presence. We only needed to connect. Our dance is a dance that some people never quite understood. That’s okay. It’s a dance that belongs to us, and we never needed anyone to understand anyway. Because we have always known just when the other needed catching. We have always known what the other was saying even when neither of us could find the right words. You see, Daddy has a way about him. A way that makes him mine. A way that connects us at the heart. A quality that I am proud of. A quality that sets him apart from everyone else. His heart talks to mine. And mine to his. I loved him before he knew me. God picked him to be my daddy because He knew we needed each other. The moments we shared in my childhood have become memories that I hold on to. He’d pick me up every other Friday like clockwork when I was growing up. For real. My daddy was always on time or early. Always. I smile when I think about all the little things: the way he used to wake me up for school by pulling on my feet at the foot of my bed saying, “streeeetch, it’s a new day”, Saturday football practices during his coaching days, our lunch dates at Steamboat on North Central during my college days, stopping at my Grandad’s store to get candy and Pepsi for breakfast (even when we BOTH knew mama would have never let that happen), when he drove all the way from Knoxville to fix my broken dryer while I was in college because I told him, “It made a sound like a shotgun going off, and now it won’t dry my clothes”, hearing him wake up after midnight to eat a bologna and cheese sandwich. You know what?! If I wake up suddenly after midnight, that’s the first thing I do- bologna, cheese, mayo, and white bread. Even if I’m not hungry. Keeps me from missing him so much. The fact is, I get him. I get his silly jokes. I get his small talk. And he gets me. He always has. It is to him I owe my free spirit and my ability to appreciate the smallests of life’s blessings.. It is to him I owe my ability to be still when chaos comes calling. I learned to seek answers from within myself. I learned to appreciate deep roots. I learned the value of a glance, a grin, and a raised brow.

These are my people. My parents. I am half one and half the other. I am better because of them. . I hope they look at me and see themselves in me; I hope they think I’m like them. I’m not sure if I have ever really thanked them for raising me the way they did. For making my childhood great. For setting boundaries and giving me rules. For never ever allowing my actions or decisions to be dependent on circumstance. For refusing to give me “normal” when sometimes that’s all I asked for. I love them at my core. I love their good, bad, and crazy. I love them when they feel unworthy. I love them when they’re proud of me and when they are disappointed in me. I loved them then, I love them now, and I will love them always. Just the same. It matters not where their journey takes them. Because I know them. I know their hearts. And I see things no one else can. I mean at the end of the day, it began with the three of us. There are no three people like us. There never will be. We are connected, me and mama and daddy. We always have been. They loved me from the beginning, wholeheartedly. But, truthfully, I loved them first.

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