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Skinny Dipping by Resa Mai
Long and lean, rolling through the narrows like a river at midnight you are shadow and reflection curves and dips; thrust and suckle Still, I hear what I wish had been fluid, rush, arch, sigh, kept in line and out of the river bed. One moment stilled like a photograph Naked, overexposed Dark, far and locked in memory modesty becomes underexposed. The dipper above poured starlight into laughter Mirrored below laughter poured into starlight.
Resa Mai balances her time like a clown and mixes her writing one shot at a time.
I find I am thirsty Safe between your banks keeping river bed dry you are afraid I will drown. I wonâ€™t. I want to run fingers over cup and flow; skin to skin nipples pebbled breath shallow and hard touch and tease teeth on tendons stretch and seek roll, pull, thrust and moan salt swept from your skin tongue tangled in you on you over and under. White reflected on night Laughter as an aphrodisiac I want the water on my mouth down my throat. Hard and soft you are the river And I am thirsty.
Credits Cover Photo: Lynette Seelmeyer has been a serious photographer for many years. She studied photography while an undergrad at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where she was awarded the highest score given for a student portfolio to that point, a portfolio that included not only photos of religious icons but also a few of her Siamese cat. Since then, she considers herself fortunate to pursue her passion by offering beautiful and unique wedding and portrait photography as well as by creating commercial images for many local Northern Colorado businesses. Her fine art work focuses on black and white and vivid color landscape and architectural photography. She was first assistant for a 2006 LIFE magazine cover shoot at a criminally early hour in the morning for the Balloon Festival in Denver. She finished in the top 100 images (out of several hundred) in the WPPI 2007 annual professional 8x10 competition. Lynette lives in a funky part of North Fort Collins with her husband of sixteen years, two amazing kids who provide her with a lot of photographic inspiration in addition to “booger collection” stories, two cats, a great view, and a lot of clutter. Her website is www.thepicturechick.com, and if you are as much of a Facebook addict as she is, you can fan her at “picture this” by Lynette Seelmeyer.
In the Fall issue of get born, we misspelled the blog name laberoflove.blogspot.com by “Honesty Day” author Larissa Laber, which was downright rude. get born regrets the error.
Photo on page 10 by Tomasz Olejnik. Tom lives in Dublin and you can find more of his photos at fotolejnik.com and on flickr.com/uroborus.
Contents et Cetera
(I know, the ‘c’ is a stretch) get born reserves the right to edit any submissions for quality and clarity. The opinions expressed in articles and advertisements are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher or other contributors. get born magazine is brought to you by our advertisers. Your support of these local businesses and services helps our local community thrive. Join us in thanking them for their support - please let them know you saw their ad in get born.
Skinny Dipping Resa Mai
Firsts: Editor’s Note Heather Janssen
Breathing Room Catherine Newman
Pregnant Megan Schwartz
Lilliputian Angst Kirstan Morris
Books for a Warm Fuzzy Diane Perry Wayward Son Dani Baresel
Registry Revisited Michelle Fried
Boundaries Kay Rios
“I’m so glad we’re doing this together. Sort of” Larissa Laber 23 Too Honest? get born staff and readers
Unborn Joy Claire Gebben
Contact Shreds & Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising: email@example.com Honest mother lit.: firstname.lastname@example.org. Title your piece and include a short bio at the end. Do you love get born? get it delivered or get love by gifting it. You can subscribe by sending $16.95 for a year’s subscription, along with your name and address, to get born magazine, P.O. Box 1141, Fort Collins, Colorado or by visiting getbornmag.com/subscribe
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Editor in Chief & Publisher: Heather Janssen Managing Editor: Corey Radman Marketing Consultant: Kyndra Wilson Design Director: Makeesha Fisher Assistant to the Editor: Stephanie Rayburn
Do you remember the first time you grieved that you’d never be the perfect mother? The first time you knew that, try as you might, you were going to fail these children, let them down? The first time you found your truth and began to broadcast it? I do. I remember when I sent my first essay to my best friend, terrified that she’d tell me that not only did my writing suck badly, I was a shitty mother, too. She didn’t say any of those things. She forwarded my essay to several other people instead. And my voice was born. Or maybe I just discovered it. I knew that finding my voice was crucial to my survival. Dramatic? Perhaps, but true nonetheless. If I hadn’t found my voice, I would never have started this magazine, an adventure that is so exhilarating, that makes me so proud, and that I firmly believe comprises a piece of the legacy I’m leaving for my daughters.
1 Winter, 2010
But how often I have struggled between the mind-numbing, ice-cold, mental playground of trying to do what’s good for myself, what will feed and nurture me and not factor in the tremendous responsibility and subsequent guilt of what’s good for my children? It’s not simple, is it? • If I go work out, and miss their swim practice, I am taking care of myself, but I have a girl or two who feels neglected in the process. • If I desperately need some space and the margin to think a complete thought and need to tune out for a few hours, but in the process miss the girls grand impromptu karaoke show, I face their disappointment. Or maybe it’s just me. It could be—I’ve been known to hold a little bit of the corner of the market on neurotic mind games. I’m gonna go out on a little bit of a limb and say maybe I’m not the only one who feels torn between these two inextricably connected worlds—self and mother. In fact, this issue brilliantly illustrates this push and pull. Megan Schwartz painfully tells of the terror of losing herself all over again to crippling post-partum depression when finding out about a second pregnancy. Award-winner Catherine Newman feels pulled between giving her children space to become who they’re going to be and asserting appropriate parental boundaries (and who the hell made those rules, anyway?) Kirstan Morris returns, illustrating the truly mind-fucking battle of not superimposing her own school trauma on her kindergartner. No need to hide that particular skeleton around here—Hi there, we’re get born moms, and we’re flawed, angsty, scared and thrilled, all at the same time, just like you. Claire Gebben’s heart-rending pull between delight at finding out she was going to be a mother juxtaposed with her brother’s suicide illustrates this pull with stark beauty and raw truth. Just when we’re drowning from the overwhelmedness, Dianne Perry, Michelle Fried, and Resa Mai lift us out of the terrifying riptide and rest us on the humor and poignancy of experience, spanning the gap between hot sex and bedtime stories (not at the same time—shame on you!) to a well-written revision of the ubiquitous baby registry.
We’re finding out how brilliant, raw, beautiful and untidy so many of you are through the get born magazine fan page on Facebook, which, if you haven’t joined yet, could very well be the tonic for whatever mothering angst ails you. To that end, we’re asking for you to write for get born. We want to know what you think about honesty in motherhood. See page 24 for all the details, and know we’ll be waiting on pins and needles for your responses. I remember the first time I found my voice and how it felt like I wouldn’t drown after all. I hope get born gives you that hope today, and provides you with a place to be heard, to laugh with your tribe, and to engage the push and pull of mothering, in all its angst. Rest assured that we don’t offer trite, pat solutions, only company on this crazy road trip. We’ll bring the cheetos and trail mix while you provide the diverse, delightful soundtrack.
