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Just beneath the surface of normal


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Traveling While Female? Don’t Forget Your Sausage Shield

Thanks for your patience, guys. I’ve got my legs underneath me again, and am starting to get pretty well adjusted to the Cymbalta (though holy fuck, that was one rocky-ass road). We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

A month from now, Corinne will have spent two days in Milan adjusting to the time zone differential, and will be en route to a week in Berlin. After that, she’ll head to Salamanca, Spain for a Spanish-intensive summer semester, paid for with a piece of my soul my tuition remission benefit. She smartly decided that since she’s already going to be there, she might as well get in some serious budget backpacking around Europe for not too much extra cost.

The catch is that she’s never planned her own travel before and she’s kind of overwhelmed. I, on the other hand, would have made a great travel agent if online booking hadn’t made them mostly obsolete. I plan trips for fun – with spreadsheets, budgets, itineraries, and everything. I’ve even made them for trips I’ll probably never take, because I’m one of those weirdos who finds planning the trip to be as much fun as taking them, especially since they come with a bonus of not requiring a financial outlay or multiple recovery days. Besides, half the fun of a vacation is the joy of saying, “oh look! It’s just the way I read about it!”

So yeah: while I was home struggling with the brain fog and anxiety of recovering from my breakdown, I was also helping plan a nineteen-year-old’s first solo trip abroad. I realize that to some of you I might as well have just said, “so I found this old airplane and I don’t know how to fly it but I went ahead and took it up anyway and I took my kid along, and there was this old parachute so I suggested she use to to skydive for the first time.”But the fact of the matter is that she’s a grown woman who knows her own limits far better than I did at her age (or possibly even now). I took plenty of absurdly dangerous risks at 19, but since I never left my home state to do it (except that one time I flew to LA to meet a friend I only knew online – which was AMAZING by the way, because not everyone online is a predator) nobody really even blinked about it. My mom hitchhiked from Chicago to San Francisco in the late Sixties at around the same age. Nineteen is a perfect time for exploring and taking risks. Most of them go fine, but we sure do love to fixate on the ones that don’t.

And fixate we do. There’s nothing like helping your adult daughter launch herself across the Atlantic to uncover the absolutely stunning amount of sexism attached to the idea of a woman traveling solo, and to begin to see American sexism in a new light.

What really grabbed my attention was the trip to Marrakesh she was planning to take right after Spain. In researching the experience (like you do), I found plenty of blog posts and forum discussions about women traveling to Morocco alone, and most of them talked about how to cope with street harassment and how exhausting and stressful it is – but also how it’s completely worth it. These women wrote about how you have to concoct a husband or boyfriend who will be right back (and for +10 constitution, wear a fake wedding ring!) so that men will leave you alone, because it’s not really customary for women to do anything alone there. And when men full-on grope you for being an American woman alone in public, you have to be ready to shame them and slap them or they won’t leave you be – the one nice thing is that when you do, all the other women will come running over to support you because women have each others’ backs there.

That last part is what really got me thinking – specifically about how difficult it is for American women to speak up for ourselves. We are taught that when we’re harassed, we should silently ignore it or else we’re encouraging them and/or deserve whatever violent retribution occurs. I imagine that, for better or worse, Moroccan men must read our passive silence as consent when they’re used to being reined in with a harsh “shooma!” and a swarm of protective sisterhood, which (along with porn) is probably what perpetuates the legend that American women are sluts. Can you imagine any one of us saying to an American street harasser, “what the hell’s the matter with you? How dare you treat me like an object instead of a human being! Shame on you!”? We wouldn’t dare. Why?

Something about looking back at our culture through another culture’s lens brought into sharp focus the many ways American women have been taught to subjugate ourselves:

