It’s your birthday. Just a few days before Mother’s Day. You would have been 69 this year.
It has been nine months since you passed.
Seven months since I asked for a divorce.
Four months since I left the courtroom, an unmarried woman again, trying to hold in my tears as I walked from the courthouse to the parking garage–and failing.
Your grave has a headstone now. I took the kids to visit you a few weeks ago. When I was taking pictures of your headstone, Henry walked into the frame and did this.
Felicity walked the cemetery’s pavement while Henry sat in the grass with me on your grave.
“Do you miss Grandma?” he asked.
“I miss her every day, Henners. You know why?”
“Because you loved her.”
“Yes. And because she was my mom.”
A moment passed and then he said, without any irony at all,
“Wow, you were really lucky.”
“I was,” I said. “I really was.”
After you passed, a few hopeful souls assured me that your spirit would visit me, in some way, in the following months.
There have been no apparitions.
But I did have a dream about you.
I was standing inside Sam’s Club (who can say why?) and you were just walking in, the large sliding doors opening to reveal your dark outline etched against the brightest of sunshine. I recognized you immediately. You raised your hand to wave at me, a huge grin on your face, as if you were telling me, I am having the time of my life. Or whatever this is now.
The thoughts came one by one.
Mom. You’re dead. I am dreaming.
And I just knew.
I wasn’t going to be able to reach you before this dream ended or before you disappeared or before I was transported somewhere else.
I just knew.
I would need to launch myself across the space between us. I would need to summon an unfathomable amount of psychic energy, just to come close.
And then I woke up.
My new life is full of moments like this, when I feel my heart stretching all the way back into my past, grasping at the years when everything was woven together, over and under and through. So safely and securely. I’m reaching back for the time when my life had parents. When my husband apologized when he hurt me. When I was one-half of a beloved couple among our friends.
I’m still grasping. I hate that I’m still grasping at the past. It yields nothing but longing and pain. And yet I do it. Even as my feet keep stepping forward through this life, even as I continue to build new walls and establish new rhythms, I am still Lot’s Wife, looking back at the city being destroyed by God’s wrath, daring the Divine to turn me to salt.
Why salt? Was it the salt of her tears? Were her tears so numerous, her grief so strong that she was consumed by it?
No, not consumed. She was frozen. That’s the difference. Her grief, her longing for her past life didn’t erase her. It transformed her into something else. All the soft, pliable cells in her flesh–capable of repair and regeneration–grew rigid and fixed in place.
This is what happens when your gaze becomes fixed on the past.
You become your tears.
You knew how to forgive, Mom. You knew how to let it go when people hurt you. You were an absolute master of this. You forgave even when everyone else believed that you shouldn’t have. But you forgave.
Forgiveness was so important to you that you even wrote it in the journal that I gave you for Mother’s Day in 1999.
It amazes me how strongly you believed in these words. You didn’t just say them. You lived them. I saw the healing that forgiveness brought to your life. You have shown me the wisdom of these words–that forgiveness is not only for the other person.
Forgiveness is for you.
It is your freedom from the past. Forgiveness is the force that uncoils the thick ropes that anchor your heart to the shore of your past, so you can set sail into your future.
I’ve restarted this next part over and over again, trying to explain what I’m struggling to forgive my ex-husband for. I tried brutally honest. Then, compassionate. Then, detached. Then, reflective. Each time I’ve written it, I’ve told the truth.
But in the end, whether it’s true is only a small part of this story that I’m now living.
Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is this healing me?
And then I’m staring at my mother’s words.
“Never remember details of a fight with a loved one.”
So I erased the words.
I don’t regret writing them. They needed to leave my head.
After 16 years of marriage and 20 years of being together…
Can you imagine it?
Walk with me for a moment.
Sharing a life with someone for that long–millions of moments that span the range of all human emotion–and then, in a matter of months, all that sharing now reduced to the barest of exchanges via text?
Because that’s all your heart and mind can handle.
You can’t share meals together with friends.
You can’t go to the same parties.
You just can’t.
Even though it means withdrawing from social events that have been the rhythm of your life for more than a decade.
You just can’t.
You are not strong enough yet to share the space with all of the ghosts of your years together, swirling in every single interaction, whispering in your ear.
You first feel these ghosts when you fight back tears as you sign over the house during the refinance.
The loan officer says, “Just sign here. And here.“
And holding that pen, a coldness courses through your body. You almost place the feeling as panic, but it’s devoid of frenzy. It’s more like a hollow echo, the puff of breath when you step into the cold.
And then the memory erupts.
You remember sitting in the hospital, holding your husband’s hand as the drowsiness of anesthesia set in, just before an emergency appendectomy. What did he say?
He said, I want you to have a nice house.
He was talking about the house that you had just toured. You both walked its stairs and examined its kitchen, even as he was ignoring a growing pain in his side, which would turn into an emergency just hours later. You didn’t know that house would become your family’s home.
And then, you’re back in the present, staring a shiny conference table for twelve, even though there are just three people in the room. It’s bright, but it’s cold outside. January. Just three months since you left.
You chastise yourself. Get a hold of yourself. Hang in there. Nothing is happening. Push it down.
The loan officer pushes a piece of paper toward your husband.
“This is the amount of the new loan and the payments,” the loan officer says to him.
