How to Kill Your Mother

I recently had to explain to my mother that dying, specifically dying when you want to, was a lot more complicated than having me (her daughter) smother her with a pillow when her faculties were gone.

It was Mother’s Day, so naturally our conversation drifted to her death and what role I would obviously play in it, when the time comes. “Well, Carolina, this seems very simple. When I become a burden– or foresee that I am going to become a burden– I will simply inject myself with something or have you give me a cocktail of something quick and lethal.” To be honest, I just assumed that my mother knew about Right to Die States. Turns out, not so much.

“Well, mother, here’s the thing. I can’t exactly give you the lethal cocktail.” She started to give me the “I changed your diapers…” speech, but I interrupted. “It’s not that I don’t want to give you the cocktail. Nothing would give me greater pleasure– in a completely selfless and dignity-protecting way– but you can’t help someone die in Massachusetts or Texas without going to prison. And while my selflessness seems boundless, it doesn’t exactly extend to going to prison. Especially if you won’t be around to put cash in my commissary account.”

She was horrified, but also still very much my mother. “Well then. We need a plan.”

At this point you may think that I’m feeling weird. But I’m not. Because it turns out that in these confusing times, where you can’t die by your own hand, and your health insurance will either be working too hard to keep you alive or not hard enough, a lot of families are having to have this talk. One co-worker of mine shared that she and her mother had a plan that involved the woods on a snowy afternoon. With a few gummies, likely, and some painkillers. Another confessed that she and her mom talked about a “final swim in the ocean.” (Which, frankly, are both excellent ideas and I feel angry that I didn’t think of them. Because I don’t think you’re allowed to steal a friend’s death plan.)

But planning your mother’s death with her help is challenging. Because what you’re actually tapping into is that black hole deep in your psyche that watches crime shows on CBS and thinks, “I could definitely get away with that.” And it’s dangerous to tap into that dark hole. Because it’s so sick and twisted. And fun.

Ha! You'll never catch me!

(YOU’LL NEVER CATCH ME, GIBBS!)

There’s an added layer of challenge, which is that I live on the other side of the country. So my mere presence at the crime scene will put me immediately in the suspect pool. Whatever highly skilled officer of the law Caldwell, Texas, has to offer is unlikely to let the slick Yankee head back to the coast before he closes the case. And there’s going to be some inherent bias because, let’s level with each other, Texans (specifically the men) don’t like a lady in a blazer. They think we are lesbians or trouble. Neither of which do they like.

So you have a mother (in the future) with quickly deteriorating faculties, an inability to really do the act herself (she’s weak and unable to do anything that involves real strength or dexterity), and we’ve agreed (because of my mother’s OCD that extends to the afterlife) that we cannot do anything that’s going to leave a mess. She knows I won’t do a good enough job cleaning it up before the reception that is likely to be held in her own home. Plus, no one will want to come to the reception if they knew the crime had taken place there. And that pesky, small town officer is likely to have wrapped the place up in police tape.

We chatted a bit about a wild animal encounter, but it could leave her alive and maimed and that would really be going from the frying pan to the fire. Snake bites are equally uncertain, but certainly easier to pass off as accidental. She’s a klutz, which may be our ace in the hole, but again, the margin of error is wide on that one and we don’t want to make the situation worse. We could move to a Right to Die state, but it turns out that the requirements are still more stringent than “I’m ready to get the fuck out of here.”

In the end, the lawyer’s daughter in both of us came out and we agreed that a notarized suicide note and the lethal cocktail was likely our best plan. It would keep me out of it, or at least create a long and landmark court battle. But it also left us with a big to-do: find a notary in the state of Texas willing to notarize a preemptive suicide note. (The Post Office, maybe?) Ironically my mother asked if there was a readily available cocktail that puts people down. I reminded her that she lives in the State of Texas. And they practically specialize in that cocktail. Right, right.

As for my role, I’m in charge of letting her know when she’s getting to that point. I said I’d find a notary.

Notes from the Underground

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again many, many times, but we don’t spend nearly enough time telling people about the responsibility of raising humans. You get married, you’re happy (maybe), have more time and disposable income than you even realize (maybe), and then you get the baby itch (or society makes you feel like a wretched, selfish asshole and you cave) and a few months later, you are knocked up and wandering around Buy Buy Baby with a registry gun, arguing with your spouse about what kind of nipples you should register for.

