Potting training is a literal pile of shit.

Well, this weekend is going to be excluded from my memoirs.

Aut woke up on Saturday morning with a trucker-sized dump in his pants and the husband drew the short straw. It’s nearly impossible to sleep an extra two hours while your child watches inappropriate television shows in your bed if the child smells like poop. Eventually one of the parents has to sack up and change the diaper, and whomever gets stuck doing it ends feeling exempt from doing anything else childcare related for the rest of the day.

Usually we grumble about how terrible and inhumane it is that our child unleashes that kind of fury upon us first thing in the morning, but eventually we get over it and go have coffee and bagel sandwiches to make everything okay again. Not this Saturday. This Saturday, the husband marches up the stairs and declares, with the confidence of a Custer before his last stand, that he has changed his final diaper. THIS IS BULLSHIT. I am done! 

To be clear (and because he reads these posts and immediately sends me all caps text messages when he thinks I’ve painted him unfairly), I was not against the potty training. But I was committed in the same way you commit to a going on a diet with a friend when you can tell her entire commitment depends on you. You say yes, you have some fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and by dinner you know that her self esteem will have risen just enough that you can both face plant into some tacos and Corona…light. I made some off-handed comment about how we would have to go to Target and then we’d have to pay attention to our kid all.day.long, and none of those things deterred him. Never again was he going to wipe shit from another human ass. So off we went to Target.

When Aut was about 18 months old we were those asshole parents who bought like 14 training potties because our gifted child was going to potty train himself before he could speak and we wanted to make sure he had the most appropriate, butt contouring surface on which to do that. So we didn’t have to get a potty at Target. Whew. What we did have to get were two packages of training pants– one with Mickey Mouse Club ALL OVER THEM, and another with all the different super hero logos.

Rather than read anything or ask any experts, we pieced together a “plan” based on hearsay and random bits of information we were pretty sure we got from other people with potty trained kids. Then we gave the kid the rundown.

These are big boy pants. Do not shit in these pants. Do not pee in these pants. Doing that is tantamount to shitting on Mickey Mouse’s head. Do you understand? If you shit on Mickey’s head, he’ll tell Santa and then your whole year will be ruined. 

Then we created an entirely too complicated rewards program that was supposed to span the entire weekend. For two days our two year old would stare at the most coveted toy in all of Target and somehow that would motivate him to not shit on Mickey.

Putting aside how fucking miserable it was to explain to a 2-year-old FOR TWO DAYS why he couldn’t have the toy on the counter, everything about our “plan” was flawed. For starters, we went through six pair of big boy underwear in under an hour. Three times we sat him on the potty, read, sang, did humiliating potty dances, only to put his undies back on him and have him immediately pee down his own leg. And insist that that was not what was happening. (Or insist that while his pants were wet, his big boy undies were, in fact, still dry.)

On Saturday night, we were frayed and bitter. I drank an entire bottle of Rose, got into an argument with my husband about something that probably didn’t exist, and then stormed up the stairs to go to bed. Sunday would be a new day.

That night I did have the good sense to consult with my friend Lauren, who did her best not be painfully smug about her gracefully potty trained daughter who basically shares a birthday with Aut. She also had the good sense not tell me all at once what douche canoes we were being by assuming our kid would be successful in a day. (She let those texts come to me over an entire weekend, culminating with a Sunday evening text that began “at the risk of sounding like a dick…”) She suggested instant gratification, which made sense. Come morning, I was giving my kid M&Ms for breakfast if that’s what it was going to take.

And come Sunday did. Kid slept til nine, woke up dry (in an overnight diaper, I don’t have a hole in my head), and we immediately did that dumb parent thing where you get SUPER EXCITED about something that makes young, single people think you should be shot.

YAY FOR BIG BOY PANTS! YAY FOR ANOTHER LIFE-RUINING DAY OF WATCHING YOU PISS ON YOURSELF WHILE WE CHEER FOR YOU AND GIVE YOU CANDY! THIS IS SO FUN! CLAPS ALL AROUND! YOU’RE GOING TO HARVARD! 

He was stoked. He peed on command and I told him to go tell Pups and then he could have one whole M&M. He went to the kitchen and in the time it took to walk the six feet from the bathroom to the kitchen he actually couldn’t remember why he was getting an M&M. We almost had a meltdown because he thought the husband was denying him his M&M, when all he was trying to do was get him to say “I peed, therefore I get M&M.” You know CONNECTING THE FUCKING DOTS. Fail.

Thirty minutes later, I asked him if he needed to potty and then watched him make The Face and turn red while telling me no. He told me “no” while simultaneously shitting his pants. In front of me.

The husband and I kept having to talk over Aut’s head, reminding each other to keep it positive.

Don’t yell! Encourage his progress! Clap! I know you’re holding a cloth Superman baggy of human feces, but don’t let him know you hate him! SMILE! Ask him if he needs to read the potty book for inspiration.

The real clencher was when we took him out in public. (I want for you to know that writing this all down makes our choices seem even worse, which I didn’t even know was possible.) We took him to a lovely baptism/birthday garden party at a friend’s house. He waited about 12 minutes before peeing down the front of his pants. The good news is that it didn’t get on their floor because it all pooled in his shoes. So, silver lining.

I immediately grabbed a pull up, went to the back door, and yelled across two quiches, a nice quinoa salad, about about 30 people at my husband that our child wet his pants and whizzed in his shoes and I was calling uncle. The kid was putting on a pull up and we could talk about this later. Like in a year.

To seal our defeat and humiliation, upon arriving home we had to give our kid the toy. Totally undeserved, but he had no idea. He probably thinks peeing in his shoes was bonus points that fast-tracked him to winning the game.

Then we revised our strategy.

