Aftermath: Silent no more

img_4438I’ve been saying for a while now, when anyone asks, that savagemama is on sabbatical. I took a break a while back because I was writing a lot about Eliza, my daughter who identifies as half half, and after writing gut wrenching essay after gut wrenching essay I started to realize that her story isn’t my own. Her story isn’t mine to tell. (Note: She and her are her preferred pronouns.)

I also came face to face with what I’ve know since I could hold a pencil, writing from the gut is exhaustive business. It’s the only way I know how to do it, though, and somedays I have been so exhausted from other things that I don’t have much left to spill out onto the page.

But the past few days, I’ve come to see it is from a place of quiet privilege that one can take a break. Or stop speaking out. Or stop speaking up. Or stop engaging. Or stop using the platform, the talent, the tenacity one may possess to do good in the world. So I am taking a break no longer.

Eliza, Lucille and I pantsuited up election day with 100 or so other women in our town. With about 24 hours notice, we dusted off suit jackets and gathered on a chilly hillside in the morning sun. We were with her. We stood together to take a photo to mark the day. I kept both girls out of school to go so they would remember the day their country elected a woman to white house. I wanted them to have a story a tell their granddaughters. I wanted them to remember that group of women, in their hometown, on that day. We left after the photo shoot with so much hope, giddy we’d soon be calling someone madame president.

That night, Eliza and I were nervous because that is our nature. Somedays I think she is extension of me. She has my eyes, the shape of my body and, unfortunately for her, my anxieties. As the night began to creep along and election returns were not what we were hoping for in Florida and North Carolina, she curled next to me.

“Mama, what’s going to happen?” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said. It’s all I had.

Her class had been studying the election for weeks. The electoral college, the polls.

“But the polls said she had a 70% chance of winning,” she said.

As we ushered our daughters to bed with pits in our stomachs and a prayer for a miracle in the winds, Eliza was ever hopeful.

“They haven’t counted all the votes yet, mama. They are still counting,” she said.

That sweet, tender hope is who she is. And I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the writing seemed to be on the wall. I never thought seeing eternal hope in my child’s eyes would stab me in the gut like a razor sharp knife but it did, and I may never forget the way it felt.

My grandmother once told me that I “caught” being a liberal from college. She said it like I had contracted an STD. I had just let slip that I had voted for Bill Clinton the second time around and she could barely contain her disgust.

“Jennifer, how could you?” she said with a cigarette balanced between her first two fingers before bringing it to her lips and inhaling deeply.

I am the daughter of two high school graduates who grew up in a textile town in North Carolina. Their parents worked in the mills from the time they were old enough, sort of. Two of my grandparents lied about their ages so they could go to work before they were legally allowed to. It was common practice then. Quit school, alter your birthday in the family bible and go to work. We still have the family bible where my grandfather changed the last number of his birth year from an eight to a six so it would appear he was two years older than he was. He showed it to the overseer who said he was hired. That was in 1943. He would spend the next forty five years in that mill.

My other grandfather was a preacher. We’d call him an evangelical today but back then he was just another hard scrabble, Appalachian-born Southern Baptist man who felt the calling of the Lord and tried to live by his word. He taught others the word of his God and sometimes wouldn’t take paycheck from the church because he knew his parishioners were poor and didn’t have the money to pay him.

I don’t know if I heard it from him or remember it from my own church-going youth but one phrase kept rolling around in my head on election night. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus said it from the cross.

When my parents, who married young, divorced, I lived with my dad. It was 1983. No one did that. But somehow between all of my parents and the grandmother who would later snarl her lips at me because I voted for Bill Clinton, I was well loved. If my dad struggled to pay the mortgage, I never knew it. My grandfather used to tell me my grandmother would fight a wildcat for me. Since he died, her mind is slipping but two things are still true: she would still lay down her life for me and she still loves Jesus.

So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that this feminist as fuck, left of left liberal was walking around on election night with the words of Jesus in my head. It’s the kind of juxtaposition that is emblematic of the way I’ve been feeling the past few days. I’m terrified for my children. I feel disconnected from the family that raised me.

I wish I could tell you I have sorted all of these feelings out but the truth is, I don’t understand lots of things and I may not for a long, long time. I have a lot to work through and so does this country.

