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It could have been worse.

I could have been sixteen. I could have not even liked the guy, much less loved him. I could have been alone.

But nevertheless. An unplanned pregnancy could be shocking.

An unplanned pregnancy with your boyfriend could be heart-breaking.

An unplanned pregnancy while leading worship for your college InterVarsity Christian Fellowship club could be devastating.

Needless to say, after hidden sins behind closed doors, we rocked our family and friends to their knees.

I had never even dreamed this would be something I would ever have had to deal with, and I was unprepared.

Those two pink lines showed up. My stomach fluttered. I swore I felt it move. I had one path to follow, but I wasn’t sure if I would have to follow it alone.

“Well…we’re going to keep it.”

My heart grew tenfold.

As long as we were in this together, I knew I could weather the storm.

But in the meantime, I would break my parents’ hearts.

And I did. We did. We were helpless to mend things. So we moved forward, trusting the ability of the human heart to heal itself.

We had weeks to plan a wedding, months together as newlyweds, and a lifetime to prove we made the right decision.

I fought, constantly, with the nagging feeling that an undercurrent of failure preceded us, that we were destined to crumble like so many other young and reckless couples before us.

I struggled, daily, with the fear that my love was tainted. My love for my new husband, my love for this coming baby. I was stained. I was broken. I was angry, almost entirely with myself.

I never admitted it to anyone, scarcely to myself, that I secretly looked forward to the horror stories of labor and delivery, as if the physical pain might ease my arrogant inability to forgive and accept myself, as if my forgiveness was more just than the God we served haphazardly.

But that was before the consequence of our selfishness breathed his first breath.

The consequence of our sin became our reward, despite our wavering faithfulness.

And as I watch my beautiful son grow and learn and amaze me, I know now that we have had front row seats to a divine, daily reminder of the transforming power of our God, a God who specializes in hope and reconciliation, and we can only stand around with our jaws hanging wide with wonder.

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“Look at this, Sweets.”

My father points the green rubber hose toward the sky, the stream of water arching across the pavement. In between rinsing off the car and watering the holly bushes, he pauses to show me the magic of catching the sunlight just right within the tiny crystal prisms flowing from somewhere hidden.

A rainbow.

Without a cloud in the sky, but beneath the water’s arch, floating in the mist.

A rainbow.

I catch my breath and try to catch the colors dancing ethereally.

The arc of the rainbow running tangent to the arc of the hose, the faintest red and blue and purple shimmering within the waterfall, the rest of the world falling away to the colorless mundane, a realm of black and white.

I move closer, fingertips tingling, tickling the cold water, desperate to touch a rainbow. My hand breaks the stream, my hand breaks the magic.

“Don’t worry, Sweets.”

I inch away wiser, as he adjusts the hose ever so slightly, summoning the beauty back. The hues hover back into place.

A rainbow.

I stare through the colors transformed from the clear and watch my father’s hands, calling forth the enchantment.

And I realize that it is not the water mingling with the sun that is magic.

I realize that it is he.

[ Note: This piece was written as a part of The Red Dress Club memoir-writing exercise RemembeRED. This week’s promptThis week, we’re giving you a photo to take you back in time. In 700 or fewer words, show us where your memory takes you. Remember that this image is merely inspiration. Your piece needn’t have a hose in your piece but we need to easily see how you were inspired by it. The photo can be seen here. As always, concrit welcome/begged for.]


I breathe deeply. I fill my lungs with as much of it as I can, and I stop to hold it there.

The scent of my childhood.

No, not just my childhood.

But the scent of my culture, my mother’s culture, my father’s culture, a slice of island living in the middle of grits and cornbread and sweet tea.

Rice. With everything.

English mixed with Tagalog, Heinz ketchup over torta.

The aroma of vinegar and soy sauce and garlic simmering for hours.

Banana leaves lending zest, color, and the tiniest bit of tang that tickles the corner of your jaw.

Pillows of steam rising from stock pots holding chicken adobo and crispy pata, sizzling skillets of lumpia, pancit if it’s someone’s birthday.

The flavors of the Philippines mixing with American oxygen, floating down the halls of our house, shimmering against the walls, lingering in my mother’s hair, telling us, with every whiff, every bite, that we are sons and daughters of a culture rich and unique and satisfying.