You are presented with a different paper.
“This is the amount of the payout,” the loan officer says.
The iciness returns and you grip the pen hard.
It always moves like this. First, the emotion. Then, the memory.
You’re back at the moment when he playfully carried you over the threshold, as the moving truck pulled away. And then you’re standing in the doorway, watching him using heavy machinery to grind the stump of the tree that had to be removed in the front yard. And then you’re opening the door hundreds of times for your friends to walk in and share breakfast.
“Which box do I check?” your husband asks. His voice is jarring and it grounds you back in current reality, here, in front of these papers.
This is the truth now. That is over.
“Married?” he asks. “We’re getting divorced.”
“You’re married now, so…” the loan officer says. “Married.”
You press your pen to the paper.
But you’re still at the front door, watching your kids jumping in the puddles that gathered on the paver stones. And then you’re pulling weeds from between those stones, hearing your husband saying, You got to get the whole root. And then you’re waving good-bye to your mother, that very last time her car pulled away, before she was unable to visit anymore.
The brightness of these memories, now tinged with shadows and hollowed of their meaning.
“That should be the last one”, the loan officer says to you.
You scrawl your married name.
The pain of it. The pain of it. The pain of it.
Your children will not be able to walk down the hall to wake you with their nightmares in any given week. In fact, you’ve just walked out of half of their childhood. From now on, your motherhood will look very different, with weeks of empty beds and empty chairs. Every time they return to you, they will have gained height and weight. They will lose teeth without you knowing for weeks because everything becomes old news as soon as a new day begins.
In a matter of months, all traces of you have been removed from the walls, from the fridge, from the closets, and the cupboards.
Once again, the place that you called home is no longer your home.
It happens so quickly that you even begin to question how much this place was ever truly yours.
And then another ghost whispers in your ear.
You’re the heart of our family, he said after you returned from a week-long conference. This place isn’t the same without you.
And then another ghost.
You’ve felt it too, he said in one of your heated arguments after you left. How different it’s been.
You were pacing outside in the dark, trying to keep the conversation from the kids.
Different better or worse?, you asked.
Different better, he said. A lot better.
You wanted to believe he didn’t mean it. The pain of those words was so sharp. The force of it, so crushing. Your knees started to shake. To accept his words as truth was too much.
But just like everything he said before, you took him at his word.
And right there, in the damp earth, you fell to your knees.
This is how it goes for you for months.
Whispers of ghosts, all competing for their Truth.
It was wonderful.
It was awful.
It was my fault.
It was his fault.
We were just stuck.
It meant nothing.
It meant everything.
We weren’t right for each other.
We were exactly what we each other needed for years and years.
Can it all be True? At the same time?
I am still asking this question.
As if there is an answer.
There never is.
And now, what remains of our marriage?
There are only two things that I recognize with certainty.
Our traditions. Our jokes. Our shared stories. Our banter. Our interactions. Our support. Our advocacy for each other. Our theories and ponderings. Our recollections of how we got through a decade of pregnancy, babies, bottles, diapers, and clothes that never stayed in their drawers longer than three months.
Those hours when I labored with our children and he watched me rise above pain to bring forth life.
They remain only in our memories now. The possibility that they are relived and replayed later on, grows smaller and less likely every day. What could have become an oral legacy of Us for our children will now rarely, if ever be acknowledged, leaving our children to scratch their heads about how we ever thought we would be good for each other and concluding that we must have been crazy for 20 years before we finally came to our senses.
How terrifying it is that all that you built between the two of you can disappear like that when you both walk away. All that living history, once held so close to our hearts, a cherished story of how we found each other and came to be, no longer spoken on either of our lips.
Silenced. Possibly forever, if neither of us speak of it.
But I will continue to repeat the story in my heart. To remind myself that, yes, it did exist.
We existed in this Life together.
What we had mattered.
As painful as it is to admit that, as fierce as my tears are as I write this, I will continue to write this story on my heart. Even though it hurts me to admit it. It hurts to know that what we had, for years and years, was beautiful and strong and loving.
Until it wasn’t.
But I’d rather feel the pain of that than deny that it existed.
So I’ll say it.
What we had mattered.
It brought two amazing human beings into this world.
And the world is a little bit better with them inside of it.
I want our children to know that they were born from friends who loved each other more than they each loved themselves.
Even if we can no longer be friends anymore.
Once upon a time, we were the best of friends.
We absolutely were.
And our children owe their existence to that fact.
Sacrifice was our love language, the individual acts of it invoked as evidence of our love for each other. It must be love because we stuck with each other through X, Y, and Z. But this is also the reason that our family unraveled. Years and years of putting each other first and abandoning ourselves stressed our relationship to the point of complete and irreparable rupture.
Before I faced the inevitability of the end of my marriage, I believed that divorces happened because of poor decision-making.
To be clear, this wasn’t a belief that I expressed out loud and certainly never to someone who had been through one. But quietly, in my own inner life, I reasoned that there must have been something that went awry between falling in love and making the decision to build a life together. Someone had not carefully considered the best course of action. Someone had been too blind or foolhardy.
Or perhaps they weren’t as committed to relationships as I knew that I was. Maybe they were less resilient than me. I knew that I was capable of withstanding anything that Life threw at me. And so I had nothing to worry about. Not only did I make good decisions, but I was resilient.
