I’ve got a new column on the gorgeous site The Equals Record. It’s called “Me Without You” and will run every other Tuesday. The column will focus on Mom’s dementia and the experience of becoming a new mother while losing my own mother. It’ll be a hoot and a half! I’m starting off with reworkings of older blog posts, but I’ll be adding new content soon. The Equals Record is a beautifully designed ad-free site dedicated to showcasing essays from women writers. There’s a companion print piece, Equals, that will be released this summer. I stumbled upon the site a couple months ago and have been following it since, so I’m thrilled to be part of it. Check ‘er out!
Things are okay. We’re living in a new city that I love. We’re trying new restaurants and soaking up the sun when it asserts itself. Henry is imaginative and his brain and humor are expanding, invisible but undeniable like helium in a balloon. My husband is my best friend. We laugh a lot, still find the same things funny. Are still human in all the same ways that are a comfort. Our friends and families visit us, and we get to remember the feeling of being known — like really known — in the way only friends who have become family can.
But my mother is dying. Her legs are atrophied sticks, bird boned like the arms of a starving child from a third-world country. Her once hulking dancer’s calf muscles are now slips of flesh, slack against bone. Her eyes are glassed and milky. I imagine her sight is blurred, her world watercolored. The skin on her face is taut and shiny, hugs the facial skeleton. I remember her, just eight years ago, in a Dillard’s dressing room as she tried on outfits for my wedding, analyzing herself in the mirror. She pulled her skin up at the temples, joking but not really joking that a little nip and a tuck would do her good. Nothing major, nothing drastic. Just a little lift. Just to look rested.
Her mouth hangs open. Her jaw’s natural state is unhinged. She never slept with her mouth open, so this is unfamiliar to me. I meet with her on the porch of the house we lived in together, the screens long gone, and worry that a gnat will fly in her mouth. I hold her limp hand in my hands, wipe the unsettling green mucous that accumulates in the corners of her mouth. I tell her goodbye. I want to say more, like I’m sorry and thank you and it’s okay to go if you need to. But my aunt and brother are there, and I feel self-conscious, don’t want things to get more maudlin than they already are. It’s a goodbye maybe. I may not see her again. Lately she is always on the verge of death or surprisingly strong despite her eroding brain. She could have weeks, months, years.
I want to say a lot of things to her and to you. But a gate goes closed inside me and I can’t. I wanted to make art of this. I wanted to make a record of her, for Henry, for my brother, for her sisters, for her friends. For her. I wanted to show her that she was known and deeply understood, flaws and all, and that she was still beautiful, was incapable of being anything but.
But I can’t do it. My motivation, my memories, my feeling, my hurt move through me like molasses and there’s no outlet, and when there is, it’s a slow, agonizing drip. I can’t do it for her, the one thing I should do, and I can’t. I’ve tried writing a little every day, using prompts, attempting fiction, taking a class, reading all the good books on writing. But I return over and over to the same conclusion: maybe I’m not meant to write. Or maybe I’m not ready. Or maybe what I need is therapy, not to write. I understand that those can be the same thing, but the result is so purple and mortifying that I can’t bear it.
I don’t keep up with my friends enough. I hate the thought of watching them drift away but hate more the sound of myself recounting the latest sad-sack details, the latest worries, and even hearing the latest reassurances that I know are right but that still fail to penetrate me, fail to change how I feel. I hope they (you) will bear with me and know that I love you even when I go quiet.
My brother is coming to live with us. He’s 17 and has spent the past two years watching his mother die, withdrawing from school to babysit her. We hope we can give him a more stable environment. But I’m scared to parent a teenager; I can barely parent a single three-year-old. I’m afraid of feeling self-conscious about our daily routines, of having our shorthand and weaknesses on display for scrutiny. Of our little world not being understood or worse, not being flexible enough to let another in.
Granted, anything has to be better than changing your dying parent’s diaper. And if I can’t write for and about mom, then this is the absolute least that I can do.
Anyway, don’t fret the silence. We’re fine. I’m fine. Most days are very very good. But I don’t have the energy to articulate it all, the good and the bad, to wade through all the usual writer insecurities while missing my mom and hating myself for failing her while she was here and failing her still while she’s on the way out. Some days I just want to crawl inside this song, be a needy, vulnerable, lame, whiny, and embarrassing adolescent mess. So that I can pick up and try again tomorrow.
This is my final fit, my final bellyache :) Thanks for reading and listening and being out there even when all I can muster is silence.
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
This was supposed to be a post about the terrible, horrible, no-good threes. I had anecdotes to share of fits and tantrums, new heights of irrationality, and the other myriad ways in which three ups the ante of two’s boundary testing and button pushing. But then 20 first graders were shot in Connecticut, and more than ever, griping about normal child behavior seems a fatuous luxury, a gross display of excess. So instead, I’m just grateful Henry’s here, slipsliding in socks across the hardwood floor, sounding his barbaric yawp as an independent being who can do it myself, mommy, and then suddenly demanding to be held, to be nurtured and loved in spite of his bad behavior, in spite of anything.
Before Newtown, before the Clackamas Town Center shooting whose details unfolded on the car radio on the way home from school, Henry became curious about death. He’s in that delightful if exhausting “Why?” phase, punctuating every explanation or mundane account with a probing, “But why?” The further you fall down these Why rabbit holes, the closer you get to some dark realities, most of which Adam and I try to soften to age-appropriate degrees of color and detail.
