Thursday, February 22, 2018

Flight Risk

Whoever decided it was a good idea to take a several ton chunk of metal and send it hurtling through the sky, going hundreds of miles an hour and hovering miles above the earth, was probably on hallucinogenics. 
I’m all for exercising your imagination, creating new things, pioneering in our culture, etc.... but I don’t like flying. I HATE flying. I have a just this side of sanity fear of flying. 
And the people who DO love flying? I don’t understand those people. And I’m good at understanding people, as a rule. I don’t understand air travel lovers. What’s there to love??

So here I am, sitting on a gray vinyl end seat attached to a row of identical gray vinyl seats, outside my gate at the airport, surrounded by strangers in various states of inertia and alertness. My legs are crossed and my dingy white Chuck Taylors are rocking restlessly back and forth, the only outward sign of my inward panic, and the only thing keeping me from getting up and running in a tight circle, screaming and flailing and getting tackled by security. 

This is my first time flying all by myself. I know, at the age of almost 35, this probably seems pathetic. But sister prefers road trips, and the east coast, and places moderately accessible by road trips. This is also the longest flight I’ve ever taken, aside from a trip to Newfoundland, Canada, a whole EIGHTEEN years ago. And at 16 you’re not afraid of your own mortality, especially if you have your older brother with you, and your Discman playing Starflyer 59’s latest release. 
I’m trying to chill. Really I am. I’m trying to keep my stomach from churning and keep those panicked tears that keep pricking at the back of my nose and eyes and trying to close my throat at bay. Because I’m a grownup, dammit! My dad tried to make my feel better telling me that I’ll get to fly over the Rockies, and all I thought was, “Flotation devices won’t work in the Rockies!!!!”

My suitcase was five pounds over the check limit, meaning my check fee would jump from $25 to $100. They can’t even gradually increase the weight to cost ratio. 50lbs, $25! 51lbs, $100 and also we’re gonna require one of your kidneys, if you please. The exceptionally kind American Airlines clerk saw my panic, undoubtably thought I was at least 10 years younger than I am, and told me he could sneak about an extra two pounds in if I could weed out three pounds. So there I was, holding up the check in line, trying to figure out what I could take out— and hang on a second. Yes, I’m a clotheshorse, but I’m not THAT big of one. I only packed TWO pairs of shoes, and TWO pairs of pants, I’ll have you know. There are several sweaters and layers, because while my beloved Virginia will be enjoying 60-70° weather the next week, I’ll be in Idaho, where it’s a WHOLE lot colder than my best friend assured me it would be. And the rest of the weight is gifts for her kids, which mainly take the form of books, so. Now you’re informed— I ended up grabbing the first few items I saw: my jean jacket, a pair of gray velour sweatpants, and my stuffed puppy (everyone who’s seen my on trips knows about Lumbar, my floppy and well loved stuffed dog that Jeremy got me for our first Christmas 16 years ago). Then I had to carry all of that in addition to my carry on backpack, my jacket, and my scarf (because it’s COLD where I’m going, remember?), and try to figure out how I’m going to squeeze it all into my only allowable carry on, which is also packed full. There was a kind TSA agent who watched me struggling to wriggle my ID out of my wallet, one handed, sweat beading my brow and breath coming fast, and graciously, without comment or censure, placed his rubber blue gloved finger on my wallet to hold it in place while I worked my ID out of the sleeve. 
Several times I dropped several items, and had to scramble to gather everything back up, while onlookers no doubt watched me and figured I was drunk at 5:30 in the morning.
Currently, I have a chambray shirt on over a t-shirt, with my scarf and my denim jacket tied around my waist. My other jacket will have to go on OVER my over-shirt AND denim jacket, and essentially I’m going to burn alive. The velour sweatpants are rolled tight and shoved into the side pocket of my backpack, but if I have to, I’ll put those on over my current pants, too (Maybe I AM drunk?). 