Someone probably throws you an adorable party with cookie shaped like onsies or rattles, someone (likely the gay uncle) gives you a $500 cashmere blanket your kid will NEVER be allowed to touch, and you spend your evenings folding and refolding tiny clothes and sitting in an empty nursery thinking about your forthcoming bundle of joy. At this point we are at least 8 months into this whole thing and still NO ONE has so much as mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. You’re inundated with questions about natural childbirth vs. an evil and completely unnatural (eyeroll) medicated birthing experience, what kind of nipples you registered for (BECAUSE THIS MATTERS A LOT), and whether you’re going to be gender specific with your new born (eyes rolling so far back in my head they may be stuck).

Then, it’s about your boobs. Strangers asking about your plans for feeding your child. Suddenly you feel like a capitalistic satan for registering for nipples in the first place when you’re obviously going to breast feed your child until he is using a sippy cup (or at least pretend you are so some wealthy organic wheatgrass farmer with nine children who have never had the flu doesn’t shame you in line at the Whole Foods).

Then it’s happening. YOUR BABY IS BEING BORN. You have a beautiful hospital bag with silk pajamas and snacks in it waiting next to the door. Your husband is whispering encouraging words to your unborn child before the three of you drift off to sleep. And in the middle of the night you soak your brand new mattress with enough amniotic fluid to sink the Titanic and the moment has arrived.

Still. No one has mentioned that your baby will not stay a baby. No one says, “hey, you. Babies are fleeting. Humans are forever.” In fact, the ASPCA likely spends more time reminding folks that puppies become dogs than the universe does reminding us that babies become people.

And become people they do. Infancy is hard. It’s physically straining, emotionally demanding, and it makes you question all the things you thought you were good at. But babies live in tiny warm bubbles. You can control every single thing about an infant except the infant itself. There’s almost no limit to what you can protect an infant from. (Save dying from something horrible because the anti-vaxxers are a bunch of Satanists. Oh, hey, Measles in Europe.)

But humans are harder. At some point you realize that your child doesn’t need you to get from breath to breath. They need you to help them navigate the universe and understand humanity. They start to need answers from you that you don’t have. And you can’t just stick a boob in their mouth and make everything okay. (Until they are about 17. Then a boob [NOT YOURS] may do the trick again.)

Little humans are a special kind of mind fuck. We have one at home currently. He’s not an infant. He’s not a toddler. He believes he has some kind of master insight and reason about the world and he is totally wrong. But it doesn’t change how he feels. He feels massive injustices are being done to him on a daily basis. (Nope, you can’t watch TV. Nope, we aren’t going to wear the same shirt for 16 days. It’s growing mold. Nope, you’re not allowed to take that in the car.)

But he’s also beginning to experience real emotions that we can’t control. Exclusion. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Jealously. Emotions that even now, as adults, we don’t fully understand. He wants to know why someone said something hurtful or why someone wouldn’t play with him. As a parent, your first reaction is to light the school on fire or hunt down the 3-year-old that hurt their feelings. But you have to take a step back. You have to understand that human emotions are complicated and necessary. And if you don’t allow them to feel these things, to try to work through them, they will become emotionally stunted fuck heads when they are older.

The world is moving a lot faster than it did when I was a kid. We could blame it on technology, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. It’s just a different world. It’s more connected, while simultaneously being completely disconnected. We have more access than ever, but things also seem strangely inaccessible. Kids are shepherded out of childhood more quickly to give them more time to be adults. More time to excel and be accomplished grown ups. As a parent, I can’t help but feel like that’s misguided. If there is anything about my life I wish I could have extended, it would be my childhood. It would be those years before boys and college– and certainly my twenties– when long, hot days were spent cellphone-free at the pool, ordering chicken fingers and playing Marco Polo. It’s easy to idealize our memories, but I don’t think I’m crazy to believe that the less I knew, the easier it was to be happy.

There’s not a Buy Buy Baby for these years. There’s no registry list for those years when the things you tell your children impact the way they see the world, or the kinds of humans they start to become. These days, I laugh at the tough choices we made between the UppaBaby and whatever the other option was. Because how I pushed my child around the city seems a much easier choice than how I teach my child not to push others. Curating a nursery, though necessary and fun, seems to have overshadowed the time when my husband and I should have talked through the kind of human we wanted to raise and our plan and path to get there.