Listening to Christmas songs in the car, Henry asked, “What is this?”
Adam answered, “It’s Nat King Cole.”
“Is Nat King Cole dead?”
“Well, yes, he is.”
“But why did he die?”
“He died from smoking cigarettes. He got lung cancer.”
“Because cigarettes are poisonous and very bad for you.”
“I am never going to eat a cigarette!”
Henry seems to understand death as the closing of a door, similar to moving away from his friends in Colorado. He misses them, knows they are somehow less accessible, but does not yet grasp the existence of a void, of a severing so final that it is beyond time and distance and Facebook.
Since becoming a mother, I have a hard time not seeing people as the babies they once were. This is not some gimmicky Benjamin Button effect where I envision facial features rewound in a backward time-lapse to render a doughier, balder, toothless you. I see the vulnerable doted upon you, the you who was adored in a way that only caregivers can experience, the you who was wounded to your core when your school friend said she didn’t like you anymore or when your parents explained that you were moving or that they were divorcing. When I (begrudgingly) watch college football with Adam, all those boys on the field are babies to me, babies running into each other at the speed of freight trains, bruising their soft heads, working so hard to please the boorish spectators who have taken leave enough of their senses to gain satisfaction from a downed rival player, a rival baby. And god help me if the kicker — who is always so absurdly baby-faced and slight that his presence among the other players could be mistaken for a prank — misses the critical game-changing field goal and must then endure the jeers and sometimes death threats of the cruel peanut-crunching crowd. I see these babies through my mom eyes, from the perspective of someone who knows the epic and terrifying nature of what it means to be a parent. To, as Steve Jobs once described, watch your children as if you were watching your heart running around outside your body, raw and pulpy, no longer protected inside your mind’s eye or your swollen belly.
As a parent already dreading the quickening of time passing, I’ve found myself looking closely at bigger kids, as Henry would anoint them, the sixes and sevens, the nines and tens. I notice them in the grocery store, take in a sharp breath and internalize just how few years separate them from my own child. When Henry was an infant, four years old seemed like a faraway land. Toddlers may as well have been teenagers, with their sass and their nearly independent butt wiping. This illusion of distance was comforting, made me think we have time. But as you witness the developmental, physical, and emotional leap that occurs between one year and three years, you realize that the big-kid phase is far closer than you realized. Now when I look at six-year-olds, I see babies, deeply loved fragile beings that we must protect and slowly, slowly nudge into consciousness.
The surviving kids from Sandy Hook have been robbed of that slow wakening to adult realities, have glimpsed the void far too soon.
2012 was a real banner year for mass shootings. But this. This is too much. I’m unable to direct my outrage at the shooter; there’s no release in hating him. I read stories like this mother’s, watch a movie like We Need to Talk about Kevin, and can’t help but imagine the shooter, too, as the fragile baby he once was to his parents. What if my child were troubled? Would I do the “right” things? And if I did, would it make a difference?
I understand the kernel of fear that motivates the gun enthusiast. I’ve sat in my house with the murmur of a monitor transmitting my child’s breathing and contemplated our safety, my capacity for protecting him. I’ve plotted escape routes in my head, triple-checked the locks, even slept with a dull steak knife on the nightstand when Adam was out of town. This mental preparation is the illusion of comfort that I need to fall asleep. When Adam is home and asleep beside me, that too is an illusion of comfort. Your gun is no better at securing your safety than my steak knife or my 6’3″ husband. There is no cure for vulnerability, apart from not having kids, or not loving anyone, or not living. A gun is a cheat, and like most quick fixes, it’s too good to be true. The idea that you will be emotionally and psychically ready to use your gun at the right time, in the instant that it takes your unstable gun-toting counterpart to start spraying bullets, is a mirage.
As gun advocates have rightly noted, if someone wants to commit murder, they will find a way; a gun is not the only means to an end. But as a government and as a people, we don’t have to support this weapon’s accessibility. We should not be bending over backwards to protect gun proponents’ “right” to be strapped, to endorse their sense of comfort at the cost of our safety, to mollify those who watch these events unfold year after year and remain intractable on the stance that their right to bear arms is more important than our right to work, shop, worship, mail things, attend school, see a movie, and grow up without the threat of confronting a military-grade weapon.
I recall arguing with a former friend in a movie theater parking lot after seeing Bowling for Columbine in 2003:
“Someone could use a pencil to kill or maim. Maybe we should ban pencils from schools,” he snarked.
True, let’s not underestimate a killer’s creativity and DIY sensibility. But perhaps we could do more to distinguish the instruments that are made for the sole purpose of killing living things from the everyday household items at the big-box superstore? Especially since we have no way of differentiating a would-be killer from the responsible sportsman? Put on your creative DIY thinking caps, gun enthusiasts, and devise another way to display your rugged American individualism.
Will seriously limiting the ease with which people can obtain handguns, or banning the sale of semiautomatic rifles, end gun violence? No. But could it curb it? Yes. Is it worth relinquishing your fantasy of one form of self-protection for what might amount to a mere dent in mass shootings? When you consider that every dent is a person, a baby in his or her loving parent’s memory, then yes. Yes, it fucking is.