Breathing Room Catherine Newman
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. - Kahlil Gibran
} Oh yeah? Well Kahlil Gibran can bite me. Oops! I mean: How inspirational! The funny thing is, when I was a teenager, that poem really spoke to me, if you know what I’m saying. I mean, I more or less had it inscribed onto pizza-sized medallions for my parents. Or maybe I had it tattooed across their backs? I can’t remember. But I do know that it gave me a certain kind of “Right on!” feeling. Now I read it, and I know that it’s right — I can feel in my bones how right it is — but it just produces in me a vague and uninspired sort of guilt, the way you feel when you bury a mayonnaise jar in the trash instead of recycling it, because the thought of cramming a sponge into its greasy emptiness and getting mayonnaise all over your knuckles is just too much to bear. But really, I am working on it. I can see that the children are their own people; I understand that the sooner and better I integrate that fact into my life, well, the happier we’ll all be. But I still catch myself feeling so much ownership of them — as though they really are ours, these two beautiful lives that share this house with Michael and me. We tried to see Shrek 2 out on the town common last summer, and we 8
ended up fleeing about twenty minutes into it, a panic-stricken Ben in tears, despite his having borrowed a pair of our friend Jim’s earplugs to block out the frightening, frightening, um — fart jokes (“I yike Frek!” Birdy announced brightly in the car, and then added, out of respect for her tender-hearted brother, “But it was too, too scary.”). Anyway, in those twenty minutes on the twilit grass, both kids cuddled in my lap, and I couldn’t stop putting my lips to their heads — those damp, fragrant midsummer scalps. I kissed their hair and the backs of their necks and, when Birdy tipped her head back to smile at me, I kissed the soft white of her underchin. Oh the luxury! There’ll be a time when the children’s bodies are off limits to me — when I will have to do all my fond gazing while they’re asleep because even the presence of my eyes on them will feel about as welcome and comfortable as a hair shirt. I think that’s my biggest worry about the kids becoming teenagers: Not so much the smoking of something or other in a Dunkin Donuts employee bathroom or the various breathless gropings of underclothes, but this — this potential loss of access to the people I love most in the whole world. Also that I won’t be able to comfort them simply by rocking them in my lap. And that they’ll be teased. Oh, and also death, of course. I mean, I wouldn’t want to leave out my truest, bluest companion, phobia-wise. But even now, with Ben in particular, I’m starting to realize — or to make myself realize — that he’s his own person in the world, and his social interactions aren’t really mine to mediate in the same way as when he was little. He talks to people — friends, strangers, relatives — and I try to stop myself from whispering “Don’t forget to say thank you!” because the truth is he knows how he wants to be. So I try to hang back more (in case you couldn’t guess, “hanging back” comes about as naturally to me as hang gliding) and give him space to make his own way. Like when we were waiting for Michael and Birdy in the airport and Ben was admiring some man’s Minnie Mouse bag. It was one of those vaguely pornographic Minnie drawings where she’s about as mouselike as Angelina Jolie. “Kind of makes you wish she were real so you could take her out on a date, right?” the bag’s owner said, grossly, and then winked at me. I was going to say something myself, but Ben shook his head. “Really? Not me. If I could take any cartoon out on a date I think it would have to be Pooh.” Something about Ben’s confident good-heartedness — or maybe it was his expressive innocence — just took all the slippery wind out of this guy’s sails, and he said, “Whatever,” and kind of shrugged himself away from us. I thought, “You go, Ben!” and felt the way pride feels from a tiny bit of distance. I know that I’m not marrying my own kids or anything, but I was thinking of this other classic quotation about relationships, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters: “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” Amen. I don’t want Ben and Birdy to grow up feeling like their view of the sky is blocked out by my enormous, anxious face. Also by the Miss-Gulch-carrying-Toto-away-in-her-bike-basket soundtrack from the Wizard of Oz. I’m going to keep working on it.
Catherine Newman, author of the awardwinning memoir Waiting for Birdy, is a contributing editor at FamilyFun magazine and a regular contributor to O: The Oprah Magazine. She writes a weekly food and parenting column, “Dalai Mama Dishes,” at family.com, and wrote “Bringing Up Ben and Birdy” for four years at babycenter.com, where a version of this piece originally ran. Each week, she tenderly chronicled both the growth of her children, and her own struggles as a mother, constantly trying and failing and trying again to get it right, all the while laying bare for her readers the anxiety and hope of “getting born.” She lives with her family in Western Massachusetts, where she is currently at work on a children’s chapter book about baking and magic.
PregNant Megan Schwartz
Staring down at the little stick in my hand, I give it a rough shake. I look again, but it hasn’t changed. The line is still there or, more accurately, both lines are still there. Two lines. I double check the description on the box to be sure, but I’ve done this before. I know what two lines means. I’m pregnant. My lungs tighten painfully as the air in the room is suddenly sucked into a vacuum. The light from the window scratches my face, harshly vivid and unreal. Shaking so hard that my legs give way, I sink down to the floor. The sobs choking me are stuck in my throat. I try to hold them back with trembling hands against my mouth. I lay my head back against the wall and close my eyes.
Breathe. Just breathe.
I didn’t take that first test because I was a few days late, oh no. My cycle tends to wander month to month so that was not really any concern. No, I took that first test because of Murphy’s Law. The weekend was coming up and I wanted to make sure I didn’t start my period in the middle of some plans we had, so I took the test. Because, obviously, when you take a pregnancy test you will, automatically, start your period within three hours. The trick was to go ahead and pay for the damn thing and then it would be completely useless. I’d done it probably a dozen times over the years and it always worked.
intelligible, allowing me sight past gas-guzzling monstrosities. A baby.
Good old Murphy really screwed me over this time. Oh, and by the way? Those birth control pill packs should just cut to the chase and say “2% completely useless” instead of sugar coating it with that “98% effective” crap.
And most painfully raw of all, there looms my own intimate fearinsanity.
This wasn’t the plan, really. I have two kids already, little girls 5 and 2. After my youngest was born, bad things happened inside my mind. The short story is that I lost it completely and clawed myself back up to sanity on the battered backs of my family and friends. The long story is, well... long. Postpartum mood disorder (bipolar II with postpartum onset, to be specific), 18 months of guinea pig drug testing with eleventy-hundred different doctors, two hospitalizations and therapy, therapy, therapy. And crying. There was lots of crying. The upside is that now I know what I can survive and, perhaps more importantly, what my marriage can survive. The downside, or at least the side-side, is that I decided to never have any more children. I, quite literally, almost died and had no intention of ever dragging myself or my family through that again. My life, the life I fought so hard to keep, has reached a point of transition now. Soon, I will not be just a mother and a wife. Soon, as my kids reach school age, I will have the luxury to decide what I want to be when I grow up, finding an identity that is mine alone. But now there are two lines. (Actually, there were six lines, because I kept taking tests just to see what would happen. Like, maybe the next one would be different?) I’m pregnant. So there I sat on the bathroom floor, shaking a fit to capsize the house and listening to a strange moaning sound I didn’t realize was my own voice. Then, grasping for a lifeline in the storm of my shock, my thoughts latched on to the next biggest issue at hand, the real earth-shaker. Minivan. Good God. In the past few weeks, reality has settled into something a little more
< Photo by Tomasz Olejnik
There is a life inside me, dependant on me, demanding all of me even as my two children now each demand 100% of me without forgiveness or leniency. Diapers. Sleepless nights. Hours upon hours trapped in the house, afraid to venture forth with three in tow for fear someone will step in front of a truck when I am distracted by the other two.
