Just beneath the surface of normal



This is the post about Corinne turning 18 that I’ve been trying to write for an entire year. Technically she doesn’t turn 19 for another eleven hours, so I made it. Barely. It took this long to come to to terms with the transition to being the parent of an adult. The past year saw her graduate from high school, be responsible for translating Mexico for me and vice-versa (“Mom. Stop trying to speak Spanish. Just stop.”), move into dorms, make the Dean’s List, get a driving permit, and plan a trip to Spain this summer. She’s had a remarkable year, and I’m so proud of her.

It’s SO hard, though. Nothing prepares you for the Age of Majority. One day their entire life is your responsibility, and the next they can do whatever they want and in order to access to their confidential information, they have to sign a document giving you explicit permission. Having a relationship with you becomes fully their choice, and it’s remarkably sudden.

When she was born, I used to say that the upside of having a baby at 22 is that I would be “free” at 40 and it would be awesome because I’d get to have my twenties when I had the sense and money to properly enjoy them. I used to think that freedom was something I wanted, because I wasn’t prepared to be a mother when I found myself becoming one. But somewhere along the way she became my dear friend and I stopped being in such a hurry for my friend to go out into the world and make it hers. Now I jump at every chance for even 5 minutes to be helpful, because motherhood is a habit, and it’s almost impossible to kick.

One of the things about being among the first in your social circles to breed is that you end up being the voice of experience, even if that experience is barely a step ahead of theirs and you’re basically making it up as you go along because you had no siblings & rarely even babysat. Still, the one thing I’ve always been clear about advising is that parenting is one long letting go, pretty much from the moment they depart your body. First you’re kind of happy about it – you can eat a full meal without your stomach getting kicked from the inside, then they sleep through the night, they wean, they play by themselves, they play with other children, they have overnights, they have sports, and you have little moments where you get to rediscover yourself as something other than a mom, and you long for more. Then sometime around adolescence they start filtering themselves, and develop entire lives that you may or may not know much about depending on how acceptable you make it for them to be fully themselves, and they don’t want to connect with you as much and you long for more. Then suddenly you’re packing up their stuff, and it feels like someone else is taking custody of your left leg and you realize that you never want to stop being a mom, and in fact it’s really hard to figure out what to do with yourself now that you’re not momming most of the time. Even if you’ve spent their whole lives preparing for it, one letting go at a time, the longing is still there.

So I’ve had a year to grieve, and to adjust. I sometimes forget how much I miss her, until we drive 75 minutes to her campus just to have dinner, and for a couple of hours I feel right again. She just left from being here for Spring Break, and it was particularly hard because I knew that I wasn’t going to see her on her birthday for the first time ever. It’s hard to explain the simultaneous sadness and joy of having an adult child (and can I just say that I hate that term? But not as much as kid-ult, so until I find a better word, it’s going to have to suffice) to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Just like it’s sort of impossible to explain what it’s like to have boobs no matter how hard we might try.

I guess as tropey as it is, what I’m saying is that they really do grow up unbelievably quickly. Please know that in what ever way your kid is driving you nuts right now, you will miss it terribly one day. It always feels in the moment like you’re going to suffer like this forever, but things change before you can blink. It feels like yesterday that I sat in the park on her first day of Kindergarten, crying because my baby wasn’t a baby any more – which seems sort of silly now because five is pretty damn little, but at the time I wasn’t ready for her to already be on to school age and I was sort of amazed that my toddler had vanished in the night and been replaced by an honest-to-goodness little girl. Now she’s an honest-to-goodness woman, about to go spend two months on another continent.

The good news is that you never stop enjoying watching them grow and change. And she will always be the only person who once knew my body as the whole universe.





My Sheepish Re-Return to Blogging. Again.

I know. I know. It’s been months.

It’s been a rough winter. I mean, it was disturbingly mild as winters go, but it was definitely a long slow bloody-handed crawl through the dark times anyway. I slept a lot. I got sick a lot. I started writing a blog post about feeling crappy, and then realized that I do that every single February and all I’d really be doing is inventing new metaphors for the same Seasonal Affective Shit-Show I go through every year.


I thought about weighing in on politics, but frankly I’ve had my fill already and I have nothing to say that people with bigger platforms haven’t already (bless you, Samantha Bee). And suddenly BAM! – it’s been a quarter of a year since I posted.