The day after the election, after a distraught morning, I wanted to put some good energy out into the world. I bought flowers and took them to women who everyday hold the hands of women as those women exercise their right to choose, they provide medical care to people who are turned away by other clinics because those low-income folks can’t pay the bill and they help trans people in our state access, with dignity, the healthcare they deserve.

What is it, exactly, that I do every day, I thought? What have I done over these past eight Obama years to fight for people of color, the LGBTQ community, the woman who sleeps on the footbridge two blocks from my house?

I am a white, college educated, heterosexual, cisgendered woman. There is so much privilege in that sentence. My daughter is white. She may go to college. We do not know her sexual orientation or her gender identity as those things are still unfolding. What have I done to fight for her the past year while I’ve been taking a break? What have I done to fight for her sister who is white, cisgendered but still a little girl moving through a harsh-to-girls world.

My apathy and naiveté are shocking even to me. Almost as shocking as the fact that Donald fucking Trump is going to be our president. Almost.

When I picked Eliza up from school that day, I was a sobbing mess, again.

“I am so, so sorry,” I said as I hugged her tight. “I am so sorry.”

“Mama, it’s not your fault,” she said.

Oh, but, honey, it kind of is.

In search of other half halfs

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I am a little nervous.

I’ve asked Eliza several times and she has said yes, without hesitation, every time. But still, I’m nervous. No one in our family knows what to expect but, as of last week, we are all expected.

I signed us up after applying for a scholarship. I put the reduced registration fee on a credit card, arranged to stay with family and that was that.

“Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “They’ll be half half’s there?”

“Yes,” I said. I think. That’s what the website said. I don’t know but I think.

We are going to a conference for gender non-conforming kids and their parents. We are going in search of other half half kids. Half half is the way Eliza describes herself. Half boy. Half girl. Last winter another parent of a gender non-conforming kid I know in our town (I only know two others) raved about this conference. If you have a transgender kid, a gender creative kid, you will find other kids like them at this conference, she said. I so desperately want to believe it. You will find other parents asking the same questions you ask yourself every night before you fall asleep, she said. She knows that I do that, I thought.

“I know there are other kids like me,” she says. And I know she’s right. In a few weeks we’ll set out to find them. Like settlers, we’ll go west on a little myth and a little hope. We don’t know what we’ll find. I want to believe a supportive group exists, a safe place where my child can be who she is completely because lately I worry that she’s trying to fit in, trying to fly under the radar and, honestly, that scares more than anything.

Eliza looks more like a girl these days that she has since I put her hair in buns on the sides of her head at two years old. She has long tangled hair, wears spaghetti strap tank tops and to-the-knee jean shorts by choice. She blends in. She passes. She’s conforming in some ways but underneath it all she wears boxer briefs even when they bunch up under her shorts. No matter what, she will not wear panties, she says. There is something so telling in this detail and when I think of this conference I’m hoping to find a person or two who understands.

In the last six months, Eliza’s anxiety and need for control have hit a fever pitch. And it was about six months ago that she asked to go shopping in the girls department. I can’t help but think the two are related. If she’s pushing something underground, it has to come out in some way, I suppose. I’m not going looking for trouble, I swear, just noticing what’s in front of me.

I want to find a place where she can let her shoulders relax, where she can just be. I want her to find kids like her, to feel some sense of belonging in a room full of children who move along the gender spectrum like she does. I hope this conference can provide space for her even if it’s only for a weekend. I am nervous because I know I will be deeply disappointed if it doesn’t.

So, in a few weeks we go. Off to find our destiny? I can only hope.

Week off

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Last summer we embarked on grandparent camp for the first time. Our children happily went to stay with Seth’s parents in Oregon for two weeks and we were left to fend for ourselves. Our schedules were blissfully free and uncommitted except for the fact that we had to pack up our house and move. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves for that half a day before the boxes and tape came out to swallow our stuff, our time off. At the end of the two weeks we’d packed, we’d moved. We were roundly exhausted but probably could not have done it without having someone else look after our lovelies. This year when Eliza and Lucille went to grandparent camp we came home to a quiet house and plotted how we’d spend the time without them. Somehow the week started with ambitious intentions and unraveled into reading magazines on the bed and eating from food carts almost every night.

But it was sweet, oh was it sweet.

