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today at the humane society, we attempted unsuccessfully to adopt a series of dogs. we went to meet a specific dog: Butterbean. a smiling, cylindrical creature; part-bulldog, part-beagle, part-something. but Butterbean was gone, someone had already adopted her. we walked through the kennels, where my kids saw two dogs who felt right.
the first, a 13 year old hound-thing (‘she still needs a HOME,’ stamped the 7 year old, after being informed that old dogs do not usually live nearly as long as young dogs) named Raven (hindsight! so many bad omens!) who was wonderful and sweet, but who would bark at my son every time he moved. not an aggressive bark, but a steady, unrelenting, ‘hey. hey. hey. hey.’
the second dog, a scruffy terrier thing named Kitsy. my daughter asked about her and a very quiet teen brought her to us. he stayed in the room, while we scratched Kitsy’s ears and underneath her cone (a great sign!), while the quiet teen cleared his throat and said, quietly:
'she has some medical issues'
‘oh, like what? heartworm or?’
‘she has some issues with a. prolapsed. ah. loins.’
‘oh, you mean it’s—’
‘it would be a daily task. a lot’
‘do you just put it—’
[sweet tinkling voices of children] ‘what’s thaaa—’
‘just some lubrication and—’
[quiet teen exits]
I am grateful though, to the quiet teen, who somehow managed to explain the sad issue of a dog’s prolapsed vagina so gracefully that not only were my children were barely interested, it fell immediately off their radar.
Today I have a piece in the Atlantic online. Growing up, my mom always subscribed to the print magazine, as her mom always had. It’s always been a staple in my family: My parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles. I remember being very small and stealing my mom’s copies, hiding away and reading the fiction every month. A very sappy confession: As young as ten or eleven, I would read the short fiction pieces the Atlantic published every month and daydream that maybe one day I’d be in there, too.
So today I am grateful and so happy and also shell-shocked and nervous and HOLY CRAP do I ever need a cigarette.
Anyway, here it is.
Some nights your beautiful, sleepy daughter walks quietly down the hallway from her room and hands you Susie, the brown stuffed dog (which, she shows you, has a torn ear). She smiles when you promise to fix it; frowns when you tell her not right now, though, but puts Susie down calmly by your chair anyway. She walks back down the hallway, returns a minute later with Rainbow, the black and white stuffed yorkie, and sets her down next to Susie. She straightens, bare feet shuffling under spindly legs under her dad’s old worn out pacman shirt, and explains: for company. they’re sisters.
We stood at the bus stop in the dark. My hands were wrapped around my coffee mug. I watched the kids growing more and more illuminated by the sun rising behind low gray clouds. Him, in his layers of mismatched, old pajamas and Spiderman slippers. Her, in her carefully planned outfit: torn jeans, red chucks, polka-dot jacket. She threw her backpack down on the sidewalk and they started to play together. Running, jumping over cracks, shouting and laughing and calling each other’s names, showing off. I caught myself frowning at them; she and I had argued that morning after I’d asked her to buy her lunch from school instead of packing one. You would have thought I had asked her to do something painfully impossible. Requesting that she buy some chicken nuggets for lunch was akin to asking her to deny her own very nature; she froze, panicked, begged. She simply could not imagine a reality where she would have to eat cafeteria food. It became a stand-off, she and I glowering at each other while her dad silently got out of bed, shuffled to the kitchen, made her a sandwich, and threw it in her lunchbox.
Later, at the bus stop, I crouched down in front of her. I told her that I love her strong will and the way she has so many ideas about the way the world should be. I asked her, though, to practice flexibility. I told her that this world is vast and things are going to happen whether they are part of her plan or not. I told her that she’s very young and brilliant and thoughtful, but sooner or later she’s gonna have to learn how to bend. I told her to think of those small little bends like exercise; the school lunches, the playdate activities, choosing the books we read and the shows we watch. Maybe bending about small things keeps us flexible, so we don’t grow brittle and snap when confronted by the Big Things that sneak up and shake us to our very core.
She listened, smiled, hugged me. Her brother walked up, hands tucked inside his sleeves, and whined that he was cold. She sighed, opened up her backpack, pulled out a pair of pink gloves, and handed them to her brother. "Now," she said, "These are my favorite. They’re fuschia, which is not quite pink and not quite red. You can wear them at the bus stop. When you go inside, though, take them off and put them together on my bench by the front door. Remember, your bench is blue and my bench is butterscotch. Put my gloves inside the door on my butterscotch bench and don’t touch them again until I get home." Gratefully, he nodded as he pulled on the fuschia gloves. I shook my head, looked down at the tops of their heads, sipped my coffee, and decided that maybe we’ll start practicing bending tomorrow.