But what I never considered was that you can make the best decision, over and over again, and it could still lead you to a point in your marriage when the best decision is, finally, to end the marriage.
All that good decision-making may ultimately lead you to a crossroads in your marriage when the next best decision is to leave.
After all the arguing, all the tears, and all the hurt, I was still willing to stay. Because I had made a promise. And a promise meant something to both of us. My promise to him was the reason I kept trying months and months after I felt it was healthy for me to keep trying.
But I also stayed because I don’t give up. I am not a quitter. I am a committer. I am the last one to hold onto the rope, over and over again, even when the winds are whipping you senseless.
So what changed?
After that very last fight, I didn’t cry.
Because you can’t cry when you’re numb.
But what I thought was, “Is this the marriage that I would want for our daughter?”
Fuck no, it wasn’t.
And then the decision was made. Clear and simple, as painful as it was to admit. I didn’t know how I was going to say it, nor how it was going to completely upend our lives, nor if he and I could ever be friends again.
I just knew that I could no longer stay.
My next thought was, “How would Mom feel about me leaving?”
Even though she had passed away two months earlier, I still cared tremendously about whether or not she would approve. Maybe that sounds silly to you. But the women who raised me never left. My mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, the women of my church. None of them left. They soldiered on, regardless of whatever trials or tribulations came their way, even if they were caused by their spouses.
Sometimes, men left their wives for other women. It happened.
But a good woman, a good mother, a good wife never broke up her family.
I had no examples of women who left their marriages for their own mental health.
I had only examples of women who prioritized the needs of their spouses and children over their own. And boy, did I ever learn that lesson. That lesson was etched into my very DNA and carved into the bones that carry me through this life.
Countless moments of my mother’s lips pressed into a thin line, the slightest frown on her face, drawing her forehead into an expression of concern, followed usually by silence, and on a rare occasion, an, “Okay, then.” Countless moments like these that guided the formation of thousands of neural pathways, all encouraging me to de-center myself, empathize with my loved ones, and sacrifice to show my devotion. And so it felt natural for me to abandon myself. Over and over again.
Because that was what I trained for. That was the example I was shown.
But I could not follow their example anymore. Because it was unraveling me from the inside out.
I needed to be able to show my daughter that if she found herself in a marriage that was full of tears and arguments and tension, she would have more than my approval to leave.
She would have the lived example that it could be done.
And she would be able to survive it.
I would be the one to set a new example for the generations to come.
One in which women seek out relationships that nurture them.
I want for the women who come after me to know that if they start withering where they are planted, they can take their roots with them and find new soil.
Summer is usually the time that I write more, but I’ve ended up using the past two and a half weeks just immersing myself in the healing power of Doing What I Want to Do.
This past academic year was rough. Extremely rough. I took six graduate classes in one year while teaching full-time. And I presented at three conferences. And then there were the two kids.
I don’t mean this to sound like I’m so Amazing Because I Do So Many Things. It was actually kind of stupid of me to over-commit myself to so many responsibilities. If I learned anything from this past year, it’s this: Although my mental breaking point has risen dramatically since I had the kids (surprise! surprise!), IT STILL EXISTS.
In mid-June, there I was. Dissolving into tears at a Saturday Morning Breakfast when a friend asked, “How are you doing?”
How am I doing?
Does it matter?
I’m dying inside.
I haven’t had more than thirty minutes to think about something besides responsibilities in over SEVEN MONTHS.
I don’t do anything besides chores, work, school, chores, work, school.
Well, yes, I exercise, but I get up at 4:00 a.m. just to do that.
I haven’t seen adult TV since April. Period.
I haven’t done anything creative, FOR ME, for ten months.
I think that’s what has hurt the most. I’ve been holding onto a list of Things to Do that is about 100 items deep, and every time I knock enough of the things off the list and edge closer to a moment when I can do something that I want to do, SOMETHING ELSE FOR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES ITS PLACE.
Well, that’s just motherhood, hon’. Get over it, part of me thinks. You can do something for yourself in fifteen more years.
And so the fight goes on.
This is the headspace of Mother of Two compared to Mother of One.
I truly don’t know how my mom survived being Mother of Five.
She didn’t drink. She had no vices that I could see. Her weapon was optimism.
I still don’t know.
So this is what burnout looks like.
Dusting off the ole’ PS 2 (purchased in 2001…) and playing Final Fantasy VII from the beginning, this time checking off the acquisition of each and every damn Enemy Skill, leveling up the characters beyond what they need, and grinding away at enemy fights with high AP.
Burnout is reveling in the complete obliteration of fake monsters, which you’ve already beat at least five times before, mind you, (even if it was years ago) that cower with your use of Beta or Bolt 3. It is actually mentally and physically enjoyable to watch yourself knock out Boss after Boss in a few major magic attacks–when you’ve spent the entire academic year grinding away, teaching the same classes over and over again, wondering if you’ve yet told that joke to this current roster of students.
Oh, they laughed, so nope, that joke was still new to them. But you are so very tired of yourself. You don’t find yourself clever or interesting anymore. Teaching has become a bit of an out-of-body experience where you actually–while verbally giving instruction–imagine a reality in which you are finally completely ALONE in a cabin, high in the mountains, with nothing but silent snow falling all around and six more books in the Wheel of Time series to read.
