My husband and I went to Chicago and remembered we don’t hate each other.

by renegademama

How the fuck is somebody supposed to stay married and happy while raising children? Is that even a thing?

Oh, whatever. Fine.

Mac and I are “happy,” sure. In the bigger picture, if you zoom way out and look at us from, say, Saturn, we’re the happiest motherfuckers who ever lived.

But on a daily basis, we more resemble two individuals who low-key hate each other. I’m something of an irritable, impatient asshole, and he eats chips too loudly.

See?

No for real though, I don’t get to shred my husband online because I’m not that big of an asshole, but he has idiosyncrasies that often make me want to stab myself in the eyeballs with small sharp sticks, and I have those too, and we’re just fucking over our lives a good portion of the time.

Maybe we’re defective. We’re definitely defective.

We bicker a lot, lash out at each other regularly, but the big shit is gone. Separation is not on the table. We haven’t been a question in at least 9 years. And yes, if you do the math, we’ve been together 17. IT HAS BEEN A LONG ROAD, OKAY?

It isn’t that we don’t like each other, it’s that our daily lives don’t offer many opportunities to remember how much we like each other.

We are overwrought in general, and he’s the closest person to me, and I’m the closest person to him, and thus, we take that shit out on one another. We aren’t having BIG problems: cheating, abuse, total and complete emotional distance.

We have more of what I’d call: I’m tired and you’re irritating me.

Those Instagram couples traveling around the world with their legs entwined and chakras aligned, enjoying deeply spiritual sex next to a lake and strategically placed canoe, are living a slightly different life than we are.

We work. We drive. We take care of kids. We clean the house. We cook. We try to pay off student loans. We plan.

And in between, we try to be a married couple.

 

It’s a lovely idea that we “put marriage first,” but in my experience, this is easier to say than do. Kid needs are more immediate. It’s easy to set marriage aside when being pummeled by ninety different kid issues.

And yet, we’ve done okay at it.

Sort of.

If you lower the bar significantly.

I’m not sure if it’s self-centeredness or a mature devotion to Keeping Our Marriage Alive, but Mac and I have always insisted on going out together, alone. Let’s say it’s the second one, although really, does it matter? We are vaguely old and definitely tired, and it’s often a huge pain in the ass, but fairly regularly, we go hear bands or see plays or go to dinner, alone, or with friends” sans small people.

We didn’t fucking disappear when we had kids. We’re adults, goddamnit. We like things. We like things that don’t involve children.

We are primarily able to do this because we have grandparents nearby. Lots of them. That was part coincidence and part choice. One of the reasons we’ve never left our area is, um, to have grandparents nearby, lots of them.

But the truth is, even with our little “dates,” which often leave us doubly exhausted the next day, we sometimes spend our time together rehashing bullshit in our family – talk the whole time about some kid, or some situation, or a fight we had five years ago but must address again just for funsies.

And sometimes, if we go on long enough like this, I can forget what we are, what we were, what we’ve always been.

Friends.

For the first time in fifteen years, Mac and I went on a trip together, alone, for more than a weekend. We spent five nights away together, in San Francisco for a night, then Chicago.

And we remembered we like each other.

It was a celebration for the publication of my book. I wanted to make sure he came on tour with me at some point, and since neither of us had really been to Chicago, and it’s quite far from our lives (and thus feels pretty special), I rented us a fucking 39th floor condo (with a rooftop hot tub) in downtown Chicago and we went to Hamilton and ate the best food in the world (for real, wtf, Chicago? How is your food so good?), and we strolled around the Art Institute and slept in and had a lot of sex (sorry for saying that, Dad), and held hands walking down the street at 1am and at one point, I looked over at him and realized I was remembering that he’s the best friend I’ve ever fucking had.

And still the hottest man I’ve ever seen.

And maybe the kindest, and warmest, and with everything stripped away, with a few days of “just us,” I saw our 17 years together, with all the distraction and mayhem and separation and beauty and pain, as nothing much beyond “just us.”

At its core, it’s always been “just us.”

We went to Chicago, and remembered we don’t just love each other. We really fucking like each other.

I’m not telling you to do that. We were lucky as hell and it was a great privilege (as I say, once in 15 years), but I guess what I’m saying is that such things are possible, and I wonder if we really tried, if I could pull from those moments a little more often, to look at him and see my friend – my friend, apart from the rest, always, just a touch – and trust he’ll see me the same.

Or that we can, at least, head back to Chicago, if not in body, in a little bit of soul.

 

I took a selfie but caught him looking at me instead of the camera which kind of gives me feelings.

***

Hey friends, you’ll notice that there’s a little slide-in pop-up with my dog’s face asking you to subscribe to my newsletter. I have written this blog for seven fucking years and never engaged in such behavior (the pop-up. dog face is irrelevant).

