Susanna Shetley

Website URL: http://www.susannashetley.com Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’m entering a new phase of motherhood.

Since becoming a mom in 2009, one or both of my boys have been completely or quasi attached to my apron strings, so to speak. Whether learning the ins and outs of nursing, making homemade baby food, changing diapers, pushing a stroller, fastening a car seat, reading board books, managing colic, bandaging chubby knees, putting on tiny socks and shoes, or creatively potty training, I’ve been in full-blown mommy mode for over eight years.

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My mom loved fresh flowers. It was a fun routine for my dad, sister and I to pick up a bouquet from Ingles or Trader Joe’s or whatever supermarket we happen to be visiting. Her face would light up when we walked in the door holding a rainbow of petals. She would smile to herself while arranging the flowers just the way she liked.

Over the past year in the wake of my mom’s death, I’ve written a lot about her and my grief in this column. As I stumbled along, month by month, trying to remember and forget at the same time, life and work propelled me forward.

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Since my mom’s passing almost a year ago, my dad and I have become very close. Without her here as our anchor, we’ve relied on one another. I now talk to him about things once reserved for my mom or sister.

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I call myself an adventurer.

While I do love to travel, adventuring isn’t just about experiencing new places and seeing new things. In my mind, a true adventurer works to find novelty and excitement in the seemingly mundane, in her everyday surroundings.

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As I write this column, my two little boys are rummaging through LEGO bricks bickering about who needs which piece, KIDZ BOP Kids is playing on Pandora and eggs are boiling on the stove for egg salad sandwich lunches. 

This is my summertime work setting.

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When you’re a kid, there’s something magical about hotel pools. 

I’ve written before about growing up in a dance studio. Some of my fondest memories of dance competitions and conventions are the hours spent splashing and laughing in the hotel pool after all the formal events were over.

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It must have been a mom who coined the adage “time flies.” I swear it feels like last week when I was a seventh-grade teacher having contractions in the Waynesville Middle School cafeteria and barely making it to the hospital before my water broke.

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I’ve tried hard to keep grief out of my columns lately. There’s only so much melancholy and broken-heartedness readers can take when reading the weekly paper over a cup of coffee. But with this Sunday being Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but write a little about my own mom today.

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At 37, I’m still sorting out what I want to be when I grow up. 

When I was 8, I sent a children’s book to a publisher in Raleigh. Last Tuesday, I submitted a children’s book to several publishers. In between those two submission dates, I have been a waitress, sales associate, school psychologist, English teacher, essential oil distributor, instructional coach, social media manager and writer.

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Ever since I left for college and began talking to my dad on the phone regularly, he’s answered my call with “Hello, darlin’.” I’ll never tire of hearing his deep voice say those two words. Conway Twitty isn’t the only country singer I grew up knowing intimately. In my childhood home on Village Court in Weaverville, we had an antique RCA Victrola (floor model). You walked in the front door, up a flight of stairs and it was right there. I can still see it clearly in my mind.

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I’m severely under-acquainted with the Midwest. 

My older son has a game on his Kindle that asks him to identify certain states or place them in the correct location on a map, and it’s the Midwest that always stumps me. Is that Kansas or Nebraska? And is that one there Illinois or Iowa? What do Missouri and Minnesota even look like? Which ones borders Canada? Are the Dakotas considered “Midwestern”? You get the picture.

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It’s not my proudest accolade, but I spent a significant portion of my childhood in a pageant dress. 

The doctors told my parents they were infertile, so when they surprisingly had two little girls after 13 years of marriage, they were ecstatic to say the least. My mom was an only child and lived a rather sheltered childhood. My grandmother suffered from mental health issues, so my grandfather did the best he could to offer my mom opportunities, but he was protective of his daughter and also quite frugal, so her participation in extracurricular activities was minimal.

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My favorite time of day is quiet time. Every morning before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, before I turn on my laptop or check social media on my phone, I spend at least 30 to 45 minutes in stillness with my thoughts, with God, with the whispers of the universe. It’s become a daily ritual for me, and one that’s a lifeline. 

My quiet time began in earnest when my mom passed away last August. After saying good-bye to her, I realized the only way to truly grieve was to be alone. While I appreciated and still do appreciate encouragement from friends and advice from those who’ve had the same experience, true healing began once I embraced solitude. Only then were the memories clear, my new reality processed and the tears raw.

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I was in the Disney bubble for seven days straight, so it was rather depressing driving home with the daily grind looming up ahead. A blogger friend of mine coined this discombobulating experience “re-entry.” I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself. An amazing vacation, a weekend music festival, a holiday vacation from work. “Re-entry” is when you leave that happy façade of a world and return to reality.

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We leave for Disney World this weekend. 

I should be more excited, but with all that’s going on in our country, I’m feeling a bit uneasy about life. It’s hard to get giddy about something as seemingly trivial as Mickey Mouse when refugee children have nowhere to go and our country is imposing travel bans.

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Since my mom’s passing in August, many people have given me books and resources to help with the grief. They’ve all been helpful in different ways, but there was a passage that struck a chord in my heart and has been on my mind continually. 

It said, “When you lose a parent, you lose your past; when you lose a spouse, you lose your present; when you lose a child, you lose your future.”

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After three months of internal darkness and coping with grief, this past weekend offered some soothing reprieve. Over the years, I’ve realized I’m a person who desires to see the world but adores her small town. For me, a place like Waynesville is a perfect home base, a haven to recharge.

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Don’t worry. This column isn’t about the election. There’s plenty of that going on elsewhere.

With that being said, I really appreciated Hillary’s slogan during her campaign. Stronger together. I like when a couple simple words unite to make an impact.