Being a parent is a gamble. It’s willingly deciding to put a vulnerable thing that you love more than your own life out into a sometimes unsafe and ultimately indifferent world. Deciding to love anything is a gamble. It’s pulling your heart out of your chest and asking another to care for it. Our kids and our hearts get hurt. We can only hope to survive those hurts wiser and less naive but no less game to do it all again. Our six-year-olds should be worrying about advancing to the next level of their favorite video games or freaking out their friends by wiggling their loose front teeth with their tongues or lamenting that they didn’t get the Power Wheels they wanted for Christmas. Not contemplating the void. Not yet.
I know, I fail at blogging. Forgive me, small and scrappy audience of mostly relatives; it’s been four months since my last post. But I have my
excuses reasons. In addition to the usual laziness and paralyzing self-doubt, I haven’t written because we’ve undergone some changes:
Early September: We visited Portland, kind of a birthday trip for me but primarily so Adam could interview for a new job. Good friends gave us a grand (and patient, considering the three-year-old Grumplestiltskin traveling with us) tour of the city, including the Oregon coast, where I was able to cross “see Goonies rock” off my life list:
Mid-September: Adam is offered the job! We are moving! He starts on October 1! Wait . . . what?
We have two weeks to tell everyone and say goodbye to Colorado-based friends and family; manage an interstate move; put our Colorado house on the market; and drive two carloads of stuff, a carsick toddler, and a flatulent dog to the Pacific Northwest. Thankfully, a moving company will be relocating us, but our realtor thinks we’re more likely to sell the house if we leave it furnished. So we plan to take enough things to get by for a month in furnished corporate housing, crossing our fingers that the house sells fast, and planning to return to Colorado after our month of corporate housing is up to collect our things.
We are stressed the fuck out.
Adam’s parents visit (a trip that was scheduled before all of this was happening), and they’re essentially handed boxes, brooms, and drills and forced to spend their vacation helping us pack and work on home repairs to get the house market-ready. I adjust my OCD cap and roll up my OCD sleeves and clean the place top to bottom in preparation for the open house that our realtor will host two days after we hit the road for Oregon. Because of my awesome work situation, this move won’t affect my business at all. But this also means the work doesn’t stop, and taking time off just means I get further behind. I’m on a continuous loop of working and cleaning and hand-wringing.
I bring cupcakes to Henry’s class on his last day of school and get a couple pics of him hugging the kids that he has shared school, colds, toys, and bites with since he was 12-weeks-old. His teachers take a group photo of all the kids in the class making sad faces and paste it to a construction-paper card that says, “This is how we feel about you leaving.” Henry wails in despair on the car ride home.
Heart broken and hands wrung, we load up the cars and set out for Portland.
Two vomiting episodes (1 for Henry; 1 for the dog) and two smelly cars later (we took turns riding with the farty dog), we arrive in Portland. We’re set up in a furnished apartment downtown, right across the street from Adam’s new office. We tour Henry’s new preschool and get him enrolled. He and Adam start school and work the same day. I spend my days in the apartment working and teaching Nona how to crap in the city (no worries, poop bags in tow).
Late September/Early October: One week after we left Colorado, our home is under contract. We had two offers just days after our insanely awesome realtor hosted the open house. I dive into stalking Craigslist for rental homes. In some weird, superstitious gesture, I continue subscribing to and checking the Longmont Times Call because until October 29, the date scheduled for our closing, we’re still Colorado residents. Also, the Times Call is already becoming colored with a dusty pastel nostalgia, a glowing artifact of our time in Longmont. To wit:
<insert sigh of longing>
In the spirit of getting to know my new town, and hopeful for some Portlandia-esque headlines, I peruse the Oregon news:
Jesus. We are not in Kansas anymore, dude.
Since we were in an apartment and sans yard, I was forced to push through my hermit-prone sensibilities and walk the dog a few times a day. I was pleased to discover that human-eating hogs were not running amok in the streets. Instead, I found downtown Portland to be pretty much adorable, an encouraging, hand-holding starter city for a suburbanite like me. In addition to the dearth of maniacal hogs, I observe the following about our new surroundings:
1. Downtown is, unsurprisingly, peopled with well-dressed young professionals. I had to make an effort not to stare at all the hip ladies, who appear to have sprung fully formed from a Pinterest board. With my soccer-mom hair and too-clean New Balance walking shoes, I’m suddenly very aware of how middle-aged and mom-like I’m looking. It’s a little depressing. The men are no slouches, either. It’s not three-piece suits or anything, but they’re dressing with intention and exhibit a gift for layering. They’re wearing unscuffed leather boots, stylishly wrapped scarves tucked into their corduroy jackets, unwrinkled flannel shirts, and crisp blue jeans with cuffed legs. Like genteel lumberjacks! Or dandy farmers! Or whittlers who moonlight as professors? Now, perhaps this is the norm where you live, but remember, I’m coming from Longmont, where chihuahua-stuffed pants pass as noteworthy (though unlawful) fashion. So it’s welcome eye-candy, and it’s making me want to shop.
2. I’m committing this to the interwebs now so that when we’re mired in weeks (months?) on end of gloomy weather next spring, you can poke a virtual finger in my face and laugh at me, but for now, I’m really liking the overcast weather and almost constant, misting rain. It feels a little like living in a cooler rainforest, which I guess we do. I’ve always loved stormy days. The streets are less populated, as if everyone is laying low and taking cover. Such days are unassuming, a slower pace is expected, and they’re perfect for crawling under the covers and watching hobbits, not that I’ve gotten to do that yet. Also, I’ve gotten more use out of my purple rain umbrella in the past month than I have in the four years I’ve owned it. Though please note: you will instantly mark yourself as a tourist or a newcomer here by busting out an umbrella. Rain is such a constant that the locals just deal, okay. I guess this is similar to the phenomenon of Coloradans donning flip-flops as soon as the thermometer hits 50 degrees.