Day One: Checked phone for texts from grandparents about 20 times before noon. Texted. Then called. Then worried and Googled police reports from the town where we met grandparents for drop off. Reminded myself to chill out. Considered anti-anxiety meds. Checked police reports again. Got in touch with Grandmother who assured us they had been picking fruit at an ideal spot along the John Day River. Took a deep breath. Made a giant To-Do list of every house project in the history of the world. Embarked on a mountain of laundry including all the sheets and duvet covers. Remade beds. Shopped for pillows. Washed outside of car. Ran uphill, literally and on purpose. Met friends out for beers and burgers. Opened a bottle of wine from our wedding a dear friend saved for us for all these years.

Day Two: Googled some noxious concoction that could clean the interior of my car (Dawn dish detergent and hydrogen peroxide). Mixed up a batch and applied to car mats. Sprayed them with the hose to rise and watched red dirt, smoothie remnants and God knows what run off them. Applied to the interior of car. Stood back in amazement, sure my seats had never been cleaner. Ran in the heat and thought about going back to school. Accosted neighbor about this very thing because, you know, she did it and maybe should could give me some advice. Realized she needed to go and reminded myself to talk to another adult before 3pm the next day. Pruned tomatoes. Ate dinner from a food cart at our local brewery. Noticed Seth had shaved funny. Noticed that I noticed Seth. He noticed too. Watched a movie about a tiny house while sitting in our tiny house. Laughed that our tiny house isn’t really that tiny because the people in the movie live in, like, really tiny houses. Dreamed about building a really tiny house and putting it in the pasture in Arlee.

Day Three: Drank coffee on the porch. Ironed a skirt to wear to work. That is a nonfiction statement. Went home for lunch. Scratched dog behind the ears. Sorted through a bowl of mail that dates back to at least 2004. Considered paying bills. Ate a bowl of cereal instead. Thought about making a nice dinner later, resigned myself to find another food cart. Walked back by the folded but not yet put away laundry. Closed the door and went somewhere to write. Sent Lucille a picture of a sunflower. Ate ice cream in bed. Curled into Seth, fell into a deep, deep sleep.

Day Four: We took the day off. Packed a bag to climb a mountain. Arrived at the trailhead, drizzle hanging in the air. Hiked up and up to a hillside covered in bear grass, Indian Paintbrush  and huckleberries. We talked. We listened. Uninterrupted. So blissfully uninterrupted. Sat at the lake under Graywolf Peak. Sipped whiskey. Picked two liters of huckleberries on the way down. Drove to our house in Arlee. Stood in the pasture, the scene of the crime. Looked out on the valley where we got married 10 years ago to the day. Stood there a little longer. Sent a selfie to the kids. Dressed up. Went out for a late dinner. Toasted another 10 years.

Day Five: Woke up sore but relaxed. Told Seth I loved him as he set off for a long drive to go get the children. Had a knot in my throat as he left because it felt as though I might not see him again, really see him, for months. Worked for a few hours then went rafting in the sun. Later, while tidying the house, came across the To-Do list I’d made a few days earlier. Stuffed in the drawer, many boxes unchecked. Read the New Yorker in the last few hours of quiet in our house. Peeled myself off the bed and went grocery shopping at 9:30pm because we had nothing to feed the children and they were coming home. I had to back track several times due to my inefficient, not-on-my-mom game strolling. Prince was on the radio so I never got in a hurry. Arrived home to two little girls who smelled like horses. Snuggled them to sleep. So happy they were home. So sad to see the our week off come to an end.

The things no one tells you

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And on the list of Things No One Tells You About Parenthood, worms should fall just under lice and just before warts. All of these would come after an entire annotated section detailing the realities of birth (and the weeks after) including a full disclosure on tearing, stitches, hemorrhoids and bloody nipples. Forget the idea of a list actually, this work needs to be a tome passed from one new parent to another with a deep analysis of sleep including topics ranging from how to get the baby to go to sleep—who knows—to how to get the eight-year-old to sleep through the night—really…who knows? I will send you money if you will send a trick that works. Sigh…I digress. I’ll write the sleep section to the imaginary guidebook of which I speak as soon as I take a nice, long nap (a few years should do it) and right after I recover from my PTSD around the subject (this may take a little longer).

Anyway, worms.

Lucille went to the bathroom the other day only to make an alarming announcement.

“Mama!” she said from atop the toilet. “There’s a creature in my poo!”