This morning we dropped him off at daycare with a pack up pull ups and nicely asked the daycare to potty train him.

 

 

 

 

Tiny Velociraptors

Aut bit the shit out of the husband yesterday. Not like a precious 2-year-old love bite, but a full on, Hannibal Lector bite. On the tit. Through two layers of clothing. Flesh was affected. It was an ugly scene.

Biting does crazy things to people. It’s not like tickling or foot touching. No one likes to be bitten (sexual exploits aside; no judgments). If you want to watch a nice person turn like a junkyard dog, bite them. I once bit this guy at a gay bar. One minute we were drinking cheap Pinot Grigio and dancing to Cher videos and the next I was being escorted to the exit while a Nathan Lane-esque fat man was held back by two waif-like Twinks wearing eye shadow. It seemed fun and playful at the time. He disagreed.

Biting hurts. Even fleshy gay men. Lesson learned.

Biting is also a game ender– and that’s why it’s so tough to get biters to stop biting. Whomever finally caves and bites the shit out of the other person wins. Kid at daycare steal your truck? Bite him. It’s swift corporal punishment and it achieves everything that could otherwise take years of trust and relationship building. Want to be feared? Bite. (Full grown men are afraid of being bitten by three-year-old girls. They’re like lock-jawed, unpredictable piranhas.)  Some bitchy six-year-old block the slide? Bite her. She loses control of her faculties, slides down the slide, and TADA! it’s your turn.

But here’s what tiny biters don’t fully understand. When you’re on the receiving end of a bite, there is ZERO reaction predictability. Which means that if you bite a 34-year-old man on the tit, there is no guarantee that he will not “accidentally” throw your tiny body across the room with the strength of ten men. He doesn’t want to paralyze you for life in his fit of rage, but he’s in the middle of a post-bite seizure. He’s unpredictable, essentially blacked out. The most primal human instincts kick in when your brain realizes you’re being bitten. I’m no scientist, but I’m certain there is science to support my theory that the fight or flight instinct that governs biting actually can’t–in the moment– decipher whether it’s shark, bear, or tiny human. Jaw clamps, adrenaline kicks in, and bitee immediately starts poking at eyeballs and using stupid strength to survive. It’s only in the aftermath, when you’re toddler is laying slack jawed on the carpet, that you realize your mistake.

Oh fuck. You’re not a bear. 

And then there’s the parenting part. The part of you that knows you need to breathe, walk away, and then calmly reapproach the bear to teach a lesson about pain and biting. But what you want to do is rip your shirt open to reveal your tender and bleeding tit and make him understand on a deep and mature level what a irreversible human wrong he has committed. Your parenting brain is like heistwoheistwoheistwo and your human brain is like I don’t fucking care if he’s six months old. MY TIT IS BLEEDING. OFF WITH HIS HEAD. 

But what really kicks you in the dick is when your reaction to being bitten is so severe, like in the case of the husband and the bleeding tit, that your child falls into an uncontrollable and hysterical fit.  As if, for the first time, he realizes his father is not a human at all, but a North Korean dictator. And then, whilst clutching your tender, eviscerated breast you have to console the child.

And at some level, that’s kind of what parenting is. Having your tits ruined and then apologizing.

 

We are going to try something new.

This October marks 10 years of the Half Truth. For many of you, this birthday is meaningless. (Understandably.) For me, it’s maybe, sort of, kind of the most significant birthday/anniversary in my life. Ten years of blogging might be one of the biggest commitments I’ve ever kept in my whole life. With the exception of my husband and my love affair with mayonnaise.

When I started this blog, I was 22 years old and had graduated college with one of the top five least meaningful degrees available to a college student. After waiting for my phone to ring with an insane job offer–doing what, I had no idea, but it was going to be amazing and come with a HUGE paycheck– and eventually realizing the phone was not going to ring, I went to a staffing firm. Heather Harold (real name) was a tall, tanned, thin woman in her late thirties who told me, on no uncertain terms, that I lacked even the most basic professional skills and it would be a miracle if she could get me a job as an entry level secretary. And she felt she was letting me down easy. I wanted to be indignant, but she had a point.

I was married that September and returned to Boston from a whirlwind Napa wedding and Tahoe honeymoon to a tiny, air conditionless North End apartment, and a letter from my dad with my final rent check. With few-to-no-options, I called Heather Harold back and told her to do some Anne Sullivan shit. I needed a job. In 2006, title inflation was just starting to sweep the country. After lying on a typing test and inflating some filing experience from my father’s law firm the summer I was 14, I managed to land a temp job as a Corporate Services Manager at a corporate real estate firm. To clarify, I managed nothing and I didn’t even work for a corporate services department. Essentially I ordered office supplies and made sure the printers had paper. I was terrible at it and spent most of my days trying to get people to like me enough to 1. do my job for me 2. give me a leg to stand on when they inevitably tried to fire me.

And that’s how the blog started. I just needed something to do while sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day. I wasn’t a writer– in many ways I’m still not a writer– but it was, and is, the only thing that could save me. When no one else could make me laugh, I could make myself laugh. (A weird and not entirely enviable talent, but I do sometimes think I’m funny.) When I looked around at what a miserable failure my life seemed to be, there was comfort in knowing that 221 people I didn’t know were reading my words. The first time my blog got 500 views on a post, I drank an entire bottle of Cakebread at a Hillstone and nearly blacked out. It was silly. It still is silly. But it really did mean something to me. It meant that no matter how terrible my job was, how little I was contributing to the world, I still had my words. And 221 people who saw them.

And in a lot of ways the blog did change everything. When I didn’t have a resume to prove myself, I had the blog. When people didn’t know whether to trust that I could tell a story, I had the blog. It was the most unorthodox means for landing any civilized job, but it worked. If it weren’t for the blog, I’d probably still be lying about how much tabloid sized paper is in tray 6 of the Brother printer on the 14th floor.

