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the big One

13 Dec

One year ago this evening, we were on a snowy freeway, heading home from a day in Anacortes, making jokes about giving birth in a snowbank on the side of the road. When I awoke at nearly 3:00am — fewer than six hours after arriving safely home — I had no idea that I’d be a mother before the sun came up.

That morning, my body’s efficiency — my own innate and unwavering knowledge of what to do (or what to allow my body to continue doing) amazed me. Being so totally powerless to biology, to oneself isn’t something I’d have guessed I’d enjoy, but I got out of that birthing tub feeling like I could do it all again, immediately, and love it just as much. My birth experience was a lucky one: short, comfortable, in the most perfect venue I could imagine (can you think of a hospital that would welcome an already-pushing woman with a warm bath, dim lights and candles? Or a home birth you don’t have to clean up [yes, this heavily influenced my decision; I am lazy]? Didn’t think so.). Of course, the luckiest part of my birth was the result: the tiny, bald grouch we got to take home.

Every day of motherhood, at least so far, is different. Some are so good I feel almost as triumphant as I did when they first plopped George onto my chest and I knew I had done it. But those days wouldn’t be so great without the converse: the sleep-deprived, rainy, shit-on-your-clothes days when you’re begging an infant, please, just tell me what to do. I’ve found, though, that despite the insistence that I’d forget childbirth — the “so the species can go on” half-joke that serves only as one of many sexist scare tactics pregnant women and mothers face — what I’m forgetting instead are those regrettable, difficult why-won’t-you-end days, in favor of the wins.

This year, I’ve gotten to know myself in a different way. I’ve become less self-conscious in order to be present with my child. I’ve made stupid faces and funny noises and sung in public and been (mostly) unconcerned with how I look to all but one little person. I’ve changed my expectations, let my sleep, my free time and my body be temporarily hijacked. And, you know what? I’m doing a good job. He’s a happy, loving, trusting, communicative, confident boy. Not afraid to make friends with strangers, proficient signer who’s finding his words, giver of unsolicited kisses, giggler and enthusiastic try-er of anything.

The way we all begin is common by definition, and in the past I may have been tempted to apologize for parenthood’s inherent cliché, but having a child has given me an appreciation for our individualities, for the fact that we each have a story. George’s started a year ago and I’m a lucky sucker for getting to be a part of it every day. Celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite things to do, and this is the big one. The big One.

Happy birthday, chicken. I love you the most.

(black and white photos by Tiffany Burke. Hire her; she rules.)

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passing

21 Sep

I have a habit — a very uncharacteristic habit, if you know me — of hearing people out when they’re saying something prejudiced. It’s not because I care to humor them, or I’m gunning for a fight, or conversely because I’m charitable enough to let it slide, but because in this one instance I am a hopeless optimist. I’m always waiting for the big turn-around, constantly shocked that all the -isms and -phobias still exist and weasel their way into my life via “intelligent” “liberals.” It stands to reason, I guess, that if I encounter racism, ableism, sexism and homophobia (see also: heteronormativity, transphobia, etc) from college-educated, democrat-voting, non-religious people, that once I widen my group of friends to include the devoutly religious and not-so-liberal, well…things take a turn for the even worse.

Somehow, it still took me by surprise when, at a get together with other mothers, the question was posed: how would you feel if your child turned out to be gay?

Let’s see, I thought. How interesting do I want this discussion to get? Not very, I decided, and listened as women that I genuinely like expressed their potential misgivings. I realized at that moment that, for the first time in my awareness, I was passing.

Clearly, as I am a woman partnered with a man, having become pregnant with and birthing a child the old fashioned way, it’s safe to say that I’ve been passing for awhile, but it had never occurred to me before. As someone who, in her youth, wore rainbow pins and short hair and suffered the consequences — slurs, threats, dyke bitch hissed as I passed boys I had the nerve to find unattractive — then stopped caring and stumbled on acceptance the thought that I would eventually blend seamlessly into the straight world wasn’t something I saw in my future and certainly not in my present. But, here we were, sitting in a circle over our babies and hors d’oeuvres, discussing a them, not an us, as feels — as IS — appropriate in my case. I’m not sure what made me shy away from being entirely forthright aside from the simple fact that my own sexuality wasn’t necessarily pertinent, but I, of course, said whatever George turned out to be is perfectly fine with me. The conversation didn’t take any real grisly turns; nobody said anything terribly cringe-worthy and the general consensus was that it would be okay. But the fact that it was even a question made me uneasy: would these women be as friendly with me if they knew the truth? I wanted to believe they would; that once they realized a queer woman was already a part of their lives and she wasn’t a caricature or an ethical vaccuum, a pervert or a societal outcast, their perceptions would change for the better. Their hopes for their daughters wouldn’t hinge on heterosexuality. Admittedly, that I am living a relatively heterosexual life renders me less effective at normalizing queer culture but I can hold out hope that it would be a decent jumping off point.