Imagining driving into oncoming traffic just to make the world a better place, without me in it. Fearing for my children because of all the damage I was doing to them, simply by existing in their presence. Hating, burning, aching, freezing inside my head so much that I could do nothing but sit in a numb stupor for hours on end. Panic attacks and out of control mania. Would it all happen again? Could I survive a second time? And yet... I’m pregnant. There is a baby, a life, inside of me. Eyes that will seek out mine more than anyone else’s. Soft skin like no silk ever woven, nursing in the morning light with nothing more to the world than our own heartbeats and bodies curled into each other. First smiles and first steps. Minivan aside, maybe this could be ok. My daughters, though young, are not babies themselves anymore. They sleep through the night, go to the bathroom on their own and know how to put on their own shoes. My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall, just after the baby (THE BABY?) will be born. While I may fear going out to the grocery store with three kids, at least Starbucks has a drive-thru, right? I am not an inexperienced mom by any standard. I know what could happen, what has happened, and what needs to be done in many situations. I don’t say all situations, because my experience also tells me that there are things for which you simply cannot prepare. Like this unexpected moment in time, this canyon that has broken the ground across our path. The future is suddenly, terrifyingly, wide open. I’m pregnant. Breathe. Just breathe.
❀ Megan Schwartz is a stay-at-home-mom to two girls, ages 2 and 5, expecting a 3rd (girl? boy?) in the summer, and a freelance writer, in that order. She maintains several blogs, including a personal one at megs-musings.blogspot.com to chronicle her adventures in motherhood, writing, marriage, depression and everything in between.
I went back to school last week at the tree-ripened age of 36. After a long hiatus spent acquiring “real world experience” and so-called street smarts that one can only attain after years spent jostling shoulder to shoulder with her adult peers, I reentered this miniaturized classroom in hopes of eventually attaining a degree. Mind you, I did not return for my doctorate or even for a master’s degree-I already have one of those tucked in my back pocket for later use in my next life. No second bachelor’s for me either. Instead, I reentered the local school district as a bottom-feeding, wedgie-picking kindergartner, whose sole purpose in the day is to make it to 3:38 PM without picking my nose noticeably in class while controlling my obsessive urge to go play with the classroom hedgehog, turtles, and guinea pig at inappropriate times during the day. Obviously, I am not actually the one sitting in the Lilliputian desk in my daughter Ashley’s kindergarten class trying to learn to count to 100 or wishing that it were snack time instead of story time. Rather, my fragile, beating heart went back to school with her, and it remains stuffed inside her nerdy, rolling backpack just waiting to be smashed to bits. You are probably sitting back thinking I am one of “those” wackadoo parents speaking in the first person about going back to kindergarten. Come on, you know the ones—don’t lie. These are the ones who actually slog through their children’s nightly curricular demands, quietly completing bits and pieces of it to “help” said darling offspring
and aid in getting those good grades for their five-year-old. Yes, these parents do exist; they actually reenter elementary school so deeply that they might as well be assigned their own student identification number. Not me, however. There will be no parent plagiarism coming from me, one can be sure. I spent nearly a decade as a middle school English teacher, and having to grade “mommy-composed” essays and “mommy-created” book projects that rival something designed to impress Mr. Trump himself in the boardroom, I refuse to do any schoolwork for Miss Ashley. No lastminute science projects, no late night “editing” of her book reports, no lastminute show-and-tell logs created by me for my daughter. The highly touted academic performance at her elementary school will have to come from her and only her, but I can guarantee that the emotional and social perseverance needed to survive thirteen years in the local school system and all of the angst that is bred there will be mine to bear right alongside my girl. Until little Ashley and I entered those narrow halls smelling of stinky kid feet, chalk dust, and leftover lunches rotting in backpacks, I had not yet gone back to school. However, as I watched that 12
beautiful blonde ponytail bounce away from me into school that first day, my heart definitely cramped up. I am not referring only to that motherly cramp of the heartstrings due to handing your child over to another person for safekeeping. I am referring to the “Holy Crap! I forgot how high-drama a day at elementary school was for me” flashback that hit on back-to-school orientation and only intensified since she skipped away from me and was swallowed up by the school doors. Those sensory smacks in the face during reading testing a few days before kindergarten began brought me right back to St. Agnes Elementary School in Scottsbluff, NE in the 1970s and 80s. I was back in my polyesterblend pants with my metal Snoopy lunchbox and those wretched bucked teeth, and my knees buckled ever so slightly at the thought of who was waiting for me in those parochial halls of learning. As I said, “Holy crap!” I had forgotten all about the snippy little girls who made fun of me because for being tall, for having a long nose and big feet, forgotten about the boy who screamed at me in front of everyone on the playground after I passed the word to the entire class that he liked me, and the mean little nun who called my parents when I passed a note to
covered in the new curse words I picked up in the lunchroom that week. The memories of feeling crummy with a winter cold while sitting in a boring class and just wanting my mom to come get me and give me a hug were blocked until that moment. I had even blocked out my entire fourth-grade year in which another girl stole my very best friend. It was a brutal year-long battle for Molly’s heart that took on an epic quality, and I was the one left standing, without a chair, when the music stopped. Coming home from school in tears almost every day that year bought me my very first ulcer along with a look at the fragility of human relationships and their fickle nature.
her struggle to find someone kind to sit and eat lunch with each day. I tell her some stories from my St. Agnes past to help her learn to navigate the deep river of angst that she will be swimming in for the next thirteen years, but I hesitate to say much yet. She doesn’t really know how mean kids can be, and she doesn’t know that people can actually hate you and want to taunt you for no reason whatsoever. I’d rather she have as much time in kindergarten reveling in getting to work with sticky clay in art class and holding out for time to play with that beloved hedgehog class
pet. Although my heart sits at her feet in that backpack, I want her to slip into her tiny chair each day without Lilliputian angst for as long as she possible can. ❀ Kirstan Morris is in her sixth year of staying at home with kids and feeling pretty conflicted about where she will head after her youngest is in school full-time. In the meantime, she can be found most afternoons pretending to be a giant spider while she chases her three year old son, the fly, around the backyard in an effort to roll him up in her web (the hammock) and suck his blood. Ah, little boys.