How do you raise a good human? Or can you? I don’t know. When you drop them off, move them in, or give them away, how will you ever know that you’ve made the right choices or shown them the right things? How can you be sure that they will go forth with confidence, humility, and a sense of what is right and wrong?

Maybe you can’t. But it’s worth trying.

 

Parenting is a Poo Smear

I cannot be clearer than this: three year olds are the worst.

The. Worst.

On the one hand, they are so cute. At three, you have a tiny person, wearing tiny adult clothes. They have these insanely observant, candid things to say. They make you laugh. You starting thinking things like, “obviously my kid is a mother fucking genius. he just figured out how to drain the tub.”

Then there’s the other hand. The torturous, deformed, hateful hand. You have an irrational, unthinking, selfish asshole with a seniority complex and zero regard for your life or feelings. And frankly, that’s being kind. Three year olds play sick mind games. They have the guilt skills of seasoned Jewish mother, the yelling prowess of an Italian mother, and mood disorders too severe to make it into any of Ken Kesey novels.

My three year old seems to fall in the moderate three year old category, which is really hard to fathom. Because about two months ago I made a special appointment with my therapist to tell him– through barely manageable tears– that I needed to go on a mood stabilizer. I had an undiagnosed rage disorder. I didn’t know what to do.

Nope, he said. You have a three year old.

I tried to reason with him, convince him that his years of school were shit. A serious rage disorder was sitting in front of him and he couldn’t see it. GO BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL, IDIOT. Then he started listing the traits of three year olds.

I definitely do not have a rage disorder. I have a three year old. (Never mind! Your degree is fine. I’m an asshole. Sorry.)

Looking back on the magical journey of pregnancy and infancy, I realize that we (mothers, fathers, society) are focused on the totally wrong part of parenting. Infants are cake. I mean, not cake. They are terrible in their own special way. But the whole world loves babies. AND THEY DON’T TALK. Babies are irrational, but it’s okay because they are flesh blobs. Dolls. Plants with neurons and foul poops. It’s when our babies turn two until they turn about five, that we are left ALL ALONE. Unless you’re looking for some help with the functional parts of parenting (i.e. teach your kid to poop in a receptacle), 2-5 are the parenting dark ages. Your kid is really too young for actual labels (it’s too soon to say whether he’s really a psychopath) and too old to know whether he’s just experiencing something epic, like seeing color for the first time. Which makes him “fussy.” God I miss “fussy.” Fussy was so cute. Last night my kid cried so hard about a sticker that he gagged himself and we had to break our silence to make sure he wasn’t dead.

Logically, I know that my job is to survive. Realistically, there are days when survival seems impossible. I’m going to pack an old school suitcase and hop a bus to Nevada, where I’ll send faded postcards cross country at holidays. My days will be spent journaling and working odd jobs, my evenings drinking white wine out of a box and questioning whether I made the right choice. I’ll return for his high school graduation. The aged, but slightly beautiful, gray-haired woman in the back row. He’ll stare at me, unsure, but feeling a familiarity he can’t shake. I’ll see he’s grown into the man I imagined. And I’ll return to Nevada. To my journalling. To my Franzia. With hope. And closure.

Only I can’t do that. Because my husband would hunt me down in Nevada and kill me. Then marry a casino dancer and drag her to Salem to watch Author. Fuck.

So here we are. Surviving.

Strangely, as trying as these little people can be, you actually love them a whole lot. In the middle of psychological warfare about picking up a goddamned Rescue Bot, you’re still obsessing about their day, where you should send them to school, whether they’re making friends, if they ate their lunch. The real kick in the dick is that 99% of the time, if your kid would just stop screaming like a crazy person and ask politely for something absurd, he’d probably get it. Instead of throwing a spoon at my face and telling me how I’m torturing you with dinner, you could try saying, “mups, I love you so much. but the flavor profile of this meal just isn’t working. could I please have a bowl of sugared cereal and nine gummy vitamins.” I’d say yes. How could I not?

We’re American parents. We can’t help ourselves. We’re capitalists and consumers.