[this is something I wrote a long time ago]
Remember when this image popped up on all of our computers and then the Internet exploded? I saw it and was taken aback for a moment. My first thought was, 'Those are NOT mom arms!' followed immediately by, 'Oh! He's. Big.' And that was that. I was done. (I do feel like I need to say that my ONE major problem with this Time cover is that the little boy’s face is unobstructed. He’s too young to have decided to appear on this cover by himself. I hope he is one of those little boys who grows a new face around puberty.) I try not to read too much of these Mommywars types of articles because they upset me. I don’t like things that classify and sub-categorize moms. Are you an attachment parent? A free range parent? A tiger mom? Neglectful? A helicopter parent? Are you ruining your child by paying too little attention to him? Are you ruining your child by paying too much attention to him? Are you spoiling your child by buying him too many toys? Or is he going to be a serial killer/cold-hearted investment banker because of his horrible, deprived childhood? Are you one of those stuck-up, suburban rich-lady moms who only feeds your kids free range, organic, level 7 vegan food? Or are you one of those fat slobby ones that puts soda in sippy cups and carries around a box of fruit snacks in your grubby purse?
I am not any of these things. And I am all of them. What kind of parent am I? I listen to my kids. I let them play. If they ask for something and they are being good and I can afford it, I give it to them. I feel them healthyish food. They eat vegetables. They also eat cookies. Sometimes they drink only water for days. Sometimes they drink chocolate milk. Sometimes (shock, horror, gasp) I’ll let Henry have a little Pepsi in a grown-up glass, because he loves it and it makes him feel like a big boy for a minute.
I nursed both of my kids for a year each, and I feel lucky to have been able to do that. With Ruby, as a new mom, I lived on those La Leche League forums; swapping stories about over-supply and nursing habits that seemed so fascinating and important at the time. I said things like, 'I just don't understand women who don't nurse. Why would they deprive their child?' and, 'I bet they didn't even try. Formula is basically poison, you know.' I was a crunchy, baby-wearin’ mama and proud of it. I would see crying babies in public, holding bottles and being pushed in strollers and feel sorry for them, because CLEARLY their mothers didn’t understand their needs.
And then Henry came. Henry was a good nurser and a good sleeper, but he did not like to be worn. He did NOT like schedules. He did what he wanted when he wanted (he still does). And as a family, we learned to adapt. We became more fluid and relaxed. I feel like Henry saved me from staying the sort of judgmental mom I had become. He brought a whole new set of insane challenges to the table (AND CONTINUES TO BRING THEM; THANKS, HENRY) that made me stop short and realize just how hard parenting is. I do a lot of the things now that I used to turn my nose up at three years ago, and it makes me giggle. Because I see now how little those things matter. What matters is that my kids are fed, and warm, and clean, and loved. They are who they are. And they will be basically the same person no matter what I do.
They are not currently on fire. I am doing okay.
So maybe think about this. As parents (especially mothers), we all feel inadequate. We all feel like we’re grasping at straws sometimes. We see other parents all around us doing things differently than we do and we think, 'Is THAT the right way? Am I ruining everything?' As a parent, I am never absolutely confident in the choices I make, because the circumstances and situations that caused me to make those choices are always changing. It’s like trying to paint on a rotating canvas; use the paint you have to try to fill in the spaces that you can and just hope that the colors will blend in together somehow. In the end, you’ll probably have something that’s reasonably nice to look at (just don’t let it catch on fire.)
Our job as parents isn’t to judge. Our job is to love and protect our children. To clothe and feed and snuggle them. The next time you feel compelled to say something snarky about another human’s parenting, maybe go give your kids a hug instead, because those are the kids that are your business.
I dreamed a tree
giant twisted roots
thick snakes of wood and bark
knotted, coiled, entwined
spreading over the damp, dark earth
rising from this tangled mess
a trunk that felt wider than the forest itself
towering taller than we could see
I dreamed a pair of pink, glittering eyes
inside a dark and yawning void
sunk into the trunk of this living tree
that seemed to move and twist
we wondered about the order of things
we wondered if the tree made the void
we wondered if the void made the tree
we decided they belong to each other
you were holding my hand
and I wasn’t afraid
How many bikini season posts have I seen on the internet so far this Spring? How many shopping guides; rules to determine which fruit I resemble the most? How many lists are there of swimsuits and sundresses that are “appropriate” for my body type? How much time have I spent in front of the mirror, scrutinizing the soft hills and jagged edges of my own body, pulling and tucking and arranging and wishing that something could be different or somewhere else? Am I an apple? A pear? An hourglass? A roast chicken?