I just spoke to the clerk for my flight and he told me the puppy is allowed to be carried on with me, which nearly made me weep with relief. There was no way I was going to manage to squeeze it into my backpack, and if it came down to the puppy and several other items in the carry on, almost all items in the “other” category are only so much ballast. The velour sweatpants and the small lap blanket my sister insisted I bring since I’m in the cheap seats and will get cold, and yes, possibly even my makeup bag would have ended up in a trash can in the middle of Norfolk International Airport. 

In 20 minutes we’ll begin boarding, although I’ll be boarding last so I still have time to sit and stew and maybe put my head between my knees for a bit. And— assuming I’m alive to see them— I’m sure the Rockies will be beautiful from above. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Eyeliner?

I'm going to go ahead and answer that question for you all right off the bat, and the answer is, absolutely not. There is no such thing. I am firmly ensconced in the "go big or go home" camp when it comes to makeup. If I don't look like a drag queen, I'm doing it wrong.
 However, I do believe there can be such a thing as too much mascara; but that's only because the clumping, and I have an anxious habit of pulling on my eyelashes when I'm stressed out. I won't reveal how many times I've pulled out chunks of eyelashes and ended up with bald patches.

All of this is just to segue into the fact that some days, for me, are just an utter waste of makeup. Some days are just a constant raining of eyeliner tears; when it feels like all the makeup I wore as armor drips down my face, bit by bit: tracking down my cheeks and clinging to my chin for dear life; for hope, for strength, for bravery... until they finally give in to gravity and accept the grief.

Today is one of those days. One of those wounded, broken, Why and What If and What Next type of days.

And no. I'm not happy that my first blog since the birth of this year is me writing about melting makeup. But if you've read my blog enough, you know that I don't fake it. I write what I feel from where I am and I make no apologies.

Because more than anything, I strive to be real.

And today, my reality is hurt and broken and betrayed and frustrated and confused, and my reality is dripping my Go Big Or Go Home makeup down my face.

And you know what? That's okay. This is okay. There is no such thing as perfection and there is no reason to pretend you've achieved it, or pursue something that can never be caught. So these pageant queen tear tracks on my cheeks are fine. They're not forever, any more than perfection would be if I could catch it.

Hurt comes to us. Rejection rears its disfigured face. Stress strangles us. And eyeliner will sometimes leave tracks down your perfectly primed and applied matte powder.

But none of them last. They appear, they swirl around, they rain down, and then they head on their way. Because there is no permanent strength in these things. They're sprinters; they're not marathoners.

So I'll wait out today. And tomorrow... well. I wouldn't be a proper drag queen wannabe if I didn't own plenty more eyeliner.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Snow Day In A Miraculous World

The Now Project
January 1st-7th

Last month, I hopped on board with a fellow Instagrammer's brain child, called The Now Project, which was officially launched with the new year. The concept is to try and capture moments during our week, post photos, and write about them. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep this up all year, especially the writing part, since I tend towards laziness, but I'm going to try. The hardest part will probably be picking just one "moment" per week.

However, if I have to choose one moment from the first week of January, I choose our crazy, out of nowhere snow day. Living in southeast Virginia, a few blocks from the Chesapeake Bay, we don't see a lot of snow. We get humidity aplenty. Mosquitos, hurricanes, 70 degree rainy autumn days, patriotic parades, cannons left over from our Revolutionary and Civil War years, but not a lot of snow. So for us to get 10" dumped on us in a single day in the midst of blizzard conditions is pretty noteworthy.

Full disclosure: I loathe snow. I hate being cold. I hate the wet, and the mud, and the layers, I hate all of it. But my kids are all still young enough to glory in the beauty (and let's be honest, the novelty) of a winter wonderland, so I suck it up at least once a year and let them spend a half hour preparing to go out in the snow for a total of fifteen minutes.