In short, I’m doing it now because Facebook is a fucking dick who shows my posts to virtually nobody, and I don’t have $2k per post (not kidding) to throw into ads, so IN OTHER WORDS, I have been forced by The Man to invent ways to get my work to you to feed my family and sell my book to keep writing and you know what?

I hate this. It’s weird.

But the facts remain. Here we are, and I’m immensely grateful for every single one of you.

Also, your messages and emails and comments about said book. I am overwhelmed, but more on that later. I think I need to talk to you in a Facebook live video (and…back to that bastard). I can’t explain it all right now.

Also, when you sign up for this shit (my newsletter), you will get an ebook I wrote called “To the Mom who Thinks She’s Disappeared.”

No answers, of course, but I definitely see you.

GET ME IN YOUR INBOX

I refuse to forgive you but I probably will

by renegademama

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, and the way people often talk about it as this sweet, gentle thing. A delicate sort of gesture born of goodwill and high morality.

It’s never been like that for me.

I either forget about the transgression because I’m too lazy to stay angry, or I cling to my resentment like a drowning woman.

I ride that out for a while, just really milking that shit – how I was harmed, how wrong that person is, until I think I may be consumed in rage.

And then I forgive, and when I do, it’s not gentle. It’s not sweet. It’s a reckless, wild, radical thing that crashes out of me because I have no choices left.

A teacher asked me once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?” 

I forgive when I want to be free, not because I’m trying to be nice, or want goodwill, or even to be friends.

I’ve been thinking about it because a few weeks ago I sat in a courtroom with my cousin, the man who killed my grandmother, and I stared at the back of his head.

There he is.

A man I’ve known my whole life, four years younger than me. I remembered him in his baseball uniform as a little boy, his huge brown eyes and curly hair.

He was quite possibly the gentlest, sweetest child I ever met.

He looked back at me two or three times in that courtroom, while I sat shaking, cursing the inefficacy of the Ativan I had taken.

What I felt when he looked at me is that he wanted me to nod, or smile at him, give some recognition. We were always good friends.

I glared at him. I tried to hurt him with my eyes.

In softer moments, I know he was sick. He was unmedicated and delusional and he stabbed my grandmother and killed her. In softer moments, I see that, and I know it to be true.

In other moments, I glance at the lamp hanging above the left side of my bed, that used to hang over the left side of hers, and I think about the way she died, and her suffering, and what he stole from her, and us – the last years of life – how many would there have been? – her plans, her smile, her vibrancy. He stole all that.

A death with her loved ones surrounding her. A final goodbye. He took that too.

And I think I want to rip his face off. I want to beat the shit out of him. I want him to rot in jail.

And in between these prospects, these thoughts, lies the space of freedom I refuse to face just yet. The space that calls to me when I’m quiet, when I’m not looking, and I know someday I’ll go there.

I’ll take one maniacal leap into illogical forgiveness.

I will see his humanity and fucking release him, and a part of me will hate it when it happens, and I don’t know when or how or if I’ll ever stand face to face with him again, or give voice to the compassion I sometimes feel but mostly abhor, but I know somehow the day will come when I will choose forgiveness over the all-consuming rage.

It won’t look soft. It won’t pat his head. It won’t excuse him or love him or even accept him. It will be to accept the truth, the whole awful ruthless bloody truth. Of him, of the boy and the man, of the sickness and the extinguished life – and me, standing aside, ready to be free, unwilling to die for sins that aren’t mine.

 

With Arlo a few years ago. She was going to study art and visit each of her great-grandchildren.

****

My book, I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, was out on May 1. I’m doing book events right now. Austin and Washington D.C. coming soon!  Come say hello.

And check out the book at the links below. I hope you enjoy.

A Few Ground Rules for Humans in Public Spaces

by renegademama

I’m traveling for a couple of weeks to do book events and I have decided that there are a few things humans simply should not do under any circumstances. How am I equipped to make this determination?

I’m not. I just tend to hate people.

Okay, fine, I don’t hate people. I am deeply disappointed by large groups of them. Or small groups, really.

And I don’t experience them too often. You know, out in the wild.

I live in a small-ish town where I think I know 2/3 of the population. My life is largely driving kids around in circles and looking at laundry. When I go to work, I sit in an office alone, staring at a screen, my only human contact being with other people in the building as they pass by, and the occasional visitor who can’t figure out how to get to the law firm on the third floor. (Take the elevator, guys.)

I just wish there were a few motherfucking GROUND RULES.

