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Good Words

Friends, my playlist is about to get a major Mama makeover. Elliott and I have never been the kind of parents to keep our preferred music away from our son. Sure, some of the content got watered down once little man’s ears started to pick up on words, but we never fully converted our music of choice over to a Kidz Bop-approved variety. Over the last year or so, Brooks – our son who is now five years old – has taken a special interest in singing along with me to the songs that are on my playlist. We sing in the car, he sings along with the music while I work out or while we run down back country roads. It’s kind of become our thing. When we get to the songs that are filled with uplifting messages – messages that reinforce our faith or encourage self-confidence – I always say, “Listen, buddy! These are good words.” After a few months of me reminding him to pay close attention to the lyrics in certain songs, Brooks has now started to ask me, “Mommy, are these good words?” wh

Mothers Day 2019: The Maymee Interview

My mama had me when she was 34 years old. It was May 12, 1985, and it was Mothers Day. She was in labor for the better part of the day, and the doctor finally came in and said things needed to move along; he was getting off at 4pm and he wanted to be the one to deliver me. My birth certificate reads that I was born at exactly 4pm that day.

Today I turned 34 years old, and it is Mothers Day. My mama, ever the math teacher, has pointed out that she is now twice my age, and this is the only year that will ever happen. I have wanted to feature her on my blog for months now, and this day - our birthday/Mothers Day/twice my age day extravaganza - seemed like the right time.

Sure, I've talked about my mama, better known as Maymee to our friends and family, plenty of times in my writing. I can't imagine writing about my life lessons without including her in the stories - she is an intricate part of who I've always been and who I'm becoming. But she has her own life's story - one that I have always found fascinating and one that has made her the person she is today. I wanted her to be able to tell it in her own words, and so I asked if I could interview her. My mama is a humble creature, always insisting that she doesn't want to "put herself out there" - but she did me the honor of answering these questions and speaking candidly. I trust you'll find her words as inspiring as I do. They are filled with faith, strength, dignity and the traits of a humble servant, which are the two words she chose to grace my daddy's grave stone but describe her just as well.

She calls me Beeba, and I call her those are the names you'll see below. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the life of the woman I'm so very blessed to have as my mama.

Happy Mothers Day, friends.

Beeba: What are five words you would use to describe yourself?
Maymee: Resilient. Spiritual. Giving. Loving. Headstrong. Is that better than stubborn?

Beeba:You had two surprise babies - nine years apart...what was it like to find out each time? 
Maymee: Before we were married, I was told I couldn't have children. So I really never thought about it - I just put it to the back of my mind. I had just started graduate school, and I was planning to work on my PhD - I thought I might teach in college one day. I had gotten very sick...I went to the doctor, and he said he thought I might be pregnant. I got very upset because I didn't know what to do, and I was afraid there would be something wrong since I wasn't supposed to have children. And I didn't know what to do about graduate school. I went ahead and finished my classes that quarter and took the next summer off. Mike and I talked about it - he offered to watch Jennifer whenever I was in school - we decided I should finish my Masters and stop there for the time being. When she was about five years old, we went through a concerted effort to try and have another baby, and it didn't work. So again, I just didn't think about it...and I got pregnant at the same time of year nine years later. That time, I knew what to expect and I wasn't in the throws of graduate school or anything, so it made it a little bit easier.

Beeba: How is your perspective on children different now that you have grandchildren than when you were raising us?
Maymee: When I had my first child, I didn't know anything about children - I had never babysat - I didn't know anything about babies. So I had to learn pretty quickly. And having daughters, I knew about girl things, and so that sort of helped. And I knew kind of how to do hair and tie bows. Raising your children is such a responsibility - to help them learn about everything physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And then when my grandchildren came along and they're all boys, it was so different, because I didn't know anything about boys. So Jonathan had to teach me. I think the difference in being a grandparent is you don't feel solely responsible like you do as a parent for the upbringing of your children. It's a little more laid back and a little more, sometimes, harder to discern your role. Because you love them so much and you want to have influence over them, but you're not their parent - and their parents should have the primary role in that.

Beeba: What is your definition of resilience and how has it played a part in your life?
Maymee: To keep going. And put one foot in front of the other. How has it played a part in my life? I think that's just what life is. Sometimes it's in a small way, like when you have to make yourself get up and do things when you don't feel like doing them. But sometimes it's when life hands you a big blow and you have to figure out how to adjust and adapt.

Beeba: What do you consider your most important roles that you have played in your life? 
Maymee: My earthly roles as wife, mother and grandmother are the most important ones I've had, but I think my spiritual role as a follower of Jesus gives me the sustenance to do everything else. Professionally obviously, my role is a teacher, but I don't think that defines who I am. That's not how I see myself. When I think about what I've spent most of my life doing, I was a teacher longer than I've been a mother. I don't know how to do anything else. But that's something you do, that's not who you are. There's a difference between what you do and who you are. And to me, doing and having is no substitute for being.

Beeba: You and Daddy have inspired countless people over the years through education. How did you choose your career?
Maymee: I knew in the fifth grade that I wanted to be a math teacher. I did. I just knew it. I had always been good in math, and I would help my friends with their math, and I wanted to be the kind of teacher that could explain things where somebody could understand. And then, when I was in high school, I had some really great math teachers. I never questioned it - I knew that's what I was going to do, and I had to find a way to do it. I didn't have any money to go to school, and so my math teachers and my high school counselor helped me find a way to finance my education. And I applied for - and won - the Georgia State Teacher's Scholarship (a full ride, plus spending money). My only obligations were to go to school in Georgia and teach in a Georgia public school for at least four years. Guess how much it was for a full ride? $1,000 a year. $1,000 paid for three quarters, books, and I had a little left over for spending money. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. The point is this: I should have never been able to go to school - we didn't have any money. I was determined that was what I wanted to do and that was what I was supposed to do. My teachers and counselor helped me apply for scholarships and do everything I needed to do to be able to go.