This past week, on January 5th, was also Chloe's 11th birthday. I usually do a birthday photo session with my kids, and this time I decided we should take advantage of this rare, snowy occurrence for Chloe's big day. Which means- yes!- I too went out in the snow. Wonder of wonders! I won't post all of her photos here because I want to share them in a separate blog for her, but I will throw a couple in.

All of that said, here's the thing. I'm taking a chance with this. I don't know anyone else in this group I've chosen to be a part of, which in itself is a big step. But it's one I'm eager, albeit nervous and scared and kind of freaking out and fighting social anxiety and-- well, I could go on and on about that-- it's one I'm eager to take.  I'm choosing an opportunity to push myself out of my lazy ruts that I create for myself when I could be creating something beautiful instead. I'll work at becoming that version of myself that I want to see. I'll drop the ball sometimes this year, absolutely I will. But my main goal for 2017 is this mantra: "No more self sabotaging." That includes settling for subpar writing and blogging, photographing, and passing up chances to record this little tiny space of time my kids and my family are occupying right now. We live in a miraculous world, friends; one where anyone can instantly share what sandwich they ordered for lunch. Don't my kids, their memories, and their lives deserve more recognition and respect than a sandwich, even if it did come from Which Wich?

As far as it depends on me, my kids will be a part of this miraculous 2017. And I will be the record keeper of our small, wondrous, everyday miracles.

Happy New Year, Happy Snow Day, and Happy Miracle Choosing.


All photos © 2017 Mary Smoot
Shot with Nikon D800

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Manner Worthy (From an unworthy person)

Here's the truth, friends (as I'm fond of saying, 9 times out of 10 you'll get the truth out of me, whether you want it or not, whether I want to give it or not, and I'll pair it with words like "fond" because that is the enigma that is Mary. Enigma? Bundle of dysfunction? One is just a nicer way of implying the other. See: Bruce Wayne).

ANYway. Here's the truth. This morning was rooouuuugggghhhh - multiple letters convey so much more than just caps and italics, am
I right? - for the Box House fam (Oh man, I'm sorry, one more- at least- side note: Ashton was SO embarrassed that I used the terminology "fam" yesterday. I tried to tell him I was using it in regards to my "FAMILY" for years, before it became millennial/middle school common vernacular, as an ACTUAL shortening of the word "family". God knows what it means or implies now. I still don't quite understand. Even though we weren't in front of his friends he muttered to me, "DontsayfamPLEASE", like it was something obscene).
This morning was ugly. Too little sleep for all of us, too much emotional expenditure and socialization on my part, which always catches up with me, Ashton in pain from his braces tightening and his first LESS THAN B grade in history because he missed a project due yesterday because of said braces tightening appointment, being cold... so much. So many little things that add up to catastrophe when there are so many people trying to cope at once.
So I lost it. Not on my kids, oh no. Not really. I got in an "altercation" (that's the nice way of putting it, boys and girls) with another parent at Bub's school. It was bad. I cried the rest of the way to dropping the girls off to school (all the parents at their school are NICE. They don't cuss women out before they've had a chance to apply their makeup!). Cried some more after they were out of the car. Asked myself what on earth am I doing with my life. Told myself I'm doing nothing and it's all horrible, "a chasing after the wind", so why bother?
And then I decided to open my Bible, which I'd left in my car a day or two ago. I opened it to a random Psalm that didn't really speak to me.
I skipped ahead and I said, "Okay, Paul, what do you have for me? I KNOW it's something I need to hear. Which Pauline letter do I waaaaaant, let's see, let's go wiiiiittttthhhh.... EPHESIANS." I love me some Ephesians.
But this morning Paul, my BFF Paul, my precious, wise, RUDE Paul, clobbered me. Of course he did. Because sometimes you just need to be clobbered.

The verse I opened to this:
Ephesians 4:1-3. The NIV says:

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

I won't lie. Because I don't do that. I threw my hands in the air and huffed aloud. I may  or may not have slammed the Bible shut. I definitely half yelled, "Are you SERIOUS right now??"
I mean. Bro. Give me a break. I'm stressed and sad. I'm exhausted. I'm hormonal. I had a total stranger cuss me out in the presence of my kids before I even had my makeup on. Okay, okay, I yelled back. I accepted the thrown gauntlet, I owned the ugliness. I'll keep owning it. I made my kids cry.