Like as a whole, we agree not to do certain things. Maybe we could sign a contract called We Hereby Agree Not to Be Dicks in Public.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. We will brush our teeth.
  2. We will wear shoes in airports. Actually always. I get that you’re so spiritual you need “constant grounding with the earth against your skin,” but you’re fucking gross and definitely walking in urine.
  3. We won’t talk loudly on our cell phones about our trips to Nepal because everybody  knows we’re purposely speaking loudly to humble-brag about our financial status (e.g. “I can afford a trip to Nepal”). Nobody cares, Karen.  
  4. We won’t gather in large groups in walkways, forcing every other human to walk around us simply because we feel like standing right here, okay, not 2 feet to the left. Or the right. RIGHT FUCKING HERE.
  5. We will not be mean to customer service people. We will remember that they have to deal with Karen all day.
  6. We won’t be Loud Funny White guy on the plane “giving everyone a hard time” because somebody, at some point in his life, convinced him he was adorable.
  7. We won’t eat crunchy food in public. That includes, but is not limited to: apples, corn nuts, chips, ice, nuts, and pretzels.
  8. Maybe ignore number 7. That’s probably just me being a dick.
  9. When all the other seats are full, we will not put our purses or luggage on the seat next to us, because we realize that inanimate objects are less important than even Karen, who needs a place to sit to talk about her trip to Nepal. (Life is trash.)
  10. We won’t be the Lyft driver who tells a woman in the backseat clearly not interested in speaking that she “looks like a dirty margarita type of girl.” That way, she won’t have to respond, “I’m a 39-year-old woman and don’t drink, but when I did, it was bottom-shelf whiskey, so, fail?”
  11. We won’t let our kids jump on hotel beds and squeal at 5am. Look, I have annoying ass kids too, and my parenting is subpar, but there’s no excuse for that shit. 
  12. We won’t be the person scowling at the overwrought mother frantically trying to calm her baby during the plane landing.
  13. We won’t eat onion sandwiches or potent vinaigrette-covered salads or anything actually with onions in small spaces.
  14. Maybe ignore that last one too. I have a bit of a “situation” with public consumption of food and the sounds and smells it produces. 

You know who we will be? The dude I saw in Portland wearing short striped shorts, hiking boots, a muscle tee, handlebar mustache, dark-rimmed spectacles and a mesh cap.

He was cool.

Also all the strangers at the airport who laughed when I made eye-contact with them and mouthed “I’m going to kill him” in reference to the over-zealous dude sitting RIGHT NEXT TO ME YELLING into his cell phone with his knees apart so they almost touched mine.

And the lady on the plane who asked “Are you alright?” while I sat writhing in my seat because of back pain, then told me to “walk the aisles for a few minutes even though the seatbelt light was on because whataretheygonnado kick you out?”

Look for the helpers out in the wild, folks.

***

 

DID YOU KNOW MY BOOK CAME OUT SIX DAYS AGO?

Perhaps you haven’t heard.

You can buy it at any of the places below.

Also, as a side note, let me tell you how struck I am by the responses from readers so far. Holy shit. Thank you for the messages, emails, comments, posts. I can’t respond to them all, but I read every single one and am blown away.

Family Planning on Ecstasy: An excerpt from Chapter 1

by renegademama

Friends, I am really excited to share this excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book, I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, which is out in EIGHT DAYS, on May 1. 

I cannot wait for you to read this.

And hey! I’m coming to a few cities. Check them out, and come say hello if you can. I’d love to meet you.

Anyway, here we go. Eight days. What a life this is.

 

From Chapter 1: Family Planning on Ecstasy

The first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant with my first child was head out to the balcony of our one-bedroom apartment and smoke a cigarette. It wasn’t even a real balcony. It was a gray stoop barely big enough for one unwatered plant, a dusty mat, and a twenty-one-year-old in vague denial. I would have preferred outright denial but found it impossible, having just peed on two sticks offering no ambiguity.

My plan was to formulate a plan out there on the balcony before informing the father, who was my boyfriend of three full months. We shared the apartment, but I made sure I was alone that afternoon, protected in isolation, so nobody would see me cry, or rage, or decide to handle the situation silently. I was never the kind of person who wanted company in moments of vulnerability. I never wanted a concerned friend to pat my head and smooth the hair off my forehead while I puked or cried. I wanted to lie in bed in solitude, where I could turn my head to the wall, stretch my legs out, and rise again smiling, while the world slept soundly in its room.

The last thing I needed was a loving and emotional man celebrating the seed in my womb before I knew how I felt about it.

Moments before, I had stared at those double lines with detached curiosity, a sort of numbed awe, as they popped up without hesitation in what seemed like a “fuck you” pink. I figured there could still be some mistake, so I took another test, and upon the second neon positive, pulled up my jeans, walked through the living room and onto the balcony, grabbing my Camel Lights and lighter on the way. I allowed my condition to sink one inch into my brain, where it hovered like a storm cloud creeping toward me. I knew it would shower me in panic, and soon I would feel it pouring down my arms and into my shoes, but those first moments felt liminal, half-real. I emboldened them with a cigarette. One more cigarette in the line of a thousand before it, a meaningless action of my same old life. An action of the nonpregnant.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just another woman on a balcony having a smoke.