3. Speaking of hobbits, Oregon’s lush greenery and sweeping edge-of-the-earth coast feel very Lord of the Rings, which we know I find strangely comforting. Let me state for the record that if we ever buy a house again and we’re still living here, I want a dang hobbit door. Adam, you will just have to stoop.
Mid-October: We fly back to Colorado to manage the move of our stuff and clean the house for the final walk-through. Henry gets to spend time with his uncle and his best friend from school and again collapses into a puddle of tears when we leave a few days later. Shouldn’t toddlers have the memory retention of a cat? Clearly, we can’t move again until he’s 25.
Upon returning to Portland for real this time, we sign a lease on a rental home, a sweet and lovingly renovated 1915 bungalow with clawfoot tubs and impractically tiny closets. Despite having no place to put our broom, we’re loving it more each day, and I’m really appreciating being in a home with good bones and built-ins, and also knowing that when the heat stops working or a hole opens up in our roof, someone else has to fix it.
Late-October: We attend a kids’ Halloween party at Adam’s new agency and allow Henry to celebrate his inner-monster by dressing him as the Hulk. Henry gets into character with some candy-fueled sugar rages and channels Mark Ruffalo’s adorably rumpled vibe:
Today: Our house is sold. We are former homeowners and happy home renters. Let’s recap: In less than three months, we
- drove to Portland from Colorado.
- flew to Colorado from Portland and back to Portland again.
- sold our home.
- moved twice — from Colorado home to Portland apartment and from Portland apartment to Portland home.
- started a new job.
- started a new preschool.
- went from working in my underwear in Colorado to working in my underwear in Portland.
- learned the dangers of Oregon’s human-eating hogs.
- devised Halloween costume for toddler, complete with grease-pencil abs.
- re-elected the president.
To put this in perspective, I did not just birth my fourth child naturally. But man, I’m tired.
I am not what you would call an “adventurous” person. I don’t ride roller coasters because I do not find it “fun” or “exhilarating” to simulate the feeling of plummeting to my death. The few times I’ve traveled abroad, I would have been content to spend the entirety of my trip in the hotel room, where I wouldn’t instantly be pegged as a stupid American who didn’t know the language and where I could get food and wine delivered directly to my room, thereby “experiencing the culture” while minimizing my awkwardness and self-loathing. I think ferris wheels are dumb and deadly. Picking up and moving to a new place is as adventurous as I get. Buried somewhere in the sweaty stress folds is a genuine excitement, a thrill in planning as much as I can until I finally throw my hands up with exhaustion, unclench, and say fuck all. It’s a train of your own devising, but at some point it’s propelling itself forward, and you’re just a passenger. I guess this is my version of running with the bulls. I don’t know how many more of these moves I have in me, but I like that in this one respect, I can count myself game.
Many aspects of my daily routine have changed since moving to full-time freelance-dom. I work from 8am–1pm in my pajamas, thank you very much. I no longer have to scrounge for something presentably preppy to wear to the office, only to have it utterly wrinkled by the time I rolled into the parking lot 70–90 minutes after I first got into the car. I no longer leave a dark, cold house at the ass crack of dawn and watch the sun come up on the road. When I do finally get dressed, I wear shorts with impunity, without fear of being reprimanded (yes, that happened), nor do I remember just as I’m walking out the door at 5:45am that Tuesdays aren’t sanctioned “jean days,” and that I’ll have to put all my shit down and change into a pair of dirty khakis pulled from the hamper. To their credit, the last place I worked ended the Friday-only “jean day” rule within my first year working there, and before that, they were kind enough to allow supervisors to award underlings coveted “jean coupons” for a job well done, so that you could flaunt denim on a Tuesday while your skirted and slacked coworkers looked on with jealousy. This same company also periodically required attendance to day-long workshops on appropriate office communication (though different in scope, this scene from Donnie Darko best explains it), and often made departments perform skits to spice up the typical boring, everyday, ho-hum work presentation. Lets just say that if we were playing that drinking game “Never have I ever” and you said “Never have I ever dressed as Linda Richman to perform an office skit wherein I explain my role in expanding the company’s profits,” then I’d have to take a long pull of my boxed wine.
I don’t mean to rag on my previous well-paying, regular-paycheck-bearing 9 to 5 with excellent benefits, ample vacation time, yearly raises, and reliably awarded $5 Starbucks gift cards every Christmas. I worked with very good people that I’m still in contact with. But it was my first true corporate work experience, and though well meaning, many of the company’s dictates felt fussily antiquated, like a plastic cover on a mint-condition couch.