I’m a terrible blog mom.

One of my birthday resolutions (yes, those are a thing, unlike those frivolous New Year’s resolutions that I refuse to participate in) was that I need to commit to writing every single week, even when I have nothing to write about. And then I got in trouble for Internet-ing at work, and I haven’t been able to find a good time to jump in. But it’s spring break now, so I can’t even fall back on “I’m a student and calculus is hard” (which it actually kind of isn’t, to my utter surprise, but I’m still keeping it on my excuse list).

So, to get you more or less up to date:

1.       Fuck winter. I think we covered that, but it bears repeating. If not winter, then fuck the society that insists that I get up in the dark and come home in the dark and in between spend the day in a soulless job in exchange for dubious societal benefits and marginal insurance coverage that is only good by our hideous national standards. It is stunning the degree to which working in a bureaucracy grinds you down.

2.       Having your adult kid come home to visit is weird because she’s sort of Schrodinger’s Guest. Not in the dead/not-dead way, but in the guest/not-a-guest way. It’s a whole new relationship to negotiate, and I understand my parents better as a result. PSA: your parents miss you like they’ve lost an appendage. They probably express it horribly and come across as needy, or overcompensate to the point of strained aloofness. The intention behind it is love. Connect whenever you can. It’s worth it, and the more time you spend on it, the easier it becomes.

3.       Invisible knapsacks are like Tardises – they’re bigger on the inside and they go every-damn-where. Being white means I get to be weird and vaguely inappropriate, and get away with things my colleagues of color would be criticized for. That’s so unfair. I don’t want that and there’s nothing I can do about it. It makes me sad beyond measure that authenticity is a privilege.

4.       Everywhere I go now, people are artlessly littering their sentences with “fuckin’” the way we peppered our speech with “like” in the 90s. Suddenly “fuck” has lost its luster, which makes me sad because it actually used to mean something. Now I find myself editing it out of my writing, which makes it sort of overly serious. I’m currently taking auditions for other casually aggressive but intimate emphatic words. In other news:


So. This is 41.

5.       Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to team up with my social psychologist friend to lead a roundtable discussion on Benevolent Sexism next Friday, which means I’m in crash-course mode about the topic.  Benevolent Sexism is sort of the friendly pigeon-holing of women that we receive as a compliment and so unwittingly reinforce unequal gender/power expectations. Chivalry is one example: holding doors, carrying heavy things, placing women on pedestals – generally treating us like idealized children. But so is the idea that women are better nurturers, better empathizers, and can juggle job and family where men don’t have to. So is wearing makeup, shaving our legs, and doing other things to adhere to society’s beauty standards, which value us only if we adhere to them, but not too zealously or we’re stupid and vacuous. I was introduced to the term “self-objectification,” which is where we become overly concerned with how our appearance is being judged. I’m trying to learn this stuff without becoming humorless or militant, which are apparently unacceptable things for a woman to be. Where is the line between being nice and being paternalistic? I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with the power to choose whether to accept the “niceness” being wholly mine with no strings attached.


There’s probably a hundred other things that have happened, but I don’t want to inundate you all at once. Which is good, because I have a backlog now, meaning that I might be able to commit to posting once a week like I want to.


Sometimes I might even say something worthwhile.


Yay, self-deprecating Mad-libs! (continuous verb) existing

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To Give Is Human

Today is Giving Tuesday, which I think is an incredibly awesome idea. That a Friday pseudo-holiday dedicated to shopping is a thing is beyond disturbing to me. Holidays are commodified enough without rubbing away the thin veneer of illusion that holidays are about anything other than consumerism.

Though I have to admit, I do like to shop for gifts. I would pretty much always rather buy things for other people than for myself.

I learned to love giving when I was about eight. It was the first time I had any money, and I biked my three dollars and change a mile down a major road (because it was the early 80s and people didn’t freak out about kids running about on their own yet) to the Hallmark store and bought stickers for everyone on my Christmas list. Stickers, in case you didn’t know, were EVERYTHING in 1983. Hallmark had a wall with dozens of rolls of fancy stickers and you could buy them one at a time for your sticker collection, most for less than a dollar.


Hush – we didn’t have the Internet to keep us occupied yet. Also, don’t judge until you’ve known the brilliant shine of a new City Cats sticker.