That February afternoon was cool and bright, and as I watched the cars do nothing in the parking lot of our apartment complex, I thought about being a senior in college, my job as a waitress, and the few months Mac and I had been together, most of it grayed and hazy from alcohol, fast and romantic and possibly fake. I thought about how he would respond if he were there.

He would smile a soft smile. “Wow,” he would say, “I love you so much,” and his eyes would fill with grateful tears as more supportive words crossed his lips. He would study my reaction with his huge brown eyes. He would look as if he had waited his whole life to hear those three words.

I am pregnant.

I took a drag, inhaling I could have an abortion, but exhaled the startling realization that I would not.

And with the thought, the cigarette grew foul between my fingers. I stamped it out beneath my foot and wondered how the fuck I had ended up here again. I understood the physiology of pregnancy. I did not understand how that wasn’t enough.

In my defense, the first one was an honest mistake. I was eighteen, in my first semester of college, and had spontaneous, unprotected make-up sex with my long-term boyfriend. I knew immediately I would not have that baby, and I did not feel guilty about that decision, though I suspected this made me something of a monster. I felt sadness, but at that age, in that life, I mostly felt relief. We had sex, and yes I happen to have a uterus and ovaries hell-bent on reproduction, and our act was neither smart nor mature, but it was his fault too. My defense was that of a petulant child, but I had no interest in spending my whole life paying for a five-minute interval of questionable sex with a man who could walk away if he felt like it.

As I stood on the balcony, I wondered again, Who the hell gets pregnant accidentallymore than once?

I stared at the horizon and shook my head in disgust as I traveled the recesses of my brain looking for answers, recalling only a woman in my freshman comparative literature class. She had told me, “Getting an abortion is like getting your teeth cleaned.” When I raised an eyebrow, she explained, “It’s just something you have to do.” She was in her thirties and married to a local rock star. She had bad teeth, three children, tattoos, and that haircut of the ’90s where bangs were cut stupidly short in a band right against the forehead. I respected her.

Her teeth cleaning theory sounded erroneous if not downright depraved, but her nonchalance convinced me I would be alright, and that I was even perhaps not quite as foul as I had believed during my trip to the clinic that week, feeling like a slut and regretting with my whole heart those minutes in the dorms.

Apparently this is a thing women do.

That seemed true. I did it.

But I would not do it now.

And it didn’t feel like the fucking dentist.

Back inside, I stretched out on our quilt-covered couch, clicking my tongue at Fatboy, the giant black-and-white cat we inherited from Mac’s childhood. When feeling particularly affectionate, Fatboy would turn his head and glance at you from across the room. But that day, he folded up in the crook of my knees and stared up at me, as if he knew things were heavy.

I took a deep breath, looking around the apartment, the carpet so bland I couldn’t tell what color it was, the kitchen and bathroom floors a yellowed linoleum with pastel blue squares, ripped up and black at the corners. The cabinets were a 1970s brown with gold handles, and metal mini-blinds hung above a box air conditioner in the window that would sputter along against California’s Central Valley heat. That summer, we moved our mattress beneath the little box, creating a pocket of decency between the white walls. Our television sat on boards and cinder blocks. It was the kind of apartment that never felt alive or permanent, but Mac and I were kids and in love, and it was ours.

He was nineteen and I was twenty-one.

•     •     •

I was right about Mac. He did smile through tears and say all the lovely things I suspected he’d say when I told him I was pregnant, but the next day he added, “If you don’t have our baby, I can’t stay with you.” I considered telling him about the moment I knew I wouldn’t have an abortion, but instead I merely nodded. I wasn’t ready to speak the words, “I am having a baby.” I was stretching the liminal gray a few days longer.

When he spoke those words, he didn’t read my face to adjust his tone. He was not afraid of my response, or conflict, and there was no subtext. It was merely data to inform a decision. If his statement had been a threat, an attempted entrapment, I would have left immediately on those grounds alone. Fuck you for even trying to get me to stay, I’d have thought.

But that’s not what he said, and I knew it, because he said it with warm acceptance in his eyes and mouth and forehead—the way he looked at me when he said everything, even when he yelled and postured and I thought maybe I hated him. Or, perhaps that’s why I hated him, because he seemed capable of only adoration, and even in his anger he was devoted and irrationally loyal. It made me feel a little sick.

I get it, man. You can’t withstand the resentment you’d feel toward me if I didn’t have our baby.

But he is not why I had her. I was always going to have her and I knew it, though I didn’t know how to explain that I knew. I didn’t understand yet that motherhood is a lot of knowing without knowing.

But I knew her. She was already made.

