Singleness didn’t stop her

When Mary was a young woman, she fell in love with a young man.  Her parents disapproved of their relationship continuing because he did not share her Greek heritage.  Mary never married.

Growing up I remember my Great Aunt Mary coming to visit often when we visited my grandparents.  She always came with new frilly dresses for me and was ready to play Uno for hours.  She was a bonus grandma.  When talking about my cousin, Rawlins, and me, she referred to us as “her girls.”  She still does.

When our family wanted to travel to Greece we brought Aunt Mary with us.  She kept up with us all day long and told stories about her travels back to Greece when she was younger.  She introduced us to our extended family on the island of Ikaria after down playing how nice that island would be all week long.  The only part of the trip she missed out on were the nights Rawlins and I spent at the disco.  She encouraged us nightly to find a nice young man to marry.

aunt mary and her girlsEarlier this month my dad’s side of the family gathered together for a family reunion to celebrate Aunt Mary’s 90th birthday.  Since Mary has no children of her own and our family has three generations following hers, almost everyone lovingly refers to her as Aunt Mary.  Eighty people gathered together to celebrate this woman who has been a pillar of our family.  Mary was probably the only person there who knew everyone’s name, how they were related and where they lived now.

Kefalos familyHer singleness hasn’t held her back for a second.  She had a great career.  Her life has been full of travel and adventures.  She’s shaped our family by her deep love and her commitment to all of us.  She has developed deep relationships with so many.  She welcomes nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and great-grand-nieces and great-grand-nephews like they were her own.  If Dallas makes the national news for weather or tragedy, I know to expect a call from Aunt Mary checking in to see if me, that handsome husband of yours and that adorable baby girl are all alright.  When I think back on my childhood to who loved me best, memories with Aunt Mary always stand out.

Mary and EmersonIt would have been easy for her to separate herself from our family – to be bitter of my Pappou (her brother) who originally hid his marriage to a non-Greek girl instead of playing by his parents’ rules like Mary did.  Instead, Mary chose to enter in with love.  She didn’t have to focus on her own grandchildren; she loved all of us like we were hers.  Poor lady has sent way too many birthday cards and checks.  Mary’s family is bigger than most and deeper than most because of the way she used her availability.

This road hasn’t been easy for Mary.  I know that mainly because she used to always encourage me to find a man, a nice young man to marry.  When I think about the way she lives, there are a few things I always want to remember.  First, love your family deeply.  Show up for them.  Call them.  Even the distant family members.  Second, travel to places you love often.  Mary headed to Greece for the majority of her summers.  She deeply values the culture, the food and the people in that country.  Lastly, accessorize.  Mary’s jewelry is amazing.  She has tons of big bold pieces.  To fully appreciate her, you need to know that.

Mary and all her girlsHow good does that woman look for 90??  #oldgoals



Best friends help friends move

When I was four years old, I met Pati and Billy Martin.  They moved in across the street from us on Devonwood and my mom paraded our family over to their front door with a homemade apple pie in hand.  Billy decided right then and there that our families would be best friends.  Dessert is the way to that man’s heart.  Can’t fault him for that.

Pati, Billy, Jenny and Megan Martin are the other half to the Kefalos family.  Jenny and Megan gave me a taste of what it would be like to have sisters.  We played games in our basements and back yards.  They helped me try to convince my brother to play Barbies.  We made up plays and various performances for our parents.  Our parents took turn babysitting the four of us.  Every other year we went on a family vacation to the beach together.  We ran back and forth between our houses Christmas morning to compare presents. I locked myself in their guest bathroom when we were leaving to catch our plane to move to Houston.  If my mom hadn’t threatened, “If I have to call the fire department to get you out of there I will make your life so miserable you will wish you were still in there,” I probably would still be in that bathroom avoiding a cross country move.

New Years 2000Even once we moved to Texas and the season of playing with the Martins daily came to an end, our families still maintained a close friendship.  Visits, phone calls and family vacations together were still the norm.  Our early memories together as friends have motivated us to continue to pursue friendship despite the distance.

On July 8th, my phone rang with Pati Martin appearing on the caller ID.  Pati and Billy were originally supposed to come to Austin, TX on that day to spend the weekend at my parents’ new lake house.  Mom and Dad were supposed to move in to their new home in early June and the week of the 4th of July was supposed to be the big grand opening.  As happens with construction, the move and the grand opening were pushed back.  My mom had Pati and Billy cancel their trip because she wanted to wait for them to visit when she could host them properly.  When I answered the phone that Friday afternoon, Pati had a simple request, “Can you figure out where your mom is right now, but be sneaky about it?”

Immediately I knew they had come to town anyways.  Pati explained that they knew my parents could use the help unpacking and setting up life in a new home.  I should maybe mention that my mom was also just getting out of a boot for a broken toe and that my parents had hired no help to move their possessions from the garage into the home.  Pati and Billy did not care if my mom wouldn’t be able to wow them with her hostessing abilities in her new home.  They didn’t care that the house had no furniture and the only place to sit was on the steps. They came to spend time with my parents and to help them when they needed it.

It took only a few minutes for me to decide that our family would drive down from Dallas for the weekend as well.  I couldn’t let Pati and Billy fly to Texas without seeing them.  Within the hour, my mom was surprised by Pati and Billy’s arrival and then informed that our family was en route with precious Grandbaby Emerson as well.