She was delighted at what she saw. Seth and I sat at the kitchen table, each looking at the other. For a full 30 seconds neither of us moved until the grosser-than-you-could-ever-possibly-fathom clause of my motherly contract kicked in and I went to investigate. In the three steps to the bathroom, I hoped against hope for a wayward piece of toilet paper. Some grass in the toilet, perhaps. A spider someone had tried to flush. But this is not what I found.

“See look!” she said.

And there it was. A tiny, white worm the size of a stick pin.

After a few deep breaths I did what any mother would do. I Googled. Pinworms. Easy to diagnose, easy to treat.

“So babe,” I said as Lucille was finishing up going to the potty. Wash your hands really, really well. We’ll go to the doctor tomorrow and get some medicine to kill the worms in your tummy.”

“Oh, but they’re so cute,” she said. “I want to keep them!”

Holy. Hell.

With that, I helped her scrub her little hands and mine too. By this point Eliza was pretty intrigued and even Seth had come into the bathroom to check out what all the fuss was about. Our bathroom is five feet by six feet. I fled for the door. With a grossed out husband and two curious kids, it was getting a little crowded in there.

The next day we landed in the doctor’s office on a worm eradication mission.

“Did you see them,” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I said and she thankfully believed me so we were able to skip the test I’d read about on the internet having to do with clear tape to a sensitive area, another trip to the doctor’s office and a microscope to detect worms eggs.

With one look the doctor said, “little white, thin worms?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Pinworms,” she said and wrote down the name of an over-the-counter drug we all had to take.

“We don’t usually see these here,” she said. “They usually come up in the Southeast.”

“We just spent two weeks in North Carolina,” I said.

“Oh, that’s totally where she got them,” she said. “Just give her the medicine and in a week give her another dose. That should take care of it.”

We headed straight for the pharmacy.

It is my great hope that we have blitzed these parasites from our lives and I’ve added it to the mental list I have running of the other things we’ve survived as parents: lice, warts, worms, years on end of no sleep, 106 degree fevers. It reminded me that forever and always, this parenthood thing, this toughest job you’ll ever love, is not for the weak at heart. If only we had a how-to book to alert us to the blind curves along the way. I’m going to take a little power nap and dream about that very thing.

 

Perfect ending

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I’m sitting on my cousin’s screened-in porch watching Lucille swim. Lucille swims like a fish. She looks as though she’s drowning but she’s actually a really good swimmer. Eliza, sans a bathing suit top, is splashing around with her.

“It’s just so much more comfortable without a top,” she says. She jumps high, grabs her knees and shouts “stupid rules!” before she disappears into the water.

We are at the end of a two-week vacation to the Carolinas and I can’t help but think this last day by the pool is a perfect ending. My cousin and her partner are the last in a long line of family who have tended us these past few weeks. They’ve fed us, taken us in and watched our children. From clean sheets to biscuits and gravy, my family has taken care of us. I’m lucky that way. I have a good family. Blended and sprawling as it is, they congregate when we come to visit. They rally, they entertain, they bring me to the brink of perspective. And lately I’ve needed a little perspective.

For the past month or so I’ve been a little off and, though I’m trying, I can’t put my finger exactly on why. It’s not all consuming but there is something brewing just under the surface that’s asking for my attention, the only trouble is I don’t know what it is.

But I do know this: Sometimes it feels as though we move from one obligation to the next, that we are caught on a never-ending hamster’s wheel of not-so-satisfying shoulds. We try hard to look up but we are exhausted. Sometimes I feel like this married with children game is rigged.

So I took stock this trip: Is it Seth? No. Our relationship doesn’t always translate into skipping through daisies but 10 years in I don’t want to be skipping or stumbling with anyone else. Is it motherhood? Honestly, I’ve asked myself this question. On the contrary, I find I want to drink them in, slow down time just a bit because they are suddenly lanky and growing more beautiful by the day. Is it work? Well, certainly work is part of it. At least that part is clear.

What comes next is hard, the unraveling of a ball of something that is a little scary. What do I do with this gnawing in my gut? How do I tend to the fire in my belly that isn’t getting a lot of attention, that’s been largely backburnered this year, and still pay the bills? Every time I go down this rabbit hole I think about

Eliza standing at the edge of the pool. Stupid rules.

A few days ago someone commented to Eliza that she should be a veterinarian because she is so tender with animals. She shrugged it off.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked her for the first time ever.