And through it all, the blog itself has remained fairly insignificant. My commitment to it waxes and wanes, my confidence in sharing my stories and experiences here does the same. I worry that my becoming a mom has turn people off, or my boring suburban life has left me with nothing insightful to share. But my deep down desire hasn’t changed at all–I want to be a writer. It’s the only thing I’ve ever truly thought to be proud of. I’ve been a lot of things, a strategist, copywriter, creative director, content person, brand guru, and those things are wonderful (and pay well…) but I want to be a writer. And it turns out that there’s only one way to become a writer.

You have to write.

People constantly make suggestions to me… You should write a sitcom! Oh my god, you should be writing a book. Have you ever thought about a screenplay? Have you tried standup? But at the core of all of those things is material. Real stories about my boring, suburban life.

So I am going to try something new. Rather than think and stew and marinate on topics, I am going to try to just…share. I’m going to tell you weird stories about the husband falling asleep in the car on the ride to work and how I want to murder him by dropping tablets of rat poison in his open mouth (just kidding! sort of.) and stories about A putting on a suit and tie over his jammies and walking into the kitchen and asking me to dance.

And you may find that many of these stories are super fucking boring, but I have to write them down. Because they’re all I have.

And I’m going to be a fucking writer.

 

 

 

Successfully Failing at Motherhood

A few years ago I wrote a post called “But what’s it really like to have a baby?” It ended up getting picked up by the Huffington Post (front page) and for 24 hours I was the most equally lauded and hated woman on the planet. Mothers and childless women from across our great country gathered their spatulas and absurdly limited legal knowledge and campaigned (anonymously, online) to have my child removed from me. Why? Because I just didn’t think being a mom was the super greatest time ever. In equal contrast were the others– the mothers and childless women who were relieved to hear a version of the truth that, in some small measure, mirrored their own feelings. The feeling that children, while chock full of charm and adorable (sometimes), are also a full contact, full time sport. There’s no beginning and end to parenting. It’s not just a sacrifice of your vagina and lower abdomen (which becomes a sideshow), but your actual life.

In those two years, my baby has become a toddler. And frankly, my feelings about motherhood haven’t changed much. In the same way that I love cake and hate baking, I love my child, but I really don’t love motherhood. And as hard as it is for some people to reconcile this, or even accept it, I don’t really feel much guilt about it. My journey now has been about how to balance the choice to have a child and catapult myself into a role that neither comes naturally to me, nor gives me much satisfaction, and maintain my sanity as a human being who craves a life less consumed by the unending demands of motherhood.

For many, there’s a simple, vilifying argument. “You chose to have children. Your selfishness is disgusting.”  To those people, I say “fuck you.” If you truly believe that our society pays even the slightest of lip service to the reality of motherhood in a modern age, you are naive. We’re still taking a page out of a book that has men bringing home all the bacon, women who were groomed from a young age to become mothers and accept the role that was offered, and zero social media pressure or scrutiny. In a day in age where maternity leave is a luxury, leaving early to pick up a child from daycare causes both personal and professional duress, and the choice between children and a career is only possible if your career affords you incredible flexibility or cash, the “reality” of motherhood has been rewritten, but never published. (For example, on top of childcare, which can run about $1600/month [down from $2400 in Boston], I pay nearly $800/month to have someone pick up my child from daycare because I simply cannot leave work early enough to fetch him. I get home between 7:00/7:30 and begin the one hour sprint through bath, dinner, books, and bed.)

I was chatting with my mother on the phone the other day, relaying the plight of the modern mother– the guilt and balance and dissatisfaction. Thinking she’d have some insight (she did have THREE children), she replied, “I don’t really understand that. I was just so happy.”

Welp, there you have it. Thanks, Mother.

But then I got to thinking about it. When she comes to visit, she relishes all the stuff that makes me want to poke my eyes out. She’s on all fours, pretending she’s a pony, coloring Elsa, watching Mickey Mouse. She thinks letting him pick out ridiculous, mismatched outfits is hilarious and cute. (No. Just no.) She can build Lego towers and knock them down for HOURS. I approach Legos with a mind for building something elaborate. A color-coordinated palace with symmetry and functional exits. To A, that’s sacrilege. We build it high and then we knock it to the ground. Then we repeat that… for the rest of the week. I don’t want to be sitting there thinking about being anywhere else, but that’s what happens.

I hate that on weekends, I look forward to time to recharge, relax, and get things organized, and instead we are held captive by the whims of a 37 inch person. Rain strikes fear into the core of my being. I want to eat at a restaurant, but I’m gripped with anxiety about whether it will be a fun and worthwhile meal or an ill-fated nightmare that leaves me feeling like I wasted $100 and 2 hours of my day. Keep them indoors and they bottle up so much energy you will live to regret your decision for days. Take them outside and they’re hot, cold, hungry, wish you brought the bike and not the scooter, need to pee, don’t like the way the sun is shining, think the slide is too green, the other kids are looking at them, or want to be pushed on the swing. For the rest of the day.

And I fucking hate “mommy friends.” I don’t mean my friends who are mommies. I mean people in the world who are supposed to be my friends because we both have kids. What the fuck kind of sense does that make? I don’t like you, your husband, your politics, or your approach to life, but since we both have children born in 2013, let’s hang out and have some wine. I’D RATHER DO ANYTHING ELSE.