The truth is that what many of us parents find out when we head back to school each fall, especially us newbies who have not been privy to the sensory smack in the memory that only a tour of the elementary school can provide, is that many things have changed, but not much has changed as well. This may be a different millennium entirely than it was during my kindergarten experience, but the emotional and social hurdles looming ahead for her remain eerily similar. The girl who decides to pick on my daughter for some stupid cosmetic feature might not be sporting sparkly blue leg warmers and Debbie Gibson hair like my bully did, but the jabs she throws at Ashley will wound deeply just the same; that is a hard piece of reality for this mom to carry to school as I drop her off each morning. That’s the crux of it right there—I know something very big that she doesn’t know yet, and there is nothing I can do about it. The school years are brutal for children and a bitch to navigate unscathed, and my daughter will learn how to handle not only writing lower case letters this year but also how to handle bruises to her heart. Her heart has already taken a few punches, even in just a week of school, like those kids who will not play with her at recess and
Illustration by Craig Clear
One of the joys of parenting (did I actually just write “joys of parenting”?) is re-discovering favorite books from childhood. Maybe it’s because certain books were read to us over and over, or maybe it’s because they were read to us when our brains were malleable, but as an adult there’s nothing like happening upon one of these long-forgotten books and experiencing that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. The following is a list of books that push my nostalgia buttons and having a great time reading to my own children. If you’re a child of the ‘70s, you may feel the same.
Books Dianne Perry
The Monster at the End of this Book Starring Loveable Furry old Grover by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin (originally published in 1971) This was my favorite book from my childhood. After I had kids, my mom showed up with my old, yellowed, taped and re-taped copy and, even though it had been more than 25 years since I’d seen or thought about this book, it all came flooding back. Oh yeah, Grover doesn’t want you to turn the pages because he doesn’t want to meet the monster at the end of the book. He’s so scared! But you turn the pages anyway toward the inevitable conclusion—the monster is him. I looked up the reader reviews on Amazon to make sure I wasn’t the only one who had this book read to them as a child. Apparently I wasn’t. Out of 137 reviews, 136 of them were ridiculously glowing. The words genius and brilliant appeared often, and one review began, “…a fascinating treatise on several of the philosophical problems lurking at the core of modern and classical thought.” Those are big words for a book starring loveable, furry, old Grover. But I agree that there is genius in it, and my kids love to
turn the pages. This book is so meta. I feel sorry for that 137th person who just didn’t get it. Anything by Richard Scarry but in particular Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, written and illustrated by Richard Scarry (originally published in 1974) There’s something strange about Richard Scarry books. I have a theory that the filmmaker David Lynch was heavily influenced by these books. Nothing in this world quite makes sense: pigs eat sausages (actually, everyone eats sausages—and lots of blueberry pie), Lowly Worm hops around on one “foot,” and the tone and mood is relentlessly cheerful. Scarry taps into some weird childhood zeitgeist. When my oldest son was about four he wanted to read Cars and Trucks and Things that Go every night, and it bugged me. Then I learned to let go of my adult need for narrative. This is not a book that you read. Instead you pour over the pages, you find your favorite odd contraption (for us, it was the pickle truck and the bananamobile), you search for Goldbug, you talk about what it would be like to ride in a camper with a swimming
pool on top or to live in a mobile apartment building. It got to the point where instead of starting from the beginning, I would just ask my son which page he wanted to look at that night. The interaction was way more satisfying than just going through the motions, reading the words and hoping for the end. Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz (originally published in 1972) I love the drawings by Ray Cruz; they capture the crumminess of the ‘70s. When I was a kid I of course related to Alexander and his predicaments—the gum in his hair, the best-friend troubles, and the fights with his siblings. Now I would call this book Alexander’s Mother and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. In every picture she looks kind of angry. I have two boys. If I had another, I might move to Australia…by myself. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent (originally published in 1968) Okay, so culturally speaking, this one is a mess. I read somewhere that the illustrations depict Japanese clothing though the setting is China. And is it in any way based on a real Chinese folktale? I have no idea. But I do know there is no combination of syllables more mantra-like than the name Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo. Sometimes I have to shout it out to remove it from my head. The story is about two brothers, the older and more favored son is named Tikki Tikki Tembo, etc., and the younger and less favored son is named Chang. They both at different times fall in the same well, but Chang fares better because his name is faster to say and therefore help arrives more quickly. I think I liked this story when I was a kid because, like old-fashioned fairytales, it has a surprisingly cruel edge to it (the kids
in the bottom of the well, the mother who picks favorites), yet is rendered safe because of the dreamy, exotic (are we still allowed to say “Oriental”?) location. The Giving Tree written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein (originally published in 1964) I can’t read this book or even write about this book without getting all choked up. I like to think I have a keen bullshit sentimentality detector, but it just shuts down on this one. The tree loves a little boy, and at each stage of the boy’s life it gives him what he needs: limbs to climb, apples to eat, branches to build a house, a trunk to build a boat, and, in the end, a stump to rest on. And the tree was happy. Kind of reminds me of being a mom. My boys often want to read The Giving Tree but are not moved by it at all. This worries me. The Sleep Book, written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (originally published in 1962) And if the goal is to put your little ones to sleep (isn’t that pretty much always the goal? They’re so much more loveable that way), then The Sleep Book should do the trick. This one can be difficult to read because you have to stop every few seconds to yawn. Just thinking about it makes me yawn. Everyone sleeps in The Sleep Book: The very nice baboona out in foona lagoona, and the guests at the Zwieback Motel (“and people don’t usually sleep there too well… as everyone knows. The sheets are too short. They won’t cover your toes.”) At the end, ninety nine zillion nine million and three sleepers are sleeping. How do they know the amount? Well of course, by an Audio-Tellyo-Tally-o Count. While listening to this paean to sleep, even the most resistant child will begin to think that drifting off to sleep is a simply wonderful idea.
Dianne Perry is a freelance writer who lives in Denver with her husband and two boys. She is currently researching an article about mothers and antidepressants (working title: “This is Your Mommy on Drugs”).
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (originally published in 1978) This one is a very silly, tall tale with fun illustrations. The story is about a town where food falls from the sky instead of rain and snow. At first, everything is fine and the food comes in the right amounts and is cooked to everyone’s liking. But then things start to go awry. The broccoli is limp and vats of spaghetti gum up the works of the town. My boys like the page where a giant pancake falls on the school and they have to shut it down. The new movie based on this book is by filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I Googled them and sure enough, they’re Gen X’rs, born in 1977 and 1975, respectively. The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams (texts were originally published in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Illustrations are from 1953) When I was a kid I thought it was unfair that I couldn’t be Laura Ingalls. Why couldn’t I kill a pig, boil the head and make head cheese? One year for Christmas I asked my parents for a coal burning stove. I didn’t get one. I’m now reading these books to my six-year-old son and they’re
just as good as when I was a child, maybe even better. As an adult I can appreciate the beautiful simplicity of the writing. And each illustration by Garth Williams is imprinted in my brain. The series can also be used as a self help manual: how to be happy with simple things, how to be self sufficient, how to be nice to your husband even though he dragged you away from your family in the big woods onto some godforsaken prairie. And I was stunned by the Existentialism of a passage from The Long Winter where Pa and Laura are talking about muskrat houses. Laura asks Pa why muskrats always build their houses the same way. He replies, Muskrats have to build that kind of house. They always have and they always will. It’s plain they can’t build any other kind. But folks build all kinds of houses. A man can build any kind of house he can think of. So if his house don’t keep out the weather, that’s his look-out; he’s free and independent. Sartre, eat your heart out.