“Ehh, I dunno,” she said.

“Yeah, me either,” I said.

“Mom, you’re already a writer,” she said.

“I guess you’re right kiddo,” I said.

“Well you are,” she said always needing to have the last word. She said it as though it was decided and simple. For one brief moment I let myself believe that was decided, simple, wildly complicated yet totally doable. And maybe that’s what this whole trip has been about, one moment that I’m clawing my way back to.

In slow motion, she moves

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Bless her heart, our little Lucille is as slow as Christmas. At least this is how we would describe her where I’m from. In the South, we’d say she piddles. Ever since she was a toddler I’ve joked that she’ll one day be twirling at the back of a Phish show because she would spin around, look at the sky and never, ever seem to get in a big hurry to do anything.

Not much has changed since then. She still gazes at the sky, she stops, literally, to smell the flowers. When we go on walks she trails behind. I often will look back to see her squatting down talking to a bug or caterpillar on the sidewalk. She’ll pick the critter up, carry it over to me and describe in detail what it was doing when she found it. She’ll wonder out loud where its family might be and ask if we can bring it home and put it in a jar with holes in the lid. She’ll grab a handful of grass to make a “habitat” for it.

If left to her own devices and without a sister up in her grill, Lucille will dink for hours. She’ll create villages out of cardboard boxes, she’ll sing to herself, she’ll use a whole roll of tape to make a magical land out of pencils and a milk carton. When we go somewhere just the two of us she slows me down and a quick trip to the grocery store becomes a meander down the aisles, a stroll through the parking lot.

I once told her she made me go slow. I meant it as a compliment but she took it as criticism.

“It’s not nice to saw someone makes you go slow!” she said.

“I mean it in a nice way,” I said. “I notice more things because you go slower than the rest of us.”

She didn’t seem terribly convinced but it’s true. Seth and I move fast. We always have. It doesn’t mean we can’t stop and smell the roses it’s just that our natural inclination is go quickly. Eliza takes this to a whole new level. She’s a house on fire all the time. She has two speeds: on and off. She moves so fast that I feel like I’m running to keep up with her. I can only imagine how Lucille feels trying to keep up with an older sister that never slows down, rarely dinks and always seems to be one step ahead.

I stopped getting frustrated at Lucille for her slow-motion ways a long time ago. I’ve started to gear down when I see her crouched over a bug on the sidewalk. She’s observant, quiet and contemplative in these moments. Slowing down to a crawl is her way of understanding and coping with this fast-paced world and it think it may be one of her greatest gifts to me because watching her over the years I’ve started to slow down a little too. Even Eliza recognizes that Lucille moves at a different pace and tries to honor it. It comes across in a I-don’t-really-get-it-but-it’s-how-you-roll kind of way but at least she sees the difference in how Lucille moves through the world. Because of Lucille, Eliza will stop for a millisecond to look at a caterpillar. We all will and I’m not sure any of us would if it weren’t for our little dinker showing us the way.

Mischief managed

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I am living with witches.

They are little and cute but wand-wielding nonetheless.

They speak in spells, they wander around in robes, they are powerful and benign all at once.

We’ve caught the Harry Potters in our house, a disease that is epidemic and all consuming.

Harry, Ron and Hermione are like members of the family as Lucille and Eliza recount and reenact scenes in the first four movies.

“Wands at the ready!” Lucille says and Eliza puts her wand to her face ready for the duel scene with Harry and Malfoy from book two or as we say in our house, the second.

There is also the scene from the first when Harry and Ron first meet Hermione.

“I’m Hermione Granger…and you are…?” Eliza says to Lucille.

“I’m Ron, Ron Weasley,” Lucille says.

Then there is the scene from the second where Ron’s mom, Molly, send him a howler.

“Ronald Weasley! I’m absolutely disgusted with you!” Lucille says in her best British accent and Eliza laughs at her inflection because it is spot on.

I joke that I will send them a howler to school if they do not start to pick up their shoes, flush the toilet, eat their lunches. They are a little intrigued and I secretly wish I possessed the power to actually conjure such a trick. Then they remember I’m muggle-born and they move on wishing it just wasn’t so.