And mostly I hate that I’m always fighting with my husband about nothing. We aren’t even fighting with each other, we’re fighting with the invisible blob that is parenthood. The intangible piece of shit that is blameless and evasive, so you have to yell at your physical spouse. Because obviously the husband deserves to take the entire blame for the fact that I’m wound like a top because my child thinks it’s absurd that we don’t kick people in the tits, I haven’t been able to eat lunch without a chopstick flying at my face since 2013, every dollar we make is assigned to childcare, college funds, savings, mortgage and alcohol, and every time my kid finishes a bag of ANYTHING, he flings the crumbs around the backseat of the car. (WHATTHEFUCKISWRONGWITHYOU?! JUSTPUTTHEBAGDOWNLIKEACIVILIZEDGENTLEMAN!)

I miss energy and free time. I miss the gym. I miss extra cash flow. I miss investing in stupid shit like absurdly expensive sushi and shoes. Because as terrible as that sounds to other people, I love both of those things.

But the very, very worst part is that I know I will miss this. Because as much as I don’t love motherhood, I love him. I love his tiny face and his absurd lexicon. I love watching him learn things and his enthusiasm about damn near everything. I love that he thinks we are the absolutely greatest. (Though frankly he far prefers my husband to me. I’m sure you’re shocked.) I love that he wakes up first thing in the morning and asks if today is the day we get to spend the whole day together (weekends). I even love that he tells his entire swimming class that his Mups’ boobies are falling out of her bathing suit. (They weren’t.)

I know that there will come a time when motherhood does become me. At some point, some age, the winds will shift and motherhood will too. What my child needs and wants will be something I can offer. The sacrifices will become less physical and more emotional. And I’m sure that hindsight, that bastard, will be 20/20. I’ll laugh at what seems like petty, long-ago misery and cry as he walks across a stage or down an aisle.

This idea that we as humans are expected to sacrifice our lives for the lives of others isn’t sustainable. I want for “motherhood” to be a parallel journey to the bigger one that I am on, the journey of life. I don’t want to feel that choosing to have a child means choosing to jump track from continuing to become the person I should be to dedicating everything I have to someone else’s journey. I want to set him up. I want to help him find his path, but I want to stay on mine too. I don’t want to be consumed by motherhood. I just want to be a woman whose journey includes a child.

And I think that should be okay.

 

Why David Sedaris isn’t in love with me

“You were a mess.”

Those were my husband’s encouraging words to me after waiting in line for two hours after a Sedaris reading at Boston Symphony Hall on Wednesday. When I responded that I hated him and wanted him to jump off a bridge he responded, “No. It was really cute seeing you completely lose your cool and be so ridiculous.” Jesus, thanks.

Here’s the thing, I don’t stalk celebrities. I don’t generally talk to them or bother them or try to tell them all about what good friends we would be. Mostly it’s because I realize that I don’t want to be friends with them. I want to be friends with whomever they play on TV. (There were two celebrity instances that broke this mold, both not optimal. One involved Tom Brady and the other The Boss. But those are for another time.)

I’ve been going to Sedaris readings for almost 10 years here in Boston. I have even been to some alone, which, if you know me, you know is a Huge Deal. I don’t typically do anything like that alone. I can’t even eat alone unless I have a stack of papers and a Very Important, Very Busy look on my face. But I have, indeed, bought a ticket for one and sat my ass in a seat at Symphony Hall on more than one occasion to hear Mr. Sedaris tell me all his stories. Tell ME.

I really, really believe that he would benefit greatly from the remarkable friendship we would have if he would just give me a chance. No, seriously. I actually believe this.

But every year when it comes time for audience questions or book signings, I slink down in my seat and get all nervous and sweaty palmed. Again, if you know anything about me, you know I don’t ever get nervous or sweaty palmed. I could stand up in front of 20,000 people and talk about any random topic without so much as a butterfly, but ask David Sedaris to be my friend? OMG NO.

This year was different. This year I decided that I was going to wait in line with my book and I was going to have him sign it. I was going to use that time to seduce him with my wit and charm and by the end of it he would be begging me for my home address. I even went one step further on the crazy ladder and wrote him a note. Unfortunately the only paper I had in my purse was a print out of the contagious disease page from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but I did not let that deter me. I told him we needed to be pen pals and then outlined in great detail why this was going to be so wonderful. I explained that I had tried to just BE his pen pal by locating his address on the internet, but that I didn’t want to exhaust too many resources because I knew it would look creepy. (I also left out the part about how, if I was taking notes during the last ten years, I could probably use random context clues to triangulate his location in England.) I told him about how normal I am and how I would even send the occasional care package. The note was wrapped about a business card so that he could Google me and see just how normal and pen pal worthy I am.

The line after the show was long. Two hours long, in fact. And that was after I bought some other random author’s book so that I could cut to the shorter line. (I had to have him sign it, which was awkward because I hadn’t the foggiest idea what the book was about or who he was. And he was Indian and you know how my humor doesn’t translate with the ESL crowd.) For the most part, the hubs and I spent the two hours chatting about random stuff to keep my mind off the fact that I was just hours away from the biggest moment in my life. I was going to have 5 minutes to charm the pants off of my idol. The only writer I’ve ever actually admired. The only writer I KNOW needs to be my friend. Occasionally the hubs would ask what I was going to say and I would just look at him with that “stop talking or I’ll puke on your shoes” look and he would laugh and tell me he really did support me. He thought it was great that I was going for it. (I now realize he was mocking me.)

Adding to my stresses was my outfit. About six weeks ago I bought this dress thinking it would be something a little different. By something a little different, I apparently meant “dress like a fat hooker.” I don’t know what my deal is. I know that I am chunky and I know I need to lose the weight, but I go into these strange empowerment phases where I suddenly get all “power to my body” and buy things that, upon reflection, I have no business wearing. Between that dress, the no makeup, and the 68 and raining hair, I looked every bit the crazy stalker I was going to convince him I wasn’t. Oh, and I was breaking in some new over the knee boots, so I looked like a swashbuckling hooker. Because I had a limp. Like a peg leg. From the boots.