That’s what I’ve been coming back from over the last two weeks.
However, it’s conclusion was this: Hey, Moms. Be vulnerable and let people know that you can’t do it all. Be real and don’t pretend that it’s all okay.
Um. Thanks. That’s not helpful.
I’m real all the time about how things are going. A month ago, an energetic co-worker saw me in the office’s kitchen and cheerfully asked how I was doing.
I said, “Running on fumes.”
“Awww, poor thing. Sorry to hear that.”
Which, yes, is somewhat nice to hear, but it doesn’t do much. And I’m certainly not expecting acquaintances to solve my burnout problems. I might also hear or “Eck, that sucks” or the murderously infuriating, “Well, this time goes fast, so don’t waste these moments!”
But it’s not helping to be vulnerable and real with people about the stress that I typically carry when I’m working full-time and taking care of two little ones.
That’s because the problems are systemic. When you live in a country that PITIFULLY supports parents, you end up with high levels of stress and burnout among working parents. (Not just working moms, hello.)
The 40-hour work week sucks for parents because you’re probably spending an additional 3-4 hours each day just caring for kids. And when you’re done with that, you just want to sleep. So really, between working and caring for kids, you’re putting in 60+ hours.
AND THEN HERE COMES THE WEEKEND.
Only it’s not the “weekend” anymore. It’s 24 waking hours of taking care of your kids, or at least keeping them safely occupied.
And if at any point in this post, you’ve had the thought, Oh please, move on, hon. This is your responsibility–You are proving my point.
Being real and being vulnerable about these issues doesn’t help because too often society says that parents (in particular, moms) should not only selflessly accept their responsibilities–they should revelin these most sacred of moments, when the children are small. Because that is what GOOD MOTHERS do. They find endless amounts of fulfillment and life satisfaction simply in seeing their children thrive.
If that’s what a good mother is, then I’m doomed to be a Mediocre Mom.
As much as I love my kids (and I really do), I cannot pretend that neglecting myself for months on end doesn’t have its consequences.
Right now, the consequence looks like this:
Of course, it truly does help when you hear your two-year-old says this:
Okay, truthfully, that’s not all I’ve been doing. I’ve definitely needed time to myself, but I am still very much me–and there’s part of me that just cannot be tamed, I guess.
We have finally filmed a video on knife sharpening for our YouTube cooking channel, which we have been planning to film for the past ten months. I’ve laid it out. It’s edited. It’s mixed and almost produced.
Knife and whetstones
There’s also another project that I’ve been quietly working on, which I’ll debut in a few weeks, if not earlier.
More to come.
And, hey, thanks for reading and not judging.
Hopefully, I’m not scorched in the comments for “being real.”
On February 15th, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment on “Singles Awareness Day,” focusing on how single people shouldn’t feel so alone because everyone else, apparently, had such an amazing Valentine’s Day.
Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.
Valentine’s Day Prelude
Wednesday, February 13th: Spent the day at home with the toddler because of a diarrhea bug, which was mercifully mostly over by Wednesday. Lost time for grading and planning.
The Big V-Day
4:15 a.m. – 5:10 a.m.: Glorious morning run under the stars
(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)
5:12 a.m: Voicemail from public schools. Daughter’s kindergarten class is cancelled because of a water boil advisory due to a major pipe breakage. No problem. She’ll just spend the day at daycare, right?
5:30 a.m.: Bathe the toddler whose poop has turned into sludge and has mercifully remained contained in his footed pajamas.
7:00 a.m.: Daycare decides to also close because of the water advisory. Reverses course 15 minutes later. Children finally dropped off and settled by 7:40 a.m. Daughter forgets all classmates’ valentines in the car.
8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Teaching all morning, lunch for five minutes, grading/planning, public student poster presentations
3:30-4:30: Drive home, make dinner for the kids
4:30-4:45: Eat a leisurely 15-minute dinner alone before getting the kids (salad, hard-boiled egg, peanut butter pretzels)
4:45-5:30: Retrieve children from daycare
5:30-6:30: Feed children/ wash dishes/ sort through bags of valentines, crafts, and candy/ do laundry/ give baths/ dress kids for bed
6:35: Daughter says to me, “My panties have poop in them. Can you help me?”
7:00: Go to bed alone.
The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.
So, let’s dispel all those myths that married people / people in relationships are having amazing Valentine’s Days.
Because at the end of the day, what married couples of so many years with young kids really want is SLEEP.
This is going to be quite the year.
That has been the feeling for at least the past 12 months, since the youngest child started becoming mobile. In the back of my mind (as I’m transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer or moving dry dishes to the cabinets or dirty dishes to the dishwasher), I’ve had this nagging feeling that…
Perhaps, it’s all over.
“It” being my ability to reclaim any empty moment for myself.
If, by some miracle, an empty moment finds me during the day, and I choose to use it for myself, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of Oh my God, you should be doing something else right now! You are so far behind!
But then, the thought: Behind who? Behind what?
Who am I comparing myself to?
My pre-child self? Because she’s been dead for quite a while. And the hope of her resurrection is pretty much gone.
But then there’s the realization that, There is no end to this.
At least not for the foreseeable future.
This is my life now.
Moving from task to task to task to task until the day is done.