On a recent trip to Asheville, N.C. Lucille strolled the streets wand in hand while wearing her Gryffindor robes and tie. It was her birthday, these things her birthday gifts. Asheville has its share of wizardry so it was no surprise that nearly everyone that passed us smiled a knowing smile at our own little Hermione.

“No magic outside of Hogwarts!” one woman called across the street.

“I have an outfit just like that!” another said.

We got several “cute little witch” comments and we even ran into people the next day who said they had seen Lucille walking the streets the day prior. She caused quite a stir. Eliza, also with wand in hand, cast spells right beside her sister to make for a magical birthday. It didn’t hurt that when we rounded a corner in Asheville on our second day there, Eliza spotted a double-decker bus turned coffee shop. She was insistent that we visit the bus and I, totally clueless, didn’t quite realize why it was so important.

“We’ll go tomorrow,” I said.

“No mom, we have to go tonight,” she said. “It’s the knight bus!”

Right. The Knight bus. From the third. The bus picks Harry up after he’s had enough of the Dursleys. How could I be so dense? They quickly scampered up the stairs of the knight bus and found a seat at the front. They used their time turner to take them back to the night Harry needed help and off they went into their collective imaginations.

These days our daughters see everything through this lens of magic. They cast spells on each other, inanimate objects, on us. Impedimenta, petrificus totalus and wingardium laviosa. Most of the time they are caught up in story, in play, in a fictitious world or witchcraft and wizardry, of magical creatures and secret potions. And, honestly, we’ve gotten a little caught up in it too.

“Flushicus toileticus!” Seth said the other day. “It’s a magic spell to flush the toilet!”

Lucille giggled with delight.

“Braincus repario!” he said to Imogene, our very cute but not-so-bright yellow lab.

Neither of these spells actually worked to flush the toilet or make our dog any smarter but the casting of spells, well, it’s kind of fun.

I’ve been practicing the swish and flick of my wand. Eliza has been giving me tips, my flick is improving every time, she says.

We could all use a little more magic and watching our girls I find I’m carried along right with them. A candy store has become Honeydukes, a cobblestone path in Columbia, S.C. has become Diagon Alley.  In honor of Fred and George Weasley, the precocious twin brothers of Ron Weasley, our family motto has become I solemnly swear I’m up to no good. When I hear Lucille say this complete with sloemnly for solemnly, it is magical, magical indeed.

Can Do Court

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The other night Eliza asked me to tell her a story about when I was a kid.

“Well at one point I lived on Can Do Court with my dad and my uncle. My uncle rode a motorcycle and had a white poodle named Spam,” I said.

“No,” she said. “Tell me a true story…”

I laughed because while I realized this story was a bit unorthodox it was, in fact, true. My childhood was dotted with characters and, at the time, my uncle was one of them. Along with the motorcycle he also had a wood paneled station wagon. We’d put the poodle in the back and drive all over. In summers we went to the driving range and he’d let me drive the golf cart. I was 8, he was in his early 20s. We were a pair. When he rode me on his motorcycle, I’d wear one of his helmets. Each time he’d start off I’d ram into the back of him, helmet first. This was after I got too big to ride on the gas tank. He was s teacher and we were on the same schedule. He took me to school after my dad had gone to work and he arrived just after I did from school.

When my mom and dad split, my dad needed help and my uncle needed a place to live other than my grandmother’s basement. He was my live-in manny. He loved to cook and he usually made a big mess when he did. He called me kid and Spam was a member of the family. He was a scrappy stray turned fixture in our house and he went everywhere with my uncle and me.

Every time I tell this story I usually get concerned looks from whomever I’m talking to. Their eyes ask if this story ends well, or is there some Appalachian twist no one ever talks about. The answer is a resounding no. My uncle moved with us, he took care of me and his dog. He played golf, I drove the cart. He rented Grease II at least 941 times. He was a good man, he is a good man. He came in when I needed him and he moved out when he met the woman who would become his wife.

The other day I saw him and his wife. They’ve been married 28 years now.

“This is him Eliza,” I said. “My uncle with the motorcycle and the dog named Spam.”

“Him?” she said. I’m not sure what she was expecting. My uncle wears little round glasses, he’s a highly thought of elementary school principal and father of two grown men. I got to have breakfast with one of his sons and his young wife a few days later. I told him a few stories of his father, stories he’d never heard.