Unbeknownst to the hubs, I had decided that the best way to get David to warm up to me was by telling him that my husband had a fatty tumor. My best friend David had told us all about his fatty tumor during the show and I knew that this knowledge would make him feel some kinship for me. He would definitely say, “that’s all I need to know. Let’s go get ice cream and then head to your place to watch Hart of Dixie on Netflix.”

After two hours of waiting, and a very awkward signing of The Other Book by The Other Author, it was time. There he was. Sitting at the little table with his pen and personality just waiting. I took a deep breath and turned to the husband. And he was gone. He had gone about thirty feet away to stand in the corner. He was pretending not to know me. I blame this entire unraveling on him.

Have you ever heard the term “word vomit”? It’s exactly what it sounds like. After that night, word vomit has a new meaning for me. I actually visualize type writer style words flowing from my mouth, covered in some kind of viscose nasty, hitting the table and splashing my best friend in the face. I should have aborted my pen pal mission, but I couldn’t. I started with the book and who to sign it for. I tried to pull up a picture of my son so he could see who he was signing it for. Total disaster. It pretty much looked like I was making up the kid. I immediately switched to the Fatty Tumor Plan, but with the husband hiding in the corner I was going to have to yell at him to come as proof. And if you know my husband, you will not be surprised to learn that he all but looked up and said, “what fatty tumor?” My best friend David was UNBUTTONING HIS VEST to show us his tumor while my husband just stood there. Panicked, I vomited some more.

“Well, at least it’s a fatty tumor and not skin tags. His grandmother had hundreds of them. Like fringe.”

WHATTHEFUCKCAROLINE?!

“Skin tags?” David asked.

“You know. Those horrid floppy skin pieces that grow on people. Totally gross.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his notebook and jotted down the words “skin tags.” (Now, for as poorly as this whole thing turned out, at least I can say I inspired him to write in his notebook.)

If you weren’t already visualizing my profuse word vomiting accurately, be sure you take into account the sweeping hand gestures I am employing, and the acting out of the husband’s grandmother (God rest her soul) covered in skin tags.

I realize that my  time is waning. The book is long signed and I still haven’t connected. He clearly does not find me charming and my options for wooing him are pretty much nil. I pull out my note, which now feels entirely creepy and not even a little bit charming. I start explaining veryquickly how I’ve written him this note, which isn’t creepy at all, about why he should be my pen pal. I’ve never seen such an obvious “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” face in all my life. Ever. He opened his mouth to speak and I silenced him.

“Just take the note. Maybe you’ll feel bad about what a hot mess I am and change your mind.”

He took the note graciously, holding it like one might hold a baggie full of human shit.

“Okay. Thanks.”

I knew I’d failed. I didn’t even want to take my signed book off the table because it represented the door of friendship being slammed in my face. In that moment I think I managed to accidentally look like the saddest, most defeated person to ever walk the earth. I looked at the line of people behind me, many of whom I’d been mocking just minutes before, and realized that they were all going to be BFFs with David Sedaris and I wasn’t. I was going to end up on some kind of list. I’d inexplicably be unable to get tickets to next years show.

Walking home, I tried to get excited about the fun note he wrote for Author and how exciting it was to meet him, but it was an act. I’d flubbed epically.

“On the bright side, you may have inspired him to write something.” said the husband.

“About skin tags?” I asked, remembering that I’d inspired him to jot down the note.

He didn’t reply. He looked at me with pity for the first time in our relationship. He didn’t have to say it. I knew. The words were hanging there like yellowed sheets on a clothesline.

“No. Not about skin tags…”

The African American from Jamaica who loves Kool-Aid

There is some serious shit happening in Ferguson. The serious shit isn’t really about this one black kid named Michael Brown being shot by this one white police officer named Darren Wilson. Truthfully, the serious shit isn’t even about a black kid being shot by a white police officer, or a kid being shot by a police officer, or, to be really truthful, anyone being shot. The shit in Ferguson is about racism and generation after generation of lip service to an ideology about racial equality that is nothing more than that: lip service. It’s about the difference between telling your child that the handicapped kid is just as worthy as they are and them believing it. Ferguson is the conclusion to a very long, very political experiment about whether you can force equality through legislation instead of education. 

Ferguson is also about white people like me, white people who are “totally not racist.” 

So you had a black friend in college, eh? Or maybe you had a black nanny or house keeper and y’all were totally tight and you loved her like a mother. You work with a guy who is black, right? I bet you’ve been to lunch and drinks once or twice. And you’d totally sleep with Taye Diggs or Zoe Saldana. Hell, even Djimon Hounsou gets your blood racing. Wait, fuck that. YOU VOTED FOR OBAMA. You’re a naturalized lover of the entire African American community. 

Except the part where calling someone African American references them being black by way of the continent of Africa, a general reference to American ties to slavery. Technically there is a ground zero ethnicity argument to be made, but it’s listed right next to “We’re all brothers from Adam” below the part about the Seven Dwarves. African American is a continental classification. Forget their country. Salma Hayek just became North American. Ryan Reynolds too. It’s not wrong, *technically* but it’s not exactly hitting the nail on the head. 

But putting aside for a moment the “totally not racist” white person’s inability to say the word “black,” or the underlying ignorance that fuels our nomenclature, or the fact that no one calls me European American hundreds of years after my ancestors left the continent (which, was actually the country of England….), TNR white people are actually a huge part of the problem. 