This morning, my child smeared actual poo on my bed. Fortunately it was on my husband’s side of the bed, but that’s not really the point. His tiny brain FORGOT that he walked up the stairs WITH A HANDFUL OF WIPES because he needed help wiping the epic amounts of shit off his ass… and sat down. Proceeded to have an entire conversation with me about how he wasn’t going to get dressed today. I even asked about the wipes. He couldn’t remember. He just “sort of picked them up.”

He forgot the ending, which was “… to have you wipe all this poop off of me before I smear it on the bed.”

Poop.

On. My. Bed.

Then, when I realized the situation and reacted like super mom, he turned on me. Getting dressed was the worst idea he’d ever heard of in his whole life. He would not do it. Ever. He threw his body on the ground and writhed like a crazy person. I just stared down at him in disbelief. I just extracted fecal matter from you and MY BED and now you are YELLING AT ME. 

What the actual fuck? <Cue the rage disorder I thought I had. But don’t. I have a three year old.>

But there’s good news. We are 156 days away from his fourth birthday.

You’ve officially been called upon.

I took a hiatus from Facebook and then the entire world went to shit. Like actually. I took a hiatus from Facebook to try to maintain my sanity and then Donald Fucking Trump got elected president. That actually happened. In some ways, Trump ruined my Facebook homecoming. I was going to be away for 60 days and then return to wanting fans and friends, drop some humor bomb about Hillary and pantsuits and my return to normalcy, and then continue with a life of subconscious, public narration. And the occasional joke. Because that’s my Facebook MO.

And then all this happened. Candidly, I haven’t really been able to fully return to the world of social media, save Instagram. The nice thing about Instagram is that someone has to be totally and outrageously racist or determined in order to politically offends me via photo. And even though those people do exist, I don’t, believe it or not, follow them. So when I need my social media fix, I scroll through a collection of food, flowers, and selfies and try not to think too hard about who anyone voted for.

The times that I have been able to scroll through my Facebook feed, I’ve seen a sea of frantic liberals. I’ve even seen a few frantic conservatives. I’ve read posts of friends who are signing petitions, joining marches, rioting, protesting, and some who have decided to pack all their shit up and move to some other country that isn’t even pretending to be a democracy. Because that’s better.

All this panic and urgency reminds me of going to Baptist school. In the hallowed halls (re: chapels) of a Baptist high school in Texas you get a lot of panic and urgency. Everyday is a sin-obstacle course whereby the finish line is being saved and the ultimate game over is getting hit by a car and dying before you’ve allowed Jesus into your heart as a your Lord and Savior. Because then you’d end up in hell. Hell is a strangely earth-like place with fire and, get this, an eternity without Jesus. (One might argue that going to a place where your punishment is an eternity without the thing you didn’t believe in to begin with isn’t exactly punishment, but I’ll add here that Mr. Clark was not one for logic and reason. He preferred a booming tenor and verses about fools and faith. But that’s another blog post.) But the asking of Jesus into your cardiovascular system isn’t the meal ticket. The real express train to salvation is being called upon.

Being called upon can take many forms, but the cornerstone of BCU is publicity. If others do not see you defend God/right the wrongs/throw rocks at the girl trying to have an abortion than it doesn’t count and you have to find another BCU. In Sunday school as a teen, there were 15 or so minutes each week dedicated to sharing stories of saving others or being called upon. A man in the Subway was drunk and you sat him down and told him about Jesus and bought him a sandwich. A man was persecuting Christians in a public forum (re: gas station bathroom) and you stood up to him and declared God the Savior of man. Or something. I frankly can’t even remember the exact details of these magnanimous faith acts from my youth. But they were important.

Being called upon was validating and important. If you weren’t proving your Christianity, there was a good chance it wasn’t real. God forbid you have a private relationship with an all-loving God. Your relationship with God would be weighed and measured by those on the outside and being called upon was the only true and indisputable badge.

And being called upon is not an inherently negative thing. In preparation for such a thing, we are… prepared. When we believe we will be called upon, we remain alert and attentive. We are more vigilant and observant. The rush of fear and passion and adrenaline that we feel in the moments before it’s clear we have been called upon is what propels us to success. Without it we are nothing. We have no momentum, no fuel.

The moment can be subtle. Sometimes arguable. Like the man at the Subway. Maybe he needed saving. Maybe he was just a lost frat boy who wandered off campus and really needed to pee. But other times the moment is not subtle at all. Sometimes the moment is so clear, so obvious, that you get all the way to the door to take up arms before realizing you have no pants on. In those moments, the most important thing to do is stop, breathe, and put your goddamned pants on. You’ve been called upon, but without your wits, you are useless to the cause.