My life has become an endless treadmill of tasks that begin at 4:00 a.m. and pull me along, chug, chug, chug, until I throw in the towel at 6:45 p.m.
I don’t mind being busy. Sometimes, I even revel in being busy. Instead, what pulls me down is when I feel like I’m not growing or changing for the better. If I’m not pushing myself to learn more or grow, boredom soon sinks in. And that makes it harder to find joy and purpose in what I do.
So with that in mind, here are a few things that I’m trying out this year, as a way to grow and change.
Relearning algebra, geometry, and trigonometry via Khan Academy
The rationale here is…
I’m afraid of math. And I’m tired of being afraid of math.
So I wondered, What it would be like to learn math without being afraid of failing? What if I could go at my own pace and see how far my limits take me?
It’s also great preparation for taking the GRE (I may or may not be thinking about a Ph.D. program in the future).
Learning how to write computer code
Again, this is something that I’ve been afraid of. Maybe because it’s mostly a male-dominated field? But it seems like learning how to code is becoming not only useful, but necessary as computing power doubles, triples, quintuples.
Reading the Wheel of Time series
This is unabashed escapism. I’m okay with that.
Some mothers have daytime TV.
Some have romance novels (I never could get into those. Too formulaic. Too many one-dimensional characters.)
I’ve got fantasy fiction.
So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.
Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.
The humidifier steams. The white noise machine zzhhhhhhs.
Faint lights from passing cars travel across the walls.
With his soft breath against my shoulder, I rock back and back and back. One year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. As many Christmases as I can remember.
Plenty of happy ones.
Plenty of ones filled with tension. (Growing up in a house with four teenagers will do that).
Plenty of forgettable ones in my 20s. (That limbo between getting married and having kids.)
Now, we’ve entered a series of Christmases that no longer mean comfort and joy or the most wonderful time of the year.
There was the Christmas of Nausea (2012), when I grasped for ginger candy and Sea Bands or whatever anyone suggested that might help me ride the waves of first trimester nausea. From December until mid-January. (Truly a delight, let me tell you.)
And the 37-Weeks-Pregnant Christmas (2016), when I told myself that I only had three weeks left to go. (It turned out to be another five weeks. Yeah.)
And all those fun Christmases of Illness (2014, 2017, 2018). 2017 was by far the worst, as the baby’s diarrhea stretched on for a few weeks, taking us all down into its shitty vortex.
And the downright sad Christmas (2015) when the baby’s heart stopped beating. After I had a D & C on New Year’s Eve, I sat in the parking lot of Whole Foods while my husband bought me a slice of apple pie. I listened to “Long December” by the Counting Crows and cried.
And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
to hold on to these moments as they pass
But if I’m really thinking about the Christmas when everything in my life changed direction, when I started plotting a course that brought me to this rocking chair, with this child in my arms, while my oldest sleeps in her bed across the hall, I always end up traveling back to Christmas of 2002.
It was Christmas Eve. 11:00 p.m. At Wal-Mart. And I was standing in the card aisle. Looking for cards for a few friends and my boyfriend. I had no trouble picking out the cards for my friends.
But I was having the hardest time picking out one for my boyfriend of three years.
Forever and always. My one and only. Meant for each other.
I couldn’t even pick them up to consider them.
Because I understood, suddenly and completely, that I couldn’t see a future for us anymore, the way that I used to.
What was our future? It was his vision for what we would become. A married couple. A house. No kids. I could be a teacher, but did I really need any more education than a Bachelor’s degree? Why did I want to travel when he was the most important thing in my life? Wasn’t a life with him good enough? And kids? Why have kids? They just ruin a good thing.
And for a long time, I thought, Yes, of course. You’re right. You are the only thing that I want in life. I couldn’t possibly want anything else. Right. I don’t want kids. Nah, too much work. We’d be much happier by ourselves. Living our life together without kids getting in the way.
But I did want more. Much more. And in time, conversations about the future brought me back again and again to a realization that I could not ignore.
We had come as far as we could together, but now there was more pulling us apart than was keeping us together.
And although my heart had been feeling that way for some time, I didn’t want to give up. I had poured so much of myself into making it work. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked his family. I didn’t want to make life more difficult or more inconvenient for anyone.
And above all, I didn’t want to believe that although love can bring people together, sometimes it wasn’t enough to keep them together. No one makes movies or songs about the power of finding someone with compatible values and goals for life, or someone who trusts you and works with you to resolve conflict. It’s not sexy enough. And if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to even articulate the problems.
I just remember thinking, This isn’t working.
I thought that a lot.
And yet, I was like the women in my family who came before me: devoted and long-suffering, servile and contented.
To end this relationship was not within my repertoire. At all.
But I also couldn’t lie to myself.
And therefore, I wouldn’t lie to anyone else anymore either.
I paid for the cards for my friends, got in my old car, turned the heat up, and flipped on the radio. The voice of Stevie Nicks reached through the speakers and the tears rolled.
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
Because I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
And I’m getting older too
I didn’t realize it yet, but when I left that store that night, I had changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Because the very next guy that I dated became my husband.
Three years later, we were married.
And we had two kids.
I know. I know.
It’s what we’re tempted to believe: That all the decisions–good and bad–that we’ve made in our lives have brought us to a point for which we’re ultimately grateful.