I read a great article on Quartz recently about racism, education, white people, black people, Ferguson– the entire cornucopia of buzzwords du jour was there. What struck me was how deeply my subconscious “me” vs. “them” feelings ran. Despite my “totally not racist” attitude towards the black community, I realized that I saw the entire Ferguson thing as another ignorant small town display of racism. Thank God I live in the city. Thank God I don’t have to worry about that shit here. Maybe I’ll go sit on a bench in Harvard Square and feel good about the number of white-looking African American kids I see roaming the Harvard campus! Yeah for me and my “totally not racist!” self! 

But then I had time to think about. (Because, as you may recall, I have taken temporary leave of my employment responsibilities.) I have this small boy, you know the one, and I am constantly thinking of the million and one things I don’t want to fuck up about him. It’s bad enough that he is showing unprovoked signs of being a sociopath, I don’t need him to be a homophobic racists too. But what does that mean that I have to do differently over the next 20, 30, 40 years? What does that mean the country has to do? 

Sometimes people of my generation celebrate the openness of the world we feel like we’ve helped to create for the next folks. We’ve fought for gay marriage and now my son can marry a boy and register at Bloomingdale’s and live happily ever after! THE END! But let’s take “the gay thing” and play it out like we did the “African American thing.” The constants are pretty much dead on. In addition to being “totally not racist,” I am also in the “totally love the gays” camp. 

So now what? Totally loving the gays is enough, right? Ehh… Nope. I don’t think it is. And that’s the problem. If thirty years from now I continue to introduce Author to men (or women) as gay, I’m putting a subconscious qualifier on my introduction and my feelings. As long as I tell a story and say “this black guy” when I would never say “this white guy,’ I am creating a division between people. If I refer to “the handicapped girl” instead of the “redhead” or “the girl who played the mouse in the Christmas pageant” I am subconsciously teaching my son to identify and objective people by attribution. A little by little he separates himself from them. If he is black, then I am white. If she is handicapped, then I am normal. And when he is asked to pick a team on the playground, he’s going to see that if he wants people “like him” he better choose white kids and normal kids. (Though to be fair, he’d have to be mature beyond his years to pick the handicapped kid to be on his kickball team, so I’ll let that one pass.) 

The Civil Rights movement (for blacks) marked an incredible advancement in theoretical social equality, but it didn’t mark an authentic chance in sentiment across the vast majority of “totally not racist” white people. We’ve continued to pledge our sincere devotion to anything that promises to eradicates racism, but we haven’t done the simplest things. We haven’t made an effort to confide in a black man or woman what we’re curious about, what fears we have, what we want to know. We’ve left questions unanswered and assumed that our differences are too great and our heritages too far apart. So while we are “totally not racist” we’ve created a divide so deep that we do nothing more than wave from a pedestal and feel intellectual outrage at a white cop shooting a black teen. 

And truthfully, I bet Darren Wilson was “totally not racist” until he confused his misunderstanding of the clothing, the walk, and the lingo of the unarmed African American kid with that of a thug. A dangerous gang banger. 

And he shot him. And it proved he was a racist. 

 

A small boy and a marathon.

Yesterday around three o’clock I heard two cannons go off. It was Marathon Monday and the finish line is just a few blocks from our apartment, so it made perfect sense to me that someone would be firing off celebratory cannons. (I recognize that in the aftermath of the last 24 hours you could be wondering what special breed of idiot I am to think that, but in my defense, it’s a historic city and for some reasons I always associate cannons with something exciting happening.) 

But then things got weird. Through the open windows that welcome the sounds of the south-side of the city, came sounds like thundering cattle. Within ten minutes I could detect a concerning number of ambulances and sirens. My cannon theory was coming unraveled. Then the hubs texted, “Caroline. Turn on the news.”

Definitely not celebratory cannons. 

I’m not here to wax poetic or compare tragedies, but I will say this: the last time that someone said those exact words to me I was a senior in high school. My dad walked into my bedroom early on a September morning, pulled the covers back from my head, and said, “Caroline. Turn on the news.” 

There were no celebratory cannons that day either. 

In 2001 I lived so far away from New York that my mourning was little more than shock-induced patriotism. To this day I do not think any of us can fathom what truly took place on those city streets except those who were there. Then it was 3500 miles away. Yesterday it was three blocks. The tragedies incomparable, but the understanding that one brings to the other is invaluable. 

Twelve years later and I’m almost thirty. I’m five months pregnant with a small boy. Another small boy, an eight year old, is killed three blocks from my house while cheering on his dad at the Boston Marathon. My small boy is snug as a bug in a uterus, bouncing up and down on my bladder like it’s a trampoline. Another small boy was waving a sign and bouncing up and down to get a glimpse of the finish over the taller crowd. My small boy is just learning how to live. Another small boy is dead. 

The hubs texts again. This time it’s an expected stage of disbelief and grief. “Who the fuck sets off a bomb at the marathon?” I don’t have an answer. Then it’s his first paternal declaration, “Our small boy is never going to a public event. Ever.” Again, I don’t have an answer. 

But I do have an answer. Our small boy will go. Because fear of tragedy will only breed in him a fear of life. 

I don’t know how to raise a small boy into a grown man. I haven’t been given my parental membership card and I’m fairly certain that whomever is responsible for issuing them realizes I probably don’t deserve one. But I know that our small boy has to be given a chance to see the world as good, even if we’re standing in the wings, sick with worry. When he asks to climb higher, I know we need to respond with an emphatic “yes!” and try not to follow it up with a million caveats.

“Climb higher, small boy, and tell us what you see.” 

And one day, a day I know will come sooner than it should, something terrible will happen. A single moment of bad will create a thick cloud of uncertainty and our small boy will look to us to tell him what it means. And while we may not be card-carrying parents, I know we have a responsibility to give him an answer. And though we’ll remember other small boys, like the one who died cheering on his dad at the marathon, we’ll also remember the grown men who rushed forward to right all the wrong, to clear the cloud of uncertainty. 