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I recently wrote a blog post about September being the worst month of my life. One day seemed to awkwardly stumble over the next with no rhyme or reason emotionally or logistically. I was in a grief-induced fog, feeling a lot of anger and isolation, just basically trying to take each day in its singular form and not worry about what was to come.

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Lately I’ve been hanging out at The Open Door in Frog Level and I have to admit, it’s my new favorite joint in town. After my mom passed, I began to feel overstimulated in traditional settings like ballgames, street festivals, and even crowded restaurants. All the noise, clanging, and happy sounds were so discordant with my melancholy; I would leave feeling exhausted and agitated.

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For a week I’ve been thinking about what to write in this week’s column, and very little clarity came until today. Traditionally, I love writing about anything. A new business in town, my son’s homemade Halloween costume, a great book I’m reading, the crispness of orchard apples, an upcoming trip.

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Not long ago my front porch was a barren, pathetic place with a few pieces of hard, wooden furniture, zero greenery and an all-around lack of comfort. Throughout the summer, I’ve worked to make it much more, and since the passing of my mom almost a month ago, it’s become a peaceful sanctuary for me.

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There are only a handful of life experiences that result in a definitive before and after. I now know that losing a parent is one of those. 

My mom passed away on Sunday, Aug. 14, after a three-year battle with cancer. While she had been sick a long time, her death was unexpected and sudden. The week before she passed, she took my two little boys to the North Carolina Zoo. We knew she was getting worse, but she was fighting and still responding to some of her treatments. We thought she had much more time left in her. 

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I’ve always felt this in my gut, but I’ve learned with keen certainty lately that things we think matter actually don’t matter at all. And not only do they not matter, but they pull our thoughts, attention, and emotions away from the parts of life that do matter.

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Until 18 days ago, the Bible had always been an afterthought in my spiritual journey. It was a book I viewed from a distance, unsure how to use it in a way that resonated with me. Even in adulthood when I first attempted a daily devotional, I would Google the suggested Bible verse instead of actually looking it up in the Bible.

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op barbeeIn not every town do the children of doctors and lawyers go to the same schools as the children of teachers and mill workers, but in Haywood County, that’s the case. When I was teaching full-time in the classroom, I taught students whose parents owned boats and vacation homes, and I taught students who slept in a car and ate meals at The Open Door.

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op travelIf I described my childhood, it may sound to some like I was raised by a band of gypsies. And while that wasn’t exactly the case, I had quite a unique early life that I didn’t fully appreciate until rather recently.

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op tattooI got a tattoo a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t on a whim. I wasn’t intoxicated. I wasn’t in Myrtle Beach. And I’m not a rebellious 16-year-old. The choice was very premeditated and something I’ve been thinking about for years. I was just waiting for the perfect design to manifest in my mind, which finally happened about a month ago.

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op willisOne day recently as I was walking through the parking lot at Waynesville Middle School, a car slowly pulled up beside me. I turned, and when the driver rolled down his window, I saw that it was an elderly gentleman in a World War II uniform.

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op 911Recently, a group of Waynesville Middle chorus students were at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and when they tried to sing the national anthem, they were stopped mid-song by a security guard who told them they needed a permit to perform. Before beginning the song, they had received verbal permission from a different security guard.

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op barbeeThere was a time when running was my saving grace. If I didn’t run at least four times a week, I could feel it in my body and in my mood. It was a must for me. I wrote about running all of the time on my blog. I participated in races all throughout the year.

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op merleWhen I was a little girl, I had a stuttering problem. The memories of struggling with words that started with “S” or “N” are vivid in my mind. Sometimes I would try to come up with ways to completely avoid saying anything that started with those letters.

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op columnThree months into this, I’ve decided that being a columnist for The Smoky Mountain News is potentially more challenging than being one for The New York Times. I’ve never been a columnist for a big-city publication, but I bet it’s easier to get lost in a sea of fast-paced New Yorkers after a contentious or honest column than it is to walk into Joey’s Pancake House where one knows half the occupancy. Growing up in Weaverville, I’m no stranger to the small-town vibe, a vibe that’s both comforting and precarious.

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op frI’ve been watching the Trump shenanigans from afar, laughing it off as a collective momentary lapse in judgment, but as he continues to gain momentum, I’m becoming dumbfounded by how many Americans are so easily deceived.

We all remember who was president when we were kids, and if my boys’ childhood memories are muddled whatsoever by Donald Trump’s bully-like, chauvinistic behavior, I’m going to be heartbroken.

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op barbeeThe other night I cut a skin tag off my husband’s face with a really sharp paring knife and some tweezers. I used peppermint essential oil to numb and rubbing alcohol to cleanse. Our 7-year old held a flashlight so I could see and our 4-year old looked on in amazement. 

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op stripperboobs“Out: so-called stripper boobs. In: a woman’s natural shape.” 

I read that sentence a couple of months ago in a Shape magazine article. It made me smile to myself because as someone who tries to be au natural, it makes me happy to know that the cosmetic breast implant trend is making a downward turn.

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op barbeeThere was a time in my life where I thought being wild would lead to a sense of freedom and purpose. I assumed that spontaneous trips, living alone, drinking good wine, writing long, dark journal entries and dabbling in debauchery would quench an underlying thirst for adventure.

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op barbeeOne Friday night in October my husband and I were dining at the bar at Frog’s Leap when I realized Smoky Mountain News Editor Scott McLeod was next to us enjoying a beer and an order of truffle fries. He and I began chatting about his kids, my kids, mutual friends and ultimately landed on the topics of writing and journalism. He asked what sorts of topics I write about and which publications I write for.

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