Good children’s literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child. ~ Anonymous ~
Wayward Son Dani Baresel
One of my earliest memories of my son was of him getting lost. He was barely two years old and followed a pair of momma-looking legs down a grocery store aisle. He looked up, realized his mistake and began shrieking so that canines in the next county cocked their heads. Interrupted from my coupon comparisons by this recognizable squeal, I sprinted away from my cart full of groceries shouting “WHERE’S MY BABY????!!!!!!” As my son got older, and more pain-in-the-assish, he’d hide from me whenever possible. At department stores he’d climb into the clothing racks, balancing himself under a set of women’s blouses (on sale!), and fail to suppress his giggles. If we were walking somewhere, he’d stubbornly refuse to hold my hand. I’d continue on in hopes that he would follow. However, when I’d turn around, he’d have pulled another disappearing act. One occasion he took off like an off-leash dog at a video store and in under five seconds managed to set off the fire alarm. One of his grandest feats was when he positioned his tricycle next to the open gate, then hid himself under a blanket back in the house. He chortled with glee when we had the whole neighborhood shouting his name, and his sobbing mother had just picked up the phone to call the police. After several of these Houdini-like escapades I’d learned not to make a complete fool of myself, but that warm, prickly feeling in the pit of my stomach was never pleasant. I always wondered if this really was THE time. As this nerve-wracking kid became a teenager he progressed from losing me to losing himself. He couldn’t find his way out of a cul-de-sac. He was constantly calling me saying “I’m on Main Street by a large tree and some stop signs, where do I go now?” They invented hand-held GPS especially for my boy, but that didn’t help much either. On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, he charted our course on his GPS then hollered at me to take THAT exit as we passed it at 60 mph. He’s lucky my car doesn’t have an ‘eject’ button for back-seat drivers.
“Jeez, how’d you ever get around before GPS’s?” he asked. “Well,” I calmly responded, “We asked friendly-looking dinosaurs for directions.” My son did the ultimate disappearing trick last week: he left for college. I drove him to the airport as if driving to my doom. I cried and gave him one last, no, one more, no, wait, just one last hug before he entered the long security line. As he waited, he turned around to make silly faces and pretended to give the guy ahead of him a ‘Wedgie.’ He finally made it through security unharmed, turned around to wave me one last salute, then bravely walked off in the complete opposite direction of his gate. That’s my boy.
Dani Baresel is a WOTH mom of three, ages 18, 8 and 5 in Houston, Texas. When she’s not working, shuttling kids, running errands, helping with homework, reading, taking pictures, visiting with friends, improving her french, writing, or traveling, she enjoys her 4 hours of free time by sleeping. She blogs for Motherhood with Attitude at http://www. motherhoodwithattitude.com/category/guest-bloggers/dani/ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registry Revisited Michelle Fried
Four years after giving birth, I’m still pregnant with all the useless junk I received at my baby shower. Pathetically, most of this stuff I actually asked for. Yep, that was me, waddling aimlessly through the aisles of my local baby store, laser gun cocked, attempting to blast away my parenting insecurities. Naive like an overblown puffer fish, I bought the mega-baby marketing claims hook, line and sinker. Today, with the gift of a good night’s sleep and steady hormones, I have a few ideas about the gifts I wish I’d actually received: ✓ A Jumbo Book of Deluxe Car Washes – While conducting research under the seats of my Honda minivan, I recently uncovered these treasures: moldy french-fries, a grasshopper (legs plucked free), an old (and possibly used) pull-up, a carton of chocolate milk and ten thousand Happy Meal toys. A book of ten car washes is number one on my revised baby shower wish list. ✓ A Custom-Fit Bra – After a forty-four month-long marathon of pregnancies and breast feeding, I’m in dire need of some major remodeling up top. Since my husband refuses to cough up the cash for a new set of hooters, a custom bra would be just the thing. Say goodbye to frayed, saggy maternity bras, nasty lesions across your shoulders and church mom style. Say hello to strategically placed padding, a pajama-comfy fit and red-hot candy trim. ✓ A Hot Personal Trainer – Despite the propaganda, those ten (or thirty) pounds don’t just melt away with breastfeeding. If possible, my trainer would look a bit like Robert Downey Jr. and have a thing for women who are a little thick around the middle. Robert would come to my house each week, whip my butt into shape and drink mojitos with me by the pool (unfortunately, since we don’t have a real pool, we’ll have to lounge in the yellow dinosaur blow-up one out back). ✓ Sex for my Husband - It may take a special girlfriend to give this gift, but honestly, if I could have outsourced sex for my husband legally, I would have done it. Lucky for me, he was delirious from exhaustion and easily conned into believing we were making the rounds every week. After about a year, when I began to muster up enough energy to give it up---I got knocked UP. So, with this cautionary tale in mind, I strongly recommend farming this one out until you’re ready to have more children. ✓ Spanx –If only I had known. If only someone had shared the dirty little secret of mothers everywhere, taken pity on my post maternity muffin top, and shown me the cellulite squeezing powers of spandex. Ahhhh…just to feel once more, the pleasure, the bliss, the satisfaction of squeezing into my favorite Lucky jeans without splitting the back-side seam. But I’m in the know now, and I want to share this fat sucking miracle of the modern world with you. If you haven’t put this on your registry, do it---now. ✓ Cold Hard Cash – With mounting bills for soccer uniforms, tutors and anger management classes for me, I now realize the folly of diaper wipe warmers and monogrammed socks. Today I’d request greenbacks, gold bullion, or stock in Exxon. Skipping the fluff and investing the savings at 7%, our college fund would have grown to over $5000. A good start on a college education or a week in Tuscany –whichever comes first. 18
✓ Tidy Troops – Not a week goes by that I don’t find myself crawling around on the floor sticky with Cocoa Puffs looking for my car keys. Like a good soldier, I clear zones of toys and trash, only to return a few minutes later to find them infiltrated again. A clean house is almost as good as Prozac, so send the reinforcements, send the girls in the short skirts holding the feather dusters, send someone to dig me out of this mess! ✓ Nourishment – There’s a reason meals pop up on every new mother’s wish list: food is comfort, food is fuel…food is not the BBQ chips and coffee ice-cream I limped through my first few months of motherhood on. Please make us food. Please bring us food. At the very least, send over a Domino’s pizza with a six pack of Bud.