I was afraid of having a baby. I was afraid of committing to him like that. I was afraid of what my parents would say, but Mac misread this fear as indecision. I had her because she was meant to be here and I was meant to be her mother, and I believed that in the same way I know the sun will rise. I had her because the moment I knew of her, she existed, like a strange new friend who moved in and wouldn’t leave.

I told myself I was about to graduate from college, that I wasn’t that young, that Mac was going to be a good father—and I loved him, or thought I did. In this way, I rearranged the facts, the furniture of my life, to accommodate my new friend.

Two weeks later, Mac peeked his head over the curtain while I showered and said, “It’s going to be a girl.”

“I know,” I said, and laughed. How weird we are, I thought. Clairvoyant.So in love she’s already shining through—through the blood and walls of my body.

We thought of names. We thought of Aurora and Leah and Althea, but one day while I waited for customers to arrive for dinner in the restaurant where I waitressed, I flipped through a magazine and found an article about Ava Gardner.

We settled on Ava Grace, as if anything could be more beautiful.

•     •     •

I told my mother I knew she was a girl; she didn’t think that was strange at all. When I asked her what the hell I was going to do with my life now, she said, “Well, honey, you’re going to have a baby.” Her simplicity and perky use of the word “honey” shot red annoyance down my spine.

My mother’s perpetual optimism made me wonder if she existed in some sort of sociopathic love cloud. As a young girl, I joined in her optimism, jumped on the “it’s going to be great!” train with glee, but over the years, as each new beginning almost never turned out “great,” I realized her outlook was as much fantasy as it was hope. It was a story to justify rushing headlong into another disaster, the same thing we’d done for years. Businesses. Marriages. Personality improvements. Diets. It was always going to be different this time.

It was an old, raw burn, and her sweetness still stung.

The moment she mentioned relationships, mine or hers, somewhere in me the memory of my former stepfather stirred, the way we moved in and out of his house like a vacation rental. But mostly, I remembered her suffering and how I thought I could fix it, how the solution was perfectly clear to me, how everybody said I was “very mature for my age.” My mother used to say, “I don’t know how you see the things you see, Janelle.”

I didn’t either, but I wished she’d see them too, because I was tired. And even at twenty-one, I was still tired, perhaps more tired than I’d ever been, and I had long since stopped believing in her dreams.

And yet, I always called her first, to bathe in the optimism she turned toward me, too, toward the person she believed I could become. I needed that. I needed to believe things were going to be different right around the corner. That sick hope was infectious, seeping into me whether I wanted it or not, and as much as I distrusted it in her, I clung to it like a drowning woman, because at least it was something.

“But how do you know, Mom?” I didn’t mask my irritation.

“Because you are going to be fine, sweetie.” I wanted to throw up.

She must have told her mother right away, because the next day Grandma Joan called and said, “You know you don’t have to marry this guy just because you’re pregnant,” and my jaw hit my flip phone. I wasn’t anywhere near marrying Mac. I barely knew him. I am merely going to have his baby, Grandma.

Being a woman born in 1930, Grandma Joan of course assumed marriage, and I assumed she would push marriage. She was in her seventies and a Mormon woman who had made her husband dinner every night since they were married at eighteen, and if she was not home in the evening, she prepared the food and put it on the counter so all he had to do was heat it up. He had been the quarterback of the high school football team and she had been the new girl in town—and a cheerleader. It was a movie, and yet true. They still held hands when they sat on the couch together, and they flirted like teenagers. He was sure old Benny at the post office was waiting for him to “kick the bucket” so he could swoop in on Grandma.

She would smack his leg, roll her eyes, and say, “Oh, Bob,” with exasperation and a kiss in her eye.

At family functions in her home, all the women would bustle around the kitchen for hours preparing dinner for thirty while the kids played in the basement and the men watched football in the living room. After dinner, all the women would bustle around in the kitchen for hours doing dishes while the men watched football in the living room, and the kids ran around in the basement. By the time I was a teenager, I wondered what the hell was wrong with these people. But I loved being in the kitchen, where my mother and three aunts talked and cooked with the chatter and laughter of a lifetime of sisterhood, occasionally popping out to rescue a screaming baby, talking of report cards and breastfeeding and wayward teens, of Grandma’s silly ways and how she really should sit down, she’s tired, but she never would. When she finally did, my uncles had begun barbequing on the deck outside and nobody played in the basement anymore.

I sat with the men, too, as babies crawled around their laps, each of their faces illuminated with the television screen as they watched sports, speaking of things I didn’t understand, like “downs” and “bad calls” and “finals.” I felt honored when they spoke to me, a little nod to my sport-less existence. I understood their acknowledgment of me was a quick trip beneath themselves, a little jaunt to a place less sacred. They were, after all, the ones who got to do nothing while groups of women worked on their behalf.

Although the kitchen was warmer, and had better conversation, sometimes I would sit at the dining table between the living room and kitchen, so I could watch both ends and refuse to commit.