But, had I made different decisions, would I have ended up somewhere else, where I would be equally as grateful?
But what I do know is that I did something extraordinary on Christmas Eve of 2002.
For years, I imagined my future, married, but no children. Never kids.
But on Christmas Eve of 2002, I allowed myself to imagine a different future.
A life in which, someday…
I might have kids.
It turns out, as it is with a lot of things, the biggest steps that we take all start with a thought.
The simple willingness to imagine a different future.
That ability to imagine a different future has taken me far beyond the original course that I had plotted for my life. It has helped me imagine that I could get a Master’s degree. And travel overseas. And change my political and religious beliefs. And write a book. And lose forty pounds. (Three times, yeah.) And relearn algebra. (It’s true.)
And, yeah, it has helped me to imagine a life that includes kids.
And, with endless gratitude, it has helped me imagine a future moment in my life when my children won’t always need me every moment that they are awake. And a time when we won’t have to pay for babysitters. And a time when we can travel with them without losing our minds.
What about you?
What different future do you imagine for yourself?
And what will you do tomorrow to help you get there?
After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…
Take me away in your spaceship to the stars.
I haven’t always been interested in space travel.
Truth be told, I’ve only recently found the idea very appealing.
I’m pretty sure the strong desire to leave this planet is emanating from a deep sense of doubt in humanity’s ability to overturn–or at the very least disrupt–rampant systems of oppression.
Women continue to not be believed when they are sexually assaulted. Or if they are believed, their pain isn’t important enough to actually change political will.
Wall Street continues to do its ludicrous work even though it robbed American taxpayers out of trillions of dollars.
Gerrymandering continues to silence and marginalize the most vulnerable.
Refugees and immigrants continue to be the scapegoats for every imaginable social ill.
Trump. Trump. And Trump.
I could go on. I won’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues.
And so. Here we are. Women are told to vote (assuming our vote makes a difference–it doesn’t always). We are told to run for office (assuming we have the means and support to do so).
Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.
But in the meantime, if I’m really being serious, I have more faith that you can get us off this planet than I do in the American electorate’s ability to consistently move our country forward. Climate change is happening fast and if we’re still having arguments about whether or not it exists…
Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.
Or it could just be a logical estimation of the possibility that enoughpeople who disagreewith the direction of the country will actually be motivatedenough to travel to a polling place and cast a ballot.
Societies are slow to change.
For most of human existence, patriarchy has been systemically and structurally embedded in society after society. (Precious few have managed to organize society differently.) Now that many of the factors that originally led to the necessity of patriarchal societies have been altered (division of labor, access to education, etc.), those same underlying assumptions that supported patriarchy are being either called into question or actively fought against.
Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.
Unless, that is, the people in those societies are taken out of their cultural context–and planted somewhere else.
This is one of the reasons why New Zealand and Australia were the first nations in which women gained the right to vote (1893 and 1902, respectively). European settlers (or invaders, from the indigenous people’s perspective), removed from their previous cultural context and banding together to build a life in a new land, were suddenly very flexible on the issue of women’s rights.
Women were, in fact, key to building these societies.
The same happened in the United States.
Women in the U.S. first gained the right to vote in…Wyoming.
And so, Elon, it’s not so crazy to believe that hitching my wagon to your star is, ultimately, quite feminist.
Might I suggest that our new civilization have some political structure where 50% of positions of power are necessarily occupied by women?
Just a thought.
I know people have called you erratic for smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s show…
Really? That was the main takeaway?
You talked about so many more interesting topics than that, like your vision that AI could be used as a tertiary level of cognition. And the fact that everything we put on the Internet is “a projection of our limbic system.” (Mind. Blown.)
I watched the whole thing (in 10-20 minute snippets over the period of a whole week while I folded laundry, graded papers, and ate lunch at my desk while simultaneously answering emails…).
I think you’re magical.
PayPal wasn’t your passion. It was just a $100 million thing you did so you could sink money into what really interested you: developing real plans for getting humanity off this planet (since we haven’t mustered enough political will to seriously try to figure out how to stop completely trashing it.)
Let’s leave behind a world that makes fun of science and learning and instead, embraces curiosity, courage, and the path less traveled (or never traveled, as the case may be).
Let’s try once more to make a different world where systems of oppression don’t emerge because of our lack of resources, tribalism, and ingrained patriarchy.
Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)
Maybe you can’t tell, but I have a celebrity-crush on you. One of those crushes that you have for famous people that you’ll never meet in real life, but somehow you still think that maybe there’s the very minuscule possibility that our paths could cross… And if they did…
You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.
I’m married. To a very great man, at that. He is extremely smart, too. He had me at his tattoo of the Golden Ratio.
(Can he come, too? Oh, and maybe my two kids? I swear I’m raising them to be decent human beings.)
Your achievements have come up in conversations among our friends, many of whom are engineers. I’m pretty sure my husband’s words were, That dude doesn’t care about money and he’s just crazy enough that he might actually succeed.
Admittedly, I am not a scientist or engineer. I did well in high school biology, physics, and chemistry (I excelled at balancing formulas.) I struggled in algebra, but I loved geometry (Proofs were fun.) But science and math were really not my thing although I have tons of respect for those who live and breathe those fields.
But your new world is going to need more than scientists and engineers who can help take us into the future.