My daughters may never be able to start a sentence with when I was a kid I lived on Can Do Court with my dad, my mom’s brother and his white poodle named Spam but I hope they will know people who will love them deeply and be as kind to them as my uncle was to me.

We exist beyond you

photoThe other day Eliza was, for lack of a better word, badgering me about buying a journal. She really wanted a leather one she’d seen and couldn’t I just buy it for her, please. It was only $30. I tried to explain that $30 for a leather journal seemed like a lot of money to me.

“Why do you want leather?” I asked.

“I just like it,” she said. “I like the way it looks.”

“Couldn’t you just get one with a paper cover, it would cost a lot less,” I told her.

“I really want leather,” she said. “Like yours.”

I have a journal that I bought nine years ago for me and Seth to write in over the years when we were moved to do so. I gave it to him for our first anniversary with the thought that we could somehow document our lives together. It doesn’t have as many entries as I might have thought after 10 years of marriage but it does have some and when I read them I can place us exactly in that time. This was the point.

Recently, Eliza found this journal and she’s treating it like contraband.

“What’s in it?” she asks. “Secrets? Is it private? Why won’t you read it to me? Why can’t I read it? Why can’t I write in it, there are so many blank pages?”

“It’s personal,” I said. “It’s between me and daddy.”

She really didn’t like that answer.

I wrestled with why I was being so adamant about why I didn’t want her to play with it. I felt a little like a two-year-old. It’s mine! It’s ours! It’s not yours! And, in the end, that’s kind of what it came down to. I fumbled and stammered. I was completely inarticulate. These things are hard to explain to a seven-year-old.

How do you say to her, we had a life before you. We know each other in ways that you won’t understand, that you can’t understand. You are the center of our world, truly you are. We share everything, almost, with you. But this, this little book wrapped closed with a leather strap is a series of moments between us, for us.  We existed before you. We exist beyond you.

I didn’t say any of these things to her. I just stuck with my vague no and told her we could look for a less expensive journal that she could buy with her own money. She was momentarily satisfied. I tucked the journal away hoping she would forget about it for a little while and made a mental note to write in it more often.

Reading is sexy

The other night as I was going to bed I searched through my stack of reading possibilities only to discover that I had read them all. I’d read all of the interesting (to me) articles in a handful of New Yorkers, I’d looked at all the interesting pictures in National Geographic. I’d even read all of the Sun magazines lying around. The ones I’d saved for rainy days, for years. I’d also read two or three books recently and I was at a loss for what to start next. I looked at the shelf above my bed and realized I didn’t have many unread options. I looked over at the shelf above Seth’s side and quickly turned away. I can barely make sense of the titles of most of the books Seth owns much less even think of getting through the first chapter. I have no real interest in reading The Colonizer and the Colonized or The Mass Psychology of Fascism so I moved on from his shelf and decided to read a cookbook instead.

As I flipped through the pages of the canning in small batches book I got for Christmas, I realized I might have hit a milestone. Could it actually be true that I have time to read? What? When did that happen? Are my children actually old enough that my night hours are not claimed by waking children, hungry children or children in need of a little mama time at 3a.m.? Could it possibly be that I might be able to enter a bookstore and actually purchase a book that I might actually read within the next year. A book without pictures? It was a little earthshattering, this revelation.

There was a time when I didn’t dare borrow a book from the library because I knew I would never finish it by the time it would be due back. There was a time magazines stacked up beside my bed so fast that I would give them away before I had time to finish them. There was a time I considered a New Yorker “read” if I’d read all of the cartoons. It seems, at least for now, that time has passed.

My children love to go to Barnes & Noble. As a huge advocate of local bookstores I cringe a little but Barnes & Noble has a great children’s section and, really, if they are asking to go to a bookstore afterschool, I’m not going to argue about it. So we find ourselves there sometimes and it now has a whole new meaning for me. Row after row of possibility.

A few weeks ago we went to buy Eliza a journal and after choosing the one she wanted we headed back to the children’s section. Lucky for me, the children’s section is right beside the biography section which is where most memoir/narrative nonfiction lands in Barnes & Noble. And that, friends, is my happy place. Every few minutes I’d peek around the corner to make sure Eliza and Lucille were not redecorating the children’s section as I read flap after back cover on all kinds of books. Eventually, the girls had to pull me away.

Somehow this tiny step feels like a big move toward something that is just about me and those are so rare that I’m going to savor it one page at a time.

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