At twenty-one, I joined the women in the kitchen for good, though I had always promised I’d never be like them. “I’m not going to get married until I’m thirty,” I’d say as a teenager at our annual Christmas party, “and I won’t have a baby until thirty-five.”

“Good job,” my aunt would nod. “Just don’t rush it.”

“Of course not,” I’d answer, irritated that she’d even consider the possibility of me ruining my life with an unplanned pregnancy at a young age.

I was the youngest of my cousins to have a baby.

People surprise you, though, especially when they’re old and sick of the bullshit, and I saw Joan anew the day she called me, after fifty-five years spent with my grandfather. While she spoke, I wondered how many women of her generation married terrible men because of unexpected pregnancies, and then stayed because of more. I felt myself, for an instant, counted among them.

“Thank you for your concern, Grandma, but it’s different with us,” I said.

I may be in the kitchen like the rest of you broads, but I am different. I could not articulate how, exactly, but I knew I wouldn’t end up washing dishes while the men watched other men slam into each other on brightly lit screens. It seemed archaic and absurd. I would demand freedom, even within the confines of pregnancy. I suppose that, too, is something women “just have to do.”

If I had to guess, I would have said my future would unfold more along the lines of my paternal grandmother, Bonny Jean. She was an intellectual, a fiery Christian Scientist, and natural skeptic who believed in God but not doctors, grassroots journalism, and stockpiling mayonnaise in case there was another Great Depression.

She grew up behind the stage with her parents, who were traveling actors. I once attempted to explain “gay people” to her because, you know, as a relic she wouldn’t understand such things. She spun around to face me in her house robe and said, “I grew up behind a vaudeville stage in the twenties. You think any of those people were straight?” I never tried that shit again.

She had five children from 1945 to 1955. They were raised largely by her father-in-law while she ran her newspaper, which she and my grandfather purchased in 1956. Bonny Jean would attend every local city council meeting, critiquing what she saw in scathing weekly editorials, which she would often dictate over the pay phone in the city council hallway. She once fought the head of the San Francisco plumbers’ union, a man with rumored Mafia ties, who was trying to take over her small town’s water council. When she broke the story and refused to back down, he threatened her. I once asked how she managed to fight a man like him as a woman in the 1960s. She said, “Oh, that was easy, honey. I was not afraid of him. The truth is a strong defense.”

When I told her about the pregnancy, I thought I heard a touch of sadness in her voice, despite her congratulations, because for a split second, they sounded like condolences.

The hardest person to tell was my father. I was barely old enough to handle him knowing I had sex, and yet I had to tell him there was an actual human growing in my body, deposited there by the sperm of a man. Telling him felt something like bra shopping with my mother at fourteen: uncomfortable in a deeply shameful, yet unknown way. Everybody has sex. Everybody gets boobs.

Still, somebody please kill me.

I had always felt my father saw me as a kid who was going to do something impressive in life, who was going to become a lawyer or doctor or at least make a lot of money. Instead, I was joining the Mormons in the kitchen. I knew he wouldn’t say it, but he would be disappointed in me. He knew how many times I had stood at family functions declaring my plan, and he knew I never consciously abandoned that.

It’s hardest to fall in front of those you’ve convinced, through years of tone moderation and personality suppression, that you are not the type to falter.

•     •     •

I stopped smoking and drinking immediately after my balcony denial, which felt wholesome and deeply mature, despite Mac’s and my decision to move out of our apartment and into his parents’ house on their ranch. They lived in a dome-shaped house about ten miles outside of Davis, California, the clean, well-manicured town where I went to college and met Mac.

Davis boasts the second-highest per capita number of PhDs in any city in the nation, and a special tunnel for frogs so they don’t get killed on the road. The town is teeming with students, artists, and intellectuals on bicycles, but also suffers from an epidemic of highly educated, splendid liberals. I learned to spot and avoid the latter from a distance of approximately one hundred feet, having had many years’ practice. The problem is not that they’re liberal—surely one can learn to live with that—it’s that they can’t quite understand why a person wouldn’t dress her child in only organic cotton, or shop solely at the co-op, where they sell nineteen dollar olive oil pressed from olives grown on blessed trees in sacred Native American valleys.

These are the kind of people who call gentrification “restoring the neighborhood” and spend four years on a waiting list for a $1,500 a month preschool while claiming to deeply understand the plight of the underprivileged. Davis is the kind of town where everyone breathes social justice via diversity stickers on their Priuses, but many citizens request that the kids from the Mexican enclaves surrounding the town simply stay in their schools. It’s not about race. It’s just…you know…let’s talk about public radio. Do you support it? It’s kind of my cause. That, and the ACLU.