✓ In-house Spa Call – During those first few months at home, a caviar wrap with dark chocolate detox would have done just the trick. Sadly, the only place for all this pampering would have been in the middle of my toy-strewn living room surrounded by shrill cries, leaky breasts and my husband asking where the diapers are. Ask for it anyway---your stabbing sciatic nerve demands it. ✓ Peace and Quiet – Watching me pound Excedrin Migraine with Coke all day, a close friend with a gentle spirit once shared the secret of her Zen-like parenting skills---earplugs. Happily oblivious, she wears them while toasting frozen waffles, carting squabbling siblings to school and during a certain playgroup run by an annoying vegan mom. And so now, while still keeping my eyes peeled for any signs of blood or broken glass, I’m a believer and a founding member of VoDMAP--the Voluntary Deafness Movement of American Parents. Let there be peace on earth--or at least in my own head--give me a lifetime supply of earplugs.
Illustration by Clear
I’m a writer mama who spends her days at her desk making light of the sometimes heavy job of mothering and her nights mopping floors and reading Goodnight Moon. I have two boys, six and four, and I’m very grateful there are magazines out there like get born that tell it like it is. You can write Michelle at email@example.com
Boundaries Kay Rios
Owl Creek Road winds its way out of Snowmass Village into Aspen, a shortcut only locals know. Spiraling up around the lushly covered hillside, the road spills onto a long, wide meadow before it curves down and heads to Colorado Hwy 82. Not quite comfortable with this borrowed bike and still acclimating to the high altitude, I lag behind my daughter, Shawn. She’s a good city block ahead of me and, as she passes a horse ranch, a colt bolts from his mother, jumps the fence and trots after her, looking to play. I yell at Shawn to stop. She dismounts just as the colt catches up to her. He trots up to her and nuzzles her arm. On the other side of the fence, the mother shrieks horse talk at her bad child who has, without permission, left the confines of his life. She becomes more and more agitated,
pacing back and forth. As I pull along side, she drops to her knees, rolls on her back, whinnies loudly and kicks her feet into the air. “We can’t leave him out here,” Shawn says. The bike path runs right next to the road and he could easily dart into traffic, sparse as it is. Years of hanging out at the rodeo and taking riding lessons feed my instincts. I lay my bike down and slowly approach. “Keep talking to him softly and rub his nose,” I say. His nose is in Shawn’s pocket, looking for treats. I’m leery of this unknown animal, but he’s quiet and curious and is obviously used to being handled. “Here, put this around his neck and keep talking to him.” I hand her a bungee cord from the fender of the bike. She slowly reaches up and links the cord loosely around his neck. He raises his head and, at full height, stands about 19 hands to the top of his head – about 4” over her 5’4” frame.
A motorist jumps out of his car to help. The mother is still fussing and we have to move this child beyond her to the gate without spooking him. As Shawn continues to coo to him, I place my sweatshirt slowly, easily over his head and cover his eyes. He skitters a bit and shakes his head but, with Shawn’s gentle voice and our physical coaxing with the rigged lariat, he begins to move in the desired direction. The man from the car easily hoists his lanky frame over the gate, unlatches it and pulls it open without sound. We slowly move the spirited bad boy inside. We lead him through the front of the barn and open one of the back doors leading into the pasture where mom lurks. The furious mother’s on her feet now. She comes at us, snarling, snorting and stamping, furious at us for tempting her son and at him for being tempted. Shawn removes the bungee, I take the sweatshirt and son runs to mom. She nips him, shoves him and then, as he bows his head under her neck, she quiets and gently snorts into his ear. My daughter and I simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief and the man returns to his car with a wave. We return to our bikes, talking in hushed voices, so we don’t draw the colt’s attention. We walk our bikes, slowly, quietly as mom and son stroll to the back of the pasture. That’s when I realize that the fence is only chest high. The mother could have easily jumped but she didn’t. She had, after all, been taught her boundaries. I, too, have learned about boundaries. I learned from my kids. My children and I struggled to find our boundaries with each other and they came through hard lessons on both sides. My efforts to establish boundaries for them taught me what that meant in my own space and put me on a more guided and purposeful path.
Their physical boundaries were quickly defined: “Don’t go out in the street, don’t climb on top of the refrigerator, get off the roof, stay out of the dryer.” And they were easy to enforce, especially with my daughter. Telling her once was enough. My son, nine years her junior, was tougher. After a couple of verbal instructions, there was sometimes the swift swat to his 3-year-old behind to punctuate the dictate. Not that he always paid attention even then (“Ha! Didn’t hurt!”). But with consistent reinforcement, he would eventually get it. I, on the other hand, didn’t get it quite as easily. Especially as my kids grew through adolescence, my toughest lessons revolved around their personal and emotional space. I didn’t pick their friends although I went to great efforts to know who they were and where they lived. I was never one for snooping, looking in drawers, backpacks, or in personal diaries or letters. I trusted them. They were good kids, ornery and adventurous, but good and honest. Sometimes they were brutally honest. They also had a mother who was a bit wild, and more unconventional than their friends’ parents, so I think they felt a need to set a good example for me. They certainly worked at setting social boundaries for me. “Why don’t you dress normally?” my teenage daughter would chastise me. “Fatigues are ugly and I hate that my friends think my mother is some political whacko.” Those may not have been the exact words, but it was the exact meaning. Approaching her teen years, Shawn began refusing to wear the hand-made clothes I spent so many nights stitching. Storebought or nothing, she demanded. Thrift stores didn’t count. And where did I get my sense of style? From a comic book? My son was less concerned about the way I looked but he had other issues with my lack of boundaries. Ranting political diatribes when his friends were at our house was a problem, I learned, particularly when I animatedly challenged their spoon-fed rhetoric. My kids did a little boundary leaping of their own from time to time. One night when my daughter was 15, I got a call from the cops about 11 p.m. The heat of the night and the heat of the moment had encouraged Shawn and her friends to take a late night swim fully clothed at the City Park Pool. I worked very hard at holding a stern-mother act as the cops agreed not to press trespassing charges and released her to me. On the way home, we sat in silence until she asked if I was angry. While I found the situation funny, I knew there was more at stake. “A prank can turn serious,” I said. “I’d just like you to always ask yourself if the repercussions are going to be worth it.” “Okay,” she said.
I wish someone had said that to me early on. It might have saved me from a few bad decisions, like splitting hoses in neighboring yards, egging windows, slashing tires, shoplifting, speeding, wrecking cars, cheating – all ridiculous acts that eventually caught up with me. But it wasn’t until I saw impulsive behavior from a different angle – mother watching child – that I realized the importance of thinking ahead. I learned to bite my tongue and not offer unsolicited advice about my children’s lives. I found it was unacceptable to call my son’s current love interest “girlfriend du jour” in front of him and/or her. I found that asking my daughter what the hell she was going to do with But while her life was inappropriate.
patience is a virtue, it is not one of mine. I don’t like waiting, I don’t like standing in line and, outside of my kids, I don’t like relationships that take a lot of work.