  • If something happens to Corinne while she’s abroad, it will be mine and her father’s fault for “letting” her – a grown-ass woman – travel by herself. And it will be her own fault for being stupid and putting herself in that situation. It will never be the fault of the horrible people who were horrible, because they just took advantage of an easy opportunity that presented itself. If she goes to someone for help, they’ll probably dismiss her as hysterical because men don’t trust women’s feelings or experiences. If she didn’t want to be a victim, why was she traveling alone, anyway?
  • Women here are rarely even aware that they’re in constant competition for the scarce resource of male approval – publicly, socially, and professionally. There is very little assumed sisterhood out in the world (which is why I’m such a huge fan of the Red Tent Temple movement); if another woman is harassed in public, who among us would have the courage to stand with her and have her back, rather than avert our gaze and keep walking? I find it interesting that this Arabic monarchy whose culture plenty of American women might judge as backward and oppressive in actual fact has women who feel more empowered to protect themselves from harassers than we do (yes, they’re expected to go out accompanied, but at least they have each others’ backs).  But it’s the water we swim in, and we see that we’re “allowed” to wear whatever we want and marry whoever we want and go alone in public, and that somehow adds up to freedom instead of a naturalistic zoo enclosure designed to protect us from…whom? The very people who tell us it’s for our own good.
  • Women ALWAYS have to have a plan for what happens if something goes wrong, and where to steer clear of, and what to do if it’s getting dark, and how to know who to trust, and how to escape notice, and when you just have attach yourself to some men to do so. Our adventures come with a gauntlet of concerns that, sure, everyone has to think about, but not as carefully or completely as we do.
  • Pretty much everything she said.

Personally, I’m optimistic about Corinne’s ability to cope with Moroccan street harassment since she spent her adolescence in Philly, which has plenty of homegrown aggressive men of its own. For some reason she still trusts my judgment, so with excitement and trepidation, she booked her trip.

A week later she changed her mind.

She’s worried that constantly dealing with defending her body will be exhausting and stressful, and she’d rather wait to go to Morocco until she’s a more seasoned traveler. I respect that choice (see above re: knowing her limits), and can hardly blame her. She’ll lose the money she spent on airfare to Marrakesh, and then to Rome afterward, but she’s decided it’s worth it.

Now she’s back to trying to decide where to spend the week between Madrid and Rome, but everything she looks at seems to come with some sort of caveat about how dangerous and difficult for women it is, and she’s overwhelmed.

Corinne: I looked up “Budapest experience” and the first thing that came up was the serious scams people get trapped in…like to the tune of $200-800.
Me: Think on it a little bit: scams are everywhere. Forewarned is forearmed, they say.
Corinne: That’s true. But no doubt they’re especially bad.
Me: I’ve also heard people say that Budapest is their favorite place.
Corinne: Yeah, it’s definitely beautiful and has a huge hipster scene.
I’m gonna be honest, if something doesn’t go wrong I’ll be a little disappointed. Only because even the US Embassy’s view on women traveling is bedtime 8 o’clock and don’t forget your daddy (parental guardian or otherwise). If you’re gonna look at me like a child there damn well better be reason for it.
Me: LOL! Don’t worry, no matter what happens to you it’s your fault for traveling with an unaccompanied vagina.
Corinne: Literally, like how can you across the board just say don’t do it alone? Are you kidding me? Is Canada any more dangerous than the US !? Should I just go to bed at 8pm and be surrounded by a sausage shield 24/7????
Me:NOW you’re getting it!

“Sausage shield”- you guys I am so proud right now I could cry! But also angry because SERIOUSLY, US State Department? What year is this?

meat_shield_classic_round_sticker-rd87c1c16324b4899853a794bb47bc707_v9waf_8byvr_324

The internet is sadly lacking in shields made of sausage.

Know what I think? I think that whatever happens she’s going to have an amazing, transformative trip. Hold the sausage.

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Mommyversary

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.

 

 


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Since I returned I’ve tried to think of a nice way to summarize my trip to the Pacific Northwest. Well, in between the naps and the getting sick, that is. It turns out I am now officially too old for red-eye flights and while I might have managed okay with landing at 1:15 AM, the hour-long delay had me staggering in the door well after 3 Yes, I know, it doesn’t add up. First there was the gauntlet: to start, I arrived five terminals away from where Jim had parked the car that morning when he left for Nashville, and had to schlep my bags through a mile of parking garage in the middle of the night. And then it started raining. And then I found out that the bridge was closed for construction over night and I had to detour a few miles to another bridge…in the middle of the night in the rain. I made it home, and was greeted by a giant banner of spider web stretched across the walkway, which probably meticulously spelled out “welcome home, dinner!” before I walked blindly into it. I always did know how to ruin a surprise.

What with the toiletry unpacking and the CPAP setting up and the sexy, sexy mouth-guard cleaning, I wasn’t in bed until a few minutes after four in the morning (which is at least symmetrical, since that’s when I got up to leave the week before). I slept until 2:15 the next afternoon, and probably would have slept later if my therapist hadn’t called to ask me if I might have forgotten something, like our appointment. So yeah, jetlag like crazy. Punctuated by a nice pair of fillings at the dentist. Welcome home.