These days, after showering around noon, I walk the dog or do my middle-age-lady yoga. After that, I eat lunch while dicking around on the Internet and listening to podcasts (no longer in secret!). I work for another couple hours, and then I clean or read or dick around with this blog (no longer in secret!) before picking Henry up from school. That the structure of my day is my own is a necessary reward because there’s still plenty of stomach churning. This move involved a big pay cut, the incessant low-level panic of wondering what’s next, dry periods with few job solicitations, and reluctantly trying to wrap my brain around the dark art of quarterly tax estimates. And even for an increasingly antisocial hermit, it gets lonely. During periods where work is more spaced out, I’ve considered putting on my own workplace etiquette skits with Nona and Henry’s stuffed animals because they have no sense of office decorum. This guy bursts into song randomly throughout the day, Nona barks at septuagenarian pedestrians when I’m on client calls, Hulk is never dressed appropriately and wears a headache-inducing eau de parfum, and Scout is just a passive aggressive asshole. I’ve tried a simple sit down, but it looked something like this moment at the 18-second mark:
One thing that hasn’t changed with freelance work is the Friday itch — the waking up and feeling relieved for the week’s end, the desire to shirk as the clock hands round to 5pm. Fridays bring fewer emails, and when I email clients, I often get auto responses that they’ll be “back on Monday.” Maybe this is more specific to summertime, but on Fridays I feel less expected of, less tethered to my email, freer to steal away without anyone noticing. And what would I do with a wide-open day? Hide under my bed covers, read in my PJs, watch bad (read: awesome) movies? Maybe I could be really personally productive, perhaps write or practice perfecting the cat eye with liquid eyeliner so I can go ahead and cross that off my life list? But I never do these things. In my earlier freelancing days, I’d follow weeks of work binging with a day in bed here or there, and even though it felt deserved, warranted even, I could not enjoy it. Instead, I’d harbor a secret excitement upon recognizing the hint of a scratchy throat or sinus congestion, the thrill of an honest excuse. The obvious bummer about working for yourself is that the fun of cheating the system is sucked out of playing hooky. The moment you choose leisure over work, no matter how minor the distraction, you sense the slide from “freelancer” to “unemployed.” You just kind of feel like a loser. You still desire hooky days, but there’s no satisfying outlet for that desire. The best days, I’ve found, are those when a project is delivered. Those days take on the form of purpose, they feel tangible, earned, and titled. I am an editor. Here is the proof.
This is all very adult. And while I like more and more these glimpses of personal — professional — satisfaction that I experience in being my own boss, I feel a little wistful for the days when I could take a (paid!) sick day and hang onto my adolescence a little longer, indulgently under the covers.
For those of you already negotiating your work/shirk balance to make it through the Friday (Once I get X done, I’ll read AV Club. Once I get Y done, I’ll reward myself with a big ass shark video on YouTube.), here are some Longmont Times Call headlines for your enjoyment — after you’ve finished those TPS reports, of course.
I’m not sure we should ever discourage continued education. Maybe he didn’t have the regulation closed-toe shoes and just said, Meh. Fuck it.
The girlfriend told police that she and her boyfriend got into an argument after he got on her Facebook page without her permission. According to a neighbor, the man jumped on his girlfriend’s car and said, “Get out, I love you, please,” before threatening her.
Ah. Young love.
Police on Saturday arrested an intoxicated man on the 900 block of South Hover Street . . . after he began “humping” the ground with his pants pulled below his buttocks. . . . The officer noted in his report that he found the behavior offensive and that he and the sergeant pulled the man to his feet, pulled up his pants for him and arrested him.
The image of two police officers pulling up a drunk man’s pants for him may tide me over for the rest of the day.
The local history event is now in its 91st year. Sharon Guli will lead a program at 1 p.m. on Victorian courting, including “how to kiss deliciously” and “hat flirtations.”
I don’t even know.
Almost one year after police say Luke Chrisco hid in a portable toilet to spy on women at Boulder’s Hanuman Festival before running away covered in feces, the yoga festival is not taking any chances with its bathrooms at this weekend’s event.
Seems like a cheap rehashing of this old Daily Camera headline, but can you blame them?
Not even our mattresses are safe.
Well, haven’t we all been there?
Gone are the good old days when kids were allowed the occasional school bus ruckus.
I cannot for the life of me figure out where this image originated, which is, like, a whole big problem with Pinterest. I do know it was originally from an Allie Brosh post. What more do you want from me?!
How’s the nonspending thing going, you ask? Great! I am really impressed with the reach of my will power. God, I love your shoes. Where’d you get them? J.Crew is having a sale this weekend? That’s nice. But no, no I shouldn’t. I’m just going to stay home and contemplate a section of blank wall space that could use some adorkable and not even all that expensive — gosh — art. A cozy conspicuous-consumption-free weekend avoiding lifestyle blogs, just focusing on substance over style, ya know? I’ll knit a sweater coozy for Adam’s home-brewed beer out of available household items like string and lint and dog hair. I’m hoping the comfy grip will help him forget how much he’s drinking so I can steal away with his credit cards, just to get some wardrobe staples I need. Like a sequined mini skirt. Or a pair of mint green Oxfords. Because it’s important to have items in your closet that you’ll look at in
twenty five years and think, “Wow. What the fuck was I thinking?” When Adam reviews his credit card statement and sees a $75 charge for a limited-edition pair of jean booties, I’ll chide him for his frivolity and for supporting the destruction of a perfectly fine pair of ankle-grazing jeans that could have jazzed up an otherwise boring brown gift bag.
I kid. But not about Adam drunkenly purchasing denim booties. That’s a problem. (I suppose I should have seen it coming.)