And I am SICK. TO. DEATH. of taking the high road. 

I'm sick of it. I want to get in someone's face and have a word war like Eminem had in 8 Mile, minus all the rhyming because I'm not the best at that, at least not off the top of my head. don't want to just own the ugly. I want to embrace it.

But oh God..... make every effort to keep the unity.
And not just keep it. Create it. Something to be kept must be created in the first place. It must be offered to others in order for them to keep it. Perpetuate it. I didn't do that this morning. That fellow parent expected me to react and Lord knows I did.

I wish I could tell you all this will never happen again. I'll be a good example. I'll rise above. And some day, please God, I'll get there. This morning was a setback. I haven't learned to be "humble and gentle". I haven't lived "a life worthy of the calling to which I have received". The ESV version says, "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called". I love all those active verbs. "Walk". "Calling". Action. Effort.

Granted, I don't necessarily LOVE them right now when I want to hold on to my messy. When the effort seems so far beyond me that I can only see it as words on an onion skin thin page written by someone thousands of years ago.

Life is ugly. Horribly, horribly messy. Sometimes it involves death, illness, heartbreak. And sometimes, it involves smaller things like running late, being screamed at before you've had a chance to put on your makeup, falling apart in the car and sitting on the side of the curb for well over an hour while you pull yourself together (*waves from side of road*).

But.... let's be active. Let's TAKE ACTION. I'm mad. I'm frazzled. I'm so completely spent that if you asked me for one single penny of my emotional investment I wouldn't have it to give.
But attempting to walk in the calling to which I have been called. Maybe I can manage that. Walking is just one step at a time, after all.

Walk with me, friends?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Words Will Break My Heart

Words.... there are so many things I love about words. I love the way they sound. I love the cadence of certain words, the satisfaction of a good alliteration. I love the way the meaning or sound of a word can change depending on the words that surround it. I love the heady rush of being able to spout words off faster than thought, a well turned phrase, a sentence that stops you in your tracks. 
Awhile back, a friend of mine sent me a list of  the 100 most beautiful words in the English language. Many of them have a musical cadence, a bouncing from one syllable to another. Some evoke certain emotions, sights, thoughts, smells. The truly beautiful thing? Not all the words have beautiful meanings. 
The most beautiful thing about words: they are one of the most powerful forces begat to us humans. 
The book of Proverbs, chapter 18, says, "The power of life and death is in the tongue". James chapter 3 says our tongues steer us the way a rudder steers a ship. 
Such a small, simple thing. A rudder. A tongue. But with the right pressure, the right power, able to control entire vessels. 
Don't believe in the Bible? That's okay. There are plenty of sayings, metaphors, colloquialisms that acknowledge the power of words. Call it positive or negative reinforcement. Call it good or bad vibes. There's the well known saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." 
Whoever came up with that saying was deeply cloaked in denial. 

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will break my heart. 

In my head swirl the words of many, many people who have hurt me, betrayed me, encouraged me, valued me. They're all swimming around in there. The family friend who said my chin resembled Inspector Gadget's. A person in my life that I was desperate to be loved by, to be valued and seen, who told me I was a thorn in their side- a reference to the Apostle Paul's painful trial that could not be overcome, no matter what. The first person who told me I was pretty. My youth pastor, who called me faithful. A friend who always tells me they admire the way I throw an outfit together. The first person who asked me to sing. The first person who told me I could write. A person who flippantly asked me- in their mind, as a joke- what I was doing with my life. Telling me I was slipping. 
They're all in there, taking turns using up space in my mind, fighting that battle between life and death. Repeating, replaying. Over and over and over.


Your words are mighty. 

Your words can be merciful. 