The best I can say of my return is that I now understand that when I utter unto myself the words “I can probably manage”, I should treat them as though they are a flaming swarm of killer bees shot out of a cannon. I may be able to survive it, but it won’t be pretty. And it’s really entirely unnecessary. There is no award for managing or surviving stupid self-induced pressure and I won’t do it anymore. Probably. So hey, growth! Maybe.

The trip, though? It was really wonderful.

The problem with wonderful is that it’s way less interesting to write about. It’s the moments when everything goes stunningly wrong that are hilarious and fun to tell. It’s much less entertaining to tell you about how we visited colleges and old friends and I got to watch my daughter fall in love with the Pacific Northwest as hard as I did. There’s no dramatic tension in learning about her music and daydreaming about creating forage gardens in our town for hungry people, or her wonder at the profound dearth of litter and the ubiquity of trees, hipsters, and drive-through espresso shacks. Every parent should take a road trip with their teen and just bask in the amazing person they’re becoming, the things that captivate them, and the unsteady (and still at times irritating) way they are learning to express their boundaries and needs. That was a week my heart will savor all the more as she ages, and she gets good at the lessons she’s struggling with now and moves on to new challenges. Watching her analyze the colleges we visited in terms of who she is and the kind of experiences she wants makes me excited to meet the woman she is becoming (and I am a crafty mom, showing her schools in our future hometown, am I not? It’s like going away to college and staying home all at the same time!).

That’s not to say we didn’t have some odd adventures. We are us, after all.

After touring Evergreen, we went into downtown Olympia for dinner to check out the local scene. Our first impression was that it was incredibly charming. Our second was that there sure were a whole lot of homeless people. Evidently they wander up and down the west coast en masse, chasing the temperate zone like a pod of dirty, smelly, panhandling whales (alas, there were no panhandling whales pics on the internet, unless you count save the whale campaigns, but they lacked the requisite dirty blond dreadlocks). We navigated past a number of them on the way to a brew pub, where a young hipster in (no, really) breeches, hose, and a flipping alpine hat told us we couldn’t eat there because she’s under 21 and kids there evidently aren’t allowed to go to establishments with views of the bar. Nonplussed but giggling all the way, we moved on to another establishment, past yet more homeless pods loitering in the doorways of night clubs and tattoo parlors, and past a garden shop with a neon sign that read “no tweekers”. It was very different than the street on which we parked a couple blocks away, and sort of reminded me of old-school South Street in Philadelphia, in that “um, am I in over my head?” sort of way.

At the restaurant, we ordered a plate of of tot-chos, which are nachos made with tater tots instead of chips.

these are insanely good, and managed to not kill us. Probably because none of this actually happened. Really, this photo is the only proof I have that we were ever even IN Olympia, WA. If that was really Olympia at all…

In a matter of minutes, while we waited for our order, the following things happened:

– A group of women my age but dressed like trashy teenagers came in, and one was telling the others about how her boss likes to text her her pictures of mushrooms.

– A hipster with an Amish beard and hat and a pentagram t-shirt came in with his friends and sat down at the booth behind us. Neither of which is particularly remarkable – mostly it was the combination that we found entertaining.

– A person identifying as female – which was awesome, and I wish I saw that much casual comfort with owning gender identity out here – sat down nearby and we got to listen to her use her lovely high voice, which was really more novel than weird, but still part of the greater tableau of “things you certainly don’t see every day in Philly.”

– The eleventh Doctor walked by. Yes, I’m sure.

– A homeless man ordered coffee, sat down, started talking to himself about things that probably made perfect sense in his world but sounded like paranoid rambling to the uninitiated, and then he started singing. He had a pretty nice voice, and was providing us genuine entertainment, so we anonymously bought him some pie, but he asked for fries instead, so we bought him some fries.

I am so glad Corinne was there to provide corroboration for the fact that that entire episode really happened, and was not some kind of weird fever dream. Or if it was, it was a shared one. The waitress was an Evergreen alum, and super-helpful in providing some advice about going there, so even if it was a shared hallucination, it was at least very useful. And Corinne managed to not be scared away from Olympia to the point of deciding to cross Evergreen off her list, so it was probably a pretty good initiation as far as those things go.