Actually, the personal spending ban is going really well. I kind of love it. I hadn’t appreciated how much to-buy-or-not-to-buy angsting I was doing. I like being decisive but had gotten really good at convincing myself that I needed crap I didn’t, at rationalizing the necessity of a “done” home and a new pair of shoes. Things had gotten all Law & Ordery in my head, only less rapey and with more trips to Target. Shopping can make me indecisive to the point of wanting to bang my head against a wall. Hitting “buy” was the easy choice because no matter how guilty I felt, I would be rewarded with a new thing. Apparently, I ascribe to some 1950s notion of products as dazzling emblems of betterment with mythic capabilities for self-improvement and freedom from domestic servitude. I know my Barthes and I still think this way. Thanks for nothing, grad school.
The spending ban has been painless simply because it has removed the anxiety of decision. Pangs of materialist desire are swatted down with a definitive No. Go read a book, ya dummy. The decisiveness is a comfort. Of course, at some point, I’ll have to reenter the consumerist world and figure out how to make it on the outside, with all its brands and options and raspberry flavored lip balms. I’m comfortable with constraints. It’s the wide open spaces that make me anxious and dizzy with possibility.
In the meantime, I’ve discovered an all-natural, GMO- and fiscally free supplement to my spending addiction: Pinterest. When I see something I want on my person, in my mouth, in my home, or for my imagined “lifestyle,” I pin it. It’s like those creepy butterfly collections where the bloodless representation of a thing or idea gets immortalized on a virtual pinboard, its wings splayed so I can regard it, googly eyed, and marvel at its loveliness. It’s weird. But also really fun! Kind of a second-order consumerism, in which the product transcends its physical form to become pure representation. But in our current cash-strapped, recessiony times, virtually collecting — excuse me, curating — one’s likes and dislikes has become the new means of cultivating self. Pre-Pinterest, the brands you chose reflected who you were. Now you are whatever image you choose to steal or improperly source!
Of course, Pinterest is addicting in its own right. It’s the nicotine gum to my shopping addiction. Pinning something, knowing it’s saved for future reference/acquisition, can effectively scratch the purchasing itch, the brief whip-it high of the impulse buy. (Holy shit, JCPenny’s should totally use that tagline for their next Labor Day weekend sale.) This workaround helps to keep money in your bank account, to collect and align yourself with the aspirational image instead of the thing that’s being sold. But once my shopping ban is over, I may have to enter some kind of Pinterest rehab. In preparation of this, I’m creating a “Rehabing in Style” pinboard.
Another Pinterest pitfall is that it can make you try dumb things with your clothes. Sometimes I encounter a fashion image I like, and I’ll try to sort of re-create it with items I already own. This can result in some fun and thrifty discoveries: Did you know that tucking in your shirt or wearing a dang belt yields a more “polished” look? But it’s also motivated some questionable choices. Two cases in point:
1. The Front Tuck.
Image above: A Pinterest repin from here. I’m currently clawing myself out of the Internet hole I fell into trying to uncover the original source.
J.Crew models manage this expertly. It’s so adorably casual, so devil-may-care, so sweetly . . . half-assed? I’ve tried this look several times and just end up looking like I’ve emerged from a quickie in the janitor’s closet. And since I work at home alone, this suggests less “risky workplace promiscuity” and more “pathological broom closet masturbator,” which is neither cute nor professional.
2. The Long Skirt + Sweatshirt Combo
Image above: Originally from Zara
On models and fashion bloggers, the long flowy skirts look soft and feminine, the chunky, textured sweatshirts blousy and even a little sexy. But this was my exact uniform in undergrad, and you can trust that I looked more Mormon than stylish. Now, if you’re Felicity Porter, living in a roomy, low-lit New York dormitory with fucking bay windows, you can pull this off. But if you live in the swampland of Gainesville, Florida, in a dorm built to resemble a women’s correctional facility, and attend a school where flip flops and fooball! reign, you will look like a mousy English major who’s trying to find comfort from a heavy period by donning a full-body maxi pad.
Since I obviously can’t trust my taste, I’ve been making an effort to go less bat shit crazy on Pinterest, trying to pin things I might actually do, read, cook, or buy (eventually). It’s been pretty eye opening to track the images I’ve pinned and determine which items I still find desirable over time versus the instances where I was clearly swayed by trends or expert photo styling. This is helping me distinguish actual wants from products that merely glow in the halo of beautiful people, their professional photographers, and their lavishly decorated yurts.
Then again, I’ve pinned several images of the long skirt/sweater combo, so maybe I’m not learning anything. Or maybe in a past life I was a Mormon who froze to death. Great, now I’m going to lose half a day creating a “Past Lives Style” pinboard.
Last week, Henry turned three. Before he was here, before he was even conceived, he was my obsession. I hit 27 and itched all over to be pregnant. Because that was the next step. Marriage, job, cross-country move, house, baby. I would like to say that my biological clock was chiming with some evolutionary imperative to make Life, to nurture a child and fuck it up in all the ways that only I could, as parents do. To mark up a tabula rasa with all the wisdom I was lovingly handed or that I wrenched from experience. All of that is more or less true, but the nut of my baby fever was boredom. I’m not a terribly ambitious person, but I’m not comfortable with stasis. I come alive when something is on the horizon that requires me to plan accordingly. The promise of a baby would scratch all those planning-impulse itches. So I became hyper-fixated, which, coupled with getting off antidepressants, set off all the attendant neuroses. My petulant pessimism convinced me that I was barren, that I would miscarry, that I would conceive a child with a severe disability. My head went round and round like this until one morning, steeling myself for another one-line strip, I got two. For a while, I sloughed off the anxiety, allowed a tenuous happiness to wash over me, acknowledged the denseness in my lower abdomen and uncharacteristically sore boobs. But the problem with being a chronically paranoid pessimist is that eventually, experience bears out one of your many worst fears, and then the naysayers in your head feel validated.