I spent hours at the sticker rolls trying to select just the right sticker for each person, never once stopping to think that pretty much no adult on the planet particularly wanted a foil-backed rainbow sticker, no matter how carefully chosen. All I knew was how good it felt to be giving things to people I loved.

Likewise, my first inappropriate credit card binge/debt hole was from buying really nice Christmas presents for everyone I loved (proving that yes, Virginia, you CAN make giving a narcissistic activity).

Fast forward to today: my mom is sick. The short version is that she was born with a whole lot of issues with her large intestine. Sometimes they put her in bed for extended periods of time. Having been in bed for extended periods of time myself, I know how depressing that is. So I sent her a care package. Before you go “aww,” the care package included this:


Because of course it exists.

In addition to cheering her up, I now get to say “mother, don’t wear your colon like a scarf,” AND I get a lovely (if rather plushily graphic) picture of her suggesting that I kiss her ass to use as her contact photo. See? Generosity just pays and pays.

But even when you never find out who benefits or how much joy or relief it brought them, giving is always still worth it. Giving helps us remember that we’re all connected by our humanity and part of a community far larger than our brains are capable of comprehending. And as Terry Pratchett said, “sin…is when you treat people as things.” Today’s as good a day as any to remember to treat people like people by making sure they have the things they need to get by.

Whether you want to give to someone’s personal crisis fundraiser, or a well-rated charity in someone’s name or memory, or donate fancy gourmet brownie mix to your local food pantry/shelter/kitchen, or a pair of novelty Bad-Ass socks to a random homeless person on the street, go exercise your humanity today by acknowledging theirs. And then maybe again tomorrow. And the day after that. And maybe we could just start treating everybody like people every day. that would be something to celebrate.


Or, you know, not.

But for real: don’t wear your colon like a scarf.

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On Being Sensitive to Immeasurable Suffering

I’m the first to admit that I’m more than a little too empathetic. I have always had to curate what I watch on tv and in the movies, because I have a terrible sense of what they call “suspension of disbelief.” Basically I have a hard time feeling the difference between what is happening to characters and what is happening to me personally.

As you can imagine, I was the life of the fucking slumber party at 10. All my friends wanted to watch Nightmare on Elm Street for the 97th time, and I was like, “can’t we just rent Desperately Seeking Susan again? Or how about Earth Girls Are Easy?” I very quickly learned to look away and just fall asleep during horror movies, because otherwise I would lie awake terrified in a strange house positive that every sound was someone trying to kill us, while my friends drifted off obliviously. Also I spent my summers living in the woods with my dad. Friday the 13th basically rendered my entire environment potentially dangerous. Hell, I was even afraid of running into E.T. out there (at seven, I spent over half of E.T. in the lobby of the theater, because it scared the fuck out of me). So violent or scary movies were not ever really part of my growing up. I loved Star Trek and Steve Martin and Danger Mouse – sanitary sci-fi, comedies, and clever cartoons.

Even then I couldn’t always protect myself. When X-Men came out, I sat on the curb afterward and sobbed because Rogue not being able to touch anyone ever was the saddest possible thing I could imagine. My first husband was like, “oh my God, are you serious right now? It’s X-Men! It’s fantasy. It’s for KIDS! Get up and let’s go home.”

When Lord of the Rings came out, I only went because my best friend promised to help me through it. She would hold on to my hand and say “this part is going to be really violent, but it doesn’t last very long. Close your eyes and I will tell you when it’s over.” And she would squeeze my hand while the noises got scary, but I knew what was coming so I could handle it. And I was really glad I got to see LoTR, because it was fucking brilliant.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about movies. I wish it were, because even though I get caught up in them, movies aren’t real. What is real is the waves and waves of suffering the news keeps washing up. Today a hotel in Mali is taken hostage. Before that, Syria, Paris, Nigeria, Beiruit, and on and on and on – people in terror, grief, and pain. Bloody devastation everywhere. Except in these cases I can’t just turn away until it’s over, because it will never be over. There has always been pain and rage and loss. Someone is always plotting revenge for their own grief in a cycle of suffering that every religion tells some kind of story about, because it’s pretty much always been there.