In general, we met lots of neat people, laughed at hipsters, ate amazing food, got her cell phone stolen (which we both kind of enjoyed, since it allowed her to be more in the present than managing constant texts would have otherwise allowed), left my debit card in an ATM in Astoria, got stuck behind a painting truck going 8 miles per hour on highway 101, so (between the slowness and the losing of the debit card) we didn’t have time to go sandboarding on the dunes in Florence after all. We also sat in a mountain hot springs with itinerant hippies, went bowling with some of my best and oldest friends, played with their adorable kids, went whitewater rafting and beach biking, measured the pros and cons of some really amazing colleges, and planned adventures for our next visit out.

Corinne on a beach bike in Manzanita. This is much harder than it looks, but every bit as much fun.

I came home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – everything you want from a vacation. I felt the rust and hardness of coping with life on the east coast crumble away, and my ability to be polite and friendly and make space for others come back to me. Leaving broke my heart, as it always does, but it was tinged with a new sense of “only two more years and this will be home.” Almost 20 years after I initially decided I wanted to live there, I am finally on a real trajectory to make it.

Driving to the therapist that first morning home, I was surprised by how un-used I had become to the incredibly aggressive and pushy driving that passes for normal around here. We are too many rats in a cage, incessantly chewing on one another in a desperate attempt to create more space. I want to hold onto that easy vulnerability and kindness, but I feel it slipping away already.  I am so ready to retire.

Bring. It.


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How Do You Fall Apart in Public?

Sometimes life isn’t funny. Sometimes it’s just really hard. When that happens, my impulse is to hide, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Nobody wants to see that stuff; it’s ugly and messy and proof of my great mountain of shortcomings. I’m also the one everyone comes to for support when their own lives go to shit, so I sort of figure nobody wants to take this mess on – they’re too busy trying to handle their own. For someone whose supposed “religion” is vulnerability, I kind of spectacularly suck at it.

The fact is, I have a lot of people who care to listen if I ask them to, and it’s okay to ask for support even if it makes my throat close to do it. So here I am, and this is as brief a summary of what the last few weeks have looked like as I can muster:

Corinne got suspended for “trespassing” at school, because she went in after softball to get the phone and transpass (they give out transpasses in Philly instead of using buses) she had accidentally left in her locker. The adults in the school who confronted her neither offered to help her solve her problem or even seemed to understand that they had any obligation to do so. So, being my child and used to being empowered to solve her own problems, she walked past the useless adults and got her stuff. She was grabbed on the arm repeatedly by a coach. He supposedly called the police, though they have nothing in their records about a call. She was told she would have been allowed in “if she had been nicer” to the custodian (wait, what about those rules?). She went off. Drama ensued. Should she have gone into school after hours when there is an express rule prohibiting it? No. Should she take all the blame for this mess? Hell no. The school’s solution if you have no way to get home after an extracurricular activity? If you need help, walk to the fire station down the street. Except it’s not really official – they won’t put it in the handbook because they don’t have the fire station’s permission to do so. What. The. Fuck. Used to be that arriving safely at your doorstep was the school’s responsibility. Of course, it also used to be that you could go into a school without a security guard present.

To make matters worse, the principal was in China so they had a substitute (substitute principals! Who knew?!) who was nice in that pacifying and completely disingenuous way, and she held a meeting with Corinne and the two staff members involved without a parent present, and they attempted to coerce her into accepting one of the staff members’ false characterizations of what happened, and was told that she needed to understand their position. She held firm that just wanted someone to be responsible for her getting home safely. She was called selfish and spoiled and told that one of the staff members probably wanted to hit her but restrained himself, so why couldn’t she have? She threw another festival of f-bombs, walked off school property, and I was called again. She would be allowed to return to school if she apologized to the administration for going off. It seemed like she was being punished more for her attitude than for the so-called trespassing. Also, the softball coach tried to kick her off the team.

Now she’s considered to have “anger management problems” and there was for a time concern that she would be excluded from the International Baccalaureate program because of her suspension, regardless of her academic standing. So now her entire future is being shaped by five minutes of bad calls brought about by feeling powerless in a situation where she expected to be supported?

And that’s where my PTSD took over entirely and I stopped coping in favor of marathon sleep sessions and random bursting into tears.