There is no question but that we have been called upon. Not Christians by God, not liberals by democracy, nor women by equality. The “we” that I refer to is the collective peoples who have created an oft too silent army around the weaker, the lesser, the battered, and the bruised. Let there be no mistake that in these political times, at this particular moment, in this course of nature, we have been called upon. We are needed. But we are not needed scattered and erratic; we are not needed if we are weakened by fear or made volatile by anger. Fear and anger have allowed oppression to creep back into our narrative.

We are called upon to organize ourselves, to shield our neighbors, and to fight with actions, not rhetoric or retaliation. We cannot change the minds or hearts of a hurting nation with words that drip with menace and malice of the same tone but different tenor than what got us here.

Our laws govern us, but they do not define us. As the tide shifts to the right and our black, muslim, and gay friends, lovers, and family slowly lose their footing, we have to be prepared to define our own understanding of humanity and continue to fight for that understanding.

You have officially been called upon to defend.

You have officially been called upon to protect.

You have officially been called upon to shelter.

You have officially been called upon to stay focused, to not fall victim to distraction.

You have officially been called upon.

You have officially been called upon.

You have officially been called upon.

Now, let us rise. Let us, the popular vote, the compassionate peoples, the left with an eye on humanity compassion seek those on the right who want economic fairness that is not achieved at the expense of anyone, but rather by a rising tide that raises all ships.

We will not let a spark of hate ignite a system that has given us each lives beyond imagine. We will not sing a song of destruction and hate. We will reach out, we will grab hold of the hands that seek ours. And we will continue.

Because we have officially been called upon. And now we shall come.

I deactivated Facebook. Then I thought of something funny.

Saturday night I fell down a Syrian orphan black hole that started on Facebook. It pretty much ruined the next 48 hours of my life. (Which, if we’re being honest, is deserved. If children are drowning while trying to paddle inflatable rafts to 3rd world living conditions, I can have a bad day after looking at pictures of the whole ordeal from my air conditioned condo…) It’s not Facebook’s fault that the Syrian children are slipping into oblivion. It’s not Facebook’s fault that they don’t have access to housing, food, education, or medical care. But increasingly I realize that the only reason I am so inundated with all the terrible, bad shit that is happening in the world is because of Facebook. It’s also the reason I’m starting to dislike actual friends of mine OUTSIDE of Facebook. There are things I can’t unsee (your support for Trump) or get over (the STARK difference in opinion we have about #blacklivesmatter and what someone should or should not have to do during the National Anthem).

Now, we can argue reasonably that I need to stay on Facebook because I need to be subjected to this kind of thing. But here’s the thing: no. I don’t. Because there’s a tipping point. There’s a point at which the focus is so much on the horrible tragedies that I feel hopeless. I am no longer inspired by what I can do; I am defeated by what I can’t do. I also need to stop listening to the opinions of every person with a keyboard and focus my attention on finding information myself. I need to care about the sources of my content. I’m not even sure where people find accurate, unbiased content any more. Unless it’s content about pandas eating popsicles. That I can find.

Also, people are absurd and I’m tired of their bullshit. So there’s that.

I decided to deactivate my Facebook account for 60 days. It coincides with my need to cleanse and reset other parts of my life, as well. The holidays are coming and I need to take some time to be present for the next few months of my life. You know, be a fucking grown up.

Don’t misunderstand me, though. I love Facebook. I’m not one of those people who walks away with two middle fingers up, yelling about how Facebook is just a bunch of petty fucks and obnoxious stay at home moms justifying their days. (Sidenote: quit doing that. I don’t justify what I do all day, you don’t have to either.) Unlike people who get down on themselves because of the rampant visual success of their friends and high school classmates, I own it. I own that my life is at least 60% worse than my Facebook friend set. And I’m okay with that. Facebook is a curation. You actually get to decide what to show people. If you don’t like what you’re presenting, I’d suggest changing it. (If I think you’re a hot mess, it’s likely because you’re posting a lot of hot mess-ishness. STOP.)  I like creating a caricature of myself that I get to feed with posts and comments. For these next 60 days, my blog is going to be like the tree that fell in the woods. Nearly 70% of my blog traffic comes from Facebook referrals. This decision takes me from relative obscurity to complete obscurity. It’s an unexpected blow to my self esteem.