I don’t love my body. I don’t hate it, either. It’s an instrument capable of both good and bad. It does things that I like and do not like. Sometimes it fails me. Most often, it performs the way I need it to and I am grateful. I made and fed two babies with it. It carries me through the woods, to my job, to the playground with my kids. It isn’t ornamental; it’s a machine. I am lucky.
Yesterday I read a blog post written by a stranger (a mother) about bikini season and the need to lose weight. She wrote unapologetically about how she just wants to be skinny. She wrote about swearing off food until she was skinny enough to be able to wear a bikini; she wrote that she plans on only consuming three protein shakes a day until she is as skinny as she wants to be: skinny enough to deserve that bikini.
As a human and a woman, I understand. It’s okay to want to be attractive (whatever your definition of that may be). If there is something that you don’t like about yourself, it is absolutely your choice to change if it you want to, however you want to. It isn’t my or anyone else’s business.
As a parent. AS A PARENT. I remember getting my daughter ready for school one winter morning. She was 4. She slipped her little arms into her puffy winter coat and suddenly started to cry. I asked her what was wrong and she turned her perfect, beautiful little face up to me and said, “This coat makes me look fat.” I cried right there at that very moment. My heart hurt so much for her. All of the frustration I have ever felt with my own body and appearance welled up in that moment. I knew exactly how she felt, and I was beyond horrified that she was feeling it. At 4 years old, my daughter was afraid people would think she was fat.
In that moment, I promised to never, ever, say negative things about mine, ours, or anyone else’s bodies. At home, in our shared family lives, we think we have private moments, but we really don’t. Our kids see everything. They see us skipping meals and eating tiny portions. They hear the things we say about our fat thighs and flat asses and too small/too big boobs. They think we’re beautiful because they love us, and when we turn around and shame ourselves, we teach them to do the same. We are their standard and they are our mirrors, and we will never be able to show them how to accept who they are while we are so busy hating ourselves.
I am trying to accept myself for them. I am trying to show my kids that there are so many ways to be healthy and beautiful. And as for bikini season, here is what I recommend for obtaining a bikini body: 1) Have a body, and 2) Put a bikini on it. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit you’re shaped like. You get to do whatever the fuck you want. Isn’t that nice?
It was the end of August, I was 17, and my friend’s little sister had just died. She’d been the third person I knew to get meningitis that summer. One had recovered, one had emerged from a coma with significant brain damage, but my friend’s baby sister had not survived.
Two days after she died, we found out what had happened. She’d been bitten by a tick while camping, and had caught bacterial spinal meningitis which—and here is an important part—is contagious. Put 15-25 teenagers who have a habit of sharing smokes and drinks in a small space, give one of them a deadly communicable disease, and see what happens (It’s this: Panic.). Nobody really knew what was going on, and we were all pretty sure that we were going to die. Since the go-to test for this was a spinal tap, I chose to wait for death.
The worry heaped on top of the grief for my friend and his family was—er—difficult. I stayed in bed as much as possible, but I had trouble sleeping. My anxiety kept me from eating and I got pretty weak. Around the third day, my mom and my boyfriend came into my room together. It was time for me to get up. Everything was going to be ok, and I needed to start acting like it. My boyfriend told me there was a show he wanted to take me to that night, and my mom added that she also had tickets and would be going with her boyfriend and would be there in some capacity as backup. The general concensus was that I needed to get out of the house, and because I was too weak to argue and also an idiot, I complied.
In a Geo Metro with my boyfriend and two of his friends from art school, they smoked joint after joint and hotboxed me all the way to the Ween show. They were playing in a little smoky bar right across state lines. We walked in about forty minutes before the show started, and I was already a little woozy. The Boys nudged me up with them, right up against the front of the stage. We waited, and the bar began to fill up. Right before they started playing, I saw my mom smiling and waving at me from across the bar, standing next to her boyfriend. The light changed and the music started. I felt everyone in the crowd swell a little, pushing in from all sides, squeezing me even closer to the edge of the stage.
They picked up their instruments.
They played Tick.
I feel a tick in my head and hes sucking on my head
In the morning Ill be dead if he doesn’t leave my head
Why cant he go away why does he have to stay
Maybe he wanna play but I can only say
Oh, okay, I had panic then. I couldn’t breathe. I had to breathe. I made myself breathe. I grabbed my boyfriend’s arm and steadied myself. I closed my eyes and forced my body to accept air deep down into the bottom of my lungs. I made it through.
Fucking Spinal Fucking Meningitis
Why they wanna see my spine mommy?
Why they wanna see my spine?