Beeba: Did you ever think about doing anything else?
Maymee: I don't know how to do anything else. It's what I was meant to do - it's what I was supposed to do - and I don't know how to do anything else. One of the reasons I was good at math is that my Daddy was good at math. He taught us tricks and shortcuts that made it fun.You could write down three rows of three digit numbers, and he could add them all together by the time you could get finished writing them down.

Beeba: Where do you think your drive comes from?
Maymee: I'm a Young. We all are this way, all the way back. All my cousins, all Daddy's sisters, everybody. It was kind of an unspoken expectation that you always did your best, you always had a strong work ethic. It didn't really matter what you did, and you didn't want to disappoint your family. I'm also a middle child, and I was a peace maker and a pleaser. I do think I have a type-A personality - it's no excuses, you just get it done. I think it's where the resilience comes from. I also grew up with Larry (Mama's brother). Because he was a paraplegic from birth, and I thought that was the norm for everybody, I didn't think about it. But he never let the fact that he was a paraplegic get in the way of him doing everything and anything. And I think, as a child, I just thought that everything was possible and you just do it. He also taught me to read very early and how to spell big words and how to tie my shoes, do all kinds of things. But just watching him - never allowing anybody to tell him no - I guess it was just ingrained in me that you just do it. I don't know how else to say it.

Beeba: Where does your strong faith come from? How have you kept it?
Maymee: I was fortunate to be carried to church and Sunday School when I was little - I grew up in church. Again, I'm a Young, I was surrounded by family, all of whom had strong faiths. That was the training - I have not always had the faith I have now. It has grown over the years and through life experiences and my own study - my own challenging myself and questioning what I believe and why I believe it. I learned at a young age that faith, trust and prayer are very personal things. Even growing up I found it to be real to me. When I was invited by my friends at another church to participate in youth activities, my parents allowed me to do that - that helped to grow me, grow my faith. But when I go back and look through things that have happened to me in my life, I've chosen to grow in them and let hard times make me better and not bitter. But without exception, God has proven to be faithful, both in the good times and the difficult ones.

Beeba: What are the most important lessons you have learned from grief?
Maymee: There are many. But one of the most significant ones is to not take anything or anybody for granted. Grief is something that you cannot ignore. You have to go through the pain and feel it to be able to heal from it, but it's also something you never get over. It continues to come back in waves. Although it makes you feel like you're the only person in the world who's ever experienced it, you realize that everybody will experience it at some point. It's just a universal language. And I've said before - in all the difficulties of life, there's no reason to say, "why me?" We need to say, "why not me?" The irony of it is, and maybe this stems from learning not to take people for granted, but there's so many things that are more noticeable - more acute, intense - than they were before. I don't have all the answers about grief because I haven't learned all the lessons yet. I hate the phrase "a new normal" - but there is a thing about adapting and adjusting again, where you have to figure out how to go on, how to do things you never had to do before, and how to do them by yourself. And while we all grieve, no two people grieve alike.

Beeba: You walked through an unexpected breast cancer journey last year. What message would you like to share with people about that experience?
Maymee: First of all, get your mammograms on time. With that said, what I mean is to be proactive about taking care of your health - and be aware of how something as simple as a mammogram or a colonoscopy can save your life. I think breast cancer, for me, is like a lot of other things in my life. The major things in my life that have happened to me have never occurred to me to worry about. The things that I've worried about have never happened. So one good take away is - don't worry. Just do what you can to take care of yourself. And there are a lot of wonderful people out there - in the role of doctors, nurses, radiologists - who are waiting to help. It's another example of, "don't say why me...say why not me?" It can happen to anybody.

Beeba: What is your definition of pure contentment?
Maymee: I don't know. I think I am pretty content all the time. I find myself most content when I know that all my children and grandchildren are ok. A long time ago, I heard the phrase, "I want to live simply so that others may simply live." I find the simpler I live, the more content I am. I consider myself a minimalistic person. Although I sit here in a house that's nice, surrounded by stuff, most of it's not mine. You can just get by on so little.

Beeba: Where is your favorite place to be?
Maymee: I like to be with my family. I like to be at home. I like to be at the ocean, the mounatins, nature. Nature brings me a lot of contentment.

Beeba: What are your goals for yourself in this season of life?
Maymee: Without sounding too dramatic, every morning I get up and quote Harriet Tubman. When she was running the Underground Railroad and she had a target on her back, she was asked, "how do you do this day after day?" And she said, "I get up every morning and say - I don't know where to go or what to do, but I put my trust in You." I honestly want to do with the rest of my life whatever it is the Lord wants me to do. I want to be able to serve my family, my friends, to help young people in whatever way I can. But through it all to make my life have some purpose, meaning, that glorifies God.

Beeba: Is there anything that we've talked about that you want to say more about?
Maymee: When you think about what's happened in my life, a biggie is that I should have never been able to go to school. I've never applied for a job in my life. They were always just thrown in my lap. So I just have to believe that God orchestrated my life. It shouldn't have happened the way that it did, and to be able to do the things that I did - it overwhelms me, because I feel like I took it all so for granted. And that's why I'm so adamant about making sure I'm doing whatever I'm supposed to do.


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