At 11:30am I deactivated. Head’s up, Facebook makes it REALLY hard to deactivate. So hard. They have all sorts of pop ups explaining why your decision is a bad one. (If you have a weak will, you won’t make it to the end.) One of them is that you should not actually deactivate. Thanks, FB. You should just log out. Wha? Then all I have to do is log back in. They also remind you that you won’t be connected to all these amazing people. And then they tell you who they are and give you examples of the prime content you’re missing. Look what Erin is doing RIGHT NOW that you will miss if you leave! They really lay it on thick. Just getting to the actual deactivation is an act of god.

By 11:36am I felt the huge, social media-sized hole in my life. I felt like I’d quit smoking. WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO WHEN I WAS BORED? Be bored, apparently. Wonder what that’s going to be like. (I’m also currently between episodes on Candy Crush, so I don’t even have that to occupy me. I cannot do anything in the bathroom at work right now except for pee. It’s like freshman year of high school. Only without copying Jenni’s calculus homework in the handicapped stall.)

At 12:24pm I got a text of a horrifying looking featherless bird that was trending. Apparently I was missing some BIG SHIT on Facebook. Thank god for friends.

At least 16 times between 11:30 and 1:30 I thought of something hilarious that I wanted to post. Because obviously those things would make people LIKE ME MORE. But I couldn’t. I had to just think my funny thoughts and keep them in my head. Where they will likely fester and then cause me an aneurism.

Then I checked Candy Crush. Confirming that I still have 33 hours before the next level unlocks.

Then I thought about how much more present and thoughtful I am going to have to be. I’m going to have to put effort into making the people in my physical life connect with me. I don’t have an online alter-ego where people will always talk and respond and gratify me. OH SWEET CHRIST.

Wonder if my cell phone battery will last longer? 

Lunch helped distract me for a bit. I’ll probably need to call my therapist by EOD tomorrow to get more Xanax to cope with how many events I’m missing because I just don’t know about them.

What if no one ever invites me to anything again? 

Are other people as upset about the weather today? Or is there actually bad weather where they are? 

Who am I? 

What is the meaning of life? 

59.5 days to go…

 

 

Please don’t kill my kid

Have we discussed my crippling anxiety before? We have? Weird. Don’t know why it would have come up. Oh, yes I do. BECAUSE I’M BARELY ABLE TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY WITHOUT IMAGINING 100000000 HORRIFYING SCENARIOS UNFOLDING AND RUINING ALL THE THINGS.

But seriously. As I’ve gotten older, and become a parent, my anxiety has reached a fever pitch. Since the husband has assumed the role of helicopter parent (a badge he wears with honor), it’s my duty to assume to role of chill parent who is totally not freaking out on the inside every fucking second. On the outside, I’m nailing it. On the inside, I’m a hot mess.

Remember Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The theory that every person in the world can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six degrees? My anxiety is like that, only it’s Two Degrees of People Not Paying Attention. Every sweat-inducing scenario that I create in my mind can be connected back to someone not paying attention within two degrees. And the real nail in my proverbial coffin is that we as a society are moving further and further away from mindfulness and community. Further away from the idea that it takes a village. That we’re all responsible for one another. That all kids are our kids. And while mostly this is just kind of depressing and socially annoying, sometimes it’s devastating. It’s so fucking scary to think of sending your child out into a world where most people aren’t really paying attention, or frankly just don’t care.

And I’m not suggesting that it isn’t also the responsibility of our children to learn not to do really stupid shit. Hey, kid. Don’t run into the street. Don’t climb on top of the play structure like an asshole and then encourage all the other kids to do it too. Don’t go with that guy with the candy. Definitely don’t go with that guy with the candy and the van. Also, no one has a puppy in their car. Puppies would shit in a car if left alone and that knowledge alone is enough to call someone on their puppy lie. Don’t play with a switchblade. Don’t put a plastic bag over your head. Nope, not even if it makes you look super funny and your friends laugh. Don’t turn off your phone before sneaking out so I can’t track your location when you turn up missing. Don’t climb over fences or sneak in places with signage SPECIFICALLY TELLING YOU NOT TO. Do not ever pick up your phone in a moving car. Ever. Ever.