Then came the blood.
Faint pink smears on a square of toilet paper and I became histrionic and hysterical. Sort of outside of myself, repeating, but I wanted this so badly, as if the wanting it should have proved to the universe that I deserved it. I wasn’t grieving the loss of any thing. How could I? I had no frame of reference, wouldn’t dare compare the feel of holding friends’ babies or caring for infant siblings with actually being a mother. At this point, I think I was mourning the delusion that I could will my desire into reality. Like all good control freaks, my unconscious mind — my lizard brain, perhaps — was sure that my vigilant and incessant worrying would somehow protect the fragile thing inside me. As if sleepless nights and tense muscles would hold it fast to the wall of my uterus.
I awoke the next morning hopeful but was defeated at the toilet, where I slipped the saddest, most sorrowful of maxi pads into my underwear. My GYN checked me out, said it didn’t look good. She instructed that when I began to pass tissue and when the discomfort progressed from mild to severe cramping, I should call her. So I drove home and soaked through a pad and onto my jeans. With Adam out of town, I asked a very good friend to keep me company, to sit with me on Tissue Watch, as I maybe waited to
birth pass the promise of my first child. In retrospect, there should have been fewer tears and more cigars.
I spent the remainder of Adam’s business trip moping around the house, vacillating between self-pity and self-loathing because I had friends who had gone through this, and all had been much further along in their pregnancies. When we got the positive test result, we’d decided not tell friends or family until I’d passed the 12-week mark. This seemed prudent and reasoned, as if losing it before then would be so much worse if we’d shouted the news from the rooftops. I understand now how stupid that is, what folly to believe that staying guarded would protect me from pain when things didn’t work out. I was still wrecked; the only difference was that no one knew it.
I made the long commute to work one morning and managed to mostly put it out of my mind. I let my thoughts drift with the music, daydreamed while driving on autopilot in that scary way where you awaken periodically with no memory of passing a certain exit or mile marker. The AM radio station played a Bob Dylan cover of “You Belong to Me,” and I finally articulated what I’d lost: something that was mine, physically and psychically, in a way I could only previously relate to my own mom, now effectively gone. I was losing an imagined motherhood, some abstraction of maternity that, until my own child surfaced to color it with our new shared experiences, was rooted in my memories of childhood and the feeling of belonging to someone.
It’s a weird thing to mourn a son before he’s born and a mother before she’s passed.
So I waited for my body to catch up with the GYN’s diagnosis, working in bed while I incubated a doomed thing. But the tissue and the pain didn’t come. For a week I bled, felt the telltale bloat and sore, puffy pulpiness of a bad period. I saw the GYN again, this time thankfully with Adam. She inserted the ungodly probe to take a look at my insides and directed our attention to a gray, grainy screen and the well bottom that was apparently my uterus. She indicated some dark spots at the top of the screen, which looked very much at home in the alien landscape. These spots were pockets of “old blood,” and as she adjusted the probe and the angles of view, more spots were visible. Next she pointed to a round marble stuck to the bottom right wall of the well. This, she explained, was the yolk sac and inside, the embryo. About six weeks along, she determined. She drew on the screen with her pinky a faint but discernible line — the fetal pole — and circled a pulsing valve that resembled the open/close/open/close of fish lips out of water. Surrounded by dark clouds of old blood, the embryo remained intact. If the blood were to dislodge the sac from the uterine wall, I would miscarry. But if not, all would be fine. She suggested we remain guarded, a caveat I could now openly scoff at, but sent us home with an 80 percent chance of a complete and successful pregnancy. I imagined the tadpole inside me looking out a bay window, lazily watching a stormy sky floating, benign, overhead.
I did remain unbearably anxious for the remainder of the first trimester and part of the second, even renting a fetal doppler so I could
periodically incessantly listen to the baby’s heartbeat. But all was fine, and I became acquainted with the other side of pregnancy: the tedious progression and general — blissful — uneventfulness, a reliable everydayness that was decidedly less shrouded in fear and fragility. Apparently, women did this all the time. Somehow this microcosm of evolution writ small, inert one minute and swimming frenetically the next, became the most normal, mundane thing ever. I loved watching myself get bigger and fuller all over, loved that my loving it wasn’t about vanity but sheer wonder. I maintained a geekish awe for all the minutiae of pregnancy: witnessing skin stretch without snapping; feeling hips open outward; knowing my organs had actually shifted to make room. I was grounded and pliable and not as easily breakable as I once thought. And despite the fatigue and lack of maneuverability, I felt, for the first and only time, strong.
* * *
Last week I watched what was once a continuous flow of bright red blood devour a vanilla cupcake with his friends at a miniature table with matching miniature chairs. He fidgeted unconsciously while methodically cramming peaks of frosting into his bow-lipped mouth, which is also my mouth, white cream sneaking into his nostrils and too-long tawny hair resting on his eyelashes. The round thing lodged into my interior wall, watching storm clouds float overhead, now wears size 6 shoes and takes his juice “yellow,” about a third of the way full in a Cookie Monster cup. I’m thankful he held on, got to experience a shift in the weather so that he could bound shirtless and bronzed into a plastic Target kiddie pool with his friends, laughing full-throated as their tiny bodies crashed into the water. I’m thankful that for a brief time, he belongs to me, and that he will pass on that sense of belonging once given to me.
