The Bonfire Lesson
Overcoming the Grinch Within: A Christmas Spirit Revival

I think Christmas has to be the biggest paradox there is. Its simultaneously the saddest and happiest time of the year, depending on your circumstances. Its celebrating the birth of a messiah, and an old folk story turned into a commercialized frenzy. On the good side its family, friends, children, togetherness, parties, and sparkly decorations. On the semi-bad side, its shopping malls, dead trees, forced pictures, and god’s most disgusting invention: eggnog. Now into the really depressing part- one of my jobs is that I run a call center at the food bank and over the holidays, as you can imagine, we have a lot of calls from depressed people wondering how they are going to make it through Christmas. In the past 2 weeks have had a total of 3 suicidal callers; on one I had to call the police. One man said he “wanted to end it all.” When I got on the phone with him, he broke down, sobbing, and said “I don’t have any toys for Christmas! I don’t have any food to feed my 4 year old son! I am going to just go take my son into the store and grab food and sit in the middle of the store and eat it!” I have heard too many more stories like this: no toys, no food… not much of a Merry Christmas.  I have watched my staff break down and cry on the phone with them, because, the calls keep coming and the need just seems to be growing and we just can’t keep up with the demand. We have a holiday food box program that ends today – in desperation, people who didn’t sign up have caught wind of the program and are lying saying that they (in fact) had signed up or forgot the address. Add to all of this the very sad news of the school shooting and, well, this may be the most depressing holiday I have seen, EVER. My once steady, “look on the bright side!” personality just got up from a potato chip crusted couch with a whiskey and cigarette in its hand and told me to go “fuck myself” and ended with “Bah humbug and all that shit.” Desperate to feel all warm and cozy and happy again, I tried listening to Christmas music. Fuck that; I switched to Black Flag instead.  I tried looking on Pinterest for some holiday inspiration and decided that little frosted plastic trees glued inside of mason jars are “total bullshit!” Weary, I walked through the door of my house after a long day of client sorrow, and there to greet me and warm my spirit was my greatest gift of all, my daughter. All I had to do was look at my girl, and see her big, beautiful smile to get rejuvenated. (There is something about these kiddos that just keep you going!) I told my jaded self “Oh hell no! the Grinch ain’t taking the joy out of this season!” So - I made a few emails/ calls and guess what? We had a toy giveaway at work today for those families who called and said they won’t have any toys. We helped 330 children get toys this year. How’s that for holiday cheer? Yes this season sucks. But look around you. Look at what you have. You have a roof over your head? Blessed. Food to eat? Blessed. People that love you? VERY Blessed. If you don’t have toys / gifts to give remember that YOU are a gift to someone else. There are families out there this holiday and all they want is their loved ones with them. Share a meal, have a laugh, dance in your living room, love and kiss your loved ones and your children. Go walk around your ‘hood and marvel at all those god-awful lawn ornaments, the one where Santa is bending down and kissing Jesus with Snoopy dancing behind him, and those hideous, droopy icicle lights. This ain’t your mamma’s Christmas, but it will do. Have a Merry Christmas, (or at least try like hell to.)

Mom on Mute

For nearly a year, I have lived like a mute. Well… technically not mute but speaking in run on sentences, whispers, and straight up turrets-like chirpings to friends and family constitutes for me, a mute-like status. Having a baby and caring for them is one of those overwhelming experiences that force you to focus on the one thing (the only thing) that matters: your child. So, forget trying to carry on an adult/deep/philosophical conversation with anyone at any time. This has posed very difficult for me as I am a real communicator. I don’t like to talk to hear myself talk, but, I like to process things verbally with others and get feedback. Not having this outlet has forced me to internalize a lot of things and admittedly, in order to get release, I talk to myself. In the tub… when I’m driving… climbing the stairs at work. It’s a sad reality and I know I look crazy but I have to get it out somehow. I don’t have the time to write – this one little quip being a luxury. I also don’t have friends that I keep at work, and when there, we talk about…work. My family and I are two ships in the night. I miss social interaction, I miss conversations with people about life and love and all those things in between and I have to just come out and say it, I’m lonely. So, I do things like go on facebook or now pinterest and waste time in the electronic world of society and kind of hope I can glean some kind of interaction that will leave me feeling less like an island. My daughter takes up all that I have so I don’t have much to give back in terms of being able to interact with others. For example, I have heard of play dates but then I think what’s the point? I am just going to talk in the same broken/spitfire English because I am half paying attention to whatever the hell it is you’re talking about while I make sure my daughter does not crawl towards a light socket.  I am told this is normal by other mothers. I am told that “this too shall pass.” To give myself perspective, I see my almost 10 month old daughter has 4 teeth coming in… simultaneously – the top 4 teeth. I see her standing up and trying to walk. I see her needing me less and wanting to explore the world more. She is trying to talk herself, almost saying words, and I echo back what she says enthusiastically “Babababba Eeeeee!!!!” This makes me realize that though I am not speaking the way I am used to, I am in fact speaking just the same. What I have to be grateful for is that I have learned another language, my daughter’s, and in order to do that, I have had to immerse myself in her world. This is such a wonderful gift I have been given – this silo of she and I. So I will continue to laugh at my own jokes (which have been pretty damn funny lately), whisper incoherently to my husband as I tote our daughter off to sleep, mutter “Oh let me tell you about …” and then trail off to catch a baby toppling over next to a coffee table, until Mira can finally say “Mom… get a life.”