It’s also going to need people who can make sense of our past.
We need stories to help us understand who we are and where we’re going. I am quite certain that without stories, humanity is lost. Human beings need storytellers.
I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”
I am curious and I love to learn. I changed my major in college to linguistics because concepts like a universal grammar and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis fascinated me. (Arrival was an amazing movie on several different levels.) Also, I loved the rule-governed nature of phonology, morphology, and syntax.
I’m down-to-earth (merely a figure of speech, I assure you), persistent, and hard-working.
I balance life between being driven by outcomes and diving into creativity for creativity’s sake.
gestating life well past 40 weeks (for a few more years)
giving birth with no drugs
Thanks for giving me hope that as a species, we may not be doomed to a future in which misogynistic, narcissistic, entitled men are necessarily destined to rule this planet indefinitely, to the detriment of the vulnerable and voiceless.
People like you make me remember that there are many people in the world who are trying to improve the planet and preserve the longevity of our kind.
I’m not Catholic, but this is what I feel like saying when I’ve opened my baby’s diaper lately.
Just… Dear God…
But that’s not where this story starts. No, this story starts way back in a more peaceful, almost utopian, moment in time called “Our Anniversary.”
It was a time of Hotel Bliss. A time of Sleeping In and Room Service. A time of Binge-Watching and Massages. There was even Sex!
Yes, we’ve been married for twelve years.
It was last Saturday afternoon. Snow softly fell outside of our swanky hotel room. We ate a delightful lunch, brought to us on trays and adorned with cloth napkins and adorable bottles of Heinz ketchup. And because I could, I ate that delightful lunch in my bathrobe.
We spend time hammering out several scripts for upcoming episodes for our YouTube channel. (Check it out here).
We talked about the future. Of possible Ph. D. programs and how old we’ll be when the kids graduate.
We talked about politics. Of just how many men in media and politics and business will fall from grace under the crashing wave of sexual harassment allegations. Of the possibility of a pedophile in our U.S. Senate. (Dodged that bullet. Thank God for small favors.)
And of course, we talked about our kids. They’re such good kids, aren’t they? We really lucked out. Felicity has such a big heart. And “my little man”… Oh, I can’t get enough of that face! (taking phone out) I just have to see that face one more time. Oh my God… He is so ridiculously cute. Mama loves you, Big Boy!
It was perfect.
When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, the Conveyor Belt of Life from which we disembarked on Friday afternoon had accelerated from Challenging-But-Doable to All-Systems-Go.
We still needed to:
buy and decorate a Christmas tree
pick up the gifts from church for the family for which we’re coordinating for our Adopt-a-Family Christmas program.
put away the 9 loads of laundry that I did in a flurry on Friday morning
cook for the weekly meal
cook the oatmeal for the week
prepare Christmas cards for daycare and Sunday School teachers (Round 3 of Christmas cards. Round 4 = all the people who sent you cards whom you forgot to send cards or didn’t have the new address to send cards)
feed everyone several more times before the day was over
clean dishes from those meals
make bottles for the next day
make sure all their sheets, clothes, and bibs were already in their backpacks for Monday
do the bedtime rituals
This is the point in the story when It All Goes to Shit.
As I was feeding Henry his 3:00 p.m. bottle, Diarrhea was engaged.
Okay. I knew this was coming. My mom (who was watching them while we were away) told me that he was having bad diapers since she picked them up at daycare on Friday (He had an explosion in the highchair… From shoulder blades to knees…)
But we were on vacation.
And Mom had it under control. And when Mom has things under control, everything is fine.
We would come home just as the diarrhea was going away.
Oh, sweet naive little Me.
Sunday evening was unpleasant, but we survived. I explained to Felicity that “the puking bug” that was going around daycare wasn’t something that was going to crawl into her food, like a spider.
“It’s a virus,” I tell her. “It’s a… a… really small germ that can get into your mouth and make you sick.”
Her new saying that she likes to apply to all contexts is, “Well, I was going to…”
So what she said was: “Well, I was not going to eat the puking bug.”
“Good idea,” I told her.
It was early Monday morning.
3:00 a.m. He was crying. A cry that said,
Harmph… What is wrong with me? I don’t like Life. Life blows. Argh… < asleep >
Wait… I still think Life blows… < asleep >
Arghhh! Isn’t anyone going to come help me? < asleep >
As I stared at the ceiling, I kept praying that he’d work it out. That he would eventually go back to sleep. I was going to get up to exercise at 4:30. At least, that was the plan.
I ended up holding him from 4:00 until 5:30 that morning as he softly protested, moaning and groaning, clearly fighting something.
We pulled through. We got them to daycare. We worked. I thought back longingly to the Anniversary Weekend. It felt like that had been months ago instead of the mere 24 hours that it had been. I listened to my co-workers talk about their lazy Sundays of Not Doing Much of Anything.
I was intensely jealous. But I kept it in check. You’re the one who wanted to have kids, my Evil Ego said. Then, there was my Good Ego, saying, Don’t freak out on people who don’t deserve it. This too shall pass.
That evening, the Conveyor Belt of Life kicked into Panic Mode.
We spent an hour just feeding and changing Henry’s diaper. Over and over again. Which doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you what is involved in that process.
Ear-piercing screaming. Screams so shrill they may burst your eardrums.