Now I was done. This was it. (Even double-checking those lyrics now, I feel sick to my stomach and shaky) I tugged on my boyfriend’s arm and he leaned down. 'We need to sit. I need to find a place to sit down,' I told him.
He told me later that he had turned his head and looked down to ask me if I could make it until the end of the song, but I was gone. And I was gone: I’d passed out. I remember him and one of his friends trying to lift me/pull me away from the stage and out of the crowd when a giant, bald-headed, angel of a bouncer swept me up and carried me Bodyguard-style out of the bar. He set me down on the sidewalk, and asked me if I was ok. He told me I needed to eat. He went next door and got me some chicken fingers. I ate those chicken fingers, sitting on the sidewalk between my mom and my boyfriend outside the bar where Ween was playing. They were delicious, and they fixed me. I felt better. We went back inside, and I spent the rest of the show alone at a table near the bar, sipping Sprite and making occasional eye contact with my boyfriend and my mom.
We made it home without any other catastrophes, but I never listened to either of those songs again, and I hope I never have to.
or, jeez I can’t even do THAT right
I had a mommyblog. It started the way everyone else’s did: One day, I found myself with a baby. We would lie on the floor and stare at each other. She was beautiful. The grandparents would call, ask for all the tiniest details. I would take hundreds of pictures of this tiny, bizarre, beautiful creature I had made. I would update facebook twenty times a day with news of her smiles, her likes and dislikes, her moods. So eventually, and very organically, I thought to myself “why not?” and made my mommyhood into a blog. It seemed logical. I am not good at physical record-keeping, my kids’ baby books are sad little shadow graveyards of the possibilities of a happy childhood. Flip through one of those and you would think that my children grew up eternally bored, ignored, neglected. I still hate those books.
‘How many inches tall was I at 6 months?’ Who gives a shit?
‘Put my first lost tooth in this envelope!’ Um, why, when I could wear it around my neck in a little locket?
Writing about my kids, though. That I could do. Their moods and wants and quirks. Their fears and jokes. The way their faces would light up in certain situations, the way they loved each other; the way they played and tried to solve problems and pretended. My kids are magic to me, and I am constantly in awe of their very Being. They are feral, but kind; brilliant, but goofy; beautiful but entirely unaware.
I never had a negative experience blogging. Everyone was always very nice to me; very loving and accepting. I used my kids’ real first names because I am allergic to Thinking Ahead. I took tons of pictures because they are beautiful and I know for a fact that the happiness on their faces is contagious. I had a nice little community of loving people who I willingly shared my family’s triumphs and stumbles with, and I felt like it was a really good thing.
Until all of the sudden, it didn’t.
One day, it just occurred to me that these nice people (and everyone was nice, polite, considerate, lovely) knew my children. They knew my kids; names and faces.They knew my kids’ likes and dislikes. They knew my kids like I knew my kids, which suddenly seemed very unfair to everyone involved.
People used to ask me why I wrote about my kids so much and never my husband and I would say, “Well. I made my kids with my own body, so I own them in a way that I don’t own my husband. I don’t own him, so I don’t get to tell his stories without permission.” I am blushing right now, typing that, because it is such a terrible thing to say. Of course I don’t own my children, and of course their stories aren’t mine to tell, either.
Recently I remembered a night from my late teens. My mom had written a parenting book to help with kids “like me” (read: funny looking, rotten, crass-obsessed, pot-smoking, brought-to-you-by-troma-vision teens). I was wary of the whole thing (I was wary of everything), but she had promised me that she wouldn’t refer to me by name. In fact, she’d promised me she would make me a boy in the anecdotes she told. I was 18 when the book was released (no, I’m not giving the title), and I remember staying up all night in my tiny little apartment, drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle and highlighting every instance where my actual, human, REAL name appeared on those pages. When I was done, I’d made a friend drive me over to her house and I’d stuffed the book back in her mailbox. We’ve never spoken about it.
I don’t want my kids to have an online presence. I don’t want my kids to get sucked early into this weird internet validation-machine blogging and microblogging has created. I want to let my kids be kids and I want to honor everything about them. I want their stories to be theirs. I still write about them sometimes, but I’m more careful about the stories I share, and I’m choosing to leave their personal details out of it. Someday I’ll show them the things I’ve written about them, and I hope that they will be able to see and feel the love behind my words.
the sun on our shoulders
the wind in our hair
the clean, cool air in our lungs
the despair we felt, together
at the evidence the hunters had left behind
you stopped once, looking down, smiling
describing the relief you felt
every time we encountered
a deer’s hoof-print preserved in the mud
I nodded: slowly, cautiously
choosing not to remark aloud
that for every small hoof-print
the heavy tracks of the hunters’ boots
were waiting around the bend
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