Most of the mothers in Davis were married, in their late thirties, and living in $700,000 houses when I showed up at age twenty-one, unmarried and pregnant. When I realized nobody would talk to me at the park, having dismissed me immediately as some sort of teen-pregnancy situation, Mac and I bought a pink diaper bag with a giant rhinestone Playboy bunny on the front. It was my subtle “fuck you” to everyone who wouldn’t talk to me anyway, and it almost convinced me I didn’t care.

I turned twenty-two that March and finished my last semester of college in September of 2001, two months before our baby was due. Mac worked at his father’s slaughterhouse on the ranch, and our bedroom was where Mac had played with Hot Wheels and G.I. Joes as a boy, and hid his weed at fifteen. We shared the home with five other people: his parents, two sisters, and his sister’s boyfriend. All the bedrooms were upstairs and opened into a shared center hallway, kind of like Foucault’s panopticon only without the glass. His family was kind and relaxed and pretended we weren’t kids about to have a kid, but I felt exposed and watched—too close to people who weren’t quite mine, humans I knew but didn’t understand, and whom I was still trying to impress. They were family, but I didn’t want them to see me naked, or notice I stunk up the bathroom or yelled at their son. I self-regulated, even though there was no guard in the watchtower.

We bought a crib and an oak dresser, which we wedged together in a corner of the bedroom. I lined each drawer in lavender-scented paper with tiny pastel pink flowers on it, and I bought clothes from Baby Gap and Gymboree and Marshalls. I bought most of them in “newborn” size because they were the cutest and least expensive. I didn’t know they were discounted because babies outgrow them in twelve minutes.

We had a keg of beer at our baby shower, and Mac came because we were “too in love to be apart.” I received about seventy-five various bath items because when my stepmother asked, “What do you need for the baby?” I answered, “Bath items.” I didn’t know you were supposed to “register.” I didn’t have any friends telling me about pregnancy or babies because only losers had babies this young. And I never hung out with losers.

My pregnancy was like living in a dream, a sort of ethereal fantasy ticking by in nebulous form. While my belly grew, I spent my days petting hand-smocked outfits with embroidered ducks and imagining our little threesome. Mac and I played pool at my local university’s student union, and I wasn’t even embarrassed of my belly. I wasn’t embarrassed of my age, or Mac’s lack of career, or that we lived in a room in his parents’ house. Those things weren’t in the dream.

But I couldn’t help but feel inklings of shame as I walked to class during that last semester, when I barely fit in the desks, because the sidewalks and grass and offices on campus were the places where women like me rarely succeeded, and nobody was impressed with expanding uteri. These were PhDs and MAs and lovers of Derrida. They could see right through me: I was the kid who lost, the girl who failed. As I walked I remembered maybe I was going to be more than this, but then I thought of Mac and the baby girl to come. I thought of that love and squared my shoulders.

We went to peaceful birthing classes and breathed together and when Ava came it was fast and insane and Mac sat by me and held my hands and never broke my gaze. The nurses said we were the most beautiful birthing couple they had ever seen.

I wasn’t surprised. It was the only way it could be.

•     •     •

I met Mac for the first time in my living room the night before Halloween, thirteen months before Ava was born. I was living in a converted garage in a house I shared with four eighteen- and nineteen-year-old males I had found in a newspaper. Three months before I responded to their “roommate wanted” ad, I returned home from a year studying abroad in Spain. I tried living with my mother up north in Mendocino, California, and found a job waitressing, but got fired after two weeks for counseling the owner on how she could improve her business. I found myself bored, embarrassed, and broke, so I moved back to Davis in the fall and began waitressing at an “Asian fusion” restaurant and drinking too much.

I had long before decided I could not live with women. They were too complicated. They needed things like talking and support and genuineness. I needed things like rum and Coke and silence. So I asked those boys looking for a roommate if I could move in, and they said yes immediately upon hearing I could legally buy alcohol.

Three months later, a man I had never seen before sat stoned against our living room wall, next to the television. He had a beard that stuck out in every direction and a head of hair that looked exactly the same. It was as if somebody had taken a donut of three-inch-long black curly hair and popped a face into the center of it. He was a high school friend of my roommates’, a newcomer, thin and tall and quiet, and I would not have noticed him at all had he not said something witty. In our house of drunk eighteen- and nineteen-year-old man-boys, nobody was saying anything witty. I beamed my eyes at him from across the room in curious surprise and locked them with his. They were the kindest eyes I had ever seen. I remember that moment exactly as it happened, in slow motion, as if it were a scene in a Meg Ryan movie. The Eye Lock. His were deep brown with eyelashes that carried on ridiculously, but it was their gentleness, their steady calm, that made me want to know more.