A culture transplanted from the tropical seasons of a cluster of islands swimming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where everyone is Auntie or Uncle, Tita or Tito, where friends are family gathering around lechon and who’s bringing the halo halo and leche flan?, a land I was born in, a land we left for American living, a land that runs through my blood and skin and memory, linking me to an entire population of tan-toned, black-haired, warm-hearted people insisting, “you eat, eat!”, a bloodline mingled with the blood of Europe in my own children, who love pizza as much as pulvoron, reminding me, over every bowl of fried rice, that we are all a part of this fragrant world.

[ Note: This piece was written as a part of The Red Dress Club memoir-writing exercise RemembeRED. This week’spromptThis week, your memoir prompt assignment is to think of a sound or a smell the reminds you of something from your past and write a post about that memory.  Don’t forget to incorporate the sound/smell of your choosing! As always, concrit welcome/begged for. ]

I could feel it in my toes. Today was going to be special. I know, because me and Mom stayed up extra late last night picking out a dress, even though I hate dresses, and because Jenny talked about this place for probably ever, and because I had a brand new Snoopy bag with my name magic-markered on the inside, and because I would finally get to ride the yellow school bus that Mikey and Jenny rode to the magical place called “school.”

I bet it’s a lot like the circus, the one with the big gray elephant that swung its trunk at me. My tummy felt all swirly the night before the circus, too, like it felt last night, so I bet school is going to be like going to the circus.

I know Mom said to go to sleep. I tried to tip-toe past her bedroom to the kitchen with the clock on the oven that had bright green numbers on it so I could tell what time it was, and not the kind that’s round with numbers in a circle, because I don’t know how Daddy says it’s six-thirty when the numbers only go up to twelve, but Mom caught me and told me to go back to sleep until the clock said seven-zero-zero.

Once in the night I got up and made it past the bedroom because she was asleep and Daddy was snoring so loud I don’t know how Mom can sleep right next to him, and I made it into the kitchen without being told to go back to bed, and the clock said six-one-nine and I knew six is just one less than seven, so I knew it was almost time to be seven-zero-zero so I walked super slow on my tip-toes back to my bedroom and put on the dress me and Mom picked out and hid under the covers.

This was going to be a good trick, when Mom comes in to wake me up, and I’m already wearing my dress. I couldn’t get the buttons on the back so she’ll have to do that when she comes in, but the rest of it I got on all by myself and she’s going to be really happy I’m all ready for school.

I pull the covers all the way up to my chin so when she comes in she won’t know I’m not in my jammies anymore, and when I get out of bed she’ll be surprised, and she’ll think it was a good trick, too.

It’s time! I hear her in the hallway! My toes start wriggling without me doing it on purpose, but it’s the only part of me that I can move and get all excited because if I move too much she’ll know I’m awake and it’ll ruin the trick. I hear her knock on Mikey’s door, the way it creaks like it’s angry at me, because Mikey is always angry when I come into his room without asking. I hear her telling him to wake up, and I don’t know why he doesn’t want to wake up for school, but he’s groaning a lot, like when Dad tells him to take out the trash.

FINALLY, she comes to mine and Jenny’s room and I can’t stand it as soon as she’s in our room I throw back the covers and sit straight up and yell, “SURPRISE!” and Jenny groans, too, and tells me to shut up. But I’m too excited to even be mad that she used the “s” word. Mom asks me if I buttoned my dress, and I tell her no, so she does it for me, smoothing her hand on the lace collar around my neck, and she looks a little sad, probably because Mikey won’t get out of bed and Jenny just told me to shut up.

But I don’t care, because I’m a big girl now.

[ Note: This piece was written as a part of The Red Dress Club memoir-writing exercise RemembeRED. This week’s promptFor this week’s RemembeRED prompt, we’re asking you to remember kindergarten. I can remember the first day of Kindergarten just as clearly as I had written it, but wanted to try and voice it the way my five-year-old self would have. As always, concrit welcome/begged for. ]

He pressed his pudgy nose against the glass, his unfathomably blue eyes wide with wonder. I tried to ignore the handprints he was leaving behind. Sometime today, an old man, or a grumpy teenager would mop that window with a tired rag, and the traces of him would be erased.

For him, it was magic.