A red-faced baby that you happen to love with all your heart, covered in tears.
A mobile baby who can do a full, twisting plank while you’re trying to wipe.
A wrong maneuver on anyone’s part here can spread the sloshing poop on the baby’s foot, your hands, the changing pad…
Farts (hopefully) and poop (hopefully not) sporadically shooting out at you as you wipe. (Stay out of Danger Zone, friends).
Globs and globs of diaper cream. All over. Just… All over.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Every single time that he poops.
It’s a vicious cycle of, Should I feed him? What should I feed him? He just calmed down. Should I really give him something else? I don’t want him to get dehydrated. But he needs protein. But is soy formula okay? Or not? How many days is this going to go on? Should I call the doctor?
Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.
A midnight cry that turns quickly into a scream.
It takes a moment to realize, but you do. It starts with unzipping the footed pajamas that you hoped would contain any leakage. (Wishful thinking.)
But it’s on his legs, his belly, even his torso. It’s all over his footed pajamas.
For the love of God, it‘s between his toes.
There’s poop everywhere.
On his sheet. On his blanket.
It’s the definition of Lovely.
Then the screams, the tears, the twisting full-planked baby, fighting your every move to stop you from removing all the shit that is literally everywhere.
It makes you frustrated that you can’t just do the Shitty Job that you have to do.
You have to do the Shitty Job while your ears bleed and you’re tired and you’re angry and you just want to go to sleep and your baby can’t say, Thank you. Hell, your baby isn’t even non-verbally saying thank you by just going to bed.
He’s going to scream way down into the Seventh Circle of Hell while you try to shush and rock and sway him to sleep. You try patting his back and butt the way your husband does (It works every time. He likes it that way.)
All to no avail.
So you leave your baby screaming in his crib, shut the door, and cry in the hallway.
Then, you call in your husband and pray that he’s able to get the baby back to sleep.
It makes you hate your baby.
It makes you sad that you just thought that you hate your baby.
Silly me, I thought we’d just set up the camera and start shooting whatever we were cooking.
Okay, maybe my husband would get out the little photography umbrellas and some lights, but that’s it.
We are really in it now.
This is how we started out.
I thought this was kind of a lot of equipment.
Oh, sweet naive me.
Here’s where we are at now.
What you’re looking at is the second version of this handmade mounted mirror (much lighter than the first one.) You’ll also notice that we’ve added more lighting on the countertop… and around the cook top in general.
That pot is about to undergo some intense interrogation.
(Not pictured: We also have a fan mounted to the cabinet while recording–to keep steam from condensing on the mirror.)
Why a mirror? The idea is to record the cooktop from above, without getting steam and gunk in the lens of the camera. Thus, the mirror. Then, once I import the video into our video editing software, I can flip the image vertically so that your brain doesn’t feel like something is off as you’re watching us cooking.
All this rigging has taken a lot of trips to Menard’s, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. (And sometimes back to Menard’s ten minutes before they close.) He’s really put a lot of time and effort into this.
But anyone who knows my husband knows that when he does something, he really does something.
That’s the joint garden that we share with our neighbors–all built in the last few months.
Because. You know. He wanted to have a garden.
Notice the gate on the right side. And where he’s standing, there is a removable portion of that fence–so the truck can back up to it and dump the wood chips directly into the garden.
Hey, it makes him happy. And Felicity loves, loves, loves getting in the dirt.
So it’s taking some time.
In the meantime, I’ve been figuring out and articulating our workflow for making the videos.
I’ve also been building my video editing skills (I’m using CyberLink’s Power Director–a solid program.)
Which leads to this conversation that we had last Thursday night.
Me: “I don’t know why but the preview of the video is really choppy.”
Him: “Once you render it, it should smooth out.”
Him: “Your computer probably isn’t fast enough.”
Then Friday, I call him at 5:00 to see if he’s picking up the kids.
I hear him giving someone his name and address.
Me: “Okay. Where are you?”
Me: “Um, okay.”
Him: “I just bought you a computer.”
Me: “Right. I think I saw that coming.”
Him: “It’s so badass.”
Then later, after the kids are home and dinner is finished, we pick up the conversation again.
Me: “So when is the computer getting here?”
Him: “Already got it.”
Me: “Oh. Where is it?”
Him: “In the car. I still have to put it together.”
Me: “What? I thought you said you bought a computer.”
Him: “Yeah. The parts. It won’t take long to put together.”
Then later, he starts bringing in the boxes.
Me: “Two monitors? You bought two monitors?”
Him: “You got to have two monitors.”
Me: “Oh my God…”
Him: “Go big or go home, Sweets.”
Kid in a candy store.
So when can you expect to see some videos?
I think in the next two weeks.
We have some good footage of making steel-cut oats (although we’re figuring out color balance and how to filter background noise). We wanted to produce some egg videos, but we’ve got to wait until our egg supplier is back from vacation. We also ran into some problems with our lighting. Apparently, we’ve been using too much light and it’s washing out the color of the food. So we’ve got to re-shoot everything. Bargh…
Like any creative project, this one has thrown us some curve balls.
But it’s still been fun.
It has given both of us chances to work in our favorite creative roles.
Him: Woodworking, cooking, photography
Me: Writing, storytelling, video editing
And I guess I can add “directing” to that list now.