Like that horse, there were times when, as my children violated the boundaries I set for them, I threw a fit. My daughter went to Hawaii to experience life. And I hated it. She had jumped the protective fence of my custody and run off down the road, leaving me kicking and snorting furiously.
When my son, Augie, left the first time, it wasn’t far from home. He moved into a dorm a few blocks away. That was okay. The second time, he and a girlfriend moved to Texas, but I knew it wouldn’t last long and wasn’t worried. He was back within three months. But while he was in medical school in Denver, he met an older, divorced woman and determined she was the love of his life. Our first meeting didn’t go well as I trampled on some invisible lines of conduct. Apparently, questioning their sanity was not a good way to bless an upcoming marital union. It almost caused a barrier between us. He was no longer the boy who was his mother’s little buddy. He was suddenly a man building a family. So I tried to mend fences and establish some gracious boundaries. We moved to a bigger house to accommodate the new step-kids and the baby soon on the way. The same was true with the reproductive measures my daughter and her husband went through. I read everything I could about in-vitro methods, and implantations, but I still wanted to know – what’s going on? Why do you have to have surgery? Why does he have to have surgery? Why don’t you adopt? After several hard knocks (“It’s nobody’s business but ours!”),
skirmishes (“I don’t want to talk about it!”), and silent treatments, I learned that I got far more information if I didn’t ask. They would tell me when they were ready. I had only to be patient. But while patience is a virtue, it is not one of mine. I don’t like waiting, I don’t like standing in line and, outside of my kids, I don’t like relationships that take a lot of work. My first marriage ended after 15 years of struggling to be the “good wife” – I failed miserably. I found the whole attempt to conform annoying. Seems I violated social and emotional boundaries on a regular basis, perhaps, to break out of a harness I felt too constrictive. When my daughter moved back to Colorado, I was relieved. My son became the boomerang boy– returning home and leaving often enough I got used to him leaving the paddock. At least I thought so. But then he left again, enmeshed in a relationship and he took my darling girl, my only grandchild, with him. Suddenly I was, once more, on the other side of the fence, upset and helpless. She’s mine, not yours, I wanted to insist. But that, of course, wasn’t true. After his divorce, Augie had moved back home and so I had the pleasure of Princess Ariana’s company on a regular basis. We danced together, we told secrets, we cooked, we read, we created. She would sneak up to my room in the middle of the night if she woke from a bad dream and snuggle. She followed me around, helped me clean, garden and organize. But, as she approached her seventh birthday, he and his long-term girlfriend made the big commitment and moved in together, seventy-five minutes away. I thought I would be fine until he began packing her things, and I realized the finality. And, non-crier that I am, I started to cry. All the hugging in the world, all the reassurances he tried to give didn’t help. But, unlike that horse, I quieted down and started mending my fences and recapturing my boundaries. In doing so, I realized the boundaries have changed over the years as both my kids and I have grown. Now, in the adolescence of my maturing years, I worry less about boundaries and when I do consider them, they seem to blur as I focus more on the bonds I’ve forged with my kids. It’s easier to watch them come and go because I know, no matter where they are, they will never really leave. ❀ Kay Rios, Ph.D., is a freelance writer based in Fort Collins. She contributes to a variety of publications and is currently at work on two novels and a collection of essays. While her kids are now in adult mode, they are still very much an important part of her life. And one of her greatest joys continues to be dancing with the Princess Ariana.
“I’m so glad we’re doing this together” * Larissa Laber
I’ll admit it. I haven’t figured out how to juggle a full time job, 2 kids—one of which needs constant attention, and the other… well, they both need constant attention -- a husband, awesome friends, family that lives nowhere near me, a household, a cabin and alone time. It doesn’t help that Noah has been the fussiest he has EVER BEEN for the last two days. I dug in my mommy bag of tricks and came up with NOTHING to satisfy that kid, and I guess he was just so overtired he couldn’t stand himself. I know the feeling. Well. At some point during the evening I think Ryan saw me eyeing a window, trying to decide if I should jump out of it, when he instinctively took the boys out of the house for a walk. And I breathed. And did dishes. I love him. When he returned I was refreshed and ready to be a mom again, only to learn that Noah was still mad at himself for being so tired. Again, digging in my tool box, I found nothing. I finally swaddled his little arse and walked away, crying harder than he was. Then Ryan breezed in, rocked him for five minutes and walked away from a sleeping baby. And as much as I love that Fussy Noah was finally sleeping, I was pissed. A bit like I loosened the damn pickle jar, and Ryan popped the lid with no trouble. Because I don’t care how many degrees you have, how many diseases you cure or how many billions you make. There is NO GREATER SATISFACTION THAN GETTING A FUSSY BABY TO SLEEP.
❀ Larissa works full time and is raising two boys in Wisconsin. Her loving husband knows that weekly Girls Nights are non-negotiable because she lives by these words: girlfriends and beer solve everything. She can be found blogging furiously, usually while drinking beer and talking to her girlfriends, at laberoflove.blogspot.com
* sort of
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Too Honest? In our last issue, we failed to credit a column titled “Truths” to anyone, creating some misunderstanding as to whose truths they were. We heard from a couple of readers who felt upset and uncomfortable with the truths in that column, offended that we’d included them at all. They proclaimed that get born goes too far when we give editorial space to such raw truths. “Truths” included confessions like, “I drank wine regularly during my pregnancy.” We decided that the best thing to do would be to ask what you think. When we posed the question “How honest is too honest?” to our get born fan page on Facebook, some of their answers, included here, were a heartening reminder of get born’s mission.
[Yesterday] the boys and I went into the bathroom at Whole Foods and met a woman who shared that she has 17 year old twin sons. She told me “this is the best time” (meaning having kids the ages of M&R). I said, “Sometimes.” She looked at me as though I was ungrateful and really missing out on something. I felt guilty for being honest. I haven’t been feeling especially fulfilled (or fulfilling) as a mother, for that matter. I would have loved for this woman with older kids to hug me and say, “You know, I remember a few times when it was really hard to be at their beck and call.” But instead, I got the message that having school-aged twin boys was 100% treasure. Keri March-King
I was talking to my step-monster (step-mother) a couple months ago. I was crying, telling her how overwhelmed I had been feeling with two young boys who are always touching, hugging, sitting, nursing and sleeping on me. I thought I was at a breaking point. She looked at me with a very sarcastic grin and voice and said, “Ya, Jenae it must be really tough having so much love all of the time.” That is exactly what I needed to hear....that is when the guilt stabbed me in the back and I completely shut down. Jenae Huffman Proctor
Where is the confessional line in the sand? How honest is too honest? We’d like you to add your two cents to this burning issue! Follow get born’s Facebook fan page and chime in on the Notes section titled “How Honest is Too Honest? (If you’re not into Facebook, and we wouldn’t dream of judging you if you weren’t, you can view the transcript on our blog page at getbornmag.com and add your comment there. If all else fails, email your response to editor@getbornmag. com.)