Here’s why: when I was eleven my mother found out I was being sexually abused by her second husband. She did the right thing and kicked him out and went to the police, who interrogated me alone and came to the conclusion in their official report that I was at least partially to blame. I was sent to counseling as a stipulation of my mother being allowed to keep me, and so began the process of intellectualizing what happened to me. I became very good at dispassionately talking about it, or worse, shedding a few manipulative tears to boyfriends who were blindsided and unprepared for the emotional scarring and neediness that comes from the trauma and abuse. Eventually it just receded into the landscape of my past. What I never did was grieve it.

Sometimes circumstances line up in just such a way that you get what you need whether you meant to consciously or not. Or, as Terry Pratchett so eloquently put it, “one in a million chances happen nine times out of ten.” In this case, my friend Katie offered to give me reflexology in exchange for all of Corinne’s old kid books and whatnot that I had been purging in her general direction for the past few months. I freakin’ love reflexology; it’s all taking care of your feet and relaxing you without any of the hassle of not messing up the paint job that comes with a pedicure. Also, for reasons I can’t really throw hard science at, it seems to work; like my mama taught me, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

So there I was, totally getting cared for on a day I really needed it, which also happened to be the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, because insult and injury are GREAT friends in my world. Oh, I should add: in the middle of all this school bullshit, there’s also big issues Jim is going through that required lots of support, and my pelvic ultrasound showed two fibroids, which were bigger than they had been in a 2006 scan that NOBODY EVER TOLD ME ABOUT, and I got scheduled for a D&C for the polyps on Friday. Pelvic ultrasound and D&C: sounds like I’m getting one of them new modern abortions, don’t it? So yeah. Red-motherfucking-line.

But so Katie is going to town on my feet (in a professional way. I have rephrased this no less than three times and all of them sound like a foot fetish scenario) and there’s this one spot that makes me go “WHOA! OW!” and she goes, “oh, that’s grief. What grief are you not processing?” And I’m all, “??” Because I felt like I pretty well did grandpa’s death and the TFA debacle last summer, and I wasn’t sure what else there could be. I shrugged and continued reveling in the happy reflexology love instead. She said a bunch of stuff about using your resources, accepting support, blah blah blah, some other stuff. I shrugged it off pretty well until afterward when she handed me goddess cards and had me draw one and it was ALL THE FUCK ABOUT using your resources and accepting support. Now, I’m well past my woo-woo stage and have settled pretty comfortably into a sort of Secular Humanism, but occasionally you  gotta wonder at the magic of coincidence. Whether it’s driven by the unconscious or by some unseen force, sometimes you just have to laugh at how brilliantly things align.

The next day was an amazing day; I woke up feeling a million times better and had energy, volition and focus. The day after that the story changed again around the softball component and the PTSD kicked into overdrive. And that’s when I realized that I had never really grieved the destruction of my sense of safety and protection. This experience of my daughter being powerless when she should have been supported was pretty much exactly what hurt in me. Even now my throat closes typing these words.

For the past week or so, doing any little thing has sent me into full-blown panic overdrive. There’s only so long you can live in constant fight-or-flight and I finally had to see my doctor for some anti-anxiety medication and a change to my antidepressants. I’m doing better now, though I still feel somewhat fragile. I’m just doing whatever grieving arrives and today I see my therapist for some next steps. I’m okay, but it’s been way too overwhelming in here to attempt to write.

The school drama seems to have settled out. She’s learned some difficult lessons about picking battles and about setting boundaries when she’s getting overwhelmed, and the best a parent can hope for is that each shitty experience your kid encounters helps them grow into more functional adults. The fact is, she’s lucky to have made it to sixteen without that feeling of being shamed for taking power into her own hands. The kids I work with in Camden got that lesson young: don’t speak up for yourself or there will be big trouble. She’s got all kinds of privilege, but I wish it was a privilege afforded to all. The whole experience was like, “who are you to be powerful? You need to be taken down a notch,” and mostly it makes me sad wondering if this shaming into obedience is really the best we can do for our children.

It also makes a lot of sense around my avoidance of being powerful and my terror about my potential next steps in life, all of which require me to step into that power I’ve so carefully avoided since I was taken down a notch myself so very long ago. Whether everything truly happens for a reason or we are just meaning-making machines, it seems like maybe this whole mess, for all it has sucked, is what I needed to finally take those steps.

Thanks for bearing with, y’all.