Your words can be malicious.

Your words hold poison.

Your words hold power. 

Your words can wound.

Your words can heal.

Your words can rip apart or bind up.

Be careful, friends. Be the good words that someone remembers in twenty years. Be careful what worlds you create or tear down with your words. 

Be wise. Be kind. Be beautiful.

Be careful. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

This Place, Your Home

Sometimes it's hard for me to get started writing. There are so many thoughts and words and emotions, bundled all together in a knot, and it's so hard to pull just one. And usually when I can manage to find one to pull, all the others unravel after it. So I've found, for myself at least, that the best way to start writing is to just START. You know... "Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop."
Right now, there is no end in sight; I'm waist deep in trenches I never thought I'd be in, and I'm still watching this story unfold in front of me. 
Many of you may have followed along with the losses our family has been through these last few months. If you're unfamiliar, you can go on Instagram and search the hashtag #welovefoxhill. See, Fox Hill is a small "city" within the city where we live. It's also where Jeremy grew up, right across the street from his grandparents. And, this year, from April 29, 2016 to September 21, 2016, we lost both of his grandparents. Words can't describe what a hole this has left in our family, in our identity. In some ways, it feels like the ties that have been grounding us have been suddenly cut loose. 
What's worse, my youngest, Atleigh, has had an intense battle facing this loss. Before she even reached 8 years old, she's watched two people she was incredibly close to lowered into the ground. She's attended two funerals. She's placed flowers on two graves. She's witnessed her family, her safe place, struggle with sorrow and displacement and a heavy weightlessness that can only be described as grief. And she has suffered for it. More so than I would ever have imagined. She's developed a stutter. She's faced cruel comments from her classmates, and in some instances, school faculty, words like, "Spit it out", "Why can't you talk?" "You must not be very smart." She's developed anxiety, separation anxiety, fear over routines being changed, fear of CHANGE, period. Anyone who knows Atleigh knows that she has always been completely wide open. Not only does she embrace change, generally she is a catalyst for it. She sings and dances and does whatever she feels is needed to make everyone around her laugh. She is the quintessential class clown. 

Until this year. 

Those who follow my sporadic blogging also know that every year I do a birthday photo session with each of my kids. This year, Atleigh told me emphatically for weeks that she didn't want pictures. She didn't think she could smile "good enough". I didn't push her. I told her that was fine, even when it killed me on the inside. I told her if she changed her mind, that was fine too. I would never make her smile for photos if she didn't feel like it. 
And then, miraculously, last week, almost two weeks after her birthday, she told me she wanted to do the session. So I took her to Target and let her pick out an all new outfit (I don't know about all of you, but an all new outfit is a definite occasion for getting your picture taken, in my book). She chose the entire outfit on her own. Every piece of it was so significant to me, even if she didn't realize it. She chose a hot pink, glittery, floor length tutu that, to me, was a complete representation of who my baby really is on the inside. The shirt she chose says, "Never let anyone dull your sparkle." She chose a fluffy hoodie with the head of a unicorn, golden horn, rainbow mane, and all. In most stories, unicorns represent magic, innocence, purity and joy. And if anyone on God's green earth has the spirit of the unicorn, it's my Atleigh Naomi. Naomi: laughter, joy. Everything she truly is. And that outfit, while seeming small and coincidental to most people, was as holy to me as if God Himself had opened heaven and spoken to me, saying, "Your Naomi is still HERE. I see her. I hear her. I have not forgotten, I WILL NOT forget or forsake her."

I took her out for the photos. She didn't look at me a lot. She didn't smile a lot. A large portion of the photos are of her facing away or running from me. And that's okay. I'm okay with that. 

Later that afternoon, she was humming a refrain from a [completely moronic] Netflix cartoon- a refrain borrowed from Phillip Phillips's song "Home". I told her it was from a real song, and asked her if she'd like to hear it. As soon as I started playing it for her, all the hair on my body stood up. The lyrics say, 

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
'Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
'Cause I’m going to make this place your home

She asked me to play it for her, over and over and over. And so I did. 