But raising kids is equal parts preparation and practice. Kids, like adults, have to fuck things up in order to actually believe they can be fucked up. As grown people, we like to pretend that this isn’t the case. We like to pretend that our wise words will be enough to guide our children away from all danger and poor decision making. But sometimes preparing your child isn’t the side of the equation that matters.  As a parent, you spend the majority of your collagen and natural hair color trying to ensure kids do it the right way, while steeling yourself against the knowledge that it may not be them who screws up. It may be something, or someone, completely out of your control. And what energy is left is focused on hoping that when they do fuck up, when they do run into the street chasing a ball that isn’t worth their life, someone is paying attention. That the person driving down the street isn’t texting or changing the radio station. You pray to the fabric of the universe that when your child goofs, it’s not the end.

Which brings us to my biggest anxiety du jour: texting while driving. I’ve looked over countless times to see a driver typing a novella on their phone, not once looking up. I’ve seen it near the park, on my street, on the drive to work. I watch young people, old people– all people– blow through stop signs and cross walks. I read articles about kids hit by cars while legally crossing the street. WHILE DOING EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO. EXACTLY WHAT THEIR PARENTS TOLD THEM WOULD KEEP THEM SAFE.  I don’t know what’s so important. I don’t know what I sometimes think is so important. What I think absolutely cannot wait for a red light or a driveway. But I know that every time I watch a car swerve across a double yellow, or someone take a selfie while traveling at 65mph, I hear myself say, please don’t kill my kid. It’s symbolic more than anything. People like you. Actions like yours. Please don’t let them kill my child. 

I can’t change the world. I’m not even sure I can convince my son not to be the one taking the selfies, typing the novellas. Hell, I can’t even get people to stop smoking near the playground. But as long as there is breath in my lungs and typing in my fingers, I can ask this. Please, please don’t kill my kid. Look up. Pay attention. Drive undistracted. I’m not asking you to babysit or empty man-sized poops out of a kid potty. I’m not asking you to contribute to college tuition or attend a toddler birthday party. I’m asking you to remember that your actions– your carelessness– have consequences. I’m doing the very best that I possibly can, but there is a place where my parenting ends and faith and trust in the world begins. It’s the scariest place in the world. It’s the place I can’t control. The source of all my nightmares. And if you do that, I’ll make you this deal. I’ll do the same. I’ll see you. I’ll watch out for you. I’ll keep my eyes on the road. I’ll remember that you may be crossing the street. Your child may be crossing the street. 

Please don’t kill my kid. And I’ll try damn sure not to kill yours. 

 

We got this.

Ten years ago today, we got married. I was twenty-two.

Here’s the thing about being twenty-two: you don’t know anything. For all the pain you may have suffered (real and imagined), life experiences you’ve had, foods you’ve eaten, problems you’ve solved, fundamentally you don’t know anything. You may have theories, but you don’t have knowledge. Because you simply haven’t been here long enough. (And before we gather our pitch forks and start being mean to me, let’s take a step back. I value twenty-two year olds and think they offer a lot of enthusiasm and perspective. After all, I was one once.)

Truth be told, I don’t know what I thought about marriage back then. I know I wasn’t afraid of it. I didn’t feel anxiety about my choice. And that could have been because I was absolutely making the right choice, but it also could have been because I didn’t really understand the choice at all. I thought this guy was great. Sure, the rest of our lives sounded amazing. Kind of the same way eating ice cream for the rest of your life sounds amazing when you’ve had 3-4 bites. You’re completely incapable of really thinking about what it might mean to eat that for the rest of your life. It just sounds like a really great idea at the time.

Fortunately for me, it was the former. But there are many, many times it could have been the latter. Because marriage is the most natural unnatural thing in the world. Marriage is your greatest ally and your most cunning enemy. It lifts you up, carries you forward, but it also challenges you to grow and change and adapt. It challenges you to own up to your choices and your behavior. Marriage is a mirror reflecting back the image of what two people have done to one another, for better or worse.

If and when you become a parent, its so easy to see how your actions shape another. You see how your anger makes a child cower or become angry himself. You see how your joy and lightheartedness opens them up, makes them feel safe and happy. But as grown ups, I think we forget that the same is true of our spouses. Who we are affects them. Our belief in them becomes their belief in themselves. Our words have weight and meaning.