PS. Jim points out that this post is actually pretty darn vulnerable and that I shouldn’t characterize myself as having strayed from that. I guess the more accurate thing would be to say that sometimes it’s easier to describe the falling apart once the pieces start coming back together. Howling at pain and injustice doesn’t make for the most coherent blogging.

PPS. It finally occurred to me that we now keep databases of sex offenders. I looked him up and he wasn’t there. I hope that means I was his only victim. It would be some comfort to know that even though he got away with it, he never hurt anyone else. Unfortunately, I’ll never know for sure. Let’s just say I was. Sometimes comforting lies are okay.


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Like Herding Teens

Months ago I committed to chaperoning Corinne’s honors English trip to see Othello in Philadelphia since I’m one of the few parents who has the flexibility to help out during the day. Since I am me and my timing is what it is, I was of course still rebooting after my latest trip to New York. Because nothing says ‘nervous recovery’ like fifty adolescents on a warm spring day. I couldn’t back out, because if I did there wouldn’t be enough adults and the trip would have to be canceled. I would have to be on death’s door before I’d be willing to be That Guy. Obviously her English teacher doesn’t read this blog, or she’d know better than to make me responsible for anything. I am barely more than a teenager myself, emotionally, so I’m not even sure who is chaperoning whom here. But I own an ID card that proves that I am an adult in the eyes of the state of New Jersey and I guess if all you need is a warm body to round out the count, that’s enough.

Since insult and injury are apparently spring’s hot new color combination, I accidentally stayed up until midnight playing Skyrim with Jim, which left me about six and a half hours to cram in some sleep before being responsible for a bunch of teenagers thrilled to be away from school on a sunny Friday in spring.

Still, anxiety dragged me out of bed in time to clean up and put together a trendy teen-approved outfit, even rolling up my jeans so that the roll peeks jauntily out over the tops of my booties because this appears to be what passes for trendy these days. Thank you, Pinterest, for keeping me from embarrassing myself. [if only there were some way to adequately convey in writing the dry sarcasm with which I express that last statement. If only you could appreciate the delicately exaggerated roll of my eyes. This aside will have to suffice.] I know it sounds silly to go to all that effort, but trust me when I tell you that teenagers respect you more when you show some knowledge and respect for their world. This is the first secret of Teen-Fu. Use it wisely, grasshopper.

So here I need to stop and explain that I was raised in a town; not a small town, but certainly not a city. Corinne went to elementary and middle school in the suburbs. So the sum total of my experience of field trips follows the basic formula of school→bus→location→bus→school. I was (as indicated by my choice of footwear) completely unprepared for the urban equivalent, which was school→walk→subway→walk→location→WAAAAALK→location→walk→subway→walk→school. My adorable and increasingly uncomfortable booties logged around 40 blocks, and began actively trying to destroy my feet somewhere around block 25. I suppose I should have been more suspicious when I noticed all the other chaperons wearing comfortable shoes back at the school, though there’s nothing I could have done about it at that point anyway.

I will say this: those kids were amazing. They were respectful, engaged, and not a single kid bailed on the trip, which was my greatest fear because I couldn’t even conceive of how I would explain losing an entire teenager, and I would forever be that mom. I am already that mom enough for my comfort, thank you. The trip itself was pretty unremarkable, due mostly to them being good kids. I think I only embarrassed myself four or five times, which is actually pretty decent for me. Othello was excellent, for what it’s worth. My primary criticism was that the teacher probably could have chosen someplace less than twenty blocks away to get lunch; possibly someplace with fewer choices since most of the kids wandered around the crowds at Reading Terminal Market for at least half the allotted time, wracked with low-blood-sugar-induced indecision about which of the many confusing international food stalls at which to eat.

As we staggered back to school from the subway that afternoon, Corinne asked me if she could sleep over at a friends house, to which I may have answered “yes” a bit more forcefully than was polite. There may or may not have been a fervent “Oh My God” placed in front of it. Unfortunately, this committed me to driving her to her dad’s house to pick up some overnight gear, then driving them both to the friend’s house IN FRIDAY RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC.

Some seventy-five minutes later I staggered in the door, groaned at Jim, and made a dive for the bed. I resurfaced sometime after eight. Jim was fast asleep next to me; he’d been up fretting about work the better part of the previous night. So I put on my bathrobe and tiptoed downstairs to play Word Hero on my phone.

Oh yeah. Such is the fast and exciting life of the late-thirties suburban mom.