We all WORKED that weekend, even Emerson helped sweep floors and unload boxes one piece of Tupperware at a time.  Goodness, a woman can accumulate a lot of Tupperware over 30 years of marriage and the popularity of Tupperware parties in the early 90s.

Emerson cleaningDuring the clean up and setting up, we caught up.  We talked about recent things, important things and dreams for this home we were helping to create.  We laughed about past memories and the adventures we’ve had.  Pati cried when she met Emerson for the first time because it sunk in for the first time that I am a mother now too.

Martins meet EmersonPati and Billy are the type of friends that have seen our family at our best and at our worst.  They have loved our family and served our family in all sorts of situations.  We’ve done the same for them.  They’ve cheered my parents on and encouraged them from across the country.  They have never let distance define our friendships.

They are the type of friends we all need.  The ones that show up when you need them without being asked.  The type that know what you really need even though you will not ask for it.  It’s only best friends that will show up to clean and unpack boxes with you, even 30 of them that are labeled “Knick Knacks” and 20 that are labeled “Miscellaneous Kitchen.”

Best friends show up for the exciting things: weddings, births and birthday parties.  But they also show up for the less glamorous things: funerals, moves and hospital visits.  We don’t need our fringe friends showing up on unpacking day because some of our possessions, collections and clothes from the past several decades are rather embarrassing.  But, best friends help friends move.  I’m thankful my parents have those type of best friends.

Why I bought my light-skinned daughter a dark-skinned baby doll

I remember looking through the American Girl Doll catalog as a young girl and wondering why they had Addie, the black doll.

There was one black girl I remember at my elementary school.  She was bused in from downtown for an opportunity to go to a better suburban school.  There are a few times I remember her having a very snotty nose.  I thought she was weird.

I don’t remember anything about people of color from my time in junior high school.  Probably because I didn’t look past myself very often, right mom?

In high school, I had two guy friends who were black who attended our youth group.

But really, it wasn’t until college, when I was serving as a Young Life leader at an urban high school that I can actually remember befriending people with a dark skin color.  That was the first time I had an up close view of the black community.  I visited their homes and their churches.  I learned about their families and their dreams.  It was also the first time I befriended people who were a part of a lower socioeconomic class than me.  I had done a service project or mission trip to serve people, but I’d never built real relationships with people different than me before.  I learned about what it was like to grow up in poverty and to continue to live in it.  I learned that a high school diploma was truly an accomplishment.  As I befriended these girls and their families, my love for them grew.  They are part of some of my best college memories.

In light of recent events in America, I think it’s easy to see that many people are like me.  A lot of us haven’t grown up with a clue of what it’s like to be black in America.  Sure we aren’t racist – we don’t think less of them because they are a different skin color.  We have just grown up separate from them and we haven’t looked for opportunities to go out of our way to find a way to interact.  Our paths haven’t crossed. The generations before us did a lot of hard work to fight for black rights and to stop segregation in America.  Perhaps for the last few decades we’ve lived on cruise control when it comes to the black-white relationship in America.  Over the last two years, I think it’s been made clear that it’s time to turn off cruise control and do the hard work to move forward.

Last week I went to Target to buy the first baby doll for my daughter Emerson.  She’s the cutest blonde-haired blue-eyed girl around, in my very biased opinion.  There were tons of options on the shelves.  Baby Alive was far too complicated for her age.  Several had very creepy eyes.  I wanted something that was all fabric and could be washed.  Along with something where she could practice taking care of a baby in order to get ready to be a big sister one day.  I settled on one doll in particular that met my requirements.  It came with a magnetic bottle and paci, as well as a plush toy and a little book for the doll.  Bonus! There are other outfits I can buy for it in the future.  There were two different models on the shelf: one light-skinned and one dark-skinned.  I instinctively grabbed the light-skinned blonde-haired doll.  However before I could walk away, I hesitated.

It’s a lie when people say that they don’t see color.  We all see different skin color.  Our differences are a beautiful thing when we learn to appreciate them.  Gina Torres is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and I love her dark coloring.  With my senses, I will acknowledge that others look different than me.  What I have trained my heart to do is to love people regardless of our differences.  What I want to train my daughter to do is to love people regardless of our differences.

I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target with the dark-skinned one. Actually, that’s a lie.  I put the light-skinned doll back on the shelf and I walked out of Target without a doll.  I was convicted that I should buy the dark-skinned one, but I was worried people would think it was weird.  That evening I talked to JR about it and he affirmed by decision to buy the darker doll.  The next day I went back to Target, no complaints there, and bought the dark-skinned doll.

Can you guess what my sweet girl has been doing for the past week?  She has been hugging that baby doll.  She has been giving it a bottle and a paci.  She carries it around the house with her.  She loves that doll.

Emerson with doll

This doll won’t be what compels her to love people who don’t look like her all the days of her life.  I’m not naive enough to believe that.  But, I do believe that it will be part of the narrative of how we train Emerson to love people regardless of their differences.  From her earliest memories, I want her to know that we are on this earth to show God’s unconditional love to all people.  Later in life when she interacts with people who don’t look like her or think like her, I hope there is a faint memory of her love for this doll or at least a photograph of it.

In her future, it will feel complicated to figure out how to love people who aren’t like her.  How can I avoid saying something dumb to them? Are they going to like the same food as me?  Will I offend them if I do this? Right now it’s simple: she hugs that dark-skinned baby doll as tightly as she would a white one.