For my part, I know I’m a challenge to be married to. I’m fiercely independent. I struggle with compromise and collaboration. I can be selfish. A lot of my life is in words that live in very public places (welcome). I process quickly and act even quicker. I favor efficiency over thoroughness. I don’t like to be touched. (IT’S SO CONFINING!)

And then there’s the husband. He’s got his own list of weaknesses, but he is also the naturally more pensive of the two of us. He is metered and thoughtful. He takes time to consider options, outcomes, and possibilities. He wants there to be an “us” rather than two “mes” living in our house. He pushes me to slow down, quiet down, sit down, and be present.

And sometimes I want to kill him for it.

In theory, a marriage is a celebration of differences and how they can compliment two people. But differences are often misunderstood, vilified, and blamed for our inabilities to communicate. Ten years ago, I didn’t know what marriage was. I only knew what getting married was. I knew the logistics– one house, one life, do stuff together, maybe have kids, get old, the end. At twenty-two I was incapable of unpacking what that meant. I didn’t understand the responsibility of promising to stay with someone always. I didn’t realize I would change, or he would change, or our relationship would change. We couldn’t see the future. That’s the gamble of marriage. You bet on who you are at that moment with a necessary blindness for who you will become. That’s some risky shit.

Ten years from now I expect to laugh at my naivety today, but for now, there are some things I think I finally know. Maybe.

  1. You match each other annoying habit for annoying habit. If you want to start throwing stones at that glass house, be prepared the open the 7th seal and have ALL your annoying habits listed for you during a drunk argument. You’re both annoying.
  2. If you don’t get a cleaning lady, you’ll likely get a divorce. They are exceptions, but not many.
  3. There are things that you can’t take back. And while they may be forgiven, even forgotten, you will remember you said them. In some ways that’s worse.
  4. There are days that the logistics of divorce are the only thing keeping you together. And that’s okay. Sometimes we need the reality of real estate prices to buy us the time we need to calm the fuck down.
  5. People change from the day they are born until the day they die. Everyone. Your choice is to fall in love with the heart, adapt to the mind, and accept the body. Otherwise, your marriage will fail.
  6. Marriage is hard. So, so hard.
  7. Never let a week go by without looking your spouse in the eye and asking them honestly how they are doing. Like legitimately. Like, how is your journey on this earth?
  8. If you stop making out, it will eventually get weird and then when your spouse does eventually stick their tongue in your mouth again you will have a reaction that scars them for life.
  9. Acknowledge the difficult stuff. Say it out loud. Many marriages end because of the assumption that people can read minds.
  10. Stop comparing. Everything. Anything. Yes, someone does have a better marriage than you. And your kid is cuter. SO THE FUCK WHAT.
  11. Try to have sex. More of it than you want to or feel is necessary.
  12. Find a good babysitter <if applicable>. You stay a parent even if your child hates you for leaving them on a Friday night. You don’t stay a spouse if you lose your connection by remaining consumed by the duties of life.
  13. Don’t drink too much on weeknights. It starts a chain reaction of tiredness, misery, and agitation that leads to fights where people say things like, “WHY THE FUCK DO WE HAVE THESE GODDAMNED THROW PILLOWS?” and other meaningless, but vaguely hurtful, things.
  14. Be a good team. At home, in life, and at parties.
  15. Make sure you’re your spouses biggest fan. Because if you’re not, something has gone wrong. (And that foxy 21-year-old at his/her office is gonna be and then you’re gonna get dumped.)
  16. Laugh.
  17. Don’t start a blog. Definitely don’t start a blog where you talk about your life.
  18. Work really fucking hard to stay in love.
  19. Say I love you, but only if you actually mean it and not because you’re being a dick. Because I’ve done that and it’s received very poorly.

I’m a better person because I’m married. Personal growth is hard. Being reminded (lovingly) about your shortcomings is hard. But better to have it coming from someone you love than some anonymous asshole on the internet.

Corey Beaulieu, I love you. It has been a pleasure to spend these last ten years as your wife. You are half of all the good things about me and I hope you know that without you, I’d be a hot mess in a one bedroom with a lot of cats, eating Prego out of a jar with a spoon. That kid of ours is something else. We did so good. I hardly recognize the faces of those kids ten years ago, but I think I like our old mugs better anyway. You’re my favorite asset.