…keep reading by preordering now: 

19 Comments | Posted in what the fuck is a writer | April 23, 2018

Do you ever grow tired of being the one who’s supposed to know?

by renegademama

Being a parent is a truly ridiculous task. Let’s think about this for a moment: Everyone is a jackass. Everyone has major, seemingly irreversible character flaws that land us in jail at worst, in hot water with other humans at best. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing, and then we’re handed a tiny human who the world has decided we are totally and completely responsible for turning into a sparkling gem of humanity.

And of course, this is mostly on mothers. Let’s be real. What do we say to asshole trolls online spewing nonsensical vitriol in grammatically incorrect comments?

“What? Did your mother not love you properly?”

Sure, we’re joking. But are we fucking joking?

What do we blame for men who rape? BAD MOTHERING. “Oh, he must have been abused by his mother.” “Oh, his mother must not have loved him and now he hates women.”

Kids who shoot up schools? Bad mothers.

Kids with bad manners? Bad mothers.

Overall, nondescript assholes? Bad mothers.

I asked my husband, and he can’t recall a time when he read in a men’s website, Instagram feed, or other male-dominated platform a meme in neutral colors saying something like, “Everything a child becomes is based on a mother’s love.”

I HAVE SEEN TWELVE IN THE LAST WEEK.

“Oh, fathers, it goes so fast. Enjoy every moment.”

“Hey Dads, you become the voices in your children’s heads.”

Nah, we just get excited when they bathe a baby or brush a kid’s hair – How devoted! How amazing!

Meanwhile, we shred mothers for not balancing work, the rearing of a child’s body, heart, and mind, household cleanliness and organization, no paid maternity leave, diminishing rights over our own bodies and increasing maternal death rates – we shred mothers for not doing all that with a goddamn smile in size 6 jeans.

Actually, size 6 is probably plus-sized among the ones who make those sorts of decisions.

Why the fuck is this all my job? And more importantly, when did we start believing we are cut out for such a thing anyway?

 

Today, I am tired of being the one who’s supposed to know. I am tired of being the one who can’t fuck up lest I ruin the inner children of my children, resulting in the type of people who yell at the checkout guy at Target because shit is priced too high.

I am tired of love not being enough. Of adoration and devotion and deep, deep longing for safety and serenity for my children – of that not erasing my penchant for yelling, impatience – and my indescribable need for solitude and silence.

I don’t know how to help all my kids. I don’t know how to surrender to my inability to help them.

I don’t know how to save them from themselves. I don’t know how to save them from me.

I look at their faces and I want the answers. I want to say just the right thing to set them free, and teach them truth, and help their little souls become what god or the universe meant for them to become. They feel like diamonds on loan from the cosmos. No, fuck diamonds.

Like planets that fit in my pocket.

Like whole universes and stars and gravity. Massive, ridiculous things.

And me, this tiny ball of bones and skin, standing before them and chattering on with nothing more than my own mistakes to guide them, my own fighting attempts for serenity, meaning, peace.

I know a few things. I know what honesty looks like. I know what the truth is. I know how to work hard and keep working even when you can’t. I know what loss is, what shattering grief feels like, and how fast people depart this earth.

I know what love is, that it’s built, not found, and I know we fuck it up, and hurt each other in spite of it.

I know it’s best never to leave angry. I know the fights are rarely worth it but we do it anyway. I know lasting friends are rare and sometimes, they leave too.

But I don’t know how to save my children from themselves, to wrap them in protection from their own demons, to show them how to see what their young eyes cannot yet see, what life may have to teach them through the serious of mistakes and gut-punches it offers.

And I’m tired. I’m tired of looking into myself to find just the right action, just the right words, the perfect ball of brilliance to illuminate, teach, and heal.

I’m tired of looking in and finding just me.

It’s too much, you know, what they expect of us. It’s too much to think we can do it. People pretend they can. I’ve noticed they generally have the most fucked up kids of all.

So here I am, kids. Your mother.

I think of my own mother. So desperately imperfect. So cracked in places I thought as a teenager would destroy me.

The other day I started a fight with her. I was a real asshole. The next day, I called, and she asked me out to lunch, and I cried actual tears when I said, “Yes, please, Mom. I want a do-over. I want to do that night again.” I felt like a child.

And she said, “Of course, honey.” And I thought I had never felt more loved than in that very moment.

I suppose at the last, that is what we mothers have for our children – the chance for a do-over, the chance to try again, to love through our sins, and theirs. To be loved in spite of them, even, and show up again, when nobody else does, until the tables turn and we are in their arms, asking for a final, meaningful goodbye.

Until then, we try.

I can’t always be the one who knows. I am not. But I can be the one to love you.

I’m here for the do-overs, kid. Take my hand.

 

***

TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY, MY BOOK DROPS INTO THE WORLD! 

Preorder it now to have it May 1

And make sure you email me a copy of your confirmation so I can send you a cut chapter called “I Can’t Even Be Fat Correctly.” I think you’ll like it.