On this day of Hallmark sentiments and flower arrangements, I wish you the most banal of all wishes: a happy day. A simple, uncomplicated, cloudless day of blissful forgetting. A safe oubliette of your making. The reliably familiar slick of sweet chocolate on your tongue and sunshine warming your face. The memory of being one-half of a matched set of towheaded twin girls whose faces made one continuous front-toothless slice of smile. The small weight of a child at home in your arms, comforted by your closeness.
Everything good in me is because of you. Thanks, Mom. And Happy Mother’s Day.
Sarah Hepola recently wrote this and this about returning to her hometown of Dallas after living in New York for several years. Her musings on how a city’s coolness quotient factors into your (and others’) perception of success got me thinking about my own for-instances and the blank stares I often receive when I tell people I live in Longmont, Colorado. These are the same stares I get when I say I’m a copyeditor (Oh, so you know the difference between en-dashes and em-dashes? Wow.) or better yet, that I’m a freelance copyeditor. (Oh, so you know how to use a semicolon and you’re unemployed? Wow.) Coloradans know Longmont as Boulder’s beige and tragically unhip neighbor, sporting fewer Tevas and one less Whole Foods (read: 0). Visiting non-Coloradans gaze upon our practically abandoned Twin Peaks Mall, with its circa 1980s Old Country Buffet (still a crowd pleaser) and movie theater sandwiched between a LensCrafters and something called Nail Elegant, and see a relic of another era, an era when going to the mall on a Friday night was a legitimate pastime. They regard it with a mix of nostalgia and confusion, much like catching a whiff of Petite Naté in the Walgreens beauty aisle.
A few years ago, a high school friend and her husband came to visit us. Our ten-year high school reunion in Tampa was approaching, and we were devouring the reunion website, where former schoolmates could create profiles and update everyone on what they were up to (read: how successful/overweight/breast augmented/gay they turned out to be). Neither of us planned to attend the reunion (obviously), but we trolled the profiles like proper Facebook stalkers. As I was creating my own profile, my friend interjected, “Don’t say you live in Longmont. Say you live in Boulder.”
Pride of place is a sentiment that’s usually lost on me. I was thrilled to move to Colorado from Florida in 2006, excited by the change of scenery and the concept of something called “winter.” I know some cities are cooler than others, but so many factors influence and hem in where you ultimately hang your hat — work options, cost of living, proximity to
free babysitters family — that I can’t entertain the idea of being picky about where I end up. It’s like appreciating beyond-my-pay-grade cars: I can acknowledge their beauty, but allowing myself to lust over them seems impractical to the point of, well, pointlessness. In other words, Longmont is my champagne Subaru wagon, and I’m alright with that.
But my girlfriend’s comment gave me pause. I thought about Boulder, with its gorgeous vistas, yoga-toned residents, charming bungalows, and high-end shops suffused with sunshine and patchouli. People know Boulder. Saying I was from Longmont was like admitting I had moved to Nowheresville, USA. And really, Longmont is in Boulder County. So no one could say that my typing “Boulder” in the location field was false advertising (says the girl in the padded bra).
I ultimately listed Longmont as my home, suddenly embarrassed by the conceit of still trying, 10 years later, to impress my peers, to make them notice me. I haven’t embraced Longmont to the extent that I imagine Portland or Brooklyn or San Francisco residents do their own towns. I lament that the houses in our neighborhood are variations on a theme, with an over-reliance on vinyl siding, and wouldn’t mind a couple of Boulder’s froufrou chichi stores and eateries. But I do experience swells of Longmont pride: Enjoying crystal-clear views of Long’s Peak, the town’s namesake, from which we can watch the full reach of a storm slowly unfurl an hour or more before it’s upon us. Receiving daily absurdist accounts of our town’s goings-on via the Longmont Times-Call RSS feed and engaging in the inevitable “Is this for real?” debate that ensues upon reading headlines like “Bicyclist stopped was carrying pipes and panties.” Knowing that the previous owner of our home never locked his door in the 20+ years he lived here. (We do. I can wax romantic, but I ain’t crazy.) Being forced to remain in my house while animal control chases down a bear cub in my backyard (true story).
And then there’s this:
Excuse me while I indulge in a Julie Andrews moment.
Ballooning (not to be confused with zeppelining) is a regular summer activity in Longmont, and the take off (take up?) point is not far from our house. So in the summer, we can look outside any day of the week (always surprising because I assume ballooning would be a weekend recreation) and find the clear sky polka-dotted with vibrant, multicolored orbs. I boasted about this when my friend Kate visited a few years ago. She woke up one morning and looked outside and gasped, “Woah. You weren’t kidding about how close the hot air balloons get.”
“I know! Isn’t it so coo–”
I followed her gaze to an enormous, partially deflated balloon that had landed a street over from us. It must have been in our neighbor’s back yard. It was a surreal moment, being suddenly confronted with a thing usually viewed from afar. It loomed like an alien mothership, foreign and fabulous, a surprise spectacle dropped into our everyday suburban existence. I felt my eyes widen with something like wonder and thought, Now where else would I see something like that?