The ones he loved the most, the chocolate ones covered in colorful bright and perky sprinkles, like a birthday party in seven bites, starting out a colorless lump of dough. And before his very eyes, behind the glass where the magic happened, they rolled along, ushered toward perfection, dumped, flipped, sweetened, and rescued, spirited away into boxes folded by deft, practiced hands, presented to the next in line after a swipe of the card.

A line that moved slowly.

The aroma beckoned, a siren’s call to passers-by, as the tiny shop filled with hungry, wanting stomachs.

He watched batch after batch as we made our way forward, inch after inch, and after forever but before satisfaction, we reached the angel behind the counter, a genuine smile on her face, pleased to offer us a slice of heaven.

“What can I getcha?” she said, her lilting voice thick with a southern accent as long as a summer’s day, as cool as sweet iced tea her voice lilting toward the light.

The tears I held captive cried mutiny, revolting, beating their wet fists against my vision, making their presence known. What can I getcha? A simple question with a hundred answers.

A sense of peace. A different diagnosis. A negative result. A positive outlook. A promise that I will live to watch my son outgrow the magic of a doughnut shop. A cure.

He looked hopeful. “Mama? The sprinkly one?” The forbidden one, because each sprinkle packed a day’s worth of sugar. Forbidden, because I found them embedded in the carpet weeks later.

“The sprinkly one,” I tell the lady. The healthy one, I want to add. The one who worries about the bank statement, not the doctor’s statement. The one who worries about the cost of college, not the cost of funerals. The one whose lumps can be transformed into perfection, not into destruction.

But that is not on the menu.

[ Note : This is a piece of fiction written for The Red Dress Club writing exercise, Red Writing Hood. This week’s prompt: Write a piece, fiction or non-fiction, inspired by the delicious shot. Word limit is 600. Constructive criticism welcome; in fact, I beg for it. ]

It was a perfect storm of frustration.

A long day. An even longer night.

Two screaming kids, one screaming in outrage because she Still. Wasn’t. Asleep. yet, the other screaming out of some deep-seeded need interwoven with his XY chromosome to be constantly noisy, an otherwise preoccupied husband out of earshot, a frazzled mother trying to alternately soothe a fussy baby and get the other clean and ready for bed…

Eventually the wave crests, the earth cracks, the aria crescendos.

Please. Shut up.”

The fat lady sang.

I let my frustration bubble up and out of my mouth, and, sweet Mother Mary, it worked.

He fell absolutely silent as I scrubbed his hair dry, counting the seconds before I could rush into the other’s bedroom to replace the white noise monitor with a mother’s shushing.

I got to thirty before I realized I had just carelessly tossed out the forbidden “s” word. I got to thirty-two before I realized that my boy, my firstborn, was not silent out of obedience, but from full-fledged fragility.

He was stunned, dumbstruck, blindsided by my cruelty. He had no words for this betrayal.

I had hurt his feelings, and now I had to watch him crumple beneath the weight of two thoughtless words. It’s one thing to see your child get hurt. It’s another world entirely to know you dealt the blow.

It took an hour, curled around the curve of his fragile shoulders, trying to undo the few seconds it took to break his heart. When he looked at me, with tears in his eyes and a hand on his chest, and said, “You hurt my heart,” I knew I would have cut out my own and given it to him, had he but asked.

It took an hour. An hour of hugs, of kisses, of prayer, and, most importantly, of words. Words reassuring my love, words requesting his forgiveness, words expressing my earnest regret.

And even after speaking those new words, as if they were mortar to the cracks I caused, I knew he was still hurt. Despite his active forgiveness, despite his promise that he knew I loved him, that he was no longer angry with me, I knew he still nursed a throbbing heart, a heart tender to its core, wrapped in dirt stains and bug juice, a heart split in two by his own mother’s harshness.

But then he crawled into our bed, early the next morning, whispering, “Mom, I forgive you,” and I wanted to open up my chest and tuck a piece of him inside me, next to my heart, because I want to be just like him when I grow up.

[ Note: This was originally written on my family blog, recycled and revised for The Red Dress writing prompt, Forgiven. Constructive criticism welcome; in fact, I pretty much beg for it. ]

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© Jessica Buttram and This Buttram Writes, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jessica Buttram and This Buttram Writes with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Don't make me cut you.