“It’s a reminder that bad things happen. And then good things kick their asses.” 

oh kitty where art thou?

Dog and cat angel figures on leaves
Image by kathy doucette via Flickr

This isn’t technically Ask Caroline Wednesday since I haven’t gone to bed yet so technically it’s Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll be able to blog again tomorrow for ACW, but work is kicking my lily white ass and the only reason I still know which way is up is because a friend taught me this trick where you spit and then see where it lands. That’s down.

Since the beginning of Half Truth time, I’ve struggled with a few things. The biggest is obviously my inability to come up with enough things to say. The second biggest is the the battle being waged in my soul about whether to write unflattering but altogether hilarious things about my family on the blog. If you knew the things I wasn’t sharing it’s possible you’d hunt me down. I actually can’t even believe it myself. The most surprising thing is that in general I’m not known as someone with thick moral fiber, so I’m surprised at myself for not wanting to more readily hurt people for personal gain. Even more surprising is that I’m financially independent. Plus I’m not dependent on the emotional support of my family, because, well, there is none. (Quick, what’s my husband’s middle name?)

Right.

Why I’m not using our collective pain and humiliation of my family to further the Half Truth world domination is beyond me. I guess I do believe in Karma.

But even I have my limits. You can only walk by a place of cookies so many times…

My mother should be jailed.

Put in, locked up, and fed Pez without the benefit of a dispenser.

Last week I received a text message on my fancy new Droid phone. It was a picture message from my mother. In the photo was a precious little orange kitty sitting on her bed. It was curled up against the decorative pillows. What I saw in that little kitty’s eyes was trust. That innocent kitty believed in my mother.

What that little kitty should have done was wait until my mother was sleeping, and then mounted a simultaneous attacked on the main artery in her wrist and her eyeballs. Then left her to bleed out.

But the kitty didn’t. The kitty sat there and had it’s photo taken and sent to Boston.

What’s the big deal, right? Mom got a new kitty. That’s so wonderful for her. Wrong. My mother is the angel of fuzzy baby animal death. Moreover, my mother likes her animals the way she likes her children: only when they are small. Once an animal (or child) grows up, it is useless to her. It’s no longer cute and needy and therefore does not deserve to live. Let’s review:

1. Winston: Sometime in my youth (young enough for gymnastics, too old to sleep at my boy neighbors house) we got a terrier named Winston. I’ve never much cared for adult terriers, but there is no denying that they are super cute puppies. Winston was aptly named for his charisma and regal behaviors. By the time Winston was six months or so we were collectively tired of him. He had an annoying habit of standing outside the French doors and shivering for sympathy, even in the dead of summer. And his wiry coat always made him look a touch dirty. Ten or so years later, when I was at UGA, I got a sobbing phone call from my mother. Winston had to be put down. It was terrible. Inoperable cancer. She held him the whole time. He even whispered muffled thank yous to her as he passed into the next life. She was despondent. Turns out her hysterics were more than likely the choking guilt of having our family dog put down because it was cheaper than removing a small, likely benign tumor from his abdomen.

2. Dexter: This was my beloved Maine Coone cat. Dexter was beautiful, fluffy, and orange. He had a magnificent coat with brilliant coloring and a charming disposition. When we lived in our original area code, Dexter was a part of the family. As soon as we moved to the fancy side of town my mother found his ginger coat distracting from the aesthetic of our home. She paid me $200 cash to get rid of him and a $100 bonus if I did it by the end of the week.

3. Pedro: My class pet. I volunteered to take Pedro the Gerbil home for the summer. Pedro, like all gerbils, was a brainless, mean rodent, but it was none-the-less my responsibility to care for him and return him safely to Mrs. Matetich’s class in the fall. What I could not have foreseen was Pedro escaping, running under my trundle bed, and being crushed beneath it when my dad tried to find him. Even as I second grader I knew what had to be done. We’d call Mrs. Matetich and tell her what had happened. I would get a new class Gerbil and tell everyone that it was Pedro’s cousin. Nonsense, according to my mother. This was an opportunity from God. We would spend the summer pretending that Pedro was visiting my grandmother, not tell anyone, and right before I went back to school we would buy another gerbil that looked exactly like Pedro and never tell anyone. How great that we would get credit for all that hard work over the summer without having to deal with the gerbil? My mother told me to lie to a classroom of 10 year olds and my teacher. So I did.

4. Gracie: I purchased Grace for my mother for her 43rd birthday. I asked her if she needed anything from the store and she replied that she needed milk and something small and fury. I grabbed the classifieds on my way out the door and came home four hours later with milk and Gracie. She cost me $5. Grace actually ended up being a somewhat enduring family pet. She was an indoor cat and showed rare affection to a house full of love-starved children on the verge of coming from a broken home. After my parents divorce, mom took over custody of Grace. When she remarried the farmer, Gracie began her new life as a country Kitty. That lasted approximately six months before she was eaten. We think. There was just a paw.

The Gracie incident heralded a new era in my mother’s life. Things definitely took a turn for the worse. I thought perhaps she’d learned a lesson. I was wrong. Over the course of the last three years, I have received calls about 5. cats being carried away by hawks, 6. getting caught in tractors, 7. being found in… pieces.

My naive (stupid) little brother bought a beautiful English Mastiff puppy and decided to let it spend most of it’s time outdoors at the ranch. Six months in the 8. dog vanishes. Poof. Mom is devastated. Obviously.

A few months back I get a call that my mother had taken a kitten from a “campsite” (read: trailer park) because it loved her. Convinced (without proof) that the cat had no owner and wasn’t enjoying its free and easy life living by the lake, chasing butterflies, and eating scrap pieces of grilled trout, she drove it home to the ranch where she could love on it until it showed signs of aging. That particular 9. cat made it about three days before it was caught up in a fan belt. Gato Muerto.