When I turned on the radio and heard today’s tragedy, I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over my head, just for a minute, just to turn away and find comfort so that I could go out into that world and not get overwhelmed by its pain. That sense of agency is a luxury plenty of people in the world don’t have right now, and that’s what got me back up and moving. People without blankets or food. Without the people they love to touch them, without sanitation, without a home, without a sense of power. I wish there were a way to love the world whole and bring peace, and it’s an entirely selfish wish because I can’t seem to stop imagining the sort of suffering that leads to that level of heartless violence, or the suffering that reaction engenders. So I walk around raw and heartbroken, because that’s what I imagine it feels like in their shoes.

I think I understand why Buddhists pray for the immeasurables – because they don’t fucking know what else to do in the face of mountains and mountains of pain, relentlessly piling up across the planet every day forever. I don’t either, so let me add my voice:

May all beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness;
May all beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering;
May all beings never be separated from
the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all beings live in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion.

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Sometimes You Just Have to Maraud

Every marriage has its own weird language that’s kind of hard to explain to outsiders. I’m going to try to explain a bit of ours so that I can tell you a story.

First of all, Jim came to me with the nickname Bear. That’s what Corinne called him, which conveniently sidestepped the whole complicated “what do you call the step-dad” mess. Together we have a number of bears, and there are many stories told about their antics, including the absurd lengths to which they will go to procure hidden sweets in the house. When something is askew, we nod to each other knowingly and whisper, “bears.” When I get overwhelmed – which happens to me sometimes – he says “your bear is right here if you need him,” and it is really incredibly comforting.

Early on, I tried to be a bear too. It never quite fit, though I had my momma bear moments when the world would fuck with my kid. We tried on a few things, and I don’t even remember any more how we landed on tiger, or why it was a secret. But I am the Secret Tiger (except it’s not a secret any more, I guess – I’ve always been horrible with secrets. Never give me secrets unless you explicitly tell me to forget as soon as you’re done telling me, which I can do, but I can’t hold onto a secret for any period of time. This is why I do my holiday shopping at the last minute).  When Jim gets overwhelmed, I say “tigers are standing by” and he finds it incredibly comforting.

It’s not THAT unusual.

After a decade, a whole lore and language has arisen around our alter-egos. I have other friends who have evolved other versions, and I suspect it’s a common thing in intimate relationships.

Anyway, today we had to run errands, but we were both feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon was pretty much unavoidable, even though we just needed one thing. We made a plan:

Jim: We’re just going to get in and get out. No browsing today.
Me: Right. We’re marauding.
Jim: YES! Let’s maraud!
Me: Rawr!
Jim: we’re more-odding. Those people are less-odding, but we’re more-odding.
Me: none more odd!

And that’s how we made it through there in 10 minutes with nobody dropping everything and running. Afterwards there were celebratory fist bumps. Now we are sitting at home in the quiet for a few minutes before we do the next Thing Which Must Be Done.

There really is nothing in the world like someone you can be vulnerable with.

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Greeting Cards: Now With Actual Empathy

Today is the 11th day I’ve been sick. Today is the day I woke up with pinkeye. What the hell? Do childless adults even GET pinkeye? Probably they do when their doctors blew off their symptoms a week ago and they have a festering sinus infection. How is that doctors under age 30 are even a thing? I should be able, by virtue of my damn life experience as ME, be a slightly greater authority on my body than your diagnostic software and your still-damp medical license. I’m just sayin’.

"How long have you been having these symptoms, doo-doo head?"

“How long have you been having these symptoms, doo-doo head?”

Anyway, after two delightful days at work (that’s how you know it’s bad – when you’re so sick of being sick that you say fuck it and go to work because at least you can be sick somewhere less boring), I’m back home on the couch in my bathrobe, feeling my eyelashes stick together every time I blink, and surfing the Internet.

One of my favorite things about social media is that despite being sort of a shut-in, I get to find out about neat things. The work of Emily McDowell is one of the neatest things I’ve found out about in awhile (though evidently she’s been making them since May, because viral is weird that way). They’re greeting cards for vulnerable, emotionally intelligent people! Why is there not more of this in the world?! Why do other greeting cards even need to exist anymore? The entire greeting card aisle is fired.

This is the best thing ever. I will probably never be that pithy, but I really wish I were.

If I were going to get a card right now (or ever), I would want it to be one of Emily’s. I am trying to avoid buying everything in her shop in my vulnerable state; so far I have loaded up my cart, but not hit check out. So…it’s not looking good for me. However it’s looking pretty amazing for Ms. McDowell.