This discussion is so timely for me after a week and a half of sick, whining, velcro toddler who literally bursts into tears every time I talk to her. (She even starts sobbing when I tell her yes, you can have what you just asked for!) Yeah, these are the days - the days I want to run screaming from the house!!! And at the same time, I just want to curl up with my poor little sick girl and rock her. Thanks for bringing this stuff out in the open. This reminds me of the discussions about traumatic births how you can feel so in love and grateful for your family and at the same time so angry and disillusioned. And by the way... older parents only look back on these days so fondly because THEY FORGET ALL THE CRAPPY MOMENTS!!!
Sarah Lancaster We will print selected answers from your discussion in the Spring issue I’ve been thinking about get born and its mission today and am truly grateful for it’s of get born, as well as give you our role in my sanity. The first time I was home alone caring for a baby, I was a nutcase: response to the criticism. wracked with worry and guilt that I was totally screwing up. This second baby seems far easier. I think a large part of that is having found this lovely tribe of women who accept and acknowledge the darkness and loneliness of motherhood. Just recognizing it, makes me much better. Corey Radman
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unborn joy Claire Gebben
When I was eight months pregnant, my husband Dave and I decided to go to an early matinee of the movie “Parenthood.” We’d been married almost a decade, had just figured out how to live harmoniously as a couple, and were now about to become a love triangle. Gazing out over the precipice of the unknown, we grasped for any kind of railing. A movie called “Parenthood” sounded reassuring, possibly enlightening.
Besides, Northgate Cinema had cushy seats. In that third trimester, my body had grown cumbersome, the baby riding high and to the front. To make light of how self-conscious I felt, I’d dressed up as a mutant eggplant for the Halloween office party. I’d worn a green turtleneck and a purple jumper with matching purple tights, and even bought a pair of purple Hi-tops to wear on my aching feet. I’d laughed along with everyone else, but I was secretly afraid. My unborn son weighed heavily on me, stressing my back, my legs, my lungs. I just couldn’t get enough of those theater seats, the way they rocked and cradled my weight. During that third trimester Dave and I went to the movies for another reason, too: to escape the inescapable. When I was four months pregnant, my older brother Sandy had committed suicide.
While a baby burgeoned inside me, I walked in the valley of shadows.
Now about to give birth to my firstborn, I still felt oddly detached from my pregnancy, unwilling to draw any parallels. My brother Sandy was the firstborn son of my parents, their rising star, in the beginning. He was competent, sure of himself, always leading the way for me and my younger brother. When Sandy was in his twenties, though, he went into a strange decline, becoming more and more disoriented and confused. Eventually, he lost the ability to even hold a job or live on his own and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctors tried all kinds of drugs, but in the long run, no medication helped, and nothing his family and friends could do made a difference. And so, my brother took his own life, saying a final good-bye before any of us were ready. Dave and I had flown from Seattle to Ohio for the memorial service, where I did my best to comfort my parents in the midst of my own mourning. Their earlier enthusiasm about the arrival of their firstborn grandson had become buried in a morass of pain. As a family, we endured the emotional minefield of Sandy’s memorial, the reception and burial. Through it all, our unborn son curled inside me, his existence cloaked in a pall of
When I was four months pregnant, my older brother Sandy had committed suicide. While a baby burgeoned inside me, I walked in the valley of shadows.
mourning. It was hard to even think of the baby, and I noticed how other mourners, too, averted their eyes from my telltale swell.
endings, the kind that makes everyone smile warmly as they exit the theater.
In the months after we returned to Seattle, I alternated between bouts of weeping and bouts of wrenching disappointment that I’d never see Sandy again. I grieved not just the death of my brother; I grieved the death of my optimism. I’d see other brothers and sisters together, at the supermarket, or leaving church, and realize how naïve they were—just as naïve as I had once been—about their complete family unit, about what they still had, about what I had lost. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find a happy ending.
But I started to sob. And sob. Dave handed me greasy, salt-gritted napkins for my leaking eyes and nose that were soon useless. I was crying so hard I couldn’t speak, crying for the happy ending our family couldn’t have, crying one long, inconsolable cry. The movie credits rolled on and everyone left. The lights came up and the ushers moved through the aisles picking up popcorn buckets and drink containers. And still I cried, my pregnant mass beached in that theater chair, the tidal waves of grief breaking over me. Finally, Dave urged me to stand and guided me from the theater.
So in the gray daylight of that Saturday afternoon, Dave and I went to see “Parenthood,” for education, for diversion, for solace. By now I was so far along that, as I waddled across the parking lot from the car to the theater, our unborn baby preceded me by a full stride. The movie had just opened to great reviews, and even at that early hour, it was crowded. We purchased popcorn at the stand, then found our seats and settled into the darkness, Dave with a sigh and me with a grunt, to lose ourselves as best we could in the visually vibrant, carefully scripted world.
Outside the door, a crowd of people were waiting in line for the next showing. Dave led me past the roped off area. My eyes were swollen with tears, but even so, I could see everyone staring, maybe wondering if they were in line for the right movie—they hadn’t heard anything about it being such a tear-jerker. Or maybe they thought I was in labor, that I was about to have the baby on the spot. Whatever the reason, I was a showstopper.
“Parenthood” is a madcap tale of family, of loyalties and relationships, a cast of kooky characters tangled up with parental agonies and difficult choices. As the plot on the big screen unfolded, I couldn’t help but think about my own family, about how we’d struggled to help my brother. We’d all fought so hard to keep him alive.
In the parking lot, after pausing briefly for more napkins at the concession stand, I felt more like myself again. It helped to be in the fresh air, the cool breeze blow-drying my tears, car hoods glinting in the pale sunlight. I knew Dave had been embarrassed by how ridiculous I’d looked. I gazed up at him gratefully. He leaned down tenderly and said in a low voice: “You have popcorn on your shirt.”
In the movie, there is a point where it looks like not everyone’s going to make it; it looks like there’ll be casualties, heartbreak and despair. But then, there’s that final scene, a baby being born in a hospital, and at first you think it’s one person’s baby, but it turns out it’s someone else’s, and then all the couples are standing there happily with their babies. It’s one of those Hollywood feel-good
Aghast, I looked down and there they were: puffy, tear-salted kernels perched atop my shelf of unborn babe. The pale, crumpled popcorn looked a mess, but also brave, cheerful, against the dark fabric of my shirt. A triumphant fist of life. I looked up at Dave, and, in spite of ourselves, we broke into laughter.
Claire Gebben is studying for her MFA in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, Washington, and writes a “day trip” column for The Mercer Island Reporter. Her firstborn son is now 19. firstname.lastname@example.org 27
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