Unlike past experiences which range from equally tame to really, really, REALLY stupid ala the moron Nathan went to school with, stupid enough to tell me, then repeatedly defend a Jew joke, I am not looking to discard my relationships with these mamas at the first sign of discord. Generally speaking, I’ve been a gung ho bridge burner, happy with a handful of people in my life and equally happy to expunge said life of anything unseemly. Now, while I’m not looking to change the world, motherhood has softened me, given me a little faith in humanity and the willingness to work with what I’ve got. So, ladies, cards are on the table: I like girls and frankly, if my son is gay, together we can celebrate Gael Garcia Bernal’s entire catalogue. If my son is trans, I’ll take him bra shopping. I am cisgendered but queer, and I hope we can still be friends.

thirty

19 Sep

I turned thirty on Friday. I’ve been asked several times about my emotions surrounding this milestone, and all I can say is:

how do

you think

I feel?

Pretty fucking rad.

nine months

15 Sep

Summer’s wrapping up. It’s starting to look like Fall, with the hazy afternoons, the sky’s different blue. The leaves are turning yellow around the edges.

Our garden’s late start means a late crop of tomatoes and not much else. This was the first but there are many more to come as long as the first freeze holds off for a couple of weeks. I gave it to George, a present to celebrate that he’s spent as much time in the outside world as he did in the one inside.

Happy nine months, my favorite little chicken.

I’m sorry you didn’t really care for the tomato.

Love,
mama

pay now or pay a lot more later

21 Aug

As my partner is a teacher, I know a lot of teachers. Most are acquaintances, some are family and some are good friends, but all — and I do mean all, regardless of experience or age or interest — could learn many things from this woman:

Jane Schaffer was my English teacher. Is, if you didn’t know, kind of THE English teacher. She has legitimized my lazy ass to professors. She has given me something to talk about with educators. She has developed a writing program so genius that a Google search of her name will yield, among other things, lots and lots of bitching and teenagers’ fervent demands such as, “WHO IS THIS JANE SCHAFFER, ANYWAY?!”
She is also about to die from an inoperable brain tumor.
The injustice of this situation is monumental.
Ms. Schaffer terrified me. Her corrections were blunt and her criticisms biting. Her tolerance for the half-assed, the rude or foolish, the less-than-best was nil. She and I played chicken for nearly a year — me phoning it in and her handing back Ds — until finally I gave in, did my best, and she won. When she returned my first A paper, she asked me to stay after class and scolded me for wasting her time in the past. From that point forward, and to this day, she has been my audience. If it doesn’t pass her muster in my mind, it doesn’t go on the page, on the screen, to the printer, to the publisher. Period. She is my Jiminy Cricket in high top Doc Martens, writing a big red “DUH” next to anything less than insightful, a “What’s your point?” when I fall off the rails. Jane forced me, and all of her students, to be the most authentic version of ourselves. Poses and affectations abounding during adolescence were seen through in short order, exposed and undone to your betterment or humiliation — she didn’t seem to mind which. If only all, or even a portion of high school teachers could cut through the bullshit so effectively. Her classroom was safe. It was smart and she was smart; her disapprovals were plain and her approval sincere, fact-based. I never questioned her praise because I never questioned her (very, very… very liberal) panning.
When I graduated from high school, she took me by the shoulders and insisted, “You are a writer. WRITE.” This, said so matter-of-factly, is at the top of my life’s list of affirmations. One of the kindest things ever said to me.
Several years after high school, when she and I had had no contact save a few, brief chance meetings at the airport, my ex-father-in-law attended one of her workshops. I came up in conversation and she sent him home with regards, told him I was one of her most talented former students. Years passed again and we found each other on Facebook. We exchanged weeks’ worth of emails wherein she berated me for a few life choices and asked why she hadn’t seen my name on the NY Times Bestseller List before she told me about her deteriorating health. She may as well have punched me in the stomach. Repeatedly. I told her that death was simply not an option. Unfortunately, it seems that she didn’t listen.

So, Ms. S., Jane, as you insisted I call you, there you are as old as I was when we met. To imagine you unconscious, sapped of your snappiness, your vim, your immense intelligence crowded by sick is just too unpleasant. Here’s to your stories of sex after 50, to making a name for yourself, to unsolicited but necessary advice, to being so fucking real. To sayings like “pay now or pay a lot more later” and “it will be revealed.” Your run hasn’t been long enough, but it’s certainly been good and I hope you know how dearly I love you.