The stories run together for me so it’s hard to say which came first, but there was a 10. rat dog in their somewhere. Obviously she needed a ratter to keep the copperheads from eating her while she gardened. A small puppy was purchased. A week later it was dead. Grief and hysterics ensued. It was very hard for me to remain sympathetic.

It should be mentioned that I actually had to stop telling the husband when I got word that my mom had a new animal. His good humor turned dark and sticky around soft and fluffy #6. At first it was a joke, then it was a philosophical matter to be discussed, then it was an issue for the church. The woman is going to hell.

So what do you think happened to that precious orange kitty with the trusting eyes and hopeful heart? I can’t say exactly but I can relay the text I got:

Tuesday: 11:07 PM: Emily: Another one down. Sad.

11.

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are you there, project runway? it’s me, caroline.

Tim Gunn embroidery
Image by Totally Severe via Flickr

So I’m a little strapped for cash. Big surprise. Yes, I know, I make fine money. Yes, I know, I have a lovely apartment. Yes, I know, I eat out too much. But what you don’t know is that the hubs spreadsheet is an evil little bastard. He it gives me a meager stipend with which to live on. I am forced to rely on the generosity of others to see me through month to month. My own mother doesn’t support me. Come to think of it, my own father doesn’t either. They just let me live this way. Like a beggar.

Actually I just can’t stop doing things like spending Saturday afternoons with Yoga Marc to the tune of $100. Or going out to dinner. Or making friends with people who have waaaaay more cash than I do. I don’t know who the hell I think I am. Wait, yes I do. My name is fun loving girl just trying to navigate and gravitate. Jesus. Leave me alone. It costs money to look like this. Or does it?

Due to my impoverished state, or because I have a hole in my head, I decided that I would save money (or just not spend money I didn’t have) by not buying a dress for a gala I’m going to tomorrow night. Sitting in my swiveling chair at work it all seemed so simple: I would obviously just make something.

Now you’re thinking oh! caroline! what a great idea! how clever of you.

Wrong.

What you should be thinking is caroline?! what the fuck is wrong with you? do you even know how to sew? or read a pattern?

You know what the answers to those questions are?

I don’t know. No, I don’t. Negative ghost writer.

For some reason my ego didn’t seem to think that mattered. Buy some fabric. Pin it together. Make clothes. Illegals from coast to coast are doing this for fifteen cents a day. I can make a dress in four days. No problem.

(I am being real with you, reader, when I tell you that it never, ever, not even one teensy time, occurred to me that this was not possible. Like a stupid gnat or something I just buzzed into that fabric store like I was picking out fruit for a salad.)

For starters, Rookie here thought she needed nine yards of fabric to get this done. Nine. I think I could reupholster my sectional with all the fabric I bought. Additionally, I did not buy a pattern. I had a plan. In my vast and capable brain. M.o.r.o.n.

Not knowing how I was going to keep the whole thing together, I bought ribbon, snaps, and hooks. No zippers. Too complicated. And some black thread. Didn’t figure you’d see the stitches and those you did I planned on passing off as “contrast stitches.”

When I got home I drew a picture to try to collect my thoughts. It was terrible. Rather than take this as a clue that I wasn’t going to be a successful designer and seamstress, I thought about how silly it was that I went to art school and still can’t draw a decent picture. (Now you’re wondering how I’m going to express my vision in fabric if I can’t express it with a number two. This is what us literary types like to call “tragic irony”. You the audience have way more foresight into my future than I, the subject, do. You know doubt know that this is going to go south. I still do not.)

You know what’s absolutely clutch when it comes to dressmaking? A bust form. Without it you are standing your hallway staring at yourself in a full length mirror taping fabric to your naked body. Then come the pins. Oh the pins. You know what isn’t awesome? Trying to accurately pin a dress to your body without giving yourself a little gratis acupuncture. Note to self: bust form.

Another nicety would have been a pattern. Or maybe some patience. Either would have come in handy. Without them, I was frustrated within twenty minutes. No wonder those Project Runway kids are such whiny bitches. Twenty minutes of taping, losing track of what was the front and what was the back, and asking Stuart to get off my creation and I was about to homicide/suicide. Stuart in the toilet, me in the oven. Like Sylvia.

The bobbin ran out shortly before that happened. The hubs is the only one who knows how to replace it (he is also the only person who knows how to make the stitcher thing move backwards) so I was done for the night.

On Day Two I decided I was approaching it all wrong. I needed to be more conceptual. Less perfection, more whim. AKA less time, more finishing. That was a super awesome theory. Except I still didn’t really have a goddamned clue what I was doing. And I was starting to lose some serious blood from the pin holes. I managed to eek out a skirt that was an accomplishment except that it made me look like an Oompa Loompa. Even the hubs couldn’t veil his surprise. I think he said something like oh! well would you look at that!

Asshole.

At work today I devised a plan. Too late to buy anything, plus I couldnt afford to buy anything. I needed to salvage my vision. I swung by the fabric store for some extra supplies and began the tedious and mind numbing task of hand sewing hook and eyes to the outfit. (You may have noticed that dress magically became skirt. Dresses involved a skill set I do not possess.) Then for good measure I just began stitching randomly. Like a crazy person.

And then, exactly like a crazy person, I stopped. As though a divine muse, the keeper of dreamers, seamers, and makeshift bust forms, told me I was done. The masterpiece was complete.

Unfortunately the divine muse is obviously blind. And now I’m going to debut my creation in front of hundreds of Boston’s People. (Capital P.)

I’ll keep you posted. Pinky swear.

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