And if I've learned anything from this season that we're in right now, this uncertain, unstable, fraught and frayed season, it's that my role is to be her home. Her safe place, more than ever. And to point her to the Safest Place that we are all invited to live in. She can always be found. She's not alone. I will make this place her home. 

Happy 8th birthday to my littlest love, my unicorn soul, my lioness spirit. Your Safe Place sees you. Your Safe Place is ready for you. This Place, your Home. 

{{Here are a few of my favorites from Atleigh's unicorn 8th birthday photo session. Regardless of the valley we're traveling through, I think this will always be one of my favorite birthday sessions. She is magic.}}

*All photos © 2016 Mary Smoot/@what_if_i_said*

Monday, July 25, 2016


spent the night tossing and turning, and ended up waking up and staying up at 5:30am. Those who know me know how bizarre this is. Generally I'm approaching 5:30 from the opposite side of our 24 hours. But right now, I'm wide awake and sitting on the beach, tired of trying to pound my pillow and my thoughts into submission. Sometimes the best way to overcome that tiredness is to give up on sleep. 

I'm in an Ugly place right now. It's not really anyone's fault. It's just my reception and perception of outside circumstances. It's my own deep seated Ugly bubbling up from those places that I have to ask myself if I'll ever fully clean out, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many times I attempt to "take every thought captive". 
The thing is- and sadly- the enemy (that's Christianese for THE DEVIL, although I don't know why I couldn't just say that in the first place since now I've spent more time explaining myself) is Ugly. He's insidious and gross and unfortunately I tend to give him access to my weakest places. The open attacks, the dive bombs, those are fairly easy to resist. 
It's that stupid, Ugly, challenging little two fingered push to the shoulder, while he rocks back on his heels with a smug grin on his face knowing he's touched that pressure point, that are so hard for me to cope with. Those heavy, twining tendrils of doubt that weave their way up from that Ugly place in me, choking out my confidence, my hard won sense of self, that leave me weak and gasping. Those existential crises that leave me staring at the ceiling in the wee sma's. It's his whispered little taunts of, "Who are you? Who do you think you are? You're nothing more than that girl who's hidden in corners and in everyone's shadow for your entire life. You're weak. You're worthless." 

Because when it comes to those moments, I have to force myself to fight them and convince myself it's not true. And I'm so tired. The Ugly is easier, it's more in line with what I've conditioned myself to believe. Default.
All me. All me and that little devil on my shoulder, who 95% of the time wouldn't dare show its face. But that 5% can undo it all. In the space of a few minutes. 

Why does it work that way? Why are we, as humans in general, so quick to believe that Ugly 5% instead of stand firm on whatever is good, whatever is lovely? Is this just me? Granted, self deprecation is one of my standard fallbacks. But self deprecation and self loathing are completely different things. Self deprecation comes from a place that doesn't process compliments and praise well. Self loathing... Well, we all know what that is. It's Ugly. It's heavy. And it's a lie from the ugly one himself, although knowing that and being able to shake it off are two separate things. 

I promise I'll write about happier things soon. Our summer has not been spent with me rocking back and forth in a corner while I let the Ugly press on me like a cloak. The only reasons I write out the Ugly is because it's cathartic, I figure there are very few people who actually read my blogs, and I assume those few wrestle with their own brand of Ugly. 
I almost wrote, "We can be Ugly together." But no. I don't want the Ugly, I refuse to own it, and I don't want the Ugly for you, either. When that smug, infuriating two fingered shove makes you stumble, shove back. Better yet, do it with two hands, ten fingers, and all the worthiness that comes from the One who denounces your Ugly and calls it Lovely. The one who denounces that capital U and draws a red line through that title and calls it for what it is: an ugly little lie that was proven untrue when the red lines were still wet and fresh. I choose whatever is True. I choose whatever is Right.