The Name Game

It’s time to change my name. I held onto it for so long, my last name, Terry. Really, it’s given me nothing but grief. My whole life, my first name was an escape artist and I was called simply “Terry” like Cher or Madonna. Just yesterday for example, I had a meeting with a USDA inspector and until he met me in person, he thought that my name was “Terry” and he “wasn’t sure if you were a man or a woman!” People I have worked with for two years wave a friendly “Hey Terry!” in the hallways and I just don’t bother to correct them. In my signatures and emails I always put “Shannon” before “Terry” but, regardless, Terry is who I have always been.
I also had the 2 years of mystery phone calls several years back from a man asking for “Shannon Terry” and when I answered “speaking” every time he would ask “is this the ‘black’ Shannon Terry?” I would reply “Umm… I don’t think so…” and he would say “I’m looking for my daughter” and hang up. He would then forget he already called the “white Shannon Terry’s number” and redial me a month later, reconfirming several things. One being, I’ll be damned, I thought I was the only one, and two, I apparently don’t sound black.
My husband’s uncle became friends on Facebook with “Shannon Terry” thinking it was me, turns out she’s “Shannon Terry from Ireland.”
Now I have a daughter with “her dad’s last name” and 5 years of marriage behind me meaning, no excuses. But it hasn’t been easy figuring out who I want to be. The name combinations are endless and for someone who has been simply “Terry” all their life, the combo can make or break you.
I think since becoming a mom, I’ve become sentimental and want to keep the thing that once embarrassed me. My middle name. I fought it for years. I kept it a secret and swept it under the rug of shame. I think because it’s all at once unique - literally only one person has it other than me- and, I’m sorry Terry family but it’s true, it’s a little white trash and country. (There, I said it!) I get mixed reactions from it. Some people really like it, “Oh that’s neat!” and some recoil in disgust, and some pat my arm in sympathy. It’s a made up family name; not sure what two names grandma smashed together, but they must sound close to “aardvark” and “corvette.”
I have been thinking if my daughter, how I want her to know me, along with my name that I recently find myself loving. I love it because it’s my aunt’s name and she was there when I was born. I love it because it reminds me of home: of tacky tumbleweed Christmas trees with jalapeno pepper lights, and black eyed peas and peach cobbler, of “how do’s” and the smell of dirt. These are the things I grew up with and uniquely make me who I am. I feel that I am losing a little bit of the “Lubbock” me the more time goes on and the deeper my heels sink into Houston; My thick accent, my naïve kindness, my irrational fear of tornadoes.
I can’t look back, and will plunge forward, new name in hand and a song in my heart!  The song I will sing will be my great uncle Roy’s (aka ‘Johnny Travis’) country single, unknown to everyone but family and a few sad folks on CMT “Iced Tea and Taters.” I will no longer be “Shannon Terry” or “black Shannon Terry” or “Terry” or “the girl with two first names.”  I will be a blend of the old with the new, a conglomeration of my life today and a past I can’t let go of. “Shannon Arvetta Barnes” you are born.

Any Time is a Good Time

At my work, we have an “Employee Wellness Program” geared towards all things related to health and wellbeing. It’s a great feature of my job since working at a Food Bank is very stressful not just on the body, but on the soul. We received a newsletter today regarding keeping our new year’s resolutions stating “the more people know about your goals, the more successful you will be to achieve them.” Much of our new year’s resolutions are racked with guilt about not being in a certain place in life; the place we perceive we are supposed to be. We have very set timelines for developmental and social milestones. Anything outside this box is considered unconventional, and can be a rather hot topic for criticism and/or discussion depending on the variables. I had been pondering “milestones” since my daughter, nearly 8 months old, does not want to eat solids. Her pediatrician goes “by the book” and insists that by 9 months, she should be eating 3 square meals a day. Yet, after some research with other moms in the real world, every child has their own timeline and, what’s the rush? She will be eating on her own soon enough, and talking and walking. For now, I want to enjoy her still wonderfully gummy smile and those splendid moments I cradle her in my arms and feed her. I also think of timelines when I realize that by the time I am 40 years old, my daughter will be 5. A late bloomer in motherhood but, I feel it happened “at the right time.” The reality is that we may not be at a place where we are able to follow a “perfect plan.” I think so many of us fail to keep our resolutions because we were not yet ready to make them. We make resolutions because it is a “new year” rather than asking yourself: are you physically, mentally, logistically, spiritually ready? Hopi Indians are known for not having a culture that focuses on time. Their language omits any reference to specific tenses, and, in fact, has no verb tenses. How freeing would it be to make choices and take actions when we truly are ready? I think what stops us is a confined sense of time. If we view life as cyclical, rather than linear, we can then recognize that our development and opportunities come not in stages but in moments that can’t be defined. I’m not saying we should not set goals but they should not be because we perceive that we are running out of time. Limiting ourselves to change only at the start of a “new year” eclipses that undeniable “yes” when we know we are ready to leap forward. Regardless of your age, regardless of your circumstance, you and God are the ones who know when a resolution is in order. Late bloomers, unite! A resolution to live better is good any time.